Once a Thief

Novembers in Toledo were dark and dreary. This Saturday in particular was no different. Temperatures had fallen from crisp to crap it’s friggin FREEZING. Dark clouds and high winds had settled over our city for the season. Because of the frigid air outside and our bad insulation inside, my stepdad had a fire going in our wood-burning stove with wood scraps from the backyard and old newspapers from the neighbor. Brittany, my sister, had plopped herself in front of the television to watch reruns of Full House, munch on knock-off Doritos and sip Sierra Mist from the can with a neon bendy straw. Brittany loved those Olson girls and bendy straws, as I’m sure most seven-year-old girls did at the time. I only watched because I had a crush on Uncle Jesse.

Mom stopped her needlework to look at me, freshly fourteen, full of angst and bored out of my damn mind. “Wanna go to Meijer?” She asked. For those who don’t know, think Midwestern Walmart, a mega-sized store with everything from groceries to electronics and discount clothes. It was a boring place to spend a Saturday, but better than my current situation on the couch.

“Sure,” I said. There was this new CD I wanted. Not to hang with my mom or to help her budget our weekly menu. “Coolio has a new single out,” I added. What I really wanted was to steal something.

“You have money?” she asked.

“Yes,” I lied. Until that point, I’d only taken Bonne Bell Dr. Pepper lip gloss and Designer Imposters U from Target. I liked the thrill of being bad, liked the feeling of having some kind of otherwise unaffordable luxury at my fingertips. Shoplifting was cool in junior high, and at the time I tried so desperately to fit in with my peers.

But other kids at school stole way better than me. They swiped Nike shirts and Levi jeans from Dillards when their parents dropped them off at the mall on the weekends. Put their own clothes on top of the stolen ones they tried on in fitting rooms and walked out like nothing. Not fair. Those kids already had nice things. If anyone deserved to steal, it was me.

Right?

As soon as we rushed through the doors of the massive retail chain with chill in our bones, we parted ways. Mom thought she was helping, letting me have freedom. She had no idea.

My feet mosied to the music section where I pondered my approach and went back and forth about my decision. Mom wouldn’t buy it. No extra money. I knew stealing was bad, but my id told me I needed it. I skimmed through the new releases for a while before I got the courage to finally shove the disc in my pocket. My right hand worked on ripping the cellophane while I occasionally flipped through the posters with my left.

I glanced over my shoulder on the sly. Behind me, there was suddenly a lady with feathered hair tamed beneath a Detroit Red Wings cap. She was reading the back of Mariah Carey’s newest album. Crap.

I left the aisle with the CD still in my pocket. The stubborn glue wouldn’t budge to let my fingernail slide in.

I ducked into the Hallmark aisle. Rows of paper apologies, thank yous, and celebrations in neat order lined both sides. There wasn’t a piece of paper there that could save me from the mess I was close to. I turned. Detroit Red Wings lady had followed, and she stood there seemingly distracted by the birthday cards. But I knew better. I’d heard of people like her. She had to be a loss prevention agent, and I was about to get snagged.

My heart raced, face flushed. I walked faster, out of the cards. Weaving, thinking, weighing the consequences of my impending actions. I desired a bit of naughtiness under my skin, not criminal status. That wasn’t me.

In the shoe aisle, I dumped the still – wrapped disc on top of a pair of work boots.

That’s when I jogged, almost sprinted but not enough to draw attention, until I found Mom bagging oranges in the produce section on the other side of the store.

“Hey, Mom,” I said.

“Find that CD?” she asked, examining a piece of fruit.

“Yeah,” I shrugged. “But I can’t afford it.”

Photo courtesy of Pexels.

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Betrayal

It’s the summer after seventh grade, and my best friend is Haley, a tall blonde full of moles. There are ten of them shaped like a soda bottle on her back. I wish my freckles could be as cool.

“Don’t be jealous,” she says. “You have so many. I bet we could find something there if we tried.”

Haley lives at the end of my street in a yellow Tudor. It’s massive compared to my parents’ bungalow. I walk to her house every day, and she teaches me to fit in.

“These jeans don’t fit me anymore. Want them?” She tosses a pair of Levis on the bed.

“Wow. Thanks!” I have never in my life owned a pair of brand name jeans.

We swim in her pool during the day and play Ouija board in her parents’ pop-up camper at night. Some nights, we summon so many spirits I make my step-dad pick me up in the rusted minivan instead of walking home. The single-wide trailer park on my street gives me the heebie-jeebies at night. Half the trailers have boarded-up windows, but others have foldable lawn chairs and little pots of annuals out front. It’s a strange addition to our otherwise bland street.

One day while waiting for Haley to get home from her boyfriend’s house, I meet a new girl in the neighborhood. She stops her bike in front of my house, anchors it between her legs and says, “Hey.”

I stop the porch swing. “Hey.”

“Wanna be my friend?” she asks, chucking a pop-it onto the ground. She tosses another, and it snaps as it connects with the pavement.

“Sure. Can I have a pop-it?” I hop off the swing and jog down my steps to her.

“Sure.” She hikes her leg over her bike and parks it on the sidewalk. Then in one graceful swoop, she flips her crimped blonde hair over her shoulder and dumps sawdust and pop-its into my hand. “I’m Kristin.” She flashes a big smile.

“I’m Danielle.” I smile back.

“Cool.”

“You just move here?” I ask, throwing another onto the sidewalk. It doesn’t pop, so I stomp on it.

“My dad did. He lives in a trailer down there.” Kristin nods sideways toward the trailers. “I’m here for the summer.”

“Are those dangerous?”

“The pop-its or the trailers?” She jokes.

I laugh. “The trailers.”

“Nah.” She shrugs. “Mostly old folks.”

“Cool. Where you from?”

“Florida. With my mom.”

“I’ve never been there,” I say in awe. Kristin has a special magic, a glue that draws me toward her.

I find out she’s the same age as me, we both like to ride bikes, and we’re both poor. Or at least her dad is.

When Haley gets home, I invite her to come with us on our bike ride to the park.

“It’s too hot,” she says. “Go play with your new friend. We’ll catch up later.”

Haley invites us to come swimming that afternoon, and Kristin won’t go.

“I only swim in the ocean,” she says.

I have just a month with my new friend, so I don’t go either. I figure Haley has her boyfriend, and now I have Kristin. It’s even.

Two weeks fly while I spend every waking minute with Kristin. I don’t see Haley at all, and I miss her.

So, when she calls and says, “I need to talk to you … Alone,” I go.

My fingers graze the diamonds of the chain-link fence along the front of the last trailer in the trailer park making a soft clinking sound. I’m thinking about how my skin will smell dirty and metallic when Haley startles me by screaming “You’re a terrible friend!” She’s suddenly in front of me and so close to my face. I’m worried she may punch me for no reason.

“What?” I ask, freaked by the level of her voice. “What did I do?” I don’t know. I really don’t.

Her face is flushed and eyes are wet. She’s been crying. I wonder why she’s so sad. Haley pulls photos of us from her pocket and rips them.

“You picked that girl over me,” she says. She turns and stomps away, leaving me with shreds of our friendship at my feet. “One day you’ll get it.”

At the end of the summer, when Kristin goes home, I do.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay on Pexels