Authors: Debra Garfinkle
He puts his hand on my shoulder. “You all right?”
“Yeah. Sure.” I take a step back and dab at my eyes. I’m still holding the bra, which now dangles down my face.
Tyler looks away.
I blink away the puddling tears, lay the bra in the crook of my arm, and hold up two sweaters. “Tyler, which one do you think is less awful, this striped monstrosity or this army blanket thing?”
“Let me ask you something. If you got zapped naked into my bathtub from the future, how are you paying for this stuff?”
Crap. I was hoping he w ouldn’t think of that. At least I have something prepared. “Whoever sent me into your bathtub put forty dollars in it too.”
He smirks. “I d on’t remember seeing soggy money in the tub with you. And they would have had to give you old bills, right? Because you c ouldn’t use money from the future here. If they even use money in your world.”
“Mostly we use credit cards. Yes, luckily, they sent me with old bills.”
is. In any event, we need to get home for dinner. I promised my mom.”
His mom cares about eating dinner together? Strange.
I use the money I stole from Tyler, but I have to look away from him. I stare at my bag of clothes. I d on’t know if any of this stuff is in style in 1978. It all looks hideous to me. Though the thrift store crap beats what I’m wearing now. “If I’m meeting your family tonight, I need to change out of their clothes,” I tell him, and point to the dusty green curtain hanging in the back of the store. “ Don’t peek.”
Tyler’s face is bright red. “I . . . ”
I wink at him.
He smiles, slightly and guiltily, in return.
“Mom!” I yell from
the front door. “I met a friend at the library. Can my friend come over for dinner?”
“Sure, Tyler, invite him over,” Mom says from the kitchen.
, actually.” We walk together toward the kitchen. Shay manages to look sexy even in her thrift store blouse and pants.
Mom is at the stove, mashing potatoes. “Evie?” she asks.
“No. Shay,” I say.
Mom spins around. Her eyebrows rise a quarter inch above their customary height. Even my own mother can’t believe a beautiful girl would want to hang out with me. “Welcome,” she says. “How do you two know each other?”
“From school.” The fib slips out of Shay’s mouth like air. “We have a few classes together.”
My mother’s brows lift another quarter inch.
My cheeks feel so hot that if I were to lie on my side, someone could probably fry an egg on one of them. “I think we just have one class together,” I mumble. “Homeroom.” I shoot Shay a warning look and notice that the plastic bag of clothes she’s carrying has Mom’s shoes sticking out on top. I stare purposefully at it. She nods and excuses herself to use the bathroom.
Once she’s gone, I take a big breath and start on the whopper. “I feel sorry for her. Her parents are awful. You should see Shay’s face when she mentions them. Tears stream down her face, actually.”
“What’s so awful about them?” Mom asks. “They’re obviously poor. That girl needs new clothes.”
“I know.” I take a deep breath. “Are you aware she’s living all by herself?”
“It’s true. Her parents decided to move to . . . to . . . ” Where did they supposedly move to? Shay and I discussed Reno and Vegas. I’m ninety-five percent sure we finally chose Reno, given that it’s a lot farther from L.A. Maybe we should have picked Atlantic City.
“Tyler?” Mom’s eyebrows head north again.
“Oh, yeah, Reno.” I’m a terrible liar. “They left Shay with her aunt in this tiny apartment in . . . Reseda.” Shay told me to use lots of details. She didn’t say what to do if my face burned up under Mom’s hot glare.
“How did you even meet this girl?”
“In homeroom.” Details, details. “She sits on my left. My direct left. Anyway, her aunt met this French guy and moved to Paris.”
“Paris?” Mom’s eyebrows are practically touching her scalp.
The French lover was Shay’s idea. “So she’s living by herself in this crummy apartment in Reseda.”
“How do you know it’s crummy? You haven’t been there, have you?”
I wish I’d been there. Wait a minute. There
no crummy apartment in Reseda, so how could I wish to go there? Well, maybe there is, but Shay doesn’t live in it. Actually, I don’t know where she lives. “No, Mom, I haven’t been to Shay’s apartment. She says she’s so ashamed of it, she never invites people over.”
“Why does she go to your school if she lives in Reseda?”
Shay and I didn’t think of that one. “Um, maybe she used to live here. Mom, if you were a man you’d be a great lawyer.”
She keeps grilling me. “What are her parents doing in Reno?”
“They’re gambling, Mom. If her parents have anything left to gamble. They’re both addicts.”
“Poor Shay,” Mom says.
Bingo. “I know. They even . . . No, this is so awful.”
“Shay feels bad enough.”
“Tell me, Tyler.”
I go for the kill. “Shay’s parents sold her clothes at the swap meet and took the profits to Vegas. I mean, Reno.” I’m a big, stinking liar.
“That poor girl! We must have her over for dinner.” Mom now has the same expression she wore last month when she found the dead baby bird on our porch. “I noticed how thin she is. She needs some fattening up, the poor dear. And a mother’s special touch.”
Yes! And how about a son’s special touch too?
Tyler’s mother is making
clucking noises. “You need protein, dear.”
Tyler must have told his mom that I have, like, the sorriest rentals who ever existed. Maybe he said my parents starved me. She’s threatening me with a giant fork, spearing a t housand-c alorie hunk of meat over my plate. I h aven’t seen so much beef since the Super Bowl.
“You d on’t like my mother’s cooking, Shake?” Tyler’s sister asks me.
not Shake,” I say.
She shrugs. “Oh, sorry.”
I bet. Looks like the Gray n ice-g ene skipped over Heather.
“Shay,” Mr. Gray says as his wife stands behind him spooning buttered noodles onto his plate. “Strange name.” This from a man with beef fat clinging to his caterpillar moustache?
Ms. Gray exchanges the noodle dish for the asparagus platter. “Shay is a lovely name.”
“Thank you, Ms. Gray.”
“Shay, honey, please call me
Gray.” She finally sits down and takes a bite of salad. “I’m just not suited to be a Ms.” She rises. “More meat, anyone?”
“Hey, Heather, do you have any clothes Shay could borrow?” Tyler asks.
Heather looks at the giant fork as if she’s deciding whether to spear me with it.
“That’s okay,” I say. I went through her closet today. Her clothes are a tiny step up from the thrift store crap.
Mrs. Gray glares at Heather before emitting another cluck. “ I’ll take you shopping tonight, Shay. I bet you could use a few necessities. Undergarments and such.”
. That’s the cutest word. I d on’t think I ’ve heard it spoken out loud before today. I c an’t help smiling.
Mrs. Gray smiles back. So does Tyler, though his borders on a leer. Heather scowls.
Mr. Gray picks up the
business section from under his chair and mutters about gas reaching 68 cents a gallon. “Another biscuit, Marlene.”
Mrs. Gray rushes over with a gingham cloth-covered basket and tongs, and sets a biscuit on his plate.
“ You’ve barely sat down for three seconds,” I tell her. “We can get our own food. You d on’t have to serve us.”
“My dad works hard during the day,” Tyler says.
“I bet your mom does too. She deserves—”
“ Don’t start anything between my parents.” He glares at me.
At least one of his parents seems totally unfazed. Mr. Gray’s buried under the newspaper. “Betamax or Sony?” he mutters.
“Sony,” I say.
He exchanges the business section of the paper for another one beneath his chair. “That job d idn’t last long.”
“What job, dear?” Mrs. Gray asks.
“Pope. The new pope just died. The Italian guy. Now they have to have the meetings and the white smoke all over again.”
Across the table from me, Tyler freezes with a forkful of pasta suspended in the air and his mouth open like a dentist just told him to say
I nod at him. “Well, who could have predicted that?”
“This is Valley Mall?”
I ask as we walk through the parking lot. I ’ve been here a zillion times, but it looks so different tonight. Like, shabby. I wonder when they did the remodel.
Mrs. Gray clucks again. “ You’ve never been to this mall before?”
“Is there a Nordstrom’s here?”
“Is that the name of a store? It d oesn’t sound familiar, dear.”
It’s only my favorite store in the world,
I want to shout,
with a shoe sale to die for.
to die for
, what if I’m dead? Could I have passed out in the bathtub and drowned? Or maybe Mariel got so pissed off, she strangled me.
I bite my lip to test the death theory. It hurts. I guess I’m alive.
“I hate to take advantage,” I tell Mrs. Gray, “but could you buy me some makeup?” Tonight’s the first time in years I ’ve been in public without it.
“As long as it’s tasteful,” she says. “There’s a drugstore in the mall.”
Drugstore makeup is not tasteful. Drugstore makeup is gross. But it’s Mrs. Gray’s money. “Thanks.”
Once there, she points to a three- pack of eye shadow in turquoise, violet, and powder puff pink.
Even more gross. I d on’t care what decade it is, I respect my eyelids too much for garish jewel shades. I shake my head.
“How about earth tones then? Not that you need anything on that lovely face of yours.”
. No one uses the word
on me. I c an’t help smiling.
I select a three-p ack of shadow: Healthy Tan, Tauperiffic, and Muskrat Love. I also buy a lipstick, blush, eyeliner, and mascara. All that face paint costs less than I spend on a lipstick from MAC back home. Too bad I wasn’t beamed to the 70’s with my wallet.
Next, Mrs. Gray takes me to May Company, p re merger with Robinsons. “I saw lovely peasant dresses here last week which I think would be darling on you.”
I ’d rather stay naked in her bathtub. There is no such thing as a lovely peasant dress. It’s a contra . . . contra something in terms. Or some other word I think I was supposed to learn in English class last year.
“Where are the jeans?” I ask the salesclerk.
“The Calvin Kleins and Gloria Vanderbilts are right under that disco ball. We d on’t call them jeans,” she scoffs.
Yeah, well, I d on’t call this a department store,
I want to say.
I find Levi’s 501s. Thank God some things never change.
Mrs. Gray buys me two pairs. Then she says, “Let’s get you some sleepwear and undergarments.”
There’s that cute word again,
Mrs. Gray walks to a rack of fluorescent polyester and dull flannel nightgowns.
Not cute at all. My steps slow. This is so not me. I miss Victoria’s Secret and thongs. Assuming it’s possible to miss something that h asn’t been created yet.
I swerve and make a dash for a pair of black, silky pajamas. Mrs. Gray puts a surprisingly strong arm around my shoulder. I c an’t help flinching. I’m not used to that. At least not from females.
“ You’re much too sweet for tawdry garments like these.” She steers me away from the lingerie, to the granny nightgowns and old lady underwear.
My mom never steered me to anything. Some small part of me likes being called sweet. I could be sweet here. No one here knows I got caught with a bottle of peppermint schnapps and Adam Blaine in the art room at school, or that Mom sent Mariel to the last two b ack- to-s chool nights, or that I ’ve never met my father. I could be anything I want here.
Tyler’s mom holds a flowery, baby blue flannel nightgown up against my body. “This is perfect for you.”
“Yes, dear. You. It’s sweet.”
Me, Shay Saunders, sweetheart who hangs out with honor students and wears flannel nightgowns. It’s tempting.
After Mrs. Gray buys me a lot of “sweet” things, our arms are heavy with bags as we walk to the station wagon together. “Thank you,” I tell her, my voice a little shaky. My mom h asn’t taken me shopping in years. She keeps me in credit cards, but it’s not the same. “ I’ll try to pay you back, Mrs. Gray.” She’s been so kind, I even mean it.
“It’s the least I can do. Now, let me drive you home.”
Gawd! I h adn’t thought of that.
“Are you okay, dear? Do you know how to get to your house—er, apartment, from here?”
, I tell myself. “That’s nice of you to offer, Mrs. Gray, but I left some of my things at your house.”
“ I’ll swing by so you can run in and get your things, and then I ’ll take you home. Where do you live? Do you need anything else? Food?”