It was midnight. I didn’t think Evan would call at midnight, but I sat at my desk in my room staring a my phone anyway. I should’ve gotten his number so I didn’t have to give up all the control like this. I rubbed my eyes, now makeup-free, and wondered if Evan still would’ve asked for my number if he could see me now: sweats, tangled hair, tired eyes, and all.
My phone chimed and I gasped.
Are you up? It was Braden.
My arms tingled with goose bumps and I rubbed them. Yes. I switched off my lamp, silently accusing myself of leaving it on for Braden in the first place, then made my way outside.
“Where were you all day today?” Braden asked from the other side of the fence.
“I had to work.” If I wanted to tell anyone about my makeup sessions, it was Braden—but I didn’ want to tell anyone.
“I went out afterward.”
“You did?” The surprise in his voice made me realize he thought I meant on a date. “No, with some girls,” I said quickly.
“You did?” He sounded even more surprised. I laughed. “Yes. And it was weird.”
“Well, I thought maybe they wouldn’t like me, but they did.” “Why wouldn’t they like you?”
“Because I don’t know anything about shopping or hair or whatever.” He laughed. “And you think that’s all girls like to do?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I thought that’s what normal girls liked.” I didn’t have a frame of reference. “What do you mean by ‘normal girls’?”
“Girls that aren’t into sports. The only girls I’ve ever hung out with are a lot like me. Big and burly,” I added to lighten the mood that suddenly seemed heavier than I wanted it to.
“You are not big or burly, Charlie. You’re tall and strong. There’s a big difference. And maybe you’re the normal one and those other girls are un-normal.”
I laughed at that as I thought of Amber—the pinnacle of every guy’s dream. “Whatever. It doesn’t bother me. It was just how I felt today. Weird.” But not necessarily bad. I actually liked Amber, and maybe that was weird too. “What about you? What did you do today?”
“Watched an NBA classic.” “Ugh. I hate watching those.” “I know.”
I smiled. There was something comforting in that moment about Braden knowing me so well Maybe it was because I’d just hung out with a bunch of people who didn’t know me at all. “Really? You know?”
“Yes. You hate them because you already know who wins. But sometimes it’s fun to watch a game
when the winner is already determined.”
“Where’s the excitement in that?” I bit my lip, the smile still lingering there. “Was it Jordan?” “Of course.” I thought I heard a smile in his voice. Maybe he was happy I knew him so well too.
“He is amazing to watch. That fade-away jumper.” I put my hand over my heart even though he couldn’t see me.
“And those are the kinds of things a normal girl should know,” he said. I laughed. “In your dreams.”
“Then I should probably get to those.” He stood with a grunt. “Good night, Charlie.” “Did those count as our facts tonight, then?”
“Of course. But if you need another one, you snore in your sleep.” I gasped. “What?”
“Gage’s room is right next to yours. I think I’ll get you that snoring machine for your birthday.” “Snoring machine?”
“You know, that machine that has a mask and you wear it at night and it stops you from snoring.”
I knew he was using his hands to try to describe it and I pressed my lips together to keep from laughing. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You know exactly what I’m talking about.”
I laughed. I did. “Well, you drool in your sleep.” “Only when I’m really tired.”
“I think I’m going to get you a drooling machine. It has this mask thing and these straps . . .” “Funny.”
“I thought so.” I stood, brushed off my flannel pajama bottoms, and walked backward a few steps, my eyes still on the fence.
“Today was boring,” he said. “Don’t work all day again.”
My heart did a flip and I chastised it. He just wanted to play ball or something and had no one around to play with . . . except my brothers and everyone else. “Good night, Braden.” I whirled around and jogged to the house, trying to contain my smile.
I stared intently at the shirts lined up on the rack, their colors blending. Why was I having such a hard time telling Linda I had to quit? Maybe because I sort of liked my job. It was relaxing. The las customer told me I was easy to shop around because I was laid-back and no-pressure, but very helpful. I’d never been told something like that before and it felt good.
“Could you re-dress the window mannequin?” she asked.
“Sure.” I turned around and held out my hand, expecting her to have an outfit for me to dress it in.
When she didn’t, I was confused. “In what?”
“Why don’t you pick something out? She’s been wearing the same thing for a couple weeks.” “You don’t want me picking something out.”
“Sure I do.” She pointed to the outfit I wore. I had layered one of the sheer silky shirts she had m buy over a different patterned tank top I had picked up on my own. I hadn’t been sure if they went together but I thought it looked nice. Was she about to tell me it looked awful? “You’ll do a great job.”
I sighed, then walked the store. I picked a lacy skirt off the far wall and matched it with a summery-looking shirt. As I undressed the window mannequin, I said, “Linda, every summer I go to
basketball camp for a week.”
“How fun. I didn’t know you played basketball.” “Yes. I do. And camp starts in a few weeks.”
“Oh.” She pulled out her purse and dug through it, coming up with a little planner. She flipped the pages. “So what are the dates again?”
“August first through the eighth.”
She wrote something down. “Sounds good. I marked you down for that week off.”
“Oh.” Time off. I liked that idea better. “Thank you.” I continued to unbutton the mannequin’s shirt. “You may not think you have style, Charlie,” Linda said, appraising the clothes I had hung on the
hook next to me, “but that clothing combination isn’t a basic one. You picked up on the lace theme, not the color scheme. That says a lot.”
That compliment shouldn’t have made me so proud. I had probably seen a customer buy this outfit or something.
“Did I tell you that our business is up ten percent since we started stocking the makeup?”
“No, that’s great.” I folded the removed clothes and slid the shirt I had selected over the neck of the headless lady. Then I stared at the white, unbending arm, wondering how I was supposed to get that into the sleeve.
“It is great.” She put her purse back beneath the counter.
“Um . . .” I tried to twist the arm up and it popped off and clanked to the floor.
Linda looked up and laughed when she saw my face. “It pops right back on. You’ll get the hang of it. I’ll be right back.” And with that she disappeared into the back, leaving me with a one-armed mannequin.
I eventually realized the arms had to come off to fit the shirt on, but I had no idea how the skirt would fit over her wide stance. I laid her on her back and kneeled beside her, shimmying the lacy skirt up her legs.
This is how Skye found me when she walked in the store. “Hey, Charlie.” “Hi. Linda’s in the back.”
We both looked at the half-dressed dummy on the floor then back at each other. Skye laughed. “Any tips on mannequin dressing?”
“Surprisingly, I’ve never done it before.” She stepped forward and grabbed hold of the legs, trying to shove them together. “Oh. They don’t move.”
“Here. I’ll hold her neck and you shove her skirt on.”
“This feels so wrong,” I said as we both took our positions. “She has no head, so she doesn’t know she’s being violated.”
I laughed and finally got the skirt to her waist. We hoisted her to her feet and both stared at her.
Skye tilted her head. “Are her arms lopsided?” She tried to move the right arm up and it popped off. “I broke her.”
“No, it goes back on.”
She swung the arm and smacked me on the butt with the mannequin’s hand. “Hey, I have a head and am fully aware when I’ve been violated.”
Skye laughed, and I popped the arm back on and shoved the mannequin into the window before we messed her up even more.
“Thanks for rescuing me.”
“No problem.” Skye headed for the back and Linda, but stopped. “Oh, remember that band I wa telling you about? My boyfriend Henry’s?”
She pulled a flyer out of her purse and pointed to a picture of a flattened toad on the front. “It’s this Friday. Right up the street. You should come.”
“Yeah. I’ll try. Thanks.”
“No problem.” I watched her walk into the back room. I wondered what she and Linda talked about. How did they have anything in common?
The sound of crinkling paper made me look down. I realized I had the flyer in a death grip. Maybe I should go to this concert. I was a sporting-event type of girl, not a loud-music event one. At least that’s what I had always thought. But here I was standing in this store, in these clothes, hearing the sound of laughter in the back room, and realizing that maybe there was more to me than I realized.