Open Heart’s release is just 8 days away, hardly a week. Wahoo! More than just Simmi finds love in Open Heart, Brady gets himself a new beau, too. And being that Brady is the biggest jerk in all Grandon, his female counterpart has to be equally terrible, right? Ladies and gentleman, meet Veronica “Ronnie” Franklin, the other half of GHS’s it couple, “Bronnie.”
Many others had the same idea we did today, making the mall a jungle. Teens walk through the halls in loud giggling groups. Mothers pull younger children by their hands. Older couples stride by in jogging suits. The level of activity is a constant assault on my senses—noise ebbing in and out, colors flashing by, several different emotional energies hitting me from all angles. It’s as if I’m in India again, only this setting feels far less natural than the merry bustle of a New Delhi street.
The shop to my left offers me refuge from the overwhelming emotional energy. Shapri follows me inside happily. She has no idea what walking through a crowd is like for me, just like I could never understand the terror graveyards must hold for her.
“Change your mind about shopping?” Shapri rushes over to the clearance rack.
“Yeah, I think I did.” A pair of jeans from a nearby display catches my eye. Size seven. Yeah, right. I put them down and stoop to the shelf nearest the floor. That’s where most stores keep the big sizes.
“Oh, honey,” a sappy sweet-sounding person says. “This is 5-7-9. It only carries those three sizes…”
The most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen stands behind me, smooth, blemish free skin glowing under the fluorescent bulbs of the shop. Her blue eyes are lined with flecks of green, mimicking miniature versions of Earth, and her blonde hair is coifed as if she has a personal stylist who helps her get ready every morning. Her only flaw is a sizable birthmark on her right temple—a brown splotch shaped like a boomerang.
She catches me staring and turns her face to the other side to break my gaze. A strong emotional energy flows out of her in confident looping circles. Every now and then there’s a slight snag, a kink in her armor. After raising one French-tip manicured finger, she points to the side.
“But don’t worry; Lane Bryant is a couple shops down. I’m sure you’ll find something really cute there.” She smiles and turns on an embellished ballet flat. A disorienting cloud of perfume hits me in the face.
It takes a moment to realize I’ve been insulted. Oh no, how can this perfect stranger recognize my size fourteen frame? Guess I’m not fooling anyone. I nonchalantly thumb through a few more pairs of jeans. This gorgeous girl can’t know she’s scared me off. When a sufficient amount of time has passed, I scan the shop for Shapri. She’s still in the back near the clearance rack and, surprisingly, so is the blonde.
I tiptoe toward them, not wanting to draw their attention. A heated, albeit quiet, exchange rises between them.
“Jeez, I was trying to help. Excuse me for being nice.”
“Nice? Nice? Really?” Shapri demands in a hushed snarl.
“Yes, nice. And if you were nice, you’d help your friend. None of my friends would ever get beyond a size seven without me intervening. It’s what friends do.”
“Friends accept each other for who they are.”
Clumsily, I brush against a clothing rack and jostle some of the hangers. Both girls glance up and notice me.
The blonde girl shoots me a hostile expression before turning back to Shapri. “It’s too bad. You’d be absolutely stunning if you did something about that nappy hair of yours.” She gives a condescending half-smile and turns to head back toward the dressing room. She seems to have a habit of getting the last word, but she’s met her match with Shapri.
“Now you’re going to insult me, huh? What’s your problem anyway?” Shapri returns to her usual volume, which is much louder than the range most people stick to.
“Don’t get all worked up. I was just trying to offer you some constructive criticism. Take it. Be grateful.” She attempts to walk away again, but Shapri follows after her.
“Who do you think you are? You think you’re such a prize you can treat people however you want?”
“You’re making a scene.” The girl projects her voice, meaning to put on a display for the store clerk hovering nearby. She drops her tone to a quiet growl. “Leave it to a hood rat to turn everything into a fight.”
“A hood rat? Oh no, no, no, no. So you’re not just a bitch, you’re a racist. Oh well, that makes perfect sense. But listen to me, if one more thing comes out of that blonde Barbie mouth of yours, I’m gonna slap it back inside. You hear me?”
The girl snorts, but backs off.
“C’mon, Sim.” Shapri loops her arm through mine. “Let’s get outta here.”
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