“The first rule,” Joanna says, “is make sure nobody’s watching.” She tells me that because she wants me to be ready for anything. “It’s pretty obvious.” She rolls her eyes.
Make sure nobody’s watching. I say it three times in my head. I know what obvious means.
Joanna is five years older than me. We have the same mother but we live in different houses. She has a boyfriend named Peace. He’s waiting in front of The Bay because he can’t smoke inside. We’re walking around the mall looking for a store that looks easy for my first time. The mall is shaped like an L, and we’ve already passed every store. Joanna is chewing gum and blows little bubbles, over and over.
“Can I have some?” I ask. “Gum?”
Joanna stops in front of a store called Girl Thang. She tilts her head, staring into the store, and blows another bubble. “This is good,” she says.
As we walk through the entrance she whispers, “Just be normal.”
Just be normal, just be normal, just be normal.
I follow Joanna over to a table covered in T-shirts. Just be normal, just be normal, just be normal. I try to lean on the T-shirt table in a normal way.
Joanna glares at me. “Pick something to try on,” she says, in her fakest friendly voice. I look for things that don’t have a plastic tag on them, just like Joanna told me. I find two blue T-shirts that remind me of water and the sky and a sweater with a panda bear on it. I walk back over to Joanna but she motions for me to follow her and goes into a changeroom. Make sure nobody’s watching, make sure nobody’s watching, make sure nobody’s watching. I look around. The only person in the store is a girl at the cash register. She’s biting her nails from the sides.
“This is good,” Joanna says in the change-room. “It’s expensive.” She shoves the panda bear sweater into my backpack.
“What now?” I ask.
“We have to buy something,” she says. “You always buy something.” Joanna chooses a cheap T-shirt she didn’t even try on.
We walk up to the counter and the girl smiles at me. “You didn’t like that bear sweater? It’s adorable.”
Joanna smiles. “She has bad taste,” she says. She takes her wallet out of her coat pocket and there’s a stick of Juicy Fruit in foil stuck to the outside.
We don’t want the receipt.
Joanna slips the gum between her lips and I make the foil into a swan and when you pull the tail the wings flap.
At night, I sleep with the panda bear sweater. I fall asleep.