Even if you have enough money to do what you want, it’s still fun trying to get something for free. Especially something from the Nordie’s jewelry case.
“Can I see that one?” I ask, pointing to a Maya Brenner bracelet with chunky gold chains and a little coin with small stones of turquoise and coral. The other day I saw Alexa Chung wearing it on a blog, and I vowed to get one of my own.
The despondent saleslady unlocks the case. She looks like all the gloomy weather has soaked straight through to her soul.
“Oh, and the earrings,” I say as she plunks the charm bracelet on the velvet pad on the counter. She turns to get them.
“No, not those.” I point. “The pearl ones. And that silver bracelet with the big chain links? And can I see the gold hoops? Thanks so much.” As the saleswoman sets out one thing after another, I smile sweetly. “Do you mind getting out that pendant necklace too? Sorry.”
“Which one?” She’s starting to get confused.
“It’s so hard to make up my mind here,” I say, holding up the gold hoops. “By the way, I love your blouse. It looks amazing on you.”
“It does?” She looks down at her navy-blue sheath as if seeing herself for the first time. I feel a little guilty for preying on her insecurities, but on the plus side she looks happier now than she did five minutes ago.
“Jean, there’s someone on line three for you—Eric?” a woman from the Clinique counter calls over.
From the look on Jean’s face, it’s obvious Eric has been dodging her for weeks. His favorite activities are probably Nintendo, drinking Coors, and not returning the calls of women he’s had sex with. Jean is obviously one of them. Seeing her happy face, I remember feeling that excited when Brady used to call me. Now I just feel stuck in a loop of bad chitchat and sloppy make-out sessions. Sometimes, yes, we do the actual deed, but we’re usually drunk, so I don’t even know if it qualifies. It’s basically a formula of grabs, gropes, and insertions, all leading to an inevitably brief conclusion. I wouldn’t rank it as one of my all-time favorite activities. This trip to the mall would score way higher.
“I’m with a customer. Tell him I’ll call him back,” Jean says, casting a disappointed eye my way.
“No, it’s cool.” I give her a knowing smile. “Go ahead. I’m fine.”
“I’ll be right back.” Jean nods appreciatively and goes to take the call. Jackpot.
“Hey, stranger!” Jean blurts into the phone. After a second she says, “Yeah, I love Ruth’s Chris!” Then her shoulders slump. “I think I still have it. It was only a 50-dollar gift certificate, though, so I’m not sure how big a dinner it will get us…”
He wants her to take him out to dinner with her gift certificate? Jesus. Jean needs to hang up on this guy and delete his number. But whatever—her low self-esteem is my good fortune. When she hangs up, I give her a little wave and say, “Thanks! I’ll come back later!” and stroll off, leaving everything behind but the Maya Brenner bracelet.
Brilliant Con Artist
Walking your trinket out of the store is the worst and best part. You’re about to become either a brilliant con artist or another juvenile-delinquency statistic.
I force myself to slow down and supposedly admire a pink sundress, but underneath the sleeve of my sweater, I’m covertly ripping off the price tag and tiny bar-code sensor from the bracelet, which is fastened on my wrist. I drop the tag and sensor on the floor and walk on through Sporting Goods.
Ninety seconds later, I’m at the street exit. I take a deep breath and make the final plunge through the electronic gates by the front doors—which, 87 percent of the time, are for show, but still they’re the final, exhilaratingly hurdle—and I push open the door. The winter air hits me like a slap of freedom.
I quicken my pace as I start toward the parking lot. I figure I’ll make a hard right in 30 feet, walk around the building, and re-enter the mall near Yopop. I pull out my phone to text Kayla my ETA, and move faster and faster, freer and freer. I pick up speed and round the corner of the building, and that’s when I walk right smack into a security guard.
Blood bolts to the surface of my skin so hard it feels like my face is being pricked by 100 little pins.
I have no freaking clue what to do, so I cover. Badly. “Oops. Sorry. I’m such a spaz—”
He smiles a slow, casual smile. A tattoo of a bobcat or some kind of jungle lion peeks out from under his collar. I stare at it. Was he my age when he decided to permanently ink himself? Was it something he did with his friends? I wonder if he regrets it.
“I’ll need you to come with me,” he says.
He chuckles a little bit. “I think you know.”
“I do?” I ask. There is literally no oxygen going in or out of my body.
“Girls who steal $300 bracelets aren’t as dumb as they look.”
“I didn’t steal anything.” I try to make my “you are the most charming person in the entire world” face, but he doesn’t buy it.
“I need you to come back inside and show me what’s on your wrist.”
I have no choice. So I say, “Oh, shit! Is this what you’re talking about?” I hold out my wrist. “I totally forgot I tried it on! I’m an idiot.”
He smiles at me. Just beneath his smile, I can see the tattooed point of the bobcat’s claw, poised above his jugular.
“You may have ‘forgotten’”—he stresses the word, obviously not believing me—“but you still left the store without paying for it, which means you broke the law.”
When we head back inside, I try to look like nothing’s wrong, but then I see Jean standing there by the big glass doors. She’s pointing me out to her coworker and wearing a smug smile on her face. Ten minutes ago, Jean was the loser and I was the winner. Now it’s a completely different story.
“Eric is just using you for a free steak,” I snipe to Jean as we pass. Her smug smile disappears. The guard holds out his arm for me to take, and it’s almost the way a gentleman leads a lady onto the dance floor—or a bobcat drags its prey into the forest after the chase is over.