We walk out to the benches around the fountain and spot Carol and Gail. Even from two stores down, I can see Carol’s lost weight, and I’m instantly jealous. She was always a pudge like me. Then she had to go to the clinic for an abortion, and she threw up for two days after the anesthetic. It makes me wonder why no one sells anesthetic to fat people for a diet. I guess it’s against the law, but still it isn’t fair.

Two weeks before Carol went to the clinic, she told me about the moment down in the Pit when Scott Malone had finally got off her, and she had to squat and search for a full minute before she found the condom. But when I tried to put my arm around her, she said, “You smell like ham, Janine,” and pushed me away. I don’t care. Dawn is my best friend, anyway.

Dawn and me and Carol and Gail are sitting in front of the fountain waiting for babes. Gail is beautiful and goes out with Joey Cosmo, who has a roll bar in his truck and wild blond hair like a rock star. But he’s at some truck show in Garden City tonight, so Gail is a free agent.

I never told anyone, but I have a secret about Joey Cosmo. Once I walked by Sheer Impact, and I saw Joey sitting under a dryer with perm rods in his hair. It made me want him even more, seeing him with the plastic sheet over him, the white towel around his neck, and blue and yellow perm rods covering his head like a helmet. Any guy who thinks he ought to try and look good, even if he’s a babe already, has got to be sort of sweet. I wouldn’t cheat on him just because he went to a truck show without me, but I’m not beautiful like Gail, and the rules are different.

Tonight Gail has done her eyes in blue liner. Her hair is soft blond that curls at her shoulder, and she’s long and thin in pink cords and a black sweater that shows a beige bra under her arm when she lifts a hand to flip her hair back. It’s hard to believe we’re both girls. I’ve never come close to looking anything like her.

“What’s up?” she says, throwing her cigarette into the fountain. There’s a hiss as flame hits water.

“Nothing,” Dawn says.

“How you feeling?” I ask Carol.

She gives me a look. “I’m staying at Gail’s.”

“Janine’s staying at my house,” Dawn says.

“How come?” Gail asks, suddenly interested, thinking something’s up like I’m pregnant or something.

“My stepfather’s a skank,” I say quickly, feeling a moment’s pride being the center of attention.

“They’re all skanks,” Gail says. “My stepfather stole 10 bucks from my purse last week.”

Dawn’s elbow sinks into my side. “Babes,” she whispers. And there they are.

Three guys turning the corner from Monkey Ward’s. We lean back with our toes stretched out in high heels. I can feel the water spray against my back, but I don’t move. The waist of my jeans is like an iron band. I can hardly breathe.

Dawn stands. “Janine, let’s go.”

“We just sat down,” I say.

“Look at that babe in the red leather,” Dawn says. “He’s checking me out.”

“Can’t we just sit here a while?” I say.

“Janine, do you want to be a fat cow all your life?” Dawn says. “The blond one isn’t bad. He’s got long hair. Let’s go.”

We go after the babes. They strut around the corner of Camera Hut with long pink combs sticking out of their back pockets. Dawn’s right. I have to do something with my life.

We follow them down the north corridor of the mall. I watch the babe in the red leather. His thin hips jut back and forth in tight black denims. I feel myself slow and heavy at Dawn’s side.

They go into A&W, and Dawn clicks fast on high heels behind them. The two bomber jackets buy chili dogs, but the red leather buys fries. He turns as he squirts ketchup, and he has these unbelievable sea-green eyes. I feel a butterfly come alive in my stomach, and I could almost collapse with the feel of it coming over me. But I force myself to look at the blond one, like Dawn wants, even though he’s ugly.

“What’s up?” the babe asks, staring down at the floor. He smiles, and I see his teeth are white and clean like a commercial. He has dyed black hair with brown roots.

“Nothing,” Dawn says, moving in. I try and give the blond one a look, but he’s worse close up. His hair is long but hangs flat against the sides of his face, and his body is round and square like Barney Rubble’s. I feel myself rolling loose, bursting against my jeans, and I can see from his face that I’m just as unappealing to him. I manage a weak smile.

They slide into a booth with their food, throwing fries at each other across the table. We order cheese fries and sit across from them. We suck cheese off the fries and then put them back on the plate, waiting. I suck only five fries. Dawn sucks down practically the whole plate. She can. She’s already thrown up twice since breakfast.

Finally the babe finishes his food and looks across the table at Dawn. “Hey,” the babe says.

“Hey,” Dawn says.

“What’s up?” he says.

“Nothing,” she says.

“You want to hang out?”

“Sure,” she says. “I’m Dawn. This is Janine.”

“Hey,” he says, looking my way for the briefest moment. He’s a definite babe. Tall and thin with hollow cheeks and a square chin.

“Listen,” Dawn says, leaning in toward the babe. She gives a look– perfect, all eyes and lips. “Janine was checking out your friend,” she whispers. “The blond guy. She’s in love with him or something.”

“That’s Stevie,” the babe says. “He’s cool.”

The babe stands, pressing his hips into the edge of the table. Dawn’s fingers stroke the tabletop. Her nails, hard pink shells, click against the tabletop. “Cool,” she whispers. She stands, brushing against the babe as she pulls out of the booth. There’s the sizzle of fabric against fabric. “We’ll meet you by Macy’s,” she says, and struts fast out of A&W, heading back towards the Sears bathroom. I follow, running to keep up.