Dark Matters -4-


4. Secret Shopper

by Donna Lamb

“What do you mean, magic?” I asked, but the hair on my neck was already standing up.

Jon shrugged, pulling to a stop at a corner. Now I knew where we were going, the downtown mall.

“After I found the ring, things have been different,” he said. “I know if someone’s lying about stuff, sometimes I know what they are going to say. Well, sort of.” When the light changed, he pulled across the street and into the mall parking lot from the back side.

He drove around the end of the mall and parked close to the side entrance to Penney’s Department Store. “I seem to be able to talk people into things easier. And I swear, I’m faster and stronger than I was before. Coach says he’s beginning to think I should be playing for the varsity.”

“Huh,” I said. Neither of us made a move to get out of the car. “Where did you find them?”

“Them?” He frowned. “I only found the one.” He held up his hand, showing the thicker band on his pinkie, the one with a white stone. “It fell out of a box of stuff Dad sent back from Turkey.”

I looked down at my hand where I wore a similar ring on the long finger of my left hand. “Where did this one come from?”

Jon nodded. “See, now, that’s why I really started thinking about magic.”

I stared at him but he didn’t continue, he just sat there looking out at the Penney’s entrance with an expression like it hurt him to think. People were going in and out but not that many of them. It was after six so the store might be closing soon.

“Jon!” I said, holding my hand up. “Where did this ring come from?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I was thinking I would like to have something to give you, you know, like more than a burger and a shake and I had that ring in my hand, so I gave it to you.” He blinked.

“But where did you get it?” I asked.

“I just told you,” he said. “It was in my hand; I don’t know where it came from.”

He stared at me. I think I had left my mouth open. “Doo-doo, doo-doo, right?” he said.

I nodded. It was definitely Twilight Zone time. I closed my mouth.

“It’s been getting weirder for months,” said Jon. “Like you?”

“Me? I’m not weird,” I said.

“I had to find out,” he said.

“Find out what?”

“If you were queer. I thought you might be….” He trailed off.

“Are you queer?” I asked.

He shook his head violently and turned away. “I don’t even know anymore.” He sounded stunned.

Neither of us said anything for awhile, just staring at the people going in and out of Penney’s.

Jon stirred himself after a while and reached behind him for his wallet. Pulling it out he said to me, “You better go in now; I think they close at seven or seven thirty.”

“Go in?” I said.

He nodded, handing me a twenty dollar bill. “That should be enough?”

“Enough for what? You’re not making sense.”

“Enough to buy what you need. You’ll know what it is….” He trailed off, pressing the note into my hands.

“What!?” I glared at the money then at him. “I’ll know what?”

“What to buy,” he said, sounding a little desperate. “Go ahead, go.”

He pushed on me and I opened the car door on my side, confused and a little afraid. “Can’t you tell me what it is I’m supposed to buy?”

“If I told you, then you’d buy that and we still wouldn’t know. Not for sure.”

He pushed on me again and I stepped out of the car. “I’m supposed to read your mind?”

“Something like that,” he said.

I stood there for a moment more staring at him.

He blinked. “Wally.”

I scowled at him.

“Wally, did you get a hard-on watching the guys in gym?” he asked.

I hadn’t expected that question. “Uh…. Not really. I mean, I dunno?”

He smiled but I wasn’t sure it was a nice smile. “Go ahead, go into Penney’s and buy something. Some things, maybe. Things you want and need. You’ll know.” He reached across the seat to pull the door closed when I stepped back.

I stuck the twenty into my pocket, I didn’t really have a wallet and headed toward the door to the department store. No one paid any attention to me. I glanced at the ring I was now wearing and realized that it was kind of girly looking, not at all like the heavy masculine ring Jon wore.

I frowned as I pulled the door open and went inside. Jon wanted me to buy something girly, I felt sure of it. Something that only a girl would want or need. He didn’t have to tell me, I knew. Why was he doing this? And how did I know?

I looked at the ring again. Magic?

The side door of Penney’s opened into the appliance section. Big stuff like TVs and refrigerators on one side, small stuff like toasters and mixers on the other. I wandered through. Towels and bedding toward the front of the store, camping stuff and luggage toward the back. Nothing suggested itself.

I sort of dreaded finding out what I was going to buy but I couldn’t stop looking. It was like the compulsion I had felt about going to football practice. I wanted to do it—but I didn’t want to want it; if that makes any sense at all.

More leather goods, including wallets and purses. I wanted a purse suddenly. I wanted it because I hated carrying stuff in my pockets. I felt my face turning red with embarrassment, but—a guy could buy a purse for his mother or sister or girlfriend? Couldn’t he?

With that thought, the urge to buy a purse faded a bit. Not girly enough? I realized that I was going to have to buy something no guy would want to buy. Something a person wouldn’t buy as a gift.

Shoes. Dresses. Cosmetics. Perfume. Things that were girly but could still be bought as gifts. My face was turning red again. Lingerie. Panties. Bras. Girdles. Stockings. Fancy stuff you could buy for someone else but everyday things?

“What are you doing to me, Jon?” I muttered

A display set up in the middle of one aisle held panties with a sign that said 39 cents or less. I glanced around. No one was looking at me but anything I bought would have to be taken to a register.

How would I know what size to buy? An image came to mind, shopping with Hayley in the summer, she was checking out with underwear for both of us. Boy’s size M, women’s size S. Or was that a 5? I blinked.

Panties. I picked through the bin; some were marked with numbers and some with letters. I knew I wasn’t as big in the butt as Hayley so I picked out some size 4s. All of them plain but pink, rose or lavender and one pair that was white but trimmed with flowers. My face was still red and I could hear myself breathing.

How many did I need? I wondered. Eight, I decided, one a day for a week and one for washday. They were so soft, so silky. I knew they would feel nice against my skin….

Oh shit. If I was thinking about washing them, I was thinking about wearing them. I realized I would be wearing these panties. Jon would want me to, and I would want to do it, wouldn’t I? I wasn’t sure how or why but I knew it was so.

What was going on?

I glared at the ring.

Magic. Magic is going to get me killed if I wear panties to school. I sighed.

Eight pair made a bit of a handful, but the total for buying them would be less than three dollars. I should get something else and I needed some way to carry the— the panties while I shopped. I struggled very hard not to burst into hysterical giggling.

I succeeded. No one was paying any attention to me but if I fell down in the floor with a fit they probably would.

Both hands full of panties, I went back over to the purse display and picked out a large one, cloth, decorated with roses with a strap and gold fittings. It was full of paper, but I stuffed the panties in too and left the clasp open so no one would think I was trying to steal it. There was a matching billfold, and I put that in too. Total price still less than eight or nine dollars.

I could get more.

I tried to imagine myself carrying a purse, keeping my stuff in one. I had always hated using pockets. But I didn’t have to imagine as I put my arm through the strap and headed back toward lingerie.

A bra. I needed a bra. And, and stockings, I decided.

I didn’t know anything about how bras were sized, so I picked out a small one, a 28AA looked to be the smallest. I got that one in plain white with a rose right at the point of cleavage. Which I had none of.

If Smokey the Bear had seen me walking through a forest with my burning face, he would have dumped a bucket of water on my head and beat me to death with his shovel.

Stockings. Except here in Penney’s they called them hosiery. There were two kinds, nylons and pantyhose. Nylons were two pair for $1 and pantyhose were $2 a pair. I picked the nylons because that was what my mom and sister wore.

I’d need something to hold them up. Right next to the hosiery, they were having a sale on girdles, buy one get one half off. I resisted the mental image of a half-off girdle and put two of the smallest size in my impromptu shopping bag.

My stomach full of butterflies, I started toward the checkout. I knew I was still under $18 so I dropped a bottle of rose sparkle nail polish for 29 cents, nail polish remover for 10 cents and a manicure kit with clippers and files for 25 cents into the bag, too.

I didn’t want to speak to the cashier or have her speak to me, so I just walked up and put the overfull purse along with the twenty dollar bill on the counter. She rang me up; it came to $18.75 with tax.

Then she smiled at me and spoke. I almost dodged.

“You spent more than five dollars in the women’s department," she said. "You get your choice of our free gift-with-purchase.” She waved at a display next to the cashier.

Stunned, I made a quick choice, the bath sachet with cologne. I didn't even know what a bath sachet was. She put everything into a heavy paper store bag with twine handles and handed me my change. “Thank you for shopping at Penney’s, miss,” she said. “Come back soon.” She smiled.

Miss. She called me miss? Did she really think I was a girl or was she being sarcastic? White River sarcasm was not usually that subtle. And she had smiled.

I didn’t think I looked like a girl, even if I did need a haircut but maybe I looked like a girl who dressed as a boy? Not that uncommon around here, in the little farming communities nearby, especially.

I must have staggered out of the store without realizing it because there was the car with Jon standing beside it holding the passenger door open for me.

I slid into the seat and put the bag on the floor in front of me and Jon closed the door, grinning in at me. Then he ran around to the driver’s side and got in. “Can I see what you got?”

I stared at him. Was he asking?

“Please?” he added. And politely. Up till now, he’d been ordering me around and I had done everything he told me to. Had something changed?

I decided to press my luck and shook my head. “Not here. Can you take me home? Alex and David were supposed to tell my mom I’d be late but I don’t know if they did.”

“It’s getting late,” he agreed. “Sun went down while you were inside.” He started the car up, flicked on his headlights, and pulled through the space ahead of us to join a line exiting the parking lot. “I’ll take you straight home if you promise to give me a fashion show.” He grinned sideways.

I laughed. Okay, I know I giggled, but I couldn’t help it. “All I bought was underwear.”

He laughed too. “I can’t wait,” he said.

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