I tore my sunglasses off, and the world lightened about ten shades.
The girl’s hair was brown, not black. Gone was the perfect completion and sculpted eyebrows I’d expected. In were the braces, round cheeks, and ginormous kid-eyes.
Oh no. She was a sixth grader. I’d tried to flirt with a deceptively tall sixth grader.
The kid flashed me a smile. “Hullo, who’re you?”
Her eyes grew so wide I was worried she’d strain her eyebrows. “Wait a minute! You’re the Glitter Kid!”
I groaned internally and dropped my head back again. Lord, what have I done to deserve this? Will I forever be branded as the Glitter Kid?
She grabbed my hand and shook it with every ounce of enthusiasm in her body, leaving my arm throbbing. “My name’s Jade. You musta thought I was Brittney.” She snickered a little. “She’s my older sister. I didn’t think we looked alike.” She let go of my hand and clasped hers together, rocking back and forth on her heels. “Do you like to draw too?” she asked, grabbing a pad of paper. “I like this one. The paper’s really smooth.”
Jade managed to stuff all these words into little less than half a second. I didn’t register any of ’em, to be honest. I still stuck on the fact that this girl was not Brittney.
Jade proceeded to launch into a discourse on the different types of sketching material. I blinked. Focus, Sam. I needed paint cans. I glanced over at the shelf. All I had to do was reach around her, grab two, and run.
Jade was still talking. King would probably find me (and kill me) before she stopped. Who was I kidding? Jesus would probably come back to gather the saints before she shut up.
But I couldn’t leave. If Jade talked this much, there was no doubt word of my rudeness would slip out in front of Brittney. Though as it stood, Brittney had lived with this tyke for who knew how long and probably didn’t listen anyway. Jade’s words had already faded into background noise, and I hadn’t stood here for longer than a minute.
I took a deep breath and remembered King’s creepy grin. “Look…uh….”
“I’m Jade,” the girl said.
“Look, Jade, I….”
“Do you know my sister?”
Yes. I’ve stolen her phone. I shook my head. “I have to go—”
Yet another karate child rounded the corner. He marched toward us, the ends of his karate belt flapping. The kid was so short I would have laughed at his anger if his glare wasn’t so intense.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
I stepped back. “Whoa. Um, Sam. I was just—”
“Were you messing with Monster?” His mouth was pulled down into a furious frown.
“Monster?“ I started. Jade grabbed my arm and pulled me beside her.
“This is the Glitter Kid! You know, from Bridgewald.” She jabbed a finger toward my nose.
I dropped my face into my hand. Whoever had said that the past doesn’t define you had obviously never been coated with pink glitter.
The half-pint didn’t lose his suspicious look. “I wouldn’t touch him, Monster. He looks like a shady character. “
Me? A shady character? I would have laughed, but again, laughing in the face of such a serious kid didn’t seem right. Also, did he just call the sixth-grader beside me “Monster”?
“Who are you?” I asked instead.
The kid puffed out his chest. “I am Matt, better known as Komodo.”
“Short for Komodo dragon,” Jade said dreamily.
Wait a second, where these two kids…dating? “So you guys are….” I motioned to the two of them. “A thing?”
Matt stepped forward, jabbing a finger at my chest. “We aren’t a thing, Glitter Boy….”
“Same difference. We’re soulmates.”
“Dude, you’re like twelve,” I said. A small, quiet voice told me I shouldn’t risk angering Matt, given he knew karate, but I couldn’t help it. Soulmates? At twelve? Why couldn’t I have had a soulmate at twelve?
“He’s thirteen,” Jade corrected.
“Same difference,” I said.
Matt’s eyes narrowed until I couldn’t see his pupils. I gulped.
“Step away from Monster, or so help me….” Matt stepped forward, fists clenching and unclenching. Wow, this kid had anger issues. Should he be in karate? I backed up, but Matt kept coming.
“Matt, Glitter Kid wasn’t bothering me,” Jade said.
Matt’s eyes were locked on me, and I don’t think he heard her. My throat closed up. I was about to be killed by an angry half-pint.
“Monster, Komodo, where on earth did you—?” Yet a third karate kid (why were there so many?!) waltzed into the aisle. This time, however, he wasn’t a kid.
He had the body of a giraffe on steroids, standing straight and tall like he wasn’t afraid to show everyone how beneath him they were. I recognized him, but I couldn’t remember from where. He had to be a senior.
A silver Panther pendant swung from his long neck. The mascot of West End High School. Oh joy. If he knew I went to Bridgewald….
He paused, taking in the scene.
I backed into a shelf as Matt stalked closer. A roll of Duct Tape clattered to the floor.
“Matthew!” the senior commanded. The boy didn’t respond and took another step forward. Tall Man reached forward and grabbed Matt’s shoulder. Matt whirled around in blink, hands up and balled.
Tall Man crouched down to Matt’s level. “Komodo, what’s this about?”
Matt dropped his gaze. My pulse moved into my ears, and I edged to the side. Thank the Lord I was still alive. For now.
Unfortunately Matt and Tall Man had decided to have their conversation right in front of the paint, so I was forced to stick around.
Tall Man asked for eye contact again, but again Matt didn’t give it to him. Tall Kid just knelt there, talking to him in low tones. I only understood half of it.
“He was bothering Monster,” Matt finally replied to one of Tall Man’s questions.
“I wasn’t—” I started. Jade grabbed my arm and squeezed it. She chewed on her lower lip. Oh right. That probably translated into the polite version of “Shut up.”
Tall Man and Matt talked for long enough that I started relaxing and worrying about my paint cans. I wondered if James would come looking for me soon.
I doubted King would let him.
Tall Man ruffled Matt’s hair. The kid still hadn’t looked up. What had Tall Man said to him? The Senior didn’t look like a bully. He had quite a baby face, after all.
His eyes latched onto mine and hardened. I immediately took that thought back. Nope. Tall Man could be a bully, even an assassin for all I knew. An assassin with a baby face.
Could I not catch one single, confounded break?
“Are you the trouble maker?” He turned on me and rose to his full height. I gulped.
“I…I didn’t do anything. All I wanted was some…”
“He bumped me, actually,” Jade said.
I turned a little red at that one. Tall Boy tilted his head. “Sure,” I said. “As I was saying, I was just getting some paint cans.” I reached around Tall Man.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
I wish I’d taken time to appreciate that someone actually asked for my name instead of calling me Glitter Kid, but I didn’t.
“What’s yours?” I shot back.
Jade popped up beside Tall Man. “This is Timber.”
All right then, Miss Answerer Of All Questions. “Do people yell that when you fall or something?”
Timber ginned. “It’s short for Timber Wolf.”
“Ah,” I said. Why on earth was he called that? I once again tried to edge around Timber.
“Need something?” He didn’t move. I sorta wanted to smack that smile off his face, but I decided against it. The fact that I couldn’t reach his face had nothing to do with it, I’m sure.
“Yes.” I finally reached around him and grabbed two massive cans of glittery paint. “Now if you’ll excuse me….” I marched out of the aisle.
“See ya, Glitter Kid!”
Cheeks burning, I turned onto the main aisle without replying. I shoved my glasses back onto my face. My luck with Brittney’s sister was about as bad as my encounters with the girl herself. Soooo embarrassing. But at least I didn’t know any of those people.
Still, I’d made a heck of a first impression.
I jogged my way through the checkout line and was out of the building before my cheeks cooled down. I scanned the parking lot but couldn’t see James’ car. The bottom of my stomach fell out. He hadn’t left me here, had he?
“Hey, Glitter Kid.”
I squealed and spun around. King leaned against one of those concrete pillar things, smirking like always.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“Thanks for the spray.” He snatched the cans out of my hand without replying and walked into the parking lot.
“Sure…uh, where is James?” I started after him.
That’s when it hit me. I’d forgotten the Cheetos. “King, tell James to wait for me!” I yelled as I ducked back inside Walmart.
I rushed through the store, nearly met disaster in the electronics when I tripped over a TV cord, but made it to the snack aisle without major trauma. When I reached the chip section, I grabbed the nearest Cheetos bag and hugged it to my chest. Then I checked out again.
I found myself outside the doors once more. A light fog had settled, transforming the area into the set of a horror movie, which wasn’t very cool now that I was alone in said parking lot. The doors slid closed behind me.
James’ car was nowhere to be seen, and there was no way I was stalking through the set of a horror movie to find it. A blob of pink caught the corner of my eye and I glance over.
Random streaks of glittery paint coated the outside of a red van. Who on earth would do such a terrible paint job?
Wait a second. That was the karate children’s car. It was just red before.
I honestly don’t know why it took me so long to figure it out.
I’d bought the paint. King had used it.
Jade stood behind me, hand over her mouth, pointing to the glitterfied van. Matthew stood beside her, face turning visibly red. They were transfixed, horror playing across their faces.
Timber stood between the three, but he wasn’t watching the van. He was staring straight into my eyes, voice as cold as the Tundra, “You did this, didn’t you?”
I didn’t have time to ask him if a platypus trusts a hippo. I was already running through the parking lot, my Cheetos abandoned in front of the sliding doors.
This story is lasting much longer than I thought it would, so I’ll see you guys next week with the fourth part of Cheetos, Kittens, and Paint Cans.
Have a great weekend!
-Gabrielle Pollack (A.K.A. The Great Rising Puzzlement)