Porcelain Skin

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Walmart

Thursday came and went, and I had yet to acknowledge any of Trevor’s calls or text messages. I was still feeling stupid for falling for his tricks. I’d definitely been wrong about him. To think that he could so easily find someone else before things even began between us had my mind reeling. He was just like all the other guys: a lying, cheating, manipulator. Maybe he had planned this all along—pull me in, get close to me, make me feel safe and secure—only to destroy me. It was a surprise attack and the outcome proved that Trevor Nixon lacked any compassion; he only wanted revenge.

I was in a constant state of funk. I didn’t want to sleep. I didn’t want to run, play my violin, or eat Skittles. Things were bad, very bad. I’d gone for a late night walk last night and had come back to find a basket full of Gummy Bears, Twizzlers, and M&M’s sitting on my bed. I knew they were from Mercy because she’d been throwing me sympathetic looks all day. She never pushed me to talk, though, and I so appreciated her for that. She understood my need for space.

Lightning had texted me last night, reminding me of the plans on Friday. I had been tempted to decline, but after two days of seclusion, my body was in need of some social interaction. Maybe it would help get my mind off the gloom that had settled over me.

Now, I’m waiting at the front of my dorm for Lightning to meet me. He says he’s got the day planned, and I’m not going to want to miss a split second of it. I’m tapping my foot against the pavement while I count down each minute that goes by. I’m completely absorbed in my own pitiful thoughts when a boisterous voice shakes me out of my misery.

“You’re here!” Lightning exclaims, jogging up to me and giving me a playful punch on the shoulder. I smile back, and thankfully, he doesn’t notice how unauthentic it appears. “You ready for the most memorable day of your life?” he asks.

I doubt this will top Tuesday night with Trevor, but I’m willing to humor him.

“Let’s see what you got,” I shoot back as I bump his shoulder with my own.

He motions for me to follow him and I’m grateful that I can rely on his overly outgoing personality to keep the conversation going since I don’t have the energy. He leads me across campus to a little red Pontiac that has a cute blonde leaning against the side. She waves as we approach.

“Emma, meet my girlfriend Mallory, Mallory—Emma,” Lightning bellows, performing the typical introduction with animated hand gestures.

I reach out to shake her delicate little hand.

“Hi, Emma. It’s so nice to finally meet you.” Her voice is soft, yet confident. Her pure smile brings instant comfort, and I can’t help but feel welcomed.

“You too,” I respond. I’m smiling before I can even stop myself. “How long have you two been dating?”

They both look at each other with glowing faces before Lightning answers.

“Six years. High school sweethearts and all that.” He almost looks embarrassed, and I watch with yearning as Mallory slides her hand around his forearm.

She smiles warmly at him before directing her twinkling eyes at me. “Are you ready to see what Theo’s got planned for us?” she asks excitedly as Lightning makes his way around to the driver’s side of the car.

His head pops up at the question, and he shoots me a panicked look.

“Theo?” My eyes dart between Lightning and Mallory to see who will answer.

Mallory turns to face Lightning, and I can see the disappointment in the frown on her lips. “Really?” she sighs. “You didn’t tell her?”

Lightning scratches his head and mimics her sigh before resting his gaze on me again. “My real name’s Theo.” He shoots a glare at Mallory before looking back at me.

“Theo?” I laugh softly at his obvious dislike of the name. “Like, Theodore?

“Don’t you dare,” he warns before sliding inside the car.

Mallory and I glance at each other in amusement before joining him inside the vehicle. He starts the engine, making his way off of campus.

“So, Teddy,” I ask slyly and I hear him groan. “What’s the plan for today?”

Mallory chuckles softly from the passenger seat.

“Walmart,” he says after adjusting the rear view mirror.

“Uh, Walmart? Really?” I laugh while catching his eyes in the mirror. “That’s your big plan?”

“Don’t underestimate me, Emma-tater,” he retorts.

Mallory turns in her seat to shoot a questioning glance at me.

“He doesn’t even know where he came up with that nickname,” I tell her with a shrug.

She forms a little ‘oh’ with her lips but I can tell she’s not completely surprised. He’s most likely got a nickname for everyone he’s ever met.

The rest of the ride is silent as we listen to music on the radio. Within twenty minutes we’ve reached the nearest Walmart and Lightning swiftly pulls into a vacant parking spot.

“Alright, ladies—Chris, Gavin, and Jessilyn should be here already. We’re meeting them in the cookie aisle,” Lightning explains.

“Cookies?” I ask.

“Does that really need explaining?” Lightning gives me a weary look, which brings a smile to my face, before hopping out of the car and locking it behind him. He flashes a grin my way, clearly excited about the event he has planned.

We make quick work of introductions before Lightning finally explains the whole point of meeting here.

“For those of you who don’t understand what’s going on,” he says, sending me a pointed look. “The goal of today is to freak out the cashiers.”

A child-like grin crawls its way onto his thin lips. I think he’s going for some kind of wickedly evil smile, but with his friendly face, it fails.

“What you have to do is find the most outrageous things to buy,” he goes on to explain. “Things that will embarrass, shock, or scare them. It’s gonna be amazing!” He sings the last word as excitement bubbles out of him.

“Where do you come up with this stuff?” Jessilyn asks as she pops a Gummy Bear into her mouth. I’m pretty sure she just picked the packet off the shelf and tore into it as if she was pulling a snack from the cabinet of her own home.

“I’m just special,” Lightning gushes.

I see Mallory roll her eyes, but the smile never leaves her face.

“Alright, let’s do this,” the tall blond announces as if he’s trying to give us all a pep talk before a big game. From what I recall, his name is Chris and he loves ginger snaps—not sure why Lightning found that information to be relevant.

“Should we pair up?” Gavin asks.

We all glance around at each other, trying to decide if that would be a good idea. I’m secretly hoping they all decide against it, but luck is not on my side this week.

“Actually, that would make it so much better!” Lightning announces. “We can each go in pairs, and the group to come up with the best reaction from the cashier wins.”

“What do they win?” Jessilyn inquires as she slips the now empty bag of Gummy Bears into her purse without a hint of remorse. I’m not even sure that she’s aware she’s done it, but no one comments. Apparently, they’re all used to it.

“Uh...” Lightning scratching the side of his head while glancing around for an idea.

“Lunch,” Gavin suggests. “The other two teams have to buy the winning team lunch.”

Lightning’s eyes beam as he snaps his finger at Gavin. “Perfect. Yes. The winners get free lunch.” He nods to himself as he speaks. “Okay, how will we split into teams?”

Silence.

We take turns looking at each other again for an idea until Chris offers up a solution. “Dead ringer finger?”

Everyone nods in agreement while I stand there like a drunk elephant, my head swinging slowly from person to person.

“Huh?” I finally ask.

“Oh, sorry,” Mallory quickly responds. “So it’s a game we play. You put one hand behind your back and on the count of three you hold up a random number of fingers. The first two people to hold up the same number get paired. We do it until everyone has a partner.”

“Ahhh,” I sing as the light bulb goes off. “Okay, got it.”

“Alright, ready?” Lightning asks.

We all nod.

“One, two, three—”

Six hands shoot out into the middle of the circle we’ve made. Chris and Lightning get paired first. We go again, but this time, three of us reveal three fingers, while Mallory only has one. On the next attempt, Mallory gets paired with Jessilyn, which leaves only Gavin and I remaining to become automatic partners. Gavin shoots me a smile and then we all break away into our teams.

“May the best men win!” Lightning shouts down the aisle.

An old lady perks up her head at Lightning’s loud behavior, but she seems surprisingly pleased by his joyful attitude as she chuckles under her breath. Of course Lightning would say ‘men’; his team is the only one without a female.

“I’m sorry, I’m horrible with names,” Gavin says, drawing my attention to him. “Can you remind me of your name again?”

There’s something soft and tender about this guy. I feel like he has everyone’s best interest at heart. Like he actually cares about every individual person he meets. I’m instantly comforted by his open, readable expression. His brows are furrowed in worry as he waits for my response.

“Emma,” I reply softly. I don’t want to break this delicate person. “And you’re Gavin?”

“Righto.” He grins widely. “How ’bout we get to it? Can’t let the other teams win.”

“Absolutely not,” I agree as I find myself genuinely smiling for the first time in two days.

Conversation flows surprisingly easy between us as we search out each aisle for the best options. We’re debating over whether to go for something embarrassing or something suspicious and so far we haven’t had any luck. We finally settled on something funny as we grab a bag of adult diapers, a tube of hemorrhoid cream, Gas-X, and a container of Tums.

“I feel like this is a major bonding experience for us,” Gavin announces as we stand at the check out lane waiting for our turn.

The other two teams are standing nearby to witness the cashiers reaction.

“Me too,” I reply as I shift my hold on the bag of diapers. “I recommend that you wait until you get back to your dorm before taking the Gas-X though. I really don’t want to experience the moment when it starts working,” I tell him casually, causing him to choke out a laugh.

“Well, in that case, I recommend you put one of them diapers on ASAP before you mess up your jeans.” He hides a smile behind the glimmer in his eyes, and I try my hardest to appear offended. It doesn’t work.

“How’s that hemorrhoid, Gav?” I inquire innocently.

Gavin guffaws before replying. “Much better, thank you. I feel really bad that we weren’t able to afford your hair-removal cream,” he says as he rubs my back tenderly.

“Oh, I know. And I’m sorry we weren’t able to get your Stool Softener.” I pat his arm gently as he pretends to wipe away a stray tear.

Our turn at the check out finally arrives and Gavin and I exchange looks before turning on our serious acting skills. The girl behind the counter greets us with an easy smile before scanning our items. Her face reveals nothing until she gets to the hemorrhoid cream, and then we notice the edge of her lips twitch upwards. She tries to control herself but fails. She turns to cough into her shoulder, undoubtedly trying to hide a laugh, but we catch it. She chances a look at Gavin and me. I’m mentally congratulating us for holding it together when suddenly Gavin bursts into a fit of laughter. The moment the sound escapes his lips the cashier relaxes, allowing her own giggling to trickle out of her lips, and then we’re all laughing.

“You guys are messing with me, aren’t you?” she laughs softly.

“Kinda,” I answer since Gavin is still working on getting himself under control.

“Nice.” She shakes her head in amusement as she hands us our change “Enjoy your retirement,” she calls after us as we turn to leave.

“Thank you, young lady,” Gavin wheezes, giving his best impression of an old man.

We stand nearby as the other two teams check out. Chris and Lightning end up winning, seeing as how they ended up buying lipstick, tampons, and “How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days”. The cashier was an older lady who didn’t hide the fact that she did not approve of their behavior. The look on her face was priceless.

Mallory and Jessilyn took an entirely different route, as they bought the typical pantyhose, duct tape, and pliers. The cashier who checked them out didn’t seem even the slightest bit concerned about their purchases.

The day has gone by quickly, and it’s been great to forget my troubles for a few easy hours. Laughter comes easy with this group of people, and I find myself yearning to feel this way every day. But, I know it won’t last. As soon as the day is over, my ball gown will turn back into rags, my carriage back into a pumpkin, and my glass slippers back into worn sandals. I will once again just be the torn, broken girl who I’d woken up as this morning.

Now, here we are at a random burger joint stuffing our faces. The easy banter and goofy conversations making it easy to pretend that I am okay. They never tire of trying to include me by asking my opinion on different topics, but my heart isn’t in it. My thoughts keep floating back to Trevor and his unexpected behavior two days ago. I’m relieved when everyone agrees that it’s time to call it a day.

We finally head back to campus. It’s nearly dinner time now, but I opt out of joining them for yet another meal. The moment I walk in the door I check my phone. No new messages. I scroll through all of them but never click on the six that were sent by Trevor. They remain unopened mysteries. I’m still not ready to hear his excuses. It’d just be his lame attempt at bringing me a false sense of ease. I don’t need his lies to make me feel better. I’ve survived before without any help from anyone; I will do it again.

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