Miss Me Not (Page 14)

"Porcelain," he said as the theater lights went down.

"What?" I asked, getting hushed by the overzealous tourist sitting on my other side.

"Your skin is like porcelain," he whispered, earning us another shushing.

Shooting her a glare, I turned back to Dean, only to see he was engrossed in the action of the show.

Fifteen minutes later, we were depositing our glasses in the recycling receptacle. I was getting bumped and pushed by tourists who acted like they were going to spontaneously combust if they didn't put their glasses in the container at the exact moment as us.

Dean led me through the herd, keeping a protective arm over my shoulders as if he was responsible for shielding me.

"Well, that was craptastic," I said, trying to calm my sudden claustrophobia.

"Yeah, the crowds can suck ass, but this is nothing. You should see it during their peak time," he said, shuddering to prove his point. "You up for more rides?" he added.

"Lead the way," I said, taking in his hopeful expression. If I was going to do this whole living thing, I was going to need to start acting normal and less like someone with serious obsessive compulsive issues.

Dean swung our hands slightly as we walked. I was most certain that “friends” didn't hold hands, but his touch was becoming oddly addicting. I could have done without the whole preteen hand swinging, but I tolerated it even though the whole cliché of it made me want to cringe. It could have been worse. He could have insisted we walk with our hands in each other's back pockets. Just the idea made me want to puke a little.

Chapter Thirteen

The week following our trip to Universal Studios was wrought with firsts for me. Dean somehow roped, cajoled, conned, pretty much tricked me into agreeing to have Thanksgiving with his family. I balked at the mere suggestion of it, but over the two days we spent at school the week of Thanksgiving, he made it his personal mission to wear me down until I finally gave up in exasperation. The moment I agreed, I instantly wished I could retract my words. Family dinners were bad enough, but holiday family dinners were equivalent to Chinese water torture as far as I was concerned. Meeting new people, making polite chit-chat and acting like I was normal just seemed way too daunting for me.

As a last-ditch attempt to weasel out of it, I finally confessed two nights before Thanksgiving that I had nothing to wear that was presentable.

"You're always presentable," Dean lied kindly.

"Right," I snorted, glaring at the iPhone in my hand. Even though he couldn't see me, I still rolled my eyes dramatically. Of course, the fact that he couldn't see me made the whole thing lose some of its luster.

"So, I'll take you shopping tomorrow," he said in his typical Mr. Fix-It way.

"No way," I balked. Just the idea of Dean following me around from store to store while I tried on one outfit after another in the whole shopping ritual was enough to make me pray for Armageddon. That's if I was a prayer.

"What about your mom? Can she take you?"

"Um, maybe, if hell has frozen over," I bit out unkindly, not forgetting her rejection from the past weekend.

"Hmmm, we'll figure something out," he finally said vaguely.

I'd done it. My excuse was laid. I knew he wouldn't force me to go if he thought I was self-conscious about my wardrobe. I smiled bitterly. This is what I had wanted.

We talked for a few more minutes when Dean abruptly cut off our conversation, throwing out the excuse that his mom needed him for something. Without even being able to see his face, I knew he was lying to me. Maybe my freakiness was finally too much for him.

I went to bed that night with my guts hanging out. I tried to convince myself I didn't care. Three weeks of a friendship was nothing. I could go back to the way my life had been before he entered it. Several hours later, I was still tossing and turning, and I could no longer tamper down my despair. For the first time ever, I almost felt like a typical girl. I was on the verge of texting him under some false pretense just so I could see if he would respond. I had the message typed out and was about to send it when my actions finally broke through my fog. What was I doing? Clingy, needy, please don't leave me? This wasn't me. I deleted the words one at a time until they were all completely erased and tossed my phone on the far side of the bed, not caring that it slid off the bed and landed on the floor. Out of sight, out of mind. I flipped on my TV and turned the volume down so it was barely audible. I needed something to take my mind off my thoughts so I could drift off to sleep.

The bleeping of a text message woke me from my restless slumber the next morning. I lay there for a moment, deciding if I should ignore it. Who was I kidding? I'd have to turn it off to ignore it. Knowing Dean, he'd just show up here if I did that anyway, so I rolled over to the far side of my bed so I could scoop my phone up off the floor.

The text was short and terse.

Get dressed. I have plans for us today. D

Ordinarily, I'd have been pissed at his demanding tone. Did he think he was the boss of me? Truth is, I actually felt relief. I guess freaky me still hadn't scared him away after all.

Jumping from my bed, I dressed in record time and was waiting in the living room like some obedient dog when I heard his jeep pull up in the driveway. I was still aggravated at the way I acted for him sometimes, and I opened the door, ready to lay him out for his bossiness.

My words of reproach died a quick death in my throat when I gasped in surprise at the visitor on my doorstep.

"Mrs. Jackson?" I squawked out, confused.

"Madison," she said, enveloping me in a warm hug that ended before I could even think about stiffening up. "I understand I have you to thank for this. I can't tell you how nice a girls’ day out sounds. Don't get me wrong, I love the twins, but no whining, demands for food or constant potty trips sounds like bliss," she gushed, stepping around me into the house.

Frick, this was mortifying. Hell no. I could not believe Dean had stooped that low. Forcing his mom into taking his pitiful friend/girlfriend, or whatever the hell I was, shopping was just plain wrong. It took me several moments to finally unlock the words that were somehow stuck between my esophagus and larynx.

"Um, Mrs. Jackson, I…"

"Sarah," she gently interrupted me.

"Um, okay, Sarah, it's really nice of you to volunteer, but I wouldn't dream of asking you to give up the day before the holiday to take me shopping," I finally stuttered out.

"Oh, you sweet girl, it's you who would be doing me a favor. Do you know the last time the guys volunteered to watch the girls for the entire day? You wouldn't deny a middle-aged woman the joy of shopping without two three-year-olds tagging along, would you?" she said, looking me straight in the eye.

"Uh, I guess not," I answered, still not quite believing her.

"Excellent," she said, clapping her hands excitedly. "Do you need to grab anything?"

"Just my wallet. I'll be right back," I said, heading down the hall to grab my wallet from my backpack. Apprehension crept in like a perverted stalker as I thought of the charade I would have to go through to appear normal. How would I hide my inner freak for an entire day? Panic clawed though me like a ravenous beast as I grabbed my wallet from my backpack and snatched up my phone off my bed where I had left it.

Flipping my phone over, I saw I had missed a text from Dean. The text message was brief, but it gave me the confidence I needed to at least try.

You can do this, Mads. I believe in you. D

That jerk. I could not fathom how he always knew exactly what to say, or how he knew me so acutely, but it nevertheless sent a strange thrill racing though me.

Taking a calming breath, I headed back out to the living room.

"All set?" Sarah asked.

"Yeah," I said, trailing behind her as she headed out to the minivan parked in our driveway. I paused long enough to lock the door behind me.

The minivan was much as I always imagined a regular family vehicle to be. Crushed Cheerios littered the floor in front of the two booster seats in the second row, while sticky fingerprint marks marred the glass and the door handles.

"God, don't look back there," Sarah said, laughing as she saw me eyeing the backseat. "The girls are a walking disaster," she added affectionately, cringing as she took in the backseat. "I definitely need to have Tim clean the van this weekend," she mused, backing out of my driveway.

"I think it's kind of nice," I admitted, self-consciously.

"Me too," she said, winking at me. "Makes it real. We tried for years to have the twins, so now I think we're blessed with them. None of their mess bothers me."

Her words pierced me like a sword. I detested the word "bless" in any form. "Bless," "blessed," "blessing," they were nothing but a crutch that people used when things were going their way, or when they wanted something. "Please bless me, lord." "We were so blessed by the sermon." "It's a blessing that everyone survived." Their tunes would change when they didn't get the form of blessing they'd wished for. Sometimes, they were given a curse that they would ignore, criticize and wish for something else. I wasn't a blessing. I was the curse.

"So, Dean tells me you're going to be joining us for Thanksgiving," Sarah said, breaking into my thoughts.

"Um, yeah, if that's okay?" I said, not sure how they felt about a stranger attending a family holiday.

"Absolutely," she answered. It didn't escape my notice that she didn't ask about my parents minding, which made it obvious that Dean had clued his parents into my dysfunctional family.

Sarah peppered me with questions on the drive to the mall. The questions were superficial and light, but went a long way toward putting me at ease. By the time she was pulling into a parking spot in front of Dillard's, she knew my favorite color, favorite band, least favorite class and the food that made me want to hurl. I couldn't remember a time when someone had taken an active interest in me, besides Dean, let alone, took the time to ask me silly questions. A strange warmth spread through me and I couldn't help the smile that tugged at the corner of my mouth.

"Okay, so I thought we would hit the junior's section here and pick up a few things. After that, we can hit the smaller stores like Aeropostale, Pac Sun and Hollister. I'm thinking maybe we'll steer clear of Hot Topic this time around," she said, taking in my black clothing. "How does that sound?"

"Good," I said, not entirely sure. I wanted new clothes, but I also didn't want to come out looking like a Popular decked out in all trendy brands, and I definitely didn't want anything pink.

"Don't worry. We'll stay away from any clothes that are a walking endorsement for the store. Anything that we get will have the store's name discreetly hidden on the tag, where it should be," she said, linking her arm through mine.

Looking down at our linked arms, I thought about pulling away. She was obviously invading my personal space, my free zone. But I didn't pull away. Because somewhere deep down in a space I thought I'd buried, she had found one of my most secret desires. Sure, I'd always dreamed that it would be Donna who would want to walk arm and arm with me through a store, but for the moment, I almost felt normal. Almost.

Sarah released my arm once we reached the junior's section as she began to pull clothes from multiple racks that she claimed I would look gorgeous in. I felt she was being generous with her compliments, but I was relieved that she was selecting items that were in dark shades of plum, grey and brown.

"Before I get to out of control, do you have a certain budget you want to stay in? I, of course, plan on getting you a couple of things too," she said, turning to me with her arms loaded down.

"No," I said in a higher voice than I intended, horrified at the thought of her buying me anything. "Really, I don't have a budget. I have more than four years of Christmas and birthday money sitting in my checking account," I added calmly. "But thanks for the offer," I said, going for what I hoped was a normal voice.

"Honey, buying things is what I do. Much to Tim's dismay," she said with a mischievous smile. "Why don't you go try these on and we'll supplement what we're missing?"

I looked down, shocked by the armload of clothes she was holding. Supplement what we were missing? It looked like she was carrying half the store in her arms.

She laughed at my expression. "I'm a born shopper," she clarified.

"I guess so," I said, shouldering the stack she handed me. "Um, I'll be back in a while," I added, taking in the overwhelming pile.

"Oh, I was hoping you would be willing to model them for me. Dean won't let me go shopping with him anymore, and when I take the twins, it's all I can do to wrestle them into an actual outfit, let alone take the time to admire them in it," she said, looking at me hopefully. "Really, it would be a treat," she added.

I was trapped. I looked around at the handful of girls my age, mingling through the clearance racks near the dressing room. Coming out for my own mock fashion show seemed as appealing as plucking my eyes out with a spoon.

"I was thinking I could sit here," she said, indicating a chair just inside the dressing area. "Go ahead," she said, excitedly patting her knees.

I finally relented when I realized she unwittingly had given me a chance at some privacy from prying eyes. "Okay," I said, closing the door behind me.

I set the pile of clothes on the long bench that ran the perimeter of the dressing room and slowly stripped down to my bra and panties. Avoiding the mirror, I removed a long plum-colored skirt that felt soft against my skin. Pulling it on, I smoothed out the folds, enjoying the way it felt against my legs. I shrugged into the ivory shirt Sarah had paired the skirt with and fastened the small pearl-like buttons down the front. Finally working up the nerve, I looked in the mirror. My heart beat erratically as I studied my reflection. Sarah definitely had a gift at finding the right size because the clothes fit me to perfection. Too perfectly. Gone was the drab shapeless black clothing that washed out my skin and hid my body from sight. They were replaced by colors that seemed to enhance my complexion and figure. The girl staring back at me wasn't anyone I recognized. Even when I'd worn formfitting clothes before my life went to hell in a hand basket, I'd never looked like this. Of course, my clothing choices at the time had run more toward the provocative, which really translated to slutty. I looked normal, and maybe, just maybe, pretty.

I took a deep breath, realizing the significance of the moment. Once I stepped out of the dressing room, I could never go back to being a shadow. That life would be over. Pushing the lever down, I stepped into the hallway of the dressing area. I watched as Sarah's eyes grew wide as she observed me from her perch at the end of the hall. I could see her approval shining brightly in her eyes.