Do you still remember? We used to always go buy sandwiches and chips at the corner store since the cafeteria lunch was impossible to eat without throwing up all over the cold gray pavement. I don’t know if you started that habit back then, only that the first time you told me about it you did so proudly.
“When you hand her everything you’re buying, just slip this up your sleeve,” you had said. This was the first time my view of you changed. You were no longer that timid, tiny girl in the flowery sundress with a world of possibilities and innocence in her eyes. I hadn’t said anything back then. Maybe I should have. But clearly you had convinced yourself that it was just a packet of gum.
The second time was a champagne colored bottle of nail polish from the CVS we wandered into after brunch at your house. You didn’t tell me before you took it. How you snuck it out of the store I had no idea nor did I want to know. I only knew that the uncomfortable bubbling feeling in the core of my stomach was not because of that tomato, bacon, spinach omelet with extra cheese we shared. I let out a nervous laugh and asked why you couldn’t have just bought the three dollar bottle.
“It’s all in the thrill of the game,” you had replied slyly with a twinkle in your eyes and a glint of danger in your smile.
The third time I was ahead of you. I caught you eye that pair of mirrored sunglasses and turn your back to block the view of the store clerk. I interrupted before you had time to slip them into your purse.
“Lois, what are you doing?” I whispered.
I could see you about to open your mouth for a witty reply, but seeing the frown on my face, decided against it. You shrugged and looked away, fidgeting with the frayed hem of your plaid shirt.
“What’s with you lately? What if you got caught stealing?” I followed up.
“I’m shoplifting, not stealing.” you winced at my harsh words, “I would never get caught anyways.”
With that, you walked out the store door without a glance back.
Two weeks later, you got caught by mall security for taking a crystal pendant from a gift shop. The police took you to the station and you were grounded as soon as your parents got word of the incident. No one was allowed to see you, nor had you wanted us to. On the day of your birthday, three days before your punishment ended, I went to visit you.
Your mother opened the door and she looked more tired and older than I’d ever seen her. The fine lines on her forehead were now etched into her skin and long shadows stretched under her eyes.
As soon as I saw the sad smile on her face, I knew what the answer would be. You had been to hell and back and nobody was invited to your welcome back party. I nodded in understanding and handed your mother a wrapped gift.
You never came back to school. A month later, I got word that your parents got divorced and that you moved to Arizona to live with your father.
I wonder how you’re doing right now. I wonder if you still remember the lunch breaks we had, sitting on the granite steps outside the school building. I wonder if you liked those mirrored sunglasses I got for you for your last birthday.