Olivia Newton-John sounds like she’s trapped in a tin can. Skipping to the shoo-bops and chang chang chang-it-ty changs, Amber dances down the particle-board catwalk, resplendent in her rhinestone-studded denim skirt, fishnet stockings, and Hannah Montana t-shirt. The treble from the tiny iPod speaker distorts and crackles. Her white-blond ringlets bounce with each step. Wop ba-ba lu-bop. She sashays to the end of the walk, stomps a knee-high pleather boot, turns with a flip of her Aqua-net powered hair, and blows a kiss over her shoulder. Wop bam boom.
Her timing is perfect. The crowd goes wild.
Okay, so it’s more a random scattering of shoppers than a crowd, really, and I think it’s only the creepy-looking guy over by the Glenn Beck book display who’s going wild, but when we get home that’s how my mom will tell it. “Resplendent” is her word, too. Everything my sister does is absolutely resplendent. I’m still not sure exactly what it means, but I Googled it, and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean what mom thinks it means.
“God, she looks like a skank. How old is she? Seven?”
I turn to the sound of the voice. The girl beside me is about my age, arms folded, too much eyeliner. She’s staring at my sister, her mouth set in an odd upside down smile. Aside from the blue Wal-Mart greeter’s vest, she’s dressed like she walked right off the set of an old Brat Pack movie. She could be Ally Sheedy’s sister. I glance at her nametag: Tina.
“Six. My sister’s six,” I say.
“My mom’s totally obsessed with making her a star.”
Tina looks at me sideways. “Lucky you have a sister. Could be you up there,” she says.
“I don’t sashay,” I say, trying to be clever, but it doesn’t come out right. Never does when I’m talking to girls.
She raises an eyebrow, and looks at me like I’m an idiot. “I bet you’d be cute in fishnet,” she says.
I can feel my face starting to flush, so I hold out my hand and change the subject. “I’m Huston.”
Tina looks at my extended hand. Looks at me. Looks back at my hand. Looks at the catwalk. Her arms remain tightly folded. My hand’s just hanging out there in space, so I shove it in my pocket. I look at my mom jumping up and down with my sister, doing their post-show victory dance. I try to think of something else clever to say, but when I turn back, Tina’s already gone.
After that, I start going to Wal-Mart whenever I have a chance, hoping I might run into Tina—I can’t explain why. I just have to. I’m starting to feel like a stalker. I think the staff is getting suspicious, too, because I’m just wandering the aisles day after day. I buy random things so they won’t kick me out for loitering. One day, I work up the courage to ask for her at customer service. I’m standing in line, trying to think of something to say that doesn’t sound too stalkerish, when I feel someone brush up behind me. I turn, and catch a glimpse of Tina walking around a corner.
I hurry after her.
When I catch up, she turns and folds her arms. “Hey, stalker,” she says.
I start babbling. “Sorry. Sorry, I don’t, I mean I’m not, look, I don’t want to be all creepy and stuff, but I just, you know, wanted to, you know—“
She cocks her head to the side. I think she’s smiling, but it’s hard to tell with her upside down mouth.
“Huston,” she says, “You have problems.”
“Look, I just, I mean, most girls, you know, they don’t talk to guys like me,” I stammer.
“It’s cool,” she says. “Nobody talks to me, either.”
We’re sitting in our favorite booth at the in-store McDonald’s. I’m doodling in my ketchup with a fry.
“I really think we should do something, you know, outside of Wal-Mart sometime,” I say.
Tina slouches, inspecting her split ends.
“I mean, hanging out with you here is awesome, but it’s been, like, six months.”
She puts her hands down on the table and picks at a cuticle. I reach out to touch her, but she pulls away from me sharply, like she’s been shocked. She looks away.
“I’m just getting a little tired of eating McDonalds,” I say.
“You know I can’t,” she says.
We sit in silence for a few minutes. This isn’t a new conversation, but this time is different. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I’ve come to a decision. I stand and walk around the table to her side. I hold out my hand. “Tina,” I say, “trust me.”
She looks at my hand. Folds her arms. Shakes her head.
I take a deep breath. “Please, just trust me,” I say.
She doesn’t look up from the table, but after a moment that feels like forever she places her hand in mine. Her touch is cool, electric, ethereal. More the suggestion of a touch than something concretely physical. Tina looks up at me with her crooked upside down smile.
I feel an electric charge run up my arm as she squeezes my hand and stands beside me. “Are you sure about this?” she whispers.
“Absolutely,” I say.
We walk out of the store, hand in hand, and the sunlight shines through her translucent body, lighting her up in a glowing halo. She laughs.
“I haven’t seen the sun in, what, twenty years? Thirty?” For the first time, Tina smiles at me. A real smile. An upside-right smile.
I think I know what resplendent means now.