It was always a game with me, from the very first time my chubby fingers snatched a piece of store candy and dropped it into the pocket of my frilly pinafore. No one noticed—and after that, I always came home from the grocery store with an extra piece of candy. I would let it dissolve in my mouth as long as possible, savoring victory. Stolen fruit, the Bible says, is sweet.
As I got older, I took other things—small toys, cheap jewelry, trinkets. My parents never knew; and when I went to the mall with friends, they didn’t mind. Sometimes one of them would whisper encouragement: “Cool!” “Slick!”
Lori was different—quiet and thoughtful, with a small circle of close friends. We met our first year at Calmont High, and became friends slowly, tentatively. Lori wasn’t like anyone else I knew. I never had to wonder whether she said one thing to my face and another behind my back.
The summer before our senior year, we spent a lot of time together, obsessing about college applications, and guys, and our weight. Sometimes we went to the mall.
Lori didn’t know. But one afternoon in Milton’s department store, I picked a up a card of silver stud earrings. I flicked it casually into a side pocket of my big leather purse...
“Mandy!” Lori hissed. “What are you doing?”
The jewelry clerk had been talking to another customer, but now she turned around—alert, suspicious.
“Oops!” I said, and put the earrings back. “Dropped ‘em. Come on... let’s go look at jeans...”
We hurried away, but not to the jeans. Lori tugged my arm, and we ducked behind a rack of long silk scarves.
“Did you... I mean... you weren’t going to...?”
“Of course not,” I lied, but I was angry. I’d almost gotten caught—and I’d never been caught before.
I should have let it go, but I couldn’t. We looked at the scarves for a while, laughing at an ugly orange one with green and red swirls. And when Lori turned to look at something else, I slipped the scarf into her shopping bag.
I never thought... but I should have. I should have known that jewelry clerk was on to us. I shouldn't have been surprised when a grim-looking man confronted us and showed a badge.
“Store security, ladies,” he said, a little sarcastically. “You’ll have to come with me.”
In a tiny, bleak room in some back corridor of Milton’s, Lori and I faced the store manager and the jewelry clerk. I turned out my pockets and emptied my purse, thankful now that I’d put back the earrings. Then Lori did the same thing, and shook out her plastic bag. There was the blouse she’d bought at Sears... and the orange scarf with the Milton’s tag. She gasped and looked at me wildly...
“Eek!” I screamed, making everyone jump. “Oh, Lori, you didn’t... You couldn’t...”
Lori wailed; I put on an Oscar-winning hysterics show. Eventually, the frazzled store manager let us go without calling either the police or our parents—though he told us we were no longer welcome in Milton’s.
Lori avoided me after that. We hardly spoke during our senior year, and didn’t see each other again for fifteen years.
I moved back home after my second divorce. Lori called one day, and we met for lunch at a downtown café. Our conversation was ordinary—mainly about my failed marriages and her successful children—but I liked its restful normality. Maybe Lori and I could be friends again, after all.
We didn’t talk about Milton’s; but just before dessert, Lori said,
“You’ve changed, Mandy. I’m glad.”
“You’ve stayed the same. I’m glad about that, too.”
We both laughed.
The counter where we paid had a bowl of five-cent chocolate mints. When the waitress turned away to run my credit card, I scooped up a couple. No risk involved—if she'd looked at me, I would have tossed her a dime. But she didn’t notice, and I dropped them into my purse.
Outside on the sidewalk, I held out a mint to Lori. But she shook her head and looked at me in an odd way, as if she were sorry for me.
Eek, I thought. But this was sadder—and deeper.
And when she said a few quick words and walked away, I felt a strange sense of loss—knowing she would never call again.
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