Monday, September 7, 2015

Book 5, 2: Seen at a Mall

Just to prove that people do dress like Chaos Girl.

Okay, the boots are lower, and the short-shorts are a 2015 thing. but, still, Jessie J is apparently a real person. She even has a wikipedia page, which is silent on the question of whether or not she's a supervillain.

Book 5, 2 Seen at a Mall

“Home, sweet home,” Cousin Jenny said. The smile on her face was real.

“What? This old dump?” Cousin May answered.

Amy pushed her sister lightly on the shoulder. “Boy, Jen Jen. Berkeley’ll be such a downer after all this love and joy.”

“If that’s a dig, I’m so over it. I don’t do positive. I do sarcasm.” May answered.

Jenny reached out to side hug her sister. “Yes, you do. Under exactly a millimeter of crust, you’re the sweetest sister anyone could ever ask for. Now, Amy, on the other hand. . . “

“What?” Amy said, innocently.

“Let’s just say that the thing with the pizza on New Year’s Eve wasn’t a delivery mixup. I know that, and you and the rest of the Rugrats know it, even if no-one can prove it.”

“I bear no resemblance to anything that may or may not have allegedly just been said. Also, May did it, and I have an alibi, since I am left handed.”

“The what then?” May asked. “And if you’re left handed now, catch!”

Charlotte snagged the flying shopping bag from the air, wondering why she did it as the loops slipped around her wrist.

Jenny reached out and “Hey, Char Char. Glad to see you’re still with us.” 

“In what sense is Miss Thousand-Eye Stare still with us?” May asked, crossly. “Hey, Charlotte, gonna go sniper on us?”

Charlotte turned to look at her cousin, realising as she did it that she was swivelling her head like a Terminator. Even Ginger, on her shoulder, was still and unmoving.

“See what I mean?” May asked the air.

Charlotte took a long pause, found her voice. “I’m sorry,guys. I’m just distracted, is all.”

“Yeah,” May answered. “Distracted in a completely focussed kind of way.”

Charlotte had to allow that. The post-holiday return season was on full steam ahead in Cougar Heights Mall –Chinese American Princess Jenny’s “old home,” as much, if not more than, her parent’s house, the Yurt. There were crowds of people everywhere, and the old mall seemingly open, even almost a bit new looking with all the seasonal decoration down. The new sale ads weren’t that nice of a replacement, but the girls weren’t there for the sales, even if they were going to take advantage of them. Hung around Charlotte’s wrist was the bag with her bridesmaid’s shoes –dye job yet to be arranged—and accessories. Half her mind was full of the bridesmaid gown, cheongsams with supposedly complementary colours to the brides’ red-and-white, with a five-underlines-italics-and-bold-with-scare-quotes on the “complementary.”

The other half was . . . well, “Hey! There’s Rose, Dora and Brian! Gotta go, guys!”

“Smell ya later,” May answered.

“May!” Charlotte heard Jenny say. “See you at home, Char Char.” 

Home. There was a small part of Charlotte’s mind that wasn’t thinking about what she was mainly thinking about, because the word made her feel warm inside. With all that had gone wrong last month, at least she had a house.

“Hey, guys,” Charlotte said, as she came up on her two BFFs. Three if you counted Brian, which you kinda did. He was just so relaxed and fun to be around, you kind of forgot he was a guy. Somewhat. Turned out that TV totally wasn’t lying about that whole gay friend thing. “Anyone else around?”

Dora rolled her eyes visibly. Charlotte would have asked why, if she didn’t know exactly what Dora was thinking, and wanted to argue about it. It wasn’t true.

“No,” she vaguely heard her friends say. Vaguely, because Brian wasn’t one of the girls, and he could get away with things like pointing over his shoulder at the corner between the Starbucks and the American Apparel were the corridor to the food court let in. Pointing, just to be exact, at the one thing that she absolutely wasn’t looking for, didn’t care a bit about, wasn’t really paying attention to, Bruce’s head floating above the shoppers, curly black hair giving just the right touch of colour to that handsome, chiselled face with its strong jaw and exactly the brooding expression that Charlotte was –

Whatever. She didn’t care. He’d had his chance. 

Yet still their eyes met, and Charlotte felt an electric jolt of –embarrassment. That was it. Not chemistry, she told herself, fiercely, willing herself to believe it. 

“See?” Brian asked. “They came to the mall together to ignore each other. K-I-S-S-I-N”

“Oh, shut up,” Brian,” Rose interrupted the grade school chant. 

“Char Char? Char Char?” Dora said. 

Charlotte tried to find something to say, finally, “It’s not true! I don’t care about Bruce! He can go rot!” And, inside, she wilted, knowing that her words, however true, came out like the lamest laminess in the history of Miley Cyrus. Well, to her. Because, you know, you didn’t want to be making fun of other people’s taste. 

“I still don’t believe it,” Rose said, and Charlotte felt a lift in her heart. Rose was exactly the smartest person Charlotte knew, and her circle of acquaintances included some monstrously sharp master supervillains. Unfortunately, that included at least one who mainly used his brain to fool himself, so . . You know, Rose could be smart and dumb, and one part of Charlotte’s brain yelled at the other part that it wasn’t helping. 

And across the mall, Bruce pivoted, disappeared behind the green-and-white Starbucks logo. There was a girl with him, now, strawberry blonde in a conservative white coat and adorable, high-perched toque that Charlotte recognised, on account of Rose having been beside her a millisecond ago. But, then, what was the point of being a speedster if you didn’t speed? 

And Charlotte hated the part of her that wished that Rose was inviting Bruce to come over. Stupid, clingy girl. Didn’t it get that he had rejected her.

Rejected her. And Charlotte’s tumbling brain was back where it didn’t want to be, after being distracted for, oh, for hours and hours. God damn it, Rose!

“Heads up!” Dora hissed. “Mean girls twelve o’clock.”

And so it was. Madison Cheung and Eve were coming down the centre of the mall, the crowd making way instinctively for their escort, the three big Tatammy football players with the aura of cruel menace that came from their werewolf sides. 

Charlotte bearer of a magic sword that cut werewolf flesh like a blowtorch cutting tinsel, was not impressed. Madison and Eve were another matter. Eve was one thing. As befit a girl who chose a bikini for her supervillain outfit, she was dressed a little skimpy, slightly scooped pink t-shirt with sparkly Forever Sixteen logo that was horrible irony on her and low rider jeans, but nothing a principal would send home.

Madison, Madison, Madison. Because, as always, she was a different matter. Belly shirt and shorts in January? That had to be cold, which must be why she was wearing mid-thigh laceup black boots with heels and a matching bomber-style black leather jacket. Open, of course, because what was the point of a belly shirt if everyone couldn’t see your belly button?

The shirt had a logo, too, and when Charlotte made out the characters, she just got madder. “Chinese American Princess.” That was her joke. 

Madison and Eve stopped in front of Dora and Charlote. And Rose, too, reappearing from across the mall. “Hey, halfie,” Madison asked, “Your hair die? ‘Cuz there’s a crow picking at it.”

Hair. Die. If Madison wasn’t proudly flaunting blonde locks, Charlotte would have had something to come back with. Also, ‘halfie?’ So, so mad right now. “Even crows like me, Madison. I think it’s because I’m nice. You should try it, sometime.”

“Nice girls finish . . . You know what? Not going to go there. Because you’re not a nice girl. Nice girls don’t go sneaking around the school, sabotaging the stuff people need to live.”

Oh, Charlotte thought. Here was a dance. Madison’s favourite teacher, Mr. Burcato, was actually the supervillain, Professor Paradigm. But he’d lose his job along with his freedom in a hot second if he copped to it. That’s why supervillains wore masks! It didn’t matter if everyone knew it, as long as you couldn’t prove it. But accusing someone of sabotaging the supervillain armour which you were hiding in the Drama Club’s supply closet? That was coming as close to accusing someone as squeezing your fingers together as far away from your head as you could reach close. 

But Madison wanted to talk about it, and she had to know that Charlotte wanted to talk about it. Whoever had sabotaged Professor Paradigm’s armour had done it to get control of Auralia, the ancient, magical sword that was the only weapon that could defeat the ancient lich-lord Takofanes before he Sauronised the modern Earth. Charlotte wanted Auralia for the usual reasons involving defeating ancient evil. Professor Paradigm wanted it for his individual, crazy reasons of exploring the truth behind reality with recklessly dangerous and irresponsible experiments.

What that meant was that this was a Maltese Falcon thing. Good guys and bad guys were looking for the same thing. It was a race, but that didn’t mean that they couldn’t talk and try to figure out what the other guy knew.

Which, Charlotte thought, was something that a sane person would do by going over to the food court and talking it out over bubble tea; and a crazy person would do by standing in the middle of the mall, acting like a swordfight was about to break out, and throwing shade like nothing. 

Well, anyway. “You want to go grab something at Starbucks and talk about this, Maddie?”

“No, I don’t. Mr. Burcato had his items in the school overnight from Friday the 28th to Saturday the 29th. So where were you that day, halfie?”

Charlotte held back on her desire to just shake her head and wince. “We were doing field trips to Babylon all November, Maddie. We left Friday night, came back Sunday morning. You know that. You freaking ambushed us half the time!”

Madison’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t know anything about that crap, but what I know about you, you deserved it. ‘Sides, could have been right after school.”

“No, we had an away cricket game that Friday. Left school after third period,” Rose said. “Charlotte was there, Dora was there, all our team was there. You want to see rosters?”

“You think you have all the answers, don’t you, Smart Stuff? Plenty of time to think about it on your Sunday nights at home.”

Charlotte glanced at her friend, tried to figure if the oh-so-subtle jab at Rose’s fear that she was too smart to have a boyfriend had been taken on board. 

It had been. Rose looked a little drawn as she answered, “But there was a school assembly third period, wasn’t there? Lots of guests, the whole PAC, to hear the superintendent’s speech. If you’ve narrowed the sabotage down to Friday afternoon, you have a lot of suspects.”

“Maddie,” Eve said, gently but urgently. “I don’t think this is helping as much as you thought it would.”

Madison’s head snapped towards Eve. Charlotte held her breath, afraid for Madison’s sake that she was about to go off on the cavegirl. Eve was hard to predict. She could be a doormat sometimes, especially when her Dad was involved, but it wasn’t guaranteed, and how lonely would Madison be if she lost her last friend?

But some thread of restraint held Madison back. At last, she said, “Come on. We need to have talkies with the superintendent.”

The way that the werewolves grinned at that, Charlotte had a feeling that it wouldn’t be the kind of talk that anyone liked having. This was a job for –someone who really ought to be trying harder to be in early on a school night. 

Charlotte sighed to herself, and pulled out her phone. She’d have a heckuva a selling job persuading her aunt that she and her team needed to go stake out the superintendent’s house when they could be doing homework.

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