A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
|Previously: "When Carly Met Joey"
If Joey wants to put on Cindy's mask, she can ask. Until then— Well, you've barely had more than an hour inside it, and you're far from sick of it yet.
"There's not much point in making these things, Joey," you tell her, "if you don't use them."
But then you find yourself wondering, So what are some other ways of using these things?
* * * * *
You change your mind about going up to the school library, though. You need to study the next spell, but after that you'll probably have to buy supplies. So to save time you drive directly to Home Depot and settle in the parking lot. Besides, it seems like a safe spot where you're not likely to run into any schoolmates.
But you haven't been there long—sidled up next to Joey in the truck cab with the grimoire between you, Joey translating while you use your phone to check out the prices of the items that the next spell calls for—when you suffer two strokes of bad luck.
The first is the quick realization that you're going to have to buy a lot of new stuff, including some metal-cutting tools. But even though it should cost less than a hundred all together, that's at least sixty more than either you or Joey have on hand, and neither of you are sure of being able to pry the extra funds from either of your families.
The second stroke arrives with a tap at the driver's side window. You do a double-take, and almost shriek with horror at the face that grins in at you.
Well, at least it's not Seth. But it's still a very masculine face; even worse, it's one you recognize from school, even though you can't immediately lay your finger on a name to go with it. He has a butterscotch-colored buzzcut, and his eyes crinkle up as he grins at you. He's dressed in a sloppy gray hoodie.
For a moment you stare, and are tempted to brazen it out by pretending that you're someone else. But you give up when the boy squints defiantly at you and mouths, "Come on, Cindy, roll down the window and talk to me." You turn the key in the ignition and slide the window down.
"So, pretty girl, what's up?" he growls in a very masculine baritone. He glances past you at Joey. "Where's Seth?"
"Huh? Oh, we're not talking these days," you quaver back. Fuck, you think in a panic. Am I really going to try faking my way through by pretending to be Cindy?
The boy smirks and nods, then glances again at the girl on the other side of you. Joey is staring at the guy with an open mouth.
"Oh, uh, this is Joey," you stammer. "She's a, uh, friend from church."
"Cool. Watcha doin' hanging out up here?"
"We're, uh, working on a project. I'm helping Joey out. Mentoring her. She's a freshman." You feel a hard blush beginning to break across your face, and wonder what kind of look Joey is giving the back of your head.
"Huh. What kind of a project? Home Depot project? Anything I can help out with?" the guy offers.
Your brain feels like it's overheating as it tries to solve a multi-variable equation involving yourself, Joey, this guy, the spell, and the stuff you need to buy here at the store. "What are you doing up here?" you ask in order to play for time.
"Picking up some box gutters. Old ones need replacing." He jerks his chin at a big, black SUV parked a couple of rows away. "Flippin' Eric was s'posed to do it, but he's got a 'study group' he's s'posed to hang out with this afternoon." He rolls his eyes.
Your gridlocked brain finally coughs up a name to go with the guy: Alec Brown. "Brownie" to his friends. He's a wrestler or a football player or something up at the school. Naturally, someone like that would be up at Home Depot. "So what do you guys need to pick up here?" he asks.
You stare at Brownie, then swing around to stare at Joey (who at least has recovered the presence of mind to close her mouth up) and then down at the book. That equation you were struggling with ... the answers are starting to come through.
"'M not sure yet," you confess. "We're still— We're working out of an old arts and crafts book."
"Yeah. I think— We need to make up a list. How long are you going to be in there?"
Brownie shrugs. "Long enough to find the stuff and run it past a cashier."
"Well, can we come find you inside? When we get our list together?"
"Well, sure. Think you're gonna need help finding stuff?"
"Maybe. Also— Well, we'll come find you. Okay?"
"Sure." Brownie leans over to flash Joey another quick smile, then lopes off toward the store.
"Who was that?" Joey asks when he's gone.
"A guy who goes to my school. Jesus, that was close."
"We should get out of here."
"No we shouldn't." Your heart is beating. "Just read me off the things we need while I make a list." Your hands are shaking as you open up a notepad app on your phone and start typing into it.
"What for?" Joey squeaks. "We don't have enough money!"
"We don't," you retort, "but I bet Brownie does!"
* * * * *
You practically have to drag Joey into the Home Depot behind you, and she is pale and fidgety the whole time you're inside. It turns out that, yes, everything you need can be got there: some narrow strips of metal; heavy-duty cutters; engraving tools; and some chemicals. Brownie doesn't bother to hide his curiosity, and asks you what it's all for; you improvise that it's for a "spice rack," and shrug when he looks incredulous.
He also wants to know about you and Seth. "I don't want to talk about it," you brusquely inform him. "He's being a bastard. He's always been a bastard, you know that." Brownie says nothing, though he is paying very close attention to you. "What about you?" you ask, desperate to change the subject. "You and—?"
"Me and who?"
"Um. Well, aren't you going with—? I thought you were going with—"
"Who?" he says, and looks amused.
"I guess I was confused."
"No, really." He grins at you. "Who'd you hear I was going around with?" He leans in close enough that the scent of his hoodie envelops you, and he peers down into your face with a warm smile.
"I guess I was confused," you repeat with a blush. "I thought you were going around with someone."
"Oh, I'm going around. Laurent thinks I'm spreading myself too thin. But he's one to talk. You know?" His eyebrows arch into a leer.
An abyss seems to open at your feet, and you step into it with a lurching gut. "Well, if me and Seth are, like— I mean, if we don't get back together—"
"Uh huh?" Brownie's eyes glint.
"I've got your phone number." Almost you faint.
His grin widens. "Can I have yours?"
"Lemme call you."
Brownie grunts appreciatively. Joey is boggling at you when you glance over at her.
But the magic—the magic of being a sexy girl, of being a sexy high school cheerleader named Cindy Vredenburg—has worked itself on Brownie, and when you pretend that you've forgotten your billfold at home, he manfully steps up to pay for your purchases with his own credit card. He's not real happy about it, you can tell, and hesitates for a couple of seconds before surrendering to your not-so-veiled pleas.
"Talk to me about it at school tomorrow," you promise him as you trudge out into the parking lot together. "I'll bring the cash to pay you back." He mumbles rather than replies, and is cold and stiff even when you throw your arms around him to give him an awkward hug. "Love you lots, and thanks again!" you gasp, then scamper back over to your truck, where Joey is waiting with the bags.
"Oh my God," she says as you climb into the truck. "How are you going to pay him back?"
"I don't have to," you retort as you buckle yourself in. "Cindy'll pay him back. Except she won't, 'cos she doesn't know she owes him!" You feel almost hysterical with suppressed laughter.
"Oh my God!" Joey gasps again. "You just—! This is basically stealing!"
"Couldn't happen to a nicer couple of assholes." You start the truck. "Did you see him coming onto me in there?"
"Yeah, it was gross!"
It was exhilarating! you silently reply. Really, how amazing is it to be a sexy girl who can get what she wants just by smiling at a guy? If Cindy had been nice to you after school, instead of screaming obscenities and treating you like a piece of shit on the bottom of her shoe, you'd have done almost anything for her too.
"Listen," you tell Joey, "Cindy is a bitch and a spoiled cunt who's stuck so hard on herself that— That—" But words fail you. "And Brownie's a randy goat who was hitting on me in there even though I'm supposed to have a boyfriend and him and my boyfriend are both friends." (You don't know that they are, but it seems a safe bet.) "So he deserves what he got, and him and Cindy deserve to get in whatever kind of fight they're gonna get into tomorrow when Brownie tries collecting his money from her. So, like, it's all gonna work out. It worked out for us, right?" you add as you pat the bags bulging with your loot.
Next: "Real People"