The rules were simple: Pay attention, wait until the coast was clear, be fast and quiet. Smile. He’d recited these all the way down the street. All Tim had to do was wait until the cashier was busy ringing up a customer, then he’d edge towards the magazine rack and make himself small. He knew the cashier, Beth; she’d worked here all summer. She’d glanced at him when he came in, smile as thick with phoniness as her red lipstick. He’d find a way past her somehow.
He paused by the rows of aspirin and antibiotic ointment. If he bought something, it’d be better. He chose a Band-Aids box, then put it back neatly on the shelf. This first aid stuff cost way too much so never mind the story about his stepbrother, Evan, scraping his leg in a bike accident. He’d made it up just in case. But Evan rarely left the couch so it had been hard to imagine saying.
Tim had sixty-eight cents left from lunch. Probably could get a couple mints for fifty cents but they were in a small box perched on the counter. He adjusted his blue knit cap and kept moving. Past the make-up, past the paper products, turn the corner, then stopped dead by Mr. Nars’ legs. Or it seemed like it, the man was so tall. He looked like a human tower to Tim even though his dad said he was just six foot four. Tim had not yet hit the growth spurt he’d been promised.
“How you doing, Timmy?” he rasped.
His large veiny hands were full of packages of razors.
Tim nodded, half-smiled, then went around him. He raised his hand to make it look like he was being friendly but was in a hurry.
“Need a shave yet?” Mr. Nars chuckled, then loped down the aisle. “Lemme know if you need help,” he tossed over his shoulder.
Tim headed down to the magazines, trying to walk normally when he wanted to run, looking up and down the aisles. All clear. The new magazines glistened in the fluorescent lights. They made his hands itch just looking at them. The ones near the top drew him–skateboarding, car racing and maybe a peek at one his sister liked because there were girls in them, secret stuff. He scanned them again but he knew comic books were at the bottom, within easy reach.
Evan had said it was easy to steal a magazine, they were small and thin and you could stuff them into the back of your jeans. Pull your shirt over with a flick of the hand–that’s what he said, “a flick of your hand”–and then walk out. He made it sound like magic, like it was simple as making a dime disappear under a walnut shell. Tim could do that trick and Evan was bigger and clumsier than he was. Be quiet, fast, smile.
He heard the entrance door swing open but he kept focused. Casually, Tim picked up the Superman comic. His mouth went dry. He felt a little sick and excited all at once as he studied it. It didn’t cost much, but there wasn’t money for entertainment, his dad said, since his shifts were switched from nights to days. Tim was eleven; he knew it was just life right now. But he clutched it to his chest, started to slide it down, around to the back.
And then she started down the aisle. The new girl from his class. Tildy? Tilly? He felt sweat slick the nape of his neck and that sickish feeling hovered in his chest. She stopped, just stood there, hands behind her back, curly hair springing over her shoulders. The comic was at his back, flat against his shirt. He smiled at her and looked away, took the comic in one hand, let it dangle. When Tim glanced back she was still there, staring at him, brown eyes unblinking, her lips pressed together. He glared at her. She didn’t budge. What was she doing staring at him like that? She tilted her head at him, and tugged at her sweater. He shrugged, then carefully put it back in its place on the shelf with a little pat. A mishap, bad timing. He was about to say hi when she spun around.
On the way out the door, he turned back. Beth smiled that plastic smile; he knew she would never have figured it out. But Tilly waved back and forth at him like a beauty queen. Which he thought she kinda was, but better. Nervy.
Tim ran home. He couldn’t avoid Evan with his bag of chips and his stocking feet on the coffee table and that look he gave him when he realized Tim came back empty-handed. But Tim felt better than he had all day. Rule number one: don’t steal. Rule number two: don’t lie. Just not worth the trouble.
“Guess what I figured out today, Evan?”
“Stealing is for dummies, which I’m not, and anyway girls don’t like dummies.”
Evan frowned, cleared his throat as though he had something amazing and important to say, then put three more chips into his mouth.