Part 36 – Mall Meet Up

“Mommy!” Amanda proclaimed tugging on Carrie’s sleeve. “Look!”

I glanced down at about the same time as Carrie and our gazes followed toward my younger sibling’s outstretched finger. Amanda’s eyes were fixed on a rack of frilly pink dresses, off to the side and about a dozen feet away. There was an almost rapturous expression as she stared at them and she began to hop up and down a grin stretching across her face.

“Ooooh, pretty!”

Carrie knelt down beside Amanda and smiled. “Oh, those are nice aren’t they, princess? Remember, Mommy bought you a brand new dress a few weeks ago. Maybe if you’re a good girl, Mommy will buy you another one for your birthday next month.”

The little girl’s features wrinkled and for a moment I thought she might throw a fit. She locked eyes with her mother, and her face softened. She nodded and a big grin spread across her face. “Okay, Mommy!”

I concealed a smile and shook my head. I didn’t realize how temperamental, a girl her age could be until I’d started spending time around my younger sibling. Her behavior, however, was far from predictable. What might invoke a temper one day, she would shrug off the next.

We continued on and I clamped my mouth shut, looking about the store. I didn’t need any clothes. Although I’d already morphed my way through most of my old boy clothes, I could shift into pretty much any outfit I thought of with enough material at hand. Even without my current wardrobe, I could make do with discards from my new family, or even buy the cheap stuff from the clearance rack for pennies and morph them into whatever I wanted. That being said, I hadn’t expected myself to be drawn to the women’s section.

I’d paid little attention to women’s apparel as a boy. One outfit seemed pretty much the same as another. The only ones that stood out were the ones that displayed a bit of flesh or that clung tight to a girl’s body leaving very little to the imagination. When I’d flipped through the wracks, I could barely contain my glee. Ideas for new outfit combinations already coursing through my mind.

I glanced down at myself, contemplating shifting from the pink and white floral sundress I was wearing into something more revealing, but discarded the idea. This was family time, and as much as I was tempted to try out more interesting outfit combinations that sprang to mind when sifting through the racks, those sorts of experiments would have to wait until we were back home.

I didn’t need a reason to come, just browsing the clothing racks alone had been worth the trip, but that was not the reason for our visit. The adjacent movie theater was our ultimate destination, but we needed to kill time before our show.

With Drew at work and the twins at a friend’s house, it was just the three of us girls. That was fine by me. As touched as I was by Drew’s surprise, he didn’t seem the type to appreciate a shopping trip to the mall and subsequent ‘chick flick’ and the twins were a handful even under the best of circumstances. Throw them out in a wide open space like the mall and there was no telling what sort of chaos they might visit upon us.

I smirked at the thought, imagining the towheaded duo enacting a sword-fight with pool noodles or running around the store screaming at the top of their lungs towels draped over their shoulders pretending they were super-heroes. Had I ever been that big of a dork?

It had been a few days since Drew surprised me with my new bedroom furniture and though things still seemed awkward, I felt less like an intruder in his life. Even the twins seemed to have warmed to having me around. Though they still kept their distance, I hadn’t caught them glaring at me in a while. That, at least, was progress.

The mall had just opened and because it was a weekday and most of the stores weren’t open yet, it was rather quiet. I cast my eyes about as we exited the store, my eyes lingering first on a Haglund’s and then settling on a Game Palace. Both were common enough chains, and I would have been a fool not to expect to see them again. That being said, I didn’t expect the reaction it would invoke within me.

Thoughts of my mother and my twist came to me unbidden, and I paused a single tear rolling down my cheek a sob escaping my lips before I could silence it. Carrie turned about and came rushing back toward me.

“Calista? You okay?” She asked reaching out to touch me, but I stepped back and waved her off.

“I’m fine,” I said my voice quivering. Carrie put her hands on her hips and frowned, not looking at all convinced, but nodded and kept her distance.

A weight settled into my leg and I peered down in time to see Amanda enfold her arms around it and stare back up at me with unblinking eyes. I cleared my throat, wipe the tears from my eyes and a sheepish smile touched my lips. I bent down wrapping my arms around my younger sibling before peering back up at Carrie. “F-fine,” I said exhaling slowly. “Seeing some of these stores just dredged up bad memories.”

Carrie nodded, and I turned my attention back to Amanda, extricating her arms from around my legs before hefting her up and standing with my younger sibling in my arms. I groaned from the strain of her weight, surprised at how heavy she seemed. I lost a lot of my strength during my twist, but the strain of lifting her helped drive that point home.

“It’s okay, I protect you,” Amanda said throwing her arms around my neck a soft moan escaping her lips.

I didn’t speak, but hugged her close fighting back tears. Though the proclamation was just a tad silly, it came from her heart and it tugged at the old heartstrings.

My lips began to tremble, and Carrie glanced at me out of the corner of her eye. I pressed my lips together and looked away unwilling to make eye contact. Carrie didn’t speak, perhaps decided that I needed the quiet.

I peered about, glancing from storefront to storefront. None of them caught my eye until we’d strode another ten yards. I stopped, Amanda’s small form still held tight in my arms and stared across the mall and into a small entryway tucked into a little out of the way corner. I might have overlooked it altogether had I not glimpsed movement out of the corner of my eyes.

A man in his late thirties or early forties was leading a class in martial arts exercises. A kid back in Clearville who’d been a huge Judo enthusiast had shown his moves off a time or two. While, it impressed me it hadn’t quite drawn my eye the way it was now. It appealed to me beyond the simple adolescent fascination in which I’d viewed it before. The thought of taking such classes and learning martial arts had real appeal now.

I clenched my peepers shut and looked away. Sucking in deep breaths, I opened my eyes, and forced myself to look away from the martial arts studio. There was no doubt in my mind that this new interest was yet another aspect of my twist. I knew precious little about the game I was playing when I underwent my transformation, but the character customization screen would seem to be the root of my trick and my obsession with looking sexy. What if I’d picked up more ticks from the game than I realized?

We continued on and I didn’t once glance back though I wanted nothing more in the world than to do just that. I bit my lower lip, feeling a flash of pain. That helped distract me and kept me from losing my resolve. I let out a long sigh when out of sight of the studio, but it was already too late. Sooner or later, I knew, I would try it and I would be hooked.

I might have spent the rest of the day ruminating, and brooding over my sudden interest in martial arts if I hadn’t caught sight of a familiar blonde head of hair a few yards away. I stopped. Allison?

I slipped Amanda’s arms from around my neck and placed her on the ground. My heart pounding in my ear, I moved forward deaf to Carrie and Amanda’s cries. When I got close enough, my fingers stretched out to grasp the girl’s shoulders, but before they found purchase she spun around and I got the shock of my life.