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Part 1 of 2

The mall CVS sold everything a teenage girl could want, from eyelash curlers to condoms, all for about two dollars. George and her best friend Bob did not deign to pay the two dollars, however. Going to the mall and paying was like going to class with your homework done. Sure, you didn't have to worry, but you were bored out of your mind. Better to risk getting caught; at least the constant fear of exposure kept things interesting. Plus, how else were they going to kill time until the sun went down?

When George first started shoplifting, she'd palmed anything portable, from candy bars to nail clippers. Now she specialized in nail polish. By her last count, she had acquired two hundred and twenty-three individual colors. She had posted this on her Facebook status, and some kid from middle school wrote on her wall that she was a "luser." George decided this made him look way dumber than her, but she still deleted the wall post. Then she unfriended him. George thought of herself as mature because she was not afraid to unfriend someone. Even Bob didn't unfriend. Though, admittedly, Bob had seven hundred and ninety-one friends and was the founder of the group "WE HEART VAMPIRES!!!!!!" No one called Bob a luser. She got "sllllluuuuuutttt."

George and Bob had been best friends since third grade, and they firmly believed that in their drab suburban high school, they were the only two people worth knowing. At least, George believed Bob was the only person worth knowing, and Bob said George was "way more interesting" than her other friends. Your best friend was the one you bummed around the mall with, not the one you got wasted with in a house crammed with fifty other people, anyway.

The girls each had their respective CVS haunts: Bob made a beeline for the hair dye while George headed over to makeup. Gleaming racks of tiny bottles greeted George, and she felt a shiver of possibility. But she already had Blue Dream, Ice Blue, Sky Blue, Robin Blue, Starry Night, Blue You, Lilac Blue, Blue Raspberry, Bloo RazzBarry, Navy Blue, Tru Blu—and she couldn't even tell half those colors apart. The world of nail polish, which had once seemed infinite, felt so small. George couldn't come away with nothing—Bob would call her out—so she half-heartedly swiped something pink and wandered over to the hair color aisle.

George found Bob puzzling over the new Clairol "Tru U!" offerings. It seemed to George that every product aimed at their demographic was missing a significant amount of letters. She understood this came from txting and IM. But George dropped letters because it was faster that way, not because she didn't like the look of the English language. She was worried that soon she'd pass through a strange teenage Ellis Island where smiling marketing interns, like the kind that messaged you on MySpace back when people used MySpace, would refashion her name and give her a new, de-lettered identity. It would be something terrible, too, like Gorg. Bob—Roberta—would get something cool. Like Ta. Or Ro.

"You ever think of going by Ro?" George said out loud.

Bob looked up from the two boxes in her hands. "Too close to 'Rover.'" She held up a blue-red color called "Cool Burn" and a fire-engine red called "Sixx Alarm." "Which one?" she said.

Bob's perpetually straightened curly hair was bleach blonde at the moment. She had lips that were slightly too full, and a mole on the side of her face, both of which gave her a sensual, old-fashioned look. In the hair care aisle of CVS, George studied Bob like a painting. She imagined the way the two colors would set off the pale, creamy tone of Bob's skin. Her bright blue eyes. George got stuck on those details, and couldn't imagine how the hair dye would improve them. Once when she told her mother about how beautiful she thought Bob was, her mother made a weird face and told her to stop being insecure. She was trying, but it was hard.

"Gimme your phone," George said.

Bob handed over her new iPhone, which she kept in a pink leopard sleeve she'd designed online. "Do Paris," George said.

Bob held "Cool Burn" next to her face and smiled in the same glassy, vacant way Paris Hilton smiled. They had spent hours perfecting this in sixth grade science class, and they still thought it was hilarious, even if no one cared about Paris Hilton anymore.

George framed her in the phone window and snapped. "Okay, now Nicole."

Bob tucked her chin and smiled in the hyper-posed, self-satisfied way Nicole Richie smiled. The fluorescent lights of CVS made everything look green, so it was hard to tell what the hair dye actually looked like, but Bob didn't seem to care. She snatched the phone away from George and started to text.

"What are you doing?" George said.

"Sending them to Sven," Bob said.

Sven was Bob's vampire boyfriend. It had been his idea to meet up at the mall. George had no idea why a vampire wanted to hang out at the mall, but maybe malls were really interesting to someone born in the nineteenth century.

Bob pressed "send," and then stared at her phone, waiting for a response. When none came, she made an annoyed face and started texting again.

"I'm gonna send it to Facebook, too," she said. "Make a poll."

George opened and sniffed various bottles of shampoo while Bob made a poll. She decided her favorite smell was Honeybee. Her least favorite might have been Banana Blossom, but it was hard to tell because her nose was so full of smells.

"Check it," Bob said, and shoved her iPhone under George's nose. The swirl of shampoos made the phone smell like grapefruit.

Bob had made a poll entitled, "Which Color Should We Steal?" It was a dumb question, because if you weren't paying, why not take both? George would have given it a better title like "Which Is Really Hawt?" playing off the cheesy fire metaphors in the colors' names. Though no one would get that joke but her, and it wasn't even that funny. George wondered if both pictures should have been taken with Paris face, or Nicole face, to avoid skewing the results. Also, George hated when Bob posted about illegal things they did like shoplifting and drinking. She believed her mother, and the news, and her teachers, that doom and misery would rain down on her head for the rest of her life because of the things she posted online at age fifteen.

George did not raise any of these objections out loud. "Nice," she said.

Bob took the phone back and smiled. "I'm a genius."

Their CVS lurking was starting to look suspicious, so they headed back out into the mall, intending to return when the results of the poll were in. The problem was that this was the local, boring mall, so after CVS there was nothing left to do. They were too broke for Ben and Jerry's, and they'd been banned from the Gap after George walked out wearing one of their cardigans. She hadn't even been trying to steal it, but the employees of the Gap were bored, and angry because they were bored, so they yelled for twenty minutes and then banned them. Bob ended up dragging George outside the mall completely so she could smoke a cigarette and wait for Sven.

George had started bumming cigarettes off her older brothers, but she never smoked in front of Bob. Smoking was Bob's thing. That evening, however, after Bob pounded her new pack on the inside of her wrist and pulled off the plastic, she held it out to George. "You want?"

George had trouble with Bob's lighter and sucked down her first drag too hard. Cigarettes made her lungs hurt, and she felt immensely guilty every time she smoked one, but she loved the feeling of pulling in smoke and exhaling it again into the thick summer air. She and Bob smoked silently, leaning against the blank concrete wall of the mall's exterior. Cars slid in and out of the parking lot, and the setting sun turned the office complex across the street to fire, and then ash.

"Did Sven text you back?" George asked as the stars came out. She knew Sven hadn't texted her back. She would have heard the phone play special Sven music. Sometimes she liked to ask mean questions like this, which she knew made her a bad person. But it seemed unwise to give Bob a lock on meanness.

Bob ignored the question, out-meaning George yet again. She caught George's eye, and George realized she'd been watching Bob's red mouth exhale smoke.

As if to punish George, Bob's phone began to play the theme from the latest vampire movie. Bob answered with a bright, animated, "Hi!" that was nothing like the sullen, sarcastic "What?" she used to answer George's calls. When Bob hung up, she flashed George a gigantic smile. "He's here!"

George flashed a giant smile back out of obligation. She never understood why other girls wanted you to be excited about their boyfriends. Bob had had boyfriends from kindergarten onward, except for the dry spell around fourth grade when she'd wanted to become a nun. She said she was bisexual, but she had only kissed one girl, at a party George had not been invited to. George still fantasized about going to cool bisexual parties with Bob, but Bob had sworn them off now that she was with Sven.

George spotted Sven before Bob did and wasn't sure what to do. Should she wave? She raised her hand, awkwardly. Bob spun around and shrieked, "Sven!!!"

Sven looked so much like a vampire that for a long time after they'd met, George refused to believe he actually was one. He totally had a reflection, too, though he had laughed at George for believing that "foolish" part of the myth. He couldn't stand the sun, so obviously he reflected light, right? George had to admit he had a point.

Sven had black, spiky hair flecked with red. His skin was cool and pale, and his eyes were so brown they looked black. He was tall and skinny and looked about nineteen. He always wore black jeans, white button-down shirts, and black trench coats. He wore a silver flower brooch on the collar of his trench, which he said belonged to his mother. When George had asked him about it, he'd said it was there to remind him of his sins. This had both annoyed and moved George, which was a disorienting combination of emotions to experience together.

Sven embraced Bob and lifted her easily, as if she were buoyant. Bob had told her that Sven was super-strong, though George never saw it except in moments like this. He lowered her down and kissed her, chastely, on the cheek. Bob pulled a final drag from her cigarette and crushed it under her pink Chucks.

George kept smoking, even though Bob was clearly ready to go inside. "Hi Sven," George said.

Sven made a point of looking into her eyes as he said, "Hello, Georgia."

This was the kind of thing that made George feel all crushy about Sven. She was currently in a mood where she was denying this, but that look still made her stomach turn. George had never had a boyfriend; her only contact with boys was through Bob, and her boys never were interested in George. She pulled hard on her cigarette as Bob whispered something to Sven, who chuckled. Who even chuckled anymore? Sven claimed to be a hundred and fifty-six years old, but he hadn't known anything about the labor movements of the 1880s. Or who assassinated McKinley. When George hadn't believed he was a vampire, she'd looked these things up on Wikipedia to test him.

"George, you know you're not supposed to, like, smoke the filter, right?" Bob said.

George flicked the cigarette, then belatedly chased it to stomp it out. The cigarette rolled away from her, and she had to follow it with an awkward shuffle before finally crushing the cherry with her foot. Bob burst out laughing.

"Shut up," George said to Bob. She smiled when she said it, like she was kidding. Bob fake-smiled back and looped her arm through Sven's. "Comics?" she said to him. George was invisible now.

Over spring break, Bob and George had had a gigantic fight. Bob had called George's cell at two A.M., sobbing, because she'd just been dumped by her then-boyfriend, who unironically called himself "Chaz." Chaz had more than dumped her, actually. He'd created a Facebook group about how she was a "cheating whore," said she had herpes, and that her pussy smelled "like wet dog." Bob hadn't even cheated, either. She'd given up cheating when she turned fifteen.

When Bob called, George had been sitting on the dock of her family's shore house with her brothers, who were bumming her cigarettes and giving her swigs of whiskey and calling her Georgie. George was pretty wasted when she answered the phone. And, somehow, instead of being a good, supportive best friend, a number of horrible things flew out of her mouth. How Bob had ditched her for two months straight to hang out with this guy. How he'd called George a dyke to her face, and Bob had stood there and laughed. How she was hanging out with her brothers right now and didn't have time to talk.

It was a gigantically bitchy thing to do. Even George's brother Maine though it was mean, and he hated Bob. George had started sobbing right there on the dock, and her brothers hustled her off to bed.

George and Bob made up, eventually. George contacted the Facebook people, using grown-up words like "defamation" and "misogyny," and got them to delete the group. She convinced Maine to threaten to kick the kid's ass. Maine was a huge nerd—AP everything, chess club, computer aide—but he was also really nerdy about things like bodybuilding and guns. And George did a lot of groveling. Though she pointed out that it was pretty bitchy of Bob to stop returning calls every time she had a boyfriend, and then expect George to listen to her cry when it was over.

The result of this fight was that now Bob hung out with Sven as much as any boyfriend, but she always invited George along. As George trailed behind lanky, mysterious Sven and happy, beautiful Bob, she didn't feel like Bob was doing her any favors. In fact, George had the distinct impression that Bob was doing this only so George would have to comfort her when it all fell apart. George could imagine the breakup. Sven telling Bob she just wasn't right for him. Sven calling George up, calling her Georgia. The two of them, arm in arm at the mall. Bob with another boyfriend. A nice boyfriend. All of them laughing, because it worked out for the best.

Bob and George had discovered the comic store when they were ten and really into Pokemon. Later, they started buying actual comics. Bob liked classics—X-Men, Superman, Batman. George, under the influence of her brothers' collections of Love and Rockets and S.C.U.D., turned her nose up at superheroes. As a rule, George and Bob did not shoplift from the comic store. They liked to describe it as an act of respect, but really it was an act of fear. If they ever got banned, their lives would be immeasurably diminished.

Bob led Sven over to the new comics and began piling her favorites in his arms. George made a beeline for the back, where they kept the manga. She'd already read everything in translation she could find, but this comic store occasionally stocked faded imports still bearing the price tags of the store in Chinatown they'd come from. These Japanese manga held a special power for George, as if staring at their art and text would reveal mystic truths lost in the English translation.

With a nervous glance over her shoulder, she slid a palm-sized manga out of its plastic. Its cover portrayed a willowy, wide-eyed girl, covered in nothing but the swirl of her long, purple hair. She stood in a thick jungly garden; above her, a crescent moon bled light. Tiny fangs, flicked with a hint of red, protruded from her mouth. She had bat wings.

"Lovely Vampire Delphine," a voice said in her ear. George looked up with a start; Sven was looking over her shoulder. She could smell his cedary cologne, nothing like the wall of Axe Body Spray and Old Spice she associated with boys. George looked up through her lashes like she imagined pretty girls did.

"You read Japanese?" she said.

"I spent some time in Asia in the last century," Sven said. He reached into his trench's pocket and handed her a flask with a picture of Mao on it.

George took it casually, like people handed her flasks all the time. "What is it?" she said.

Sven smiled. "Scotch."

"Yum," George said. She cast a nervous glance at the guy working at the counter. He was busy checking out Bob's ass as she bent over the bargain bin; Bob's giant stack of new issues was on the counter next to him. Despite the fact that Sven was buying, Bob could not turn off her bargain-hunting genes. It was one of the things George liked about Bob, this relentless practicality under all the LOL girliness. George fumbled the flask open and took a long swallow. It was rich and smoky and kind of gross, but gross in a different way than Maine's Jack Daniels. Gross in a grown-up way. She passed it back to Sven, and watched as he put his mouth where hers had just been.

"Can vampires get drunk?" George said. Her new game with Sven was finding out as much as she could about vampires, since she'd failed to debunk him.

"No," Sven said. He held the flask back out to her.

George looked over her shoulder again, and saw Bob give up on the bargain bin, hands on her hips, as if it had wronged her. She spotted George and Sven and started towards them.

"Here comes your girlfriend," George said as she took another swig. She felt like one of those women in the thirties movies her mom watched on Turner Classics. Sven had probably known women like that. He'd probably watched all those movies.

Sven paid for Bob's comics and handed her the bag with a gentlemanly smile. George wasn't even sure why she knew it was gentlemanly, since she'd never met any gentlemen. When they left the comic store, Sven commented on the hole in Bob's jeans, and by the time they were on the escalator, he was insisting on buying her a new pair of pants. Bob got very attached to pants. Every six months, there was a new Once and Future brand of jeans, and Bob would wear nothing else. Unfortunately, her current grail was the Gap.

"You don't understand," Bob said. "They are so rude there."

"I'll protect you from any rude shopgirls," said Sven, puffing out his chest.

This was a ridiculous thing for Sven to do, but for some reason George couldn't laugh at it. Instead, it triggered her mean button. "What Bob means to say," George said, "is that we are banned."

Bob shot a look at her. Sven knew about their shoplifting habits, of course. One of the reason he bought Bob things was to "save her from herself." But if Bob was the poor thief in this scenario, she wanted to be the crafty thief.

"Really, just George is banned," Bob said to Sven. "She walked out wearing one of their sweaters, which is the worst way to steal anything—"

"I was not trying to steal it!" George said. This meanness was backfiring.

"—And they banned her. We could go in without her, if you really wanted."

Sven looked back at George now, and raised an eyebrow at her. George was surprised by this. Sven always treated her like an actual person, which made him about ten thousand times better than any of Bob's previous boyfriends, but he had never actually sided with her before. "Georgia is an upstanding young woman. I will protect her from the shopgirls, too."

As they approached the Gap, the whole humiliating episode played over and over in George's head. The store alarm going off. The manager grabbing her by the arm. Being taken out to the weird no-man's-land hallway that connected to the back entrances of all the stores. The way he'd said the word "liar." George wasn't sure what happened when you got banned, but she was sure it at least involved stills from security footage, posted like wanted posters in the employee break room next to the big poster about workplace safety and the federal minimum wage. Every person standing at that counter had memorized their faces while drinking their burnt coffee, linking George with an acrid taste in their mouth.

No sirens when off when they entered the store, however. No mall cops stormed in and arrested them. No one even budged from their place at the counter. One employee, who George was sure had been there six months ago at the Time of the Banning, glanced at her and then went back to folding T-shirts. Fear and adrenaline leaked out of George, leaving her feeling deflated, and stupid in an entirely new way.

George and Bob did not consider themselves "Gap" girls. The Gap was boring, nice, and preppy, which were the three things Bob and George strove not to be. They bought T-shirts at Hot Topic and weird pants at H&M and hideous/amazing skirts at Forever 21. But the Gap could be relied upon to have understated clothes that would compliment, say, a pink zebra skirt or a "My Boyfriend Sparkles" T-shirt, so it had an essential, unglamorous place in their wardrobe ecosystem. Like worms, or fungus. George had once watched this terrifying science video about how all the dead things in the world would just pile on top of each other without fungus to break them down, so she was totally pro-fungus. Bob was already piling black tank tops and cutoff shorts and pink hoodies in Sven's arms. He gave George a helpless shrug, and then Bob led him back to the wall of jeans, to deliberate on whether she needed Long and Lean or Slim Fit.

George, who was more Curvy herself, couldn't deal with watching that particular debate, so she aimlessly examined and then re-folded T-shirts and wondered if she should take advantage of this un-banning to buy a jean skirt. The jean skirts were, like, fifty dollars, though, and she was saving up to pay for her car insurance next year. Plus, she didn't want to have to venture into the dressing room with Bob and her armload of Sven clothes. She shouldn't begrudge Bob this, she knew. Bob's mom didn't make a lot of money; the hole in her jeans hadn't been put there for fashion. On the other hand, every time she went out to see her dad, her stepmother bought her all sorts of cool outfits. Bob rationed these outfits throughout the year, busting out a new one every month, so it looked like she had not only the money to buy new clothes, like everyone else in their high school, but the means to find weird, wonderful new clothes no one could ever get their hands on.

"George!" Bob shouted across the store. "Sven is such a boy. Come tell me what makes me look, like, actually cute."

George walked back to the area outside the dressing room, where Sven had his arm around Bob and was murmuring something about how he couldn't help thinking she was cute. Bob disappeared into the dressing room with her pile of clothes, leaving George and Sven alone.

"Did you want anything, Georgia?" Sven said.

George was still stewing over being subjected to their mushiness, and didn't really hear him. "Huh?"

"Did you want any clothes?"

George thought of the jean skirt, wriggling into something too tight, or too loose, or just ugly as Bob pranced out of the dressing room looking perfect, again and again and again. "Um. No thank you," George said.

"Don't be polite for my sake," Sven said. He rolled his eyes in a goofy way. It felt like when he looked back at her and defended her to Bob. A crack in his stately vampire facade. It was weird, but George also liked it. He never rolled his eyes with Bob.

"I'm not," George said. "I'm just low maintenance."

"Ha," Sven laughed, like a real person. Not a chuckle. George shot him a curious look, and Sven just smiled.

George was working over what these things could mean—that he didn't think of her as a girl to be desired and protected and treated chivalrously? Or that he could finally be his real, true self around her?—as Bob modeled a series of jeans that were all, basically, the same. Sven was back to talking in his old-fashioned way, but he was unafraid to tell her that a pair of pants were too tight, or unflattering, or that a color was wrong on her, or that he just thought something was ugly. Even things George thought were totally cute met with Sven disapproval. At first, George sat silently, watching this spectacle. Finally, Bob came out in a pair of shorts that rode up in unfortunate ways, and George said, "Oh, no."

Sven nodded. "Georgia speaks the truth."

Bob, instead of taking this with the gratitude and seriousness she had assigned to all of Sven's minute criticisms, glared at George and said, "Who asked Georgia?"

George's stomach dropped. She understood, now, why Bob had actually asked her to come back. She didn't want George to give her opinion. She wanted Sven to give his opinion, and she wanted George to to sit there and assure Bob, over and over, that she was cute. Even Sven, it turned out, couldn't be relied on to do that.

George knew that this was the moment where she was supposed to take it back, or at least apologize, and sink into the background until Sven finished shaping Bob's wardrobe to his liking. But she could not muster the resolve to do this, and instead said, "You asked me to be honest."

"I didn't ask you to be a bitch," Bob said.

George opened her mouth to say some unknown, horrible thing, but Bob stomped back into the dressing room before it could escape her mouth. George sat there for a moment, anger rushing through her, before she remembered that Sven was next to her.

When she looked over at him, he held out his flask. George took a long, covert slug.

"Women," Sven said, shaking his head.

George stifled a laugh; things would get much, much worse if Bob thought they were laughing at her. "You must think this is so dumb."

"Why?" Sven said.

"Because you're, like, a million years old."

Sven looked up at the dressing room. George expected him to crack another goofy grin, but instead his face took on a hard quality that George didn't like at all. "No, I like games," he said.

"This isn't a game," George said, suddenly. "I should go apologize to Bob—"

Sven put a hand on her arm as she stood, and George tensed. But his touch was soft, and when she looked at him, his face was kind. Had she imagined the cruelty in his expression? "Let her wait."

George sat, and sure enough, eventually Bob came out again, in a new, cute outfit. George didn't tell Bob the outfit was cute, though; it felt like groveling, or pandering, or both. Bob didn't even look in her direction, and when she made her final selections, she handed them to Sven and walked straight outside. George considered following her, but Sven gave her a look that said, "Stay." She listened, though she wasn't sure why.

They spent the rest of the night wandering aimlessly, ducking into the backs of cluttered, under-staffed stores like Spencer's and H&M to take sips from Sven's Mao flask. At first, Bob continued to give George the invisible treatment, but then a switch flipped, and suddenly she was passing her the flask and teasing her about her weird older brothers, which from Bob counted as forgiveness. George let Sven put his arm around her, too, as they walked through the mall, the three of them laughing at everything they saw. Sven railed against the barbaric nature of malls. George agreed with him, and said so. Her voice sounded loud and high, and she tripped over the word "dissociation" twice before dissolving into giggles.

An announcement came over the loudspeakers that the mall was closing in fifteen minutes. George's brain was moving slow and hot, but she knew there was something she was supposed to do when they made that announcement.

"Oh shit!" she said. "I gotta call my mom!"

"You can't call Cynthia. She's got mad drunk-dar," Bob said. This was true. Years with Tenne and Maine had honed her mother's shenanigans sensors to a degree that George considered, more than anything else, unfair.

Sven tapped his fingers on George's shoulder and said, "I'll take you home."

"Oh really?" George said. There was a swoon in her voice she hadn't meant to put there.

"Oh really?" Bob mimicked. "My hero!"

Embarrassed, George ducked out from under Sven's arm and fumbled for her phone. She opened up her text keyboard, but the keys were so small and stupid.

"Georgia, what are you doing?" Bob hissed. Not only did she use the full-on Georgia, but her voice was tense, like George was arming a bomb.

"I have to text her at least," George said.

Bob snatched the phone from her and handed it to Sven. "Dictate to him."

Sven gave George an attentive, secretarial look. "Yes miss?"

"Mom I got a ride. Be home soon," George said, giggling. "But make the 'be' the letter 'b.' And don't, like, punctuate."

"Bob has familiarized me with your text lingo," Sven said with a smile.

"Hey!" Bob said. She punched Sven in the arm. "You never texted me back!"

"You sent me a message?" Sven said, all innocence.

"Yeah, we were trying to decide between hair dye—OMG we forgot about the hair dye!"

"Shit!!!" George moaned. This was an extremely, terribly big deal. "Is there time?!"

"Run!" Bob said.

"But what about the poll!" George shouted after her.

"Fuck the poll!" Bob cried, causing a mother pushing a shopping-bag-laden stroller to stop dead in her tracks.

Running while drunk was the best feeling ever. Running while drunk down the escalator was even better. So great that George, caught up in the rush, forgot the last step and fell flat on her face. Her cheek scraped along the metal landing, and her elbow bounced against the ground, hard.

She lay there, head spinning, and felt herself start to cry. She was too afraid to look up. All the different people who came to the mall—the packs of middle schoolers, the single mothers with three kids, the South Indian families, the blonde women with their new husbands, the girls from the next high school over who used too much hair gel—all of them must be circled around her, shaking their heads. She was just going to lay there until the lights went out, the mall closed, and everyone went away.

Sven's hands slid beneath her arms, and George flashed back to the way her parents used to pick her up as a child. He lifted her with impossible ease, and cradled her against him as she got her balance; it made her feel small and protected. Her elbow twinged, and the tears came harder.

"You okay?" Sven asked. George nodded. He walked her away from the escalator, where several old people and one lost-looking ten-year-old had stopped to stare. They found Bob standing right outside CVS, going through her iPhone.

"Survey says Cool Burn," she said. When she looked up, her mouth dropped. "What happened to your face!"

George reached up to touch her cheek. It was wet—but that was from crying.

"She fell," Sven said. "Tripped on the escalator."

"Oh, George," Bob said. She looked at Sven and added, "Make sure she doesn't hurt herself while I'm in there."

"Of course," Sven said. Bob smiled at him, a dazzling, perfect smile, and disappeared into the store.

Sven put his hand on George's chin and tilted it to one side. He wiped the tears first from her left cheek, then from her right. It was so tender and lovely that George wanted to kiss him, right there, in front of everyone. When he touched her right cheek, his finger came away with a shock of red on it. Her blood. He did lean in a little closer, like he was going to kiss her. Instead, very slowly, he brought the finger to his mouth and sucked.

Read Part 2 here

Meghan McCarron was born in 1983 and grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs. She has since spent time in Beijing, Los Angeles, and rural New Hampshire. Her stories have appeared in venues such as Strange Horizons, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, and Clarkesworld, and have been reprinted in several year's best anthologies. She lives in Brooklyn and works at a tiny independent bookstore.
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10 Jan 2022

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