“How is it that you become a mall-mom?” I asked Zoe.
“Screw you, pal,” she replied.
I smiled as I sat close to the woman dressing room, but just an earshot away from her, so we can talk. Zoe always hated coming to this mall when she was younger. She always thought the mall was just some stupid haven for teenage gossip. Not that it was safer for kids to go instead of running the streets. Not that it was easier for kids to go shopping with their allowance for an event or party. Just a stupid place, for stupid gossip.
“Can you check on Christine please?” she asked.
Without saying a word, I looked at the black stroller and lifted the pink blanket that revealed a young child sleeping peacefully inside. I looked at her for a moment and wondered to myself what can she possibly be dreaming about. I gently rubbed my finger against her face, making her flinch just a little. But not enough to wake her up.
“She’s fine, Zoe. Just hurry it up,” I said.
I flipped the pink blanket back over leaving my niece to her slumber. I sat back for a second as Zoe came walking out of the dressing room.
“How do I look, Sam?”
I looked up to see Zoe wearing a sheer lace and tulle ball wedding gown. She folded her arms on top of her chest trying to cover herself while not trying to smile so hard. I got up from the chair and removed her arms and took a step back to see the dress in full view.
“You look great,” I replied.
“You think so, I can try on the other gown. You know the high neck one,” she stated.
“No, I’m serious this is perfect. I’m sure Dave would love this dress.”
She smiled at me showing her sparkling teeth and walked back to the dressing room. I rolled my eyes and took a deep breath as I sat back down next to Christine. Zoe stopped and backed up while pointing her finger at me.
“Wait a minute you’re just saying that, so we can get out of here quicker,” she said.
“I can’t believe you would accuse me of such an outlandish allegation. Your own brother.”
Zoe stepped a few inches in front of me looking up at me as she tried her best to look into my eyes. “I think you’re lying,” she said to me.
“All I’m saying is we could’ve gone to the one down the street from your house,” I stated.
“I knew you wouldn’t like the dress,” cried Zoe.
“No, I do. I’m just saying. Going down the street was a lot easier. And I’m sure this dress would’ve been there too,” I explained.
“I didn’t want to go to that wedding store.”
“Just because,” she replied.
The one thing I hated the most about my sister is when she tried to avoid a question with a useless answer. For as long as I can remember she has always done this to me and there was only one way I could force her to answer.
“Zoe Rene Wilson, start talking.”
Her eyes grew big and her lips folded. She folded her hand into a fist and raised it up striking me on my right arm. She threw two more punches with both connecting. I quickly turned my right arm away from her hoping that she wouldn’t hit the other one.
“You know better than to call out my full name. Earl!”
“Really!” I shouted back.
Samuel Earl Wilson. That was the name my mother chose for me. I don’t know why she picked Earl as my middle name but Zoe and I both vowed not to use each other middle name in case of emergencies. I thought this qualified as one.
“What? It’s not like you’re giving me a straight answer,” I said.
“You want a straight answer, here’s one for you ass hat. This is the same store mom came to get her wedding dress when she got married to dad. Happy now.”
I stopped rubbing my shoulder and looked around the store feeling our mother presence from within. Every time she took us to the mall, she would tell us about the store from where she got her wedding dress.
“Are you trying to follow in mom’s footsteps?” I asked.
“Yeah, I want to make sure that our marriage lasts just as long as theirs,” she replied.
“Is everything okay between you and Dave?” I asked.
“Yeah, everything is peachy. He’s an amazing father. We talk about important things in our life. And oh my god, when we’re in that bedroom.”
“Stop right there, please spare me the details on that one,” I said waving my hand in disgust.
“I’m just saying. He keeps doing what he’s doing, you might have another niece or nephew on the way,” said Zoe slightly dancing.
“For the love of God, please stop.”
Zoe laughed as she walked back to the dressing room. I sat down trying to think of every thought to keep the image out of my head. I uncovered the pink blanket once again to see a woken Christine just looking oblivious. She looked at me and her eyes tighten up a little bit and her mouth wide open. She let out a soft cry which soon became louder. Zoe came back out fully changed.
“Someone is hungry,” she said.
Zoe grabbed the diaper bag that sat on the right side of the stroller and pulled out a bottle and quickly gave it to my niece. I watched as Christine grabbed the bottle and calmed down as she drank from it.
“She can already hold her own bottle?” I asked.
“She better, I wasn’t going to hold it forever.”
“I guess, but since you mentioned it. Want to get something to eat from the food court?” I asked.
Zoe just smiled and walked pushing the stroller in the direction of the food court. Even though I took that as a yes, I still wanted an answer.
Once we made it to the food court, we sat at the table in the middle of the crowd seeing that it was the only clean table available. I had some hot wings as Zoe had her cheeseburger and Christine with her bottle.
“I see you’re still wearing that necklace,” Said Zoe.
“Yeah, but I’m about to call it quits. Can’t keep hoping I’m going to see her again someday.”
“Don’t worry, bro. I’m sure you’ll find the girl for you. What about that one girl you embarrassed yourself in front of at Fred’s wedding?” asked Zoe smiling.
“Real funny. We got a comedian over here folks,” I said clapping my hands.
Zoe started to laugh, and Christine quickly joined in. I looked at her from the corner of my eye hoping she would catch my evil glaze. “Traitor.”
“I’m her mother, she supposed to take my side.”
“Whatever,” I said.
“Cheer up, Sam. Just ask Fred for her number and everything should be good. I’m sure she would remember you. If not just tell her you’re the guy that mixed her up with some girl he only met once at a carnival and thought he was going to live in a Cinderella story,” she joked.
“You’re getting a kick out of this, are you?”
“You have no idea.”
“I hate you, you know that,” I said.
“I know, love you too,” Zoe said back.
I looked at my watch to see that it was half past five and we were losing sunlight. Zoe wanted to have Christine in bed by eight, even though Dave and I argued nine. She insisted that her child gets almost ten hours of sleep a day just like her. Unfortunately, she had to learn the hard way how babies sleep throughout the night. But still, the time never changed.
“Hey, let’s get going, so you can get her to bed on time,” I said.
“Oh, almost forgot.”
“Yeah, too busy teasing me,” I said.
She stuck her tongue out at me as she reached down for the baby bag and her purse. I stand up and grabbed Christine and put her in the stroller as she smiled at me. I heard footsteps coming closer to me but not to fast, but at a steady pace.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to intrude. But you have a beautiful daughter,” said the lady behind.
“Thank you, but she’s not my daughter. She’s my niece. But I’ll tell you a secret, she gets her good looks from me.”
The woman laughed at my joke, but the hairs on my back stood straight up and my heart beat picked up some speed. I didn’t want to turn around, fearing I would be disappointed again. But I couldn’t help but noticed that laugh from four years ago. I looked at Zoe as she raised her head from under the table slamming her purse down on the table.
“That’s the biggest bull—what in the witchcraft is this?” asked Zoe.
I slowly turned around and there she was the girl from the carnival. The girl who got away, the girl whose locket I held on to for four long years. She was right there in front of me and I couldn’t believe it.
“Jennifer,” I whispered.
“I’m sorry, do I know you?” asked Jennifer.
“It’s me, Sam! The guy from the carnival,” I said.
I quickly removed the locket from my neck and put it in her hand. She brought it up slowly to her face and opened it up. Her face soon lit up like fireworks as she recognized the two pictures inside of it. She covered her mouth and looked back at me with tears in her eyes. I knew right then and there she remembered me, and I finally felt complete.