The man behind the counter has a lot of tattoos.
And now he is picking his nose.
Me and Anna are standing behind a rack of big saggy dresses that look like they’re from the ‘60s—Anna calls them “muumuus”—laughing silently at this beast of a guy.
He looks at us, and we both instinctively look at the rack.
“This one would look nice on you,” Anna says. She pulls out a mustard muumuu with orange flowers and tosses it on my head.
“Oh yeah,” I say. “Really brings out my—my—my,” my stutter, I think.
“Your eyes,” she says. “My mom’s magazine says orange and green are very something right now.” She rubs my head. “Very, very something.”
I pull the dress thing off my head. She knows what color my eyes are?!
The man behind the counter rubs his beard and tries to catch a fly with his gigantic hand. For some reason, we both start laughing. Out loud.
SMACK. The fly drops dead on the counter.
“Hoooah!” the man behind the counter shouts. “Don’t mess with Parrot.”
Anna looks at me and whispers “Parrot?” And we break into laughter again.
“I seriously need to find a dress,” she says, and approaches another rack of musty clothes. “Do you think Braden would like this?”
She holds up a shiny navy blue dress with some, like, black netting stuff.
“Uh,” I say.
“Maybe I should ask Parrot,” she says, and smiles.
“Ask Parrot what?” the man behind the counter says. Now that we’re closer, I can see that there’s something up with one of his eyes. It looks black on the inside. The other one is light blue.
Anna freezes up. Neither of us are the “let’s talk to random strangers type,” especially one who’s covered in tats, boogers, and dead flies.
I guess this is the point where I’m supposed to save her, but I can feel my stutter coming up like vomit. I can also feel her looking at me—she wants me to say something even worse than I do.
The awkward silence looms over the musty thrift store air. Anna snatches a hot pink, flowery dress from the rack and says, “I just wanted to know if I could try these on?”
“Dressing rooms are open,” he says, and winks at me.
Oh hell no, I’m not standing out here with Parrot the winker while Anna tries on her dresses. She’ll find me chopped to bits, in a bin that says, “Some guy’s body parts, half off.” Haha. Crud on a cracker. I follow Anna to the rooms, and slip into the one next to her’s.
It’s only when I shut the door that I realize all I have to try on is this muumuu.
I look down at the gap between the fitting rooms. Anna’s shoes are off.
And now her jeans are, too.
I slap my hand over my eyes. I’m not supposed to see this! I’m a terrible person!
“Are you, okay?” Anna asks.
“Yeah,” I say.
“What are you trying on, the muumuu?”
“I’ll try on this hideous pink ‘80s prom dress if you try on the muumuu,” she says.
I hear ruffling, and uncover my eyes. Her legs are still bare. Ahh! I slap both hands over my face again.
“Deal?” she asks.
Agh! “Okay, I was gonna anyway,” I say, because what a creeper would I be just standing in the fitting room next to her?! She’d probably think I was the most perviest pervball this side of the Suez Canal.
I take off my shirt (but not my jeans), and slide the thing over my head. There’s no mirror in here, so I have no idea precisely how ridiculous I probably look. The bells on the door of the thrift store, well, not really toll, but kind of just… clank together. Maybe Parrot is going outside to smoke or take drugs or find some more flies to kill. I face the opposite wall until I hear the rustling stop in the next room.
“Ready?” Anna asks.
“It’s literally now or never,” I say, and we both open the door, take one look at each other, and start cracking up again. For two shy nerds, we’re seriously making a lot of noise. But come on. Anna looks, well, awesome, but hilarious. The dress was obviously inspired by a gumball. And there’s a giant, saggy bow on her butt. And then there’s me! I need a mirror. I need a—
No. Please no.
I turn around, looking down, realizing for the first time that you can see the outline of my nipples in this muumuu thing. And that there are frills on the sleeves. I don’t want to look up and find out who has recognized me. So I just don’t.
“Hey,” a girl’s voice says, “I’m Gracie.”
NO NOT GRACIE. NO NO NO NO NO.
“And this is my boyfriend, Tom.”
I pick my head up to see Anna and Gracie shaking hands. I want to shove Anna back into fitting room and shout, “DON’T TOUCH THAT PERSON,” even though there’s nothing wrong with Gracie, really, EXCEPT SHE HAS A BOYFRIEND AND WE JUST MADE OUT.
Gracie’s boyfriend sticks his hand out for me to shake. Just act like a grownup, Sam, and shake this guy's hand. It’s not your fault. You didn’t know that Gracie had a boyfriend when you made out with her. I go in for the shake. But Tom turns my hand over so my palm is facing down and kind of bows.
“Can I have this dance, m’lady?” he asks me, and Gracie and Tom start laughing.
I pull my hand back. THIS MUUMUU! Ah! Someone, shoot me in the elbows and leave me for dead.
Anna looks at me, uneasy.
“Um, how do you guys know each other?” she asks Gracie.
“We met at a party,” Gracie says with a mischievous grin.
“I don’t remember partying with a cross dresser,” Tom says, looking at me.
“It was when you were on vacation, dear,” Gracie says. “And anyway, I think Sam looks good in flowers. Did Dear Albert tell you to wear that?”
Oh cheese, I forgot she knows!
“My boyfriend’s not much for fashion advice,” Anna says.
“Your… boyfriend?” Gracie asks. Tom looks bored.
And I am going to sweat through this muumuu. Gracie knows I’m Dear Albert, but Anna still thinks it’s Braden. And for some reason, I’m still keeping Braden’s secret. So what now? Shouldn’t I just let the truth come out and be happy that I didn’t have to intentionally tell Anna? Yes. That’s exactly what I should do. So when I find myself stepping behind Anna and giving Gracie the “cut it out” sign, I’m quite surprised.
Anna turns around.
“What are you…?”
Gracie: “Well, it was nice to meet you guys. Good luck shopping for dresses, Sam. Tom, take me to the shoes.”
Tom winces, then looks me up and down.
“Need some high heels, bro?”
“Sure, pick me out something Zooey Deschanel would approve of,” I think, but the words don’t come. Instead I just mutter a “no,” and Gracie drags him away.
Thank you, Gracie.
“I gotta get out of this thing,” I tell Anna, and rush back into the fitting room.
Anna’s fitting room door closes gently.
“Can I tell you something?” Anna asks. I make the mistake of looking at the floor, and see the pink dress slowly slide to the ground. I close my eyes.
“Of course,” I say.
“I’ve never been to a real party before,” she says. Her voice sounds really, really sad. But why?
“Oh, it wasn’t that grea-grea-great,” I stammer.
“Yeah,” she says. It almost sounds like she’s going to cry. “I’m just gonna try on this other dress.”
What have I done? I mean, what have I done WRONG? I mean, what have I done wrong TODAY? Because I thought everything was cool? Anna doesn’t know I kissed Gracie, and no one found out about the Dear Al mistaken identity business. Aside from everyone seeing me in a dress, I thought that went about as well as it could have. So why does Anna sound upset?
I leave the fitting room and run my fingers up to where my Harry Potter scar used to be. Back when Jeff was pure evil, Anna was pure out-of-my reach, and I was a pure dork. Back when everything was simple. Who would have ever guessed I'd ever be envious for that time in my life again.
But I don't have time to wallow. Tom storms through the store, passes me, then turns and shouts, "Leave me alone for one minute, Gracie! God!" The bells clank together as he angrily exits. Gracie ambles through the store, stopping to examine a hat. She looks at me, looks at the door, then rolls her eyes. I just stand there, confused. When she finally gets to me, she pushes me against a fitting room door—ANNA'S fitting room door—and kisses me softly on the mouth.
I can't even react fast enough to kiss back.
"See you later, Sam," she whispers, and then she's gone.
As soon I push myself from the fitting room door, it opens. And Anna emerges in the blue dress. Looking like the girl of my dreams.