My Exploding Cat

Just stories and drawings really, no actual fissile felines.

Chapter Six

If there ever was a reason not to shop with a teenager, this was it.

“Let’s look over the list,” Jen said, leaning on the grocery cart rail. Her sapphire wings were folded in a way Zoë hadn’t thought was possible, and hidden under a gray hoodie. She fit in remarkably well with the other shoppers, who were mainly college kids. There wasn’t a thing about her that said, “Anoki.” Zoë wished that she were that inconspicuous.

“Oh, here it is,” she said, finding it in her back pocket with her money. “We’re out of hot dogs, and there aren’t any Twinkies left, either. I need a pint of milk for a project, but let’s try to find a pint and not a huge gallon, because I hate drinking the stuff. We need cheese and bread… and I think I’ll snag that big bag of M&Ms, and the last of the fruit rotted a week ago.”

This list was pretty innocent, but it didn’t stay that way. Jen seemed to have more invisible entries than visible, since she was buying quite a few things that shouldn’t actually be on the list of any person with a measure of sanity. Or most people without a measure of sanity, for that matter.

“Ooh! Clodhoppers by the pound— and chocolate ones, too. Haven’t seen that before.” She shoveled a whole bunch into a supplied plastic bag. They looked to Zoë like some kind of cereal, sandblasted with chocolate and sugar.

Zoë also found out that the reason the banana had rotted was because Jen was much too busy eating carambola and Ugli Fruit and mango.

“What’s that?” Zoë asked, pointing to an oblong fruit.

“That’s a papaya,” Jen responded. “Hate the stuff, myself. Ooh… these are cheap,” she said, wandering over to another fruit that was the size of a volleyball.

“It says it’s a pomelo–the ancestor of the grapefruit,” Zoë said, reading the sign next to the stand. “They must keep really well if these are that old.”

Jen shrugged. She couldn’t do much else, because she was concentrating hard on getting the giant fruit to fit in the bag. She gave up when it was halfway in and set the whole unit in the cart, making it look like a giant green head with a sleeping cap.

Zoë wanted to explore the store more, with Jen following behind and explaining what saffron was and why it was so expensive, and how to choose the better-quality jalapeños (which Jen hated; they made her sneeze). But Jen simply paid, carted out the groceries, and loaded them into the car. She found a cart stall and tried to shove the cart in, cursing the bump that the grocery cart couldn’t manage to clear. She side-kicked the cart into the stall and left it halfway in, giving up, and hopped into the car.

“Now we’re going to the mall,” Jen said, starting up the car, “and we’re going to get you some real clothes so it doesn’t look like your mom dressed you.”

In fact, Zoë’s mom had dressed her. In nine years, Katie Heraldson hadn’t tired of playing house with a live baby doll one bit, but was willing to send her to a boarding school if it meant that she didn’t have to raise a magical kid, and could replace her with an infant. Babies didn’t protest against wearing so much glitter that people nearby went blind.

“Which store?” Zoë asked.

“JC Penney’s,” Jen said. “Anywhere else is either a teen store or only sells clothes like the ones you’re wearing. If you know where to look—and I do—there’s some pretty good stuff.”

Jen navigated the store like she’d eaten the map. She strolled straight past the cotton-candy clothes that nine-year-olds typically wore and got into the middle-school section.

“I bet you wear… mm, size 10/12,” Jen said, and started to pull jeans. Zoë was relieved to see that they didn’t look like they’d been mauled by some prehistoric animal made of claws.

“What about these?” Zoë asked.

“Nah, Arizona jeans last longer than those.”

“Are these actually going to fit?”

“You’re tall. Anyway, you’re going to try them on.” It was at this point that Jen shoved four different pairs of jeans into Zoë’s arms at once. “There’s this thing called a dressing room. Tu vas aller à la cabine d’essayage. I mean, you’re going to go to that dressing room. And you’re going to try these on.” Zoë walked off, leaving Jen to start picking out shirts.

By the time the hour was over, Zoë had a wardrobe of normal, blue-colored jeans and T-shirts in a variety of colors. Jen had also made sure that Zoë had normal white gym shoes that were comfortable to run around in. Zoë wasn’t paying attention when they checked out after she handed Jen her money, so she didn’t notice that there was a box of bright green hair dye in the cart, bought at the nearby hair salon.

“Uh-uh,” Jen said, as Zoë was about to walk out of the store. “You have good clothes now. Go put them on. That’s what dressing rooms are for, you know. The store owners can deal with having a stall occupied for a few minutes in exchange for a kid walking around, decked out in their merchandise.”

Impatiently Zoë pulled an outfit from the cart and walked quickly away to try it on, but that was when she saw the person she least expected to be at the mall: her teacher. Zoë ducked into a circular clothing rack full of trench coats and eavesdropped on the conversation quietly.

Wyrnen was leaning close to a sales clerk, talking about some sort of monster. A series of events flashed through Zoë’s memory.

“There’s a bit of a magical issue in the area that we’re here to fix.”

“…after Sophie and I deal with the little problem around here…”

“Hardly little…”

Zoë began to get suspicious. Her arrival, Daniel’s presence, and Wyrnen’s appearance in an unlikely place, all in the same day? Something was going on, and Zoë didn’t trust that it didn’t involve her.

This entry was posted on Saturday, April 9th, 2011 at 7:10 pm and is filed under Zoe. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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