The setting wasn’t too elegant, a department store where the florescent lighting shined rather harshly on the shoppers and merchandise. This was Burdines, which reminded Will of Bloomingdale’s, or Macy’s and department stores up north that he had been in when he was a boy. The store’s tropical decoration had accents, overtones and hues distinguishing it as being in Florida.
He ambled through the aisles with no intention of buying anything. Will was there for social stimulation. Being around people, seeing the world in the first person, experiencing the most trivial sights and sounds was something he enjoyed
Then he saw her.
It was like a one-two combo that would have easily knocked him out in a brawl. Will’s first reaction to her was thinking that she was cute. Then the familiarity of her complexion swept into his mind,, her golden brown hair and her eyes â€“ her deep blue eyes â€“ sent his heart racing as he realized the woman before him was Tara. She was Will’s high school crush and he had been trying to find her for almost ten years. She didn’t look much different from when he had last seen her and doubted he would be recognized easily.
He faked a search through a nearby display, watching Tara all the while she talked to a counter attendant a few yards away.
Will wondered when the last time he saw her was. He recalled the passing chance encounter he had with Tara while shopping at a local supermarket. He hadn’t even noticed her when she passed him down an aisle. It was only later when he realized who it had been.
That time she was shopping, this time it appeared she was shoplifting.
Tara distracted the attendant with a request and then grabbed some expensive perfume from on the counter. She did it one more time before moving to a display rack with white silk blouses, where she gave one a five-finger discount, stuffing it into her oversized purse.
Will was shocked. Why was she doing this? Was she in trouble or just doing it for kicks?
She headed for the exit and Will wanted to call her and say hello but something told him not to. He watched her walk, focused-yet-determined, towards the front door before two male store attendants stopped her and started inquiring about her bag.
The gig was up for Tara, and Will knew it. What he had to do now was make the decision to help her out (as he had done in high school â€“ offering change and other things to her when she needed them) or letting her slip further away from him and the past.
Will thought, what would happen if she were detained? If she was in a hole in her life, this would just sink her deeper. If she was doing this for kicks, she was digging herself a hole without consciously knowing it. Then again, if he did help her (and if he got her out of this mess) it might just be another benevolent act with nothing to show for it.
Will stepped out from behind the clothes rack and into the aisle, glancing around as he called her name repeatedly. He walked towards them at the entrance to the store where they had stopped and then turned his head forward and acting like he was seeing things for the first time, showed an expression of shock and confusion.
“Sweetie, I told you not to leave me while I was shopping!” Will yelled as he marched towards them. “I’ve told you this over and over, do not leave my side!” He grabbed at her arm and she balked as her disorientation in the situation became acute. “Excuse me, sir?” one of the attendants said. “You know this woman?”
“Yes, yes I know her,” Will explained. “She’s my girlfriend.” He took her hand, squeezing it for a moment. She shot him a look that said, “Who the hell are you?” This expression started to fade in a moment as the realization hit her.
Will let go of her hand and put his hand on the first attendants shoulder, pulling him away from the other two. “We came in here shopping â€“ she ran in front of me and entered the store before me.” His voice was banal now as he weaved his tall tale. “She knew I was going to just browse and where I would be. Thank you for finding her.”
“Sir, I’m afraid it’s not quite that simple,” the attendant said. “We caught her shoplifting several items from…”
“What’s your name?” Will asked, cutting the attendant, attempting to stay in control of the conversation. He had a hunch how to proceed with things and hoped to high hell that Tara would know as well and play along.
“Sir?” the attendant questioned.
“What’s your name?” Will repeated.
“Mike Flanagan, Sir.” The attendant wasn’t much older than him. His large girth and receding hairline was unflattering when matched with pleasant face and hazel eyes.
“Mike, she’s a little bit slow,” Will pointed to his head with his index finger. “Not just slow but she starts doing the wrong things sometimesâ€¦ bad things. I need to watch her closely most of the time so she doesn’t. You could look into this and find she’s been in trouble for shoplifting a couple of times in the past. Heck, I met her and her sister in this very mall just before she got in trouble with flinching goods.”
Mike looked at him skeptically, almost knowingly. Will figured Mike had seen what amounted to a con job like this before.
“Sometimes she doesn’t even realize who people are.” Will continued, “It’s not Alzheimer’s, but something isn’t right up here.” Of course it wasn’t Alzheimer’s, she was in her prime and her youthful radiance could easily be seen from her curves that drew admirers. “She’s like a child sometimes and at others she’s… well, she’s a dream.” He shot Mike a wink.
“Sir,” the attendant persisted. “We have video footage of her stealing several items from a few departments…”
Will shook his head and hung it in disgust. “I knew this was going to happen,” he interrupted again, “I knew it. We were on the way over and I told her not to run away because I knew this would happen.” He glanced over to where she and the second attendant stood and spoke directly to her, “Are you ok, honey? Don’t be scared, ok? Everything will be fine…”
“Will?” Tara looked at him in her confused realization. He shot her an uneasy smile and then returned to Mike.
“Do you see? She barely knew who I was.” He looked at Mike in an apologetic way, showing some agony. “Look, whatever she is carrying â€“ I’ll pay for it. I don’t care what it is. I’m extremely sorry this happened, Mike, and I think the best way to resolve it is to see that your store gets the money it’s due.”
Mike’s forehead wrinkled as he tried to judge if things were legit or not.
The second attendant approached them with hand firmly clamped around Tara’s arm, tugging her along. “What’s going on?” He asked.
“This gentleman is willing to pay for merchandise that she has in her possession, Gerald.” Mike and the second attendant stepped away to discuss things. Will watched the body language Mike used. Hands gesturing, finger tapping on the temple… He was buying it all right.
Will looked at Tara and the expression on her face was amazement. He mouthed to her follow my lead, and hoped she could improvise along with him.
“All right, sir,” Mike spoke while approaching them, “we’re going to allow you to pay for the merchandise, but I’m going to have to ask you not to shop at our store again.” Will nodded solemnly as if taking the guilt from this deed on his shoulders. “We can’t very well afford to have her causing a scene like this again.” Will wanted to laugh at this. Tara wasn’t the one causing the scene. He’d made the scene through his own handiwork.
Will took Tara’s hand tenderly again, and part of him really meant the affection he showed â€“ after all these years, she was back in his grasp. The circumstances could be better but he could live with the one they were in and try to make the most of it.
“Will…” Tara spoke, shaking her head, “I…I… I did it again, didn’t I?” Her upper lip quivered. Will realized he had a professional actress in his presence and hoped this wasn’t too over the top. “They looked so pretty, Will. I didn’t mean to….” She began to sob before grabbing Will, hiding her face in his shoulder. “I didn’t mean to! I didn’t! I’m so sorry.” She looked up from his chest and looked at Mike Flanagan and Gerald and repeated her impassioned sob. “I’m so sorry!”
And they believed it.
The attendants took Tara and Will to the nearest check out counter where they rummaged through her purse that hid bottles of perfume and the silk blouse. Will paid for the contents, totaling something close to $100. Why was he doing this? He didn’t know…. Actually, he did. He knew very well why he was doing it â€“ she stood at his shoulder and her eyes ached of blue.
Still sobbing, Tara held Will’s hand tightly as their escort walked them to the exit. Once outside, the light hit them like a saber and the air-conditioned bliss of the store gave way to the hot, humid and bright Florida summer. As they continued to walk away, Will asked her if she was ok, she continued to cling to his arm — keeping up the act — as she told him yes. Will didn’t glance back but he imagined Mike and Gerald were closing the doors behind them and probably talking about the crock they had just been fed.
Will didn’t care. His attention was squarely on the woman he walked with. He had so many questions to ask, so many things he wanted explained but wasn’t sure he was going to get answers, or the opportunity to ask.
“You know,” Will spoke as they neared his car with her still clinging, “you’re so lucky that I’ve seen Arthur before.”
“What?” Tara asked. Finally dropping the act.
“The movie Arthur,” Will explained. “Dudley Moore? Liza Minelli? Rich guy falls for a poor girl after he rescues her after she’s caught shoplifting?”
“I’ve never seen it,” Tara told him flatly. “I’ve never even heard of it.” She spoke dryly, without emotion. He knew this voice and wasn’t intimidated by it.
“Pretty good flick,” he said as they reached his Saturn.
“You going to fall for me now, Will?” She spoke to him coyly, “Or did you fall for me in there?” Her tone was both flirtatious as well as slightly mocking.
“I fell for you back in high school,” Will answered. “Seeing you again was just a refresher course of how I feel about you.” He held both her hands and found himself lost in her blue eyes.
She looked at him a long moment before letting a smile take over her face. The smile that he had secretly loved all those years ago and never thought he would see again. She pecked him on the cheek before letting go of his hands.
“That’s sweet of you, Will,” she spoke. “Thank god for Arthur. Thank you for helping me.” She walked a few steps backwards. She smiled the entire time before turning away from him without looking back.
“Thank god for Arthur,” he said with a sigh, watching her hurry away. The girl he had fallen for in high school with was long gone, he realized. He knew he cherished his own vivid memories, yet the past was dead for others, never to be resurrected.