She waltzed into the thrift shop, ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, all three foot four inches of her. She wasn’t a child, and she wasn’t a ‘little person’, she was just a three foot four person, wearing nondescript jeans, shirt and sandals. She danced around the store for a moment, and then her gaze settled on me.
“WELL-hi-there!” she piped up, cheerfully, matching the rhythms of her speech to the movements of her feet. “DO-you-have, CLOTHES-for-a, PER-son-of, MY-size-or-“
I am not a cheerful soul to deal with, especially not with people who treat my shop like a hipster hangout instead of a grim economic necessity. “Knock it off.”
She came to rest on the downbeat, ONE-two-three, put her hands on her hips and glared at me. I matched her scowl for scowl, and she finally capitulated. “Fine.” She replaced her glare with a neutral expression that was, somehow, less pleasant. “Do you have any clothes that might fit me?” she asked, in a more conversational cadence.
“You mean, that don’t have Care Bears and rainbows all over them?” I felt terrible as soon as I said it, really. When I make fun of people, I usually try to target things they can do something about. Breath, hair, religion, that kind of thing.
Instead of getting ticked off, though, she actually put her hand to her mouth and giggled. “Oh, wow. Most people don’t have the stones to say what they’re thinking. I like that.”
“Even when it’s cruel and inappropriate?” I asked, a little shamefaced.
“Especially then.” She cantered up to the register, one-two-three, one-two-three, and leapt into the air, grabbed the edge of the counter and pulled herself up and around into a seated position, facing me over her shoulder. Her hair was long and chestnut and whipped around her face as if she was in a shampoo ad. At this distance, I couldn’t help noticing that she was definitely no child.
She caught my semi-involuntary glance. “Perv.” She winked and grinned. “Don’t worry, you’re not a pedo. I’m twenty-five.”
“Glad to hear it. I’m thirty-four.” I always prefer to trade information for information.
Her eyes grew wide. “Thirty-four? Awesome.” She flicked a strand of hair out of her eyes. “I’m Emily Waltz, by the way.”
“Ben Criddey. Is Waltz really your name?”
“Yeah. They keep telling me I’ll grow into it, but...” She indicated her small stature with a gesture, and I couldn’t help but chuckle.
“So what do you think?” She returned to her original line of inquiry. “Can you help me with a new wardrobe?”
“Depends. How much have you got?”
“How much of what? Time, or money?”
I shrugged. “It won’t take you forty-five minutes to spend seventy-five cents here.”
“Good.” She jumped down from the counter. “I’ll just be a moment, then.” She walked into the musty labyrinth that served as the clothes department, and was lost from sight within a heartbeat. Thinking she might need some help, I stepped out from behind the counter, but was stopped almost immediately by a cry of triumph.
“Here we go!” She emerged from the maze, victorious, carrying a little white dress on a hanger. “I knew it would be here.”
“Looks like some little girl’s First Communion outfit,” I mused.
“It probably was,” she replied, playfully twisting the dress in the air in front of her. “Hang on a second.” She popped back out of sight between the piles of clothes, and emerged moments later, wearing the dress, carrying her jeans and shirt under her arm.
“Well,” she told my bemused expression, “I had to try it on, you know. For fit.”
“Looks like it fits.”
“It does. How much do you want for it?”
I grinned. “One dollar.”
“You asshole.” She stuck her tongue out at me.
Something she’d said earlier hit me. “I’ll give you a twenty-five percent discount if you tell me something.”
“My hero.” She smiled and batted her eyelashes.
“You said you knew the dress would be there. How?”
She sighed. “Oh, all right. My mom gave away a bunch of my old clothes to Goodwill. I’ve been going into every thrift store in the county looking for this thing.”
“Aha!” I cried. “So, you didn’t really know it was there.”
“I knew it was somewhere. Anyway, here’s your seventy-five cents.” She dropped her old clothes on the floor and pulled three quarters out of the pocket of her jeans. She crossed the room and handed them to me.
“And I thank you.” I slipped the coins into my pocket. “So why did you want this dress back, anyway?”
“It’s got a special, magical power,” she explained, her eyes twinkling.
I grinned, uncertainly. “What power would that be?”
“This.” She grabbed my hands and pulled them into position. Kicking the foot she wanted me to lead on, she began to count, slowly. “ONE. Two. Three. ONE, two, three. ONE-two-three. ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three.” She locked my eyes to her own as we spun together, faster and faster, and she no longer seemed to be short at all. Maybe it was just the way I was looking at her.
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