Bare and I’m Back, Part III

I’m here because of the redhead I saw neatly arranging the display in the window. For an instant, out of the corner of my eye, I caught the flick of her copper hair. It glinted brightly as it caught in the shop lights, a glimpse of brilliance against the evening darkness. The movement was so familiar, soft, gentle, and radiant. It reminded me so much of my Lily.

I don’t know why I’ve done this. It’s so unlike me.

I had scammed eighty dollars from the sandwich shop, and I could feel my tricking powers slowly getting back to what they used to be. My mind is sharp, cunning. I felt like I had plenty of options to get some new clothes. I certainly wasn’t going to go any longer pacing Springfield in nothing but a liberated hotel bathrobe. Halfway through plotting the components of an exquisite scheme, I noticed it. It was a little shabby and rundown, but it made me stop and stare.

Normally, I would never have considered going into a charity shop. It’s not my sort of thing. Even if I need to appear like a tramp or a beggar, and I have in the past, I would much rather buy new garments and then dirt them up. Why would I want my hard tricked funds going to those who have gotten themselves in trouble? Why should I assist others? No one has ever helped me out. Yet there was something different about this shop, and, I guess, now me. 

Although, if I’m honest, really, truly truthful, I’m here because of the redhead I saw neatly arranging the display in the window. For an instant, out of the corner of my eye, I caught the flick of her copper hair. It glinted brightly as it caught in the shop lights, a glimpse of brilliance against the evening darkness. The movement was so familiar, soft, gentle, and radiant. It reminded me so much of my Lily. I thought I was over her death, started to process what I did to her. I believed I had moved on from my devastating grief and was starting to function again. Yet, seeing the young shopgirl brought it all back. I may have restarted my tricks, but I now know I haven’t fully come to terms with what happened to my precious lady.

The hanger makes a soft scraping, grating sound as I slide another hideous suit that won’t fit me along the rack. Maybe I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Yes, I can trick, but do I really know who I am? What would I do if I found myself in the same situation again? I shake my head. That won’t happen. There will never be another Lily, and I certainly won’t let myself get that close to any other mortal. I can’t risk anyone else, and I can’t risk myself. I won’t do it.

“You might find more luck if you try that rack.”

It’s difficult to turn and look at the unassuming beauty. She’s like forbidden fruit. I know it’s no good for me, but, deep down, part of me wants it, yearns for it. She smiles sweetly at me, the line of freckles over her nose lifting with the movement. A moment of silence hangs between us, and I then realise she’s waiting for me to say something.

“What’s that?” I ask quietly. She titters softly and places a hand on my arm. It’s uncomfortable, and I want to wrench away, but it is also so comforting.

“You might find it easier to look over there. That’s where we keep the mediums.” Lily-not-Lily tells me. I follow her gaze and realise I’ve been acting like a distracted fool, paying no attention to what I’m doing. I’ve let my past cloud my mind, and I can’t allow that to happen. When I don’t move or say anything, the girl takes my hand and slowly guides me towards the clothes. Her touch is electrifying. I want to grip tight and only just manage to stop myself. She just wants a sale, that’s all. “You’d look great in this.” She holds up a lovely two-piece outfit. “It would go so nicely with…your eyes.”

I’m struggling. I don’t like it. It’s too much. I slip past the girl and instead pick up an ugly three-piece outfit.

“Maybe this?” I try, knowing it’s not for me. It’s a crime against fashion.

“Sorry.” She’s next to me again. “I can be a little presumptuous. It’s your choice. Please go with whatever you like. I’ll be over at the counter when you’re ready. Just ask for Amelia.”

She grins and moves away, and I’m able to breathe again. This is not right. My head should not be turned so easily, not after everything that has happened. I must be stronger. I look across at her and suddenly realise the humour of her words. It’s just her here. I really wish there was someone else. I try to concentrate on the clothes.

Suddenly, a large crash from outside rips through the peace of the shop. I step forward as Amelia jumps. I watch through the big window as a group of youths sprint past the shop front. The flurry of movement is followed by nothing. There are no alarms or shouts. I shift and discover the redhead at my elbow. She’s there just for an instant, and then she moves away, returning to work. She needlessly shifts a few items on a nearby rail, flicking the vibrant strands of her hair away from her face. 

“What was that?”

“Just kids.” She retreats to the counter. “That sort of thing has been happening more and more since the problems at City Hall.” I step forward, cocking my head and lifting an eyebrow. “Wow. You are not from around here, are you?”

“What gave it away?” I smile briefly as I look down at my fluffy robe. Concern then creases my features. “Are they threatening you?”

“Oh, no.” She looks surprised. “It’s nothing like that, just general unrest. Ever since our Mayor was murdered, there’s been a sense of tension everywhere. Reds rallying against blue, and blue blaming red. It’s like living in a powder keg.” She stares down at long fingers as they rest on the scratched work surface. 

I’m not sure how to respond. I guess it’s not my place to comment on death or the fallout, and I’m not exactly a model of good behaviour. Uncertain how to continue, I make a quick decision and retrieve the suit that Amelia picked out for me.

“Can I take this?” I ask. She beams, relieved that the tension of the situation has been broken.

“I’ll get a bag for you.”

“Is it okay if I wear it out?”

Amelia looks round as if checking for a manager that isn’t there, then skips over to the other side of the store.

“This shirt will go perfect with it.”

“I guess you don’t have any underwear?”

She blushes, a soft warmth radiating from her cheeks. I stupidly smile back.

“Afraid not.”

I slip into the changing room and steel myself. I’m not here for anything like this. I’m rebuilding my powers, and I don’t need to get distracted. I have to focus. I step through the curtain and outstretch my arms.

“Did you make a good choice?” It sounds so stupid. It’s exactly the sort of thing I’m not meant to be doing.

“Looking sharp.”

I pass over two of my notes, and Amelia rings up the purchase. She tries to offer me a ten in change, and I shake my head.

“Can you use that to get a cab home?”

“It’s okay. I think a guy who came in wearing a dressing gown needs it more than I do. Besides, it’s important to me to show people that this isn’t getting to me.”

“Are you sure?” I push the note forward, but she shakes her head.

“I’ll be fine. Thank you, though. If you don’t mind, I should be locking up. I’m late already.”

I want to tell her I’m sorry, but that’s too truthful for my lips. Instead, I say “Why didn’t you say?”

“Sometimes people need a bit of help.” I return her pleasant expression and head towards the door. She’s genuine when she tells me. “Thanks again for stopping by.” I don’t want to sully the moment with a lie, so I nod my appreciation for her efforts and step outside.

I walk along the dark street, my eyes now open to the world around me. For the first time since I arrived in the town, I see glimmers of the problems that exist. Here angry posters decry political opponents, and over there, harsh graffiti screams of discontent with the system, those in charge. Amelia was right. This town is broken. It’s in need of fixing, just like me. The whole place is in need of a second chance.

An odd feeling sits like a rock in the depths of my belly. I’m not used to this sort of sensation. I want to do something…positive for Amelia. In an odd way, I think I’d like to help them all, and not just for me, but for Lily, too. It feels like something she would have approved of. I might not have done much to improve her life, quite the opposite, but maybe this is a task she would have felt proud of me for.

“But how?” I muse. “What am I supposed to do?” I’m here to start tricking again. I’ve made good progress so far, but this is only the beginning. I need to go bigger, better, and push myself further. I can’t survive on a quick win. I need to remaster the long con too.

How can I help everyone and really put my powers to the test? Then it occurs to me. What if I could convince a whole town to make me, a complete stranger, Mayor? I actually lick my lips. It’s a tantalising prospect. I could be responsible for saving this city from itself and be the best trickster I’ve ever been. It would be by far the biggest scheme I’ve ever run. I wonder where I start.

Dolus (Andrew Harrowell)
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