Free is always cheap

When I entered the ninth grade, I was in another new town and my seventh new school. Madonna was the most popular performer on the radio and like many other teen girls, I admired her gutsiness. She was everything I wasn’t but wished I was — bold, daring, brazen, and absolutely unapologetic about it. I mean, who else could get away with wearing a black bra under a lacy see-through top?  Not only could she get away with it but she had millions of young girls wanting to dress just like her, including me.

About 2 months into my ninth grade year, I had two friends. Barb, who was the seventh out of nine kids from a large catholic family. She was quiet like me and wanted to be a nurse. Toby was just the opposite of us. She was an only child of a single mom. Toby dressed in whatever she felt like. If that meant one green sock and one blue with maroon cropped pants, that’s what she wore. She also sewed her own clothes and made interesting outfits like Molly Ringwald’s character in Pretty in Pink. I was in awe of her.

The three of us somehow managed to con Barb’s older brother into giving us a ride into the big city to go to a discount department store. We needed three new outfits to wear for the homecoming festivities that week at school. It didn’t matter that we only had Barb’s babysitting money, a total of $10 to split between the three of us. We were going shopping for cool clothes!

We searched the whole store but came up with nothing. Just as we were about to give up hope of ever finding anything cool, I spotted it. There hanging on a flimsy plastic hanger was a sheer black lace midriff top just like Madonna wore in Desperately Seeking Susan! I flew to the rack and grabbed it before anyone else could and squealed with delight like only an excited teenage girl can. I didn’t have a black bra to wear under it but that didn’t matter. I had never seen a top like that anywhere my mom took me to buy clothes.  I had to have it! My hand moved in slow motion to the price tag dangling from the sleeve. $19.99! NOoooo! How could God be so cruel as to show me the PERFECT shirt and put it so far out of my meager price range? I balled the flimsy material to my chest in an agonizing show of utter grief and torment. I glanced, glassy-eyed, around me at all those perfect people. Didn’t they recognize they were most assuredly witnessing the end of the world? How could they go on about their lives like nothing was wrong? I could not permit this tragedy to occur. This perfection in black lace was meant for me and I would have it!

That’s when I noticed how little material there was to the top. With it bunched up, it could probably fit into my jeans pocket or into a pocket of my purse, at least.  My eyes scanned the area around me as I slipped the insubstantial garment from the hanger and wadded it into the bottom of my big denim purse. I slid the empty hanger to the back of the crowded clothes rack as nonchalantly as I could and strolled away pausing to look at other racks so as not to appear suspicious. My eyes scanned again, warily awaiting the sirens, flashing red lights and a person of authority to come rip the garment from my newly sticky fingers. When nothing bad appeared about to befall me, I located my friend Toby, looped my arm through hers and steered her out of the store. With Barb in tow, we raced to our lime green chariot in the form of a 1974 Ford Comet that Barb’s brother drove. We leaned against it breathless from our foot race, and waited for our “chauffeur” to return and drive us home.

“What are you grinning at?” Toby was peering at me over the tops of her imitation Wayfarers with a mild curiosity.

“Oh nothing.” I said trying to quell the huge grin that was plastered across my face.

“Bull. Somethin’s up.” Now Barb was leaning on Toby’s shoulder staring at me too.

I glanced left and then right, scanning for interlopers who might overhear. I pulled my purse in front of me as the girls circled me giving protection from prying eyes. I pulled a corner of the lace out for them to see. Gasps, multiple Oh my GOD-s and squeals later, Toby begged for details of my daring heist. I laid out all the dramatic aspects of my first foray into law-breaking. For the very first time in my short life, I felt bold, daring, and brazen. It was intoxicating! I was euphoric. My friends were in a state of shock that I had the guts to do something so out of character. I was a good girl. I didn’t break curfew. I never went against my parents’ wishes.

Later when we were walking from Barb’s house to Toby’s we were still talking of the audaciousness of my act.

“What made you do it? It’s so…NOT you!” Toby was many things but subtle wasn’t one of them. She pretty much spoke her mind and rarely tried to soften the delivery. I’m not sure she came equipped with a filter from her brain to her mouth. I loved that about her.

“Are you kidding? It’s THE perfect shirt! It costs way too much—twenty bucks! My mom would NEVER give me money to buy that! She would have a coronary if I were to where this out in public but I am going to do it anyway.” I said with a brave lift of my chin. “She just can’t know about it.”

“Whoa… you are just so badass now! When– how did that happen?” Toby stared at me with a new-found admiration.

I looped my arm through hers and said “When I started hanging out with you.”

Laughing, she said “Now that you are going bold with a capital B, what are you wearing with your newly acquired attire?”

I stopped dead in my tracks. “I have no idea. I have nothing that goes and I have no money to buy anything. “

The three of us stood silently in the empty street, at a loss for what to do next, when quiet little Barb said, “Well, free is always cheap.” 

(Just a disclaimer. This is a fictional story and in no way am I advocating stealing.)

copyright 2013 T. L. Jacobson


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