Chapter Seven: The Battle Royale

I've been to the mall almost every other Saturday since I was fourteen. I knew all the 'hot shops' and the best teen hang outs. I expected this trip to be much like others, as in we shop a little, we drink Starbucks a little, and I watch others flirt a lot. I was seriously mistaken.

Instead, we passed all the bright lit stores and perfumed shops, straight to the back of the mall. It was just as bright, and looked exactly the same as the front but the stores were different. I saw shop names like Twisted, Spencers, Garage, and the ever famous Hot Topic. Every one of them had dark undertones and blaring music. Livy and Abby took me to Hot Topic first, with the boys close behind. The store was unlike anything I'd ever seen before. The walls covered with shirts with somewhat disturbing images, pants were layered in chains, bags and purses of every color the rainbow shunned. There were accessories on display everywhere.

Almost immediately, the group dispersed to their preferred sections. Abby went for make-up, Livy went to the bags, Gavin and Jacob headed towards music, and Kendall scanned the shirts. Me? I stood there in shock. If Tanya saw any of this she'd have a heart attack.

I walked slowly towards the back of the store, trying to take everything in. The music blared loudly in the back, almost drowning out what people were saying. While I scanned a section of Jack Skellington apparel, a hand tapped me. I jumped and spun around, almost knocking the person behind me over.

"Whoa, sorry for scaring you. Is there anything you need help with?" A tall, and I mean tall, boy smiled slightly down at me. His almost too long blonde hair fell in front of his honey-colored eyes, and his fingernails were painted black. He had a piercing just below his bottom lip. I've never seen a lip piercing like that on a guy before and let me just tell you, it looked incredibly hot. I glanced back up to his eyes and noticed he was staring at me rather intently. I wonder why…

"Nah, she doesn't need anything, man. Thanks though." Beside me, Kendall all but glared at the guy. With a polite smile, the blonde guy nodded. He looked back at me and winked.

"Well, if you do need anything, my name is Dale. I'll be up at the front counter." He turned and strode towards the front.

"If you need anything my name is Dale." Kendall mocked the boy as he walked off. I glared up at him, "What?"

"That nice guy was just seeing if I need help looking for something. And you're rude because…?" He at least had the gall to look a little ashamed, though it was quickly covered by a cheeky grin.

"Sorry, darlin', he was just being a bit more forward than I like. Trying to see down your shirt is all." He winked at me as the infamous blush ravaged my face.

"The hell he did. I don't get flirted with. I'm not a 'flirt with' kind of person, if you haven't noticed." I tried that whole I'm-so-right-'cause-I'm-always-right attitude, only…Kendall was looking rather strange. His eyes traveled up and down, from my beaten up converse to my brand name knock off collared shirt. His entire demeanor seemed to change while he looked at me.

"Oh, I've noticed quite a bit about you, Synthea." I didn't know what to make of that. It felt like he meant billions of things with that one sentence. I wasn't sure I wanted to know what even one meaning was.

"Syn! Come look at this!" Livy was motioning wildly from the t-shirt section and with a careful glance I went to her. Buy two get one free sales seemed to excite every girl no matter the clique she was in.

We didn't buy much of anything. Abby bought her coveted make up and we all ventured to the next store; Spencer's. It didn't really look to bad from the front, I liked the way the store name was made to look like graffiti. They had all kinds of things, from funny drinking games to jewelry for places I didn't know could be pierced. Preoccupied with perusing their selection of hats, I didn't notice that everyone had already gone their own ways. I picked out the hat I liked and roamed the store looking for the others.

That's when I found what exactly makes this store so popular. In the back corner, the lights a little lower than everywhere else, there was sex. Sex toys, sex games, fuzzy, feathery, leather accessories for all kinds of bedroom enjoyment. Every deviant device known to man as lined on the shelves. T-shirts with provocative sayings hung on racks, and posters of half- naked women in positions not accomplished without some sort of black magic adorned the spare room on the walls. I can honestly say that this was the first time I've ever felt myself blush all the way to my toes. I dropped my hat where I stood and all but ran out of the store. I could hear the cashier chuckling as I beat a path past him. Once outside the store I sat on the nearest bench and tried to catch my breath.

"Ah, you've just been to Spencer's. The blush gives it all away. First time?" In front of me, Dale grinned cockily. I leaned way back to look him in the eyes. He winked at me and took the space next to me by the bench.

"Uh, yeah. I didn't even know this part of the mall existed until today." I smiled tentatively, I wasn't too comfortable with people just randomly talking to me, even on the best of occasions.

"Yeah, you come here a lot though. To the mall, I mean. I always see you in the food court with some blonde girl. You sure buy a lot of stuff, always carrying at least three bags." I blushed for what felt like the hundredth time that day.

"Tanya? Yeah, we come to the mall once every week. But mostly I just help her carry stuff or give second opinions. I'm not that big on shopping." He laughed a little and jumped up.

"Well, I'm on my break, finally, and I want a smoothie. Maybe a little company too. There's a stand just down there, let's go!" He grabbed my hand and pulled me up. I tried protesting, really, I did, but he just kept tugging and soon we were at the stand and I had a banana-strawberry smoothie in my hand.

"Really, I have to get back to my friends. I didn't even tell them I was leaving the store." Dale just laughed and waved me off, intent on pulling the frozen drink up the straw. With a shrug gave in, I mean, I could still see the store in the distance and we were walking back that way. Besides, I could always claim that I was kidnapped. I closed my eyes and focused on the most amazing smoothie of my life.

"So, how's your boyfriend gonna feel when he comes running to find you, only to see you with the guy who tried to flirt with you in the store, coming back from a smoothie stand?" I glanced at Dale who gave me a teasing glance then looked straight ahead.

"What? Kendall's not my boyfriend!" Cue blush.

"Kendall? How fun. Know what's even more fun? Finding out just what the answer to my question is gonna be." What did that exactly-

"Synthea!" Oh God. I looked forward to find Kendall walking fast towards us, a pissed off look on his face and a crumpled bag in his hand. He shifted his eyes to Dale and he instantly looked angrier. The others trailed far behind him, but not so far that they couldn't hear what was to be said. Dale and I stopped walking and Kendall stopped only a foot away.

"What the hell are you doing with this loser? Do you know how worried I-we were when we couldn't find you? You don't know you're way around this part of the mall. Not everyone here is as nice as you think they are. There are people out here that would take advantage of a girl like you without a second thought!" Kendall was all but yelling at the top of his voice. Honestly, I tried to be patient. I tried to see where he was coming from, after all he was right. But I'm not an idiot. And frankly, I was tired of being yelled at by Greensling boys.

"Shut the hell up. Dale is a perfectly nice individual. Yeah, I left the store and I should have told someone that I was as a common courtesy, not because I was required to. I'm not required to do anything that involves you. And you can stop glaring at me Kendall Greensling! I just accompanied him to get the smoothie he wanted before his break ended. We talked. We didn't run off to Mexico and get married. Nor did he try to molest me. In regards to that, I am a responsible person who can take care of herself. I do not need some guard. If I want to walk through a dark alleyway, that would be my choice. Same if I decide to walk in the mall. My choice. Not yours. So, stop acting like Mitchell was earlier. It isn't flattering." I glared at him once more before turning to Dale.

"Thanks for the smoothie, Dale. I'll be sure to come see you next time I'm here." With a sidelong glance at the stupefied Kendall I decided to take it one step farther. I pulled out my cell phone. "Hey, so, could I get your number? I have a feeling we could be great friends." Dale smirked, I think he caught on to what I was trying to pull.

"Sure thing, gorgeous. Oh, and I work every day after four. Except Sunday, of course." He gave me his number and with a smile of my own I snapped my phone shut. With one last wave I passed Kendall and joined Abby, Livy, Gavin, and Jacob. They were all trying to hold in obvious laughter. Summoning up my most innocent look I stared at them.

"What's wrong?" They burst into laughter. Jacob literally fell to the floor. Dale chuckled as he passed us to go back to work. Kendall was still standing there.

"You know, Synthea, I think you're gonna fit in with us just fine." Abby patted me on the back with a large grin and we turned in the direction of the food court. As we began walking, Gavin tapped my shoulder.

"Would you go get Kendall? He seems to be stuck." I sighed and turned back. I walked to Kendall and stood directly behind him. He didn't seem to notice so I walked around him and stood so my shoes were just barely touching his. He had his eyes closed and a soft, barely visible smile on his lips. I stood on my toes and tapped his forehead. His eyes jerked open and jerked back.

"Jesus, Syn, are you trying to kill me?" He rubbed his chest for dramatic effect. I smiled nicely and shook my head.

"No, but if you ever act like you did before I will seriously consider it." He at least had the sense to look apologetic. But, before he could really say the apology I was owed I stepped forward and grabbed his arm.

"You are forgiven this time. Now, let's go. Everyone is probably at the food court and I'm starving." I pulled him all the way to the food court. I only looked back once but I could swear that he had that same soft smile I saw just moments ago.

We met up with the others at the food court, all seated with a large pepperoni pizza waiting. Kendall and I grabbed the extra seats and soon we were all pigging out. After eating the last piece, Gavin glanced at his watch, then at Kendall.

"What time did Synthea have to be home?"

"Eleven."

"It's ten forty-five."

We all looked at each other then in a matter of seconds we were all making a mad dash through the food court, past all the stores, and into the parking lot. This time I didn't fight with Kendall about having to sit in his lap, the music was shut off and we sped out of the parking lot like hell's hounds were onto us. Kendall explained to everyone that I was on probation for tonight only and I was calling my mom explaining that I may be a minute or two late due to traffic. The excuse was accepted with only a mild bit of suspicion. We came to a stop at the red light on Todd Main, the main street of our area.

"Uh…Synthea? Where do you live exactly?" Gavin looked at me through the rearview mirror.

"On Sunturf, second street to the left on Todd Main, third house on the right. It's blue." Giving nodded at the easy instructions, being it was literally around the corner from where we were. It was ten fifty-two. I was going to make it just in time.

Minutes later we pulled into my driveway. I got out of the car and thanked Gavin for rushing me home. I said good-bye to everyone else. I walked up my porch steps, went inside, closed the door, and waited until I heard the sound of them driving off. Leaning against the door I couldn't help but laugh a little. My life has gotten so much more interesting. And some how, I think all this is Blank's fault.