It was the piercing ring of her cell phone that woke her. As the bleeping tune of "Flight of the Bumblebee," cut through the silence, the girl groaned and rolled over in her bed. The neon-red numbers flashed 6:36 am. She stared stupidly at the digits – they were blinking strangely in beat with her ring tone. Her phone! She fumbled around in the dark, searching for it among the clutter that had gathered on her nightstand.
"Hello?" Her voice was crackly from sleep.
"Nora, it's Frank. I need you to come into work today." The man on the other side of the line said it without any hint of apology in his gruff voice.
"Isn't," her voice cracked, "Isn't Nick supposed to work today?"
"Nick called in sick five minutes ago. Come on Nora, I need you." Nora closed her grey-blue eyes. The pleading tone in Frank's voice was as close to a "please" as she was ever going to get.
"Alright…" There was a click as soon as she agreed. Frank was gone. Rather than getting up, Nora stayed in bed and wondered what would happen if she called her boss back and told him that she wouldn't work. Today had been her day off, after all. She battled with herself for several minutes, but with an air of resolve, Nora finally got out of bed.
After a quick shower, Nora opened her closet. First she slipped on a pair of blue jeans that were faded and worn from over wear. Then she grabbed a form fitting, white, T-shirt and pulled it on over her head. Then came a pair of no-show socks, and after an old pair of peeling Nikes.
Before she left her dorm, Nora gave a guilty glance at the pile of unfinished mid-term papers sitting on the desk. They'll have to wait, she thought. She grabbed her purse and her large, black work tote, and set off for the mall.
Upon arriving, Nora immediately went to work. Of all the jobs she had had in her twenty-three years of life, so far the mall was the best. So many different types of people went there: Jocks, preps, burnouts, old, young, etc. You could find anyone at a mall. She thought it was especially funny to see the slightly overweight women who came to the mall to workout. She got a kick out of seeing them marching in their matching sweatpants and sweatshirt; their outfit completed with a fanny-pack that made them look fatter than they were.
Nora checked her watch; Tinkerbelle's hands pointed out 8:30. The mall had just opened. Not many people were there yet, but she liked it better that way.
For several minutes she let her legs take her around while she gazed through the windows of the stores. Her Nike sneakers squeaked to a stop outside of Express. Inside she could see a blonde girl looking intently at the boot-cut jeans, and past the girl, she saw a boy waiting impatiently outside of the fitting rooms. A woman in her mid-thirties came out of a fitting room wearing a pair of jeans with the tags still on them. She seemed to be asking the boy- no, her son, a question. Nora smiled. Perfect.
As she entered the store, Nora pretended to be very interested in a shoe display. Quickly she opened her work tote and began searching for the pellets.
"Hate – no, Contempt – no, Infatuation…" Nora gave the black bag a shake. Finally she found the container labeled "Like," and loaded two of the small balls into her shooter. Then she waited for the opportune moment. The boy's mother, who had finished her first round in the dressing room, finally went in for a second. Then Nora acted.
She went for the blonde-haired girl first. Stealthily and cat-like, she snuck up behind her. The girl was now looking at the shirts that lined the wall. Nora checked to see if anyone was watching, pulled her shooter out of her tote, took aim, and then squeezed the trigger. With a splat of turquoise and yellow, the pellet exploded all over the back of the girl's shirt. Then, as quickly as it had shot out of the gun, it vanished like it was never there. The girl hadn't seemed to feel anything. Now it was the boy's turn.
This shot was bound to be a bit trickier. The dressing rooms were always near the cash registers – and the cashier's eyes. Nora sidestepped over to a circular rack and hid behind it. She could hear the boy and his mother now.
"Mom, are you done yet?"
"I just finished with this last shirt. I'll be out in a minute." Nora flinched. The boy was looking right at where she was hiding. As much as she hated being seen by her employees, she knew she had to act. It was one of those "now or never" moments.
Nora flung herself from behind the clothes rack and pointed her shooter at him. His eyes widened at the sight of her pointing what resembled a gun straight at his torso. She pulled the trigger.
"What the-" he began, looking at the splatter on the front of his shirt. Then it disappeared, and the boy's eyes slid in and out of focus. Nora stashed her shooter back in her tote.
She watched as the boy began to gaze around the store. The blonde-haired girl was fumbling with a large armful of clothes to try on. She was carrying too much. She dropped everything and gave a little "oh!" of frustration. Nora watched as the boy strode over to the girl and helped her pick up the clothes.
"Let me help you with these," she heard him say. Then the girl looked up and their eyes met. Nora quietly exited the store.
She had done a good job on those two. Their meeting could blossom into anything. That was why Nora only ever used the "Like" pellets. The boy and the girl could become friends, lovers, or their meeting in Express could be the only time they would ever speak. Nora hated to think that she could have used "Infatuation" on them, and perhaps have ruined their futures.
She checked her watch again. It was 9:03. Nora decided that she needed some breakfast. There was a Cinnabon around the corner, she knew. The smell of it was calling her name.
She rounded the corner and some one – a man, knocked into her.
"Oh! Sorry!" he said, "I'm so sor- Oh it's you Nora." It was Nick.
"Hey Nick," she said, "What are you doing here? I thought you told Frank you were sick today." Nick's eyes traveled to the black tote in Nora's arm. He had one just like it at home.
"Oh…uh…yeah," he muttered, not meeting her eyes. "Well, ya know, got stuff ta do…"
"Hey Nick!" hollered a guy. "C'mon! There's gonna be a party at this chick's place tonight. She wants to meet you! She's waiting by the entrance!" Nora's eyes narrowed. So he was going to a party, was he?
"Nora…um, don't mention this to Frank, would ya?" Nick didn't notice her fumbling around in her bag.
"I mean," he went on, "I haven't been doin' so hot at this job lately, and I really need it. I don't want him to fire me." He shuffled his feet and looked at the floor. Last week Nick hadn't been into work because his mother was "in the hospital." The week before that, he had locked his keys in his car and couldn't make it in time.
"Oh, of course," she replied. Nora pulled out her shooter and aimed it at a lady scooting around in white tennis shoes and a fanny pack. A second later a deep red splotch appeared on the woman, and a moment later it had vanished.
"Nice shot," Nick remarked. "So you're not going to get me in trouble with Frank?"
"No," Nora said, dropping the "Madly In Love" box of pellets into her tote. "You won't have to worry about Frank…just me." Nick's eyes widened. He stared frightfully at her, then his eyes traveled to the shooter in her hand, and then to the woman wearing the fanny pack.
"Nora…please," he whispered. Nora pointed the shooter at him and pulled the trigger.