Christine walked casually around the mall with her friends. She hung behind, running her fingers along the fabrics, enjoying the feel of each one, soft, smooth or rough. Danielle, with her daddy’s credit card, bought a two-hundred twenty dollar pair of jeans. Wistfully, Christine watched, embarrassed and frustrated because she couldn’t afford them, nor would she ever look as good as Danielle. Christine wondered how she would look in expensive jeans. Maybe they would make a difference for her, too, and she could measure up to the other girls.
As she wandered after them, she thought she would stay at the mall when the other girls left. Christine told the girls she was going to call her dad who worked nearby and would be getting off soon. He would pick her up. The girls answered noncommittally, telling her she could do whatever she wanted. Christine knew they really didn’t care, it wouldn’t affect their plans. They left, walking out toward the parking lot, and Christine called her dad.
She went into the Target store and bought big bottles of shampoo and conditioner. They made the bag heavy, pulling down on her arm. At Macy’s she went to the teen department, fingering the clothes as she had done before. At the display with the jeans Danielle had bought, her size was on top of the pile, but she chose three pair, draping them over her arm. Why did she feel like someone was watching her? She was just going to go try them on and see how she looked in them. Looking around, she spotted the dressing room, and checked to see if anyone was watching. No. Good. Relieved, she walked slowly, picking up a shirt as she went.
John sat at the desk, scanning the dozen camera screens as shoppers browsed the displays. Didn’t seem to be a day for buying much. A group of teenage girls wandered around. One, the obvious leader, could have been one of the mannequins if she posed long enough. The other girls straggled behind her, one rattling away with her thumbs on her phone, one stopping occasionally to finger the clothes and check the price tags. The leader picked up a pair of jeans, pulled a credit card out of her tiny purse and plunked it down on the sales counter.
John’s eyes floated around the screens, but nothing really interesting was happening. The afternoon droned by, like the fly that buzzed around the ceiling. He did more paperwork and yawned. A girl walked into the teen department. Something caught his attention. He leaned forward and watched the screen. The girl walked around, running her fingers over the clothes, checking the tags. She carried a Target bag over her arm, with something heavy in it, and she often shifted it to the other arm. Or, was she just nervous?
As she came around one of the displays, facing the camera, John recognized her as one of the earlier group, the one who had lagged behind. He zoomed in the camera to get a closer look. She picked up three pair of jeans, apparently checking sizes and slung them over her arm, over the shopping bag, and headed for the dressing room. She looked around uneasily, picking up a top to add to the pile on her arm.
He watched the camera screen at the dressing room door, waiting for her to come out. There. He looked closely, counting the jeans she carried. He could see two, but wasn’t sure about the third pair. Her manner, though, bothered him more. She glanced right and left, checking around her, making a complete circle to check behind her. She put back the top and walked over to the jean display. He saw her put back two pair, neatly folding them. Her Target bag looked wider than it had. Here we go, thought John.
Christine, in the dressing room, tried on the jeans and the top. The top did not look good – too tight. The jeans looked great. She admired herself in the mirror. She had to face her thoughts. Yes, she had considered stealing them. That’s why she had the Target bag with her. She hadn’t actually decided to go through with it. Now, though, was the moment. The jeans made her feel rich and attractive and graceful. Like she could waltz her way through a school day, smiling and being friends with everyone. There was a nagging thought that she wasn’t thinking clearly, but she shoved it aside. Maybe she’d even be more popular than Danielle. Yes, she was going to take them. She changed out of the jeans, slipped
them into her Target bag, tucking them carefully around the bottles. She folded the other jeans and top over her arm, just like when she came into the dressing room.
She walked casually out, the Target bag under the clothes and looked around for sales people. No one was looking. Her arm hugged close to her body, she stopped at the shirt display and put it back. Christine took a deep breath to slow down her racing heart. Slowly, calmly, she returned the jeans, carefully folding the two pair on the pile. She purposefully wandered toward the door, stopping again to touch some of the clothes and look at tags. See, she wanted to say if anyone was watching her, I’m just out looking today, just enjoying myself.
John had watched the girl long enough to be sure of her actions. He ran down the stairs, along the back hall for employees, around behind another department. He checked the fitting room to make sure she hadn’t left the jeans in there, and stopped to catch his breath and calm his adrenaline rush. This was the part of his job he loved. She was headed for the door out of the men’s department. He pretended to be shopping, working his way closer to the door, behind some displays, to be close by when she left the store. That was the moment he was waiting for. He was sure the jeans were in her bag, and all he needed was for her to walk out the door with them.
Christine felt like running, but she slowed down her steps, trying to breathe normally. All I need to do is get outside the store, meet my dad and go home. Then, I’ll be all right. She noticed a man
moving behind a display of men’s sweaters. He glanced at her, and she quickly looked away. No big deal, she thought, he just happened to be looking my way.
She put her hand on the door and walked through to the sunny day outside. The man she had seen stepped through the door behind her.
“I’m with store security. May I see what is in your bag?” he asked politely.
“This is a Target bag, stuff I bought over there.”
“Then you won’t mind showing me what is inside the bag.”
Reluctantly, she held the bag out to him. “You can’t prove that I was going to steal those jeans.”
He glanced into the bag. “So, you do admit to having merchandise in your bag?”
Christine looked down at the ground.
A deep voice behind her asked, “Is there a problem here?”
Christine turned, feeling upset and uncomfortable. “Dad.”
“She walked out of the store with jeans that weren’t paid for. I will need to have both of you come to my office,” said John.
The look on her dad’s face was pained. Christine thought her shame far outweighed the embarrassment of not having the right brand of jeans. She knew enough to know she was facing community service and a crime on her record that she didn’t want. What was I thinking? If I just hadn’t been caught! But, no, she also knew the guilt of having those jeans would have spoiled things. It was a bad idea.
A half hour later she was sitting in a long, narrow room with no windows, only a door. Her dad sat next to her; John sat at a computer, discussing with her father what would happen. A Police Officer walked into the room, talked with John, then her father. The Officer walked to her and asked her to stand up. Petrified, she stood.
“I’m going to have to place you in handcuffs and take you to the station to complete some paperwork,” the Officer said.
Christine felt the cold steel close around her wrists. I will never do anything like this again, she thought. They walked through the store to the police car parked outside. Horrified, Christine saw her friends standing across the parking lot, chatting happily. She ducked her head, desperately hoping they wouldn’t see her.
In the back of the police car, her hands cuffed, her dad standing forlornly on the sidewalk, Christine knew, sadly, she had made a bad choice. She knew it now, too late.