Anything to get out of that apartment. Away from her mother, the two TVs, the Home Shopping Network. Margaux abandons homework, heads for bustling, smog-shrouded, gridlocked Arcadia, which is somehow named after a pastoral region of ancient Greece.
She wants to be around people; she wants to be alone. Sara’s not answering the phone: that’s bad. Or good. Or both.
The drive is okay: A.C. on high (it’s torrid in Los Angeles, with the usual muslin-yellow sky), radio up, some gratifying amiable / envious / admiring / lubricious glances. At the mall, she has to park at the top of a new structure, following a ramp so circuitous it’s like an inner ear. Is she going to emerge under the invisible stars on Level 5, blue level, or get lost inside some enormous aural labyrinth? Who would ever find her if she did?
Not her mother — Honey, you know I hate to drive.
Not her father — Can this wait? The third race is about to go off.
Not Sara — Call me back, okay? I’m talking to Brad.
She’s no more than locked the Mustang when a girl darts out from behind an SUV. The darting, much less the spectrally thin girl on this corporate darkling plain stacked five stories high, gives Margaux the willies. It seems like an inkling of something. A big inkling if that’s possible. But an inkling of what?
"It’s not smart for a single gal to be alone in an elevator. Let’s ride down together," says the wraith in pants that are probably size one string bean. And strappy little shoes, also white. A white top. Tight. Very tight. So she’s all wrapped up. A sexy little mummy.
Inside, "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head." Margaux’s new friend goes to the farthest corner. Instinctively Margaux stands in front of her. She likes this — protecting somebody, taking care. She could do it for a living: Guardian. Champion. Duenna of the Parking Structure. Maybe wear a mask and cape. And when she got old, join a Wiccan coven and bay at the moon.
She tries a little of her specialty — conversation meant to baffle: "Don’t you think it’s odd that it’s crowded in Arcadia? I mean, from what? Too many shepherds?"
The starveling regards her suspiciously. "Which high school do you go to?"
"It’s my last year at King. Why?"
"People from King are always weird."
The elevator doors open on a burnished world. Lustrous counters, dazzling displays, the very floor transplendent. Air is greenhouse damp with samples from the purveyors of Dior, all of them pale as Dracula’s perpetual fiancées.
Margaux leads the way out of the elevator. Their elevator.
"You’re okay now," she says. "Look: people everywhere."
"Thanks. Thanks a lot. I didn’t mean what I said about you guys."
"We weird Kings?"
Margaux watches her go. She (whoever she is) hasn’t got a purse or a wallet. She doesn’t want to buy anything. She just wants to be in the store. Wants to pause empty-handed by a cardboard promo for this month’s fragrant rage: Dark Stranger. Which shows a coarse but sensitive, roughly tender atheist, one gloved hand beside the throttle. For fourteen bucks, a villain in a bottle. Those guys. Sara’s type. And hers sometimes, because Sara said so.
Margaux considers her shopping options: no way is she trying on clothes, because that means walking into the maze of cubicles where some woman behind a half-drawn curtain stares into a three-way mirror and weeps because her flesh seems to be melting.
And she doesn’t feel like stealing or doing that other thing she and Sara sometimes do, which is—
Up rushes a zealous salesperson. "Are you finding everything you need?"
Ah, if only that were possible. To find everything she needs. But what is that exactly? And if she knew what it was, could she find it in a mall?
Margaux moves a few hangers around, holds up a thing or two, and scowls. Whatever she left home for, it isn’t another blouse. She settles for the exit.
This time she shares the elevator with two couples. The husbands gaze at Margaux; the wives glare at the husbands. She turns to the girls, not two years older than she.
"Is there anyplace else to shop?" she asks. "This place stinks."
The wives glance at each other. They shake their heads together, as if they’d practiced.
"I’m not from here." Even a little lie makes Margaux feel better.
Excerpted from Margaux with an X by Ron Koertge. Copyright © 2006 by Ron Koertge. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.