“So it’s a class he took?” Layla asked me as we sat doing homework there one day. “I didn’t know there was school in prison. Seems like being locked up would be punishment enough.”
Unlike Jenn and Meredith, with whom I’d always shared a drive to succeed academically, Layla basically spent the school day counting down to the final bell. Even homework made her uncharacteristically grumpy, and she usually needed two or three YumYums to get it done.
“It’s a class everyone there has to take, about the law.” I flipped a page in my calculus book. “I guess to remind you not to break it?”
“I thought that’s what the whole being-behind-bars thing was for.” She put her lollipop in her mouth, then took it out. “Actually, though, I can see the point. If going to school was the only activity I was allowed, I’d probably love it.”
I raised an eyebrow at her. We’d been sitting there a full hour, and all she’d done was doodle her name and some hearts on the page in front of her.
“Okay, maybe not.” She sighed. “I think it’s time for a break. Want to hit SuperThrift?”
“Ten. I swear I’ll go when you tell me to.” I looked at her, making my doubt clear. “I will! Come on.”
Against my better judgment, I packed up my books, then stored my backpack behind the counter, where Mac was prepping vegetables, his chem textbook propped up against the counter in front of him.
“Where are you two going?” he asked.
“Nowhere,” Layla replied.
“SuperThrift,” I said at the same time.
He shook his head, then looked at me. “She won’t leave when you want her to, even if she says otherwise.”
“We’ll be back in ten minutes,” Layla sang out over him. I sighed, then followed her out the door.
SuperThrift was housed in a small, nondescript building just around the corner from Seaside. I’d driven past it a million times in my life and never given it a second look, as my family didn’t do much secondhand shopping. We donated—my mom was forever picking through my closet, a bag in hand, demanding if I’d worn this or that in the last year—but more to Goodwill or other charities. SuperThrift was a business.
The first thing you smelled when you walked in was a strong, pungent cranberry air freshener. It was like a wall of scent, stretched across the entrance area. Once you passed through it, you realized why: the next thing you breathed in was mothballs and mildew.
“I love the smell of bargains in the afternoon,” Layla said. This transition always made my nose itch, but it seemed to energize her: I had to quicken my step to keep up. “Ooh! Look at this!”
The first time I saw the racks of clothes stretching all the way to the back wall, I just felt tired. There was just so much, and arranged in a way that it was work to browse through it, with no set categories or sections. You’d see a thick winter coat, smashed up against a cheap rayon shirt with shoulder pads, bracketed by two hideous prom dresses. And that was just one inch of what was there.
Layla, however, had a gift. Somehow, she was able to spot the good stuff, as haphazardly as it might have been presented. I’d still be bogged down trying to get past a pair of extra-long men’s tweed trousers from circa 1950, but she’d already have found a cropped leather jacket and a white dress shirt that only needed a good ironing to look like something my friends at Perkins would wear.
“It’s just practice,” she explained to me the first time I complained about this. “My mom is a serious bargain hunter. We used to hit this place, all the other thrift shops, and yard sales every weekend. She always says you have to look and move fast. Do it enough and it becomes second nature. Like Mac with his clocks.”
I hadn’t realized, when we first met, how much of Layla’s stuff was secondhand. It was only when Rosie and her friends finally relinquished her room the morning after I stayed over that I got my first glimpse of her closet. While a small space, it was packed, as well as meticulously organized. When she saw me notice, it became clear it was a source of pride.
“These,” she said during the ensuing tour, as she pulled out a pair of jeans folded neatly over a hanger, “I found at Thrift World. They’re Courtney Amandas! Barely worn, and all I had to do was hem them. That was a good day.”
I soon realized that all of Layla’s clothes had a similar origin story. I couldn’t remember where I’d even gotten the shirt I had on, but she knew the background of every single thing she owned. It made me ashamed, even more than the fact I didn’t own anything I hadn’t gotten brand-new. But Layla didn’t seem bothered at all by the differences between us. It was just . . . well, how it was. One more way I aspired to be like her.
Whenever we were at SuperThrift, Layla always pulled stuff for me as well as herself. I’d still be trying to get past a slew of housecoats in various patterns, holding back the inevitable sneeze, when she’d appear beside me and toss a vintage dress, a barely worn pair of boots my size, or a cashmere sweater “just my color” at me before disappearing again. After the first couple of trips, I’d stopped looking for myself altogether and just killed time wandering around, knowing if there were things that were right for me, she’d find them.
Today, this was a pair of black capri pants and a shoulder bag made from a feed sack, both of which she brought to me just after we arrived. “Six minutes,” I reminded her. She acted like she didn’t hear me.