I didn’t hear the question at first, as I was still talking to Millie, but she nodded towards the voice across the entrance of the secondhand store as it repeated,
“I said ‘What’s AJJ?’”
I looked over and noticed a thin, older man. His hair was receding back to the middle of his scalp, and he was missing many teeth, yet he couldn't have been older than 40. The question had caught me so off-guard that I stuttered for a second.
“I-It’s a band.” I turned back to Millie and made a face, then continued the conversation. He interrupted again, and I misheard his entire question. A part of me thought he asked what it stood for, but Millie’s answer corrected me.
“Indie? Alternative? I not exactly sure.”
I had hardly ever listened to this band before, I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to answer his other questions.
I suppose he was done with interrogating our conversation, but I didn’t even get to turn back to Emma before he jumped in again.
“I like your hair”
He grinned at me and Millie, and I forced back half a smile and spit out a few words of gratitude. Before I even finished pushing the phrase out of my mouth, he started yet again in his horrible thick southern accent.
“You're awfully pretty, you know.”
I didn’t answer him this time, but turned to face Millie. We locked eyes for a second and she made a face at me. We had both heard the stories that start like this.
Her eyes opened wider than I had ever seen, and I could see all the specks and detail of blue in her eyes. I felt the blood drain from my face, and I moved forward so the door blocked his view of me.
We stood like that for a minute or two, but I was nervous he would start again, so I decided it was best to move the back of the store and talk with my older brother.
I could feel his eyes on me as I walked around the store for the next 10 minutes. I was nervous as hell and just wanted to leave.
After about 20 minutes, my brother finally finished, and we left. I was most nervous about leaving, though. We had to walk all the way home, and I didn’t have the comfort of a store to protect me.
As soon as we left the store, however, Millie said she had to walk down to her grandmother’s house. I didn’t even think about her walking home alone until that night.
I walked about a mile or two with my brother, and kept turning around to see if he followed us every 5 seconds. We got home safe and alright, but later on in the night, we got a call from Millie’s friend, Nadia, that she had been followed most of the way home, however, she had met one of her friends in their car a while later and got in their car to drive home.
I wasn’t too worried about it anymore, but it had given me a deeper fear that I had never fully experienced before. I had felt it once or twice in the past years of being stared at through bushes and being talked up by strange older men, but this was much stronger than that. It was a part of me that realized that I would face things like this for the rest of my life. It was the part of me that noticed that I would never be able to feel comfortable going out alone, even during the day. It was a part of me that knew that somehow, sometime, there was a high chance of much, much worse happening just because of how I was born