"OHMIGOD! Fifty per cent off everything! We have to check it out!" Cyndy pulled on Margaret's sleeve.
Margaret sighed. "Le Citadel never has anything in my size."
"Oh please, you are so not fat. You need to get a better body image." Cyndy pushed open the shop door and half-led, half-pulled Margaret inside.
"Just because I'm not fat doesn't mean they have anything in my size," Margaret muttered. She ducked under a sale sign hanging from the ceiling, and saw a shop clerk roll her eyes and pointedly turn away from her.
"SO CUTE!!!!" Cyndy flipped through a rack of white mini-skirts with little pink flowers appliqued on them. "You've got a point about the sizes. All the 0s and 2s are gone." She took a skirt off the rack and held it up to her hips. "The 4 looks small, though." She scampered off towards the changerooms, randomly stopping at clothing racks to choose more items.
Margaret caught the eye of a clerk who was not quick enough to turn away. "So what is the biggest size you carry here?"
"Ten," said the clerk. "We have a men's section over there," she added, pointing.
"Thanks," said Margaret. "I'll keep that in mind if I'm ever shopping with a guy."
"So you don't ever dress like.... you know...." the shop clerk trailed off and bit her lip.
Margaret sighed. "I'm not a tranny," she said. "I'm just a tall woman. Born this way and everything."
"Ew," said the clerk, then covered her mouth. "Sorry."
"Happens all the time. Is there anywhere to sit in here?"
"By the changerooms."
Always by the bloody changerooms, thought Margaret.
"I don't see what you're so bitchy about," said Cyndy while they waited in line at the cash.
"You took an hour and a half by the clock, and every time I said I'd meet you at the bookshop you said not to go because you were almost done."
"I kept finding stuff."
"You know, you can't get mad at people for thinking you're a guy if you keep acting like one."
"Maybe in this particular scenario guys don't act like this because they're guys."
Cyndy huffed and caught the eye of a clerk at a free checkout counter. Margaret went to wait for her by the exit. She knew from experience that Cyndy would need to be herded out before she found more bargains between the checkout and the door.
She noticed that the street had emptied of people and cars since they'd gone in the store. It had got dark out too. Maybe a thunderstorm was about to start.
Cyndy squealed behind her. "The jewelry is on sale too! And it doesn't come in sizes! You should get yourself a treat."
"We've got reservations at the restaurant, Cyndy."
"It doesn't take ten minutes to get there!"
"It's going to rain any second now."
Cyndy pouted and set the jewelry down on the bottom of the jewelry stand.
Outside, it became obvious that it wasn't just the threat of rain keeping people off the street. Margaret looked up at the sky, then stopped and pointed. "That's not a thundercloud. That's —"
Two red, glowing circles appeared above their heads, and Margaret found herself being pulled up into the air. A couple of metres away she could see Cyndy being pulled up in her own red beam of light. Cyndy was waving her arms and kicking her legs, and, judging from the look on her face, probably screaming too. The tips of Cyndy's fingers touched the edge of the red light and got... stuck somehow on the outside of the beam. The rest of Cyndy kept floating up, parallel with Margaret's own ascent. Margaret saw Cyndy hold up the hand with the missing fingertips and scream even more.
Margaret had kept still since the red beam had engulfed her and started pulling her towards the dark grey whatever-it-was. All those years of never having enough room to stretch out or move the way she wanted to had made her self-conscious about excessive motion.
The red beams pulled them through the round holes in the grey whatever-it-was. Margaret was dropped onto a metal floor, a wall between her and Cyndy. She bent her knees as the pull of the red beam vanished and gravity took hold of her again, and managed to land in a semi-crouch. To her left she heard a muffled clang and imagined that was Cyndy falling onto the floor.
Something made a groaning sound behind her. Margaret whipped around, and saw that the hatch of the portal she had been pulled through was starting to close.
The portal's hatch had a bar attached to it, not so much a handle as something that resembled a towel rack. Margaret squatted her broad hips, supported by legs with muscles built up from years on the girl's intramural rugby team. She sprang for the bar just as the hatch became horizontal.
She looked down, and was surprised to see that the ship (if that's what it was) was closer to the ground than when she had been caught in the beam, and was still lowering. It's bracing itself to take off, just like I just did, she thought. She hung from the hatch until the angle was so steep she worried she might get caught between it and the edge of the portal, then let go.
She still had to fall about five metres, but that was much less than the original distance from the ground to the ship. She landed on the street, and let her knees buckle to absorb the impact, grateful that she was wearing her usual flat shoes. Still, she fell forward with the momentum and skinned her hands and forearms badly on the asphalt. She looked up at the ship just in time to see the hatches crunch shut.
Margaret ran for the nearest shelter, back into the Le Citadel shop. In the same moment that she pulled the door shut behind her, the pavement outside rippled like water on a pond caught in a gust of wind. The ship rose into the air and vanished.
"Are you all right?" said someone behind her.
"For all intents and purposes," said Margaret, holding out her scraped hands. "Got a first aid kit?"
"In the back." The clerk left.
"What about your friend?" It was one of the women who had been standing in the checkout line behind Cyndy. Her face and hair were different, but in body shape and size they could have been twins.
Margaret turned to look into the street, now slowly filling with people. Somewhere in the distance there were sirens wailing. "I guess for once there was an advantage to being a big girl."