The man in the suit was watching me again. It was March of my senior year in college, a clear, chilly afternoon, when I felt what was, by then, the familiar weight of a man’s gaze, while I sat, alone, in the food court. I looked up from my dinner and he was, at the end of the line for the salad place, looking at me, the way he had for the past three weeks.I sighed. This was one of my favorite places, and I didn’t want to give it up because of some creep. I’d found the mall my freshman year. If you walked off cam¬pus, across Nassau Street and into a kiosk in the center of town, you could catch a bus and get a discounted ticket with your stu¬dent ID, and the bus would take you to a fancy shopping center with a fancy name, the Princeton MarketFair. There were all of the chains: a Pottery Barn and a Restoration Hardware, and Gaps both Baby and full-grown, a Victoria’s Secret where you could buy your panties and a LensCrafters where you could pick up a pair of sunglasses, all of them in a sprawling, sterile build¬ing with marble floors and flattering, pink-tinted lights. At one end of the mall was a big, airy bookstore, with leather armchairs where you could curl up and read. At the other end was a movie theater that showed four-dollar matinees on Mondays. Between them was the food court.
Shortly after my discovery, I’d learned that only losers took the bus. I’d found this out when I heard two of my classmates scornfully discussing a date that a girl we all knew had been on. “He took her to the movies. On the bus.” Giggle, giggle. I liked the bus, and I liked the mall. It felt real, and Prince¬ton’s campus, with its perfect green lawns and its ivy-clad, gargoyle-ornamented, stain-glass-windowed buildings and its students, none of whom seemed to suffer from acne or obesity or even bad-hair days, felt like a film set, too wonderful to exist. On campus, everyone walked as if they’d never had a second of doubt, an instant of feeling like they didn’t belong, carry¬ing their expensive laptops and textbooks, dressed just right in casual clothes, jeans and untucked shirts, never trying too hard. People at the mall did not look as if they’d just stepped out of catalogs. Their clothes were sometimes stained or too tight. They walked past the stores yearning after things they didn’t need and couldn’t afford: end-of-their-rope mothers snapping at their kids, boyfriends sighing and shifting their weight from foot to foot as they lingered outside the dressing rooms at Anthro¬pologie, teenagers texting each other from a distance of less than three feet away across the table; the fat people, the old people, the ones with walkers or oxygen tanks or wheelchairs—all of these reminded me of home.
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