Two down-on-their-luck women dressed in trash-bag dresses and beat-up sweat suits walked while pushing everything they owned in shopping carts, heckling every girl who passed. "Honey, you wish you had it like I do."
"Get back, spring chickens—age before beauty, ladies!" Tookie chuckled when she noticed that even some of the protesters ditched their RUN AWAY, DON'T WALK signs and sashayed energetically while chanting, "Women, let's walk! Smile for the cams! T-DOD, it rocks. Crank the music, let's jam!"
A few drunken boys from outside the gates got into the action, strutting next to the girls in exaggerated, long-legged lopes. One guy snaked an arm around a girl's waist, but she swatted him away. The photographers and cameramen scrambled to catch every moment, projecting various images onto the screens next to the stage.
Thump, thump, thump. The music beat on. The largest screen showed the remaining time left for walking. Twelve minutes, twenty seconds.
"Go, Myrracle, go!" Mrs. De La Crème shouted. Myrracle had staggered a few feet away from the fallen tent and was standing there staring at the melee, eyes bugged, frozen in place. "Don't freeze up! Wake up, baby. You have to do this!"
"Yeah, Myrracle. You can do this. Come on!" Tookie urged, holding her sister by her arms and staring into her eyes, trying to spark a connection. "Dance in your spirit, but not with your body," she repeated over and over. Then she turned Myrracle around, placed Myrracle's hands on her hips, and whispered in her ear: "Left, then right, then left, then right . . ."
Myrracle suddenly broke out of her trance and began to follow Tookie's instructions. Tookie jumped out of the way to watch her sister. Halfway down her imaginary runway, Myrracle began to wiggle her hips and shake her shoulders to the infectious music that swelled over the sounds of the crowd.
"Don't dance!" Mrs. De La Crème bellowed, giving Myrracle a pinch. "If you sway one more time, you'll get way worse than a little pinch! If I have to beat the last pas de bourrée out of you, I will! Now walk, walk, walk like an Intoxibella!"
Myrracle snapped back to focus. Her arms swung gently. She thrust her hips forward, as she'd learned to do in hours upon hours of walking class. She reached the end of her catwalk and came face to face with Abigail Goode.
Both girls vied for the same spot to pose. Myrracle stuck out her pointy elbows, bumped her hip, and shoved Abigail hard out of the space. Abigail teetered over in her high shoes, hit her head on the footrest of the old man's motorized scooter, and passed out cold.
Almost immediately a siren sounded and Tookie heard someone yell, "Girl down! Girl down!"
Myrracle posed for a long three seconds, then raised a shoulder and swirled back around. There was a don't mess with me girl unless you want to get hurt expression on her face as she strutted back toward Tookie and her family.
"That's my Myrracle!" Mrs. De La Crème jumped up and down and clapped. "Claim what is ours, baby!"
"Uh, I know you, right?"
Tookie turned and nearly jumped out of her skin. Standing next to her was Theophilus Lovelaces. His eyes glistened in the LaDorno sun. He was seeing her, actually seeing her. His eyes focused right on hers. His words were meant for her. Tookie tried to smile, but she had a feeling her mouth made more of a grimace.
"You're not participating?" Theophilus asked, gesturing to the crowd.