Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
There are all kinds of hell. Bowling. Getting your first period during sleep-away camp. Any Celine Dion song. My personal hell began unfolding as a Friday night trip with my younger brother and sister to the Couch Potato Video Emporium, "the finest collection of blockbuster hits in Greenway, South Carolina," to return what passed as family entertainment around my house. It was chore number three on my Friday night to-do list.
Couch Potato happened to be right next to one of the most happening spots in town, Cafe Vortex, a Zen coffee bar hangout where the hipsters and other beautiful people went to hear live music and just generally see and be seen. I'd personally never been there, not really fitting into that whole hip-beautiful-see-seen thing.
Since it was Friday night and every sixteen-year-old worth knowing was probably at a big Sweet Sixteen blowout, I figured no one would see me in my dateless state. Still, just to be sure, I parked the car in the middle of the nearly empty lot, far away from the action, and advised the sproutlings to sit tight if they knew what was good for them.
I dashed across the parking lot, keeping a firm grip on the humiliation fest of titles in my arms: Vampire Go-Go Girls in Zombieland (my sister's pick), Stewardess Party III (my brother's choice), The Care and Feeding of Bats (my grandmother, Lila), and Steel Magnolias (Mom). The plan was to slide the videos through the night drop box and walk away at warp speed. What was not in the plan was the videos getting stuck, which is exactly what happened.
With a big sigh I stuck my arm through the mouth of the Couch Potato Video Emporium, jamming my face up against the brick wall and sticking my butt out for balance. Not my most attractive moment. That's when I found myself staring into the most gorgeous pair of knees ever to grace a pair of khakis.
"Are you trying to rip off the place, or could you use some help?" The, knees were connected to a voice. A mellow, coffee-rich voice with a hint of a drawl. The kind of voice that makes a girl forget she's left the house wearing a, Looney Tunes scrunchie in her hair. I'd heard that voice once or twice in the halls at school and at least a, thousand times in my daydreams. I'd just never heard. it, this close before. I peered up into the graygreen eyes of Connor I'm-So-Beautiful-It-Hurts Reese.
That face had played a starring role in my study hall fantasy for years. It was always the same fantasy with me as director: Open on wide shot of school commons. Zoom in as girl with larger-than-average brain and largerthan-average nose (that would be me) meets gorgeous boy with serious cool quotient (Connor). Lower boom mike as he says, "You know, I've been watching you for a whole year now. You're always in the commons, reading that same dog-eared copy of Intro to Filmmaking. Nobody could possibly be that dull. So I figure you have to be a genius feigning dullness to throw people off. Wanna rob banks together and raise a pack of wild genius children?" Cut. Print it. Roll credits.
Only in my head the script didn't include meeting my romantic destiny crouched in a potty-training position.
Connor was looking at me quizzically. "Seriously, do you need help?"
"Nope. I'm fine," I said. I went to stand up and toppled over, landing facedown on Connor's vintage 1940s wing tips. Even his feet smelled cool, like leather chairs and pipe tobacco and years of sun-drenched memories.
Connor reached down and picked me up under my arms. It tickled, and I couldn't help sort of giggling and snorting at the same time. It was an awful sound. This was the time in the spy movies when the hero started looking for his cyanide capsule. Unfortunately all I had on me were two crusty Midol and some dental floss.
"Thanks," I said in my best late-night DJ voice. I was trying to undo the giggling damage.
"Oh, hey. You dropped these." My family's horrible rentals, were splayed out on the pavement for all to* see. Before I could bust a move or take my life in dramatic fashion, Connor was picking up the plastic boxes and tucking them under his arm. "That drop box has been jammed for aeons. My advice? Let's drop these off with Norman Bates behind the counter inside."
He opened the door for me in the sort of gallant move that keeps a girl buying hair products. My mind was racing. What was Connor Reese doing at Couch. Potato Video Emporium on a Friday night? Didn't he have a Sweet Sixteen party to attend? Or at least a marble statue to pose for? And how was I going to convince him that I wasn't the total bottom feeder of the high school food chain that I really was? I had to think. But how could a girl think standing next to such perfection? I The night crawler behind the cash register yawned, ruffling his three-day-old attempt at a goatee. "Those returns?" he asked.
"Yeah. Here," I said, trying to bury them under the boxes on-his desk.
"Not so fast. I have to make sure you rewound them." Oh, they're rewound. The residents at the home are very conscientious about that," I heard my voice saying.
It's bad to lie, I know. But I was nervous, and sometimes when I'm nervous, my brain disconnects from my mouth and my mouth just says things.
"You rent videos for old people?" Norman Bates had found the energy to raise a slacker eyebrow...