Filed under: Chapter 02 | Tags: Carrie, Carrie Rollwagen, Chapter Two, Frappuccino, jelly bracelets, June, Some New Trend, Twilight
BLOCKBUSTER. KMART. STRIP MALL. APPLEBEE’S. BIG LOTS. STRIP MALL. What it lacks in topography, pancake-flat Florida makes up for in chains. The stores going by my car window are all the same — boxy, unimaginative, predictable. I kind of like the conformity, even though it contradicts my punk-rock roots. Mediocrity can be comforting.
And, by the way, I don’t really have punk-rock roots.
I’m trying to meditate on the meaning of existence — or at least the meaning of Applebee’s — but my mom’s in the driver’s seat (literally and figuratively), and she won’t stop trying to engage me in conversation. She has a way of staying silent until I’m sliding happily into a train of thought, then breaking out with some conversational gem.
“I’m leading a training on combative conversations next week,” she says. Mom’s a corporate trainer. She basically teaches business people not to beat each other up or make sex jokes.
“Really,” I respond noncommittally.
She stops speaking, and I drift back into my daydream. I’m wondering how far we’re actually going, and whether I could ride my bike to the mall instead of relying on my mom for a ride.
“The training isn’t on how to have combative conversations, obviously,” she says. “It’s on how to avoid them.”
“Right,” I mumble. I’m treating my mom like she’s boring, and she isn’t. It’s just that she keeps trying to have a conversation when it’s obvious I don’t want to.
I figure, I could totally ride my bike here. It’s only a couple of miles. It’d be just like on Juno, except I’m not pregnant, and I don’t have a boyfriend. But if I rode my bike to the mall, I’d be more confident, and I’d pull up to the grand entrance to Twin Pines Mall — complete with its popsicle-colored columns and huge automatic doors — and lock my bike to the rack. I can see this in my head, playing like a movie.
In my mind’s eye, Josh Bates walks up, stage left. He’s coming to work and he looks so adorable in his Macy’s pseudo-suit. Then my internal movie starts looking even more like Juno because Josh is adorable just like Bleeker, and bike-June looks a lot like Ellen Page (which is strange, cause in reality I look nothing like her), and at the moment when Bleeker-Josh is about to hit on movie-June, real-life Mom starts talking about her trainings again.
And just when I’m saying goodbye to Mom, and just when she stops me three different ways before I exit the car to ask me when I’m coming home (“Do I need to pick you up,” and “Who’s taking you home,” and “When will you be ready to help with dinner”), and just when I’ve convinced myself that I’ll bike here tomorrow, I open the car door.
Immediately, I’m hit by a warm, heavy wave of humidity. I drop my bag on the sidewalk and pull off my hoodie. I know I’ll put it on again in just a few steps, but it’s too smothering for right now. It’s barely ten feet to the mall, but I’m already almost sweating by the time I get there. Yeah, there’s no way I’m riding my bike in this. Which I guess is why it’s rusting in the backyard.
I see Stephanie right away. It’d be hard not to, because she’s sitting awkwardly at a bench directly in front of the doors. She’s wearing one of her superfan shirts that always embarrass me. This one says “Team Edward” on the front and “Team Jacob” on the back because, apparently, a fictional vampire and a fantasy werewolf are both so hot it’s impossible to choose between them. Her long black hair hangs in front of her in two braids, and her arms are loaded with red and black jelly bracelets. The immediate effect is kind of Native American, although I’m pretty sure that’s not what she’s going for. Stephanie is Josh’s little sister — and she’s my best friend — but she doesn’t have his talent for effortless cool. Effortless awkward, maybe. We have that in common.
“What’s up,” I say, greeting Steph while I try to push her brother out of my mind.
She replies with pretend confusion, “What’s up? What does that mean?” She’s mocking her dad, who doesn’t understand modern colloquial greetings.
“The sky is up,” she continues, standing and pulling her bag over her shoulder. “Do you mean the sky? Airplanes? Satellites?”
“Hot air balloons?” I respond. “Helicopters?” We play this game a lot when we first see each other, trying to outdo the other’s choice of answer. We both agree that “zeppelin” was the best response to date.
Stephanie grabs her messenger bag, which is a lot like mine except hers has more buttons. They’re mostly Twilight and punk rock themed, with a couple of political buttons like “Meat is Murder” and “KICK! Racism.”
“Have you been here awhile?” I ask as we walk through the Food Court.
“Not really. Why?”
“You’ve already got your Socialist flair,” I say, gesturing to her bag. Stephanie’s mom won’t let her wear politically themed buttons, so she replaces them every day after she’s already at the mall. Her mom equates vegetarianism with Satan, apparently.
“Oh yeah,” she says. “Josh drove me today so I put them on in the car.”
“I still think it’s a little weird that she cares about your veggie button, but she’s okay with the Descendents.”
“Yeah, well, she doesn’t know what that is. She just convinces herself that it’s talking about something else, probably something biblical. Denial is a big thing in our family.”
“What biblical thing could it be talking about? Abraham?”
“Yeah,” Stephanie says, laughing. “Abraham did have a multitude of descendants. Or maybe it’s because we’re all descendants of the Son of God.”
“I don’t think we’re actually descended from the Son of God,” I say.
“True,” Stephanie agrees. “But speaking of chosen people, I hear there’s a new barista. He sounds hot; we should check it out.”
“Who’d you hear this from, Josh?” Saying his name gives me a little thrill.
“Josh made some guy sound hot?” I ask her, eyebrows raised.
“Okay, no,” Stephanie says, a little annoyed. Her brother is a touchy subject. You don’t want to mock him too much, but you don’t want to say he’s that great, either. I guess it’s a protective thing. I don’t really get it. But then, I don’t have a brother.
“Sorry,” I say. “I don’t think Josh is gay or anything.” That softens her up.
“Yeah, it’d be cooler if he was,” she says. “Then we’d have awesome gay friends to hang out with.”
“It’d probably help my fashion sense,” I tell her. My mom would tell me not to entertain homosexual stereotypes, but I figure it might help my case with Stephanie to be self-deprecating. Plus, it’s true about my needing fashion help. I’m not sure I’ve ever been to the mall when I wasn’t wearing jeans and a hoodie.
“How’s Josh liking his job, anyway?” I ask.
“He loves it because he’s getting so many hours. I have never met anyone as cheap as my brother. Except my mom of course, but she’s in a totally different league, so I don’t think that even counts — I mean, she reuses Ziplock bags. Josh won’t even get lunch at the food court cause he says it’s too much money. I’m like, whatever, man. I don’t care if they are $5, those Cinnabon Stix are totally worth it.”
Almost subconsciously, we step into the line at Cinnabon. We stare at the menu, even though we always get the same things anyway.
“It’s a cost-benefit thing,” I say. “Just like in Economics. I totally loved Mr. Calbert for that lesson — anything that helps me justify spending money.”
“Yeah,” Stephanie says. “Like, the cost of getting black nail polish might be high, but the benefit of giving my mother a migraine is worth it.”
“The cost of a Frappuccino might be more than a MochaLatta Chill, but the benefit of being served by hot baristas instead of snobby Cinnabon girls from school is totally worth it,” I say, directing my eyes to the counter.
The line is standing still because the Cinnabon snobs are too busy giggling and flipping their matching ponytails around to bother helping customers. Elisa and Jenn — “that’s ‘Jenn’ with two “N’s,’ thank you very much” — are in our class. We hate them.
“Economics is so applicable to everyday life,” Stephanie adds. “I have a mad crush on Alan Greenspan.”
“It’s a good thing you’re staying at Horton so we can continue to share this economic banter,” I respond, glossing over her creepy Greenspan comment.
“Oh, you had to bring that up,” Stephanie says. Her parents are forcing her to stay at A.B. Horton Academy next year, even though they gave Josh the option of public school when he was sixteen.
“I know you’re pissed, but we get to spend the year together,” I say. I try not to let it show, but it kind of hurts my feelings that Steph wants to leave our school so badly. In my fantasies, both Stephanie and Josh stay at Horton. (Okay, sometimes just Josh.)
I’m not in a hurry to get anywhere, but what could Elisa and Jenn-with-two-N’s possibly find so funny about a tube of faux cinnamon product?
I don’t understand how they get away with it, and I don’t mean just messing around when they’re supposed to be working. I mean copying homework, cheating on their boyfriends, and comparing Gossip Girl to Silas Marner in class. (Great Gatsby I can see, but Silas Marner?) Stephanie says it’s all about their tight shirts, but it can’t really be all about that. Can it?
“Horton isn’t such a bad school,” I say. “The academics are …”
I’m stopped mid-sentence by Stephanie’s look of disgust. “Um, yes, it is that bad.” Her tone softens as she continues, “But I am glad we’ll be in the same class. It’s just not fair, that’s all. It’s just because Josh is a guy. They don’t let me make any choices.”
We’ve had this discussion before, and I don’t feel like going through it all again, so I change the subject as we finally move up one place in line.
“So, Alan Greenspan?” I say, raising my eyebrows. “Gross.”
“Okay, so you can have a weird crush on James Russell Lowell, who is dead, I might add, but I can’t have a crush on a live economics guy?” She has a point, but I won’t concede.
“You already have a weird crush on a vampire,” I point out. “You only get so many weird crushes before it’s just freakish. I’m just not sure I would waste one on Greenspan.”
“First of all,” Steph responds, ticking the reasons off on her fingers, “I’m pretty sure there’s no ‘weird crush’ maximum. Second, having a crush on Edward Cullen is not weird. I think it’s actually considered abnormal now not to have a crush on Edward Cullen.”
“Whatever helps you sleep at night,” I say.
“Oh, Edward does help me sleep at night,” Steph says as we move one customer away from the head of the line.
“That’s gross,” I say. “And why are we standing here anyway? Didn’t we decide that it makes more economic sense to go check out this new barista who may or may not be cute?”
“Good point,” Stephanie says, and steps out of line. “Let’s go to Four Bucks and support the corporate giant who’s closed all the mom and pop coffee shops.” Ever since Stephanie found alternate names on the Internet for the world’s largest coffee company, she uses them all the time. I think they’re kind of lame, and it gets on my nerves, not least because I think it’s kind of hypocritical to bash a company that you patronize all the time. But whatever.
“I’m sure Cinnabon would be pretty psyched to put independents out of business if they could,” I say.
“All those capitalist cinnamon rolls,” she says.
“Damn the man,” I agree, quoting Lucas from Empire Records, a movie I’ve watched with Stephanie at least ten times.
“Save the empire,” she responds.
As always, I get a little nervous when we walk into the coffee shop. It’s easier to order an ice cream-coffee bastardization from somewhere like Baskin Robbins or Cinnabon, where I know they won’t judge me for not knowing what a macchiato is.
Also, I feel like everyone who smells like coffee and wears an apron is exponentially cooler than I am. Take our regular barista Dylan, for example. Dylan has been cool longer than I’ve been alive. Or longer than I’ve been buying coffee, at least. Somehow, that doesn’t make him seem old, it just makes him seem, well, awesome. It doesn’t matter what book or movie or music or drug you bring up, he has something to say about it — something funny or interesting, or at least outrageous. Stephanie would say he’s “hilarious,” but that’s stretching it.
Stephanie has a mad crush on Dylan, but she refuses to admit it, even to me. Josh says every girl has a crush on Dylan — actually, he said “Every under-aged girl with a cell phone and sugar addiction has a thing for that greasy pseudo-philosopher” — and Steph tries not to like anything popular. That’s why she only listens to Decemberists in secret now, but she’d constantly IM me lyrics before they really got famous.
I try to stay away from Stephanie’s crushes. I think it’s common best-friend courtesy. Plus, staying away from each other’s guys is good practice for when we start dating — if we ever start dating. It’s pretty easy to respect dibs on celebrity crushes like Edward from Twilight (or Dylan, who’s so out of our league he’s practically a celebrity crush).
It’s harder to not crush on the same boy in real life, since we don’t know that many boys, and we know even fewer who aren’t huge nerds (the ones who actually wear polyester, not the cute video-game-and-calculator-watch kind), or surfers (surfers are hot, but they’ll drop you in a second for a good wave, and they don’t acclimate well to our air-conditioned, hoodie-enveloped lifestyle), or who are totally obsessed with cheerleaders.
Josh is one of the few guys who is available and crush-worthy. You’d think that I’d get obvious dibs, but Stephanie is absolutely, completely protective of him. It’s weird, because I’m probably Steph’s favorite person outside her dad and brother. Still, she doesn’t like me with her brother. We’ve never discussed it, but I’ve kind of tested the waters a couple times with some jokes about Josh and me getting together, and she shut it down immediately.
Of course, Josh is completely adorable. He’s smart and funny, but I don’t think he’s aware that he is. Or maybe he knows that he is, but he just doesn’t think it’s that big a deal, or rare, or anything. He’s like Michael Cera, except in my hometown and off limits to me. In a cruel twist of fate, the real Michael Cera is off limits to me, too, because Stephanie saw Arrested Development first and claimed the Cera-crush for herself.
I hardly ever get to talk to Josh, even though I’m his sister’s best friend. Sometimes we go into Macy’s and hang out when he’s working, but it doesn’t happen often. That’s probably best, though, since I never know what to say, and I stand there totally silent.
Normally Stephanie can’t talk to guys she has a crush on, but she’s the opposite with Dylan. She practices flirting with him and honestly it would be kind of embarrassing, except that he seems to like it. Not in the way that he’d ever really do anything about it (I don’t know how old he is exactly, but I’m sure it would be illegal), but in a way that I think he thinks it’s flattering.
“Hey Dylan,” Stephanie says when we walk up to the counter. It’s pretty empty in here for once, which is just how she likes it.
“Super Twins!” he says, as always, flipping a grande cup in the air and catching it. “Shot in the dark and an iced mocha, I presume?”
I don’t want an iced mocha today, but he’s already making it and I feel stupid asking him to change it.
“I hear you have a new barista,” Stephanie says as he pours black coffee into her cup.
“You heard correctly, m’dear,” he replies. When he says this, I groan on the inside — not just because it’s cheesy, but because he called Stephanie “dear,” and I know I’ll be hearing about it for the rest of the week.
“New kid started yesterday,” Dylan continues. “Worked this morning. Off already,” he says over the choking sound of the espresso machine.
“Hey, we’re still hiring,” he continues. “You two should totally apply. You’re over eighteen, yeah?” I think he’s just humoring us, but I’m not sure. Steph is overjoyed.
“We’re kind of taking it easy this summer,” she says, dodging the question. I’m impressed. I wouldn’t have thought of anything but the truth that quickly.
It’s kind of a tradition of Stephanie’s and mine to share coffee by the fountain. There’s not too much else to do at the mall when your “thing” is to be anti-materialistic. We like that aesthetic partly because it’s cool and partly because it’s cost-efficient. Would we like thrift store shirts as much if we could afford to buy tees at Juicy Couture? I’d like to think so, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Another point for our stripped-down punk aesthetic: when it comes to materialism versus minimalism, the simple life has way better music. Stephanie knows more about this than I do. Her whole family’s into music, or at least she and Josh and their dad are. Her dad’s actually a music minister, but he’s pretty liberal and cool about what his kids listen to.
As it turns out, churches don’t pay music ministers much to create an emotional pathway to God (or whatever), and neither Steph or I have jobs, so we can only afford to see one matinee a week and have ten or fifteen bucks left over. That usually equals a two-for-one nail polish deal (I have a lot of blues and greens and Steph has every variation of black) and something at the Food Court.
“You know, Dylan’s right,” Stephanie says after she removes the lid so she can blow on her coffee. “We should get jobs.”
“Yeah, right,” I say. “We’ll get fake IDs just to serve coffee.”
“We don’t have to work at Charbucks,” Stephanie says, using another nickname I detest. “There are other stores at the mall.”
For a minute, I imagine getting a job at Macy’s. I could work next to Josh every day, and maybe he’d finally see me as more than Stephanie’s best friend. Or, you know, see me at all.
“This isn’t all just so you can work next to Dylan?” I ask.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asks, blushing. “It’s summer, June, we’ll need more than ten dollars a week.”
“Since when does money buy happiness?” I say, and immediately realize it’s too trite, even for me. I quickly segue to a quote from Reality Bites, one of Steph’s favorite movies. “I mean, what happened to ‘You, me, five bucks, and a couple of smokes?’”
“We don’t smoke,” she says. “And you’re not Winona Ryder.”
“Ethan Hawke says that,” I say, although it doesn’t do much to prove my point.
“They both say that,” she corrects.
“Whatever,” I say. “But I can’t get a job, remember? I’m still fifteen.”
“You can get your parents permission to work before you’re sixteen,” Stephanie replies.
“I don’t have a license or a car,” I reply. What I don’t say is that getting a job sounds completely terrifying to me.
“Come on,” she says, ignoring my logic. “We can do it together!”
“It works for the Cinnasluts,” I reply.
“That’s the spirit,” Stephanie replies, completely missing my tone as she digs around in her bag. A few seconds later, she pulls out two folded pieces of paper.
“What’s that?” I ask. I wouldn’t put it past Stephanie to pull out handwritten poetry, or Conor Oberst lyrics, or that never-to-be-released Twilight book that leaked onto the Internet — all of which she’s done before.
But it’s nothing like that. It’s two job applications to Hot Topic.
“Come on!” she says. “We could get jobs together, it would be so great! I could sell music and you could get a discount on those clips with the little hearts you love so much. Think of the money, June. Think of the heart clips.”
“Okay, give me an application,” I say, immediately feeling guilty as a smile spreads across her face.
I can’t think of anything that sounds more horrible than walking into Hot Topic, asking for an application, and being laughed at by some girl with pink hair and plugs in her ears. Unless, of course, it’s actually getting the job and being laughed every day at by a bunch of intimidating customers with pink hair and plugs in their ears.
There’s no way I’m applying for a job this summer, but there’s no way I have the guts to tell Stephanie that.
I’ll deal with the fallout later.
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