Filed under: Chapter 06 | Tags: arcade, Bryanna, Carrie Rollwagen, chai latte, skee ball, Some New Trend
JOSH IS WALKING NEXT TO ME, and I’m excited about that, I really am, but I can’t seem to focus on what he’s saying because I’m busy looking around to see if anyone we know is watching. Rose can’t be away from the mall for long, and she just got back in town from visiting her family’s house in Key West.
And I don’t know if I want Rose to see us or if I don’t. It could certainly make things awkward. Not because she dislikes Josh specifically. I doubt she thinks of Josh specifically. But she doesn’t approve of guys at our school in general, and I’m pretty sure that general attitude will turn into a specific feeling about the boy standing next to me, no matter how geek-cute he is or how many iced chais he buys me.
I have to admit, it’s nice — for once — to be with a guy who isn’t on the stupid football team. All Brandon ever wanted to talk about was passing maneuvers. And then there was Tom, who claimed it actually hurt him to leave the beach. He was always pestering me about checking the tide reports every three minutes from my iPhone.
One more in the plus column for being seen today: I’m looking especially cute in a short school-girl plaid skirt with a tight green polo that I can already tell Josh is really appreciating. Sometimes guys are so easy. Just make your clothes shorter or tighter and they’re totally into you.
In this respect, Josh is as simple as any other guy. He’s babbling on about something — some band, I think, from what I’ve pieced together — but internally he’s thanking whatever god created polo shirts.
Guys are easy, it’s girls that are tricky. Girls will judge you, labeling you skanky or slutty or cheap or trying too hard or whatever.
“So, you think you can beat me at skee ball?” he asks, and I smile back.
“You’re toast,” I reply.
He is so not toast, because even if I could beat him at skee ball, I wouldn’t. I don’t really think an arcade game is worth emasculating anyone over. But our faux skee ball rivalry gives some purpose to our undefined maybe-date.
I’m pretty sure Josh wants to get me to the arcade because he’s comfortable there and because it’s dark in there and that in itself kind of implies … other things. I want to go to the arcade because it’s in a part of the mall that no one who’s anyone really frequents, unless they’re specifically going to the arcade. I also like the arcade because the light is dim and flattering. Darkness on a date is never a bad thing.
I’m working under the assumption that what happens in the arcade stays in the arcade. No one’s going to rat me out for hanging out with a geeky guy over a game of Pacman. Now, if we split a booth at Ruby Tuesday’s, that’s a whole other thing.
We step into the dark and Avril is singing that she “hates it when a guy doesn’t get the tab.” I swear Josh doesn’t seem like the type to take orders from a skater girl, but he does walk up to the quarter machine with a ten and an announcement that our games are “on him.”
He’s acting much more cavalier than I’ve seen him before. Maybe he’s growing on me. Or maybe he’s just gotten more confident surrounded by so many gamers who are obviously bigger losers than he is.
And, for the record, I don’t think Josh is a loser. I don’t date losers. He’s funny, and cute, and I don’t really know what else. Jury’s still out on that.
Another Avril song comes over the speakers.
“Is that weird?” I ask, and Josh cocks his head to ask what I’m talking about. I like him like this — laid back and in control, neither obsessing over me or ignoring me. Guys can’t generally strike that balance.
“What are they, like, playing this whole album?” I explain. “That’s two Avril Lavigne songs in a row.”
Josh gestures over at the corner to one of those digital players designed to look like an old-fashioned jukebox.
“Looks like we’re audio slaves to the whims of the Twilighters,” Josh says, referring to a group of four twelve-year-old girls all dressed in black. They’re clustered around the jukebox, feeding it quarters to spit out kinda sucky girl rock. I don’t notice at first, but after he points it out I see that they’re all wearing K-Mart special Twilight T-shirts.
“Oh, right,” I say, noticing that one girl has a slightly less expensive haircut than the rest, and her shirt is just black, no Twilight insignia. I think it’s sad that a twelve-year-old can even have an expensive haircut.
“Guess they’re waiting for a vampire to come marry them,” Josh is saying.
“I don’t know why people dress like that,” I reply.
“I mean, it’s not like Bella dressed all spooky. She dressed all plain and normal, and Edward loved her anyway.”
Josh gives me a sideways look.
“Don’t look at me like that!” I say, laughing and bumping into him playfully with my shoulder. “Twilight is, like, a totally amazing literary phenomenon.”
“Like, totally amazing,” Josh laughs, mocking me.
“You know what I mean!” I’m kinda pretending to be angry, but I’m smiling. He’s too cute to be mad at for real.
Everything’s going well. We play skee ball, and I pretend I can’t play so he’ll reach around me and help me out. I wouldn’t say I feel intense sparks or anything (making it certain that he’s not a sexy vampire like Edward), but it’s definitely pleasant. He smells good, like laundry soap. I guess this is due more to his mom than to him, but I still like it. Thanks, mom.
We both grab for the skee ball tickets at the same time, and I reach them first, then try to pocket them all. Josh chases me for a minute, and I can see the guy who’s waiting for our game rolling his eyes. I put the tickets behind my back, and Josh hardly even hesitates before backing me into the pinball machine and reaching both arms around me, allegedly grabbing for the tickets, although we both know that’s not what he’s really doing.
And for a second, I think he’s going to kiss me. I’m not sure I totally want him to, but I know that I’ll let him. Instead, he just smiles at me, slowly, and takes the tickets from me easily, then walks back toward the ticket booth.
The whole day goes like this. If Josh is nervous, he’s hiding it well (which is a relief, cause when he called me on the phone he sounded like he was having a panic attack). Things don’t get awkward until we’re saying goodbye. We haven’t even defined this as a date yet, so it makes defining the end that much harder. We’re sitting on the couches outside of Macy’s, playing with a sparkly bouncy ball that Josh bought for me with our skee ball winnings. He’s touching my knee with his every time he lunges for the ball, which is so cute. Too soon, it’s time for him to go to work.
Do I walk him in to work? No, that would be weird. Do I wait for him to leave, and watch him as he goes? That’s pretty lame, too. Is he going to try to kiss me in the middle of the mall? I really hope not. That whole arcade spell is broken, and I really want to refresh my makeup and maybe pop some gum or an Altoid.
Josh breaks the ice by standing and offering me his hand to pull me up. I smile because it’s very quaint and gentlemanly. For a minute I think he’s going to try to kiss my hand.
“It’s been real,” he says. He lets go of my hand without kissing it, which is good because that crosses into creepy Eurotrash guy behavior.
“I’m heading for another day of the retail drudgery that is Macy’s,” Josh says. “And you … I suggest you get a refill on that,” he says, gesturing to my chai — or what’s left of it, anyway. “If your skee ball skills are any indication, you need to replenish your energy reserves.”
“I thought you were going to go easy on me!” I say, referring to the game.
“No pain, no gain,” he says.
“You’re a pain. Does that count?” I say, smiling.
“No, I’m sorry ma’am. That does not count. But I’ll see you soon. I can’t imagine you’ll go too long without giving in to your shoe fetish.”
“OMG I do not have a shoe fetish,” I respond.
“Whatever you say,” he says. “But there’s a reason we have your picture up in our Most Valued Customer frame.”
“Do you really?” I ask. “I’ve never seen …” that’s when I realize he’s joking.
“Wow,” he says. “So gullible.”
And then we’re laughing, and then he’s walking away, into Macy’s. Without me. As it should be, I guess. I stand there awkwardly for a minute, but then he starts to turn, and I don’t want him to know I’m watching him, so I turn away quickly. I figure I might as well take him up on that chai idea.
I’m feeling pretty awesome when I walk in to get some coffee, and it’s not just about the sugar-caffeine blast I’m about to enjoy. I keep thinking about the way Josh’s face looks right before he laughs, the way he’s so smart about everything. I wouldn’t call him hot, exactly. Cute. Funny. Adorable. Adorable goes a long way.
After ordering my chai, I decide I deserve something extra. A little whipped cream sounds delicious, and I can afford the calories after all that skee ball.
“Grande chai latte!” calls the guy behind the bar as he puts my drink on the counter. I don’t know why they have to always yell the drink names. I mean, I’m standing right here.
“Hey,” I say, tilting my head just a little bit and giving him the smile that always gets me free stuff. “Can you add some whipped cream to that?”
“I can if you take your top off,” he says.
Does this guy seriously think I’m going to flash him for a coffee drink?
“Um, excuse me, what?” I ask. I’m sure I misheard him. I better have misheard him.
“Take. Your. Top. Off.” This time, he over pronounces every word and leans forward a little bit. I think I’m going to be sick.
I just stare at this guy with his floppy greasy hair. He thinks he’s some kind of punk who can make fun of me just because I’m cute and young. I have no idea how to get out of this, but I know he’s not getting away with it. I mean, he’s practically molesting me.
“You can’t talk to me like that,” I say, but my words come out hella shaky, which is not what I’d planned on. He looks at me like I’m a little girl on a playground, which is exactly how I feel.
“I mean,” I start again, trying to sound tougher, but it just sounds louder, and the guy is smiling now. “That’s not funny … that … that’s …”
I’m interrupted when a kinda plain girl reaches around me and grabs my drink.
“What are you doing,” I whine before I realize that I actually know this girl. It’s June, who’s a year behind me in school. I’ve never really talked to her before. Never really cared to, to be honest. But, then, she’s never assaulted my drink before.
“Oh, sorry June, it’s just that …” I watch as she pulls the lid off my drink and pushes the cup toward the barista.
“Dylan means your lid,” she says, handing me the lid from my cup. “Take your lid — your top — off.” Frankly, I’m surprised June had the guts to approach me. She’s always seemed so shy.
“Thanks,” I say to June when we’re waiting for our drinks. “That guy was totally weird!”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” June says. She doesn’t elaborate, so I guess the shyness has returned. My afternoon of crushing has left me in the mood to do some good in the world, and June’s always been really cute and nice, even if she is way too quiet.
Plus, I think she’s friends with Josh’s sister. I can totally use this to my advantage. There’s nothing wrong with doing a little personal research while reaching out to the hoodied masses, right?
“Grande chai with whip!” calls the jerk-barista, and I grab my drink from the bar with my left hand and grab June’s arm with the other.
“So, you’re friends with Stephanie Bates, right?” I ask her. She looks totally shocked that we’re having a conversation.
“Uh, yeah, sure,” June says, almost suspiciously.
“What do you think of her brother?” I ask.
“Who, Josh?” she looks like I slapped her or something. Maybe she’s even more anti-social than I’d thought.
“She only has one brother, right?”
“Tall mocha!” lame-barista shoves June’s cup right between us. She looks relieved at the distraction.
“Uh, yeah,” she says. “Josh is her only brother … well it was nice seeing you,” she says, stepping back toward the condiment bar. I grab her arm again to pull her over to a table.
“What are you, kidding me?” I ask her. “Come sit with me! I’ve been so bored this summer. There’s no one to hang out with — all my friends are away on vacation.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” she says, taking a chair across from mine.
“Really? Your friends are on vacation?” I ask.
“Oh, no,” she says. “I mean Stephanie.”
“What?” I say. “Stephanie’s leaving for the summer? Josh isn’t going too, is he?” If my summer fling is planning on cutting out for the next few months, he should’ve mentioned it.
“No, he’s staying,” June says. “They both are. It’s just that Steph’s got a job, and I don’t, so she’s always working and I’m pretty much just hanging out by myself all the time.” June’s barely looking at me while she’s talking. She keeps tracing her finger around a square from the checkerboard pattern on our table.
“How weird is it that they paint the tables this way?” she says. “I mean, have you ever seen anyone actually pull out a bag of checkers and play here?”
I laugh at this, and she seems surprised that I like her joke. Or maybe she’s just surprised that I actually get it. Either way, if I keep her talking, I have a better chance of getting Josh info.
“That’s so funny,” I say, egging her on. “I’ve never thought of that.”
“I mean, do people just carry checkers around in their bags, just in case they run across the random table that happens to have a board printed on it?” she continues.
“Totally!” I reply, laughing.
“Besides,” she says, “this board only works for American checkers. What about Chinese Checkers? Isn’t that discrimination?”
“True,” I add. “And what about ping pong?”
June pauses and takes a sip of her mocha. “Hmm,” she says. “I don’t know about that. Ping pong would have to be on a bigger table. Like a dinner table or something.”
“That reminds me,” I say, “Josh mentioned something about playing ping pong, how he loves to play on the table at their house.” Okay, so, he didn’t actually say this. But I’m running out of ways to work his name into the conversation, and it seems safe — who doesn’t have a ping pong table?
“That’s weird,” June says. “They don’t even have a ping pong table.”
Uh oh. Busted. That’s what I get for trying too hard.
“Oh, maybe he meant the ping pong table at church,” she says.
“Yeah, you’re right,” I say, relieved that this line of questioning is finally — maybe — going somewhere. “He totally said ‘church,’ my bad. They hang out there a lot, huh? How come?”
“Well, their dad is the music minister,” June explains. “So they kind of get stuck there, just playing games and hanging out in the Youth Group rooms. You know, having foosball tournaments, playing hangman on chalkboards, that kind of thing.”
“Right,” I say, committing these hobbies to memory.
“I guess it sounds kind of lame,” she says, after a pause. “But Josh isn’t lame. He’s really funny, and smart, and you should see him at church, he’s the kind of guy who’ll, like, help old ladies find their seats. And he helps out his dad with a lot of stuff.”
“So, he’s a do-gooder type,” I say.
“Well, he’s not, like, sucking up or anything,” she says. “I know he’s snuck out of the house at least once to see Face to Face, and he and Will are always being hilarious and doing pranks and stuff.”
“Nothing major, nothing, like, really bad. This one time they snuck into Steph’s room while she was at choir practice and switched all her punk band posters with Miley Cyrus pictures. She totally flipped out. It was pretty funny.”
“You make him sound amazing,” I say. Start this girl talking and she’s like Josh Bates’s personal fan club.
“I mean, he’s okay,” she says, suddenly backing off. “I don’t even know him that well, really. Just through Steph.”
“June, thanks for hanging out,” I say, standing up to leave. “You’ve been a big help.”
She stands too, and I link my arm through hers like we’re already BFF.
“I think Josh and I are really good together, don’t you?” I say, smiling.
It’s a long time before she answers, and I start to feel awkward standing here arm in arm with a girl I barely know.
“I think you’re perfect for him,” she says, finally. It’s exactly what I want to hear.
“OMG, I just had the best idea!” I say. “I have to find the perfect second date outfit, and this is not something a girl can do without backup. You have to come shopping with me!” I practically drag her with me before she has a chance back out. I’m not in the mood to take no for an answer.
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