Some New Trend


Chapter Sixteen :: Dylan by Carrie Rollwagen

chapter 16

WHERE THERE’S SMOKE :: BY CARRIE ROLLWAGENpodcast_itunes

IT’S WAY TOO HOT OUTSIDE to be doing anything but smoking. I’m leaning against the mall doors, watching shoppers rush toward the air conditioning, or shuffle back to their cars with bright bags full of crap they think will make their miserable lives more bearable. It makes me sweat just watching them.

I palm this box of Camels, flipping it over twice, debating smoking another. Nope. I’m working with Beth today and if my break gets any longer she’ll give me shit about it.

Of course, she ends up giving me shit about it anyway.

“Gee, maybe I should take up smoking so I can get a break every once in awhile,” she says as soon as I walk back in. She really talks like this, with words like “gee,” like she learned to cuss from Leave It To Beaver.

“Go ahead and take a ten, if that’ll make you feel better,” I tell her, leaning back against the counter with my arms crossed over my chest. They’ve designed this place to be anti-ergonomic, making leaning and sitting on counters extremely uncomfortable, but I do it anyway. I don’t mind discomfort.

“Whatever,” she says. “My shift’s over soon enough. Besides, we have customers now.” She nods her head toward door where Josh and Stephanie are walking in.

Stephanie’s wearing a pleated skirt and hot little knee socks, and carrying her green Kirkland’s apron over her arm. Josh is decked out in his Macy’s finery. Makes me glad the dress code here calls for all black. They’re arguing, like usual.

“You’re an idiot,” Stephanie’s saying to her brother.

“I make better grades than you do,” he says, and she rolls her eyes.

“Okay, you’re an idiot about girls,” she corrects.

His defenses go up immediately.

“That’s not my fault,” he says. “Girls are impossible to read.”

“Actually, they’re not,” I say to him.

Stephanie looks delighted that I’m talking to them. Josh looks annoyed, but curious.

“Okay, how do you tell if a girl likes you?” he asks.

“That’s easy, man,” I say. “Look for the signs.”

“Signs?” both of them ask together.

“You know,” I answer. “Does she laugh too loud at your jokes, even when they’re not funny? Does she make excuses to see you and call you, act like she’s into the stuff you’re into, touch your inner elbow or your inner thigh? It’s all pretty obvious.”

Stephanie smiles. Josh seems dubious. Beth’s looking at me like she’s completely unimpressed by my stellar advice.

Bro and sis head off to their respective jobs, and Beth bats her eyes furiously, giving a loud and ridiculous laugh.

“Oh, Dylan, you’re sooo funny!” she mocks, leaning toward me and grasping at my arm. “How do you even touch someone’s inner elbow?” she’s says, making the most awkward move imaginable. She thinks she’s being annoying, and I act like she is, but I’m enjoying being touched, and the way her hair smells.

“Geez,” she says, unfortunately letting go of my arm. “How do you get all these kids to listen to you? It’s like you’re the Dear Abby of the Breakfast Club.”

I few minutes later, Beth’s shift is over, and I tell her to go ahead and go home.

“I can wait until Aaron comes,” she responds, but she’s already taking her apron off. I know she’ll take me up on the offer to leave on time, even though the next shift hasn’t shown up.

“I’ll be fine until he’s here. It’s dead today anyway,” I say. And I mean it. We’ve barely had a customer for the past two hours.

“Okay, if you’re sure,” she says, but she’s already walking out the door.

I wash a few dishes, make the whipped creams, and restock some cups. There’s really not a lot to do. This would be a great time for a smoke break, if there were anyone else to watch the store. I suddenly see the flaw in my great philanthropic plan to send Beth home.

Aaron’s twenty minutes late when I finally call him. He’s still asleep — at 3:20 in the afternoon. He’s groggy, but he tells me he’s on his way.

When Will comes in, I’m sitting at a table alone, staring into space. There’s a torn-up copy of On the Road in front of me, but I haven’t touched it.

He walks in the door and salutes me, like we’re soldiers in a secret army of slack. To tell the truth, I’m kind of glad that he’s here. It’s not like I have anything better to do. And this dirty surfer kid with his boundless optimism amuses me.

“Oh, man,” he says, sitting down with me uninvited. “Girls are driving me crazy.”

“Join the club,” I say. “Your partner in crime was in here earlier saying the same thing.”

“My PIC?” Will asks. “Oh, you mean Josh.”

“Yep. That a problem?”

“Kind of,” he says. “I think we like the same girl. We were all hanging out together at the beach the other day.”

“That sucks,” I say. “Who got the last word?”

“What do you mean?” Will asks.

“Who talked to her last. Who got the Last Word? You know, like at a party — whoever hangs out with the girl last is the one who takes her home. It’s just like in a fight.” Will grimaces, and I notice a fading black eye. “Last punch wins the fight. Last Word gets the girl.”

“Well, I was hanging out with her last,” he says.

“Good man,” I say.

He’s looking at me like I’m some kind of love guru. It’s kind of nice. It occurs to me I might make a good teacher, if I didn’t hate kids so much.

Aaron finally comes in, still half asleep. He has pillow creases in his face.

“I’m taking a break,” I tell him, knowing he can’t really disagree since he’s missed so much of his shift.

“Alright, look around,” I say to Will as we walk through the mall. “These stores and kiosks are full of girls. But that doesn’t mean much to you. You’re not going to walk in here, find some clever line, and bring a girl home with you. It doesn’t work that way. They’re on a shopping mission, they have their guards up, they have friends around them. It’s not impossible, but it takes more advanced technique than you’re ready for. Start with something easier.”

“Like what?” he says, as we walk outside. “What should I do?”

“Step into my office,” I say, gesturing toward a cement wall. We sit, and I light a cigarette.

“Okay, the first thing is to learn to identify your target. Pick an easy target — the girl wearing stilettos at the party. She wants to get laid.” I glance at his face. “I mean, make out, or whatever. Point is, heels mean she’s looking for something. Go for these girls.”

“Girls in heels,” he says. “Cool.”

“You want to be careful,” I say. “Learn to identify which girls are crazy enough to go home with you, and which ones are just plain crazy. Okay, let’s say you’re at the party, and there’s this girl just dancing the whole night. She’s really going for it, just going nuts. You’re thinking ‘this girl is fun, maybe I should go for it,’ right?”

“Right,” he agrees.

“Wrong,” I say. “This girl — we need a name for this girl, what should we call her? Okay, how about Crazy Legs. Yeah, this Crazy Legs looks all fun loving, but she’s just totally fucking nuts. You look, you’ll notice, everyone avoids this girl. You should too. Crazy Legs goes home alone.”

“Right,” Will says. “No Crazy Legs.” I can tell he’s mentally taking notes.

“You’re looking for the Danger Zone,” I say.

“Sounds bad,” Will says.

“No, the Danger Zone is very good.” I take a drag. “Okay, bad for girls, I guess. Good for us. The Danger Zone is between 12:30 and 1:00 in the morning. It’s the time at the party when girls are drunk enough to think hooking up is a good idea, but not so drunk they’re getting sick. It’s a surprisingly small window, so you want to go into the Danger Zone with a game plan.”

“Game plan,” Will repeats, typing something into his cell phone. “I’m taking notes,” he explains sheepishly.

“Good,” I say. “You’ll be glad you did. Anyway, maybe your game plan is to take this girl home. Maybe it’s just getting her alone, like into your car or, I don’t know, some deserted room or closet or something. Just know what you’re going for. Gives you a tactical advantage.”

“Sounds like war,” Will says.

“Hell yes it’s war,” I agree. “Fighting for territory. Anyway, if you miss the Danger Zone, strike out, whatever, you still have another chance with the Booty Call.”

“I know that one,” he says.

“Yeah,” I say. “It’s not that complicated. Just time it so the girl is groggy enough not to make good decisions, but awake enough to pick up her phone and agree to let you come over, or come to your house. It’s surprisingly easy.”

“I don’t know if I can have a girl at my house that late. You know, parents,” he explains.

“There are ways around that,” I say. “Cars and parks are made for the high school Booty Call. Girls love sneaking out. They have this Juliet complex, you know? Rapunzel, all those chicks, it’s all about sneaking out, climbing down the trellis to meet Prince Charming.”

“What’s a trellis?”

“Doesn’t fucking matter, man. The trellis is just a metaphor.” I take another drag. “Okay, let’s explore something a bit more complicated—the Sunday Afternoon Hookup.”

“Sounds awesome,” Will says.

“Sure, it’s good,” I tell him. “But you want to use caution with this one. It often ends in relationship.” His eyes light up when I mention relationships. Clearly, this kid has not yet been burned.

“Okay, throughout the week, you stock up on beer.” I see concern register on his face. “Okay, not beer. Just stuff a girl’s going to like. Comfort food, but make sure it doesn’t have too many calories or she’ll make excuses. Diet Dr. Pepper. Goldfish crackers. That sort of thing.”

Goldfish crackers,” he says.

“Right. So then you wait until, say, 4:00 Sunday afternoon. Call her, say you’re bored and want to hang out. Mention the snacks. Pick her up if you have to. Keep her there through The Simpsons Power Hour, and you’ll have her there the rest of the night.”

“The Simpsons?”

“Sure, everybody loves The Simpsons. It’s unthreatening. Plus, it will have her laughing, so she’ll feel sexy, but not suspicious of your, you know, intentions. Convince her to stay for The Simpsons, then Family Guy. This night of television is engineered so it’s practically impossible to tear yourself away. She’ll be too tired and lazy to go home, and that’s when you execute the hookup.

“The Simpsons really works for this?” he asks.

“Hell yes,” I say. “It was made for this. Hooking up and getting high—that’s why God created The Simpsons.”

I finish my second cigarette and stand up. “Got to get back, lesson’s over for today,” I tell him.

“Oh come on,” he says. “Just one more.”

“Okay, just one. Let me think,” I say as we walk back into the blast of air conditioning. “Okay, here’s a gold mine — look for chicks with broken bones.”

“Like, broken arms and legs?”

“Exactly. I know, it’s not scientific. Trust me, chick has a broken bone and you’ll always land it. Wheelchair, not necessarily. But catch a girl in a cast or one of those boots or something, yeah. You’re in.”

Aaron and I finish out the shift making lattes for soccer moms and debating whether or not he should max out his credit card to see U2 play in Ireland. I hear the phrase “You can’t put a price on memories, man,” one too many times before my shift finally ends.

Outside, I’m just enjoying the post-work smoke — best of the day — when little Stephanie comes up and sits uncomfortably close to me on the cement wall.

“Can I have a cigarette?” she asks. I light one and hand it over.

She crosses her legs awkwardly and tries to smoke. She’s coughing almost immediately, exactly like kids in the movies when they have their first.

“You’re probably a little young for that,” I say, taking it from her and smoking it myself instead.

“I’m not as young as you think,” she says, and she scoots even closer to me. “I’m very mature for my age.”

I look at her skeptically, hoping to get her off this track. I wonder if mall cops can bust you for dating a minor, or if that’s out of their jurisdiction.

“Let me give you some free advice,” I say, and realize Beth was onto something with that Dear Abby slam. “Nothing makes you seem younger than claiming to be mature for your age.”

She laughs. A lot. Way too loudly.

“You’re so funny!” she says, and I shift on the wall a little so she’s not so close, but she quickly moves in to close the gap. Then she puts her hand on my thigh, a little too close for comfort. Or close enough for a little too much comfort.

She’s looking at her own hand like she’s kind of scared of it, but she doesn’t move it. It looks small and white, sitting there on my black jeans. Like a little doll’s hand.

I sigh and put her hand back on her own lap.

“Look,” I start, “I’m sure you’re a great girl. And it’s not that you’re not cute, in a Miley-Cyrus-meets-Nancy-Spungen, Jailbait-meets-Crazy-Bitch kind of way.”

I’m interrupted by a sniff, and I turn and look at her for the first time. She’s turned away from me, but I can still see tears.

I put out my cigarette, turn her chin toward me, and wipe them away.

“What’s all this for?” I ask, letting go of her face gently. “No tears.”

“I’m embarrassed,” she manages.

“For what — giving me a compliment?”

“No,” she says. “For …”

“No need to be embarrassed,” I cut her off. “I’m flattered. And you’re a pretty brave girl.”

She smiles a little, so I know she’ll be all right.

“Okay sweetie, you should probably be getting inside.”

“Yeah,” she says, standing up and dusting her skirt off.

“And no more smoking,” I tell her. “That shit’ll kill you.”

This time, the smile’s a little bigger.

“Okay,” she says. “Bye.”

The irony of turning down ass when I’ve spent all day teaching Will how to get it isn’t lost on me, but I don’t feel the need to prove myself tonight. Especially if it involves crushing a too-young girl’s innocent dreams of love. I’ve done enough of that for one lifetime.

As she walks back into the mall, I breathe a sigh of relief. Then I light up one more time before heading home.

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