Trying to Get the Girl

I’m sitting here staring at the old Zip corner store thinking about going in. My ’85 Chevy Cavalier is parked in the store’s parking lot with the engine still running, just in case I change my mind. I sit in the passenger seat playing with the keys dangling from the ignition and contemplate what I want to do. I’ve only had this car about a week, and the courage it gave me is starting to fade away fast. I’d better make my move today or this opportunity may pass altogether.

I turn the key to the off position, and the engine rattles to a halt. My father didn’t think it was a wise purchase. It only cost me 700 dollars, but it runs and there isn’t a lot of rust on the body. I know I’m going to need wheels if I’m going to start dating. Every high school student knows that. So, I spent the cash I had saved up from delivering papers and got the car. All my Dad had to say was you get what you pay for. As if I could afford anything better.

I turn the overhead lights on. I run my hand over the molded plastic dashboard to check for dust and touch the blackened Chevrolet emblem above the glove compartment. I tried to buff the emblem, but the silver just rubbed off more, so I had to leave that alone. I check the passenger seat next to me to make sure there isn’t any offending crumbs or dirt I missed. It’s still clean, and so is the floor mat on that side. I notice some pebbles that must have fallen from my shoes on the driver floor mat. I pick them up and fling them out the open window. I let the smell of a newly detailed car enter into my nose, turn off the overhead light, and allow my gaze to fall back to the front door of the store.

The bright orange “Hi, we are open” sign is displayed in the front door, but she’ll probably close up the shop in a couple of minutes. I check the clock on the dashboard and it reads 9:47. Closing time in about 13 minutes, but what if her clock is late? It could be less than that. I grope around the door for a couple of seconds looking for the handle, and push the door open when I find it.

I stand outside my car leaning on the open door for a moment and let the brisk autumn air numb my fingers and nose. I wonder what she’ll say. She always seems nice enough when I talk to her in class. She isn’t overly attractive or stuck up, and I don’t necessarily run with the nerd crowd at school. She should make an adequate choice for a first date. If she’ll allow me, that is.

I’m kidding myself. I’ve had my eye on her since middle school. I’ve never had the courage to talk to her for more than two minutes at a stretch. For that matter, I’ve never had the nerve to talk to any girl for longer than that. These butterflies are churning up a storm in my belly. I think the easiest thing to do would be to slide back into the driver’s seat, turn on the car, and head back home to do the homework I’m supposed to be taking care of at this very moment.

I need to get a grip here. I went to great lengths to ensure this moment takes place. I overheard her talk about her job many times in Spanish class. I’ve been here before when she’s working. I know she works here on Tuesday nights. I want to ask her out here at the store, so I don’t need to humiliate myself at school in front of the hundreds of other girls who spurn my advances. I bought a car to ensure that we could enjoy a proper date by ourselves without obnoxious chaperones to nose in on our activity. I’m cool, I’m hip, and I’m not too harsh on the eyes, if I do say so myself. If only I could convince my feet to start walking, this would be a cinch.

I take a deep breath and slam the car door shut. I push my way to the front door of the store. The metal handle feels slick in my hand. I swallow a particularly large lump that’s sitting in my throat. I need to open the door slowly, calmly. I can’t appear overeager. And don’t try to make eye contact right away. I’ve got to make this seem like a coincidental meeting. I open the door, perhaps a little too quickly.

I enter the store and focus my eyes on the white, marble tiles on the floor. I take a few more steps into the store and allow my eyes to fixate on a tabloid magazine rack next to the front counter, which she’s probably sitting behind. I stand still and try to comprehend some of the covers on the magazines, but my head feels thick, like my thoughts are straining out like pea soup through a sieve. I walk to the back of the store to clear my thoughts.

I open the glass door to the refrigerated section and grab a Diet Coke. I hold it open and pretend to survey my choices, thankful of any extra time I can garner. The chill from inside reminds me of being back outside in my new car. All I have to do is put the Coke bottle back and make a beeline back out the way I came. I begin to feel the red-hot gaze of questioning eyes pierce my back. Slowly, I turn my head to see if she’s watching, but no one is behind the counter.

I turn all the way around to confirm my glance. She’s not there. As a matter of fact, there’s nobody else in the store. With my soda still in hand, I walk across the back to check all of the aisles for her. Maybe I missed her pricing some items in my rush to get to the back. But nobody’s there. Maybe she’s in the washroom.

I walk to the front of the store through the aisle closest to the front door. I glance at the door and wonder if maybe I should just go to my car and wait a couple of minutes. I look down at the plastic bottle in my hand. I’d have to put it back first. That would just be silly. I could just sit at the counter and wait for her to come out. I slink up to the counter and place the Diet Coke on the counter.

I survey the gum and candy racks across the counter. I place my sweating hands in my pockets and turn to watch the hot dogs rotating on the heat racks. I remove one of my hands and try to casually place it next to the soda on the counter. I check the two doors on the wall behind the counter and wonder which one she’ll come out of. I remove both my hands from my pockets and run them through my hair. I glance at the front door to see if anyone else is coming in. Nobody’s coming. I stroll away from the counter back into one of the aisles and pretend to be interested in their selection of Campbell’s soups.

“Excuse me. Can I help you?” a gruff voice speaks from behind the counter.

I turn, surprised, to see a large man exit from one of the doors back behind the counter. I have never seen this man before. His t-shirt is ripped and has a Led Zeppelin logo. His long beard and bandana tell me he must think he’s a biker. Whatever he thinks he is, he’s bad news.

“Isn’t there supposed to be a girl here tonight?” I reply to his question. A wave of courage overtakes me. I reach for a large can of New England clam chowder soup and survey the nutritional information.

“Not tonight,” the biker replies. He gestures toward the Coke on the counter. “Is this yours?”

“Yeah,” I say coolly.

“Well, come on and buy it then.” The biker seems a little hostile. “I haven’t got all night.”

“I’ll be there when I get there.” I figure I’ll egg him on a little.

“Look, punk, either buy your stinking pop or get the hell out of the store!”

I turn from the soup display and face this villainous biker. I square my shoulders and look the man dead in the eyes. I narrow my eyes and pull my lips up to a snare to let him know I mean business. With my soup can hanging at my side, I take one full step towards this man who outweighs me by at least a hundred pounds. I don’t let his size intimidate me and take another bold step toward the counter.

“Sir, I believe there was supposed to be a young girl here tonight. And I do believe that you may know where she is.” I’m tough as nails and twice as mean. “So you better tell me what’s going on. Right now.”

The biker appears somewhat rattled. I spot a drop of sweat run down his nose. A man’s voice reports from the room the biker just exited, “Did you get rid of him?”

I let fly with the soup can just as the biker foolishly turns his head to the sound of his partner’s voice. The can flies straight and true, and just as the biker turns back to me, it catches him right above his left eye. The loud clang echoes through the store like church bells. I leap over the counter, snatching the bottle of soda as I clear it. Quickly, I spin around to see the biker staggering, clutching his bleeding eye. I latch on to a fistful of his t-shirt with my left hand, and with all of my might bring the full weight of twenty ounces of soda crashing down onto the top of the man’s skull. Liquid sprays everywhere as the bottle explodes. The biker collapses into a pile, face down into a sticky puddle of pop.

The voice of the biker’s partner erupts from the back room, “What the hell is going on out there, Bubba?” I spin around to confront the new foe. He emerges from the back room. This guy could be the other one’s twin brother. He’s obviously surprised to find me standing over his partner’s unconscious form. “You just made a big mistake, punk,” he says as he approaches me with balled fists.

I hunch into a fighting stance and prepare for biker number two’s advance. He swings at me with his right, and I deftly dodge the punch. He follows with his left, and it glances sharply against my cheekbone. I wince in pain, but I refuse to back down. I retaliate with a quick jab to his chin. Biker number two reels back, stunned at my strength and quickness. I seize the advantage and lunge at his midsection like the best of the Dallas Cowboys’ linebackers. His feet slip out from underneath him on the slick floor, and the back of his head bounces off the hard, marble floor. The hollow sound resonates through the store as this man loses consciousness as well.

I remove myself from the villain’s body, and I stand and brush the dust off myself. I place my hand to the cheek where the second biker connected. A warm bump has already started to grow there. A small price to pay, for sure. I locate the store telephone underneath the cash register and dial 911.

“911. What is your emergency?” the female voice answers.

“Ma’am, I am at the old Zip store at the corner of South Street and 23rd. I have apprehended two suspicious persons who have attempted to rob this store. Please send help immediately,” I manage in my best Superman impersonation. I place the receiver down on the counter as the operator attempts to keep me on the line. I have a victory to savor and a champion to present.

I enter the back room where my damsel in distress sits on a crate of vegetables, staring at me with wide, tear-soaked eyes. Her hands are bound, and her mouth is gagged. I search around the storeroom and find a razor-blade sitting on a shelf in the back. I return to my damsel and cut the rope that binds her. Her hands free, she pulls the handkerchief out of her mouth. “Thank you,” she cries as she wraps her arms tightly around my neck. She grips me tight enough to cut off my breath, but I allow her the embrace. Shortly, she releases me and looks me in the eye. “You saved me?” she asks, breathless.

“Of course, I did.” I smile at the sight of her big, brown eyes. Now, I decide, is the time. “Say, I was wondering if you wouldn’t want to go out with me sometime?”

I slap myself soundly on the cheek and jolt myself out of my fantasy. I’m still sitting in my Cavalier trying to muster up the courage to go into the store and ask her out. If I think about it too much longer I may lapse back into one of my delusions. I look at the clock on the dashboard. It says 9:54. Seven minutes wasted on a scenario that will never happen. I need to be more constructive.

I exit the car and repeat the anxious scene where I lean on my car door. Again, I walk to the front door trepidatiously. This time, I open the door with a much better, more confident pull. I enter the store, and, this time, boldly look toward the counter to find her. She’s there, but she’s talking to someone. One of the jocks from school is leaning on the counter chewing her ear off, probably about some nonsense about how studly he is. This guy’s trying to horn in on my territory.

I stand in the doorway calmly, like I belong there. I survey the scene. Neither of them has bothered to notice me yet. Brett or Bob…I think one of those might be the jock’s name. Whatever it is, she doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in what he has to say. Naturally, I need to intervene.

I don’t stop to pick up any products as an excuse. I walk right up to the pair and look directly at her. She seems pleased to see me.

“Hi,” she says warmly.

I greet her back and let my eyes narrow on the offending party.

“What do you want?” He starts right in with the hostility.

“I was going to have a talk with someone tonight,” I reply. I lean closer in towards him to display my complete lack of fear. I throw a quick grin at the damsel before returning to my rival. “And it isn’t going to be with you, Bubba.”

He lunges at me, but I sidestep him like a bullfighter. He crashes headlong into a display of dog biscuits. I saunter over to where he landed clumsily, face down. I reach down and flip him over. I latch on to the lapels of his letterman’s jacket. I pull him up to within an inch of my face, and catch a whiff of his foul-smelling breath.

“I’m your worst nightmare, punk,” I whisper in my best Dirty Harry impersonation.

I don’t slap myself this time, as I come back down to earth. I bang my head on the steering wheel. I instantly regret doing it as the pain causes me to wince. I rub my head where I struck the wheel in a vain attempt to make the pain go away. I turn the overhead light back on and check my forehead. Sure enough, there’s a long, red mark on it. I turn the light off and look down at the clock again. 10:00 on the dot. I curse at myself, both for mangling my forehead and lacking the courage to do something that should not be this difficult. This time, I go for real.

It’s now or never. I open my door for the third time tonight, and I exit the car and stand in my customary spot where my legs refuse to work. I look to the door to confirm that she hasn’t closed the store yet. The open sign is still in the window. I need to go now. I don’t know what to say. I don’t have to say anything earth-shattering. Just ask her if she’s busy this weekend. If I get shot down, so what? There’s plenty of fish in the sea, right? I’m sixteen years old. I’ll have plenty of opportunities with other girls if this doesn’t work out. Besides, the first time you ask a girl out has gotta be the hardest, right? This will be valuable experience for my college years. Besides, how could she resist me? I’m good looking, and I have a car.

But, I bought the car for her. I bought it for tonight. I want this to work so bad, but I know that there is no way that it’s going to. I keep trying to think up the perfect scenario, but there is no perfect scenario. I just go in, make a fool of myself, and then leave like a dog and whimper my way back to the car that doesn’t impress. I don’t think I can leave here, leave her, knowing I got dissed, rejected, discarded like five-week old milk. I won’t be able to sleep. I won’t be able to eat. I won’t be able to show my face to her at school.

For the third time tonight, I chicken out. I get back into the driver’s seat of my new ’85 Chevy Cavalier and slam the car door shut. I turn the car on, and the engine shakes the entire chassis as the engine struggles to get warm. I place both my hands on the wheel and lean my sore forehead on the backs of my hands. A new sensation has replaced the butterflies in my stomach. A slimy, oily feeling that doesn’t sit well. A harsh reality creeps into my mind. I’m not going to be able to come back here and do this again. I’m a coward, and all of the imagined antics of heroism in the world won’t change that.

I take a deep breath and look ahead. I put the car in gear, and the engine reluctantly responds. I stare at the clock which reads 10:09, and let one last foolish idea about changing my mind fade from my thoughts. I let my foot off the brake and ease the car out of the parking space. I coast towards the front of the store, and there she is.

She stands there in front of the door which now has the “Sorry, we’re closed” sign hanging from inside. She looks at me, and I find myself returning her stare. My car seems to slow down on its own and stop in front of where she is standing. Slowly, I roll down my window. Several long seconds of silence tick by.

“Hello,” I manage.

“Hi,” she greets me with a smile. “Funny seeing you here tonight.”

“Yeah, I was just driving around and thought about getting a soda. But you’re closed now, huh?”

“Sorry. So you’ve got a car, huh?”

“Yeah, it’s nothing special, but it gets me where I want to go.”

“That’s really cool,” she says sincerely. “I don’t have a car yet, but I’m trying to save up some money to get one. Having a car would be so cool.”

“Yeah, I know the feeling.”

“Say, I live a couple of blocks down off South Street. Do you think you can give me a ride?”

“Sure. No problem. Hop in.”

I lean over and unlock the passenger door as she passes around the front of my car. I grip the steering wheel tighter as the anxiety returns to my belly. This time, though, it’s a more excited variety. She hops in and smiles at me. As I pull out of the store parking lot, I wonder to myself if, this time, it’s for real.

{If you appreciated this writing and want to help support the continuation of this blog, please consider sending a donation to:

Scott C. Guffey
P.O. Box 53
Michigan City, IN 46360

For a full explanation of author impetus, blog mission statement, and donations appeal, click About.}

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