“…you gotta learn what’s good for you.”
“You’re late!” Andy screamed as I walked through the front doors.
“I know, I know. I’m sorry. I got held up after class.”
“Yes, well, the handsome and debonair Mr. Maxon can have that effect on many people,” he joked.
“Nikki called, didn’t she?” I alleged as I started a new batch of popcorn.
“Of course. That girl gets information around faster than the speed of light,” he said as he walked back from the rentals. “She called to let me know you might be late to work.”
He leaned his shoulder against the office doorway and stared at me as I added the salt and pressed the oil button. “What?! Why are you glaring at me?”
“Because you are going to tell me every detail of your encounter with Jake Maxon. He is incredibly gorgeous, and he saved your life.”
“That isn’t entirely true. You have to stop getting your stories from Nikki. She exaggerates everything.”
“Okay, so how did it all go down? You know I’m not going to stop bugging you until you tell me.” He wasn’t lying either.
“I tripped on a chair, and he caught me. It wasn’t life threatening.”
“Look, right now I am living vicariously through you and your non-existent love life. I need the hard details, Kate,” he said with a leer. I replied with a roll of my eyes, and he continued. “I don’t want to just know what you talked about, and yes I know there must have been more since you were late to work, and Nikki saw the two of you talking in the hall. I need to know what he was wearing, how delicious he smelled, everything you were thinking, everything you think he was thinking and the number of awkward silences.”
“What makes you think there were awkward silences?”
“It is you we’re talking about here.” Good point. We both jumped on the concession countertop to settle in for the story’s minute details.
“So, he said sooner than Wednesday? I wonder if he is planning on dropping in today?”
“Ugh, I hope not.”
“What? Why not?” Andy hopped off the counter to restock popcorn bags and cups.
“You know I’m not good at this stuff. My sex appeal is clearly in the red, I suck at flirting, and there isn’t an ounce of mystery in my bones. I don’t come from money or even a decent family. There’s nothing special about me and socially, I’m a mess. Even you mentioned how awkward I can be. I either say too much or nothing at all.”
“Kate you don’t get it. Maybe he is intrigued by how different you are. If you grew up in Alva and dated a snotty, small town witch all through high school, you would be looking for a change too.” A customer walked in to return a couple of movies, and I immediately hopped off the counter to stand close to Andy.
“What are you even talking about?” I whispered.
“You’re gonna mess up a good thing. I had the hugest crush on Jake in high school. He was just about the only guy, outside of choir and theater, who would talk to me after I came out. He’s different too and kind. I never understood how he dated Kelsey Miller, the Abercrombie and Fitch bitch.”
“Don’t hold back Andy,” I chuckle sarcastically.
“Girl, you have no idea. Let’s see. Who could I compare her to?” He tapped the two returned DVD cases against his head while he thought. His eyes grew large when a name came to mind. “You’ve seen Mean Girls, right? Well, she is an exact replica of Regina George, the character Rachel McAdams played. She was a terror.”
“Well, I hope I never have to run into her.”
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that. After graduation, she followed Jake to OU, but when Jake had to come home because of the economy hitting hard on The Sandwich Shoppe, she dumped him. Said she would never come back to Alva-traz. I heard she is dating someone on the football team.”
“But he just moved back here. She is already dating someone new?” I say a bit too curious.
“Mmmhmm, shady lady.”
I never understand how some girls can just throw away these great guys. They get them to fall in love with them, rip their hearts out, and ruin them for everyone else. It’s the perfect recipe for creating a player. I wonder if Jake is a player now. He’s probably on the rebound. Surely he wouldn’t be looking for a long-term relationship after dating that Kelsey girl for so long and having it end so badly. What am I even talking about? He just helped me pick up pens and pencils. There is no way this gorgeous guy would want me. I shake the thoughts away and go about my shift, unsuccessfully pushing thoughts of Jake out of my mind.
Working at the Rialto helped my mind break away from studying. Sometimes it was the only place I could go to get away from family issues, Nikki’s issues, and my own sorry life story. When the day turns to worse and Andy I are both working, I walk straight through the door and cook up a batch of the all-yellow, too much salt and butter popcorn to dip in a cup of jalapeno, nacho cheese. Not a healthy snack, in the least, but definitely my comfort food. I call Andy to come share, and we sit in the office munching and repeating popular movie lines back and forth to each other. I have just finished Leonardo DiCaprio’s famous line from Titanic, “I’m the king of the world,” actions included, when a deep belly laugh and clapping sounds behind me. Andy’s eyes grew large, and a shit-eating grin crossed his face. I sat down my popcorn and cheese and turned to see Jake leaning against the railing, starring at me with that make-your-knees-weak smile. His arms are crossed at his chest, and his right leg is crossed over the left, accentuating his package. A shuffle from his feet breaks my stare. Strike three for embarrassment. You’re out! I can’t think of a way to explain myself, so I dive right in to the employee-customer opener. “Can I help you?”
He chuckles at my diversion. “Actually, I want you.” Andy chokes on his popcorn, spitting kernels on the floor. Say what? My shocked face registers his answer, and he back tracks his statement.
“I meant to say, I want to talk to you.” A small smile lingers on the corner of his lips.
“Oh, okay…what’s up?” I fail at trying to sound calm and collected.
“I ran down to see if I could bring you and Andy some lunch.” A sandwich made from those hands. Worker hands. I wonder what those hands would feel like on my…woah get a hold of yourself, Kate!
“That would be great. Let me give you some money and write down our orders.” I say as I walk back towards the office to retrieve my wallet from my purse. Andy has his hands covering his mouth to conceal his laughter. I give him my middle finger.
“It’s on me. Well, it’s on the shop, but mom and dad don’t care.”
“Thank you. That’s really nice of you. Um…Andy, what do you want to eat from The Sandwich Shoppe?”
Andy walks out of the office to fill his cup with more pop and lingers at the sight of Jake. “I’m not hungry.”
“Andy, you haven’t eaten lunch yet.”
“Baby girl, I’m trying to watch my figure.”
I turn my attention back to writing down my order. Jake has taken a few steps forward to lean on the other side of the concession counter. I can feel his eyes on me, and I can’t help but become self-conscious of my terrible handwriting. He’s a guy. He’s probably looking down your shirt, not at your handwriting. I clasp the top button of my polo shirt and hand him the sticky note.
“Give me 20 to whip these up, and I’ll be back.” He poorly imitates Arnold Schwarzenegger, clearly mocking the game Andy and I were playing when he snuck up on us. I nervously chuckle as he starts down the exit ramp and the word these catches my attention.
“Yours and mine.” The glass door closes behind him, and he stalks past the window, eyes to the sidewalk, with a mischievous grin. My smile reflects his as I stare at the spot he was just standing in.
“You’ve got it so bad!” Andy smacks my ass. I jump, but even his vulgar public display of affection can’t drag me from my elated mood.
“Guilty as charged.” As much as I wanted to deny it, Andy could always see right through my tough exterior. “He is so fucking gorgeous, and the way he looks at me just makes me want to have my wicked way with him.”
“There’s always the projection booth.”
“No, Andy. He’s just being a nice guy. May I remind you he was going to make you a sandwich as well?”
“He may have wanted to make me a sandwich, but he wants to be the salami to your bun.”
“That’s just disgusting.”
“Girl, you betta put some salt on that melon.”
“Where do you come up with this shit?”
“I pull it out of my ass.” Andy’s phone started to buzz on the desk, and he left me in my hottie haze to answer it. “Hey Mama Caylor! Yeah, Kate’s here. Let me ask her.” He rolls in the desk chair to the doorway. “Mama’s making your favorite, potato soup with extra bacon and cheese. You wanna come over for dinner after work?”
“Do I ever? That sounds amazing, Diane. Thank you!” I yell towards the cell phone.
“Oh and Mama, guess what? Kate’s gonna have some stories to tell at dinner tonight about Mr. Jake Maxon.”
“Andy, really?” I loved Andy’s parents, Steve and Diane, just like they were my own. They practically adopted me into their family as soon as I started working at the Rialto. Holidays, birthdays, dinners once or twice a week, I spent at the Caylor’s.
“I know, I know. I won’t forget. Yes, I promise. Love you too.”
I wait until he ends the call to give him a hard time. “You’re such a mama’s boy.”
“Proud to be! Alright, how about I hold down the floor while you have a private luncheon and a quickie with Jake in theater two?”
“So you can peep at us through the projection window? I think not.”
“I didn’t think of that! Good idea, friend.” The door opened, and the smell of hot sandwiches and sex breezed through. I got so caught up in my usual caddy banter with Andy and salivating over Diane’s delicious soup I planned to demolish this evening, I forgot to run to the restroom to check my hair and makeup.
“How do I look?” I whispered to Andy.
“Like a virgin on her wedding night. Plump, ripe, and ready to have your head banging against a headboard, feet facing the ceiling, and calling someone other than your father daddy.”
“Can you be real for one second?”
“Girl, I thought we were being real!” He placed his hands on my shoulder to turn me around and push me through the doorway. “You’ve already got this in the bag. Just be yourself, minus the awkward pauses.”
“Easier said than done.” Andy pushed me, and I stumbled back in to the concession. Concerned blue eyes found mine, but when the blush broke out across my face, his eyes brightened with his smile.
“Yeah. Just Andy taking advantage of my lack of coordination.” I walked around the counter trying to avoid how my body tingled in his presence. While I focused on putting one foot in front of the other, Jake took a step in front of the concession counter entrance. I crashed right into his broad, hard chest. His tight muscles rippled under his maroon tee. My hands wrapped around his forearms to steady my stance, fingers pressing firm enough to leave white impressions on his sun-kissed skin.
“I thought I was going to need to catch you again?” His bass voice resonated in my ears, and I knew I was destined to fantasize about it for many nights to come. I shook my head to break the trance and brushed past him determined to push him from my senses.
“We don’t have a break room here. Andy and I usually just eat in the office. Wanna go eat in a theater?”
“Sounds great! I figured you guys probably watched movies on your breaks.” He followed closely on my heels. We found our seats on the edge of the stage. The massive, white screen was at our backs and our legs dangled over the side.
“Andy’s dad would kill us if someone wasn’t watching the concession and rentals.”
“I bet it’s still pretty fun. I’ve always wanted to work here.”
“How come you didn’t?”
“I don’t really remember a time before I started working in the Shoppe. I used to seat customers and pass out menus when I was five years old. Customers would tip me a dollar or two just for being a cute kid. As I got older, I wanted to work other places but it felt wrong to leave my parents’ establishment.” He surprised me with how comfortable and open he was answering my questions. I nodded so he knew I was paying attention and then glanced around the theater.
The Rialto housed three screens, one grand theater and two mini theaters. My favorite part of the mini theaters was how you entered in to the auditorium, which was from under the screen. You would climb the steps with the screen to your back until you found a row and took your seat. Although it had its little quirks, it was desperately in need of remodels and upgrades. Andy and I still had to thread the films on the original projectors, which was a pain in the ass. The films were super heavy to lug around, and there were always technical issues. Sound cutting off, films freezing, bulbs burning out, projectors breaking down; the entire process was a disaster. Andy and I begged Steve to go digital. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” he would always declare. “They’re always broken, and we’re always fixing them,” Andy and I would say in unison, but we never won the battle. Musty, torn, gold curtains draped around holey screens. The soles of your shoes sounded like the ripping of velcro as you walked along the sticky floors. Broken chair seats, missing arm rests, and molded ceiling tiles created the ambiance of a rundown theater right out of a horror film. No matter the conditions, Alva supported its old time charm, and we had a full house every weekend night.
Music flooded the auditorium from the mounted speakers, interrupting my thoughts. You’re listening to 104.1 KMGL Oklahoma City. My name is Delilah. Soon those long summer nights will come to an end. Thank goodness we have beautiful summertime love songs to get us through those cold, winter months. This next one is a personal favorite. In this month in 1996, Deana Carter released a single that landed number one on the billboard charts and became her signature song. Here is “Strawberry Wine” dedicated to all the lovers out there. Andy’s guilt-ridden smirk appeared in the projection window. I narrowed my eyes at him and made a hand gesture to cut the music at my side out of Jake’s sight. Andy shook his head, his crooked smile swaying side to side before he disappeared from the window. I wasn’t sure how I was going to explain Andy’s joke to Jake, but when I turned my head to speak, he seemed to not mind as he hummed along to the classic country song. My eyes were drawn to his adam’s apple, which was slightly vibrating due to the hum. My lips separated involuntarily, a slight breath passing through them, and I envisioned licking the uneven surface of his larynx, wondering how his skin would taste on the tip of my tongue. His eyes glanced sideways, followed by a slight turn of his head. I watched as a small, quick reflex from inside his cheek near his jaw line popped as he chewed a bite of food. He pulled his lips into a grin and the motion suddenly stopped. I jerked my attention face forward, but I knew he caught me.
“How’s the sandwich?”
Play cool, Kate. Remember the name of the sandwich. Why can’t I remember the name? I always order the same one every time. This guy completely fogs my brain. I’ll definitely have to keep him away from me during finals week. I would never remember a thing for our grueling exams. That is if he ever wants to be around you again after acting so awkward. What was I doing? Oh, yes. Remembering the name of the sandwich. The Sandwich Shoppe named their dishes after those who created the sandwiches. Dustin’s? No. Issac’s? Yes! “This is an epic sandwich, Jake. Isaac’s is my favorite.” Smooth.
“It’s my favorite too.” I glanced over and found him staring at me, as I hoovered a few more bites.
“Do you always stare at people while they eat?” I spat at him more forceful than I intended.
“Are you always this growly when a guy makes you lunch?”
“No guy’s ever made me lunch before, and I’m just a little self-conscious with you looking at me like you want to eat me rather than your sandwich.”
“Is that really a bad thing?” He nudged my arm with his elbow, and his flirty smile reached his eyes.
“You’re a real comedian, aren’t you?”
“And you fluster easily?” It sounded more like a statement than a question.
“I think you’re trouble.”
“I think you’re right.” He quipped. I couldn’t restrain my laughter at his comeback, and when he saw a crack start to form in the walls I built around me, he began to chip away at knocking them down. “So, Kate Bradford, tell me your life story.”
“You first.” I squinted my eyes to challenge him further.
“What do you want to know? I’m an open book. No secrets, no skeletons. Pretty boring over here.”
“Are you looking for a rebound from that Kelsey girl?” Shit! I can’t believe that just came out of my mouth. I pressed my lips together and closed my eyes, internally punishing myself.
“Wow! Going in for the kill, are you?” His laughter echoed off the auditorium walls, and I couldn’t image a sweeter sound.
“I’m really sorry! I don’t know where that came from. You don’t have to answer that.” I was planning to thank him for the sandwich and conjure up a lame excuse about needing to get back to work, when he placed a hand on my knee. My thoughts disappeared, and I quickly sucked in the dusty air to hold my breath. He had already tainted my sight, hearing, and smell, but with one touch, I knew something had to give. Even if I passed out from not breathing, there was no way my body would be able to handle Jake invading all five senses. Then again, I know I wouldn’t have the will to stop him if he tried.
“It’s alright. I’ll tell you anything you want to know. I want to tell you everything, and I want to know everything about you too, Kate.” I watched his fingers lazily circle my knee cap, but the words had escaped me. There was no way I could tell someone like Jake every detail of my life. Even the happiest memories were contaminated with heartbreak, sickness, and death. In order to clear my thoughts, I needed to get out from under his spell. I jumped down from the stage and started to pack up my sandwich wrapper. He followed my actions, but grabbed my hand and pulled me towards him before I reached the stairs. “Don’t do that.”
“Make me chase you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about?”
“You practically took off away from me after class this morning. You’re kind of a hard girl to keep up with when you’re on a mission.” He chuckled and continued. “Now, I give you a little raw honesty and off you go again.”
“I don’t mean to run. Just a bad habit, I guess.”
“I understand that, but just so you know, I’m not that easy to get rid of.” His confidence dripped from his words.
“Good, but just so you know I’m kind of a handful.”
“I think I’ve got this, and to answer your question, no, I’m not on the rebound. I don’t want to play games. I like you, and right now, I just want to be around you.” Where did this guy come from? No one is this open and honest, or maybe they are, and I’m just a social freak.
Jake gripped my fingers a little tighter in my silence, but my uncontrollable smile reassured his insecurity. I walked backwards, pulling on his hand to follow me down the stairs. “I better get back so Andy can take a break.”
“I better go too. I told dad I was just making a delivery.” We passed through the main theater entrance and the original ticket booth, which was only used now during midnight premieres.
“Well, don’t get in to too much trouble and have to cancel our first date.”
“A date, huh? You just had to beat me to the punch.” He teased.
“I like to take matters into my own hands.”
“A control freak too? Man, do I have my hands full!”
“I told you! Ready to back out yet?”
“No way. I’ll call you tomorrow, and we can make a plan.”
The warm, Oklahoma gust breezed my face as Jake passed the threshold onto the sidewalk. “Wait! Don’t you need my number?”
“I’ve already got it.”
“Your friend, Nikki, passed it to me after class.” I planned to strangle Nikki when I got home from Steve and Diane’s tonight.
“Gotcha. I guess I’ll talk to you later?”
Jake’s arm reached upward and his hand cupped my cheek. The skin under his palm surged a heat I wasn’t familiar with, one that stirred something in my core. His thumb stroked the sensitive skin, and his cerulean eyes dipped into the pit of my soul. I forced my eyes closed when his body shifted and leaned into mine. A hot, moist, breath blew near my ear causing goose bumps to erupt from my skin. “You most definitely will,” he said in a sultry tone and turned to stroll to the corner cafe. Like a statue, I remained frozen. The heat on my cheek was slowly dissipating and my heart beat found its regular tempo.
“Woo hoo!” Andy hollered over the counter, as I made my way back behind the concession. “Call the Alva Review Courier! We need to place an ad in Wednesday’s Newsgram. JAKE MAXON IS OFFICIALLY OFF THE MARKET!”
“Don’t you think you’re getting ahead of yourself?”
“You didn’t see his face as he walked past the front windows. That boy left here high on your love potion.”
“Then why do I feel like I’m under his spell?”
Andy pulled me in to a brotherly hug. “Baby girl, you gotta learn what’s good for you, and Jake Maxon is good for all of us.”
“What does that mean?” I groaned.
“Once you start getting some again, we can all relax instead of reaping the wrath.” I slapped his arm and pushed out of his hug. “I don’t care what you say. We’re keeping him.”
© 2013 by Ashton Ghaemi