I was 15 and working at a gift shop in a charming restored early 19th century village. I often worked alone and when business was slow, I hopped next door to waitress at the Peppermint Stick, where I’d cheerfully spill coffee on strangers and get ice cream orders all wrong.
One Sunday afternoon, I sat behind the gift store counter after spending several minutes straightening theme tees and dreaming of Nick, the Peppermint Stick ice cream barista, who was about to go back to college and finish his literature degree. I felt sure he’d see something in me, forgo the nine years that separated us, and take me as his child bride.
So I sat. Dreaming, mooning, planning, and math-challengedly miscounting the coin drawer, when I looked up to find a cute twenty-something man crowding me at the sales counter. He gazed into my eyes with a weirdly intense but inpenetrable stare and asked what I was doing.
I couldn’t answer. He bowled me over with his good looks and freaky demeanor, a personal turn-on that would later bite me in the ass.
I remember thinking at the time that his stare and closeness invaded my personal space, but he was so darn hot that it didn’t matter. Sandy blonde hair a la Mr. Mister, cornflower eyes, long, lean, the works. All my favorite things. Still, he made me uncomfortable. I wasn’t to have a “real” boyfriend until my early 20s, so at that time, penises made me nervous.
As I struggled for something witty or at the very least, audible, to say, I noticed that two long-haired, twitchy girls had accompanied him into the store. They hung back behind the counter, but their feral energy put me on high alert. I felt danger. I didn’t believe they were there to rob the store, but they had a dark purpose, of that I was sure.
The guy continued to lock eyes with me, yet now I knew he was using his magnetism to throw me off balance. But why?
He asked me about my home life, if I were happy in school, and did I have friends? He tried to connect, did his best to act concerned, but something rang my alarm. Something lay under his questions, some subtext I couldn’t translate. And even though his questions were innocuous enough, his intentions weren’t. Something wasn’t right. Then one of the girls, who looked like a Manson follower, asked me if we sold t-shirts with goats on them.
Of course, as any self-respecting geeky horror novel reader like myself knew, goats meant Satanic worship. Maybe I was to be their next virgin sacrifice? Or less worrisome, perhaps they were just evil Pan worshippers? I mumbled out a “no,” and tried to close down the conversation. But I still couldn’t string coherent sentences together, and a kind of hypnotic trance descended over me.
The serial killer girls soon joined their “leader” and surrounded the sales desk. They asked if I wanted to come to their place and join their group. They told me they offered support and fellowship to people looking for friends and a family. I was aghast. Although I was a big huge dork on the inside, I had plenty of friends, you could even call me popular, so what gave? Was my geek showing? Also, I shrunk from the questions about my family. We were close, my mom and dad provided love and guidance, so I resented the implication that they’d somehow neglected me.
In the end, the assumption that I was a loser rattled me enough to close down the conversation once and for all. I think they understood that they’d lost me, but the guy tried one final intense-eye-gaze mind meld, and when he saw that he no longer controlled my emotions, he gave up. But not before he wrote his number on a piece of paper and slipped it into my palm, with the request that I give him a call for next week’s “meeting.”
One last penetrating gaze, and he and the addled girls left. I clutched the paper in my hand. My entire body thrummed and shook, goosepimples peppered my skin, my neck itched. It felt as if an intruder had entered my home at night, stood over my bed until I awoke, then decided at the last minute to leave me alive. My escape was narrow.
I later called the number just to see who answered. As one of the girls picked up on the first ring and breathed a “hello,” I hung up. But used to be, in my head, I’d say “hello” back to see what happened next. And I wondered about the other 15-year-old girls like me, who might have been a bit more lonely, who might have fallen more readily into his eyes.
With two daughters of my own now, I hope all of it was a figment of my imagination. That he was just a guy, that the girls were just girls, that they just really liked goats. But if not, I pray my kids, all kids, can sense the wicked when it comes.