When I walked in the front door, a little bell tinkled overhead. Leslie Griffin looked up from her paperback novel (I had been right about her reading) and pushed a lock of blonde hair off her forehead.
Then she saw that it was only me, and said, “Hey, high school boy.”
“Hey, yourself,” I said.
Leslie habitually called me high school boy, as if to remind me that in her estimation, I was strictly bush league.
Leslie and I had been vaguely acquainted for years, but we weren’t exactly friends. She was three years older than me, and we had always moved in different circles. Plus, there was the fact that she was one of the more sought-after young women in the southwestern quadrant of the county. Leslie rationed her attention like a miser.
My parents were friends with Pete and Sandy Griffin, her parents, and the owners of the Pantry Shelf. This bought me a modicum of civility from Leslie, but not much more.
“How’s your summer going?” I asked her.
She shrugged. “Okay. Todd—my boyfriend—is staying in Columbus for the summer. So I won’t see him much until September.”
This was the first time Leslie had mentioned that she had a boyfriend, but this information wasn’t a big surprise.
I loathed Todd, of course, sight unseen. He would be an arrogant, square-jawed football player, or a well-heeled member of one of OSU’s most prestigious fraternities. Possibly both.
Leslie returned her attention to her paperback novel.
And that was the way my conversations with Leslie usually went.
There wasn’t much unoccupied space inside the building. The Pantry Shelf was the kind of family-run convenience store that is almost nonexistent today, in this era of ubiquitous chain stores, and gas stations that double as supermarkets.
The center of the store was dominated by four rows of shelves. These were stocked with dry goods: canned fruits and vegetables, boxed cereals, and a wide assortment of snack chips and pretzels. Along the far wall the freezers were situated. These contained milk, soft drinks, and—needless to say—beer. Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products were kept behind the counter.
But I was here for the magazine alcove. The Pantry Shelf had an unusually large selection of magazines, for a store its size.
Specifically, I was looking for a copy of Car and Driver. I knew next to nothing about cars. My father was a hobbyist mechanic who could complete all but the most complex automotive repairs. I barely knew a spark plug from an oil filter. I was determined to correct this deficiency.
I was stepping past the cash register, and into the magazine alcove, when Leslie looked up from her book.
“Hey, you aren’t in here looking for condoms, are you?” she asked.
The question literally stopped me in my tracks.
“I think you heard me.”
I had heard her. I can’t say for certain if I turned beet-red at that moment. But I likely did.
“What would make you ask me a question like that, Leslie?”
“Because,” she began, “just the other day, another high school boy, just like yourself, came in here asking where we kept the condoms. I told him that this is a family-run store, and that my parents would never stock items like that. I told him that he’d have to go to Walgreens or Rite Aid if he wanted to buy condoms.”
Leslie fixed me with a crooked smile, obviously savoring this moment of watching me squirm. I strongly suspected that the “other high school boy” was a fabrication.
Since coming home for the summer, she had been without her boyfriend (Todd!), and her parents had dragooned her into working the cash register of the family store every day. She was bored, she recognized that she had some leverage over me, and my embarrassment was a brief diversion.
“No, Leslie. I’m not here to buy condoms. I’m here to look at the magazines.”
“Well.” She looked down at her book again. I could see her trying to control her laughter. “I believe you know where we keep those.”