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We are introduced to Connie, a pretty 15-year-old girl who doesn't get along with her mother or her boring older sister.
One midsummer night, Connie and her best girlfriend are dropped off at the local shopping plaza as usual by her best friend's father.
Here they pull the oldest trick in the book. Instead of hanging out at the shopping plaza, they run across the highway to a drive-in restaurant where the older kids hang out.
A boy from their high school calls out to them, but they ignore him.
They enter the restaurant and take a seat at the counter.
A boy named Ernie starts chatting with Connie, then invites her out to get something to eat. Connie leaves her friend at the drive-in and follows Ernie to his car.
On their way to Ernie's car, Connie catches the eye of another guy in a gold-painted convertible. He smiles at her. She looks away but then looks back at him. The guy wags his finger at her and says, "Gonna get you baby" (7). Laughably cheesy or really creepy – you decide.
Connie and Ernie spend three hours together at a different restaurant, then "in an alley." The story doesn't tell us what they did alone together in a car in an alley, but you can probably make a reasonable guess.
After her "date" with Ernie, Connie meets back up with her best friend at the shopping plaza, where they are picked up by her best friend's oblivious father.
Connie spends much of her summer vacation hanging out with her friends or at her house.
One Sunday, Connie gets up at 11 in the morning and washes her hair. The rest of the family leaves for a barbecue at an aunt's house while Connie stays at home, listening to the radio.
Some time after her family leaves, Connie hears a car pull up the driveway. She looks out the window and sees a strange gold-colored convertible.
The car stops at the side door and honks four times.
Connie walks into the kitchen and stands just barely outside the screen door, "her toes curling down off the step" (16). Two guys are in the car. She recognizes the driver as the creepy guy with the gold car from the night at the drive-in restaurant.
Instead of calling the cops or screaming for help (which would have been the smart thing to do) Connie decides to chat it up with the strange driver.
The driver invites Connie for a ride, but she refuses. Instead she stays in the doorway as the driver introduces her to his friend, Ellie, who is listening to a radio held against his ear. He's listening to the same radio show that Connie was just listening to.
Connie asks the driver what's painted on the side of his car. The driver steps out and shows off the car. He finally tells her that his name is Arnold Friend and his friend is Ellie Oscar. Painted on the side of his car is his name, "Arnold Friend"; a grinning face wearing sunglasses; the numbers 33, 19, 17; and the words "DONE BY CRAZY WOMAN DRIVER" around a dent on the left fender.
Connie laughs at this. Arnold invites her to look at the other side of the car, but she refuses – a wise move.
Arnold then explains that since the night at the drive-in, he's learned a lot about her, including her name, her friends, even the fact that her entire family is out today.
Arnold asks her if she saw his sign when she walked past him that night. She asks about the sign. He draws an X in the air.
Connie asks Arnold how old he is. He says he is her age, but Connie can tell he is much older – maybe as old as 30 – and his friend is even older. This really creeps Connie out, and she seems to realize for the first time that something is definitely pervy about these guys.
Arnold again insists that Connie come out with him for a drive. He tells her he can see exactly what her family is doing at the barbecue.
Arnold's talk then becomes more sexually explicit as he describes what he would like to do with Connie.
Shocked, Connie moves away from the door.
Arnold "wobbles" up the steps in his boots (105).
Connie threatens to call the police. Arnold threatens to hurt her family if she makes the call.
Connie runs into the back room and picks up the phone. But she is overcome by anxiety and panic and can't make the call to the police. Instead, she just screams into the phone.
At this point it's unclear what happens. The narrator tells us that a "noisy sorrowful wailing" fills Connie's ears, but it doesn't specify whether Connie is the one doing the wailing.
When the bizarre wailing stops, Connie can hear again. She finds herself sitting on the floor with her back against the wall.
Connie now hears Arnold tell her to move away from the phone, and she kicks the phone away. Arnold tells her to make the phone "right," so she hangs up the receiver properly (149).
Arnold tells her to come out of the house. He makes a mock gesture, as if to embrace her.
Connie obeys. As she heads out the door, she doesn't see her familiar neighborhood anymore. Instead, she sees "vast sunlit reaches" of land around and behind Arnold.