It's summer, and fifteen-year-old Connie spends much of her time lounging around the house, going out with friends, and meeting boys. She's a little vain, spends way too much time looking at herself in the mirror, and is perpetually annoyed with her entire family—especially her mom and older sister. The sister—named June—is twenty-four and a paragon of responsibility. The mom seemingly does nothing but nag Connie about not living up to June's goody-two-shoes image.
It's rough. In fact, it's rough enough to make Connie yearn for death...both hers and the death of her mom. (Yes; this story is dark. Welcome to the wild world of Joyce Carol Oates.)
One night, Connie goes out with some friends, and ends up on a kinda-sorta date with a guy named Eddie. On their way to Eddie's car, Connie catches the eye of another guy in a gold-painted convertible. The guy wags his finger at her and says, "Gonna get you baby" (7). Laughably cheesy or really creepy—you decide. Connie and Eddie 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.)
She thinks nothing of the ominous incident with the guy in the convertible until one Sunday afternoon, when the rest of her family attends a barbecue at an aunt's house, leaving her home alone. (Insert obligatory "dum dum dumm sound effect here.)
The strange guy pulls up in her driveway in a gold-colored car, accompanied by a buddy. The driver introduces himself as Arnold Friend and asks Connie to join him for a ride. Aww, how cute. His last name is "Friend"—he must be a sweetie-pie, right?
Arnold explains that since the night at the drive-in, he's learned a lot about Connie, 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 has no idea what he's talking about—sign? What sign? He then draws an X in the air...which is fine if you're some sort of cheap Zorro knock-off, but definitely more than unsettling when you're a perv driving a graffiti-covered car.
Connie asks Arnold how old he is. He says he is her age, but Connie can tell he's way older—maybe as old as thirty—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 also tells her he can see exactly what her family is doing at the barbecue. He seems drunk, or under the influence of something.
Arnold's language becomes sexually explicit and violent, and he threatens to harm her family if she calls the police. Connie makes a last-ditch effort to call the police, but panics and is unable to make the call...because she hears a strange "wailing." It might be her doing the wailing, it might be the music from the radio, or it might be something more abstract and sinister.
In the end, she leaves the house and joins Arnold.