Alex, Approximately: Chapter 10

“Story of my life. I always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop.”

—Marilyn Monroe, Some Like It Hot (1959)

I’m doing this. I’ve got the day off, and I’m heading toward the Killian’s Whale Tours booth. It’s eerily gray and foggy this morning. So foggy, it’s nearly noon and I still can’t see much of the ocean. This is okay by me. Fewer tourists running around. It’s like I have the boardwalk to myself.

So what if I’ve changed my mind twice? I’m really doing it this time. I mean, come on. It’s Alex. At least, I hope it’s Alex. And if it is, I’ll know, because I know him. I should, shouldn’t I? I’ve been talking to him online for months. We’re practically soul mates. Okay, maybe that’s a little much, but we’re at least friends of some sort or another. We have a bond that stretches beyond our common interest.

Then there’s the whole Porter situation. After the cops came and picked up the thieving kids yesterday—two run-of-the-mill officers, not my dad’s Sergeant Mendoza—Porter was involved in paperwork to do with all that, so I didn’t really see him again. Which is good, because all these crazy feelings I was feeling about him . . . they were just a byproduct of adrenaline and elation over capturing those two boys.

Anyway, I’m not thinking about Porter Roth right now. I’m especially not thinking about his fingers twined through mine after the victory high five. That’s banned from my brain. As if to underscore the matter, a low foghorn bellows offshore, making me jump. Here be dragons, Rydell. Keep away, if you know what’s good for you.

I clear Porter from my head and continue walking. The orange and blue of the Killian logo appears. We’ll show you a whale of a good time! Gee, if this really is Alex’s family, I already see why he hates working here. Lame-o. The business is situated between two others, Shoreline Bicycle Rentals, and the booth that sells tickets to the Ferris wheel. I hover by the bike rental place until I spot Patrick’s blond hair.

He’s working. And it looks like he’s alone.

I wait while he points someone down the boardwalk, giving them directions through the fog somewhere, then before I can lose my nerve again, I take three long strides and slow near the carved whale bench outside the ticketing window. A couple of seagulls scatter when I approach.

“Hi,” I say. “Remember me?”

“From the Shack,” he says. He’s wearing an orange Windbreaker and white shorts. His sideburns are cropped shorter than they were in the diner, and the morning breeze is blowing blond hair across his eyes. “I never forget a film buff. But I do forget names. Remind me . . . ?”

I’m sort of crushed. “Bailey.”

He snaps his fingers. “Bailey, that’s right. Patrick,” he says, extending his hand, and I pretend that I didn’t remember his name either as I shake it.

Now I’ve got to play it cooler than I planned, so I say, “I was just taking a walk, seeing if there were any used-DVD stores on the boardwalk.” I know there’s one. I’ve already been inside it three times. “And then I saw you, and I thought, Hey, maybe that guy would know.” Ugh. So awkward, but he doesn’t seem to notice.

“Yeah, there’s a little place called Video Ray-Gun, right in the middle of the promenade. Giant sci-fi ray gun outside. Hard to miss.”

Crap. This is going to be harder than I thought. Didn’t I give him a hint online last night? Unless this really isn’t Alex . . .

“So, do you get a break here any time soon? Maybe you’d want to go browse some DVDs with me?” I hear myself saying. “You mentioned getting coffee sometime, but, you know . . .” My voice is getting smaller and smaller.

Come on. If this is really Alex, surely he’ll remember me dropping the horoscope hint last night . . . won’t he? I mean, he’s always so attentive online. He remembers everything I say. Always gets my jokes, even remembers punch lines to gags from months back. But now he can’t even remember my actual name? Maybe it really was a good idea that I didn’t tell him I was moving out here, after all.

Hesitating, he leans over the counter and looks one way, then the other, peering into the fog. “All right. Yeah, sure. Why not. Business is slow. The current tour won’t be back for a bit, so I guess I can take thirty. Hold on, let me close the gate and put up the sign.”

I let out a long breath.

He jumps off his stool and reaches above his head to pull down a rolling metal shutter over the window, disappearing for a few seconds. When he reappears through a door on the side of the booth, he’s got a GONE WHALING! BE BACK IN A FEW MINUTES sign, which he hangs on the shuttered window.

“Okay, Bailey. Let’s go,” he says with an inviting smile.

Feeling better, I fall into step with him, and we make our way to the promenade. He asks me polite questions—how long have I been in town? Where am I from? Oh, DC. Have I seen the president or toured the White House? Have I been to Dupont Circle?

By the time we get to the giant ray-gun sign, the only thing I’ve been able to ask him is how long he’s lived in Coronado Cove (all his life), and where he goes to school—Berkshire Academy. The private school. This throws me for a loop. I never pegged Alex as a private-school kind of guy. I’m trying to figure this out as we step inside the shop.

Video Ray-Gun has one of those great dusty-musty smells that come with old stores, though most of their inventory doesn’t date back more than a few years. They specialize in campy sci-fi movies, and because that’s my dad’s catnip, he’s in love with this place. A few movie-related collectible posters and and toys grace the walls around the register, behind which hangs a TV where a Godzilla movie is playing. Two middle-aged long-haired men are paying more attention to the movie than to us when we walk past. Thank God, because I was just in here with Dad a couple of days ago, and I don’t want them to recognize me.

The store is busier than I expected—not exactly the best place for a quiet, romantic get-to-know-you date, but what can I do now? It’s all I have to work with. We stroll past oversize boxes of candy in retro theater packaging and a rack of upcoming Blu-ray DVDs available for preorder, and I try to pretend like I don’t know where I’m going as Patrick leads me to the Film Classics section.

“They don’t have a lot of stuff right now,” he tells me, turning the corner around a bay of shelves. “I was just in here yesterday. But check this out.” He grabs something off a shelf and hands it to me. “Boxed set of classic gangster films from the 1930s. It’s a steal.”

I accept the box and look at the back. “I’m not a huge fan of gangster movies.”

“Are you kidding? White Heat? The 1932 version of Scarface? That was insanely violent for its time, really pushed the envelope.”

“Yeaaah,” I drawl, handing him the box back. “Not a big gun fan.”

“Oh,” he says, reshelving it. “One of those, huh?”

“Excuse me?”

He holds up both hands. “Hey, whatever you’re into is fine. No argument from me. I just think film is film, and that you shouldn’t paste your political views onto a piece of art.”

Jeez. This isn’t going well. I take a deep breath and pause for a moment. Maybe this is my fault? I don’t really think so, but I strive to be the bigger person. “It’s not that. I had a bad personal experience, so it’s just . . . kind of a thing for me. Just not my cup of tea.”

“Oh, God,” he says, resting a sympathetic hand on my shoulder—just the tips of his fingers, actually. “I’m so sorry. I assumed. I’m being an ass. Forgive?”

“Forgotten,” I say with a smile.

“Oh! What about Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Everyone loves that.”

Is he being serious? I mean, I love Audrey Hepburn, but I just can’t watch Mickey Rooney playing a broadly caricatured Japanese man for goofs and giggles. No thanks. I tell him so. His argument isn’t as strong for this one, but he’s still disbelieving that I’m not singing its praises.

This is so weird. Our film mojo is off. Sure, we disagree online (all the time), but it’s all good-natured. In person, it feels so . . . personal. We go through the classics section, shelf by shelf, but nothing seems to click with either one of us. It’s like we’re two completely different people, and the longer we’re testing each other’s tastes, the less we’re liking each other. I’m starting to sweat in weird places and make awkward flirty jokes that don’t land.

This is not going well.

The worst part is that he notices too.

“Sometimes they have more stuff in the back,” he finally says after we haven’t spoken in several long, excruciating seconds. “Let me go ask Henry if they’ve gotten anything new in. Be right back.”

Great. Now I’m worried that he’s giving me the slip. The first time I get up the nerve to ask a guy out on a date—a guy I’ve been fantasizing about for months—and it goes hellishly wrong. If he doesn’t come back in one minute, I’m seriously considering sneaking out myself.

“Breakfast at Tiffany’s is an overrated piece of fluff.”

I freeze. No one’s around. I glance down the aisle in both directions. Did I just imagine that? Or did someone overhear Patrick and me talking from before, and now I’m overhearing another conversation?

“It’s not supposed to be a love story, you know. Which is the ironic thing in this particular situation, actually.”

“Hello?” I whisper.

A DVD moves aside. I’m now staring at a pair of eyes. Someone’s in the other aisle. I move another DVD and reveal more of the face through the wire shelving: scruffy jaw, slow grin, wild, sun-kissed curls. Porter. My hand clenches. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“It’s my day off.”

“And you’re following me around?” I say, exasperated.

“No, you’re following me around. I was in here when you paraded in with Patrick Killian on your arm.”

I stand on tiptoes to peer over the top of the shelves. He raises his head to meet me and cocks both brows, a smug look on his face. My heart starts pounding, big-time. Why does he have this effect on me? Can’t my body just be normal around him?

“How do you know him?” I whisper hotly, glancing around to make sure Patrick isn’t listening. I don’t spot him, so I guess he’s either in back or has flown the coop.

Porter casually rests an arm on the top of the video rack. “I’ve known him since we were kids. He thinks he’s a movie snob because his family is one of the local companies that sponsors the annual film festival. Big whoop.”

Wait one stinking minute. Big warning bells ding in my head. I definitely think Alex would have mentioned if his family sponsored the festival. That’s something you’d brag about to your film-geek friend, Forbidden Zone personal-detail restrictions aside. No way would he keep that from me. This is all wrong. But I don’t think Porter is lying, because now I’m remembering when Patrick gave me the film festival brochure: “hot off the presses,” he said. He got an early copy of it because his dad’s a festival sponsor? It’s still in my purse, and I’m fighting everything not to pull it out and scan the sponsor page for the Killian name.

Inside, I’m quietly panicking that Patrick isn’t Alex, but all I can say to Porter is, “Oh, and you know better.” It’s a weak taunt, but my heart isn’t into it.

“I know that you were right about Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” he responds. “Truman Capote’s novella is about a gay man and a prostitute. Hollywood turned it into a romance. And don’t get me started on Mickey Rooney. That was an embarrassing shambles. But…”

“But what?”

“I still think it’s worth watching for Hepburn’s performance. What? Don’t look so shocked. It was my grandma’s favorite movie. You don’t know everything about me.”

Apparently, I know nothing. Who are you, Porter Roth?

“And I’m not sure if you know everything about your date—”

“Jesus, do you have to talk so loud?” I whisper. “He’s not my date.” Not at this rate, anyway.

“Whatever he is, I’m telling you this because I hate to see you wasting all that primo flirt material on someone who doesn’t appreciate it.” He leans across the rack, beckoning me closer. “Patrick has a boyfriend in Guatemala.”

My eye twitches. I blink. Stare at Porter.

Holy shitcakes . . . I think back to when I first met Patrick in the Pancake Shack, and him talking about Cary Grant and Randolph Scott being lovers. Patrick hesitating when I asked him to come here today. No wonder he was asking me about Dupont Circle; if I’d let him talk instead of running my nervous mouth, he’d probably have been seconds away from asking if I’d attended the annual Capital Pride festival there.

I don’t say a word. I just slowly sink back down onto the flats of my feet, the top of Porter’s face disappearing from my view. I straighten my skirt and turn, resigned, adding up my tally of humiliations for the morning. (1) My so-called date is a bust. (2) I’m a loser who can’t tell straight from gay. (3) I’m no closer to finding Alex than I was weeks ago when I first came to town. (4) Porter witnessed the whole thing.

Patrick is striding toward me. “Nothing new in the storeroom,” he says. His gaze darts to the second aisle, where Porter emerges from a section marked BLAXPLOITATION AND KUNG FU FLICKS. He’s dressed in long gray board shorts and an unzipped army-green jacket with the words HOT STUFF embroidered next to a cartoon baby devil on a tattered breast pocket. His curly mop seems longer today; the bottom of his hair kisses the tops of his shoulders. His gaze connects with mine and sticks for a second, which does something funny to my pulse.

“Oh hey, Porter,” Patrick says cheerfully. “How’s Lana? Heard she was hitting the pro circuit.”

“Indeed she is,” Porter says, all lazy and casual. Still looking at me.

Patrick’s eyes flit back and forth from Porter to me, like he’s suspicious we’ve been talking behind his back. Great. Now I feel guilty on top of being humiliated. “Hey, Bailey, it’s been fun, but my dad texted from the boat, so I probably should get back to work. Coffee sometime?”

He seems to mean it, surprisingly, and it hits me for the first time that, unlike me, he never thought this was a date. He just assumed we were two like-minded people hanging out. Does that make me an even bigger jerk if I walk away from this never wanting to see him again because he prefers another man’s ham sandwich instead of my lady bits? I decide that yeah, it does. Add that to my never-ending list of major malfunctions.

“Coffee would be great. Or tea,” I amend. “You want my phone number? Maybe we can catch some of the film festival together, or something.”

“Sure,” he says, smiling, and we head to the front of the store together, exchanging digits, before he waves good-bye, heads off into the fog, and leaves me standing outside with a tiny scrap of my dignity intact.

I should probably message Alex—just to feel things out, make sure he knows nothing about this fiasco. But at the same time, maybe I need to clear my head first. I wanted to find Alex so badly that I’d jumped to conclusions about Patrick and ignored good sense. That was a stupid mistake, but I don’t want to beat myself up about it too much. I just . . .

I don’t know what I want anymore, honestly.

“You okay?”

Porter stands next to me. The door to Video Ray-Gun swings shut behind us.

I let out a long sigh. “Yeah, I’m . . . just having a really bad day. It must be the fog.”

“Can’t be that,” he says. “Foggy days are the best.”

I wait for the punch line, but it never comes. He glances down at my knee; it’s scabbed over from yesterday’s takedown of the Maltese falcon thieves, but I was too vain to wear a Band-Aid today.

“I thought California was supposed to be sunny all the time,” I tell him. “Foggy days are depressing.”

“Naaa. They’re kind of magical.”

“Magical,” I repeat dismally, not believing him.

“What, is magic too lowbrow for you?”

“Don’t start with me today,” I say, more weary than frustrated, but if he goes much further, I can’t promise that won’t change. “Do you enjoy picking fights with people?”

“Just you.”

I search his face, unsure if he’s teasing. “You fight with Pangborn all the time.”

“Not true. He never fights back.”

“So that’s what you like?” I ask. “Someone who fights back?”

“Everyone enjoys a little witty repartee now and then.”

Is that a compliment? I can’t tell.

He shrugs one shoulder. “Maybe I do like someone who fights back. It’s a mystery, even to me. I’m just a beach bum, remember? Who knows what goes on inside this simple brain of mine?”

Yikes. Awkward. Some part of me wonders if I should apologize for that, but then I remember all the craptastic things he’s said to me.

A long moment stretches.

“Ever ridden a Ferris wheel in the fog?” he suddenly asks. “Oh! What about the aerial lifts?”

“Um, I don’t do amusement park rides.”


“They always break down and the seats are sticky.”

Porter laughs. “Jesus, Bailey. What kind of busted rides do they have back in our nation’s capital?” He shakes his head in mock disapproval and sighs. “Well, just because I feel sorry for your pitiful amusement park ride education, I suppose I’ll take you on the Bees.”

“What are the Bees?”

“The Bees. Buzzz.” He tug-tug-tugs on my shirtsleeve, urging me toward him as he walks backward, smiling that lazy, sexy smile of his. “Those wires with the chairlifts that are painted like bumblebees? The ones that take people up to the redwoods on the cliffs above the beach? You board them next to the big golden wheel on the boardwalk with the shiny, shiny lights? Get to know your new town, Rydell. Come on.”


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