The Misener Experiment
The automatic glass doors of the Fresh Mart grocery store swung open, making their usual buzzing noises as they did. I glanced over my shoulder from where I had been casually lounging against the cash register to examine my latest victims. It was a mother and child duo this time. The mother looked tired, had a serious case of frazzled nerves, and was shouting something desperately into her cell phone while the kid, who was maybe six or seven, trailed behind her and whined about wanting cookies.
It was pretty obvious to me what they were – a Twizzler and a Warhead. After all, the woman looked wound up way too tight, and the kid was just totally bothering me. The woman grabbed the kid's hand and dragged her over to the fresh produce aisle, passing right by me without a single glance. They totally didn't know that I had just made them test subjects in what I liked to call the Misener Experiment.
It all began in the Psychology class I had been taking during the school year. The teacher, Ms. Misener, had assigned each of us an essay to read, which we would later do an oral report on in front of the whole class. I thought it was a totally dumb assignment at first, especially after I discovered what my essay was – "Hard as a Rock and Soft as a Marshmallow: How Humans Unconsciously Assign Inanimate Objects to the People in Their Lives".
Yeah, sounds totally whacked out, right? I thought so, too. But there are times when I am wrong.
"Megan, what are you doing?" an irritated voice snapped from behind me.
I whirled around to see Laurie Cannes giving me the evil eye. Laurie was my co-worker at Fresh Mart, and only a year older than me, but we'd never really hit it off. This probably had something to do with me accidentally walking in on her making out with her boyfriend in the Mart's freezer on my second day.
"Weren't they cold?" my friend Katie had asked when I'd related this to her over the phone later that day. "Why would you do something like that in a freezer?"
"Beats me," I'd replied. "The two of them must have been really desperate."
So now we aren't on the best of terms, but I've learned how to put up with her.
Back in the real world, Laurie was freaking out at me.
"You are totally slacking off!" Laurie cried in an accusatory voice, pointing one long, red fingernail at me. "Didn't you hear that there's been a spill on Aisle Nine? You have to go clean up!"
Knowing Laurie, this probably meant that she had been assigned to clean up the mess, but she was dumping the job on me. This made her declaration of me being a slacker pretty pathetic, but oh well.
"I'm on it," I informed her, figuring I might as well do her job in order to (a) keep an argument from happening and (b) hopefully bring Laurie's own shirking of duties to my boss Geraldine's attention. "Why don't you go back to your cash register and continue filing your nails?"
Laurie sniffed as though she had been offended, and strutted away. According to the Misener Experiment, Laurie was a Popsicle. Not only did she like to make out in freezers, but she was an expert at giving the cold shoulder.
These observations of mine might have seemed totally weird, but come on. There was nothing better to do, and anyone was welcome to disagree with my opinion. I might as well.
I headed off to Aisle Nine, making sure to grab one of the big mops and a bucket of water I had hidden under my cash register for just this type of thing. It happened pretty often, actually, which was why I was so prepared. Upon my arrival at the designated aisle, I discovered that some lady had knocked over several glass bottles of vegetable oil, and so not only was there gross liquid stuff slowly spreading all over the floor, but there were glass shards everywhere.
"I'm so sorry!" the lady blurted out. "I was trying to get something on the top shelf and I accidentally knocked it over. I'll do anything I can to help; I'm so sorry…"
Hmm, in order to help me, she could shut up, perhaps… I went over to the service phone which was placed on a random pillar thing in the aisle, and used the phone's loud speaker function.
"Assistance needed in Aisle Nine, assistance needed in Aisle Nine."
I began mopping up the vegetable oil while the lady, who was now near tears, continued to babble on pointlessly and freak out.
"Don't worry, ma'am," I assured her. "We know it was an accident. Although you should speak to the manager. She might want you to pay for the bottles you broke."
Geraldine, who is 100 percent a Marshmallow according to the Misener Experiment, would never want any such thing, but I needed to send the lady somewhere.
"R-really? Oh, I'm willing to do whatever it takes!" the lady cried. "Where's the manager?"
"She should be up front," I informed her. "She runs the express aisle. Just tell her what happened and you can work things out. Oh, and tell her Megan sent you."
"Alright," the lady agreed, looking a bit better. "Thank you so much for your help, uh, Megan, is it?"
"That's me," I said, but I was thinking, Mwahaha, now Geraldine will know I'm the one doing the work around here.
As the lady hurried off, her high heels clicking as she went, I decided she was Bubblegum – she'd do anything you wanted her to do, if you chewed her out enough.
"You know, that wasn't very nice."
I rolled my eyes before I even bothered turning around.
"What do you care, Carter? I was only trying to make her go away so I could clean in peace," I responded, returning to my mopping. "Now can you please pick up these glass shards before some little kid cuts himself, is taken to the emergency room, and eventually causes his parents to sue Fresh Mart?"
Carter smiled wryly. "Wow, Megan, I never knew you cared about Fresh Mart so much."
"Hey, they pay me," I said. "That's all I need."
Carter Dunn was a year older than me, but he'd worked at the Mart for far longer. His dad was actually the guy who ran the bakery at Fresh Mart, so Carter was basically following his father's footsteps. He'd started the job at fifteen, and now he was about to head off to Penn State as soon as the summer ended. It was kind of sad, since we were sort of friends during the year or so I worked here.
"Well, that woman had good timing, at least," Carter remarked. "Some other lady and her loud kid were coming over to the bakery, and I'm definitely not in the mood to deal with them right now."
"Oh, yeah, I saw them come in," I said, remembering Twizzler and Warhead. "They looked like huge pains in the butt."
"That's why I left them to my dad," he explained, dumping some glass in a trash bag he'd conveniently brought along with him. "Today's just a crappy day in general; I didn't need people I don't even know to make it worse."
The thing about Carter was that he was really good at hiding his feelings. If he hadn't said he'd been having a crappy day, I never would've known. That's why, according to the Misener Experiment, he was still the Mystery Flavor of the Month. Yeah, he was the person I couldn't figure out, even after all of this time.
"Why; what happened?" I asked curiously.
"My mom freaked out at me this morning about not preparing for college, my dad's juggling a bunch of orders at once and is taking his stress out on me, and Amy still won't pick up her phone."
Ah, yes, Amy. She was apparently Carter's dream girl. They were kind of going out – they even were prom dates – but it all ended when rumors began to circulate that she'd cheated on him with Rod Appleby, the star soccer player at our school. Carter hadn't actually told me the last part; I'd heard that from Katie, who knows everything. But he'd definitely mentioned Amy before.
"That sucks," I said sympathetically, although I hardly liked Amy from what I'd heard of her.
"Well, it's not like I was even that into her," he admitted. "But it's just the fact that she betrayed me, you know? That she couldn't come out and say to my face, 'I don't think we're right for each other; let's break up'. We both knew it was coming eventually, anyways."
And yet again, Carter surprised me. Man, he had to be the most confusing guy I had ever met.
"Well, at least that leaves you single for all of those hot college girls," I joked.
He snorted. "Yeah, right."
And I had no doubt some hot college girls would come after Carter. He certainly wasn't bad-looking, after all. He has kind of shaggy brown hair and really pretty hazel eyes. Not that I liked him or anything, but I could see, you know, other girls being attracted to him.
Okay, so I lied.
I would admit to myself that I had a pretty sizable crush on Carter. Okay, honestly – I was pretty much in love with him. But like I said, I hardly knew him. And he was leaving in two months, anyways. Nothing was going to happen.
I finished mopping up the floor before Carter was down with the glass, so I bent down to help him. As we did away with the last of the mess, I saw the high-strung woman and her whiny kid pass by.
"There go Twizzler and Warhead," I said mindlessly.
I didn't realize what I'd just done until I saw Carter's amused expression.
"Twizzler and Warhead?" he inquired, his eyebrows raised. "Where'd you get that from?"
I felt myself turn red. Uh oh…
"Uh, you know, I was just bored and gave them nicknames," I explained, and I really wasn't lying. "You know, because Twizzler's are wound up really tight, just like that lady, and the little kid makes you have an expression like that guy on the Warhead packaging, you know?"
At this, Carter laughed. I am not even kidding. He just started laughing at me.
"Megan, you have got to be one of the weirdest people I have ever met," he said after laughing at me. "You're giving people nicknames after candy? I've never heard of anything like that before. That's just really out there."
Feeling slightly insulted, I felt myself shrink about two feet. "Well, you know, I'm bored, and we did something like that in my Psychology class, so… Whatever. I don't care what you think. I have to go back to my register."
I whirled around and stalked off, hoping that I'd left him feeling guilty for making fun of poor little me, who had only been conducting her innocent little Misener Experiment until one person had to come along and ruin it.
Okay, so maybe I was overreacting, but I didn't like it when other people made fun of me for anything, no matter how big or small. I tried to forget about it and went back to work.
Ten minutes later, I had to scan Twizzler and Warhead's items for them. I was quite amused to see that not only were they buying a pre-made cake from the bakery section, but they'd also grabbed a package of Twizzlers. How appropriate.
If only they'd gotten some Warheads to along with them.
At four, my shift was over, so I took off my green Fresh Mart smock, grabbed my few belongings, and headed for the parking lot. I didn't have a car today, since my parents had taken both of ours for the whole day, and so I'd have to make the twenty minute walk home. I tied my dark blonde hair into a ponytail before stepping out into the sweltering heat. There was no doubt about it that I was going to sweat like a pig. What a crappy day to have no car. Ew.
I stalked off in the direction of my house, but I didn't get very far.
"Hey, Megan! Wait up!"
I turned to see Carter following me out. Now what did he want? First he insulted me, and then he was chasing after me, forcing me to suffer through the memory of him humiliating me all over again.
Okay, Megan, get a hold of yourself, I told myself. It's not that big of a deal. You are overreacting. You're just upset that he's picking on you. Get over it.
"What?" I asked irritably, seeing no logical reason as to why he should talk to me again.
"Where are you wandering off to?" he asked, catching up to me. "Don't you have a car?"
"Uh, no," I said flatly. "Is that all you wanted to know? Because I really don't feel like standing out here in the burning heat for no reason."
"Well then why don't you let me give you a ride?" he offered. "I just got off, too. My dad and I came in separate cars."
I nearly snorted out loud. Did he even get that I was sort of mad at him? Why were guys such idiots?
"That's okay; I'll survive," I said, not bothering to hide my annoyed tone.
Carter tilted his head and regarded me suspiciously. "Hey, what's wrong? Did Laurie get on your case again?"
"Why do you care?" I shot back. "Now can you please go away so I can begin the long, arduous journey to my air-conditioned house?"
Carter, taken aback by my response, was struck dumb for a moment. Haha, take that, I thought. Man, this was a stupid reason to be mad at someone – because they made fun of you for naming people after junk food. But I guess that wasn't really it. I mean, it was hot out, I was tired, and on top of that, there was some stupid guy following me around who just didn't understand that he had totally embarrassed me. I didn't usually like to hang around people who embarrassed me, thank you very much.
"Hey, is this about earlier?" he finally asked as I began to stalk off. "Sorry if I offended you. I was just kidding, you know."
I turned to look at him again and with raised eyebrows, asked, "Really?"
"Yeah," he said. "In fact, I was kind of even complimenting you. Being weird isn't a bad thing. In fact, I can't think of a single person I know who hasn't had at least one good weird moment. The only reason I laughed at you was because I thought it was funny, not because I thought it was stupid. Besides, I understand where you're coming from. I had Ms. Misener once, too."
"You did?" I cried, suddenly forgetting all of my previous anger. "Oh my God, isn't she crazy?"
"Yeah," he agreed with a nod. "I have no idea how I ended up in Psych in the first place, but it was actually kind of a fun class. Ms. Misener had me do an oral report on how part of our inner psyche is made up of animal-like instincts that were passed down by our ancient ancestors, or some crap like that."
"Don't get me wrong, I'm not a big follower of Misener's theories or whatever," I explained, "but I decided to test out the whole 'people as objects' thing just to see if it worked. Out of boredom, you know? And I got hooked on it. Like it was a drug!"
"As interesting as this, maybe we shouldn't stand out in the sun any longer," Carter suggested out of the blue. "Your face is starting to burn."
I automatically lifted a hand to my face, stupidly forgetting that you can't really feel sunburns.
"Oh. Yeah, I burn pretty easily. Well, I should go, then. Bye."
"Hey, wait! Are you sure you don't want a ride? Now that you know I wasn't making fun of you?"
It was a tempting offer. A nice air conditioned car versus taking a twenty minute walk home in the scorching heat. The answer should be obvious.
"Okay," I finally agreed. "I'll just tell you how to get to my house."
"Oh, I know where you live," he said.
"What?" I cried, shocked. "How? Are you stalking me or something?"
He gave a small laugh at this. "No! I saw your address on the employee directory, and I happen to know some people who live on your block. So I know how to get there."
I regarded him skeptically, but nevertheless, I followed him to his car and got into the passenger seat. I'd never been in a car with Carter before. It was kind of a weird and almost surreal experience.
After we had pulled out of the Fresh Mart parking lot, Carter asked, "So, how did the objects and people thing become naming people after junk food, anyways? I'm just curious."
At first, I was reluctant to explain, but I decided, What the heck and went for it.
"I got bored," I said. "It was too easy to name people with a broad range like that, you know. So I narrowed it down. I started only naming them after food. But that was pretty easy. So I changed it to junk food – desserts, really. And surprisingly, it is both challenging and revealing."
Carter laughed. "Sounds like you already have a senior thesis for college!"
I snorted. "Yeah, right. Ironically, I hate psychology. I would never do the Psych major."
"Then what are you interested in?"
"I don't know. Probably English, since I read way too much. Or something with writing. That's my strong point in school, anyways."
Carter nodded. "Actually, that's what I'm going to do too. At least, I'm pretty sure. At first I wanted to go to some sort of business school, but then I decided I liked English too much and ended up signing up for more courses in that department anyways."
"Really?" I asked, surprised. "You just don't… come off as the type."
"Then what type do I came off as?" he asked, seeming intrigued.
At this, I was baffled. "Well… I don't know, actually. You just don't seem artsy. In my mind, it feels like English majors should be artsy."
"You're not artsy," he pointed out.
"How do you know?" I asked mysteriously.
"Well, you don't seem artsy," he corrected himself. "In my mind, artsy people are usually shy, quiet, and introverted."
"And I'm not really shy, quiet, or an introvert," I finished. "Well, that's why things like the Misener Experiment are so much more accurate. They are multi-faceted."
"So what am I?" Carter asked. "According to the experiment, I mean? A Hershey bar?"
"No," I said vehemently. "I'ma Hershey bar. You're… Well. I'm still working on you."
"Can't figure me out?" he asked, smiling. "Okay, so why are you a Hershey bar?"
"Because I'm not that interesting to look at but once you find out more about me, I am interesting and addictive," I practically recited.
Carter snorted. "Is that really how you see yourself?"
Slightly offended, I replied, "Yeah. Well, my friend Katie helped. Is that a problem for you?"
"No," he said quickly. "Sorry. I didn't mean it like that, Megan. I just meant… Well, never mind. So what kinds of junk food are some of the other people you know?"
So I explained my theory of Laurie and the Popsicle and Geraldine and the marshmallow. Carter had to agree with me that these were eerily accurate matches.
"And my friend Katie is a Hershey kiss," I continued as we turned onto my block. "For almost the same reason as I am a Hershey bar. She's just slightly better to look at than I am."
"You know, I might have figured out what I am," Carter suggested.
"That's my house," I reminded him as he nearly drove right by it.
"I think," he began as he pulled up to my house, "that I might be a pack of M&Ms."
"And why is that?" I asked, wrinkling my nose. "I don't find that terribly accurate. Do you hide your true self with many different colors? And do you act differently with different groups of people?"
"Well, no," he said. "Okay, maybe I'm not a pack of M&Ms. I could be… a chocolate chip cookie."
I shook my head again. "Um, chocolate chip cookies are very traditional and never change. And on the inside, they sometimes get gooey. Anyhow, my parents are chocolate chip cookies, and you're nothing like them, so you can't be one."
"Okay, I guess I'm not that either," he agreed. "Well, what else is left? Ice cream?"
"That's not you either," I informed him. "Ice cream melts when under too much pressure. It is easily changeable and is a follower rather than a leader. So unless you are subject to many breakdowns and you don't think for yourself, you're not ice cream. Many of the girls in my grade are ice cream, and I'm assuming you don't want to be grouped in with them."
"This is hard," he remarked. "How come I can't even think of what I am?"
"Maybe you just don't have a natural talent for this," I said.
"Then you'll have to think up what I am," he decided. "You seem like you're pretty good at it."
"Well, I don't know if I can," I said hastily. "I mean, already we've ruled out half of the categories I usually have to pick from… It might take a while."
"I'm sure you'll think of something," he said. "Just tell me tomorrow at work. You're coming in tomorrow, right?"
"Where else would I go?" I responded sarcastically. "Well, I should go. My dog needs to be fed."
My dog Pepper is caramel. If you don't work on him, he'll get annoying. If you don't chew on caramel like there's no tomorrow, it gets stuck and remains in its original form. Which is pretty annoying.
"Thanks for the ride," I said. "Sorry if I was kind of freaking out earlier. I overreact way too easily."
"Then maybe you aren't a Hershey bar," Carter suggested. "Maybe you're a pack of pop rocks."
I wrinkled my nose. "No, that's too flashy and extravagant for me. But nice try. You'll get the hang of it eventually."
"I hope so," he replied. "Well, have a nice night. And see you tomorrow."
"Bye," I said, and got out of the car.
"God, Megan, why can't you just admit that you like him?" Katie cried. "It's not even like he doesn't know you exist. He does, and he thinks you're funny. Take advantage of it!"
I rolled my eyes, knowing Katie couldn't see me over the phone.
"Um, hello, Hershey bars don't veer from the path set before them," I said. "Besides, remember Amy? I think he's still pining for her."
"They broke up!" exclaimed Katie. "And didn't you say he said he didn't really like her?"
"He could be lying."
"You are so paranoid!"
"Yeah, well, the real reason I called was so you could help me!" I finally said. "I need to figure out what Carter is according to the Misener Experiment. If I don't, he'll keep bugging me until the end of time. And I can't for the life of me do it by myself. I wrote this whole list, and none of it matched."
I glanced down at the pad of paper on my lap. There were three pages that were filled, front and back, with names of junk food. Each and every one of them had eventually been crossed off.
"Well, what do you want me to do?" Katie asked. "You're the expert."
"Just brainstorm with me," I pleaded. "Oh yes, and tell me, do you consider kugel a dessert?"
Kugel is this dish made of noodles, and it's usually very sweet. There are various kinds, such as cinnamon and cherry. It tasted like a dessert, but I wasn't sure if it counted.
Katie snorted. "Carter isn't kugel. Do you know that you put sour cream in kugel, along with the sugar and stuff like that? The sweet covers up the sour. Sounds like Amy, actually."
"True," I agreed. "Okay, well, this is what I have – he's not pie; too crusty and secretive. Usually only old people are pies. He's not a donut; donuts hide things from you on the inside and part of them is missing, so usually they have experienced something traumatic. So, like, that girl who came to speak at our school about how she was attacked by a bear in Wyoming would be a donut, since she never told us that she had been waving some bacon in the bear's face before it tackled her. Carter's not a muffin because muffin's fall apart when you mess with them and spread their problems everywhere. So, people like your older sister Britney are muffins, because they are balls of stress."
"You got that right," Katie acknowledged.
"He's not a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup," I went on. "Because he's more interesting to look at than one. He's not Skittles; he doesn't act exactly like you'd expect him to, and Skittles are the color of what flavor they are. He's not Starbursts; they're too hard to chew. He's not cake because you have to make it warm up to you before its ready to be friends with you, and you can only have it in little doses or it will make you sick. And he's not a churro; they're too sweet. The list goes on, but nothing matches. I swear to God, he's a new type of candy."
"Hmm…" Katie said. "Hey, I'm stumped too. Sorry. You'll just have to tell him you give up. Do you really think he'll care that much?"
"I must find out what he is, if it is the last thing I do!" I cried with great determination.
"Okay, you do that," Katie said, sounding bored. "I have to go. I'm babysitting in twenty minutes and I have to get ready. I'll talk to you tomorrow. Tell me how it goes."
"Fine," I said in a whiny voice, and hung up the phone feeling disgruntled.
Having nothing else to do, I wandered over to the television and flicked it on. I plopped down onto my couch and began to flip through channels. There was really nothing on; it was five o'clock, and so it was mostly news. Then, I suddenly stopped.
On the screen was a very familiar commercial.
And then, inspiration from above came and struck me like a bolt of lightning.
"Bingo," I muttered.
I finally knew what Carter was.
I skipped into work the next morning in a better mood than usual.
"What's up with you?" asked an annoyed Laurie.
"Why do you care?" I replied breezily. "Is Carter here yet?"
Laurie narrowed her eyes at me. "Yeah. He's in the bakery section. But he's with that Amy girl. I wouldn't go over there if I were you."
"What?" I asked, my good mood suddenly dissipating. "Why's she here?"
Laurie shrugged. "I don't know. I thought they'd broken up. But Amy looked awful when she came in. Her face was all tear-streaked. She wants him back, obviously; so badly that she came early in the morning. God, she's so stupid."
At least Laurie and I agreed on one thing.
"I can go bother them," I offered. "She'll want to leave once she encounters me."
Laurie snorted. "I don't doubt that. But I'd lay off. Carter might get mad at you."
Nevertheless, my curiosity was piqued. About ten minutes later, I pretended to be stacking loaves of bread on the aisle right across from the bakery section so I could spy on them. All I could see was the back of Carter's head and half of Amy. It was pretty obvious that she was sobbing her eyes out. Was she seriously that desperate to get him back, or was something else going on?
But then I realized that the former had to be true, because not only was Amy just sobbing – she was sobbing in Carter's arms. He was holding her. And comforting her.
Oh my God.
Feeling hurt and betrayed, although I had no idea why, I stood up quickly and strode away. The only thing I could do now was my job. Yesterday, Carter must've been playing with me, because he obviously didn't really care about my stupid little immature experiment. I thought I'd figured him out, but then he'd surprised me again.
Because instead of going for the good, old-fashioned Hershey bar, who had yesterday seemingly had so much in common with him, he'd chosen the exotic and exciting kugel. Maybe he wasn't what I'd thought he was after all.
It was two days later, and Operation Avoid Carter was in motion.
"Megan? Hello? Earth to Megan… Anybody home?"
"What is it?" I asked distractedly, not even bothering to make eye contact.
I was wiping down my register, so at least I had something to do while ignoring him.
"What's up?" Carter asked, concern evident in his voice. "Is something wrong?"
I shrugged. "No. I'm just tired."
"Oh," he said. "I was just coming over to say hi. I hadn't seen you in a while, so I thought you might've had something to tell me, but then you didn't come over to visit me, so I decided to come to you."
He was still expecting me to report the results of the Misener Experiment to him? He must've lived in a bubble or something.
"So did you figure me out yet?" Carter asked eagerly when I failed to reply.
"I thought I did," I said bitterly. "But then I changed my mind."
It was then that I looked up and accidentally looked right into his misty hazel eyes. And what I saw was complete and utter confusion.
Okay, maybe Carter didn't deserve me acting like a jerk to him. But if he and Amy had gotten back together, I figured he would have told me. Why had he sort of been flirting with me and then gone right back to her without even saying anything? I had thought Carter wasn't the type of guy to lead girls on, but I had been completely wrong.
That's why I couldn't conduct the experiment on him. He was always changing, always unpredictable.
Carter's face fell. "So you gave up?"
I shrugged. "I went through everything I could think of. Sorry."
He didn't say anything. He was probably trying to figure out why I was treating him the way I was. Didn't he know it was wrong to go after two girls at once? Didn't he know it was mean and inconsiderate?
Hadn't he noticed that I was completely head over heels in love with him, from the day I'd set foot through the automatic doors of Fresh Mart?
"I should get back to work," Carter said finally. "See you later?"
"Yeah," I said dully.
But it wasn't a promise.
I whirled around to see a frowning Laurie, hands on hips, standing behind me.
"What did I do now?" I asked.
"You just broke that poor boy's heart!" she said accusingly, pointing a long, red fingernail at me – she liked to do that, I'd noticed. "Can't you see he was totally into you? Why did you just treat him lie a piece of dirt?"
My jaw dropped. "What? What are you doing about? Carter isn't 'into' me. Amy was here the other day, wasn't she?"
Laurie rolled her eyes. "Oh please. Those two are done for good. The only reason Amy came was because her grandfather just passed away. She and Carter are still friends, so he was just trying to make her feel better."
"…Oh," I said, feeling a bit deflated. "But… Then why didn't she go to someone else? Doesn't she have a new boyfriend?"
"People don't like Amy, Megan," Laurie snapped. "She's a player and a backstabber. Now that she's graduated high school, no one needs to pretend to be her friend anymore. Carter was the only one who was ever genuinely nice to her. Of course she's going to run to him when she really, truly needs help."
My eyes widened. "Are you serious? How do you know this?"
"Didn't you know we all went to the same school?" Laurie asked, dumbfounded. "I graduated in the same class as them. I've grown up with Carter and Amy. They're incompatible as a couple, but that doesn't mean they can't be friends. You and Carter on the other hand… I saw it from day one. I mean, you're both really into literature and desserts and weird stuff like that. Heck, I bet he even only talks about Amy around you to make you jealous!"
I shook my head and said nothing. I felt as though my vocal cords had simply frozen up.
"You'd better go and apologize right now," Laurie said sharply. "Carter is a forgiving person. I mean, he forgave Amy after she cheated on him. But if you wait too long, you might lose your chance."
I nodded slowly, my heart pounding and my face heating up. "I guess you're right."
Laurie sniffed and turned to go.
"Um. Thanks, Laurie."
"No problem," Laurie said smoothly.
Maybe Laurie wasn't an ice cold Popsicle after all.
I knew things were changing when the Misener Experiment ceased to be reliable. Or maybe it was just that I always jumped to conclusions about people without really knowing them. Could you really judge a person based on what dessert they reminded you of, anyways? Maybe I was just an idiot, and I'd been completely wrong this whole time.
I had a long line of customers to get through before I could go find Carter. When I did go to the bakery, though, he'd already left for the day. According to his father, he'd had to go college shopping with his mother.
I hated to leave things on a bad note, but what choice did I have? I dropped the subject and decided I would try to find him next time I came in. It would give me more time to think up what to say, anyways.
When I checked my schedule, though, I realized I wasn't supposed to come in for three days. Normally, I'd be thrilled to have several days of downtime, but today, I wished more than anything I did have work. Now, if I wanted to talk to Carter, I would have to come in on my own, which might seem a little too desperate.
But I really didn't have a choice anymore. I had made an awful mistake and I needed to fix it.
I stumbled into Fresh Mart at noon the next day, decked out in jeans and a t-shirt with my blonde hair in a ponytail. I hadn't tried to look nice for this occasion. It would just feel artificial and fake if I did.
I wandered over to the bakery, avoiding Laurie and Geraldine along the way. I didn't want them getting suspicious as to why I was here. Fortunately, it was pretty busy, so no one paid attention me.
"Is Carter here?" I asked his father timidly.
"He went to the freezer to get some ice cream for today's ice cream cake," he replied. "He should be back in a couple of minutes."
"Oh," I said. "Thanks."
Not wanting to stand around awkwardly, I made right for the freezer. I didn't want to sneak up on Carter; I just wanted to get this whole confrontation over with as soon as possible.
I went through the mysterious swinging doors displaying the sign 'Employees Only'. Technically, I was an employee, so no harm done. I'd been back here before, particularly the time when I'd caught Laurie and her boyfriend. That was not exactly a fond memory of mine, but I still always associated the freezer with it.
I cracked the freezer door open and glanced inside.
It was empty.
I whipped my head around to find a shocked Carter standing there holding a large tub of mint chocolate chip ice cream.
"I thought you didn't have work today," he said, examining my non-uniform attire.
"I don't," I admitted. "Wait – you know my schedule?"
Carter bit his lip and shifted his weight. Hold on a moment – was he embarrassed?
"Well, it's right below mine on the list," he said, "since it's alphabetical and all. So I just happened to see it."
Yeah, right. My last name, Farrell, was at least five down from Carter's, Dunn. Besides, how would he be able to remember all of the dates and times from just glancing at it once? Maybe Laurie had been right. Maybe he did have a thing for me and he'd been stalking me this whole time.
A strange tingly feeling developed in my stomach.
"Well, I came in because I need to talk to you," I blurted out. "I couldn't wait for three days."
"Sure," said Carter, setting the ice cream down – he wasn't even skeptical about me popping up out of nowhere like a creeper. "What's going on?"
"I just wanted to apologize," I said. "I acted like a jerk the other day. I shouldn't have. I was just confused about some things. I totally understand if you're mad, but I thought I should explain. I don't want to be on bad terms with you."
"Oh, don't worry about it," he said, smiling. "No hard feelings. I'm the one who should have explained things."
"Explained what things?" I asked.
He sighed. "The whole situation with me and Amy. I know you saw us. Laurie told me."
My shook my head. "It's okay. Laurie explained everything to me about that. I totally understand. I'm not going to judge your or anything for helping her. It was nice of you."
"For the record, we're not together," he said. "We're done for good."
"Uh huh," I responded dumbly. "Well, either way, I'm cool with it. It's not like I should have control over who you hang out with.
Carter gave a tentative smile. "Well, whether you like it or not, you kind of have some influence."
My jaw dropped. "What? I do? How? Why?"
"I should've just told you earlier," he said. "I should've just told you that I liked you. Then you would've known, and you wouldn't have had to worry."
"What?" I squeaked.
"I think I fell for you the first day for here," he admitted. "When you knocked over an entire display of Pepperidge Farm cookies, and I helped you set it back up."
"Oh, yeah," I managed to say, although I was still hyperventilating a bit. "I was such a klutz that I tripped over my own two feet, and the cookies went down with me. That was not a proud moment for me."
"I thought it was cute," said Carter, laughing. "Megan, you're one of the funniest people I know. And you're amazingly smart and creative with those crazy experiments you do. I always thought that, but I didn't know how to tell you. I guess it all just came out the wrong way."
I gaped at him. I couldn't even do anything else.
"So… What are you saying?" I finally choked out. "Are you saying you want to go out with me or something?"
He shuffled his feet. "Yeah. If you want to."
Okay, was this a dream? Because if it was… It was a really excellent one. I hoped no one would ever wake me up.
"Um, yes," I said, still shell-shocked. "I mean, I'd love to."
"Really?" he said, his face brightening. "Great."
There was an awkward silence. I took great interest in examining my shoes.
"So now that we're cool," Carter said, beginning to grin, "maybe you can tell me what you thought I was in your experiment."
"Oh, you don't want to know," I said hurriedly. "It's incredibly stupid. You'll laugh."
"Come on," he said, moving closer to me. "I'll die from suspense otherwise. I promise I won't laugh, if it makes you feel better."
I sighed. "Oh, fine. Well, I was watching TV, and that really famous commercial came on. You know, the one where they say, 'How many licks…'"
"'…Does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?'" Carter finished, looking thoughtful. "So I'm a Tootsie Pop?"
"I didn't think you were a lollipop at first," I admitted, "but when I thought about it… You know, there's always something hidden in the middle of the Tootsie Pop. A surprise. But if you have to take time to find it. And to me… Well, you're always full of surprises. I don't know. It's weird, right?"
"I kind of like it," he said. "Because it makes me unique. I bet you haven't met a lot of other Tootsie Pops, right?"
"I definitely haven't," I said.
"And you want to know something?" he added, now standing right in front of me. "I don't think you're a Hershey bar at all. Hershey bars are too common."
"Then what am I?" I asked curiously.
He thought for a moment before saying, "I think you must be one of those fudge brownie sundaes, complete with ice cream, hot fudge, and a cherry on top."
I tilted my head to the side. "Why's that?"
"Because," he said, taking my hands in his, "out of all of the desserts in the world, that one's my favorite."
I couldn't help but smile. Yes, it was unbelievably corny, but it was also sweet. And having the hopeless adoration for Carter that I did, I wasn't about to protest.
In a flash of inspiration, I leaned forward and kissed him. I had no idea what had gotten into me, but hey, the moment was right. Why not? And it was definitely worth it, because in response, he totally kissed me back. For one minute, I got to leave Fresh Mart and go to heaven.
It was too bad I remembered that Carter was supposed to be working right now. Reluctantly, I broke off the kiss.
"You should probably take that ice cream to your dad before it melts," I said, gesturing with my head. "I wouldn't want you to get into trouble."
"Oh yeah," he said, slowly dropping my hands. "I totally forgot about that. People who are ice creams always melt under pressure, don't they?"
I nodded and smiled. "Yeah. But I think I'm actually going to put the Misener Experiment on hold for a while. It has some kinks that need to be worked out."
"Oh, really?" he asked, picking the ice cream up. "Like what?"
"Like it doesn't work on everyone anymore," I said. "And besides that, I'm a little sick of it. There are more important things to worry about now. I mean, why should I let the lessons of Ms. Misener control my life, right? She's just some crazy old psychology teacher."
"Oh, that's too bad," Carter said, somewhat jokingly. "It was really clever. You could've made big money off of it if you wanted to."
I smiled mysteriously. "Well, maybe I'll resurrect some time in the future. We'll see."
He returned the smile. "Good. I'm looking forward to it."
Carter had a point. I would need to turn to the Misener Experiment again one day. Why? Well, I still hadn't officially decided what Carter was, and part of me still wanted to know.
I supposed I would just have to figure him out a little more before I knew for sure.