Be Kind, Rewind by Melissa Brown

CHAPTER1

Naomi

October, 1994

“Foreskin Gump?” I shouldn’t have said it out loud, but I couldn’t help myself—the words came tumbling out of my careless mouth before I could stop them. It was my first day at a new job, and I should have just nodded and stayed quiet like a good little employee. But instead, I stared, eyes wide, unable to remove my gaze from the large, white VHS box on the shelf. On its cover was a nerdy guy sitting on a bench while a woman with a low-cut, black dress lifted her leg to him…showing her lady parts.

Still stunned, I asked, “Is this…um, is this for real?”

“Yeah,” the assistant manager said, his pale cheeks reddening with each second that we stood awkwardly in the tiny room marked Adults Only separated from the rest of the store with a simple, pink curtain.

No wonder Marley calls this “The Pink Room.”

“Unfortunately, they didn’t waste any time getting that one made,” he said.

“Wow,” I said again, ignoring the little voice in my head telling me to shut my damn mouth.

“An-y-way,” he said slowly, gesturing for us both to leave the room, “I’m not sure if Heather covered this when she hired you, but one of the requirements to work here is to restock the adult videos when they’re returned…which is often. Will that be a problem?”

“Um…” I said, swallowing hard. I was no prude, but everyone had their limits when it came to boxes covered in pictures of dicks. Personally, I’d have no problem never setting foot in that room ever again. But obviously, that wasn’t an option. And I really needed this job.

“Not a problem,” I said, not as convincingly as I’d hoped.

“Are you sure?” he asked, running his hand through his dark hair. “Because your friend avoids it like the plague. Not sure I wantto deal with two of you.”

I resented the way he talked about Marley, a girl I’d met in English Lit who always smelled like bubblegum. We didn’t know each other that well, but she was friendly, and she offered me gum at the beginning of each class. One day I’d vented to her that my checking account was getting dangerously low, and she suggested I apply to work at Spotlight Video. She’d worked there for three months and loved her job. She said it was the best place to work on campus and had made a bunch of friends during the twenty hours a week she spent there. Unlike Marley, though, so far I wasn’t impressed. And this guy, Ben, although incredibly good looking, wasn’t nearly as nice as Heather, the general manager who’d hired me just a few days before. In fact, he was a total buzzkill.

Buzzkill Ben.

I chucked to myself, and Ben narrowed his eyes in suspicion.

Way to go, Naomi. Piss off the sorta-kinda-boss on your first day.

Clearing my throat, I shook my head. “I can return the porn to the shelves. Not a problem, sir.”

Ben paused for a second, one eyebrow raised. He looked utterly annoyed. “Sir?”

“What? Too formal?” I asked, trying to be just a little bit playful and lighten the tension between us, but Buzzkill wasn’t having it. He was all business.

“Is this your first job?”

“Well, not if you count babysitting my siblings.”

“I don’t.”

“Okay, then yes. It’s my first job. But I love movies.”

“Right,” he said with snark. His bright blue eyes were gorgeous yet dismissive and cold. “Who doesn’t?”

His smart-ass reply stopped me in my tracks, so I decided to take his question literally…just to have a little fun with him. “I’m sure there must be someone. My roommate doesn’t own any movies. Not one.”

Ben sighed with an elongated blink. Clearly, he was not amused. But I was.

“What’s your point?”

“I don’t remember,” I said with a casual shrug and a laugh.

I wonder if the pizza place next door is hiring.

“Hmph,” he muttered as I followed behind him to the large front desk where two of my new coworkers were standing at their respective cash registers. They were arguing about something, but I couldn’t quite figure out what about, at first. “Guys, lower your voices. There are customers in the store.”

“Fine, fine, but first you’ve got to settle this,” said the bigger guy with a chestnut ponytail spilling down his back. The skin on his nose was oily, and he smelled a little like the deviled eggs my mom made every Easter.

Ew.

Ben looked irritated once again. The big guy, who I think everyone called Sully, was oblivious and continued, “Oompa Loompas.”

“What about them?”

“Creepy, right?” the other guy asked, looking directly at me. He was tall and slim with bony shoulders. But his eyes were deep brown, and he had a boyish grin. Not my type at all but definitely cute.

“Hush, Emmett,” Sully said. “Don’t sway the judges.”

“I have no opinion on Oompa Loompas,” Ben said, shaking his head. The phone rang, and Ben grabbed the receiver, turning his back to all of us as he graciously asked the customer what he could do to help them.

I leaned in toward Emmett. “Totally creepy.”

“I know, right?” Emmett said, raising his hand for a high-five. I happily obliged.

“But, doesn’t everyone think so? I mean, who’s sitting there watching Willy Wonka and hoping the little orange guys come out for another rousing musical number while some kid is presumably doomed off-camera? Not this girl.”

Sully threw his hands up in the air. “Are you kidding me? Those guys were badass. Didn’t you see how they rolled that blueberry girl out of the inventing room? Classic, man. Classic.”

“Okay, I’ll give you that. But they aren’t at all how the book described them,” Emmett said.

“And that matters why exactly?”

“Authenticity is important,” Emmett said with a shrug.

“Whatever, Polaroid,” Sully said, rolling his eyes.

“Polaroid?” I asked, but they both ignored me.

Emmett crossed his arms in front of his chest. “No, I’m serious.”

Sully turned to me, rolling his dark brown eyes again as he tipped his head toward Emmett. “He takes this stuff way too seriously.”

“Don’t even get me started on taking things too seriously. You’re majoring in taking things too seriously,” Emmett snapped at Sully, eyeing him from head to toe. Sully was dressed all in black. Black t-shirt, black jeans, and even black socks tucked inside his worn navy sneakers.

“What’s with all the black?” I asked, raising one curious eyebrow.

“I don’t like your tone,” Sully said, crossing his arms in front of his chest and leaning back into the gray and black speckled countertop. We stood in silence for a moment as I waited for him to answer my question.

He didn’t.

Ben hung up the phone. “Get back to work, guys. Emmett, show Naomi how to check out a customer. Bryan—”

“Sully,” Sully corrected him.

“Fine. Sully, check in the returns. And don’t forget to rewind them if the customer didn’t.”

“And give them a big ol’ fine when they don’t? Let’s say…fifty bucks?” Sully asked with a shit-eating grin and wide eyes.

“Don’t confuse Naomi,” Ben said, shaking his head, turning his attention to me. “We don’t do that.”

No duh.

But I simply nodded, pressing my lips into a thin line.

“I have to call corporate, so I’ll be in the back. Emmett knows what he’s doing. He’ll show you the ropes.”

“Thanks,” I said, relieved to watch him walk off the main video floor.

“He’s intense, huh?” I asked, wrinkling my nose at Emmett.

“Ben’s okay.”

“He seems a little…stuffy.”

Emmett shrugged again. “He just has a low tolerance for bullshit. And this place can be a revolving door, especially during the winter.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Sully and I have been here for a year, right, Sully?”

Sully didn’t turn to face us, but he gave a thumbs-up as he scanned in the VHS tapes.

Emmett scratched the back of his neck. “But a lot of people get the job and just stop showing up after a month or so. Their classes get hard or whatever and they just stop coming to work. Ben has to track everyone down, which is almost impossible. Usually, he just leaves a bunch of pissed-off answering machine messages that are never returned.”

“That sucks.”

“They should have a word for that,” Emmett said.

“What do you mean?”

“Like when you blow someone off by disappearing. You know, when you’re like nowhere to be found and you leave someone hanging. They need a verb for that.”

“You mean aside from disappearing?”

“Yeah, that’s…tired. Something more interesting.”

“Maybe one day they will.”

“Maybe.” He shrugged.

“But, FYI, I really need this job…and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. And I’m sure Marley won’t disappear either. She always volunteers in class and is the first person to turn in her papers. She’s good people.”

“Good. Yeah, uh…Marley’s cool.”

Sully laughed under his breath as he grabbed a two-foot-tall stack of videotapes and left the front desk area, biting down on his lower lip as he raised both eyebrows.

Emmett, his cheeks pink, shook his head and muttered, “Butt munch.”

“Hey,” I said, moving in closer and lowering my voice. I didn’t want to piss anyone off on my first day, and I knew I was already on thin ice with Ben. “Why does he wear black?”

Emmett rolled his eyes. “He’s in mourning.”

“Oh no,” I said. “Did he lose one of his parents or something?”

“You would think so, wouldn’t you? But no. Not even close.”

“So, what’s his deal then?”

“Kurt Cobain. When he died, he stopped speaking to everyone. Took like a vow of silence or something. Heather told him he had to speak to the customers or she’d stop putting him on the schedule. So, since that day, he’s talking again, but he’s been wearing nothing but black. It’s like his own little protest or something. It drives Ben and Heather nuts, but he’s not breaking the dress code, so technically he can’t be busted for it.”

I remembered the day Kurt Cobain died…I was still in high school. It was a spring morning, I knew that for sure, but everything else was hazy. I remembered Courtney Love reading his suicide letter and MTV had to beep her out because she was dropping f-bombs left and right as she yelled at him. I sat on my couch, stunned. He was one of the biggest stars on the planet when he died. But he did. And he’d been gone for months.

“Kurt Cobain died in the spring, right?”

“April. Sully never lets any of us forget it.”

“But it’s October…how long is he going to be ‘in mourning’?” I asked, using air quotes around my last two words.

“No idea. We’ll see what happens.” He reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a pink container of Bubble Tape. “Gum?”

“I’m good, thanks.” Emmett ripped off an extra-large piece of the powder pink gum. After about a minute, he smelled just like Marley. “So, should I not mention Kurt Cobain around him?”

Emmett paused for a second to scan the room, looking for Sully who was still placing videos back on the shelf. “Probably a good idea. He’ll talk your ear off if you do. He thinks Courtney Love had him killed.”

“Wait… so…what, she murdered him and made it look like a suicide?”

“Bingo.”

“Wow. That’s really out there,” I said with an amused laugh, turning to find Sully just a few feet away from the front desk with daggers in his eyes—all pointed at me. If they were real daggers, I’d be just as dead as Kurt Cobain. But somehow, I didn’t think Sully would mourn me.

“Something funny?”

“No, I—”

“Show some respect.”

“For Kurt Cobain?” I asked incredulously. I mean, I liked Nirvana just as much as any person my age, but their lead singer wasn’t someone I revered. Not even close. “He was okay.”

“Okay? Okay?” Sully’s forehead wrinkled with rage as the register of his voice deepened. “Kurt Donald Cobain was the most talented musician to ever walk the planet Earth.”

Wrinkling my nose, I recoiled, and a sardonic laugh jumped out of my mouth.

“What?”

“Well, I mean…you don’t really believe that, do you?”

“Careful,” Emmett warned, gritting his teeth.

“What about John Lennon? Jimi Hendrix? Elvis?”

Sully shook his head. “Puh-lease. Don’t insult my intelligence.”

“That’s funny,” Emmett said.

“What?”

“Naomi gave the exact same examples as Ben.”

“No, she didn’t,” Sully argued.

“No, I remember it very clearly. You were standing where Naomi is now and Ben was asking you to wear something else besides black. You scoffed, and a very similar conversation started. And Ben used those exact examples. In the same order, too.”

“Ugh, you and your memory, Polaroid.”

“Memory?” I asked, looking between the two guys.

“He’s got that photographic memory or whatever. You can’t get anything past him. And who cares if she came up with the same examples? That doesn’t mean anything.”

“Well, it means that other legendary musicians come to mind for a lot of us,” I suggested.

“Whatever. As my little, annoying sister, Brittany, says, Talk to the hand, New Girl.” He held a hand up and walked away, his ponytail swinging like a pendulum.

Emmett nudged me with his arm. “He gives everyone a nickname. Don’t take it personally.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t. Besides, I can think of a lot of names that are a lot worse than that.”

“True,” Emmett said, grabbing videotapes from the drop slot. “So, are you a freshman like Marley?”

“Yep.”

“Cool. Major?”

“Performing arts. Musical theater.”

“So, you want to be an actress?”

“Yep,” I said with confidence. “All my life.”

“Nice. I could see that. You seem like you might have a flair for the dramatic.”

“Just a bit,” I said, raising both eyebrows playfully. “And you?”

“I want to be Steven Spielberg,” Emmett said, his eyes bright and determined. With that simple sentence, I could tell he was just as passionate as I was.

“I love that,” I said.

“People always laughed at me when I said that…’til I came here, that is. Now I’ve found my people.”

“Did you always want to go here?” I asked, already knowing his answer even before his head started to nod emphatically. For so many of us in the Midwest, Lurie University for the Performing Arts was the ultimate place to prepare you for a career in the arts. And the fact that it was located in gorgeous Evanston, Illinois certainly didn’t hurt. One quick ride on the “L” train, and you were in Chicago. I couldn’t think of a more perfect location. “Me, too. Total dream school.”

“What was your Plan B?”

“Didn’t have one.”

A satisfied smile crossed Emmett’s face. “Me neither.”

“I guess I would have gotten a job and tried again mid-year.”

“Same. My mom was really on my case to apply to other schools, but I told her this was the place. This is where I needed to be.”

“Thank God we both got in, huh?”

“No shit,” Emmett said before clenching his teeth and locking eyes with a customer. She waved him away with a smile before rounding the corner and wandering down another aisle of videos. “I’ve got to work on that.”

With a laugh, I smiled. “Probably. But I’m guessing most of the customers are students here, right?”

“At least half of ‘em, yeah. But we do get some of the luxury condo people, and they can be a little snooty.”

“Blech,” I said, grabbing videos from the box and placing them in a row for Emmett to scan.

“I have a feeling you’re going to fit in really well around here.”

“You know what, Emmett?” I asked with a smile as I looked around the small video store. “I do, too.”