A typical vain teenager, Connie is always checking her reflection in mirrors, to her mother’s annoyance. To Connie, beauty is “everything” (1). She lives with her father, mother, and matronly sister June. Her family suffers from dysfunction: Connie’s father is mentally and emotionally absent, while Connie’s mother constantly compares her unfavorable to her older sister.
Connie spends her evenings with friends at the local shopping plaza. There they visit the local drive-in burger place, where they listen to music and flirt with boys. One night Connie sees a black-haired boy in a gold convertible in the parking lot. He playfully laughs, “Gonna get you, baby” as she walks away (2).
The next morning Connie’s family leaves for a barbecue and she stays home alone to wash her hair and listen to music. After a while a car pulls into her driveway. She walks out onto her front-porch to see the boy from the drive-in the night before. He and his friend, Ellie Oscar, have come to take her for a ride.
Connie is hesitant but she chats with the boy, Arnold Friend, as he shows her all the slang phrases painted on his golden car. Arnold Friend is dressed like all the boys she knows and seems vaguely familiar. He speaks in a singsong manner, reminding her of old pop music lyrics.
As they continue to talk, Connie realizes something is very wrong with her visitor. He knows her name, though she never shared it, as well as how long her parents will be gone and the names of her friends. He and Ellie Oscar are revealed to be much older than she originally thought, in their thirties and forties. Moreover, Arnold Friend seems to be wearing a wig, makeup, and stuffed boots to make himself taller. These realizations make Connie light-headed.
Connie asks the men to leave but Arnold Friend refuses unless she comes with him. He becomes more sinister, seemingly describing her family’s activities at the barbecue in detail. Arnold Friend then shares his sexual intentions for Connie, causing her to panic and retreat into the house.
Arnold Friend warns her not to use the phone or he’ll come inside for her. From the driveway Ellie Oscar offers to pull out the phone line. Connie finds herself in the kitchen, disoriented. Outside, Arnold Friend threatens to harm her family. She attempts to use the phone but collapses. The breath jerks in and out of her lungs “as if it were something Arnold Friend was stabbing her with again and again with no tenderness.” When she recovers he is still coaxing her from the door. She realizes she will never see her family again.
At his direction, Connie places the phone back on the hook and walks out towards him. As she does, she can see her body moving to the door, as if it were no longer hers. Connie watches herself push the door open. Outside waits Arnold Friend and “the vast sunlit reaches of the land behind him and on all sides of him—so much land that Connie had never seen before and did not recognize except to know that she was going into it” (14).