Driving three hours in a car with no air-conditioning wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Granted, we left at six o’clock in the morning and arrived in Texas before the sun completely melted away the cool of morning.
“Okay, time for the map!” Sara said as we passed an exit sign for Frisco.
“Do you think we should wake them up?” I asked, jerking my head to our cousins behind us.
“Oh, probably. Spencer! Ashley! We’re almost there!” my sister yelled into the floorboard while she dug for the directions. Disgruntled groans ensued from the back seat.
“Hey, have you thought any about what you’re going to say to her? Stephenie, I mean.” I took my eyes off the road for a second to glance at Sara.
“Not really,” she answered absently. “This is Stephenie Meyer after all, and she’s got a lot of books to sign. There’s probably not going to be much time for talking. Take the next exit, I think.”
“Yeah, true. I just wanted to say something, you know, smart. Or at least halfway not stupid,” I mumbled.
“I’m sure you’ll think of something–you always do. Besides, it doesn’t even actually start for almost five hours. You’ve got plenty of time,” Sara encouraged. “Oh, hey, I think that’s the mall!”
Over the lanes of traffic I glimpsed one of the largest shopping plazas I’ve ever laid eyes on. Multi-leveled wings sprawled in each direction, colorful entrances lined the exterior, and the parking lot looked like it could hold tens of thousands of cars. Even at nine o’clock in the morning, many spaces were already filled. The Oklahoma mall I worked in was practically an ant on the sidewalk compared to this behemoth.
We took two trips around the entire building before finding the entrance to the super-sized, double-decker Barnes & Noble bookstore. Immediately after walking in, we each grabbed a copy of the newly released novel The Host from the large display to be signed later that afternoon. Then we marched over to the associate at the registration table.
“Ah, yes,” he said after checking us off the list. “Here’s your packet. Inside, you’ll find your passes and directions to the Centennial High School auditorium, where Ms. Meyer will do the signing. The doors’ll open around one o’clock this afternoon and the event will start around two.”
“What time do you think people will start lining up?” I asked quietly.
“Oh, goodness, I really don’t know.” He seemed flummoxed. “Like I said, the doors won’t open for a while. These passes also guarantee you seats in the auditorium, so you ladies don’t have anything to worry about. Just get there before one.”
I looked at my watch as we walked away. Barely nine-thirty.
“Sorry I made us leave so early,” I said. “I guess I was just expecting…”
“…hordes of screaming people?” Ashley finished.
“…total chaos?” Spencer chimed in.
“…a vampire riot?” Sara guessed.
“Yeah. Who knew they’d be so organized?” I smiled as we reached the empty register lanes.
When Spencer and Ashley stepped forward to make their purchases, Sara turned to me and held out her hand.
“Here,” she said.
Utterly confused, I stared at her for a second. I settled for giving her an awkward high-five.
“No,” she rolled her eyes. “Give me your book. I’m buying it as your birthday present.”
“Oh–thanks! Four days early!” I handed it over.
We elected to spend the next couple of hours window-shopping through the miles and miles of storefronts inside the mall. As we walked and admired the selection, I kept checking the clock. We’d signed up for this book-signing two months ago, and I was tired of waiting. I was ready to be there. On the other hand, I still hadn’t come up with anything brilliant to say when I would be standing across the table from a world-famous author. I couldn’t decide if I wanted the day to speed up or slow down.
Finally, we decided it was an acceptable time to make the short drive down the highway to the high school and start the second round of waiting. Thankfully, the auditorium was around twenty degrees cooler than the Texas heat outside.
Before letting us in, a volunteer wrote each of our names on notes and stuck them inside our copies of The Host so that there would be no confusion during the signing. We shuffled into the quickly filling room and followed the single-file line to the next available seats. Decently sized, the hall looked like it could hold about 600 rabid fans. On the stage stood only a podium, a table, and a chair.
Though Meyer was here to promote her first adult, non-Twilight novel, murmurs of Edward, Bella, and Jacob echoed throughout the crowd. The excitement was palpable. A few rows in front of us, a teenager was handing out bookmarks on which she’d written her own lyrics to Bella’s lullaby. Behind us, two mothers discussed the latest casting news for the upcoming films. To our right, a girl was showing off her hand-made tank top on which she’d cross-stitched the cover of Twilight.
Unable to contain their energy anymore, people started to scream for their favorite characters.
“Howl if you love werewolves!”
“Edward sucks and Jacob rules!”
“Who here thinks Stephenie Meyer is the best person in the entire world?!”
Amongst our foursome, we pondered the pros and cons of starting our own chant or the wave, but I was still mostly concentrating on trying to figure out what to say later. I still couldn’t think of anything. Not even sporadic motivation from Sara or my own mental cajoling produced any inspiration.
Surprisingly on time, a spectacled woman headed toward the podium to introduce Meyer. Knowing that the moment was almost here made my head start to spin. I could hardly concentrate on what she was saying, and eventually I didn’t have to. The cheers were so deafening that her words were completely lost. The only way I could be totally sure that it was true was the first glimpse of Meyer as she walked out from behind the curtain. The cheers quickly died down so that she could speak.
“Wow, thanks so much for coming,” she said as she placed a large fish bowl full of paper slips on the podium. “I want to go ahead and start answering these questions from people who arrived early. I think it’s easier this way. Let’s just jump in so that we won’t be here for ten hours.”
I laughed nervously along with everyone else, but couldn’t ignore the stab of disappointment. I loved listening to people – especially writers – talk and answer questions. I probably would gladly listen for however long she wanted to talk, even if it were hours. Minutes seemed more likely.
She was talking way too fast. There was no way Q&A would last more than 30 minutes, let alone the hour we’d been expecting. She sounded high-pitched, too. She seemed nervous.
I certainly couldn’t blame her for her nerves. My anxiety was making me so fidgety that my leg was bouncing at record speeds and I was only in the audience.
As she worked her way through the questions, I noticed that she wasn’t really giving a lot of new information. She included some advice about writing, discussed a bit about why certain characters hate each other, how she gets inspired, and so on.
Then she announced that she’d reached the last question. It took all of 20 minutes.
The spectacled woman returned to the podium as Meyer stepped over to the table and chair.
“Okay, everyone. I’ve got a few reminders before we start the signing,” she trilled. “First of all, only The Host will be personalized. If you choose, you may also have two Twilight books signed. Also, there will be no posed pictures with Ms. Meyer. No cameras will be allowed at all once you enter the orchestra pit. Okay! Let’s get started!”
The first row of people stood up.
No! I’m not ready yet! I panicked.
There were still eight rows between us and the stage, but my mind continued to remain totally void of anything to say to one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People of 2008. Ashley, Sara, and Spencer decided to spend their wait reading, but I couldn’t. I needed something – anything – to say. I was past hoping for brilliant wit. I’d settle for coherency at this point.
Brain, work, dammit!
Perhaps I wouldn’t say anything at all and just let my outfit speak for me. I tried to picture what she would say…
“Oh, you don’t look like a stalker. We should be friends. You also look like your birthday is in four days. Would you like to take a picture with me?” mental Stephanie said in my head.
No, that wouldn’t work. I was wearing short-sleeves. That never quite said what I wanted it to say.
I took a deep breath and examined everything around me, vaguely aware of the stack of books bouncing on my knee. The girls next to me chattered on about whatever high school gossip they had to dish. People waved from the stage, posing illegally for pictures their friends were snapping. As the rows began to empty, they were filled again with overflow attendees who had been waiting in the cafeteria. Close to 1,000 people in all, someone had said earlier.
Our row stood up to join the line. I continued to try to wrack my brain but knew that it was pointless. Instead, I focused on getting a good picture of Meyer at the autograph table. After all, this was as close as I was going to be able to get with a camera. The lens wouldn’t focus, though. Slightly shaking hands and amateur photography don’t mix.
I became aware that someone was talking to me.
“Amanda! Give this woman your camera. She’s going to take our picture when we get up there,” Sara was saying. Slightly confused but only too happy to oblige, I handed it to her without thinking too much.
“Are you sure you don’t mind?” Sara was asking a woman in a green polo.
“Oh no, not at all,” the woman twanged. “My daughter is right in front of you girls and I’m going to be here taking her picture anyway. I’m happy to wait for you, too. Y’all probably want to remember this.”
“We do. Thank you!” Sara placed my camera in the angel’s hand.
“Just make sure y’all are careful,” she warned. “I’ve been watching, and that woman in the striped shirt is being really strict.”
I looked back at the stage, where the blond woman in the black-and-white striped shirt was opening books and sliding them down the table to be signed. She looked stern, indeed.
Ooooo. Danger. That sounded exciting. I felt a little better.
As the line moved gently through the orchestra pit, we pondered the best way to arrange the picture. After much deliberation, we decided that we would have to cluster around the corner of the table in order to block the striped-shirt book-opener from view, yet still leave Meyer in full view.
Standing on the last of the stairs to the stage, I felt whatever minuscule amount of courage I’d mustered completely vanish. I wasn’t so much scared as numb. This was basically the most famous person I’d ever met, and she was emphatically loved by millions. I knew without a doubt that that there was no possible way I would be able to say anything other than “hi” and “thanks.” There was far too much self-inflicted pressure for anything else.
I threw my shoulders back and stepped onto the stage. Yelling at myself to calm down was not helping the stomach full of warring butterflies that were taking my muscles prisoner. I concentrated on relaxing my face into what I hoped was a natural, sane-looking smile.
“Amanda, get up here!” Ashley whispered urgently.
I looked up out of my tormented reverie to realize that Sara had reached the table. Time for our illegal picture. I poked my head between Spencer and Ashley and smiled at the woman holding my camera.
I glanced back at the table to see that the light caught the striped-shirt’s eye. She glanced up to see Sara standing, smiling – posed. Uh oh.
“Hey, guys – no posed pictures. You can’t do that,” she said in a clipped tone.
Oh, no. Panic raced through my body. She’s going to confiscate my camera. We are going to get kicked out. We aren’t going to get our books signed. We were so close. Stupid striped-shirt book-opener.
She was already whispering to the man with a microphone. “I need you to remind everyone that there are no pictures up here. We have people posing for their friends out there. If this continues, we’ll have to ban photography altogether. Make it very clear.”
Sara made it through the line. I saw Meyer respond to something she had said and wondered what Sara had come up with.
Ashley flew past. Spencer was next.
“Are you Spencer? Cool name. Thanks, Spencer.” They both walked off the stage to join Sara. I was on my own.
“Amanda.” The striped-shirt opened my books and pushed them down the table. I hoped I wasn’t making a face at her, because in my head I was sticking my tongue out.
“Are you Amanda?” Meyer looked at me.
“Yes.” I nodded, hoping my attempts at relaxing had worked. I wanted my smile to look genuine for the best-selling author.
“Thanks.” I nodded again. I stood quietly – to be expected but still rather unfortunate – while she signed my other books. My time was running out.
“Thanks,” she said again as she slid my last chance toward me.
“Thank you,” I shamefully picked up my books as she turned to the next fan. While I walked off the stage to join the rest of my group a voice came over the speakers.
“Hey, everyone, I just want to remind you about the photography policy…”
The three of them were already discussing how hilarious it was that we had caused them to make a special announcement. It probably was. I knew I would appreciate the humor of the situation later, but now I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in myself. In my eyes, I had blown it.
There will be other chances to meet other people. I’ll get the chance to redeem myself, I thought in an effort to comfort myself. Maybe someday I’ll even get to meet J.K. Rowling. That wouldn’t be nerve-wracking at all.
Outside in the stifling parking lot, I noticed how truly hot it was. Sweltering. Vampires must explode in Texas.
I followed a few paces behind Sara, Ashley, and Spencer, who were still chattering excitedly about how to spend the rest of the day before returning home. I took another deep breath and willed the lingering tension to leave my muscles as I turned my face toward the blazing sun and followed their voices.