Connie is a fifteen-year-old girl who loves nothing more than spending time with her friends at the plaza and flirting with the boys she meets there. She is frustrated by her family and her life at home, where her mother scolds her for her vanity and continually compares her to her older sister, June. One summer night, she and a friend go to the drive-in restaurant at the plaza, and while Connie reflects on how the music playing in the background “made everything so good.” After a while, Connie leaves the restaurant with a boy named Eddie. On their way to Eddie’s car, Connie notices a boy with shaggy black hair staring at her from his gold car. He tells Connie “Gonna get you, baby,” and draws an X in the air with his finger, but Connie ignores him.
One Sunday, Connie’s family goes to a barbecue at her aunt’s house, and Connie stays at home. She sits out in the yard, dreaming of boys she has been with in the past. When she opens her eyes, she is disoriented and goes to listen to the radio in the house. She becomes completely absorbed in the music, and after some time hears a car coming up the drive. Though she stays inside the house, Connie can see there are two boys in the car, which is a gold jalopy convertible. The driver behaves as if there’s nothing unusual about his being there and apologizes for being late. The boy in the passenger seat simply plays music on a transistor radio. Though Connie is reluctant to speak with the driver, once it becomes clear they have the same taste in music, she begins to engage more in conversation. The boy tells Connie his name is Arnold Friend and tries to convince her to come for a ride. Eventually, Connie remembers that he is the same boy she recently saw at the restaurant. Friend now begins telling Connie things about her own life, speaking in a lilting voice “as if he were reciting the words to a song.”
When Connie continues to refuse to come out of the house, Friend again tells her that he’s her friend and that he put his “sign in the air” when she walked by. Connie studies his appearance and reflects that while she recognizes most things about him, including his smile and the way he dresses, “all these things did not come together.” She now asks Friend how old he is, and though he tells her he’s around her own age, she can tell he’s at least thirty, maybe more. Friend turns his attention to Ellie, the boy in the passenger seat, and Connie realizes that he too is older than she initially thought. She suggests that the two of them should go away, and Friend becomes more forceful, telling her they won’t leave until she goes with them. He also tells her he knows her family won’t be coming home, and describes the scene unfolding at the barbecue with eerie detail. He tells Connie that he’s her lover, and describes how he will have sex with her. Frightened, Connie threatens to call the police, but Friend is unperturbed and continues to tell her that she’ll come out of the house and they’ll drive away together, again threatening her family and declaring that he will have sex with her. Connie runs into the house and picks up the telephone, but can only hear a roaring sound and is unable to dial a number and call for help. She screams into the phone and, after a while when she can hear again, Friend begins telling her to put the phone back and to come outside. He again describes how he will have sex with her and threatens her family before repeating his instructions for her to come out of the house. Connie leaves the house, watching herself in the third person. She notices the landscape and understands that she will disappear into it.