For most '90s kids, the name “Clarissa” conjures up an image of a sarcastic, scrunchie-wearing teen with a best friend who climbs through her bedroom window with a ladder. And even though Clarissa Explains It All, the beloved Nickelodeon sitcom starring Melissa Joan Hart, ended 20 years ago, it's now getting the fictional book treatment. That's right: Mitchell Kriegman, the show's creator (and brains behind Ferguson, Elvis the pet alligator, and crazy Aunt Mafalda), has just released a novel, Things I Can't Explain ($20; amazon.com), which revisits Clarissa's life in her late 20s.
So, what is Clarissa like today? “More soulful,” Kriegman tells InStyle. “She's got curves, wears eyeshadow—and she's fallen in love. Back then she was a 14-year-old girl who could do it all. Now she realizes that there are some things that are beyond her control.” It's not too surprising that Kriegman would choose to continue Clarissa's story now, given the recent revivals of throwback classics like Full House and Goosebumps.
“I think [Clarissa] is more relevant than ever,” he adds. “This book finds her contending with all the challenges that everyone in their late 20s faces—from being overburdened with student loans, stalker ex-boyfriends, and parents going through their midlife crises.” Plus, she curses! Read on for an exclusive excerpt in which Clarissa attempts to flirt with her newly minuted crush, the elusive CCG, who works at a coffee stand. Cue up that infectious opening theme song.
Okay, he was here yesterday. I know because I was going to tell him I really liked the Sex Pistols song that was playing on his vintage mini boombox, but since that felt outside the realm of micro-appropriate chitchat, I resisted.
I take in the familiar gleam of the stainless-steel carafes and the espresso machine that look like something Jules Verne might use to travel to the center of the earth. I once heard CCG telling the customer in front of me that he cobbled it together himself using parts from a bunch of obsolete Italian espresso makers. He called it “Frankensteam,” which I thought was mocha clever.
I glance at the stacks of beige cardboard cups emblazoned with the little establishment’s name: WHERE HAVE YOU BEAN ALL MY LIFE? I think as I always do that the name is too long. My alternative shorter, simpler name is “Where Have You Bean?” which is what I think it should be called. I repeatedly say it to myself like a prayer or like someone with a compulsive disorder because the only question going through my mind is, “Where the hell are you now?”
CCG is MIA and there is a ridiculously skinny girl with a fluffy white-blond bob haircut dispensing java in his place.
What happened? Did he get a job at another coffee cart elsewhere in town? Did he return home for a family crisis? Does he even have a family? And why didn’t I ever ask him? Why did I have to be so damn faithful to the rules of micro-interaction? If I’d taken the time to investigate I might have a clue as to where he is and why he’s gone and why I have to be ordering my coffee from a macro- stranger with dandelion fluff for hair.
I approach the cart at a march, determined to get answers.
She looks up at me, smiling through her orange lipstick. “Coffee, tea, decaf, espresso, or latte?”
“Where’s CCG?” I blurt mindlessly.
“Um . . .” She fiddles with her wispy white bangs, which have snagged on her eyebrow ring. “I’m not sure. Is CCG that marketing company on the fourth floor, or is it the modeling agency on the twenty-fifth?” she replies with airhead innocence. And as she smiles at me, she reveals a metal stud the size of a garbanzo bean lodged in the center of her tongue.
Okay, first of all: ouch.
And second of all: I understand piercing is a rite of passage, a celebration of survival, and a sexual turn-on for some, but I have enough trouble keeping track of my earring backs. What if you lose the one to your tongue stud? Can you say “choking hazard”? But none of that is important right now, is it?
“The guy who usually works here,” I explain to Fluffy, my new default barista, to whom I have taken an immediate dislike. “Is he around?”
“Oh, him.” Fluffy bobs her bob. “Yeah, he’s here. He just stepped away to make a phone call. I’m filling in.”
I let out a sigh of relief so great I scatter a stack of unbleached paper napkins. The girl looks at me funny, so by way of explanation I fib: “He owes me money.”
“No way!” She looks at me suspiciously. I don’t blame her. Why did I say that?
Then I see him, making his way back to the cart from the opposite side of the cavernous lobby—CCG, in all his espresso-scented splendor. I take in the familiar shape of his broad shoulders beneath his thousand-times-washed WHERE HAVE YOU BEAN? T- shirt (see, it definitely works better shortened) that fits him perfectly; as always, his tousled hair looks . . . well, tousled, but in a manner that is more about careless style than unkempt laziness.
When CCG sees me standing at his cart, he smiles in that shy way of his. He selects a chocolate-almond biscotti from a tray and hands it to Fluffy. I can’t keep myself from thinking puppy treats. “Thanks for covering, Clem,” he says.
I can tell this slender little pincushion of a girl is half in love with him. She bats her blue mascara-ed lashes and giggles. “Anytime.”
I think I might be sick, but hold myself together.
She lingers a moment, gives me a quizzical look, and finally turns, heading for the elevators. “Clementine works for some accounting firm on the eighth floor,” CCG explains, plucking a cup from the cardboard tower. I don’t know why I’m startled by his soft voice. “It’s slow up there, so I call her whenever I need to sneak off for a bit.” He nods toward the tray of cookies. “I pay her in biscotti. Works for both of us.”
It occurs to me that although I’ve probably purchased two thousand cups of coffee from CCG, this is more than he’s ever said to me at one time. It’s a clear violation of the micro-code, but today I’m thinking, Screw it. I really like his voice, especially when he says whole sentences. I like that even though he’s super shy, he’s making an effort to look me in the eye and actually succeeding. And those soft indigo eyes . . . why didn’t we attempt this fifteen hundred cups ago?
“Gotta love a good old-fashioned barter system,” I say. CCG positions the small cup under the spigot and presses the handle. The carafe releases a stream of fresh coffee. I inhale deeply as he hands me the cup.
Feeling a tingle of warmth rush through me that has nothing to do with the hot beverage I’m clutching, I make a decision.
Today is the day I’m going to kick this up a notch.
After all, if some snotty little seventh-grade slut-ing can put the moves on her science teacher and Miss Fluffy can bat her eyelashes for biscotti, I can certainly get my flirt on with Cute Coffee Guy, right? I reach into my knock- off Birkin for the $2.29 and hand it over. As I’m doing this, I purposely let my fi ngers brush against his. It’s a calculated maneuver, but it surprises the heck out of him. The good news is that he doesn’t withdraw, he actually blushes and grins.
Hah. Now I’m feeling downright cocky. I made the coffee guy blush.
“Thanks,” I say in a breathy murmur (take that, seventh grader, and you, too, Clementine). Then I press my lips softly to the rim, and in a dreamy kiss- like way, I take a cautious sip. I’m careful not to be obvious, keeping the maneuver subtle so that it whispers: See this cup? This could be you. Your lips, your earlobe, or the body part of your choice.
CCG seems very interested as he watches my lips make contact with the cardboard cup. And why not? There’s a reason why this stuff works. This move is right out of The Flirty Girl’s Handbook.
But apparently, he’s read a page or two of Boy Talk for Beginners. Because the next thing he says is: “So . . . you’re a writer, aren’t you?”
It’s my turn to be surprised because our micro-status never allowed me to tell him what I did for a living. But I do realize that since he’d seen me scuttling across the lobby after Hugh a zillion times, it wasn’t much of a leap for him to arrive at this conclusion. Still, the fact that he noticed is very encouraging.
“Yes. Yes, I am.” I smile and take another, less prudent sip, and stifle a scream, pretending that the Colombian Breakfast Blend isn’t scorching my throat on its way down.
Then something even more amazing happens. Without warning, this shy coffee peddler with the scruffy jaw and silky indigo eyes takes the notch-kicking entirely out of my hands and into his own.
“So what’s your name?” Whoa. Please refer to Rule 1.0 of the Micro-Relationship Code. No names! That’s how it works. That’s why it works! Distance, anonymity, mystery.
Anything less would be . . . well, something completely different. Which is exactly what I was moving toward, but I’m a little thrown by the fact that he’s leap- frogged so far ahead of me. Thrown, yes. Displeased . . . not even a little bit.
CCG is still waiting for me to introduce myself. So I open my mouth and say . . .
Wait a minute. That’s definitely the correct response, but that’s not my voice providing it. Who could be calling my name here?
I know that voice. Oh boy, do I know that voice.
I whirl away from CCG, hot coffee inadvertently splashing from my cup onto the marble floor in what seems like slow motion. Mental alert: It’s always bad luck to spill. What will result from this ominous event? Only misfortune, I fear, but I don’t have time to do anything about it. I turn and there they are: Marshall and Janet Darling, the revolving door spinning behind them. The two people to whom I credit my existence, the Official Sponsors of my X and Y chromosomes.
From Things I Can't Explain by Mitchell Kriegman. Copyright © 2015 by the author and reprinted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin's Press, LLC.