By Alexandria Hodson ’21
“Kid, you need to tell me which one you want to get.” The girl fumed, her patience dwindling with each second that passed.
For the past five minutes, Jack Wilton, Colby’s younger brother, had been tasting multiple flavors of ice cream. The girl working, one of Colby’s friends, had just about had it with the boy. He’d tried the Caramel Swirl five times, Vanilla eight, Graham Central Station twice, Rocky Road six. . . The list went on and on, but unfortunately, the line behind him didn’t. In fact, there was no one behind him.
Not a single customer had come to the ice cream shop during the time Jack had decided to ruin Vanessa’s shift, and she was not appreciative. She couldn’t tell him he was holding up the line because there wasn’t one, and she wasn’t gonna start calling him names, because Colby was bound to harass her the next day if she did. So, she was stuck standing behind the counter, scoop in hand, handing over the twelve cup of Moose Tracks she’d made.
He lifted a spoonful to his mouth. “Hmmm.”
“Let me guess, it tastes the same way it did when you tried it last?”
The sarcasm flew over his head. “It’s okay. . . Can I try the Cookie Dough?”
“You know what? You can’t. You can pick one flavor you want, or you can go home.” The forced smile fell from her face.
“But my brother told me I could try as many as I wanted, and I still don’t know which one I like more.”
“Well, you can tell your brother that no one actually holds up that policy. Now. Pick. A. Flavor.”
“Can I choose two?”
“Sure, whatever. Which ones?”
“I think I’d like a scoop of Oreo and a scoop of Strawberry.”
She scribbled furiously on her pad of paper. “Cup or cone?”
“Can I see both?”
“Cone it is. Regular, I’m not even gonna bother asking.”
He seemed bothered by her decision. “But what if I like the cup more?”
“I promise you, kid. You’ll like the cone. That’ll be $2.50. Do you have that?”
“Yeah, yeah, I do!” Fumbling in his pocket, Jack pulled out a five and handed it over.
Vanessa let out a breath of relief. Finally, he could do something right. As quickly as she could, she scooped the ice cream and slung it into a cone, not forgetting to give him a big grin as she handed it over.
“Have a great day.”
He looked from the treat back to her. “Thank you! I’ll tell my brother that. . . Vanessa was super kind and helpful.”
And with that, he left the shop. How could a kid have that much innocence, she wondered. Or was he just oblivious? Could they possibly be one and the same? Either way, she was happy to be done with him and pleased with his review, even though it had been inaccurate. Let him believe what he wanted to, it didn’t matter. She’d just make sure she got someone else to work the shift he decided to ruin next. Then someone else would have the luxury to give the kid as many samples as he wanted.
“Last call for any orders!” I yelled, my voice echoing slightly.
The parlor was empty, the cheerful families that usually sat at the tables were missing. Summer was over, and any of the heat that had been in town the week prior had left, leaving cooler temperatures in its wake. I doubted anyone else would come in, though the parlor didn’t close for almost another hour.
Praying for good luck, I left the counter to change out of my uniform back into my clothes. No bell chimed as I traded out my skirt and blouse for jeans and a t-shirt, and so I deemed it safe to go.
I stepped into the chill, not forgetting to lock the doors before driving off. The tiny parking lot was vacant except for my little Honda Accord. A sunset filled the sky, hues of navy, amethyst, rose, orange, and gold. I opened the silver door to the driver’s seat, sliding onto the cold leather. Tossing my bag into the back, the contents spilled everywhere.
A bit of flexibility was required to bend my body in a way to clean up my mess. Thump. I flinched before glancing outside. Nothing. I turned my attention back to the spill. Thump. What the heck?
Hurriedly, I put everything back into the cloth tote before getting out of the car. I tried to take in my surroundings even more. The decaying wood of the parlor, the fading white paint on the concrete. It all looked the same. Cars would pass by one every minute, the road not as busy as it was during the day. I decided not to worry about it.
I drove back home, thankful that the noise hadn’t come back. It must have just been my imagination. Perhaps what I thought was someone knocking on my door was actually just my heart beating, or my headache. As I parked in the driveway, I convinced myself that that was it. Just my mind overreacting as usual.
I grabbed my bag once more as I prepared to head inside and take a long, relaxing bath. Anything to make me forget the obnoxious torture my shift had ended with. Maybe I’d tell Colby just how annoying his brother was. Keys in hand, I stepped up to the front door.
I inhaled sharply. Just a figment of my imagination.
The lock clicked, and I entered the house. I wasn’t going to turn around and feed my fear. That was what not to do. I knew that. If you let your fears take control of you, that was when things went downhill.
I’d taken sounds out of context before. Just last night, I had thought that the tree branch scraping the wall was actually someone trying to claw their way into my bedroom. When I was fourteen, the dishwasher turned on and scared me out of my wits. I was super jumpy. “You’re home early.” My mom called from the kitchen, before appearing in the foyer. “Did you not have a closing shift?”
“No one was there. Thought I’d lock it up early.”
She stared at me as if trying to decide whether that was a good enough answer for her. I took her shrug as a yes.
“Do you want dinner now or later?”
I was making my way over to the stairs. “Later.” I paused. “I forgot to lock my car. The fob’s in my left pocket. Can you just. . .”
“Sure thing.” She clicked the button twice. “Honey, who’s that in the back seat?”