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“One cookie dough and one rainbow sherbet, please.” April shines her gap-toothed smile on Artie, the ancient cashier, who prepares orders more slowly than melting ice cream.
“Actually, none for me, thanks.” David cringes at April’s wide eyes.
“But you always get cookie dough!”
“Sorry – my coach says I need to decrease my sugar intake.” Mrs. Brenner did say that David could go sub-fifteen if he laid off the sweets, but to be honest, the idea of ice cream is sickening. Five years. Sixty months. Two hundred and sixty ice cream cones. Not that he’s counting.
“We’re doing this next weekend, right?” They sit on the edge of the pier with their legs dangling over the gray waves. April slurps her sherbet with abandon, not really listening to the answer.
“Um… I kind of have to study. APs, you know?” So maybe he forgot about April when he was scheduling this weekend. He can’t miss the districts track meet, and he really does need to study. Besides, one more rain-speckled afternoon would be wasting time, especially with finals looming.
“Oh. That. Never stopped you before.” April’s stocking-clad shins bang recklessly against the pier supports. “I’ll just work an extra shift then.”
“Are you still working at that old antique shop?” David bristles at her snide tone.
“You got a problem with it?” Her brows draw down and she pins him to his spot with her fierce glare. He’s seen this expression when she’s bargaining for artichokes with a stubborn farmer, debating social justice issues, or even taking some preppie down a few notches. Very rarely do her smoldering eyes turn on him.
“Come on, you know I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just – you could switch things up a little. Can’t stay there forever.”
“I’m fine the way I am, thank you.” She deftly catches an errant trickle with her tongue.
Rain begins to sprinkle lightly out of the flat sky. Droplets bead on the shoulders of David’s North Face jacket. Silence has reigned between him and April for a few minutes, but not the friendly kind. He looks away, squinting at a lanky figure striding along the boardwalk. That rich-kid saunter is familiar.
“Is that Jason Conaway over there?”
“He’s such a jerk,” April sneers, “I heard he dumped Ashley because her GPA fell below 3.5.”
“Oh – too bad.” David had barely even registered that the two were dating, but he had never much liked Ashley. “How did you know that?”
“I get around.” Her teeth crunch through the soggy edge of the waffle cone.
“You know everybody here so well—sorry you have to leave next year.”
“Who says I will?” She pauses mid-bite.
“Well, I just assumed that with acceptance letters out a couple weeks ago, you
might have made your decision.” He drums his fingers on the side of the pier. This discussion isn’t heading into comfortable territory.
She refuses to look at him. “Have you made yours?”
“April. You aren’t going?” Never, never had he expected this. A small-town college, maybe, or a community institution. But not going?
“David! Congratulations! Johns Hopkins, pre-med? That’s insane!” The distant figure emerges from the fog and coalesces into the form of Jason. His sweater vest is neatly brushed and his jeans sparkle the way only spanking new denim can. Even his shoes shine.
“Thanks. I guess I just got lucky.” David is still reeling over the plump letter that arrived in his mailbox two weeks ago. He had only ever dreamed of striding through the fabled halls, but now he actually will.
“Cool, man. Wanna come grab a slice at Marty’s?”
David glances at April, who still won’t meet his eyes. She is picking at some rotting wood with the edge of her fingernail.
“Go ahead. I’ll stay here.”
“If you’re sure?” She doesn’t speak, so with a shrug he gets to his feet. “Bye then. See you in a couple weeks.” It’s not like his missing much, not with the mood she’s in today. And she obviously doesn’t want to hang out with him.
As Jason begins to discuss his decision between Columbia and Brown, David hears a faint splash off the pier. Is it just him, or is there a half-eaten ice cream cone bobbing in the Pacific?
“Hi – how much is this vase?” David self-consciously adjusts his tie. This peeling antiques store is really not his type – better the art gallery two blocks down – but April used to love it.
“Ninety.” Croaks the proprietor, her chandelier earrings swaying in the light. “For your girlfriend?” Her beady eyes glow with nosiness.
“No – an old friend of mine. Haven’t seen her in years.” He fingers the fluted edge of vase. A rather pretty color, periwinkle blue. Same as her eyes.
“I’ll bet she misses you.”
“Maybe.” How would he know? No contact after he packed up his clothes for Johns Hopkins, no letter at his graduation, not even a phone call when he got his Master’s in neuroscience. Since Jason and his parents had moved to the East, David hadn’t seen much of a reason to return until his ten-year high school reunion.
“I’ll bet she doesn’t.” An employee sneers as she brushes past. Her auburn hair piles in a mass of dreadlocks and she’s carrying a little extra weight around the hips, but those flashing blue eyes could belong to nobody else. They are sunken, now, anchored in empty memories and the sluggish pace of tomorrow.
David strokes the vase one last time before replacing it on the shelf. Beautiful, but fragile, and much too expensive. Maybe it just wasn’t worth it.