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It was a chilly winter night; so naturally, the ice cream parlor where I work was extremely busy.
I sat inside at the drive through window, tiredly sliding it back and forth; my mind in a far off fantasy world full of things I wished I could’ve had right then.
The winter night shift at Happy’s House of Frozen Custard is the worst job anyone could ever take. It’s a pathetic temporary spot that opens and closes by the month; bait for desperate teenagers looking for jobs that pay minimum wage, at least. Desperate teenagers like me.
I waited patiently at the deserted drive through window for customers that would never show, bundled up in a heavy coat and consumed into my own thoughts. Sitting a few feet away was my fat, lazy fellow employee, Chloe, who was stuffing her face with God-knows-what from the freezer. The sound of her chewing would’ve interrupted my beautiful daydream if I’d let it.
It was summer in my mind. I had no worries. I lay on a grungy couch huddled over a tall bucket of coffee ice cream, a video controller clasped tightly in my fingers. I wanted to sit here all night, playing Halo until my eyes bled . . . but there was that chewing again.
I heaved a heavy sigh. “Chew quieter,” I mumbled monotonously.
“What did you say?” Chloe asked, an uneasy edge tingling in her tone.
“Chew quieter,” I repeated, raising my voice. “You don’t have to give the ice cream a saliva bath in order to eat it.”
“Shut up, punk,” Chloe responded.
I hated her. She weighed like 300 pounds, had a voice deeper than mine, and ate more ice cream than she served.
I found it impossible to get back into my own head with her around. Luckily, I didn’t have to, because a rare occurrence had just happened. A customer pulled up to order.
“Welcome to Happy’s House of Frozen Custard,” I greeted him in the microphone, trying to sound cheerful.
“Yeah, what’s good here?” a man with a thick southern accent replied.
I rolled my eyes. “Uh, a lot of things are good here,” I said, still trying to sound cheerful. “What do you like?”
“I like banana splits,” the man responded.
“Well we have—”
“But I want somethin’ with heavy chocolate and nuts too.”
“We can put chocolate syrup and nuts on your banana split.”
“But I want, like somethin’ with heavy chocolate, like rocky road,” said the man.
“We have that too, sir,” I responded, getting impatient.
I looked at Chloe, who had ice cream plastered around her mouth like clown makeup. I mouthed, Help me. She chuckled and turned away.
“I’mma just get a steak, I think, from across the street,” said the guy ordering. “I want, like a real meal right now. I might come back if they have bad desserts over there.”
“Alright,” I responded.
Before he could say anything else, I ripped the microphone headset off and threw it against the counter.
“Calm down,” Chloe said, sounding bored.
“No. This job sucks, and we get like, two customers a night, one of which decides they don’t want it anymore as soon as they pull up. There’s no point in even coming to work,” I said heatedly.
“Free ice cream,” Chloe replied with a mouth dripping of something pink that looked really disgusting.
“I’m leaving,” I told her, starting for the door.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“Home,” I said vaguely, bursting out of the ice cream parlor.
Chloe tried to yell after me, but I wasn’t listening. I was tired, and wanted to be anywhere but here.
I unlocked the chain binding my bicycle outside the parlor and swung my leg over it. I saw Chloe glaring at me through the window, but I looked quickly away and pedaled toward the sidewalk.
I ride a bike to work for two reasons: One, my house is just up the street and two; my parents don’t know I work at Happy’s. I’ve only had the job for two weeks, and I sneak out every night unnoticed. They go to bed early. They’re oblivious. They think I’m always honest with them, and that works in my favor. But I had to do what I had to do for money. I’m sick of asking them for everything, and they think I’m too young to work. Freezing my butt of with Chloe every night, uselessly chatting with
“customers” is making me begin to believe they’re right.
The night was silent. I rode up the street, the squeak of the pedals screeching in my ears.
And then there was a scream. It was bloodcurdling, agonizing to hear, and startled me so much that I lost the grip on my handlebars and tumbled off of my bike, slamming hard against the sidewalk.
I stumbled to my feet as a second scream boomed in the atmosphere, this time seeming muffled. I scrambled up the sidewalk until I came to an alleyway. I could make out two dark shapes in the dim light pretty far down. They were both men. One of them stood over the other, and kicked his leg down hard, generating another muffled scream. Something was over the second man’s head, it seemed.
I stood, motionless, my eyes locked on the scene. Someone was getting mugged. And I was a witness. A million thoughts seemed to race through my mind in one second. I could run away. I could try and help, which would probably result in my death. I would have called the police, but my cell phone battery was dead. I’d spent too much time texting my girlfriend earlier. She was the main reason I took the job.
One of the men slammed the other against the brick wall. It was painful to watch. I wondered what he could have possibly done to deserve this. I turned and looked up and down the street. It was late. No one was out.
Then I started breathing, after realizing I’d been holding my breath. I was tired. I wanted to go home. It was just up the street, but it seemed there were so many directions I could go. The police station was kind of far. I could go back to the ice cream shop, but there was no phone in there, and Chloe was useless. I knew other stores were near, and I could get help there.
But I didn’t know this man. What did he mean to me anyway?
I tried to take a deep breath, but staggered as the mugger turned to face me. It was dark, and his figure was only illuminated dimly by the streetlights, but there wasn’t a doubt he had turned to face me. He stood still. I began to back away.
At the first sign of movement, I made a hasty decision. I dove for my bike and hopped on, suddenly developing strength I didn’t even know I had. Then I pedaled helplessly up the sidewalk, hoping the guy wouldn’t follow me.
I don’t know if he did.
Two minutes later, I burst through the back door of my house, leaving my bike in the grass. I proceeded to hastily lock all the doors in the house and made sure the windows were closed. Then I ran to the phone, my heart racing and sweat trickling down my body, and dialed 911.
I wake up depressed the next morning. It was difficult to get to sleep last night, but after a cold shower, I managed. I thought a lot about the man last night. I thought about if I’d made the smartest decision.
I walk groggily downstairs and find my parents in the living room with a guy dressed in a police uniform. My mom looks awfully concerned, and my dad looks a little angry.
“Hello, Louis,” says the officer, clearly trying to sound friendly but failing.
“What’s happening?” I ask.
“We just need a few statements from you,” the officer replies.
“I told the police everything I knew, everything I saw, on the phone last night.”
“We understand you worked the night shift with Chloe White at the ice cream parlor down the street,” the officer says.
I shiver. “Yeah. What does she have to do with—?”
“Her brother was badly injured in a mugging late last night. A mugging that, apparently, you reported. He was beat up, and stabbed in the arm. He’s in critical condition. I just want to ask you a few questions, Louis,” the officer explains. He sounds as though he thinks I’m guilty of something.
My mom looks terrified. I take a breath, struggling to find words.
But nothing comes out. I can only think. About how much of a bizarre coincidence it is that Chloe’s brother was the one getting mugged. About what it could mean that I was a witness. About how if I hadn’t left early last night, if the redneck hadn’t angered me, I wouldn’t have seen the mugging. I wouldn’t be in this situation. I wonder if it was a good decision to call the police. I’m now caught up in some crime that I didn’t ever mean to be a part of.
But ultimately, I’m thinking about how utterly horrible I feel for Chloe and her family.