Chapter 1: Brink of Insanity
It started in the month of January 2014…
“Just give it to me,” I demand in frustration at his decline to at least bargain for it.
“No!” the kid shouts directly into my face.
“Please!” I try to reason with him, my temper about to get the best of me. I only have so much patience…
“No!” he repeats in the same tone and pitch as if he’s enjoying the banter, whereas I’m not.
“How much do you want for it?” I question, willing to bribe the conniving child for it.
“How much you got?” he asks me, his interest spiked at the mention of money.
I think I just found what makes this kid tick. I may just speak his language yet.
“Only got one dollar on me,” I lie, taking my chances. I have nothing on me.
“Still no,” he answers in ease, stringing me along for the ride. He’s exploiting my weakness.
“That’s it!” I crouch down to his level and try to grab the bubblegum ice cream out of his short stubby arms. “You’ve clearly had too much anyways!”
“Aqueela! What the hell are you doing?” a familiar voice calls out me as if to reprimand me.
I groan at the sound and ignore her as I turn back to the midget before me, “Listen, kid, if I make a trade will you give it to me then?” I ask politely, trying to get into his good books. It might just be too late for that. I’ve blown all my shots to hell.
When he stubbornly shakes his head at me, all the little of my self-control flies out the window. I grit my teeth together and leap forward to attack, but a sudden tight grip on my wrist tugs me back, keeping me set in place.
I spin around to see who it is that is proving to be an obstacle in my path of destruction. When my eyes meet her blue-green ones, I sink my head in submission and turn away in shame, “Why hello there, Bells,” I mumble sheepishly, “how nice of you to finally join us. Maybe you can help me kill Pork Chop over here?” I huff in defeat as the boy snickers, finding all of this to be in his full entertainment.
Bells gasps at my rudeness and turns to the little boy apologetically, still holding me tightly in place, “Forgive my friend, she’s an idiot.”
“I noticed,” the boy grins evilly, smirking at me before taking a long lick of his ice cream, clearly antagonizing me.
“Can you please be so kind as to tell me where you got that ice cream?” Bells asks him.
I scoff to myself, “Been there, done that.” I’ve already spent an hour trying to find out where he bought it. The kid is headstrong and persistent in not telling me.
“Niceness will get you far in life,” Bells insists whilst I openly disagree with her. If you’re nice, people walk all over you and use you as their personal doormat. Again, been there, done that.
“Whatever you say,” I fake a yawn as I squirm in her grip, trying to break free, but she’s stronger than she looks - or maybe I’m just weaker than I look.
My first attempt was asking the kid where he bought that magnificent bubblegum ice cream, but he blatantly refused to tell me. Thus, I tried to get my hands on his ice cream. I would have succeeded had Bell not been meddling in my business like the pesky kid she is.
“Down the street, on the corner, pretty lady,” he answers her politely, my mouth falling agape in shock. So he decides to comply now?
Bell grins at me in victory as she begins to drag me away, but I keep my eyes firmly trained on the kid. He licks his ice cream agonizingly slow and sends me a cheeky wink when Bells isn’t looking. I glare at him profusely in turn, but he merely shrugs it off and gives me the ‘call me’ gesture.
My eyes widen in horror, my jaw just about dropping to the floor. “Bell, how are you not seeing this right now?” I ask in fury. “The little monster is taunting me behind your back,” I tell her, hoping she’d side with me and jump aboard the ‘Aqueela train’.
Bella turns around quickly, only to find the very same boy smiling shyly at her and waving as if entirely innocent and not capable of being a devil in disguise. She scolds me as a result, not believing me, “Aqueela, shut up. He’s like five years younger than you.”
“That sly little-“
“Aqueela, do you want a bubblegum ice cream or not? Because if you do, then you better stop harassing a twelve-year-old,” Bell lectures me as if I’m the one in the wrong. Annoyed, I roll my eyes and mimic her behind her back rather childishly. I’m stooping to the kid’s level and I blame him for it.
“As long as you’re paying,” I mumble fiercely, beyond irritated at the boy’s difficulty.
“Don’t I always?” she answers in a rhetorical question.
I stop short when we round the corner and a new store comes into view. With a sudden burst of strength, I yank free from Bella’s vice-like grip as the wafting aromas of dairy fill all my senses, the smell of all the different flavors lingering in the air.
“Wow,” I say in awe. I can practically taste the ice cream on my tongue due to the tantalizing scents floating through the air. I’m difficult to please, but even I’m already impressed.
Bella rolls her eyes at my over enthusiasm, “You’re so dramatic when it comes to ice cream.”
I brush her compliment aside as my legs take over. I absentmindedly begin walking in the direction of the very building where dreams come true. I hesitate but then finally take my first step into the store. I close my eyes and suck in a deep breath, preparing for my life to change forever-
“Go in already!” Bell yells and shoves me inside, pulling me away from my wonderful reverie. I almost lose my balance and collapse under the force behind her unexpected push.
I recover and grin, overjoyed, as I take in the interior of the store. The bright colors and smells of dairy attack me more powerfully than ever before, now tempting me to buy something. I’d go bankrupt in a magical place like this.
Still in awe, I throw my hands to the air before spinning around in slow dramatic circles as I take in all the details of the majestic store. “This place is so heavenly, I can kiss the floors,” I say aloud to no one in particular, amazed by it all.
My fantasy comes crashing down at the sound of Bell’s pessimistic voice, “Looks like they don’t have any bubblegum ice cream left in stock.”
I stop rotating to shoot her a flat look heaped with much concern. I quickly rush over to her, taking a stand beside her as I survey the different flavors behind the glass.
I hiss in irritation when I see that she is right. Just my luck. I walk up to the manager on duty in spite of Bell’s protests.
I glance up and face the enormous Asian manager, whom I think is smiling but I can’t really tell because he’s pulling a weird facial expression. “Tell me, Sir, is this a cult? A heresy?” I begin my severe interrogation.
He shakes his head nervously, “N-no.”
“Why is there no bubblegum ice cream left in stock, huh? Huh, huh, huh?” I lean over the counter and narrow my eyes at his own beady pair in a threatening manner before slamming my fist down on the counter. It’s just to whip some fear into him.
In reality, I’m about as intimidating as a guppy fish.
“Miss, bubblegum ice cream just finish,” he says slowly as if talking to a toddler, his smile remaining intact in spite of his obvious rudeness toward me. However, I’m pretty sure he’s only recently learned English and that seems to soften me up a bit.
“Aww, man,” I sigh and turn away from him with a dejected expression.
He’s quick to stop me, “But for lady…” he points at me, “I quick make you bubblegum ice cream.”
I nod, relieved, as a small smile takes over my features, “Yes. You make. I wait. Thank you so much,” I say, expressing my gratitude as he disappears into the back room. His smile remains forever intact.
I turn around to face Bells, an enormous grin bracing my features, but it quickly falls when I see her disapproving stare of solemness. I shrug my shoulders innocently, “What?” I ask.
She gives me a deadpanned glare in return, signaling that I know ‘what’. “Aqueela,” she says flatly.
I give in and cave to her silent demand, “Oh come on, I really wanted a bubblegum ice cream. I didn’t ask him to go out of his way for me. He volunteered and I have trouble saying ‘no’,” I complain, trying to defend my actions as best I can.
“You could have opted for a different flavor for once. It doesn’t have to be bubblegum all the time,” she states in return, carelessly forgetting the meaning behind her words.
My eyes blaze up at the disgrace of the words that she had just uttered, my temper slightly flaring. She realizes her slip up and quickly holds her hands up in surrender, pretending to be remorseful, “I’m just saying,” she justifies.
I scoff at her in disbelief at her casualness on the very significant matter, “Well go just say it somewhere else,” I tease, not at all meaning it. She knows I’m only joking so she doesn’t take it personally - plus, I’ve said worse things before. She’s used to it by now.
She falls quiet with a small smile intact as she shakes her head at me in pure amusement. If anyone gets me, she does. We’ve known each other for years. We’ve both lived in Burnsville, Minnesota since teeny tiny tots.
I stare out at the window at the light snow falling. I love winter, but unfortunately, it’s not the best season for ice cream. Then again, in my books, ice cream is good at all times. It’s the exception to everything.
“You know…” Bell trails off, breaking our silence, “I hope you are aware who’s paying for your ice cream,” she smirks, rubbing it in my face further.
I’m about to reply when another voice halts me in my place, “Lookie here, for lady, special,” the Asian manager returns with a stunning blue bubblegum ice cream in all its glorious delight.
I’m taken aback by its absolute beauty. I’m in awe, but freeze when I notice it - sprinkles. The colorful stale sugar is all over my precious ice cream. My happy-go-lucky expression drops at the sight.
“Aqueels, calm down. Think this through,” Bell advises, worried of my reaction. This would not be the first time I’ve blown things right out of proportion.
“But I didn’t ask for sprinkles?” I pout childishly at Bells, restraining myself from lashing out at the incompetent manager.
His grin stays in place upon overhearing my words with Bells. He beams at me proudly, “Special.”
“I demand you make another one without sprinkles. That, or I sue you for all you’re worth. I hate sprinkles, they’re disgusting and evil,” I order, well aware that I’m pushing it, but his smile is unwavering - I am beginning to think that it’s permanent.
“I make new,” he says with laughter as if finding me to be amusing. He quickly vanishes into his back room yet again to do the task right this time.
“High maintenance,” Bells coughs mockingly.
I huff and roll my eyes at her before having my say, “This place needs a new manager,” I joke for the sake of humoring Bells.
“And why is that?” a smooth silky voice asks from behind me.
I turn around slowly only to come into contact with gorgeous blue eyes, high cheekbones and the most pronounced jaw I’ve ever seen. Light brown hair falls over his eyes and I’m stunned in the fact that such a good looking specimen even exists. He could easily be a male model, nothing he can’t pull off.
“H-hi,” I stutter in embarrassment the first words that come to mind. I avert my eyes away from his blue ones when I register my mistake.
He chuckles and offers me a smile, “Hey.”
“Hi,” I repeat like an idiot and mentally facepalm myself. There’s so much wrong with me.
He shakes his head at me with a cute grin on his face before clarifying the obvious, “I’m the manager here. Is there a problem?” he asks gently, concerned.
“You?” I ask nervously in spite of me realizing it a while ago. “Oh,” I say stupidly. “Aren’t you too young?” I ask impulsively. Seeing as it can be taken as an insult, I quickly try to cover it up, “Not that you look young or anything, but that doesn’t mean that I think you look too old.” I ramble on, “I mean you’re perfect the way you are. I love you,” I blurt out and manage to hear snickering from somewhere behind me as Bella drowns herself in giggles at my words.
“Are you trying to flirt with me?” he asks uncertainly, and this time, he’s the one that seems uncomfortable.
I wish I knew…
“Um, no,” I say lamely, “not that you’re not worthy of flirting with because you are…” I falter in my words and eventually just decide to stop talking.
The true manager opens his mouth to speak, but he closes it again as if speechless. I can’t really blame him. I didn’t leave room in the conversation for much more to be said. Next thing you know, I might just end up proposing to him.
My gaze trails when I hear a bell ringing. It’s continuously blaring into my ears. I follow the sound to the front counter where the Asian man is standing and holding a bubblegum ice cream in his hands. There are no sprinkles this time.
I smile brightly and skip over to him in enthusiasm, “Thank you very very very much!” I chirp as Bella hands him the money, a goofy grin still plastered on her face in mockery of me. She won’t let me live this down.
“Simo, is there a problem here? This little lady says there is,” the actual manager asks his worker.
The fat Asian man, known as Simo, shakes his head in response, a grin still cemented onto his face, “She no like sprinkle,” he says in such a way that I have a feeling that he’s mocking me without my knowledge of it.
The manager turns his dreamy blue eyes onto me as a result. “You don’t like sprinkles?” he questions. I shake my head, deciding it’s best to just shut up. A smile imprints onto his expression, “Huh? That’s new.”
Before I can respond, he gets a phone call and walks outside as if to answer it in private.
I am relieved and disappointed at his absence all at the same time, more relieved though if I’m being entirely honest with myself. I lick my ice cream happily and walk back to Bella who is taunting me with her bubbly grin. “Don’t even comment,” I say all too quickly, hoping she’d heed the warning.
She smiles wickedly at me, “Wasn’t going to because you’re perfect and I love you,” she smirks down at me teasingly as if she just won the lottery. In a way, she has. I’m not used to losing, ever.
“I hate you,” I mutter playfully and anchor myself away from her. I move so that I’m standing a foot away from the exit, my back to it and my face towards Bells as I send her a glare.
“Love you too,” she laughs and drops the subject of my embarrassment and utter humiliation. “You know you’re the only crazy moron who’s in the store buying an ice cream in the middle of winter. In fact, if we weren’t here the store would be empty,” she informs me to which I merely shrug. Guilty is charged. I might be a moron, but I’m still going to enjoy my bubblegum flavored ice cream thoroughly in any case. “Oh and that fat kid,” she adds thoughtfully.
I scowl at her for mentioning him because if I ever see that kid again, it’ll be at his funeral.
The ice cream is far better than I thought it would ever be. It’s genuinely the best I’ve ever had, and although I say that every time, this time, I mean it…I think. It’s like I’m floating on a cloud, walking on sunshine, wings beneath my feathers and all that cheesy stuff. I’m in heaven.
“Come on,” I pull Bella along by the forearm, “let’s get out of here,” I say in a rush, wanting to leave before the hot manager dude returns. I’ve embarrassed myself enough for a day, or so I thought…
I spin back around in speed and end up turning into what could possibly be the death of me, or perhaps, the beginning of my story.
Out of nowhere, I bump into someone and spill the delicious contents of my ice cream all over a leather jacket. I momentarily freeze, infuriated because the idiot got in my way, or maybe because I got in his way. Just as I open my mouth to have my say, I see who it is and stop short in my tracks. Instead of yelling, I blurt out the next couple of words on impulse, “Your eyes are the same color as bubblegum!”
To make yourself look like a complete moron in front of anyone is something, but to make a fool out of yourself in front of Jay Taylor is another thing altogether. I know who he is, same high school and all, but our paths haven’t really crossed up until now.
He lifts his face to see who just bumped into him, his electric blue eyes zeroing in on me in irritation, “Just great. Why do the klutzes always run into me?” he mumbles to himself as if having an off day. His eyes meet mine in a narrowed glare, “And it just has to be all over my leather jacket. “
No one messes with Jay, mostly because he’s intimidating. He’s a loner and rarely talks to anyone. He has no label and I’ve always found him to be frightening. It’s why I quickly find myself swallowing all the insults I was just about to dish his way.
I’m about to drop it, but it’s when he says his next sentence that I explode like a ticking time bomb:
“Bubblegum out of all flavors? Really?” he asks with one eyebrow raised as he interrogates me on not only my choice of flavor, but my way of life. “I hate bubblegum,” he mutters under his breath as he shakes his head at me in disdain.
He turns to walk away, but being my impulsive self I just have to yell out in fury after him, “And I hate you!”
He stops dead in his tracks. I gulp fearfully. He turns to face me head on with a deadpanned glare. It slowly dawns on me that maybe I should have kept my big mouth shut. I could have gotten off with ruining his jacket without any consequences, but instead, I just had to open my mouth.
“Aqueela, what are you getting yourself into?” Bell whispers from beside me when I refuse to stand down, in spite of the fact that I can feel myself trembling.
“He just told me that he doesn’t like bubblegum and you want me to sit here and pretend like it’s not a felony?” I ask loudly, making sure that the supposed, self-proclaimed bad boy himself heard.
Before Bell can reply, Jay takes a step forward, closing all distance left between us. As much as I want to flee, I refuse to give him that kind of satisfaction. His bubblegum colored eyes narrow as a lopsided grin makes its way onto his lips, almost as if he’s amused by my hardheadedness.
He leans in closer until I feel his breathing against the side of my ear, “First off, you’re standing, not sitting. Second, it’s not a felony to hate bubblegum, but it is a felony to destroy someone else’s property, and that includes my jacket, as in my property.”
I take a step back in cowardly fear and it seems to only amuse him further. I watch as he takes off his jacket and flings it over my face. “Clean it up, Klutz, and bring it to me tomorrow. Same place, same time,” he winks before taking slow cautious steps back in order to see my reaction as I remove his stupid jacket from my awesome face.
He grins before saluting me and then finally turns around and retreats.
“Klutz?” Bell questions in horror, wide-eyed from beside me.
“It’s not going to become a thing,” I reassure myself in confidence.
She laughs in turn, “Oh, it’s definitely going to be a thing, Klutz,” she says confidently as she leaves me standing alone in the middle of the ice cream store with an empty ice cream cone and a bubblegum covered jacket.