Chapter 3: Liam
“C’mon, Jere, we need to go.”
“Go where?” he asks excitedly, his bright blue eyes dancing with fever and his body shaking with energy. I mess my hand into his caramel brown hair and he laughs, slapping it away. “Where do we always go on Thursdays?” I smile, opening the coat closet and taking out his coat.
He crinkles his eyebrows in concentration, but his face lights up like a Christmas tree when he remembers. “Ice cream!” he cheers.
“Yeah!” I laugh, patting my pockets to check for the apartment keys and my wallet.
“Is Uncle Jimmy coming too?” he asks, looking up at me with happy eyes and a bright, smiling face. I hate disappointing him.
I wince as I say, “Not tonight, Jere. But we can get an extra scoop of ice cream tonight and bring some home for him.” I cringe, bracing myself for a disappointed cry or even just a punch in the leg from anger, but he smiles profoundly, like it’s the most brilliant idea he’s ever heard.
“Yeah!” he giggles, jumping up and down and racing towards his bedroom door that’s closed at the moment. I smile and jog to catch up with him, opening the door and following him down the wooden stairs that end between the kitchen and the living room. The front door is straight ahead.
Closing the door behind us, we cross the barren street with our hands held in one another’s, heading for the Ben and Jerry’s that’s only a few blocks away. In the distance, car horns and high, piercing whistles split the silent surroundings of our neighborhood, and the small chiming of doors being opened stand as the quietest thing I’ve heard so far today.
When we get closer to the parlor, I squeeze his hand and ask in a gentle, but playful voice if he was ready for the cold. He giggles and I chuckle, bumping his side playfully and pulling the colorful door open to Jere’s favorite place in the world.
The fluorescent lights reflect off the metal tables and chairs, the gleaming tiled floors all squeaky-clean from a recent mopping. The powder blue walls offer a fantasy-feel environment, and the framed photographs of Paris and Amsterdam makes it feel as if we’ve just walked into a shop in Europe.
We walk up to the front counter, looking into the plastic freezer inside to pick our flavor for the week. Or, rather, my flavor of the week. Jere picks the same thing every Thursday: chocolate with sprinkles. I catch Mossey’s eye from the back, her giving me a delighted smile and placing her mop in the bucket, racing to the cash register as if it were a baby that needed to be caressed.
“Hi!” she calls, her imperfect smile beaming at me and her green eyes dancing with cheer. She moves her gaze down to Jere after I fail to greet her back. Oops. “Hey there, kiddo. Did you grow again?” Jere smiles up at her, but, use to her cheery facade, he returns his interest back to the ice cream with the abstract names.
She clears her throat and I realize that she’d asked me a question. “I’m sorry?”
Forcing a smile this time, her eyes cringing the slightest for some unknown reason, she repeats, “What can I get you guys today?”
I offer her a half-smile - my only smile. Well... besides for Jere. “Jere?”
“Uhh..” he mumbles, his sticky fingers leaving smudgy fingerprints on the glass as he trails his hand all the way to the other side of the case where his beloved chosen-one laid. “Chocolate with colors!”
Mossey laughs. “Of course, good sir!” She enters the order into the cash register, and simultaneously asks for my order. Ordering my choice of the week (Coffee, Coffee, Buzz! Buzz! Buzz!), I hand her a ten and slowly shuffle Jere to our usual spot at the back of the parlor in a Pepto-Bismol-pink cushioned booth.
Scrambling to crawl onto the booth seat by himself, he slides to the middle of the table and places his intertwined hands on the surface and smiles up at me like we had come for a business meeting. I mimic him. “So what are the stocks like, Mr. Nottes?” I ask, trying my best to sound as professional as I can while watching him look at me with a glazed stare.
After a few seconds of silence and Jere not even trying to figure out what I’m saying, I sigh out a small chuckle and catch Mossey out of the corner of my eye watching us with a smile, our ice creams in her hands and slowly melting. The corners of my lips tugging down, I turn to face her and she jumps shortly, scurrying to deliver our orders.
“Here ya go!” she sings, Jere squirming in his seat with excitement, and me just wishing she would stop and pick up vocal lessons at Juke Box Hero. I murmur a thanks, taking my overflowing cone from her. She stays at the end of our table for a second longer, watching as Jere licks his cone clean before starting at the top. I notch an eyebrow at her and her cheeks flush. “I-I’m sorry. It’s just... You’re a really nice brother taking him here so often. I know my sister wouldn’t even dream of doing something like that with me.”
A fist punches my gut from the inside and I nod, peeling my eyes away from her and to my son. My son that’s the age of someone who could be my little brother. But he’s not. He’s got her nose. Her smile. Her know-it-all attitude. Nothing that could ever be Mom or Dad’s.
Coughing, my attention snaps back to Mossey who is still at the end of our table, waiting for some sort of reply. I force a smile, nodding once at her comment. “Thanks.”
She smiles back and gives Jere a pat on the head before skipping back to her job mopping behind the counter. Shaking my head, I return my gaze to Jere and his sunshine and daisies of the week.
He stops, though, and shifts his attention to my cone. His jaw drops and his eyes grow in horror. “Daddy, your ice cream’s melting!” he shouts, pointing his finger at the ice cream drips that are leaving a small brown pool on the table. Oops.