STAR FINDER

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Chapter 11: Ice Cream, You Scream…

Arms swinging free, Lilly strolled through the ice cream parlor’s front door. She was right on schedule, her very own schedule. Ice cream, and then home by eleven. This would be easy.

Thumbs tapping her thighs, she stood in the center of the store. She shifted from one foot to the other and looked around. The place was packed.

Antsy children licked cones festooned with every conceivable garnish. Voices, laughter, a baby crying, the nonstop chatter, rolled over her like a pleasant breeze. The bright creamsicle walls trimmed in chartreuse, the brilliance of the black-and-white checked floor, even the fluorescent lights, were cheery. Small café tables and chairs sat two deep on three of the shop’s walls as if to hold this artificial creation together. It was the exact opposite of her drab apartment and dull life. Wonderful.

She blinked. Blinked again. Wringing her hands, Lilly walked over to read the menu.

Posted on the walls were divine dripping reproductions of each of Schaffer’s thirty-eight flavors of ice cream. Cookies ’n Cream, Marshmallow Chocolate, Cherry Vanilla, and something called a Strawberry Blonde, each flavor looked more exotic, more luscious than the one before. Should she rethink the Rocky Road?

Following the line, she meandered over to the freezers.

Frost had collected under and around the big tubs as if they were sitting in snow. Dents from scooping left creamy ridges in the ice cream. There were eight to ten containers per freezer. The four units hummed and Lilly could feel warm exhaust coming from the floor level vents. It blew on her legs.

She giggled. Her father had been so wrong. The store wasn’t cold.

Behind the counter, a girl with sad green eyes and drab brown hair dressed in a color-coordinated striped apron and a perky ice cream cone hat waited on customers.

Had she put on her thick heavy make-up with a brick mason’s trowel? Lilly found Goth unattractive.

The counter girl asked, “What’ll you have?” Her scoop was poised level with her waist ready for action as if drawn from a holster.

Lilly stammered, “Ah. Maybe…I’ll have…does the…”

“Are you going to order? I don’t have all day.”

The counter girl’s tone drew a hard line on Lilly’s forehead. “Night.” Lilly corrected. “It is after twelve noon. Precisely, ten-nineteen. Therefore, it is more appropriate to say night or evening.” She repeated the corrected phrase slow so the counter girl could understand. “I do not have all night.”

Someone chuckled.

The counter girl shifted from one foot to the other. “Whatever. My feet are killing me. Order?”

Lilly noticed she avoided eye contact with everyone. So, it’s not just me.

“We close at eleven. Do you think you’ll know by then, kid?”

Several people behind Lilly grumbled. She settled on her original selection. “Rocky Road, hot fudge, cherries, gummy bears, and whipped cream.”

“Size.”

The girl’s eyes shifted right. Her scoop pointed at a display of the available cups and cones. “Pick one.”

“Large! I would like one large waffle dish sundae, please.”

Order placed, Lilly presented her hundred-dollar bill.

The counter girl took it over to the owner, Mr. Schaffer. He was a wiry man of medium height in his late fifties with thinning gray hair and a hawk-like nose. His white apron had the store’s logo, an ice cream cone, in the center. It brushed the tops of his canvas shoes. He wore a white dress shirt, frayed cuffs rolled up to his elbows. Like his shirt his pants had seen better days.

At the cash register, Mr. Schaffer’s big-knuckled fingers examined the bill. He adjusted his bifocals several times during the process. Satisfied it wasn’t counterfeit, he made change. The counter girl dumped it into Lilly’s open hands without counting it out.

Lilly put the bills in numerical order.

A few minutes later her number was called. She stepped forward and collected her ice cream. “Thank you.” Lilly gave a half turn, caught a drip of hot fudge, licked her chocolate-covered finger, and flipped her eyes closed to savor. “Oh my God, this is awesome!”

Expectations met, she opened her eyes, ready to find a table and get down to eating. Admiring her sundae as if it were a priceless work of art, she found something missing, and pushed back to the pick-up window.

“Excuse me. My order is incomplete. Wrong. Where is my dextrose, corn syrup, gelatin, citric acid, and fruit and plant extracts?” She smiled. “It is a joke. Get it?”

The counter girl looked right and left. “Do we sell that?”

“Gummy bears. Where are my gummy bears?” Lilly held out her sundae to prove her point. “See.”

“What are you? A quality control freak?” The counter girl huffed, curled around without moving her feet, picked up something off the shelf behind her, and handed Lilly a small cup of the candies. “Here. No big deal!” She leaned closer and whispered, “Are you smart enough to know where to put them?”

A little boy giggled.

Lilly retreated to the station where drinks, napkins, and spoons were dispensed. One at a time with precision accuracy she distributed the candies evenly over her sundae. She checked the cup for stragglers and found one last gummy bear stuck to the bottom. It was orange, her favorite flavor. She popped it in her mouth and savored.

“Now it’s perfect. The perfect treat for the best night of my life.”

A couple, he was dark she fair, brushed by Lilly.

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