Zack nodded. “Lead the way to your favorite ice cream place.” Nana nodded back and led the way to our favorite store. When we arrived, we stood in the short line that had formed. “Choose whatever you want; it’s on me.”
“You sure?” I asked, looking up at him.
His eyes sparked nicely as he nodded. “Absolutely. I’ve also never had ice cream here, so you’ll have to tell me what the best thing to get is.”
Nana chuckled. “Whenever we go anywhere, Char either gets a chocolate-peanut butter milkshake or vanilla ice cream in a cone. She doesn’t enjoy the fancy ice cream so much.”
“Simplicity, that’s all,” I responded. “Nothing against anything fancy, it’s just not something I enjoy.”
Zack smiled. “Which are you getting tonight?”
“There’s a different place I like to get milkshakes, so I’m getting a vanilla cone tonight. Nana?”
“Oh, I don’t know, probably the butter pecan ice cream.”
Zack looked over everyone’s heads, which wasn’t really a problem for him to do, because he was so tall, and read the menu. “What are other good flavors?”
“They all are, actually.” He looked down at me. “I have tasted them all, despite not liking fancy ice cream.”
He nodded. “Is chocolate good?”
The way he phrased the question seemed odd to me, but I shook it off. “Yeah, chocolate is good.”
“I think I’ll get chocolate in a cone.”
“Their waffle cones are to die for, by the way.”
He smiled. “Then we’ll both get waffle cones.” He looked over at Nana. “One for you, too, ma’am?”
“It’s Cleo, dear.” Nana shook her head. “I think I’ll have a dish; I can’t eat cold food that fast.”
“All right.” We moved up to the head of the line, and he went up to the counter.
“What can I get for you?” the girl behind the counter asked.
“One vanilla waffle cone, one chocolate waffle cone, and one butter pecan dish,” Zack rattled off.
The girl put it all into the computer and said a total. Zack pulled some kind of credit card out of his pocket and used it to pay for our ice cream. “I’ll be right back with your ice cream,” the girl said. She hurried back to fill our order.
Five minutes later, we were sitting on a bench facing the shops, eating our ice cream. Nana finished hers first, despite her claim that the cold made her teeth ache. She stood up. “I need to find the restroom, Char; I’ll be back.”
“I’ll come with you, Nana.” I started to get up, but she stopped me.
“No, no, you stay here, and I’ll be back in a few minutes.” She smiled and hurried off toward the big music building.
I shook my head and sat back to finish my cone. “What?” Zack asked, eating the last bit of his.
“She’s giving us space to get to know each other,” I responded. “That’s her way of saying she approves of you and thinks you’re good enough to marry me.”
He laughed a little. “Really. Would you?”
“Marry you? I don’t know … I barely know you.”
“May I get to know you?”
I looked into his face and saw … earnestness? Sincerity? Both? I shrugged. “So. What should we talk about?”
“Tell me about yourself,” he said. “Anything you want to.” He smiled.
“OK. I’m not that interesting. I mean, I’m twenty-one, I live at home, and I commute to college, where I’m a journalism major. That’s me in a nutshell.”
He nodded. “Do you have any hobbies?”
“Not a lot. I like to write some, and I like to crochet. I make hats for the local hospital to give to all of their patients. I sew, too, and I make pillow cases for the hospital, too. Doing stuff like that makes me feel like a productive member of society, not just some girl with big, unrealistic dreams about being a famous reporter.”
He smiled. “They’re probably not unrealistic.”
I laughed. “They probably are, though! I mean, so many people aspire to do it, but only a few actually do.” I shrugged. “I don’t know, I guess I was inspired by a doll my grandparents got me when I turned six. She came with a story, and she grew up in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. She was an aspiring reporter who wrote for her local news paper, and that inspired me to go into journalism.”
“Do you have any other aspirations?”
“Possibly becoming a lawyer, although I think politics are totally bogus. I realize you don’t have to be political to be a lawyer, but the system can be really unfair, and I hate that.”
“Maybe you should work to change that.”
“Maybe.” I shrugged again.
“Do you live far from here?” he asked.
“Nope. Took us four hours to get here, and that was with me driving as fast as is legal! My grandma drives super slow a lot of times.” I chuckled, then looked up at him again. “What about you, where do you come from? What do you like to do? Are you a college student?”
He brushed off my questions. “I’m not a student, no.”
“What do you do for a living?”
Just as Zack was about to answer, Nana came back. “Char, I’m getting a little tired.”
Both Zack and I stood up quickly. “We should get back to the apartment, then.” I won’t pretend that I didn’t feel a sense of relief not to be alone with a stranger anymore. I turned to him. “Sorry, but thank you for the ice cream.”
He smiled. “Of course. I enjoyed our conversation, too.”
I took a step toward Nana, then turned around. “On the beach, you said something about seeing me tomorrow. When did you want to do that?”
His smile didn’t falter, only got bigger. “You’d like to meet me again tomorrow?”
“Well, yeah, I just asked about that, didn’t I?”
“What do you want to do?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know … what do you want to do?”
An idea seemed to come to him. “How about we go to the beach? Your Nana can come, too. We can take a walk, sit on the sand, get in the water, you name it.”
A smile slowly stretched across my face. “Yeah … yeah, that’d be cool.”
“May I pick you up from your apartment? Say, one?”
I nodded. “Sounds good. Our apartment is on 2nd Street, the blue building, and it’s the second floor. We’ll be waiting on the porch for you.”
Zack was still smiling. “I’ll see you tomorrow at one, then.” He took my hand, causing me to jump from the shock; his smile faded. “Sorry; did I startle you?”
“Just shocked me … again.” I took my hand back. “Sorry.”
He examined his hand. “Hmm … I’ll work on that. Goodnight, Char.”
“Goodnight, Zack.” His smile returned when I said his name, and he walked off, toward more shops. Nana and I walked back down to the apartment.