I squinted at Francesca. Even outside in the glaring sunshine she looked fantastic: her skin was a golden tan, and her hair was the color of Kraft Caramels. “So where do you want to go?” I asked, my teeth skidding on the last little slivers of ice cubes
“Oh, you decide,” Francesca said happily. “You’re the expert.”
“Well, you live here, don’t you? Where do you go when you want to have fun?”
“I don’t know. The mall, probably. When someone’s mom can drive us.”
She made a face. “Where else?”
“The park. The movies. The stores on Elm.”
“The ice cream place—”
“Ooh, ice cream,” she said, clapping her hands. “What a genius idea. Is it far?”
“Sort of. Half a mile, maybe.”
“Oh, that’s nothing. I love to walk.”
I looked at her feet. “Even in those shoes? They don’t look very comfortable.”
“Oh, they’re not. They’re bloody torture, actually. But they’re so epically gorgeous, don’t you think?” She took off her left shoe. I could see the side of her foot near her big toe looked pink and peely. She rubbed it, then put the shoe right back on and beamed at me. “Besides, if Mother Darling saw me wearing them, she’d go berserk. So who cares about stupid blisters.”
I didn’t know what to say to that; it never occurred to me to want my mom to go berserk. The truth is, Mom went berserk all the time, over things like unwashed dishes and unmade beds, and I didn’t exactly find it entertaining. And why did Francesca just call her own mom ‘Mother Darling’? She talked really, really strangely, like everything she said was in quotation marks or something
We walked long blocks without saying very much. The air was so hot, it was almost chewy, and I could feel the sweat trickling down my armpits, even though this morning I’d snuck some of Grace’s powder-fresh deodorant. Francesca was definitely limping by now. Once or twice I saw her stop and rub her foot, but she never complained or took her shoe off again. Finally she pointed across the street. “Is that the ice cream place, Evie? It looks like heaven.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” I said. “But I really like their chocolate chip.”
She wiped her forehead. “Yum, chocolate chip. My absolute favorite.”
We crossed the street and went inside. Oh, I should tell you that I Scream for Ice Cream (I know, I know: dumb name) was owned by Zane’s dad, and Zane helped out there sometimes. Today was one of those days, probably because the place was packed with sticky first graders off the camp bus and moms sick of dieting all summer to fit into bathing suits and middle schoolers in denial about the end of vacation.
We got in line. As soon as we did, the door opened again, and two girls I knew from school walked in: Kayla and Gaby. Definitely cooler-than-me types, but I’d say lower-medium-nice
“Hey, Evie,” said Kayla, finger-combing her fakely highlighted long brown hair. “What Team are you on? Hard or Easy?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t read my letter yet.” This was true; I’d gotten my Seventh-Grade Team Assignment Letter last week, but I’d just stuffed it into my desk drawer.
Kayla smiled like she didn’t believe me. “We’re both on Hard. What about Nisha and Lily?”
“Hard,” I said. “Like always.”
“Poor them,” Gaby commented. “Hard has Espee.”
I nodded. Oh yes, I knew all about the Espee business. When my sister, Grace, took seventh-grade U.S. History, all she did—I mean literally, ALL SHE DID—was research and write bibliographies, sometimes until two in the morning. Her social life basically ended that year; the only thing she cared about was satisfying this insatiable monster she referred to as SP. I was, like, seven years old then, so I thought “SP” stood for something too horrible to call a teacher out loud, like Scary Person or Sour Pickle. Finally I asked Grace what SP meant, and she said, “Stephanie Pierce. She signs everything SP, so that’s what we call her.” “To her face?” I’d asked. “Of course not,” Grace had said, hooting at my stupidity. “She’d vaporize you.”
Francesca, who I could have introduced at that point, was standing on her tippy-toes, even though she was nearly six feet tall with those all-of-the-above shoes. “What does that sign say?” she asked too loudly. “Mochaccino Supremo? What’s that?” And then she turned around and grinned at me. “Deeply gorgeous boy. Behind the counter.”
In back of me, Gaby started giggling. I’ve always hated the way she sounded when she laughed, kind of like a car alarm
“That’s Zane,” Kayla announced. “He’s in eighth grade.”
“Zane,” Francesca repeated still-too-loudly. “What an odd name.” Then she stared at me with her huge, smoky green eyes. “You’re in love with him, Evie, aren’t you?”
“I’m psychic about these things. I should have warned you.”
“Yes? Next in line?” Zane called out
“Oops, my turn!” Francesca walked right up to Zane, gave him a dazzling smile, and asked, “So, Zane, what do you recommend?”
I could have died. What did he recommend? Gah. Didn’t she even know how to order ice cream like a normal human being? I could hear Gaby and Kayla laughing, maybe about Francesca, maybe about me. And then I saw Zane hand Francesca a tiny plastic spoon and one of those little paper cups they used for free samples
Francesca took a spoonful of whatever-it-was. “Ooh, lovely,” she said. She pointed to some other kind of ice cream in the case. “What’s that?”
“Triple Fudge Marshmallow Chunk. Try it,” said Zane, handing her another paper cup
“Yumyumyum,” said Francesca when she’d taken a bite. “What’s that?”
He read the label upside down. “Um, Golden Brownie with Caramel Fudge Ripple.”
Francesca clutched her chest like she was having a heart attack
So Zane handed her another free sample
“Bliss,” Francesca said. “I’ve never tasted anything so epically delish!”
“Aaaa, come on, dude, we’re waiting here,” snarled some high-school-looking boy three customers behind me.
“Be right with you,” Zane answered. But he just kept handing Francesca free sample after free sample. And Francesca just kept pointing at the ice cream freezer and saying “lovely” and “yummy” and “Ooh, what’s that?” Finally a grouchy mom with one of those sticky camp kids called out, “Excuse me, but is this line ever moving?” And then the sticky camp kid yelled at her, “Mommy, you said I could have ice cream NOW!”
I felt a jabbing poke on my shoulder
“Hey, Evie, aren’t you with that girl?” Kayla was asking
She tilted her highlights toward Francesca. “Her. The one eating up half the freezer.”
“Her name is Francesca,” I said. I was about to add, “I don’t even know her,” but I stopped myself. After all, they’d heard her call me Evie; they’d almost definitely also heard about her psychic powers.
Suddenly, Sticky Camp Kid started screaming his head off, and Grouchy Mom was telling him, “You’ll get your ice cream in TWO MORE MINUTES, buddy,” like it was a threat aimed right at Zane, and I thought: Okay. If I don’t do something NOW, Francesca Pattison is going to start a riot in here. Everyone in this line is going to leap into that freezer and start scooping ice cream with their bare hands And maybe throwing it at her like snowballs. And even though walking over to Francesca was like posting on YouTube that we had some kind of official connection, at this point I really didn’t think I had too much of a choice
So I went over to her. She was pointing at a melty-looking tub of Rainbow Cotton Candy. “Ooh, that looks interesting,” she was commenting to Zane. Then she noticed me. “Have you ever tried that flavor, Evie?”
“Not really. But I bet it’s great.” I added under my breath, “Just order something, Francesca. Okay?”
“Are you all right?” she asked me, scrunching up her forehead like she was worried about my health
“Yes! Just please, please hurry up.”
“Oh, sure.” She put her tiny paper cup and her plastic spoon on the counter, smiled at Zane, and said, “It’s all spectacular, Zane. But I’m afraid I’m absolutely stuffed. I’ll have to come back for a cone some other time.”
He blinked his gold-hazel eyes. “You mean you’re not buying anything?”
“Oh, no thank you. But Evie will, I think.”
We watched her clomp to the door.
“I’ll have a chocolate chip cone,” I said quickly. “Single scoop, please.”
When Zane handed it to me, our knuckles sort of banged into each other, and it shocked me just how freezing his hand was. I mean, he was scooping ice cream all day; of course his hand would be icy cold. But it made me feel weird, like I wanted to run home and knit him some gloves. And the crazy thing is, I don’t even knit.
So instead I reached into my pocket and gave him every bit of money I had—four dollars and fifty-three cents.
“That’s for Francesca too,” I said. Then brilliantly I added, “Uh, sorry, Zane.”
“No problem,” he muttered. I watched him stuff the money in the register without even counting it. Then he did this cool little head-jerk to toss his long, wavy bangs out of his face. “Next?”
“Bye, Evie, see you at school!” Gaby called out
“What school?” I answered. I grabbed a fistful of napkins and walked out into the scorching heat
Francesca was standing right in front of the door, shading her eyes. “What kind did you get? Chocolate chip? I adore that flavor. It’s my absolute favorite!”
“You said that before.” Already it was starting to drip down the sides of my cone, so I licked it fast. “Then why didn’t you get any?”
“Because . . . well, chocolate chip is always exactly the same.” She did that heart-clutching thing again. “And there were so many other flavors. And they all looked so scrumptious. Evie, don’t you ever get utterly bored—”
“No.” I wrapped a napkin around the soggy cone. “The thing is, Francesca, I’m pretty sure Zane thought you’d pick a flavor. Eventually. And then pay him for it.”
She looked shocked. “Oh, I would have. But of course I couldn’t.”
“Because I don’t have any money.” She pulled out her shorts pockets. They were totally empty. “See?” she said, smiling sweetly.
Okay. Okay. I had no idea what I was supposed to say to that. Because what did she think she was doing just now? Ice cream research? And why hadn’t she just told me that on the way over? I’d have loaned her some money; I’d pretty much paid for her anyway. I mean, I didn’t even know what to think about a person who could act the way she just had.
And in front of so many people. Including people I knew. People I’d be going to school with in just a few more days
Gah. It was just too horrible. And embarrassing. And weird. So for the entire walk home I tried really, really hard to tune her out. She was going on and on about some gelato place she went to once in Rome or something, but I just made myself think about Zane, and whether or not he blamed me, and also how much longer I could go without opening my Team Letter. And I concentrated extremely hard on my lopsided ice cream cone, trying to catch the drips before they splattered on the sidewalk
© 2010 Barbara Dee