I wiped down the counter near the cash register. My shift ended soon and the ice cream shop was dead during dinner time. Everyone else wanted to work at night and on the weekends because they wanted good tips. But I didn't care. The thought of being behind this counter at night with the long lines didn't seem like a relaxing summer job at all. It sounded like a surefire way to lose my mind and end up locked in the freezer binge-eating all the stock. And I only needed to work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday during the day in order to afford my rent and groceries. My phone vibrated. I looked down and saw that my mother was trying to call me. There was one other girl in the shop right now and she was sitting in the back room talking to her boyfriend on the phone. She was always talking on the phone. I slipped my phone back in my pocket. I'd have to call my mom back later. Someone needed to man the counter.
I had originally wanted to come back home and stay with her for the summer to try and forget about everything, but my mother had a new boyfriend and it was only a matter of time before he officially moved in. That was how my mother operated. She loved hard and fast and fell out of love just as quickly. The last thing she needed was for her grownup daughter showing up on her doorstep and cramping her style. And even though her house was home to me, it felt like I was intruding on them.
I had also thought about staying with my father. But then I pictured his wife’s face if I announced I was coming there for a whole summer. It was enough to make me abandon that idea too.
This was the next best thing. I had spent so much time here in the summer it almost felt like home. It was enough. And I was finally starting to feel whole again. I was in a good routine. I’d made a new friend. Was I doing great? No. But I was doing okay. And that was enough for right now.
There was a spot on the counter that just wouldn't get clean. I scrubbed it harder. I never would have thought an ice cream shop would be hot, but it was stifling in here. I wiped my forehead with the back of my hand.
"Hey, Jellyfish Girl."
I froze. Oh my God. I looked up at the lifeguard. He was in his red lifeguard swim trunks but he was wearing a t-shirt. He looked amazing even without his six pack showing. I realized I was staring awkwardly at him. "Hey...lifeguard."
He laughed and leaned on the counter. "I almost didn't recognize you with so many clothes on. How are your stings feeling?"
He was being so forward. I could feel my face blushing. "A lot better, thanks to you."
"I was just doing my job." He smiled at me. He had definitely just gotten off of work and was walking back to wherever he lived. But I had never seen him walk past the ice cream shop before. Maybe he was here to get some ice cream. His eyes were still hidden behind his aviators. I wished I could see what color they were. I was being ridiculous. He probably had a girlfriend.
"So this is where you work when you're not at the beach?" he asked.
"Yes, this is my glamorous summer job."
"Do you work weekends too? This place is always packed on the weekend. You must make insane tips."
"No, thank God. Just Monday, Wednesday, and Friday during the day. I do not want to deal with that many people."
He laughed. "Yeah, summer is supposed to be relaxing."
I found myself leaning forward, hoping to figure out what he smelled like so I could appease Kristen. That was definitely the only reason. But I couldn’t get close enough without sprawling myself all over the counter. "I know. My bosses can't believe I don't want those hours, but I can't even imagine being here at night, let alone on the weekend."
"I couldn't agree more. That's why I chose not to work the weekend shifts."
"Yeah, I know. I mean, I didn't know that for sure. I just noticed that you weren't there on the weekends. Not like I always notice you or anything. I just meant in a normal spectator of the beach way. Like, I'm pretty sure every person that frequents the beach recognizes their normal lifeguard. That's a thing." Oh my God, stop talking!
"Sure. In a beach spectator way. Of course." He was smiling at me.
Kill me now. "So, did you want some ice cream or are you just stalking me?"
"Stalking you? If anything you're stalking me. You visit me at my place of work all the time. And you always sit right next to me like a really obvious, bad stalker." He raised his eyebrow at me.
Shit. "I'm not stalking you...I..."
"I know." He laughed again and leaned forward a little more. "So I have to ask, what is better than sex?"
"What?" My face was probably redder than it had ever been. All the euphemisms for sex Kristen mentioned last night started to roll around in my head. Especially that Thanksgiving turkey one, until all I could think to say was something about a Thanksgiving feast. Instead I bit the inside of my lip so I wouldn’t accidentally start talking about anal.
He pointed to the wall that listed all the flavors. "The ice cream flavor. Better Than Sex." He flashed me another smile.
"Right, of course. I knew what you meant. Obviously. You're just here to get some." No! "I didn't mean that in a sexual way. I just meant get some ice cream. Not some of me." What? "Let me just go get you a sample." Damn it, why does this place have to have such ridiculous names for their ice cream flavors? I turned around and went to get him a sample. I took a deep breath as I filled up the little cup. He made me so nervous that I was acting even more awkward than I usually did. I went back to the counter and handed him the sample cup. He was tall and muscular, and he looked silly with the small cup and spoon. It helped calm my nerves.
"So have you sampled all these flavors?"
"It was part of orientation. That was probably the best part of getting this job." And the fact that my bosses were the nicest people ever.
He ate the small amount of ice cream I had given him. "You know, it's good, but it's definitely not better than sex."
No, it's not. If I could see his eyes I probably would have melted into the floor. I was suddenly grateful that he was still wearing his aviators.
He put the sample cup on the counter and scratched the back of his neck. "So, which kind is your favorite?"
"Hmm...probably the Pink Dream. It sounds super ridiculous, but it's raspberry with tons of dark chocolate chips in it and it's amazing. I guess no name is as ridiculous as Better Than Sex, though."
"I'll have one scoop of the super girly Pink Dream, then. On a sugar cone."
"Okay. I'll be right back." Of course I'll be right back. I shook my head. It wasn't like I was going to scoop his ice cream and flee with it. I was weird, but I wasn’t an ice cream shoplifter. At least not yet, because I kind of did want to sprint out of here. I grabbed a sugar cone and put a heaping scoop of Pink Dream in it.
"Here you go." I handed it to him. I watched as he pulled a five dollar bill out of his wallet. "It's okay. It's on me. I owe you after yesterday."
"You don't really. I was just doing my job."
He smiled at me. "I'll have to save you more often then."
"Yes please." What the hell? Yes please?
He laughed. Again, I wasn't sure if he was laughing at me or with me. "Wow, this is really good. It's kind of awkward walking around with a big pink ice cream cone, though."
I laughed. "You actually look super macho." It was like I didn’t know how to stop saying weird things. He didn’t look macho, he looked like a Greek god. I found myself wishing there was an ice cream flavor of him.
"Super macho, huh? I feel like that's a compliment. Maybe this should be my new look then?"
If his new look meant visiting me after his lifeguard shift more often, then I was game. "Absolutely."
“Hey,” my lifeguard said and waved to someone behind me.
I turned around. I hadn’t even noticed my bosses walk in.
“Welcome back,” Keira said. “Trying out the Pink Dream today?”
“Delicious as always. This really is the best ice cream I’ve ever had.” He held up his cone like he was toasting them and then turned back to me. "I'll see you tomorrow at the beach, Jellyfish Girl." He put the five dollar bill he was going to use to pay for the ice cream into the tip jar and walked away.
I watched him disappear down the sidewalk. I had again failed to get his name or learn anything about him. I hadn’t even caught his scent for Kristen. I turned my attention back to scrubbing the counter. It was probably for the best.
“He’s cute, huh?” Keira said.
I was definitely not going to have this conversation with my boss. I could feel my face turning red. “He’s okay.”
She laughed. “Mhm.”
“You’ll have to excuse my wife,” Rory said and put his arm around Keira. “For some reason she likes to think she’s a great matchmaker even though she has zero experience.”
“Well, I could be,” she said. “That lifeguard was our first customer ever by the way. You’ll probably be seeing him quite a bit here. But it sounds like the two of you already hang out on the beach.” She raised both her eyebrows at me.
I wouldn’t consider sitting near his lifeguard stand hanging out. Although, he had mentioned seeing me tomorrow twice now. Maybe everything was about to change. I shook the thought away. I didn’t need anything to change. I was focusing on myself this summer. Keira was still staring at me expectantly, so I shrugged, hoping that was a good enough answer.
“I guess we’ll just see where the summer goes. But is everything good here?” she asked before they headed back out.
“Great.” I gave them two thumbs up and then realized I was being weird and picked my washcloth back up.
“Well, don’t forget to grab your tips before you head out.” She winked at me as they left. I guess she’d noticed the fact that my lifeguard had left me a big tip. It was only because I’d paid for his ice cream though. Right?
I watched Keira and Rory walk down the boardwalk hand in hand. They were newlyweds and pretty much the most adorable couple ever. But my life was far away from being anything like theirs. It’s not like I really wanted to be in their shoes anyway. So why was I staring at them and daydreaming that it was me and my lifeguard holding hands and laughing on the boardwalk together? It was such a silly thought. I was happy to be focusing on myself this summer. So freaking happy. I realized I was holding the washcloth so tight that I had wrung out all the water. The soapy suds were dripping off the counter onto my Keds. Ugh.
END OF CHAPTER 3