My Summer of Love
SA Collins © 2019
All Rights Reserved
My day at the Q went pretty much like any other day. I prepped the machines to churn out the requisite soft ice cream Dairy Queen was known for—a pale mixture not too unlike frozen liquid paper (and probably contained quite a few of the same ingredients, come to think of it)—a heart-stopping coagulation of fats and chemicals. That broad assertion of its core ingredients was made by my mother, Kayla Donahey. As a bona fide health nut, she had the irony of owning the local DQ franchise she’d inherited when her father dropped dead—in the store, in front of customers no less—only two short summers ago. Coincidentally, and much to my chagrin, the very same year I was able to legally work. You can just imagine my euphoric bliss. This was how one Elliot Donahey entered the workforce: a by-product of a family franchise transfer. Sometimes I marveled at how my grandfather had timed things so precisely to check out of life so everything could change hands with nary a wrinkle in the process.
That fateful hot summer day, Taylor Campbell, a wiry six-foot three tall man, was the sole employee manning the store. As with most people, he had no way of knowing that day would be his last. At the time, he was sixty-three years, four months, twenty-two hours and thirteen minutes old (I did the math later—hey, I was bored), and was busy running the local shop he’d had for the past thirty years—working on probably his two millionth Oreo Cookie Blizzard, never realizing it was his number that was up.
At exactly 4:57 pm he dropped dead on the job. The only reason anyone knew the exact time of death was because, as the aneurysm burst in his head and his body took its death plunge to the floor, his right arm caught the electrical cord of the store clock, yanking it out of the wall and thereby fixing the time of death for all to see. By six that evening a distraught and frantic Kayla, with a disheveled and confused me in tow, had the store operating while she tried to coordinate calls to the family advising them of the change in ownership and what time the funeral services were going to be held. Meanwhile, she left me alone to do battle with the obtuse workings of the fryer.
I would’ve thought she’d have closed the store due to a death in the family. But you’d have to know my mother, practical to a fault. And she was worried about money—so the store stayed open. She said she’d grieve later, in private, alone in her room. I tried to comfort her. She told me she was going to be all right but needed some time alone to process it. It was a very lonely night for us both.
Other than the steady decline of customers due to the recent downturn in the economy, not much had changed in the two years since my familial indentured employment began. I was now on the cusp of turning eighteen on the second day of August. You know, that momentous occasion in a boy’s life where I was supposed to blossom into manhood. Where I—I dunno, like sprout hair on my chest, grow a huge cock, and want to bang a gaggle of women—or something like that. Sadly, since it was only Tuesday, July 17th, I still had a couple of weeks before I could claim the status of being a pseudo-adult American male. I couldn’t legally drink, not that I had a hankering to do so, but like all red-blooded American males, I was working on it.
This particular Tuesday, though, seemed like any other. In fact, since we’d taken over the Q, all of my days stretched out before me like the blank white walls of the shop. It was just one boring set of non-events meandering into another. I had no way of knowing how this particular day’s events would drastically change my life forever.
For today was the day I would fall in love.
I’d like to say, looking back on it later, the air smelled different, the sun was a bit brighter, and I was greeted by deer and birds on my walk to work, but no—no change. Same ol’ boring Mercy day. I’d always imagined what it’d be like to have a special someone in my life. There’d no doubt be challenges ahead for us: the thrill of the chase, the incredible emotional highs and hopefully, very few lows. But for now, I refilled condiment containers, had buns queued up, and stocked the requisite food supplies for another thrilling adventure-filled day at the Q…
…then proceeded to wait four hours for my first customer.
Sometimes, I wondered why my mother even bothered sending me to the shop. There was a Baskin-Robbins only a few doors down the same strip mall practically stealing all the ice cream business. And, honestly, who really wanted a grilled cheese from the Q anymore?
Even though my taste in food often ran contrary to Mom’s overly crazed health-conscious experiments with our home meals, I often dreamed of settling down to a basic meal of steak/protein of some sort, potatoes (because I have a particular affinity for them), and a veggie or salad (because rabbit food is good food—or so they tell me). Hey, it wasn’t like I was demanding a gourmet feast straight from Tyler Florence’s recipe box, but I didn’t fancy having to compete with the local rabbit or avian population in foraging for my next meal. I just wanted real food, not the corporate-processed shit I was forced to serve up to our barely existent customers.
On most days, there was nothing to pass the time other than a continuous round of stocking and cleaning. True enough, I could play my favorite XM radio station in the store—not like anyone else was around to protest my taste in music. Way I figured it, if I was working for nearly free (Mom did give me some money so it wasn’t legally slavery), then at least I could listen to whatever the hell I wanted. Musically, I was all over the map. Country (especially the new “sexy” gay country singer Steve Grand who’d recently gone viral on the inter-web thing, as Mom calls it) to show tunes (I swear this will become clearer to you in a moment) to classic rock or even disco (okay, that one might’ve been a dead giveaway). I did it all.
I even liked to play coffee house fave Jay Brannan cranked up and do my own little fake video shoots in the store. I mean, who needs High School Musical or Glee when you could have me bouncing around from table to table in the seating area wailing at the top of my lungs to Jay Brannan’s song “La La La”? Haven’t heard it? Well, Google it, dammit—do I need to bring you up to date on everything?
Go on, I’ll wait…
See what I mean? Broadway’d only be so lucky! And you certainly ain’t lived until you’ve walked in the Q and watch me pour a mean Blizzard while hearing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2 gushing forth over the fairly adequate sound system. Right now, though, it was Donna Summer extolling the virtues of working hard for the money. My disco mood was running rampant.
I looked around—knowing I’d spent the better part of the day revisiting the things I’d already done. Some stocking had to be put away from this morning’s delivery, but I wanted to save it for later, just to give me something to do this afternoon. The sad stark truth was the place was so well cared for you could eat all the fatty chemical-laden food right off the floor and not have to spare a thought of catching anything that could remotely kill you. There was still shit to do, but being the clever guy I am, I spaced out what there was. Otherwise, I’d be done in about an hour and a half and completely mental by the time the first customer would show up.
Bored beyond tears, I leaned against the front counter in a huff—elbows firmly planted on its surface, smooshing my face into my hands and sighing to no one in particular, for there was no one in the store at the time.
“I’d just like something spectacular to happen just once in my life,” I sighed as I spared a pointed glare at the ceiling trying to seek god’s (I’m using a little “g” until I find out if s/he really exists) assistance. I contemplated my options. Hell, I’d take the offer of entertainment from just about anywhere. Not hearing anything from the Big Kahuna upstairs, I looked at the floor and bellowed to his fallen comrade, “Just once, and then I swear I’ll never complain and accept my lackluster fate!”
I know, be careful what you…yada, yada, yada…got the memo. Hey, as bored as I was, I was willing to roll the dice on a zombie apocalypse if that’s what it took to shake things up a bit. At least it’d be something to take the boredom out of the day. Besides, I had enough Q food on hand to distract the rowdy beasties if they did show up.
I sighed again, resigning myself to the solitude of working at the Q. Deciding I’d spent enough time staring at these particular walls, I heaved myself up and walked—really it was more of a shuffling of zombie-like feet than the actual lifting of them. I even amused myself by making zombie sounds and moving my arms about stiffly as I did so. I ambled with all the glorified zombieness I could muster around the wall separating the cooking area from the front counter. You can imagine my surprise as I turned the corner to hear the door alarm go off in its slightly slurred manner, sounding like it was on one helluva bender. To my shock, I had my first real customer for the day.
Or sadly, just someone who was lost again.
It happened…a lot.
As potential customers go, being lost these days was happening far more than the reverse of actually having someone who wanted something to eat. I had a sneaking suspicion Mom should start charging for the free advice; it might help pay the bills in the joint. I knew she was worried about how slow business was lately. I was glad she hadn’t resorted to putting me out on the highway in some goofy getup to drag would-be customers into the store to see what non-spectacular things we had on offer. Of course, this extended to the pink goo frozen into disks the marketers at the Q’s HQ bravely called hamburger patties. Once cooked up, they sort of resembled the real deal, but I still had my suspicions as to their quality or if they, in fact, contained any real meat, beef or otherwise.
But I suppose, for the sake of my family’s financial stability, I should make peace with the marketing demons and hoped they would cook up some spectacularly irresistible offer soon so we wouldn’t be out of business before my birthday rolled around. Hey, I had my priorities too.
I couldn’t blame the nonexistent crowd—I certainly never ate at the Q, not even when I’d forgotten to bring something from home. To put it into perspective, I’d rather brave my mother’s health-conscious foodie experiments than chow down on some grilled-up Q goo. Just the thought had me imagining I’d keel over on the job like Grandpa had. The mere thought of coagulated arteries pumped full of the soft ice cream chemical fats was enough to make me retch, even if I had to admit it did sort of taste good. Okay, I had some once. And it was good. I felt guilty. I don’t do it no more.
Uh-uh, nothing doin’…, I’d thought as my eyes narrowed on the steely beast churning the white lie we passed off as soft ice cream. It gurgled and slurried, unheeding my pointed gaze.
As the echo from our drunken doorbell faded, I shuffled back around to the front counter, not really expecting an actual sale. Instead, I found myself staring into the prettiest green eyes I’d ever seen. They were dramatically set off by dark dreamy lashes that could paint a door from at least a foot away. I knew these eyes, though I’d never had the opportunity to view them this close. The fact they were attached to one hellacious rockin’ bod never failed to hold my gaze spellbound at school whenever he was near—well, that was just the cheese on the beefcake standing in front of me as far as I was concerned. I stood there wide-eyed, like a deer caught in headlights, watching his glorious face framed with the longish dark brown curls making him look so romantic. Kit Harrington—Jon Snow from Game of Thrones romantic—a fucking wet dream of a face.
Oh yeah, I should probably fess up here—not like you had to work hard at it, I’m sure: I’m gay. Get over it. I have. Not like it means much—cue the static loudspeaker announcement: Whoop! Whoop! Virgin alert on the sales floor, ladies and gentlemen. I mean, it’s not as if there’d been any takers. I once thought maybe Stephen Lowry, who’d been my best buddy since my elementary days, would entertain being my first boyfriend. But after 2.67 milliseconds of deep consideration by said pre-pubescent boy, probably due in part to any lasting loyalty Stevie had for me as a friend, he said no. We don’t talk much now, if ever. But the boy in front of me here at the Q, this boy, I always dreamed would be in front of me.
Marco Sforza, the star quarterback of my high school varsity football team, the Mercy High Avenging Angels, stood at the counter with a look of trepidation and awe as he gawked in enraptured glazed wonder at the backlit menu above me. I was silently thankful my long straight raven bangs (homo-aesthetically bleached with white tips along the fringe, thank you very much) fell across half of my face. It meant I only had to concentrate on keeping one of my silver blue wolf-like eyes schooled, thereby keeping my faux teenage noncommittal cool intact.
Yeah, here’s the deal—I’m not very good at getting my body to do what my brain thinks is a good idea. So instead, I mumbled the first thing popping into my head.
“Wow…fucking sex-on-a-stick Marco.”
My eyes widened to where I thought they’d pop from their sockets as my face flushed eight shades of red because I realized I didn’t just think it—my fucking mouth got ahead of me again and it spilled out.
Way to go fuck yourself, douchebag! Fuck, I’m a dipshit moron. Seriously, my own worst fucking enemy!
This seemed to bring him out of his mesmerized stupor brought on by the offerings glowing above. His husky baritone voice went straight to my dangly bits when, at last, the heavens parted, the glow from the perpetual halo surrounding his head glowed brightly, and he spoke.
“Hey, uh, Elliot, right? We go to the same school?”
I mean, could more golden and breathtakingly brilliant words ever be spoken? He was such a fucking genius. I nearly fainted—found I had to grip the counter a bit harder than I thought just to keep my legs from giving out underneath me. I know, I know—googly-eyed teenage girl, much?
“Uh, yeah.” I swiped the bangs out of my face once more—only to have them immediately come cascading back down to obscure my left eye again. I hoped it looked cool, though I was 90 percent sure it didn’t. I had only my sole unobscured eye to watch him. Wonder of all wonders, my eye caught Marco’s—and held! We were having a moment…weren’t we? Then I really had to maintain focus because of what he did next—he smiled warmly. At me! Who’d a fucking thought?
Keep it cool, Donahey—you could still so fuck this up.
“So, uh, you want to, uh, like, order something?” Yeah, that came out cool enough.
“Oh hell, yeah. Was just toking with some of the guys on the team out by the cliffs.”
I tried not to drool. My eyes widened as he absentmindedly ran his fingers along the ridges of his eight-pack abs—seriously, the dude had an eight-pack, whereas all I had was at best a pull tab. Thin as a rail, I was. Hell, on a good day my abs could be mistaken for skin covering the underside of my spinal column. I couldn’t help but become riveted to each bump of his T-shirt fabric pulled tight against him as if it were a size too small. I stared dumbfounded as he traced his fingers over his taut stomach.
“Got an incredible craving for the munchies. There’s just so much to choose from. How do you do it?”
Did he just ask me, “How do we do it?” We were going to do it? Anyway you want to, baby. Oh, wait…dammit, fooled again. Cue the noncommittal face.
“Huh? Oh, the menu…Yeah, I usually don’t.”