Hawaiian-Style Fresh Fruit Custard
Short Fiction for Guests of the WordFeeder
Sunday, April 25, 2010
“Yes, Jack. What do you need?”
“I’m trying to find Veronica. Do you know where she is?”
“Out. She got a call a few minutes ago. Ran up, asked me how she looked and blew out here. Said she’d be back in 2 hours.”
“Hey, Babe. What? Lulu’s off again today?” It was Spring, and once again Joe’s favorite soft-serve truck was open for business at the edge of the little park across the street from where he worked. As busy as he was, it was worth waiting in line while he wondered what secret ingredient they used to make it taste so good. Maybe it was just the fresh fruit, and that every flavor had a some chopped pineapple in it. “Am I never, ever going to meet Lulu?”
“Lulu,” the shapely clerk behind the counter explained in a voice as smooth and enticing as cream she sold, “is just a figment of my imagination. …You want your usual, Joe?”
“Why does anyone with your smile work in a truck?”
“You could ask me out,” she put her elbows on the counter and leaned forward to tease him, “and we could talk about.”
“Excuse me.” A little girl had walked up, too short to be seen over the counter, and the other woman who worked the truck was busy refilling one of their machines. “Can I have one,” she asked, holding up her hand to show the few coins she had to spend.
“Are you with anyone, honey?” the counter girl was concerned she might have wandered away from her mother.
Shaking her head up and down, she turned slightly and pointed with her other hand to the young woman with the baby watching them from the bench a few yards away.
“Well, honey,” she did a quick count of the change the little girl was holding, “I don’ think..”
“Hmm,” Joe interrupted, palming a $5 bill over the edge of the counter. “You know, Frieda, I think she’s asking for one of your 50 cent, 2 for 1 specials – maybe one vanilla for her mother, and a chocolate for herself. …Did I get that right,” he asked the little girl.
She thought for a second, and then answered, “Yes,” smiling back at him.
“Here.” Joe bent down and took two quarters out of her hand. “Better put the rest of that change in your coat pocket so you can hold the cups.” And she did, very carefully, before trotting over to her mother who mouthed a “Thank you” back at them.
“They’re not really having a 2 for 1 sale, are they?” The voice was from the twenty-something woman waiting in line behind him.
Turning to see who it was, the witty response he was preparing somehow got lost in her eyes.
Not hearing any response to her comment, she started to apologize. “Sorry, I, uh..”
“No, no. I was expecting some…”
“He was expecting,” the woman behind the counter saw her customers getting impatient, “some bitchy city girl who cared more about moving along the line than chit-chat foreplay.”
“Yeah, Babe. I’ll have the pistachio in a sugar cone with chocolate drizzled on top,” Joe told her, not bothering to turn around, “and whatever…”
“…is having, if she’ll join me.”
“Tell me,” Veronica looked up at the counter, is he..”
“Cute? Yeah, he’s gorgeous, and doesn’t hit on me more than once a day, no matter how hard I try.”
“Maybe you should let me wait on him.” The other clerk was back, motioning to the next person in line.
“Well then,” Veronica took a breath, “why not. Do you have banana?”
“We sure do, made with fresh bananas, not just flavored.”
“I’ll have that, with the chocolate on top, like Joe.”
“Hi.” Joe decided to make it formal. “I’m Joe.”
“Veronica,” she reciprocated extending her hand, which he shook and held for a second.
“Guys?” The counter girl was holding out their orders, including a few extra napkins.
Joe reached into his pocket and peeled off a ten which he slid across the counter. “Keep it,” he told her, not wanting to waste any time.
“Wow. …Watch him. He doesn’t usually tip like this.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be careful.”
Taking Veronica’s cone first, he held her wrist in one hand and gave her the cone with his other. “Here. This is yours.” And then he reached back for his own. “Com’on.” Joe took Veronica’s arm. “I reserved a table near the fountain.”
“She doesn’t mind you calling her ‘Babe’?” Veronica asked as they walked, surprised when he had and wondering what it said about Joe’s attitude toward women.
“No. ‘Babe’ is what it says on her name tag. ..I don’t know her real name. Everyone just calls her ‘Babe.’ I figure it happened so often, she just caved and made it official.”
“What do you suppose she does the other 6 months of the year?”
“Actually, she’s a graduate student in business. ..Careful, the bricks are uneven her. ..Says she’s developing some new concept she’s test marketing, ‘even as we speak,’ and I don’t think she was talking about the custard. Babe seems way too bright to play in a market with so little potential for late entrants.”
“Wow. That sounded professional. Do you always talk like that?”
“Sorry. Force of habit.”
The table was small. Even so, Joe helped Veronica into her seat and then pulled around his chair to sit closer than if he’d been on the other side.
“Gee, this really is delicious.” Veronica wasn’t the least bit hesitant to throw herself into the cone. “I gather,” she said between bites, “you come here often.”
“Almost daily. I can’t make it all afternoon without getting out of the office for a snack. Besides, Babe and her girls, in keeping with the theme of their little enterprise, are wearing coconut bras and grass mini-skirts. It’s either them or Jake, The Gross Hotdog Man.”
“Fresh flowers in their hair?” Veronica asked, with a tad of longing.
“Yeah. Good guess. ..In fact, hold on for a second.” Joe pushed back and got up, trotting back to the truck. “Excuse me,” he apologized to the woman Babe was helping. “Babe, you believe in love don’t you?” he asked her, pointing to the flower behind her ear.
“What? Oh, what the heck.” She pulled the flower and handed it to him. “Go for it.”
“Thanks, Babe,” he told her, already on his way back to the table.
“…Hi. I’m back.” Holding out the flower which, like the fruit, really was fresh, not some cheap plastic imitation, Joe gave Veronica a chance to smell it. “Would you mind?”
“Would you do it for me?”
“Uh, sure. …Which ear?”
“You pick.” Reaching over, he carefully slid the stem under her hair, over her left ear, and sat back down.
Joe’s phone rang. “Wait. Hold that thought.” And then, without waiting to hear the caller say anything, “I’m working this really hot girl. I don’t care what you want, it can wait,” and he hung up.
“You know I heard that, the part about working the really hot girl.”
“You… You have some custard on your face.”
“I’m saving it for later,” she giggled, planting a knapkin over her whole mouth to be funny, and pretty sure she would miss any.
“Now you know why I don’t wear lipstick.”
She liked Joe, and wondered to herself if he knew it. “…So, what is it about me you think is hot? …What,” she fumbled at the center of her blouse, “am I unbuttoned?”
“Yes, but I think my fly’s down, so we’re even.” Holding his cone up, Joe sucked at the custard falling out of the little hole in the bottom, while Veronica crunched down on hers. “So what to do you do, for a living?”
“I’m a surgeon.”
“Do you use a dog,” Joe played along, pretending to take her seriously, “or do you have a tiny stick to help you find your way around the organs?”
“Actually, I’m a programmer. I write code for artificial intelligence response systems.”
“Like the automated voices that answer the phone?”
“Well, the next generation,” she paused to push a piece of cone from the rest of its way into her mouth, “and much more sophisticated tasks. ..What about you?”
“Right now? Right now I’m helping my parents while I live in their basement. They have a live-body answering service that’s, well, that’s being forced out of business by…”
“Oh no, let me guess. By artificial intelligence response systems?”
“Yeah,” Joe made an audible sigh, pretending to be upset, “but there’s no reason we can’t still be friends.”
“Careful you don’t hyperventilate. …And when their business fails?”
“Well then, I’ll probably go into marketing.”
“Good choice. I understand it’s a professional that doesn’t require any special training or expertise.”
Veronica laughed, and then polished off the last bite of her cone. “So, you never told me, what it is exactly that makes you think a girl is hot?”
“Hey, Joe!” It was Mike from the office, walking quickly over to where they were sitting.
“It’s a guy I work with. I’m in marketing..”
“.. and we have a presentation this…”
“Hey. My name is Mike, and you must be the hot chick Joe is working?”
“Hi. I’m Veronica.”
“So how’s that going?”
“I got him to buy me a banana custard.”
“Jeez, we’ve been dating for years,” Mike was kidding, of course, “and I think he offered me some M&Ms once.”
“Veronica, I… I’ve got to go, or I could get fired and might be too depressed to take you out to dinner.”
“Are you asking me out?”
“Actually, I’m thinking we should get married, but, you’re right,” Joe pretended to be serious while he pushed back his chair and got up to leave. “We should probably date first. …Do you have a card?”
Taking a moment to reach inside her purse, she found the compartment where she kept them. “Here. What about you?”
“Uh. I don’t have one with me?”
“He’s not allowed to have business cards or other pointy objects.”
“I’ll call you.”
“No, no. Wait, I’ll prove it. …Give me your pen, bozo.”
“Here.” He clicked and reached out to take Veronica’s hand.
“You’re going to write your number on my hand?”
“I’d rather you kissed me. The ink could wash away, but a kiss, if it’s good, lasts for…” And he leaned over and kissed her, once quickly, and then a second time for longer.
“You taste,” she said so close their lips were almost touching, “like a giant pistachio.”
Backing up just a bit, Joe whispered, “I don’t want to go, but I have to.” She touched his face for a moment, he gave her one more kiss and then pulled away to leave with Mike.
“Hey,” Joe turned, walking backwards to keep up, “will you get where you’re going okay?”
“Yeah,” she shouted to him. “I dropped bread crumbs on my way over, and I’m meeting my sister in a few minutes. We’re going… shopping.” She stopped talking, figuring he was out of range by now.
“Wait a minute,” Joe stopped. “Stay right here.” And he jogged back to their table. “Hey.”
“You wanted to know what I find hot about women. It’s courage.”
“Thank you. Good to know.”
“Courage and, to be honest, breasts. Breasts, but mostly courage.”
“Go ahead. I’ll… We’ll talk later.”
Out of earshot across the park, Mike couldn’t help himself. “I’m in the park all the time, and the closest I’ve been to getting lucky is with a bag lady who thought I smiled at her.”
“She’s blind, you know.”
“Sure. That would explain the cool fold up cane, but does she know you’re an idiot?”
“Hi, Lisa. Who was that? The one who kissed you?”
“Tell me the truth. Is he really cute?”
“Are you kidding? I’ll take him, if you don’t. How did you meet?”
“I’ll tell you later. Com’on,” Veronica got up. “One hour and I’ve got to get back to the office. …You know, he knows I’m blind.”
“He not some guy I met on-line or on a blind date, not exactly.”
“That’s not funny.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Sure, he knows you’re blind, but does he know you’re an idiot?”
An hour and twenty minutes and two shopping bags later, Veronica was back at her office. “Hey,” she rushed past Anna, the receptionist.
“Wait. ..Your messages. Oh, and careful. There’re flowers on your desk. Really, really nice flowers.”
“Did you ..have that, in your hair when you…”
“Anna. Who sent me the flowers?!”
“Don’t know. The card’s like 8 and half by 11 and written in Braille. Here. I was hoping you’d read it to me.”
Rolling her finger across the bumps, Veronica gave her friend the highlights. “It’s from a guy I met a couple hours ago. He saw the Braille on my business card and figured I could read this for myself. He wants to know if I’ll have dinner with him. …Hold on.”
Excited, Veronica walked quickly to her office to type a note: “Nice spot. Worth every penny. I’ll be sure to refer my friends,” and then signed it “Veronica” with her cell phone number. Folding it in thirds, she put it and $100 cash in an envelope which she was careful to seal. On the outside she wrote a single word, large across the center.
“I need a favor.” Veronica was talking even faster than usual. “You know the custard truck at the end of the park.”
“I want you to take this over there now and give it to the girl behind the counter, her and only her, the one who calls herself ‘Babe.’”
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