Winter Lane

“Did you have a good day at school, honey?”

I swirled my spoon around in the bowl. It was homemade chicken noodle soup — one of my mom’s specialties. Ideal for the rather gloomy town that we lived in. I continued to stare down at the bowl, saying nothing. I couldn’t possibly tell her what happened at school today. Why were people so mean? I was only two months into middle school and I already had more enemies than friends.

Smart Alec! Smart Alec! You’re just full of s–t!”

The flashback was ruined when someone came bursting through the door.

“You guys aren’t going to believe this!”

I sighed. It was my big brother, Jack, home at last. I wonder what had taken him so long.

“I had ice cream!” he announced, “And it was warm!”

I raised my brow at him, hearing a soft plop as soup fell back into the bowl from my spoon.

“That’s ludicrous,” I spoke up, not looking at Jack, but at the soup in my bowl. It had started to get cold.

“No, really.” Jack said, taking off his backpack and putting it by the front door. “It really was hot ice cream. It was the most incredible thing.”

I don’t know what had gotten into him, but he sounded almost genuine.

“Oh honey, I’m sure you thought that you had hot ice cream.” My mother said, patting Jack on the cheek as she normally did when she thought we were being silly.

Jack didn’t even brush her off, just smiled at her and went to the kitchen to make himself a snack. I stared at him the whole way and got up from the table, leaving the lukewarm soup.

“It was from that weird ice cream truck that’s been going around.” Jack said as soon as I rounded the corner.

Kids at school had been going on about this weird ice cream truck that had been popping up around town lately. I didn’t want to believe them, but now my own brother had seen it and he sounded so excited.

“How do I find it?” I asked him.

“You don’t. It’ll find you.” He said, seemingly so excited that I was curious.

I walked out of the kitchen and went straight to the closet to put my jacket back on. Mom was sitting in the living room, watching something on TV.

“I’m going outside, mom!”

“OK, honey!” She called back.

The sun was out, and the snow was melting steadily. Not really knowing where I should be going, I just started walking down the sidewalk in a random direction, hands in the pockets of my jacket. I wasn’t aware that I was heading in the direction of my middle school until I heard some familiar — and unwelcome — voices.

“Hey, look, it’s Smart Alec!”

A group of eighth grade boys were coming down the street from the opposite direction, smirking and snickering to each other as if my very presence was funny to them.

“I heard you — The biggest one said before he was cut off by a familiar jingle coming down the street.

It was the ice cream truck!

I was wondering how much of a coincidence this was when the driver stopped alongside us. However, instead of the woman I was expecting, it was a young guy, probably around Jack’s age, sitting in the driver’s seat wearing a red baseball cap and a friendly look that I had never seen a guy his age wear.

“What’ll you have?” he asked, grinning at me.

“Uh, w-whatever your best seller is,” I stumbled out.

The eighth graders snickered behind me as the driver dug around in the back and handed me a mug of the most beautiful ice cream I had ever seen. The mug was warm in my cold hands, and I looked back up at the driver, who was still grinning as if nothing could take it away. I tasted it with my tongue — it was a rich, creamy sherbet that fizzled pleasantly — and warmly — in my mouth. A strange sense of peace settled over me, and suddenly I forgot about the bullies and their taunts, my brother and his aggressive words and the kids at school who mocked me for being smart.

“Hey, we want some of that.” One of the eighth graders went to shove me out of the way, but I managed to dodge him and continue eating my ice cream, letting its calm fill me.

“Alright.” The driver said, ducking in the back again.

He reappeared with three mugs of ice cream, although they were dull white and not at all colorful. The boys didn’t seem to notice the difference between their treats and mine and began licking at them. Then one of them recoiled with disgust.

There was what looked to be a piece of chicken sticking out of the ice cream and next to it, the bright orange color of a carrot. I stared. My mom’s soup! They all began to cough and walked past me with their treats in hand as if I no longer existed to them. No shoves as they went past, no taunts thrown over the shoulder. Who exactly was this driver? I looked back at the ice cream truck.

“Enjoy,” the driver said and closed the window. I watched him drive away, and as he did so, he winked at me.