Was he talking to me? I was the only one on the street besides a group of neighborhood kids playing tag. There he was, in that gaudy ice cream truck, waving at me. When I waved back, he beckoned me over with a smile. Reluctant, I glanced around the street to make sure no one was watching before walking over.
“Hey, what’s up?” the ice cream man asked brightly. He was skinny with a crayon-red mohawk and honest, kind eyes. “You busy?”
“I see you around here a lot. Want some ice cream?”
“No.” There was something weird about this ice cream truck and its driver: showing up out of nowhere, giving out free ice cream — hot ice cream. “Thanks. Someone told me you were bald.” He just grinned and shrugged, so I persisted, “Everyone’s been raving about hot ice cream. What’s with that?”
“You’ll have to ask Jack,” the driver answered. “I’ll bet he’s figured it out by now.”
Shaking my head, I watched the little kids play tag, laughing and splashing in puddles that had recently been snow. The air was warmer. It felt like spring. Everything was changing.
“Is all this you?” I asked. “The weather, the kids … even Jack Shi — even Jack has friends. Are you doing all this?”
“Me? Nah!” he laughed, leaning his elbows on the counter. “It’s about the ice cream, not the driver.”
“Must be some special ice cream.”
“It is. Want a sample?”
“No, thanks.” I stared down the street, lost in thought. Deb and one of her friends rode past on bikes, laughing. “Looks like you’ve made everyone happy.”
“Not everyone.” I raised my eyebrows as he looked knowingly at me. Great. “How come you never talk to anyone? I’ve seen you hanging around all over the neighborhood. You never say anything. You don’t even smile! Afraid of making friends?”
I looked away. I wanted to tell him to mind his own business, but instead, I was horrified to hear myself say, “No, but every time I try to say something, I say too much or too little. I hate small talk. I always say something dumb and look like an idiot. It’s easier just to watch.”
“Oh, come on!” the ice cream man laughed. “You think you’re the only one to ever feel like an idiot?”
“Of course not, but…”
“‘But’ nothing! Cut yourself some slack, and everyone else will, too.”
I scowled at him for being right. Then I sighed. “How’d you get so wise?”
He just smiled. “Answer I will not.” Pointing at an upper window of the Victorian house down the street, he asked, “Do you know her?”
It was that girl, the one they called Nervous Nelly, watching us. A few days ago, she’d talked to me for the first time. She had caught me by surprise. I shrugged. “Nope.”
“Strawberry’s her favorite.”
“Forget it! Besides, I don’t do ice cream — magical or not,” I said, trying not to sound bitter. “I’m lactose intolerant.”
“Why didn’t you say so?” He dove behind the counter and came back with a cup of milky yellow scooped ice. “Lemon icy — nothing but water, lemon and sugar. No charge! I know what they say about yellow snow, but this is totally safe, I promise!” He winked.
The joke was so bad, I couldn’t help but laugh. Smiling felt weird, but good. Grinning, I thanked him and said, “You know … I think you’re wrong. It isn’t about the ice cream; it’s about the driver.”
The ice cream truck driver looked surprised then started to smile.
The girl had disappeared from the window. A moment later, the door of the old house opened and she stood barefoot in the doorway. She waved. I waved back awkwardly. “Hi … Nervous Nelly.”
She started to speak, but it took a moment for sound to come out. “P-p-peeping T-Tom.”
Peeping Tom?! “It’s Ted, actually,” I muttered. “And I don’t peep. When someone stares, I stare back. That’s all.”
She smiled welcomingly. “W-would you like t-to … c-come in?”
“Why don’t you come out?”
She hesitated, then ventured onto the porch, timidly sitting on the top step and smoothing out her skirt. Despite being clearly distressed to be outside, she beamed all the same. We sat on the steps for a while in silence. I didn’t know what to say, and she didn’t seem to like talking. She liked the lemon icy, though.
Then, something miraculous happened: the clouds broke entirely, and the sun came out.