“Go away,” a girl’s voice said. A minute later, though, I heard it open.
Alone again, I took a bite of my pizza, even though I wasn’t really hungry. Then I took another. At about that point, I had to resist stuffing the entire thing into my mouth. I mean, pepperoni pizza is pepperoni pizza. It’s, like, the most generic of slices. But this one was so good. The crust was both spongy and crispy—somehow—and the sauce had this certain bit of tanginess, not sweet but almost savory. And the cheese: there weren’t even words. Oh, my God.
I was so involved in devouring my slice that at first I didn’t even notice someone else had come from behind the counter. Then I heard a voice.
I looked up to see a man about my dad’s age, maybe a bit younger. He had dark hair, streaked with a bit of white, and was wearing an apron.
“It’s great,” I said. My mouth was half full. I swallowed, then added, “Probably the best I’ve ever had.”
He smiled at this, clearly pleased, then reached over the register, picking up the cup of YumYums. “Did you get a lollipop? It’s the perfect chaser. But don’t waste your time looking for cotton candy or bubble gum. We ain’t got ’em.”
“I did hear they were popular.”
At this, he made a face, shaking his head, just as I heard the back door open. A moment later, the younger guy walked back past me, the blonde girl behind him. She was holding a lollipop. A pink one.
“You leave the counter unattended now?” the man asked, picking up the tongs and moving some slices around. “Nobody told me we’re working on the honor system.”
“Don’t yell at him,” the girl said. She was wearing a sundress and flip-flops, a bunch of silver bangles on one arm. “He was checking on me.”
The older man opened the oven, looked inside, then banged it shut again. “You need checking?”
“Today I did.” She pulled out a chair at a table opposite the register, sitting down. “Daniel just dumped me.”
He stopped moving, turning to look at her. “What? Are you serious?”
The girl nodded slowly. She’d put the lollipop back in her mouth. After a moment, she reached over to the nearby napkin dispenser, took one out, and dabbed her eyes.
“Never liked that kid,” the man said, turning back to the oven.
“Yes, you did,” the younger guy said, his voice low.
“I didn’t. He was too pretty. All that hair. You can’t trust a guy with hair like that.”
“Dad, it’s okay,” the girl said, still dabbing. She pulled the lollipop from her mouth. “It’s his senior year, he didn’t want to be tied down, blah blah blah.”
“Blah my ass,” her father said. Then he glanced at me. “Sorry.”
Caught watching, I felt my face flush and went back to my pizza, or what was left of it.
“What sucks, though,” the girl continued, pulling out another napkin, “is that those are the same reasons that Jake gave for dumping me when the summer started. ‘It’s summer! I don’t want to be tied down!’ I mean, honestly. I can’t deal with this seasonal abandonment. It’s just too harsh.”
“That hair,” the man muttered. “I always hated that hair.”
The front door opened then, and a couple of guys came in, both of them carrying skateboards. During the ensuing transaction, I finished my slice and tried not to look at the blonde girl, who had pulled one leg up under her and now sat with her chin propped in her hand, eating her lollipop and staring out the window.
The skaters found a table, and soon enough the younger guy came out and delivered their food to them. On his way back behind the counter, he flicked the girl’s shoulder, then said something I couldn’t make out. She looked up at him, nodding, and he moved on.
I glanced at my watch. If I left now, I’d still have at least an hour before dinner. Just thinking this, I felt like I was suddenly wearing something heavy. It wasn’t like Seaside Pizza was so ideal, either. But it wasn’t those same four walls, resonating with their emptiness. I got up and refilled my drink.
“You should take a lollipop,” the girl told me, her eyes still on the window, as I started back to my table. “They’re complimentary.”
Clearly, resistance was futile: this was expected. So I went back to the cup and started to poke around. I was actually waiting for the girl to warn me about the shortage of pink flavors, but she didn’t. But after I’d been at it for a moment, she did speak up.
“What flavor you looking for?”
I glanced over at her. Behind the counter, her father was spreading sauce across a circle of dough, while the guy my age counted bills at the register. “Root beer,” I told her.
She just looked at me. “Seriously?”
Clearly, she was shocked. Which surprised me enough that I couldn’t even formulate a response. But then she was talking again.
“Nobody,” she said, “likes root beer YumYums. They are always the ones left when everything else, even the really lousy flavors, like mystery and blue raspberry, are gone.”
“What’s wrong with blue raspberry?” the man asked.
“It’s blue,” she told him flatly, then turned her attention back to me. “Are you being totally honest right now? They really are your top pick?”
Everyone was looking at me now. I swallowed. “Well . . . yeah.”
In response, she pushed her chair out, getting to her feet. Then, before I even knew what was happening, she was walking toward me. I thought maybe I was about to get into a confrontation about candy preferences, which would have been a first, but then she passed by. I turned to see her head to the same back door, then open it and go inside.