Forty-Eight Flavors

By Janna

Note: I can't get the format to look right when I upload it here.  So if there are weird line breaks or places that should be indented but aren't… that's why.

I watched as her husband helped her into the car in the parking space in front of me.  We were in the Stop & Shop parking lot.  Her husband was tall and of average build, with perfectly messy brown hair and a long nose.  He dressed fairly fashionably, despite the sandals with socks.  As I watched him load groceries into the trunk, I thought he looked like a nice man.

          She looked just the same as when I'd last seen her five years ago.  Her small, round face and dimples, her delicate light hazel eyes.  The only difference was her stomach now was a large sphere.  It didn't change her, though.  Even pregnant she looked fragile and sweet in her loose floral printed dress.

          I watched them from behind my sunglasses.  My hand rested on the steering wheel of my car as I considered going over to say hello.  She was Leila Truman, the young woman I'd dated for almost a year five years ago. 

Back then we were just out of college, in that awkward "Now what am I going to do with the rest of my life?" phase.  She was working at a health food store.  I was buying some whole wheat bread and one of those so-called healthy ice cream bars with a name like Fat Free Moon Bar.  When I went to purchase them, she was there behind the wooden checkout booth, in short overalls and a light blue shirt.  Her tawny blonde hair was put back in a ponytail, looking vibrant in the natural light from the sun that poured in from the big windows of the store. 

"If you're going to get ice cream, you might as well get Ben & Jerry's.  Don't you think?" she asked me, without a tinge of rudeness.

"Yeah," I said, smiling a little.  "I guess so. Hold on."   I went back to the frozen foods section, gliding through rows of sugar-free cereal and organic grapes, got a pint of Cherry Garcia, and brought it back to the checkout line.

"Much better, right?"  She smiled and scanned it, along with the whole wheat bread.  I'd never been the impulsive type, but there was just something about this girl.

"You know," I started, fiddling with the change she'd given me.  "I don't think I can eat a whole pint of Cherry Garcia all by myself.  Would you like to help me?"

After that pick-up line, came many dates with Leila.  We would sample a new flavor of ice cream each week.  Not only that, but whenever we went on a date, we'd eat something and then discuss it.  Leila was really quite the connoisseur.  It helped that she had such a high metabolism.  I always envied her for that.  By the end of our relationship, I had gained fifteen pounds.

One night we were taste testing pistachio ice cream, with real pistachio nuts in it.  I had bought it at the grocery store for our eight-month anniversary.

"Do you like it?" I asked her.

Leila let the ice cream roll around on her tongue for a while before swallowing.  "It's alright."

"Just alright?" I asked.  I'd wanted to get her something special.

She nodded.  "I don't really like nuts in my ice cream."  She smiled, put her bowl down, and went to the refrigerator to get out the back-up pint of Breyer's vanilla we always kept.  I felt rejected.  Any other girl might pretend she liked pistachio ice cream for my sake, but Leila was honest.  After she finished her vanilla ice cream, she cuddled with me and rubbed my shoulders, but I kept thinking about the unwanted pistachio.

I started thinking maybe we weren't really in love.  It could just be the food.  Food is a very sensual thing.  The smells, tastes, and feelings it gives off can really affect someone.  I didn't feel this just because of the rejected pistachio ice cream, but because Leila was always so calm and happy with herself.  She didn't need me.  I longed for someone who couldn't live without me, who would crave me like Leila craved ice cream.

When we had covered forty-eight flavors, ranging from French vanilla to cherry banana, I met another girl.  Vedette was tall and lanky with dark hair.  She wore matching amethyst lipstick and contact lenses.  We were in the same poetry class.  The classes were offered by the local arts organization for all budding poets.  Vedette wrote poems about struggles, pain, and giving up.  Her poems vividly described things like finding her cat dead at her doorstep and compared them to how life always sucked no matter what you did.  Vedette was intoxicating, like a poisonous purple orchid.  Most importantly, she liked—and seemed to maybe need—me.

One afternoon Vedette and I decided to go out to eat.  I suggested a café with ice cream, but she said she didn't like ice cream, that it was too fattening and sweet.  We went to a coffeehouse instead and got black teas.  Leila found us there together, sharing our first kiss at a table in the corner of the dark room.  Her eyes turned blank and cold and then a tear ran down her cheek.  It was the only time I'd seen her look truly miserable.  I hated myself for making her unhappy.  Leila wasn't supposed to be unhappy.  She was supposed to be a happy pure colored daisy, soaking up the sun.  I ended my relationship with Vedette as soon as I saw that tear on Leila's cheek.

"I'm sorry," I said over and over in Leila's living room.  She sat slouched on the sofa, her face in her thin hands.  "Leila."

After a few hours, I went out and walked to the grocery store a couple of blocks down from our apartment.  It was gray and raindrops were splashing around me as if even the sky knew what I'd done.  When I came back with a heavy plastic bag, Leila hadn't moved from her head-holding position.  She wasn't even crying, just quiet and sad.  I wished she would cry or yell, anything but just sit there.

I went to the kitchen counter and took out the pint of strawberry ice cream, the green carton of fresh strawberries, and the small container of rainbow sprinkles I had just bought.  I scooped the perfectly baby pink ice cream into a clear glass bowl.  Then I cut up the strawberries into delicate slices, placed them on the ice cream, and put the sprinkles on top.  I took a spoon from a drawer and carried it and the bowl over to Leila, placing them on the coffee table in front of her.  Her hazel eyes emerged from her hands and looked at the bowl of ice cream.  It was her very favorite kind of ice cream.  I thought maybe I'd finally gotten something right.

She pushed the bowl back towards me.

"Do we have any of that pistachio left?" she asked quietly, her arms wrapped across her chest, clutching her shoulders.

I left because I couldn't stand the way she pushed that bowl of ice cream away, as if it were me she was getting rid of.  I knew it was my fault, but I still felt angry with her for those little things.  More than that, I was angry with myself.  We'd made it through forty-eight flavors, but a purple-eyed purple-lipped girl was too much.

Now Leila was married and pregnant, and still as beautiful as ever.  I hoped her husband was better than I was at making her happy.  I wondered how many flavors of ice cream they'd cherished together, or if they ate any at all.  Maybe they taste tested cookies instead, savoring each chocolate-chipped or peanut buttered bite.  Her husband put the last bag into the trunk.

I turned to take one last look at Leila, but I couldn't see her in her car.  I noticed a finger tap at my window.  She was standing at the car door, her face calm and steady. I pushed the button to make the window go down.

"Hi," she said, her voice sweet and smooth.  "How are you?"

"I'm pretty good," I replied, searching her face for the pain I'd put there five years ago.  I couldn't see it anywhere. "You?"

"I'm good."

"Are you happy?" I asked suddenly.  If she would just say she was happy, I would finally be able to rest.

She looked at me for a moment.  She nodded, smiling a little.  "I am.  Have you been keeping track of flavors?"

"No.  I stopped after… after we broke up."

"You should never stop keeping track of flavors," she said firmly, and I noticed her husband was watching us now.  "Never forget to keep track of the things that make you happy."

"I'm sorry, Leila.  If I could have done it again…" She waved her hand at me, pushing my words aside, like the bowl of uneaten strawberry ice cream.

"It's irreversible."

"What?" I asked, caught off guard.

"Life.  It's irreversible.  Be happy."  I wanted to tell her how I was sorry.  I wanted to thank her for the good times.  Then she beamed, her teeth sparkling. "And remember to eat plenty of ice cream."

I laughed.  "I will. Take care, Leila.  Feed the baby lots of ice cream."

"Of course!" she called, heading back to her car.  "Only the best Ben & Jerry's!  No Stop & Shop ice cream for my family!"  Her laugh sounded like little gold bells, all going off at once.

I watched as her husband put his hand on her shoulder, probably asking about me.  She smiled as she spoke to him, her soft hazel eyes bright and her cheeks rosy.  I drove away in my little green Honda, turning into the Dairy Queen drive-thru across the street to buy a chocolate ice cream cone.