AN: So this is a revamp of the first part of the original first chapter. I wasn't satisfied with the original pace of the story, and I felt like I needed to work on not relying on naked dialogue as much as I naturally do. This story is a project I've been doing to relieve the anxiety that keeps me up at night and to help me improve my creative writing skills, or lack thereof. So, I would really appreciate any comments or general thoughts you have.

And to the few who gave this story a chance when I first posted a chapter, I will adore you forever. Thank you! I hope you stick around for the rewrite and the rest of the story. We'll get to Jackson soon enough. Promise!

Well, that's enough ranting from me. Enjoy!

Chapter I
The Flavor Theory

Damn it.

Clenching my jaw, I gripped the pen in my fist and dragged it across the papers. The tip dug trenches into the thin material as it left a trail of ink, gradually covering the black print of my unofficial transcript and graduation requirements under a mass of blue. I scribbled furiously until my knuckles were white and the typed letters of the documents were barely visible.

With a last frustrated huff, I tossed the pen onto the counter, all the while wondering what had possessed me to try for a second major during my final year at Milfield University. The plan had already resulted in innumerable sleepless nights and hours lost to counting how many credits I had completed and how many I had left to tackle, and here I was, driven insane by school and classes hadn't even started yet.

It was ridiculous. I didn't need anybody to tell me. If I was going to graduate by the end of summer quarter—something my advisors had clearly insisted upon—I would have to take on almost double the regular load of credits for at least two of the four remaining quarters.

The marked up pages scattered before me were proof that it was technically possible. The numbers always said I could do it. All I had to do was get the right classes at the right time. Unfortunately, that stipulation would be a gamble all in itself. The only thing I could do now was try my best and hope that, in the end, it wouldn't all be in vain.

I shook my head, attempting to clear my thoughts. Dwelling over this any longer was not going to make things any better. The credits wouldn't magically complete themselves or disappear any time soon, and I could already feel a headache coming on.

Heaving a sigh, I straightened my back and set the papers to the side, piling them into a single neat stack. It was time to get back to the work.

But, upon glancing up, I found that nothing had changed. The store, although decked in the usual lively red, white, and chrome combo of a traditional diner, was completely void of screaming children and ice cream enthusiasts.

Then again, one could never expect anything spectacular from a weekday morning shift at The Split—home-of-the-best-ice-cream-experience-in-town-nevermind-those-bigshot-chains!

We're obviously in desperate need of a real slogan.

The first hour after opening shop was always the worst. In fact, it was what had driven me to pull out the papers and resume the endless cycle of credit crunching. We were lucky if we got more than one customer. Heck, who was I kidding? Even that first customer was a miracle, especially now that most of the kids in the area were back in school.

September was back with a vengeance, ready to rob me of my sanity with a psychotic mix of moments spent counting clock ticks and mad scrambles to serve afternoon rushes or scrap together essays and projects, but, whether I liked it or not, senior year was fast approaching, and for the record, I was not looking forward to it. At all.

See, that's the difference between the senior years of high school and university. In high school, everyone celebrates the grand end of an era, but after the mind-numbing graduation ceremony, nothing has truly changed. For those of us who doomed ourselves to another four years or so of schooling, we're still at the whims of the teachers, following orders in return for grade rewards, or not following orders and failing miserably. The only difference is that the instructors are more likely to have grey hair, if any at all. We essentially graduate to a more glorified version of high school.

But, after the last year of university, it's just you and the real world. It's the time when the real exam takes place, the one that evaluates whether the last sixteen years of education actually did you any good. Sixteen years is an awfully long time. And, unfortunately, right now, it's a test I am most certainly not ready to take.

And, here I am once again thinking about school.

Sighing, I bent down and rested my left elbow on the ruby red counter. Then I reached out my right hand to take hold of a metal ice cream scoop nesting in hot water. I bobbed it up and down. The dancing water was pleasantly hypnotizing, a very welcome distraction.

There was so little to do. The list for morning cleaning was completely checked off. I almost wished classes had already begun so that I had homework to do. Almost.

Dropping my chin onto my palm, I swept my eyes across the room. Three booths were positioned against the painted walls and the large windows which spanned the store front. Also, a couple smaller tables were strategically placed in the middle of the room to still allow an easy flow of traffic, and additional individual seating lined the left side of the counter in the form of high stools. The space was somewhat small and tightly packed. Some outsiders might have considered the place to be cramped, but all the regulars and staff preferred to refer to the store as cozy.

Despite the diner décor, there were no posters of burgers and fries accompanied by colorful fizzy drinks. No, we were a strictly ice cream sort of people. Like the head honcho said, "We only do one thing, but damn do we do it right!"

I usually thought it a little unnerving when old folks cursed, but Bob was an exception. It was rather endearing. Four months of working for the man will do that. He just grew on you. You didn't have a choice in the matter. Although, I still did not understand why he insisted on opening the store so early every morning. I doubted that his profit margin looked that great for the early hours with our lack of early-rising, ice-cream-seeking customers.

A sudden rustling of paper cut through my thoughts. As I made a mental note to turn on the stereo system later, I peered at the only other body in the shop. It was dressed in khaki shorts and a black screen tee, its pale green eyes glued to a newspaper spread across the table in front of it.

No, Trent was not the customer to fill my miracle morning quota of one. He was just Trent, skateboard extraordinaire and resident bum of The Split. His latest baby, by which I mean his latest skateboard, leaned against the side of the booth, the worn orange wheels clearly displayed.

Trent continued to stare at the paper, seemingly intent on absorbing the final scores from the latest games and whatever other trivial information he could gather from the large pages of the sports section. His head remained at the same angle, and not a single finger moved from where it rested atop the table, not even a twitch.

Uninterested by his lack of movement, I strode into the backroom, heading straight for the black boxes in the corner where I promptly hit the large power button. Screechy music courtesy of the local pop radio station blared from the speakers.

I'll admit there was one thing inherently great about pop music; it was the popular music of the day, meaning that if it was annoying as hell, it was guaranteed to be off the air waves soon enough and trapped in some dark and dusty drawer, hopefully never to be played again.

I promptly hit the scan button, tapping repeatedly until it landed on the rock station. Unfortunately, I was greeted by the deejay ranting about some horrid creation of the modern food industry that he'd unfortunately eaten for breakfast. Never trust the multi-colored junk! Oh, so exciting. Not.

I grabbed an oldies CD from a nearby shelf and slid it into the system. The upbeat but soothing melodies of a bygone era filtered through the air. Satisfied, I returned to the front section of the store and headed for the right side of the counter where the ice cream tubs were displaced proudly in two rows behind a shield of glass. Each flavor was the result of Bob's love and dedication.

And, each tub was completely full, still leaving me with nothing to do.

Luckily, disappointment didn't have enough time to set in, a random thought striking me as I scanned the wide array of colors and flavors.

"Did you know that you can tell a person's personality by the flavor of ice cream they choose?"

All I received in reply was a lazy grunt, but I wasn't about to be so easily deterred. So, I pushed on.

"I remember reading about it when I was little. Chocolate is for the sassy and adventurous; Vanilla is for the straight-laced and mundane folk; and—"

Trent interrupted me with another grunt, but this time it was more powerful, motivated by disagreement. "I eat vanilla," he protested.

"Exactly." I grinned, fully aware that he was anything but straight-laced. No, our Trent chased his dreams at full force, rules and expectations be damned, and I admired him for his wild and carefree manner.

Trent's eyes narrowed, but my grin was steadfast.

"You know you love me," I sang.

I could practically see his eyes melt, like ice cream under boiling hot fudge. Despite his tattoos and piercings, Trent was a total peach, and I'll admit it helped that I was the closest thing he had to a little sister. If nothing else, he helped me get through the downtime at work. Or, at least he did, once I managed to pry his attention away from the sports section of the daily newspaper.

"So, what's your flavor of choice?"

I blinked, his question catching me off-guard. I hadn't really expected him to be interested in my peculiar ice cream knowledge. After all, there were no limits to the randomness, but mission accomplished. I could almost taste the sweet victory over the newspaper.

"Strawberry, of course."

Trent chuckled, eyes shining. "Of course," he agreed. "I have no idea how I managed to forget that. So, what does your strawberry fetish imply according to this mighty theory, oh wise one."

"It's not a fetish, jerk," I scoffed. "Strawberries are plain awesome, and you can't deny it. Besides, it means I'm fun."

Trent raised an eyebrow. "That's it? You're… fun?"

"Of course, I am. Don't sound so surprised," I said, feigning hurt.

"How is it that I'm mundane and you're fun? Are you sure didn't mix up your info, kid?"

I huffed at the nickname, impulsively grabbing a white dish towel and beginning to wipe down the already spotless countertop.

"I'm only five years younger than you, Trent."

"Yes, five long years during which I acquired much wisdom."

I snorted, obviously not buying his argument.

"I really hope this isn't from one of those internet personality quizzes," Trent said. "You know they're a load of bull, right?"

"No way," I assured him. "This is from way before the internet—or at least before my family got hooked up. It's definitely information from a credible printed source."

Trent turned towards me fully, leaning one elbow on the table top and the other on the back of his seat. "And what 'credible printed source' would that be?" He questioned, watching me intently. I had his undivided attention now.

I shrugged and focused on scrubbing down an imaginary spot of dirt. "The back of a container, maybe? Wait, no. It definitely had to be a pull-out from a home magazine. That sounds more plausible." I nodded, pleased with my thought.

Trent tilted his head, his eyebrows furrowing together. "I don't know what they're teaching you kids at school nowadays, but those aren't very convincing sources. Besides," he grinned, "I'm surprised you even remember something that random from your childhood, especially when I keep hearing these stories about you being so accident prone and receiving frequent hits to the head."

"Hey, I outgrew that phase a long time ago," I protested. With a frown, I paced up and down the counter, my arm vigorously moving the towel in large, haphazard circles. At that moment, I vowed to never bring Trent home for dinner with my parents ever again. "I am proudly no longer acci-"

Before I could finish my point, I found myself sprawled across the floor tiles, my head pounding and my vision momentarily waning. The throbbing of my right foot revealed what had occurred, and I pushed my upper body up onto my elbows so that I could glare at the offending body part which had collided with a shelving unit and caused my fall.

Out of the corner of my eye, I barely registered Trent's black mop of hair popping up over the counter. A wide grin was plastered across his face.

"Shut up," I muttered, redirecting my glare onto him before he had a chance to comment on my current predicament.

He raised his hands up into the air, testifying to his innocence. "I wasn't going to say anything, kid."

"Sure." I stretched the word, letting the 'r' roll off my tongue longer than normal. There was no way I was going to believe that.

Carefully, I hauled myself off the floor, using the nearby shelves to support the bulk of my weight. Then, with a mutter of a few choice words, I stretched my bruised and battered limbs, straightened my clothing, and dusted my hands off. I was glad I had cleaned the floor only an hour ago, but a floor was a floor and my hands had touched it, not to mention that I worked with food all day.

Feeling the need to wash my hands, I was about to head into the backroom when I heard a new voice. My head snapped towards the door. I had been so occupied by my mishap—no, it was not an "accident," because I am not accident prone anymore—that I hadn't heard the doorbell chime. Apparently neither had Trent, since he visibly jumped at the inquiry.

I also noticed that a frown now marred Trent's features. His hands were clenched around my ink-coated papers, and when his eyes caught mine, I just knew I was in for a long lecture in the near future. The green had darkened a shade, but he voiced no words as he made his way back to his seat.

Turning to our new customer, I offered him an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry. I was a little preoccupied," I admitted sheepishly. "Could you repeat that, please?"

The man, dressed in designer dark-wash jeans and a crisp white polo, looked to be about my age. The severity of his hairstyle, which was shaved rather close to his scalp, was balanced by a warm twinkling in his hazel eyes. I had a feeling that he was used to having women hang off his arms.

"I was just wondering if you guys were open yet. I know it's a little early for an ice cream shop and everything, but the sign in the window—"

I stifled a laugh, amused by his slight case of rambling. It was adorably unexpected.

"We're definitely open," I informed him with a bright smile. "I just had a little accident." I winced internally upon hearing my own admittance. Trent was surely smirking now. "I just need to wash my hand really quick first, but I'll be right back in a jiffy. In the meantime, please go ahead and start thinking about what you'd like to order."

"I hope it wasn't too bad." I heard the customer call out as I slipped into the backroom and washed up.

"Excuse me?" I asked, more out of impulse than real curiosity.

"Your accident."

I caught his gaze as I pushed through the swinging door once more. "Oh, no, it really wasn't. I just had a little fall, and well, it's nothing I'm not already used to." I blushed slightly and grabbed the metal scoop. "So what can I get for you today?"

He scanned the multi-colored tubs for a moment before deciding on two scoops, one of pistachio and another of vanilla, and opting for a cup rather than a cone.

With a deftness that displayed my long love affair with ice cream, I dished out the order and placed the trademark cup on the counter. Then I nudged it towards him, all the while feeling his stare burning into my head. I swallowed before speaking, feeling self-conscious under the intense scrutiny.

"Anything else I can get for you?" I asked, meeting his eyes and causing him to break his steady gaze.

He shook his head. "No, that's good."

"All right, then it's going to be four dollars and thirty-five cents, please."

The customer fished around in his wallet before withdrawing a bill and handing it over. "Keep the change," he paused to read my nametag, "Adelia."

I glanced down at the paper in my hands, and my eyes widened as I registered it as a ten dollar bill. "Sir, I can't take this. It's way too much," I gushed out, but by the time I looked up he was already standing at the door with one hand poised above the handle.

"Yes, you can." The stranger smiled and raised his newly acquired cup in the air like a trophy. "And, thanks for the ice cream," he added before making a swift exit and sending the bells above the door chiming.

I stared at the door, mouth agape, not quite processing what just happened. When I finally brought my jaw up to its normal relaxed position, I turned to Trent, only to find that he had both of his eyebrows raised.

"Well, I think someone likes you."

His words struck a nerve somewhere deep within me, snapping me out of my trance. I immediately turned to the register and stiffly started pulling out the correct change. "Yeah, right," I muttered.

"Why so glum, chum? He seemed like a nice kid."

"I'm sure he is."

"I mean if I was a female, gay, or bisexual, I'd be totally into him."

My hands stilled above the register, and I slowly raised my grey eyes to Trent's. Mirth danced in his green orbs. My forehead crinkled.

"What?" He asked nonchalantly. "If I didn't know any better, I'd think that you were into him."

My eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Why?"

"Just call it the vibe," he answered simply.

"The vibe?" My head bobbed slightly as I repeated the term slowly. I eyed him for a second before shaking my head dismissively. "I think you've been spending too much time with girls lately, Trent."

He smirked. "Just you, kid. Just you."

"Funny, because I could have sworn you were with your girlfriend all weekend," I retorted. "Is she secretly a man?"

"Oh, trust me, she's all woman. You, however, are a girl, and correct me if I'm wrong, but we were discussing girls."

My mouth fell open a little at the slight. "Ouch."

Trent merely smiled at me, letting me know that he was joking, before stating confidently, "But, back to the matter at hand. I think he'd be good for you."

I sighed, feeling my mood turn sour once again. "Drop it, Trent."

"You seem a little agitated, kid. Does this mean I'm right?"

"Stuff it," I snapped.

I immediately regretted the words and muttered an apology. I hated discussing my social life, or lack thereof. I had The Split, Trent, and a few acquaintances from high school. That was all I needed. As my mother told me; I was in university to study and learn, not to socialize. I didn't need more friends.

A moment elapsed in silence before Trent spoke again, but this time his voice was softer, all trace of teasing gone. "For as long as I've known you, I've never seen you show an interest in anyone." His green eyes, softened with concern, were locked on me. "Why don't you ever date? In fact, I barely ever see you hang out with any friends. It's your senior year. It wouldn't hurt to socialize more."

"What's the point?" I grimly asked back, keeping my gaze on the floor. "No one stays together anymore. It's a waste of time, and I have no time to waste."

I heard Trent shuffle out of the booth and stride towards me, his sneakers beating soft taps on the tile. Before I knew it, I was wrapped in his warm embrace, his six foot frame easily engulfing my petite body. He radiated heat and comfort, and I welcomed every bit of it, no matter how strangely new it all was.

"It's okay kid," he whispered. "I think he likes you too."

My arms slipped around his middle, as a smile gingerly crept its way onto my lips. "What is this? Fifth grade? Come on, Trent. The guy was here to buy ice cream, and he bought it and left." My reply was muffled by the soft cotton of his shirt, but I wasn't ready to leave his warmth yet.

"Yes, but he smiled at you."

"That's what polite people generally do. Did you expect him to come in glaring? Who comes into an ice cream shop glaring? He wasn't even surrounded by a horde of screaming children."

"He gave you a tip," Trent noted, "a tip that, might I add, was more than what the ice cream cost."

I was quiet, mulling over this fact. Then, something dawned on me. "Oh, my god," I gasped, stepping away from Trent.

He eyed me strangely. Although he was clearly puzzled, he made no attempt to approach me again.

"Does that make me a whore?" I whispered in honest concern.

Trent's eye twitched first, followed by the corner of his mouth. Then he broke out into mad fit of laughter. It echoed off the walls, filling every nook and cranny, and for a moment, I was glad that we lacked customers.

By the time, his lapse in sanity subsided, I had already returned to wiping down random surfaces with a small towel. His arms, which he had wrapped around his sides while shouting the word "cramp" repeatedly, finally unfurled. He crossed them over his chest instead.

"Sorry, kid," Trent managed to breathe out. I could tell he was still trying to stifle some laughter. "I think you need to not be a virgin to be a whore."

I rolled my eyes. "Thank you for enlightening me." I moved onto wiping away at the booth tables, my hand moving nonstop.

"I bet he'll come back tomorrow," Trent piped.

"I'm too poor to be betting with you," I stated before gesturing towards my apron and the damp towel. "Hence, why I'm working right now."

"Hey, I'm here too." Trent waved his hands as if to draw my eyes to him and prove his existence.

"You're only here, because your grandfather owns the place," I pointed out.

"Not true," he objected. "I'm here for the ice cream." Then, as an afterthought, he added, "And I'm here for you too, of course. What's a morning without the opportunity to bug you?"

"A good one?" I quipped.

"Yeah, well, too bad," he said with a smile. "You're not getting rid of me any time soon."

With that said, Trent returned to his booth where he settled himself into a comfortable position and resumed his perusal of the daily newspaper. It was not until after he flipped another page that he looked up and spoke once again.

"So," he began hesitantly, "he got pistachio and vanilla, huh? Does that mean he's not as boring as me?"

I let out a cheerful laugh as I threw the towel at his face.