Today's Reading

"I think he'd really do it," you used to insist after the sign went up, turning red and angry and sullen if one of us suggested the shortcut. Emily would laugh at you, tell you that was stupid, but, if I'm being honest, we were all a little scared to find out what would happen if we tested him.

I was thinking about Mr. Hunt's ice cream shop that morning, those huge cardboard cylinders of mint chocolate chip and rocky road ice cream lined up behind that glass pane, fitting snugly beside each other in the refrigerated counter that I ripped out two years ago to put in the coffee bar. I could almost see us, slouched down in those white plastic chairs, bored and sticky and trying to figure out what to do next. That's when the door jangled and four teenagers tumbled in, shouting and howling at each other, two boys and two girls.

The blond boy strutted across the coffee shop, his hair meticulously waxed, a self-important smirk on his face. His camo sweatshirt, distressed to look old and fitted to look expensive, probably cost more than everything I was wearing combined. His beefy friend swaggered next to him, hands in the pockets of his sweatpants, and the girls followed close behind, giggling, in matching black puffy coats and high ponytails. They bypassed the counter entirely and settled in at a table in the back, purses, coats, and scarves scattered everywhere.

"Friends of yours?" I asked Anna, and her raised eyebrow let me know I had asked a stupid question, that any one of a hundred different cues—the shimmering eye shadow, the fluffy boots—should have clued me in on the fact that they ran in different social circles.

"An-'na'!" the blond boy shouted in an exaggerated baritone, emphasizing the last syllable. This sent the girls into another fit of high-pitched laughter. Anna rolled her eyes, flipped her hair over her shoulder, and returned her attention to her phone, and in that moment I actually felt a surge of affection for her.

I ignored the teens, or tried to, for about fifteen minutes. But the heavy stench of the boys' cologne hit me as I walked past them with a tray of two lattes and a tea kettle. I turned to see the bigger boy crouched over and snorting a line of Sweet'N Low, to the delight of the other three. Ripped-up pieces of sugar packets and a thin layer of granulated sugar covered the table. The boy slammed his hands down in victory and pushed his chair back suddenly, almost crashing into me.

"Out," I ordered, pointing toward the door. All four mouths dropped in mock surprise and offense.

"Fuck you, lady," said the blond boy, sneaking a glance at the girls to see if they were impressed. They elbowed each other, watching to see what I would do next. "You can't kick us out. This is public property."

"No, it's not," I said. "It's my property. Customers only."

"Fine. I'll take a small coffee, then." His smirk grew bigger, and the girls stifled giggles. The beefy boy stared off vacantly, with a lazy, stupid grin, a few grains of sweetener still clinging to his upper lip.

"Nope. Out."

The boys dumped more sugar on the table before leaving, and the blond one slammed the door on his way out for good measure, the bells I put up to announce new customers rattling behind him. But they didn't go far, instead loitering on the sidewalk in front of the Main Street windows, right where I couldn't help but see them. The boys roughhoused and the girls squeezed together for warmth, and all four of them looked back into the shop every few minutes and then broke out into peals of laughter all over again, as if to say: 'You can kick us out, but you can't get rid of us that easily. We're not going anywhere'. One especially aggressive shove sent the blond boy careening into the windowpane, and when I raised my phone in the air and mimed calling the police, they regrouped and quieted down. The blond boy wrapped his arms around the waist of one of the girls, leaning back against the window, and the other girl looked on with poorly concealed jealousy.

That's when Mrs. Klein came in, carrying a bag with her from Charlene's Closet, which, miraculously, is still in business after all this time. I think our moms may have single-handedly kept that shop going during the nineties, and I'm not sure that any of the styles on offer have changed since then. Mrs. Klein, with her short gray hair that shot out in all directions and her wide- eyed, confused expression, looked a little as though she had wandered in by mistake, but she looked that way every Sunday morning. She glanced around the shop as if to figure out where she was, then finally made her way over to the counter with slow, deliberate steps.

"Oh, hello, Micah!" she said. She always sounded pleasantly surprised to see me, although I'm not sure why. I was always there.

"Hi, Mrs. Klein," I said. "What can I get for you?"

She examined the pastries on display carefully, as though she were deciding which ones to get, even though she always ordered the same thing: a blueberry scone and a small coffee, with room for cream. I looked over at Anna, still draped over the counter, while half-empty mugs and crumb-covered plates piled up on the tables in front of us. The warmth I had felt just a moment before evaporated.


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