The woman in the black jeans walks down a country road, in conversation with people only she can hear. Since she’s not using a mobile phone, anywhere else this would be seen as a dubious sign. Fortunately no one’s around to see except the people she’s talking to.
“There are only two kinds of people,” Nita says.
“Mmm?” Kit says. His mouth is full at the moment.
“Those who bite the ends off their ice cream cones when the ice cream starts melting,” Nita says, “and those who don’t.”
“In this weather,” Kit says, “fat chance of it melting.”
As the air temperature is presently hovering around 33 Fahrenheit, he probably has the right of it. Last night’s frost remains couched among the roadside grasses and etched on patches of fallen leaves. Nita is working on a typical spiral swirl of Carvel soft-serve in a waffle cone, and is about halfway down it. Kit has a Cold Stone Creamery sugar cone two scoops high with an extremely rich-looking vanilla with the dark speckles that are the infallible sign of quality (when they’re not actually toasted ground-up walnut shell, a nasty trick some ice cream manufacturers have been caught using on occasion).
Their personal ice cream ingestion styles are worthy of note. Nita is removing the swirl of soft-serve from its cone in small careful increments, almost artistically but with great precision, executing an even, staged removal on all sides. Kit is alternating biting and licking, his attention apparently being on maintaining the scoops’ structural integrity (possibly a smart approach, as the top one seems to be tilting): the attitude is proactive, preventative. Both of them are giving their full attention to the work. The woman in the black jeans spares a moment to consider these modalities as paradigms for the way each of them handles wizardry…
“Where’s yours?” Kit says.
“You kidding? I haven’t even had my tea yet. Besides, this isn’t about my ice cream, it’s about yours.”
Nita gives her a speculative look. “Are we supposed to be eating it at each other in some suggestive way?”
“God, not in front of me. Or at least not for a few years. Certainly not till we get the timeline straightened out.”
“But if you had ice cream, what would you be having?” Kit says.
“Is this fantasy or reality?”
Nita snorts. “You’re asking us?”
A breath of down-the-nose laughter. “Point taken.” A long sigh. “For fantasy? Meaning I can’t get at it right now? There was a place called McConnell’s in LA, before I moved back East. They had one store in the Valley, in Studio City, and one down in Santa Monica, near a games arcade where I used to go every week or so to play Pac-Man, when I could spare the quarters. Looks like they’re up in Santa Barbara now. They had a double chocolate that was so dark it was almost black. God, the intensity of that stuff.” Another long sigh. “Or else the ice cream from that place in Freiburg, over by the Fraumünster, where I kept seeing the little old ladies eating chocolate sundaes at eight in the morning. Or else Teuscher in Zürich…”
“It’s always chocolate with you, isn’t it.”
“Oh no. Well, mostly. But a really good vanilla is a thing of splendor.”
Nita cocks an eye at the woman. “Kind of binary on your part…”
“Not really. I do swing out into other flavors. But variations on solid basic themes have a certain appeal.”
They walk along in silence for a while. Nita finishes her soft-serve first, and (as per her warning) bites the bottom off the cone and starts salvaging the melted ice cream from that end. The process is fraught with danger, but she studies it with some care (actually looking up through the bottom to assess the situation) and then attacks it straightforwardly. Definitely a paradigm... “So, listen,” says the woman in the black jeans, “you two doing okay so far?”
“Well,” Nita says, “tomorrow…”
“A bit awkward…?”
“Ask us afterwards.”
“Won’t be asking you much of anything tomorrow. It’s Hobbit day. You two are on your own.”
“We should be offended.”
“Yeah, you’re two-timing us with another universe.”
The woman in the black jeans gives her companions a sidelong look. “Several,” she says, “but who’s counting?”
Nita and Kit laugh at her. The woman in the black jeans rolls her eyes, as this is an increasingly frequent occurrence. “Not like you guys don’t benefit,” she says. “Passion always helps the work, even if it’s occasionally pointed in different directions. So what about your fantasy ice creams? Assuming those aren’t them.”
“Oh.” They look at each other, one of those expressions of suppressed challenge that tells you this has been a bone of contention before.
“Herrell’s in Huntington,” Kit says instantly. “Jalapeno hot fudge sundae.”
Nita regards him as if he’s once again lost his mind. “Coyle’s in Bay Shore. Without a doubt. Classic soda fountain, so old-fashioned they don’t even have a web site. Maybe Krisch’s in Massapequa as a close second…” Then she shakes her head. “Nope. Coyle’s. The egg creams.”
This comes as a surprise to the woman in the black jeans, for these two theoretically have a whole universe’s ice cream options to choose from. “Really? Nothing further afield?”
They both shake their heads. “’S better near home,” Kit says. “Don’t know why.” He’s just disposed of the top scoop of vanilla, and is now working on the second. He doesn’t notice that he’s got a bit of vanilla on his nose. Nita and the woman exchange a glance as Nita leans over to rub it off.
Then she laughs. “Anyway, remember last time we had ice cream when we were away?”
“What? When did we—” Then Kit laughs, making an “ewwww” face. “Why did you remind me! That place at the Crossings?”
“What a ripoff!”
“’Genuine Flavors from Earth!’”
“’Fabled Home of Chocolate!’”
“And that one with that pale green stuff in it!”
“Snot ripple. Don’t get me started!”
They laugh so hard that they have to stop walking. Nita has fortunately finished her cone now, and so isn’t impeded from bending over like a near-spent runner as she gasps with the tail end of the laughter. Kit has finally worked the vanilla down far enough to keep it safe from further accident, which is good, as the way he’s waving the cone around would be fatal to further enjoyment if any ice cream was still above the rim.
Someone’s stomach growls, and it’s not one of theirs. “Breakfast,” says the woman in the black jeans.
“Okay,” Kit says. “Well, hope that answered your question.”
“What? Which question?”
Nita throws him a conspiratorial glance: confirmation that the author is once again being jerked around by her characters, if (as always) amiably. “The one you didn’t ask.”
“The only question—”
“The essence of Choice—”
The woman cocks an eyebrow at them. “Good or evil? Life or death?”
Nita snickers. “What? Please! Chocolate or vanilla.”
“…Your moment of Zen for today,” says the woman in the black jeans, and smiles, and keeps on walking.