Talk to me,
Speak with me,
Don't sink before you rise, baby,
Don't fade away.
-Ciara Newell, Ice Cream
Steve had led a fleeting life. His mother passed away of ovarian cancer when he was only ten. His father was barely there, and when he was there, he would only impart certain advices that Steve never ceased to take to heart, despite the man's absence in his life. His girlfriends never stayed, claiming he was too cold or too uncaring. He couldn't really blame them, because he didn't really have much time to dote after them when his old man basically drank and puked his life away. The same man also sold the house that was supposed to be the house he would grow up in two months after his mother died.
The only permanent things in his life were the truck his father left for him after a weak attempt to battle lung cancer, the ice cream making skills that his father had taught him since the first day he started to help out at the parlor, and the ice cream parlor that had kept the family of two afloat for all these years.
And while Steve led a fleeting life with almost nothing that stayed, he would be damned before he let this ice cream parlor fall, just like everything else in his life had. He would do everything he could to keep this ice cream parlor alive – for selfish reasons.
Steve was never one to complain. If he was targeted by bullies at school, he would spend time toughening himself at the nearby playground and take down the bullies' asses the next time they targeted him again. If he failed at a certain subject, he would take the exam paper home and pin it on the wall to remind him that there would be no next time, and then he would bury his head in his textbook until he could ace it. If he woke up one day to find that his father was too drunk to make him breakfast and take him to school, Steve would just ask for money from the old man and get cereal from the nearby store, and then memorize the route to school so he could start walking.
Steve was never one to complain, but the better part of his life had happened in this ice cream parlor. At least his father was only halfway drunk, and he actually liked working here to earn his own keep, however menial the amount turned out to be.
And he wasn't willing to let this ice cream parlor go – not yet, possibly not ever.
It was why he took whatever money Robert Trevor had left for him and went ahead to refurbish the place a little to make it look more presentable. And then he used whatever intelligence and creativity he had to recreate and remarket a menu that would appeal to the neighborhood.
It was a good thing they were in New York, meaning people actually walked, which also meant that his shop wouldn't be as obscure, given that people really liked ice-cream, especially in the summer. He wasn't making enough money to start a franchise, but he was definitely able to keep himself afloat with a few investments in place.
The whole thing was sufficient, and honestly, he really couldn't ask for more.
Until one night, a curious woman wandered in, and it was the one time that he allowed his own curiosity to win over his usual attitude to leave everything alone and mind his own business.
When the clock showed that it was half past nine, he allowed his staff to get off work, as he usually did. The official closing hour was ten, but people didn't usually come in to get ice cream at this time of the night, and he was always able to handle the shop on his own until the shop was officially closed.
He went about the shop, cleaning up and storing up everything to prepare to call it a night. He was in the middle of wiping off the tables when he heard the bell clanged, indicating a customer. Not one to display bad customer service, despite the fact that he still had ten minutes until he flipped the sign, Steve put on a friendly smile and looked to the door, only to be confronted with a woman who looked sullen and could really use a pick me up.
And what better way to pick oneself up than a golly good ice cream?
He tucked the wet napkin in his back pocket and greeted aloud, "Welcome to 'Don't Wanna See It Melt', madam!"
She swung to look at him, surprise etched on her face, as if the thought of someone actually manning an ice cream parlor was not the norm. As she was getting over her shock, he took the time to admire her entirely flawless features and long form. There was exoticness to her tanned skin, brown eyes, pointed nose, and dainty lips, all brought together into the most – undoubtedly – beautiful face he had ever seen. She was dressed in a pantsuit – pale blue blouse, and dark brown blazer, with a pair of dark brown pants to match.
Steve always had a weakness for women in pantsuits.
Not that it mattered, since she was only here for ice cream, and he was only here to serve her. Plus, she seemed like a really sophisticated woman, and he was just a man who owned an ice cream parlor and lived in an apartment above the shop.
"Oh, hi," she said. Her voice sounded a little hoarse, probably from the coldness of the weather. It was winter, after all.
"Hey," he replied, nodding. He made his way to the back of the counter, waving his arm in the general direction of the ice cream tubs laid out behind a glass. Good thing he hadn't stored them up yet. "So, which would you prefer?"
She slowly neared the counter and surveyed the tastes available. "I'll just have the vanilla. If that's okay," she added with slight nervousness.
His lips quirked at the sound of her asking for permission to pick an ice cream that she obviously preferred. "Of course it is!" he reassured. "Vanilla's too underrated. I'm glad that there are people who appreciate it. So, do you want cone or cup?" he asked again, gesturing at the containers available at the top of the counter.
While he scooped the ice cream, he couldn't help but revel in the fact that this woman seemed incredibly polite, which wasn't something that he encountered often – not in a city like New York City. People were always in a rush, or they had something better to do than talking to an ice cream parlor owner. He couldn't blame them, of course.
There were always better things to do. It was just that running an ice cream parlor was his better thing to do.
When Steve was done scooping the ice cream, he made sure to smooth the surface out – something he didn't usually do – and handed it over the counter to the woman. "Here you go, a perfect vanilla ice cream. I hope you enjoy it!" When she made to retrieve money from her purse, he stopped her with a disapproving wince. "Don't worry about it. It's on the house." She looked at him, her expression battling between surprise and wariness. "You seem like you need it," he added.
She offered her own smile, which only made to enhance her beauty, if nothing else. He tried not to get thrown off guard by it. "Thank you."
He nodded. "No problem. Have a seat, if you're not in a rush. It's cold out there." He gestured at the rows of empty tables.
"Oh, I thought you're about to close down," she said.
"One customer is nothing. Please, have a seat!" he implored again.
"Thank you," she said again.
He watched as she walked towards a table and sat down, staring at the ice cream and not eating it. He frowned for a bit, before he remembered that he had no business in her business and went to the door to flip the sign at the door. And then he headed towards the tables and resumed wiping down the tables.
"It's wonderful!" she exclaimed after he wiped down the third table, which surprised him. He looked up at her, alarmed, but she was staring at him with delight, all the sullenness from before gone. "You should be very proud of this!"
He raised his brows. Never had he seen anyone so enthusiastic over a vanilla ice cream before, but to each their own, he supposed. "Thank you." They stared at each other for a while. And then he broke the gaze to look down at the table he was supposed to be wiping down, back at her, back at the table, and then he just decided to screw it and pocketed the cloth again. He moved towards her and sat down opposite her. "I'm glad you're enjoying it."
He watched her for a while, finding solace in seeing this woman enjoying an ice cream with such joy on her face. "If you don't mind me asking," he started, "what made you decide to eat ice cream during winter? Not that I'm complaining, it's always good to have business, but it's winter." Yet another thing he didn't usually do.
He barely even met the woman, and he was already breaking two of his self imposed rules.
Her enthusiasm faded a little, and he almost wanted to slap himself for being the cause of it. "I've had a bad day, and ice cream is always something I take to when I have bad days. Plus, there are no seasons when it comes to ice cream."
He nodded in acceptance of her answer. "I'm Steve, by the way."
She smiled at him. "Diana," she introduced.
"Diana," he said softly, reveling in the way his tongue curled around her name. "It's a good name."
"Thank you." She took a pause from eating the ice cream to look around the place. "Do you own this shop?"
He nodded. "Yes."
"It's a nice place."
He smiled, unable to help but feel proud from the compliment. "It's my greatest accomplishment," he said. He waited, anticipating for her to look at him with disdain or something of the sort, given that it was how people look at him when he told them the same thing.
Instead, her smile remained. "You should be very proud of yourself," she repeated her previous sentiment.
They smiled at each other for a long while. Steve had already sequestered himself into a life of singleness, isolated himself from companionship. He wasn't much of a guy who wanted to go down in history – he would leave that to the young women and men out there. He just wanted to live his life with his ice cream parlor and his truck, and he would be content.
And most women didn't want that from a man. Not that he blamed them. There were so many opportunities out there, and they would be better off with men who could do much more than him, or by accomplishing things themselves. As history had proven over and over again, women could do so much better without men.
But this woman, Diana, despite the fact he had only met her ten minutes ago, made him want to keep making her smile like that. For some reason, he felt particularly enlightened in her presence, which was odd and completely unfamiliar. She only complimented him twice, and he already felt like accomplishing more things to keep the compliments coming.
Yet, he knew that it wouldn't be possible. The both of them together was preposterous, which was supported more as he spent the next half an hour talking to her, learning things about her that further proved that they wouldn't be right for each other – she deserved better.
He was into her, that was for sure – who wouldn't, really – but he just wasn't the one for her.
"Oh god, I'm so sorry. I just kept talking and you were just about to close down. I'm so sorry. I'll get out of your hair," she apologized profusely, standing up and ready to go.
He stood up with her, his heart sinking at the thought of seeing her go. "Oh it's no problem. I kind of…forgot about that as well." He scratched the back of his head with a lame smile. "And I like hearing you talk. I mean, talking to you, yeah, talking to you," he corrected himself, wincing.
She looked at him for a bit, expressionless. And then that smile took over her face again, brighter this time. "It's been really nice talking to you as well, Steve."
"I…yeah, thank you," he replied. And then when he heard himself, he winced again. Jesus, he was really off tonight. "Well, if you need another pick me up, you can always come here. The parlor and I are not going anywhere."
She nodded, and then she leaned in to kiss him on the cheek, which caused him to freeze up. "I promise I will," she guaranteed, and then she walked out the door, but not without throwing him another smile, leaving him completely stuck on the spot.
And true to her promise, Diana never stopped coming, and he never stopped scooping her vanilla ice cream, for a really long time.