Brax

By: Jayne Blue



“God damn you, Doug!” I said to no one as I jammed the car into reverse and pulled out of the bar parking lot. He’d left me no choice. I hadn’t lied to Brax about any of it. Doug had been in trouble plenty over the years, but this time was different. I’d seen the bruises and the fear in his eyes. Doug might be the world’s biggest fuck-up, but I couldn’t give up on him. Not yet. He was the only family I had left. But I hadn’t planned on responding like I did to Brax. It was like he’d flipped some switch inside of me. One touch and I was all quivering, primal need. I couldn’t afford to lose control like that again.

I made the ten-mile drive back to downtown Lincolnshire without even really knowing how I got there. After nine o’clock now, the shop was dark and quiet.

Ridley’s Olde Time Ice Cream & Soda Shop had been in my family for over eighty years. My great-something-times grandfather had started it with his brother. They’d made a go of the place and survived the Great Depression, WWII and everything in between. Ridley’s was a staple of Lincolnshire. We went in and out of fashion over the years, but never out of business.

I parked the car in the back and fumbled with my keychain, letting myself in the back way off the alley. I flipped the wall switch and the harsh fluorescent bulbs flared to life. I always liked the shop after hours like this when it was empty. The gleaming black-and-white-checkered floors, the art deco counters with polished metal trim. We even had three vintage jukeboxes lined along the wall and a dance floor that no one ever used. But it worked great for large groups and kids’ birthday parties.

People came for the atmosphere, but they also came for the homemade parlor ice cream. Ninety-seven flavors. I’d always asked my grandpa why we didn’t round it to an even hundred, and he’d say, “That’s the gimmick, kiddo!” Of course, we never had more than forty flavors ready to go at any given time. We didn’t have the cooler space or the ingredients. But some of my best memories as a kid were spent at Grandpa Ridley’s knee coming up with new flavors like Peanut Butter Hopscotch (my five-year-old brain meant butterscotch but the name stuck) and Double Cake Brownie.

These days, I was the only Ridley left to run the place. Well, me and Doug. Twenty years ago, my dad had gotten a sizeable offer from a corporate chain to sell. He’d said no because he knew it might be Doug’s only chance to have something of his own. When he told me that, I did exactly what you’d expect an indignant thirteen-year-old girl to do. I stomped my foot, put my hands on my hips, and told him I could run the business just as well or better than Doug. I think I also called him sexist.

My father had smiled, probably laughed a little, and told me something that stuck with me. “Nicole, Doug’s going to need it more than you will. You’re stronger than he is. Smarter. When the time comes, you’re going to get the hell out of Lincolnshire and never look back. They’re going to need you to run the country or Wall Street. I’m going to need Doug to run Ridley’s.”

He also threatened to ground me until Y2K if I ever repeated his speech to Doug.

Well, things never quite work out how you think they will. I felt a cold pit in my stomach as I ran my hand along the row of family pictures we kept on the back wall near the cash register. Great-something Grandpa Ridley and Great Uncle Joe with a shovel in their hands and beaming smiles as they broke ground on the place in 1937. My Grandma and Grandpa Ridley, standing behind the counter in aprons in the fifties. My one-year-old self perched on my father’s shoulders as Ronald Reagan made a campaign stop here for his reelection bid. My father invented Jelly Bean Sundae just for the occasion.

Of all the people in the pictures on the wall, I was the only one left. I choked back the anger, tears, and the love that always bubbled up when I looked at those pictures. Dad was right and horribly wrong. It turned out he needed me to run Ridley’s after all.

I slid onto one of the red leather stools at the counter and buried my face in my hands. “God dammit, Doug. And fuck you too, Daddy.”

But that was all the wallowing I could afford to do for one day. I turned the lights back off and headed up the stairs to the apartment I kept over the shop. I’d have a few hours of peace before I needed to go back downstairs and get everything ready for the morning shift. We served waffles and ice cream by seven a.m. That was part of Grandpa Ridley’s expansion back in the seventies.

I checked my phone for the dozenth time this evening but Doug hadn’t called. I wondered what I’d do if he did. Would it be relief or dread this time? It wasn’t just Doug’s number I looked for. I slid my finger across the screen and held my breath.

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