Rocky Road Ahead
CHAPTER ONE YAY GOURMET!
It was the after-lunch rush on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. That was about as busy as Molly’s Ice Cream shop ever got, and I loved it! I felt so good when we were busy—my friends Tamiko and Sierra and me moving smoothly behind the counter like a well-oiled machine, the register ringing and ringing sales, and “inventory” (as my mom called our ice cream and toppings) moving out the door. Most of all, I loved happy customers, and today we had plenty!
There was a group of Girl Scouts coming back from a campout—they wanted to be refreshed, so we sold them a lot of sorbet. There were grandparents babysitting grandchildren, and they always went big: unicorn sundaes, candy toppings, hot fudge. All the
stuff parents usually forbade, the grandparents bought. Putting together the more complicated items on the menu satisfied our creativity as scoopers. After all, it was more fun to create a fancy mermaid sundae than it was to put a scoop of vanilla ice cream into a cone, even if it was rich, creamy, delicious Molly’s Ice Cream vanilla!
My friends and I were in the middle of serving a car pool of Little Leaguers when I noticed that my mom had come into the front of the store from her office in the back. Her eyes were bright with excitement, and her cheeks were pink. She looked like she had news of some sort. I wanted to stop what I was doing and run over to her to talk, but we were too overwhelmed. The line was out the door. I was alternating between scooping and running the register, which meant I couldn’t break for even one second.
I kept my eye on her as we worked through the rush. She went back to her office and returned with her laptop in hand right as the line was drawing to an end. I caught her eye, and she grinned widely at me. Phew! That meant she definitely had good news. I was so eager to chat with her that I rushed as I
packed a scoop into a cone, and I cracked it and had to start over. Ice cream was the ultimate slow food—there was just no way to rush making it, serving it, or eating it!
Finally, finally, things died down and I darted over to my mom.
“What’s going on?” I asked breathlessly. “You look so excited!”
My mom smiled again and threw her arm around me in a sideways hug. “We’re going to be famous!” she said with a laugh.
I laughed too, just because she was so happy. “How? Why?”
By now Tamiko and Sierra had wiped down the counters and joined us.
“Girls, I just got a wonderful e-mail from a reporter at Yay Gourmet, the online food magazine!”
“Yay Gourmet!” Tamiko squealed. “I love them! Their site is supercool, and amazing at predicting new food trends.”
“And what did the e-mail say?’ Sierra asked.
My mom beamed proudly. “They want to do a big article about Molly’s!”
“Awesome!” Sierra and I exclaimed together.
Tamiko clapped her hands. “What are they going to focus on in the article?”
My mom tipped her head to the side thoughtfully. “I think our flavors most of all. Then our technique—the small batches, the high-quality ingredients, the test kitchen where I create them all. But there will certainly be a section on the wonderful concoctions you girls have created: the sundaes, shakes, and—”
“And the sprinkle of happy?” Sierra and I chimed.
My mom laughed. “Of course! What would Molly’s be without a sprinkle of happy?”
A sprinkle of happy was something that I had invented in the early days of the store last year, right when we’d all started working together every Sunday. No matter how plain or complicated the ice cream order, we put a pinch of rainbow sprinkles on top and said to the customer, “Here’s your sprinkle of happy!” People loved it. It always, always made them smile.
“When will the article run?” asked Tamiko. She was always one for the details.
“I’m not sure of the exact date,” said my mom. “But I definitely think early summer. The reporter mentioned publishing it right in time for ‘ice cream season.’?”
Tamiko wrinkled her nose. “Don’t they know it’s always ice cream season at Molly’s?”
Sierra and I laughed. Tamiko was a marketing whiz, and she was always trying to think of new ways to attract customers and attention—promotions, flyers, special events, social media, new menu items. She was a one-girl publicity machine, and Molly’s had a lot to thank her for, especially building our fan base and attracting and keeping customers.
“We will make sure the reporter knows that before she leaves the store,” said my mom with a nod of agreement. “Ice cream’s not just for summer anymore!”
My two friends and I went back to our spots behind the counter and began straightening up the chaos that our busy hour and a half had created. Sierra topped off the pots of sprinkles, cherries, nuts, and candies. Tamiko restocked cones, napkins, and cups. I refilled the crocks with marshmallow, hot fudge, and caramel (a sticky task!). As we worked, we discussed our summer plans.
“I can’t believe it’s right around the corner again!” said Sierra.
“I know. I’ve got to line up some activities,” I agreed.
“Are you going back to your sleepaway camp again?” Tamiko asked me.
I shrugged. “I’m not really sure. Things are different this summer, since . . .”
My friends knew what I meant—since my parents’ divorce. At the end of the previous summer I had come back from my happy place (sleepaway camp) to discover that my parents were getting divorced and it was a done deal. They were both moving to new places, my brother and I were going to new schools, and my mom was switching to a new job, which was opening Molly’s.
It had been a year of big changes and a lot more responsibility for me. But I also had much more independence now because of it. I got to work at Molly’s; I sometimes took care of my brother, Tanner, and got us both dinner and off to bed; and my parents trusted me to get around on my own more than they used to. Also, both of my parents now lived in supercool, very different places that I loved, and I’d been able to start at an awesome new school. I still missed my old school—especially because Tamiko and Sierra were there without me—but I liked a lot of things about my new school too,
like the librarian, Mrs. K.; and my English teacher, Ms. Healy; and being on the school paper; and my new friend Colin. Even the food was better at my new school.
Tamiko and Sierra and I had figured out how to stay close even though we went to different schools, and that included lots of video chats; working together every Sunday, rain or shine; and plenty of fun plans when we could fit them in.
But summer was still a big question mark. Would my mom need my help at home, watching Tanner, working at the store, or whatever? Would my dad want to spend more time together over the summer? Could we afford for me to go to that fancy camp up north for seven weeks again? We hadn’t discussed it yet, but I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go again. I almost hoped they’d make the decision for me. Or I hoped that maybe something better would come along.
“What about you, Sierra? Do you have summer plans?” I asked.
Sierra screwed the plastic lid back onto the giant jar of rainbow sprinkles and stowed the jar back in the cabinet. She turned to us and said, “Isa and I are
going to work for our parents a bunch at their clinic. I’d love to work at Molly’s, too. Maybe I could pick up some more shifts, what with summer being the busy season and me being free to help more.”
I nodded. “That would be fun. The time will fly in here this summer because it’ll be crowded every day. What about you, Miko? Do you have a plan?”
“I have some DIY projects up my sleeve. I might set up a table at the weekly flea market in the town square and sell some of my crafts and creations. Then my dad’s talking about us all going to Japan in August to see my grandfather. I’d really be psyched to go,” she said as she artfully created a pyramid display of cups of all sizes.
I clapped my hands. “Ooooh! That would be awesome! And maybe you could do some ice cream research there!”
“I know,” said Tamiko, nodding. “Like the taiyaki!”
Taiyaki cones were little fish-shaped cakes that got filled with ice cream and dipped in fudge and sprinkles for decoration. Tamiko had introduced them to my mom, and we were considering introducing them to our menu at some point.
“I’m sure you could learn new ice cream ideas
without having to go all the way to Japan,” offered Sierra as a new group of customers entered the store. “Welcome to Molly’s!” she greeted them cheerfully, and we were off and running again.
After our shift was over, my mom told us each to help ourselves to a free treat since it had been such a busy day. I asked if we could please borrow her laptop to look at the Yay Gourmet site while we relaxed, and she agreed, donning an apron and washing her hands to cover the pre-dinner lull before things heated up again later.
Sitting at a table in the far corner, we each indulged in our current favorite Molly’s item. Tamiko was having a Coconut Cake sundae—coconut ice cream with yellow cake crumbles and real shredded coconut topping mixed in, all covered in a heavy pour of liquid marshmallow. Sierra had a simple dish of lemon sorbet in front of her. She’d felt tired and overheated and wanted to be refreshed just like the Girl Scouts. I was hungry, so I’d gone for something a little more satisfying, a Rockin’ Rocky Road cone that was crunchy, salty, and sweet.
Tamiko pulled up the Yay Gourmet site and began
surfing around. Sierra and I scooted our chairs closer to her so that we could all look at the site together. It was such a pretty website, with a cool, puffy logo (it looked like it had been made by a balloon artist) and brightly colored feature articles with mouthwatering close-up photos and lots of handwritten notes and callouts with arrows. It made food look like the most fun thing on earth, which it kind of was!
“They have a cool take on food reporting,” said Tamiko admiringly, scrolling down.
I nodded. “Yeah. It’s like an annotated cookbook that a chef has had for years. Look at ‘Chunky Chuck Wagon Chilis.’?”
“And ‘Crazy Potato Chip Flavors You Can Make at Home’!” said Sierra with a laugh, pointing at a sidebar. “I’m getting hungry!”
“What will they say about Molly’s, I wonder?” I said.
“?‘Artisanal Ice Cream Made by Geniuses’!” said Tamiko.
“?‘Made by Beautiful Geniuses’!” corrected Sierra.
“Or how about ‘Beautiful, Well-Read Geniuses’?” I said.
“?‘Beautiful, Stylish Geniuses’?” Tamiko questioned.
“?‘Beautiful, Talented Geniuses.’ That’s it!” Sierra sang out.
As our laughter subsided, we took bites of our ice cream while Tamiko clicked around on the site. Suddenly I felt a tiny bit of nervousness creep in.
“I hope they say nice things about Molly’s,” I said.
“Oh, please. How could they not?” said Tamiko with a shrug.
I raised my eyebrows. “Well, you never know. I mean, it’s a free press. They could say anything about us.”
“It’s not really a review site, though,” said Sierra. “It’s not like the local paper, here to give us only one star or something.”
“Hey! The local paper gave us five stars! The most we could get!” I pretended to look offended.
“Down, girl!” said Tamiko through a mouthful of coconut. “It’s food news. And we’ve got plenty of new stuff going on here for them to write about. Get it? NEWS?”
“I guess,” I said.
Sierra patted my back. “Don’t worry. It’s gonna be great.”