THE FIRST BODY DROPS

We turned the corner, but Bella was nowhere in sight. Quaint stores lined the busy sidewalk beneath the red glow of the setting sun. The boats docked at the pier swayed in place above the choppy waves. A salty breeze brushed through my hair. The mellow sounds of early evening lulled my senses until a high-pitched shriek broke the spell. “Why didn’t you follow me?” Bella marched toward us.

“We lost you.” Scarlett spun to her.

“How could you lose me? I didn’t even cross the street.” Bella’s face reddened. “Unless you were trying to lose me.”

“We reached—” Scarlett glanced at the street sign. “Harbor Drive, and we didn’t see you.”

“Fine.” Bella pointed to the pink sign, Le Ice Cream Parlor, hanging between two 3D hot-pink ice cream cones, on a pink-and-white shingled building. “We’re here.”

We stepped into the pink. A long counter spanned the left wall, fronted with hot-pink stools. Light-pink booths lined the right and back walls. White wrought-iron tables and chairs filled the space in the middle. “Cute,” I said. The sweet aroma of ice cream, chocolate fudge, and cotton candy wafted to my nose. My mouth watered. I smelled peanut butter, strawberries, and I don’t know what else. “An ice cream heaven.”

Bella took a seat at the counter. “Hi, Eric. Can I have a banana split?”

“Sure thing, Bella,” a gangly teenager replied, scooping ice cream into a banana-shaped glass dish, a toothy grin on his pimpled face.

“What can I get the young ladies?” I turned, expecting an older man. Instead, a man in his early thirties flashed his pearly whites at us. “Hi. I’m Jonathan Hale, the owner of this ice cream heaven.”

“You heard me.” My face heated as I faced the shaggy blonde, blue-eyed, surfer-looking guy. 

“Yes, I did. And thank you for the compliment.” His gaze landed on Scarlett and stayed there. I felt relief; he fit Scarlett’s unique taste.

“What do you recommend?” Scarlett asked, her voice sounding breathy. 

“I suggest the tornado.” Jonathan winked. “It has my best flavors topped with chocolate fudge, whipped cream, and a cherry.”

“We’ll share one.” Scarlett glanced at me, and I nodded.

As Jonathan retrieved a tall dish from behind the counter and began layering the decadent ice cream flavors, he asked, “Are you new to Blue Harbor?” His intense gaze met Scarlett’s through the glass dome above the ice cream.

“We arrived today.” Scarlett’s voice drifted as she glanced away.

He chuckled. “Then I’m happy to welcome you to Blue Harbor.”

Scarlett gave him a tremulous smile. “Thank you.”

“Take a seat at a booth, and I’ll bring my special concoction to you.”

Scarlett took my hand and dragged me across the room to a booth.

“Wow,” I whispered. “You must be in love. I’ve never seen you act timid.”

She turned to me with a scowl, her mouth wide open, ready to defend herself, before her attention shifted to the front door.

The door flung open, hitting the wall beside it with a loud bang. A hush fell across the room. 

Startled faces turned to the doorway.

A tall, thin man in his early thirties hurried inside, clutching his throat, his gaze darting around the room. “They’re back,” he whispered before collapsing to the floor, blood spurting from his neck and pooling around his body.

MEET ME IN MAINE by Susanne Leist

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