It was 9:30 at night on a Wednesday, and the Baskin-Robbins on Arthur Kills Rd was moderately busy. Guillermo waited outside the front door as Nandor hovered over the threshold, barred from entry by an invisible barrier.
“Maybe we should just go,” Guillermo muttered as interested faces glanced in their direction from inside the shop. “Come back another time.”
“Nonsense,” said Nandor, and then, in a harsh whisper, “See me.”
“Come on in,” one of the employees called out, glancing up from her till. Nandor’s body seemed to relax beside Guillermo, and he strode through the door without issue.
“Come, Guillermo,” he called over his shoulder, and Guillermo reluctantly followed him inside.
The strange looks continued once they’d taken their place at the back of the line. Guillermo understood why they stared; the warm flickering lighting of the house usually livened his master’s face, but in public places and under harsh fluorescent lighting, Nandor resembled a walking corpse.
Nandor failed to notice. He was quiet for a few minutes before speaking, his voice soft but elated.
“Guess what, Guillermo. There are more than 31 flavors. There are 34.”
“Wow,” Guillermo said with feigned amazement, shuffling down as the line proceeded. A young girl in a blond ponytail smiled at him as she snapped her gum.
“What can I get for you guys?”
“Pick out anything you like,” Nandor said congenially to Guillermo, gesturing broadly to the glass case.
Guillermo looked over the selection for a minute, hesitant. Normally he might ask to try a few flavors, but he couldn’t imagine his master would understand the joy of taste-testing half a dozen little pink spoonfuls.
“Can I get a single scoop of cherry, please?”
The employee nodded, taking the ice cream scoop out of its dipwell and shaking off the excess water.
“What kind of cone?”
“The regular kind,” Nandor answered for him with confidence.
“Sugar,” Guillermo clarified at her blank look.
Beside him, Nandor watched with clinical interest as she scooped the pink ice cream into a perfectly round ball and placed it on top of the cone.
“And for you, sir?” she asked after handing Guillermo his cone.
“Nothing for me,” said Nandor.
With a dismissive smile, the girl moved on to the next patron. A few moments later the couple in front of them paid and Nandor and Guillermo assumed their place in front of the cashier. Nandor dropped the coupon on the register counter as though it were a sack of gold.
“A free scoop,” he said proudly.
The cashier picked it up and flipped it over to the back.
“Sir, I can’t accept this coupon,” she said flatly, turning it around for Nandor to read. “It’s expired.”
“No, it’s not,” said Nandor, waving a hand in front of her face.
“No, it’s not,” she agreed, and she pressed a button on her register. Moments later a receipt printed out and she stapled the coupon to it. “You guys are all set. Have a nice night.”
“Thank you,” Guillermo remembered to say before turning to follow Nandor away from the counter.
Nandor’s cape trailed on the dirty linoleum floor behind him as he walked over to the wall of tables. They sat down opposite one another in a booth, Guillermo holding his cone and Nandor sitting with his hands folded in front of him.
“Aren’t you going to eat it?” Nandor asked, nodding to the cone in Guillermo’s hand.
Guillermo squirmed uncomfortably. It was always a bit awkward to be the only person eating in any given situation, but it was even worse when your companion couldn’t stop making disgusted faces.
“You don’t mind?” he asked.
“Of course not,” Nandor said firmly. “That was a very important coupon I just used on you. You must enjoy the ice cream for me.”
Guillermo raised a skeptical eyebrow.
“If you’re sure,” he said slowly, bringing the cone to his mouth and taking a taste. Nandor’s nose wrinkled reflexively, but he looked pleased, leaning ever so slightly forward across the table.
“Well? How is it?”
“Describe it to me,” Nandor commanded.
“Um, okay, well. It’s cold. You probably know that. Sweet, but the little red pieces are sort of tart. Did they have cherries in Al Quolanudar?”
Nandor’s face broke into a wide smile, his sharp white fangs glistening at either corner.
“Yes! We grew many fruits in Al Quolanudar,” he said excitedly. “Cherries, dates, figs, pomegranates. The best fruit you had ever tasted. My sisters and I would pick and eat cherries in the summer while we played in the river beside our home.” Nandor reached out a hand in front of his face. “The branches hung over the water, and you could pluck the ripest ones while you were floating on your back and put them right into your mouth.”
Nandor brought his empty fingers to his lips and sighed. At that moment he looked very far away — 750 years away, to be exact. Not for the first time, Guillermo wished he could bridge such a massive gap between them, even as he struggled to bridge as small a gap as the table between them now.
“Cherry is my favorite flavor,” Guillermo said at last, for lack of anything better. Determined to make the most of a pleasure Nandor could no longer partake in, he took another bite of his ice cream, crunching down on the sugar cone in his mouth.
Nandor smiled at this, and his black eyes glittered fondly as he watched Guillermo enjoy the treat he could not.
“I think, if I could have eaten ice cream, cherry would be my favorite too,” Nandor said softly, present in the moment once more.