I pulled my coat more tightly around myself as I shivered in the cold, nighttime rain. The clouds above looked dense and angry as they poured snow out onto the city streets, making me wish I was back home. I could have had a warm blanket around myself as I sat in my cozy studio apartment watching TV and ignoring the snowstorm. Instead I had felt the strangest urge to wander the city streets, despite the late hour and the white flecks falling all around me.
I couldn't explain it exactly. One minute I was sitting on my couch and watching my favorite crime show to distract myself, and the next I had shut off the TV, grabbed my jacket, and left the apartment to wander around outside. Although there had been some reason for my actions, I now stood out in the cold questioning that bizarre decision without a clue what to do. The only clear thought that went through my head was that I needed to get out of this weather.
Then I saw him. I mean, even in my confused state of mind I don’t think I could’ve missed the young man standing a few yards away. He stood fairly tall and he wore only a white button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbow and light blue jeans. I had no idea how he could stay so still, dressed like that; I had a warm coat on and I was still shivering. He had light hair, light eyes, fair skin, and his whole being seemed to glow. With the hint of a grin at the corner of his mouth, the man appeared friendly and approachable, even though he simply stood unmoving with his arms crossed. After I had been looking in his direction for a few seconds, he finally moved and his bright eyes met my gaze.
I immediately looked away, embarrassed about the fact that I had been staring at him, but to my surprise he started over in my direction with a slight smirk still on his face.
"I was hoping you'd follow me," he said. Something seemed weird about the way he spoke; the words sounded airy as they hung in the night air.
For a second I didn't think he had been talking to me, but as I glanced around the alley we stood in, I realized that we were the only ones there.
"Sorry, but do I know you?" I asked. He definitely didn't look familiar, but I felt like I knew him somehow.
He simply shrugged, seemingly saying ‘you tell me’, then turned around and started to walk in the opposite direction.
I furrowed my brow, completely taken aback, as I watched the man go.
I felt odd again, in the same way as when I had felt the urge to leave my warm, dry apartment, and for some reason, I desired nothing else in that moment than to follow this man. With no knowledge of where he would even take me, I slowly trailed his long, confident strides toward wherever he planned on going.
After a few minutes of walking we came across an area of town familiar to me. I used to drive past the area almost every day on the way to work, but never before had I noticed the tiny ice cream shop at the far end of a nearby strip mall.
The man went inside the shop and I found myself briskly catching up behind him. The flickering light of the sign above the door said ‘Angel Delights’. As I approached the shop windows, I found them to be too frosted up to be able to see through them. The only way to find any answers out about my entire bizarre situation would be to go inside.
As I pushed the door open I didn’t have any clue as to if the place was even still open at this late hour (especially considering the weather outside), but I was surprised to walk in to see the place apparently still open for business despite its emptiness. The small shop resembled an old-fashioned diner or burger joint, with red velvet booths lining the wall opposite the ice cream counter. The man leaning on the counter, the one I had seen in the street, now wore a paper employee’s hat and a bored expression as he played with the ice cream scoop in his hand.
As soon as he saw me, he immediately straightened up and set down the ice cream scoop, seemingly trying to look more professional, and smiled. “Hi, what flavor would you like?”
The question admittedly caught me off-guard; ice cream had to be the last thing on my mind. How could I even think about eating something so cold when I was still shaking as a result of being out in the snow?
“You’re still open?” I found myself asking. In hindsight, I realize it would’ve made more sense to ask one of the several more important questions on my mind.
The man nodded. “I’m in charge of running the night shift. It’s my first time doing this, though, so I hope it works out.”
“Okay…” I had no idea what else to say, so I just blurted out the real question on my mind. “Who are you?”
He sent me a mischievous grin and shrugged. “That’s not important right now. What really matters is why you’re here, so why don’t you order something and tell me what’s bothering you?”
“You want me to order ice cream in the middle of a snowstorm?”
He furrowed his brow. “I was under the impression that humans loved ice cream, especially when something’s bothering them.”
That actually made me chuckle, since I assumed he was joking in order to get my business. “We do—I do,” I corrected, “But I don’t really get the appeal of eating ice cream when it’s already freezing out.”
“I didn’t even think of that.”
The man looked genuinely disappointed in himself, like it had actually been his idea to keep the store open in this weather, so I decided to humor him.
“Fine. Do you have hot chocolate?”
He smiled again. “Yeah.”
“Could I have a scoop of vanilla in a bowl and a hot chocolate, then?” I didn’t want to admit it to him, but ice cream did sound like it could clear my thoughts while the hot chocolate would warm me up. And this shop was definitely preferable to going back out in the snow.
“Coming right up. Please, have a seat.” He stretched his hand out in a silent invitation to sit in the booth closest to the counter before setting to work on my hot chocolate and ice cream.
“Thanks.” I sat down awkwardly, not knowing what else I would even say to this guy.
And it somehow got even more awkward when he spoke again. “The hot chocolate will be a couple minutes. In the meantime, talk to me,” he said as he handed me my bowl of ice cream.
I took it, not knowing what else to do. “Talk? About what?”
“Well, something’s bothering you, right? You wouldn’t be here otherwise. Don’t worry, what you say won’t ever leave this shop. You’ve got my word.” He placed his hand over his heart as if to prove his point.
“There was something bothering me, but I’m over it now.” I lied, then took a bite of the ice cream. Immediately my eyes widened as I stared down at the bowl. It had to be the richest, creamiest ice cream I had ever tasted. I instantly felt slightly better and for a moment I forgot about how cold I felt after being outside in the snow.
“This ice cream is amazing,” I told the man sincerely, cherishing the sweet taste that lingered even as I felt the bite of ice cream sliding down my throat. I quickly spooned myself some more and took another bite. The second tasted somehow even better than the first.
“Don’t change the subject,” he said as he looked at me in disbelief and started to prepare my hot chocolate. “If you really are over it, it won’t hurt to tell me anyway, right?”
I shrugged. I had never been the type of person who normally talked about my feelings. Usually unable to properly handle my emotions, I decided the best thing to do most of the time was to keep them hidden until I could figure out how to solve them. I kept my problems too close and protected than I probably should have; after all, they were mine.
I don’t know what came over me in that little shop. Whether it was the delicious ice cream, the curious questions of the employee, or my emotions finally breaking free of their tight bindings, I have no idea. But for some reason I suddenly found myself telling this complete stranger about what had been bothering me the past couple of months.
“I lost someone really close to me recently,” I told him. “My best friend.”
The man listened intently, his eyes silently urging me to go on.
I continued talking, even though going over the details in my head hurt worse than any physical pain I had ever experienced. “As he crossed the street one day, a drunk driver rounded the corner out of nowhere and hit him. He died on impact; the car had to be going at least 60. There was nothing I could’ve done about it and I wasn’t even there with him when it happened, but I still to this day feel like I should’ve had a chance to say goodbye to him.”
“Do you feel guilty about it at all?” The man asked curiously.
“No, not really guilty. I guess the struggle is to try to make sense of it. It happened so quickly and without any sort of warning. Why did it have to happen at that moment? And to him of all people? He was a good person—a great person.”
It never had seemed right to me. The way my best friend could have been there one second and gone the next. Ever since it happened I’d been trying to fathom its meaning, hoping to find comfort in some sort of explanation as to why the car had to be there at that exact moment to hit him. Was it fate or simply bad timing? But, of course, nothing truly came out of thinking this way. The accident had no meaning, really. I had been refusing to accept that fact in the two months since his death, however, instead looking for something that wasn’t there.
“Why try to give it meaning?” The man asked me. “It’s not like you can change it now.”
“I’ve never considered it that way.” I took the last bite of my ice cream before speaking again. “But I guess you’re right. He’s gone now, what can I do?”
“You know what? You’ve been trying to convince me that you’re over his death, but everything you’ve said tells me just the opposite. What can you do if you haven’t been able to move on?” He handed me my hot chocolate, which looked extremely appetizing with the generous amount of whipped cream and miniature marshmallows on top.
I shrugged. “I suppose I shouldn’t have said I’m over it, but I’m coping.”
The man raised an eyebrow. “Are you? When’s the last time you’ve been to work since his death?”
“That’s not important.” I avoided his gaze, not wanting to admit that I haven’t been at work at all. Even though I loved my job and it had always helped me get my mind off things in the past, going back to work hadn’t appealed to me after my friend’s accident.
I took a wary sip of the hot chocolate, the hot, milky flavor warming me up. It tasted even better than the ice cream and it had been heated to the perfect temperature without burning my mouth. The warmth spread throughout my body, causing me to think more clearly about my deceased friend as it sharpened my mind.
“I guess not,” the man said finally, though he didn’t really look like he believed it. “But the question of what you should do now still stands. I’m sure that’s why you’re here.”
I listened carefully, even though I didn’t fully understand him.
“It’s not like you can just stay at home and stop working for the rest of your life because of this. Why don’t you try telling me about him?”
I nearly spit out the large gulp of hot chocolate in my mouth (and might have had it not been for how amazing it tasted). I swallowed hard, trying not to cough. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“How do you know? Have you ever tried talking to anyone?”
“Then why don’t you give it a shot? I already gave you my word that I wouldn’t tell anyone about this.”
“Fine, okay. You’re lucky the weather sucks,” I said with a sigh, then took another drink of the hot chocolate before speaking again. “Well, for starters, he would’ve loved this place. He always talked about how he wanted to run his own restaurant or bakery one day. We went to the same school, he was a culinary arts major. He had such high hopes for himself and for everyone he met, which I guess was what really made me get along with him so well. He never doubted what anyone could do. He taught me all about how to cook and assured me that I could be as good as anyone if I believed in myself.”
I couldn’t help but picture him in my mind now, remembering the times we spent together. “He was easily the brightest person I’ve ever met. I could’ve trusted him with my life after everything we’d been through. We’ve laughed together and cried together. It’s like how friendship is in the movies; we were completely inseparable.”
I had been completely transfixed in my thoughts of him, all his quirks that I had tried so hard to forget, that I didn’t even realize the tears streaming down my face as I told this man all about my best friend. I hadn’t cried since his funeral. But somehow I didn’t feel as sad anymore as a feeling of relief replaced my pain. Through the tears, I smiled. Though it was a slight, half-smile, it felt more genuinely happy than I had felt in a while.
The silence between us echoed in the shop for a few moments. I finished up the rest of the hot chocolate in a few gulps, relishing the last of the delectable taste. I realized that it tasted like something my friend would have made, which explained why I liked it so much.
“There you go,” the man at the counter finally said. “Now, isn’t that how you want to remember your friend? To me, that sounds a lot better than destroying yourself in overthinking how he died.”
I nodded, considering his words. “You’re right. Thank you.”
“It’s my job,” he said with a one-shouldered shrug, coming over to take away my empty bowl and mug.
I didn’t think much into what he meant until later, and instead I wiped the tears off my face and stood up. I looked outside, feeling ready and warm enough to brave the cold onslaught of snow again.
“I guess I’d better get going,” I told the man. “How much do I owe you?”
“No charge,” he said, waving me off. “My work is done now. Have a nice night.”
I found myself looking at him for longer than necessary, thoughtfully trying to deduce something from him and his slight weirdness. He surely looked like any normal guy, but something about him felt different.
“Who are you?” I asked him again.
“Technically I shouldn’t tell you. But then again I technically shouldn’t be doing any of this,” he gestured to the entire shop, “so I guess it won’t hurt. I’m your guardian angel. You were in a slump, and it’s my job to help get you back to your old self again. Under the circumstances, this seemed like the best way.”
I didn’t particularly believe him, but it didn’t seem like the weirdest thing that had happened in the ice cream shop that night, so I went with it. “Well, thank you for everything. And the ice cream and hot chocolate was great, I might even come back.”
He shook his head. “I don’t think you’ll need it now.”
Though I didn’t understand him, I felt that it was time for me to go. “Goodbye, then.” After catching a glimpse of his coy grin and slight wave goodbye, I returned the gesture and started towards the door.
I opened the door to be faced with more cold wind and snow hitting my face, but I didn’t mind it so much now. I could get through it.
When I took a few steps, I realized that I had wanted to at least ask the man his name and completely forgotten. But I turned back to the ice cream shop only to be met with nothing but an empty parking lot at the end of the strip mall. ‘Angel Delights’, along with its single night-shift employee, had completely disappeared. Or maybe it had never been there at all.
That’s when I believed him. And as I turned back to make my way to my warm apartment, I kept his advice at the front of my mind while I trudged resiliently through the cold, ever-falling snowstorm ahead.