Brad is so tall he walks into spider webs. Sometimes, he kneels down in front of me and asks me to pick the sticky white thread out of his eyebrows and eyelashes. Other times, when I’m looking away, he’ll reach over and run the back of his hand down my cheek, smearing web on my skin. Today, it is summer. We are walking by the sharp green hedges bordering the Laundromat when I feel the rough pad of his fingers against the back of my neck, strands of spider silk gumming in my hair.
“I’ll tell mom,” I say, but he is laughing. His shoulders are brown around the edges of his tank top, and there is a girl looking at him from the steps of the Post Office, but he doesn’t see her. I see her. She is drinking a Coke, leaning against the stomach of another boy who is pressing his face into her neck and doesn’t see the way his girlfriend is looking at my brother.
“That girl’s looking at you,” I tell him.
“What girl?” Brad says as he lights a cigarette.
At the corner, he bumps into Johnny King, and Brad says something to him in a wash of smoke, something that makes him laugh.
Outside Stewarts, Brad tells me to get him a sundae. No cherries. He doesn’t like the way the cherries stain the cream. Inside, I tell the girl behind the counter.
“You Brad Cole’s sister?” she asks me.
When I nod, she says, “Your brother’s an asshole,” and walks away, leaving me standing at the freezer. At the magazine rack, she takes a Rolling Stone from the shelf and begins to page through it.
“I ordered a sundae.”
“I’m not making him a fucking sundae,” she says, and she turns the page of her magazine with a slippy sound. In profile, she is small and pretty. I can see one slender, tattooed arm, nails short and painted some dark color that isn’t quite black, one ear cuffed completely with earrings.
“You have to make it,” I say. “I’m a customer.”
Outside, I can see Brad. He is leaning against the storefront window with his back to us, his curls spreading out against the glass. The girl turns another page of her magazine, reaches up to scratch her cheek with one dark nail.
“You can’t just ignore me,” I say, but she does, and I both hate her and want to be her. How small and mean she is.
The tub of vanilla ice cream is three-quarters full, flecked with freezer burn around the edges. It is cold standing by the ice cream. The freezer glass is frosted, and I bang my fist against it until my hand is sore and numbing. I think I am shouting at her. She doesn’t even look at me so I turn and run towards the back of the store, towards the tall glass doors of the refrigerated section, scanning shelves of milk and cheese and yogurt until I find the whipped cream. Beyond that, the last door is filmy with cold. Behind it, the shelves are stacked with pints of ice cream. I grab one.
“I’m taking these,” I say to the girl who finally looks at me as I leave the store.
Brad crushes out his cigarette when he sees me.
“She wouldn’t make you a sundae.”
“She said you’re an asshole.”
“I stole these,” I say, holding up the ice cream and the whipped cream.
“You stole them?” He smiles. “You steal any spoons?”
When I shake my head, he takes the stolen merchandise from my hands and breaks the plastic seal on the whipped cream. When he’s finished with that, he moves on to the ice cream, breaks that plastic and works off the top. He digs at the ice cream with his fingers, scoops out a small ball, which he places on his tongue, which he curls back into his mouth with a loud, inhaling sound. Then, he shakes the can of whipped cream and shoots it directly into his mouth. I don’t look at the window, but I know—inside—the girl is watching us.
“Are you an asshole?” I ask.
He motions for me to stand closer to him, scratches at the vanilla with his nails until a chunk unlooses itself.
“Stick out your tongue,” he says, and I do, waiting for the small pile of vanilla he feeds me, pulling it back into my mouth where it is cold against my teeth.
“When you get older,” he says, “you should remember, it’s not always easy telling the difference between an asshole and a kid who’s scared shitless.” He shakes the can of whip cream and aims it at my mouth. “But it will probably feel the same to you.”
I can see the girl now. She has walked so close to the window she could reach out and touch it with her hands. It would not be an exaggeration to say, that this is one of those moments I wish I had done differently. Through the window and the glancing sun, she doesn’t look mad or mean anymore, just small, bewildered, a little bit scared. I think it’s how I must look now, though I try to avoid mirrors and pieces of glass, because I’m afraid of seeing my body change.
Brad doesn’t see her at the window. He tips my head back and sprays whipped cream into my mouth. It fills my cheeks and covers my lips—and still he doesn’t stop. He leaves a dollop on my nose; he traces the outside of my face with fluted lines; he makes swirling peaks over both of my eyes and it is all I can taste and it is all I can see.