The cool wind brushed up against the neck of Mario. It was the electric present tense. He was breathing future air. The thought made the hair on the back of his neck feel unbearably sensitive.
“Let me get two ice creams, please?” his best friend, Leo said to the ice cream vendor. Leo stood tall, with a form fitting tee and slacks and his hair was always primed to perfection. Always the showoff. Mario always knew that Leo would’ve grown up to be the charmer of the two. And Mario, would always be that awkward, mature pre-teen. Somehow, Mario stood in the world, still, as an awkward, mature pre-teen.
“Uh-huh… and what about your little friend here,” Sal, the ice cream vendor, said leaning over his cart. “What’s he getting?”
Leo laughed and stepped in front of me to block his line of sight to me. “Ha ha,” Leo said dryly. “Real funny. He’s my distant cousin, aright? Don’t bust chops?”
“Chocolate chip, I”m assuming,” Sal asked right before Leo nodded. “Leo, you know it’s always good to see you. How come you don’t come around the docks no more, huh?” Sal hadn’t changed at all. Mario had expected him to be at a different place in life, but maybe this was his calling. Or maybe he had a dark secret that kept him as an ice cream vendor. Mario found comfort that his mind was still working the same as it was.
“I’m not a kid anymore,” Leo said, reaching over to put his hand on Sal’s arm. “I’m working… just like you,” he finished with a point to his elbow.
“Yeah,” Sal continued. “You working and you never passed the baton.” Sal reached down into his metal cart and procured two chocolate chip ice creams on a cone.
“Don’t worry, Sal. A kid king will come one day and take the sword out of the stone,” Leo said, extending his arms wide, presenting the harbor as his dominion. Sal bowed jokingly and handed him the ice cream. Leo exchanged a crisp twenty dollar bill between his fingers. “Then he’ll inherit my kingdom.”
“Getting too literary on me today, Leo. But, very gracious of you,” Sal nodded, pocketing his tip.
“That’s what happens when you stay in school, Sal,” Leo said with a wink, handing the ice cream to Mario.
“Hey, you better watch your mouth,” Sal replied with a point and a smile.
“Sal… Stay humble,” Leo said as he and Mario walked down the empty boardwalk.
“Thanks,” Mario said, comforted from the familiar taste of chocolate chip ice cream.
“Any of this ringing a bell,” Leo asked.
Mario closed his eyes and swallowed. “Again, I did not lose my memory, Leo. I’m the same. Everyone and everything is older.
“Yeah, I know you said.” Leo answered quietly as he perched himself up against the bench. “I’m just not really sure how this how any of this works.”
“That makes two of us.”
“So,” Leo started slowly. “What was the last thing you remember?”
Mario took a deep sigh and plunged into his memory banks. Everything was in tact. Everything that a pre teen would ever have to worry about. Sports stats, video games… girls and junior prom. “Good question,” Mario said after a moment. “I remember riding my bike that Saturday night. The night of the epic sleepover bash you and your mom threw.
“That was epic,” Sal said, replaying the memory of his childhood, playing sports, jumping off furniture and onto beds, video games, popping wheelies and watching TV in his head.
“And the rest was a blur.” Mario closed his eyes and frowned before shaking his head and returning to the present.
“That was May 25th. You were declared missing on May 26th.”
“Leo, why are we doing this,” Mario asked, showing Leo the beach. “Ice cream? Really?”
“Do you have a better idea? You want me to contact your parents? Maybe the police?”
“Stop. Okay. Let’s reason this out,” Mario began. “I’ve been gone for,” he hovered over his sentence, doing the math in his head. “21 years.” Leo nodded in agreement. “So you’re 33?”
“So this is the year 2018,” Mario said, looking out at the ocean. The sight of the horizon made him feel tiny and misplaced; a speck resting atop of the earth’s core between land, water and space.
A muted chime rung from Leo’s pocket. “Sorry,” he said, as he swiped against the sleek surface his electronic device.
Mario frowned. “What is that?”
“Huh,” Leo said absentmindedly. His eyes returned to his friend that was confused and wanting for answers. “Oh…” He shoved his phone in his pants. “It’s my cell.”
“Cell,” Leo corrected. “Cellphone.”
“You sell phones for a living,” Mario asked.
Leo paused and had twenty one years flash through his head. “Uh, I’m a… counselor, actually.”
“I’ve missed a lot, haven’t I,” Mario asked.
“Something like that.”
“I couldn’t find my parents.”
“They moved. Your disappearance… broke them,” Leo said, searching for the right words to explain to Mario.” They spent years and a fortune trying to find you. After a decade, people had suggested it may be time to move on. Start a new life.”
Mario’s head dipped and he turned back to face the wide open ocean. He thought about being swept away in a riptide. Maybe it would’ve been better than what he was feeling now.
“Hey, don’t get sad on me now,” Leo said. “I just got you back.”
“I don’t belong here, Leo. It’s not my place.”
“But it’s mine,” he asked Mario, placing his hand on his shoulder. “You’re supposed to be here. You just, for some unexplainable reason, did a time skip. And now you’re here. It’s not like you did this on purpose, right? You don’t have to feel heavy about it.”
“Right,” Mario said, shaking his head.
“We’ll find your parents. In the meantime, we should talk about you. How do you figure this skip even happened?”
“It’s like a record needle skipped and you’re several songs ahead,” Mario reasoned.
“Right,” Leo agreed. “Also it would be wise to enroll you in high school.”
“Easy,” Leo said. “Calm down. I come in peace, but you seriously need to be in school, otherwise people are just going to start asking questions.”
“This should be a fun summer,”
To be continued…