Reggie’s cousin Peter was an important part of her life, if only at scheduled times of the year. He and his folks came for a two week vacation with her family every August, and she hung around with him at Thanksgiving and Christmas time when she and her parents and brother went to see her grandmother and grandfather. Peter lived upstairs from Gramma in the duplex her grandfather had built. She actually looked forward to seeing him, since he was the same age and being a boy, sort of cool. He liked to do the same things she did. Including eat.
It was summer, and Reggie and her brother JJ had been left off with her grandmother while their parents took a week’s vacation together. Reggie was sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch and Peter sat in the other, rocking back and forth rapidly with his feet off the floor.
“So why are your parents taking a vacation without you?” asked Peter.
“Dunno. They’ve been fighting a lot lately because Dad hasn’t been home a lot of weekends, business I think, so maybe they just needed to go somewhere together. They didn’t even tell me where they were going. Just went.”
“How long are you gonna be here?”
“A week, I think.” Reggie thoughtfully regarded her sneakers, which used to be red but were now pink. There was a worn spot at the tip of one, and if she wiggled her feet she could see her toe.
“We shoulda come to your place. At least we could swim and hang out at the club.”
“I know. I hate to say this, but it’s kinda boring here.”
“We can always go to the movies,” Peter suggested.
“Yeah, but it’s a long walk and it’s hot.”
“What’s on TV?”
“At this time of day? Nuthin’ good. Just those dumb soap operas.”
There followed a period of quiet. Peter stopped rocking and they just sat.
Finally he asked. “What’s JJ and Paul up to?” Paul was Peter’s younger brother, and JJ was Reggie’s, both six years younger than their older siblings. Reggie had always thought that Aunt Viv and her Mom had figured out how to have their babies at the same time, but she had no clue how.
“I think they’re playing with trucks in the back room. Stupid.”
“Did Gramma make anything good this morning? We can go look in the pantry.” Another suggestion from Peter.
Reggie thought for a minute. “Nah, I didn’t smell anything cooking, and she headed over to Joe Stella’s store a little while ago to get a chicken.
“I don’t know why we just don’t eat one of the chickens in the coop.”
“You can’t do that, stupid,” said Reggie. “You kill one of those and you’re down some eggs.”
“Well, I’m the one that has to go in and fight those stupid hens for eggs every morning now. They don’t like being bothered and they flap their wings and make a big racket and the dust and stuff from the floor gets in my nose. One less hen would be OK by me. Maybe we could go down to the garden and see if the snakes are around.”
“Nah, they won’t come out until tonight, when Grampa puts the milk out for them.” Reggie pushed her glasses up on her nose, and Peter went back to rocking.
Suddenly he said, “Let’s get some money and walk to Creamery for an Awful-Awful!”
“What’s the Creamery and what’s an Awful-Awful?”
“The Newport Creamery has great ice cream and an Awful-Awful is a milk shake. You can get it with any flavor you want.”
“Why is it called an Awful-Awful?”
“I guess ‘cause it’s real big, you know, like awful big?”
“OK, I’m game. Mom left Gramma some money for me and I know where it is.”
“You sure it’s OK to take it?”
“Is there anyone here to say no?”
Reggie took what Peter told her the Awful-Awfuls would cost, and they headed out, winding through the neighborhood and down the long hill that led to the mini-mall where the Creamery was. Along the way, they walked sideways and backwards and talked about stupid kids in their school, their idiot brothers, and questioned the wisdom of their parents.
As they were approaching the Creamery, Peter asked, “How much money did you bring?”
“Just what you told me.”
“Good, because if I can eat two Awful-Awfuls, they’ll give me a third for free.”
“I thought you told me what it cost for two.”
“Well, I included a little more. Just think, a free Awful-Awful!” Peter’s face lit up in anticipation.
“Are you sure you can eat three? How hungry are you?”
“Really hungry,” Peter replied, as they pushed open the door to Creamery.
The inside was basically just one huge U-shaped counter with red plastic-covered stools around it and some booths along the back wall. They slid onto adjacent stools; Peter ordered a vanilla Awful-Awful and Reggie ordered chocolate. A few minutes later, an enormous, frosty cylinder was presented to each of them, along with a tall iced glass. Peter poured his concoction into the glass and immediately chugged down the entire contents. The remaining part of the Awful-Awful filled the glass half full, and that disappeared while Reggie was slowly sipping hers through a straw. Peter ordered another vanilla shake.
“If I drink this one, I get another free, right?” he asked the counterman.
“That’s right, but you have to pay for these three now,” replied the young man. Obviously he knew something that Reggie didn’t.
Peter gave him the money, and when the second Awful-Awful appeared, he once again chugged down a full glass. Reggie noted that he drank the remainder of the shake more slowly with lots of burps in between sips. Peter turned and smiled at Reggie, who still was not finished with her first.
“Now for the free one,” he said, but with slightly less enthusiasm than he had had before they got there.
The third Awful-Awful appeared, and Peter poured his glass full once more. This time he drank it more and more slowly, and with less and less enthusiasm, but he seemed determined to prove that he could not only drink three, but enjoy the free one as much as the first. He had just drained the glass when a funny look came over his face. “Excuse me,” he said and headed out the door. Reggie had a pretty good idea what was going to happen and sat quietly on her stool, enjoying the last of her shake. When Peter didn’t reappear, she headed out to find him. He was out in back, leaning his head on a large green metal garbage bin, a huge circle of clotted white mush to one side.
“Not feeling so good?” asked Reggie.
“No, I’m fine. That last one was the best of all.”
“Really? Want to go in and finish it?”
“No, I think it’s time we head home.”
The walk home was mostly silent, and Reggie noticed that Peter was lagging and had to slow her steps to stay with him. When they got home, Peter said he had to do something in his room and disappeared upstairs, and Reggie was forced to spend the afternoon with JJ and Paul. When she didn’t see him for dinner, she thought, one Awful- Awful is just as good.