The Bodyguard

By J. Bradley

I thumb the handle of my slingshot as me and the ice cream man rolls through his 4:30 route, the apartment complex with a lot of middle schoolers who are just coming home from a long day of being trapped with each other.
“Mind getting in the back,” the ice cream man says. “I don’t want to scare off the customers.”

The ice cream man hired me as his security guard after a bicycle gang managed to surround him and make off with $102.21 and a couple of boxes of Strawberry Shortcake pops. He didn’t have the heart to try and run them over, being a single father and all. I told him the easiest way to not get robbed was to stop going to apartment complexes with fancy names like Tuscan Vista, Emerald Cove, and Hacienda de Sol. You know an apartment complex is shitty when they give it a name that makes it sound like an exotic destination but only with the things that might hurt you, like questionable drinking water, fire sprinklers and fire extinguishers that are there just for show but the ice cream man pshawed that idea; “where are they gonna get their ice cream?”

“The store.”

“It’s not the same.”

I do what the ice cream man says and hide in the back as he flips the switch that makes his truck play Pop Goes The Weasel like a siren song. I pat my back pocket again to make sure the metal ball bearings are still there.

“Do you really need to use those things,” the ice cream man asks. He knows what I like to use. I showed him how I could gut a full soda can from 20 feet away during my job interview.

“You’re gonna to ruin the element of surprise if you keep talking,” I say, even though I’d kill to make the weasel stop popping with small talk.

“Won’t they know you if they see you, though?”

I taught myself to become invisible during sixth grade after some boys kept wanting to change my name to “fag”, after my math teacher told me to stop walking around with limp wrists because I should walk like a man not like what those boys wanted my name to be; I didn’t have the heart to explain to her I was just walking like a T-Rex stalking the landscape for food, maybe love. The easiest way to become invisible is to make average grades, listen to whatever music everyone was listening to, even talk averagely. Everyone forgot who I was by the beginning of eighth grade but I didn’t forget them.

I take one of the metal ball bearings out of my back pocket, load it into the sling, pull it back to work out the stiffness in the rubber. I can’t go firing this thing off cold. “It would be easier if I could see who was coming to buy your ice cream,” I say.

The ice cream man shushes me as he slows, then stops. He walks over to the counter on the side of his van. I hear a mom like voice ask for the ice cream bar that has Mickey’s head on a stick, and I watch him pull the bar from the cooler, hand it to the person on the other end. He puts the two bucks in his pocket before walking back up to the driver’s seat to get the truck started again. “So far, so good,” he says and it keeps remaining so far, so good as he goes through his 5:00 route, 5:30 route, 6:00 route, and his 6:30 route, his last one not because the sun’s going down anytime soon, but because most everyone’s eating dinner.

The ice cream man shuts the music down once it hits 7:00 and he lets me ride with him in the front seat as we make our way to my apartment complex, Grand Redwood Reserve. He stops at the front gate, like I ask him to. “You sure I can’t drop you off any closer to where you live,” he asks and I shake my head. He pulls out a wrinkled ten and hands it to me. “If things keep going the way they are, I might not need you any more.”

I pocket the ten, grab my backpack from beneath my feet, and hang it off my right shoulder. I give him a look that says yeah, right before getting out. I walk over to where I usually go to keep my skills sharp, shooting leaves off trees to keep myself occupied until mom gets home from work.

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J. Bradley

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