By Hannah Pike
“Twenty-two. Twenty-three? Nope, just twenty-two. Why can’t I round up?” Josie thought as he yelled louder. She counted the tallies she had made for each box of cookies she had sold that day once more, hoping maybe she had drawn five vertical lines before the diagonal one instead of four. But she hadn’t. She had sold exactly twenty-two boxes of cookies, which was seventeen too few, and she was running out of time.
“Howw zabout some cookiess fer me, darlihn,” Bo scream-slurred from his corner across the street. Bo spent so much time drunk on that corner that being yelled at by him was practically a bucket list item for the occasional tourists who visited their tiny Midwestern town. Locals barely even noticed him most of the time. His shouts were like the sound of the trains that whistled as they chugged down the east side tracks every day, or the clocktower at city hall that chimed at the hour—just background noise.
But that day, though Josie tried hard to ignore his familiar voice occupying the forefront of her mind. Her head felt hotter than her mom’s non-air-conditioned navy Oldsmobile in the Oklahoma sun. It was the last day of cookie-selling season and the last booth her troop had booked—her last chance. So no matter how loudly he yelled or what he said, she had to keep selling.
“Focus,” she told herself. “You can do this.”
With an unusually confident voice for a sixth grader, paired with dimples and not-quite-straight teeth, Josie was a cookie-selling machine. “Good afternoon, sir,” or “I hope you have a nice day, ma’am,” was all it took, and they were hers. She had sold nine hundred and sixty-one boxes as of the night before, which was already twice as many as she had sold last year and almost two hundred more than Haley, her troop leader’s overly energetic daughter. But her troop only had this spot reserved for twenty-six more minutes, and the lucky number was one thousand.
One thousand boxes was her ticket to Savannah, Georgia, and that meant she would finally get to see the ocean. She had dreamt of reading White/Josie, OKC to SAV, on a plane ticket every night since Haley’s mom had announced that anyone who sold one thousand boxes would get to go on the troop’s trip for free. But if she was going to make it to one thousand, that meant she would have to sell at a rate of one box every ninety-two seconds, which was nearly impossible, even for her.
She sold one, two, three, then four more boxes to smiley families who had just finished lunch at Fanny Mae’s Café.
“Keep going, keep going,” she whispered to herself.
“Hi, sir, would you be interested in a box of the best cookies?” she asked the nice-looking older man who was passing by.
“Sorry, sweetie, I left my wallet at home by mistake,” he replied. “But next time for sure!”
“Ssweetie, huhhney, puddihn pie,” Bo jeered with a laugh.
Her face grew hotter. “Okay,” she said more quietly to the old man than she had intended.
Cara, who was also selling at the booth that day, leaned over to Josie and frowned. “I don’t know why someone doesn’t make that drunk guy leave,” she said. “Who even is he?”
“Yeah,” Josie mumbled, her whole head on fire. “I don’t know.”
“Well anyway, we’re almost done here. My mom will be on her way soon to pick us up,” Cara added.
Josie kept her eyes securely planted on her page of tallies as Cara got back to selling and Bo continued to shout.
She had worked every booth her troop had this season except for the ones here, on the dreaded corner across from Bo. She had hidden in her room and put off getting dressed this morning for as long as she possibly could.
“Think of the ocean, the sand between your toes, sun on your cheeks, the taste of salt in the air.” She tried to encourage herself, but she didn’t want to move.
“Josie! Cara’s mom is here to pick you up, and you’re late!” her mom had yelled from the only other room of the little apartment they shared.
“Coming,” she had replied reluctantly. She grimaced as she jammed her feet into her torn-up, blue-gray sneakers. Before opening her door, she reached out a hand to touch the clownfish swimming up the aquamarine walls of her bedroom that her mother had painted for her birthday two years ago. “This is it,” she thought. “Only thirty-nine boxes and you get to see the ocean.”
The drive there probably lasted no more than seven minutes, but she could hear Bo’s whiskey-logged voice in an endless loop in her mind. It told her she’d never be worth anything or go anywhere, especially not the ocean.
“Okay, girls, we’re here,” Cara’s mom had said with her chocolate-chip-cookie smile, as if nothing was terribly wrong.
Five boxes to the new fireman and two to the woman with the loud baby—she was so close. A man walked by with a daughter who was about her age. Josie swallowed hard. Cara’s mom would be here any minute.
“Hi, sir! Would you be interested in buying a box of cookies? I’m only two boxes away from my goal,” she said, forcing her brightest smile.
“I’m sorry, but I’m actually on a diet,” he started to say, but then he looked down at his daughter. “You know what, why not? We’ll take four.”
“Yes, is that a problem?”
Josie laughed. “Not at all!”
“Oooh weel he be yurr new daddy?” Bo taunted.
Josie turned to him, both feet planted squarely and her notebook full of tallies in her arm. “I don’t think so, but guess what, Dad? I sold one thousand and two.”