Weighing scales represent how the narrator weighs the choice to make.

Literary Fiction


tough call—Strawberry Lemonade or Wild Cherry?

I had heard rumors last semester but until now didn’t believe them.

        Rachel Roth, who was three inches taller than any boy in the 6th grade, supposedly ordered Norm Chance and Randy Gibson to “go shopping.”

        There was only one place kids on skateboards and scooters shopped: High’s Dairy Store, which was where I found myself, the third kid to step up to bat in Rachel’s high-stakes game.

        “Pick the right flavor bubble gum, and you can kiss me until the pack is done,” she said this morning at recess. I asked her to say it again, and she told me, “You heard right the first time.”

        I had money from my lawn mowing, so I thought, “Hey, I’ll just buy every flavor.” But I figured she’d call that cheating. So, I thought about it some more, so long that Mr. Chide gave me a funny look at the register. Did he know about Rachel’s game? Had he watched Norm and Randy make their choices?

        I heard Norm picked right, but Randy was unlucky. What did Norm go with? Would Rachel go for his flavor again? What did Randy pick, and how could I avoid it? Ah, man, I was never gonna know–I had to go with my gut.

        We learned about the domino effect in science, which made me wonder what might happen if I was successful. What did I want the outcome to be? Would it be out of my control? Did I want everybody talking about me the way they talked about Norm and Randy? Was kissing Rachel Roth worth all the stress now and attention later?

        But there was more. I wanted to pick the right flavor and kiss Rachel—but for how long? Sometimes in the movies, they kissed a really long time. Wouldn’t that be weird? If I bailed out early, would she tell everyone that I didn’t like it, or couldn’t do it, or my lips wore out? And would we pass one piece of gum back and forth or have our own while we kissed?

        That’s when Mr. Chide asked me whether I was going to buy something or sell him insurance, whatever that meant.

        So what was it going to be, Strawberry Lemonade or Wild Cherry?

        Instead of flipping one of the coins in my pocket, I wondered if there was something in her look or personality that could help me choose. I thought about her tightly woven pigtails, her clean checkered dresses, and shiny black shoes that looked like they hurt, but she ran so fast in. About how she said exactly what was on her mind in a voice only Rachel had. A voice that turned the boys’ heads but upset our teachers.

        And that did the trick. With a handful of change, Mr. Chide and I did our business, and I was off. 

        “Meet me behind the softball backstop, where it’s shady,” she said.

        A nice tree, a wooden bench, and Rachel. I wanted to tell her to sit down, and I’d stand, so we could be eye to eye, but I didn’t. I sat.

        She just looked at me—unimpressed?

        So I said, “Hey,” but it came out croaky.

        “So what’s in the bag, Timmy?”

        “Some gum.”

        “No shit, Sherlock—wudya go with?”

        I set the bag on the bench between us. It looked heavy enough to break the old warped wood in half.

        “Randy brought me grape,” she said, “Who the hell likes grape?”

        “Not me, naw, I hate grape.”


        “Open the pack, then move a little closer, k?” she whispered, and I did. “Oooo, Wild Cherry. You dog, you.”

Jeffrey Stone Bubble Gum Romance

An Interview With Jeffrey Stone

Intrepidus Ink: “Bubble Gum Romance” glimpses a boy’s romantic moment humorously–we love it! Why do coming-of-age stories captivate readers?

Jeffrey Stone: I think because we’ve all been there. It’s a universal experience. We can’t all relate to being fighter pilots in WW2, but most of us can relate to that age when you were feeling nervous about someone you were crushing on. Everything is so palpable and new when you’re a kid, and all outcomes seem possible, both abject embarrassment and champion-level success.

II: Discuss the tone of “Bubble Gum Romance” and craft decisions affecting readers. 🍒🍓🍇

JS: I wanted internal turmoil to be what was being served to Timmy that day. For him to have a hard time finding his intuition, much less trusting it. He has so little basis on what to do in these circumstances, and he knows it. There is a primal desire to engage in these activities and a societal expectation that he’s feeling; he’s supposed to get along with it and seize these moments. So, I wanted it to feel like there was pressure from two fronts…from the inside and the outside.

II: Your story is pure fun, yet there’s quiet “danger” and overcoming in an unusual way. Share its drama.

JS: Yes, a quiet danger indeed. Timmy doesn’t have a job to keep, a mortgage to pay, or a gambling problem—at his age, this is real peril. There is a timer on this opportunity with Rachel, like a ticking time bomb that he’d rather have than not, but there’s not much daylight there. If someone took away the opportunity, he might be just as relieved as he was excited at the prospect of kissing Rachel. These situations, I think, are the best parts of youth that you hold dear.

II: We applaud you, Jeff, and wish you all the best in your publishing career!

Author Bio

Jeffrey Stone author of Bubble Gum Romance

Jeff Stone left a capitalist corpo career during the pandemic to write full-time. Years from now, many may call him a fool for doing so, but alas, that will be years from now. He lives among the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia and is a newly published writer. Find Jeff on Twitter @jstone2032.

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