Famous in a Small Town

Famous in a Small Town

Emma Mills

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Becky—this is me dedicating a book to you

I’m not trying to make this a downer, understand. I mean, I really do think that love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops. But I also have to say, for the umpty-umpth time, that life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.

—WILLIAM GOLDMAN, The Princess Bride

Getting smaller in the rearview

Sitting taller as I drive

Lord help me, I’m never going back

Lord help me, but I am never ever going back

—MEGAN PLEASANT, “Steel Highway”


Brit had been fired from the Yum Yum Shoppe, which came as a shock to approximately no one.

We sat on top of one of the picnic tables outside McDonald’s afterward, eating vanilla cones in defiance. The sun had set, but the sky still had that pinky-blueness to it, fading to purple as we cursed Brit’s manager, the Yum Yum Shoppe, its fourteen flavors of ice cream, and every person who asks for more than two samples while there’s a line.

“No, screw that,” Brit said. “People who ask for samples in general. There are fourteen flavors. There have been fourteen flavors there for the last, like, fifty-seven years. Really? You want to sample strawberry? Do you really need to try strawberry?”

“In the Yum Yum Shoppe’s defense, there were twelve flavors up until, like, five years ago. Remember, they added peanut butter crunch, but then there was this whole thing about there being thirteen flavors so they had to add cherry chip?”

“We’re not saying anything in the Yum Yum Shoppe’s defense right now, Soph. We’re dragging the Yum Yum Shoppe and everyone in it.”

“I’ll never go there again,” I said, even though I knew I would.

“Thank you,” Brit replied, even though she knew it too.

The truth was, if I stopped going to places just because Brit got fired from them, I couldn’t go very many places. It’s a testament to how small our town was, and also how often Brit cycled through jobs.

“It’s fine,” she said, in that way where I knew it really wasn’t fine, but she wanted to believe it was. “What do I want to spend all summer scooping ice cream for anyway? I’d end up with one jacked arm and one puny arm. Who needs that in their life?” She gestured with her cone. “All they have to do to make one of these is pull a stupid lever.”

“I’ll ask Mel if there’s something at the library,” I said, chasing a dribbler running down the side of my cone. It was hot out, and the soft serve was melting fast.

“You don’t have to do that.”

“No, just come by on Monday.”

“I can get another job all by myself, Sophie.”

And you can get yourself fired from it too. “I know.”

We finished up our ice cream in silence. Brit leaned back on the tabletop when she was done, folding her arms behind her head. She was still wearing her Yum Yum Shoppe T-shirt, an anthropomorphic ice cream cone on the front with FOURTEEN FLAVORS OF FUN printed in big bubble letters around it. The cone itself was flashing a double thumbs-up and a crazed smile. Its eyes seemed to say, Try the strawberry, you know you fucking want to.

“Okay,” Brit said, and I knew a question was coming. “What do you want right now?”

“I mean, I would like it if the deranged Yum Yum Shoppe cone wasn’t staring at me.”

“I’m going to burn this shirt.”


“In the fire pit. Tonight. With extra lighter fluid.”

“You should.”

“It’s gonna be a literal tower of flames.”

“We’ll dance around it.”

Brit glanced over at me. “Will you drop it off for me tomorrow, though? Tyler said he’d take it out of my paycheck if I didn’t bring it back.”

“You want me to give Tyler the ashes?”

She grinned. “I probably like the idea of burning it better than I’d like the actual burning of it.”

“It’s good you know that about yourself.”

It was quiet for a moment, her grin fading in contemplation. “For real, though. What do you want right now? If you could have the one thing you want most in the world, right this second, what would it be?”

Sometimes Brit’s questions were a joke. Sometimes they were a test. You couldn’t laugh at them in case it was the latter, and if indeed it was, you’d never know for sure if you’d passed or not, except for the slight wrinkle that occasionally appeared between her eyebrows that meant you probably answered wrong.

“For everyone I love to get everything they want,” I said.

In this case, the wrinkle appeared immediately. “That’s way too much. That’s cheating.”


“I said one thing. You love tons of people, and each person wants their own thing. That’s like using a wish to wish for infinity wishes.”

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