My friend Ron walks into his kitchen, hooks the tip of his sneaker under the bottom drawer next to the fridge, and flicks it open.
“Dude, have some,” Ron says.
Inside the drawer, I see Chips Ahoy cookies, moon pies, and those Little Debbie wafer bars that I used to beg for in the grocery store but my health-nut parents would never buy. The sugary smell of Halloween hits my nose. I swallow my spit.
Guilt floods my brain. My mother’s voice echoes in my head. “It’s all crap corporations want you to become addicted to.” But I stoop anyway and tear into a wafer bar like a lion into beefsteak. It crackles when I bite into it, and the creaminess of the peanut butter coats my tongue. It is the most delicious thing I have ever eaten.
Still chewing, we go out to the garage to work on our bikes. After a while, Ron’s mom pulls up in her Suburu.
“Hey,” I ask Ron. “Will we get busted for eating the candy?”
He stares at me, then his eyebrows round. “Man, your parents are Nazis… No, she won’t care.”
The car engine turns off and the car door slams. “Hi, Jason.”
“Hi, Mrs. Langley,” I say.
“Do your parents need a refill?” Mrs. Langley sells Shaklee products, a healthy food company that runs like Mary Kay. Once a month or so, my parents have me pick up protein powder, carob bars, and vitamin supplements.
“Nah. We’re good, I think.” My smile feels too big on my face.
I remind myself that I didn’t do anything wrong—people eat sweets every day—but a scene plays out in my mind of Mrs. Langley snitching on me to my parents. Mom would go the “disappointed” route; Dad would encourage me to double my miles on my jog.
I continue smiling, searching Mrs. Langley’s face for my secret. She eventually breaks eye contact to look at her son, then she walks into the house.
Ron pounds my arm. “What was that, weirdo?” he says.
“Dude, if my parents find out, I’ll be hosed.”
“I told you she won’t care. She thinks your parents are too strict, anyway.”
“Okay, okay” I say, but break out into a sweat anyway. We talk about BMX tricks as we ride down the street, but my thoughts stick to that drawer.
A couple weeks later, Dad slips some money in my pocket. “More power packs, some of those quinoa bars, and anything you want, kid.”
When I get to the Langley’s, I knock a few times, but the front door to the bi-level is wide open. “Hello?” I walk in. The house is eerily silent.
I wait in their front room, which is adjacent to their kitchen, whistling and tapping the glass cases filled with trim, white packages of granola and fish oil pills. The drawer in the kitchen calls to me. Before I know it, I am stooped over the open drawer.
When I pick up a box, I tell myself I am only looking. I smell it, then set it aside to pick up the next treat, a box of oatmeal creme pies. My brain flashes back to a day at school when I was eating lunch with Ron. He had opened his lunch bag and grimaced. He chucked an individually-wrapped crème pie on the floor and kicked it across the cafeteria. “Those things are nasty,” he said.
In the Langley’s kitchen, I pull out the creme pies and close the drawer. No one will notice, I tell myself.
“Jason?” Mrs. Langley stands at the bottom of the stairs. She is wearing a pink track suit and her hair is wrapped in a towel. “What are you doing?”
The pursing of her lips tells me she already knows.
“I….” I see myself on her kitchen floor, smelling her kids’ lunch desserts. “I don’t know. I’m so sorry.”
“I think you should leave.”
Without another word, I walk out.
The next morning, our landline rings while I am eating breakfast. My dad answers it. After a series of uh-huhs, he says: “Thanks for telling me, Nancy. I’ll handle it. Bye, now.” He walks over to the refrigerator, stretches, and pulls a box of Girl Scout cookies from a cabinet. He places the box on the kitchen table squarely in front of me.
“We’re not monsters,” he whispers. “Maybe we can compromise on a weekly dessert… you know, to keep you out of jail.”