(Eight year old Mandy decides chocolate will make her mom smile again, something she hasn't done since the birth, three weeks ago, of Mandy's twin brothers. Finding the right chocolate proves more difficult than Mandy thought. Her search continues.)
Three more stores and still Mandy couldn’t find the chocolate her mom liked at a price she could pay. Her legs were tired and it was getting dark. Her mom had been so excited when her dad came home from fighting in Iraq. She’d promised Mandy everything would be better. Well, it wasn’t. Her mom had stopped spending time with Mandy after breakfast. She was busy with Dad and then the smelly twins. They never had these problems when her dad was overseas. And Mom was so miserable. She told Mandy not to complain and grumble but her mom did that all the time.
Mandy stepped inside a store where she remembered her mom bought Easter eggs. A pretty young woman asked her what she wanted.
“I have to get chocolate for my mom. I’ve only got four dollars.”
“Let me see.” The young woman searched the shelves. “What about this? I bet your mom would like it.”
She held up a white box with gold stars.
“You bite into the chocolates and they’re filled with caramel or berry flavors.”
Mandy held out her crumpled four dollars. “Will it be enough?”
The pretty young woman pulled off the price tag. “The exact amount.”
She took a long time at the cash register before she placed the box in a red bag with handles. Mandy knew she’d been right to keep looking.
It was dark outside the store. Back over the bridge, but now she couldn’t see all the cars. She could do this. Her legs ached and the wind hurt her ears. Nearly there, and she could see the twenty-four hour store. Someone bumped into her pushing her across the sidewalk so she almost fell.
“Hi, Mandy. Shouldn’t you be in bed?”
Mandy stared up at Fran, the fattest girl in the school and a big bully.
“What’ya got there?” She grabbed Mandy’s red bag.
“No. It’s for my mom.” Mandy reached up for the bag.
Fran tore open the box and stuffed one of the chocolates in her mouth. She smacked her lips. “Good.”
“Please.” Mandy stretched up for the bag again.
“They’re mine now.”
Mandy grabbed Fran’s arm. Fran jerked her arm down hitting Mandy on the head before she shoved her to the ground.
Winded, Mandy pushed on her hands, and scrambled to her feet. Fran had gone. Mandy hopped away from the curb and leaned against a fence. Her left knee was bleeding. People rushed past her. This was worse than when her mom went to the hospital. Mandy just wanted to stay where she was. Everyone would go home and she would freeze here in the dark.
“I saw what happened.”
She looked up at a man covered with tattoos on his bare arms and wearing a leather vest.
“I lost the chocolate for my mom.”
“Here. Take one of these.” He held out a red box big enough to hold a pound of candy. “I was taking these for the girls in the office and I always have extras.”
She wanted the box but she didn’t have any money.
“Take it.” He pushed the box into her hands. “I hope your mom likes them.”
He was gone before she could thank him. She blew her nose. Blood dripped down her leg onto her sock. No time to stop. She placed the box so her jacket covered it. When she got home, she’d sneak upstairs and hide the box until tomorrow so her mom would be surprised on Christmas morning.
As she turned the corner into her street, she saw her house ablaze with light. Two neighbors stood with her mom.
“Where have you been?” her mom said. “I was frantic. And what’s that?”
She reached down Mandy’s jacket and pulled out the box of chocolates. “Oh My God. Did you steal these?”
“No No.” The surprise was gone.
“I can’t believe you’d think about candy when you knew I was waiting for the Tylenol.”
The neighbors turned away.
“They’re yours. For Christmas,” Mandy said. “My birthday money—”
“Oh, sweetie.” Mom hugged her close before putting an arm around Mandy and leading her indoors.
Mandy’s dad stood in the hallway, buttoning up his coat.
“She’s okay. No need for you to go out again.”
“What happened to your knee?” her dad asked.
Mandy wanted to tell her parents everything that happened but where would she start. “I fell on it. It doesn’t hurt now. Do you like the chocolates?” What if her mom hated the candy?
Her mom opened the box. “The stores must be clearing everything out on Christmas eve.” Her hand hovered over the top layer before she picked out a candy. “Caramel and nuts.” She put the chocolate in her mouth.
Mandy waited, her heart beating faster. Maybe they were the wrong ones.
“They’re very good,” her mom said.
She offered the box to Mandy’s dad. Before Mandy could say the chocolates weren’t for him, he shook his head, refusing the candy.
Mom smiled. “You really surprise me sometimes.”
The chocolate worked. Mandy stopped holding her breath. Tomorrow, no, the day after Christmas, she’d start her errand service. She knew which neighbors would give her some of their change if she picked up at the store the paper or milk they’d forgotten. When she had five dollars, she’d tell her dad it was for her first dance class.