By Paige Washington
There was a reason the women said he was so sweet. I heard that when his mama was carrying him, she had a terrific sweet tooth. Sure, she ate healthy enough to satisfy the old women in starch white uniforms that smelled of liniment and rubbing alcohol. But how would they know that the balanced meals fell somewhere between her round the clock snack time. Gummy bears and chocolate and bubble gum all day long, but she liked nothing more than her sugary sweet gum drops.
A thick layer of sugar on top, gooey sweet through and through was the way he came out. His mama licked her lips every time she planted a kiss on that boy’s cheek. As he got older, all the girls did the same. Running behind him like he was an ice cream truck with a magical bell or something just as dooming. The clever little girls called him Candy Boy.
“Candy Boy,” they’d whine. “Candy Boy,” they’d moan as he kissed them good night on his stoop. Their own special name for him.
I couldn’t help but see them from my window. It didn’t surprise me how every girl that brought him home seemed unconcerned with Gum Drop’s immediate disinterest in them as the furiously waved goodbye. That scene replayed at least three times a week. Each time a different girl.
Of them all, Meka Tanner was the worst. She made me sick walking around with her nose in her behind like she was Gum Drop’s only. Like all the other girls knew about her, she had to know about all the other girls.
From my window, I could see the disappointment on Meka’s face. The same look every time she dropped him home and wasn’t invited in. Gum Drop leaned in and whispered to her and she smiled just a little.
I sighed and walked away from the window. How could these girls let themselves be fooled like that? Every single one of them knew Gum Drop was no good. They had to know they weren’t the only ones calling him Candy Boy as they gazed dreamily into those hazelnut eyes beneath thick dark cotton eyebrows.
Something plopped on the bed beside me. A Sugar Daddy sucker. I looked up in time to see another sail through the window at me. Gum Drop stood on his stoop glaring at me.
“Boy, what do you think you’re doing?”
“I thought I’d give you something to eat while you spied on me. What’s a movie without popcorn?”
I put my hand on my hip and rolled my eyes. “There you go again with that big ol’ watermelon head of yours. I come to my window every night to get some air and think.”
He sat on the railing closest to my window. From there I could see the icing in his eyes. The yellow of the street lights buttered his skin into a deep milk chocolate. He wasn’t all that.
He threw up his hands in surrender. “Alright, alright. I was just playing.”
I sucked my teeth and threw the candy back to him. “Since you just playing, you can have these suckers back. I don’t eat candy. My teeth are too sensitive.”
Gum Drop laughed. “Now ain’t that a twist. A black woman admitting she’s weak. Ain’t you a find?”
“Weakness and sensitivity are two separate ideas,” I said representing my college education. “And weakness is an idea I know nothing about. I would have guessed you would know the difference by now.”
“From all your experience, you should know the difference in all class of women.”
He shrugged and smiled up at me. “I know a classy lady when I see one. Can I help they usually see me first? Don’t roll your eyes at me.” He was quiet for a while. I was sure he was trying to decide what to say next. He didn’t usually have conversations with women whose heads weren’t floating twelve feet above her shoulders. I was the first. He just sat there staring off into starless sky. I knew that there was something smart he wanted to say. I just knew it wasn’t going to be about the #1 book on the bestseller list. Probably more about who was #1 on 106 and Park that night. The views of Ms. Morrison or Mr. Wright had no place in his busy agenda. The last book Gum Drop read was more likely Hansel and Gretel.
He leaned against the brick and folded his arms. “What do you mean I’m experienced?”
He knew what I was talking about. Gum Drop was always so cocky. He might have thought that I was going to fall into his mindless crowd of admirers and tell him how much of a Mack he was. But for as long as we’d been neighbors, he couldn’t get it through his head that I wasn’t one of the other girls. I preferred Equal to sugar.
I leaned out the window. “If I have to explain that word to you, I’m giving you more credit than you deserve.”
Gum Drop stepped to the other side of the railing and jumped down to the sidewalk. He walked over to my stoop where my mother kept her array of potted flowers and aloe vera, and propped a foot up on the step.
“You know something. When I was young, I used to love fairy tales. Oh yeah. I remember listening to Little Red Riding Hood in Ms. Hurley’s kindergarten class. Little Red Riding Hood trying to get to grandma’s house. It was that stupidest story I’d ever heard. Even as a little kid, who could believe that nonsense?
I was appalled by his ignorance. “That is a classic story. What do you mean, it’s nonsense? The story has lasted through time. What do you know about classic literature?”
Gum drop shrugged his shoulders. “All I know is that the little red breezy in the story was asking for trouble. Come on, how gullible can you be? How could she believe this big hairy wolf was anything as sweet as he claimed to be? To make it so bad, she called him on everything and yet she stood there giggling. His voice went up an octave, “Grandma, what big eyes you have-tee hee. Grandma, what big teeth you have-tee hee hee.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at his humorous description. There was some truth to it.
He laughed with me, tilted his head up toward my window and threw the candy back to me. It landed on my bed. “I’m just saying Ma, if she could see the wolf was hairy with huge slobbering teeth, why would she waste another minute in there with him? Ain’t no way that wolf smelled like cookies and pies like a grandma is supposed to. That’s what I mean when I say women are weak. What’s being said to y’all is far too important to pay attention to what’s happening. I guess you want what you want too badly to trust your own eyes. And most of the time what you see is what you get.”
The street light flickered brightly above his head.
“Can’t get mad at me.”
Headlights shined onto our block as a car turned. Gum Drop mumbled a cuss word under his breath. “I told her to go home.” Meka’s blood red Miata pulled up in front of my stoop. To my surprise and Gum Drop’s delight, her outfit had completely morphed into a halter top and the shortest shorts she could cut up in twenty minutes.
Meka wiggled up to him. “Candy boy,” she whimpered when she reached for his arm.
“What’s wrong?” He didn’t move from his stance on the stoop.
“I went all the way home when I realized I can’t get into the house. My sister has my keys and won’t be home until tomorrow.” She grabbed his hand and tugged. “I need you, Candy Boy.”
Gum Drop looked up and smiled his toothy grin. He winked. I watched as they drove off in the Miata. I went to the bed and picked up the Sugar Daddy. I opened it and let it melt on my tongue.