My Friend, David

Looking in at the window, David can see his friend Emily standing on a stool pulled up next to her grandmother’s kitchen counter. David is supposed to be on his way home with the soda and chips his step-mom demanded he retrieve for her. If he didn’t get back in the time she thought he should, he wouldn’t be allowed to eat any of it, but then he had seen the light in Mrs. Oliver’s window and the flash of Emily’s golden ponytail bouncing past it. Emily was always so kind to him at school and her stories about her grandmother made him curious. He didn’t have a grandmother. Not even one lent to him from the revolving cast of mothers who had traipsed through his life so far.

So at the flash of a ponytail, he grew too curious to mind the consequences.

Now, David stands at the window just on the other side of snow-dusted bushes, with his breath feathering the air. Emily balances on her tiptoes atop the stool, a tiny apron wrapped twice around her, and her grandmother stands beside her with a spatula. They hover over the bowl of a mixer. Little clouds of flour puff up as the beater swirls. Emily’s Nana gives her an egg, which she lifts in her childish fingers and cracks on the side of the bowl. A gush of gelatinous yoke slips like quicksilver down in the bowl. Nana hands Emily another egg.

David draws a breath deep through his nose, and after the sting of the chilly air passes, he is sure he smells the warm carmelization of sugar baking, a hint of vanilla in the dough, and the tang of bittersweet chocolate chips. He closes his eyes for a moment and imagines the cookies on the sheet just as Emily has always described: golden, the baking sugar winking in the oven light, the chips softening and then melting.

David’s stomach growls. The bags of chips and soda suddenly feel like bricks hanging from his hands. He looks down at them in disappointment and then back inside the kitchen.

Emily giggles at her Nana as the mixer wand continues to turn. She looks warm, her cheeks red, her hair tawny. The kitchen is full of Christmas trinkets, reds and greens and garlands. David imagines the scent of cinnamon woven through the smell of the baking cookies. He imagines knocking on the window, Emily turning, seeing that it’s him and smiling. He imagines her Nana motioning him toward the front door. He thinks of going inside— the burst of homey, warm air, the smell of cookies firming on the kitchen counter and above it all, Emily’s easy voice: “Nana, this is my friend, David.”

My friend, David.

And Nana will hand him one of those warm cookies that are as big as his face.

David’s stomach growls again. He blinks awake from the reverie. The wind stirs a cold powder of snow from the bushes into his face. He looks up and Emily and her grandmother are gone from the counter. He searches for them for a panicked moment, and then the kitchen light winks out.

They are gone.

David stands staring at his own reflection. After a moment, he turns and with a rattle of grocery bags continues down the sidewalk.

There will be no dinner for him tonight.

© 2022 Katie Baker

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