When Alex Graham was in the first grade his biggest concern was the lunch his mom packed inside his Scooby Doo lunch box. He loved planes so at recess he would climb the monkey bars and watch the crop dusters fly over. Meanwhile little Tess Hartman was busy using her thermos lid to shape mud pies.
The four Hartman girls lived next door to Alex. Every day after school they would ride their Stingray bikes until dusk. Young and ‘gender blind’ they savored the simplicity of agape love. But Alex was drawn to the youngest daughter Tess because she loved using her Easy Bake oven and he loved sweets. Of course that required him to sit at the little wooden table and pretend to sip tea along with her favorite Teddy Bear “Benjamin.”
In the summer of 1971 their parents took them to the drive-in to see “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” That was a life altering moment for Tess; she said she wanted to grow up and be in the chocolate business because chocolate made people happy.
Alex on the other hand dreamed of becoming an astronaut like Neil Armstrong and walking on the moon.
By the fourth grade Alex was getting teased because he was fat and his best friend was a girl with a long ponytail and crooked bangs. Her mother was attending beauty school and had practiced on her four daughters hair; tragically the night before school pictures.
One day Tess came to class wearing a baseball cap. When her teacher Mrs. Cantrell told her to take it off the class broke out into laughter. Her 'scissor happy' mother had ‘practiced’ on Tess’s hair before her beauty exam that day –a beauty exam she failed.
Tess sobbed all the way home that afternoon. Alex hugged her good-bye while attempting to smooth her hideous hair – he told her she was pretty even without long hair -but it was a lie.
Alex’s dad signed him up for Little League because he didn’t like Alex spending so much time with the Hartman girls – especially Tess.
For weeks the team teased Alex relentlessly; he was fat, slow and a prime target for cruel remarks. One day after ball practice Tess invited him over and placed a plate of molten lava cake in front of him. Then something in Alex just snapped - outraged he blamed Tess for his misery, grabbed Benjamin and pulled out one of his eyes. Tess shrieked and told him to leave and never come back.
A week later the Hartman family loaded a U-Haul to move to San Diego for Mr. Hartman’s job promotion. Before leaving Tess knocked on Alex’s front door. She was holding a plate of brownies as tears filled her dark eyes. She handed Alex a note with her new address on it. Alex promised he would write – but it was an empty promise. He closed the door and tossed the brownies and the note into the trashcan.
The next morning he awakened to the sound of the garbage truck. With regret he ran out to retrieve the note but it was too late – the garbage can was empty -and so was his heart. As he looked to the abandoned Hartman home a wave of remorse washed over him.
The next day he quit baseball and joined the cross country team. Within weeks he went from fat to fit.
Alex never did become an astronaut, but he did become an airline pilot. He still carried with him a reminder of that day – Benjamin’s glass eye -naively believing that maybe someday he could right his wrong.
With a layover in Seattle he decided to go for a stroll downtown. The cobblestone sidewalks were shining in the autumn mist. He stopped at the corner just long enough to gaze into a shop window hosting an array of desserts beneath a canopy of twinkling lights. A Teddy Bear wearing an eye patch was holding a sign which read “The Serendipity Bakery.”
In a state of disbelief he entered the shop just as Tess was removing a tray of brownies from the oven. After smoothing her apron she turned to see Alex standing in the doorway – surprised to see him she whispered, “Alex Graham?”
Tears filled his eyes at the sight of her. Smiling she approached him and gave him a heartfelt hug. Now at last, he could finally whisper the heavy words he had carried so long in his heart-“I’m sorry Tess.”
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