A man of means, she’d said. He runs the candy store because he wants to, not because he has to.
I’d laughed at her. Man of means? As if.
I’m serious. She was insistent. He goes all out–you have to see it. He shut down the first of October, papered all the windows, and started making Halloween candy. He does it every year. He can afford to. He’ll reopen mid-month, and it’ll blow your mind.
So I came.
It was a small store, two doors down from the corner of 3rd and Main. Filmore’s Sweets and Novelties, in looping gold script across the glass. The display inside was a classic Halloween night, with a twist: a gnarled tree arching across the window, an owl peeping from a hollow near the top; bats (suspended on filament); and a parade of catrinas, each dressed richly in flowered or jeweled gowns, carrying bouquets. A small, hand-lettered sign at front read: All you see is sweet. I looked again at the decorations, unabashedly pressing my face against the cold glass. I squinted, and saw the bones of the catrinas were molded sugar, their attire and flowers sculpted of chocolate and sugar. A disc of golden-hued melted sugar formed the moon, and a blanket of feathery candy floss imitated mist along the ground. And the tree, to my amazement, was entirely chocolate. No wonder the glass was so cold. He was keeping it all from melting.
I pulled away and rushed inside.
It was a dream. A marble-topped counter, the dark wood lustrous from years of polish and wear. Shelves stretching to the ceiling, laden with jars filled with all manner of penny candies and other treats. Open drawers lined with colorful wrappers containing every bar of chocolate, nougat, nuts, or caramel I could have imagined. The glass case held more intricate delights–colorful and elaborate sugar skulls; bats cast in deep, dark chocolate, flocked with chocolate shavings; white chocolate bones with raspberry filling; licorice witches’ brooms. I was crouched in the floor, staring at a jar of eyeballs when a voice startled me.
“They’re white chocolate, with a fondant center.”
I glanced up, not really taking him in. “The runny kind?”
“They’re especially popular with the boys.” I could hear him smiling around the words.
I grinned at the jar and stood. “I can imagine. The grosser, the better.”
He stepped back, going behind the counter. When I really looked at him, I paused. He wasn’t what I’d expected (older, gray-headed, with deep lines etched into a kind face)…he was middle-aged, tall and lean, with a thick head of dark hair (only a tinge of gray at the temples). His eyes were hidden behind small, strange-looking blue lenses. He smiled at me, and his eyes crinkled at the corners.
“Can I help you with something?”
“Thanks, but no. I just came in to look.”
He frowned, tilting his head and studying me. “What’s your name?”
His lips puckered a bit, then, “Do you like candy, Leigh?”
I smiled, deeply and broadly. “To my detriment, yes.”
He leaned forward, suddenly, and rested his hands on the counter. “Wait here.”
He disappeared through a door. Through the crackled glass, I could faintly make out his shape passing by.
When he returned, he practically burst through the door, almost breathless, and hurriedly crossed to me.
He held out a pumpkin. It was small, no wider than a fifty-cent piece, with a tiny leaf and short, curled vine still attached. I looked up.
“It’s chocolate. But the filling is what I want you to experience.”
I took it, biting it in half. Pumpkin puree, with a burst of spices–cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, a sharp bite of ginger–made me hmmm in pleasure. I swallowed it, hesitating only a second before downing the other portion. “That is fabulous.”
“You liked it?”
“I’d marry you for it. I love pumpkin pie.”
He quirked another smile. “I’ll make some for you. Can you come back?”
“I–yeah. How much?”
He pulled his hands away, stepping back, again. “No charge.”
“I can’t do that. This is art. The work involved…”
“Is my business. I want you to have them. My treat.”
I looked at him.
He met my gaze, unwaveringly, and pulled off his glasses. Behind the blue had been hidden dark brown, rich like the chocolate he molded so beautifully. He smiled, again, slow and sweet. “Absolutely my treat.”
He reached out. “Tomorrow–around four?”
I nodded, taking his hand. It was firm, his fingers long where they clasped mine. His grasp held on longer than it should have.
“I’ll be here with bells on.”