Delia was one of those untouchable girls. She wasn’t cold, and she wasn’t arrogant either. I thought, rather, it had something to do with the red lipstick. She didn’t always wear bangs but for as long as I could remember she wore that red lipstick. The bangs seemed to be more like bookends, there in her childhood photos and for some of her later high school dances, but never in middle school. The lipstick was always there, adding even more emphasis to the words she spoke that I thought carried a weight of their own.
I remembered the first time she wore it. We were five, and we were sharing a tub of almond butter on her father’s motorboat. We used to eat that stuff with the same voraciousness that the other kids ate candy.
I was allergic to candy. Well, to some of its artificial sugars. At least, that was what I thought. That was what my mother told me. She said she was, and that the sugar allergy was hereditary. But that was the most detail she ever gave. When I’d pick up a tin of cocoa powder in the store and ask her what it was that I couldn’t have, hoping maybe this one tin didn’t contain it, she could never remember. She’d point to the ingredients section of the nutrition label and say, “It was one of those I think.” It didn’t take me long to see through it.
So I tested it at Dee’s one day when we were spreading the almond butter on our pieces of bread to make sandwiches. Her mother was pulling a fresh tray of chocolate chip cookies out of the oven. That whole family loved to bake. Baking and boating – it was how they bonded.
I had asked if I could try one of the cookies.
“But Declan, you’re allergic to sugar,” Dee replied. I suppose at that time in our lives she was more in tune with my well-being. Less untouchable.
“Allergic to sugar?” Dee’s mother inquired, her paisley oven mitts gripping the cookie tray as she scooped the still-soft cookies onto a sheet of foil. “I never knew that.”
I didn’t know what to say next, but luckily she continued: “Surely you’ve had one of our sweets before?”
“Not even a brownie?”
I shook my head. Dee’s mom bit her lip, and a funny look found its way onto her face.
“Well they say there is a first for everything,” she said as she scooped up a cookie and held it out to me. I cupped me hands and she sat the warm dough in my palms.
From that day on, I was allergic to sugar everywhere else but Dee’s house.
We never told my mother about my tolerance there, though. Apparently it was for Dee’s mom’s benefit. Dee said that if my mom found out what hers had done, mine would blame hers for breaking some kind of mother’s code.
I wasn’t sure what kind of code they were talking about. But it seemed important to Dee, so I never had to be told twice. It was our own sugary secret.