Tootsie Roll Surprise

by Kai Strand -

Derrick’s best friend, Lyle, had moved away at the end of the school year. The summer had been long, hot, and boring without him. Derrick’s birthday was in two days, but he wasn’t even looking forward to it. Without Lyle, it would just seem like he was at someone else’s party.

Lying on the floor of the tree fort, Derrick had never realized how creepy the sound was of wood scraping against bark when the wind tossed the tree around. In the past he and Lyle were always talking, so it was easy to ignore the creak of the floorboards or the moan of the swaying branches.

Derrick hadn’t even received an email from Lyle all week. What if Lyle had made another best friend already and forgotten Derrick? In previous emails, Lyle had shared how hot his new town was and how the ground was a reddish sand instead of covered with lush grass. He said it was so hot there he couldn’t carry his favorite candy in his pocket—Tootsie Rolls—because they melted. And his mom got mad when she found chocolate stuck to the insides of his pockets, especially if she found it after already doing the laundry.

Having checked his email before he climbed into the tree fort just a half an hour before, Derrick knew he’d only be more disappointed if he went in and checked again only to find his inbox empty. The sun beat in through the eastern window and the inside of the fort was so hot Derrick could smell the wood as if it were baking in an oven. Swiping sweat from his forehead, he climbed out of the creaking tree fort and down to the yard to search for frogs in all their favorite hiding places. Frogs always cheered him up.

Kneeling next to the house, he lifted the cover from a plastic utility box buried in the ground. Derrick squinted and blinked, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the shadowy insides of the box. He and Lyle had found plenty of tree frogs resting on the pipes inside. But instead of finding a frog, he found a Tootsie Roll.

“What?” Derrick lifted the candy out of the box and stared at it as if it would tell him what it was doing in there. He shrugged and slipped the candy into his pocket. “Lyle must have forgotten about it.”

Peering into the box, Derrick found no frogs, so he replaced the cover and brushed blades of grass from his knees when he stood. The next box was buried in the ground farther along the side of the house. A nearby tree kept this box in almost constant shade. The dirt was cool and damp on Derrick’s palm as he leaned forward to lift the cover. They almost always found frogs in this box because the shade kept the interior of the box chilled no matter how hot and humid it was outside. Derrick leaned forward into the rush of clammy air that escaped when he lifted the cover. An earthy scent wafted up too, carrying with it a hint of mold.

“No way!” Derrick whispered...

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