Red Hots


Charles Bins, Brunswick Forest

Goffrey O’Hara loved Red Hots. He was an Irish boy in the 6th grade with red hair and face a creamy white. Shirley, who sat in front of him, said he had so many freckles it looked like he bumped into a spray gun. Her bouncing red curls menaced him, and he’d sometimes flick her locks with his pen until she would tell him to stop.

His best friend, Robert, teased him for years that he liked Shirley, but Geoffrey always denied it. They both knew she had had cooties which wasn’t something you could get over overnight.

As the youngest with three sisters and a 17-year-old brother, Geoffrey craved attention. But his sisters dominated his mother’s time. So ever since Robert moved next door, they had become fast friends. After school, they’d often walk to the candy store. Robert bought sourballs and Butterfingers, but Geoffrey only Red Hots. He’d eat so many sometimes, it looked like lipstick.

Robert knew Geoffrey would do anything to get them. So now that they were starting 7th grade, Robert upped the ante for what the boys at school called “The Big Red Dare.” They all cringed with delight, and soon Robert stockpiled enough Red Hots to fill a gallon jug.

Friday at recess, the boys enticed Geoffrey with visions of cinnamon nuggets until he drooled. Then they sprang it: If he could kiss Shirley in the next 10 days, they’d give him 1,000 “rubies.”

Wasting no time, Geoffrey stopped by Shirley’s table at lunch and offered her a few. When she refused, he smiled and gave her one of the boxes from his lunch bag. She managed to smile, and then shared them with her friends. But in the afternoon, he tapped her shoulder and handed her a note: “What movie do you want to see?” She crumpled it.

He thought about Shirley all weekend. At lunch Monday, he offered Red Hots again. Her friends tittered when she politely said ‘no.’ Walking away, he heard, “He has the hots for you.”

Tuesday, he detected more of a smile in her refusal. Shirley’s friends teased again about “the hots.” This time, Geoffrey turned with a grin, “I do indeed.”

As he took his seat Wednesday, the smell of strawberry shampoo arrested his brain. His note:  “Your hair smells yummy ; – ) My brother will drive us.” Shirley folded it in half.

At lunch Thursday, he winked when she said ‘no.’ In history, a light went on. He jotted: “What kind of candy do YOU like?”

She scribbled: “Almond Joy.”

Friday he gave her the Almond Joy at lunch and left Red Hots for the table. His afternoon note: “What about West Side Story Sat. @ 8?”

Shirley’s note back: “YES.”

Geoffrey’s brother offered pointers before the movie. Geoffrey slipped his arm over her shoulder after she finished her candy bar. They held hands, and again in the backseat. On her doorstep, Shirley told him she had “a very nice time.” They gazed into each other’s eyes, and their lips touched softly like frosting on a strawberry cupcake. Shirley said he tasted like Red Hots and suggested they do it again sometime.

“Maybe next weekend,” he replied.

Geoffrey collected the jug of Red Hots the next day. On Monday, he and Shirley chattered on the steps at recess; the first lovebirds in their class.

The boys huddled around Robert. He didn’t have to say it but did: They wouldn’t need to dare Geoffrey to kiss Shirley anymore. In that moment, they all knew their futures had changed, and the implications triggered warm, tingly feelings. Robert passed out sourballs, another boy, M&Ms. They popped candy into their mouths and, one by one, glanced at the girls giggling nearby as if for the first time.