Carol Schmidt savored a quiet moment at her kitchen window. The weather cooperated after all. Streamers adorned the light posts in the backyard as a swarm of nine year-old boys and even a few girls raced randomly in every direction, a ball or a frisbee somehow loosely involved. Petey, or as he now preferred to be called, Pete, was turning nine. Riding Greg Everhart’s back, clutching the larger boy in some kind of human transformer battle with two other boys similarly configured, he looked happy. Or maybe just relieved that this many kids actually showed up.
Right on time, a tall pizza guy appeared in the open doorway, a stack of pies peeking from a thermal warming bag. As she took them, she noticed over his shoulder a young boy whizzing up the driveway on one of those no-hands wheelie gadgets. Wearing a black long-sleeved t-shirt and tan khaki slacks, somehow the boy glided to a perfect stop while managing a gift bag in one hand. He debarked this little magic carpet as if stepping off a yacht.
“Boys! Pizza!” Carol’s husband Jason telepathically appeared and took half the pile. Mindy Everhart called out to the boys. Carol moved the paper plates to make room. “Who is that boy who just showed up? He looks like a miniature Steve Jobs.”
Jason smiled. “Ah, that must be Oliver. Petey really hoped he’d make it.”
Carol seemed perturbed. “Is that the kid who…”
Jason let out a loud, unplanned cackle. “That kid’s a hot ticket, I hear. Was hoping he’d come.”
Pete, already a grass-stained mess just thirty minutes into his big day, strained mightily atop Greg, riding his shoulders while the larger boy’s doughy arms pretzeled around his legs. Having toppled all foes, two smaller classmates clung to portions of Greg’s legs in what appeared a futile attempt to bring the duo down. Pete suddenly spotted his mystery friend.
“Dude, you made it!” Pete climbed down off of Greg excitedly.
“Of course I came.” Oliver deftly turned a wild, unbridled pre-adolescent chest bump into a dignified handshake. “I brought you something.”
“Wow! Whadiget?” Pete lunged for the large-handled paper bag, clearly containing something weighty.
“Oh my God!”
“Dude, this is crazy.” Without warning, several boys appeared like a spot tornado, tearing a lightning fast path toward the driveway to take turns trying it out. Oliver smiled and checked his phone, now standing alone in the backyard. He looked up at the raised back deck, noting the adults chaperoning this affair. He moved toward the dads. Dads are easier.
“Oliver… over here.” The adult who Oliver presumed was Petey’s dad called out. A loose gaggle of men ranging from maybe 35 to 50 had their own private party in progress. Cigar smoke wafted by, the scent of beer and maybe something stronger lingered in this air. Oliver, undersized even within his own fourth-grade sect, stared directly into generous bellies and belt buckles up here.
“Hey. Little man. I hear you’re the lemonade tycoon.” Jason motioned him to an empty patio chair.
He opened a small glass bottle. “Lemonade. Makes you think of old men in the sun cutting grass with an ancient wheeled contraption.” He sipped his drink. “Anybody here excited about lemonade?”
The men looked at each other and smiled.
“Citric Ecstasy,” he smiled, letting that sink in. “Anybody thirsty now?”
Jason spoke first. “You really call your product that?”
“Let’s be honest. Connecting your product to sex is a pretty tried-and-true approach. It always works. Subtlety is the key.”
Barry Everhart began scrolling his phone, then started roaring. “Banana Burst. Orange Rind Grind. Mangogasm?”
Two dads leaning against the deck railing clinked their beers. “Hell, yeah.” You’re a little badass.”
Oliver checked his phone, smiling at something. “Don’t laugh. Getting those trademarked cost plenty.”
Jason leaned toward Oliver. “My son says he’s working for you now.”
“Pete’s a very spirited young man. He works the stand over on Stanpole Drive. Weekends.”
“Aren’t you in their fourth grade class, son?”
Oliver finished a long final sip of his drink. “Technically, that’s true. I am required by law to submit to this, uh, school experience. I think last week we learned long division. They don’t teach compounding interest for a few more years.” The men were quieter now. “Pete’s really thriving, though. He’s quite popular.”
Jason was intrigued. “How much money do you, uh, make, Oliver? When I was your age, or maybe a couple years older, I started a landscaping business.” He proudly sat up, tipping his red Solo cup to the boys club. “I remember clearing a thousand dollars my eighth-grade summer.”
She eased past the men and approached Oliver from his side. She knelt as he kept his eyes trained on the dads while speaking into her ear. “Bring the car around in thirty minutes. Tell the team to be ready in an hour.” He deposited the empty bottle in the bag. “Oh, and take this.” He turned back to the group.
“That’s a very relatable story, Jason. The first thousand dollars cleared… a nice memory indeed. I think for me, I found it even more gratifying when I got to see the satisfaction on someone’s face who worked for me when they cleared their first thousand.” Oliver nodded, and the young lady slipped away, back down the steps.
“Wasn’t that Julie Mancuso? She captains the high school varsity lacrosse team, right?”
“Julie joined us last year. Terrific hire. Now there, that’s exactly what I mean.” The dads appeared deflated, their cigar smoke muted by the powerful smell of new money. Oliver rose purposefully. “I’m gonna grab some pizza and say hello to the ladies. Gentlemen.”
Carol and Mindy were consolidating leftover pizza into two boxes when they noticed Oliver striding towards them. He reached up, gently taking Carol’s right elbow. “You two have really outdone yourselves. Pete’s having the time of his life.” He slid his right hand into the open box and scooped out a slightly congealed slice of cheese pizza. Carol began to speak, when suddenly her son came barrelling down the hardwood on his new segway.
“OUTSIDE with that Petey! Right now!”
He picked up the Segway and grinned a toothy grin. He turned and ran out of the room, his embarrassment instantly forgotten.
Oliver finished his slice and gently brushed a black sleeve across his lips. “Ladies, it was a pleasure.”
Carol’s eyes narrowed. “Young man, I have a question.” Oliver detected adult indignation. He would now grant this particular adult his full attention.
“Petey got me to say yes to this online repetitive order for this… watermelon sugar… drink.”
“Our most popular.”
“Right. I must say it is quite good.”
“I’ve got a pantry full of it. And, well frankly I can’t afford any more of it.” Her eyes trained down on him, her frustration refocused. “Will you please explain to me how to make these stop coming?” She reached for the pantry door and swung it open, the entire top tier stacked with watermelon colored juice boxes.
“Are you getting the shipment confirmation emails, Carol?”
The casual use of her first name by the man-child flared her rage. “No, young man I am not, and…”
“You might want to check your spam. There is an opt-out link, which you can exercise at any time. But, before you do…”
Carol was already on her phone, sifting through junk mail, looking desperately for the path out.
Oliver smiled. “I’ve been wanting to tell you, Carol. Pete’s really doing well. A fine son you’re raising. He’s just got a knack for this. So much so that his commissions are putting him in the next sales tier. I’d really hate to see him lose that track.” He again gently touched her arm. “If you really need to opt-out, contact Julie and she’ll straighten it all out.”
Carol stood next to her lifetime supply of watermelon sugar, watching Oliver walk out the front door, his hand waved at someone as he strode out. Her brows furrowed. Her mind ran the numbers as her hands reached for the tequila bottle. She popped a straw into a juice box, drained it, then jammed the concoction into the ice dispenser. Staring at a pantry full of Watermelon Sugar, she took it down in one long swallow.
“Well, happy birthday mama.”