A few days go by before she is once again perusing the wares of the small store. When it seems the coast is clear, she turns down the candy aisle, spots the sweet she wants, and grabs it. She never even slows down on her way to the door.
A third attempt at stealing candy doesn’t go so smoothly. Vera is feeling pretty confident in her abilities, by this time. Before she even reaches the store, she’s imagining gooey caramel and chocolate melting in her mouth . When she enters the store, the man who works there is restocking the shelves behind the counter. Since he has his back to her, she heads straight for the candy.
Just as she's sliding it into her pocket, she hears, “Hey!”
Terror rushes through her veins and nearly from her bladder. She never realized how big this guy is. As he makes his way around the counter and closes in on her, she sprints towards the door. It's very close, but she reaches the door first. She opens it, turning to watch her assailant, and throws herself backward through the doorway.
She hits something soft but solid. She turns to see a stocky - and thankfully sturdy - old woman who has met Vera’s flying form at the door. A loud and breathy “Hhmmmff” erupts from the woman as she hits the ground, hard. As Vera watches, the woman's stunned expression darkens to fury.
“Oh-my-God-are-you-all-right?” the store clerk blurts from right behind Vera.
He yells, “Don’t you ever come back here, you little thief!"
She turns the corner and blasts past two more blocks before slowing down. Blood pounds in her ears and her red face as she catches her breath. She studies the squished, half-melted candy bar in her trembling hand, and then surveys a scrape on her elbow she’d been too frantic to notice, earlier. She eats the candy, feeling her fear dissolve into relief.
For a day and a week and a month, she takes a different way home from school. She completely avoids the street on which the convenience store is located, even though it means going three blocks out of her way. She isn't happy about the longer walk she has, and as the days go by, anger flourishes.
It's that horrible man.
Vera sees the store clerk's large and looming form in her mind.
It takes me twice as long to walk home, now, and it's all his fault.
Weeks pass, and winter arrives. At the same time, the seeds of fear and anger grow into an icy crop of hatred. The cold wind inside and out make Vera's walk home nearly unbearable.
Come on, it was only a candy bar. What's the big deal?
Even so, she takes the long way around for another week, and then another. Each day is colder than the last, and with each frosty breeze resentment builds.
Does he really think he can stop me from walking by the store?
He can't do anything to me. I'm just a kid.
I can go there anytime.
I'll prove it!
The day comes when she is heading down the familiar street, once again. She slows down when the storefront comes into view, despite the whipping wind. A young mother and her two children cross the street in front of Vera and hurry towards the warmth of the store. Vera rushes up, smiles at the mother, and pops into the store between her and her children, as if she was part of the family.
It takes a few moments for Vera to get the courage to glance at the counter. When she does, she sees someone new, there. It’s an older man, someone she’s never seen before, and he takes no notice of Vera. Why would he? He doesn’t know she’s a thief.
Smiling to herself, Vera peruses the candy aisle, taking her time before pocketing her selection. She heads nonchalantly to the door. Before she can open it, a firm hand holds her shoulder. She squirms with fear and fury, but a second hand grabs her other arm and there's no escape.
When the man turns Vera around, she is ready for battle. She glares up at his face, but to her great surprise, the man smiles.
Her breath catches in her throat. She's speechless.
“I know you took that candy," he says.
Her eyes dart back and forth between his, but no sound will form in her throat.
"It’s wrong to steal, but I forgive you.”
And then, he lets her go.
For a moment, Vera is too astounded to move. She stares up into his eyes, confusion and adrenaline mingling in her mind. Finally, she gets enough hold of herself and takes off into the snowy afternoon, with all the speed she can muster.
Behind her closed bedroom door, Vera looks at the candy bar. She could eat it, now, but for some reason she doesn't. She hides it in her sock drawer and tries to push the whole incident out of her mind, but she has a whole weekend to think about it and that's exactly what she does. Over and over she pushes the pairs of socks aside to view the dishonorable secret nestled at the bottom of the drawer.
Why did he let me go?
Each time, she buries the evidence but always she knows it's there.
Monday afternoon is the coldest this winter has presented, so far. As Vera heads out of school, sleet pelts her cheeks and her icy fingers tingle in her pockets. She wants to go the short way, but walking past the convenience store seems almost impossible. What if that new guy was there, again? What if he saw her? She isn’t afraid of him. She isn’t angry, either. She's... well, she's not sure what she is. This feeling is something entirely new.
She knows it's just too cold to walk the long way. Mustering all the courage she has, she heads towards the convenience store, her heart beating fast. She has her head down against the wind as she approaches the store's entrance, but she can't keep from looking in as she passes.
He looks right at her.
Awkwardly, she smiles back.
The next day, she puts the candy bar in her backpack, before school. All day, she's aware of its presence, safely tucked in a front pocket. All day, she wonders if she will be able to do what she's thinking of doing. When the bell rings, she swallows hard and then pushes her way through the snowy streets, straight to the welcoming warmth of the convenience store.
At the counter, she can't look at the clerk as she pulls the candy bar from her pack and places it on the counter. It takes a moment or two, but finally she whispers, “How much for this?”
He scans the candy, tells her the cost. and takes her money. As he hands her the change, she finally looks up, into his eyes.
He says, “Come back soon."
And she does.