FIFTY-SIX, 2.0

Max held the bag close to his chest, unsure what Mrs. Miller wanted with it.

“Max, give me the bag now!” She was raising her voice.

Max was happy he’d prepared for this, but certainly not thrilled to be the very center of attention when he was getting yelled at by the teacher. It would put tarnish his reputation.

But after today’s incident, he’d likely recover soon. He just didn’t like the focus Mrs. Miller was now giving the situation, or to his bag. The heat was on, and he knew Molly could feel it, too. Molly was standing just around the corner near the cubbies, watching carefully.

The bag was just a bag loaded with sugary treats the likes of which most kids only saw on Halloween. Truth be told, most of this candy came from Max’s Halloween bag. But the other kids didn’t know or care about that. They just wanted, needed the candy.

So for weeks Max had brought it discreetly into his fourth grade classroom and for every quarter he was handed, a kid would get two pieces of candy. For a whole dollar, they got to close their eyes and reach in for a handful. But Max had a separate bag for this, that looked just like the first bag. Only, in this second bag there was less candy, more spread out so not as much could be grabbed by a handful. This helped his profit margins.

Molly had copped to the scheme early on, but for a cut of his take, she wouldn’t tell the teacher or the rest of the kids. And she’d promised to get Max even better candy, which was likely true seeing as her dad worked at the drug store.

Then came this morning.

Molly’d seen Allan talking with some of the other kids during story time, and then immediately told Max what she’d heard. “Allan says he’s got cookies. Home baked and still warm. He’s promised kids two cookies for a quarter, and five for a dollar. They’re going to want to eat the cookies instead of the candy. I even heard one girl say that since you keep bringing the same candy every day, your supply is getting old. Better watch out or Allan’s going to take over everything.”

“Molly!” Mrs. Miller caught them chatting, and told Molly to go stand in the corner, by the cubbies. She then stared at Max for a few moments until he became uncomfortable.

Later, at snack time, there was a commotion around Max. He was facing off against Allan, both with their backpacks held in front of them, whisper-yelling at each other about territory and who could sell what and where.  Max said, “I’ve got this area here. Go sell cookies at Mr. Jackson’s room, those kids’ll eat any crap.”

“You insulting my mom’s cookies? Or are you insulting my mom?”

“Take your pick.”

Allan shoved Max. “Take it back.”

“Take your cookies and go. This is my territory!” Max then did something he’d never done before — he punched Allan in the shoulder.

Both kids looked at Max’s fist, then at Allan’s shoulder. The group of kids nearby all ooh’d. Then Allan started crying, dropping his bag of cookies and stepping on them as he stormed away.

Mrs. Miller came over at that point and shooed away the rest of the kids. She stood in front of Max holding out her hand, yelling at him to give her the bag.

He looked again at Molly, then at Mrs. Miller. He handed her his bag, slowly. Mrs. Miller turned to look inside, rummaging through it, and then, after a short sigh, she handed his bag back.

“Put it away and get to the corner,” she said, then went over to Allan to calm him down.

Max did just that, walking carefully to the far corner of the room, so as not not spill the candy from the bag that was now down his pants. Molly gave him a smile.

This batch of candy would be ruined. But the next day, his territory was untarnished.

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