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By Beth J. Whiting
Maria didn’t have any friends. The only joy she had in her life was cupcakes. She made them with her mother every night.
When they went to the grocery store every week, it was a wonder. Her mother let her decide the frostings and the batter. Sometimes she did funky combinations like coconut frosting with butter pecan batter. Maria could and would do anything to experiment with her cupcakes. Her mother packed four cupcakes for her every day when she went to school.
One day Maria was sitting alone at lunch when a skinny boy named Ian asked her for a cupcake.
This was a huge problem. How could she give up a cupcake?
Yet something told her to comply. So she gave a cupcake to him.
Then Ian asked Maria something strange, “Do you like bugs?”
“I think they are the most wonderful thing in the world, Maria. People dismiss them as ugly but they are fascinating creatures.”
He invited her to his house, the first time someone at school ever had invited Maria anywhere. She could not say no.
Maria let her mother know before she went.
Ian's house was a normal suburban home with a green lawn. It didn’t prepare her for his room, which was full of bugs in cages.
“Here are my bugs. You know, I’ve surrounded myself with them so much that I now know their language.”
Yeah, right, she thought.
Then Maria heard Ian speak in a foreign tongue.
He pointed to his ant farm.
“They’re tired all of the time. They rarely complain. Grasshoppers cry all the time. That’s what they do when they sing. They’re very romantic creatures.”
Maria didn’t know what to make of that—or him.
The next day at school Ian sat by Maria and asked for a cupcake again.
She sighed. She was going to have to ask her mother for five cupcakes now that this boy was regularly asking her for one.
He brought an encyclopedia out and talked with her the whole hour about bugs.
Maria sat there eating her cupcakes, spacing out. She didn’t understand what he was saying. Not that it mattered, she had company. That was what was important.
One day, Ian invited Maria over to his house for a sleepover.
The night she went over, she could hardly sleep. It was kind of creepy hearing grasshoppers and fearing any second that a bug might crawl over her.
That night, Ian also told Maria that he had a friend crush on her once he saw she was as much of a weirdo as him.
“What do you mean?” she asked, offended.
“There isn’t a second in the day that I don’t see you with a cupcake.”
“My mother and I make them every night. Cupcakes are very complex. You can do many different flavors.”
“What about cake?”
“I like cupcakes because of the wrapper and the fact that I can hold it and not use a fork.”
“I like cupcakes, too. Would you like to go with me to a cupcake shop tonight?”
She had heard about these cupcake shops. Ian and Maria lived in a small town. The farthest one away was a thirty-minute drive, which her mother told her was too far to go for a cupcake. But Ian’s mother drove them to one out of town.
Ian talked about bugs the whole ride over.
His mother kept switching topics on purpose. It seemed like she had to deal with this all of the time.
When Maria went to the cupcake shop it was a glorious surprise. She got three cupcakes. She would save two for a snack tomorrow night, but she had one right there. It had filling and was delicious. The cupcake tasted professional, not homemade. If it was up to her she would had the whole store.
Ian got two cupcakes.
“We go to this cupcake shop on a regular basis.”
“Really?” she asked, stunned.
Maria wished she had a mother that took her places. Her mother went to work and was tired.
She went to his house again with the secret idea in her mind that they would go to the cupcake shop again. They did.
Maria thought that Ian had the best mother in the world.
Ian’s mother went up to her and told her, “I’m glad my son finally has a friend and not just a bug. I was getting worried about him.”
Maria and Ian had another sleepover. He talked to the bugs in his room just as much as her. She couldn’t understand a word he said. She just spaced out and hoped he would talk to her again.
One day Maria invited Ian over to her house.
Maria and her mother were making cupcakes. Her mother had the great idea to make cupcakes for the whole class.
Ian helped with the baking.
When the class had the treats the next day, a kid complained, “There’s an ant in my cupcake.”
No one finished the cupcakes.
Maria knew that that Ian must have had a mix up and she was mad. It was her only chance for the class to like her. She didn’t sit next to him at lunch the next day. She walked past him the following day and saw him sitting all alone and sad.
He pleaded with her, “I didn’t mean to do it. I must have been playing with them while I was making cupcakes.”
She sat there wondering, would the class really like her anyway? Even if the cupcakes hadn't had ants in them?
“Fine. You have to do something for me, though.”
“Teach me how to talk to bugs. If I’m going to be with you, I have to understand what you’re saying.”
So Ian spent a week teaching Maria the different bug languages.
She listened in on an ant farm one day. “They’re talking about working and how they’re tired.”
“I know. You’ll discover worlds you’ve never known.”
Maria was glad to have made friends with Ian.
Beth J. Whiting was born in 1983 to a large family of brainy eccentrics. At eight years old she developed a love of books through the works of Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis. Her short stories revolve around underdogs in suburban settings, such as the one in which she was raised. She currently lives with her artistic twin sister in a tiny apartment in Mesa, Arizona.