Jerry sped up his pace when he spotted the conspicuously inconspicuous white van parked outside his grandma’s house. He stopped by her house after school each day to pick up a new batch of treats to sell. Once the teenager Jerry learned her confections could reverse aging he wasted no time in finding rich buyers. He offered her the lion’s share of profits, but she never really seemed concerned about money.
It wasn’t until recently that Jerry realized he should have been more secretive. He started getting questions from random strangers in black suits with different accents. He did his best to throw them off his grandma’s trail, but as he ran into her house he wondered if a 15-year-old’s “best” was good enough. He entered the foyer in a hurry and relaxed. He heard laughter and conversation from the kitchen and guessed she wasn’t in too much danger.
“Jerry!” his grandma exclaimed the moment he poked his head around the corner. The short, elderly woman rushed to give him a big hug. After the embrace, she turned to face the table and pushed Jerry forward with her arm around his shoulder. “This is my grandson, Jerry. I guess you could say he’s my dealer,” she giggled.
His grandma introduced him to two men in black suits, both wearing sunglasses. A tall one and a short one, with almost no other way to tell them apart. Their hair color was nearly the same dark shade of brown and styled the same way on both. The glasses hid their eyes and neither stranger had any telltale blemish on their tan skin. Each man had a glass half full of speckled milk in front of him and a nearly empty plate of cookies rested between them.
“Uh, hi,” Jerry gave a half-wave. Both men nodded at him.
“Everything okay, grandma?” Jerry asked. She smiled and squeezed him closer.
“Never better! These gentlemen came to help,” she said. Jerry immediately grew worried. The one thing television taught him was that government agents could not be trusted.
“Grandma,” he leaned closer to her and whispered. “You can’t trust the government.” She slapped his shoulder playfully then crossed the kitchen to the stove; she grabbed half-empty plate from the table on her way. A sheet of fresh cookies sat cooling on the stove and she began refilling the plate.
“They’re not from the government,” she said. “They’re from the B.A.A.”
“Sounds like they are,” Jerry replied with a shrug. “F.B.I., N.S.A., B.A.A., it’s all the same.” He decided to sit in on the rest of their meeting; the fresh plate of cookies helped sway him. His grandma set the plate between the agents, then she sat down next to Jerry. “How are they going to ‘help‘?” he asked with sarcastic emphasis.
“They already did!” his grandma said with a big smile. The agents couldn’t answer; their mouths were full of chocolate-chip goodness. “They arranged it so the governments here won’t bother you or me anymore, and you can keep selling. Jerry hadn’t realized that other agents were already bothering his grandma.
“I suppose all they want is the secret of your treats?” Jerry asked as he stared at the agents.
“We already know it,” the short one said as he dipped another cookie into his milk.
“What!?” Jerry felt a pang of anger flare in his gut. He did not know his grandma’s secret. He always hoped and assumed she’d teach it to him one day. But she flat out gave these strangers the secret before him. The short agent turned to look at Jerry’s grandma. Jerry sensed something passed between them, but his grandma had a great poker face and he couldn’t see the agent’s expression at all. Then, he heard his grandmother sigh.
“They didn’t come to learn my secret,” his grandmother reached for his hand and squeezed it. “They came because they already knew, and they wanted to make sure I was safe.”
“Huh?” Jerry did not understand what she meant at all.
“When I bake,” she squeezed his hand again. “I add a secret ingredient that you can never learn to use. It’s way more complicated, but we can get away with calling it magic,” she said. “I can’t teach you, it’s something I was born with.”
Jerry almost scoffed at the notion of magic until he looked at the bigger picture. He felt like an idiot. He believed the right combination of flour, baking soda, and chocolate chips could reverse someone’s aging. Right until she said the word “magic”.
“These nice gentlemen know what I can do. They wanted to make sure I was doing it intentionally and of my own free will.
“And we have,” the short one said as both men rose from their chairs. The tall one stuffed handfuls of cookies into the pockets of his black coat. “Let us know if you have any other issues,” he said. Jerry stood out of his seat expecting to walk them out, but a large black hole appeared in his grandma’s kitchen. With a nod, both men walked into the hole then it disappeared.
“I’m sure you have questions,” his grandma said. “It’s time you knew everything. From the beginning.” Jerry turned to give her his undivided attention. He knew she had secrets, but he never imagined magic or black holes. The greying, wrinkled woman took in a slow, deep breath. The inward airflow added warm color to her pasty skin and plumped her wrinkles. Dark black flowed from her scalp to recolor her silver hair. When she exhaled again, Jerry’s grandmother looked more like a young aunt. Her dark hair had a vibrant lustre to it and her skin seemed to glow with youthful energy.
“The first thing you need to know…,” she said with a strong, young voice. “…is that 14 is my favorite number.”