Sugar Free

By Emily Debenham

The sound of cursing was the first thing that Rachel heard as she entered the church. She hesitated and then peered around the corner into a half-dark hallway to see Hunter, the ward executive secretary, struggling with an insulin pump. She’d seen her father checking his on many occasions.

She could hear Hunter muttering numbers, calculating his blood sugar. She’d never seen her dad get so flustered and she thought about offering help. She worried that would only put him in a worse mood, though. Rachel waited in the empty hallway, refusing to leave before she knew he was okay.

Finally, Hunter sorted himself out and headed down the hallway. He didn’t even look back. Rachel had learned his secret without being discovered. She followed after him, winding around until she found the crowded foyer. She let Hunter know she had arrived for her appointment with the bishop.

“Alright,” he said. “Three people are ahead of you, so get comfy. You have a good weekend?”

Rachel pulled a face. “It started out pretty crummy. I sort of failed a physics test on Friday.”

“Oh no!” Hunter looked genuinely distressed for her.

“Yeah,” Rachel tried to make light of it. “I had to make a banana pie to console myself.”

“Not a chocolate girl, then?” he teased.

“I figure if I’m going to make condolence pie it might as well have something healthy in it, you know?”

He emphatically shook his head. “No. I’d go straight for the chocolate, caramel, peanut butter combo and put whipped cream on top.”

Rachel laughed. “That’s your favorite then?”

He nodded and Rachel could see the longing in his eyes and a little sadness. Rachel knew that his diabetes probably really restricted his diet. She and her dad had spent a lot of time perfecting several sugar-free desserts for that very reason.

“So, I used to be a physics TA,” Hunter said. “Come over anytime and I’ll help you study.”

The next week, Rachel decided to take Hunter up on his offer. She mixed up some sugar-free peanut butter and chocolate cupcakes, then tossed her physics book into her bag and hefted it over her shoulder and headed over to find Hunter. She didn’t even have to knock. When she got there, the door was already propped open. She stuck her head into the hallway. “Hello?”

“Hey! Come in,” a voice called.

“Sorry the kitchen smells like smoke,” Hunter said, sitting at the table. “We had a dinner crisis. James and Ted went out for emergency pizza.”

“Oh, well. I just happened to bring cupcakes in exchange for help with my physics homework.”

Hunter’s lips pressed into a thin line. “I’m willing to answer your physics question, but no thanks to the cupcake.”

Rachel smiled. She put a cupcake on the table and pushed it toward him. Hunter sighed and turned his face toward the wall. She heard his stomach growl. Rachel immediately felt guilty. “Hey, it’s sugar free, promise.”

Hunter snapped his face toward her. “Who told you?”

Rachel took a step back. She didn’t expect him to be so irritated with her. “I saw you in the hallway at church with your insulin pump.”

Hunter closed his eyes a moment and took a deep breath. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap. It’s just been a long day and I really only found out about the diabetes before the semester started.”

Rachel slipped into the chair across from him. “That sucks. My dad has diabetes. We created this recipe together. He eats it all the time.”

“Okay.” Hunter said. “I need to eat something soon anyway.”

He picked up the cupcake and inspected it, almost reluctantly, and Rachel realized he expected the cupcake to be a flop. He probably equated sugar-free with disgusting. She was excited to see whether he would like it or not. Rachel held back a laugh as Hunter bravely took a bite. He chewed in silence for about three seconds and then his hand came off the table to cover his eyes.

Rachel’s heart constricted with panic. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” He pulled his thumb and fingers together to wipe at his eyes, but when he pulled his hand away his eyes looked wet.

“Are you crying?” Rachel asked.

“It tastes really good,” he said.

It probably wasn’t the best thing to do, but Rachel started laughing.

He glared at her. “Shut up.”

But Rachel could tell he didn’t mean it.

“Can I brag now that my cooking is so good it brings men to tears?”

Hunter laughed, the moisture in his eyes cleared up, and he started to look like his regular old self. “Definitely.”

“Sorry I laughed.”

Hunter shrugged. “It was funny.”

“It hasn’t been easy for you.”

“It’s no fun having doctors and nurses look at you and say you have a chronic illness that’s going to change everything in your life for the rest of your life. I didn’t think I’d ever get to eat something that tasted good again.”

“A young man’s worst nightmare,” Rachel teased.

Rachel finished off her own cupcake and brought out her physics text book. “So, to my question. . . .”

Hunter took the last bite of his cupcake and leaned forward. “Ask away.”

Hunter was really good at explaining things clearly and for the first time all semester, Rachel finally understood her homework. They did a few practice problems until she said. “I think I’ve got this. Thanks.”

Hunter handed the pencil he had borrowed back to Rachel. “No problem. We should do this again. . . . I mean, if you need help.”

Rachel nodded. “I’ll pay you in treats. And maybe sometime we can leave out the physics.”

Hunter smiled. “I was thinking the same thing.”