Perched before a coffee table inside a living room, a cute chubby little boy, Nicky, 2 years old, eagerly draws a picture with his crayons. Nicky has a secret that only he and his mommy knew. He was so happy that his mommy shared the secret with him. Nobody else in his family trusted him with a secret. They all thought he was a blabbermouth because he accidentally gave away a secret or two (or three) in the past. But Nicky’s mommy trusted him. She loved him more than anything in the whole earth; she told him so herself. The thought of his mommy brings a smile to Nicky’s face. He continues to draw with joyful fervor when his father walks into the living room and takes a seat on a couch.
“Ahoy, Nicky-boy. Whatcha doin’?” Nicky’s father asks in earnest.
“Oh nothing,” Nicky responds offhandedly.
A sudden thought crosses Nicky’s infant mind; he realizes, at that moment, that he was in fact doing something. So what he just told his father was a lie. Although it was only a little lie (something he once heard his mother call a white-out lie), a lie was still a lie. Coming to terms with his misconduct, Nicky instantly stops drawing in order to facilitate his previous transgression.
“I mean… I am drawing, daddy,” Nicky succinctly adds.
“There.” Nicky thought to himself. “I told a truth—a real truth. That should make up for my little white-out lie.
“Drawing huh?” Nicky’s father inquires with a smirk. “The way you are working must be very important.”
“Not really,” Nicky answers.
Out of a sense of guilt, Nicky practically slaps his hands over his mouth. “OH MY GOD,” the words scream in Nicky’s mind. “I told another lie. This is an important drawing. It is the most important, bestest drawing of my life.” Priding himself as ‘a good little boy,’ the accumulation of lies has a profound affect on Nicky’s childish mentality. He could simply tell his father the truth. Unfortunately, he made a promise to his mommy that he wouldn’t tell anyone their secret. It was a cross my heart, hope to die, poke a needle in my eye kind of promise. There was no turning back. With a child’s determination, Nicky decides that he was going to make up for the second lie he told rather than telling his father the secret.
“I’m drawing it for someone very special,” Nicky quickly states.
“There. I told a truth,” Nicky assures himself. “So I am a good little boy again.”
“Someone very special you say. Lucky person,” Nicky’s father asserts.
Nicky had to cover his mouth to hide his giggling fit. If only his daddy knew the real truth. He has a sudden urge to tell his daddy the secret. In fact, he just had to tell someone, ANYONE. The desire to blab was borderline maddening. The secret began to burn on the tip of his tongue like one of those hot peppers he accidentally ate once. He wanted nothing more than to spill the beans and be done with it.
“You promised mommy. You promised,” Nicky swiftly reminds himself.
Nicky’s teenage brother, Gelo, sashays into the living room and plops himself down on the couch beside their father.
“What’s happening? My peeps,” Gelo asks in a sing-song voice.
“Nicky is drawing something for someone very special,” Nicky’s father informs Gelo.
“Someone special, huh?” Gelo asks in a curiously tone. He glances at Nicky’s drawing. “Is that a happy birthday cake I see, Nicky?”
Warning lights blare in Nicky’s head. Instinctively, he throws himself on top of his drawing as though it were a live grenade. “Oh no! Gelo is figuring it out! He’s such a smarty-pants.” Nicky’s 2 year old mind scrambles for something to cover up Gelo’s brilliant discovery.
“It’s not a happy birthday cake, okay,” Nicky stutters, “it’s just a… happy cake.”
“Another lie!” Nicky yells to himself. “Why can’t I stop lying?” A state of panic builds up within Nicky’s psyche like a bubbling volcano threatening to explode.
“A happy cake,” Gelo echoes mockingly. “Never heard of that.” Gelo glances over at his father with a wink. “Have you ever heard of a happy cake, dad?”
Nicky’s father considers Gelo’s question out loud. “Moon cake, pound cake, cheese cake, sponge cake, up-side-down cake… Nope. No happy cake to my recollection.” He looks over at Nicky inquisitively. “Who’d you say this happy cake was for, Nicky?”
The incessant questioning has left Nicky gawking at his father and brother like a deer caught in headlights. Clearly, he was ill-equipped for this level of inquiry. The persistent inquisitors have broken through his impenetrable defenses. If Nicky harbored any hopes of holding onto his mommy’s secret, he had to do something FAST.
“Stop asking questions!” Nicky screeches at the top of his lungs.
Nicky’s outburst only serves to amuse his father and older brother.
“Hold your horses, Nicky-boy,” Nicky’s father chuckles.
“What’s with the shouting, little Bro?” Gelo asks humorously.
Nicky instantly settles down. “I’m not shouting,” he declares in a calm voice.
“Nicky! You lied to them again!” A voice rings out in Nicky’s head. Now his back was against the ropes, so to speak. Even at his young age, Nicky knew that his brother and father were getting suspicious. But he couldn’t tell them the secret; he promised; HE PROMISED; HE PROMISED! And he hated himself for having to lie just to keep the secret. Things were definitely spiraling out of control. While glancing down at his drawing on the coffee table, Nicky makes a snap decision—escape. He rolls up his drawing and evacuates the living room as briskly as his tiny legs could take him.
“You guys should learn to mind your own… earwax,” Nicky blurts out as he flees the living room.
Nicky’s mind was caught in a whirlwind. He needed a place to unwind and get his feet back on the ground. An image pops into his head—his bedroom. Upon reaching the staircase that leads to his bedroom, Nicky diligently follows the house rules of going up the stairwell. “One hand on the railing at all times and no running,” he repeats to himself.
Each step Nicky takes, while he makes his way up the stairs, detonates in his mind like an approaching aerial bombardment—boom, BOOM, BOOM! Nicky had worked so hard to be a good little boy. He always puts away his toys after playtime. He follows all his mommy and daddy’s house rules. He prays for his family every night during bedtime. He even prays for his big brother, Gelo—a person who enjoys pinning Nicky down, when their mommy and daddy aren’t looking, and forcing him to eat fart sandwiches.
Nicky remembers the first time he heard about the bad place. It is where the meanie Devil lives with his scary friends who want to bully you. There are no yummy things to eat like mommy makes but yucky stuff that look and smell like poop. More importantly, he is told that there is no ice cream in the bad place. Who—in their right mind—would want to live in a place where there is no ice cream? From that point on, Nicky made it his mission in life to always be a good boy. That way when he was much older (more than 21 the highest number he knows how to count to) and gets dead, he would go to Heaven. “Heaven,” Nicky whispers the word in his mind like a distant memory. He gazes down upon the rolled up drawing in his hand with a troubled brow.
Breaching the top of the stairs, Nicky quickly makes his way into his bedroom. His bedroom is his place of comfort, his sanctuary, his fortress of solitude. He sees all the pictures he had drawn pinned to a wall. The pictures depict all the fun places he and his family had visited: playland, camping, picnics, parties, and even a dream he had about being a superhero and making his big brother eat laser farts. The last drawing brings a smile to Nicky’s face. So many happy moments and memories are pinned to that wall. He was going to ask his daddy to pin up his latest drawing but that thought no longer appealed to him. The drawing was a grim reminder of his mommy’s secret and all the lies he told to keep that secret. In Nicky’s mind, the lies he told had severely jeopardized his chances of ascending into Heaven. For only good little boys go to Heaven; and everyone knows that good boys tell no lies.
A thought crosses Nicky’s youthful mind. “Maybe God was asleep when I was lying. Everyone sleeps. So maybe God didn’t even hear me,” Nicky convinces himself. But Nicky instantly recognizes the falsehood of that notion. According to Father Chester, God knows and sees everything. Apparently, he is worse than Santa Clause. There was no going back. No amount of fingers crossed, take-backsies, or time outs could undo what he had done. Nicky had made his bed; now he had to sleep in it.
Tears well-up in Nicky’s eyes as he unrolls his drawing. It is a picture of him and his family holding up a giant birthday cake. “How could such a happy moment go so wrong?” Nicky thought to himself.
From the gloominess of his thoughts, Nicky remembers his mommy. Her image shines through the darkness of his mind like a beacon of hope. The thought of his mommy causes Nicky to grit his teeth and wipe away his tears. Determination is etched upon his youthful features. He will never-ever break his promise to his mommy, even if it meant not going to Heaven. Nicky loved his mommy more than anything in the whole earth. At least he knew that he would have some company in the bad place, for he was convinced that Gelo would also end up there.
A voice from downstairs wakes Nicky from his reverie. “Nicky, where are you?” Nicky’s daddy calls out. “Come down here, please. We need to talk to you.”
Nicky rolls up his drawing and tucks it under his bed. He takes a moment to compose himself before yelling back. “I’m coming!” With those final words, the condemned little boy puts on a brave face as he makes his way downstairs.
Nicky is shocked to see all his favorite people waiting in the living room. All his uncles and aunties, his cousins, his grandparents, even his bestest friend Machail and his family were there. He was so pleasantly surprised that he completely forgot about his mommy’s secret and the web of lies he spun earlier. That is until Nicky hears his mommy’s voice piercing through the crowded living room. “Okay, everyone! Gather around!” She calls out. Nicky’s mother places a large ice cream birthday cake on the dinning room table. “It’s time to wish a special someone a happy, happy birthday!”
“Finally!” Nicky exclaims out loud. Out of sheer relief, he collapses onto the floor in a heap. “I did it, mommy! I kept your secret!” Nicky’s outburst silences everyone in the room. They all stare at him in stunned silence.
“You kept a secret?” Gelo asks in genuine disbelief.
“Yes, Gelo, I did. It was so hard,” Nicky retorts.
“That’s right,” Nicky’s mother chimes in while looking at her wrist watch.
“Nicky kept my secret for almost half and hour,”
“Half an hour,” Nicky’s father echoes with a chuckle. “That is a long time to keep a secret.”
“It is daddy. So long,” Nicky confirms. In truth, he didn’t really know how long half an hour was. But considering how difficult it was to keep the secret, half an hour must be much longer than 21 ‘are we there yets?’ (21 being the highest number he can count to). Nicky couldn’t understand why everyone around him suddenly burst into laughter. “Did something funny happen?” He ponders to himself.
Gelo picks Nicky up, tickling him as he did so, and places him on a chair before the ice cream cake. “Look at the name on the happy cake, little Bro,” Gelo says before giving his little brother a big raspberry kiss.
Nicky giggles as he looks out at the name on the ice cream cake. “That’s my name,” he announces in a genuinely surprised voice. He counts the candles on the cake. “One, two, three.” Nicky rubs his head in confusion. “Why are there 3 candles? I’m only 2.”
“Not today, little Bro. Today you turn 3 years old,” Gelo tells Nicky before giving him another big wet raspberry kiss. Nicky giggles while Gelo tickles him. He suddenly remembers why he loves his big brother so much.
A realization registers on Nicky’s face as he looks, accusingly, over at his mother. “Mommy. You tricked me. This is my surprise birthday party.”
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. But I kinda told you a little white lie,” Nicky’s mommy confesses apologetically.
Nicky reaches out and gives his mommy a big hug. “It’s okay, mommy. I forgive you,” he whispers into her ear.
Nicky’s mother lights the candles. She strokes Nicky’s tiny face and lovingly looks into his eyes. “Happy, happy birthday my good little boy,” she says before giving Nicky a kiss.
Nicky takes a mental picture of all his favorite people gathering around him. He wanted to remember every detail so he could capture it in a drawing later. This moment is now his new Heaven. It is the happiest he has ever been in his entire life. But just in case, Nicky quickly closes his eyes and makes a secret wish before blowing out the candles. “Please God forgive me for lying. While you’re at it, could you please forgive Gelo for being a smarty-pants? He’s the bestest big brother ever.”