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A skinny, shirtless boy with tanned skin and dusty brown hair sits awkwardly on his little black futon. The muscles in his arms flex as his stomach aches, screaming of its hunger. He wishes he still lived with his mom so she could cook for him. Peanut butter sandwich crusts lay on the floor beside his tired feet. A cereal bowl sits on his lap. Dalton’s dirty little dorm room doesn’t have nearly enough food to fuel a college football player. The clock beams light across the darkness telling him that it’s 3:00 a.m. The TV light glows ever so brightly upon his loft where his blue eyes spot a microwaveable bowl of chili.
As bad as the defense workout made him today, his hunger hurts triple. Dalton pulls himself from the hunch in which he sat. He forces his tired body to climb the rungs of his bed and to snatch the food calling his name. The chili insists it will fill the boy’s seemingly bottomless belly. Dalton pops off the metal lid and slides the bowl into his microwave. He hits 1, 0, 0, START and begins it spinning. It beeps and he grabs hold of it. The lid comes off and the steaming red chunks pour onto his left hand. He releases the bowl of chili and wipes what remains on his hand, onto his shorts.
Dalton flips on the light to see the damage. The skin beneath is red hot and raw and the top layer has been peeled back into a heap. It’s burning, and a squealing pain runs through him. The anxious text to his mom is unanswered, so he climbs the stairs to his friend Diandra. She helps him clean and wrap his hand, and they scrub chili off the walls and floor.
In the morning, the lad’s mother advises him to go to the doctor. The first visit of many to come, tells him he’s suffered second degree burns. They say that his sleepless night was the first of many, and confirm that Dalton’s pain, worse than that of broken bone, won’t be gone any time soon. The medics prescribe cream to be smeared on twice daily. It will ease the pain and help to settle infection.
Dalton’s mother rushes to see him. They decide the chili bowl model is unsafe, and confirm the contents of the bowl are hot enough to be harmful. This issue needs to be changed. They contact the Hormel Chili Company with their complaint. The argument grows and the need to go to court is imminent. They hire a lawyer and research similar cases to theirs. The blisters on the boy’s hand ooze on with the days leading to the court date.
It’s the day. Today’s the day. Dalton and his mother stroll into the open room. The space is relatively blah with white walls and dark tiled floors. The rows of chairs are almost empty, and the smell of wood lingers in the air. They saunter to the front and greet their friendly lawyer. The opposing party has taken their seats also. All is in place when the judge enters reciting, “All rise!” and silencing the scattered murmurs in the rows of seats.
Dalton looks down at his clammy, scarred hands, and remembers all the times he played football, swung a bat, tied his shoes, every activity he finds painful now. He realizes that he has no reason to be nervous. One dollar, one bowl of chili, just one millisecond and his hand may be scarred eternally. The doctors have not yet determined what the looks of his and will be in the future, but as of now, things won’t look pretty.
His fury towards the company overcomes the fear. When he’s called upon, he marches strongly to the stand. Dalton recites his story in detail and models his hands to the judge and jury. Bravely, he tells them about the agonizing hours of misery and the money spent on remedies. He speaks of how he wishes it’d never happened.
Dalton’s mother is called next. She tells the Hormel Chili Company how she does not intend to shut them down or demote their business. She simply aches for the other mothers who may be thrown into her position. She explains how if they changed their product design, perhaps this can be prevented in the future.
The defense fires back and the prosecution nail them with cross examination questions. A final rebuttal is what really seals the deal, though. When the prosecution lawyers lay it all on the table, the defense has no way to compete. The judge deems Hormel guilty of selling an unsafe product. They are given one year to change it or they will be shut down. The Hormel Company was also made responsible for all medical costs to the boy and they even offers to pay for plastic surgery. This operation will return the boy’s disfigured hand back to almost normal. The Chili Company also offers Dalton and his family free chili for life. The family is relieved.
As Dalton and his mother strut toward the back of the room, the boy’s eye catches a glance. A beautifully pieced together work of art. A girl. She is absolutely gorgeous; the prettiest thing he’s ever laid eyes on. Her blond hair illuminates her blue eyes and pale pink cheeks. Her pearly white teeth peek out between her lips as their eyes meet. Briefly, he thinks this may be the girl. This splendorous woman makes the boring room light up. The Chili Boy’s eyes flitter away as he hears her name called. “Grace! Grace Flattely!” hollers a voice from the defense side. The voice comes from a burly man waving his arm for his daughter to follow.
On the ride home, Dalton’s mind wonders to the beautiful girl. He imagines his life with her and grows impatient to meet her, to love her. When the pair finally arrives home, he looks up ‘Grace Flattely’ on Facebook. Her profile picture captures and displays her beauty perfectly. He clicks to add her as a friend and goes back to his family who’s chowing down a special celebration supper in honor of winning the case.
The next day, Dalton’s mother schedules his surgery, and involuntarily, she reminds him of the girl. She accepted his request to be friends. Daringly, he strikes up a conversation. They introduce themselves to the other and she tells him that her father is the owner of the Hormel factory in Beloit, Wisconsin. Her family has a home there, as well as one here, in Iowa. The chili loving family wanted to raise their only little girl in a small town. They talk about the Dalton’s hand and the ideas for the new microwavable bowl design. They chat again the next day, and the next, and grow to be friends.
TWO YEARS LATER
Grace and Chili Boy met, grew together, and were joined in holy matrimony. Dalton’s hand has made a full recovery since the plastic surgery, and only faint scars remind him of the horrible incident that molded his life. The beautiful girl he calls his wife may never have been reality without the chili.
Hormel, Grace’s dad, followed through with the new chili bowl design. It has extra insulated sides and added caution signs. They want to make sure no one is ever harmed by their product again.
The Chili Boy and his wife, Grace, sit together in their large rustic home and slurp down the carefully prepared red soup. The soup, they remember is what brought them together. She speaks up, then and says, “Honey? We’re going to have a baby.”
Dalton’s excited face and anxious words relieve her as he expresses his joy for their soon-to-be child. They will call her Hiliary, as it reminds them of the word ‘chili’. It is the single reason the two were brought together. The grounds for which fate struck them and blessed them with this child. The perfect end to this fairy tale.