The sacks of flour are passed from one man to the next, a few grains escaping from small openings.
The women’s voices rise higher and higher, merging and combining, becoming a harmony sounding slightly unpleasant.
Large quantities of sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla extract, baking powder and baking soda are passed in the same fashion and put in different piles.
“Now,” said Mrs Marano, who was in charge of this, “We will be following a simple recipe to make the cookie, which must be noted and memorized by everyone.”
Yeah, she’s a bit strict.
But all of us in Loshem have known her for the entirety of our lives.
So we’re used to it.
“Winning this competition could mean that we get special facilities like a hospital and even a university built in Loshem. We would also get the Cookie Cup, but that’s irrelevant.”
Her last statement is met with laughter because all of us know that every year, our motivation to put in our best is the Cookie Cup and the Cookie Cup alone.
Having a hospital and university would mean our good health and education for sure, but I know that most of the elderly in Loshem don’t approve of this development and would much rather prefer if things remained the same. They already lost their temper when the primary school and high school were built after years of pleading.
We, however, desired the Cookie Cup, which in its shiny golden glory would be looked after more than the children of Loshem.
Besides, stuffing our faces with the giant cookie afterwards is so worth the work.
“The king’s officials will be arriving by noon. All of you know your groups, so please find each other, and begin your work. All the supplies are on the ground behind you.”
Then Mrs. Marano left us to it, while she went to the bus station to pick up her son, who was coming from Eldham City where he studied.
I went over to my group, my mother and father, and my friend, Jorge.
We started making our share of the cookie, as did everyone else.
“Aren’t you excited about Aaron coming back? How long has it been, seven years, isn’t it?”
“Leo, are you even listening?”
“Sorry, did you say something?”
“I asked you whether you were excited about Aaron coming back, but it looks like cookie making is of top priority.”
“Of course cookie making is of top priority, we need to win after all,” I answer, kneading the dough with more force, and pray that he doesn’t bring up Aaron again. Thankfully, he doesn’t.
Aaron Marano, ex-best friend, first and only love.
I met him when I was seven. He was always a child who was talked about in Loshem, even at the age of seven.
His father was a decorated war veteran who had recently died, leaving him and his mother a lot of money and a large mansion.
We always pointed when we spotted him walking down the street, his hands always stuck in his pockets.
I first officially met him when I was playing with my friends in the evening, and he shyly approached us, asking if he could join.
All of the others looked at me, as I was considered to be the ‘leader’ in such matters, but I was starstruck. I wanted to run my hands through his soft hair.
I don’t remember sticking my hand out to him and introducing myself. But witnesses claim that this is what happened.
Whenever he left, he always said, “Have a good day.” I always knew that he genuinely meant it, instead of the other people who said it for good manners.
He started playing with us every day, his thin body surprisingly agile and his mind easily catching on to the games.
We started hanging out more often when he came to my house unannounced on the day of his father’s first death anniversary, asking for some company.
I didn’t mind it when he cried on my shoulder when we sat on the wall behind my house. I was honoured that I was the person he was crying to.
A few years passed, and at the age of ten, Mrs Marano decided that it was time for Aaron to leave to the City to study. He pleaded and begged, but she was unrelenting.
That day, when we sat on the wall, I had nothing to say as he cried to me about how unfair it was. I was heartbroken, and I couldn’t comfort him that day. I needed to comfort myself.
The day he left, he stopped at my house.
I hugged him, and both of us sobbed our eyes out. I whispered ‘I love you’ into his ear, and he said it back. I knew, however, that he didn’t mean it in the same way I did. He said ‘have a good day’ painfully this time, knowing that my day wasn’t going to be good.
We exchanged letters for a couple of years, after which I kept sending them with no reply. I still send those letters every month, asking about him. But he never answers. Hence, ex-best friend.
Now he was coming back. After seven years, he was coming back.
What would I even say to him?
I finished my first batch of cookie dough and carried it to the large bowl in the centre of our group’s circle.
I walk back to my place and sit down, noticing that a car has just pulled up next to Loshem Square.
I’m just going to concentrate on my bowls.
Stir butter and sugar. Add egg and vanilla essence and stir. Mix flour and the other dry ingredients. Knead into dough. Carry dough from my bowl to centre bowl. Repeat.
I hear footsteps and laughter behind me, as he greets his extended family and friends.
Jorge is saying something about him to me, but I focus on my bowls.
Butter. Sugar. Aaron. Egg. Aaron. Vanilla. Aaron. Aaron. Aaron.
“Leonardo, it has been a long time.”
Only one person calls me Leonardo.
I turn back from my seat in the ground and look up to see Aaron.
He’s grown out his hair a bit, and I see the beginnings of a beard on his chin.
I get up, ignoring the hard beating of my heart, and extend my hand to him.
He looks at it and contemplates for a moment, before pushing it aside and embracing me.
He smells the same, like fresh air.
Mrs Marano lets him join our group, and he squeezes in between me and Jorge and starts making the cookie dough like it’s second nature.
We chat and catch up, and he talks about his university, and about how the people there smoke and drink regularly.
His conversation about girls is largely with Jorge, while I back out of it, fuming inside.
“So Leonardo, how are things with you? Anyone special in your life yet? Any girls I know?”
I shake my head and look at Jorge. He’s the only one who knows that I like guys.
“You used to be chattier before. What’s up?”
“Well you see, Leo is very focused on winning the cup this time, so he has been un-chatty not just to you, but to me too.”
I get up and put the cookie dough in the centre bowl.
“I’m taking a break,” I say, without turning around, and walk to the park, and sit on a bench there.
I can never have Aaron.
And he will never see me the way I see him.
He doesn’t even care for me.
But it’s the truth.
And it’s about time I accepted it.
Aaron is just like his mother, however, unrelenting and stubborn.
As he seats himself next to me, I’m reminded of our times on the wall.
“What’s wrong Leonardo? You have been all weird since I came. I may have been gone for seven years, but I can tell.”
“Why did you stop answering my letters?”
He lets out a breath and purses his lips.
“I – I got busy. I didn’t have the time to.”
“Liar. You may have been gone for seven years, but I can still tell,” I say, throwing his earlier statement back at him.
He smiles absentmindedly and says, “I was scared. Scared that if I replied back, I would ruin the only friendship I had left.”
“Crap. Absolute crap. You know how you ruined it? By not replying.”
“I’m sorry, I’m really sorry Leonardo, I didn’t mean to.”
“Of course you didn’t mean to, but you did. You ruined it. You know how it feels like to be alone? To feel like the only person who knew you doesn’t even want to talk to you anymore? I sent a letter every month, hoping that you would send me one back. But you didn’t. You were my best friend Aaron. My first lu –”
I stop myself before I regret it.
“Your first what?”
“My first love, you idiot! I loved you! But you never loved me back. And you never will.”
I leave him there, knowing that if I said anything more, I might get possessed by the sudden urge to kiss him, and I was supposed to be mad at him. It would be highly inappropriate.
I go back to the ground, and reach my group, ignoring my parents and Jorge and just concentrating on the cookie dough. They realise that I’m in no mood for talking and get back to their cookie dough too.
The assigned bakers are now coming to each group and taking our cookie dough for baking in the furnace.
We continue making the dough and giving it to the bakers, and soon we have enough cookies to make a giant cookie large enough.
Now we start crumbling the cookies and carefully layering the given space with the crumbles, pressing hard to ensure no cracks or holes.
I look around, but Aaron is nowhere to be seen. I ignore my throbbing heart and crumble the cookies.
We do this for hours on end, and finally, we fill the space, children running over it to check its hardness.
The officials from the king arrive, ours being the last town to survey.
We wait with bated breath as they walk around the cookie.
“Well, I must say, the cookie is perfectly baked, and of a satisfactory size.”
Does that mean that we –?
“The winner of this year’s Cookie Cup is Loshem!”
All of us yell in happiness, and I hug my parents and Jorge. Then all of us have a group hug with Mrs Marano, her arms smelling like flour and butter.
All of us jump and some of the children cry, scared of the noise.
Confetti pops seemingly out of nowhere.
As it falls on us, the head official presents the Cup to Mrs Marano.
It’s exactly as I imagined it, its shiny surface catching the light of the sun.
The officials ask us to huddle around for a photograph to be framed and kept in the palace as well as Loshem’s municipal building.
As the picture is taken, I feel a tugging on my wrist.
I look behind to see Aaron, his eyes looking at me regretfully.
The people continue to celebrate in the background, while I look questioningly at Aaron.
“I’m sorry for hurting you, I didn’t mean to,” he yells over the noise of the crowd.
“You are my best friend, and – and I love you too. I ruined our friendship, and I intend to make it up to you.”
Without a care about who is watching, he kisses me.
I kiss him back, finally able to entangle my fingers in his hair, which is as soft as I had imagined.
In between the celebrating townspeople, fingers in his hair, confetti falling on us, I finally feel at peace.
Today is a good day.