Vicky should have been sleeping by now—it was well past midnight—but she was too busy looking at “poisoned cookie” recipes on Pinterest. Eventually, she slammed her laptop shut in defeat. Apparently, there were no good bad recipes on the Internet. None of them even called for cyanide! Mostly, it was just little kid Halloween cookies, with loads of orange, yellow, and black sprinkles. Darn.
On Saturday, there was going to be a cookie exchange. At her house. Normally, she hated it when people came over and tromped around in their nasty shoes on her carpet. Vicky hated a lot of things, to say the least. The sharp scent of peppermint. Mismatched socks. Folding laundry into neat piles. The sun, which was why she preferred the cold, refreshing winters that Michigan offered. People. Oh, and parties, specifically Christmas cookie exchanges. But it was her idea, after all.
Vicky had even invited her arch nemesis, Adelaide. Well, she supposed that the entire nauseating event was because of Adelaide. Her plan was fairly simple: to whip up a batch of regular, mediocre cookies (perhaps chocolate chip), and then create a single poisoned cookie that tasted a little like bitter almonds, just for Adelaide…
Vicky could picture it now, her beautiful young enemy poised on her folding chair, taking a dainty bite with a sip of coffee, and a few seconds later sliding to the floor, hands twitching and eyes bulging. She smiled with pleasure. No one would ever know it was her. The incriminating evidence would disappear, lodged in Adelaide’s throat or sitting like a brick in the pit of her stomach.
Vicky laughed wickedly. She knew it wasn’t right, of course, but when had that ever bothered her before? She “believed” in Christmas, whatever that meant, but she didn’t exactly celebrate it. She lived about a full day’s drive from her parents, a trip that required effort, passion, and patience, none of which she possessed. The humidity and the unpleasant sensation of burning sand between her toes outweighed her love for her rambunctious family, so she typically spent the holidays alone. Just her and a glass or two of wine in front of the TV.
Vicky was a loner, dependent on nobody but herself. Naturally, she didn’t have a lot of friends or try to make them, so coming up with people to invite to the cookie exchange had been a slightly strenuous ordeal. She had ended up sending invitations to several people she didn’t really consider friends, but whom were convinced otherwise.
Adelaide herself didn’t seem to realize there had ever been anything amiss between them, even though it had started fifteen years ago in sixth grade. Petty little ballerina, Vicky thought with disgust.
According to Vicky, this is how it happened:
The soft music began to play, trickling out of the speakers in the auditorium. 11-year-old Vicky took a deep breath, smoothing her pale pink skirt and adjusting the bow on her head. She glanced once more at her reflection in the long, gilt mirror. Her face was intense, her lips pursed and her dark eyes glittering. She skipped out onto the stage, twirling in her ballet slippers. She definitely should have gotten the princess part! She glided across the floor, swirling like a snowflake. Besides, she only fell once, and it was because the stupid elf got in her way! Sixth grade Adelaide didn’t even do that good. Just because she looked pretty and danced perfectly—
Anyway, a couple days later, Vicky marched up to the auditorium doors, shoving kids in the ribs with her elbows. She started sobbing hysterically when she realized Princess Tarra’s part had been given to Adelaide, and she could hear everyone laughing behind her. Worse than that, she was Ugly Elf One!
So, from then on, she loathed Princess Adelaide, and Vicky lived unhappily ever after.
Vicky didn’t do ballet anymore. Her body couldn’t fit into the slim dresses anymore than she could slide her feet into the narrow slippers. She had changed too much, and her highness Adelaide had barely changed at all. She was a tall, slender woman with a sweet, youthful face and large green eyes framed by long lashes. She always walked on the tips of her toes, graceful and swift.
Vicky crawled into bed, pushing the revolting thought out of her mind. Adelaide would soon be gone, anyhow. It was only a matter of time and a cookie away.
Vicky plastered a fake smile onto her face, pulling open the door for her first guest. It wasn’t Adelaide, as she had expected, but that didn’t really matter. She would be here in just a couple of minutes, Vicky was sure.
“Welcome,” she grumbled, yanking the plate of cookies out of her friend’s hands. “I’ll just put these in the kitchen; make yourself at home.”
But as the guests started piling in, one after another, none of them Adelaide, Vicky began to grow worried. Had she RSVPed that she couldn’t come? She hadn’t remembered anyone emailing her, although she hadn’t checked it recently. She excused herself from her visitors’ company, allowing them to talk all they pleased. She had just taken out her laptop when the doorbell rang. From her secluded bedroom, she could hear choruses of eager greetings from the living room.
Vicky rolled her eyes. Adelaide’s here.
She put on her fake smile. “Good morning, Adelaide,” she said through gritted teeth. She looked her up and down. Adelaide was wearing a winter jacket over a ballet leotard and a white headband; her long, light brown hair was pulled up into a messy bun. She had a backpack slung over one shoulder, and she was breathless but grinning.
“Hey, Vic!” she practically screamed, throwing her arms around Vicky’s neck. “How are you doing? It’s been so long since I’ve seen you!”
Her teeth are so pristinely straight and white, Vicky noted enviously. “Oh, I’m alright,” she sniffed. Even fifteen years later, Adelaide still insisted on calling her Vic. “What about you?”
Adelaide shrugged. “I’m fine,” she replied. “A little tired.” She gestured to her leotard. “I’m so sorry I’m late! I was at a rehearsal.”
“Vic, would you mind if I used your bathroom?” Adelaide asked. “I’d feel silly sitting in this while the rest of y’all are bundled up in cozy sweaters and fuzzy socks.” She laughed, a tinkling giggle like wind chimes whistling in a breeze. Annoying.
“Sure, go right ahead,” Vicky answered. “I don’t mind at all.”
Five minutes later, they all gathered in a circle in the living room, chatting aimlessly until Vicky finally snapped, “Let’s get on with the cookie exchange, shall we?”
“Oh, darn!” exclaimed Adelaide. “I forgot to bring a batch of cookies!” Her face fell. “I’m sorry!”
There were the customary reassuring murmurs and a few squeezes of the hand.
“It’s fine,” Vicky interrupted impatiently. “Who wants to go first?”
“I will!” Debbie announced, leaping to her feet. She waddled into the kitchen, pawing through the treats to find her own. “Huh,” she muttered, realizing there was an extra cookie sitting on a napkin, uneaten, next to a platter of the same kind. “Why is this one not with the rest of them...?” She shrugged and placed the cookie with the others, and then snatched up her plate and returned to the living room.
They passed the cookies around, first sampling it, and then coughing uncontrollably. Debbie’s oatmeal raisins were dry and bland and the oats stuck in Vicky’s throat. Everyone nodded politely though, thanking Debbie for her “amazing” contribution, and shoved the half-eaten cookie under their chair.
Debbie sat down and tapped her neighbor on the shoulder. “Let’s go in order!”
Aaaaaagghhhhhh! Vicky wanted to scream. She was sitting across the room from Debbie. She’d just have to wait, although she wanted to taste sweet revenge right that instant.
So there were oohs and aahs and ehhs and everything in between. Vicky lost her appetite when she found a clump of dog hair in the sixth cookie, so it was only a polite nibble here and there. Finally, it was her turn.
Vicky got up, trying not to appear too enthusiastic after her apparent lack of excitement. But when she got to the kitchen, her heart raced. Someone had mixed the chocolate chip cyanide cookie with the rest of them, and there was no way to tell which was which. Now what was she supposed to do? Throw them out? Come up with a measly excuse and not serve them? She leaned in and sniffed; maybe she could smell which one was—
“I’m sure they are going to be delicious Vick!” Adelaide called. “Don’t worry about how they taste; it’s the thought that counts.” Vicky could practically hear her winking, if that was even humanly possible.
Vicky rolled her eyes and stomped into the living room. She was aware that she had no idea what cookie had been poisoned, but glancing around, did she really mind if anyone of her so-called “friends” dropped down and died? She wasn’t sure she really cared.
She passed them around, wondering who would be the unlucky one, hoping by sheer coincidence it would be Adelaide. She sat back down, setting the platter aside.
“Well, aren’t you going to taste one of your own masterpieces?” Debbie demanded with irritating curiosity.
“I suppose,” Vicky mumbled, rolling her eyes. She plucked one of the leftovers and popped it into her mouth. “I’m sorry, this is awful isn’t it?” she gasped, surprised that no one else was gagging.
It was so bitter, and it tasted like...almonds.