You are cordially invited to celebrate the holiday season at the Leopold Estate on December 14th at 7 o'clock.
Bring your favorite Christmas dessert, whether it's unique or quite simple, the gathering will be delightful.
I expect to see you there!
A giddy feeling bubbles through my torso, tingling at the top of my ears. My family's annual cookie exchange was a jubilant event that everyone looked forward to. In fact, I am sure that I saw it marked on Norah's calendar in January of this year, and I've overheard many conversations in the schoolyard of what theme we were going to choose. These avid people, wait and see!
I sign the last invitation, slip it into my pink hatbox, meticulously tie a bow on the top, and begin to dress for the post office. Winter weather has begun to sneak in through the lousy night hours, leaking into the day. Today, when I stuck my hand out of my window, the cold seeped into my bones so I put on a fur jacket and fleece-lined pants.
I walk down the sleek stairs, my boots echoing through the empty room. Jolene silently dusts one of our ridiculous sculptures that stand by the front door and stops when she sees me.
"Ann," she whispers, "your mother is very upset, you may need to check on her." Just then I hear a low grumble from the parlor.
"Oh no, not Uncle Beckett." I quickly walk into the large room with my tiny uncle sitting in our green leather chair. Uncle Beckett is someone I would describe as a raconteur, one who excels in storytelling, he's almost...too good at it.
My mother is weeping in the other room and it echoes through the house. I head towards her room before a raspy voice stops me.
"Y'all need a recliner or somethin'. I ain't comin' here again if I gotta sit all proper in these torture devices. I swear these things are worse than the electric chair. Might as well put me-"
I exit the room quickly before he blacks out from all of the rambling. My mothers sorrowful sobs fill the hallway leading to her room. Uncle Beckett probably told her the story of Aubade, the love song sung at dawn. It brought tears to the hardest souls. My first time hearing it was when I was six years old, and that's where my love for unique words came from. I used to only use them when I really needed to, but now they've become a part of my everyday vocabulary.
"Mother?" I call into the bright room.
"Aubade. He told me Aubade in the middle of party planning. What is wrong with my brother!"
"Nothing is wrong with him. Stop worrying about Aubade," I say. "Look, the invitations are ready to go," I offer a small smile while holding up the pink box.
"Perfect. You're okay to take them right?"
"Yes, they should be received very soon by mail, but I did tell you that I could deliver them myself."
"No, that's a job for a man. Instead, take them to the post office. But here, take this one to this address," she points to a carefully labeled envelope with her exceptional penmanship. "It's a new family that's moved into town."
I study the envelope, “The Kornegays? Mother, they’ve lived here for years. I’ve gone to school with Noa since I was ten.”
“Oh, no. These-These are their distant cousins,” she says hesitantly.
“With the same last name?”
“Just go! You’re wasting time. Best get out of here before Beckett decides to tell you the comedic story of Darly with Dysania.”
At that, I exit the house and head down our cobblestone driveway. If I take King Street, I’ll arrive at the post office first, and it’d be nice to get rid of this hatbox, so I head that way.
As I walk down Pennsylvania Alley, I recite unique words. This alley has a bad reputation because of the people who live in it. Greenery covers the tall brick walls and weeds stick up through the brick street. Although the houses are very unkempt, I start to get the feeling of cryptoscopopphilia, the urge to secretly look through windows of homes as you pass by. But considering that the owners here are used to people keeping their eyes on their feet as they walk by, I do the same.
About twenty feet from the end of the alley, I hear the shuffling of feet behind me. I don’t even have time to look back before a tall boy knocks into me, spilling the contents of the hatbox onto the ground.
“Excuse me!” he yells, already approaching the end of the alley.
“Backpfeifengesicht,” I whisper, bending down to pick up the invitations. He is a person who needs to be slapped.
Another boy approaches and begins to pick up some of the sealed envelopes on the ground.
“I apologize for my cousin, really. He’s not even closely related to me but I have to hang out with him. Here’s your papers.”
Noa Kornegay is standing in front of me with my invitations in hand. His was somewhere in the mix, signed delicately and specially. To save the anticipation of his answer, I take the stack from him and start sorting through the envelopes.
“Here. These are my invitations for the party. You can come right? I hope so, because we’re going to have a lovely array of homemade cookies, I’ve decided on mine but it’s a secret so I expect you to be there.”
His bushy eyebrows raise and a smile appears on his tan face. Deep dimples carve into his cheeks and he runs a hand through his hair, giving me cafuné, the desire to run your fingers through someone’s hair. He turns the invitation and looks at his name in cursive.
“I’ll be there,” he says. He jogs down the alley, and once he’s out, I begin skipping. I’ve known Noa all my life, but I have never had a real conversation with him. He’s one that I would describe as selcouth; unfamiliar, rare, strange, and yet marvelous.
I finally reach the post office, thankful to have the hatbox out of my hands. Circe greets me at the door, holding it open in a somewhat mocking way.
“What? I can’t hold the door open for you?” He asks after I make a face at him.
“You never hold the door for me.”
“Do too...Now where’s my invitation?”
“I knew it! You’re a sly man. Once you mail all of the letters-and I mean all of them-then you can open your invitation,” I say.
“Yes! Thank you, thank you! I won’t be a second late Miss Annie. I’m gonna be the first one at the door. Just you wait. Momma used to make the best cookies, I mean it. She left the recipe with her, when she passed. I guess she just knew I was gonna need it one day. They are delicious. They’ve got o-”
“Hey! No spoilers! All the cookies are a surprise!” I had never once known who was bringing what cookies before-hand and I was not going to ruin the tradition. “See you later, Circe.”
“Wait, who’s that special one for?” He asks, pointing to the envelope in my hand.
“New family in town, I guess,” I shrug and walk out.
The new Kornegay house is elysian, divinely inspired and peaceful. Massive pillars hold up an overhang that covers the tiled front porch. Perched on both sides of the front doors are flickering lights with a comforting glow. I can see inside the windows, and in the parlor there stands a lovely, black grand piano that’s placed under an extravagant diamond chandelier. On the bench of the piano sits a boy around my age. Although he’s sitting, I can tell that he’s tall, lengthy, and quite handsome. He has the brown hair of Noa, but it's curlier, more boyish, fitting perfectly with his piercing green eyes. I recognize him from earlier.
He’s more calm now and his eyes are focused straight ahead as he plays a mute tune on the piano. His fingers glide across the keys, and though I have never touched a piano, every movement seems right, beautiful. It pains me to knock on the door and interrupt his tristful trance, but another part of me longs to meet him.
My knocks echo through the wooded area that surrounds the house. He answers the door. He wears an untucked shirt, one side of the collar stands straight up while the other rests on his collarbone.
“Hi, my name is Ann Leopold. I-”
“Ronan Kornegay. Nice to meet ya,” he says, stepping back. “Come on in. Your mother told me you were coming. May I see the invitation?” I hand it to him.
“Um-I’m just here to drop the invitation off. I should probably go now. Hopefully you can make it to the party.” I start towards the door that even Goliath could fit through.
“Wait, she told me I needed to play a song for you. So you can see if it’s good enough for your party.”
“Come again?” I knew what he said, I just wanted to be sure. Were my ears really going to be blessed by the beautiful sound of his art?
“Sit down,” he patted the bench of the piano.
“The notes came out at all the wrong times, Mother. It was horrific, but he was so especially confident that I had no way to tell him in the moment!”
“Well, you should have told me that night! Not the night of the party! Ann, you just may have ruined this whole event. And if you have…” her finger floats in front of my face. She sucks in air and then blows it out. “Get your dress on. It’ll be fine.” She then mutters something that sounds like, “It was my idea after all.”
But I can’t be so sure.
Circe arrived first, he always kept his word. No matter what.
Then a few other guests that were on my mothers list arrived.
Then Delaney, Norah, and Hammen arrived.
They were followed by many other pointless acquaintances that meant simply nothing to our family.
The Korneygays have just arrived. Noa walks in first.
I’m surprised by his enthusiasm. “Hey Noa.”
He holds up a tin box with tissue paper sticking from the sides. “Made these all by myself. Hope they’re good. I may have taste tested a few of them…”
I laugh and guide him over to the table with many other cookie boxes. None of them are the same. I figure, somehow, all of the moms collaborated with each other in order to make sure no one brought the same cookies, or boxes.
Ronan walks in behind everyone else, somewhat hiding behind his older sister. The good genes definitely run in the family because her green eyes and skinny body are surely sticking out to many of the young men in the room right now.
It’s not too long before she catches a glimpse of the cookie table and heads over. I feel bad for the boys who try to get her. She’s not going anywhere with anyone.
“Annie, who is that fine young boy?” Circe whispers in my ear, startling me. I turn around just in time to see him winking at my mother. She raises her glass and then looks at Ronan.
“Circe, what was that?”
He squeals. He doesn’t do too well under pressure. “Nothing. You should talk to him. He’s-ah-he’s…Look I gotta go but…” His voice trails off as he becomes part of the densely packed crowd.
Ronan still stands near the door, scanning the room. Our eyes unfortunately meet for a single second and then break. I fix my posture and check the clock directly above him to make it look like I wasn’t looking.
Then, I look again. And he’s already looking.
I decide to break the ice. “First cookie exchange?” I ask awkwardly, stopping in front of him.
“Yeah, but that’s not the problem.”
“There’s a problem?”
“I know I’m horrible, Ann. Just tell me because I know for sure that I am not going to be playing piano tonight.” His jaw tightens, making him look incredibly handsome. He looks down at me and my gaze quickly shifts to the floor. I fold my hands on my dress and clear my throat. He’s just made this a lot easier but I have a feeling that he already knows he’s horrible. So what’s the big deal?
“What’s going o-” A sudden burst of energy must’ve just pumped through Ronan because he grabs my hand and pulls me out to the dance floor.
No one ever dances.
He lets go of my hand and begins dancing. You’d think a lanky boy like him would look funny while dancing, and well...he does. His feet move awkwardly to the tempo of the song but a smile crosses his face, creating wrinkles on the sides of his eyes. He looks up at me.
“Come on!” He says in a goofy voice.
This is the Ronan that knocked the hatbox out of my hand two weeks ago.
He’s not a piano player. He’s not a backpfeifengesicht. He’s not a poet or an artist and he’s definitely not a dancer. He’s just a happy person to be around. And God, he sure does look cute in a suit.
I start to dance. Holding up my silk dress, I cross the dance floor, getting closer to him. His pink bow tie bobs up and down with whatever ridiculous dance move he’s doing.
He starts going side to side and I join, going the opposite way that he does. The whole time, our eyes stay on each other, completely ignoring the amounts of people that have joined us on the dance floor. Noa shimmies by with Norah. Her face is tomato red and I give her a thumbs up.
Ronan plays a pretend piano along with the song as it’s ending and we both bend over laughing. And just as I stand up, I see my mother conversing with the orchestra. Circe smugly smiles beside her. I know something is up, and it involves my mother, Circe, and Ronan.
A slow song starts playing. Ronan grabs my hands. He places them on his shoulders. It all happens in a few of our heartbeats.
He smiles at me and I smile back.
Unique words begin to line up in my head. They describe Ronan better than I ever could, but one sticks out to me.
Known as the most beautiful word in the English language. It’s not very unique but not commonly used either. It’s fragile, not to be used in a joking manner.
It is finding something meaningful or beautiful without looking for it.
It is serendipity.
Ronan grabs my hand and places it on his chest. Through his suit, I can feel his heartbeat. It’s beating faster than mine.
He meets my eyes and smiles that smile that makes me melt.
“What are you doing to me Ann Leopold?”
“You tell me,” I say, leaning into his chest.
We continue to sway to the music until the song ends. We try the cookies, of course. We sit out by the pool when the crowd gets too much. And we talk.
When he leaves, I break a little but there’s a part of me that yearns for the future and will wait any matter of time to see what happens. My mother and Circe stand by the door as the sillage from the party lingers in the air.
“I...have just experienced forelsket,” I say as the air whistles through the columns on our front porch.
“Define,” Circe says.
“The euphoria you experience when you are first-”
“Falling in love!” Uncle Beckett calls from the chair he hasn’t left for days.
“And to think it was all your mothers idea,” Circe says, immediately slapping his hand over his mouth after.
“Circe!” My mother yells, slapping him playfully on the shoulder.
“Annie had to figure out somehow!”
I don’t mind though, because I have found serendipity. I have experienced forelsket.