“Mr. Film, mind if I ask what's the special occasion for baking cookies?” I asked him, the smell of vanilla wavered in the air as I breathed the sweet scent in.
“How many times do I tell you Mia, call me Chris and do I need a reason to bake cookies?” He mockingly questioned.
“I suppose not… Mr. F- I mean Chris,” I corrected, walking out from the warmth of the house, Mr. Film followed me outside.
The air was rich mixed with just a hint of winter jasmine touch as cold sensation grew even colder. I shivered in unison with the wind rippling through the deserted streets.
“Cold?” Mr. Film asked.
“A little… I should get going anyway,” I muttered, my lips were turning light blue, the hair on my skin vibrated with the air around me as my light bleached hair wavered across my face, annoyingly flying into my mouth. I restlessly removed the locks of my flying hair with every bow of the wind.
“It’s getting dark out, why don’t you stay for dinner?” Mr. Film suggested.
“I guess, thanks for the invitation.”
“Come on Mia, don’t embarrass me with your thank you’s, you’re like my daughter,” He politely smiled.
Mr. Film was my neighbor, we met accidentally on market day and Mr. Film and I became very close friends. He had told me about his past when he worked in the army. I was fascinated, listening to his brave stories of how he protected the country. I was mostly intrigued by him because he reminded me of someone… I’d lost long ago.
“Why Mia, what’s the long face?”
“Nothing... Chris,” I half-lied, pasting a fake smile so my statement was more believable.
“Now, shall we get started?” Mr. Film inquired after I’d had some food in me.
“Baking cookie of course.”
“Aha, Mia you're such a curious little child,” Mr. Film shook his head playfully, grinning.
“I’m not a child,” I settled. I was almost 19, my mother sometimes says she was confused whether she was the parent or I. I was definitely the most responsible and mature person at my house.
“Jeez, take a chill pill Mia,” Mr. Film teased, twirling my golden hair ironically.
I removed his warm hand away from my hair. Mr. Film always treated me like a baby which I definitely was not.
“You didn’t answer my question,” I reminded him, trying to change the topic.
“Oh yes, I was thinking about having a cookie exchange party!” He declared, his hands up high in jazz hands as if he’d won a million dollars.
“Tomorrow night, and you’re invited!”
“Oh boy, I can’t wait,” I said, showing a fake joy, I was never a party person, all it was is a great way to make a whole lot of mess and disobey all the rules.
“Tsk, Tsk… such a great enthusiasm… maybe you will enjoy this party, I have a surprise for you,” His voice held my breath in place, I wondered what the ‘surprise’ was.
“We’ll see,” I shrugged, taking my coat from the coat rod as I wished him a good night, and closed the door behind me slowly.
Mr. Film was a very mysterious man, his light brownish, blondish hair was always combed to perfection, his gleaming eyes were mesmerizing, even to me. The kindness was visible in his clear golden iris, the way he stared at me reminded me of someone I knew.
I’d always been solo, ever since my mother remarried when I was 15, I was by myself… mom was always busy gushing over the new gifts Steven; my step-dad bought for her. I was constantly annoyed by their presence so when I hit college I left them, mom sometimes visited when she wasn’t busy with work or flirting with Steven.
I worked hard trying to buy a house and paying my school loans, which meant helping out Mrs. Glenn with babysitting her three kids, pet sitting Sasha; the cocker spaniel a street away and helping Mr. Film with his daily chores.
I was always eager for more jobs but my community wasn’t very social or huge for any more opportunities.
Mr. Film paid me a lot more than my usual customer. I didn’t know if he just had a kind heart or something else. Since the day he laid eyes on me, he treated me like his own, even if I was a total stranger to him, he always valued me more than even my mother had… this always threw me back to my childhood days, I barely remembered him, the strong hands that held me and mom together, the way his kiss filled me with warmth as he would pick me up and throw me over his shoulders, how he’d saved so many people… he was my hero. His hair would glissen in the sunlight, his eyes twinkle with delight. I vaguely remembered him even when I wished I’d stayed with him forever. Dad… that word stung me like a bee sting. Like… poison. I felt empty when I thought of that three-letter word… D A D.
My father was in the army, coincidently like Mr. Film. I was four when the… letter came. My mother sobbed so hard I thought she would get sick, mom began to stop eating, she would avoid attention and began to isolate herself from the world. I pitied her so I tried to get her back into a relationship again, hoping her aching heart would get relief. She denied all the men, until she met Steven.
Now when I see her, she was the mom before dad died. Her wedding ring on, her hair always neatly combed as she began to adjust to this new life… without dad.
I was happy for her, Steven seemed like someone who could take care of mom apart from myself. But, after the wedding mom was completely changed, she began to go to parties, drink, do whatever she wanted. Steven never stopped her, he went along with her shenanigans. I was overwhelmed with having to make mom realize her responsibilities so I moved on, hoping one day mom’ll come to her senses.
I regretted living alone, my old tomcat died last month so it had been just me. Of course there is always Mr. Film next door, he never let me live a day without bringing me some cheer.
Thinking of Mr. Film, I was puzzled about his ‘surprise’ for me. I would have to wait until tomorrow night to discover it.
Oh right, I needed to make cookies for the party. I’d better whip up some of my special snicker-doodles.
* * * * * * *
“Mia, glad you made it!” Mr. Film planted a kiss on my cheek, patted my back and escorted me to my seat.
“Wouldn't miss it for the world,” I joked, handing him my cookies I’d baked fresh and let them cool before sprinkling some powdered sugar on top.
He whiffed the warm, sugary flavor that wavered in the air, gave me an appreciative look and took the warm cookies from my hand and placed them at the center table where there were all kinds of cookies; Sugar cookie, chocolate chip, pumpkin spice, Vanilla, Oatmeal… so many that I had to dig in right away if Mr. Film hadn't called for my attention. I grumpily placed the sugar cookie I held, back in its original place, following Mr. Film who surprisingly led me outside.
The air felt almost hyperborean, it was colder than ever before, the crisp air felt so thick I could cut it with a knife.
Yet, I felt snug… felt like I… belonged for once in my life.
“Mia,” Mr. Film called for my attention, my eyes focused on his face again.
“Yes?” I breathed out, my breath froze as the mist mixed with the air around me.
“I need to tell you something,” He kept his eyebrows low, his eyes down; staring at the ground beneath us as if he was embarrassed to admit something.
I bit my cold lower lip, huddling close to my jacket to protect myself from the cold as I nervously nodded for him to move on.
“Promise you won’t tell your mother?” He insisted.
“My mom?... um… ok?” Mr. Film didn’t even know my mother, why did he care if my mother knew or not, whatever he was about to tell me.
“Promise you won’t get upset?” He slowly met my hard glance, my eyes froze like the snow around us as I continued to bite my lower lip in confusion.
“Yes, cross my heart and hope to die,” I’ve heard my mother say this whenever she promised something, it sounded… formal.
“This is my surprise…” He picked something from his pocket and handed it to me. I curiously took it.
“What…” My voice stopped short, in the photo it looked like… me? I would always recognize this little me, the same red hat that my dad had given me for my third birthday, the dimpled smile with a sprinkle of freckles splattered across my cheeks as I blushed, my hair was shorter then, it was in a neat ponytail… I traced my finger against the photo, it was me. The paper was teared in one end where it would have been the middle of the whole photo. I glared back to see Mr. Film as I saw the slight outline of the hand that was curled around the younger me in affection. Dad… it was him with me in the photo. Our last photo taken before his voyage to the southern war…. where he never came back.
Keeping the photo in one hand I hunted down the other piece of the photo from my purse. My photo was old and dusty but I’d kept it in its preserved form for years, this photo was a cherishable part of my life. I couldn’t really see my fathers glorious oval face but it was him… at least used to be him.
Breathing once I connected Mr. Film’s photo with my own. It matched perfectly!
Mr. Film chucked quietly, his laughing eyes were lit up as he glimpsed my joined photo, tears filled up his strong eyes that surprised me, Mr. Film never cried… I didn’t even realize him sob if his tears didn’t glitter in the moonlight like diamonds, cascading down his cheeks. Unknowingly my cheeks began to feel wet as well.
“Dad?” I pronounced every letter with satisfaction, closing in our distance as he pulled me in for a tight hug.
“Mia,” He said the word as if it was what had kept him alive and running all these years.
He didn’t let me go, we embraced for a long time, I began to feel the heat from his body, I squeezed my eyes tight hoping all this wasn’t an elaborate dream.
“I’m so happy… I.”
“Shh,” He put his finger lightly between my mouth, shushing me quietly as he brought me over to the porch.
“I’ll tell you everything… I promise.”
Removing my hair from my forehead he kissed me, adrenaline kicked in and my tummy did flip flops but in a good way.
“Don’t ever leave me,” He smiled, wiping my tears with the back of his hand, sighing.
“I won’t,” He casually replies after a breath of relief.
“Promise, cross my heart and hope to die,” He mimicked my statement as I giggled along with him. I knew he never changed in all these years.
“Cookie?” He handed me a strawberry shortcake cookie; my favorite.
“Of course,” His laughing tone was replaced with a more serious face.
“Mmm, it’s delicious.”
I licked the crumbs off my fingers, wiping them on my jeans as I laid back on the support beam.
“I love you dad.”
“I love you too, Mia.”
I closed my eyes knowing tomorrow would just be… perfect.