It was cold, It didn’t take me very long to realize that. The feeling crept up the sleeves of my sweatshirt, spreading like a cancer. My body quivered back and forward in a shiver.
I maximized the feeling, allowing it to spread. It settled into me, quite literally chilling me to my core. Every particle of my being could feel its effect.
It’s cold, it’s cold, it’s cold, it’s cold.
It wasn’t...painful, it was a sensation that I almost enjoyed. Cold reminded me of..calm, of slowness, of perfection, of the winter festivals. Of nights, huddled under blankets, sitting by the fire, the flames licking the edges of the wood, cracking in the heat.
Wait, that wasn’t cold, that was warmth.
Warmth. I liked that feeling.
The hottest part of me was my chest, tucked into the very center of my body, shielded from the cold. I found the feeling of warmth, and maximized it, trying to force it to the rest of my body. I remembered this feeling of warmth…
Warmth, warmth, warmth.
The ovens of the bakery, the feeling of a fresh cookie on my tongue, a face, bright blue eyes, long dark hair, a light smile…
It was cold. It didn’t take me very long to realize that.
I scolded myself for allowing me to think those thoughts, the old wound that the reminder cut back open contained a new type of cold, this one was truly painful. I sucked in a long breath, the stale air slicing my throat. No longer liking the cold, I trudged inside the bakery.
“Good Mornin’,'' Connor called from behind the counter, face stuffed with cookies. I shot him a look, “I promise, they’re from yesterday!” He hid something behind his back with the swish of his apron, I could assume the plate with the rest of the cookies. Connor was an interesting fellow, he was only fifteen when I hired him as an apprentice baker, he had been with us for a year, I had grown fond of him. He was reclusive at first, reserved and hard-working, now he was a jokester, pulling pranks like these.
I frowned, deciding it would be good to focus on something else for a little, “We never have leftover cookies,”
Connor froze, I must have caught him in the lie, “Connor-” I started.
“We really do have leftover cookies,” Martha interrupted, coming in from the back entrance of the shop. She tucked a strand of her black hair behind her ear nervously.
Connor cleared his throat and shuffled his feet, embarrassed. I stared at Martha for a second. Martha was a tiny woman with a big attitude, it was strange to see her so unsettled, “What do you mean? We always sell out early,”
“The uh...other bakery had a winter sale,”
That was all she needed to say, she didn’t even say the other bakery’s name, I appreciated that.
I felt cold again, “Ah,” I murmured, “That’s ok, we still have the festival, right?”
Connor and Martha nodded then fell silent. I hated that.
“Let’s get to work!” I said as enthusiastically as possible.
“Hi,” Connor murmured, walking up to me.
I could tell he was being careful, testing the waters, “I’m fine, Connor, I’m a grown person, you don’t need to act like I’m...sixteen,”
I chuckled, “I don’t care if they sold more cookies than me, ok?”
I smiled and turned to my view, “it is nice, isn’t it?” The town square, tiny but full of life. It was snowing just the right amount, the flakes tiny and sparring as they fell. Lights coated the town everywhere they could be put. People littered the square like
sprinkles on a cookie. Everyone seemed to be here, including-
“Yeah it’s nice,” Connors voice pierced through my consciousness, I jerked backwards.
“Gee you so jumpy,”
“Sorry,” I said, flustered.
“Can you guys man the stand for a little I’m going to-”
“Yeah, yeah, sure,” he didn’t need to explain himself, he was going to find his warmth.
He rushed off. I glanced at Martha, she was running the stand, twenty bucks in one hand and a box of cookies in the other, she nodded her approval, I grinned back. I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the back of the stand. The dull hum of voices passed right through me, except for one, my warmth.
“Hey can I have one looser please?”
And another, Martha’s “Your not welcome here, Kate,”
My eyes snapped open, “Martha, it’s ok,”
Martha retreated, hissing under her breath about being ‘foolishly in love’.
I locked eyes with Kate, “That was the worst roast I’ve ever heard,”
“Yeah I would say I’m better at baking, or that’s what the sales say anyway,”
I took the blow, looking down to shield my eyes from her blue ones, “You can have that win,”
“I’ll put it right next to my ‘top sales’ one,” Kate smiled wide, drumming her thin fingers against the table in a pattern.
“When are you going to stop?” I watched her fingers, it was much easier than looking at her eyes.
“When you sell more cookies than me, so never,”
I winced. My self-esteem wasn’t harmed, I just made her think it was. It was nice to see her happy, maybe I was hopelessly in love. We had our rivalry...or she had her rivalry.
Martha scowled, it was obvious she was still listening, I appreciated the concern, but I didn’t need it.
“Go on back to your stand then,” I paused, deciding to spare myself, “I know your going to say something like ‘the most sales stand’ so get on it,”
“No I wouldn’t say something so-”
“Nope, don't want to hear it,”
“See you next year then,” I didn’t expect her to actually leave, I watched her retreat to her stand, the feeling of cold returning.
I signed and turned to my cookies, the only warmth I would ever get.