«Are you sure the voting process is a good idea?» asked Jenny. «Maybe it gets a bit too competitive. You know, for the holiday spirit I mean,»
«You are not scared, are you?» I say teasingly, causing a little gasp of air to stack over her neck as she touches her sternum with her hand. «You could always skip it if you don't want to bother with it, but then you won't be able to participate in the game either. Sorry, it's how the rules go,» I say as I observe her leaning her head on the back and folding her hands over her chest with clear disapproval of my sarcasm.
Jenny was always the thoughtful and extra considerate of the group and in the last 8 years we've been leaving together, I've got to experience first hand her vast quest for structure and extreme order over the house, depicting a military discipline over neatness, and complaining every time she would come in contact with my empty wine bottles or the occasional junk-food trash, that would fill the kitchen desk every now and then. Her blonde hair is thin and straight, falling nicely over her shoulder as they cover her frowned face which seems to have a little bit too much of my unsuitable jabber.
«Oh come on it's gonna be fine,» I utter. «We can make things a little bit more interesting. What's fun in doing the same boring stuff over and over again if we can't get some satisfaction with it all.»
I raise my hands in indignation letting her take a breath and then I continue. «They are grown-ups, I'm pretty sure they will do fine,»
«Emma?» She asks with a lifted eyebrow persisting for that something extra.
«What? It's going to work out, I'm telling you. There is nothing to worry about, just wait and see.»
Her face distorts, taking a worrying expression as she exhales.
«What about Julia?» she asks me. «Are you sure you are OK for her to be here?»
«Of course I am. Julia is a great person, what do you mean?»
«You know what I mean.» She taps over my shoulder which I cut off, with a little twist of my body. She overlooks it.
«Her husband Andrew is going to be here as well and I know it's been a long time but I'm not sure if he should be anywhere near you really,»
«It's fine,» I said abruptly, «whatever happened is a thing of the past. I think its time to finally move on don't you think?»
«It definitely is,» she says condescendingly, «but probably he doesn't even know who you are or how you feel about it,»
«And I have no intention to change that. Let's keep it that way, shall we?» I say sternly as her head leans one stage lower. She nods with a little shake of her head and marches over to the little table in the center of the room that is destined to pull over all the attention tonight. We have placed a number of cookie platters over its surface, consisting of various shapes and sizes as they sit in strategic positions, conjuring a cookie palette of beautiful colorful combinations.
There stands a tree-shaped set of discs, all filled with chocolate ones, and right next to it some gumdrops and even the peanut butter types, as we already filled the table with as many kinds as possible. Right in the lowest part of the desk-surface, we have a number of empty plates for all the guest's cookies and on the top of it all, we placed some knitted clothed smiling humans, that stand spookily above the table, matching the happy holiday attitude with their curvy mouth line. The walls are cramped with lights and posters, across the whole room and you could hardly find any spot that is not filled with some sort of decoration.
It takes only a couple of hours before the first visitors start arriving and the house already fills with chatter and spirited noise. The guests are all good friends and acquaintances we've known for a long time, and many of them have been living alongside the neighborhood for the last eight years we've been here. Each one of them arrives bringing their own uniques home-made flavor and it's not long before I get the glimpse of Julia and Andrew arriving.
They are both a very handsome couple that have achieved a great number of accomplishments in their working careers and the world holds them in high regard. Julia is a marketing director for a big corporation and we go way back as we studied in the same university and spent our whole student years together. Her husband Andrew is a strict professional-looking lawyer that even though he probably doesn't remember me we got to know each other one night over a party in our teenage years.
I nod to them with a big smile as they notice me across the room.
«Emma! I can't believe I haven't seen you for so long. It's been what now, 10 years before we finished off that grim, shameful school?» she asks leaning her hand on the inner part of my arms. «You simply look stunning!»
«I know Julia, it's such a long time I can barely remember what it feels like to wake up without a headache,»
She chuckles as we continue our little catch up for a few minutes before she shifts the conversation back to her husband whom she introduces with a proud voice.
«I don't believe you have met Andrew just yet,» she sneers with a devilish smile. «We've been dating for the last few years now and we got engaged just recently. I think you are going to love him,»
She pulls his arm closer as he missteps and shatters with his hands before he finds his stepping right next to Julia. He is tall, well-dress wearing a grey shiny suit, shoving off a constant smug smile on his face and taking it all with a kind demeanor as if he is in control of everything. Not very different from what I remembered of him but I'm pretty sure he won't be able to tell who I am or how I know him. Our crossing goes way back when we were only 15 years old and I doubt his memory could serve him so well to make anything of it since it was all back 17 years ago. Yet I, on the other hand, remember everything quite vividly and that past meeting of ours is destined to remain carved in me till the day I die.
«I have heard so much about you,» he jokes. «Julia would always narrate all these stories you two had in university but I never got the chance to meet you in person which was always so annoying.» he nods, «So finally we get to meet!» he says presenting me as if I am a product.
«She tells you about everything we did? That takes lots of trust,»
«Plus from what I've heard you are also from Delver which is my hometown as well,» he says excitedly. «Strange that I never meet you before, it's sort of a small town,»
«It is but I was home-schooled for the most part and I was living in the suburbs. So, it wasn't very easy to find me back then as you would expect,» I joke as he squints his eyes, trying to associate me with some obscure image he has in his head but I doubt he will manage to find anything there. I smile politely, as our conversation is interrupted by Jenny who grabs the attention of everyone with a little knock of a tiny spoon on her champagne-filled glass, demanding everyone's attention.
«Our beloved guests, it is truly great to have you all here and we all appreciate everyone's great effort to accommodate our special cookie requests». «I'm sure at this point you are all dying to get a taste of everything we have gathered so far, so we put up everything over to the main table for your to get the chance to appreciate them on your own. And as you do so, we are all going to have our very special and much-awaited, 'Cookie awards', I know you've all been dying to get at.»
The comment is received with a light round of applauds people express their enthusiasm.
«The three top participants will have a great set of gifts awaiting them of course..but we want to make sure that everybody gets the right to vote, so as soon as you have made up your mind you can write down the one cookie, that grabbed your attention the most, and slip the little card on this beautiful box which will hold the true anonymous pick of yours,» she said as followed the people around the room with her eyes holding a blue big box in her hands. «So please be careful with your vote, because great gifts await you at the end of it all,» she exclaimed as people clapped and moved towards the table in sequence to have their take.
I took a step back and watched the show together with my good friend Walter who had been a close friend in the last few years and a solid advisor in everything that might have given me a headache in my life.
«A good cookie can never have too much sugar or butter in it,» he exclaimed as he nailed one of them down with his teeth, raising his lips from touching any of it. «This is a trick that apparently most people, don't appreciate anymore..»
He looked at the cookie scoldingly and slowly took it over his pocket putting a little grin on his face.
«Not quite right, was it?» I ask,
«Not at all my dear, I'm telling you people have lost the ability to make nice things nowadays, they simply expect everything ready on the plate for them.»
He nodded his head agreeing with his wisdom and then continued.
«And how could they, since everybody has become so sensitive and politically correct that they refuse to say anything about it or declare their opinion on what they like and whatnot. If you are so scared to assert your views how would you expect things to improve! Dah..» he exclaimed. «OK, I think I missed out on the chewy molasses ones and everybody seems quite eager to get their hand on them. I think I need to try them out while I have the chance,» he uttered as he raised from the desk and jumped into the mass of people surrounding the table.
I looked up across the room and saw Julia and Andrew as they were having a charming conversation with some other guests. I immediately sat back as the events of the night 17 years ago, took shape back in my mind pulling me back to the year I was still a child.
«This party is so dope,» exclaimed my red-hair friend as she drove me through the packed house-party we were attending on, filled with underage teenagers and the unlimited booze that they had managed to sneak out from their parent's cellar. Special lighting equipment was setting the rhythm of the extremely loud music that was playing and throughout the house, you could smell the immense density of alcohol and smoke filling every span of space throughout the whole area. Groups of people were dispersed everywhere, occupying the steps in the staircases, the corridors, and even the garden outside, as the house resembled a little ant-hood nest, capable to preserve million of inhabitants in a small packed place.
I remember we drunk a lot that night, both Bettie and me and we somehow ended up in the company of some guys we had the chance to meet, that were a couple of classes ahead of us. Bettie stayed down with her partner John, while I and my guy got upstairs as he persisted to do, trying to find a place with less noise. He was smooth and kind even since that age and I can still remember the characteristic way he smiled at me when we met. «Hey, I'm Andrew,» he uttered with the most sardonic sneer I had ever seen in my life, as he posed like a model with his pin-filled leather jacket and rock'n'roll attitude.
Upstairs, the floor was filled with little pairs making out in various places and the music was much more silenced, reaching out weaker and weaker the further away we went. We got into a little room and continued making out. His moves were smooth and assertive at the same time, and he guided me over the little bed before I got the chance to realize what was going on. I asked him to stop but he just kept going and going, getting persistent and rough as he wrapped my mouth and forced himself on me without listening to my protests. When he stopped, he left me there devastated as I tried to understand how I allowed something like that to happen, thinking it was mostly my mistake of giving the wrong impression instead of his arrogant attitude. I got up trying to restore myself, as I noticed a golden watch on the side of the bed which had probably fallen from him through the night. I don't know why this was so important but it felt like everything that got off that night somehow transmuted into that object that sucked the whole night like a whirlpool, pulling out the spirit of it and compacting it to that limited space. I took it on in my pocket and moved on downstairs hiding everything that happened for a long time, before mentioning anything of it.
«I knew this was going to be the best cookie just from the moment I laid my eyes on it,» my friend Walter said as he came back to his previous position and sat right next to me.
«I hope you can forgive me honey but I think my vote is going to this one tonight. It is simply amazing,»
«And you are exactly right to think that,» I replied. «because I made those ones as well,» I exclaimed making him stumble.
«Oh did you? Well, you've definitely have improved a lot honey,»
I smile and raise up from the desk straightening my little black skirt over my feet.
«Let me check up on something. I'll be right back,» I said as I headed over to the group standing across us, near the window.
I nod at Andrew and get his attention as grins at me.
«This cookie exchange is just the best thing that happened to me for the whole year. Easily..» he says. «Any favorites yet?»
«Not at the moment,» I reply, «Jenny is right at the counting process so we should have some of the results sooner or later,»
I clear my throat subtly as I take a move forward.
«Hey, I think I got a little something for you. I believe this one belongs to you,» I say as I extend a little blue box over to him. He takes it, and he smiles a little bit stunt of the gesture giving out an awkward smile back.
«Thank you but there was no need, I mean, what is this for?» he asks.
«You'll know once you open it,» I say and I leave him up to it as I pass on all the weight containing inside that little box out of me. I find Jenny and we have some discussion as the time comes for our final contest. Julia finds us and reasons that both she and her husband have to leave as something unexpected happened. I soothe her with a little understanding and let her go as I turn my attention back to the contest. It turned out those chewy molasses did earn the appreciation of the audience with a big margin, after all, earning me first place and a beautiful big brown bear to keep me company. Who would have thought that all the nicest things come from the most unexpected places sometimes?