The air snapped with cold; enormous faux candy canes bracketed the city streets along with various wreaths of garland while a festive din dominated in snatches of chatter that could be overheard yet not understood. Jeffrey Bains' jovial step mirrored the sentiment all around him. It was the season that spontaneously stirred, and he anticipated it with the zeal and delight of a child despite his thirty-some odd years. Once the turkey crowned the dining table at Thanksgiving until that baby New Year let out a squeal, Jeffrey was well-bitten. But why? Or perhaps more appropriately phased, ready to bite. It was cookie time!
Only during the holidays did Jeffrey let go of his rigorous dietary routine. Why? The sojourn to find, yes, the perfect, most decadent, aromatic, Santa-pleasing, tummy-satiating Christmas cookie. Friends, especially his bright, inventive, young accounting apprentice Eric, understood cookies replaced something deeper. That deeper something Jeffrey missed around the holidays more than at any other time was a family.
He was the last of his linage and oft filled his time volunteering in every capacity possible. Giving back to his community was either subterfuge or displacement to hide his loneliness, but as good as he felt, service to humanity didn't trump children, siblings, parents, or... His perpetual smile never revealed the secret ache of longing to find the her, the she, the one. But many knew, and many tried the ole set-up game. He heard do I have a girl for you to the point of cringing. Jeffrey was good-natured about it, despite not having bad-date insurance, but after so many ill-timed, ill-suited, ill-looking, ill-gotten, ill-fated dates, most friends eventually savored the bitter taste of discouragement.
Eric walked with his boss to the parking lot after work and suddenly announced, "I know where the best... the best Christmas Cookie can be found."
"No way! I've eaten cookies before you knew what milk on Santa's beard looked like."
"Seriously." Eric's voice reflected sincerity. "I've heard about this place from my dad's Uncle Sal twice removed."
"He worked for a bakery and ate so many cookies, he was removed, hired again and, yes, once more removed."
"Ah, a connoisseur."
"Go to Maria's Christmas Café by eight o'clock tomorrow morning, talk to the owner and ask for One Sweet Cookie." Eric slapped his shoulder.
Jeffrey scrutinized Eric for no one was ever serious about his seasonal cookie obsession. Alas, maybe, he found in this young apprentice, a comrade-- one who understood man did not live by over-iced cake alone.
The next morning, Jeffrey arrived at the café early, identified the owner by her nametag, made eye contact and repeated what Eric had instructed.
Eyes bright as sugar sprinkles, she pointed to a counter stool. "You wait right here," she said with a twinkly wink.
About to order coffee to go with the anticipatory treat, he was distracted by a woman with outlandishly wild, near black, curly hair, a delicate expression and a decisively lilting laugh oddly prompted by a nearby rambunctious child tripping and then splattering a chocolate éclair on her expensive looking winter-white skirt. "You're good," she said, righting the little girl, anticipating concern.
The young one looked at the ruined skirt and lost chocolate and custard treat, forlornly. "Sorry."
"Awwww, thank you, Sweetie," the woman said and handed the child her over-sized oatmeal raisin cookie. "My skirt ate your treat; you might as well eat its cookie." She jostled the fabric and growled.
The child giggled and dashed back to an unaware mother.
Jeffrey handed the fetching lady who wafted of cinnamon a wad of napkins, wishing he was of the handkerchief generation, more gallant, but it was flu season so maybe not. "You took that well," he said, noticing her seasonal red high heels, ankle bracelet set below shapely calves and a skirt a tad hiked, triggering the rakish boy.
One corner of her mouth rose and with fluffy tones she said, "Skirts can be cleaned!" Then she hesitated. "But that cookie was my favorite."
"Buy you another?"
"No... No... Okay."
They both laughed, and neither knew why.
"Although," she continued while waiting in line with him, "that could have been the one."
"The one what?"
"The best Christmas cookie of the season. It had a nice delicate scent, not too much cinnamon, and it was the perfect size, big enough to fill but not stuff. I might not find another like it."
Astonished to meet another cookie bon vivant, he grilled her about cookies, unable to help himself, and her responses were quick, intelligent, a woman of cookie cunning. Attractive, charming, adaptable, and cookie sensitive. Yes, she stole his imagination and for one brief fleeting moment, dare he hope that this woman was the her, the she, the one?
"Jeffrey Bain," he finally introduced himself.
She tilted her head. "Eric's boss?"
"You know Eric?"
"He's my cousin, twice removed."
"From the bakery?"
"No, that's Uncle Sal. This is his sister Maria's café."
Jeffrey now understood Eric's previous serious look, now identified as one of stealth; he admired that.
"Eric spoke of you." Her eyes held admiration. "The good guy... is handsome." She swung her shoulder in that way all women have opening to him.
His modesty and humility eclipsed her doting. That red hue of unexpected embarrassment on a strong man was charming. He glowed with a meaningful purpose and adoration for life and its abundance. She held out her hand, and he folded it in his own; warmth unlike that he had ever known engulfed him. It wasn't the heat of just sensuality but of budding romance. "And I'd like to get to know you... ummm... What is your name?"
She smiled that smile of fantasy and magic. "Cookie."
About the Author: Creative synergy sizzled when the authors formed a literary partnership They meet every week day, working to take readers to new places and worlds, help them suspend reality. Together they have eighteen book publications, EPPIE finalist for three books, Cecil Whig award, Hob-Nob Reader's Choice Award, written over 500 shorts. website: www.angelicahartandzi.com