It’s been happening since March. I didn’t have a clue what triggered this strange phenomenon – not until recently – but it happened all the same.
I woke up at 6 am as usual, pushing my wild curls out of my face as I rolled out of bed. I showered, brushed my teeth and got dressed within the hour. By 7, I was heading out the door with my laptop, purse and car keys in tow. I even stopped by Tim Horton’s to pick up a breakfast sandwich and a coffee as I normally did. My morning ritual was something that rarely changed. I had gotten so good at it that I was sure to arrive at the office within 7:45 and 7:48 every day. What can I say – I like routine. But on that particular day in the middle of March, something off routine happened. I arrived at my desk with my bags and breakfast, ready to put my coffee down in its regular spot. What I found in my coffee’s sacred space on my desk was one lonesome cookie, sitting neatly on a plain square napkin. I was confused at first, not understanding where it had come from. The work day wouldn’t start officially until 8, and people were still shuffling into the office, so it seemed odd that someone had gotten here early enough to start passing out treats. I wasn’t suspicious though, so after setting my bags aside and finding another spot for my coffee, I ate the cookie.
One day with a random cookie on your desk is nothing, right? But two days in a row had me even more confused. The first time I had assumed that someone was having a birthday, or wanted to be nice to our coworkers, or even had some relative trying to advertise their bakery through free samples. I thought that everyone had gotten a cookie as well, but after asking a few of my colleagues about it, they assured me that they hadn’t received any free cookie the previous day. Even now that I knew this was limited to me, I still ate it. And the crazy thing is, the next day, another cookie was there, and I ate that one, too. Every day for months, I would come to my desk and find the same chocolate chip cookie sitting at my desk, in the same exact spot. My coffee had to relocate to a new sacred place on my desk because of it. I know what you’re thinking. “Jennifer, why the hell are eating mysterious cookies left by someone who you don’t even know?” And the answer to that is…I kind of don’t know.
Trust me, I did try to figure out who it was leaving the cookies. I asked all of my coworkers about it, and everyone had no idea what I was talking about. Most people were surprised that I was eating the cookies still, for understandable reasons. I just felt like there wasn’t anything unhealthy or harmful about them (besides the obvious increase of my sugar intake). They weren’t visibly tampered with, I wasn’t getting sick from them, and I didn’t have any weird side effects from them, so I just kept accepting the gift. After giving up on figuring out who it was, I focused on why someone would do it in the first place. I ruled out a secret admirer, because it didn’t seem to fit well. If someone was trying to get romantic with me, they would have brought peanut butter cookies instead, because those are my well known favorite. I even went around the office purposely saying how much I love peanut butter cookies to see if the cookies would change. However, they stayed the same. Either this person wasn’t in the office or they weren’t going to take the bait that easily. I thought about it being one of my friend’s coming to my job trying to freak me out, but it couldn’t have been. Even if they could find a way past the front desk, none of them had the time to pull such a random task off. More than half of them worked around this time too, and the remaining lived too far to get here before me. At least not unless they got up earlier than me, but I knew most of them wouldn’t go through that. I finally came up with a weird hypothesis that my coworkers had a bet going. Someone would plant the cookie on my desk everyday and see how long it would take for me to stop eating them – or possibly, how long it would take for the extra calories to start showing.
Eventually, I stopped worrying about it. A free cookie is a free cookie, and this person wasn’t hurting me as far as I knew, so the cookie became a part of my morning ritual. My coffee had made peace with its new spot on my desk and the cookie went great with the taste of caffeine. This was my life all the way until June, when I walked into the office, not expecting anything strange, just as I hadn’t been expecting anything strange that day in March. I walked up to my desk and a very different object was in my cookie’s sacred spot.
It was a key, sitting neatly on top of a note.
I picked up the key, looking quickly at it in confusion and setting it on another portion of the desk then I picked up the note.
Accept this note as you have accepted the cookies.
Don’t ask questions.
Just find the office number that is written on the key and use it to unlock the door.
That was it. There was no name. The note had been typed, so there wasn’t even handwriting to speculate over. I picked up the key again and flipped it over to find the number 225. Whoever this was wanted me to just show up to one of our multi-purpose rooms without questioning them? Not questioning a cookie was one thing, but now they wanted to meet up with me, in a secluded area, and I had no clue who this person was. I couldn’t just trust this mysterious cookie giver to not be a sexual predator, right?
I set the key and the note aside and focused on my work the rest of the day. Every once in a while I would glance at the key, and each time I glanced, I would stare longer. By the end of the day, I was packing up my things and looked at the key again. What was I supposed to do with this? I had the key to a room that I wasn’t supposed to have access to and I had no way to return it without people questioning me. Those questions would lead to me relating my three months of free cookies, which would then probably lead to ridicule for following along for so long. I wanted to avoid embarrassment, but I couldn’t just leave the key here or throw it away. I looked at the key for a while and felt my decision lock in my mind. I was going to the elevator, and instead of going to the ground floor, I went up to floor 2.
I was being risky deciding to meet whoever this was, but I couldn’t help that I did have a curiosity about who this was and what they were doing it for. If I ignored them, I might never know. And I still had to make sure the key got returned. I walked down a hall until I got outside the door to 225. I waited a moment, making sure I really wanted this. I felt safe enough. I had a phone to call for help, a voice to scream, a can of mace in my purse that I could get to, and there were a few security guards in the building somewhere. I hoped I wouldn’t need any of those resources, then I put the key into the door lock, turning it and hearing the door click unlocked, then I slowly pushed open the door, revealing a person who I was very confused to see.
“Patrick…? Whoa, wait, why are you here? How are you here?” I said staring at him, my brow furrowing. How could he be here? Patrick was from a very long time ago in my life, back when we were kids. He went to the same elementary school as me. I remember that he and I were once best friends. We met in kindergarten and took fast to each other after Patrick had defended me against the other kids. Yes, we were only five, and it’s not that big of a deal, but back then when Pat was stepping on Kenneth Roswell’s face and telling him to eat his shoe made me see him as my superhero. He and I grew up together and our friendship flourished, all the way to fifth grade. That’s when things got messy.
As a ten year old girl, things for me started changing. I wasn’t quite my way on to puberty, but I was being pressured by other girls in my class to be more of a girl. Boys were only your boyfriends, not your friends – that’s what they thought. Soon, they were teasing me and saying that Patrick and I were together, and I couldn’t take that. I told them it wasn’t true, and we were just friends, but they said that couldn’t happen with boys and girls. If I didn’t want people to think I was dating him, I had to stop hanging with him. In my longing to fit in and be considered a girl, I followed suit. I started ignoring Patrick. After about a week of this, Patrick had an outburst at me during lunch one day. He didn’t understand what he had done wrong and why I was acting like that. He called me names and said he hated me. I held back tears as I saw my superhero turning into my villain. When he was done with his rant, I screamed back at him about how boring he was and that he couldn’t be seen with me. I said he had turned into a loser that would only embarrass me. I completely squashed his self esteem. When I had finished, he just stood there in disbelief. While all this was going on, some girl in our class was passing out cookies for her birthday. She was really obvious to the tension that was going on then between us, so she skipped right up to our argument and offered me a cookie. I took mine, and then she turned to Patrick to offer him one as well. When Patrick reached out, I snatched it quickly before he could touch it.
I looked directly into his eyes as I said, “He doesn’t deserve a cookie.” Then I smashed it in my hand and threw it to the ground.
The look on Patrick’s face was not what I had expected. Honestly I didn’t know what to expect. I was just angry that he was chastising me in front of everyone and I wanted to make him hurt like he hurt me. I did it without thinking, then immediately wanted to take it back. He sobbed then, looking at me with raw, heartbroken emotion. This wasn’t about the cookie. It was about my absolute disregard for him. “Why would you do that?! I HATE you Jen! I HATE YOU!” Hearing him scream like that brought me back. I got close to him and tried to hug him, but he pushed me away violently. I started crying then too.
“I’m sorry Patrick!” I was frantic now, ready to do anything to fix things. “I didn’t mean it! You can have my cookie! Here!” I tried to shove it into his hand but he wouldn’t take it. He didn’t even knock it out of my hand. “I’ll give you cookies everyday for the next three months! Please! I’m sorry!”
Patrick quieted his storm of emotion long enough to say his final words to me, calmly, slowly and deliberately. “You will never be able to give me enough cookies.” And then he walked away from me.
The rest of that school year, he didn’t talk to me, look at me, and even went out of his way not to walk or sit next to me. The next year, we went to different middle schools, and I never saw or heard from him again. That’s how I lost my best friend. Sure, I made other friends after that, but none of them were like Patrick. They weren’t there for me; they were there looking to satisfy something for themselves. Patrick was always there just to protect me. I had moved on from it, but also thought about it from time to time, wondering what would have happened if I hadn’t given into peer pressure.
Apparently, what happens when you do give in to peer pressure is that you get free cookies from your long lost best friend.
Patrick smirked, sort of amused at my confusion. “You know, I’m kind of surprised and glad that I didn’t have to introduce myself. I didn’t expect you to still remember me.”
“Well…you haven’t changed that much.” He’d definitely gone through puberty. He was quite tall, possibly over 6 feet, and his frame made him overwhelming. There was this overall power to him; his stance, his demeanor, even his facial features kind of demanded that you submit to him. It was as though the image I had of him as my superhero as a child had leaked out of him and taken over his entire image. The thing that stayed consistent was his face and his hair. His hair was still the light brown that I remembered, and his face, though sharper than his boyish one had been, still had the same nose, cheekbones, lips, and brown eyes. This wasn’t the boy I’d met in kindergarten – this was a full grown man, standing before me in a nicely fitted business suit with expensive looking cufflinks. But it was still Patrick. My eyes couldn’t be fooled.
“I could say the same of you.” He let his eyes trail over me, and I immediately became self conscious. I might know him, but I was still not comfortable with him examining me like that.
“So, you didn’t answer my question,” I said while folding my arms across my chest. “Why are you here?”
His smile got even wider then. “You would think that such a diligent worker would keep up with who her supervisors are.”
It took me a second to process it then my mouth gaped a little. “You work here? Since when?”
“Around early March.” He was pacing around the room, his hands locked behind his back. “I didn’t realize that you were here too until they had me go through our employee records to get acquainted with who I would be supervising. When I saw the name, I thought, ‘It can’t be her. Jennifer is a common name. I probably forgot her actual last name and just think it’s her.’ But sure enough, I saw you walking out of work one day. The guy at the desk had to ask if I was alright because I just stared in wonder.”
He stopped talking, but I had nothing to say, so there was a stretch of silence for a few moments. I looked everywhere expect at him.
“No questions then?” He said from across the room. I focused on him and saw that he was gazing out the window. There was a slight smile there, but it was tight, kind of forced. There was one question that came to mind, and since I had nothing else to say I went with it.
For the first time, he dropped the unaffected act and looked me straight in the eye. I had flashbacks to that day on the playground, and shuddered a little inside. Was I about to get another cold rebuff?
“Once upon a time, there was a little boy and a little girl. They were best friends. One day, the little girl had to leave the little boy. The little boy didn’t understand why she had to go, but she did. The little girl didn’t want to leave the little boy so unhappily, so she promised that when she returned, she’d give him cookies for three months.” His eyes were calm and distant. I wondered if he was still telling this story for me or for himself.
“The boy ran off from the little girl, upset that she was leaving him,” he continued. “He claimed that the cookies would never be enough. He believed it for a while, but soon, he found that he really had expected the cookies to come one day. When they didn’t, he regretted not excepting the offer, because when he denied the cookies, he denied the little girl to come back to him one day. The little boy was sad and alone for a while. He lived in his mind, regretting his actions, and thinking of how he could fix it. Then one day, life picked the little boy up and told him, ‘Live the life that the little girl would be proud to walk back into. One day, she will return.’ The little boy had doubts that this would happen, but without any other plan of action he followed life’s advice. Soon, the little boy grew wiser and stronger. He was still alone, but he was growing in ways he didn’t know possible. The little boy grew into a man and lived his life in prosperity. He had forgotten all about the goal of getting the little girl to return.
“Then one day, the man saw a woman who was familiar. She was like a ghost of his past, but different. The man realized that this woman was the product of the little girl who left him. That’s when it finally hit the man. The little girl had been right all along to leave the man, because when they separated, they both grew into such stronger individuals. The only thing the man wished now was that he could remind the woman of their story. So, the man bought cookies for the woman every week, for three months, hoping that she would remember the promise she made.”
Patrick was staring blankly now. He stirred some, and seemed to put back on the mask. “Or something like that,” he dismissed with a smile.
At this point I was pretty speechless. I had held on to my regrets for leaving Patrick behind, but I hadn’t realized how much he would hold on to it. I found a voice to start saying, “Patrick, I’m so sor-“
“Don’t,” he interrupted. “Just consider the cookies as a reunion gift. I thought I’d let you know I was here and I had the money to splurge to make it theatrical. Try to be more aware of who your supervisors are, Jen.”
“Uh – alright.” I stood there awkwardly for a moment before remembering the key. “Oh, here! I probably shouldn’t hang on to that.”
Patrick raised his eyebrows remembering as well. “Ah, yeah. Definitely shouldn’t let you go around with that. I wasn’t really supposed to do something like that, but I figured, if I have power, why not abuse it?” he joked.
He held out his hand and I walked across the room to where he was standing by the window. Right before I dropped the key into his palm, he said gently, “You look good, Jen.”
I looked up right into his dark brown eyes. I lost my breath a little at their intensity. Then I let slip through my lips, “You too, Pat. You too.” Then I let the key drop from my hand to his, turned away, and left the room.