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The Treasure on Walnut
I used to sit in the sand, staring out at the ocean to pass the mornings. At the time, I suppose I found the beach mundane and my suburban life opportunities limited, but maybe I was wrong. Maybe moving into a city without any knowledge of city-life was a terrible mistake.
The day I turned twenty-one was the day I moved, alone and broke, to Philadelphia from my suburban home town of Sawgrass, Florida. I still have nightmares about the look on my parents’ faces when I walked out the door. I guess they hadn’t really expected me to leave Florida, but I thought I had made my loneliness and depression clear enough. Why couldn’t they understand I wanted so much more than a day in the sand?
The smell of the city was rancid, like somebody peed in a frying pan and was wafting the fumes right up my nose. Upon first whiff of Philly, the salty scent of the ocean back home suddenly seemed magical and immensely under-appreciated. I had bought a small apartment in Rittenhouse Square with my life savings and a little help from my brother, Derek (understanding my craving for adventure, being trapped in the suburbs himself). The apartment was sort of pathetic, but it definitely could be something cute with a little love and attention.
Instead of spending my days watching the ocean engulf the sand, I was suddenly flipping through stacks of bills wondering how I was going to keep my apartment. Career was not yet in my vocabulary. I got up from the kitchen table, off my bum-leg chair, and walked over to the lonesome window in the living room to gaze out at the park. Anyone else with a view like that in the city would probably cry for joy, but all I could feel when I looked out the window was an overwhelming loneliness. I watched an old couple hold hands while sitting on the fountain to soak in the glory of the city, a mom with her stroller full of babies place a flower in each one’s hand as they giggled; I wanted that. That’s when I realized I was more alone in Philadelphia than I was in Florida, trapped between four concrete walls, just a daydream away from perfection.
Growing up, my favorite thing to do with my mother was bake ? I missed her more than I had anticipated. The oven in my apartment was practically unusable, but I needed something to do and I was starving, so I unpacked my cookbooks and flipped to a cinnamon pecan cookie recipe. Baking them instantly calmed me, as it always did, and the apartment began to smell more like a home. They tasted like Christmas: warm, gooey, heavenly, sweet Christmas. After devouring a fourth cookie, I was knocked out.
A beam of sunshine swept my eyes open the next morning, and I was surprised I slept so well through the city’s horns and sirens. I knew I was where I belonged, and I knew how I was going to pay my bills: cookies! How did I not think of it earlier? Baking was always my passion! I ran so fast to the wall phone that I stubbed my innocent pinky toe on the way.
“Derek! Derek! I know what I’m gonna do now! I know it this time!” I now realize how crazy I must have sounded.
“Slow down Celina, I can barely understand you,” Derek was used to my extreme moods.
“Derek, I need some more money… Just a little bit more! I’m going to open a cookie shop: Cookie Crumbe. Just like our last name! I can see it now; Celina Crumbe opens Philadelphia’s first and only cookie shop, Cookie Crumbe. Please Derek, I’m not gonna give up on this, I’m done being lazy… say something!”
There was a long pause before he released a sympathetic sigh and said, “I’ll send you a check, but only because I know your cookies are the best damn cookies on this side of the world.” I hung up before he could change his mind.
I vividly remember signing the paper to the bakery. Who knew a simple signature could bring such an adrenaline rush? Cookie Crumbe bakery was the smallest store on all of Walnut Street, but its charm made up for the puny size. I was tiny too so it was a good fit for me, anyway. Some customers told me they could feel the magic of the cookie shop from blocks away, a comforting feeling of joy that only a warm cookie can arouse. The door was bright pink with an old golden knob, the kind that could get so cold that the hairs on a person’s knuckles would spring up upon contact. There was a pop-out white window slathered in chipping paint, through which even the most rushed city folk would stop just to take in all the charm of Cookie Crumbe, my Cookie Crumbe.
Opening day seemed disastrous, considering only four people bought cookies and six bothered to come in at all. I had one teenage girl working the register and I was the only baker, so I came out to meet each customer on that first day. At 9:00am, the first Sunday morning, only seconds after I opened the shop, a man burst through the front door. I was sitting by the window and was startled when he walked straight up to me. He was tall, but not in a lanky kind of way, more like in an over-protective-dad-to-be kind of way. His eyes were sharp and made his mouth useless because anything that came out of his lips had already been spelt out by his eyes. Never had I felt such an intense, immediate attraction to a man, but he was just… so…
“Hi, I don’t mean to be rude or upfront or anything, but I live in the apartment next door and I actually smelled your cookies in my sleep…I need to have one,” he smiled not at my face, but directly into my soul, as if he could see right into me. Those eyes, my God. I realized I was staring into them like an idiot without even saying anything. He jumped a little when I sprung over to counter, but I guess he thought I was a freak based on my behavior (talk about first impressions). The cookie he asked for was a personal favorite, dark chocolate pistachio, but the strange thing was, he didn’t actually have to ask me for the cookie. I just watched his eyes eat each cookie in the case until they approved of one with a quick glimmer, and that was the cookie I handed to him.
“Wow, um, are you like psychic? I’m impressed,” he was staring too deeply into my eyes for me to handle again.
I managed to mumble out, “I, um, I don’t know, I thought you pointed to it.” Lying seemed better than telling him I was staring at him so closely that I could see his eyes approve of a cookie in the case. No wonder I was alone… I was an absolute creep!
“It was nice meeting you,” he squinted at my nametag and gave shy smile, “Celina. By the way, I’ve always had a thing for dimples.” Had he just complimented me? My insides were bubbling while he walked out with his cookie, and that was that; my first customer and I acted like a complete moron. I’m sure my face was tomato red too, since I was cursed with easily blushing cheeks.
About a month later, my favorite dreamy-eyed mystery man was still coming in every morning, despite how strange I thought I came off the first day we met. His name was Mike, and I had dreamed about him every night since the first day his eyes had left me in a trance. That day was his thirty-first Cookie Crumbe cookie, a special day indeed. He was disorganized because every morning he had to rummage through his wallet for a good minute to find his credit card, but that morning he was a bit clumsy too. His business card jumped out, like a small child lunging for candy. He scrambled to pick it up, but I was already holding the little thing… the little thing that would be so huge.
“Mike Smoka: Part-time baker-caterer, 44 Walnut Street, Apartment 682, Philadelphia,” I looked up at him, more excited than I had been the first time he came into the shop. His normally strong cheeks turned to soft rose pedals as he smiled. “Why didn’t you tell me you bake?!” I was completely stunned, and I was difficult to get worked up.
“Well, I guess I was embarrassed because I wasn’t exactly successful. Your cookies make mine taste like straight-up garbage, which explains why my shop closed a year ago. I’ve been looking for a steady job ever since,” that time I was positive my eyes spoke for me instead. Love can speak for people sometimes, and wow did I love Mike Smoka.
“You can work here! I’m the only one that bakes and I could really use an assistant, or a business partner or something,” yea, that was definitely the love talking. His face lit up like a Christmas tree; I guess he might have liked me too because he accepted before I could even plead my case.
That year, Mike Smoka dove head first into the loneliness chamber of my heart and changed it into the teenage girl, obsessive, ga-ga in love chamber. I couldn’t be without him, and I like to think he couldn’t be without me either. Cookie Crumbe was making us rich? the result of Mike’s excellent business and advertising skills. What he lacked in baking skills he made up for in marketing skills… he probably should have started out as a businessman. Every customer loved him, and how could they not? He was the most charming and mysteriously alluring man I’d ever met, and I was hypnotized by him. Moving in with Mike seemed natural… right.
Mike always got to the bakery before me so I could sleep in a little later (so cute!). Cookie Crumbe had been open six months and was getting amazing press; Loneliness had become a foreign concept to me, which I never could have imagined back in Sawgrass. Even my bills were getting paid!
Monday morning, I woke up with a smile on my face because I had been dreaming about Mike. I walked over to our closet to pick out an outfit, and while I was flipping through the clothes, my elbow knocked into Mike’s jacket. I heard a quiet thud at my feet. Sitting on the floor was a little red velvet box; I immediately knew. Tears rushed to my eyes, I was shaking, and my face was burning up—Mike and I were going to get married! I sprinted out the door, down the street, and all the way to the bakery. All I wanted was to see him, hold him, tell him I loved him and that he was all I ever wanted; I wish I could have.
Something in the air smelt wrong, and everyone was gathered in the street with tears in their eyes. I had no idea what was going on until I looked up into the sky to see the buildings wearing fluffy robes of black smoke. I never knew a horror like I felt at that moment, the nightmare that was coming true: my shop was on fire, and Mike was in that shop. I can’t remember everything, but I know one thing for sure: I was crying, and I was running. There were firefighters surrounding the shop with hoses who struggled to hold me down.
“Stop it! Get off of me! Mike! Mike! Let me go! Mike is in there!” I squirmed out from underneath a firefighter and sprinted into my shop, the once charming place where I had made cookies, the place that was then being swallowed by smoke. The only thing I could see was Mike’s limp hand from behind the counter. A firefighter grabbed me by the waist and pulled me out, before I blacked out.
“Celina…Celina… hi. I’m a Philadelphia fireman, and you’re in the hospital. I’m afraid I have some horrible news,” I didn’t let him finish. I couldn’t hear what he had to say, I just couldn’t. Why did he have to go? I was going to marry him… I loved him. My body turned to stone as I cried in my hospital bed, alone. I was going to be alone again, my shop was burned, Mike was dead—Philadelphia was the worst thing that ever happened to me!
The day I went home, my life changed again. “Positive,” I just kept reading the stick over and over to myself. I was pregnant… PREGNANT! I was having a baby! Mike’s baby! I couldn’t raise a baby by myself, right after I lost my only companion! My life was completely different, all because of a fire, a stupid kitchen fire! A baby! I called my mom and cried for a long, long time.
Today, I am 24, single, but I’m okay. Insurance covered most of the damage from the fire, and Cookie Crumbe was able to be rebuilt and functional within 4 months. I am the mother of the most beautiful baby boy the world has ever seen: Mike Jr. I’m not alone, and guess what? My baby has those same hypnotizing eyes that Mike had, and for that I know he watches over us, at home and in the shop. All I can hope is that our baby grows up to be just like Mike, and I’m sure he will. I don’t think I’ll ever love another man like I loved Mike, but my little Mike Jr. is feeding me hope for new love every day, and I thank God I have him.