Is it that obvious? Damn.
“What’s bothering you? Come on. Tell me.”
“I don’t want to burden you on Christmas. And I don’t want it to be sitting in your head for your marathon.”
“No, instead I’m going to be worried about my brother while running along, wondering why he won’t tell me what’s wrong.”
Damn, she’s good. She’s my little sister, yes, but the four years I have on her matter less and less as we get older.
“Is it a girl? Is big brother having girl problems?” she says in a friendly yet teasing tone.
“You really want to know my nonsense, Tracy?”
“I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t want to know.”
I let out a long sigh. “Yes, it’s girl troubles. A girl named Cookie.”
She’s silent for a moment. “Her name is Cookie? Are you getting involved with strippers?”
“No, I’m not dating a stripper, Tracy.”
“Not that there’s anything wrong with dating strippers, I just figured you would be using her birth name when you talked about her.”
“Cookie is her birth name. Cookie Crumble, you know, from the Crumble Dairy Farm?”
She pauses again. “They named their daughter Cookie Crumble? On purpose?”
“Tracy, do you want to know what’s bothering me or do you want to keep asking unrelated questions?”
“Fine, fine. I guess our family doesn’t have room to talk, Baker Burns.”
“I think I’m just going to hang up, actually...”
“No, no, come on, Baker, I’m sorry. You sound pretty dour and I’m just trying to lighten the mood.”
Another long sigh. She means well. “I’ve had my eye on Cookie for a while. She’s absolutely beautiful. She’s the one doing the milk deliveries for her family’s dairy now. Yesterday there was a nasty blizzard moving in, but it didn't stop her from doing her job, of course. She showed up to deliver my milk, but she had a little accident out front. Twisted her ankle, banged her head, but nothing major. I took her in and tended to her...”
“And you fell in love?”
“If you want to cut to the chase? Yes. We talked. We...” I pause, not wanting to give my sister all the explicit details of what Cookie and I did. “We got to know one another. Very, very well. We opened up to one another, thinking we were going to end up spending Christmas together due to the storm.”
“Sounds like a recipe for romance to me.”
“It was. I was really looking forward to it... then her big brother showed up with a snowmobile to rescue her. All of a sudden, she quickly took the opportunity to leave, and now I’m all alone, no words between us, no promise to get in touch again.”
“Oof. And I’m guessing I’m supposed to be reading between the lines here too, aren’t I?”
“I think I may have expressed myself too hard. The thing is, Tracy, she’s only twenty years old.”
“That young, huh? Being around a twenty-year-old sounds like a nightmare to me.”
“Usually I’d agree, but Cookie is special. She’s the one. Except I think she’s too young to agree with me. She has so much ahead of her, she doesn’t need to settle for a broken-down hockey player just yet.”
“Settle? For you? Hah!”
“What’s so funny?”
“You’re a millionaire, Baker. Not to get weird, but you’re also objectively handsome. I can see why a girl would be all over you.”
“Is any of this stuff she told you, Baker? Or is it all stuff you’re making up in your head?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Did she tell you she’s too young to be with you? That she wants her options to be open? That you were laying it on too thick?”
I let out a long sigh. “No. They’re just my best guesses.”
“Then you don’t know if any of that is a fact. You know what the old man used to say.”
“Always fight for what you want out of life, even if others might think it’s crazy, and even if it might break you in the process.”
“Yup. Suck it up, Baker. Go talk to her. If what you fear really is the case, take the blow, grow, and try to move on with your life. If you spend forever wallowing in self-pity, I’m going to run all the way home just to kick your ass.”
I smile for the first time in a long while. “Thanks, Tracy. I needed to hear that.”
“Now go pay your love a visit. It’s Christmas day, ain’t it? Maybe bring her a nice present. Roses or something will probably do it.”
“Don’t think she’s a roses kind of girl, but I got a good idea of what to bring her anyway.” I don’t even know where to get roses in Linesworth on Christmas day.
“Whatever it is, good luck. And make sure you call Mom, she worries about you.”
I nod before hanging up.
I have plenty of time to check in with Mom, but before that I have to get some things going. I pull out sugar, flour, eggs, and butter, and get started putting together my gift.