“I remember the first time we met,” Greg was saying. “There was a terrible snow storm and Mom was home from work. I must have been four ‘cause it was right after we moved here. Anyway, she bundled me up like an Eskimo and shoved me out the door for some fresh air. I think she was tired of all my horsing around,” he chuckled.
The hot steam circled slowly above the ceramic mug he had wrapped his long, slender fingers around. He held the cup near his face breathing in the sweet aroma of chocolate and marshmallow. His eyes closed gently as a smile played at the corner of his mouth.
He exhaled and started again, “I met Sarah that day, too. All of the neighbor kids were out playing; I suppose all the moms on the street were ready for a break. Sarah offered to let me ride down the hill on her sled. She showed me how to steer by pushing on the front bar with my feet. We flew down the hill twenty times at least. Sarah was bigger, of course, so she pulled the sled up the hill. She always was a trooper.”
Greg rearranged his feet on the stool and wrapped the blanket a little more snugly around his legs. “Do you need more chocolate?” he asked the man in the overstuffed armchair.
“No, I’m fine, thanks; mine’s still full. I remember that day too. Your mom invited all of the kids in for hot chocolate.”
“Yes, she did,” Greg agreed thoughtfully. “It was the first time I had met any of the kids and I think she was trying to help me fit in. You were there, too, sitting across from Jim Harvey.”
A quiet knock on the door interrupted his thoughts. Greg turned in the chair and saw Sarah peeking in, “I need to come in for a bit, sorry.”
“No, no, come on in,” Greg motioned for her to join them.
Sarah walked noiselessly into the dim room. “I smell chocolate,” she sniffed.
“Marshmallows, too,” Greg nodded. “They smell better than the flowers her office sent.”
“They’re pretty though,” Sarah said as she rearranged the long stems of pink carnations and baby’s breath. “They remind me of school dances,” she smiled.
“Hmm, my first school dance was a winter formal,” Greg reminisced. “It started snowing during the dance and really poked it down! Mom hadn’t taught me how to drive in snow yet, so when I went out to the car I was scared.” Greg sipped his cocoa and then licked marshmallow crème off his upper lip.
“I used the pay phone in the gym to call Mom so she could come get me, but she told me I had to learn sometime and no time like the present. Mrs. Harvey was driving Jim home, he wasn’t old enough yet to drive, so she told me to follow her and stay in her tracks.”
“And we had hot chocolate when you got home that time, too,” the man nodded.
“Yes, you’re right,” Greg agreed.
“Hmm?” Sarah raised her head to look at Greg.
“Hot chocolate,” he repeated. “I had hot chocolate when I got back home. Mom had it all laid out on the table. I guess she was nervous about me driving home, too.”
“You have no idea,” Sarah sighed. “She was always nervous about you driving, and then you took off for college in the mountains. She and I shared a lot of hot cocoa that first year.”
“Of college?” Greg asked.
“No,” Sarah shook her head, “the first year of this; the last year of college.”
“Right,” Greg said as he looked at the small woman wrapped in quilts lying on the metal bed by the windows. “It was good of you to watch over her while I was away. She always liked you. She’s always had a knack for knowing who the good people are.”
The room grew quiet again. Frost bit at the window panes trying to eat its way into the darkening house. The two men sipped their mugs of chocolate and watched the bony form of the woman shift under the weight of the quilts.
“I’ll stay as long as you like,” the older man said.
“I know,” Greg said looking away from the bed.
Sarah glanced at Greg and walked over to the hot pot on the sideboard. “I think I will join you for some after all,” she said as she poured a steaming mug and added three large marshmallows.
“You really load it on, huh?” Greg grinned as she sat down on the piano bench that had been pulled in for extra visitors.
“I love a good mug. Your mom taught me how to do it perfectly,” Sarah added as she inhaled the pleasant aroma. “It warms you from the heart, she always said. She was right, too,” Sarah smiled at Greg. “It’s nearly time, you know.”
“Yes, I know. I just need one more mug,” Greg whispered.
Sarah took his favorite cup and refreshed it from the pot. “Here,” she said, “One more.”
They slowly sipped the richness until every last drop was drained. The man was standing by her bedside now and he scooped her slender frame up in his arms. She barely stirred.
“I’ll join you for some more chocolate whenever you like,” the gentleman said tenderly as he turned to walk out the door.
“She’s gone,” Sarah’s voice cracked as she put the cup tenderly on the table.
“I know,” Greg said to both of them, as he began pouring another cup.
Let my prayer be accepted as sweet-smelling incense in your presence. Let the lifting up of my hands in prayer be accepted as an evening sacrifice. Psalm 141:2