Art by Eriana Freeman, titled,

Good Vibes by Eriana Freeman

Oh, For a Mug of Hot Cocoa

A Story by Chelsea Zuckerman from Metro

The metallic water heater taunts me, hissing out a steamy laugh. Three packets of cocoa mix lean against the wall, patiently waiting to transform ordinary H2O into sweet, chocolatey goodness. Tiny marshmallows peer out through the gash in their plastic prison where some have already been extracted. But there is nothing to bring them all together, no vehicle to hold the ingredients, no mug.

 

Yesterday flashes through my mind, when I read that the cabin would have a water heater, but I would have to bring everything else. Apparently I overlooked the most basic part of making hot cocoa, the cup. Now, observing the scene on the kitchen counter with dread, I know that I need to drive to the town a couple miles away and buy one or sacrifice my late-night drink.

But wait! The website also said there were other cabins nearby, and the one to my left was taken. I’m not looking forward to wandering through the dark woods, but it’s better than the alternative. So, putting the preparation on hold, I leave the warm, wooden house for the cold night.

Thankfully, my neighbor’s lights are a beacon through the trees. It only takes a few minutes to reach their identical porch. The only difference is the pair of red tennis shoes lined neatly by the door. Sighing wearily, I rap on the planks.

Almost immediately, a feminine voice calls out, “Coming!” Creaking boards herald the door swinging towards me. I back up on reflex, nearly falling down the steps. When I regain my balance, the shoes’ owner is revealed.

She’s definitely the kind to wear such vibrant colors. Black hair frizzes in a halo around a full face. Gray eyes examine me just as eagerly as I’m looking at her. But they are the only dull part of her appearance. A gaudy orange robe drapes her shoulders, light purple spots peppering the fluffy fabric. It exudes the confidence of those rare people who acknowledge and accept their lack of fashion sense. The image is completed by the dog-paw slippers crossing the threshold of the doorway. They make me feel better about my loose sweatpants and t-shirt.

Having completed our inspections of each other, I speak first. “Hi, I’m Remy,” I start. “I just moved into the cabin right over there.” I point at the glow through the trees, then run a hand through my short hair nervously. “Or, well, I guess I’m just renting it, so ‘moved in’ isn’t really right.” I hold out my hand for her to shake. “Anyway, I’m rambling. It’s nice to meet you.”

She reciprocates, taking my hand in a firm grip. “You too.” Despite, or perhaps because of, my awkward introduction, her voice matches the amused gleam in her eyes. 

“I’m Zoey. I’ve been here for a couple of weeks.” She pauses, a natural break for thoughts in her calm speech. “It’s wonderful to meet a new neighbor and all,” she continues, “but is there a reason you came by so late?”

This reminds me of my emergency. “Oh yeah. I have a somewhat weird favor to ask you.” I decide to start from the beginning. “You see, my job has been really stressful lately, so I decided to use my vacation hours, and this place seemed like a good break.” As I talk, she nods sympathetically. “But, I guess I was so desperate to get out here that I forgot some stuff. Specifically, a hot cocoa mug.”

She smiles in recognition of my plight. “So you braved a trip to my door to ask if you could borrow mine?”

I nod. “Yeah, you got it exactly.”

She steps to the side and gestures to come in. “Of course. What kind of neighbor would I be if I couldn’t lend you this life-saving device?” 

I catch her grin before she turns to shut the door behind me. When we face each other again, she’s back to smooth confidence.

Her rented home is just that — a home. Unlike my hastily unpacked piles of stuff, each item here — whether it’s neatly stacked or lying crooked on the table — sits exactly where it needs to be to best serve its master. The furniture matches the set in mine, yet resembles a coordinated living space rather than an abandoned Ikea. The only advantage my interior has to hers is the supplies that I brought for making various dishes, a pleasure I rarely had time for at home. Although, her counter does boast the most important resource right now a mug.

She wastes no time introducing us before grasping it by the glass handle and holding it under the faucet. She turns to me while her hands absentmindedly rinse the mug. “So, you said your work has been stressful recently? What do you do?” She focuses back on the sink, shutting off the water and toweling the mug dry.

“I’m an engineer,” I respond. “Aerospace actually.” For once, I’m not inclined to keep blathering on about the impassioned but exhausting work I left behind  Instead, I’m content to just be here in this cabin with Zoey. It’s exactly the kind of feeling I hoped this vacation would bring about. “How about you?”

She offers me the now-clean mug. Her careful polishing has brought the white stars printed on its clear surface into relief. “Well, right now I’m in sales.” Her mouth twitches upwards. “We’ve got a special deal going on for people with good taste in late night snacks — one free mug.” Her eyes twinkle with mirth, even as she maintains a steady gaze.

I can only stand eye contact for a few seconds before laughing. A snort bursts out of me. This breaks the floodgates, and we both shake with giggles and chortles, longer than we should for such a lame joke. I need several deep, calming breaths before I feel comfortable taking the delicate mug from her. It takes another moment to gather my thoughts, and by then I know what I must do.

I turn the mug over in my hands, fiddling while I compose the necessary words. “You know, I do have extra cocoa mix in my cabin.” I glance at her to gauge a reaction. The ghost of a smirk still lingers on her face, but her eyes tilt in confusion. 

I elaborate. “I would be honored if you would join me for a night of chocolatey goodness and bite-sized marshmallows.” I hold out the glass cup. “But I’m afraid I only have this one mug.”

The realization lights her gaze. Her faded grin comes back full force. She reaches for the cabinet over the sink and pulls out another mug, one with gold stripes around the rim. “Well, it’s a good thing I always keep a spare.”