Thank you for joining me for the summer redux series. I will be re-posting stories you may not have read, in the fashion of a summer re-run. We’ll get back to our regular posting schedule in a few weeks. The original “Strength versus Chocolate” story posted back in January 2012. It’s been embellished a little since then.
If you’ve never visited a pure chocolate website, you may wish to check out Whittaker’s. Enjoy, just don’t get any on your chin. . . .
* * *
A seam opened in the blanket of gray February clouds. The sun raced through. It crossed the hilltops, which crowned Gig Harbor, Washington, on their way to a small brown and gray rambler in a cul de sac. The sunlight flared through the prism of raindrops on the windows. It illuminated the dining room as Bunny Gutierrez and Clarissa Taylor walked into our home.
“Ladies it’s good to see you again,” I said, bundled in my over sized blue Icelandic sweater. “What goodies did you bring with you this time?”
“I found a local coffee roaster over on 6th Avenue and thought we’d give their French Roast a try,” Bunny said, with her refined Texas accent. Her long blond hair swept back into a pony tail behind her head, crowning her statuesque figure. She handed me a bag of coffee beans.
“I brought scones and Devonshire Cream from The Hawthorn Tea Room,” Clarissa said. Displaying a clear container with six scones, the flavors hand-printed on the lid above them. She pushed her bright red ringlets away from her face.
“So, what are you supplying?” Bunny asked, following me into the kitchen.
“My friend, Keira, sent me this huge bar of chocolate from Whittaker’s. Apparently, they are one of New Zealand’s chocolatiers. Check this out, it’s called Ghana Peppermint. Richard and I’ve already consumed over half the bar. There are four rows left,” I said, handing Bunny the wrapper.
“Seventy-two percent cocoa,” Bunny said, holding it up for Clarissa to smell. “Honey, you can smell the chocolate and peppermint on the wrapper.”
“What’s this?” Clarissa asked, picking a card up from the kitchen counter.
“That’s the card Keira sent with it,” I said, “she’s such a jokester. Read what she wrote.”
“Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands—and then eat just one of the pieces.* So how strong are you? Love, Keira,” Clarissa read.
“Well, I can tell you we aren’t very strong,” I said, laughing. “I made Richard promise to leave enough for our coffee klatch.”
“Fannie, there are four pieces left, how are we going to divide it?” Bunny asked, admiring the plate.
“Why can’t you cut it into thirds?” Clarissa asked, “it’s big enough.”
“The center is hollow and filled with a peppermint cream,” I said, running my fingers through my short brown hair. “I thought we’d discuss it over coffee and take a vote.” I poured the coffee beans into the grinder. A rich, nutty smell filled the kitchen. “Bunny, these beans smell fantastic,” I said, over the grinder.
“Wait until you taste it,” Bunny said. A smile spread across her face like a sunrise.
“Clarissa, do you mind putting the chocolate and the scones on the coffee table?” I asked, handing her the plate. “So Bunny, I hear congratulations are in order. George said you got your massage license and you’re re-opening your massage business here.”
“I sure am. I was getting calls from all over. People asking me to start back up. We should be fully operational in a few weeks.” Her pony tail bobbing up and down.
“What are you calling your practice?” Clarissa asked, rejoining us.
“What I called it in Houston. Bunny’s Kick Ass Massage.”
Laughing, I asked, “How can you say that with a straight face?”
“How do you introduce yourself as Fannie Cranium?” Bunny asked, winking.
Richard entered the kitchen. Sniffing the air, Richard said, “ladies, you need to save some of that coffee for me when I get back inside.”
“What are you working on?” I asked. Richard wore hip waders, a matching camouflage jacket and a vintage yellow sou’wester fisherman’s rain hat.
“I thought this was the perfect time to get out of the house and clean the driveway,” Richard said, spotting the scones on the table, “but, if you’re really nice to me, you’ll save me one of those caramel apple scones to go with the coffee when I get back in.”
“I think we can arrange that,” I said, smiling. Visions of an eight-year-old boy covered head to toe in mud danced in my head.
* * *
As the garage door opened, the sun glinted off rain drops on the Love Wagons’s windshield, a red Ford F150 with queen futon and disco ball. Richard squinted. A testimony to sun breaks on a stormy day. Donning his ear buds, the music flowing like the water.
Richard fired-up the pressure washer. He guided 2,000 pounds of pure energy. Moss flew from the walkway and sped off the driveway leaving the sparkling asphalt behind. Spray sailed in all directions. A serious side wind kicked up, spattering water, moss and mud; shellacking Richard’s clothing, face, and hair.
* * *
Each of us savored a scone, saving the chocolate for dessert.
“Ladies, I can’t wait for you to try this chocolate.” I passed the plate to Bunny, seated on my right.
“I don’t know which smells better, the coffee or the chocolate. Lord give me strength,” Bunny said. She handed Clarissa the plate, but didn’t let go.
Clarissa smiled and took the offered chocolate instead. She bit into her piece of chocolate dripping some peppermint cream on her chin. She wiped the cream with her finger and licked it off. She closed her eyes, and tilted her head back. “Oh my god, this should be illegal.”
Bunny sipped her coffee. Taking her chocolate, she smelled it like a French vintner experiencing a spiritual connection with his wine. A distant, unfocused smile spread over her face. Taking a bite from the chocolate, peppermint cream seduced her tongue, followed by bitter sweet joy. Her blue eyes rolled back into her head. She shivered.
“That is a small piece of heaven ladies,” Bunny said, eye the two remaining pieces. “I haven’t tasted anything like that in years. I see what your friend meant about strength. . . .” Her voice trailed off.
Taking my piece from the plate, I said, “Well now you can see my dilemma. And why I wanted to share this with you two.”
“How are we going to decide who gets the last piece?” Clarissa asked. She stared at the final square of chocolate. “Why don’t we draw straws?”
“Sounds like a great idea,” Bunny said. “Fannie, honey, do you have anything we can use?”
“I’ve got toothpicks.”
“Get ‘em out, honey, we’re gonna need ‘em.”
“I’m on it.” Using the step stool next to the fridge, I retrieved the coveted toothpicks from the middle shelf.
A loud crash came from the back yard. I grabbed the top of the step stool. Clarissa and Bunny rushed to the sliding glass door.
“Do you see anything?” I asked, joining them.
“Look, over by Joe’s fence,” Clarissa said, pointing. “The top of that tree broke off. It’s hanging about twenty feet from the ground.”
The wind picked up again. It hurtled the tree top to the ground.
“Where’d it land? Did it hit the fence? I asked. The pitch of my voice running up like a student practicing scales on a piano. “He’s not home, his dogs are back there.” Opening the door, I said, “We need to make sure they’re okay.”
Another gust of wind caught the trees. The sound of whipping branches filled the air. I held my arms over my head and dashed for the fence. Bunny and Clarissa followed me through the green belt to the downed tree. The hemlock grazed a cedar and the fence. The branches blocked Joe’s gate. When we reached the tree, his dogs barked.
“Boost me up so I can look over the fence,” I said. Bunny and Clarissa clasped their hands together as another gust of wind whipped the loose branches. With a quick heave I shot above the fence. I grabbed the top. “The dogs are all right,” I said, over the wind. The blood traveled back into my head.
“I don’t see any damage to the fence,” Bunny said. “We better head back inside before anything else happens.”
* * *
Richard entered the house. Grabbing some old towels from the laundry room he wiped green and brown mud from his clothing.
Hearing no sounds in the family room, and founding the room empty, he poured himself a cup of coffee. Next to the box of scones sat the plate showcasing the last savory piece of Ghana Peppermint.
The silken chocolate’s siren’s call, seductive communication.
Powerful enough to make him forget the caramel apple scone. Powerful enough to forget our agreement to save it for the coffee klatch. Powerful enough to face down the wrath of three chocolate deprived women.
Richard picked up the chocolate. He held it to his nose. Drool dribbled down his chin. The last piece of Ghana Peppermint crossed his lips as the sliding glass door opened.
Watching the last piece of heaven disappear, we yelled, “No.”
Chewing, his devilish grin lit his face. “Do you really want it back?” he asked.
Clarissa, Bunny and I sharing a look between us, shaking our heads and sighing.
“I guess that means we all have strength,” Clarissa said. She exhaled hard enough to lift one of her red curls.
“Richard, did you hear the tree fall in the backyard?” I asked.
“A tree fell?” he asked, stiffening. “Where?”
“How could you not hear it?” Clarissa asked, “it’s out there plain as day in your backyard.”
Richard moved passed us to the window. Bunny pointed at the ear buds dangling around his collar.
“Honey, I guess that answers the question, if a tree falls in the woods and you’re listening to an iPod, does it still make a sound?” Bunny said, with a laugh, which over shot sincerity by about a block and a half.
*Quote courtesy of Judith Viorst, author.