Once Upon a Belgian Hot Chocolate Evening...

Submitted into Contest #133 in response to: Write about someone going on a search for a specific type (or brand) of chocolate.... view prompt

2 comments

Romance

Maribelle Tarley was far from home; far from Chicago to be exact. On this night, this Valentine’s Day night, she was in Belgium - Brussels, Belgium - sitting in her hotel room on a date with the television. 


Belgian news programs were showcasing stories of young love, long-lost love, and stories of enduring friendships that always made this holiday so special... for them. Through her basic knowledge of French, she saw one silly story profiling a couple who met over some magical chocolate 20 years ago. She shook her head out of repulsion - and secret envy - at the cliched romantic mumbo jumbo and promptly changed the channel. So far her date was a big disappointment.


It was not unusual for Maribelle to be far from home and living out of hotel rooms, even on holidays. As a traveling salesperson, it was expected of her. It was part of the job she’d signed up for. And it was a cutthroat one, or so she’d like to tell her parents when they would ask why she wouldn’t be home for Thanksgiving again, or why she hadn’t yet found a man and settled down. 


Both curiosities, especially the latter, always pinched at her nerves a bit.


“It will happen when it happens,” she would respond. 


“Besides, maybe I think he should be working hard to find me, as opposed to the other way around,” she would jest. “And he better have lots of airline miles.”   


She had to admit, though, if only to herself, her lifestyle was one that made for a rather lonely life on nights like tonight.


On other stations, romantic films were being broadcast; Chocolat being one of them. Her mouth instantly began to water at the sight of chocolate, first, and Johnny Depp a close second. 


She looked over the room service menu, tailored to a special selection for Valentine’s Day. Too late for a 3-course meal for one. No mood for savory.  


She peered into the room’s mini fridge as if she were window shopping. There stood seven tiny bottles of white wine, champagne and vodka. None of which sounded appetizing enough to pay more than one euro for, let alone 15 euros. Too expensive for something bitter tasting. No mood to drink alone. 


She needed something sweet. Lucky for her, Belgium is a kingdom built on chocolate. She looked at the clock on her phone; it was almost 10. The shops may close soon.


Off went the television and out for a walk she went.


The night sky over Brussels was clear and bitterly cold. Snow left the cobblestone streets icy and sparkling, almost diamond like under the glow of rows and rows of streetlamps.


Her thick cream-colored wool scarf was wrapped around atop her red belted peacoat, covering her neck, chin and mouth; her matching cream-colored bobble hat covered her forehead and ears. Her eyes were left to take in the sights of the 17th century city square known as La Grand-Place that had been adorned with pink, purple and red decorations, and her nose was left to the sweet smells coming from the shops all around. 


From one corner came sweet waffle batter cooking in an iron and chocolate sauce warming in a cauldron. From another corner, confectioneries were freshly candied and being put on display trays in the windows. From another corner, or rather from the center of the square, fresh fruits were being coated in chocolate drizzle and sugar from a farmer’s stand. 


All around, loving couples of all types were holding cups of warm drinks, embracing one another. Envy crept up on Maribelle again on the mean streets of this utterly romantic city.


Her head was spinning trying to decide what would be her choice of treat would be when a small patch of ice caught her foot and she found herself nearly slipping. The sudden jolt from nearly falling brought her back down to earth from chocolate aroma heaven. 


Pacing herself, she was quick to look around to see if anyone noticed her near fall or the fact her face was now as red as her coat, not from the cold, from embarrassment. 


When she steadied, she found herself in front of the tiniest, cutest storefront she’d ever seen. She’d walked this square several times before on this trip and never noticed it before, but she had also been heads down in her phone in between meetings instead of looking at the sights around her; a bad habit she did on business trips. 


Nestled between a vintage bookshop and a fine jewelry shop stood Une Tasse; A Cup. She found herself magnetized to the quaint little shop. 


A bell chimed as she entered the pocket-sized shop, and she reckoned it was only big enough for her, another customer, and one shopkeeper. It felt warm, cozy, the walls lined with rich mahogany panels, gold trim and emerald green paint. It felt like the turn of the century. 


Removing the tops of her wooly mittens, she studied the small wooden counter that contained a single cauldron of liquid chocolate; the words You will fall in love with a single cup were scribbled - in English - in chalk on a sign on the wall.


“You’ve come to the right place, Miss,” the elderly male shopkeeper said in English. She paid no mind to the fact he guessed her native language before she even spoke, she must have looked like a tourist; an American one at that. "I have exactly what you are looking for."


“You do?”


“There's no better hot chocolate in this city. There’s no better place to be tonight than here,” he said. “And I would know… we’re only open on Valentine’s Day.” 


“A shop that’s only open one day a year and only serves hot chocolate?” She was amazed.


“Not just any hot chocolate. A lucky few flock to this shop on this day every year with their lovebirds for a cup. Some say it's what brought them together to begin with,” he told the story as if it were an Aesop Fable. “Yes, it is that good.”


“Alright, I'm sold,” she said as she started pulling out her wallet for cash. “But I’m just shopping for myself tonight. No love bird to speak of.”


The shopkeeper laughed. “I’ll make a deal with you, you take this cup, on the house, drink up and you promise to come back next year, on Valentine’s Day, with your love bird.”


“That’s quite the deal,” she said, going along with his little one-man show. “At least let me tip you.” 


“I’m afraid I cannot accept it,” he said as he poured a ladle full of warm chocolate in a pink paper cup. “Think of it as a gift.”


“Alright, thank you,” she took the cup. “I’ll be sure to leave you a fantastic Yelp review.”


He laughed again. “See you next year,” he said before she left the shop.


What a charming experience, she thought as she left the shop. The cup was warming her hands and tingling her senses. Walking ahead, she blew on the liquid to cool it down, then took a sip. “Heavens to Betsy, that’s incredible,” she said aloud. 


She took another sip, a long one this time, closing her eyes for a moment as if she was trying to make her sense of taste stronger.


She felt the liquid warm her body and flutter her heart. Her eyelids felt heavy, but not cause of fatigue. It was as if they were resetting.


Maribelle opened her eyes after what felt like a 5-minute cat nap and continued walking ahead. Next thing she knew she was resting her head on the shoulder of the man walking beside her, feeling his strong arm wrap around behind her, rubbing her back in a gentle, protective, loving manner. 


“This gets better every year,” she said, holding the cup up before them like a trophy.


“You get better every year,” his deep voice said as he pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead.


“And you are always so cliche this time of year,” she jested through pursed lips and an eyeroll, making him chuckle.


“Only because I know when you roll your eyes like that, you are swooning hard for me on the inside.”


“I cannot argue with that,” she said, nestling deeper into his nook. In her other hand, she jiggled a bag. "And I cannot wait for these strawberries when we get back to the room."


"Among other things," he said with a sheepish grin. She booped him on the nose with her gloved finger.


"But they are a damn delicious tradition," he continued.


He put his cup back up to his lips for another sip then outwardly cursed when he spilled some on his heathered gray coat. “Every time,” he said. “It’s like clockwork.” 


“I think it’s time for you to get a new coat,” she joked, stopping where they stood to dab the spill with a napkin.


“Apparently,” he said as he turned to face down at his faux pas. “This is just my best one, for obvious reasons.” 


Maribelle loved moments like this, moments that felt so intimate as if they were the only two people in existence. In that moment, she felt his hand hold the back of hers and she continued to dab the stain. She looked up into his eyes. He was handsome as always, she thought, with his deep green eyes, square jaw, his dark brown high-and-tight haircut she knew existed under his green knit hat. 


“Well, my darling,” he said as he looked up at the clock tower, “it’s about to turn 10 o’clock.”


He embraced her in a hug as he placed his forehead to hers. “Happy Anniversary.”


“Are you sure you don’t ever want to change it to nine? After all, it was when you…”


“Never,” he said, interrupting her. He leaned down to kiss her. It was a long, sensual, loving, comforting kiss all rolled into one.


When they pulled away from each other, something immediately struck them. They had the same look on both their faces; a look that said, “I don’t know who you are.”


As the bell rang out for the 10 o’clock hour, Maribelle snapped to it and found herself standing alone on the patch of ice as she was before she entered the shop. She hurriedly looked around for the man she was just with, but he was nowhere to be found. She must have looked like a madwoman because was twirling in circles trying to make sense of what just happened.


She looked for her cup in her hands, but she wasn’t holding one. She looked over to find Une Tasse, but it wasn’t there; there was no shop nestled between the vintage bookshop and fine jewelers.


“Miss, are you ok?” The man from the fruit stand asked in French. "You nearly slipped there."


She realized she must have had a momentary out of body experience, perhaps shock from nearly falling on the patch of ice.


“Yes. I’m ok,” she said defeatedly in her native language. 


"You wouldn't have been the first person to nearly slip and fall,” he said in English. “Been someone almost every hour on the dot."


"Glad I am not alone," she said. “Wasn’t there a little shop here? Une Tasse?”


Une Tasse? I’m afraid I don’t know what you are talking about,” he said. “Can I get you anything from here?”


Still in a daze, she moseyed over to his stand and surveyed the delicious contents. “Apparently I landed in the right spot. I will have half a dozen chocolate strawberries, please.”


They did look damn delicious.


"Right away!"


He bagged the strawberries and handed them to her. After making the purchase, she felt she had enough out of body experiences for the night, and she had a flight the next morning.


Back at her hotel room, she ate every strawberry while contemplating the man she visioned out of thin air, her impromptu, nonexistent date, and she was lost in confusion. Perhaps she was tired. She proceeded to bury her head in the darkness of her bed’s pillows where she would remain until the clock struck six a.m. on her iPhone's alarm the following morning, hoping that she may dream about him. 


***


The next day, she was getting ready to board her flight back to Chicago. Through the latest Adele album blasting from her Apple AirPods, she heard the gatekeeper announce that business class was boarding. 


The queue in front of her was small but still clustered as people ahead of her were annoyingly holding up the line by slowly removing their coats, rummaging through items they wanted to keep and stow away, and trying hard to squeeze their oversized bags in the overhead bins. The man in front of her started to do the same as he arrived at seat 20A. 


She arrived at her seat, 20B. He would be her seat mate. She took out her headphones and started to grab for her suitcase when…


“Can I help you with that,” 20A asked. Cliche chivalry, she thought. 


“Oh, no, I’m sure I can manage…” she said, but is caught off guard when she catches eyes with the man. 


He had the same deep green eyes, the same square jaw, she could see his high-and-tight haircut perfectly as it wasn’t covered by the wool cap this time. It was the same man from her vision last night. Strangely, the way he was looking at her, he seemed to think the same about her.


“It’s you,” they said at the same time, causing him to smile. 


She couldn't believe it. It had to have been him. But how was that possible?


After stammering a bit, she managed to find her words again. “This might seem silly, but were you in the city square last night at about 10 p.m., drinking hot chocolate with me?” She must have sounded so foolish.


“No,” he said bluntly.


“I could have sworn...”


“I was there at nine,” he interrupted. He had been there exactly one hour before her, one hour on the dot. Then he proceeded to look down at his coat where a small stain, of the chocolate variety, was on the lapel of his heathered gray coat. “We were outside this little shop called…”


Une Tasse,” she said in unison with him. He nodded and stared longingly into her eyes.


“It’s nice to meet you,” he said, reaching out to shake her hand. 


She immediately wondered how many airline miles her fellow business class traveler must have had. She'd have the whole trip home to find out.


“Likewise,” she reciprocated. They smiled at each other, oblivious to the fact they were now the ones holding up the line of oncoming passengers.



February 17, 2022 21:26

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2 comments

Cydney Rose
01:47 Feb 23, 2022

This is one of my favorite stories I’ve read on here. I absolutely love how it comes full circle.

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Nicole Fowler
12:48 Feb 23, 2022

Thank you so much! I had so much fun finally writing it as I had it brewing in my head for a while. This week’s prompts were just the kick I needed.

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