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Bittersweet

By D. A. D'Amico

 

The first shot grazed the cup. It sliced through the marshmallow topping, ripping into the plastic Santa behind. Tinsel flew everywhere. I dived to cover the cocoa, snatching a plastic lid from the floor as I slid behind the beige linoleum counter.

"Hold up!" I screamed, more from the scalding liquid than the bullets whizzing overhead. "I'm human! Stop shooting already!"

My mouth watered. The aroma of fine Dutch chocolate wafted through the aromatic steam.

"Is it safe?" The voice, tense, feminine, echoed through the empty cafe. "Tell me you didn't spill it."

"I'm okay, thanks." I growled, grabbing a quick peek over the counter.

She stood beside display racks long emptied of donuts, muffins, and a sweet selection of seasonal cookies. Her dark hair had been tied back, hidden behind a thick furred hood.

"Put it on the counter, then step away." She sighted down the barrel of a semi-automatic rifle, a scowl on her thin lips. The gun twitched. "You have ten seconds."

I cradled the cup closer, enjoying its warmth. I couldn't remember a single day since the comet hit and the Siidi invaded that I'd felt this happy. I wasn't going to give this up.

"Sneaky trick, dropping a giant ice ball on the planet. Think they're out there, in town? I haven't seen one of the squid-faced bastards in weeks."

Steam rose into the icy air like smoke from a genie bottle, conjuring fond memories of a life before suffering. I missed the hustle and bustle of humanity. I missed the daily grind, the crowds, and even the lines where I'd read the paper and wait for some pimple-faced kid to pour me a cup of cocoa to take the chill off a late December morning.

"I thought the city was empty." Her tone sounded cautious. "You from around here?"

I laughed, hard and long, the tension exploding out of me. It'd been months since I'd spoken anyone. "That was the worst pickup line I'd heard since doomsday."

She fired a round into the counter above my head. "Better?"

"Sorry!" I ducked, the humor gone. "My social skills are a little rusty."

"The cocoa, give it up." She wasn't any smoother.

"I was visiting when it happened. My name's David."

"Maria," she said. "And I want that drink."

"I didn't expect to see anyone. The ground fighting's been rough, but it's moved out of the northeast. The Siidi are smart, but not as sneaky as we are."

"I've been here too long to leave, invasion or not." The barrel of her gun dipped a few inches. "You got people?"

"No... Not anymore." I tried not to think of what I'd lost.

"Me neither."

It suddenly felt colder in the little shop than the impact winter falling outside. I didn't want to think about the past, or the things I'd seen or done since the Siidi landed. I'd lost everyone. The world was a different place, frigid, lonely, and dangerous.

A faint sizzling squeal rippled through the air outside. The noise of Siidi weapons charging would echo through my nightmares. They were out there, somewhere.

Maria vanished behind the display rack. My heart stuttered. I held my breath, instinctively shielding the hot chocolate. We weren't as alone in town as I'd thought.

The sound faded into the icy air.

~

"Nice chatting." Maria crept around the corner, jittery again. "But I think I'll take my cocoa to go now."

The hot paper cup made my skin tingle. This beverage represented a world I'd never see again, a warmer time of sitting beside the fire, chatting with good friends, enjoying life. How long would it be before I held something like this again?

"I can't let it go, Maria. I need this."

"I need it more." Her voice boomed through the abandoned shop like the growling of an angry bear.

"Share it with me?" I asked. "Let's sit like two civilized people and have some cocoa together."

"Now who's spouting bad pickup lines?" She frowned, but she lowered the gun. "Find a cup, and put the chocolate on that table over there. I'll do the pouring. Don't expect any marshmallow."

"Bossy, I like that." I wasn't sure I'd have been able to let it go if she'd said no.

"Don't get cute. It's cocoa, not a date."

I raised the cup as if it were a sacred relic. A chipped demitasse lay against an overturned display. It looked like a thimble as I picked it up and placed it beside the steaming cup. It wouldn't be much, but I'd take what I could get.

Maria eased into the chair opposite, rifle held awkwardly across her chest. Her fingers shook, and I was amazed at how thin she appeared. Food had gotten scarce, but I'd managed to scavenge enough. It hadn't occurred to me others might not be so fortunate.

"Maybe we should have dinner together after all."

"Drink." She cradled the cup as if holding an infant, her dark eyes distant and moist. I almost cried when I noticed she'd given me some of the marshmallow after all.

I glanced through the shop. It had the same blasted and abandoned look as most everything these days. The racks had been looted, machinery destroyed. Everything that had made this place special had either been shattered or rusted away. Now that I had time to observe, something felt out of place. I stared at the cocoa, and at Maria. A chill ran down my spine.

"No power. Everything's broken," I said slowly, my heart racing, my breath puffing in quick billowing clouds.

"Yea..." Her lips had barely kissed the rim of the cup.

"How'd you make this?"

Her eyes widened. "I thought you did."

I drank quickly as a faint sizzling squeal rippled through the air.

About the Author

D. A. D’Amico is a playful soul trapped in the body of a grumpy old man. In early years, this presented a problem, but David has been growing into the role quite nicely. He's had nearly two dozen works published in the last few years, and can be found at www.dadamico.com.

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