It was an addiction, and Natalie was an addict. The craving always started with a twinge, a vague feeling of unease, a sense of something missing. It grew into a feeling of agitation, like being trapped behind a desk on the first really warm day after a particularly brutal winter. It built slowly, unnoticed, until cresting suddenly into conscious awareness.
It always started the same way, and she tried to resist, telling herself she could outlast the craving, that her body really didn't need it. Others around her would indulge in her presence, and she would brush off their offers to share, feeling superior and powerful in her resistance.
But late at night, after a long, difficult shift in the morgue, she would find herself fantasizing about how wonderful an indulgence would make her feel. Just a small taste, no more, would satisfy her need. After all, a little bit couldn't hurt, could it? She could always say "no" to herself afterwords, couldn't she? After all, hadn't she been proving that to herself, all those times she'd resisted?
This time, she'd managed to get all the way home after her shift, thinking about nothing but all of the locations she could be stopping to satisfy her craving. She entered her apartment and went through her morning routine, feeding Sydney, getting a snack for herself, showering away the shift's tension and the lingering scent of the morgue.
Her thoughts were far from her tasks, however. Her desire for a "fix" increased moment-to-moment, until at last she found herself sitting in her nightclothes, TV remote in hand, staring at nothing as she realized that the TV wasn't even on, and that she'd been staring into space for more than a half-hour.
Looking out the window, she realized that the blizzard predicted to hit that day had indeed arrived. Snow was falling so heavily that she couldn't see the trees just 50 feet from her balcony. She sighed. There was no way she could venture out now, in search of relief from her longing. She briefly considered knocking at a neighbor's door in search of relief, but dismissed the thought immediately as too humiliating.
No, there was nothing for it but to go to sleep and hope that the craving would be less when she awoke in the evening. She heaved herself off the sofa, stretched, and headed for bed.
Surprisingly, she slept soundly, only waking to her alarm. Rolling over and stretching in her bed, she yawned deeply and threw back the covers. Groggily, she headed for the kitchen to start the coffee maker. The scent of the brewing coffee made her inhale deeply and smile in anticipation of her first sip of the day.
While waiting for the coffee to finish brewing, she went to the window to check out the snow. It was dark outside, but enough light came from her window to light the still-falling flakes. She estimated a good 18" had already gathered on her balcony, and she shivered involuntarily thinking about how much work would be involved in digging her car out of its parking space. She hoped the plows had been able to clear the streets so she could get to work.
She poured a cup of coffee and set about getting ready to go out into the weather. Halfway through her breakfast, the cravings hit her. Hard. She groaned and tried half- heartedly to ignore them, but without success. Finally, she made a bargain with herself: if she could get her car dug out and to work on time, she'd reward herself with a small indulgence.
Smiling determinedly, she bundled up, grabbed her purse, and opened the door to find Nick standing in the hallway, brushing snow off his coat, and grinning from ear to ear.
"Hi, Nat!" He shook his head, showering her with fresh snow flung from his dark blond locks. She stepped back slightly and laughed, surprised but delighted to see him.
"What are you doing here, Nick?" She stepped into the hall, closing and locking the door behind her.
"Oh, with the storm, I thought you could use a hand digging out, so here I am."
"You drove over here, just to help me dig out?" Her smile softened as she considered the sweetness of his gesture.
"Uh, well, not exactly," he mumbled, looking down at his boots and glancing up at her with a hint of chagrin. "I mean...um...well...I didn't drive over." He looked up at her then and shrugged. "I thought maybe I could catch a ride in with you, to make sure you got to work safely. I would've just come by and picked you up, but your car is safer to drive in the snow than the Caddy, so...." His voice trailed off, waiting for her reaction.
To his relief, she laughed. "Okay," she said, "just this once I'll let you be my knight in shining armor. Thanks, Nick!" She tucked her hand into the crook of his offered arm and they headed out into the storm together.
The plows had indeed been out, burying Natalie’s car in deep drifts. It took a while for the two of them to dig it out. Natalie was shivering by the time she climbed into the passenger seat. Nick had offered to drive, and she deferred to his more extensive storm driving experience. Before starting the car, however, Nick reached into a deep pocket in his coat and pulled out a thermos, which he handed to a perplexed Natalie.
"Here, I thought you might need this," he said as he twisted it open.
A heavenly fragrance wafted from the open top, and Natalie felt the full impact of her addiction roar to life. "Oh, Nick," she moaned, "how did you know that was just what I needed?"
He smiled and leaned over to kiss her cheek, careful not to spill the precious liquid. An exasperated call from Grace at the end of Natalie’s last shift had alerted him to her recurring need. He was only too happy to accommodate her. After all, despite her beliefs to the contrary, everybody knew when Natalie's addiction was acting up!
Natalie moaned in gastric ecstasy as she took her first sip of the scalding hot chocolate, and then sighed in relief as the delicious concoction hit her bloodstream. How could she resist? After all, it was an addiction!