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Flavors 3: Hot Chocolate

By Paul D. Hanley

 Alma was grateful her son Pete had come to her. She needed to be comforted just as much as he did. The way helping her sons had always helped her. Even when they didn’t listen.

 Pete sat almost on the edge of a red leather easy chair in her living room, his elbows resting on his thighs. He stared down at the tan carpet.

 It was a nice weekend morning outside. The sunlight through the big bay window provided all the light they needed.

Bird chirping, cawing and whistling usually calmed Pete.

Not today.

 Alma regulated her breath to stay relaxed. Her left elbow rested on the arm of the red leather couch that came in the same set as Pete’s easy chair. Her sore legs stretched straight out in front of her. “So Tom’s doing okay?”

 Pete laughed heartily. A relieving distraction. “Better than I am. He can’t wait to get back out on the shooting range.”

 “Can you go shooting when you’re on administrative leave?”

 “Yeah. He can do it left-handed too. And he’ll need to.” Pete smiled weakly. His sense of humor had passed as quickly as a tiny dust devil in a parking lot.

 Alma sensed the change in mood immediately. Just as well. Beating around the bush never solved anything.

 “What is the administrative leave all about anyway? It sounds like you did everything you could to keep from shooting that boy, honey. Is it because Tom jabbed at him?”

 Pete stared at her blankly.  It was too much to process. “That’s a lot of different questions.”

 “Well, is it the administrative leave that’s on your mind?”

 “That’s one of the things. One of the many things.”

 “What’s the leave all about?”

 “It’s just a bureaucratic precaution.”

 “So you’re not in any kind of trouble?”

 Pete slumped to back in the easy chair and waved his hand once. “We ignored the 21-foot rule. We should have drawn our guns and backed up as soon as the knife came out. That’s what got Tom cut.”

 “And the man was black.”


 Alma didn’t need to know any more details. She wanted to get at Pete’s feelings.

Her late Nona whispered in her ear, Silence gets more said than flapping lips. She gazed at the same patch of carpet he was looking at. Waited.

 Pete nodded, said, “But we did the right thing. If we had just started spraying bullets when that knife came out, grizzly - sorry, I mean the man I shot … He would be dead and gone. At least now he’s got a fighting chance.”

 Alma felt relieved. “So that’s not really the problem.” At least he’s got a job. She eased a little into the back of the couch. But … The troubles inside us are usually worse than all the worldly stuff.

 Alma’s statement echoed again and again in her son’s mind: “So that’s not really the problem.” Then the sentence started to hang in front of Pete’s mind’s eye, beckoning like a cat toy on a string.


“I didn’t have to shoot him more than once or twice.” Pete turned to look at his mother, waited until she met his eyes. “I got scared and just kept pulling the trigger. He might die

because I lost my cool. I haven’t been thinking clearly lately.” Pete looked back down at the carpet.

 Alma tried to catch his eye. “But you said he was after your gun. You said you couldn’t let that happen. Honey, aren’t you being a little hard on yourself?”

 “Mom, this is life-and-death!” Pete was sure looking in her eyes now.

The shrillness creeping into his voice threw Alma for just a second. Her son wasn’t like this. But her training as a psych nurse took over. Give him some perspective. Get him to think about what he just said. “Pete, everything is about life and death.”