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Hot Chocolate and Hope
I ran down 77th Street after Jacob. I didn’t understand what was wrong; he’d been ignoring me all day. We’d been best friends since we were in diapers, and now, all of a sudden, he was acting like he’d never known that I existed. I almost lost him several times in the busy city crowd, but I finally caught up to him outside the huge bookstore on the corner. I cornered him against the chipped brick wall, and I finally got a chance to catch my breath. But something caught me off guard. He was glaring, his piercing blue `eyes staring daggers into me. We’d never disagreed about anything, so once I was breathing normally again, I started to talk.
“What is the matter with you? I’ve been chasing you and calling your name for the last ten blocks! What’s the problem?”
I’d known him forever, so by now I could tell when something was on his mind. Needless to say, this was one of those times.
I asked again, more gently this time: “Jake, don’t try to fool me. I can tell when something is bothering you. What’s going on?”
Jacob was hesitating. I knew he was keeping something from me. I couldn’t stand seeing my best friend like this, so I took his hand. “Come on. Let’s go get some hot chocolate.”
Together, we walked down the street and turned the corner. We entered our favorite coffee shop, where we’d been so many times that the workers knew us personally. As usual, the shop was full, with impatient customers yelling their orders to the busy workers who were struggling to keep up with the mob.
I saw a familiar person in a baseball cap and an apron. Shawn, the owner, called, “Jacob! Margaret! What can I get for my two best customers?”
I hollered back, “Two hot chocolates, please! Thanks, Shawn!”
Thankfully, most of the customers today had orders to go, so a lot of the tables were empty. I led Jacob to a table for two in the back and propped my heavy backpack up against the wall. Soon after, a waiter brought our drinks to the table. I sifted through the junk in my wallet to get out exact change, and paid him. Jacob hadn’t said a word the whole time. I didn’t want to push him too hard, but I just had to get an answer out of him.
Cautiously, trying to sound upbeat, I said, “Too hot, as usual. I’m going to get a stirrer. Need one, Jake?”
Still looking down, he nodded his head. Even after I came back with the small plastic stirrers, he was silent. I stirred my drink, watching for any change in behavior. Nothing. I couldn’t figure out what I’d done to upset him this much. I kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting, sipping the warm drink, and finally, he took a deep breath and started to talk.
“Maggie, if I tell you something, do you promise to keep it to yourself? Okay, calm down and take that worried look off of your face. Nobody’s in trouble…well, not legally or anything…it’s just that something’s really bothering me, and I don’t know what to do.”
I was taken aback. “Jake, you know you can always tell me anything! You know I’ll keep it to myself. You know I’ll help you through whatever’s troubling you. And you know that we’ll come up with a solution, together.”
I was shocked to see tears streaming down his face. He took another deep breath, and said quietly, almost in a whisper, “Maggie, Mom has cancer.”
It was like a slap in the face. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined something this bad could happen to someone so close to me, especially after Grandpa had been so sick. I thought of Jacob’s mom as my second mom. I was speechless for a while, trying to come up with something appropriate to say, but it was like my mind was a chalkboard and somebody had wiped it clean.
He wiped his eyes and started talking again: “She went to the doctor a few weeks back, and they could tell something was wrong. They sent her to an oncologist, and they did some tests, and, well…they confirmed it, Maggie. She was diagnosed with colon cancer. She’s going to need surgery, and maybe chemotherapy for the next several months. Months! I don’t know if I can deal with this. I don’t know how the rest of my family is going to deal with it, either. Cancer can be fatal! Would she be able to work? Even take care of my sisters and me anymore? How will she look? She could lose her hair from the chemo! She’s spent such a long time growing it out long! This is going to change all of our lives forever!”
I was quiet for a little while, but I finally knew what to say. “You know what? When Grandpa had cancer, I make a huge mistake. I assumed the worst. I thought it was the end of the world for all of us. Jake, I know this is going to be tough for you, and the rest of your family, for that matter, but think of all of the positives! Be grateful that someone found it while it’s still curable. Be thankful that we’re living in a time where we have the knowledge of medicine and treatment that can help your mom survive. She might not even need the chemo! The surgery alone might do the trick.”
Jake protested, “I know, Maggie, but what if—“
I interrupted him, “Look, I know it’ll be hard for you to cope with this, but you need to be strong, for your mom. Look at Grandpa now! He’s better than he’s ever been before! He runs, he bikes, he even dances—quite badly, I might add. It’s been seven years since he beat cancer, but his life hasn’t changed in the least. There is a big chance that your mom will survive. There’s a big chance that nothing will change. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Don’t make her feel like there’s no hope, because honestly, Jake, there is. Show her that. Prove it to her.”
Jacob was silent. I could tell he was thinking hard, because he was staring at the table like he’d never seen it before. I didn’t know how I expected him to respond; maybe I thought he was going to contradict me again, because I was surprised when he finally spoke. “Maggie, you know what? I don’t know what I’d do without you. You are absolutely right. Sulking won’t make Mom healthy again. You know how much you mean to me, right? You’re like my sister. ”
Now it was my turn to choke up. Unable to put my feelings into words, I gave him a slight smile and a nod. Though we exchanged no words, we both knew how the other felt, and knowing that I’d helped my best friend out of a tough situation was the best feeling in the world.
Jacob stood up and offered his hand to me. He helped me up and handed me my backpack, and without another word, he led me out of the coffee shop, ready to conquer any obstacle that came in his way.