Sam nodded at Courtney, gave her hand a quick, polite squeeze. She dropped her purse onto the floor and took a sip of her hot chocolate. “Cold hands, warm heart, right? Sit down. Stay awhile.” She opened her book and started reading.
Courtney sidled into a chair next to the one where Bernice’s books tumbled companionably toward pillowed seat and pink fuzzy throw blanket. She spun the thick gold band on her left hand. At the table’s golden warm light, her pale skin and violet blue eyes looked defeated, as if she hadn’t slept or had a good meal in weeks.
Bernice flicked on the light over the stove. It buzzed, flared, and went dark. “That’s the second bulb this week. There must be something wrong with the fixture — I really oughta replace it.”
“Damn straight you better. Fire hazard. Doesn’t fix itself, does it? And that’s not the light that keeps burning out. It’s the one over the sink.” Sam licked her finger, turned the page.
Bernice cleared her throat and looked over at the sink. “Oh, of course, that’s right….How on earth do you remember that sort of thing?” Hands on hips, she shook her head, impressed by Sam’s powerful memory. Bernice had trouble remembering why she went upstairs, never mind what was going on in someone else’s house.
She unhooked a favorite mug from her just-for-show display rack. “What can I get you? Hot chocolate made from scratch, green tea with lemon, something stronger, anything to eat?” Not allowing herself to reconsider, she ripped open the bag of cookies intended for the librarians, carefully dumped them into a bowl, and placed it in front of Courtney.
Courtney stopped savaging a cuticle and carefully selected a broken cookie. “Thanks. Maybe some hot chocolate? If it’s no bother?” She nibbled at the edge of the cookie then popped the rest into her mouth. Her hand snatched another cookie.
Sam grunted. “Don’t apologize. It’s no bother. Bernice likes fussing over people. Believe me, you’re doing her a favor.” She licked her finger and turned the page.
Bernice lavished the hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps left over from Christmas. She added a mound of whipped cream. Courtney took a cautious sip, then drained the mug in minutes.
Bernice filled the saucepan with hot water and lots of soap and left it to soak in the sink. She sank into her seat with a happy sigh, wrapping the blanket over her shoulders and opening her book.
Courtney licked the rim of the empty mug. Bernice looked up and asked “Can I make you some more hot chocolate?”
“She can get it for herself,” growled Sam. Only seven pages until the end and she had no idea who killed the adulterous zookeeper. The greasy mechanic that everyone suspected was out of town that weekend — with the zookeeper’s wife.
Courtney shivered and turned the page of the magazine. “No, no, that’s okay. I’m good. Thanks, that was really great.” The cookie bowl was down to crumbs.
Portentous dark blue and red clouds streaked the sky. Bernice made grilled cheese sandwiches and coffee, pushing aside the stacks of books and magazines to make room on the table for a bowl of tiny strawberries.
Thus, the first meeting of the Insomniacs Book Club concluded.