There he was, on his knees, proposing at last. Her glance fell on the one-pound box of Tuescher's dark chocolate cream truffles he'd bought. She brushed past her kneeling swain, sped to the box, ripped off its elegant silk ribbon and lush velvet flower, and tore into the cache of bon bons.

She's a friend of mine, upright and honest, and she swears the story is true. Needless to say, the alliance was over. At their final meeting, she had a hot fudge sundae. He had a glass of water.

Chocolate.

A flavor, you say? No.

A passion, a state of being that turns ordinary people into -- that makes them -- well, here's another True Story.

This other friend of mine came back from a weekend in the country to discover he'd been burglarized. He ran past his expensive stereo equipment, past the rooms that had held paintings, silver and objets d'art, to a small refrigerator in the back hallway.

Yes, his cache of frozen Mars bars was still there.

Jerry Sachs is the president of the Capital Centre. A pillar of the community. A respected businessperson. Chocolate surrounds him wherever he is. As a child, he indulged in chocolate-covered salt-water taffy on family summer trips to Atlantic City. There are two glass bowls on his desk, one filled with miniature chocolate bars, the other with special chocolate treats. They are always full. He grew up in Baltimore, and remembers Wockenfuss, still there, a family candy store that makes "paddles" -- large lollipops in many flavors drenched in chocolate.

Explains Sachs, "Chocolate is a big part of my life. My wife, kids, friends and boss know it. I experiment in chocolate ice cream: Two or three nights a week I'll test flavors, check out candies -- maybe redo the recipe for my famous chocolate Coke shake": chocolate ice cream, chocolate syrup, Coke and milk. at the Capital Centre, I've set up a make-your-own sundae cart. The ice cream is Haagen-Dasz chocolate-chocolate chip; and there are both hot fudge and cold chocolate syrup.

"The people in my life have come to accept my chocolate mania. I do hope that those chocolate-lovers who don't feel accepted will understand that they are not alone and will come out of hiding and proclaim themselves. It's a hell of a lot more fun to eat chocolate with a friend in the light of day . . ." His only sadness is his son: "I just don't understand it," he says wistfully. "The kid likes vanilla. To me, his eating vanilla is like his kissing his sister. What's a father to do?"

M&Ms -- the chocolate-lover's answer to jellybeans -- have even penetrated the Reagan administration. "I suppose now everyone will know," sighs Boyden Gray, counsel to the vice president. "I consider M&Ms to be the ultimate chocolate. Actually, it's about the only kind I'll eat. I've been known to eat a large bag at one sitting, sometimes before I fall asleep." b

Gray says he can't remember when he ate his first M&M, "but they are a vivid part of my North Carolina boyhood." Why does he love them so? "You know, they really don't melt in your hand. . ." And Henry Geller, formerly of the Carter administration, fondly recalls one of his favorite chocolate desserts: "It was in Florence, Italy. A tiny restaurant. It began with a slab of actual bittersweet. Hard. Then a layer of light sponge cake. Then a mountain of chocolate mousse covered with a bittersweet chocolate shell.

"Everyone else was sick at the thought of it. I ate the whole thing." I, too, am caught in the vise of chocolate passion -- and have been for a long time.

As a child, I didn't sell lemonade in front of my house during the summer, I sold chocolate milk and Oreos. And remember Bosco? I used to drink it with milk, all right -- two teaspoons of milk in a tall glass of syrupy-thick, rich chocolately Bosco. None of that phony-baloney Ovaltine for me!

Grandma.

She knew where it was at -- that little lady with blue hair and sneaks, and bags of M&Ms hidden in her purse. The occasional box of miniature Whitman's Samplers, easily hidden under the skirt of the big lumpy bridge doll. The bribes of bars of thick, rich bittersweet Swiss chocolate. And above all, the connivance at holiday dinners where the hot fudge flowed.

Beyond Grandma's compassion, I designed techniques to get what I wanted. Winters in New York, I learned that one or two faint shrieks on the ice rink in Central Park were enough to transport my mother and me into seats by the window at Rumplemeyers at the St. Moritz, where I happily drank ambrosial pots of hot chocolate made with sweet milk, shavings from glistening bars of rich Swiss bittersweet and real whipped cream.

At Halloween, the grownups gave up before it began. Not only did they actually buy bags of miniature 3 Musketeers, Snickers and M&Ms, as well as Dutch apples for other trick-or-treaters, they let me have first choice. Given the truce, I was gracious -- especially because I had a secret: There was a loose board under the rug in my bedroom, where I hid my skim-off. Years later, when we moved from my childhood home, I checked the board. It wiggled a bit, and then moved to expose a clearly plastered-over hole. Who found my spot? Who knew about my secret life with chocolate? Another mystery of childhood.

During college, a long, cold four years upstate, I would spend vacations prowling the streets of New York, looking to stock up: Barton Bonbonnieres for vanilla cremes; Schraffts, for the incomparable hot-fudge and black-and-white sodas; the little shops on 86th Street, the German section of town, for bags of real cocoa, and big heavy bars of milk and bittersweet Swiss chocolate.

But it wasn't until I came to Washington that I began to understand the larger implications of my desire to touch, feel, smell, fondle, play with, drink and eat chocolate. I first came here to go to law school and in the early '70s, Kron's had just opened its first shop on Madison Avenue, and Blums of San Francisco and Perugina from Italy had just opened their shops in New York.

Washington was a vast wasteland -- wonderful Fannie Mae and Russell Stover notwithstanding.

My boyfriend at the time was a tres snazzy chap who introduced me to Perrier and the concept of tiny vegetables.On his forays into the bush from New York, he would come supplied with boxes of Kron's delights: Strawberries dipped in bittersweet, milk-chocolate letters spelling L-O-V-E, and other magic from the deft hands of Tom Kron, Hungarian chocolate maker extraordinaire, late of the Bronx.

On weekends we would wander through Rock Creek Park with a bottle of champagne, boxes of chocolates and pastels, and drink, eat and sketch.

That's also when I perfected the great chocolate-chip cookie recipe, baked hundreds of chocolate-mousse pies and, every chance I got, stole off to the Watergate pastry shop and indulged in the Cointreau cake -- deep devil's-food and buttercream frosting oozing with booze.

As I settled into real life as a career person, and put down a few tiny roots here and there, I began to explore the possibilities of indulging my passion here in this very city. But unlike other searches, such as the search for the self, pursuing chocolate requires a partner whose obsessions roughly match your own. Its gobs more fun to bathe in a tubful of chocolate mousse with a friend than alone.

Finding a likely candidate is harder than you might think. No one feels really comfortable owning up to a chocolate lust. Many a conversation with a closet kindred spirit begins with "Don't tell anyone I told you, but --" and it all ends up with a confession of indulgence in some chocolate indelicacy, spoken in hushed tones and whispers.

As luck would have it, I found someone whose passion for chocolate matched my own. Requesting deep cover, he said he'd show me his native habitat and customs if I promised to protect his anonymity. As a consenting adult, I consented. It began that night, a Friday, with a rendezvous at the Palm. He looked like -- a lawyer -- a normal, everyday, garden variety Washington person -- the man in the pinstripe suit.

"People really don't understand chocolate freaks," he said, with a resigned look. His eyes were deep, chocolaty glistening pools. "We are, I think, misunderstood, alone-type people." He sighed.

On the table in front of us were three orders of his usual dessert -- eaten after lunch or dinner -- an incredibly thick, rich, double-chocolate devil's-food cake with chocolate fudge icing, a voluptuous chocolate-mousse pie studded with chunks of bittersweet chocolate, and a huge scoop of Haagen-Dasz chocolate-chocolate chip ice cream. Oh yes, and, as a garnish, a Hershey bar.

"It really guides my life," he said as he tackled the cake first. "For example, when I was in college in New England, and I knew there would be a blizzard that would paralyze the city for a few days, I'd rush out into the oncoming storm, no matter how severe, and get to the nearest Friendly's in time to load up with enough chocolate ice cream to survive. And I really mean survive. If I didn't, I knew that the first day, I'd be a bit nervous, grouchy and irritable -- and the third day -- well," shaking his head, "it's not a pretty story. . .

"It's an urge I can't shake off -- one almost bordering on pain. If I don't satisfy it, I feel it acutely." He sighs contentedly as he polishes off the last dollop of chocolate fudge icing. "It's pain, but it's also intensely pleasurable. I love it." His eyes glitter. There is chocolate chip on his chin. He brushes it away.

He whispers conspiratorially: "Sometimes, in the afternoon, instead of going out for a drink with the guys after intense negotiations, I'll slip away to my chocolate."

It's been this way all his life. As a child, he insisted on chocolate birthday cakes. When he gets married, it will be a chocolate wedding cake. If he gets married, it will be to a woman who loves chocolate -- if not with the same intensity, at least with compassion for his condition.

How does he tell if a prospective date suits his tastes? "Well, I take her out to dinner. When we get the menu, I ask the waiter about his chocolate desserts, and what's good in chocolate tonight. Then, I order some grand chocolate concoction as an appetizer. If, by the time the first course is over, she hasn't excused herself to go to the bathroom (and is still gone two hours later), I know that there is some possibility in the relationship, and I may ask her out for a second time."

Our next stop is Mazza Galerie for the incredible delights of Kron Chocolatier, where the dreams and fantasies of the chocolate-lover take shape in truffles made with cream and rum and dark bittersweet. Kron's chocolates are a sybarite's delight -- succulent, dark-tasting, deeply creamy, with a dusting of cocoa powder to cut the melting sweetness. And the secret Kron recipe of dark bittersweet is turned into somewhat more than the conventional candy bar, drop or chunk -- it is shaped into lifesize lush chocolate legs -- smooth, sensual, mahogany brown; lifesize torsos -- (sometimes draped in pearls and diamonds by ardent lovers); tennis requests, records, and chocolate truffles in a huge champagne bottle. What Kron is famous for, however, is its fresh fruits -- strawberries, raspberries, oranges and bananas, dipped in velvety bittersweet -- which grace the table of many a New York, Beverly Hills and Washington dinner party.

The store is small and elegant and white. We rush to the display. I feel like a kid in a candy store -- we are kids in a candy store. We stand frozen at the incredible array of delights. It's late. They may close any minute. Like lightning, we bolt around the shop and come up with the last box of chocolate-covered strawberries, a one-pound bittersweet log and -- the ultimate aphrodisiac -- a tube of rich, almost solid chocolate paste, the erotic possibilities of which beggar the mind.

We rush back to the car. We cannot resist. We drive into the plunder of Kron's and gorge on the strawberries, hunks of the bar, and lush ribbons of the sublime paste. Carob-eaters, eat your hearts out. Saying that carab is a substitute for chocolate is like calling Ripple a substitute for Dom Perignon.

Onward. We stop at a candy store in Chevy Chase and pick up a large stack of M&M's, and head on out to Gifford's in Silver Spring. Gifford's. Hot fudge. Delicate, yet robust, it is the paradox of hot fudge.

As we sweep in we are greeted by the sight on Friday-night fever. There are crowds of people -- young and old -- experimenting, dabbling. The air is thick with the scent of hot, sweet sugars and chocolate, and cold ice creams. But it is the unmistakable breath of hot fudge that dominates. They are all eating ice cream, yes. And not all of it is chocolate. But it is laced with, mixed in with, blanketed with and marbled with swirly, thick, rich hot fudge.

I order doubles. The fudge comes in brown china breakers. I have to bow to the classics and pour it over vanilla ice cream. He, of course, orders it with chocolate ice crem. We are silent, observant, sated -- for the moment. The ebb and flow of eager ice cream eaters becomes an impressionist blur. It is 11:30 p.m.

As we part, chocolates in hand, I know he is one of us.

The sensual qualities of chocolate cannot be overestimated.Loaded with the same chemical that gives us that springy feeling when we fall in love, chocolate can play a strong supporting role in love-making. Do you want to impress that very special person? Make an elegant little dinner for him/her and finish it off with a selection of Godivas and champagne. Or take the object of your desires out to dinner, ending up at Le Pavillon, where the two of you can gaze into each other's eyes over Yannick Cam's white chocolate mousse. Ethereal, yet creamy, and buttery, Cam's mousse seems to hover in its fragile water lily-shaped cookie shell. Nuggets of praline serve as a crunchy contrast to the mousse itself, which is topped with shavings of white chocolate.

But my search has not ended. A true chocolate-lover would weep at the sight and taste of the wonders I discovered in the basement of the Four Seasons Hotel. It was the pastry kitchen. The air hung heavy with the haunting echoes of vanilla, warm sponge cake and chocolate: sweet, buttery and bitter. The wizard, in his towering white hat, loomed over a large piece of brittle chocolate that has been smeared over a piece of waxed paper and chilled.

"I'll be using this sheet of sweet chocolate to cut out stars, hearts, moons and flowers to affix to various pastries," he said.

At six feet, Ron Fousec looks as if he should be playing guard for the Bullets rather than turning out rows and rows of the most incredible delicate pastries of all sorts -- especially his chocolate creations.

Where to begin? In the garden of earthly delights, which flower does one pluck first? I closed my eyes and pointed downward.

My finger landed in the thick and coconutty icing of the German chocolate cake. Sweet surrender! I launched into the moist cake but stopped short of polishing it off. On to the others sparkling brownly before me. An airy and spongy genoise -- vanilla sponge cake layered with apricot jam and a fluffy chocolate mousse. Then a cookie-crusted confection filled with chocolate butter cream and raspberry preserves. Then, a chocolate bisque glaze -- molded mousse covered with the rich vanilla cream of a sauce anglaise. Then a little Perrier to cleanse the palate.

And magically, all of a sudden, my journey ended, in that very pastry kitchen, in the middle of Georgetown. The piece de la resistance. The creme de la creme. The apogee of chocolate experiences -- Ron Fousec's ultimate chocolate cake, so extraordinarily rich that I tasted only a sliver. The cake itself is the darkest bittersweet, like chocolaty organdy, crumpled around a light and airy chocolate mousse shot through with shards of crushed walnuts and chunks of bittersweet, the whole veiled in a glossy butter cream frosting and crowned with shavings of bittersweet.

As I took my first bite, I knew: The chocolate-lover's fantasy had come true.