A Heart Full of Chocolates
A short story
The only thing more depressing than Valentine’s Day itself was having it fall on a Saturday night. It didn’t matter that Jorie spent most Saturday evenings at home in front of her computer. What got stuck in her craw was the principal of the thing—Valentine’s Day honored three kinds of women: mothers, grandmothers, and the very slender. Thirty-three-year-old women with size eighteen bodies did not receive roses or red satin heart-boxes filled with chocolates.
“Hey Jorie,” she heard when she opened her phone after hearing the opening notes of Adam Lambert’s Mad World. “What are you doing tonight?”
Crap. It was Heather, her least-favorite friend. “I’m just hanging out here—no big deal.”
“On Valentine’s Day? Don’t you have a date?” The little bitch knew Jorie didn’t have a date. If Jorie didn’t get rid of her fast, she’d have to listen to Heather brag about her latest Mr. Wonderful.
“Heather, my front door buzzer just went off. Gotta go.” Jorie closed the phone and hit the off button. Then turned the phone back on. You never knew who might call.
Chocolate hearts. Roses. Gushy cards. Jorie hated them all. The sleazy satin hearts filled with chocolates were the worst of the phony love stuff and were advertised everywhere you looked, even on the side of busses splattered with street slime.
In need of a distraction, she went to her computer and opened her favorite site for writers. The site allowed fiction writers to display their work, get feedback from other writers and even publish poetry or topic rants. Jorie was ready to fight back. No hearts and flowers or melodramatic poems from this writer; she’d write a Valentine’s Day rant!
The thousand-word rant turned out sarcastic, sharply witty, and brilliantly hilarious. Hah! She placed her razor-sharp words on a pink background and added a picture of a lovely woman—a size-two woman—holding a bouquet of roses and a box of candy. Perfect. Jorie hit the button, posting her rant for all to see. Well, anyone who was sitting in front of his or her computer on Valentine’s Day. Pandora, was Jorie’s username on the site. No one would know who was the pathetic writer, home alone on Valentine’s Day writing rants.
The phone again. Now what? Her mother? She should have left the thing off.
“Hey, Jorie, it’s me.” Damn. It was Joe, a loser boyfriend from her recent past. The creep had only dated her because he was always broke, their dates usually paid for by guess-who. Until guess-who got sick of supporting their dates and dumped him.
“What brings you out from under your rock?’ She was in no mood for games.
“Is that any way to talk? I thought maybe we could get together tonight, you know, do something for Valentine's Day.”
What a total ass. Do something—sure—something she would be willing to pay for.
“I don’t think so, Joe. I have to stay in and wash my hair. See ya!” Jorie closed the phone and hit the off button. She’d heard from enough annoying people tonight.
Maybe it was time to toss the pepperoni pizza she'd bought into the oven as a consolation gift to herself. But just as she was about to get up from in front of her computer, she noticed a review for her rant had already popped up on the writer’s site. She wondered which other dateless loser was home alone tonight. A five-star review. Could have been worse. At least someone understood. Jorie opened the review. Nothing but praise for her writing. She noticed she’d also gotten a message from the reviewer.
A Valentine’s Day rant! Original, Pandora. What can I say? Well-written rant? Sorry you are so unhappy tonight. It was amusing to read, though, and well written; your writing is always entertaining.
So, username, Edukator. He’d given his real name. Or, maybe he had. He and Jorie never failed to review each other’s work on the website. One of the good ones, Jorie always took his words to heart. Grateful for his message, she typed in a response and added her name.
Thanks for the nice review, Rick. And for the kind words. This night will pass.
Jorie put the pizza in the oven and opened a can of soda. Funny, but the message from Edukator had tweaked her attitude a little. Maybe she hadn’t said enough in her answer. She returned to her computer to expand her response and, back on the website, she found another personal message waiting for her.
I was thinking about you and noticed on your profile that you also live in the Chicago area. Not sure where you are, but maybe we should meet tonight. No pressure, of course, we would simply meet as kindred writers no longer alone on Valentine’s Day.
Wow! She didn’t think people from the site ever got together. Not that there was anything wrong with it. She hated blind dates about as much as she hated satin hearts, but he said this wouldn’t be a date.
Your note surprised me. As long as we’d be meeting just as friends, maybe I’ll consider it. FYI, I’m thirty-three and I’m full-figured. But you’re right; we could meet as fellow writers. I’m in Waukegan, IL, just south of Chicago.
The delicious odor of baking pizza had lost some of it’s enticement. She told herself she was stupid to get excited about meeting a stranger. Many of the writers on the site were retired people; this guy could be in his seventies. Jorie pulled the pizza out of the oven and set it on a breadboard. Maybe she’d have a piece or two. The cheese was bubbly and the crust lightly browned. She could decide what to do while she munched. After adding a few pieces to a plate and grabbing a Diet Coke, she returned to the computer and found another message waiting for her.
Staying in the full-disclosure mode, I’m forty-eight and have never been attractive to younger women. So like I said, no pressure. Let’s meet.
I have to go out tonight anyway. I’m in Schaumburg. That big bookstore in Gurnee, which is close for you, is having a poetry reading for Valentine’s Day. I planned on stopping in to listen to some of the poets, and I also have some shopping to do while I’m there. If that interests you, I’ll be there by about eight. I’ll be wearing a dark blue jacket with khaki pants. I’m about six feet tall and wear wire-rimmed glasses. (I’m a teacher and I look like one.)
As you know, I love mysteries, so you’ll probably find me browsing the mystery aisle.
Hope you to see you there,
An hour later, Jorie walked into the bookstore wearing her favorite outfit—black jeans with a fuzzy black cardigan sweater over a white turtleneck, topped by her favorite black wool jacket. The outfit was slenderizing and complemented her long, golden blonde hair, definitely her best feature, if you could call hair a feature.
As promised, she spotted him in the mystery aisle, a youngish, forty-eight-year old, with thinning, light brown hair. Just as she was about to walk his way she saw a woman approach him. Older than Jorie by at least ten years, she was all glammed up like she was going somewhere fancy. Hair styled to perfection, an outfit that probably cost more than Jorie’s weekly salary, and fingernails, blood-red daggers. Rick—if the guy was Rick—looked uncomfortable, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
Jorie, remembering he didn’t know what she looked like, moved close enough to eavesdrop. And close enough to smell the woman’s cloying, floral perfume.
“Rick," the woman gushed. "I’m so glad we ran into each other! Maybe we could have coffee or something.” She batted eyelids heavy with mascara and smoky eyeshadow.
“Yes, it’s nice to see you, Madeleine.” His body language revealed his discomfort as he backed up into the shelves, holding a book in front of him like a shield. His eyes were everywhere but on the woman in front of him. He looked around the aisle, and met Jorie’s gaze. “Uh, I’d really like to but I’m meeting someone here.”
Madeleine’s brown eyes narrowed, clearly doubting the truthfulness of his excuse.
Impulsively, Jorie walked up to him, and slid an arm through his. “Hi, sorry I’m late!”
His eyebrows raised, startled, then he recovered and said, “No problem, I haven’t been here very long.”
She held out her other hand to the stylish woman, hoping to avoid the dangerous nails. “Nice to meet you. I’m Jorie.”
Rick cleared his throat. “Jorie, this is Madeleine. I’ve probably mentioned her, she’s our assistant principal.” He returned his book to the shelf, and casually placed an arm on Jorie’s shoulder. Madeleine sniffed, mumbling something unintelligible while she turned on an impossibly narrow heel, and flounced out of the aisle.
“Aren’t you a surprise.” Rick said, his blue eyes twinkling. “You certainly undersell yourself, don’t you?”
Jorie had been thinking the same thing about him. He didn’t look his age at all, and the shy smile below the blue eyes made her heart flutter. She shrugged, flattered. “You said no pressure—you’re too old for me—I’m too…” Unsure how to end the sentence gracefully, she said, “young for you.”
He chuckled. “Yes, no pressure. We’re here as fellow writers.”
They spent the next two hours browsing, listening to the poets, and talking over a cup of coffee in the coffee bar. Jorie could have sworn she saw Madeleine circling in the distance like a bird of prey. Was the woman a stalker? Jorie was starting to wonder if she’d misread Rick's signals. Maybe he would have preferred the other woman’s company and had only been uneasy because he had promised to meet Jorie.
“I think your friend Madeline is still here.”
He sighed. “When you’re my age and get divorced, everyone tries to fix you up. Some well-meaning friends invited her over for dinner one night, trying to get us together. Well, you know how that is.”
A single woman her age wasn’t very marketable. Things like that never happened to her. “Sure. Happens all the time,” Jorie lied.
“I went to a school function with her after that dinner and now she thinks we’re dating.” He smiled, but only the corners of his mouth moved. “Thanks for helping me out. I think she got the message.”
“Maybe.” Jorie wondered why it even mattered to her since she wasn’t interested in him as a man, just as a friend to share Valentine’s Day with. He was kind of cute, but not her type. She preferred the tall, dark and jerky type, unfortunately. Maybe it was time for a change. But even forty-eight-year-old men didn’t like overweight women.
Jorie took the last sip of her coffee. “I’d like to find out who wins the poetry contest. Do you want to go back?”
“You know, I have an errand next door. If you don’t mind, I’ll run over there and meet you back here. I’ll only be a minute.”
“Sure.” For a moment, Jorie wondered if Rick would come back. But he didn't seem like that kind of person—not like the men she dated.
He met her a short twenty minutes later at the area where the poets were now doing book signings. “Mom gets a dreaded heart of chocolates,” he laughed, and held up a shopping bag bearing the logo of a local candy store.
When they left the bookstore, they walked into a winter wonderland. Large, heavy flakes were drifting onto the pavement, covering it just enough to make it slippery. “Let me carry your packages,” he offered, taking her bags. As usual, Jorie hadn’t been able to leave the store without buying a stack of books.
At her car, he asked for her snow brush, and cleaned the car off for her as she warmed it up. Damn. She liked him. But their meeting was strictly no-strings, probably a pity thing on his part. Although this had been one of her better Valentine’s Days, thanks to him. They’d still be friends on the website, anyway, that wouldn’t change.
When he finished clearing the snow from her car, she opened the window to thank him. Before she could say the words, he leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Pandora,” he said, grinning.
Jorie smiled back at him and drove slowly out of the parking lot, glancing in the rearview mirror as he walked to his car.
When she got home, Jorie changed into her pajama’s and robe, her mind and imagination still on Rick. A kiss on the cheek meant nothing, she told herself. Friends did that all the time. And he hadn’t said a work about seeing her again. Well, she had her new books. Reading always made her happy. She’d go through the books, pick one to start on, and be asleep in no time. She plopped the bag of books on her bed.
When she looked inside the large bag she found a smaller package that wasn’t one of her own purchases. Rick must have mistakenly added one of his packages to hers when he was carrying their purchases. She looked inside and saw a bright, red satin heart box. And a card. Could he have left the gift for his mother in her bag by mistake? But on the front of the envelope—in heavy, masculine handwriting, was written—Pandora. Her heart raced as she opened the card.
Your rant was not accurate. Valentine hearts filled with chocolates are for all lovely ladies.
Will you have dinner with me one night this week? But, no pressure!
Jorie picked up the heart box, running her fingers over its smooth satin exterior. A velvety, red rose, its petals tipped in white, was centered on a red bow on the heart's surface, the red-satin box rimmed with a red-ribbon-and-white-lace ruffle. She grinned. As she lifted the lid, the rich, mouth-watering scent of chocolate wafted up to her nose. Inhaling the heady scent, her eyes scanned the assortment. All milk chocolates. How had he known?
Picking up what looked like a chocolate-covered cherry, Jorie popped the smooth globe of chocolate into her mouth. When she bit into it, the sweet syrup that cuddled the cherry oozed over her tongue. She chewed, savoring the luscious blend of flavors.
After she’d enjoyed every bit of the rich piece of candy, a laugh broke out from deep in the center of her being, the kind of laugh she hadn’t experienced in a long time. Jorie laughed until her eyes watered, then hugged herself as she pictured Rick’s smiling blue eyes and relived the kiss he’d planted on her cheek.
This was the best Valentine’s Day ever!
I've stepped out of my suspense-writer mode to entertain you with this brief, feel-good Valentine's Day Story. Hope you enjoyed it. Have a happy, loving day, and don't forget to do something nice for the person most important in your life . . . yourself!