I frantically shuffled bags of candy around the shelf of the convenience store, hoping that by some miracle, a bag would be hidden underneath some Dove Promises or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. It was my fifth store that day and no one had it. I asked store associates at all the other stores I went into, and no one could help me.
“We’re all out.” Those three words were the words I kept hearing. We’re all out. I felt my chest tighten every time, like the weight of my sadness would crush me from the inside out.
I felt the sting of impending tears in my eyes, so I closed them and took a deep breath. Then another. It’s okay. You’ll be okay. I grabbed onto the shelf to steady myself and figure out my next move. Could I just forget the ritual today? Do you think he would forgive me? What am I going to do? There has to be one bag left somewhere. Just then I could sense someone walk behind me.
“Honey are you alright?” Her voice was calming like a warm afghan on a cold winter morning. It reminded me of my late grandmother. I felt my shoulders relax some and I turned to look at her. She was an older woman, probably in her seventies. She was hunched over her shopping cart, the contents of which was overflowing with Valentine’s Day paraphernalia. She had cards and heart-shaped candy boxes. She had bags of assorted chocolates and lollipops.
“Thank you. I’m okay. I have been searching all day for a bag of Cadbury mini eggs and I can’t find them. This is my fifth stop and everywhere so far is sold out.” I was really close to having a breakdown in the middle of the store but I didn’t want to subject this poor old lady to my grief, so I held back my tears.
The lady turned to her cart and shoved her hand in the mess of Valentine’s Day goods, rustled around for what felt like ages. Then she pulled out the most perfect looking, purple bag of chocolates I’d seen. It was a bag of Cadbury mini eggs that I’d been searching for all day and was probably the last one in the whole town. She handed me the bag and tears started streaming down my face. I didn’t know this woman and I had no idea if she was the touchy-feely type or not, but I pulled her into the biggest embrace I could muster.
“Oh honey! It’s just chocolate. No need for tears, dear.” She pulled away and looked up at me as she placed her hand on my shoulder. The look in her eye was that of sympathy but she didn’t pry. She turned back to her cart and began shuffling down the aisle, no questions asked. I watched her turn the corner and thought to myself, It’s not just chocolate. It’s everything. The lady didn’t have the whole story, so she didn’t know, but I was so grateful to her.
I took the lone bag of mini eggs to the checkout line at the front of the store. I looked around for the lady so I could thank her again, but I didn’t see her. I paid for my chocolate and left the store.
I felt so relieved as I walked out toward my car. For just a moment, I felt like I could breathe again and that the enormous weight of the realization of today was just a little lighter. But the dread set in as it registered in my mind what was to happen next. Getting in my car, I sat the bag next to me in the passenger seat.
I looked at myself in the visor mirror and was appalled. My hair was messily gathered on top of my head, I had day old mascara smeared underneath my right eye (yes just the one eye), and I had tiny little red splotches on my cheeks. I must’ve been a sight to the lady in the store… or anyone for that matter. But I didn’t care, my heart hurt.
“Guess what I got?” Cole flashed a sly grin at me with his hands behind his back.
I raised an eyebrow and wrapped my arms around him, trying to get at the thing behind his back. He laughed and wriggled away before I could get my hands on whatever it was. “What is it?!” I chased him around our new apartment’s kitchen.
He stopped and slowly brought his hand around, revealing a bag of Cadbury mini eggs.
“You got them!” I jumped into his arms with absolute delight. It was only our second Valentine’s Day together, but after the first one, we decided our ritual each “V-Day” would be to open a bag of mini eggs and take turns sharing a goal we have for our future life together. I knew he was a keeper the first time he suggested it.
We sat down on the couch next to each other. I pulled my knees into my chest and leaned into him so we could begin our V-Day tradition.
“Okay. Let’s get this bag open! It’s my favorite time of year!” I grinned and put the bag up to my teeth and yanked the corner a little too hard. Mini eggs flew all over the front of us. We both laughed and dug around in our laps to pick up the ones that spilled out.
“How about you let me open these from now on?” Cole chuckled and kissed my forehead.
“Deal.” I said, popping a mini egg in my mouth. Mmmmmm. Heavenly. “Okay how about I go first?” He looked at me, patiently waiting for me to share my future goal. “I want us to travel to Colorado this coming winter and ski at Copper Mountain!” I was so excited at the thought. I wasn’t a great skier, but I loved the feeling of the stomach drop when you’re moving swiftly down a snow-laden slope. Besides, the views from the top of any mountain are usually a sight that will stop you in your tracks.
“No argument here!” He wrapped his arms around me and nuzzled my neck. “My turn now?”
“Yep. Your turn. Make it a good one though. The world is our oyster.” His face got serious all of a sudden and he unwrapped his arms from around me and took both of my hands in his. “What’s the matter?” I thought I said something wrong.
“Before I get to my goal, I want to ask you a question.” I could tell from his expression that he was nervous.
“Okaaaaayyyyy. What is your question?” I raised an eyebrow at him. This wasn’t how our candy-fueled goalsetting tradition usually went.
“Emma Christine Martin, will you be my wife?” Goosebumps covered my arms and I stared at him blankly for a moment. I was envisioning our life together, a life with the man I loved more than anyone. He must’ve gotten worried because he waved a hand in front of my eyes to bring me back to earth. “Emma? You okay?”
“Are you sure?! YES! Of course I’ll be your wife!” I kissed him and felt my heart bursting with joy. I couldn’t wait to marry Cole Parker. It was the best Cadbury ritual we had yet.
Cole pulled a ring box out of his pocket, opened it, and slid a beautiful, simply stated diamond on my finger. We married two months later in a small ceremony in my parent’s backyard.
I pulled into the driveway and parked the car. I grabbed my things off the front seat and held the bag of mini eggs in my hand for a moment. When I finally made it inside the house, I threw the keys on the credenza by the front door and put my purse on the floor next to it.
“It took me all day, but I found them.” I set the bag down on the credenza so I could remove my coat and hang it up. “I went to five different stores and everywhere was sold out. Can you believe that?” Silence filled the room as I grabbed the bag and walked into the living room and sat on the couch. “If it weren’t for this old lady who was my Cadbury savior, I don’t know what I would’ve done. I guess we wouldn’t have been able to do our V-Day tradition.”
I ripped open the bag of mini eggs and a few exploded out of the bag onto the floor, just like the previous year. “One of these years I’m going to get this right,” I laughed and shrugged. I laid out a few eggs in front of a shiny silver urn on the coffee table. Engraved on its front was, ‘Cole Parker – Loving Husband, 1980 – 2021.’
I put my hand on the urn, my heart feeling so heavy I thought it might stop beating. “I’ll go first.” I took a deep breath in and out and popped a Cadbury mini egg in my mouth. “Since we never made it to Copper Mountain, I want to take you there this year and leave a little bit of you behind so you can experience its breathtaking beauty whenever you want.”
I never loved someone more than I loved Cole, but our chocolate V-Day ritual was my favorite way to remember him and stay connected to him. To me, there was no such thing as “just chocolate.”