Life is a Box of Chocolates

The blush wine is sweet on Sandra’s tongue. Denise hands her the box of chocolates and points.

“Those have soft centers.” 

“I shouldn’t,” Sandra says, taking one. Denise eyes her strangely.

“How’s the budding romance?”

“How was it for you in the beginning? You had him first.”

“Has he brought you flowers, yet? That’s his go-to move.”

Denise’s comment is a punch in the stomach. Funny how flowers make you feel like you’re the only woman who’s ever gotten them.

“Roses on the first date was sweet. Are you trying to ruin it for me?” 

“Sorry,” Denise says, but she isn’t. “So, he’s the one?”

“Life is a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Being There, right? No, Sling Blade.”

Forrest Gump.”

“But that’s my point,” Denise says. “You don’t have to be Forrest Gump. I’m the instructions on the candy box that warns you what you’re putting in your mouth. Which, by the way, is his go-to move after the flowers.”

“You’re just being mean, now. When David asked me out, I asked you, right?  You said you didn’t mind. Do you?”

Denise is silent, then says, “No.”

They both gaze at Denise’s backyard. Peonies brush the ground with oversized blooms beside a dramatic stand of purple bearded irises. It’s a pretty backyard. Sandra has always liked it. David had given the house to Denise in the divorce. He’d given her pretty much everything. Denise tips the bottle over Sandra’s glass and tops it off. Sandra decides to change the subject.

“So, which is better? Walking on the treadmill behind the hot guy and watching his butt, or using the machines in front of the hot guy and looking at his package while he lifts?”

She doesn’t have to explain who she’s talking about. They’ve both been gawking at this guy at the gym with a body you see on covers of romance novels, who works out in shirts and shorts that show it off. Neither of them knows his name.

Denise puts her finger to her chin.

“Behind or in front? Maybe I should ask him out and get a good look at both. We could make it a double date. Me and the hot guy, you and David.”

Sandra can see wheels turning in Denise’s head, the idea of lording it over David with some other guy. This seems unhealthy, but it’s also convenient because Sandra has something to ask.

“Funny you should mention double dates. David has four tickets to see The Dave Matthews Band at River Bend. He asked me to find a couple to go with us.”

“Crap. He knows I like Dave Matthews.” Denise says it like it’s all about her.   

“Ask the hot guy,” Sandra suggests.

“I’ve never even spoken to him. What if he’s married?”

“He doesn’t wear a ring.”

“They don’t always.” Denise drains her glass and reaches for the bottle. “I need more wine.” 

“Don’t forget the chocolate,” Sandra says, handing her the box, sensing a double date in the making.


Sandra rides in front, across from David, who’s driving. Denise and Eric, the hot guy, are in the back. They’re late. The sound of the opening act penetrates the windows of David’s Honda as they roll through the parking lot. 

“Park over there, David,” Denise says. “It’s way the hell from the pavilion, but if you’d been on time we wouldn’t have had this problem.”

“If you’d given me the correct address for Eric, we wouldn’t have been late.” They’ve been going at each other like this all the way up to River Bend, two exes trying to win the argument neither could win when they were a couple. 

“I apologize, Eric,” Denise says, trying to drag him into it. “David gets this way.”

Eric looks like a cornered squirrel. Sandra needs to rescue him.

“It doesn’t matter. The opening act isn’t that good.” A lie, but now is not a time for truth and fortunately, they’ve reached the parking area. David finds a spot and they all get out.

“We’re a million miles away,” Denise complains. “It’ll take ten minutes to walk to the gate. David should have dropped us off and then parked.”

“There’s a shortcut,” David says, pointing to an overgrown vacant lot next to the parking area. “If we go up this hill, it should take us directly to the gate.”

They follow a footpath through unmown grass to bushes at the foot of a hill. Sandra is eyeing the hill to assess the difficulty – she’s wearing sandals, not hiking boots – when she sees the snake.    

“Everybody stop!”   

They stop. She points. The snake is brown, thick as a garden hose, coiled beside the path, watching them, tongue darting out.

“It’s just a garter snake,” David says. “It won’t hurt you.”

“Garter snake my ass,” Denise replies, “It’s a copperhead! They’re poisonous.”

Denise pulls out her phone.  “I’m going to take a picture and ask Siri if it’s a copperhead.”

“Can Siri do that?” Sandra asks.

David rolls his eyes. In the distance, Sandra hears the opening act playing a song she recognizes. She looks at her watch. Dave Matthews will take the stage soon.

“It’s just a garter snake,” David says. He breaks a small branch off a bush and pokes at the snake. The snake sails through the air, striking David’s arm.

“It bit me!” He drops the branch. The snake slithers away into the brush.

“Let’s go back to the parking lot,” Denise says. “We know we can get there that way.” Denise turns and begins walking rapidly. Sandra hurries after her.

“Denise! Wait! David was bitten! What if it was a copperhead?”

“He should have thought of that before he poked it.” 

Sandra looks over her shoulder at the boys walking twenty yards behind. David is holding his arm against his chest, his other hand pressing against the wound.

Denise sneers at Sandra.  “Why don’t you be a good date and go suck the venom out of his arm?” Then she speeds up.

“That’s not funny.”

“If David’s afraid, they probably have a first aid station someplace inside. Maybe they’ll give him a Sponge Bob bandaid.”

They’ve arrived at the gate. Denise turns. “David! We need the tickets.”

David lets go of his wounded arm and thrusts his hand into the front pocket of his shorts. “Shit.” Everyone knows what that means.

“They’re in the car,” David says. Turning, he starts jogging back. Denise follows, shouting about what a dumbass he is, leaving Sandra alone with Eric, who looks bemused. Sandra feels obliged to explain. 

“You know they used to be married, right?”

“Denise told me they were divorced.”

“Yeah, but they’re nervous. This is the first time they’ve socialized with each other since splitting up. So, do you like Dave Matthews?”

“I don’t really know his music.”

Is Eric from Mars? “You don’t? Well, what kind of music do you like?”

“Bluegrass. I play the banjo.”

Sandra gasps, then wished she hadn’t. Eric doesn’t look like the kind of person she imagines listening to Bluegrass music. It’s like discovering Kanye West is into macramé.

David and Denise are striding back toward them, Denise in front, the tickets in her fist. David looks like the wind has been taken out of his sails. Sandra attaches herself to him, caresses his arm. It has some effect, but David remains glassy-eyed.

“Here!” Denise said, thrusting the tickets at the girl at the gate. Then she glares at David. “Maybe we’ll be in time for the encore!”


Sandra is in the front seat, driving David’s car home from the concert. Eric is beside her. Denise and David are in the back, entwined in each other’s arms, horribly drunk. Sandra pulls into Denise’s driveway, shifts into Park, and waits.

And waits.

“Okay, Denise. We’re at your house. Goodnight, Denise.” Sandra wonders whether they’ll have to carry Denise inside. In the rearview mirror, she sees shadows stir in the back seat. Denise exchanges looks with poor Eric. It would be so wrong to ask Eric, Denise’s putative date, to help carry Denise in. But wrong seems to be the theme of the evening.

Finally, the car door by Denise creaks open, then slams shut. Then the door on David’s side opens. David and Denise stagger up the walk to Denise’s front door, the arm of each across the shoulder of the other, the momentum of their every move directionless, the outcome of their every step a cliffhanger.

They reach the door and huddle together, presumably searching for a key in Denise’s purse, though Sandra sees David reach into his own pocket. She wonders if David still has a key or is confused, thinking he still lives there. David squats down, brings his face level with the doorknob. He lifts his arm up and jabs at the door. He tries again. Sandra, watching, holds her breath.

Finally, the door opens. Denise grabs the doorframe for balance and maneuvers herself into the house. David follows her in. The door closed shut behind them. Oh crap.

“Maybe he needs to go to the bathroom.” 

“Ya’ think?” Eric says.  They sit in the dark, not talking, the engine running. Sandra counts to thirty, does it again, then honks the horn and waits. Denise’s porch light turns off. A moment later, the downstairs windows go dark. Sandra slams the heel of her hand against the steering wheel and curses. She reaches for the gear shift and shifts into reverse.

“I’ll take you home, Eric.”   

They ride in silence to Eric’s neighborhood. She remembers generally where Eric lives, a townhouse among other townhouses. But all townhouses look alike in the dark.

“Over there,” he says, guiding her. “Want to come in for a minute?”

Given the way Denise treated him, how can she say no?


Eric’s living room is homey in a spartan way, but lacks a woman’s touch. Against the wall, by the gas fireplace, is a banjo propped upright on a stand.

“You really do play the banjo.”

He smiles and nods. He leaves, then returns with two glasses of wine.

“I saw you drinking white at the concert. This is better.”

She takes a sip. He’s right. She sips again, slower this time, tasting apples, pepper, smoke. Eric is looking her in the eye.

“What was tonight about? Was I being used to make her ex jealous?”

“I don’t know. Maybe David was dating me to make Denise jealous. Love is strange.”

“I suppose, if you call that love.  Do you like moonshine? I make it.” 


“Uh, I don’t think I’ve ever had it.”

Eric smiles, rises, returns with an unlabeled bottle filled with what looks like water. He carries a box in his other hand. He sits beside her and places the box on the coffee table.


Sandra smiles and opens the box. It’s full.

“Don’t you like chocolates?” she asks.

“I was saving it for a special occasion. Have all you want.”

She picks one and bites it in half. It has a creamy center.


He pours a couple fingers of moonshine in their glasses.

“Just a little sip at first. It’s really strong.”

She takes a sip, swallows, then feels the fire. She coughs. He laughs.

“Pretty good, huh?”

Eric reaches into the box of candy, takes one, and pops it in his mouth.

“Life is a box of chocolates,” he says. “You never know what you’re going to get. Like tonight.”

Sandra sighs. “I’m sorry Denise did what she did.”

He shrugs. “She wasn’t the reason I went to the concert, anyway.” 

“I thought you weren’t a Dave Matthews fan.”

He takes a sip of moonshine, handling it better than she did.

“I went because Denise said you were coming.”

“Me? You don’t even know me.”

“I noticed you at the gym. I was too shy to speak.”

It takes a moment to sink in. She recalls the dirty thoughts she’d had watching him work out. Maybe he’d been doing the same with her.   

She takes another swallow of moonshine and absorbs the kick like a pro. She lets her eyes roam freely, taking in Eric’s chest, his softball biceps, his strong thighs and the package between them. He catches her looking and smiles. She smiles back to let him know he can strum her banjo if he wants to.