D minus 29.
It had taken Kayla a long time to get to sleep. She finally gave up and turned on the TV, drifting away to the vibrant colors of “CSI:Miami.” She could go there with no passport, but somehow she doubted the real-life city would measure up.
Waking up was strange. Sure, she was happy to wake up, but she suspected the “it’s great to be alive” would get old, and the countdown would get even older. Still, going about business as usual didn’t seem quite right either; it was wasteful.
She heard the coffeemaker finishing up. She had debated even going to work today. But that had set off the whole question of whether she wanted to go to work again, ever.
Did she like her job? Well enough. But did she love it so much that she wanted to spend her last month alive there? Well, no.
Her supervisor knew she’d been sick. Still, Kayla wasn’t close enough to her to want to spill the whole story. She settled instead on quitting for medical reasons, not taking leave because she couldn’t say how long she’d be off. Today was Thursday; tomorrow would be her last day.
She could live with that. It seemed too abrupt to announce and quit on the same day. This would give her the chance to pass unfinished projects along and say goodbyes, some more informed than others.
Kayla pulled on one of her autopilot outfits, something she’d worn so often she could accessorize it without thinking. She made the bed, shook down more dry food for the cat, filled her thermos and began her next to last day of work.
Four of them ended up going to lunch. They went through pots of hot tea and stayed far too long, but Kayla didn’t care. These women were real friends, and she owed them the truth.
They protested the truth, deep in denial, disbelieving her quick acceptance. In the end, they agreed to respect her acceptance, and she agreed to respect their need to look for alternatives. She even promised Becky she could have copies of her records to shop for other opinions.
That question settled, they turned to Danny. “What do you WANT to happen?” Laura asked.
Honestly, Kayla didn’t know. She had decided to meet him, if nothing else because she had precious little time left for unsatisfied curiosity. If she didn’t see him, she’d wonder what would have happened. And the hurt he would feel at being stood up was something she couldn’t bear to cause.
Her friends disagreed over whether she should marry -– so vehemently, and in such detail, that Kayla sat back and watched, smiling, until they realized what they were doing and, embarrassed, invited her back into the conversation.
“I don’t even know that he WANTS to get married,” she said. “All he asked was for me to meet him.”
Becky insisted marriage was the whole reason for the pact, so of course that’s what he would want. “I bet he’ll have a ring in his pocket,” she said.
Kayla shook her head. “Not Danny. He’d want me to pick it out.”
Alex rolled her eyes. “There’s no romance in that,” she said. “There has to be a ring. That way you can get married right there on the beach.”
“What, you think he’s going to stash witnesses in the buses? And what about the license?” Kayla asked.
Laura dinged her spoon on her teacup for a turn. “If he’s that practical, he already has the license thing figured out -– for all you know, he’ll have plane tickets to Vegas in his pocket.” She waved away Kayla’s objection and plowed on.
“There are plenty of jewelers in Vegas. For that matter, we could meet you there, too, if the airlines cooperate. I’d be game.” She looked around the table for agreement and got nods.
“When it comes down to it, though, what matters most is whether you want to be with him,” Laura said. “And for that, all you need is each other. I mean, do you really care at this point about the rest of the world?”
“I thought you said I wasn’t going to die,” Kayla said.
Laura looked somber. “I’d prefer not. But I’m trying to be in your head. If you think you’ve got a month left, and if you want to spend it with your high school sweetheart, do you care whether you have legal recognition?”
It was Kayla’s turn to frown. “IF I marry him, then yes, I want him to be my husband for real. But I don’t know if that’s what I want. I mean, I think under normal circumstances I’d say no. But my life isn’t normal anymore” –- it was her turn to wave away objections -– “and if he’ll make me happy, I should just go with that.
“Maybe it’s using him. But if he wants to marry me, I think he’ll be OK with that, considering …”
She stopped abruptly and looked around the table. “I’ve been assuming I’ll tell him. Should I tell him?”
“Of course,” Becky said, reaching over for her hand. “You said you assumed. That means it’s in your heart to tell him. You haven’t known us nearly as long. How could you love him so long, that he appears out of the blue and there’s no question you’ll see him, and not tell him?”
Kayla sighed. Again, it came to what she could and couldn’t bear, and she couldn’t bear the betrayal of not telling him. She just wasn’t sure how. Everything would hinge on those first moments.
The next day passed in a blur. She signed papers, wrote memos, turned in keys, said goodbyes as though she were just going away for a few months, accepted people’s hugs and hopes she’d be back. Only three knew the truth, and their eyes were brighter as they played along.
Exhausted, she fell into bed, her cat at her feet, the zebra mussel carefully plucked from her jewelry box and placed on her nightstand. She wanted to be very rested, very clear on Saturday.
The next chapter used these answers:
Kayla should bring a cupcake and what else?
126 votes went like this:
The zebra mussel: 69.05 percent (87 votes)
A bottle of wine: 20.63 percent (26 votes)
Her high school yearbooks: 10.32 percent (13 votes)
Danny has a present for her. Is it
121 votes went like this:
small enough to fit in a jewelry box? 45.45 percent (55 votes)
handwritten on paper? 39.67 percent (48 votes)
hidden in the bushes? 10.74 percent (13 votes)
computer printed and tucked in a folder? 4.13 percent (5 votes)
When she tells him, does he
120 votes went like this:
continue a long and deep conversation about it? 25.83 percent (31 votes)
offer to move into her home so she won’t die alone? 26.67 percent (32 votes)
propose a road trip? 42.5 percent (51 votes)
abruptly leave? 5 percent (6 votes)
This post originally appeared on ourMidland.com, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.