Saturday dawned, but Kayla slept through the first hours. Finally the cat would wait no more and she tumbled out of bed. A little cool for the beach, but that meant no crowds.
What to wear? She kept it simple -– newer jeans, boots suitable for hiking, her favorite purple shirt. She tucked the zebra mussel into her jacket pocket.
She had planned to bake cupcakes, but she hadn’t planned to sleep so much. She settled instead for being extremely particular about the cupcake she bought, and added a croissant and hot chocolate for herself to have on the road.
She was looking forward to this, she realized. Danny might be the one person who wouldn’t argue with her. He wouldn’t like her news, of course, but he would accept it the way she had and help her cover all her bases for the next few weeks. It would be good to have the ear of someone who wouldn’t freak out every time she tried to go over her list and make sure she wasn’t overlooking something.
Telling him still would be tough, Kayla knew. She didn’t want to lead with “Hi, I’m dying.” And on the outside chance he was thinking marriage, she knew he would have thought carefully, and she didn’t want to spoil things. Her news would be the spoiler, but not her.
She had probably 10 or 15 minutes, she decided. That would be enough time for all the awkward reacquaintance time, the how are you you look greats, the catching up since their last conversation so very long ago. Then she could tell him, gently and calmly.
The second she saw him, the plan was done. He turned and smiled, and she ran in for a hug and could not let go. She cried as she clung to him, cried as she hadn’t since Wednesday, that awful Wednesday. He wouldn’t know why, she knew that, but he would know she needed him, and for the moment that would be enough. And it was; he kept his arms wrapped around her without a word, and when she pulled her face away from his shoulder for air, all he asked was whether she wanted to sit down.
They sat on boulders near the water’s edge, and she shivered a little in the breeze, even through the jacket. She realized she still was holding the bakery bag. “Happy birthday,” she said, forcing a smile as she handed him the cupcake, banged up a bit. “Have a zebra mussel,” she added, pulling it out of her pocket and sticking it into the frosting.
“Thank you,” he said, studying her. “Frosting just makes invasive species seem so much less threatening. We should tell the EPA.” And when she was able to laugh at that he added, “What’s up?”
Now it was easy to tell him, but it took forever. She had to start back at when she first started feeling run down, track through the months of testing, and wind up at Wednesday.
“Exactly 27 days left?” he asked.
Kayla shrugged. “As near as they can tell. I have a chart, but when I run out of squares I’ll just start writing on the wall. Who’s going to complain?”
“WHEN you run out of squares?” he asked.
She thought for a moment. Yes, she’d said when. Maybe she wasn’t so accepting after all.
“Well, that’s no good,” she said. “Here I was carping at my friends for not dealing with this, and maybe I’m not really either.”
He looked her dead on. “Does acceptance have to rule out hope?”
She smiled, easily. “No. I can have both.” A huge burden floated off her shoulders, into the lightly cloudy sky. “I knew you would get this. I knew you would be the one person.”
Except maybe her mom, she thought guiltily. But her mom had been with her always, while she and Danny had chosen each other.
“So what’s up with you?” she asked, changing the subject, and now it was time to catch up. They went over their series of jobs, the parade of bad dates, the smattering of OK relationships that somehow weren’t quite enough. She had thought about marrying once, about 10 years ago; but she wasn’t madly in love and didn’t want to settle. He hadn’t met anyone either, but had kept busy with a new business he was growing on the side. She had lost her father to a heart attack; he lost his brother in Iraq.
“So this is 45, huh?” she asked. It wasn’t what she had pictured at 15 or even 35, but she didn’t care. It was her life, and whatever it was she would manage.
Danny nodded and smiled.
“I have a present for you,” he said, pulling out a smallish box. “Two words come with it.”
She froze. It looked too big to be a ring box, but it clearly was a nice box meant for presentations. “Does either of those words start with M?”
He looked puzzled, and she could see him running through words in his head before he grinned. “Marry me? No, I promise. Just open it,” he said, handing it to her.
She popped it open and saw a set of car keys -– Dodge.
She raised an eyebrow at him and he hurried to explain. “It’s a rental,” he said. “The new Viper.”
“And the two words?”
He beamed. “Road trip.”
She shook her head, stunned, then was annoyed at her reaction. “I can’t,” she said.
“Why not? Afraid you’ll die in a car accident?”
She stared back and then laughed. “No, my doctors will kill me,” she said.
He sobered. “Can you really not travel? Is there really something they can do for you that you need to stay close?”
Kayla thought for a moment. Really, they couldn’t do anything except keep her comfortable –- not that she wanted to discount the comfort factor. She already had thought of traveling. As long as she had her records and her main doctor’s number handy, and she was within a couple hours’ drive of an ER, why not?
“I say, pack up the drugs and hit the road,” she said.
Danny watched a second to make sure she meant it, then grinned again. “Cool,” he said. “Way cool.”
He pulled her up and motioned to the far lot, where the Viper was stashed. “I get it first,” he said. “Let’s get some lunch and plot a course.”
“You drive it first? Some present,” she protested.
“My birthday,” he shot back. “You pick where we eat.”
He grabbed her hand and pulled her forward. “Come on,” he said, a little more gently. “You need to keep up your strength. There’s lots to see, and we should be heading out before sundown.”
The next chapter used these votes:
Are they starting in Michigan?
152 votes went like this:
Yes: 66.45 percent (101 votes)
No: 33.55 percent (51 votes)
Should Kayla tell her mom about her diagnosis before she leaves?
149 votes went like this:
Yes: 55.03 percent (82 votes)
No: 44.97 percent (67 votes)
How should they decide where to go?
150 votes went like this:
Travel Channel: 1.33 percent (2 votes)
Food Network: 3.33 percent (5 votes)
Just make a big clockwise circle: 7.33 percent (11 votes)
U.S. map and a dart: 36.67 percent (55 votes)
Flip a coin at major highway junctions: 51.33 percent (77 votes)
How long should they be gone?
143 votes went like this:
A week: 8.39 percent (12 votes)
Two weeks: 27.97 percent (40 votes)
Until she has about 3 days left: 27.27 percent (39 votes)
Until the very end: 36.36 percent (52 votes)
This post originally appeared on ourMidland.com, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.