“It was a lot of driving yesterday, ” Danny told her. “It’s tiring. That’s part of why I asked for two nights at the Wayside. But then I kept drinking coffee while you scarfed all that dessert, so I didn’t sleep well.”
Kayla wasn’t convinced. “You seem upset.”
He shook his head impatiently. “I don’t want to fight. And I don’t like it when you talk about dying, and I know you need to but I just don’t have my head all the way around it yet. Anyway, it’s all the more reason not to fight. Please?”
She eyed him, looking for signs of fibs, then relented. “OK — for now. What’s the quarter say?”
“Tails. Mount Vernon.”
“Rats!” she said. “I always liked Jefferson better.”
He raised an eyebrow at her. “Even though he messed around with his slaves?”
“Oh, and you’re so sure Washington didn’t?”
“OK, here’s a proposal: We’ll go to both, and we’ll ask the tour guides at both places. Fair?”
She agreed, so they left Belle Grove and headed toward Mount Vernon, Danny at the wheel. As soon as Kayla started checking out directions and saw the word “Beltway,” she abandoned any ego about getting them there the same day. “I’d have us in Atlanta or something,” she said. “No way.”
“You have an atlas and an iPhone, so you even have MapQuest,” he said. “How hard can it be?”
“I got lost going to the Henry Ford Museum once, because I was thinking 75 and 23 were the same thing,” she replied. “When I found out they weren’t, because none of the signs was like what I had on my directions, I had to dig out a state map and drive through Dearborn. I got there half an hour late for the IMAX movie I had made reservations for, but I begged and they let me switch. Between that and a plane to Chicago that landed about 8 hours late, I don’t like buying tickets in advance anymore.”
He glanced sideways at her. “I had no idea this was such a dramatic tale.”
“Shut up and drive,” she said. “You asked.”
Mount Vernon was spectacular. Kayla had expected to see mostly reproductions, but many of the items in the mansion actually had been owned by Washington, and 13 of the trees in the landscape he designed still were standing. There even was a key to the Bastille, presented to Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette. It was a good thing they both were history geeks.
They missed the wreathlaying ceremonies at the tomb, but Kayla pointed out the slave burial ground, while Danny argued back that the graves were unmarked and no one knew the names of the people buried there, or even how many there were. They wandered the rest of the grounds, admiring the gardens and sheep, and deciding to skip the short drive to the distillery and gristmill in favor of a candlelight dinner at the Mount Vernon Inn.
Like at the Wayside, the restaurant staff dressed in period clothing. “It seems weird to have mesquite-grilled stuff in a colonial dining room,” Danny said.
“Mesquite existed then,” Kayla said. “They probably just called it something else. But yeah, colonial and hip don’t seem to go together, do they?”
She almost made a point of skipping dessert, but homemade chocolate bread pudding swayed her. Danny bypassed the coffee in favor of a fresh fruit cobbler, but on the drive back to the hotel he decided that was a mistake and they ended up at a convenience store anyway.
The desk clerk at the hotel had made the hot air balloon reservations as promised, so in the morning they checked out early and headed to Front Royal to see the Shenandoah Valley by air. Kayla wasn’t crazy about the whole uncertainty of where they’d land, and nearly called it off when their operator cheerily mentioned the possibility of a pond landing and a “splash and dash.” He set her to work holding the top rope while the balloon inflated, though, and her excitement returned.
“I have to jump out of a plane,” she called to Danny.
He looked puzzled. “You know this thing doesn’t have wings, right?”
She laughed. “I don’t mean today. I mean sometime soon. I don’t have a lot of things to check off, but I never did jump out of a plane, and I really want to.”
He shrugged. “OK. For now, though, get in the basket.”
The ride was shorter than she expected, but dry so that was just fine. “Now caves,” she said, hopping to the car. “We have time.”
She smiled to herself. Time was a funny concept. She still hadn’t decided how she felt about it, except to enjoy what she had, and she wanted to see a really cool cave.
Fortunately, they were near the largest cave in the East, Luray Caverns. Kayla was pushing herself, tired but determined to see something, so she appreciated the paved walkways instead of the hiking she had been anticipating. They had other tourists take pictures of them in front of the “stalacpipe” organ. They admired the other formations, like Titania’s Veil and the 47-foot-tall Double Column, but even she had to admit that after a while they were stalactited and stalagmited out, and they still wanted to see Monticello today.
“They’re only open until 5,” she said. “We’ll only have a couple of hours.”
OK, now time sucked. But she pushed that thought away and dozed instead.
The tour through the house only took about half an hour, as it turned out. They were too late for the usual plantation tours, but Danny pulled an interpreter aside and whispered a few words, and she led them down toward Mulberry Row.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Kayla hissed, mad at herself for being grateful.
“So what are you going to do, not ask for favors, and just miss out? You’ll never be back. She could have said no.”
Kayla was quiet. The words “You’ll never be back” sounded heavier somehow coming from him than if she’d thought them herself. She had to force herself to listen to the interpreter relaying the details of individual slaves’ lives, if nothing else than to have ammunition for her argument with Danny over which president provided the better living situation. After some pointed questions from both of them, though, they were forced to call it a draw.
The Inn at Monticello didn’t serve dinner, so they headed to Prospect Hill instead. The innkeeper’s bell rang to start the meal, followed by a blessing and warm bread just out of the oven. The spring garden vegetable soup was perfect, and so was the beef tenderloin with portabello sauce Bordelaise.
Danny poked at his green beans suspiciously. “This is the haricots vert?” he asked. “String beans?”
Kayla grinned. “You know the French.”
“Yeah, but we’re not in France. They could have said green beans. And if that’s the case, then why is the dessert French apricot cream tart? Why isn’t it …” he searched for the word in vain. “I have no idea what apricot is in French.”
“That makes two of us,” Kayla said.
They toyed with the idea of staying at the attached inn, but decided to push on down 64. In Richmond a flip of the quarter veered them onto 95 and toward North Carolina.
“Your wishes, madame?” Danny asked.
She glared back. “I’m not that old.”
“Fine. Miss,” he stressed, “when do we stop?”
She shook her head and closed her eyes. “First motel across the state line,” she said. “Wake me in the parking lot.”
The next chapter was guided by the answer to a single question:
Do you think they should try to hit as many states as possible?
It was slim, with 49 percent voting yes and 51 percent voting no. The 79 total votes were the fewest ever, thanks in part to a website shift that temporarily killed some polling capability.
This post originally appeared on ourMidland.com, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.