Vote Me a Story: Kayla’s Journey, chapter 12

    Inside Hawg Heaven, they ordered rib platters.

    “I’m going to pack on 10 pounds on this trip,” Kayla said. “At least. I’ll need a plus-size coffin.”

    Danny turned his head quickly, and she called him on it.

    “Can we talk about this?” she asked. “Or can I talk, and you at least listen? Really listen? I know it’s hard, but this is kind of hard on me, too.”

    “Sorry,” he said, looking ashamed. “I’m being selfish. I just thought we could go on this really cool adventure like old times, and it’s great, but I didn’t think it’d be a last chance thing.”

    He took a long sip. “So be it. We’ll enjoy what we get. Such as, I’m grateful you feel good enough to do this,” he said, raising his glass.

    She clinked hers against his and smiled. “Me too. But let me tell you some of the other things I think about.”

    So she told him about marking another day off her chart each night, and how the first thing she thought of each morning was the new number — today, D minus 23, assuming her doctor’s 30-day prognosis was roughly correct. How she dutifully washed down her medications wondering if there was any point, and took them anyway because they seemed to make her less tired and achy. How she was still tired and achy anyway, and she hated it, and wished she could make a trade, like a week less but feeling amazing.

    Danny eyed her. “How are you feeling about God these days?”

    She shrugged. “We’re good. I know I had that whole ‘does God exist’ thing going in junior high, but I think part of that was the pressure of confirmation. I still don’t buy everything the Catholic church says, but if you stand outside and holler, no one listens.”

    “So you’re trying to change church doctrine? Or policy?” he said skeptically.

    Kayla laughed. “No. I don’t do much of anything, except go to Mass, and explain why I feel the way I do when other people wonder. It usually ends up being, ‘This is what the church says,’ and then why I do or don’t agree. I was so glad when all the uproar over the pedophile priests ended; I felt like I was being attacked every day.”

    He chewed, nodded, paused. “And heaven?”

    “Oh, that’s not a loaded question,” she replied.

    He shrugged. “You said you wanted to talk. So, let’s really cut to the chase: Do you believe you’re going to heaven?”

    She was sure of her answer. “Yes. Sooner than I’d like, but I think I’m good to people. I haven’t done anything horrible in my life. So yes.”

    He nodded. “And you’re sure you’re going soon?”

    Kayla couldn’t help rolling her eyes. “Don’t you think I’ve looked for all the loopholes myself already? Yes, I’m sure. See, what you don’t get is I’ve been dealing with this for about four months. I didn’t want to believe it, but they kept not finding answers, or finding weird ones. The news last Wednesday was a huge shock, but at least it was an answer. Not knowing was torture.”

    Danny didn’t look convinced. “So you’d rather be sure you’re going to die than not know for sure what you have?”

    She shook her head. “Not exactly. I’d still rather not die, but having a timeline kind of forces me to get my ducks in a row.”

    She paused, because hearing the words out loud made them a little more real, and she wanted to get this right. “If I have to die, I’m grateful for the time to prepare. I talked to my mom and my friends, said kind of goodbyes. We’re on this trip, which is a last blast of fun. And if it turns out I hang around longer, then great.”

    “Really?” he asked.

    She stared. “What do you mean, ‘Really?'”

    “Well, if you end up NOT dying, won’t it be sort of anticlimactic?”

    She raised an eyebrow at him. “So I should die to follow the script?”

    “No,” he said. “But if you make your peace and jump out of a plane and have all the things you really want taken care of done, and then you get more time, what do you do with it? Do you just go back to your life, but now it’s longer?”

    Lord, he was exasperating, she thought. “I am just getting used to this dying idea, and now you want do-over? And a grand plan for this second chance?”

    He picked at his fries. “I just thought in case your doctor has good news, are you ready?”

    She shook her head. “He won’t. And if he did, I wouldn’t be mad.”

    She was, though. Every time she thought she knew how she felt, something else came up. “Are you about ready to go?”

    He looked up, surprised. “Yeah. I’ll drive back.”

    She was silent on the way back to Lake Chatuge Lodge, silent marking her X on her chart, silent staring out at the mountains.

    Come morning, Danny was silent as well, trying to gauge her mood.

    “Atlanta,” she said, tossing him the keys. “I have a phone call to make.”


    “No. You go ahead.”

    Instead they just drove. She punched in the number and hung up three times.

    Finally she asked Danny, “What if it’s the same old news? I don’t know if I want to hear it again.”

    He shook his head. “I’ll pull over if you want. But we don’t know what we don’t know.” He was afraid to say any more.

    She punched the number one more time, reaching someone on the third ring. “Oh, Kayla, I’m so glad you called,” said the front desk clerk. “Let me put you right through to Doctor.”

    That’s odd, Kayla thought. She wondered again why all doctors seemed to get called Doctor, instead of Doctor So-and-So, and his voice came on the line.

    “How would you like to try something new?” he asked.

    While she usually appreciated his straightforward manner, it set her a little on edge today.

    “I think I’ve had enough new,” she said. “What do you think?”

    “Well, I know you’ve had more than your fair share of visits and tests,” he said. “But I was talking to some colleagues in Houston and I think a treatment they’re testing could help you. No promises. But if I were you, I’d go for it.”

    If I were you, she thought. He wasn’t. But he knew her well enough to know what she could bear, and he thought this was worth pursuing.

    “I’m in Georgia,” she said. “Would I have to start today?”

    “The sooner the better, of course,” he said. “But I don’t know that a day or two makes any difference. Think about it a little while and call me back.”

    Kayla hung up and cried. And cried. Danny pulled over without asking, pulling her close.

    “Good news?” he asked, guessing from what he had overheard.

    “A new option,” she said.

The next chapter is based on these votes:

Does Kayla want to try the treatment?

62 votes went like this:

Yes: 93.55 percent (58 votes)

No: 6.45 percent (4 votes)

Do they keep going to Atlanta (and the aquarium)?

62 votes went like this:

Yes: 59.68 percent (37 votes)

No: 40.32 percent (25 votes)

Does she call her mother and tell her what the doctor said?

62 votes went like this:

Yes: 45.16 percent (28 votes)

No: 54.84 percent (34 votes)

Do Kayla and Danny keep driving or start flying?

62 votes went like this:

Road trip all the way, baby: 69.35 percent (43 votes)

Time’s a-wastin’! Get on a plane!: 30.65 percent (19 votes)

    This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

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