Kayla looked at her watch. “It’s about 5:30,” she said. “How far to Tennessee?”
Danny pointed at a sign. “Chattanooga’s about an hour and a half,” he said.
She nodded. “Cool. What say we stop there for the night?”
“As you wish, James.”
She tapped away at the iPhone, looking for a hotel that wasn’t tied to a chain. “StoneFort Inn,” she offered. “Ooh! ‘The Tennessee Aquarium’s official bed and breakfast!'”
She gave him a please-please-please look, which he ignored as long as he could.
Finally he laughed. “Aren’t you aquariumed out after today?” She shook her head vigorously and tapped some more.
“Behind the scenes tours aren’t until 3 p.m.,” she announced, pausing. “I don’t think we should wait around that long if I have to be in Ann Arbor Saturday morning. But could we take a quick walk through first thing in the morning?”
He raised an eyebrow at her. “You spent 15 minutes just pacing between the jellies. I don’t think you’re capable of a quick aquarium visit.”
She begged with her eyes again. “If we skip the tour and the IMAX movies, and just look at the exhibits, it’ll only take a couple of hours.”
He sighed. “Does this inn have a restaurant where we can eat dinner, or is it breakfast only?”
“Thank you!” she said, grinning. She put down her window and warm breezes mixed with the smells of I-75.
The StoneFort Inn turned out to be in the heart of downtown. Kayla turned on the gas fireplace in the harvest yellow room then walked across the slanted floor to look out the window.
“Hungry?” Danny asked.
“Very,” she said, and they left for the Blue Plate Diner.
They shared loaded blue chips in a round blue booth. “I’ve never seen so many pendant lights in one place outside a home store,” Danny said, looking around. “At least they’re not blue.”
Kayla snickered. “Probably so they don’t discolor the food. But the ceiling is blue.”
“Yeah, right, ” he said, refusing to look up.
She shrugged. “Suit yourself. But it really is.”
She dug into her turkey pot pie, pretending not to keep an eye on him. It was several minutes before he finally risked a glance away from his meatloaf sandwich upward, but she whooped when he did. “SO busted!” she crowed, laughing.
He blushed. “People are staring at you,” he muttered, focusing on his plate again.
She kept grinning. “Staring at me laughing? Having fun? So what? Guilty as charged!”
She reached for the menu and he interrupted. “They don’t have dessert here.”
“Lie,” she replied, still smiling. “No good Southern restaurant would fail to serve pie.”
After her coconut cream pie with caramel sauce, they walked back to the inn. Back in the room, she drew another X on her chart as Danny watched.
“Maybe you’ll get to throw that thing away,” he said quietly.
Kayla looked up. He seemed a little sad.
“Maybe,” she said softly. “Hopefully. Maybe I’ll keep making new ones, and put them in a notebook. Maybe I’ll fill that notebook, and have to start a new one.”
He smiled at that and turned away, and she wondered whether she dared say more.
“Maybe,” she started, and he turned back. “Maybe you’ll be there when I start the new notebook.”
The next chapter is guided by these answers:
Do they visit Tennessee Aquarium?
44 votes went like this:
Yes: 86.36 percent (38 votes)
No: 13.64 percent (6 votes)
They have to go through Kentucky; do they stop at all?
43 votes went like this:
Yes: 39.53 percent (17 votes)
No: 60.47 percent (26 votes)
Do they visit Shedd Aquarium in Chicago?
43 votes went like this:
Yes: 48.84 percent (21 votes)
No: 51.16 percent (22 votes)
Is Kayla starting to fall for Danny (again)?
45 votes went like this:
Yes: 95.56 percent (43 votes)
No: 4.44 percent (2 votes)
This post originally appeared on ourMidland.com, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.