Kayla’s mind raced. Of course she wondered why the road trip, why no contact for years at a stretch and then a proposal, not for marriage like in the pact, but to hit the highway together. It had been so easy, though, just to cruise along day by day without examining motive.
Yes, she wanted to know. Did she want to know right now, when she had so much else to deal with? Of course! Did she want to admit she wanted to know so badly, though?
She looked across the Viper at Danny. He was the last person in the world to play mind games with. She always had been able to count on him for honesty, and she wasn’t going to screw that up.
She took a deep breath. “Yeah, I’ve wondered. I figured you’d tell me when you were ready,” she said.
He nodded. Paused. Nodded again.
She shook her head and walked around to where he was. “When did I become that hard to talk to?” she asked.
“When I waited too long and started wondering how you were going to react,” he said. “I probably should have gotten hold of you five years ago. But I was working on my business, and tied up so much, and that wouldn’t have been fair. I kept putting it off, and then it came to almost my birthday, so I figured that was an easy way.”
He tilted his head at her. “Did you really think I was going to ask you to marry me that day?”
She smiled. “You say ‘that day’ like it was so long ago. And I truly couldn’t tell.”
“And if I had?”
She watched him closely. “I wouldn’t have been ready,” she said. It was the truth. Don’t ask about now, she thought, because I don’t know what I’d say.
He paced away a moment, circled back. “I missed you,” he said simply. “We weren’t right for each other in high school. But I didn’t know if that meant we wouldn’t ever be right for each other, and I had to know. I figured close quarters would do the trick. And if it wasn’t supposed to be, then I could just go back to work and not think I had missed out on anything.”
Kayla was afraid to speak. She so did not want to pressure him.
No such luck. “Say something,” he begged.
She nodded slowly, looking at the pavement. When she finally looked at him, there was such pleading in his eyes she felt guilty.
“People change,” she said. “Maybe not at the core of who they are, but what they want can change.”
He nodded, waiting, but she wasn’t ready to say much more.
“I love being here with you,” she said, taking his hands, instantly wondering if “love” was a word she should have used. “But I can’t make any plans, any promises, until I know what’s going on with me.”
“You can tell me what you want,” Danny countered.
She held his gaze. “I want to be fair,” she replied. “That means knowing what’s going on, knowing what the real options are.”
She hated the words. But she didn’t want the grand romantic gesture of him swooping her off to the hospital. She wanted information, so they could decide their lives in a real way, not a dreamy one.
“I want to be with you,” she said, and his face lifted. “I just don’t want to promise something I can’t deliver. And I have dealt with so much uncertainty, even if everything goes well tomorrow, or starting tomorrow, it’s going to take a while for me to believe it.”
He looked at her a while, his head tilted again, then he pulled her close. “OK,” he said, kissing her hair. “Informed consent. That’s fair.”
He stepped back, too soon for her liking. “Still want to drive?”
“Absolutely,” she said. “I-94 east all the way, right?”
She stepped into the car, her heart pounding. They both were silent as they left Illinois, then Indiana behind.
Around Battle Creek, Kayla felt claustrophobic. “Coffee stop,” she announced, pulling off at the next exit. She leaped out of the car and headed for the gas station cappuccino machine, Danny trailing behind.
“Do you have to fast or anything?” he asked, and she took her finger off the button.
“Rats,” she said. “You’re right. Nothing but water after midnight.”
“I’ll take over that one, then,” he said, and she went prowling the cold cases. “Any Water Joe?” he called over, and she frowned. “Caffeinated water,” he explained, and she looked again, shaking her head. “I wish.”
She settled for vitamin water, which she thought was a ripoff but at least it had flavor. She cracked the cap as she paced back and forth in the grass, looking up at the stars.
“Want me to drive?”
She shook her head. “It’s not that much farther. I just needed a break.”
She slid back into the driver’s seat and revved the engine, hurrying him. “Come on, I’ve got doctors to harass,” she said, grinning.
He looked startled. “You’re looking forward to this?”
She kept the grin. “Let’s just say I’m going to get my money’s worth.”
The next chapter is guided by these answers:
What kind of patient is Kayla?
60 votes went like this:
Asks lots of questions: 73.33 percent (44 votes)
Demands lots of attention: 1.67 percent (1 vote)
Listens more than she talks: 25 percent (15 votes)
Does she stick to the hospital food choices?
61 votes went like this:
Yes: 26.23 percent (16 votes)
No: 73.77 percent (45 votes)
Does she call her friends yet?
61 votes went like this:
Yes: 13.11 percent (8 votes)
No: 86.89 percent (53 votes)
This post originally appeared on ourMidland.com, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.