Yellow Roman Candles
Written by Meagan MacKay
Emily Anderson wakes up to the sound of rain on the roof. She inhales and exhales, the soothing smell of her sweet pea candle, it fills her fragile body. She reaches up to wipe drool from her chin, but realizes that it is blood. In response, she rubbed her swollen stomach which had noticeably enlarged in the night.
As she begins to stir, she notices her roommate has already left for her first class. Assumingly, Emily must once again be late for her Sociology lecture. She stops moving though because she realizes she doesn’t really care. From beneath her warm, purple comforter, Emily closes her eyes and wills herself back to the romantic dream she had just left. She peacefully travels back to her dream world, where she is just about to rendezvous with a young Leonardo DiCaprio when the door opens.
A hungover Todd Evans blindly stumbles into the room holding a bucket which is presumably, from the smell of it, filled with his vomit. He sets the bucket outside in the hallway before closing the door behind him. He steps into Emily’s dorm room and proceeds to plop onto her bed and bury himself under her covers. Disgusted by his putrid smell, Emily pushed him off and left the comfort of her bed to shower.
“What the hell?” was all she said to hung-over Todd as she stepped over him to leave. Later that afternoon while washing the vomit smell from her sheets, Todd stumbled into the floor-shared washing room with a grin and his laundry basket. “What are you smirking at, vomit breath?” Emily laughed, “You know, I didn’t really appreciate waking up to that this morning.” Todd’s smirk turned into a smile, because he knew that Emily wasn’t upset- only a little disgusted.
“I was in a cuddling mood, that’s all,” Todd replied, running his hands through his dirty brown hair. “I always want to cuddle with you, Emily.”
Emily chuckled to herself. “Huh?” she thought, “He must have really partied hard last night.” For all four years of college Todd as always treated Emily as a possible cuddle buddy, mainly because he knew that she would never cross that line with him. As long as their relationship was concerned, touching was not allowed.
The dryer beeped, sounding the end of Emily’s cycle. She pulled out the load and piled it into her woven laundry basket that was already overflowing with her tie-dye t-shirt collection and spandex workout tights. Slipping off her bunny slippers, Emily sat on top of the warm dryer and waited for Todd to put his puke pants in the adjacent washer.
Emily spoke over the rumbling of the dryer, “Can you believe that this is the last Saturday of the quarter? The last Saturday of the last quarter, at that?”
Todd pondered this concept, and quietly decided that he would miss college. “Yeah, I know right.” He couldn’t muster much more than that with his killer headache.
“Well, I guess it’s not over just yet. I still have my thesis presentation on Tuesday and my final Anthropology exam on Friday,” Emily continued. She also, chose to be in denial of their upcoming graduation. For four years she had spent her life here, in the mountain town of Petersburg, Colorado. What was next? Emily didn’t know. Next Sunday she would stand up when her name was called and degree and what walk off into the sunset? She cleared it from her mind, deciding it would be a problem to deal with later, not now.
And that is how they left it; sitting in the laundry room with only the sound of Tom’s vomit pants in the spin cycle and the unanswered questions of their future.
Later that evening, Emily decided to go to the school’s end-of-the-quarter hipster film festival. She knew to keep her expectations low from the melodramatic images printed on the festival posters hanging in the halls of the College of Petersburg. She went anyway- figuring if anything she could get some cheap popcorn and flirt a little with the cute intern who helps with the showings.
As she began to transcend the stairs outside the science buildings, she could see the crowd forming outside the Susan B. Anthony Lecture Hall. Students were practically piled on top of one another to see the first viewing. If she remembered correctly it was a post-apocalyptic take on Romeo and Juliet, of course with added in zombies, vampires, and other culturally popular creeping critters.
In no hurry to catch that particular novelty, Emily slowed down her pace. Inhaling, exhaling, Emily began to hum to herself. She had recently pick up an old country record of her mother’s. The sweet tunes of Hank Williams filled her head with pictures of rolling hills and sweet tea.
As she rounded the final corner the popcorn cart came into view. To her surprise though, the usual oily-haired sophomore who always sold her the festival popcorn was replaced by none other than Todd. Happily taken aback from the sudden turn of events, Emily glanced behind her before taking off into a less than graceful sprint-dance recital leap hybrid to meet the new concession stand boy. Her raggedy moccasins propelled her forward as she began to scream, “Toddy, oh Toddy. Found a job, have we?!”
Emily came awkwardly close to the stand as she began to skid in a desperate attempt to stop. But before she could recover from her slipping and sliding, she tripped over and landing herself on her butt. Emily looked up from her post-push up position to see the now blushing Todd piling popcorn into a small bag.
“That will be 2.50, please.” Todd said to the couple who were standing nearly on top of Emily. Aware of the scene she had caused, Emily apologized to the customers and stepped back to wait for Todd to finish the order before he got a chance to murder her.
When the couple was a safe distance away Todd turned to Emily. “What the fuck, man? Not cool, why do you think I keep shit like this from you in the first place. I’m only covering for a friend, so stop trippin’- literally.”
Todd looked down at Emily as she coward from embarrassment. A small grin coming across her face. “Trippin’, eh?” she said. Todd continued to look down at her, but a similar smile came over his face, lightening the mood. They couldn’t help but laugh.
“I’m sorry,” Emily said, brushing off her tie-dyed cut off shorts, “I was just so happy to see that I wasn’t the only one who went to these bow-tie wearing festivals. And of course, I was glad it was you who would be serving my popcorn this evening.” She smiled, and he smiled back.
That was their relationship. No grudges over friends making complete asses of themselves. No hard feelings when someone climbed into your bed with vomit pants on. No worries.
After the first showing let out around 9:30, Emily decided she should probably try watching one of these films instead of eating all of the popcorn Todd was suppose to be selling.
She got up from her seat on the cold asphalt and wiped the popcorn butter from her hands. She looked over to see Todd texting on his phone, unaware of her movements. She punched him in the arm and headed toward the nearly vacated lecture hall.
The next showing wouldn’t start for another ten minutes, but Emily didn’t mind. She enjoyed sitting alone amongst the empty desks with scribbled in hearts and initials. She felt at peace when she could just sit somewhere and breathe. She closed her eyes, but as soon as she began to relax a wave of nausea hit her followed by a sudden pain in her stomach. The taste of iron filled her mouth as she tried to control the sudden attack.
As she got herself together, the audience began filing into the room. Their chit chat beginning to fill the air. She opened her eyes and sighed, hoping that the film would begin shortly. To her luck, the director came out onto the stage as the last of the group took their seats in the various crevices of the hall. He introduced himself and explained the premise of his film.
“You see, I believe that within all of us there is a great capacity to be great and to do great things.” Pausing to adjust the right sleeve of his button down, he continued, “That is what I tried to create- greatness.”
He once again paused, this time for dramatic effect. Then he ended his speech with the usual and acceptable amount of gratitude and appreciation for the actors, his friends and family, and lastly for the audience’s support. Then the film starts.
The scene began with a young woman looking into an hourglass. Her blue eyes are reflected in the falling sand. Somber music accompanies her as she continues to be hypnotized. Then the scene cuts out and everything is black. Words start to appear, a little blurry at first, but eventually coming into clear view. It read:
the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars - Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Emily took a snapshot of the quote in her mind. She dissected it, enveloped herself in the possible meaning behind the words. The rhythm of the music changed, dragged Emily from her trance and focusing her attention on the film. Young women were being showed driving in a convertible down an interstate highway somewhere sunny. The ocean came into view over some bluffs that were painted over by the green moss of a rainy California winter.
Their car swerved in and out of the designated lane, but there were no other cars on the road. No danger of being free.
Emily felt herself swaying with the car, leaning to the appropriate side to take the next turn before combing her loose hairs behind her ears. Swaying, peaceful swaying. Emily wanted to be there, feel the air in her hair and have the sun gleam off of her freckled skin.
She closed her eyes and imaged it. Swaying in her seat, she left the physical world, left her pain behind and traveled to the passenger seat of the convertible. She felt herself ignited, like the roman candles. Her flame brightening her world, titling in the wind, but never extinguished. Unknowingly, Emily began to drift off to sleep leaning down to rest her head on the desk. Emily dreamed, unrestrained that she was free.
A soft shaking from under her feet and the sound of footsteps alerted Emily that she had fallen asleep. Embarrassed, Emily wiped the slobber from her lips with the back of her hand before heading toward the illuminated exit sign. Outside the air was warm, as it often was in late May, but a slight coldness ran through Emily’s body making her want to scrunch up under her purple comforter and go back to bed- back to her freedom.
But just then Emily recalled the Jack Kerouac quote. “Yellow roman candles,” Emily thought to herself, “exploding like spiders across the stars.”
This time audibly, “Spiders? Confusing and yet romantic…” She walked out into the courtyard and glanced around. Everyone was on their own schedule. Going home, going on a date, going here and there. But she seemed to be the only one not going anywhere.
Emily’s mother’s voice crept into her thoughts. “Everyone has their own path darling, you just have to chose a spot and start stamping out where you want to go.” It seemed that Emily heard that every day of her senior year at Thompson Little High School.
She had turned eighteen without the shit-faced parties and tattoos; and so instead of being a wild child every Saturday night Emily was home taking care of her younger brother. And every Saturday night, she felt like she had missing out on being that stupid kid so many of her classmates had the luxury of being. She always knew though, that she couldn’t be.
For a very long time, Emily had taken over the role as caretaker of the family. Her mother was diagnosed with stage ii ovarian cancer the spring she turned eleven. The illness shattered her world, leaving her in a constant state of silent pain.
Her father went on his annual business trip to Charlotte two months after the first phase of chemotherapy left her mom on bed rest. A first the allotted week passed where he called frequently. Then he extended the trip for a couple of day, and began calling less frequently until he had been gone two weeks, then three weeks. After some time he didn’t call and he never came back.
Emily was twelve years, two months, and five days old when she began taking responsibility for her seven-year old brother and dying mother. She learned quickly that she didn’t have time for friends, or boys, and she especially didn’t have time to get shit-faced at parties. She never would. Especially now.
Emily is gently tapped on her left shoulder. The hand that presses her skin is soft and patient. She opens up the curtain to view reality and sees herself gazing into Todd’s soft green eyes.
“Hi,” he said.
“I fell asleep during the movie,” she sighed letting out the final bits of embarrassment.
“You do look sleepy,” he smiled. Offering her his arm. She took it and as they walked off towards her dorm.
The thoughts of her mom and roman candles soothed Emily to sleep under her purple comforter that night.
Around 4 the next morning Emily abrupting awoke from a dream. She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and rolled out of bed, landing on her bunny slippers which she promptly put on. As she exited her room, Emily left the door to her bedroom ajar. She sleepily stumbled down the fluorescently lit hallway and down the stairs to the lower level.
Trash piled the floor as Emily stepped over the passed out party guests who were leftover from beer pong party the night before. Before reaching Room 54, Emily combed her fingers through her matted hair- a sorry attempt to look nice at an hour like this. After catapulting herself over a freshman girl and a few red Solo cups, Emily opened the squeaky door to the room and slid into the darkness.
Closing the door behind her, Emily began to feel around hoping that the passed out party guests did not continue the party into the door room. She blindly led herself to the corner bunk where a shallow snoring was coming from. She sat at the end of the bed, wondering what to do next. She was so sleepy, just plain exhausted. Emily felt herself tipping over, landing gentle on the blankets surrounding the original occupant of the bunk. Just as she closed her eyes, the person laying next to her let out a scream.
“What the fuck man?! Who are you? Get out! Get off!” A light turned on. Emily bolted up to a sitting position and realized that she was gazing into the poop brown eyes of Dean, Todd’s psycho roommate.
“It’s cool, Dean. Stop screaming! She just came to see me,” Todd was out of bed, jacket on before he finished his sentence.
“Come on, Em. Let’s go outside.” Still in a dreamlike state, Emily was a little confused and once again embarrassed by what had just happened, but she followed Todd into the hallway.
Shielding her eyes from the lights Emily watched Todd’s feet glide down the floor maneuvering indescribably gracefully over the vomit puddles, and smashed PBR cans. He came to a stop in front of the door leading into the stairwell. He promptly shifted his feet around to face Emily.
With a sigh, Todd asked the question that had been on his mind ever since Dean discovered his new bunkmate.
“What’s wrong, Em?” He looked deep into her green eyes, having to tilt his head down to make eye contact for Emily was sulking, letting the embarrassments of her day rain down on her. She reluctantly met his eyes and they stood there in silence amongst the dazzling light display. Emily took a deep breathe and let it out.
“Todd, I feel stuck,” she began, “I have felt stuck for awhile, but I hoped that the oncoming of graduation would somehow nudge this feeling aside or even eliminate it. I feel like I am suppose to know everything right now, this very instant.” She paused, noticing Todd’s head nodding in support.
“My next steps in life, my career move. When I’m going to get married, when I start pushing out babies,” Emily continued to explain, “It’s all suppose to be figured out now, right? I mean my mom was married with a baby at my age and yet I can’t even choose what I want to eat for breakfast some mornings. Like Hell. It’s scary.”
“It’s not only that. I feel so unsatisfied in my life, so incomplete. And I don’t want to keep having to fill that emptiness with superficial bullshit,” Emily gesticulating, her emotion physically becoming apparent.
“I have put myself out there Todd! Time and time again I have thrown myself on top of the crowd and yet every time I think that something will change- it doesn’t! And I get dropped. And the cycle continues. I’m stuck again and again in a continuous fucking cycle! Always being the stupid, little girl who cries home because she got her feelings hurt on the play ground. I am sick of this shit Todd. I am tried.”
Emily’s voice continued to elevate, and as it did so her tears began to fall. Todd took in every word, every notion, and after Emily had said her peace- he hugged her. She let him hold her, her tears soaking through his jacket and moistening his Batman sleep shirt.
“What are you going to do now?” Todd asked, brushing Emily’s loose hairs behind her ear. She pondered the question, knowing that if anyone else would have asked it she would have been annoyed. She know, though, with Todd that his heart was in the right place. He just wanted to see her through this.
“Hmm... Scout?” Todd continued, looking at Emily as she wiped the tears from her eyes.
“Today I want to wallow, I want to feel sorry for myself and eat ice cream. I want to stay far away from the gym. But tomorrow, yes tomorrow, I will pack my things into boxes, go for a run, and buy a suitcase.”
She said this so definitely that at first Todd didn’t react. Then as she began to pull away from him to take the stairs to her floor, Todd lurched forward and caught her arm.
“What are you going to buy a suitcase for?” Todd asked, puzzlements coming over his voice, “I thought you were all hippy-dippy save the cows, don’t buy leather luggage. And anyways, isn’t traveling against hippy culture too? Save the ozone, ya know?”
Emily turned around and stared at Todd. He didn’t know whether he stepped a little too far over the line this time, but once again he found himself surprised by Emily’s response.
“I say fuck nature, and screw cows. We are going on a road trip.” As simply as if she stated her name, Emily opened the door letting in a cold breeze and ran up the stairs with a newfound excitement. Todd found himself stranded, gazing longingly into the space that Emily had just finished occupying.
“Where did that come from?” Todd mumbled to himself as he headed back towards his room. Unable to sleep, he lay in bed gazing up at his popcorn ceiling imagining he was looking at the stars.
Todd Evans didn’t bother listening to his alarm the next morning. He threw the beeping demon device on the ground and proceeded to beat it until it went silent. To most people, an act like this would seem alarming - pardon the pun - and uncalled for unless your life flat out sucked. For Todd Evans though, it just meant he wanted to sleep in.
Often during his lazy mornings, Todd would forget that he was away at school. He usually would start to dream of home. The sun soaked waves lapping upon the shore as families played with in the sand. In the distance one could always see children taking their first surfing lessons, nervous in their oversized booties while sunbathers young and old alike lay out in hopes to soak up a slice of happiness. This was the home that Todd dreamed of, this was where he grew up - Huntington Beach, California.
He stayed in this dream for what seemed like eternity, but when he eventually willed his eyes to open, Todd realized it was only 9:30. Disappointed, Todd just lay there unable or unwilling to do anything. His laziness consumed him and his thoughts. He closed his eyes and felt the rays of sunshine against his eyelids. Time passed slowly as the squawking of seagulls became louder and louder - ringing in Todd’s ears. As high tide came in, Todd decided he was hungry. Just on cue, his stomach let out a gurgle. He swung his legs over the bed and went to his mini fridge, but as he was opening the door to the icebox Todd was struck by a horrendous smell.
“Holy shit,” Todd thought. “It smells like Dean left his frickin’ panties in here…” In desperation, Todd decided he was going to investigate the smell. He dove into the stink, emerging his head in the tiny, chilled box. Rummaging through the remnants of week old burritos, rotten cheese, and some kind of green goo Todd was unable to depict the specific source of the sour odor- if there was only a single particular source at that. Exhausted after his voyage, Todd decided it all had to go. He left his dorm in a disgusted fit on the hunt for a trash bag.
In the hallway, three hung-over students were cleaning up the mess from the party the night prior. One of them half-heartedly nodded towards Todd as he passed by. Noticing their slow movements, and sedated appearance, Todd thought, “They kind of look like the Three Blind Mice.” He continued strolling down the hall, unaware of his particular destination.
“Trash bags, trash bags, trash bags, where can I get a trash bag?” Todd sang quietly to himself. “Trash bags…Oh shit!” Todd stumbled over a sleeping student.
“I love college!” Todd sarcastically exclaimed after he caught his balance on a nearby wall. After five minutes of circling his floor on the great trash bag search, Todd gave up and headed to Emily’s dorm to raid her food. In the stairwell the stench of urine filled Todd’s nostrils, causing him to fasten his pase. As Todd opened up the door to Emily’s floor the putrid odor subsided allowing him to take in a lungful of fresh, non-pee air.
Emily’s door was slightly open when he came in. She was still laying in bed, just like Todd was before his gut started singing the “Feed Me” song. Emily was obviously trying to deny the daylight for she was buried underneath her covers, a mere blob on her bed.
“Hi, Em,” Todd said quietly as he sat next to her blob self on the bed. “I was wondering if you had any food I could convenient take off your hands.”
With a sigh, Emily revealed herself, her hair strewn about as last nights drool still stuck to her face. “There may be some Cheetos left near the door, but I can’t guarantee anything.”
She raised the back of her hand to her face, erasing what remained of her drool. Todd walked over to the door and found a half empty bag of Cheetos, like Emily had said, and began to munch down.
“You’re disgusting,” Emily commented, “I have no idea how long they have been there, I just know I have been too lazy to pick them up for quite a while. What happened to your food storage in your jazzy mini fridge anyway? I thought you kept all the goods in there.” She let out a teasing smile.
“Well, the deal is that I opened the fridge this morning to get some grub and it smelled like asshole. So I decided to get some of your food instead of eating my asshole food.”
“I understand now,” Emily said, sarcasm filling her voice as she began to wake up, “Well, you are welcome to my butt free food anytime as long as you pitch in some bags of chips and a beer or two for me here and there.”
Todd smiled at his friend, “You have a deal.”
He lay down next to her. Their hands close enough to grasp one another but motionless in their positions. They had been in situation like this before, close enough to change their relationship but far enough away to be afraid of the outcome. So, like always they laid there silent until Todd spoke. “Tell me more more about this roadtrip we are supposedly going on.”
As if she was waiting for him to ask, Emily leapt out from underneath the covers and seemingly flew over to the desk where her laptop lay. She made her way back to the bed and began explaining.
“Well, you know how I went to see one of those films last-”
“After eating all my popcorn, yes yes,” Todd interrupted.
“I am your most loyal customer,” Emily responded with a wink before getting on with her point, “You see, I feel asleep during the actual film, but the point is before I dozed off something life changing hit me!”
“Whoah!” Todd teased sarcastically, “You can’t stop now! Keep going!”
Rolling her eyes, Emily continued, “Tease all you want I had an epiphany.”
“Wait, wait, wait!” Todd began, practically yelling, “Another one? Didn’t you just have an epiphany last week when you saw Jesus in your hot chocolate. Or no, no I must have gotten that confused with that time a couple months back where you swore to God and all of his angels that you would go vegan because some cow came to you in a dream. Or, hey hey what about the time-”
“Enough, enough! I get it!” Emily laughed, covering Tom’s mouth with her petite hands, “I know I’m repetitive, but I am genuine. I went vegan for at least one meal and it was hard!”
After taking a beat to laugh at her own ridiculousness, Emily once again continued to explain her epiphany.
“It happened. Deal with it, smart ass,” Emily said, a grin still planted on her freckled face, “As I was explaining before being rudely interrupted - this epiphany hit me, you could say, when a Jack Kerouac quote was posted on the opening slide of the artsy movie. It said...”
Emily paused as she fingered throw the back pocket of her jeans. She pulled out a neatly folded piece of paper, “Here it is….” she then began reciting, “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
She sighed for dramatic effect before placing it back into her pocket for safe keeping.
“Okay…?” Todd questioned, “So what exactly does that mean? Because I’m not down for blowing up spiders or anything.” Todd scratched his head in childlike confusion.
“It is deeper than that. You have to dig for the meaning, you see….” Emily titled her head to the side as she attempted to explain, “When I started to doze off I realized that I agreed with Jack Kerouac and his vision. I agree that I only want to be around people who have the passion to live and do not settle for pessimism. I want to embrace life and become one of those yellow roman candles glistening in the night.”
Emily closed her eyes, and imagined the candles once again.
Keeping her eyes closed, Emily continued, “Do you see what I see Todd? Life is a gift. It has so many possibilities, so many paths that can be taken. And all we have to do is reach out and grab for them.”
Emily gesticulated loudly, tossing her arms here and there nearly knocking Todd off the bed. As she finished her thoughts, she opened her eyes and gazed at Todd- wondering, hoping he felt the same need she did. He didn’t though.
“I don’t understand, Em. Are you unhappy?” Todd reached out to touch her exposed hand, but Emily quickly and angrily withdrew.
“Yes, I’m unhappy!” Emily exclaimed, frustration penetrating her tone, “That’s just it. Just like I said last night, I feel stuck. And I am going to pull myself out of it.”
Emily combed the loose hairs away from her face. She began twisting the ring that lay on her finger as she turned over to face the ceiling.
“Do you remember freshman year? You would come in here and lay on my bed with me like this and we’d talk about everything we wanted to accomplish, everything we desired...we acted as if the world was so near we could just snatch it up and claim it as our own.
We spent hours planning our lives- where we’d go, what we’d eat, who we’d meet... I want to feel that sense of wonder again, that sense of everlasting hope and endurance. I want that,” Emily’s voice had softened as the rhythmic turning of her ring took over her mindset.
Todd laid there silent as Emily spoke of distant memories. He recalled his early desires of being a med student by day superhero by night. He grinned, allowing the pleasant ignorance to remind him of better days. Then he understood.
“I want that too,” Todd sat up to face Emily as she continued gazed longingly at the ceiling. “And a road trip with you wouldn’t be so bad.” He smirked, and in response Emily grinned and sat up. She opening her laptop and a map fell out. It had been colored on, spilled on, and doodled all over, but it was easily discernible as a map of the great United States.
“I printed a copy off a book from the library a while back for a history class, but never used it. So last night when I saw it laying around I went at planning a trip, our road trip.” She rubbed her hand over it, smoothing the indented paper. She pointed with her ring finger at a particularly square state which they knew as Colorado.
“We will start the day after graduation. In exactly …” Emily glances at her bedside clock, “hmm, 6 days, 12 hours, and 7 minutes until we depart.”
Todd scanned the map, assaulted by curiosity where their supposed travels would take them. He still doubted the trip in actuality and Emily could see it in his eyes. He combed through his hair, a usual idiosyncrasy for Todd. “Please continue,” he gestured with a slight nod towards the map.
After readjusting herself on the bed, Emily explained- “You see here…” she pointed to approximately where Petersburg was located, “we will leave campus and head north to Denver for our first night. After that we will embark on our epic journey through Wyoming where we will visit my grandmother in a small farming town outside of Cheyenne.”
Emily traced the path she had drawn with her ring finger. Todd followed along contently, staring at Emily’s newly polished lime green fingernails.
“From there, onto Bozeman, Montana where my father grew up. Then westward onto Idaho and Washington before we plummet south toward Oregon and lastly sunny California. As cliche as it may sound, I was hoping to wind up in Los Angeles since I’ve never been before,” Emily looked up from the map, and smiled at her own innocence, “And of course, that way you could show off that so-called gorgeous Huntington Beach that you’ve been raving about for four years now.”
Emily looked to see what Todd’s response was to her proposal, but he was still looking down at the map. He had noticed a star had been strategically placed in Northern Idaho. “What’s that for?” he asked pointing.
“Oh,” Emily said, almost surprised that it was there. “Don’t worry about it, just a note to myself.” She promptly folded up the map.
“Alright, well I dig it,” Todd replied, not thinking anything of it. “The trip sounds dope. I have a buddy who goes to college in Spokane who we could room with and I know Portland like the back of my hand. And Emily, if this is something that will help you then I’m in.”
Emily reached over and embraced Todd. She kissed him on the cheek as a thank you, and Todd knew that even when he stomach started doing summersaults.
“This will be the trip of our lives.” Emily let go with a smile. She playfully punched Todd in the shoulder which to her surprise made him fall off the bed. They giggled like the children they felt they truly were. The excitement for their future clearly hung in the air.
By Emily’s calculations it had been 6 days, 12 hours, and 7 minutes. Therefore, just like planned, Todd and Emily were ready at their stations. As they waddled out of their dorm rooms, they could barely see down the hallway. Their arms full of luggage covered their faces.
They had decided to take Todd’s old Subaru in hopes that it would be able to take the backcountry roads throughout the rural parts of their journey. Emily was in a fret getting together the last of her things in order.
“Toothpaste, check. Hair brush, check. Deodorant, check. Maps, check. Clean underwear, check…” she mumbled to herself, going over a wrinkled Post-It note in her hand, “What am I missing? What am I missing?”
Todd was waiting in his car having long given up on helping Emily pack. He got up for what felt like the zillionth time to check to see that all of his belongings were tucked away, safe and secure in his bloated trunk. Honestly, he didn’t think a single rubber band could fit back there with all their crap, but he let Emily go over her list again and again - always making room for what she consider essential. Now that a lamp, some dryer sheets, and some old snowshoes had made their way into the vehicle, Todd thought it was time to break the news to Emily.
“Hey Em,” Todd said gently. She momentarily looked up from her Post-It note looking as scatterbrained as ever. “I think we have enough stuff. Honestly, if a frickin’ tsunami, earthquake, giant squid would come at us simultaneously right now I think we’d be good. Let’s go.”
“No, no! Not just yet. I have to go over my list a certain amount of times. I swear to you it has to be done. Ever since I forgot to bring my toothpaste to Girl Scout camp in the second grade I’ve done this ritual. And it works every time- I have never since forgotten anything.” Emily looked back down at her list as her mumbling started up again.
Todd rolled his eyes, determined to get on the road. “Em, I think that is because you have brought everything. Seriously though, snowshoes? It’s June!” Todd sighed, pointed to the pair sticking out of the rear window. “We aren’t going on some great Endurance voyage here.”
After some argument Emily gave up the snowshoes. “But it’s Montana and Washington and Wyoming, Todd! It snows there!”
“I’m well aware, but not during summer!” Todd laughed at Emily’s ignorance.
Being from Memphis, Emily was not used to the snow. Every winter since moving to Colorado Emily has made an anti-snow fort in her dorm room. It was always stock piled with hot chocolate, wool socks, and blankets. She was deathly afraid of the cold and whenever she had to venture into the snow she would be bundled from head to toe with layer after layer of beanies, scarves, and long underwear. She would became a blob of clothing the entirety of winter. You could hardly recognize her from mid October to early April.
Twenty minutes later, Todd and Emily closed the trunk with a hard shove and buckled up for the drive ahead. Denver was about 4 hours north of campus and they wanted to get there by night fall.
They merged onto Highway 25 greeted by a sign reading: 100 miles to Pueblo. Todd drove steadily through the lanes of traffic until he reached the diamond lane. Emily plugged her iPod into the car’s stereo system and John Mayer’s “Queen of California” came over the speakers.
“Hello beauty, hello strange, hello wonder….” it sang. Emily sang the chorus and hummed the versus, not wanting to fumble up the words.
Todd drove on, listening to the worlds and thinking about home. “California,” he thought to himself, “what a beautiful place to end at.” Peacefully he continued headed north. Once in a while stealing a glance at Emily. She looked so calm, so content, so happy.
After an hour or so on the road they decided to pull over for a bathroom and snack break. They chose an overused Stop N’ Rob minimart off the highway. Todd stopped the car and jumped out to check that their stuff was alright in the back. Emily stayed in her seat for a minute or two longer debating whether to buy some food here and wait until the next stop. The grumbling of her belly became audible as Emily decided a bag of Lay’s sounded pretty damn good.
She stepped out onto the curb, firmly closing the door behind her. She asked Todd if he wanted anything and he shook his head in reply. Emily headed into the store, a bell on the door marking her presence. She walked over to the crusty coffee machine and fixed herself a cup of joe. When the machine had gurgled out the last drop of the brown, steaming liquid Emily walked over to the candy aisle closing scanning over the products at hand.
After some time and a great deal of thought, Emily settled on her original craving and grabbed a bag of Sour Cream Lay’s. Before leaving the aisle though, Emily grabbed a bag of Reese's Pieces, knowing it would make Todd happy.
At the cash register an older woman rang up Emily’s purchases. “That will be 11 dollars and 25 cents please,” the woman said. Emily handed her a 20. The woman glanced out the window and motioned towards Todd. “Honeymooners?” she simply asked.
“Oh no. Todd? No,” Emily laughed, as she looked out the window, “We just graduated from college- yesterday actually and to celebrate we decided to take a road trip.”
“I see now,” the woman said not buying Emily’s lack of romance towards Todd, “He’s not a bad catch anyway if you find yourself with him after all.” The woman handed Emily her bag, the change rattled against the plastic.
“Come again soon,” They traded awkward glances and smiles as Emily walked out to the car.
As she opened the door and slide in Todd commented, “Look at you, making friends everywhere we go.”
“Whatever you say,” Emily smiled, wiping away the uncomfortable impression her new friend had left. She gently chucked the bag of Reese’s pieces onto Todd’s lap.
“I thought you might want a road snack after all.” Todd thanked her before starting the engine. They once again found themselves greeted by a sign as they found their way back to the highway. This time it read: Pueblo, 30 miles. With some progress made and the roadtrip mix playing in their ears, the friends traveled on.
They went for two more hours before getting some gas outside of Colorado Springs. An hour later they reached the Denver population sign. Todd turned out onto Lincoln Street before making a right hand turn onto 6th Avenue. They pulled into what appeared to be an abandoned
parking lot. The illuminated sign above read “Rocky Mountain Motel”.
To their right, a once used pool lay dormant and untouched- slime outlining the tiles. The individual “cottages” were spread across the small acreage, lawn chairs and flower pots stood in front of each door. Todd and Emily got out of the car and walked over to the small shack of a building labeled as the office.
As they reached the office a man behind the glass became visible. He was wearing a hat that was tattered on the edges. His clothes were somewhat clean and his face was what the afternoon had leftover from a cleanshaven morning. In all, Emily found him quite handsome and became instantly nervous. The man saw the couple coming towards him and slide away the pane of glass from the window. As if they were buying a movie ticket, Todd and Emily walked up to the counter.
“How may I help you?” the man asked.
“We are checking in for the night. I made a reservation under the name Anderson,” Emily answered. She twisted the ring on her right thumb.
After checking the binder next to him, the man replied, “Why yes, we have you down here as wanting two rooms. We can put you up in separate cottages for 100 dollars each or we could put you into the honeymoon cottage for only 115 dollars in total. We take debit and credit.”
Todd and Emily glanced at each other. After a couple of minutes of telepathic conversation, Todd spoke up, “The bigger cottage will be fine, thank you.”
“Sounds good to me,” the man said as he rung up the transaction. Emily handed him her Visa card, and as he took it she was able to just barely make out a worn out white line across his left ring finger.
“Emily, is it?” the man looked up, unaware of her findings. “What a pretty name, my sister’s name actually.” Emily smiled at the stranger, a little more confidently now.
Todd nudged her with his foot and made googly eyes at her while the man was looking away. She punched him in the shoulder which made him shut up.
“Are you two on your honeymoon?” asked the man.
“No, sir. We are just friends on a budget,” Emily replied, the sir of a well raised southern girl slipping out.
“No need to call me sir, my name is Timothy.” He held out his hand through the window for Emily to shake.
“Well it’s nice to meet you Timothy. As you know, I’m Emily and this is Todd.” They took
turns shaking eachother’s hands.
Timothy handed Emily the keys to the cottage. He smiled at her as she signed for their room. “Do you need help with your bags?” Timothy asked, a slightly flirtatious could be spotted in his voice.
“No thank you, I think I’ve got it,” Todd replied, a hint of protectiveness poisoned his responsed, but before Emily could comment he headed towards the Subaru.
Emily watched him walk away before returning her gaze to Timothy who was waiting patiently for the receipt.
“Well, if you need anything I’ll be here until around 10 tonight,” he said. Emily thanked him, wondering whether he was hinting at a late night rendezvous, but she chose to ignored her school girl butterflies and instead joined Todd who stood underloading the bags.
As the last bag was loaded into their room, Emily dramatically fell to the floor and sprawled out across the oatmeal colored carpet. She was exhausted, but mostly just excited. Todd went around the cottage in search of any peculiarities, but found only a hint of mold in the shower. So after emptying his toilet kit neatly in the bathroom, he joined Emily on the floor.
Around 7 o’clock the friends headed out for dinner. Their initial search of the outer reaches of downtown led them to some fast food chains, a few Starbucks’, and one or two Cold Stone Creamery's. Unsatisfied the couple dove into the center of downtown. After passing a dinner off of Larimer Square, Emily decided for the both of them that that was their best bet.
On arrival into the homey diner, Emily and Todd felt a warmth. It may have been the smell of home cooked burgers, or that their waitress, Sue Ann, called them honey, but both Emily and Todd felt good there. After ordering black and blue burgers, curly fries, and chocolate malts, the pair talked about their plan for the next day.
“So, from here we need to keep heading north. It will take us a day to hit Cheyenne. It could be delayed if we want to stay in Denver another night. In all this trip depends on how much we want to see,” Emily stated, wiping the remnants of her malt from the corners of her mouth. “I’ve been made aware, the weather should not affect our driving, but there are other hazards that we may come upon. Cattle for instance, can be bitches on rural roads.”
“Wait, wait, wait. Did you just call cows bitches?” Todd laughed, nearly spewing his malt. “Aren’t you a feminist? Isn’t that still insulting to both humans and cattle?”
“Not a valid point, Todd. As I was saying…” Emily rolled her eyes, “We can take as little or as much time as we desire on this trip. Are there any places that you are just dying to see?”
Without waiting Todd answered, “San Francisco.”
“No shit, that’s what I figured.” Emily smiled and like he was a child, patted Todd on the back. “I have mad cravings to stop there too. It has always, always been my dream to go to San Francisco and do all the touristy things.”
“Oh, oh, oh!” Todd began, a newfound excitement coming over him. “We have to go ride the trolley cars. I love going down the hills!”
“Of course you do.” Emily said sarcastically. “Hmmm, I would really like to spend at least one day at Cannon Beach.”
“That sounds really awesome, where is it?” Todd asked, as he took a bit out of his burger. The juices immediately began to stream down his face.
“Have you ever heard of the movie the Goonies? Where the kids go on a treasure hunt to save their parent’s homes from foreclosure?” Emily asked eagerly as she snatched a curly fry from Todd’s plate. Todd gave her a scolding look before taking her discarded pickles.
“No, that doesn’t sound familiar…” he thought to himself, “The Goonies….the Goonies…”
“Nope,” he said out loud facing Emily. His tone was almost uncaring, and this offended Emily.
Her eyes grew larger as she leaned into Todd as if she was going to tell him a secret. Then she whispered, with a facial expression of someone who was just slapped, “Goonies is my favorite movie!”
“....And it was filmed in Cannon Beach?” Todd put down his burger for he had not-so-quickly discovered Emily’s hurt.
“Yes, which is on the Oregon coast” she said, her face softening to a gentle smile. “I’m sorry, I just really love that movie.”
Todd exhaled, his petty nerves vanishing at the sight of Emily’s relaxed figure. “Then why don’t we go out and find a movie rental shop after we finish up here. I’m sure we could find at least a single copy of The Goonies in all of Denver.”
That night after finding a video store, Emily and Todd sat cozily on the big bed in front of the boxy television set. Emily recited her favorite lines and Todd laughed, appreciating her and her taste in movies.
The next day was slow moving. Todd had no intention of getting out of bed until at least 10:30, which originally did not bother Emily until around 7:30 when she started getting antsy. She lay in her bed tossing and turning as the day began to break. She could hear birds singing and just like them, she wanted to sing and fly and start her day. But she knew better than to wake Todd up. With that thought, Emily began drifting off into a daydream.
During their sophomore spring break, Emily and Todd had rented a cabin with a couple of friends out in Durango. One of the days they were there, the group had planned a morning hike. The night before their adventure, they had all agreed on a time to meet downstairs the following morning.
When the morning rolled around, Emily was dressed and ready to go, ever so eager to start the new day. Feeling optimistic, Emily went outside and searched for flowers.
After twenty minutes or so Emily found herself waiting in the living room of the cabin. A few minutes later a few members dribbled down the stairs and joined her, but Todd was still missing.
Emily decided, since she was in good spirits, that she would go and check on Todd. With a fistful of flowers, she crept up the stairs. As she mounted the final stair, Emily noticed that the light was off in his room. Disappointed that Todd had blown off his alarm clock per usual, Emily decided she wasn’t going to be so nice.
She opened his door to reveal Todd sprawled across his bed, resembling a hibernating bear. A distinct, and very unattractive snore came from his direction.
Creeping on her tiptoes, Emily walked over to his bed and sat on the edge, at first just observing. Then she did the only thing she could think of- she slapped him. In all, it woke him up and Emily learned what a grumpy pants Todd can be when he was woken up in the morning.
Coming back to reality, Emily decided to go for walk to clear her head and wake herself up. She rolled out of bed, and winced as she grabbed her stomach. A raging feeling of nausea swept over her as a piercing headache nearly knocked her to the floor. Balancing herself, Emily slipped on some jeans, a Nashville Predators tshirt, and her Rainbow flip flops before heading out the door. The morning air was crisp. The freshness gave Emily goosebumps as she strolled towards a nearby park.
A man and a woman stood with a young child near the swings. They were smiling down at the child, presumably their child, as the youngster looked up and giggled at her parents. She was dressed in denim overalls and a light green tshirt. A jacket had been wrapped around her tiny figure to shield her from the morning cold. A yellow bow was holding up the few strands of hair on her shiny head.
Emily smiled to herself. She could feel the love that the parents felt for their daughter. It was so simple, so pure, so true. Then a flash of jealousy came over her. Recognizing this sudden feeling, Emily tried to shake it off. Not wanting to realize how she never go to be that little girl.
Just as Emily was getting closer, the little girl fell. Her tiny knees buckled under her as if a wind had just gusted up and threatened to take her away. With a small cry, the toddler fell on the ground. Emily lurched forward as if in an attempt to catch the child, but was obviously too far away to prevent anything.
Emily’s cheeks flushed with worry, but soon she realized the little girl was not hurt, only surprised and a little confused by how she was suddenly sitting on the ground. Her parents picked her up and brushed her off, and the little girl stopped crying. She actually started smiling when her dad took her in his big arms and cradled her.
Emily passed the family with a smile, and decided to keep walking. In sight there was a coffee house which she veered towards. At the stop light, Emily check her phone for messages, but nothing was waiting for her.
As she entered the coffee shop, the aroma of grinding beans and ironic indie music enthralled Emily- this was her type of place. The mom’s and pop’s café was filled with bean bags, sofas, and easy chairs. It was the type of place that made you feel like you were home - only the coffee here was better.
Emily waited her turn in the short line, squinting at the fine printed menu above the barista’s head. She ordered a zebra mocha and sat down on a reclining chair near a window. The sunlight danced around her face. She couldn’t help but smile at its warmth. Her drink was called at the bar and she got up to grab it. The cup with foaming over with black and white coffee. She took a sip and walked over to her recently claimed chair.
The steam caressed Emily’s face as she drank her coffee. She scanned around the room looking for something to do and found an old bookcase sitting in the corner, bloated with books. She glided over to the shelves and after serious consideration decided to read a novel with a French title. Right away Emily began to burrow into the pages of the messy love stories and devastating misery. She read on and soon enough bought a second cup of coffee. 100 pages in, then 200 pages, Emily got lost in the novel. She soon became unaware and uncaring of the time that was passing by.
In her novel a young, humble girl is caught in a love affair with a former marine. The young girl is swept off her feet and dives heart first into their relationship. After some time the female character, Isabella, feels that she is ready to marry the marine, Ethan, only find out that he is already married. Isabella is obviously heart broken and the story continues on with the steamy drama.
Emily really connected with Isabella. Even though she had never been in love with a dashing marines, or anyone for that matter, she still felt the same desire to be cared for and loved. The delicate, personal scenes displayed throughout the novel depicted a relationship of beauty, serenity, and tenderness. While reading, Emily felt herself craving that kind of connection.
Just as Emily was finishing the final page, her phone rang. She glanced down to see that Todd was calling her. She looked at the clock on the wall, and swore when she realized that it was already 11:30.
“Hello? Todd?” she answered her phone, her tone obviously flustered, “I’m so, super sorry. I found this coffee shop down the street and then started reading this romance book, and well you know how I am with romance novels. They’re just so nice!” Emily explained, readily admitting her weakness for a good love story.
“No worries, Em,” Todd laughed, sounding a little sleepy. “I literally just woke up a little while ago and took a shower. I figured that you had gone off on some soul seeking adventure, I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
There was some rustling in the background, Emily figured Todd was sorting through his clothes, smelling to see what was still clean. After a moment’s pause Todd asked, “Did you say coffee shop?”
Emily grinned to herself and shook her head. She described to Todd the path she’d taken to get there and urged him to order the now famous zebra mocha. He was speculative of the drink, but said he was on his way.
When Todd got there he ordered his drink to go. Emily had just finished her new favorite novel. So far, the day was turning out to be pretty kick ass.
“What’s the plan for the day?” Todd asked, a look of bliss coming over his face after taking his first sip off the sweet mocha. With a foam mustache on his top lip Todd exclaimed, “This is a damn good cup of coffee!” Emily giggled, and they clinked their cups.
“Honestly, bud I don’t have a plan,” Emily continued to drink from her cup as they strolled down the street. The sun was lively, reflecting off the puddles from the morning dew. “Are there any sightseeing destination you’d like to see while we’re here? They might have some cool museums of music and art.”
Todd considered the proposal. “You know what, an art museum sounds awesome right now.”
“Peachy, why don’t we grab a taxi off one of these side streets.” As soon as they turned the corner they waved a yellow cab down and jumped in the backseat.
The friends filled their day at the Denver Museum of Fine Arts. They visited the Van Gogh exhibits and tried to understand the deep emotions portrayed in his paintings.
Emily always felt drawn to Vincent Van Gogh’s works particularly his self-portraits. To her he seemed so sad, so lost. As a young girl she would stare at his paintings confused by his depression. She just wanted to jump into the paintings along side him and take the pain away. But as Emily got older, she understood him just like he would have understood her.
Todd got antsy on the way to the impressionist exhibit. He had always loved impressionist paintings, especially the ones that involved the ocean. To Todd there was no feeling like floating on the ocean, fully surrendering yourself to the elements. Todd’s mother used to loving call him a slippery seal. It was true though, whenever Todd could get away he was on the ocean. It was his sanctuary.
Both friends were in an internal daze by the time they headed to the food hall. Emily and Todd got their food and sat down on a wooden bench in the outside courtyard. They ate in peace, lost in their personal endeavors.
After finished her tuna sandwich Emily asked Todd, “What do you think of the world?” It was asked so simply and yet it weighed so heavily.
Still immersed in his personal thoughts, Todd had to pull himself out of his daydreaming to contemplate the question.
“I think that the world has a lot of potential. Potential to help, to heal, to nurture, and to love. Do I believe that the world is currently fulfilling these possibilities? No. I believe that in actuality the world is very far off from being helpful, healing, nurturing, and loving. I actually believe that the world as a whole does the exact opposite.” Todd exhaled, feeling the weight of his answer.
“You see, we have wars, and genocide and murder. That is not helping, that is not healing, that is not nurturing, and that is the polar opposite of loving,” Todd spoke with a passion that Emily only rarely saw. She was not startled by it, but instead she was just merely admired and respected it.
“Some people think that it’s political parties that ruin the world, sure they don’t help, but c’mon. Can republicans do much more damage then they have already done? And then again some people blame big corporations. Mickey D’s, for instance, is a real easy choice. It makes you fat stop eating it- done. But that doesn’t even solve a percentage of our problems it feels like. It doesn’t come down to abstract parties, groups, organizations, corporations. No, it comes down to a single person - me.”
Emily couldn’t help but chuckle. Todd’s speech was so beautiful until he decided all the worldly problems were on his shoulders. “Todd, I know you’re a bleeding-heart liberal, but how does this come down to you? Is it because you’re really Clark Kent and you chose the girl instead of saving the world?” She smiled, and wiped the fake tears from underneath her eyes.
Todd sighed, at first he looked like he was going to smile but his face got real serious instead. He said, “I just believe that the world comes down to individuals. You, me, and everyone else. We are the ones who make the difference. Because at the end of the day the President, Congress, the Taliban are all made up of individual people who make choices everyday whether to love or to hate.”
Love or hate, that is how simply life was to Todd Evans. He inhaled, and exhaled catching his breath. He replayed his answer in his head.
“Did I go too far?” he wondered to himself.
His thoughts were answered when Emily gave him a hug and replied, “I wish there were more Todd Evans in the world.”
The rest of their day was spent wandering downtown Denver. They stopped in a few antique shops where Todd purchased a silver letter opener as a gift for his mom and Emily bought a 50s era satchel. They strolled the streets with a confidence only young friends could bestow. Before leaving to go back to the Rocky Mountain Motel they stopped in a psychic shop.
Growing up, Emily had loved having her palm read- always so curious about what the future had in store for her. Todd was more on the skeptical side, but came in anyways.
“Hi, miss,” an exoctic looking women peaked out from a door of beads. “Esmeralda with be with you shortly, my dear.” The women disappeared, only the scent of her perfume hung in the air. After a few minutes, she re-emerged holding a glass ball.
“Now, now. Come, come - over here by my table.” The woman gestured to a round table that lay towards the back of the store. As Emily made her way through the display cases of ancient looking books and powders, she noticed the lights dimming. The woman took a seat across from Emily and began to place her Tarot cards in rows. She lit a candle, the ember ominously dancing around the wick illuminating the purple walls.
The woman’s long, catlike fingernails glimmered in the candle light. A shiver shot down Emily’s spine. She turned around to see Todd standing behind her, still a little hesitant about their visit.
The woman began, “Every reading I come in with a sense of emptiness that way I can allow for the spirits to direct me properly,” she began, “But this reading, this time I feel full.” A grim shadow came over her face, her eyes darkened as if she was becoming embodied by an unknown power.
She continued on, flipping the first card over. A moon appeared. “You must be feeling confused, inadequate even. You are young my girl, all I can say is that you have time….” her voice trailed off.
Todd smirked at this, thinking to himself that it was all too phoney. Esmeralda abruptly looked up and meet his gaze. Her disembodied eyes startled him. Without looking away she flipped over the next card- a Knight of Swords.
Still looking at Todd, she addressed Emily, “You, my dear, are going to meet someone very soon who will take your heart, and you will fully give it to him. Do not hesitate when you meet him, for you will know.
“And now, for the last card,” Esmeralda looked back at Emily and grinned, showing her teeth that were strained by her vibrant lipstick. She flipped over the final card revealing a strong man on a throne. His gaze was fixated on the horizon.
“The Emperor,” Esmeralda said simply, “represents a man that was in your life. Someone who may have betrayed you- like many emperors have betrayed their countries. But you must know that he is pure at heart. It will always be in your hands whether to forgive him. But know this…” she paused, gliding her fingers over the shimmering card,“this decision of yours, it will never be easy but you must decide in order to move forward in your life.”
Silence fell in the room, only the light breathing of its occupants audible. Emily stared at the card of The Emperor on the table. Maybe the answer was in what he was looking at, longing for. Emily wanted to see what he saw.
After they had paid Esmeralda, Emily and Todd left the shop to find that the sun was beginning to set. The pair decided to walk back to their motel, grabbing some Chinese food on the way.
The next morning Emily decided to stay in bed. Even though she woke up early once again, Emily decided right away that she was not in the mood to move. Ever since the card reading she’d been in a gloom.
“The moon, the knight, and the emperor?” she repeated to herself, saying it over and over again as if the names would some how reveal a secret meaning that hadn’t been apparent to her before.
Todd also woke up early that morning. He knew Emily was awake by her constant tossing and turning. He knew she was uneasy, but just like Emily, Todd did not want to move. He feared that if he were to get up and they’d start going about their day, that the rest of trip would be like this. “Stupid, stupid psychic. Why did we even go in there?” Todd mumbled into his pillow. “Stupid, stupid, stupid.”
“I can hear you,” Emily whispered, tossing over once again.
“Sorry,” Todd whispered back, turning to face the ceiling.
“You know, what?,” Emily said sitting up, “You are right. This is stupid!” She got out of bed, “Just stupid!” She yelled.
She walked over to her luggage bag and pulled out her iPod from a side pocket. Scrolling through her playlist Emily picked a song with an “Ah-ha” and plugged into into the clock radio.
An upbeat melody came over the speakers, filling the room with good vibes. Emily began to dance, but realized that she felt silly dancing alone. That’s when she decided to drag Todd into the mix. She jump on his bed and pulled his arms up, forcing him to dance. He refused at first, but quickly let loose.
Neither Todd nor Emily were the most delicate of dancers, but they tried anyways. After some sprinkler action followed up by “milking the cow” and “raising the roof” the song was over. Todd and Emily collapsed on the bed, laughing hysterically.
Soon after their dance party, they were outside with everything packed tightly in the Subaru. Emily decided that it was a good day to wear her lucky tie-dye shirt with the hole in the armpit. Last time she wore it she got an A on her philosophy paper. With a gentle click, the car was locked and ready to go back on the road.
Two hours was ahead of them before reaching Cheyenne. From Cheyenne, Emily told Todd they were going to Boomsville where Emily’s grandmother lived on a small goat farm. They would stay there for a few days, at least that’s what Emily hoped for.
Growing up, she was used to spend her summers up in Boomsville with her brother. Her and Hank used to run around the land, one day pretending they were bandits on the run - the next they were either soldiers or royal children from England. There they could be who they wanted to be; there Emily could forget about her responsibilities. But then the summer would end and Emily would have to go back to a fatherless home and a mother on the mend.
All of this went through Emily’s thoughts as a pit began to reemerge in her gut. They headed north on the interstate highway. The wind blew through her hair, drying the last of the wetness from her morning shower.
By the afternoon, they were in Cheyenne. The city was beautiful with its encompassing mountains and store fronts of brick buildings.
“If you keep following this street it will take you outside of the city and onto an old backcountry logger road,” Emily described to Todd. “From there it should be about 15 miles if I remember correctly, til we hit Grandma’s driveway.” She looked straight ahead, staring at an undetermined point on the horizon. She began twisting her ring as they continued through the city streets.
Todd reached over and gently placed his hand on Emily’s left shoulder. “What are you so nervous about?”
Emily shook her head. “It just I haven’t seen my grandmother in a long time. I must have been seventeen the last time I came here. I’m just nervous I’ll be a disappointment to her,” Emily reached her hand up to meet Todd’s. She squeezed his hand before letting go to wipe the moisture that had formed around her eyes.
“Emily,” Todd withdrew his hand. “I promise, you are not a disappointment.”
She gave him a weak smile before returning her gaze to the horizon. Before she knew it, they were pulling into a gravel driveway with a mail box labeled Anderson. A large house came into view some ways down the drive. It was yellow two story building that had a large white deck facing an open field where horses and cows roamed around amongst purple wild flowers. A small, elderly woman sat in a rocking chair near the front door, a cane laid next to her on the wooden floor.
“Is there anything I need to know before meeting your grandmother?” Todd asked as he put the car into park. “Any superstitions? Religious preferences? Regular psychotic breakdowns?”
“None that I’m aware of,” Emily said with a small grin on her face. She was selfishly pleased that Todd was nervous as well. “I guess the things to know are that she has been divorced three times, when she refers to her children she is referring to her animals, and her last husband Bo choked on clam chowder - so seafood and just soup in general is a touchy subject.” Emily counted these points off on her fingers.
“Noted: no seafood, animals equal children, and I probably won’t mention anything romantic just to be totally safe.” Todd smiled and unbuckled his seatbelt.
“She’ll just love you then,” Emily reached over from the passenger seat and pinched Todd’s right cheek. “Look at how adorable you are!” Todd slapped her hand away and got out of the car, rubbing his cheek where a red mark was beginning to form.
As they ascended the porch steps, Emily’s grandma yelled from her spot on the rocking chair, “It’s about damn time you kids got here!” Emily and Todd exchanged glances and picked up their pace. Emily had begun to twist her ring with a newfound fury as they reached the rocking chair.
“Hello grandma,” Emily leaned down and hugged her. The woman kissed her cheek and smiled. “This is my friend Todd.” Emily motioned to where Todd stood a safe distance away.
Grandma Betsy scanned him up and down, as if debating whether to buy him or not. “Why yes, I’ve heard so much about you,” Grandma Betsy said after a moment of stillness. She smiled at him and he extended his hand. “No, son. In this family we hug.”
So Todd gave Grandma Betsy a hug. She embraced him, just as she had embraced Emily. Todd knew that he would enjoy his time here on the farm.
“Well, let me show y’all your rooms. Come this way,” Grandma Betsy motioned to the screen door as she got up. “I hope you don’t mind sharing a bathroom.”
The friends followed her inside the house. As they walked through the doorway the warm smell of home baked cookies nearly swept them off their feet. Emily smiled to herself, reminded of her childhood days on the farm. A few doors down the hall, Grandma Betsy stopped abruptly.
“Now here will be Todd’s room. It’s where Emily and Hank used to stay back when they were kids.” Todd poked his head into the room. Bunk beds sat on the far wall, decorated with homemade quilts of patches. A single dresser stood on the right hand wall with a small reading lamp. Before continuing down the hall Todd noticed a painting hanging near the door. It was of a weeping willow tree.
It was the kind of painting that made you feel sad and grateful at the same time. Todd was little taken aback by the beauty of it, but quickly got himself together when he realized that Grandma Betsy had started up the grand tour again.
As Todd was catching up, Grandma Betsy leaned over to whisper in Emily’s ear. “I figured you would have wanted a bigger bed,” she said.
“You’ve always known me so well. Thank you Grandma,” Emily whispered back. Grandma Betsy winked at her as Todd filed his way back in line.
“About time Toddy. I thought I’d have to send a search party for you,” Grandma Betsy grinned at Todd as he caught his breath. For a woman her age, Betsy was a fast walker.
She kept up the pace with Emily and Todd trailing behind her. After a turn or two Emily was showed her room with the big fluffy bed that her mother used to sleep in during their visits. She set her bag down and quickly left the room. There were too many memories in there to linger.
In the kitchen, Grandma Betsy had already prepared sandwich fixings for lunch. Todd had begun to make himself at home, making his sandwich with mustard and mayo. Grandma Betsy was pouring glasses of lemonade when Emily walked into the room.
Grandma Betsy could sense the emotion that had settled onto Emily’s furrowed brow. “Everything okay, honey?” she asked, motioning with her chin to Emily.
“Oh, me? No, I’m fine,” Emily replied, spinning her ring on her finger. A weak smile penetrating her lips. “Lunch looks great, Grandma. Thank you for preparing all of this.”
Todd mumbled in agreement and gratitude, half of his second sandwich shoved into the enormous hole known as his mouth. They all sat down at the kitchen table amongst the toppings and dressings and ate. More mumbles and grumbles and yumms came from all around as they enjoyed their lunch.
In the later afternoon before the sun started dipping behind the mountains, Grandma Betsy pulled on her big black boots and lead Emily and Todd into the pasture.
“You see here, this land has been in the Henderson family for going on five generations. My great-grandpa bought this land for two bucks an acre,” She explained, mainly to Todd for Emily had heard all of her stories a few times over.
“One day I’ve always hoped for Emily to have this land,” she smiled. “But anyways, out there on the top field to the right you can see my cattle. I have 4 cows, who all produce milk. My horses are out and away near the gate eating the new summer grasses. They’ll come in tonight and tomorrow morning we can go for a ride down to the spring.”
Grandma Betsy continued to talk, describing the land and it held. Emily followed her, breathing in the country air that she had missed. The sun was beginning to lower in the sky as the moon became brighter. The first stars began appearing as they walked back towards the house. After a quick dinner, they headed to bed early with a promise to rise at daybreak to go riding.
As Emily and Todd slowly waltzed to their rooms, stomachs full of warm food, their hands brushed and their eyes met. The house was quiet, only the sound of Grandma’s radio playing Merle Haggard occupied the air. The sweet sounds of Silver Wings consumed Emily’s heart as she grabbed onto Todd’s hand. Their fingers briefly interlaced before Emily’s turned into her room. She kissed him on the cheek and closed the door for the night.
Todd lifted his hand up to his cheek, and grinned. He sleepily glided to his room and fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.
The next morning he abruptly awake to the sound of a cow bell. He sat up in bed with a simple, “What the fuck?” leaving his mouth. The horrid ringing continued as Todd dressed for the day. He ran to the bathroom to wash off his face and brush his teeth only to find it occupied.
He knocked the door and Emily answered, “Give me a minute please.” Todd patiently waited, but after five minutes he needed to escape from the cow bell.
“I’m coming in Em,” Todd warned as he turned the handle.
“What the hell-” She began as Todd walked into the room. Emily stood there in her pajamas towel drying her damp hair. She tank top had been rolled up and revealed her stomach. It’s appearance swollen and bruised. Todd immediatly look away.
The steam from her recent shower still clung in the air. Emily’s green eyes were brightened against the darkness of her hair. Her freckles showed against her fair skin barren of make up. She abruptly rolled down she shirt when she noticed Todd’s staring.
“I’m sorry, but I gotta go Em,” Todd said concern coming through his voice. He tried to snap out of it. “That sound! That horrible, terrible, sound!” Todd began to complained. His head still rattled from the ringing outside. “I think my ears are bleeding!”
Emily laughed, “You’ll have to get used to it, it’s grandma’s favorite alarm clock. And trust me, it’s better than the rest. It’ll be over soon.” And as if by magical powers, the horrible, terrible sound ceased. Todd let out a sigh of relief.
“Now, will you please leave so I can get ready for our ride?” Emily asked, too satisfied over Todd’s reaction to the cowbells to be mad at him for barging in.
“Yeah, yeah,” Todd said feeling foolish. He turned around and closed the bathroom door. Minutes later Emily emerged, a perfect braid falling down the length of her back.
“All yours big boy,” she commented as she walked towards her room. “Be ready soon and if you need riding boots there is an old pair of my grandfathers around here somewhere.”
Todd half mumbled and kind of nodded. Since the cowbells had stopped he had begun to feel a little sleepy. He snapped out of it though with a bit of cold water splashed on his face. Grandma Betsy was busy in the kitchen, and from the sounds and smells of things they were in for a big feast before their morning trot. Todd quickly got dressed and headed towards the delicious aroma of eggs and bacon. As he walked through the threshold into the kitchen, he could see that Grandma Betsy was busying herself over the stove.
“Good morning,” she said over the sizzling of grease. “How’d you sleep?”
“Good morning, I sleep great thank you,” Todd replied, reaching for the plate of bacon. “Can I help with anything?”
“No thank you, dear. I am almost ready,” she paused to flip over the pancake in the pan. “I just thought that it would be nice to head out the door with a full stomach.” She smiled, and wiped her forehead with the back of her spare hand.
Todd eventually convinced Grandma Betsy to let him set the table for her. As he was setting out the silverware, Emily walked into the room. Her hair was still in a damp braid, but she didn’t seem to mind.
“Good morning, Grandma,” Emily said, kissing her grandmother on the cheek. “How are you doing this fine morning?”
“Well, my dear,” Grandma Betsy momentarily looked up from her station, “You seem to be in a very chipper mood.”
Emily smiled, and just like Todd, grabbed for the plate of bacon. “I am in a good mood. It’s just whenever I come out here I feel refreshed, reinvented even.” She went over to help Todd out at the table.
Emily grabbed for the silverware, but Todd snatched it from under her grip, childishly giggling as he did so. Their hands brushed as they did the night before, but Emily did not react. Todd was left wondering whether he was the only one still thinking about it, but he quickly tried to hide his disappointment. They finished setting the table as Grandma Betsy brought out the rest of the plates. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, yogurt, freshly cut fruit, and hot chocolate.
After a round of gratitude for Grandma Betsy’s hard work, they all dived in. Soon enough they were all stuffed, almost unable to move. With much hesitation, the group got up and geared up for the day ahead.
It was still early when they mounted the horses. Emily rode her beloved horse Snickerdoodle, informally known as just Doodle, past Todd who was awkwardly stationed on his great steed Booker. Emily laughed and galloped with Doodle around the nearby pasture, enthralled by the lightness she felt. Her childhood memories came rushing back to her as she rode through the wind.
Grandma Betsy had made her way next to Todd, riding her favorite horse Buttercup. “You alright there, son?” she asked, a look of worry and humor on her face. “Your sitting as straight as a board. Doesn’t look very comfortable.”
“It looks like you got a hockey stick jammed up your ass!” Emily yelled as she rode past. Todd grabbed onto the horn on the saddle to steady himself.
“Emily Amelia Anderson! You better watch that pretty mouth of yours!” Grandma Betsy started, but was interrupted by her own laughter.
“Todd,” she looked over at the poor young man who had shrunken down as far as he could into the leather saddle. “You will be fine, just follow me and we will take it easy. If you get uncomfortable give ol’ Booker there a tug on the reins and a sharp Whoah!”
“Yes ma’am,” he replied, his eyes noticeably misted over.
“Alright then, let’s go. Giddy up, girly,” Grandma Betsy said, giving her horse a small kick.
With a yee-ha Emily was off with Doodle, nearly out of sight. Grandma Betsy stayed with Todd, just like she promised as they followed a trail through the upper fields and into the forest that neighbored the property. As they went along, Todd began to loosen up and sway back and forth with the horses solemn gate. The old boots that were loaned to him felt good on his feet and held him securely in the stirrups. Grandma Betsy hummed a country tune as they meandered this way and that zig zagging their way across the beaten down trail.
Grandma Betsy began telling Todd her story. She often didn’t feel the need to share herself with others, but she could tell that Todd was no other boy at least not in the eyes of her granddaughter.
As it went, Grandma Betsy has always been on this land. She grew up with a large family of several brothers and sisters and few cousins and aunts and uncles scattered around. She told Todd about the times that they went riding, and fishing, and running through this fast land she will always call home. She spoke of a time that Todd could only imagine, a time of war, love, and loss.
She described her first husband, the stunning soldier that he was. Before he went off to war she had given birth to their first, and last child Emily’s mother. Her pride of her family showed through her speech, softening Todd’s heart. As most of these stories went though, her husband never made it back home and her and Emily’s mother were left alone.
“You see, Todd,” Grandma Betsy went on. “They always tell you during the war that love with rage on, that it will always win in the end, but it didn’t. At least not for us.” She paused, adjusting the reins in her hand.
“I’m afraid that Emily knows that all too well, at least for her age.” Todd shook his head and they continued the rest of their ride in silence only the song of a mourning dove and the sound of the horses’ deep breathing interrupting the stillness. Along the way, Todd noticed his body relaxing and forming to the movement of Booker.
The morning sun had made its full appearance and was now bowing over the mountains to the west. Emily had rode into the forest farther than she had ever gone before. She looked behind her, but could not see where Todd and Grandma Betsy had turned. She looked up to the sky to see a Western Meadowlark flew high above the clouds. The bird spread its wings and trusted, trusted the wind to carry her off.
A crack of a twig sounding from behind her shook Emily from her daydream. She turned around to see a fallen acorn. The sudden nauseating surge she knew all too well came over Emily. Before she knew it, she was off her horse on all fours on the ground. She thought that after all this time, she would get used to the sickness, but with every cough and every nauseating breath, Emily knew she was getting worse.
Emily wiped off her chin and mounted Doodle. She looked around her to make sure that neither Todd nor Grandma Betsy had seen. With a gentle kick, Emily and Doodle continued on their way back towards the house.
Two days had passed by since their morning ride. The moon had begun to sneak out over the land, casting a solemn light onto the house. Grandma Betsy had gone to bed, she said she was tired, but Emily could tell she was sad that their time together was coming to an end tomorrow. With a quick kiss on the forehead, Grandma Betsy left Emily and Todd in the old living room. The fans was turning above their heads, in a sorry attempt to cool the hell burning air.
Emily was laying on the cold hardwood floor, the sleeves to her lucky tie-dye shirt rolled up, revealing the slight tan she had already began to form. Todd, on the other hand, was as red as a lobster, under his Neil Diamond manly tank top. His anglo saxon heritage had done him wrong in the hot summer sun, and he was paying the consequence.
With the faint smell of aloe vera in the air, Emily asked, “What’s on your mind?”
“Hmmm…” Todd pondered, “First of all, this sunburn…” he began.
Thinking to himself, “Second of all, why you held my hand the other night.”
Outloud, “Second, I’m just really tired.” Todd said, trying to act nonchalant about it. He closed his eyes, in hopes that it would seal the deal.
“Well, are you up for some fun anyways?” Emily asked, excitement clearly audible in her voice. “I know something that would just rock your socks Todd!” She said sarcastically, giggling at her own choice of words.
Todd grinned, “What do you mean? What kind of fun are you talking about?” Todd gave Emily a flirtatious wink. She threw a pillow at him.
“When I was a teenager, after I first got my license I used to sneak out of here at night,” Emily explained, her face filled with childlike joy.
Todd nodded his head, waiting in anticipation. “This is like Ocean’s Eleven,” he said sarcastically, “Do we get code names? Because if you do I really want to be Big Papa.”
“Shut up, won’t you?” Emily said, yell whispering. “No, there are not code names idiot. We’re adults now. We can just walk out the door. And anyways, even if there were you could not be Big Papa. You’d be more like Clumsy Sloth.” Emily laughed, a small amount of spit escaping from her mouth.
“Now, that was attractive….” Todd said, disappointment and hurt written all over his puppy dog face.
“Oh, don’t get all bummed out on me now,” Emily said still recovering from her spewing fest, a smile plastered on her face. She got up from the ground and sat next to Todd on the couch. She stuck two fingers against his hand and drew a semi circle. After she removed his fingers, a noticeable white impression of a smiley face with visible against the near crimson of Todd’s sunburn.
With a frown on his face, Todd turned away burying his face into a nearby pillow. Emily leaned over and put her head on the part of Todd’s shoulder that was covered up by his shirt. He let out a mumble that was barely audible to Emily.
“What?” she asked, her voice softened from her earlier kind-of-yelling.
“That hurt,” he replied. “That stupid, not cute happy face hurt.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “My intention was not to hurt you, I just wanted you to be as excited as I am.”
Todd turned his face out of the pillow, “I might be, if I knew what there was to be excited about.”
“Oh yeah,” Emily had forgotten to actually tell Todd the plan. “Well, like I said when I used to sneak out I would go cow tipping and then get a milkshake afterwards.”
This brightened Todd up a little bit, “Cow tipping and milkshakes? I feel like there is a joke in there somewhere.” He smiled and began to rise from his slouching position. Emily got up and got the car keys.
Soon enough Emily and Todd were on the open road. They decided to change the tradition though, this time it was milkshake before cow tipping. They had to store up some energy, ya know?
With chocolate milkshakes and fries in hand, the friends made their adventure to the biggest cattle farm in the Cheyenne area. Emily had been around these part a time or two, but she had never dared tipping any of these cows. You see, these weren’t your average cows. These cows were the kind of cows that won awards at the state fair. The kind of cows that made those burgers that you envision dancing around her head at night. The kind that you didn’t mess with - at least not until tonight.
Emily and Todd parked the car near the fence of the grazing land. A few lazy cows had decided to stay out there for a midnight snack and didn’t head into the barn for the night. Slowly, and ever so quietly Emily snuck over the fence and lent Todd a hand. After they were both over the barricade, they tip-toed over to the nearest cow, a large female with her head bent towards the ground. Her spot of black and white were illuminated by the moonlight.
“What now?” Todd asked, trying his best not to laugh at the situation that they’d gotten themselves into.
“Well, you just. Ya know, go over to the cow and give it a little push.” Emily whispered, small drops of sweat forming on her forehead. She began twisting her ring.
“Okay…” Todd was a little hesitant. “You know I feel kind of bad doing this...hurting the poor little cows.” As he finished his sentences, the cow that they’d been stalking began to stir. She turned her head left and right as she waddled around in a circle until she was face to face with Emily and Todd.
With a startled, “MOOOOOO!” The cow charged the pair. Out of seemingly nowhere two baby calves came out of the shadows.
“Holy shit! It’s a mama cow!” Emily said, grabbing Todd by the bottom of his shirt before taking off in a sprint towards the fence. Their tip-toeing and stalking had taken them farther away from the fence than they had originally anticipated. By the time Todd had fully recognized the situation, they were only fifteen feet from the fence.
Emily kept yelling and screaming and repeating herself. “Holy shit! Holy fucking shit!” was about all that Todd could make out of her garbled speech. The cow still at large.
Even as they came to the fence, the mama cow was still huffing and puffing at their heels. Emily hurtling over the fence, not even hesitating to help Todd over. Todd abruptly stopped before falling over the fence.
“Todd, what the hell?” Emily yelled breathlessly, “Do you need help? You need, need, must jump over the fence! Come on!” She reached her hand over the railings, but instead of taking it Todd took a few steps back.
“Not the way your suppose to be going!” Emily screamed. The sound of hooves and a freight train speeding ahead overcame Todd’s sense. But before he let it get the best of him, he continued to wind up and then sprint towards the fence - catapulting himself over.
Out of breathe, Todd rolled over from the place where he landed and stood up to face Emily. “At least nothing feels broken,” he thought. Emily was next to him motioning with her arms that they needed to keep going.
“But I thought the cows was on the other side of the fence….” Todd said puzzled.
Emily pointed behind him. Todd turned around to see the mama cow winding up and sprinting towards the fence just like Todd had just done. Except, when the cow tried to jump over the fence she missed and was flung back onto her heels. Letting out another angered, “MOOOOO!” she went for the fence again.
Todd only needed to see this once and ran back to the nearby car with Emily. They started the engine as when they were a safe distance away, they began laughing/
“I can’t believe what just happened,” Todd said. “I could have been killed by a cow!” At that, Emily burst out laughing. Her eyes began watering as they headed back for their last night at Grandma Betsy’s house.
After a gigantic breakfast, long goodbyes, and a few stolen last minute hugs Emily and Todd pulled out of Grandma Betsy’s gravel driveway. During their last embrace, Grandma Betsy held Emily so hard she felt as if they would be permanently molded together. After wiping her Grandmother’s tears and reassuring her, Emily said goodbye.
They would take one night off in between here and Bozeman. The friends carefully examined a map and decided that they wanted to drive the long way through Yellowstone National Park. They continued their way on highway 80. They hoped they would be able to grab a late lunch in Riverton before heading into the park.
It was Todd’s first time in this part of the states. For all he knew, Montana was full of cowboys and Idaho was where potatoes were grown. Emily smiled to herself when she thought about this. She was excited to share all of this beauty with him. “This summer will change his life,” Emily thought to herself before dozing off in the passenger seat.
During their journey west, Todd keep slipping into a daydream. It was a recurring vision that always puzzled him. It always went to same, he would be gazing into the sun not matter if he was walking or driving or in class and he would be transported to a meadow somewhere so beautiful that it was hard to imagine a place like this existing on earth. In his vision, he would see Emily walked towards him, her hair in her usual braid down her back and a white dress flowing around her.
It was as if they hadn’t seen each other is a long time, because just as Emily noticed Todd she would start running towards him. His arms would open to embrace her as she got closer, but just as she was about to reach him she would vanish. As if swept up by a gust of wind, Emily would disappear. Todd would then be left, all alone in this mysterious meadow. He would start walking towards the forest near the meadow, but then the sun suddenly became hidden behind some invisible obstruction. Soon the rain would start and before he knew it everything was black.
The loud and abrupt honking of a horn grabbed Todd back to reality. He had begun to drift into the center lane, making a quick correction Todd decided that it would be best for him to focus on the road for the rest of the journey.
After grabbing some sandwiches to go in Riverton, Emily and Todd went on through the park. The scenery was breathtaking. The green hills were spotted with elk and buffalo grazing in the summer sun. Emily and Todd let out the appropriate amount of ooohs and ahhhs and continued their way through the park.
When the sun was beginning to set they pulled out of the grand arches leading them out. They decided to camp out near Madison Arm, a small lake that was well known for having great fishing. As they drove past the resort, Emily asked Todd to pull over.
“What is it, Em?” Todd asked, puzzled by what he was being asked to do.
“It’s nothing,” Emily said, her eyes gazing at a particular car in the resort parking lot. “Just hold on.” She got out of the car and walked over to the vehicle.
Todd stayed in the car and played with the radio. They hadn’t been able to get any good radio stations in since leaving the park and he was determined to listen to something other than Emily’s continuous playlist. The noise of the car door handle being tugged, startled Todd as he looked up to see Emily getting into the car.
“What was that able?” he asked, a little annoyed by their sudden stop. After the long drive through the park he was tired.
“Can I drive?” Emily asked. “I just need to l look at the road.” Todd nodded and they traded places. Emily started up the car and hit the gas after one last look at the car in the parking lot. When they got onto the highway the night sky began to melt into the illuminated signs that lit up the road.
Shortly after reaching a campsite outside of Hebgen Lake, Emily shut off the car and just sat there. Tear started forming in her eyes.
“That car in the parking lot that I saw, it looked like the old truck that my dad used to drive,” she explained, the tear starting to penetrated her porcelain skin. Todd reached over to wipe the tears from her cheeks. Emily continued, “After all these years I still think that he is going to come back.”
Todd sat there and listened. The stars began to grow brighter as the sky grew darker.
“You know, Em” he started, “When I was a kid, probably around six, my family had adopted a gold retriever. We named him Tiger, because of how spastic and happy was. We used to take him to the beach and he would try and drink all the salt water. Everyday when I got home he would be sitting by the door on our Welcome matt. We used to call it Tiger’s matt.
“One day when I was in fifth grade, I came home and found my mom crying at the kitchen table, that was when she told me that Tiger had been run over by a car. I was so distraught about losing Tiger that I didn’t go to school the next couple of days. I would just sit on his matt and cry and hope that some miracle would bring him back.”
Todd was looking into Emily’s eyes when he shared all of this. Todd was a very sensitive person, but he never let it on. So for him to be sharing all of this with Emily was truly special and she knew it and cherish it. She took his hand when he took a breathe.
“My point is,” Todd concluded, “is that I feel like I will always be waiting for Tiger to come back, but I know deep in my heart he will not. Obvious Tiger is different than your dad, but to be honest Emily I think you need closure.”
Emily sat there, taking all of this in. Tears were still streaming down her face, her hand held tightly to Todd’s. “I think you’re right,” Emily said quietly. “Those damn sad dog stories...” She giggled and looked up at Todd to see he was smiling as well.
The friends set up their tents near the car. Todd brought out the crappily packed food they had brought from the trunk. A few peanut butter sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies made up their dinner.
Over a small campfire, Emily grabbed her guitar and sang. The melody of her sweet voice seemed to carry over to the other camp sites. Some people began to peek around bushes and trees to get a glimpse at the beautiful woman behind the beautiful voice. After finishing a set, a sudden applause erupted from the scattered sites. With a smile, Emily placed her guitar back into the car and crawled into her tent shortly after Todd extinguished the fire and went to bed as well.
The next morning Emily and Todd were awakened by the sun coming over the lake. The sun light played off of their eyes and tickled their noses. Soon enough they were packed and hungry for some hot, non-camping breakfast.
“How’d you sleep?” Emily asked Todd who was brushing his teeth over near a toothpaste painted bush.
“Alright, I guess,” Todd said after spitting. “How about you?”
“Ehhh,” Emily responded making a pouty face, “It felt like I was sleeping on rocks.”
“I’m sorry,” Todd replied, as he was packing up the trunk. Emily gave him a hand, stuffing the tents and sleeping bags into the back.
“It should only be a couple hours until we hit Bozeman, but it would be great to grab some grub before then,” Emily told Todd, her stomach growling under yet another tie-dye shirt. Todd nodded in approval and rubbed his belly.
On the road again, Todd and Emily merged onto highway 191 but quickly got off at spotting a drive through coffee house. At the little window and teenage boy appeared, as he spoke Todd winced at the cracking of his adolescent voice. Too many memories, of his awkward tween age.
“Hi, how are you?” Emily asked the teen behind the counter. A wide smile of her face.
Surprised by her reaction he responded, “I’m doing ummm well ma’am thank you. What can I do for you?” He smiled, displaying teeth that were too straight to be natural.
“I would like a large decaf, nonfat vanilla latte please?” Emily asked politely. Todd giggled to himself at her drink order. “What?!” Emily asked a little annoyed.
“It’s just we aren’t at Starbucks Em, you either get it black or with cream here.” Todd smiled, thinking that he was so smart.
“Actually, sir” the teenager began, “we have an espresso machine here. It’s pretty nifty can make a whole bunch of awesome drinks.” He was obviously excited about it.
Emily smiled at the teenager and thanked him once again. As he turned around to start Emily’s fancy pansy drink she turned to Todd and stuck her tongue out at him. “Smart ass,” she said.
With coffee and pastries in hand, they drove off to Bozeman. Todd asked a lot of questions about the town on the way. He wanted to know what it was like, if they had good food, and most importantly did they have good beer?
Emily answered the questions to the best of her knowledge, but to be honest, she had never been there only heard stories about it. You see, growing up Emily was raised to be a University of Montana fan and to be a very proud Grizzly. But Univeristy of Montana was rivals with Montana State Bobcats in Bozeman. So it was obviously out of the question to ever be seen in Bozeman let alone anywhere near it.
Nevertheless, her feelings towards Montana State, Emily was overjoyed to be going back up to Montana. To her, this was her playground, her place to roam free and truly be herself. Just like Grandma Betsy’s ranch, Montana was a breathe of fresh air.
Just as planned, they reached Bozeman in the early afternoon. They drove down the main drag to take in the shops and restaurants. Towards the end of the drive, Todd started yipping and howling as he pointed towards something outside. After a few seconds of serious concern, Emily realized that he had only found a bar. With a promise that they’d come back later, Emily and Todd continued their venture to find a hotel to say at.
“Let’s take a right at the next light, I have an inkling that it will take us to a hotel,” Todd said, these inklings of his were infamous for getting him lost. Emily only had to give a look, but even she knew that wouldn’t stop him from using his spidey instincts. “Just around this corner,” Todd began saying. “Just around this corner,” after a while a tone came to him and he began singing this one phrase over and over again.
“Stop,” Emily said firmly. “I am trying to trust your supernatural powers to get a hotel, I really don’t need to hear the theme song as well.”
Todd, quieted after a small squeak. They turned right, then left, then went straight. After 20 minutes Emily spoke up. “We have passed to exiting Bozeman sign five times, easily. We are going in circles. Let’s pull over and let me drive.”
“No!” Todd protested, “I can do this, it just sometimes takes a while to find what I’m looking for.”
Ten minutes passed by as they continued to pass the same exit sign. Defeated, Todd reluctantly let Emily into the driver’s seat. She rounded a couple of corners and in only a couple of minutes had parked the car in front of an inexpensive looking motel. Paradise Suites, a sign read above the entrance.
“Not much of a paradise,” Todd mumbled, still feeling grumping over not being able to find a hotel.
“Yeah, yeah Spiderman,” Emily said, play punching him in the arm. “Cross your fingers there will be room for us.” As she said this she crossed her fingers and toes and forced herself to go cross eyed.
As they walked into the airconditioned lobby, Todd and Emily looked around to notice that no one else was there. A small pool was visible from behind a glass door facing the entrance, but it was appeared to be a light shade of ochre. A bell lay on the counter, and Emily tapped it releasing a rusty sounding bing.
“It’s like the Bait’s Motel,” Todd said. Emily ignored him and tapped the bell again.
“Hello?” the voice of a man came from behind them. Startled by his sudden appearance, both Emily and Todd jumped around to see the intruder.
“How may I help you,” said the voice that came from a large man sitting in an easy chair in the corner.”
“Was he always there?” Todd whispered to Emily. Emily shook her head, puzzled and slightly frightened.
“Maybe I should have just gone along with Todd’s senses…” Emily thought to herself. Outloud she addressed the man in the chair, “Hello, I was wondering if you had an vacancies. Just for one-”
She was abrupting cut off by the man. “What did the sign say outside?” he asked pretentiously.
The questioned confused Emily. She began twisting her ring. “I’m sorry, but what sign?”
“You know, the sign where either vacancy or no vacancy is illuminated. What does it say?” the man gruffly explained. Emily walked outside to see. The dinky little sign outside of the motel read Vacancy in red illuminated letters. A pissed off, Emily charged into the motel determined to tell the man off.
“It says that you have a vacancy you -” but she was cut off before she could finish her insult.
“Then how many rooms will it be?” asked the man, who was know standing behind the corner.
“Just one please,” Todd said, after picking up on Emily’s anger. “One with two beds please.”
The man scanned through his bulky computer mumbling numbers to himself. “Alright,” he said eventually. “We do have one from available but it only has one bed and one pull out couch, how does that sound?”
“Lovely,” Todd replied, “Just lovely, thank you. We will just be here for tonight.” Todd finished up the transaction and got the room key. He walked outside with Emily to get their bags.
“What an ass,” Emily stated.
“I agree, but it’s one night and it’s a cheap room.” Todd patted Emily on the back. She smiled, but then she started coughing. At first it seemed innocent, something went down the wrong tube, but soon enough Todd could see the pain coming over Emily’s pale face. He lead her to the room as she continued to suck in air before wheezing and coughing again.
When they got into the room, Todd laid Emily down on the bed. He turned her on her side and held her as she continued to cough. Todd rubbed Emily’s back, comforting her. He closed his eyes, hoping that this fit would soon be over. As he continued to run his hand along Emily’s back he felt a wetness.
He opened his eyes and discovered his hands were covered in blood, Emily’s blood. He began screaming, Emily began to cry. A look of complete helplessness came over her face. She ran into the bathroom holding her stomach. She yelled at Todd to get her bag for her as she slammed the door closed. Todd ran out to the car and threw all the bags on the ground in search for Emily’s suitcase. When he found it he, he sprinted back to the room and knocked on the bathroom door. Emily’s shaking hand reached out from the door, slightly bloody. Todd passed the suitcase through.
“Emily, how can I help you? What can I do? Should I can you an ambulance?” Todd asked, questions filling his head.
“Todd, I need help,” Emily said weakly from the other side of the door. With that, Todd got onto his phone and dialed 9-1-1. Within minutes, paramedics came in and saw Emily on the bathroom floor, soaked in her own blood crying. Todd was holding her, rocking her back and forth, and humming one of Grandma Betsy’s country songs.
“Sir, we can take it from here,” a male paramedic said, a box of medical supplies in his hand. Another paramedic came in and pulled Todd off of Emily. He was ushered outside, Emily’s blood stained on his clothing. Shaking, Todd told himself to pull it together.
“This isn’t about me,” he thought to himself. “I need to be strong from Em.” He wiped his eyes and straightened his clothes. Stoically, Todd sat by Emily as they drove her to the hospital. His face showed no emotion, but his eyes gave away his interior chaos. As they came in to hospital, doctors came and took Emily away, rolling her down the fluorescent lit hallways.
Todd was asked to stay in the waiting room. Soon after he sat down, a male nurse came to give him a change of clothes. Todd had almost forgotten that the liquid soaking through his clothing was Emily’s blood. He went to the bathroom to change. He walked in and closed the door behind him. Across from him was a mirror.
He could see his reflection, from his head to the top of his pants. Everywhere he looked he was covered in blood. He went over to the sink and started the water. He lead his hands into the stream and began to rub his arms and face.
As he rubbed off the blood, he felt as if he was rubbing Emily’s off of him. He looked up at the sink to meet his eyes. Blood shot from held back tears, Todd could barely recognize the agony he was feeling. He let the water run over his hands and onto the floor. He nelt staring at himself, in disbelieve and then began to cry.
When Todd came out of the bathroom he was greeted by a nurse with a clipboard. He was asked to fill out all the information he had on Emily to the best of his knowledge. He took a seat near the sliding doors where carts of patients came wheeling in and out. Todd looked down blankly at the piece of paper in front of him and began answering the questions.
To his surprise, he could answer the majority of the questions. Birth date, weight, that kind of stuff was easy, but medical history and dietary needs was no problem for him to answer either. Soon enough he walked up to the nurses’ station and handed them the filled out form
Who seemed to be the head nurse, took the clipboard and flipped through the pages. “You’re a great husband to know all of this information,” she commented, almost to herself.
“Oh,” Todd paused, “No, I’m not her husband, I’m her best friend.”
“I’m sorry,” the nurse said, almost callously. Not looking up from the clipboard.
Todd found his way back to the chair and called Grandma Betsy. She told him she would get in the car right after calling Emily’s mother and brother, Hank. Todd clicked off his phone and stared at the floor.
Two hours passed by before a doctor came in. Todd looked up to see the female doctor coming towards him in bloody scrubs. He stood up, but didn’t try to prepare himself. He knew this was going to be bad news.
“Hello, I’m Dr. Kensington,” said the women in a British accent. She reached out her hand which Todd promptly shook. He was fingers were noticeably shaking, but the doctor did not comment. “Emily is stable. She has gone through some serious trauma. The bleeding does not usually occur in cancer patients, but at her advanced stage I am not surprised…”
The sounds of the intercom overcame Todd, doctors began paged here and there. Then the swishing of the sliding door behind him. Todd could see the doctor’s lips moving, but he just didn’t hear anything. He felt wetness against his cheeks. He raised his hands and at the touch of his damp tears was reminded of Emily’s bloody body laying on the motel room bed.
Todd glanced up at the doctor who had stopped talking. She placed her hand on his shoulder as began to sob.
“Ca-....” Todd stuttered, “Ca-an…” as he began to speak, the word forming in his mouth seemed to take a life of its own. Todd could feel it, smell it, hear it being born. The vial taste, the putrid smell, the horrid touch- “Cancer…” he finally muttered out.
“Why, yes. Emily has cancer,” the doctor said confused by his struggle. “She has stage three ovarian cancer. Did you not know?”
Todd shook his head in dismay. He didn’t believe that he didn’t know that Emily had cancer, ovarian cancer. The same cancer her mother survived a decade earlier. How though, how could he have not known.
A nurse in pink scrubs came in the room holding a tray of untouched food. “She’s been asking for you,” she said, motioning to Todd. “You can follow me, she’s just down the hall.”
Todd left the doctor standing in the waiting room, nothing else said between them. He followed the nurse in pink scrubs down a wing of the hospital, turning right and then left. She walked into a room labeled 14C and pulled the curtain away that was blocking the bed by the far wall. In the bed, Emily was laying on her back, an IV attached to her left forearm. Her head was propped up against a few white, hospital pillows. From where Todd stood he could see her tear stained cheeks and the remnants of dry blood on her hands.
He walked over to her bedside and looked upon his friend who usually stood so tall, so proud, so confident. The Emily that he used to know was now a shriveled, weakened child. Emily’s eyes were closed when Todd walked into the room, but they opened now that he was near.
“Hi,” Emily whispered, her voice so soft it seemed to drift of in the breeze.
“Hi,” Todd replied. Emily scooched over on the bed to make room for him to sit down, but immediately as she started moving, she winced in pain. Todd leaped forward to stop her. He knelt down and sat on the bed, his arms wrapped around Emily’s fragile figure.
“Please don’t move,” Todd said, “How are you feeling?”
Emily reached up and touched Todd’s face. Her delicate hands, were cold against his burning cheeks. Tears began escaping from his eyes, wettening Emily’s hands.
“Todd, I’m okay. Really, truly I am,” Emily attempted to explain.
What she did not tell him was the constant pain she has been feeling for six months. The night sweats, bloating, and bleeding. She did not tell him about the time she was in so much pain that she honestly considered killing herself. And she would never tell him about the anger and bitterness she felt when she was diagnosed.
But he didn’t understand.
“What are you talking about, Em? You are NOT okay!” Todd began, his voice elevating, “Of course, you’re not okay. Your sick Emily! Sick! You have cancer!”
“I’m well aware of that Todd!” Emily yelled back, “I’m the one in the fucking hospital bed because I almost fucking died Todd!”
This took him back, “Emily could have died today,” he thought, “died.”
“I know,” he whispered, his voice as quiet as Emily’s previously was. He swatted away the tear that had continued to fall. He needed to stop crying.
Emily returned her hand to his cheek and began to silently weep alongside him. Todd told Emily that her family was coming and she nodded.
“I knew I would have to tell everyone eventually,” she said, gazing into Todd’s saddened eyes.
“How long have you known?” he asked, meeting her gaze.
Emily sighed, “Since December, that is when I went in for my annual check-up. I told my doctor about some peculiar symptoms I was having. And two hours later I left. Blood tests were run, xrays were administered, and a few weeks later I got the call.”
“Why did you keep it a secret, Em? We could have helped you,” Todd asked, confused and shocked that he hadn’t known about her condition for the last six months.
“When they caught it I was borderline stage three. I knew what my mom went through with the chemotherapy and the radiation. Sores covered her body, her hair fell out after the first session of chemo. I couldn't do it. I didn’t want to live my life like that, at least not the rest of my life.
And then I just came back to college and classes and my life in Colorado. It was easy to forget my prognosis while I was swamped in school work and reports. So I just ignored it and after awhile it became hard to believe that I was sick. Like it was a bad dream or something. But I never forgot, never truly forgot.
How could I? The pain was always there.” Emily looked away from Todd and sighed. Her shoulders lurched forward, displaying the weight that she was feeling. Todd sat there staring at the back of her head. Eventually, Emily was too tired to stay sitting up and gave into laying down.
“I’m sorry,” Todd said, all he could think about was the pain she’s been going through. The terrifying, life ending pain.
“I know you are,” Emily whispered from her position below Todd, “I knew I was going to die soon. That is why I wanted to go on this crazy goose case of a trip with you. I wanted to go to the places that I loved so much just one more time.”
“And the star on the map?” Todd asked, as he reached down and took her hand in his.
“The star is where my dad is living. I wanted to say goodbye to him. I wanted closure, as you said.” She grinned up, but her eyes were heavy with sadness, “I think I’m going to take a nap.”
Her eyes gently closed as her breathing steadied. Todd lay down next to her resting body, and held her in his arms. He could feel her heartbeat as her shallow breathe moved across his hands.
The nurse in the pink scrubs came in, but didn’t ask Todd to move. She just stood there and gently smiled down at him. Todd eventually allowed himself to drift off to sleep. The buzz of the fluorescent lights above them ceased as the hospital seemed to nod off into a peaceful sleep.
Todd was awakened by the blaring of the intercom. He rubbed his eyes and quietly shifted out of bed. Emily was still soundly asleep. As Todd gazed down as her frail body, he realized not for the first time how beautiful Emily was. Wisps of her dark hair fell around her eyes as Todd brushed them away he noticed a freckle under her right eye. It was the shape of a heart.
He left the room on a mission to get a cup of coffee before Emily woke up. As he walked the halls he found himself in the waiting room again. As he entered he noticed a family of three sitting anxiously near the door. The elder woman got up and walked towards Todd. He recognized her as Grandma Betsy.
“How is she doing?” Grandma Betsy asked as she got closer to Todd. As they reached each other she embraced him. Todd noticed how shaken up she was. He couldn’t imagine going through this with Emily’s mother and now with Emily.
“She’s stable and resting,” Todd spoke into Grandma Betsy’s shoulder. She let him go and look him straight on. He could tell the toll this was taking on her. Only a few days ago she had been a wild west horse wrangler singing on the trail. Now she had shrunken into a small figured woman with shaking hands and a worried heart.
Grandma Betsy turned towards the others who were listening eagerly. “Todd, this is Emily’s mother, Abigail and brother, Hank.” As she motioned their way Abigail and Hank stood up.
“I’m very sorry that we had to meet like this,” Abigail said, Todd extended his hand but she batted it away with a hug. Surprised, Todd didn’t know what to do but hug her back. She let go of him and stepped aside as Hank shook Todd’s hand.
Todd had heard so much about Hank, but he never did realize how young he was. Hank was still a teenager, barely out of the awkward phase of adolescents. His eyes were darkened as this news had obviously wore hard on his heart.
“Emily was asleep the last time I saw her but I can take you to her room, if you’d like,” Todd said addressing Emily’s family.
“That would be nice,” Hank said his gruff voice raw from his earlier sobbings. He put an arm around his mother as they walked down the hall.
They came upon Emily’s room when the nurse was bringing her breakfast. Inside Emily had woken up from her cap nap. She smiled as her family entered the room. They embraced her one by one, leaning down to hold their beloved Emily. When they were finished, Emily motioned Todd over.
“Can you please give me some time alone with them?” she asked politely.
“Of course,” Todd responded with a weak smile. He left the room to finish his earlier adventure of finding a cup of coffee. He felt in his back pocket and pulled out his leather wallet. Inside a single five dollar bill lay.
“That will do,” Todd thought to himself, he walked towards the sign leading him to the cafeteria.
He finished off his first cup of coffee and decided to buy another. The cafeteria was quiet, only a few doctors and nurses occupied the room with Todd. He sat watching the clock and as thirty minutes had passed by he got up retraced his steps back to Emily.
When he peeked his head into the room he noticed Dr. Kensington talking with Emily and her family. He waited outside until the doctor left the room. With a simple nod shared between them, the doctor continued down the hall as Todd entered Emily’s room.
He was quiet at first, just listening to what was going on, what the doctor had said. Emily was sitting up now watching her relatives pace back and forth. Her mother was mumbling to herself about different specialists while her brother Hank held Emily’s hand and reassured her everything would be okay.
Todd caught Emily’s gaze, she stared at him all hope wiped from her eyes. He gave her a weak smile, but her face stayed blank as if she was in a trance. They stayed like this for some time until Grandma Betsy decided that they should all let Emily rest some more before furthering the discussion.
Everyone began to exit the room after more hugs and tears. Before he could leave, Emily summoned Todd to her bedside.
“Yes?” Todd asked, hesitantly.
“I want to see my dad,” she replied, cutting straight to the truth.
Only slightly surprised by her request, Todd asked something he was afraid to know, “Emily, what did the doctor say?”
Without pausing Emily bluntly stated, “She said that if I don’t go through treatment that I will die within the year but-”
“You don’t want to go through with the treatment,” Todd finished her sentence.
“Correct,” Emily said, her confidence was shocking. “If I am going to die, this is how I will die. It is what is meant to be.”
Todd nodded, letting everything sink in. Yesterday he was on the open road with Emily, listening to that repetitive playlist of hers. He wanted nothing more than to be there again.
“What are you going to tell your family?” Todd asked.
A confused look swept over Emily’s face. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, what are you going to tell your family when we leave the hospital and take off to see your dad?”
A slight grin came across Emily’s lips. “Really? You mean it? You would do that for me?” she asked in disbelief.
Quite simply Todd replied, “I would do anything for you Emily.” As he said this he leaned down and kissed her.
With a smile of her face, Emily kissed him back.
Two hours later, Emily and Todd were checking out of the hospital. Emily had sat down with her family and explained everything. She told them that she didn’t want the treatment, but instead she wanted to fight her way, a natural way.
She went on to talk about her father. “I need to say goodbye to him,” she told them just like she had told Todd, “I need my closure, just like he needs his. He doesn’t deserve anything, but this isn’t for him. It’s for me.”
Reluctantly her brother gave her a big hug and told her he would see her soon. Her mother embraced her daughter and as she did so combed through her hair. Abigail’s eyes filled with tears of sadness, grief, and joy. Grandma Betsy also clung onto Emily as long as she could, but knew that eventually she would have to let her go.
With a promise to be back in Memphis in two weeks, Emily and Todd left in his Subaru heading north. It took them nearly four hours to get to Missoula. By this time the sun was setting shining its last rays of light across the darkening city.
That night Emily and Todd walked around the campus of University of Montana. “I always wanted to go here,” Emily explained, “When I was a child my dad used to tell me stories abouting running the hill-” she pointed towards the large hill towering over the university, a large M plastered on the top.
“with his friends. Everytime he would talk about his life here I felt this urge that I needed to come here and that urge only grew when he left. I studied so hard to get accepted, and I was, but when I came to tour it felt so fake. The hill wasn’t as big as he’d explained and the feeling of urgency suddenly left me.”
Hand in hand with Todd, Emily continued, “It wasn’t the same, but I realize now that it’s okay.”
They ventured over to the football bleachers and climbed the quiet stands. As the sun danced its final waltz, Emily and Todd sat at the top of the stands looking down at the field before them. Todd gazed into Emily’s green eyes. They radiated as the sun set behind her. The halo of the falling light illuminated Emily’s being. Her soul soul seemed to be glowing from within.
“You are beautiful,” Todd told her.
“Thank you,” she accepted gracefully.
They spent the better part of an hour up there, telling stories of their lives, cracking jokes, and embracing these moments together.
The next morning Todd awoke first and got ready for the day. He packed up his bag, brushed his teeth, washed his face, and put deodorant on, of course. He folded Emily’s clothing and stacked them neatly in a corner. He laid her lucky tie-dye shirt on top. After preparing himself for the long day ahead, Todd lay down once again next to sleeping Emily.
A few minutes later, Emily started to stir. Letting out a big yawn, Emily hopped out of bed and into the bathroom to take a shower. Todd made the bed, even though he really didn’t have to, and in general neatened up the room. Soon enough though, their 20 by 20 room was simply as neat as it was going to get. At that point, Todd once again laid down on the bed.
He laid his head on the pillow and closed his eyes. The drumming of the water in the shower soothed him, it seemed to be the only constant thing keeping him together. As the water ceased, Todd abruptly sat up and waited as Emily pranced out of the bathroom in her pajamas, her hair already in a wet braid down her back.
“Let’s do this thing,” Emily said as she walked towards the neat piled of clothes on the floor. “Thank you for folding these.” She smiled at Todd as she grabbed her lucky shirt and some workout tights and head back to the bathroom. A couple of minutes later she re emerged and packed up the rest of her things that lay about.
“How’d you sleep?” Todd asked, trying not to sound worried.
“I sleep really well actually,” Emily replied, some surprised laced in her voice. “I had this funky dreams about us.”
“About us?” Todd said, his eyebrows rising. “Tell me about it.”
“Well,” Emily started as she continued to pack her things, “It started off that I was in this meadow, it beyond beautiful meadow. And I was walking somewhere, but it didn’t know where…” She paused to zip her bag.
Todd was intrigued, it felt so familiar. So similar to what he had imagined, but could it be?
Emily continued, “But then I reached this clearing and I just stood there looking in front of me. Then I looked down to see that I was wearing this gorgeous white, flowy dress that seemed to swallow me whole. It was as if I was drifting on a cloud. But then I looked up….” and she did so.
“And you were standing there in the middle of everything and I started running towards you, but right before I got to you-”
“You vanish,” Todd finished her sentence, a grim look coming over his face.
“No,” Emily replied, straight faced, “You held me and we were together.”
A feeling of awe came over Todd, “That must be the real ending,” he thought outloud.
“What do you mean by that?” Emily asked, puzzled by his response to her dream.
“Oh, nothing,” Todd said as he smiled. He decided that this was a sweet coincidence that didn’t need to be told. “That was a really nice dream that you had. Maybe a little cheesy though.” He went over and kissed Emily on the forehead. She laughed and nodded her head.
“Let’s check out,” she said. “We still have nearly 4 hours to drive.”
“Luckily the only traffic we will hit out here will be some cattle in the road,” Todd laughed, and winked at Emily.
“Yeah, yeah,” Emily said. “Very true.”
Soon after the friends had hauled the last of their loads into the Subaru and were headed to Sandpoint, Idaho. Todd let Emily put on her playlist, which was now more soothing than annoying. To Todd, it meant that for this drive, or for that very moment that everything was normal and everything was okay.
They stopped for lunch in a small town of Thompson Falls, Montana before completing their journey west into Idaho. The sun was soaring above the northern mountains. Along their drive Emily pointed out the various mountain ranges and wildlife. Being from the beach, Todd had never seen mountains like this. They were everywhere, leaning down into the deep valleys that filled with snowmelt in the spring.
Westward they went, going through Noxon, Montana before crossing the border into Idaho. They were immediately greeted by a lake, that spread as far as the eye could see. Quaint islands stood out amongst the water as sail boats drifted along.
Soon enough they saw the interpass spread before them that would lead them into Sandpoint. As soon as they passed the population sign, Emily began twisting her ring as Todd’s foot began to tap. They pulled off the highway after a few exits and went into downtown. The small town main street was decorated with homey storefronts.
Todd found a parking spot which he pulled into. “Where do we go from here, Em?”
Emily, pulled out the printed directions. She shifted the crumpled piece of paper this way and that. When she turned the paper to face her, she smoothed out the wrinkles and pointed to the star. “This is where he lives, and I believe we are here,” she said shifting her finger down the street. “It’s just around the corner.”
“Okay,” Todd said, “We will be there in time no time at all then.” He put his turn signal on and merged into traffic. Emily started twisting her ring, as Todd continued driving. Down one street, then another and they were there.
Emily read out the numbers of the address and the quickly found the tan colored house that wore the address. Todd pulled across the street, in clear view of the house. The house looked homey, warm even. Emily was surprised, she always had this unrealistic vision that her father lived in some dark den with a pack of wolves. But no, this house was cozy looking.
Flowers of vibrant colors laid a path to the front door. Along the open, white deck a porch swing hung lay potionless. A mailbox with a painted blue jay stood on the curb, his last name etched into the side.
As Emily and Todd sat there, taking in this home and everything it could represent a car pulled into the driveway. It was a beat-up old Subaru, like Todd’s. A man got out of the parked car and went around to the trunk. He carefully opened the hatch and as he did so, a small dog jumped out. The dog landed on the pavement and shook his fur.
The man bent down to pet the dog before picking him up and taking him in the house. Soon afterwards the man reappeared from the house and came back out to the car. He picked up some grocery bags in the back seats before locking the car and making his final venture into his home.
Todd looked at Emily once the man was out of sight. Her eyes were fixated on the front door as if she had followed him through the entryway. “Would you like to go see him?” he asked, unable to get a good read of her feelings.
Emily paused, a tear falling down her cheek. She reached up to wipe it away. “Can we please leave?”
“Yes,” Todd replied. He started the car and drove away. He didn’t know where they were going, but he just knew that he needed to keep going. The day had started to turn to night as they continued to drive. Todd had circled back into town two, maybe three times, he couldn’t remember before he finally stopped the car outside of a Motel 6.
He got out of the car to get them a room for the night as Emily stayed, motionless and silent in the car. Emily caught a glimpse of herself in the side mirror. She turned her head to get a better looked, but quickly turned away when she saw her reflection. He bright green eyes were cast over, her pale cheeks were red with fury, and her lips were puckered like a small child.
She began to cry. All she could think about was how pathetic she looked. “I need to face my fears,” she thought herself, “I need to talk to him, I need to say goodbye,” She repeated that, only now she said it outloud. It seemed to fill the vast emptiness that had seemed to consume the area around her. “Goodbye,” she said as her eyes glazed over and turned into her head. Her head felt light as it fell to the side, her body becoming limp.
Emily came about, as she gained consciousness she noticed she was lying down. She turned her head to see Todd sitting in a car next to the bed. She figured she must be in their hotel room. As soon he noticed she was awake, Todd came over and kissed Emily on the forehead.
“How are you feeling?” he asked, concern apparent his sleep deprived eyes.
Emily placed her hand on her forehead where Todd had kissed her. “What happened?” she asked, not answering his original question.
“You passed out. When I came back to the car you were out cold and so I carried you in here and called the doctor in Bozeman,” he explained. “Dr. Kensington said that you are most likely going to be feeling light headed for awhile because off all the blood that you lost. She said that whenever you feel like this you need to lay down immediately.”
“Okay,” Emily said weakly, “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Todd replied, a smile coming over his face erasing all the previous anxieties. “Why don’t you get some rest.”
Emily nodded, but she didn’t close her eyes. She was still poisoned from the events earlier in the day. She hadn’t seen her dad in ten years, a decade. That was enough to deal with without the cancer.
Todd walked away, but quickly came back with a cool cloth. He placed it on her forehead before leaving once again. A knock at the door startled Emily. She started to hoisted herself up, but was stopped by Todd.
“I can get that,” he said gently. As Todd opened the door, the aroma of take-out pizza wafted into the stuffy hotel room. Todd handed the delivery man some money and took the pizza from him. Todd walked over to the bed with a big, goofy smile across his face.
“What is it?” Emily asked.
“Pizza, your favorite pizza,” he explained as he opened the box to display the colorful artwork of the sausage, peppers, and Reese’s Pieces pizza.
“You did not!” Emily exclaimed excitedly, sitting up in the bed. “That is amazing!”
“I know right,” Todd agreed, “it took a lot of explaining and little begging to get the Reese’s Pieces on there, but it’s so worth it.”
Emily grabbed for the first piece and chowed down. Todd joined her in the deliciousness, sitting down next to her. They ate there in a happy silence, sounds of crunching and slurping filling their hearts.
After the whole pizza had been devoured the friend went downtown for ice cream. Soon enough they came upon a small parlor with a dozen or so flavors.
“What do you think you are going to get?” Emily asked Todd as she peered through the glass at the different ice creams.
“Hmmmm, I don’t know just yet. The peanut butter looks really good, so maybe that,” Todd replied, a look of serious concentration on his face.
Emily began tapping the glass, counting the flavors with each tap. A man from behind the counter came to help them, kind of annoyed at Emily’s continuous tapping.
“How can I help you?” he asked in a Western accent.
“I will take a small cone with two scoops please. One peanut butter and one vanilla,” Todd asked politely. The man did so, taking the large silver scoops and dipping them into the specified flavors. A young girl, presumably the man’s daughter came over and to take Emily’s order.
“I would like one scoop of everything please,” Emily asked, confident in her decision.
“Everything? As in every flavor?” the young woman asked, confusion apparent on her fair face.
“Yes, please,” Emily replied directly, her confidence stronger than before.
“Alrighty,” the young woman began scooping the ice cream out flavor by flavor. Todd glanced over at Emily, surprised by her bold choice but proud of her spontaneous decision. He sat down at a nearby table as Emily stayed standing, watching her ice cream cups and cones building.
Todd slowly ate his ice cream, taking in the sweet taste of vanilla. The parlor was filled with teenagers mingling amongst each other. The smell of sweet adolescence filled the building. A mother and a small toddler were enjoying what appeared to be choclate ice cream cones in the corner. The giggling toddler had her ice cream smeared almost artistically across the greater half of her face.
Todd smiled to himself, thinking of how wonderful it will be when he has children of his own. He turned his head to see Emily standing at the counter paying for her ice cream extravaganza. A sadness swept over Todd, so deep that he had to struggle not to fall into the trap. As Emily made her way over, arms full of her desserts, Todd had to force a smile of his face to push down the sudden rush of emotion.
“Let me help you with that,” Todd gestured as he rose from his seat at the table.
“Oh, thank you,” Emily responded, juggling several cones in her hands. “There are several more cups and cones on the counter of there.” Todd made his way back and forth between the counter and the table several times before all of the ice cream had been successfully transported.
“So, what flavors are all of these?” Todd asked, dipping his spoon into the nearest cup which appeared to be filled with a strawberry-like ice cream.
Mumbling with her mouth mostly full of rocky road, Emily replied, “I don’t know really. I think most of them are chocolate based, some are fruit, and a couple peanut buttery.” She swallowed, “and of course a vanilla here and there.” Emily smiled revealing a chunk of marshmallow wedged in between her front teeth.
Todd politely told her and she wiped it away with a small smile and some blush added to her cheeks.
“You are spoiling me tonight, Todd Evans. With both Reese’s pizza and ice cream,” Emily giggled as she took another bite of the rocky road, “Are you trying to get me fat?”
Todd chuckled, “Nah, you could never be fat.”
“Pssh, you should have seen me in high school,” Emily snorted, “I swear I always had one hand in a bag of Lays during my freshman year.”
“I’m sure you still looked beautiful,” Todd offhandedly commented as he went for a new flavor.
Emily leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, “Thank you.”
Todd looked up and smiled, this time a smudge of chocolate fudge covered his teeth. Emily broke out in laughter. Todd looked around, confused by the source of her sudden explosion.
“What?” he asked, “What is it?” Emily was laughing so hard that she couldn’t answer him. Her eyes began watering as she started to hit the table with her fist.
“Is it my teeth?” Todd asked reaching for a napkin from the nearby dispenser, “That’s it isn’t it?” He wiped his teeth off, embarrassed as Emily continued to laugh uncontrollably.
After the last of the ice cream had been finished off, Todd and Emily headed back to the motel room. They walked down the street towards Todd’s Subaru, Emily reached down for his hand and held it.
Todd felt like one of the young, teenage couples in the parlor without all the awkward hormones and acne. When they reached the car they didn’t stop, they just kept walking down the street. They turned this way and that way, left and right before they came to a small walkway the overlooked the lake. A nearby sign called the lake, Lake Pend Oreille.
Emily and Todd stood looking out at the vast expanse of water. Then without saying a word, Emily started running across the bridge. Todd stood there for a second, but after he realized she wasn’t going to slow down he started after her.
The other end of the bridge brought them to a small stretch of beach that way laid out with smooth rocks and pebbles. When she reached the beach, Emily tenderly walked across the shore until her toes touched the water. As the water washed over her feet, Emily reached down and took off her flip flops - throwing them on the upper beach. She then took off her shirt, revealing a tank top over her tie dye shorts.
With a look of satisfaction, Emily walked into the lake.
Todd viewed all of this from upper beach where he was catching his breath. After Emily’s initial plunge, Todd thought, “What the hell?” and walked down to where Emily was. Along the way, he made sure to dodge the sharp rocks as he took off his jeans and tshirt.
Standing alone in his Christmas tree boxers, Todd went into the lake moving towards Emily who was currently floating on her back. Todd dove into the water, submerging himself as he propelled his body towards Emily.
Before reaching her, Todd popped out of the water and took a deep breathe. He slowly moved himself to Emily. Todd put his hands under her guiding her along the current. Emily’s eyes were closed, and a slight smile lay across her lips. Todd lead her along the shallow area of the lake the cold water consuming them under the warm rays of the setting sun. As the sunlight continued to dwindle the streetlights came on announcing the onset of the night.
Emily and Todd got out of the lake violently shaking. They pulled on their previously discarded clothing and waddled down the bridge towards their car.
That night in the hotel room, Emily told Todd more about her childhood. She had always been open to talking about it, but for some reason she felt the urge to tell him everything. Together, Todd and Emily sat on the bed while Emily painted a picture of her life, her lonliness, and her regrets.
“I know what everyone says about living life without regrets, but I frankly think that is impossible,” she started, “You see, every leap of faith in life will have some kind of baggage or regrets attached to it. Like you and me.”
“What are you trying to say?” Todd asked, he was already starting to doze off as propted himself against the bed with his elbow.
“Well, we’ve had so many opportunities to get together and look at us now. I’m going to die and now we decide to pursue things. Yes, we took the leap of faith, but this is it. When I die, this ends,” Emily looked down at Todd as she spoke. Her words hit him like shrapnel.
“Emily, I have no regrets about us,” he explained, his emotions taking over his words as he took Emily’s hand in his. “I love you. I wouldn’t want it any other way, or at any other time. I am happy now. Right now.”
Emily looked down at their hands, their fingers interwoven. She took his hand and kiss it before laying down next to him.
“I love you too,” she whispered, the words coming out naturally, confidently. After a pause Emily continued, “I’m just scared,”
“I know you are,” Todd reassured her, “I am scared too.”
They lay there in the quiet for some time, only the noise of passing cars interrupting their moment. Emily could feel Todd’s breathing, his warm breath against her neck as his chest moved rhythmically as he inhaled and exhaled. Emily wanted to capture this moment, the pure simplicity and beauty of it, of life.
Emily cleared her throat, breaking the peaceful silence. The taste of blood flooded her senses as she began to cough. Todd got up to get her a glass of water. After a few gulps Emily’s breathing had steadily and her heart rate decreased.
“Thank you,” she said kindly as she handed back to empty glass to Todd. He returned it to the seat before coming back. “There’s something else I need to tell you.”
“Go ahead,” Todd said, trying to sound as not worried as possible.
“I wrote a letter to my dad when you were in the shower this morning. I was going to give it to him today, but you know how that went,” Emily looked down embarrassed. “I need you to give this to him.” She reached over to the end table next to the bed and took an envelope that way laying next to the lamp.
“I don’t understand,” Todd said, concern drowning his vocals, “We are going to see him tomorrow.”
“I know, I know,” Emily said, looking at Todd now. She began twisting her ring and tears fell down her face. “Please just promise me you will give this to him.”
Todd moved closer to Emily and put his arms around him. “Of course, Emily. I promise. As long as you promise me that you will be there tomorrow to give it to him with me.”
“I promise,” Emily replied as she wiped away her tears with her hand that was not attached to her arm that way wrapped around Todd. They laid down together the lights still on around them. The night continued on, but their moment seemed to be stuck in time. The tears continued to down Emily’s face and she let them fall.
Eventually her tears made a small puddle on the bed. Each tears creating its own ripple. She turned around to face Todd and kissed him. He smiled as they continued to stay there, stuck in their moment. Soon enough Emily got up and turned out the lights, she knew it was time.
As she crawled back into bed, Todd folded over the covers and let her into the warmth. She welcomed it, accepting the comfort she had finally allowed herself to find. Emily felt the still new feeling of Todd next to her. His breathing steadied as he let sleep take him. Emily’s eyes stayed open staring motionlessly out of the partly opened window.
The street lights lit up the passing cars on their divergent journeys into the night. Emily sat there painting a picture of the lives of the people moving in the cars. She thought off all the possible situation they could be in, all the place they could be going.
A pregnant mother on the way to the hospital after her water broke, her husband driving like a maniac thrilled and scared out of his mind. A teenager blaring heavy rock music, tears streaming down his face as the wind slashed the remnants of his hope. A lovesick man rushing to the airport to stop his true love from leaving on a plane.
All of these images danced in front of Emily, creating a picture, a life that she would never have. But for now, she could hold it, hold it all in her small, exploding heart.
Emily turned over and rustled the covers to get comfortable. The heat of the summer night was making her sweat. The glistening beads falling on her hands as they support her head on the pillow. She stared at Todd, admiring his beauty, his ignorance. He lay so still, so peaceful, so unaware of the fragility of life. Emily took his hand that was laying outreached by her side.
She traced his palm looking at the lines, wondering what it all meant. She raised his hand up to her lips. Giving it a final, everlasting kiss before turning back towards the window.
As the final breath escaped her body, Emily knew it was time. With a single tear on her cheek, Emily closed her eyes and said goodbye.