We go to the town where Kia grew up and the ice cream shop she loved as a kid. It’s a little cold out for ice cream, but it doesn’t seem to stop anyone. The place is packed and there’s nowhere to park so we have to park on the side of the road and cross the street. The ice cream shop is in a rustic building nestled in the middle of a town with only three stop lights. We go inside. The décor looks as though it hasn’t been updated since the 1970s. Everything is covered in sun-bleached flowers, from the benches to the wall paper. It’s really hideous to look at but the ice cream is to die for. Max gets mint chocolate chip, while I order Kia’s favorite: rose. I’ve never tried rose flavored anything. Oddly enough, it’s delicious.
We sit in a booth by the window, watching the cars go by. Max sits right beside me and I lay my head on his shoulder, thinking. I guess because this place was her favorite, it makes me think of her and of one of the last times I was with her. We were snuggled up in her bed and she was asking me questions about my plans after she was gone, just as Max had done at the pub in Scotland. I tried to change the subject then too. I hated the idea that Kia was going to die, but there was nothing anyone could do about it. In the back of my mind I held out hope that somehow, someone would figure out a way to save her. I was in total denial.
She didn’t even seem upset about it. In the beginning she was, especially when her pacemaker wasn’t working the way it should have been, and after all the surgeries had failed. But something happened after that, I’m not sure what, but she changed. She had accepted her fate far more than the rest of us. Her family and I were the only ones still holding on. She kept telling me I needed to live my life when she was gone and find happiness anywhere I could. I told her there was no such thing as happiness without her and that was that. I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. She didn’t say anything after that, just sat there looking thoughtful. Actually, she looked like she was plotting. A week later she died.
“Kia was up to something,” I say.
Max looks at me, licks the green ice cream from his lips. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t think this trip was about her.”
He smiles. “I never thought it was—at least not after I got to know you. When you told me about Kia, I knew that wasn’t her bucket list, it was yours.”
“What, why didn’t you say that?”
He shrugs. “This was obviously important to her, and to you, so it wasn’t my place to speculate.”
“I’m reading the last envelope.”
“Do it. You’re at the last place, having ice cream. You completed the task.”
I pull it out of my purse. Max leans closer to read it too.
I’m sure by now you’ve probably figured out that these adventures are more about you than they are about me. If this were truly my bucket list, you’d probably still be lost after spelunking in a cave right now. But this isn’t about me. My only regret would have been for you to continue to mourn me after I’m gone and not live the most epic life you possibly could. Your heart is too big to keep it contained to little ol’ me. Spread that shit around. Bring joy and love to others the way you have to me, and make sure you get it in return.
Love always and forever,
I put my fist to my mouth to hold in the sob that’s aching to get out. Max puts his arms around me. Everything about his touch is safe and comforting.
“Come on,” he says. “Let’s go home.”
“How’s it feeling?” Max asks as the needle glides across the skin of my upper arm. We’re going on three hours of my tattoo.
We’ve been married almost three years now and it never gets old watching him work, the way the front of his hair hangs down over his forehead, that deep focus he has. He really is a master of his craft and I love being around him when he’s being creative.
He sits back and admires his work. “All done. Go to the mirror and check it out.”
What a relief. I didn’t want to tell him how much it hurt because I didn’t want to look like a baby and be like the people his co-workers complain about. I’m glad he was able to do my tattoo when we were alone and the shop was closed.