Remember how I used to think that 4:15 am was the most atrocious time of day? Yeah, well, it’s not changed at all. Not one bit. Not since I became the nurse to my very sick neighbor, Zachary Walters, Ph.D. And not since he and I have sorta…become friends. Yep, you heard me right. I’m besties the one with the ice-blue eyes that pierce, who has read Harry Potter, volunteers at animal shelters in his spare time, has the perfectly styled copper hair, oh and also has started dragging me along to his post-dawn workouts. Oh, the horror.
But, on the plus side, I’ve been trying to make compromises as well. I told him if I have to wake up at the atrocious 4:15 am, he has to give up his healthy smoothie gunk. Yeah, that was shot down instantly. He claimed that those smoothies were “God’s gift to man” and we should “drink the plant-based stuff in order to become healthier” Good grief. So then, I told him that he has to teach me the ways of the perfect hair because God knows that my long brown hair has never looked like that. And then he started preaching about how that was his secret, and his secret to keep till the end of time. Yeah, I looked at him, and immediately punched him because MAN he was such a child. Finally, I told him that I’d be calling in a favor of my choosing when I needed it. He’d rolled his eyes, which I translated to ‘fine’ in Zachary-speak.
Which brings us back to the 4:15 am wake-up call. I was no longer excited to roll out of bed, as annoying Zachary was no longer Priority Numero 1. Well, not annoying the crap out of him. It was still my duty as his friend, his only friend (that man was as social as a spitting python) to annoy him. As if he was reading my thoughts, my phone rang, the caller ID reading Ph.D., an inside joke between us from his business card. I groaned and picked it up, shuffling from my bed to the bathroom.
“Yea?” I grumbled, putting the phone down and squeezing toothpaste onto my brush.
“You ready yet, Nicola?” I stuck the brush in my mouth and started furiously brushing.
“Hma..akfba..aaosht..” I spluttered in the direction of my phone. I heard Zachary’s laughter come over the line.
“Well, hurry up, you’re running late.” I spat my toothpaste out and rinsed my mouth.
“Ugh, Mr. Punctual. I’m coming. You better not bring me smoothie goo otherwise I’ll throw it on your head.” I picked up my phone and hung up, walking to my closet and grabbing my exercise clothes, and throwing a nice change of clothes into the gym bag Zachary made me buy once he started dragging me to work out with him. I grabbed my keys and walked out of my apartment.
Zachary was leaning against the wall opposite my door, and boy did he look good. I could have sworn my heart gave a little flutter. He was no longer carrying his suit bag with him, I forced him to stop being so uptight, but true to his nature, he held two to-go mugs of his god-awful smoothie gunk. I rolled my eyes, and we started walking to the elevators.
“I promise, it’s not my smoothie. I made you coffee.” I looked over at him, raising my eyebrows.
“Did you really? Just coffee? Nothing added?” His smile faded slightly, and I sighed. “What did you add to it.”
“Ah, fine. I couldn’t resist. Just some protein powder,” he caught my aggrieved expression and hastily added, “I promise it tastes good!” We got in the elevator and I pressed the down button. I gingerly took the coffee cup from him and cautiously took a sip. Huh. It actually wasn’t bad. It was just a slightly different taste than I was used to. I turned to Zachary who was sipping his smoothie gunk and smiled.
“Thanks, Zach,” I said, “it tastes pretty good.” He smiled.
“Told you so, Nicola.” He didn’t even get annoyed at the shortened version of his name. We reached the lobby and I waved to George, still sitting at his concierge desk.
“Wait, Ms. Fletcher.” He called. I paused at the door, “There’s a letter for you. It says of the utmost importance.” I turned around. That was strange. Usually, my mail was just sent to my mailbox down here. I looked at Zachary and he shrugged. We walked back to the concierge desk and George handed me a slightly thick letter. I never could open an envelope without ripping it completely, so I handed it over to Zach to open. He snickered, then opened it and handed it back to me. There were a bunch of papers in there, so I grabbed what looked like the main letter and unfolded it.
I have left my entire inheritance, $18.5 million, to you. You probably don’t remember me, but you were my favorite grandchild. So, everything that was mine, is yours.
However, there is a catch. To claim my inheritance, you need to complete at least one of the following:
- Parachute from a plane
- Scuba Dive
- Bungee jump
These things were the things I never got to do but always wanted to. You only have one life, something I realized a little too late. Once you’ve done at least one of these, you may contact my lawyer and my money is yours. Good luck, Nicola, and don’t remember to have fun.
I had to re-read the entire letter two more times to understand what was happening. Forget the gym, this was huge. I wordlessly handed the letter over to Zachary, who read it quickly, then turned to me with a dumbfounded expression.
“Did you know her?” He asked.
“No, and that’s the problem. I don’t remember her! Why should she give me her inheritance? $18.5 million!” I screamed, waving the letter around, to the alarm of George and Zachary. Some of the other slips of paper fell out onto the floor when I knocked the envelope open, and I crouched down and picked them up. Huh. They were plane tickets to four different places where I could do each of those things.
“So, um, which one are you going to do?” Zachary said, reaching for the plane tickets.
“I have no idea.” I sighed, sitting down on one of the plushy couches in the lobby. Zachary cautiously sat down next to me, scared that I might start screaming again.
“Well, if you’re going to get $18.5 million, you might as well do something you’ve never done out of this list.” He reread the tasks I could choose to do. “Have you…er done any of these things?” I buried my head in my hands.
“Er…well, which one scares you the most?” Zachary asked. I raised my head and looked over the list again. All of them were pretty bad, but what really made me nervous was the scuba diving. Ever since I was little, I hated the ocean, hated the idea of the ocean, and never thought anything could make me want to scuba dive. So of course, that’s the one I picked. Yippee.
The hot air hits me like a slap to the face as Zachary and I walked out of the plane at Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport, St. Kitts and Nevis. What a change from Chicago, I thought to myself as I perused the landscape. Palm trees swaying slightly in the distance, the glitter of the ocean at the edge of the horizon, and of course, the heat. Ugh. I forgot how much I hated the heat. I turned to Zachary, my heart once again fluttering at the sight of him in sunglasses, board shorts, and a Hawaii t-shirt. Oh, that man was damn fine. Of course, he insisted that he come with me scuba diving, and since the plane ticket was for two people, I didn’t have an excuse to say no.
We got our bags from the baggage claim, then tried to find the shuttle bus to our hotel. Granny Helga had reserved everything for all four of the tasks she’d wanted me to do, but I had to activate the hotel reservation to start paying for it. That way she didn’t waste any money, although that would hardly be a drop in the bucket for her. I had given my parents the other three plane tickets and reservation details because I thought they needed a vacation. They were thrilled.
We got to the hotel and checked into our room. We had booked a two-suite room since we were only here for three days. Technically, we were scuba diving today, but we’d wanted to stay and enjoy St. Kitts and Nevis for a couple of days. I collapsed on the bed, exhausted from the eight-hour flight. Zachary went to his room, and I grabbed the letter from my purse, rereading it for the hundredth time. Ever since we’d landed, butterflies had started flying around my stomach at the thought of swimming and scuba diving later today. I was so nervous.
“Nicola?” Zachary calls from his room.
“Yeah?” I yell back.
“Did you pack the Harry Potter books in my suitcase?” He asks dryly, coming into my room, hands full of the books I’d crept into his bag. I snorted, then started laughing, my nervous energy deflating at the exasperated, yet amused look on his face. Gah, no wonder I was falling for him. He was a walking laugh generator. For me, that is.
After a couple of hours lounging in our rooms, we walked down to the lobby where we were pointed to the scuba instructor. In just a few hours, we were taught all the basics of scuba diving. And we hadn’t made it onto the boat yet. We were quizzed on the hand signals and the signs of something going wrong. And once we’d aced the basics, we got onto the boat, where we made our way out to the coral reefs surrounding the islands. We got into our wet suits and got our equipment on. Then with our three instructors watching, we made our all-important buddy checks, each of us looking over the other’s equipment. No pipes twisted. The air in the tanks. Weights and releases. Finally, I took a deep breath and we went over to the side of the boat. We sat down with our backs facing the sea. Zachary’s hand found mine and squeezed it. It calmed me down slightly. Then he gave Troy, our boat captain, the all-clear sign: second finger and thumb form an ‘O’ with the other fingers raised. We looked at each other before lowering our masks and rolling over backward, disappearing immediately into the depths of the sea.
There is a certain kind of beauty that is only found in the wild. It is where there is such liberty that organic shapes reach and sway to build their own living art, their own community. That is the way the corals are. They thrive in the clean waters of this coastline without the scars of the tamed land. I’m clutching Zach’s arm so tightly, I’m surprised he doesn’t wince in pain. And for that, I find a whole new appreciation for the man beside me who came with me, no questions asked, and who I was falling for harder than ever.
The freedom is as intoxicating as if I were swimming in vodka. I can move in any direction or even just stop and float a while, not even birds can do that. Yet it isn’t clear like the liquor, it’s blue like a perfect sky. My air bubbles make their way to the surface with every exhale; they are the only thing down here in a hurry to leave. I could stay all day if my tank would last, but as always my time here is metered by the oxygen on my back.
But it’s lovely, deep down under the water, like being in a different world. The water’s very clear, and schools of bright-hued fish and strange sea flowers decorate the sand floor. I let go of my death grip on Zachary, and he flashed me a quick smile. I turn and swim over to a huge coral that caught my eye. It is dusky pink with cream nodules, and at first glance, is quite empty. But then a smile breaks under my mask, it’s hard to do with a breathing tube in my mouth but I feel the upwards twitch. The coral is alive with seahorses. Their angled heads and tubular mouths bob and sway in the current, their transparent fins fluttering in waving motions. Each of them is clasped to the branches by a fragile tail, hardly looking more robust than a baby’s finger. I should be moving on now, my air tank will only last so long and I want to see as much as I can; but something keeps me lingering.
We spent about thirty minutes underwater, which was kind of anticlimactic after the training we’d received. But oh well, I still had a blast.
We got back into the boat, and I didn’t remember taking my wet suit off or shivering in the slight breeze off the Atlantic, but what I do remember was the feeling of being in an entirely different world, someplace where man was unable to live, yet only experience. It was truly eye-opening and gave me a whole new take on life. Which, I suppose was the intent of Granny Helga.
Once we’d gotten back to the hotel, we showered and walked out to the beach for a walk before dinner. After walking up and down the beach, talking about nothing in particular, but somehow, everything that mattered, shoes in hand, toes squishing in the damp sand, and pants rolled up to the cuffs, we sat down in the sand. The sun was dipping lower toward the horizon, and we both knew we wanted to watch the sunset, even without words passing between us. I pulled out the second letter in the envelope, marked ‘To be read after doing a task’. With Zachary sitting next to me, I unfolded the letter.
If you’re reading this after going through at least one of those tasks I gave to you, I applaud you. In reality, I didn’t care about those tasks, I’m just glad you were honest and eager to step out of your comfort zone. That’s why I gave all my net worth to you. You probably don’t remember, but you once came over for the holidays with all my other grandkids, and out of all of them, I remembered you the most. Because you were the happiest. The one who shone with an inner light. The one who I knew would live life to the fullest.
Now this money might be more than you ever need in 10 lifetimes, let alone yours, so I implore you to give money to charity and spend it wisely.
All my love,
I looked up at Zach, who was reading it over my shoulder. And I realized that even though I didn’t have to go scuba diving, I was still glad for the opportunity to do so and the experience it gave me. Yeah, it was terrifying, and I thought I would die, but I still had so much fun with the man sitting next to me. He and I had forged a connection, and I was falling for him more than ever as I’d stepped out of my comfort zone. I’d probably laughed more than any other time in my life and probably peed my pants more than I did as a kid, too, but it was all worth it.
I studied him as he looked out toward the ocean. His copper hair perfect, except for that one curl springing free in the light breeze coming off the ocean, his ice-blue eyes that pierce, but I know hid a heart of gold. His shirt untucked and his feet bare, digging into the sand, him leaning back on his hands. I couldn’t deny my heart anymore. I loved Zachary Walters, Ph.D., and as the sun set below the horizon, its last brilliant rays illuminating us, I leaned over and kissed him. For all the memories we’d made over the past few days, and for all the laughs I knew we’d have ahead, I kissed him, and as he brought his hands up to cup my head and kiss me back, I knew he felt the same way.