Off to Portland

Submitted into Contest #99 in response to: Write a story about characters going on a summer road trip.... view prompt

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Contemporary Gay Romance

“Dude, hurry up!” Marta yelled from the kitchen. “I’m ready to go.”

A muffled voice called back from across the house. “I’m in the bathroom!”

“You’re always in the bathroom,” Marta muttered as she picked up the cooler and headed out the back door.

Nearly tripping over the threshold, she cursed and set the heavy cooler on the picnic table. They’d been planning this vacation for six months now, and she was ready to get started. Every moment wasted was, well, a moment wasted. She brushed her hands on her shorts to dry the sweat from her palms, picked the cooler filled with tea and snacks up off the table, and continued to the car. Waving her foot beneath the rear bumper, the hatch of the car lifted. She smiled. This was something she’d never get tired of – a car that would open doors for her.

Another wave of her foot and the hatch closed, and Marta jogged back inside. “Are you ready yet?”

Elizabeth opened the bathroom door, waved a tampon in the air, and said, “You know I have no control over nature, right?”

“But if you’d stop drinking seven gallons of coffee each morning, maybe you wouldn’t pee so much.” Marta rolled her eyes.

“If I stopped drinking the coffee, I’d be asleep all the time, and then you’d complain I was boring.” Elizabeth crossed her arms over her chest and stared at Marta.

Marta held her gaze, not wanting to lose whatever this battle was, but considered that the two women could stand like this for hours before either of them backed down, and that was a bigger waste of time than Elizabeth’s many pit stops would be.

“Fine.” Marta snatched her purse off the counter, fiddled with the front door to be sure it was locked and walked out the back door. “You coming?”

Elizabeth let out a heavy sigh and collected her toiletries bag from the bathroom. She stuffed her purse under her arm and, locking the back door behind her, headed to the car.

“Finally!” Marta exclaimed as the doors closed and seatbelts buckled. “It’s about damn time we get out of this house!”

Elizabeth laughed. “I guess it is.”

Marta adjusted the rearview mirror, paying extra attention to the tassel hanging down. The black fringe hung about mid-way through her line-of-sight, and the gold “’21” reflected the sunlight. She’d just replaced the tassel from her bachelor’s degree that said “’18” with this much more expensive model. Her MFA graduation had been the previous weekend, and this wasn’t just any girls’ trip. It was her graduation gift to herself.

“Looks good, doesn’t it?” She asked.

“Looks fantastic!” Elizabeth replied, gently nudging Marta’s arm.

The two had been inseparable for 15 years now, and they’d seen each other through every success and struggle. The past few years had come with more struggle than either of them had anticipated, though, and this trip felt like a celebration of life more than anything.

Marta backed the car out of the driveway, and Elizabeth watched her face, a scar running from Marta’s ear to the base of her neck. Elizabeth thought about how beautiful Marta was. Not just in a romantic way, but in a human way. Marta had been fishing with her dad when they noticed a boat capsized in the water not far from them. They’d quickly gone over to see if they could help when Marta noticed a small shoe floating on the water. She dove in without a second thought, swimming all around the boat and underneath the overturned vessel. She took a deep breath and dove below, as far under the sinking boat as she could go. She’d hoped to find whoever that small shoe belonged to but had no luck.

On her way back up to the surface, a gust of wind came up and knocked the boat around. Her neck and head hit the side of the boat, the fishing rod holder caught just in front of her ear and sliced through her neck, barely missing her jugular. When she returned to the surface, covered in blood, her dad lifted her back into the boat and abandoned the search for survivors. The scar had reminded Marta of her failure, but to Elizabeth, it was a reminder of how strong Marta was and how deeply she cared about other people. It was why she loved her.

“What?” Marta asked, feeling Elizabeth staring at her.

“Nothing.” Elizabeth lied.

“Uh-huh.” Marta knew Elizabeth well enough by now to know that there was more to that gaze than nothing. If she’d had laser eyes, she’d have borne a hole right through Marta’s head.

“So, we should be to Portland by dinner, right?” Elizabeth changed the subject.

Marta loved that Elizabeth could switch directions so easily. She tended to hyper-focus on something, but Elizabeth had a magical ability to change the subject seamlessly. It was one of the qualities that had kept the two of them connected over the years. Whenever something terrible had happened, like Marta’s mom’s death or Elizabeth’s sister’s incarceration, Elizabeth just knew how to cheer Marta’s mood.

Marta smiled slyly and glanced sideways at Elizabeth. “Yep. Dinner. Should have known that’s where your mind was!”

“Well, where else would it be? There are very few moments in life worth more than a good meal if you ask me.”

Elizabeth had spent some time in college but hadn’t really felt like it was a good fit for her, so sophomore year, she dropped out and took a job in a kitchen as a prep cook. She’d found comfort in the routine of chopping, prepping, cleaning, and watching as the head chef planned his menu around seasonal foods. She’d earned a place as Sous Chef last year and hoped to own her own restaurant one day. For now, though, she was utterly obsessed with finding decent places to eat.

“There’s a stop I want to make first, though,” Marta said secretively.

“Where’s that?”

“Just somewhere.”

Elizabeth laughed. “I’m good with surprises. I have one for you, too!”

Marta turned the radio on. She’d recently discovered some fun Scottish band, turned the music up, and sang along, albeit off-key.

Elizabeth smiled and looked out the window. The farther north they drove, the more densely populated the trees became alongside the road. Though the interstate was busy this weekend, as much of the summer was, the trees made her feel like she was running through a forest. She rolled the window down and stuck her head just slightly outside. The wind brushed across her face, and she cheered.

“Wahoo!”

Marta laughed, then kept singing.

Slowly, Elizabeth fell asleep, the coffee unable to keep her alert.

Marta glanced at Elizabeth, concerned. She’d been doing better lately, but the struggles of the past few years had caught up to her. She’d been sick for several years before doctors figured out what was wrong. It turned out Elizabeth was lucky to be alive. She had a rare condition called Addison’s disease. When Marta had first investigated it, she learned that John F. Kennedy had been diagnosed with it as well just before he was elected president. She hoped that meant Elizabeth’s life would go back to normal, but with every passing month, it became more and more apparent that things weren’t going to be that easy. Elizabeth continued to dream that she’d be executive chef in her own restaurant someday, but unless something significant changed for her, Marta seriously doubted that would happen.

Elizabeth knew the coffee would only do so much for her. In fact, sometimes the coffee made things worse, but if she took her medication regularly, the coffee would give her just enough of an extra boost that she could get through the day. This vacation was something they both desperately needed. Elizabeth needed rest, and Marta needed to know that Elizabeth was going to be okay.

As they pulled into Portland, Elizabeth started to wake.

“Morning, sleepy.”

“It’s still morning?” Elizabeth asked.

“No, no. Just sounds silly to say ‘evening,’ when someone wakes up.”

“Where are we?” She sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

“Just getting to Portland.”

“Hmm.” Elizabeth shifted in her seat, then pulled her medicine bag from her purse. “Got a drink?”

Marta handed over a bottle of water. Elizabeth swallowed the small white tablet and stared out the window, waiting for it to kick in.

“Dinner? Soon, I hope?” Elizabeth muttered. “I’m so hungry.”

“Yeah, I have a reservation for us, but I wanted to stop somewhere else first.” Marta liked to travel in her own pattern, and schedules didn’t always make sense to anyone else. Elizabeth knew better than to ask questions, just trust that Marta had a plan and food would follow.

The car turned into the Japanese Gardens, and Elizabeth gasped.

“You good to walk, or want me to see if they have a chair today?” Marta asked.

Elizabeth felt like her body was made of lead, but she’d always wanted to walk around the Japanese Garden. “I’ll try to walk. This is so beautiful. Thank you for remembering I wanted to come here!”

Marta squeezed Elizabeth’s hand and parked the car. They wandered through the gardens, stopping to look at the flowers and the small sculptures placed throughout. When they came to the Heavenly Falls on the other side of the garden, Elizabeth could barely stand. They found a bench and sat.

“You doing okay?” Marta asked.

“Yeah, just need a break,” Elizabeth replied. “This is absolutely amazing and worth every bit of pain.”

“That’s something I’ve always loved about you, Elizabeth. You pour everything you have into whatever you do. You’re incredible.” Marta took Elizabeth’s hand.

“Thank you.” Elizabeth blushed. “You’re pretty incredible, too.”

“I have something for you.” Marta knelt on the sidewalk beside Elizabeth and pulled a small box from her purse. Reaching toward Elizabeth, she opened the box. Inside was a small emerald ring, Elizabeth’s favorite.

“Elizabeth, we have been together for so long. First, as friends, then as lovers, and now as partners. Our lives are intertwined in ways I never could have imagined, and you are everything wonderful in my world. I almost lost you last year, and I know that I never want to worry about that again. I want to know you’ll always be here.” She gestured with the box and looked from the ring to Elizabeth. “Will you marry me?”

Elizabeth laughed. “Oh, Marta!”

She reached into her own purse and pulled out a small box, almost identical to the one Marta held in her hand. Opening it, she showed a small ruby ring – Marta’s favorite.

“I’ll marry you if you’ll marry me!” Elizabeth took the ring from the box, slid it onto Marta’s finger, and then allowed Marta to do the same.

They kissed quickly, and Marta sat on the bench beside Elizabeth. They watched the waterfall for a few minutes in silence, soaking in the reality that they’d be together forever. After a few minutes, Elizabeth broke the silence.

“This is beautiful, Marta. But can we go get some dinner now?”

Marta laughed. “Of course.”

They slowly made their way back down the garden path, hand in hand, glad they’d made this trip together and ready for whatever else life might send their way.

June 20, 2021 01:03

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