I leaned back in my lawn chair, inhaling the sweet smell of nutty pine and sage that enveloped the lake.
Rustic log cabins stood against a backdrop of tall pine trees and snow-capped mountains. The late afternoon sun reflected off the water as a Great Blue Heron soared overhead.
My family had been camping at Whispering Pines Park since I was twelve.
Every Friday night from Memorial Day until Labor Day, we drove from our home in Eugene, Oregon to our cabin at Foster Lake.
When I acquired my driver’s license, my friends and I hung out there during the week. It provided a great place to get away from our parents and have some fun.
A gentle breeze blew across my face. The dog day cicadas launched a raspy buzzing tune as the beautiful August day slipped away.
Summers tend to be hot and dry in Oregon, despite the general misconception that it rains all the time in the Pacific Northwest.
I studied my posse of girlfriends. With the end of summer quickly approaching, I found myself drifting into frequent episodes of melancholy reflection.
Would this be one of our last days together at the cabin? High school was behind us, and we were about to embark on the next chapter of our lives.
Gwen had a full pre-med scholarship to Stanford. She graduated at the top of our class. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed Barbie look-alike could have almost any guy she wanted.
She lived a charmed life, resulting in some envy and jealousy on my part.
Jessica planned to attend community college in Eugene. She came out as a lesbian during senior year. It wasn’t a big surprise to any of us. Jessica never showed any interest in boys.
Bobbi was moving to Portland to attend hairdressing school. We had been inseparable since the first day of kindergarten.
She had a troubled childhood, growing up in a home with poverty and substance abuse. Bobbi took shelter in our home on many occasions over the years, becoming the sister I never had.
My dream of going to culinary school was on hold for at least a year. The tuition was thirty thousand dollars.
I made decent money working as a line cook at Earl’s Roadhouse, but it would be a challenge to save up that kind of dough.
Jessica’s sing-song voice interrupted my reverie. “It’s almost five, Kari!”
Gwen rolled her eyes. “When are you going to give it up, Kari? He’s never going to ask you out.”
“I know that, Gwen. You remind me every chance you get.”
“So why waste time watching him?”
“Cause he’s a hot piece of meat,” Bobbi said, running her tongue across her upper lip.
Holt Bennett worked at Whispering Pines.
The first time I saw him, I was on my way to the lake to go swimming. My family went ahead without me because I forgot my goggles and had to go back for them.
I sprinted across the grass in my pink pinstripe bikini, my Hannah Montana ~towel slung over my shoulders. My budding breasts filled the bikini top, but I was still a carefree, twelve-year-old girl.~
I was in such a hurry to get to the lake that I didn’t see or hear the lawn mower until it nearly ran me over.
When I looked up, the most amazing eyes stared back at me. They were like dark chocolate melting over a double broiler.
“I could have hit you! Pay attention next time, kid.”
“I-I’m sorry. I didn’t see you.”
He was shirtless, his muscular chest looking like it belonged to a grown man. My interest in the opposite sex awoke that day. I developed a serious crush on Holt.
I didn’t see him from September to May, but I thought about him all year. As I grew up, my feelings for him only intensified.
Gwen had a point. It was ridiculous to spend so much time obsessing about a guy I barely knew. I dated a couple boys in high school, but I couldn’t get Holt out of my head.
Gwen wanted me to forget about him and find a boyfriend. Her motivation extended beyond genuine concern for a friend. She wanted to pursue Holt for herself.
If she asked him out, he would likely say yes. But she wasn’t allowed to, because we had rules. One of those rules prohibited us from asking a guy out if another friend had a crush on him first.
Holt emerged from the camp store a few minutes after five o’clock. He stayed in a cabin in the park during the summer. Instead of walking past and waving like he normally would, he headed towards my cabin.
The girly chatter skidded to an abrupt halt. What did he want? He never came around unless he was collecting trash or cutting the grass.
I chewed on my thumbnail as my stomach jumped with nervous tingles. Gwen plastered a flirty smile on her face. What if he asked her out?
Holt had dark brown hair, trimmed to an ideal length for sliding fingers through. My fingers, while he kissed me passionately. How many times had I entertained that fantasy?
His chiseled face was golden brown from working outdoors. He wore a light grey t-shirt that accentuated his muscular torso and large biceps. Black cargo shorts hugged his well toned legs.
“Good evening, ladies,” he said.
“Hi, Holt,” Jessica and Bobbi chimed in unison. They were not shy around Holt, especially when they’d been drinking hard lemonade all afternoon.
Gwen stood up and twirled a piece of hair in her hand. “What can we do for you, Holt?”
“I need to talk to Kari.”
She frowned and folded her arms.
“I was wondering if we could go somewhere and talk. Maybe get a cup of coffee in town.”
Was I dreaming? Holt would never ask me out. If he liked me, he would have acted on it a long time ago.
I closed my eyes and opened them again, expecting to find myself in my bed. But I wasn’t. I was sitting in my lawn chair with Holt staring at me. He raised his eyebrows as a small smile played on his lips.
“Okay,” I said in a squeaky voice.
“Let’s go then.” He gestured towards his truck, which was parked outside the store.
Oh! He wasn’t kidding. He wanted me to go with him right then. I had no time to prepare.
I looked down at my old jean cutoffs, faded pink t-shirt and purple flip flops. Not my first choice of clothing for a coffee date with Holt.
I ran my hands through my hair, a rat’s nest that hadn’t been brushed well after swimming. I probably looked like I just rolled out of bed.
I followed him to his black Dodge Ram. When we got to the truck, he didn’t open the door for me. And why would he? It was the year 2018, and guys didn’t do that kind of thing anymore.
And this wasn’t a date. Or was it? I had no idea what to expect as I climbed in beside him and put on my seatbelt.
Sweat formed on the back of my neck while I fidgeted in my seat. The truck was spotless, smelling of cologne and leather.
I stared at my hands, twisting my high school ring around my finger. If I didn’t find a way to relax, I would make a fool of myself.
As we headed down the highway, I waited for him to say something. He cleared his throat and glanced over at me.
“I don’t bite you know.”
I swallowed and chewed on my upper lip while I tried to figure out what to say. When I peeked over at him, he was staring straight ahead. He rubbed the back of his neck and sighed.
What was he nervous about? Why did he ask me out for coffee and then barely speak during the ten-minute drive to town?
By the time we parked in front of Froggy’s Diner, I was dying of curiosity. I should have come right out and asked him what he wanted to talk about, but I couldn’t muster up the courage.
I followed him into the diner, where he led the way to a table in the back corner.
Froggy’s was alive with the sounds of country music, dishes banging and people talking. The smell of coffee and fried food filled the air. I had eaten there many times over the years.
My friends and I went there for breakfast quite often, when we didn’t feel like cooking. Most of the waitresses were middle-aged women with attitudes.
“Well, hello sweetheart. I’m not used to seeing you here this time of day.” Fran smiled and winked at me. She was one of the nicer waitresses. “What can I get you two?”
“I’ll just have a coffee, please,” I said.
“Same for me,” Holt said.
After Fran brought the coffee, Holt cleared his throat and took a deep breath. “So, I heard that you aren’t going to college this year.”
“No. I want to go to culinary school, but it’s expensive. So I’m taking a year off to work and save money.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that. It makes a lot more sense than racking up a pile of student loans that will take years to pay off.”
I took a sip of my coffee. Holt hadn’t touched his. When I looked up, he was staring at me. I swallowed hard as his dark eyes bored into mine with unnerving intensity.
“I have a little sister. She’s twelve and has recently been diagnosed with leukemia.”
I blinked, taking a minute to adjust to the sudden change in topic. “That’s terrible, Holt. Is she going to be ok?”
“Hopefully. She’s about to start six to eight months of chemotherapy and radiation. Unfortunately, it will destroy her bone marrow, and she will eventually need a bone marrow transplant.”
“Oh.” Oh? I had to do better than ~oh~.~ What should I say? I’m not a heartless bitch, but I didn’t understand why he took me out for coffee to tell me about his sister’s illness.~
It wasn’t like we were friends. Casual acquaintances, sure. But not friends.
“There is no guarantee they will find a match. Sometimes, it’s difficult to find a donor. I’m a perfect match, but I can’t donate.
“I’ve had too many concussions over the years from playing sports. The doctor says that I can’t have a bone marrow aspiration. I told them I didn’t care if it was risky for me, but they won’t do it.”
I stared at the huge frog on the wall. His bulging, red eyes stood out against the green decor of the diner. A feeling of uneasiness formed in the pit of my stomach.
“The next best option for my sister is something called a stem cell transplant. It’s actually better, because stem cells don’t have to match as closely as a bone marrow donation.”
“That’s good. Where do they get the stem cells from?” I had limited understanding of what he was talking about. I wasn’t into science and biology, unless it had to do with food.
“Stem cells are collected from the umbilical cord of a newborn baby. If I had a baby, there is a good chance that it would have enough markers to be a donor.”
I looked down at the table and fiddled with a sugar packet. A prickle of fear crept up my spine.
“I want you to have my baby.”