From my novel Eating Life. It’s one of my favorite moments because I think it is the exact moment Ben chooses to stay alive. ❤
Casey knew that nothing she said could ease his pain. She waited, occasionally putting her hand on his head or his shoulder. Finally, his sobs subsided and he started breathing more normally. Casey reached across him to the counter and grabbed the bag of chocolate chip cookies.
“Here,” she said, handing it to Ben.
He laughed a little. “Chocolate chip cookies to save the soul.”
Casey shrugged. “Look at me,” she said, smiling. “Obviously I turn to food for comfort.”
Ben snorted. “You look great. Don’t disparage yourself.”
“I’m not. I’m being honest. I do turn to food for comfort.”
Ben shoved a cookie into his mouth. “So do I,” he said around a mouthful of half-chewed cookie.
“Yeah, but you’re skinny,” Casey said. “When you have food issues and you’re skinny, people are sympathetic. When you have food issues and you’re fat, people are just disgusted.”
Casey patted Ben on the head and smiled. “I don’t know if I’m the right person for this, Ben. But I’m going to try to keep you alive.”
He reached into the bag of cookies and looked up at her. “These cookies are a good start.”
Casey woke up wrapped in her sleeping bag with Dakota stretched out at her side. As bad as his hips were getting, he could usually find a way to jump into her bed when he wanted comfort. She stretched thoroughly and got up to go outside. Dakota followed her out the door, immediately lifting his leg on the nearest tree. Sadly noting how his leg barely came off the ground anymore, Casey watched him make his rounds of the trees and bushes. Noticing a break in the trees, Casey stepped over some tangled vines and headed for a small clearing. When she stepped out of the trees, she found herself looking down over the edge of a cliff at the Pacific Ocean. She thought about Ben throwing himself over the side of the cliff. What did it take to end one’s own life? Sad as she had been at so many points in her life, she could only remember one time when she was low enough to consider ending it. It was during the worst of the days with Ally, after the emotional abuse had turned physical. It was after Casey had already cut Megan out of her life because Ally hated her. Those were days when it felt as if she would never feel happy again. Once she had gotten out of that alive, she knew she would never take life, or Megan, for granted again. Sure, there were still a million little moments of sadness over the years. Megan had stepped in on several of those occasions, walking her through the deepest of her heartaches. She closed her eyes, calling up the strong and beautiful features of her most cherished friend. Megan could build a rocking chair and cook a soufflé. She had just enough mechanical knowledge to avoid getting ripped off when her car broke down. She could build a campfire, and she looked great in a suit. Casey wondered if Megan was happy now, working for the advertising company and supporting a partner. Dakota came up beside her and she rested her palm on the top of his head. Together, they stared at the waves.
A branch snapping behind her startled her out of her thoughts.
“Morning, early riser,” Ben mumbled, rubbing his eyes as he came up beside her.
“Hey. This is an amazing view.”
“What are your plans for the day?”
Casey shrugged. “I thought I’d wrestle some coffee out of my old percolator. Once that’s done, I’m going to take everything out of the car and repack. Hopefully I can make some more space. I didn’t organize it when I left Sedona, just threw everything in and left what wouldn’t fit.”
Ben smiled. “You’re a wanderer. Little pieces of you are all over the country. What happens when you decide to settle down?”
“I don’t know.” Casey sighed. “Some days, I think it would be nice to have a permanent home. Then I get to a place where I think I’ll stay for a while and after a few weeks, I start to get anxious that I’m missing something somewhere else.”
“You’re welcome to stay here as long as you want,” Ben said.
“With or without you?”
“I’m still thinking about it,” he answered.
“I’d like to stay for a few days. The woods are my friend. But then I need to head out. It’s been far too long since I’ve seen Megan and I’m suddenly missing her like crazy.”
“Where does she live?”
“Memphis. I’ve never been,” Ben said.
“Want to go?”
“To Memphis?” Ben took a step back, laughing.
“Why not?” Casey shrugged. “Dakota likes you. Megan would probably adore you. What else do you have going on?”
“Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
“Well then.” She scritched Dakota behind the ears and turned to walk back toward the cabin. “I need some coffee. I’ll hang here for a couple of days and you can decide if you want to go with me to Memphis.”
“They make Krispy Kreme doughnuts there,” Ben said.
“Yeah. Warm off the line,” Casey laughed. “Dakota loves them.”
“Can we go to Graceland?”
Casey stopped, looking back over her shoulder. She stared at Ben, who looked back at her, expressionless.
“What the hell? One more overpriced tourist trap won’t kill me.”