so hold me close, let’s drive away someplace far // and dance real slow in the headlight shine of our car // never mind tomorrow, could we just stay and lay right where we are? // just for one night, it's like the world's not falling apart
Headlights – The National Parks
“I want to take you somewhere.”
Kit could hear him coming down the hallway, but his statement cut through the air unexpectedly. Randolph was standing in the middle of the living room twirling his car keys, and she put the book aside. The dishes were done and the lights were low, and she was really looking forward to a quiet evening at home after a long week of doctors, appointments, and paperwork. The week had left her exhausted and she had not even been the one to go through the testing, so how he had so much energy and enthusiasm this late in the evening was beyond her.
Kit took her glasses off and shook her head. “Randolph…”
“Please.” He tilted his head and had a rare look in his eyes, the one that told her if she declined the invitation, he really would be hurt. “Take a drive with me.”
Randolph would not answer any further questions, except to reassure her that the destination would not involve anything social and would not be far away. Despite not being up for an adventure, she yielded to his promise that it was important, and reluctantly stood from the couch.
Just as she put her coat on, Randolph was wracked by a wave of dizziness, and Kit steadied him against the front door until it passed. The episodes were more frequent and severe recently and she thought that she would be accustomed to it, but it hurt her more every time. The roles of partner and doctor could be compartmentalized, and Kit worked hard every day to separate the feelings she had for him from the scientist that could only let the symptoms run their course. She had distinguished these roles hundreds of times before, easily and effortlessly, but with him, the partner always came first.
It was never a contest. He was a partner first, and never just a patient.
Kit could be a doctor when she needed to be, observing another’s suffering without feeling like she needed to take it away, but she had never felt that way with him. She always wanted to take his pain away.
Once Randolph returned from the spell, she took the keys from his hand. Short drives to and from the hospital were fine, but the speeding headlights and late hour made her think that it would be better if she was behind the wheel tonight. Kit kissed his cheek before opening the door and said, “You’re going to have to give me directions.”
It killed him that he couldn’t drive, but once he was in the passenger seat, Randolph decided that it was best not to dwell on that and focus on the importance of the journey and the destination. Kit’s eyes narrowed with confusion at least three times as he guided them off the highway and onto the state road. Two more left turns were followed by a right and Randolph pointed to the small clearing at the end of the road. There was nowhere else to go, so Kit put the car in park.
“We’re here,” he smiled.
She had no expectations, but a lakefront state park was certainly not on the list of possibilities. It was only slightly illegal to be in the park after dusk, but the clearing was hidden from the road and their only companions were the bullfrogs and crickets among the ferns.
“Where are we?” She asked.
There was no light except for the headlights, and Kit could only watch as he unfurled a blanket in front of the car. His response did not answer any questions, but clearly he was still leading the evening. She took a seat beside him on the blanket, and Randolph laid down on his back once the lights from the car went out.
He took a deep breath of the cool, familiar air, and opened his eyes to the night sky. The park was far enough away from the city lights to let the stars shine just as they had for centuries. Randolph looked to Orion, to Ursa Major and Minor, and eventually found Polaris, as he had so many times before, a constant source of light in eternal darkness.
“I have been coming to this spot since I was in high school,” Randolph said quietly, still searching the sky for guidance in an unforgiving world. He was expecting to find it in Polaris but instead found clarity and peace in the woman above him, backlit only by the stars and looking back to him in the radiant moonlight.
Kit brushed some of the hair from his forehead. “Sanctuary?”
“This is where I come when the world is too loud. Here, all you can hear are the reeds and water, all you can see are the trees and the sky. I come here to think and I come here to think about nothing at all.”
She nodded along as Randolph explained some of the other events in his life that had brought him here, choices about his future and his relationships among the many pivotal moments in his long life. Kit wondered if he had been here in the last few months, or even in the past week, considering how much was weighing on his mind.
“Tonight, I wanted to share it.” He finished.
She chuckled. Randolph was ever the romantic. “You brought me to a make-out spot?”
“No.” Randolph sat up and lowered his voice. “No, I didn't. I know it might sound trivial, even ridiculous, but this park has been only mine for fifty years. It’s important to me. I’ve never told anyone else about it, much less shown it to anyone else.”
There was a solemnity in his tone and in his eyes, and Kit she put her hand over his cheek in a silent apology for not taking it as seriously as she could have. Still, Randolph had been married twice and had hundreds of chances to share it, so she found it hard to believe his comment.
“No one else,” he interrupted her question before she had a chance to ask, “until you.”
A cool breeze rustled through the trees and the spot on the side of the road was transformed into so much more. The secrecy of his refuge was not important to her, but only added to how much it meant to him. Kit looked around to the nature around her, life persevering through the long winter and always aglow in the spring, to the ripples of water near the shore, and closed her eyes.
“Are we here tonight to ponder, or to leave the world behind?” She asked.
“The latter.” Randolph slowly rose to his feet and retrieved a small Bluetooth speaker from his jacket. He put it on the hood of the car and low, familiar notes mixed with the wind and the reeds. A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth when he bowed dramatically before her, reaching his hand down and saying, “Dance with me.”
Kit fell into his arms easily, wrapping one hand comfortably around his shoulder and keeping the other closed in his. When they first started seeing each other, she would have to drag him to dance even at events that required it, but now he initiated and created these moments that she held so dear. It was one of the many ways that he’s shown his attentiveness, and his willingness to grow with her.
Tonight’s dance, however, was different. It was not about her, or about him, it was a moment of sanctuary deliberately stolen from reality. Reality held uncertainty and fear, unanswered and unasked questions about the future and the present. In his arms, though, there was peace. Together, they could face reality and forget about it at the same time. Kit rested her cheek against his and held him closer.
“There are so many things that I don’t know about what lies ahead of me, but there’s one thing I know for certain,” he whispered, low and soft in her ear. “I want to spend whatever time I have left with you.”
Kit shivered at the thought. The diagnosis wasn’t terminal, at least not yet, but it did not surprise her that Randolph had thought about the endpoint of his story, too. She wished that he wouldn’t talk about it, because every time he did tears pricked behind her eyes, and it was getting harder to hold them back.
“You are my guiding light. My north star, and my haven,” he continued. “You are my sanctuary.”
She let go of his hand and wrapped both arms around his neck, holding the back of his head and burying herself in him. “And you are mine.”
The music slowed but he did not let go. Instead, he held her tight while he closed his eyes, drowning out the rest of the world except for that which could be seen, heard, and felt right now.
“It’s getting cold,” Kit said quietly, releasing him just enough to kiss his cheek. “Why don’t we pick this up at home.”
Randolph nodded. There was still a chill in the December air and despite feeling warm and safe, it was best to get some rest. Jake’s flight was due to arrive late tomorrow afternoon, and the conversation that would follow would surely punctuate how long the week had been already.
Just as she left his side, a rush of wind swirled around him. A question had been burning low in the darkness for months, waiting for an answer to bring the fire to light. It was only embers now, strengthened in part by the diagnosis but still only ash and smoke that needed a gust of wind to burst to life.
The ring had been in a drawer for months, the question always on the tip of his tongue, but he could never bring himself to light the fire himself. He needed a sign.
They had danced around the issue but not recently, and Randolph needed to be sure that when he was prepared to ask those four words, Kit would not be blindsided and that she would be ready, too. The embers had turned over with the second gust, the sign he needed, and the fire threatened to burn.
“Kit…" he called out, "if I asked you to…”
Her response came without hesitation and he tilted his head curiously. “I didn’t finish my – ”
“My answer is the same.” Kit walked to where he stood in front of the car, spotlighted by the headlights and entirely too far away, and framed his face with her hands. “If you asked, I would say yes.”
His heart soared in his chest, the embers ignited into a roaring flame. There was no way to know if she understood the premise of his question, or the one he was asking about, and yet Kit answered with a certainty that made him think that perhaps she was thinking about the same thing. “Really?”
“Randolph, I adore you.” She brushed her thumbs over his cheeks and returned the smile that spread over his face. “When you ask me to marry you, I will say yes.”
He was close enough for her to see the carefree, beautiful Randolph return for a few minutes, no longer hidden behind the worry and sorrow of late. Now, here, under the night sky, his hands were steady and his eyes clear and bright, filled with a fire strong enough to warm an entire future. It cleared the clouds and filled the sky with light and made her sure.
“Unless you take too long, and I ask you first,” she said.
Randolph laughed, and god, it sounded like sunshine in her ears. Kit pressed her lips to his forehead and he hummed at the contact, mumbling a quiet, “Don’t worry. I’ll ask.”
She smiled, and took his hand when she said, “Let’s go home, love.”