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In retrospect, Death Valley had been ironic and foreboding.

By sheer coincidence, our five-year anniversary happened to fall on the longest day of the year. Neither of us were particularly superstitious nor into astrology, but the summer solstice was said to bring forth luck, which we considered a good omen and yet another reason to go big on celebrations.

It had been Allie’s idea that we take time off and make the trip to Death Valley to soak in the glory of daylight. We were supposed to hike and set up camp at a secluded spot at an elevation of 7400 feet—the Sun traversing its longest path through the sky as the two of us embarked on our own lengthy adventure.

I struggled to catch my breath every so often on the trek upwards, but I had concealed my challenges well enough for Allie to not detect any cause for alarm. Both of us knew that she had the more active lifestyle between the two of us, while I was content spending most of my days in front of my laptop, with an unhealthy cigarette habit that had been hard to quit.

I had known about my diagnosis then, but in my mind, it had not been the right time to bring it up.

“Christine, get up here!” Allie called out. She marveled at the view as I followed shortly after, astonished by the magnificence of the canyons and the sand dunes.

“It’s all stunning,” I said, my words unable to do Mother Nature justice. It was only one of many moments that day that took my breath away.

I remember Allie’s radiance as the sunlight illuminated her gorgeous face at just the perfect angle during her afternoon meditation. I remember her smiles, her soft kisses, and her body on top of mine, drenched in sweat in broad daylight—neither of us patient enough to wait for the sun to set to engage in acts of intimacy. I remember us laughing and singing and dancing by the campfire in the evening, with only the moon as our witness—the love of two women free of judgment from the world.

I wish I had known then that that day would’ve been the last summer solstice I would experience in my lifetime. I wish I had acknowledged the signs and had myself checked earlier that could have afforded me more options and more time. I wish I had told Allie sooner about the cancer that had infiltrated my lungs. It had been selfish of me to withhold that information from the woman I loved, but who could blame me for not wanting her to live in fear?

I lie on the hospital bed with a ventilator pumping oxygen to my lungs to help me stay alive. But as I drift in and out of consciousness, I know that it is the warmth and quiet comfort of Allie’s hands intertwined with mine, adorned with two rings in our fingers, that keep me breathing.

1 thought on “Breathtaking”

  1. Love this, Nicola:
    ” … with only the moon as our witness—the love of two women free of judgment from the world.”

    And I enjoyed how you wove the theme of breathless / breath/taking throughout your story.

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