Becca didn’t believe in heaven.
They talked about it once, on a lazy summer afternoon when their biggest problems were jet lag and an empty pitcher of Thai-Basil Sangria. It started as a conversation to pass the time between dips in the pool; empty words to fill empty space. She was flipping through a magazine and Kyle was undressing her with his eyes.
“If I believed in heaven,” she sighed, ”I would think this was it.”
Heaven for Becca, then, would be a two star, all inclusive resort in Mexico on a hot but shady day with a copy of Elle in her hands and Kyle lying inches away, unable to keep his hands off of her.
He was memorizing the freckles on her back and he didn’t particularly care about the answer, but he idly pressed her on the ‘if’. ”You don’t believe in heaven?”
“Opiate of the masses.” she said. He remembers that phrase distinctly, although he can’t remember the surrounding words because he wasn’t paying all that much attention. He was busy, staring at the back of her exposed neck and cataloging her faint tan lines before the sun could erase them.
“Why? You don’t believe in heaven, do you?” she murmured absently, curling her bare leg around his.
Kyle didn’t care about heaven beyond her fingers, making leisurely circles in his hair and her freshly pedicured foot rubbing its way down his calf.
It was such a perfect moment, he was tempted to agree for the sake of preserving it. But he never could resist picking a debate with her. ”Of course I believe in heaven.”
She accused him of being difficult for the sake of it and, of course, she was right. But he couldn’t help it. He thought she was adorable – her voice getting progressively higher as she quoted writers and singers and teachers, appealing to any authority that bolstered her claim, getting worked up over something so silly, so irrelevant; something that didn’t matter in the least.
With a twinkle in his eye, Kyle pushed her. “What happens when you die if there’s no heaven? Reincarnation?”
She hesitated and he had to ask again, but finally, she reluctantly admitted that she supposed, “When you’re dead, you’re just dead. You’re dust.”
He told her that was too bad. He kissed her bare shoulder, a few centimeters above the cluster of freckles he had just committed to memory.
He was thinking about the silky skin beneath her white bikini when he whispered that he hoped she was wrong – because he would miss her when he was dust if he never got to see her again.
And it was the absolute truth – remains the absolute truth – but Kyle also thought it was a pretty good line, as lines went. He was feeling pretty proud of himself for coming up with it on the spur of the moment like that and he was ready for her inevitable kiss.
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” It was obvious that his words had failed at their intended effect when she rolled over on her back and covered her face with her arm. “I don’t like this conversation.”
The mood had shifted and Kyle could tell she was upset, which didn’t make any sense, but he apologized immediately anyway. He told her he was only teasing and he was sure she was right – when you were dead, you were dust and you couldn’t miss anyone and “C’mon, Becca. What’s wrong? Don’t be mad.”
“I’m not mad.” He was unnerved when she moved her arm and he saw her eyes, filled with tears. “I just don’t want to talk about it anymore. I don’t want to talk about you dying.”
It was all Kyle could do not to laugh in relief. Nothing was wrong. She was just over-exhausted from the flight and the time change. He sat up and reached for her hands so he could pull her up too.
“Hey.” He kissed her on each cheek. ”I’ll make you a deal. I won’t die if you won’t.”
He knew he had said the right thing when she smiled an embarrassed smile, showing that she recognized the preposterousness of worrying about something with all the imminence of social security and grandchildren, on a day that should have been spent enjoying the resort that would have been heaven if Becca believed in heaven.
“I promise if you promise.” She made him shake on it.
And Kyle hasn’t seen Becca in years, but there was no expiration date attached to their agreement. So, when he hears the news, when he talks to her sister, when he sits at her funeral staring at her casket, he can’t help but wonder if Becca thought of him in the split second between swerving to miss that car and slamming into that wall. He wonders if it occurred to her that she was about to break her promise. But mostly, he wonders if she ever changed her mind about heaven.