Royal Games by T.K. Leigh

“It was your mama’s journal. I gave it to her the day after she got her diagnosis, thinking it might be therapeutic for her to write down her feelings. She hated when people worried about her and had a bad habit of lying to everyone about how she was truly feeling. She always wrote in a journal as a kid, so I thought this would be a good way for her to process everything.”

“I don’t understand. How do you have this? Did Dad know about it?”

He nodded. “I felt bad keeping it, but he insisted I hold onto it. You see, when I finally went home to Charlotte after you were born and your mama died, a package was waiting for me. This journal was in it. Your mama knew her time was up, Baylee. She held on as long as she could to make sure you arrived. You became her sole purpose for living. And this journal…” He caressed the weathered cover as it lay in my lap. “This is what she did the last several months of her life. I just figured since you’re starting out on your first big adventure, you might want some inspiration from the woman whose last big adventure was having you.”

Throughout my drive across the country, I had kept the journal close to me, not wanting to let it out of my sight for a minute. I was curious about what the pages contained, but I was also apprehensive about reading her words. When I turned that final page, I knew the only piece of her I had would be gone. I wasn’t sure I was ready to say goodbye to the woman I never even met. But maybe my uncle was right. Maybe I needed to read my mother’s words. Maybe they would give me the encouragement I needed now that I was on my own for the first time in my life.

Removing the journal from my bag, I stared at the cover, inhaling the aged papers. “I love that smell,” I said softly, opening to the first page.

April 20

What am I? Fifteen? That’s how I feel…like I’m writing in a diary. So here goes…

Dear Diary,

I have cancer.

Fucking cancer.

I’m not quite sure it’s sunk in yet. I don’t know if it ever will. The doctor said I had a thirty percent chance of surviving if I began intensive chemotherapy immediately, but that would kill the little life growing inside of me. I love Perry with all my heart. He says we’ll try again when I beat this thing, but I only have a thirty percent chance of that happening. I am one hundred percent pregnant, due on November 25th. So I choose life, but not mine. Perry will understand.

Now I must begin the daunting task of living my life in the little time I have left. You know how people always say “Someday, I will”? Well, I’ve hit my someday. Someday begins today, and the first thing I’m going to do is see the Pacific Ocean. You may ask why the Pacific Ocean. Well, on my first date with Perry, we went to the old drive-in, which was more like a cow pasture with a shitty screen. The feature movie was Gidget.

I gasped. No wonder Dad loved that movie, I thought, then returned my eyes to my mother’s flowing script.

It’s a silly beach movie, but it brings back memories of the butterflies. And the butterflies never left. To this day, when I gaze at Perry, I still feel like the giddy sixteen-year-old at the annual church cookout who was asked out by a boy from another town. Now, I’m a twenty-nine-year-old wife and soon-to-be mother who has cancer.

When I got my diagnosis last week, you want to know the first thing I did? I made a list of all the things I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve had to redo the list in order of importance because I fear I won’t be able to do everything. I have to pick and choose my battles while I fight the battle that has begun raging its own war against me… Time.

I closed the journal and returned it to my bag. Pushing the chair back, I got up, grabbing Sport’s leash. I headed back toward my condo, staring out over the ocean that the mother I never knew yearned to see as her first step in beginning to live her life.

“Someday begins today,” I murmured with conviction, repeating my mother’s words.