"I just don't know, Nita."
"Come on, Lewis, I know you can handle this. And I'm here for you. But that's all I can be: here for you. You'll have to make this decision for yourself."
Lewis looked up at Nita from across the table. Her dark chocolate-brown eyes seemed to penetrate his very soul.
"But," he asked, "why? Why do I have to do it by myself?"
"You know why," she replied.
He turned away from her, looking through the window, at the desert beyond. In the distance, about halfway between where they were and the foothills to the west, a pair of buzzards was circling lazily in the sky.
"No, I don't," he said. He was being stubborn and childish. What's more, he knew it. "Why can't you just decide for me? I trust you to make the right choice. You know how hard this is for me."
"Lewis, you're being stubborn and childish. What's more, you know it."
He turned back to her again. "I suppose you're right."
Her face softened a bit. She was finally making some progress. She really wanted to be out of here before the real trouble started.
"You know I am," she said, patting Lewis on the arm. "So what's it gonna be?"
He looked away again. A third bird had joined the other two ... circling slowly in the sky over some unfortunate scene in the desert. Lewis was almost mesmerized by their motion.
"But what if I make the wrong choice?"
"Look, Lewis, honey ..." She was reaching for the right words. The words of encouragement. The words that wouldn't send him skittering off into the depths of indecision.
"Whatever choice you make, it will be OK. You're over-thinking it. And no matter what, I'll still be here for you. So just make up your mind and We'll live with the consequences, no matter what they are. OK?"
She took his hand and gave it a friendly squeeze.
She hated when he got like this. Sometimes she wondered why she put up with him. Despite her words, Nita had thought about leaving him behind on more than one occasion ... on this journey alone. But something about him ... his hopelessness or his devotion to her, or something - she couldn't quite say - kept her at his side. Was it love? Or was he just feeding some sort of maternal instinct in her? God, she hoped not! How pathetic would that be?
"You know I couldn't live without you," he said. He seemed to have an uncanny knack for knowing what she was thinking.
"Of course you could," Nita replied. "But you'll never have to. So stop stalling and make up your mind. I don't want to be here all day, and neither do you."
She patted his arm again, reassuringly.
"All right," he said. "I'll decide. But first, you tell me what you think I should do. After all, your opinions carry great weight with-"
His face fell at her outburst. He pulled away from her again ... staring out at the desert. There now appeared to be five buzzards out there ... waiting for their moment.
It wasn't fair. He looked at the birds making slow, diving arcs in the sky. They didn't have to make any decisions. They relied on instinct. They didn't have to think about whether they wanted whatever meat was lying out there on the desert floor. Something died out there, and they went for it. Simple. Why couldn't his life be like that? Just do what comes natural, and damn the consequences.
But there were always consequences. Sometimes large, other times small. But in the human world, they were always there, waiting in the realm of possibility - not real, but possible. And once a decision was made, some of them just vanished, while others rushed into being, smacking him in the face with all the force of reality.
Nita screamed inside her head. And then she counted to ten, also inside her head.
She took Lewis' hands in hers.
"Listen to me," she began. "If I give you an opinion, then you will make your decision based on what I think. And then the decision will not have been yours. And if, in the end, you decide it was the wrong decision, you'll blame me. And I'm not going to go through that again."
"You know what? You're right." Inexplicably, he brightened up a bit. "You're right, and I'm sorry to have put you through this."
She felt the tension in his arms ease. Her own tension began to ease, slowly, warily. He was so close to making a decision that she didn't want to spoil the moment by saying anything, so instead, she gave him a reassuring look. With a small smile.
"Scrambled," he said, turning to the waitress who had been standing by their table the whole time. "I'll take my eggs scrambled."
The waitress made a quick note on her order pad. "And what do you want to drink?"
"Hmm … I dunno." He looked back at Nita. "What do you think, honey?
Oh God, thought Nita ...
"Coffee," she said. "He wants coffee!"