Mattie’s ready to give up when her twin, Matt, drags her to Casa Eva, reputed to be St. Augustine’s “fountain of youth” for cancer patients. But can she be cured of losing her will to live?
If I were a better person, I wouldn’t have cancer. That’s what my last doctor told me.
“The Casa Eva,” Matt announced as I turned into the parking lot, looking for an empty space. I didn’t see any at first, and I felt the big, hairy knot in my gut loosen. There wasn’t any place for me here; there wasn’t any hope. We could turn around and just go home.
“There, there!” Matt exclaimed, almost jumping out of his seat to point out a vacant spot that I’d passed. I slammed on the breaks, almost tossing Matt through the windshield as he threw off his seatbelt. I checked the rear view mirror, then slowly reversed until I could pull into the spot.
Matt opened the door, and the sealed environment of the car popped like a bubble. The heat and humidity that I’d been so successfully fighting for days pushed against my cheek and soaked my clothes as fast as if I were drowning. I felt my throat close up. The entire length of I-95 had smelled like a fat woman’s perfume.
Matt jogged halfway across the parking lot before I heaved myself out of the car. The front entrance was around the corner, whitewashed concrete fronted by green lawns, stone fountains, open pools, palm trees, hedges, and columns. I breathed shallowly, limping. For some reason, my ankle had started to bother me during the last few stops. Then I saw the sign for complimentary valet service and rolled my eyes. Story of my life.
I was met at the entrance by a man as large as a medium-sized grizzly bear but was impeccably groomed, wearing a white shirt and tie. He had a subterranean beard, a smooth face hazed over by an extreme amount of incipient fur.
I smiled at the Gentleman Grizzly—I couldn’t help it—and he offered his arm to me. It was a perfectly courteous gesture that I would have brushed off in any other circumstances. But I’d had to drive the entire way from Montana to get here for Matt’s little experiment, and I was feeling it. Matt had never gotten his driver’s license, depending on friends and family to drive him wherever he wanted to go.
Gentleman Grizzly led me inside. The doors rolled open with a small squeak that made G.G. noticeably frown. A rush of hot air followed me into the hotel, but it weakened and passed away as we walked into the lobby. My airways relaxed. The perfume faded, leaving behind only a cool dryness that somehow wasn’t as sharp as normal air conditioning. I blinked in the soft light, which was almost a balm on my Southern-fried eyeballs.
Matt rushed up to me with a wheelchair in tow. “Mattie, you shouldn’t be walking. I brought you a wheelchair.”
It was just like him to make me drive three days across the country, then rush to get me a wheelchair. “Matt, when I need a wheelchair, I’ll ask for one. I’m fine.”
Matt gave me a hurt look, plopped down in the wheelchair, and popped a unconvincingly dejected wheelie. The Gentleman Grizzly led me through the lobby straight to the elevator.
The lobby was full of carved dark wood, white plaster, and marble tile. There were large Arabian rugs everywhere, and a stone fountain surrounded by a square pool of blue-and-white tiles. G.G. led me to the elevator, which had three walls of dark wood and one mirrored wall. I turned my back to the mirror before I could see myself; I probably looked even worse than I felt.
The carpet in the halls was so soft, I sank into it. This was a cushioned kind of place, a slow kind of place. There was a high-backed wooden chair just outside the elevators, and G.G. led me to it. I sat down in it. He stepped almost behind the chair, and there was a soft click; then he was pushing the chair on hidden wheels down the hall to my room.
My eyes filled with tears, but I blinked them back. Casa Eva was widely reputed to be a “fountain of youth” for cancer patients, a luxury hotel where your every whim was catered as you were treated by the very best quacks. But a surprising number of us came back, healed. It was a literal last resort; if you couldn’t be healed here, you couldn’t be healed anywhere.
It was a perfect place to die.
On a side note, it always amazes me when nobody else has the same titles I do. Also, this is twin stories of love and loss. G.G. just kind of sticks in my mind…