To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Bucket List—a short story

Wendy and Leo had made the first version of their bucket list at the age of 10. They had read about it in a book, and eager to grow a bit closer to the characters they admired, the two had met up after school and eagerly scribbled down their deepest wishes.


As the two aged, the list shifted, dreams such as having a lion for a pet and becoming the next president shifting to hopes like learning how to surf and camping in the woods for a week. The running document had physical marks of their changing interests, packed with scribbled out words, a variety of different colored notes, coffee stains and wrinkles upon wrinkles.  


Of course, however, the goal was to complete a bucket list, not simply change it around. So, the two had set a goal.


By the time they reached 30 (because to them, that seemed like centuries away) they would mark off every single challenge on their list. 


It was easy enough at first. They started a YouTube channel (which later on down the line they deleted out of utter embarrassment), had read 15 books in a month (that had consisted of very long nights and a lot of coffee) and even was able to get those surfing lessons they had wanted (which Leo ended up dropping, but became Wendy’s new favorite activity). Over the next 19 years, they had accomplished things that they had only dreamed of. The list was nearly complete. 


There was only one goal left.


And that was how the two found themselves cramped in a car for a roadtrip to the Natural Bridges National Monument in Lake Powell, Utah.


“I can’t believe you two are actually going to finish that list,” Leo’s fiancee, Carolin, whistled over the phone, which was connected to Wendy’s car system. “Nineteen years and you two never gave up on it.”


Wendy looked up from the passenger seat, where she had been occupying herself with a large slushie. “Well we promised each other we’d get it done, so that’s what we’re going to do! Besides, if we can’t do it, no one can.”


“You got that right.” Leo drummed his fingers on the wheel, keeping his eyes on the road. “At the rate we’re going, we should arrive there about an hour before midnight, so we should be able to grab some good seats before the show starts.”


“I mean, I guess, but driving all the way to Utah to see some stars? You could have done that from home.” 


“Meteor shower. And as for the location, it’s one of the best places for stargazing in the world. It’s our last item on the list, so it’s obviously got to be the biggest.”


Wendy finished off her slurpee with a loud sucking noise, before stuffing it into their trash bag. “What Leo said!”


“Well, if you say so.”  

The sound of background chatter came through on Carolyn’s side, before she spoke up again.


“Alright, the soccer game’s about to start. I’ll call you back later?”


“Sounds good, love. Kick their butts for me!”


“Break a leg!”


“I’m pretty sure that’s just for theater, but I appreciate the sentiment, Wendy. Have fun!”


She let out a bubbly laugh, before hanging up with a beep.


Silence fell over the car for a moment, before Wendy immediately leaned forward, pushing her hair out of her eyes in order to get a better look at the navigation system. 


“We’re not going to have to stop again, are we? We still have four hours left before we get there.”


“We’ll be fine. I made sure to refuel at the gas station. We shouldn’t have to refill until we’re heading back to California.”


Wendy leaned forward and knocked on the wood grain of her dashboard.




“I’m not risking you jinxing this for us. We spent way too long planning this trip and way too long driving for something to happen when we’re so close.”


“Oh please, we’ll be fine.”


Wendy knocked on the dashboard again, and Leo simply rolled his eyes, pressing harder on the gas.


The next couple of hours passed by quickly enough. About an hour in, the two drove past the “Welcome to Utah” sign (which elicited a cheer from the two of them) and after switching drivers, they continued onward. Nearing their destination. 


Smooth sailing.


Until the car broke down.


The sputtering noise that came from the car made both of their stomachs sink. The (quite desperate) denial of what was happening was only able to last for a few seconds before the car lurched to a sudden and complete stop.


The silence that filled the car was smothering. Wendy gave the key a twist, gently at first, before giving it a couple of harsh turns.






“You’re joking. You’ve gotta be joking!”


Wendy gave the key a couple of more turns, but nothing changed. She punched the steering wheel, issuing a loud honk, before flopping back against the car seat.


They were stranded. 


After spending the next few minutes in despair and silence, Wendy called 9-1-1, while Leo got up and lifted the hood of the car. He stared at the intricate machinery under the hood before sighing and slamming the hood down. It wasn’t like he knew what to do with it anyway.


Wendy threw the car door open and stepped out, drawing Leo’s attention as she slammed the door closed behind her.


“Apparently my ignition switch is bad. So, we can’t go anywhere until we get a new one. They’re on their way, but we’re going to have to see a mechanic.”


“What? We don’t have time to wait for a mechanic!” 


“Yeah, I know.”


“Why didn’t you check your ignition switch before we drove out here!?”


“How was I supposed to know it needed to be fixed!?”


“It is literally your car.”


“Yeah? Well, you were the last person to drive it before me! How come you didn’t notice anything wrong?”


“This is not my fault!”


“Really? Because part of me thinks that it is.”


“It. Is. Your. CAR!”


Wendy opened her mouth to argue, but as she couldn’t find the words to properly express her anger, she settled for a yell of frustration before storming off down the road.


“Where are you even going!?”


“Away from you!”


“You need to be here for when the police arrive!”


Wendy waved him off with an annoyed grunt, and Leo had to resist the urge to kick the side of her car.


Despite her stubbornness, Wendy returned by the time the police arrived (which was a little under an hour) and while she caught them up on everything that happened, Leo sulked some ways away, his backpack on his back and his eyes on the sky. The sun had been gone for some time now, and as he traced his eyes across the sky, he could see the stars lighting up the night. They weren’t kidding when they said that Utah was one of the best places for stargazing. 


He glanced over at Wendy, who was trying her best to stay calm (he could tell by the way that she was tugging on the bottom of her shirt), but he knew how heartbreaking this was for her. For both of them. 


Leo slung his backpack off of his bag, digging through it before pulling out a nearly ruined piece of paper. He smoothed it out, on his leg, before holding it up.


At the top of the sheet was the absolutely horrendous writing of ten-year-old Leo and Wendy, and under it was a living document of their relationship. He chuckled to himself as he looked over the remnants of their childhood dreams, accessorized by fading doodles. 

Wendy walked over, arms crossed tightly and a guilty look on her face as she came to a stop next to him. “Hey, I know that you’re upset. And I…” She paused at the smile on Leo’s face, before glancing at the bucket list in his hand. At the sight of it, she couldn’t help but laugh. 


“That thing’s barely holding on.”


“Yeah, I know. It’s been through a lot.”


“Yeah, it has.”


Leo let his gaze go down the list, before landing on the last item, written so that half of it was in his round handwriting and the other in Wendy’s sharp penmanship: “Go see a meteor shower together”.


He glanced over to the broken-down car, waiting patiently for a tow truck to arrive, before sighing and folding up the list. “Look, Wendy. I’m sorry for blowing up on you. It’s not your fault, and I know that.” He shrugged, looking up at her with a smile. “If we have to wait a bit longer than planned to finish this list, so be it.”


Wendy let out a breath, before sitting down next to him, looking up at the night sky. After a few moments, she spoke up. 


“The whole point of the bucket list is that we wanted to do it together, right? So, as long as we see it together, no matter when it is, or where it is, I think that’s what’s more important.”




The tow truck arrived and their car was hooked up while Leo ordered a Lyft. As they waited, the two laid out on the side of the road, snacks in hand and phone flashlights lighting up their faces. They talked, laughed, and sang, until, overhead, despite their rather inconvenient location the beauty of the meteor shower made itself known.


They gazed in silent awe at the beautiful sight, nearly forgetting about everything else.



With a start, Leo reached into his pocket and pulled out the crumpled Bucket List. He held it out to Wendy, shrugging with a smile.

“It’s not what we had planned, but…”


Wendy smiled, and rummaging in her own backpack, pulled out two pens. 

The two crossed the final item off their bucket list



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