“Me neither,” I say. “Not yet.”
He thinks for another moment. “Love,” he says. “I’m guessing love.”
“Yeah.” I nod. “Me too.”
I MARCH INTO SWAPNA’S office the next morning, feeling wired despite the late night I had texting Alex. I plop her drink, an iced Americano, down on her desk and she looks up, startled, from the layout proofs she’s approving for the upcoming fall issue.
“Palm Springs,” I say.
For a second, her surprise stays fixed on her face, then the corners of her razor-edged lips curl into a smile. She sits back in her chair, folding her perfectly toned arms across her tailored black dress, the overhead light catching her engagement ring so that the behemoth ruby set at its center winks fantastically.
“Palm Springs,” she repeats. “It’s evergreen.” She thinks for a second, then waves her hand. “I mean, it’s a desert, of course, but as far as R+R, there’s hardly any place more restful or relaxing in the continental United States.”
“Exactly,” I say, as if that had been what I was thinking all along. In reality, my choice has nothing to do with what R+R might like and everything to do with David Nilsen, youngest brother of Alex and a man set to marry the love of his life this time next week.
In Palm Springs, California.
It was a hiccup I hadn’t expected—that Alex already had a trip scheduled next week: his brother’s destination wedding. I’d been crushed when he told me, but I said I understood, asked him to congratulate David, and set my phone down, expecting the conversation to end.
But it hadn’t, and after two more hours of texting, I’d taken a deep breath and pitched the idea of him stretching his three-day trip to spend a few extra days on an R+R-funded vacation with me. He’d not only agreed but invited me to stick around for the wedding after.
It was all coming together.
“Palm Springs,” Swapna says again, her eyes glossing as she slips into her mind and tries the idea out. She breaks suddenly from her reverie and reaches for her keyboard. She types for a minute, then scratches her chin as she reads something on her screen. “Of course, we’d have to wait to use that for the winter issue. The summer’s low season.”
“But that’s why it’s perfect,” I say, spitballing and a little panicked. “There’s all kinds of stuff going on in the Springs in the summer, and it’s less crowded and cheaper. This could be a good way to kind of get back to my roots—how to do this trip on the cheap, you know?”
Swapna’s lips purse thoughtfully. “But our brand is aspirational.”
“And Palm Springs is peak aspiration,” I say. “We’ll give our readers the vision—then show them how they can have it.”
Swapna’s dark eyes light up as she considers this, and my stomach lifts hopefully.
Then she blinks and turns back to her computer screen. “No.”
“What?” I say, not even on purpose, just because my brain can’t compute that this is happening. There is no way that this, my job, is where the train goes off the rails.
Swapna gives an apologetic sigh and leans over her gleaming glass desk. “Look, Poppy, I appreciate the thought that went into this, but it’s just not R+R. It will translate as brand confusion.”
“Brand confusion,” I say, apparently still too stunned to come up with my own words.
“I thought about it all weekend, and I’m sending you to Santorini.” She looks back to the layout proofs on her desk, her face shifting gears from Empathetic but Professional Manager Swapna to Concentrating Magazine Genius Swapna. She’s moved on, the signal so strong that I find myself standing even though, inside, my brain is still caught on a refrain of but, but, but!
But this is our chance to fix things.
But you can’t give up that easily.
But this is what you want. Not gorgeous whitewashed Santorini and its sparkling sea.
Alex in the desert, in the dead of summer. Wandering into places before checking them out on Tripadvisor, unstructured days and late, late nights and full hours of sunshine lost to the inside of a dusty bookstore he couldn’t pass by, or a vintage shop whose clutter and germs have him standing, rigid yet patient, near the door as I try on dead people’s hats. That’s what I want.
I stand in the doorway of the office, heart racing, until Swapna looks up from the proofs, her eyebrow arched inquiringly, as if to say, Yes, Poppy?
“Give Santorini to Garrett,” I say.
Swapna blinks at me, evidently confused.
“I think I need some time off,” I blurt out, then clarify. “A vacation—a real one.”
Swapna’s lips press tight. She’s confused but not going to push for more information, which is good because I wouldn’t know how to explain anyway.
She gives a slow nod. “Send me the dates, then.”
I turn and walk back to my desk feeling calmer than I have in months. Until I sit down and reality forces its way in.
I’ve got some savings, but taking a trip that’s affordable by R+R’s standards—and on their dime—is a very different thing from taking a trip that I can afford with my own money. And as a high school English teacher with a doctorate and all of its associated debt, there’s no way Alex could afford to split costs with me. I doubt he’d agree to take the trip at all if he knew I was funding it myself.
But maybe this is a good thing. We always had so much fun on those trips we cobbled together on cents. Things only started going downhill once R+R got involved in our summer trips. I can do this: I can plan the perfect trip, like I used to; remind Alex how good things can be. The more I think about it, the more this makes sense. I’m actually excited by the idea of having one of our old-school, dirt-cheap trips. Things were so much simpler back then, and we always had a blast.