I pull out my phone and take my time trying to craft the perfect message.
Fun thought: Let’s do this trip the way we used to. Cheap as shit, no professional photographers tailing us, no five-star restaurants, just seeing Palm Springs like the impoverished academic and digital-age journalist that we are.
Within a few seconds, he replies: R+R’s okay with that? No photographer?
I unconsciously start waggling my head back and forth like the tiny angel and devil on my shoulder are taking turns tugging it from left to right. I don’t want to outright lie to him.
But they are okay with it. I’m taking a week off, so I’m free.
Yep, I say. Everything’s all set if you’re okay with it.
Sure, he writes. Sounds good.
It does sound good. It’ll be good. I can make it good.
AS SOON AS the plane touches down, the four babies that spent the full six-hour flight screaming stop at once.
I slip my phone from my purse and turn off airplane mode, waiting out the flood of incoming text messages from Rachel, Garrett, Mom, David Nilsen, and—last but absolutely not least—Alex.
Rachel says, in three different ways, to please let her know as soon as I land that my plane didn’t crash or get sucked into the Bermuda Triangle, and that she’s both praying for and manifesting a safe landing for me.
Safe and sound and already missing you, I tell her, then I open up the message from Garrett.
Thank you SO MUCH for not taking Santorini, he writes, then, in a separate message: Also . . . Pretty weird decision IMHO. I hope you’re okay . . .
I’m fine, I tell him. I just had a wedding come up last minute and Santorini was your idea. Send me lots of pics so I can regret my life choices?
Next, I open the message from David: SO happy you’re coming with Al! Tham’s excited to meet you, and of course you are invited to EVERYTHING.
Of all of Alex’s brothers, David has always been my favorite. But it’s hard to believe he’s old enough to get married.
Then again, when I said that to Alex, he texted back, Twenty-four. I can’t imagine making a decision like that at that age but all my brothers got married young, and Tham’s great. My dad’s even on board. He got a bumper sticker that says I’M A PROUD CHRIST FOLLOWER WHO LOVES MY GAY SON.
I snorted laughter into my coffee as I read that one. It was so supremely Mr. Nilsen, and also perfectly played into Alex’s and my running joke about David being the family favorite. Alex hadn’t even been allowed to listen to secular music until he was in high school, and when he decided to go to a secular university, there had been weeping.
In the end, though, Mr. Nilsen really did love his sons, and so he pretty much always came around on matters that concerned their happiness.
If you’d gotten married at twenty-four, you’d be married to Sarah, I texted Alex.
You’d be married to Guillermo, he said.
I sent him back one of his own Sad Puppy selfies.
Please tell me you’re not still carrying a torch for that dick, Alex said.
The two of them had never gotten along.
Of course not, I wrote back. But Gui and I weren’t the ones in a torturous on-and-off relationship. That was you and Sarah.
Alex typed and stopped typing so many times I started to wonder if he was doing it just to annoy me.
But that was the end of that conversation. When he next texted me, the following day, it was with a non sequitur, a picture of BeDazzled black robes that said SPA BITCH on the back.
Summer Trip Uniform? he wrote, and we’ve dodged the topic of Sarah ever since, which makes it pretty damn clear to me that there’s something going on between them. Again.
Now, sitting on the cramped and sweltering plane, taxiing toward LAX, in the post-baby-scream silence, it still makes me a little sick to think about. Sarah and I have never been each other’s biggest fans. I doubt she’d approve of Alex taking another trip with me if they were back together, and if they aren’t properly but are on their way to being, then this could very well be the last summer trip.
They’d get married, start having kids, take their whole family to Disney World, and she and I would never be close enough for me to be a real part of Alex’s life anymore.
I push the thought away and answer David’s text message: I’M SO EXCITED AND HONORED THAT I GET TO BE THERE!
He sends back a gif of a dancing bear, and I tap open the text from my mom next.
Give Alex a big hug and kiss for me:), she writes, with the smiley face typed out. She never remembers how to use emojis and becomes impatient immediately when I try to show her. “I can type them out just fine!” she insists.
My parents: not the biggest fans of change.
Do you want me to grab his butt while I’m at it? I write back to her.
If you think that will work, she replies. I’m getting tired of waiting for grandbabies.
I roll my eyes and exit out of the message. Mom has always adored Alex, at least partly because he moved back to Linfield and she’s hoping we’ll wake up one day and realize we’re in love with each other and I’ll move back too and get pregnant immediately. My father, on the other hand, is a doting but intimidating man who has always terrified Alex so much that he’s never let one ounce of personality out while in the same room as Dad.
He’s brawny with a booming voice, mildly handy in the way so many men of his generation are, and he has a tendency to ask a lot of blunt, bordering-on-inappropriate questions. Not because he’s hoping for a certain response but because he’s curious and not very self-aware.
He is also, like all members of the Wright family, not amazing at modulating his voice. To a stranger, my mother shouting “Have you tried these grapes that taste like cotton candy? Oh, you’ll love them! Here, let me wash some off for you! Oh, let me wash a bowl first. Oh, no, all our bowls are in the fridge with Saran Wrap covering our leftovers—here, just grab a fistful instead!” might be mildly overwhelming, but when my father’s brow crinkles and he blasts out a question like “Did you vote in the last mayoral election?” it’s easy to feel like you’ve just been shoved into an interrogation room with an enforcer the FBI pays under the table.