People We Meet on Vacation

Page 25

“The same way you live in Ohio,” I say. “Sadly, and with heavy drinking.”

I mean it as a joke, but Alex’s expression flattens out, and he heads to the back of the car without acknowledging what I said.

I clear my throat. “Kidding. Plus, they mostly live in L.A., right? It was nowhere near this hot back there.”

“Here.” He passes me the first bag, and I take it, feeling chastened.

Note to self: no more shitting on Ohio.

By the time we get out our luggage—and the two paper bags of groceries we grabbed during a CVS pit stop—and wrestle it up three flights of stairs to our unit, we’re sweat drenched.

“I feel like I’m melting,” Alex says as I punch the code into the key box beside the door. “I need a shower.”

The box pops open, and I stick the key into the doorknob, jiggling and twisting it per the very specific instructions the host sent me.

“As soon as we go outside, we’re gonna be melting again,” I point out. “You might want to save the showering for right before bed.”

The key finally catches, and I bump the door open, shuffling inside, stopping short as two simultaneous warning bells start shrieking through my body.

Alex walks into me, a solid wall of sweat-dampened heat. “What’s—”

His voice drops off. I’m not sure which horrible fact he’s registering. That it’s disgustingly hot in here or that . . .

In the middle of this (otherwise perfect) studio apartment, there sits one bed.

“No,” he says quietly, as if he didn’t mean to say it aloud. I’m sure he didn’t.

“It said two beds,” I blurt out, frantically trying to pull up the reservation. “It definitely did.”

Because there’s no way I could have possibly screwed up this badly. I couldn’t have.

There was a time when it might not have seemed like a huge deal for us to share a bed, but it is not this trip. Not when things are fragile and awkward. We have one chance to fix what broke between us.

“You’re sure?” Alex says, and I hate that note of annoyance in his voice even more than the suspicious one riding alongside it. “You saw pictures? With two beds?”

I look up from my inbox. “Of course!”

But did I? This unit had been ridiculously cheap, in large part because a reservation had canceled last minute. I knew it was a studio, but I saw pictures of the sparkly turquoise pool and the happy, dancing palm trees and the reviews said it was clean, and the kitchenette looked small but chic and—

Did I actually see two beds?

“This guy owns a bunch of apartments here,” I say, head swimming. “He probably sent us the wrong unit number.”

I find the right email and click through the pictures. “Here!” I cry. “Look!”

Alex steps in close, looking over my shoulder at the pictures—a bright white and gray apartment with a couple of thriving potted fiddle-leaf figs in one corner and a vast white bed in the middle of the room, a slightly smaller one beside it.

Okay, so there might have been some artful angling to these photographs, because in the shot the bigger bed looks like it’s king-sized when it’s actually a queen, which means the other couldn’t be bigger than a double, but it definitely should exist.

“I don’t understand.” Alex looks from the photo to where the second bed should be.

“Oh,” he and I say in unison as it clicks.

He crosses to the wide, armless chair, in coral imitation suede, and yanks off the decorative pillows, reaching into the seam of the chair. He folds the bottom out, the back pressing down so that the whole thing flattens into a long, skinny pad with sagging seams between its three sections. “A pullout . . . chair.”

“I’ll take that!” I volunteer.

Alex shoots me a look. “You can’t, Poppy.”

“Why, because I’m a woman, and they’ll take your Midwestern masculinity away if you don’t fall on the sword of every gender norm presented to you?”

“No,” he says. “Because if you sleep on that, you’ll wake up with a migraine.”

“That happened once,” I say, “and we don’t know it was from sleeping on the air mattress. It could’ve been the red wine.” But even as I say it, I’m searching for the thermostat, because if anything’s going to make my head throb, it’s sleeping in this heat. I find the controls inside the kitchenette. “Oh my gosh, he has it set to eighty degrees in here.”

“Seriously?” Alex scrubs a hand through his hair, catching the sweat beading on his forehead. “And to think, it doesn’t feel a degree over two hundred.”

I crank the thermostat down to seventy, and the fans kick on loudly, but without any instant relief. “At least we have a view of the pool,” I say, crossing to the back doors. I throw the blackout curtains back and balk, the remnants of my optimism fizzling out.

The balcony is way bigger than mine at home, with a cute red café table and two matching chairs. The problem is, three-quarters of it is walled off with plastic sheeting as, somewhere overhead, a horrible melee of mechanical rattles and screeches sound off.

Alex steps out beside me. “Construction?”

“I feel like I’m inside a ziplock bag, inside of someone’s body.”

“Someone with a fever,” he says.

“Who’s also on fire.”

He laughs a little. A miserable sound he tries to play off as lighthearted. But Alex isn’t lighthearted. He’s Alex. He’s high-stress and he likes to be clean and have his space and he packs his own pillow in his luggage, because his “neck is used to this one”—even though it means he can’t bring as many clothes as he’d like—and the last thing this trip needs is any unnecessary pushing on our pressure points.

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