Suddenly, the six days ahead of us seem impossibly long. We should have taken a three-day trip. Just the length of the wedding festivities, when there’d be buffers galore and free booze and time blocked out that Alex would be busy with his brother’s bachelor party and whatever else.
“Should we go down to the pool?” I say, a little too loud, because by now my heart is racing and I have to yell to hear myself over it.
“Sure,” Alex says, then turns back to the door and freezes. His mouth hangs open as he considers his words. “I’ll change in the bathroom, and you can just shout when you’re finished?”
Right. It’s a studio. One open room with no doors except the one to the bathroom.
Which wouldn’t have been awkward, if we weren’t both being so freaking awkward.
“Mm-hm,” I say. “Sure.”
Ten Summers Ago
WE WANDER THE city of Victoria until our feet hurt, our backs ache, and all that sleep we didn’t get on the flights makes our bodies feel heavy and our brains light and floaty. Then we stop for dumplings in a tiny nook of a place whose windows are tinted and whose red-painted walls are elaborately looped in gold mountainscapes and forests and flowing rivers that serpentine through low, rounded hills.
We’re the only people inside—it’s three p.m., not quite late enough for dinner, but the air-conditioning is powerful and the food is divine, and we’re so exhausted we can’t stop laughing about every little thing.
The hoarse, voice-cracking yelp Alex let out when the plane touched down this morning.
The suit-wearing man who sprints past the restaurant at top speed, his arms held flat to his sides.
The gallery girl in the Empress Hotel who spent thirty minutes trying to sell us a six-inch, twenty-one-thousand-dollar bear sculpture while we dragged our tattered luggage around behind us.
“We don’t really . . . have money for . . . that,” Alex said, sounding diplomatic.
The girl nodded enthusiastically. “Hardly anyone does. But when art speaks to you, you find a way to make it work.”
Somehow, neither of us could bring ourselves to tell the girl that the twenty-one-thousand-dollar bear was not speaking to us, but we’d spent all day, since then, picking things up—a signed Backstreet Boys album in the used record shop, a copy of a novel called What My G-Spot Is Telling You in a squat little bookstore off a cobbled street, a pleather catsuit in a fetish shop I led Alex into primarily to embarrass him—and asking, Does this speak to you?
Yes, Poppy, it’s saying, Bye-Bye-Bye.
No, Alex, tell your G-spot to speak up.
Yes, I’ll take it for twenty-one thousand dollars and not a penny less!
We took turns asking and answering, and now, slumped over our black lacquered table, we can’t stop half-deliriously picking up spoons and napkins, making them talk to one another.
Our server is around our age, heavily pierced with a soft lisp and a good sense of humor. “If that soy says anything saucy, let me know,” she says. “It’s got a reputation around here.”
Alex tips her 30 percent, and the whole walk to the bus stop, I tease him for blushing whenever she looked at him, and he teases me for making eyes at the cashier in the record shop, which is fair, because I definitely did.
“I’ve never seen a city this flowery,” I say.
“I’ve never seen a city this clean,” he says.
“Should we move to Canada?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” he says. “Does Canada speak to you?”
With the buses, and the walking between stops, it takes two hours total to get the car I informally rented online through WWT, Women Who Travel.
I’m so relieved it actually exists—and that the keys are under the floor mat in the back seat, just like the car’s owner, Esmeralda, said they would be—that I start clapping at the sight of it.
“Wow,” Alex says, “this car is really speaking to you.”
“Yes,” I say, “it’s saying, Don’t let Alex drive.”
His mouth droops open, eyes going wide and glossy with feigned hurt.
“Stop!” I yelp, diving away from him and into the driver’s seat like he’s a live grenade.
“Stop what?” He bends to insert his Sad Puppy Face in front of me.
“No!” I screech, shoving him away and writhing sideways in the seat as if trying to escape a swarm of ants pouring off him. I fling myself into the passenger seat, and he calmly climbs into the driver’s seat.
“I hate that face,” I say.
“Untrue,” Alex says.
I love that ridiculous face.
Also, I hate driving.
“When you find out about reverse psychology, I’m screwed,” I say.
“Hm?” he says, glancing sidelong as he starts up the car.
We drive two hours north to the motel I found on the eastern side of the island. It’s a misty wonderland, wide uncluttered roads lined in forests as ancient as they are dense. There’s not a ton to do in town, but there are redwoods and hiking trails to waterfalls and a Tim Hortons just a few miles down the road from our motel, a low, lodge-like place with a gravel parking lot out front and a wall of fog-cloaked foliage behind it.
“I sort of love it here,” Alex says.
“I sort of do too,” I agree.
And it doesn’t matter that it rains all week and we finish every hike soaked to the bone, or that we can only find two affordable restaurants and have to eat at each of them thrice, or that we slowly start to realize nearly everyone else we cross paths with is in the upper-sixties-and-older set and that we’re definitely staying in a retirement village. Or that our motel room is always damp, or that there’s so little to do we have time to kill one full day in a nearby Chapters bookstore (where we eat both breakfast and lunch in their café in silence while Alex reads Murakami and I take notes for future reference from a stack of Lonely Planet guides).