People We Meet on Vacation

Page 27

None of it matters. I spend the whole week thinking, This speaks to me.

This is what I want for the rest of my life. To see new places. To meet new people. To try new things. I don’t feel lost or out of place here. There’s no Linfield to escape or long, boring classes to dread going back to. I’m anchored only in this moment.

“Don’t you wish we could always be doing this?” I ask Alex.

He looks up over his book at me, one corner of his mouth curling. “Wouldn’t leave a lot of time for reading.”

“What if I promise to take you to a bookstore in every city?” I ask. “Then will you quit school and live in a van with me?”

His head tilts to one side as he thinks. “Probably not,” he says, which is no surprise for a variety of reasons, including the fact that Alex loves his classes so much he’s already researching English grad programs, whereas I’m muscling through with straight Cs.

“Well, I had to try,” I say with a sigh.

Alex sets his book down. “I tell you what. You can have my summer breaks. I’ll keep those wide open for you, and we’ll go anywhere you want, that we can afford.”

“Really?” I say, dubious.

“Promise.” He holds out his hand, and we shake on it, then sit there grinning for a few seconds, feeling like we’ve just signed some life-alteringly significant contract.

Our second-to-last day, we hike through the quiet of Cathedral Grove just as the sun is coming up, spilling golden light over the forest in little droplets, and when we leave, we drive straight to a town called Coombs, whose main attraction is a handful of cottages with grass roofs and a herd of goats grazing over them. We take pictures of them, stick our heads through photo-op cutouts that put our faces on crudely painted goat bodies, and spend a luxurious two hours wandering a market stuffed with samples of cookies, candies, and jams.

On the last full day of our trip, we drive across the island to Tofino, the peninsula we would have stayed on if we weren’t trying to save every possible penny. I surprise Alex with (perhaps worryingly cheap) tickets for a water taxi that takes us to the island I read about, with the trail through the rain forest to the hot spring.

Our water taxi driver is named Buck, and he’s not much older than us, with a tangle of sun-bleached yellow hair sticking out from under his mesh-backed hat. He’s handsome in an utterly filthy way, with that specifically beachy kind of body odor mixed with patchouli. It should be repulsive, but he makes it work.

The ride itself is a violent affair, the taxi’s motor so loud I have to scream into Alex’s ear, my hair slapping against his face from the wind, to say, “THIS MUST BE WHAT A ROCK FEELS LIKE WHEN YOU SKIP IT OVER WATER,” my voice thunking in and out with each rhythmic hit of the little vessel against the top of the dark, choppy waves.

Buck waves his hands like he’s talking to us for the whole length of the (much-too-long) ride, but we can’t hear him, which makes both Alex and me semihysterical with laughter after the first twenty minutes of inaudible monologue.






Buck cuts the engine, and Alex’s voice far overshoots it. He drops his voice into a whisper against my ear: “Worse than flying.”

“Is he stopping to kill us?” I whisper back.

“Was that what he was saying?” Alex hisses. “Is it time to panic?”

“Look out that way,” Buck says, spinning leftward in his chair and pointing ahead.

“Where he’s going to kill us?” Alex murmurs, and I turn my laugh into a cough.

Buck turns back with a wide, crooked, but admittedly handsome grin. “Family of otters.”

A very high-pitched and one-hundred-percent genuine squeal rockets out of me as I lurch to my feet and lean over to see the fuzzy little lumps of fur floating over the waves, paws folded together so that they drift as one, a net made of adorable sea creatures. Alex comes to stand behind me, his hands light on my arms as he leans over me to see.

“Okay,” he says. “Time to panic. That’s fucking adorable.”

“Can we take one home?” I ask him. “They speak to me!”

After that, the hike through the lush ferns of the rain forest, and the hot, earthy waters of the spring—though amazing—can’t quite compare to that spine-compressing water taxi ride.

When we strip down to our bathing suits and slip into the warm, cloudy pool within the rocks, Alex says, “We saw otters holding hands.”

“The universe likes us,” I say. “This has been a perfect day.”

“A perfect trip.”

“It’s not over yet,” I say. “One more night.”

When Buck’s water taxi delivers us safely into harbor that night, we huddle into the little time-warped shack the company uses as an office to pay.

“Where you guys staying?” Buck asks as he takes the coupons I printed out and manually punches their code into a computer.

“Other side of the island,” Alex says. “Outside Nanoose Bay.”

Buck’s blue eyes come up, cut between Alex and me appraisingly. “My grandparents live in Nanoose Bay.”

“It kind of seems like every grandparent in British Columbia might live in Nanoose Bay,” I say, and Buck lets out a bark of laughter.

“What are you doing there?” he asks. “Not a great spot for a young couple.”

“Oh, we’re not . . .” Alex shifts uncomfortably from one foot to the other.

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