“We’re like nonbiological, nonlegal siblings,” I say.
“Just friends,” Alex translates, seeming embarrassed for me, which is understandable because I can feel my cheeks go lobster red and my stomach flip when Buck’s eyes settle on me.
They shift back to Alex, and he smiles. “If you don’t want to drive back to the old folks’ home tonight, my housemates and I have got a yard and a spare tent. You’re welcome to crash there. We’ve always got people staying with us.”
I’m fairly sure Alex does not want to sleep on the ground, but he takes one look at me and must see how into this idea I am—this is exactly the kind of spur-of-the-moment, out-of-nowhere surprise turn I’ve been hoping this trip would take—because he lets out an almost imperceptible sigh, then turns back to Buck with a fixed smile. “Yeah. That’d be great. Thanks.”
“Cool, you all were my last trip, so let me close up and we can head out.”
As we’re walking back down the dock afterward, Alex asks for the address so we can plug it into the GPS. “Nah, man,” Buck says. “You don’t need to drive.”
It turns out Buck’s house is just up a short, steep driveway a half block from the dock. A droopy, graying two-story house with a second-floor balcony covered in drying towels and bathing suits and shitty folding furniture. There’s a bonfire burning in the front yard, and even though it’s only six p.m., there are dozens of grungy Buck-types gathered in sandals and hiking boots or dirt-crusted bare feet, drinking beer and doing acro-yoga in the grass while trance music plays over a pair of duct-tape-ridden speakers on the porch. The whole place smells like weed, like this is some kind of low-rent, miniature Burning Man.
“Everyone,” Buck calls as he leads us up the hillside, “this is Poppy and Alex. They’re from . . .” He looks over his shoulder at me, waiting.
“Chicago,” I say as Alex says, “Ohio.”
“Ohio and Chicago,” Buck repeats. People call out greetings and tip their beers, and a lean, muscly girl in a woven crop top brings me and Alex each a bottle, and Alex tries very hard not to look at her stomach as Buck disappears into the circle of people around the fire, doing that backslapping hug with a handful of people.
“Welcome to Tofino,” she says. “I’m Daisy.”
“Another flower!” I say. “But at least they don’t use yours to make opium.”
“I haven’t tried opium,” Daisy says thoughtfully. “I pretty much stick to LSD and shrooms. Well, and weed, obviously.”
“Have you tried those sleep gummies?” I ask. “Those things are fucking amazing.”
Alex coughs. “Thanks for the beer, Daisy.”
She winks. “My pleasure. I’m the welcome committee. And the tour guide.”
“Oh, do you live here too?” I ask.
“Sometimes,” she says.
“Who else does?” Alex says.
“Hmm.” Daisy turns, scouring the crowd and vaguely pointing. “Michael, Chip, Tara, Kabir, Lou.” She gathers her dark hair off her back and pulls it to one side of her neck as she continues. “Mo, Quincy sometimes; Lita’s been here for a month, but I think she’s leaving soon. She got a job as a rafting guide in Colorado—how far is Chicago from there? You should look her up if you’re ever visiting.”
“Cool,” Alex says. “Maybe so.”
Buck reappears between me and Alex, with a joint tucked in his mouth, and slings a casual arm around each of us. “Has Daisy given you the tour yet?”
“Was just about to,” she says.
But somehow, I don’t wind up on a tour of this soggy house. I wind up sitting in a cracked plastic Adirondack chair by the fire with Buck and—I think?—Chip and Lita-the-soon-to-be-rafting-guide, ranking Nicolas Cage movies by various criteria as the deep blues and purples of twilight melt into the deeper blues and blacks of night, the starry sky seeming to unfurl over us like a great, light-pricked blanket.
Lita is an easy laugher, which I’ve always thought was a criminally underappreciated trait, and Buck is so laid-back I start to get a secondhand high just from sharing a chair with him, and then I get my first firsthand high when I share his joint with him.
“Don’t you love it?” he asks eagerly when I’m a few puffs in.
“Love it,” I say. Truthfully, I think it’s just okay, and moreover, if I were anywhere else, I think I might even hate it, but tonight it’s perfect because today is perfect, this trip is perfect.
Alex checks back in on me after his “tour,” by which point, yes, I’m sitting curled up in Buck’s lap with his sweatshirt draped around my chilly shoulders.
You okay? Alex mouths from the far side of the fire.
I nod. You?
He nods back, and then Daisy asks him something and he turns away, falling into conversation with her. I tip my head back and stare up past Buck’s unshaven jawline to the stars high above us.
I think I could stand it if this night lasted three more days, but eventually the sky is changing color again, the morning mist hissing off the damp grass as the sun peeks over a horizon somewhere in the distance. Most of the crowd has drifted off, Alex included, and the fire has burned down to embers when Buck asks me if I want to come inside, and I tell him yes, I do.
I almost tell him that going inside speaks to me, then remember that’s not a worldwide joke, it’s just one of mine and Alex’s, and I don’t really want to say it to Buck after all.
I’m relieved to discover that he has a room of his own, even if it is closet sized with a mattress on the floor dressed in nothing but two unzipped sleeping bags rather than bedding. When he kisses me, it’s rough and scratchy and tastes like weed and beer, but I’ve only kissed two people before this and one of those was Jason Stanley, so this is still going great in my book. His hands are confident if a little lazy, to match the rest of him, and soon we’re climbing onto the mattress, hands catching in each other’s seawater-tangled hair, hips locking together.