He stands, setting a twenty on the bar before tucking his wallet back into his pocket. Alex always carries cash. I don’t know why. I’ve asked at least three times. He’s answered. I still don’t know why, because his answer was either too boring or too intellectually complex for my brain to even bother retaining the memory.
“Doesn’t change the fact that you’re an absolute freak,” he says.
“You love me,” I point out, the tiniest bit defensive.
He loops an arm around my shoulders and looks down at me, another small, contained smile on his full lips. His face is a sieve, only letting out the smallest amount of expression at a time. “I know that,” he says.
I grin up at him. “I love you back.”
He fights the widening of his smile, keeps it small and faint. “I know that too.”
The tequila has me feeling sleepy, lazy, and I let myself lean into him as we start toward the open door. “This was a good trip,” I say.
“Best yet,” he agrees, the cool rain gusting in around us like confetti from a cannon. His arm curls in a little closer, warm and heavy around me, his clean cedarwood smell folding over my shoulders like a cape.
“I haven’t even minded the rain much,” I say as we step into the thick, wet night, all buzzing mosquitoes and palm trees shivering from the distant thunder.
“I’ve preferred it.” Alex lifts his arm from my shoulder to curl over my head, transforming himself into a makeshift human umbrella as we sprint across the flooding road toward our little red rental car. When we reach it, he breaks away and opens my door first—we scored a discount by taking a car without automatic locks or windows—then runs around the hood and hurls himself into the driver’s seat.
Alex flicks the car into gear, the full-tilt AC hissing its arctic blast against our wet clothes as he pulls out of our parking space and turns toward our rental house.
“I just realized,” he says, “we didn’t take any pictures at the bar for your blog.”
I start to laugh, then realize he’s not kidding. “Alex, none of my readers want to see pictures of BAR. They don’t even want to read about BAR.”
He shrugs. “I didn’t think BAR was that bad.”
“You said it smelled like salmonella.”
“Other than that.” He ticks the turn signal on and guides the car down our narrow, palm-tree-lined street.
“Actually, I haven’t really gotten any usable pictures this week.”
Alex frowns and rubs at his eyebrow as he slows toward the gravel driveway ahead.
“Other than the ones you took,” I add quickly. The pictures Alex volunteered to take for my social media are truly terrible. But I love him so much for being willing to take them that I already picked out the least atrocious one and posted it. I’m making one of those awful midword faces, shriek-laughing something at him as he tries—badly—to give me direction, and the storm clouds are visibly forming over me, as if I’m summoning the apocalypse to Sanibel Island myself. But at least you can tell I’m happy in it.
When I look at that photo, I don’t remember what Alex said to me to elicit that face, or what I yelled back at him. But I feel that same rush of warmth I get when I think about any of our past summer trips.
That crush of happiness, that feeling that this is what life’s about: being somewhere beautiful, with someone you love.
I tried to write something about that in the caption, but it was hard to explain.
Usually my posts are all about how to travel on a budget, make the most of the least, but when you’ve got a hundred thousand people following your beach vacation, it’s ideal to show them . . . a beach vacation.
In the past week, we’ve had approximately forty minutes total on the shore of Sanibel Island. The rest has been spent holed up in bars and restaurants, bookstores and vintage shops, plus a whole lot of time in the shabby bungalow we’re renting, eating popcorn and counting lightning streaks. We’ve gotten no tans, seen no tropical fish, done no snorkeling or sunbathing on catamarans, or much of anything aside from falling in and out of sleep on the squashy sofa with a Twilight Zone marathon humming its way into our dreams.
There are places you can see in their full glory, with or without sunshine, but this isn’t one of them.
“Hey,” Alex says as he puts the car in park.
“Let’s take a picture,” he says. “Together.”
“You hate having your picture taken,” I point out. Which has always been weird to me, because on a technical level, Alex is extremely handsome.
“I know,” Alex says, “but it’s dark and I want to remember this.”
“Okay,” I say. “Yeah. Let’s take one.”
I reach for my phone, but he already has his out. Only instead of holding it up with the screen facing us so we can see ourselves, he has it flipped around, the regular camera fixed on us rather than the front-facing one. “What are you doing?” I say, reaching for his phone. “That’s what selfie mode’s for, you grandpa.”
“No!” he laughs, jerking it out of reach. “It’s not for your blog— we don’t have to look good. We just have to look like ourselves. If we have it on selfie mode I won’t even want to take one.”
“You need help for your face dysmorphia,” I tell him.
“How many thousands of pictures have I taken for you, Poppy?” he says. “Let’s just do this one how I want to.”
“Okay, fine.” I lean across the console, settling in against his damp chest, his head ducking a little to compensate for our height difference.
“One . . . two—” The flash pops off before he ever gets to three.