“We’ll figure something out,” Alex says. “Do you want to shower first, or should I?”
I can tell from the way he’s holding his arms slightly away from his body that he’s desperate to be clean. And if he hops in the shower now, maybe I’ll even manage to get the temperature down a few degrees in the meantime.
“Go ahead,” I tell him, and he slips away.
The whole time I can hear the water running, I’m pacing. From the foldout pseudo bed to the plastic-wrapped balcony to the thermostat. Finally, it drops down to eighty-one, and I reset the goal temperature to eighty and keep pacing.
After deciding to document this so I can report it to Airbnb and try to get some money back, I take pictures of the chair bed and the porch—the construction upstairs has mercifully ceased for the day so at least it’s quiet, the hum of conversation and splash of water drifting up from the pool—then head back to the thermostat, down to eighty now, to take a picture of that too.
Just as I’m resetting the temperature for seventy-nine, the shower turns off, so I swing my suitcase up onto the foldout chair, unzip the bag, and start rooting through it for something lightweight to wear to dinner.
Alex steps out of the bathroom in a cloud of steam with a towel wrapped around his waist, one hand securing it at the hip as the other swipes through his wet hair, leaving it sticking up and out messily. “Your turn,” he says, but it takes me a second to compute through the haze of his long, lean torso and the sharp jut of his left hip bone.
Why is it so different seeing someone in a towel than in a bathing suit? Thirty minutes ago, Alex was technically more naked than this, but now, the smooth lines of his body feel more scandalous. I feel like all the blood in my body is just bobbing to the surface, pressing against my skin so that every inch of me is more alert.
It never used to be like this.
This is all because of Croatia.
Damn you and your gorgeous islands, Croatia!
“Poppy?” Alex prompts.
“Mm-hm,” I say, then remember to at least add, “Yeah.” I spin back to my bag and grab a dress, bra, and underwear at random. “Okay. Bedroom’s all yours.”
I hurry into the steamy bathroom and shut the door as I’m stripping off my bikini top only to freeze, stunned at the sight of a huge blue-tinted glass capsule that occupies the entirety of one wall, complete with a reclined seat on either side, like it’s some kind of group shower from The Jetsons.
“Oh my god.” This, I’m sure, was not in the photographs. In fact, this whole room is unrecognizable from the one on the website, transformed from the subtle, beachy grays of its former self into the glowing blue and sterile whites of the hypermodern sight before me.
I snatch a towel off the rack, wrapping it around myself, and throw the door open. “Alex, why didn’t you say anything about the—”
Alex grabs for his towel and pulls it around himself and I do my absolute best to pick up where my sentence stumbled off and pretend that didn’t happen. “—spaceship bathroom?”
“I figured you knew,” Alex says, his voice hoarse. “You booked this place.”
“They must’ve remodeled since the photos were taken,” I say. “How did you even figure out how to work that thing?”
“Honestly,” Alex says, “the hardest thing was just wresting control from the 2001: A Space Odyssey–style artificial intelligence system. After that, the biggest issue was just that I kept mixing up the controls for the sixth shower head with the ones for the foot massager.”
It’s enough to break the tension. I dissolve into laughter and he does too, and it stops mattering so much that we’re standing here in our towels.
“This place is purgatory,” I say. Everything is just nice enough to make the issues that much more glaring.
“Nikolai is a sadist,” Alex agrees.
“Yes, but he’s a sadist with a spaceship bathroom.” I lean back into the bathroom to study the many-headed, multiseated shower again.
I burst into another fit of laughter and lean back out to find Alex standing there, grinning. He’s pulled a T-shirt on over his damp upper body but hasn’t risked swapping the towel out.
I turn back to the bathroom. “Okay, I’ll leave you to dance naked around the apartment in privacy now. Use your time wisely.”
“Is that what you do?” Alex calls. “Dance around the apartment naked whenever I’m in the other room? You do, don’t you?”
I spin away as I’m pulling the door shut. “Wouldn’t you like to know, Porny Alex?”
Nine Summers Ago
DESPITE THE FACT that Alex spent every spare moment of junior year picking up shifts at the library (and thus I spent every spare moment sitting on the floor behind the reference desk eating Twizzlers and teasing him whenever Sarah Torval bashfully drifted by), there isn’t money for a big summer trip this year.
His younger brother is starting community college next year, without much financial aid, and Alex, being a saint among mere men, is funneling all his income into Bryce’s tuition.
When he broke the news to me, Alex said, “I understand if you want to go to Paris without me.”
My reply was instantaneous. “Paris can wait. Let’s visit the Paris of America instead.”
He arched a brow. “Which is?”
“Duh,” I said. “Nashville.”
He laughed, delighted. I loved to delight him, lived for it. I got such a rush from making that stoic face crack, and lately there hadn’t been enough of that.
Nashville is only a four-hour drive from Linfield, and miraculously, Alex’s station wagon is still kicking. So Nashville it is.