People We Meet on Vacation

Page 33

When he picks me up the morning of our trip, I’m still packing, and Dad makes him sit and answer a series of random questions while I finish. Meanwhile, Mom slips into my room with something hidden behind her back, singing, “Hiiii, sweetie.”

I look up from the Muppet-vomit explosion of colorful clothing in my bag. “Hiii?”

She perches on my bed, hands still hidden.

“What are you doing?” I say. “Are you handcuffed right now? Are we being burglarized? Blink twice if you can’t say anything.”

She brings the box forward. I immediately yelp and slap it out of her hand onto the floor.

“Poppy!” she cries.

“Poppy?!” I demand. “Not Poppy! Mom! Why are you carrying a bulk box of condoms around behind your back?”

She bends and scoops it up. It’s unopened (luckily?), so nothing spilled out. “I just figured it’s time we talked about this.”

“Uh-uh.” I shake my head. “It’s nine twenty a.m. Not the time to talk about this.”

She sighs and sets the box atop my overfilled duffle bag. “I just want you kids to be safe. You’ve got a lot to look forward to. We want all your wildest dreams to come true, honey!”

My heart stutters. Not because my mom is implying that Alex and I are having sex—now that it’s occurred to me, of course that’s what she thinks—but because I know she’s espousing the importance of finishing college, which I still haven’t told her I don’t plan to do.

I’ve only told Alex that I’m not going back next year. I’ve been waiting to tell my parents until after the trip so no big blowup keeps it from happening.

My parents are ultrasupportive, but that’s partly because both of them wanted to go to college and neither of them had the support to do so. They’ve always assumed that any dream I could have would be aided by having a degree.

But throughout the school year, most of my dreaming and energy have been devoted to traveling: weekend trips and short stints over breaks from school—usually on my own, but sometimes with Alex (camping, because that’s what we can afford), or with my roommate, Clarissa, a rich hippie type I met in an informational meeting about study-abroad programs at the end of last year (visits to each of her parents’ separate lake houses). She’s starting next year—senior year—in Vienna, and getting art history credits for it, but the longer I considered any of those programs, the less interested I found myself.

I don’t want to go to Australia only to spend all day in a classroom, and I don’t want to rack up thousands more in debt just to have an Academic Experience in Berlin. For me, traveling is about wandering, meeting people you don’t expect, doing things you’ve never done. And aside from that, all those weekend trips have started to pay off. I’ve only been blogging for eight months, and already I have a few thousand followers on social media.

When I found out I failed my biological science general requirement, and thus it would take me an extra semester to graduate, that was the final straw.

And I’m going to tell my parents all this, and somehow, I’ll find a way to make them understand that school isn’t right for me the way it is for people like Alex. But today is not that day. Today, we’re going to Nashville, and after the last semester, all I want is to let loose.

Just not in the way my mother is implying.

“Mom,” I say. “I am not having sex with Alex.”

“You don’t have to tell me anything,” she replies with a cool, calm, and collected nod, though that manner goes completely out the window as she goes on: “I just need to know that you’re being responsible. Oh my goodness, I can’t believe how grown-up you are! It’s making me teary just thinking about it. But you still have to be responsible! I’m sure you are, though. You’re such a smart girl! And you’ve always known yourself. I’m so proud of you, honey.”

I’m being more responsible than she knows. While I’ve made out with a few different guys over the last year, and did more than that with one, I’ve still stayed pretty safely in the slow lane. When I tipsily admitted this to Clarissa during a trip to her mom’s lake house on the far shore of Lake Michigan, her eyes widened like she was gazing into a scrying pool, and she said in that airy way of hers, “What is it you’re waiting for?”

I just shrugged. The truth is, I’m not sure. I just figure I’ll know when I see it.

Sometimes I think I’m being too practical, which isn’t something I’ve ever been accused of, but with this, I feel at times like I’m waiting for the perfect circumstances for a First Time.

Other times I think it might have something to do with Porny Poppy. Like after all that, I’m incapable of losing myself in a moment, in a person.

Maybe I just need to make a decision, choose someone from a lineup of the loosely held crushes I’m harboring on some of the guys Alex and I run into regularly at parties. People in the English department with him, or communications department with me, or any of the other regularly occurring characters in our lives.

But for now, I’m holding out hope, waiting for that magical moment when it feels right with one person in particular.

That person is not going to be Alex.

Actually, if I were to just choose someone, it probably would be. I’d be straight-up with him, explain what I wanted to do and why, and probably insist both of us sign something in blood saying it would only happen once and we would never speak of it again.

But even if it comes to that, I make a silent and solemn vow right now, I will not be using a condom from the bulk box my mom just tucked into my suitcase.

“I really, really swear to you I don’t need these,” I say.

She stands and pats the box. “Maybe not now, but why not hold on to them? Just in case. Also, are you hungry? I’ve got cookies in the oven, and—shoot, I forgot to run the dishwasher.”

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