People We Meet on Vacation

Page 42

Our server hated us.

When we left, we walked past him, and I thought I heard Alex saying under his breath, “Sorry, sir.”

We went straight to a walk-up pizza place and scarfed down a whole large cheese pizza between the two of us.

“I ate way too much,” Alex said as we were walking along the street afterward. “It was like some kind of Midwestern demon possessed me while I was sitting in that restaurant and that tiny platter came out. I could hear my dad in my head saying, ‘Now, that’s not economical.’”

“I know,” I agreed. “Halfway through, I was just like, get me out of here, I need to get to a Costco and buy a five-dollar bag of noodles that could feed a family for weeks.”

“I think I’m bad at vacation,” Alex said. “All this living large makes me feel guilty.”

“You’re not bad at vacation,” I argued. “And pretty much everything makes you feel guilty, so don’t blame that on the living large.”

“Touché,” he agreed. “But still. You probably would’ve had more fun if you’d taken this trip with Julian.” He didn’t say it like a question, but the way his eyes darted over to me, then back to the sidewalk ahead of us, I could tell that it was one.

“I thought about inviting him,” I admitted.

“Yeah?” Alex pulled one hand from his pocket and smoothed his hair. For some reason, the streetlights passing over him on the dark sidewalk made him seem taller. Even slouching, he was towering over me. I guess he always was. I just didn’t always notice because he so often brought himself down to my level or pulled me up to his.

“Yeah.” I looped my arm through his elbow. “But I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad it’s just us.”

He looked down over his shoulder at me and slowed. I slowed beside him. “Are you going to break up with him?”

The question caught me off guard. The way he was looking at me, his eyebrows pinched and mouth small, caught me off guard too. My heart tripped over its next beat.

Yes, I thought right away, without any consideration.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe.”

We kept walking. Up ahead we stumbled upon a bar that was Hemingway themed. That may seem rather ambiguous as a theme, but they pulled it off with their sleek dark wood and amber light and fishnets (not the stockings, actual nets for fish) suspended from the ceiling. The drinks were all rum cocktails, named after Hemingway books and short stories, and over the next two hours, Alex and I had three each, along with a shot. I kept saying, “We’re celebrating! Come on, Alex!” but really, I felt like there was something I was trying to forget.

And now, as we’re stumbling back into our hotel room, it occurs to me that I don’t remember what I was trying to forget, so I guess it worked.

I kick off my shoes and collapse onto the nearest bed while Alex disappears into the bathroom and comes back with two cups of water.

“Drink this,” he says. I grunt and try to swat his hand away. “Poppy,” he says more firmly, and I brattily push myself upright and accept the cup of water. He sits on the bed beside me until I’ve drained my glass, then goes back to refill both of them.

I’m not sure how many times he does this—I’m edging closer to sleep all the while. All I know is that eventually, he sets the glasses aside and starts to stand up, and from my half-dream, full-drunk state, I reach for his arm and say, “Don’t go.”

He settles back down on the bed and lies beside me. I fall asleep curled up against his side and when I wake up the next morning to my alarm going off, he’s already in the shower.

The humiliation at having made him sleep next to me is instantaneous and flaming hot. I know right then I can’t break up with Julian when I get home. I have to wait, long enough to be sure I’m not confused. Long enough that Alex won’t think the two events are connected.

They’re not, I think. I’m pretty sure they’re not.


This Summer

I FIND A TWENTY-FOUR-HOUR pharmacy in Palm Springs and drive toward it through the first soft rays of sunrise. Afterward, I get back to the apartment before most other stores have opened. By then the parking lot of the Desert Rose has started to bake again, and the cool hours of predawn shrink to a distant memory as I climb the steps, loaded with grocery bags.

“How are you doing?” I ask Alex as I shut the door behind me.

“Better.” He forces a smile. “Thanks.”

Liar. His pain is written all over his face. He’s worse at hiding that than his emotions. I put the two ice packs I bought into the freezer, then go to the bed and plug in the heating pad. “Lean forward,” I say, and Alex shifts enough for me to slide the pad down the stack of pillows where it can sit across his midback. I touch his shoulder, helping to slow his descent as he leans back. His skin is so warm. I’m sure the heating pad won’t be comfortable, but hopefully it will do the trick, warming the muscle until it relaxes.

In half an hour, we’ll switch to the ice pack to try to bring down any inflammation.

I may have read up on back spasms in the quiet, fluorescent-lit aisles of the drugstore.

“I’ve got some Icy Hot too,” I say. “Does that ever help?”

“Maybe,” he says.

“Well, it’s worth a try. I guess I should’ve thought of that before you leaned back and got comfortable again.”

“It’s fine,” he says, wincing. “I never really get comfortable when this happens. I just sort of wait for the medicine to knock me out, and by the time I wake up, I usually feel a lot better.”

I slide off the edge of the bed and gather the rest of the bags, carrying them back to him. “How long does it last?”

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