“You’re sweet, Poppy,” he says. “And buttery and warm and whatever. But I still would just rather talk on the phone alone.”
“Heard,” I say, nodding, and hold my croissant out to him. He tears off the teensiest piece and pops it between his lips.
Later that day, while we’re sitting at lunch, something brilliant occurs to me. “Lita!” I cry, seemingly out of nowhere.
“Bless you?” Alex says.
“Remember Lita?” I say. “She was living in that dumpy house in Tofino. With Buck?”
Alex narrows his eyes. “Is she the one who tried to put her hand down my pants while she was giving me a ‘tour’?”
“Um, one, you didn’t tell me that happened, and two, no. She was hanging out with me and Buck. She was leaving soon, remember? Moving to Vail to be a rafting guide!”
“Oh,” Alex says. “Yeah. Right.”
“Do you think she’s still here?”
He squints. “On this earthly plane? I’m not sure any of those people are.”
“I’ve got Buck’s number,” I say.
“You do?” Alex gives me a pointed look.
“I haven’t used it,” I say. “But I have it. I’ll text him and see if he has Lita’s number.”
Hey, Buck! I write. Not sure if you remember me, but you gave me and my friend Alex a water taxi ride to the hot springs, like, five years ago, right before your friend Lita moved to Colorado? Anyway, I’m in Vail and was gonna see if she was still here! Hope you’re well and that Tofino is still the most beautiful place on this whole entire planet.
By the time we’ve finished eating, Buck has written back.
Damn, girl, he says. Is this sexy little Poppy? Took you long enough to use those digits. Guess I shouldn’t have kicked you out of my room.
I snort-laugh, and Alex leans over the table to read the message upside down. He rolls his eyes. “Yeah, you fucking think, pal?”
No, no, no worries about that, I tell him. It was a great night. We had an amazing time.
Sweet, he says. I haven’t talked to Lita in years but I’ll shoot u her contact info if u want.
That would be amazing, I tell him.
If you ever make it back to the island r u gonna tell me? he asks.
Obviously, I say. I have no idea how to operate a water taxi. You’ll be invaluable.
Lol, he says, ur such a freak I love it.
By that night, we’ve booked a rafting trip with Lita, who does not remember us but insists on the phone that she’s sure we had a great time together.
“To be fair, I was on, like, a ton of drugs back then,” she says. “I was always having a great time, and I remember almost none of it.”
Alex, overhearing this, pulls a face that reads as anxiety with a side of unanswered questions. I know exactly what he wants me to find out.
“So,” I say, as casually as I can, “do you still . . . use . . . drugs?”
“Three years sober, mama,” she replies. “But if you’re looking to buy something, I can send you my old dude’s number.”
“No, no,” I say. “That’s okay. We’ll just . . . do . . . the stuff . . . we brought . . . from home.”
Looking beleaguered, Alex shakes his head.
“All right, then. See you two bright and early.”
When I hang up, Alex says, “Do you think Buck was on drugs when he drove our water taxi?”
I shrug. “We never did find out what he was ranting to no one about. Maybe he thought Jim Morrison was hovering on the water just in front of him.”
“I am so glad we’re still alive,” Alex says.
The next morning we meet Lita at the raft rental place, and she looks almost exactly as I remember her, but with a wedding band tattoo and a small baby bump.
“Four months,” she says, jogging it in her hands.
“And it’s . . . safe? To do this?” Alex asks.
“Baby number one did just fine,” Lita assures us. “You know, in Norway, they stick their babies outside to take naps.”
“Oh . . . kay,” Alex says.
“I would love to go to Norway,” I say.
“Oh, you’ve got to!” she says. “My wife’s twin sister lives there—she married a Norwegian. Gail sometimes talks about legally divorcing me and offering to pay a couple nice Norwegians to marry us so we can both get citizenship and move there. Call me old-fashioned, but I just don’t feel right about paying for my sham marriage.”
“Well, I guess you’ll just have to survive on Norwegian vacations, then,” I say.
Out of an abundance of caution, we opt for the beginner route, and we soon discover that this means that our “rafting trip” consists largely of sunbathing and floating with the current, sticking out our oars to shove off of rocks when we get too close, and amping up our rowing whenever a rapid crops up.
Lita, it turns out, remembers a lot more than she let on about Buck and the other people she lived with in the Tofino house, and she regales us with stories of people jumping off the roof onto a trampoline, and drunkenly giving each other stick-and-poke tattoos with red ink pens.
“Turns out some people are allergic to red ink,” she says. “Who knew?”
Every story she tells is more ludicrous than the last, and by the time we drag the raft onto the riverbank at the end of our route, my abs ache from laughing.
She wipes laugh-tears away from the just-starting-to-wrinkle corners of her eyes and heaves a contented sigh. “I can laugh because I survived it. Makes me happy knowing Buck did too.” She rubs her tummy. “Makes me so happy every time you find out how small the world is, you know? Like, we were in that place at the same time and now here we are. At different points in our lives but still connected. Like quantum entanglement or some shit.”