“Why the hell not,” I say, and we get out of Marla’s car, watch her turn the Kia around in a fifteen-point turn, and start down the dark shoulder of the road toward home.
“I’m getting in that pool tonight,” Alex says.
“It’s probably closed,” I grunt.
“I’ll climb the fence,” Alex says.
A fizzy, tired chuckle moves through my chest. “Okay, I’m in.”
Five Summers Ago
OUR LAST NIGHT on Sanibel Island, I lie awake, listening to the rain thrum against the roof, replaying the week as if watching through a sheen that’s thick and hazy and ever rippling, trying to capture this one split second that seems to wink out of view every time I reach for it.
I see the stormy beaches. The Twilight Zone marathon Alex and I snooze through on the couch. The seafood place where he’d finally given me the grisly details of his and Sarah’s breakup—that she’d told him their relationship was about as exciting as the library where they’d met, before dumping him and leaving for a three-week yoga retreat. If she wants excitement, I’d said, I’m happy to key her car. My memory skips forward, to the bar called BAR, with its sticky floors and thatched fans, where I step out of the bathroom and see him at the bar, reading a book, and feel so much love I could split open, and how after I tried to jar him from his post-Sarah sadness with an over-the-top “Hey, tiger!”
Then there comes the moment that we ran through the downpour from BAR to our car, the ones spent listening to the windshield wipers squeak across the glass as we sliced through the torrential rain back to our rain-soaked bungalow.
I’m getting closer to that moment, that one I keep reaching for and coming up empty-handed, as if it were nothing but a bit of reflected light, dancing on the floor.
I see Alex asking to take a picture together, surprising me with the flash on the count of two instead of three. The both of us choking over laughter, moaning at the heinousness of our picture, arguing whether to delete it, Alex promising I don’t look anything like that, me telling him the same.
Then he says, “Next year let’s go somewhere cold.”
I say okay, that we will.
And here it comes, the moment that keeps slipping through my fingers, like it’s the game-changing detail in an instant replay I can’t seem to pause or slow down.
We are just looking at each other. There are no hard edges to grab hold of, no distinct markers on this moment’s beginning or end, nothing to separate it from the millions just like it.
But this, this is the moment I first think it.
I am in love with you.
The thought is terrifying, probably not even true. A dangerous idea to entertain. I release my hold on it, watch it slip away.
But there are points in the center of my palms that burn, scorched, proof I once held it there.
THE APARTMENT HAS become the seventh ring of hell, and there’s no sign Nikolai has been there. In the bathroom, I change into my bikini and an oversized T-shirt, then fire off another angry text demanding an update.
Alex knocks on the door when he’s finished changing in the living room, and we skulk down to the pool, towels in hand. We sneak over to check the gate first. “Locked,” Alex confirms, but I’ve just noticed the bigger problem.
“What. The. Hell.”
He looks up and sees it: the empty concrete basin of the pool.
Behind us, someone gasps. “Oh, hon, I told you it was them!”
Alex and I spin around as a middle-aged leathery-tanned couple comes bounding up. A redheaded woman in sparkly cork heels and white capris beside a thick-necked man with a shaved head and pair of sunglasses balanced on the back of his head.
“You called it, babe,” the man says.
“The Newwwwwlyweds!” the woman sings, and grabs me in a hug. “Why didn’t y’all tell us you were headed to the Springs?”
That’s when it clicks. Hubby and Wifey from the cab ride out of LAX.
“Wow,” Alex says. “Hi. How’s it going?”
The woman’s neon-orange fingernails release me, and she waves a hand. “Oh, you know. Was going good until this nonsense. With the pool.”
Hubby grunts agreement.
“What happened?” I ask.
“Some kid went and diarrhea’d in it! A lot, I guess, because they had to go and drain the whole thing. They say it should be up and running again tomorrow!” She frowns. “Of course, tomorrow, we’re off to Joshua Tree.”
“Oh, cool!” I say. It’s a strain to sound bright and chipper when really, my soul is quietly shriveling within the empty shell of my body.
“Won a free stay there.” She winks at me. “I’m good luck.”
“Sure are,” Hubby says.
“I’m not just saying that!” she goes on. “We won the lottery a few years back—not one of those quadrillion-dollar ones but a nice little chunk, and I swear, ever since then it’s like I win every raffle, sweepstakes, and contest I so much as look at!”
“Amazing,” Alex says. His soul, it sounds like, has also shriveled.
“Anyway! We’ll leave you two lovebirds to do your bidding.” She winks again. Or maybe her false eyelashes are just sticking together. Hard to say. “Just couldn’t believe what weird luck it was that we were staying in the same place!”
“Luck,” Alex says. He sounds like he’s in a bad-luck-induced trance. “Yeah.”
“It’s a tiny world, ain’t it?” Wifey says.
“It is,” I agree.