People We Meet on Vacation

Page 65

“Anyway, y’all enjoy the rest of your trip!” She squeezes one of each of our shoulders and Hubby nods, and then they’re off and we’re left standing in front of the empty pool.

After three silent seconds, I say, “I’ll try to call Nikolai again.”

Alex says nothing. We go back upstairs. It’s ninety degrees. Not metaphorically. It’s literally ninety degrees. We don’t turn on any lights except the one in the bathroom, like even one more illuminated bulb could get us to an even hundred degrees.

Alex stands in the middle of the room, looking miserable. It’s too hot to sit on anything, to touch anything. The air feels different, stiff as a board. I dial Nikolai repeatedly as I pace.

The fourth time he rejects the call, I let out a scream and stomp back to the kitchenette for the scissors.

“What are you doing?” Alex asks. I just storm past to the balcony and stab the plastic sheeting. “That’s not going to help,” he says. “It’s as hot out there as it is in here tonight.”

But I can’t be reasoned with. I’m hacking away at the plastic, cutting down giant strip after giant, tattered strip and tossing them onto the ground. Finally half of the balcony is open to the night air, but Alex was right. It doesn’t matter.

It is so hot I could melt. I march back inside and splash my face with cold water.

“Poppy,” Alex says, “I think we should check into a hotel.”

I shake my head, too frustrated to speak.

“We have to,” he says.

“That’s not how this is supposed to go,” I bite out, a sudden throb going through my eye.

“What are you talking about?” he says.

“We’re supposed to do this how we used to!” I say. “We’re supposed to be keeping things cheap and—and rolling with the punches.”

“We have rolled with a lot of punches,” Alex insists.

“Hotels cost money!” I say. “And we’re already going to have to drop two hundred to get that horrible car a new tire!”

“You know what costs money?” he says. “Hospitals! We’re gonna die if we stay here.”

“This isn’t how it’s supposed to go!” I half shout, a broken record.

“It’s how it’s going!” he fires back.

“I just wanted it to be how it used to be!” I say.

“It’s never going to be like that!” he snaps. “We can’t go back to that, okay? Things are different, and we can’t change that, so just stop! Stop trying to force this friendship back to what it used to be—it’s not going to happen! We’re different now, and you have to stop pretending we aren’t!”

His voice breaks off, eyes dark, jaw taut.

There are tears blurring my vision, and my chest feels like it’s being sawed in half as we stand there in the half dark, facing off in silence, breathing hard.

Something disrupts the silence. A low, distant rumble, and then, a quiet tap-tap-tapping.

“Do you hear that?” Alex’s voice is a dim rasp.

I give one uncertain nod, and then another rumble shivers out. Our eyes find each other’s, wide and desperate. We run to the edge of the balcony.

“Holy shit.” I throw my arms out to catch the falling rain. I start to laugh. Alex joins in.

“Here.” He grabs the remainder of the plastic sheeting and starts to tear into it. I retrieve the scissors from the café table and we hack away the rest of the plastic, tossing it over our shoulders, the rain pouring in freely, until finally, it’s all out of our way. We stand back with our faces tilted up and let the rain wash over us. Another laugh bubbles up in me, and when I look over at Alex, he’s watching me, his smile wide for two beats before it disintegrates into concern.

“I’m sorry,” he says, voice quiet under the rain. “I just meant . . .”

“I know what you meant,” I say. “You were right. We can’t go back.”

His teeth skim over his bottom lip. “I mean . . . would you really want to?”

“I just want . . .” I shrug.

You, I think.



You. Say it.

I shake my head. “I don’t want to lose you again.”

Alex reaches out for me, and I go to him, let him catch my hips and pull me in. I press myself against his damp T-shirt as he wraps his arms around me and lifts me up and into him. I push up onto tiptoes and he holds me there, his face buried into my neck, and my oversized T-shirt soaking through. I thread my arms around his waist and shiver as his hands slide up my back, catching on the lump where my bathing suit ties are knotted under my shirt.

Even after a full day of sweating, he smells so good, feels so good against me and underneath my hands. Combined with the intense relief of the desert rain, this has me feeling light-headed, spinny, uninhibited. My hands skim up his neck and slip into his hair, and he draws back enough to look me in the face, but neither of us lets go, and all the stress and worry has left his brow and jaw just as it’s lifted from my body like steam.

“You won’t lose me,” he says, voice dimmed by the rain. “As long as you want me, I’m here.”

I swallow down the lump in my throat, but it keeps rising. Trying to keep the words inside. It would be a mistake to say them, right? We tell each other everything, but there are some things that can’t be unsaid, just like there are things that couldn’t be undone.

His hand rises to sweep a damp curl out of my eyes, tucking it behind my ear. The lump seems to melt, and the truth slips out of me like a breath I’ve been holding all this time.

“I always want you, Alex,” I whisper. “Always.”

Tip: You can use left and right keyboard keys to browse between pages.