In this dim light, his eyes look almost sparkly, and his mouth goes soft. When he bends to press his forehead to mine, my whole body feels heavy, like my want is a weighted blanket pushing on me from every side, while his hands brush over my skin as softly as sunlight. His nose slides down the side of mine, the inch between our reaching, unsure mouths pulsing.
There is still a kind of plausible deniability to this, a chance we’ll let this moment pass without ever closing that final distance. But, as I listen to his unsteady breath, feel the way it tugs against me as his lips part, come closer, hesitate, I forget every reason I was trying to put this off.
We’re magnets, trying to draw together even as we cradle the careful distance between us. His hand skims over my jaw, gingerly angles it so that our noses graze against each other, testing this small gap between us, our open mouths tasting the air between us.
Every breath he takes now whispers against my bottom lip. Each of my shaky inhalations tries to draw him closer. This wasn’t supposed to happen, I think foggily.
Then, and more loudly, This had to happen.
This has to happen.
This is happening.
Four Summers Ago
THIS YEAR IS going to be different. I’ve been working for Rest + Relaxation magazine for six months. In that time, I’ve already been to:
Marrakech and Casablanca.
Martinborough and Queenstown.
Santiago and Easter Island.
Not to mention all the cities in the United States they’ve sent me to.
These trips are nothing like the ones Alex and I used to take, but I may have downplayed that when I pitched combining our summer trip with a work trip, because I want to see his reaction when we show up to our first resort with our ratty T.J. Maxx luggage only to be greeted with champagne.
Four days in Sweden. Four in Norway.
Not cold, exactly, but cool at least, and since I reached out to Lita the River Raft Guide’s expatriate sister-in-law, she’s been emailing me weekly with suggestions for things to do in Oslo. Unlike Lita, Dani has a steel-trap memory: she seems to recall every amazing restaurant she’s eaten at and knows precisely what to tell us to order. In one email, she ranks various fjords by a slew of criteria (beauty, crowdedness, size, convenience of location, beauty of the drive to the convenient/inconvenient location).
When Lita passed along her contact information, I was expecting to get a list with a specific national park and a couple of bars, maybe. And Dani did do that—in her first email. But the messages kept coming whenever she thought of something else we “absolutely could not leave without experiencing!”
She uses a lot of exclamation points, and while usually I think people fall back on this in an attempt to seem friendly and definitely-not-at-all-angry, each one of her sentences reads as a command.
“You must drink aquavit!”
“Be sure to drink it at room temperature, perhaps alongside a beer!”
“Have your room-temperature aquavit on the way to the Viking Ship Museum! DO NOT MISS THIS!”
Each new email burns its exclamation points into my mind, and I would be afraid to meet Dani, if not for the fact that she signs every email with xoxo, which I find so endearing that I’m confident we’ll like her a lot. Or I’ll like her a lot and Alex will be terrified.
Either way, I’ve never been more excited for a trip in my life.
In Sweden, there’s a hotel made entirely of ice, called (for some mysterious reason) Icehotel. It’s the kind of place Alex and I could never have afforded on our own, and all morning leading up to the pitch meeting with Swapna, I was sweating profusely at my desk—not normal sweat, but the horrible reeking kind that comes with anxiety. It’s not like Alex wouldn’t have gone along with another hot beachside vacation, but ever since I found out about Icehotel, I knew it would be the absolute perfect surprise for him.
I pitch the article as a “Cool Down for Summer” feature, and Swapna’s eyes light up approvingly.
“Inspired,” she says, and I see a few of the other, more established writers mouthing the word to one another. I haven’t been there long enough to notice her using that word, but I know how she is about trends, so I figure inspired is diametrically opposed to trendy in her mind.
She is fully on board. Just like that, I am cleared to spend way too much money. I can’t technically buy Alex meals or plane tickets or even admission to the Viking museum, but when you’re traveling with R+R, doors open for you, bottles of champagne you didn’t order float out to your table, chefs drop by with something “a little extra,” and life gets a bit shinier.
There’s also the matter of the photographer who will be traveling with us, but so far everyone I’ve worked with has been pleasant, if not fun, and every bit as independent as I am. We meet up, we plan shots, we part ways, and though I haven’t worked with the new photographer I’m paired with—we’ve been caught on opposite schedules of in-office days—Garrett, the other new staff writer, says Photographer Trey’s great, so I’m not worried.
Alex and I text incessantly in the weeks leading up to the trip, but never about the trip itself. I tell him I’m taking care of everything, that it’s all a surprise, and even if the lack of control is killing him, he doesn’t complain.
Instead he texts about his little black cat, Flannery O’Connor. Shots of her in shoes and cupboards and sprawled on the top of bookshelves.
She reminds me of you, he says sometimes.
Because of the claws? I ask. Or because of the teeth or because of the fleas, and every time, no matter what comparison I try to draw, he just writes back tiny fighter.
It makes me feel fluttery and warm. It makes me think about him pulling the hood of my sweatshirt tight around my face and grinning at me through the chilly dark, murmuring under his breath: cutie.