“Look, I’m afraid it’s bad news,” he says. “The AC’s out.”
No shit, I just barely keep myself from saying.
“Not just for this unit, but this whole wing,” he says. “We’ve got someone coming out first thing in the morning, but I feel real bad about the delay.”
Alex appears at my shoulder. At this point, Nikolai seems to clock that we’re both soaking wet and rumpled, but luckily, he says nothing about it. “Anyway, I feel real, real bad,” he repeats. “I thought you two were just being difficult, to be quite frank, but when I got here . . .” He tugs on the collar of his shirt and shudders.
“Anyway, I’m refunding you for the last three days, and . . . well, I hesitate to tell you to come back tomorrow, in case things don’t get sorted out.”
“That’s fine!” I say. “If you refund the whole trip, we’ll find someplace else to stay.”
“You sure?” he says. “Things can get pretty pricey when you book last minute like that.”
“We’ll figure something out,” I insist.
Alex bumps an arm against my back. “Poppy’s an expert on traveling on the cheap.”
“That so?” Nikolai couldn’t sound less interested. He pulls out his phone and types with one finger. “Refund’s issued. Not sure how long it’ll take, so lemme know if there’s a problem.”
Nikolai turns to go but swivels back. “Almost forgot—found this on the welcome mat outside.” He hands us a piece of paper folded in half. In looping cursive, it says on the front THE NEWLYWEDS with, like, twenty-five little hearts drawn around it.
“Congrats on the nuptials,” Nikolai says, and lets himself out.
“What is it?” Alex asks.
I unfold the piece of paper. It’s a Groupon printed in shoddy black ink. At the top, scrawled in the margin in the same handwriting as on the front, is a note.
Hope y’all don’t think it’s creepy we figured out what apartment you were in! We thought we might’ve heard the sounds of passion coming from this one. ;) Also Bob said he saw you leaving this morning (we are three doors down). Anyway! We have to take off bright and early for the next stage of our vacation (Joshua Tree!!! Yay! I feel like a celebrity just writing that!) and unfortunately we never got a chance to use this. (Barely made it out of our bedroom—you two will know how it is, LOL.) Hope y’all have a great rest of your trip!
Xoxo, your fairy godparents, Stacey & Bob
I blink at the voucher, stunned. “It’s a one-hundred-dollar gift certificate,” I say. “For a spa. I think I read about this place. It’s supposed to be amazing.”
“Wow,” Alex says. “Feeling kind of bad that I didn’t even remember their names.”
“They didn’t address it to us directly,” I point out. “I doubt they know ours either.”
“And yet they gave us this anyway,” Alex says.
“I wonder if there’s a way we could create a long-lasting friendship with them, get super close, take trips together, all of it, and keep them from ever finding out our names. Just for fun.”
“We absolutely could,” Alex says. “You just have to make it long enough that it’s too awkward to ask. I had so many ‘friends’ like that in college.”
“Oh, god, yeah, and then you have to use that trick where you ask two people if they’ve been introduced, and wait for them to say their names.”
“Except sometimes, they just say yes,” Alex points out. “Or they say no, but just keep waiting for you to introduce them.”
“Maybe they’re doing the exact same thing,” I say. “Maybe those people don’t even remember their names.”
“Well, I doubt I’ll ever forget Stacey and Bob now,” Alex says.
“I doubt I’ll forget much about this trip,” I say. “Except the gift shop in the dinosaur. That can go, if I need to make room for more important things.”
Alex smiles down at me. “Agreed.”
After an awkward beat of silence, I say, “So. Should we find a hotel?”
THE LARREA PALM Springs Hotel is seventy dollars a night in the summer, and even in the dark, it looks like a kid’s Magic Marker drawing. In a good way.
The outside is an explosion of colors—banana-yellow pool cabanas, hot-sauce-red chaises lined up around the water, each block of the three-story building painted a different shade of pink, red, purple, yellow, green.
The room we check into is every bit as lively: orange walls and drapes and furniture, green carpet, striped bedding matched to the building’s exterior. Most important, it’s very cold.
“You want to shower first?” Alex asks as soon as we’re inside. I realize then that the whole drive over—and before that, when we were packing our stuff up, tidying Nikolai’s apartment—he’s been waiting to be clean, suppressing a desire to say over and over again, God, I need a shower, while all I was doing was thinking about what happened on the balcony and going hot all over.
I don’t want Alex to go take a shower right now. I want to get in the shower together and make out some more.
But I also remember him confiding once that he hated shower sex (worse than outdoor sex) because when he was in the shower, he just wanted to be clean, and that was hard to do with someone else’s hair and dirt pouring down you, while the sex part was just as challenging because there was constantly soap in your eyes or you were brushing up against the wall and thinking about the last time the tiles were cleaned, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
So I just say, “Go for it!” and Alex nods but hesitates, like maybe he’s going to say something, but ultimately decides not to and disappears into the bathroom for a long, hot shower.