My T-shirt and hair have both dried out, and when I go to sit out on the (non-plastic-wrapped) balcony of our new room, I realize that’s already mostly dry too.
Any sign of the rain that broke the heat has burned off, like it never happened.
Except that my lips feel bruised and my body is more relaxed than I’ve been all week. And the air is lighter too, breezy even.
“All yours,” Alex says behind me.
When I turn, he’s standing there in his towel looking shiny-clean and perfect. My pulse quickens at the sight of him, but I’m aware of how filthy I am, so I swallow my want, stand up, and say, “Cool!” too loudly.
To put it lightly, I don’t enjoy showering.
Being clean, yes. The act of being in the shower, also yes. But everything about having to brush out my tangled hair beforehand, stepping out onto a ratty bath mat or tile floors, getting dry, combing my hair out again—I hate all of that, which means I’m a three-shower-a-week person to Alex’s one to two showers a day.
But taking this shower, after the week we’ve had so far, is absolutely luxurious.
Standing in hot, hot water within a cold, cold bathroom, watching legitimate dirt and grime drip off me and swirl around the drain in shimmery gray spirals, is life giving. Massaging coconut-scented shampoo into my scalp and green-tea-scented cleanser onto my face, and running a cheapo razor up my legs, feels divine.
It’s the longest shower I’ve taken in months, and when I finally emerge from the bathroom feeling like a new woman, Alex is fast asleep in one of the beds, on top of the bedding with all the lights still on.
For a second, I debate which bed to climb into. In general, I love being able to sprawl out in a queen bed on these trips, but there’s a big portion of me that wants to curl up next to Alex, fall asleep with my head in the crook of his shoulder where I can smell his clean, bergamot smell, maybe conjure up a dream about him.
In the end, though, I decide it’s too creepy to assume he wants to share a bed with me just because we hooked up.
The last time anything happened between us, there certainly wasn’t any bed sharing afterward. There was just chaos.
I’m determined that this won’t end up like that. No matter what happened or happens between us on this trip, I won’t let it ruin our friendship. I won’t make assumptions about what any of this means or foist any expectations onto Alex.
I pull the striped comforter up over him, flick off the lights, and climb into the empty bed across from his.
Three Summers Ago
HEY, ALEX TEXTS me the night before we leave for Tuscany.
Hey yourself, I write back.
Can you talk for a sec? Just want to finalize some stuff.
Immediately, I think he’s calling to cancel. Which doesn’t make sense.
For the first time in years we’re set to have a tension-free trip. We’re both in committed relationships, our friendship is better than ever, and I have never been so happy in my life.
Three weeks after my pneumonia debacle, I met Trey. A month after that, Alex and Sarah were back together—he says it’s better this time, that they’re on the same page. Nearly as important, this time around she seems to have finally started warming to me, and the few times that Alex and Trey have met, they’ve gotten along too. So once again, as always, I’ve come to the place of being so, so ecstatically happy that Alex and I never let anything happen between us.
I start to text him back, then decide to just call him from the folding chair on my balcony instead since I’m home alone. Trey’s still at Good Boy Bar, up the street from my new apartment, but I came home early after a bout of nausea, a warning sign of an oncoming migraine I need to fight off before our flight.
Alex answers on the second ring, and I say, “Everything okay?”
I can hear his turn signal going. Okay, so maybe we’re back to him calling me from the car, on his way home from the gym, but things really do seem better. For one thing, they sent me a joint birthday card. And Christmas card. She not only followed me back on Instagram but she likes my photos—even comments little hearts and smiley faces on some of them.
So I thought things were good, but now Alex skips right over hello and goes straight to, “We’re not making a mistake, are we?”
“Um,” I say, “what?”
“I mean, a couples’ trip. That’s sort of intense.”
I sigh. “How so?”
“I don’t know.” I can hear the anxiety in his voice, imagine him grimacing, tugging at his hair. “Trey and Sarah have only met once.”
In the spring, Trey and I flew to Linfield so he could meet my parents. Dad wasn’t impressed by the tattoos or the holes in Trey’s ears from the gauges he got when he was seventeen, or that he turns Dad’s questions around on him, or that he doesn’t have a degree.
But Mom was impressed by his manners, which really are top-notch. Although I think for her, it had more to do with the juxtaposition of his appearance with his easy, warm way of saying things like, “Excellent s’mores cake, Ms. Wright!” and “Can I help you with the dishes?”
By the end of the weekend, she’d decided he was a very nice young man, and when I sneaked out onto the deck to get Dad’s opinion while Trey and Mom were inside dishing up homemade Funfetti cake, Dad looked me in the eye with a solemn nod and said, “I suppose he seems right for you. And he obviously makes you happy, Pop. That’s all that matters to me.”
He does make me happy. So happy. And he is right for me. Freakily so. I mean, we work together. We get to spend pretty much every day together, either in the office or halfway around the world, but we’re also both independent, like having our own apartments, our own friends. He and Rachel get along, but when Trey and I are in the city, he’s mostly hanging with his skateboarding friends while Rachel and I are trying a new brunch place or reading in the park or having our whole bodies scrubbed raw in our favorite Korean spa.