The day is whooshing past, and an ache takes up residence beneath my clavicles that seems to deepen with the twilight. It’s like I’m experiencing the whole night twice over, two versions of the same film reel playing slightly overlapped.
There’s the me who’s here now, eating an incredible seven-course Vietnamese meal. The same one who’s chasing kids around the legs of oblivious adults, playing hide-and-seek with them and Alex under tables. The same one who’s chugging margaritas on the dance floor with Alex while “Pour Some Sugar on Me” plays at top volume and drops of sweat and champagne sprinkle over the crowd. The same one who’s pulling him close when the Flamingos come on, playing “I Only Have Eyes for You,” and who buries my face in his neck, trying to memorize his smell more thoroughly than the last twelve years have allowed, so I can summon it at will, and everything about this night will come rushing back: his hand tight on my waist, his mouth ajar against my temple, his hips just barely swaying as we hold on to each other.
There’s that Poppy, who’s experiencing it all and having the most magical night of her life. And then there’s the one who’s already missing it, who’s watching this all happen from some point in the distance, knowing I can never go back and do it all over again.
I’m too afraid to ask Alex what comes next. I’m too afraid to ask myself that. We love each other. We want each other.
But that hasn’t changed the rest of our situation.
So I just keep holding on to him and tell myself that, for now, I should enjoy this moment. I’m on vacation. Vacations always end.
It’s the very fact that it’s finite that makes traveling special. You could move to any one of those destinations you loved in small doses, and it wouldn’t be the spellbinding, life-altering seven days you spent there as a guest, letting a place into your heart fully, letting it change you.
The song ends.
The dance ends.
Not long after that, there are sparklers being lit in a long tunnel of people who love David and Tham, and then they’re running through it, their faces awash in warm light and deep love, and then, as if it’s a person drifting off to sleep, the night ends.
Alex and I say our goodbyes, loose enough from a night of drinking and dancing to hug dozens of people who were perfect strangers hours ago. We drive home in silence, and when we get there, Alex doesn’t shower, doesn’t even undress. We just get into bed and hold on to each other until we fall asleep.
* * *
• • •
THE MORNING IS better.
For one thing, we both forgot to set alarms, and we were up late enough that even Alex’s internal alarm clock doesn’t wake us in time to laze around the hotel. We’re running late from the moment we open our eyes, and there’s nothing to do but throw clothes into bags, check under the beds for dropped socks and bras and whatever else.
“We still have to take the Aspire back!” Alex realizes aloud as he’s zipping his luggage closed.
“On it!” I say. “If I can get ahold of the girl who owns it, maybe she’ll let us leave it at the airport and pay her an extra fifty bucks or something.”
But we don’t get ahold of her, so instead we’re screaming down the highway, crossing our fingers we make it to the airport in time.
“Really regretting not showering now,” Alex says as he rolls his window down and rakes a hand through his dirty hair.
“Showering?” I say. “When I was falling asleep, I had the thought, I have to pee, but I’ll hold it until morning.”
Alex glances over his shoulder. “I’m sure you left an empty cup in here at some point this week, if things get desperate.”
“Rude!” I say, but he’s right. There’s one under my foot and another in the back seat’s cup holder. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. I’m not a famously good shot.”
He laughs, but it’s wooden. “This is not how I imagined this day going.”
“Me neither,” I say. “But then again, the whole trip was sort of surprising.”
At that, he smiles, grips my hand against the gearshift, and lifts it to his lips a few seconds later, holding it there but not quite kissing it.
“What, am I sticky?” I ask.
He shakes his head. “Just want to remember what your skin feels like.”
“That’s really sweet, Alex,” I say, “and not at all something a serial killer would say.”
I’m deflecting, but I’m not sure how else to handle this. A mad dash, together, to the airport. A hasty goodbye at our gates—or maybe just splitting off and running in opposite directions. It’s the exact antithesis of every rom-com movie I’ve ever loved, and if I let myself think about it, I think I might have a full-blown panic attack.
By a miracle and a fair amount of speeding (and yes, bribing an Uber driver to skim through a few late-yellow lights after dropping off the Aspire), we make it to the airport and get checked into our flights. Mine leaves fifteen minutes after Alex’s, so we head to his gate first, detouring to buy a couple granola bars and the latest issue of R+R from a bookstore in the terminal.
We get to his gate just as boarding begins, but we have a few minutes until his group is called, so we stand there, panting, sweaty, shoulders sore from carrying our bags, my ankle scuffed from accidentally whacking it into my hard-shell carry-on bag every few steps.
“Why are airports so hot?” Alex says.
“Is this the set-up for a joke?” I ask.
“No, I genuinely want to know.”
“Compared to Nikolai’s apartment, this is arctic, Alex.”
His smile is tense. Neither one of us is handling this well.
“So,” he says.