People We Meet on Vacation - Emily Henry
Five Summers Ago
ON VACATION, YOU can be anyone you want.
Like a good book or an incredible outfit, being on vacation transports you into another version of yourself.
In your day-to-day life, maybe you can’t even bob your head to the radio without being embarrassed, but on the right twinkly-light-strung patio, with the right steel drum band, you’ll find yourself whirling and twirling with the best of them.
On vacation, your hair changes. The water is different, maybe the shampoo. Maybe you don’t bother to wash your hair at all, or brush it, because the salty ocean water curls it up in a way you love. You think, Maybe I could do this at home too. Maybe I could be this person who doesn’t brush her hair, who doesn’t mind being sweaty or having sand in all her crevices.
On vacation, you strike up conversations with strangers, and forget that there are any stakes. If it turns out impossibly awkward, who cares? You’ll never see them again!
You’re whoever you want to be. You can do whatever you want.
Okay, so maybe not whatever you want. Sometimes the weather forces you into a particular situation, such as the one I’m in now, and you have to find second-rate ways to entertain yourself as you wait out the rain.
On my way out of the bathroom, I pause. Partly, this is because I’m still working on my game plan. Mostly, though, it’s because the floor is so sticky that I lose my sandal and have to hobble back for it. I love everything about this place in theory, but in practice, I think letting my bare foot touch the anonymous filth on the laminate might be a good way to contract one of those rare diseases kept in the refrigerated vials of a secret CDC facility.
I dance-hop back to my shoe, slip my toes through the thin orange straps, and turn to survey the bar: the press of sticky bodies; the lazy whorl of thatched fans overhead; the door propped open so that, occasionally, a burst of rain rips in off the black night to cool the sweating crowd. In the corner, a jukebox haloed in neon light plays the Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes for You.”
It’s a resort town but a locals’ bar, free of printed sundresses and Tommy Bahama shirts, though also sadly lacking in cocktails garnished with spears of tropical fruit.
If not for the storm, I would’ve chosen somewhere else for my last night in town. All week long the rain has been so bad, the thunder so constant, that my dreams of sandy white beaches and glossy speedboats were dashed, and I along with the rest of the disappointed vacationers have spent my days pounding piña coladas in any crammed tourist trap I could find.
Tonight, though, I couldn’t take any more dense crowds, long wait times, or gray-haired men in wedding rings drunkenly winking at me over their wives’ shoulders. Thus I found myself here.
In a sticky-floored bar called only BAR, scouring the meager crowd for my target.
He’s sitting at the corner of BAR’s bar itself. A man about my age, twenty-five, sandy haired and tall with broad shoulders, though so hunched you might not notice either of these last two facts on first glance. His head is bent over his phone, a look of quiet concentration visible in his profile. His teeth worry at his full bottom lip as his finger slowly swipes across the screen.
Though not Disney World–level packed, this place is loud. Halfway between the jukebox crooning creepy late-fifties tunes and the mounted TV opposite it, from which a weatherman shouts about record-breaking rain, there’s a gaggle of men with identical hacking laughs that keep bursting out all at once. At the far end of the bar, the bartender keeps smacking the counter for emphasis as she chats up a yellow-haired woman.
The storm’s got the whole island feeling restless, and the cheap beer has everyone feeling rowdy.
But the sandy-haired man sitting on the corner stool has a stillness that makes him stick out. Actually, everything about him screams that he doesn’t belong here. Despite the eighty-something-degree weather and one-million-percent humidity, he’s dressed in a rumpled long-sleeve button-up and navy blue trousers. He’s also suspiciously devoid of a tan, as well as any laughter, mirth, levity, etc.
I push a fistful of blond waves out of my face and set off toward him. As I approach, his eyes stay fixed on his phone, his finger slowly dragging whatever he’s reading up the screen. I