Tina’s apartment is old and ill-kept. The wind blows in through cracks beneath doors and windows, and bits of plaster occasionally fall from the ceiling. She has hung an old grey parachute from her bedroom walls to catch the falling pieces, and once a week she gathers the bits and tosses them from her window into the concrete patio that is her back yard. I have told her before that she needs to find a new place to live, but the rent is low, and she says she appreciates the feeling of decay that drifts through the air of the apartment.
It’s early, just past seven, and it feels colder inside her living room than it did out in the city air. Tina isn’t dressed for the chill, wearing short sleeves and short skirt, but then again the cold never does seem to bother her like it does other people. She claims to have sherpa blood in her veins.
“I’m not packed yet,” she says. “I didn’t get in until late.”
“We have time,” I say. “It’s only about a four hour drive.”
We are spending the holiday away from the city, as we have the past two years now. I have reserved us a room for a few days in Fort Bragg, close enough to drive to, but far enough away from home that no one will expect us for any social events. Our plan is to wander the coastline during the days, and to eat bad food and drink alcohol during the nights. Tina is bringing her camera, and I am bringing mine.
We are not holiday people.
“I got you a bubble tub,” I say.
“Jacuzzi,” she says. “It’s called a jacuzzi.”
“Jacuzzis are on a deck. If it’s in the bathroom, it’s a bubble tub.”
“You were raised by wolves.”
The kettle starts whistling in the kitchen, and we go to have our tea. It is a ritual for us on these vacations from everything, to remember how we first met, in a crowded cafe, where she sat at my small table without asking, and promptly spilled her tea across my book and coat sleeve. Of course we had dinner that night, because that is what one does after such a thing, and every night after that for a week. The holiday escapes began that first Christmas, and are now our tradition. There is a joy to be found in these trips together that could never be found in the black holes of our respective families.
Tina pours the water into our cups, and she puts our tea infusers—never tea bags—into them to steep. We sit at the kitchen table, because there can be nothing else to do when we are in the middle of our ritual.
She is lovely in the light coming through the window, but I don’t say it out loud. Our relationship has strange borders, and neither of us likes to press upon them to see where they twist and bend.
“I know you’re going to tell me to bring a coat,” she says. “So I will, but only in case it rains.”
“It’s only fair. I’m bringing one, after all.”
“If it’s not raining, I’m not wearing it.”
“Don’t listen to anything I have to say. I was raised by wolves, remember?”
We say nothing for a while, waiting for the tea to finish. Outside the window, a bird lands on the sill. It’s a tiny thing, made of red and blue and black. It peers in at us for a moment, then flits away out of sight.
Tina takes the infusers out of the cups, and of course the tea is perfect. It always is when she makes it. She blows lightly across the surface of her tea, then takes a sip, looking out into the space the bird had been in. Without turning to me, she says, “I might kiss you on this trip. I just wanted to tell you, so it wouldn’t be weird later.”
I don’t know how to reply to this, so I just say, “Okay,” and raise my cup to my lips. I have held her close in my arms as a friend, and the other night we slept together in my bed, only sleeping, nothing more. I have wondered what it would be like to kiss her, and my mind now plays over the familiar geography of that wishful thought.
“I’m bringing lights,” she says, pulling me back into the moment. “Christmas lights. For the hotel room. I want you to take some photos of me while we’re there.”
“Obviously I’m taking photos of you. I’m bringing my camera, aren’t I?”
“Just making sure.”
“I’m going to take some of you, too,” she says. “Don’t argue.”
I hate having my photo taken, but I won’t complain. She knows what she’s doing.
“I think we shouldn’t come back this time,” she says. “We should just get back in the car on Monday and start driving.”
“Where would we go?”
“Someplace with mountains. Real mountains. With snow on them.”
“Can’t be California,” I say. “There’s a drought, you know.”
“We’ll find a place. Close our eyes and point at a map.”
“I’ll have to get the cat first. I only got her a babysitter through the weekend. Don’t want her starving to death.”
“Yes, bring the cat. She can be our good luck charm.” She drains her teacup and stands to rinse it out in the sink. “I need to pack. Did you make a playlist for the drive?”
“Of course I did. We can’t rely on the radio. We aren’t barbarians.”
“We will be once we start drinking,” she says. “That’s my goal, anyway. A holiday to remember.” She puts her teacup on the counter beside the sink and then walks out of the kitchen.
I stay at the table, drink finished, but not wanting to stand just yet. I think again on the possibility of kissing Tina, of the redrawing of our borders that would come from it. Would we gain territory from the act, or would there be miles lost to it instead?
I carefully refold the map of us in my mind, and go to help Tina load her things into the car.