Just One Year (Just One Day #2)(10) by Gayle Forman

“Two of what he’s having,” I tell the bartender, and he pours us each a glass of teeth-achingly sweet brandy on the rocks.

“Good to see you again,” Jacques tells me.

“So you remember me?”

“Of course I remember you.” He squints, placing me. “Paris.” He belches and then pounds his chest with his fist. “Don’t look so surprised. It was only a few weeks ago.”

“It was three months ago.”

“Weeks, months. Time is so fluid.”

“Yes, I remember you saying that.”

“You want to charter the Viola? She’s dry for the season but we get wet again in May.”

“I don’t need a charter.”

“So what can I do for you?” He downs the rest of his drink and crunches hard on the ice. Then he starts in on the fresh one.

I don’t really have an answer for him. What can he do for me?

“I was with that American girl and I’m trying to get in touch with her. She didn’t by any chance get in touch with you?”

“The American girl. Oh yes, she did.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. She said to tell that tall bastard I’m done with him ’cause I’ve found myself a new man.” He points to himself. Then he laughs.

“So she didn’t get in touch with you?”

“No. Sorry, boy. She leave you high and dry?”

“Something like that.”

“You could ask those bastard Danes. One of them keeps texting me. Let me see if I can find it.” He pulls out a smartphone and starts fumbling with it. “My sister got me this, said it would help with navigation, bookings . . . but I can’t figure it out.” He hands it to me. “You try.”

I check his text queue and find a note from Agnethe. I open the text and there are several more before it, including pictures from last summer when they were cruising on the Viola. Most are of Jacques, in front of fields of yellow safflower, or cows, or sunsets, but there’s one shot I recognize: a clarinet player on a bridge over Canal Saint Martin. I’m about to hand the phone back when I see it: in the corner, a sliver of Lulu. It’s not her face, it’s the back of her—shoulders, neck, hair—but it’s her. A reminder that she’s not some fiction of my own making.

I’ve often wondered how many photos I’ve been accidentally captured in. There was another photo that day, not accidental at all. An intentional shot of Lulu and me that she’d asked Agnethe to take with her phone. Lulu had offered to send it to me. And I’d said no.

“Can I forward this to myself?” I ask Jacques.

“As you wish,” he says, with a wave of the hand.

I forward the shot to Broodje’s phone because it was true that mine won’t accept photo texts, though that wasn’t the reason I didn’t want the shot of Lulu and me when she offered it. It was automatic, that denial, a reflex almost. I had almost no pictures from the last year of my traveling. Though I’m sure I am in many people’s photos, I’m in none of my own.

In my rucksack, the one that got stolen on that train to Warsaw, had been an old digital camera. And on that camera were photographs of me and Yael and Bram from my eighteenth birthday. They were some of the last photos I had of the three of us together, and I hadn’t even discovered them until I was on the road, bored one night and going through all the shots on my memory stick. And there we were.

I should’ve had those pictures emailed somewhere. Or printed. Done something permanent. I planned to, I did. But I put it off and then my rucksack got nicked and it was too late.

The devastation caught me off guard. There’s a difference between losing something you knew you had and losing something you discovered you had. One is a disappointment. The other is truly a loss.

I didn’t realize that before. I realize it now.

Fourteen

Utrecht

On the ride back to Utrecht, I call Agnethe the Dane to see if Lulu sent her any photographs, if there had been any correspondence. But she hardly remembers who I am. It’s depressing. This day, so seared in my memory, is just another day to everyone else. And in any case, it was just one day, and it’s over now.

It’s over now with Ana Lucia, too. I can feel it, even if she can’t. When I come back, defeated, telling her soccer season is over, she is sympathetic, or maybe victorious. She’s full of kisses and cariños.

I accept them. But I know now it’s just a matter of time. In three weeks, she leaves for Switzerland. By the time she gets back, four weeks later, I will be gone. I make a mental note to get on that passport renewal.

It’s as if Ana Lucia senses all this. Because she starts pushing harder for me to join her in Switzerland. Every day, a new appeal. “Look how nice the weather is,” she says one morning as she gets ready for class. She opens her computer and reads me the weather report from Gstaad. “Sunny skies every day. Not even so cold.”

I don’t answer. Just force a smile.

“And here,” she says, clicking over to a travel site she likes and tilting the laptop toward me to show me pictures of snowy alps and painted nutcrackers. “Here it shows you all the things you can do besides skiing. You don’t have to sit at the lodge. We’re close to Lausanne or Bern. Geneva’s not even so far. We can go shopping there. It’s famous for watches. I know! I’ll buy you a watch.”

My whole body stiffens. “I already have a watch.”

“You do? I never see you wear it.”

It’s back at Bloemstraat, in my rucksack. Still ticking. I can almost hear it from here. And suddenly, three weeks feels too long.

“We should talk.” The words trip out before I know what to follow them with. Breaking up is not something I’ve done in a while. So much easier to kiss good-bye and catch a train.

“Not now,” she says, rising to apply lipstick in the mirror. “I’m already late.”

Okay. Not now. Later. Good. It will give me time to find the right words. There are always right words.

After she leaves, I get dressed, make a coffee, and sit down at her computer to check my email before I leave. The travel page she was on is still open, and I’m about to close the window when I see one of the banner ads. MEXICO!!! it screams. Outside, it’s cold and gray, but the pictures promise only warmth and sunshine.

I click on the link, and it takes me to a page listing several package holiday specials, not the kind of thing I’d ever do, but I feel warmer just looking at the beaches. And then I see some ads for trips to Cancún.

Cancún.

Where Lulu goes every year.

Where she has gone with her family to the same place every year. Her mother’s predictability, so exasperating to her, is now my best hope.

I pull up the details. Like everything from that day, they’re as fresh as wet paint. A resort fashioned like a Mayan temple. Like America behind walls with Christmas carols mariachi- style. Christmas. They went for the holidays. Christmas. Or was it New Year’s? I can just go for both!

Channeling W, I start searching for resorts in Cancún. One crystalline-water beach after the other flashes across the screen. There is no end to them, these megaresorts like Mayan fortresses and temples. She said it had some kind of river. I’d remembered wondering about that, a resort with a river. There aren’t any natural rivers running through Cancún. There are golf courses and swimming pools and diving cliffs, and waterslides. But rivers? I’m looking at the listing for Palacio Maya when I stumble across it. A lazy river, a kind of fake stream you ride on in an inflatable tube.

I narrow my search. There don’t seem to be that many resorts that look like Mayan temples and have lazy rivers. Four, that I can see. Four that Lulu might be staying at some time between Christmas and New Year’s.

Outside it’s pouring, but the sites brag that the weather in Mexico is hot, endless blue skies and sunshine. All this time, I’ve been stuck, trying to figure out where to go next. Why not here? To find her? I click over to an airline consolidator and look up the prices for two tickets to Cancún. Expensive, but then again, I can afford it.

I snap the computer shut, a list forming in my head. It seems so simple.

Get my passport.

Invite Broodje.

Buy the tickets.

Find Lulu.

Fifteen

By six o’clock that night, I’ve bought Broodje’s and my plane tickets and reserved us a room at a cheap hotel in Playa del Carmen. I feel flush with satisfaction, having accomplished more in this single day than I have in the last two months. There’s only one thing left to do.

“We need to talk,” I text Ana Lucia. She texts me right back, “I know what you want to talk about. Come by at 8.” I am limber with relief. Ana Lucia is smart. She knows, like I know, that whatever this is, it’s not a stain.

I buy a bottle of wine on my way over. No reason this can’t be civilized.

She greets me at the door, wearing a red bikini and redder lips. Taking the wine from my hand, she pulls me inside. There are lit votive candles everywhere, like a cathedral on a saint’s day. I get a bad feeling.

“Cariño, I understand it now. All that talk about how much you hate the cold. I should’ve guessed.”

“You should’ve guessed?”

“Of course you want to go somewhere warm. And you know my aunt and uncle are in Mexico City but what I can’t figure out is how you know about the villa on Isla Mujeres?”

“Isla Mujeres?”

“It’s beautiful. Right on the beach, with a pool and servants. They have invited us to stay there if we want, or we can stay on the mainland, though not at one of those cheap places,” She wrinkles her nose. “I insist to pay for the hotel, no arguments. Because it’s only fair you bought the tickets.”

“Bought the tickets.” All I can do is repeat.

“Oh cariño,” she coos. “You’ll meet my family, after all. They are going to throw us a party. My parents were upset about me canceling Switzerland but they understand the things you do for love.”

“For love,” I repeat although with a sickening feeling I’m starting to piece together what has happened. Her Internet browser. My entire search history. Tickets for two. The hotel. My smile is pulled taut, full of false sweetness. How can I find the words for this? A misunderstanding, I will tell her; the tickets are for a boys’ holiday, for me and Broodje, which is true.

“I know you wanted it to be a surprise,” she continues. “Now I know why you have been sneaking off on the telephone, but amor, we leave in three weeks, when did you plan to tell me?”

“Ana Lucia,” I begin. “There’s been a misunderstanding.”

“What do you mean?” she says. And the hope is still there, as if the misunderstanding is about a minor detail, like the hotel.

“Those tickets. They’re not for you. They’re for—”

She cuts me off. “It’s that other girl isn’t it? The one from Paris?”

Maybe I’m not so good an actor as I think. Because the way her expression has tectonically shifted from adoration to suspicion shows me that she’s probably always known. And I must be a terrible actor now, because even as my mouth starts to form a plausible explanation, my face must be giving it all away. I can tell it is by what’s happening to Ana Lucia’s face—her pretty features puckering into disbelief, and then into belief.

“Hijo de la gran puta! It’s the French girl? You’ve been with her all this time, haven’t you?” Ana Lucia screams. “That’s why you went to France?”

“It’s not what you think,” I say holding up my hands.

She flings open the sliding-glass door leading onto the quad. “It’s exactly what I think,” she says, shoving me out the door. I just stand there. She reaches for a candle and hurls it at me. It flies past me and lands on one of the throw pillow she keeps on the cement stoop. “You’ve been sneaking around all this time with that French whore!” Another candle whizzes by, landing in the shrubbery.

“You’re going to start a fire.”

“Good! I’ll burn the memory of you, culero!” She flings another candle at me.

The rain has stopped, and though it’s a chilly night, it seems as if half the college has now gathered around us. I try to bring her back inside, to calm her down. I am unsuccessful at both.

“I canceled my trip to Switzerland for you! My relatives arranged a party for you. And all along, you were sneaking off to see your French whore. In my land. Where my family lives.” She pounds on her bare chest, as if she’s claiming ownership not just of Spain but of all of Latin America.

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