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The Vacation - Alex Antiuk





APRIL 27, 2023


I couldn’t believe there was not a single mention of tacos on their website. The photos on Google didn’t show a single tortilla. My fingers kept scrolling, desperately hoping while I thumbed the touchpad one would appear. 

This was going to be the greatest long weekend. But I still asked Bex, who was lounging on the couch, watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall on Tubi, with ads playing every five minutes, “What if this is a mistake?”

My voice trailed nervously. Bex had made it clear, “I won’t say yes in an Applebee’s…”

I had spent my tax return on a real ring, and hoped when she finished her chicken wing combo meal and giant, neon green cocktail she’d been happy enough to see past the construction workers at the bar, the local insurance tycoon - the lone suit wearer in town - and the hoards of overweight families who ate there weekly. I had a half eaten, overcooked steak in front of me when I reached into my pocket. I could feel the Kay Jewelers box, their logo deeply engraved in gold on the front. I took another large sip of my Diet Coke, moistening my throat for what I hoped would be the happiest moment of my life. But I froze, Bex had taken out her phone. She had a dented iPhone, with a slightly cracked screen. 

“Whatcha’ looking at?” I said. Bex didn’t say anything back, her fingers typing aggressively. 

“Come’on, Bex… We’re having dinner.”

Bex lifted up her head, throwing her phone down on the table. I could see frustration in her eyes, overpowering the sadness of spending her entire paycheck at Applebee’s.

Bex shoved her phone across the table. Her passcode was her birthday. I typed it in, before the screen brightly displayed a picture of a beach. I began to scroll, and saw there were also photos of comfortably looking lounge chairs, a big, bowling pin shaped pool, and giant drinks with gargantuan straws and umbrellas all over the website. I had to squint to see the name of the resort, and saw it was in Mexico, with the words, “All Inclusive” written in a big, bold font.

“Bex… You know I can’t afford…”

“I saw the receipt for the ring dodo… You left it right on the table with all the other junk from your pockets…”

My heart jumped a beat, sweat starting to drip off my forehead and onto the chimichurri I knew came straight from a factory, into a plastic bag, into the walk-in freezer and finally warmed delicately in a microwave and dropped onto my plate. I didn’t know what to say, I loved Bex. She had been the only person in my life who didn’t mind doing nothing, watching the free streaming channels with ads because I couldn’t afford a single paid plan. I didn’t have a cent to my name, my job at the factory putting bristles on toothbrushes was only ever going to give me enough money to make it to work the next day. I even had to split the bill on date night because I needed to make sure I had enough for gas and the pound of store brand turkey I bought each week for lunch.

“But… It’s way too expen…”

“Don’t care, I’m not telling my kids their dad popped the question in this sticky booth, with Kid Rock blasting and a waitress who won’t stop chewing gum.”

There was a look of disgust on Bex’s face, and I couldn’t believe what came out of my mouth next.

“Let’s go to Mexico!”

Bex’s expression didn’t move. She knew it wasn’t possible, there was no way I’d ever be able to afford it. I began to talk about the trip, how we’d leave in the middle of the night to make sure we got to enjoy every single moment, the giggles we’d share with warm sand in between our toes, the flip-flops I’d buy Bex at the mall before we left, and how I’d wait until the sun was setting, champagne on ice beside us, and a waiter I’d slipped a twenty to, to record the whole thing on her iPhone.

There was a long, nervous pause when I took another sip of Diet Coke to calm down. 

Bex was trying to believe, her widened brown eyes staring me down, attempting to talk herself into it.

The dream had always been to escape our hick town. And as I started to talk about how wonderful finding out what actual Mexican food tasted like, and how I’d come back looking like a tomato - leaving my pale body behind - I couldn’t hold back my smile.

This was going to be something the whole town talked about. No one from the middle of nowhere, with one street light and a single gas station ever left this place, let alone got on an airplane to paradise. It made me grin, and Bex saw my honest, excited teeth shine. Her own smile couldn’t resist any longer and joined. We grabbed each other's hands, holding tightly until the waitress came over and said, “You want a box to take this home, hun?”

The waitress’s hoarse voice echoed in my ear when I pulled up my credit card statement on our old computer. Exiting out of Google, I saw I was five dollars away from maxing it out. I wouldn’t even have enough money to buy a coffee at the airport. We’d have to beg Bex’s parents to give us a ride down state, and the longer I stared at the number I knew this wasn’t meant for us.

Vacations are only for those who don’t have to depend on leftovers from Applebee’s for lunch. Bex and I would stand out like sore thumbs, in our Walmart bathing suits, knowing paying rent next month might not happen. But when Bex came over, sat on my lap and pulled up on her phone the resort's menu, I saw a picture of a quesadilla. 

It was oozing melty cheese, covered in perfect, bright green guacamole and was perfectly toasted golden brown. I turned the computer off and happily looked at Bex. Her lips were perked up. I knew then that spending the next few months living out of our car was well worth having the greatest four days and three nights of our life.


***

 

Written by Alex Antiuk


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