“Wanderlust”

AM I some sort of freak? What a question for Jessica to ask herself, even at…what was the time? Seven-forty three? What a question to ask at 7:43 in the morning. But not only was she awake and alert enough to ask it, but it genuinely bothered her. Here she was, on vacation—a Friday, at that!—in a hotel, fully rested from an exhausting first day on the road…and yet she had woken of her own accord, without alarms, without any real need to wake up so early, at…7:45, was it now…with time to contemplate how bizarre this behavior was.

Oh, shame shame.

There was no use in going back to sleep. Coffee and a cold shower wouldn’t have been so effective. She sat up, worked out all the kinks, stretched, and took in her surroundings. The aroma of a sterile hotel room only recently invaded. A little closet with a skeletal assortment of clothes. A little bathroom with little toiletries. A little fridge, a good-sized television, spacious beds, humongous curtains. Unfamiliar ceiling. Gentle hissing, some muffled voices, a dim light. Hello! She had the whole bed to herself. Night clothes were on the floor and chairs. The bathroom door was closed.

“They jumped in the shower without letting me know first,” she deduced. “Well, joke’s on them. I’ve got first dibs on breakfast!” She made sure she was at least capable of roaming about in polite society before leaving and locking the room, and headed over to the dining room to partake in that greatest of all hotel standards, the continental breakfast.

She had just wedged the melon slice in between two hard-boiled eggs and a banana nut muffin when she realized she had left the room with nothing but her clothes. No books, no music player, no phone, no distractions whatever. There was a television in the dining room, but it only showed the news, and frankly, Jessica wanted none of that. She claimed a table and turned the television off, leaving herself completely at the mercy of her own company. At first, she tackled the problem of her hunger, and it was a considerable problem. She almost immediately fell into the habit of reaching for her phone, then checked herself. Might there be some newspaper, some magazine to keep her mind occupied in this room…?

She stopped herself from looking and smirked at the golden opportunity put before her. Jessica was of the mind that people and society in general were always too busy, too rushed, filling their days with too much meaningless fluff. They always complained about never having enough time to do what they wanted, or to even rest—and if they ever got that chance, what did they do but slide back into that ugly habit of keeping themselves “busy”? Why? Were they afraid to relax? To soak in the world around them? To just do “nothing”? Well, Jessica would have none of that. She took that moment and allowed the silence and stillness and isolation into her life. But first, the food needed to go.

Soon she was left with nothing but a tepid cup of coffee and her own thoughts. Why did people obsess so much over filling their days with activity? Work and leisure were another matter; Jessica gave the necessity of labor and recreation a pass. But even factoring in sleep, the human body had a good six or so hours all to themselves; why not use one of those, or even half of one, for…nothing? Just to sit. Well, time to lead by example. She meditated on the kind of work needed to make the wall not three feet from her. How many people had to go in and out of this building just to make that buffet. The story behind the people doing the deliveries. Whether or not the magazine writers had dogs. The Electrician’s Tale, by Geoffrey Chaucer. The Merry Wives of the Pool-Cleaning Service, Act 2. Ceiling Painting 101.

How on Earth could people ever fill their days with anything else? There were too many things to wonder about while doing nothing. Jessica very well could have meditated in that dining room all day. She smirked to herself again. No doubt Kali and Vikki would appreciate all that extra time alone. Hmm…how troubling. Now their dubious relationship took center stage in her thoughts. In all honesty, they had not been friends very long. A few months ago, the name Kaliope Andropolis meant nothing. Now she was the Aramis to their Porthos and Athos (“More like D’Artagnian!” she could hear Vikki exclaiming). Jessica had known Vikki since time immemorial, and that relationship never needed any additions. Meeting Kali had been serendipitous: she had needed their help, and they, or at least Vikki, had willingly complied. That adventure had ended well, but they were still close with Kali. Why? Well, maybe Vikki just needed someone else to “be herself” with. For everyone else, she was the Alpha, the Queen Bee, the Prom Queen fashionista, whatever you want to call it. And she was all of that for those first few weeks with Kali, but now?

Now she was only Victoria Williams. And that was something far more frightening and beautiful.

They’re like two peas in a pod, Jessica thought as she left the dining room. Once again, I’m left out of it. I’m the freak of the relationship. But I take that title with pride. I’m nothing like either of them. I’m the silence in their noise. I’m the shadows in their light. I’m the reason in their madness. I’m the one they call for when they’ve had too much, or gone too far, or need a…

She smiled, opening the door to their room. Kali and Vikki were out of the bathroom, wearing nothing but towels, laughing and chattering. Jessica kept her smile as they noticed her, and rolled her eyes.

“Hey, FYI, breakfast is still being served, but you only have like an hour.”

“Oh! Um, we were, um…”

“No need for explanations, I get it. As long as you left me some hot water.”

“Yeah, there should be plenty,” Kali said. “That body wash is almost gone, though.”

“It sucked, anyway,” Vikki added. Jessica smirked.

“Guess I didn’t miss much, then. …Or did I?”

“Mind out of the gutter, please. We just shared a shower, that’s all.”

“Hey, I fully believe you,” she laughed, not without some irony, as she cloistered herself inside the steamy room.

……

“Next time, we need to find a hotel with a spa,” Vikki mentioned as they left for their car.

“Preach, sister, preach,” Jessica added. Kali seemed more reserved as she got in the driver’s seat.

“Do we have the money for it? After that balloon ride and he hotel, I can’t imagine we’re swimming in dough.” Vikki grunted and rolled her eyes.

“Ugh, can we please stop bitching about money? I understand that’s why we couldn’t go to Vegas, but please don’t let that spoil our good time, okay?”

“It’s a legitimate question,” Kali grumbled defensively. There was an uneasy silence as they rolled back out on the highway and trusted themselves to Kali’s wanderlust. She knew a few places in Los Angeles that would interest her friends, but right now she felt the need to coast, to just go “nowhere”, to drive until something unusual caught her eye—or at least until the tension smoothed over. She was in a bucolic mood, and wanted to drive until they hit some real country, but Los Angeles was a huge city, and with their lackadaisical method of travel, they would probably not get anywhere. Jessica and Victoria patiently relaxed, the former sharing her early morning insight while the latter listened with keen interest. Kali added her own thoughts whenever she felt them relevant; eventually things quieted down again.

“Wow,” Jessica said at length, “when you said you wanted to just drive around, you weren’t kidding.”

“I’m waiting for something to jump out at me and grab my interest.”

“Just go into the first place you find,” Vikki said lazily. “Adventure will follow.”

They came across a steel works factory, off limits to the general public. Next.

Following that was an elementary school. Pass.

“Hey, a flea market,” Jessica pointed. “We could stop there.”

“Seems shitty,” Vikki grumbled. The structure had certainly seen better days; it was half-covered with rust and lichen. Kali pulled into the parking lot anyway.

“Hey, you never know what you’ll find at places like this. It’s been ages since I’ve been to one. I think they only take cash, though. You ladies got any?”

“I have exactly thirty-two dollars and nine cents,” Jessica grumbled. Vikki grinned.

“Behold my Franklin Badge!”

“That’s it? I thought you were richer than us, Vicks.”

“Oh, Ben here’s just for quick emergencies. I’ve got three credit cards just gathering dust in my purse.”

“Dare we inquire their limits? Not that they’ll do us much good in here, anyway.”

“Shush, let’s stretch our legs.” Victoria might not have been enthusiastic about its appearance, but she never passed down an opportunity to shop, and before long she was eagerly leading the way. Kali hung back with Jessica, who was more curious than enthusiastic. The flea market’s smell hit them long before anything else: it was simultaneously rotten and fragrant, with scintillating perfumes of cedar, pine, hay, and countless trinkets dug out of every possible corner and crevice imaginable; but there was something repugnant, repulsive, even nauseating about the fragrance. Everything seemed stale and stagnant, covered with dust, rust, and age, and the people milling about weren’t helping things at all. When they finally managed to find Victoria, leaning over a glass figurines case, they couldn’t tell if she was ecstatic or merely preparing to vomit.

“Oh, wow, I haven’t seen one of these in ages!” she squealed, feeling healthy again, as she zeroed in on a new target. The woman was soon lost, and little outside of brute force would be able to pull her away from her hunt. Kali just smiled weakly and shook her head. Jessica was showing much more restraint—mostly because she didn’t want to spend more money than necessary. She considered photographs and stories a better souvenir than any chintzy article they might stumble across.

“Hey, Jess,” Kaliope said, pulling on her elbow gently, “can I talk to you for a moment?”

“Sure. Ears open, mouth closed. And eyes crossed.” Kali couldn’t help but giggle; she wished she could cross her eyes. The silly behavior helped ease her into what would doubtless be a difficult conversation.

“All right, um…how do I explain this? You know how earlier this morning, Vikki and I were…in the shower. Together.”

“Yeah.”

“Is that common for her?”

“I’ve shared it with her a few times. But we’ve known each other since the Bronze Age.”

“Oh. So does she have other friends she…?”

“Possibly. Victoria’s very popular, in and out of school. Why do you ask? Does it make you uncomfortable?”

“I think I’ve done a good job of fitting in with you two,” she tittered sheepishly. “Well, while we were in there, she…um, well, she kissed me. On the lips. For about three seconds or so. And she touched my breasts.”

“Yeah, Vikki’s not very good with personal boundaries. Don’t worry, you’re certainly not the first she’s done that with. Vikki was my first kiss, to be honest.”

“So she’s bisexual?” Kali blushed, and if that were true…well! Nobody would ever believe that the object of so many boys’ affections straddled the proverbial fence. Jessica, however, shrugged.

“Vikki’s a weird one. I’ve always chalked it up to being affectionate, though. For a long time, it was just the two of us, so she’s always treated me specially. You’re the first person she’s befriended who’s A: not intimidated by her…”

“Not as much,” Kali admitted shyly.

“…And B: has a lot in common with her. Can you really blame her for her behavior?”

“I just thought it was weird. I, um…I think I’m a little attracted to her. Just a smidge.”

“Get in line, Andropolis,” Jessica grinned, ruffling Kali’s hair. She winked and added, “Come on, let’s see if we can’t reign her in. She’ll buy out this whole place if we’re not careful.”

……

Victoria ended up getting a few cheap books and bottles of fragrance, as well as a bundle of chokers with bells on them, which apparently she could not live without. She had enough money left over for lunch, which they took at a local Intelligentsia (complete with poetry recitals and some musical accompaniment), then they continued their aimless journey, taking pictures of everything that seemed worthy of the effort (“And more selfies than Rembrandt’s entire portfolio,” Kali had noted). There was a pasture with llamas, a general store called Schnook’s, a former Blockbuster video with the sign still attached, a small cemetery, and even an honest-to-goodness ranch. They swung by a small park and took a walk, wondering who the statue by the fountain was portraying; they poked inside a little museum dedicated to some obscure bit of Californian history; they passed by a restaurant with nothing but police cars in the lot; they saw a palm tree displaced by the wind, blocking a bit of the road.

“Ooh!” Kali exclaimed suddenly. She moved into the right lane and took a turn, waking Victoria up from a nap.

“What’s up?” Jessica said, before adding, “Ooh!” Victoria grumbled.

“Hmm? We at the beach? Ooh!” Kali smiled as they parked. She couldn’t remember the last time she had went miniature golfing.

“Three, please,” she said at the kiosk. She winked at her friends as she handed them their clubs. “Dinner’s on me, too. Vikki, since you want the spa, I think it’s only fair you pay for it.”

“Works for me, but why do I get the puke-green club?”

“Because I got the piss-yellow one,” Jessica said. Kali grinned, spinning her purple club in her palms.

“My money, my pick. Ladies, your balls.” Victoria chose red; Jessica picked blue.

“Appropriate since I’ve gone the longest without getting laid.”

“I’m all about that purple-on-purple action,” Kali cackled as she picked her color. She led the way; Hole 1 proved no challenge. The girls quickly forgot about any friction that might have formed between them, or any trouble that had been pestering them, and simply had fun together. Hole 2 curved around a small woolly mammoth; Hole 3 inspired the first of many Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore quotes from Victoria.

“The price is wrong, bitch!” she cackled as she sank the first hole in one (which nobody was able to replicate). Jessica and Kaliope exchanged a warm smile which sank just as quickly as the next hole refused to be conquered. Vikki called it quits after five putts; Jessica held out until nine; Kaliope sank it in after a humiliating eleven.

“Wow,” Vikki said. “Even when I suck, I still do better than you two.”

Jessica humbly, silently, smoothly sank the ball in two shots for the next three holes. Kaliope’s clapping was worse than barbed wire.

“No swearing, now,” she said, pointing to a family with three young children two holes away.

“Oh, just you wait. I can get creative with my vulgarity.”

After a few more holes, with several victories and more than a few losses under their belts, the girls started chatting again. Victoria wanted to take Kali shopping again, maybe for makeup or accessories—jewels, she thought—and even thought about having their hair dyed together. At first Kali went along with her fantasies, because she was still not very close to Victoria (and still fairly intimidated by her), and didn’t want to come across as sheepish or reticent. But slowly Victoria’s chatter wore down on her nerves. Jessica added input here and there but it was mostly Vikki, picking apart Kaliope’s appearance, attitude, behavior, style… Kali kept quiet since they were in a public place, but once they had had their fun and were back in the car, she pulled into an enormous mall parking lot, found the emptiest place she could, and got out, visibly frustrated.

“Whoa, talk about seedy,” Jessica murmured, bending over to examine the broken pavement. She wasn’t oblivious to Kali’s shift in mood; she just wanted to soften (or even avoid) whatever blow was coming next. Victoria groused at their unexpected isolation.

“Uh…you do realize there are closer spots to park, right?”

“Vikki, please, don’t say another word.” The sentence had been issued with such simultaneous strength and weariness that it took her by surprise.

“Eh?”

“Look—I get it—you like shopping with me and want to include me in all your friendship rituals, and I am grateful that I got…to change who I was and how I felt about myself…but sometimes you seriously piss me off.”

Victoria didn’t know what to say.

“…Uhh…”

“I’ll make myself scarce,” Jessica said, wisely distancing herself from the squall. Vikki spoke first.

“Kal, what are you talking…”

“You…you’re always trying to…change me. Ever since I…walked up to you two and opened my mouth, you’ve been trying to control everything I do, everything I am. It feels like I’m not good enough for you or something. I… So what if you’re some big-time Alpha Chick that thinks she has the whole school wrapped around her finger? That doesn’t give you the right to, to, to, look down on everyone else like we’re lesser people, and, and, lord over us and try to…to change us to suit your standards. I get it, all right?! And I did enjoy myself, because…I never had any real friends, either, until I met you two, so I went along with it, and it was fun, but…sometimes…”

All of the words had tumbled out of her mouth in semi-coherence, so hastily that Kali didn’t even have time to think them over or form any structure; she “spoke from the heart”, as disjointed as it was, and was shaking afterwards when she couldn’t come up with any way to finish her thoughts. She merely gestured helplessly and stared, unflinching, waiting for a reaction.

Victoria didn’t really have one.

“Look,” Kali said at last, “I don’t hate you. I like you a lot. But I had to say how I feel. How do you feel?”

“Like the shittiest friend in the world.”

Not even a Renaissance master could have captured the dejected look on her face. Kaliope sighed and drew her in for a half-hug.

“You’re not, okay. You’re just shitty some of the time.”

“No, you…you’re right, about the whole thing. I’m a terrible person. But I’ve never…been able to connect with anyone like I have with you. We’ve barely known each other a few months and you’re already special to me. I mean, I love Jessica—she’s practically my sister at this point—but you’re…different. Pleasantly different. And I honestly thought you loved every moment that I was…well, when I was being a total asshole. So I’m sorry you feel that way…but in my defense, it was for a great cause. I mean, if you’re going to get back at somebody, you may as well make it epic.”

She sniffled, dabbing her eyes with a tissue, attempting a weak smile.

“So…most of all that was revenge?”

“No, most of it was just fun with a new friend. Well, fifty-fifty, anyway. You have to admit, when we turned you from a shy, sniveling little…well, there I go again, being shitty.”

“It’s okay, you can say it. I really was a loser.”

“Jessica would say you were a seed that just needed time to sprout. She’s way better at being cool and considerate than I am. But look at you now! You went from…a total loser,” and she paused because they both laughed at this harsh reality, “to someone who can stand toe-to-toe with the Alpha Bitch Queen and…tell her off when she needs to, without even flinching. God, we’ve made a monster, haven’t we?”

“Yeah.” They gazed into each other’s eyes, dewy-eyed and sniffling, shaking as dark clouds parted to warmth. Kali felt it natural to kiss Victoria then—at length, but chastely—and they both let out a sigh.

“Forgive me?”

“Yeah. But that spa tonight’s on your bill.”

“Hell yeah. Come on, let’s catch up to the beanpole. She chewed me out a few years back over more of my nonsense.”

“Really? Wow, you are shitty.”

“And pretty lucky to have two cool ladies to kick my ass into shape. Hey, Bianca, we’re back!” They waved as Jessica came into view; she had been wandering around the mall entrance the whole time. She smiled and waved as she noticed their elbows were linked.

“Ahoy there! So how did you two make out?”

Vikki and Kali exchanged a lewd grin.

“Interesting choice of words, there, J-dog. How many steamy details do you want?”

“Oh, every last one. I always look forward to having my appetite ruined.”

……

“Mmmm.”

“Di-tto.” Jessica and Kaliope looked over at Victoria, fully absorbed in the deepest levels of contented zen that a spa could provide. They were all sitting in the steam room, swathed in towels and mist and soothing heat, with only the hiss of the fog and their grunts of satisfaction breaking the sweet silence. They were both in their own heaven but Victoria seemed most pleased of them all, because she had been crowing and proselytizing and anticipating this particular leg of the trip from its very inception. Once they were finished with the steam room—whenever they deigned themselves ready, no rush—they’d hop into the massage parlor, where a sumptuous rub, some light music, and their dinner awaited.

“We happy?” Jessica said. Victoria only nodded, half her face consumed by a smile. She looked over to Kali. “Not too difficult to please, is she?”

“Yeah, it only takes about three grand.”

“One ‘kay, per person, on my card,” Victoria reminded her. “This is more my treat for you two, for putting up with me and my bitch-drama.”

“It’s much appreciated.”

“Yes, thank you, Vikki.” She merely chirped, and the comforting silence returned. Their massage followed at leisure; Victoria had requested a woman, while Jessica asked for a man.

“Women don’t seem capable of providing that deep-tissue relief,” she mentioned. “I exercise a lot, so I need someone that knows how to work my muscles properly. Kali…if you want my advice, date a baker. All that dough they knead…? Skills transfer.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Vikki, how about you?”

“I still say only a woman knows a woman’s body. I’m more about sensation than relief. But Jessica’s right about bakers. Pianists, too, if you can find a good one.”

“I do love a good pianist,” she cracked. Both girls snickered along with her; dinner came as the music track changed, sushi and sparkling white grape juice. Kali perked up as she recognized the tune.

“Hey…I know this song. I heard it in Blazing Saddles.”

“It’s April in Paris, by Count Basie. The ultimate cure for depression. I also recommend Coltrane and Clifford Brown, and if you really wanna get lulled, Billie Holiday.”

“Or the Ink Spots,” Jessica added. “What music do you listen to to relax?”

“Reggae and classical. Rachmaninoff does things to me, y’know?”

“Preach,” Vikki purred. “Try on Mendelssohn and Brahms for size. Just no Tchaikovsky. Ugh!”

“What, you don’t like Tchaikovsky?”

“God, no, The Nutcracker pisses me off.”

“I used to like Wagner until I learned he was a son-of-a-bitch anti-Semite,” Jessica added. “And Beethoven, until I learned what a colossal dick he was. Stick to Stravinsky.”

“Word,” Vikki purred, and they shared a fist-bump. Kali chuckled softly: what a strange, wonderful pair of friends she had made! Clearly there was more to them than their school Power Duo personas let on.

Eschewing all formalities, they returned to their rooms in their robes, and nothing kept them from submitting to the sublime darkness of sleep.

Chapter 6     Home     Chapter 8