Review: The Ten Loves of Nishino by Hiromi Kawakami

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Paperback, US edition, 240 pages
Published June 4th 2019 by Europa Editions (first published 2003)
Original Title
ニシノユキヒコの恋と冒険 [Nishino Yukihiko No Koi To Bōken]
ISBN
1609455339 (ISBN13: 9781609455330)
Buy it here:

Amazon,  

Barnes and Noble

IndieBound

 

Synopsis:

Following The Nakano Thrift Shop, Hiromi Kawakami’s breakout success, comes a new novel full of charm, subtlety, and style by an author whose readership in Japan numbers in the millions.

Each woman in this book has succumbed, even if only for an hour, to that seductive, imprudent, and furtively feline man who managed to glide so naturally into their lives. But who really was Mr. Nishino?

Still clinging to the vivid memory of his warm breath, his indecipherable silences, and his nonchalance, ten women who have loved him tell their stories as they attempt to recreate the image of the unfathomable and seemingly unattainable Mr. Nishino. Through accounts that are full of humor, intelligence, and the bittersweet joys of love, these women evoke Nishino’s image but reveal themselves. Each perspective is both captivating and sensual, droll but important, and each is a variation on themes of love and identity. 

 

Review:

While I was reading through this novel, which is sort of an interconnection of stories told by the lovers of Yukihiko Nishino, some of them only meeting him for an hour, others having a relationship with him, all of them telling their perceptions of the things that he gave them. The stories are almost chronological, and as I was reading, I started to wonder what it was about Nishino that draws him into being a compelling character. He does not have more lovers than the average adult Japanese male, and even though he has these relationships, work still takes up most of him time (in most cases). So it comes down the facts that Nishino is a mystery to the reader just like he is a mystery to the women.

 

Nishino goes through his life, meeting and sleeping with women, and even though he gets older, his modus operandi does not change; he feels like he cannot love women, and then when they are about the end things, he proposes marriage to several of them. There are few variations on the theme, and this might be his true self coming through, that when he is with someone he does not want to commit, until it is almost over, but the truth is deeper than that, that there is not a fear loneliness or loss that makes him cling onto these lovers. The fact is once the marriage proposals are turned down or seen as bluffs, he leaves and they never see him again. It is as if Nishino does not tell anyone the truth, but tells the same lie. 

 

The chapters and stories are not too long, and the translation makes this feel conversational and casual, which also makes for an easier read. I had not read Hiromi Kawakami’s previous work, but this is a very good introduction and testament to her work. I look forward to reading more. 

I received this as an ARC from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Nail House by Gregory Baines

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Paperback
Published August 1st 2019 by Fairlight Books
Original Title
The Nail House
ISBN
1912054965 (ISBN13: 9781912054961)
Edition Language
English
Buy it at : Amazon
Synopsis:
Lindon, an Australian project manager with a failed marriage behind him, is lured to China with the promise of a lucrative salary. His task: to solve the problem of a ‘Nail House’, the home of a stubborn old man who refuses to relocate, even as the bulldozers move in and the skyscrapers grow around him.

But as Lindon negotiates with the old man’s family, he finds sense where there is none. And love where there is war.

Review:

I was driving to work tonight, at about six at night. Since it is the middle of November, the sky was pitch black but the stars were still sleeping. My work is almost an hour away, on a straight drive down the same 70 mph highway every day, passing the same gas stations, the same pastures, the same corn and bean fields, the same junkyard, the same four McDonald’s, and the same beat down old restaurant that had not been a restaurant in over ten years. Besides some broken down and boarded up windows and a speed trap some time mornings. Tonight there were four pickup trucks, lined up, running with parking lights on, and I could not help but think that this was some sort of construction worker conspiracy, trying to get a land holdout to give up their property so that this can be redeveloped.
This reflects part of the plot of “The Nail House”, by Gregory Baines. The main character, Lindon, is brought into China by a corporation and his only job is to get rid of the tenants of a nail house that is holding up the progress of the corporation’s developments. Lindon sees quickly that he is in over his head, but he really does not have much other option but to be successful. The owner of the nail house, the house that he needs to convince the owner to sell, is fighting for his pride more than anything. His daughter, Zhen, wants nothing more than to be done with the entire situation but her thoughts are more geared toward running away with her fiancee, Sun, than to find a solution. When she meets, Lindon, the plot becomes more convoluted with emotions and empathy instead of just fighting. This novella is interesting and light, with a well constructed plot and good characters. 

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While I was looking for images of the cover of this book, I found pictures of actual nail houses in China, actual people who are doing the things that make this plot more tied to real issues than just an idea that does not exist. Some of the pictures of the nail houses are crazy in their isolation, where the construction company has ripped out everything around the house and there is no way for the occupants to do anything other than survive. The thing that I could have used more in this book is the feeling of displacement by Lindon, spending a little more time focusing on his struggling to understand Chinese culture and making mistakes due to his lack of stability in this situation. Even though this was sort of thin, the entirety of the book was enjoyable. Weeks after reading it, I still see conspiracy and terror in a line of trucks parked in the middle of the night at an old abandoned restaurant. They were probably doing something like selling drugs to one another, but I like to think it was because they were getting ready to go sabotage a work site or a corporate obstruction.

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Review: It Would Be Night In Caracas by Karina Sainz Borgo

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Translated by Elizabeth Bryer
Hardcover, 240 pages
Expected publication: October 15th 2019 by HarperVia (first published March 7th 2019)
Original Title
La hija de la española
ISBN
0062936867 (ISBN13: 9780062936868)
Edition Language
English

Synopsis:

Told with gripping intensity, It Would be Night in Caracas chronicles one woman’s desperate battle to survive amid the dangerous, sometimes deadly, turbulence of modern Venezuela and the lengths she must go to secure her future.

In Caracas, Venezuela, Adelaida Falcon stands over an open grave. Alone, except for harried undertakers, she buries her mother–the only family Adelaida has ever known.

Numb with grief, Adelaida returns to the apartment they shared. Outside the window that she tapes shut every night—to prevent the tear gas raining down on protesters in the streets from seeping in. When looters masquerading as revolutionaries take over her apartment, Adelaida resists and is beaten up. It is the beginning of a fight for survival in a country that has disintegrated into violence and anarchy, where citizens are increasingly pitted against each other. But as fate would have it, Adelaida is given a gruesome choice that could secure her escape.

Filled with riveting twists and turns, and told in a powerful, urgent voice, It Would Be Night in Caracas is a chilling reminder of how quickly the world we know can crumble.

Review:

It Would Be Night in Caracas starts with a simple plot: a single woman is burying her mother. She goes back to the apartment that they shared and starts to deal with the process of grief. The problem is that she lives in Caracas, Venezuela, and it is quickly apparent that every day there is one filled with danger. From vigilante groups ran by the government, vigilante groups fighting against the government groups, money that is not worth the paper it is printed on, food shortages, and a thriving black market, the world that Karina Sainz Borgo describes is one that I cannot even wrap my head around. Some people might be put off by the description of how the main character, Adelaida Falcón, gets supplies for her period, or how she hears gunshots all through the night and learns that more of her neighborhood acquaintances have either disappears or been killed throughout the night, but I see this as a reality I do not understand. I see this as a novel of a person who is trying to go about her business in a turbulent climate, hiding out in her apartment, trying to stay quiet while listening to the noise on the outside, until the noise comes to find her. This novel tries to juxtapose the difference between the relative safety of Adelaida feels in the apartment and the chaos outside until the two meet and she has to make decisions that will affect her life but be instrumental to her survival. The tension of the novel picks up in the second half, and I really do feel the nerves that she is feeling. The tightness of the writing makes the urgency feel stronger, and the ending, though it seems as if she does not know how to end the novel for a few pages, does end satisfying.

I enjoyed this novel. It feels tense and dangerous.  I thought the end kind of dragged a little bit, but this is the only complaint I can find. It Would Be Night in Caracas is otherwise one of the best books I’ve read this year.

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Friday Fiction: We Are All Made of Stars

Every Friday I write a story based or insired by a song. This week, the song came after the start of the story. “We All Made of Stars,” by Moby popped into my head while writing. Check it out.

When she left me to start training for the space station, she told me that it was probably best if we just broke up. She said, “I don’t know how good of a girlfriend I’ll be these next few years. I have a year of training then will be in space for a long time after that. And this is if things go well. It might take me longer to get through training. It might take the next crew longer before they are able to take off and relieve us.” She didn’t want to say it, but her face told me that she was also thinking about the possibility og being the victim of equipment failure, that a rocket could explode or the space station oxygen systems could break down. The probabilities of her dying were much higher than most other people in the world. None of this mattered. Alli was one of those women that everyone was attracted to, even when they didn’t want to be. She was tall and thin, with strong arms and legs, small breasts and ass, but all of the personality that told you it made sense for her to be in space.

I let her explain why she was trying to do this to me, that by breaking up, she was giving me a chance to find someone else. I said, “I don’t want someone else. I will wait for you to conquer the stars and come back to conquer me.” She kissed me, and maybe this was the test I was taking and I passed. While she packed her things into my car the morning she was report to training, I watched her shove her bags into the trunk and thought that this was going to be a long, lonely few years, but it would be worth it.

We saw each other sporadically through training, a weekend here, a few hours there, and those moments were wonderful and cherished. During her first few months in space, while I waited for a time when she could video call me, those memories were all I really had to lean on. We had one video call, less than five minutes, before the Civil War started.

There were many events leading to the second fracture in our country, many things that would be taught in history books for generations to come, if there were any more generations in the United States. All government resources refocused toward the war effort, and since water and food was renewable on the space station, Alli and the other American astronauts were somewhat forgotten. We were not able to use video calls anymore and we limited to emails. She was getting more and more distressed by the situation. “I’m tired,” she said. “I’m tired of all of the uncertainty, of the routine every day, of eating the same food over and over, and I’m tired of not being able to have someone in my arms when I fall asleep. This is what I miss about you most. Your arms.”

I told her that I missed her too, and I really did, not only as a companion but as someone who could help me navigate all of the current events. There was a movement of people gathering in Atlanta, with the idea to burn the south all of the way to the White House where they would lynch the rich man-child in the oval office, and the crowd was growing stronger every day. With a curfew, it was now unsafe to be out after dark, and honestly I didn’t want to face this world anymore without her. I said, “Is there a way to get a ride on a ship from another country?”

She said, “I’ve been asking, but I’ve also been told that leaving here without permission is akin to deserting my post, and there isn’t anyone in charge telling us what to do. We are kind of stuck in this limbo.”

I tried to go to the headquarters of the sppace program, so that I could get some answers, but without any sort of credentials, I was turned away by the military guard at the gate. The only real option was to wait for the war to be over. “I don’t see any end in sight,” I emailed her. “It seems as if things are only getting worse every day.” We were not able to video call, but I was able to send her pictures in my emails. I took many selfies, many pictures of me lying in bed, my arms outstretched, waiting for her to return to me.

She said, “The pictures make me miss home so much, make me miss you so much. I think about you and about earth all of the time. I wish I could change things. Some of the lights are starting to flicker and I think some of the motors are starting to wear out. We need parts and tools. We have a 3D printer, and we could make the parts, but nobody is there to send the programs. I need to find a way home before it’s too late.”

I tried to think of what I could do to help. The only option was to figure out a way to Russia, to talk to the embassy there. The problem was that the US was in such disarray that I was unable to get a passport. My only option was to sneak into Canada, find my way to Alaska, and slip over the Baring Strait. They say this was how the indigenous Americans came here, so it made sense to me that I would find my way to save someone’s life in a reverse journey. I had to get her home. Any way possible.

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Friday Fiction: Hold Back

I have been writing a piece of fiction inspired by a song every Friday. This Friday’s story is based on “Hold Back” by The Revival Hour. This is not the story I planned to tell. Not that it is too different. It is just that it ends where I felt it should end versus where I thought it would end when I started the first draft. I love this song. It breaks my heart every time I hear it. Check it out. 

 

Brent read stories online about Mt. Everest. Since the ice has been melting, they have found more and more dead bodies of climbers that have been missing for years. Brent took in a deep breath because Cheryl was still up there, still somewhere on Mt. Everest, still lost after thirty years, still running away from him and the idea of settling down. He closed the browser and closed his eyes to the tears. Every day he tried not to think about Cheryl every day, but in his heart he knew she was one of the people that was now waiting to come off of the mountain. Brent was going to get her.

The last time he saw Cheryl was 1983. They had been dating for almost a year, every day being a shorter day than the one, filled with sunsets and joy, laughter and magic. He quickly knew he wanted to spend his life with her. Their last night together, he invited her to dinner at the fancy restaurant he could not afford. They sat next to the large window that showed the river and the lit city skyline, finished dessert and the bottle of Chardonnay that he thought was too expensive before he pulled the ring out of his pocket. “Will you marry me?”

Cheryl looked out the window for nearly a minute. When she turned back, she gave him a look that he still remembers vividly, almost 35 years later, a look filled sadness and misery, a look that told him her answer was, “No,” without saying a word. A look that petrified his love and made it sink into the bottom of the ocean of his soul.

She said, “I’m not ready for all of this. I still have things I want to do. I still want to travel the world. I still want to climb the highest summits and eat the most exotic foods. I don’t think you want to come along. I don’t see the wanderlust inside of you. You want to settle, and I want to be free. I don’t feel like you want to do all of these things with me.” Brent tried to find a way to tell her she was wrong. They walked along the river after dinner, silent and sad, already one hundred miles apart.

He thought about what he was going to do now that she was not going to marry him. He did not want to be left standing around while she had all of the adventure she wanted. The idea of her traveling the world while he waited at home did not appeal to him at all. He said, “Where do we go from here?”

Cheryl tried to grab his hand, but he buried them deep in his pockets. She did not answer right away. Finally, after a few blocks of dead night, she said, “I hope that we can stay together. I hope that even though we aren’t getting married we can stay together.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I can’t do this right now.”

Brent did not see her again. She called him a few times in the middle of the night, but he did not answer. He heard through acquaintances that Cheryl was going to Mt. Everest in March. Six months later, he learned that she never came back. The idea that she was still up there, never recovered, buried in the ice and snow that was now melting, made him think that he needed to go find her, tell her they should have done things differently, that if he did not let go, she would have come back.

He was not an experience climber, adventurer, survivor, even athletic, but he motivated. He spent his life saving plus money borrowed from family and friends for his equipment, a climbing permit, and guides. He was going to find her.

Two problems still persisted. The first was that Cheryl could have taken one of two major routes, the Nepal side and the Tibet side. He tried to think back to any time when she talked about Mt. Everest. Nepal seemed like the more likely choice because it was less expensive, and if he was wrong the first time, he was just going to have to climb it again. The other problem was that he needed to get into some sort of shape to do this. Brent did not consider himself fat, but he was not in any shape to be climbing a mountain for two months. While he spent hours everyday in the gym, his friends thought that he was crazy. “Let me try to understand this. You’re doing all of this to find the dead body of your lost lover?”

“It’s more than that,” Brent said. It was more than that. While he lifted weights, ran miles and miles, and ate healthy to become slim and fit, he could only think about how he had not had any serious relationships since Cheryl left. He dated here and there, but the majority of the time, he life was alone. He had spent many hours in the thirty-five years since she walked away from them thinking about what could have happened differently. He could have insisted on being her travelling partner, hanging onto their relationship until she felt it was time to get married. He could have worked with her, showed up to her work, wrote her letters, left her phone messages, told her she was his everything, the person he would swim to the bottom of the ocean to grab and pull to the surface, the person he would climb the highest mountains to bring her back with him. He felt like the years he had been inactive in searching for her were a mistake. Brent did not understand the depth of his sorrow until he was on the plane, flying into Nepal after months of preparation, looking out the window at the Himalayas. He studied the pattern of the snow covered peaks and knew that there was nothing left in the world for him besides this purpose.

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Review: Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

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  • Print Length: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco (October 29, 2019)
  • Publication Date: October 29, 2019
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers

Preorder: AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBound

 

Synopsis:

Kevin Wilson’s best book yet—a moving and uproarious novel about a woman who finds meaning in her life when she begins caring for two children with remarkable and disturbing abilities

Lillian and Madison were unlikely roommates and yet inseparable friends at their elite boarding school. But then Lillian had to leave the school unexpectedly in the wake of a scandal and they’ve barely spoken since. Until now, when Lillian gets a letter from Madison pleading for her help.

Madison’s twin stepkids are moving in with her family and she wants Lillian to be their caretaker. However, there’s a catch: the twins spontaneously combust when they get agitated, flames igniting from their skin in a startling but beautiful way. Lillian is convinced Madison is pulling her leg, but it’s the truth.

Thinking of her dead-end life at home, the life that has consistently disappointed her, Lillian figures she has nothing to lose. Over the course of one humid, demanding summer, Lillian and the twins learn to trust each other—and stay cool—while also staying out of the way of Madison’s buttoned-up politician husband. Surprised by her own ingenuity yet unused to the intense feelings of protectiveness she feels for them, Lillian ultimately begins to accept that she needs these strange children as much as they need her—urgently and fiercely. Couldn’t this be the start of the amazing life she’d always hoped for?

With white-hot wit and a big, tender heart, Kevin Wilson has written his best book yet—a most unusual story of parental love.

 

 

Review:

I really want to like Kevin Wilson’s writing more than I do. He has some great ideas, interesting stories, and fun characters, but there is something about his writing that turns his great ideas into good books. Not great books. This is my third Kevin Wilson novel and all of them suffer from the same thing: they have great stories and characters but the pacing and climaxes in the plot become a letdown. For example, the opening of this novel has great tension between Lillian and Madison, boarding school roommates, so when Madison asks Lillian to come and be the live in nanny of her two stepchildren, Lillian agrees. This tension that is built, the acts and betrayal between Lillian and Madison are only mentioned again on a surface level. This does not become the motivation of either of their actions when they get back together, just used as an example of Madison always getting her way because she is privileged and rich. The pacing seems a little off too. The beginning, from the beginning until the time Lillian meets the kids seems to take forever, like he spends the first quarter of the novel as an information dump. For a novel that feels relatively short, it feels like it takes way too long to get into the action.

I do admire Kevin Wilson’s ideas. A story about a woman reunited with someone she only knew briefly in high school, to become the nanny of her twin stepchildren, who also spontaneously combust, is a pretty great idea. There is a ton of potential with this novel, but instead we get Lillian teaching them how to play basketball and lying by the swimming pool. I do not know what could have been done differently, what could have made this novel a little more exciting, but the execution is not it. The ending is pretty good, but this feels more like a wasted opportunity than anything. I felt the same way about “The Family Fang.” I felt the same way about “Perfect Little World.” I also feel the same way about this novel. If you like his work, then this will fit right in, but if you are waiting for him to just knock a book out of the park, the wait continues. Kevin Wilson has home run potential, but he is still fouling off pitches. I will still be reading his work, because it is still quick and entertaining.

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Friday Fiction: When Am I Gonna Lose You

Each Friday I plan to write a story inspired by a song I’ve been listening to. This week is “When Am I Gonna Lose You,” by Local Natives. I loved their first album, Gorilla Manor but kind of lost track of them. They released their fourth record, Violet Street, and they are better now than they were then. Check it out. 

 

1.

Fridays and Saturdays we went to Hugo’s, a club we avoided from Memorial Day to Labor Day because this was when the tourists invaded. They loved to spend the day on the beach with their kids or friends and spend the night out drinking at places Hugo’s. Through the tourist season, it was packed and stupid, and most of us, the year around citizens, spent most of the summer nights on the beach or at house parties. Some of the tourists looked down on us, thought we were less than them because our mothers and fathers worked to keep their vacations running smoothly, but they did not think about how much money we needed to live here all year around in the large houses on the beach. Sure there was a poor section of town, but my father started a bicycle rental business before everyone was doing it, and even though there were some larger houses on the beach, we did live on the beach. My first car was a BMW convertible, an older model with a roof that got stuck when I was trying to take the top down, where I had to get out the car and push on it, but it was still a BMW. Most of the town did not work during the winter, so we went to one of the half dozen colleges during the week that afforded us the opportunity to be home on the weekend.
Hugo’s was a large place, popping in the summer with loud music and alcohol-fueled dance parties. In the winter it was almost like an empty tomb. Some nights they did not even play music. Some Saturdays they closed early. They did not open much between New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. Sure there were always people partying, reuniting after a long week of work or school, a bachelorette party, but most of the time every club in town was a little dead. I liked to go there to drink because it was close to my house, and I liked to be left alone.Valentine’s Day was the passed Tuesday, but Hugo’s was open for any of the Valentine’s Day stragglers. There were a few but the place was half full at best. I was at the bar drinking cheap beer that cost too much and watching people, particularly the girl at the end of the bar, particularly her long legs and arms, particularly her thin jawline that was almost perfectly parallel to the floor but not quite. Her dark hair was pulled back tight and her olive skin looked like it would be soft under my fingers. She was drinking and playing on her phone. Even though the town was fairly large, there was no way that she was someone who lived here. She had to be in for the weekend for some reason. I let her sit for a few drinks before I walked over to her. “Can I get you another?”
She looked up from her phone and studied my face. She had almond shaped eyes that were dark in the lighting, and as she looked me up and down, I knew I wanted to kiss her. I had to do this just right. “Sure.”

“Then we can walk by the ocean. Have you seen it at night yet?”

“I have not.”

“I won’t cause you any trouble either.”

She smiled and the tension she was holding in her shoulders relaxed some. “That’s good. For now.”

We had another drink, and I said, “We can walk from here, but I want you to talk the whole time. Tell me everything about why you are here in the middle of February.”
Her friend met a guy online, and they flew one thousand miles to meet him. She came for moral support, just in case her friend met him and he sucked, they could at least have a week on the beach. She did had not seen this friend for a few days. They have been texting so she was at least still alive but was also falling for this guy. So she had been walking around, looking at the shops that were closed for the season, trying to curb her boredom, trying to stay warm. “I didn’t realize it would be so cold,” she said.

The ocean was loud and dangerous, like the sounds of angels that could be singing the songs of the apocalypse. I said, “Yeah. Not many people come here in the winter.”

“I can see why. I’m freezing.”

I pointed to my house. My parents still had the lights on even though I knew they were in bed. I said, “That’s my house if you want to come over for a while. Warm up a bit.”

“Sure. Why not?” I wrapped my arm around her and pulled her in tight. We hurried to my bedroom.

2.

The morning was bright. She was cocooned under the blankets, and the sun slipped through the open blinds, cascaded on her naked shoulders and neck. I kissed her on the clavicle and she stirred. She turned to me and offered her lips. “Good morning,” I said.

“Hi.”

I had had many of these mornings, especially as a teenager in the summer. The girls came for vacation, spent the night with me after some party, and hurried off to her family and friends for the rest of their holiday. When I looked at her, something about her, made me wish that she could stay. I said, “I’m glad you were there last night.”

“Me too.” She reached over and picked up her phone from beside the bed, checked her messages. “Me too.”

I said, “When do you leave?”

“Actually today. Like this afternoon.”

This was not what I wanted to hear. There were some girls that I spent their entire vacation with them, a weekend or a week, showing them the local hideouts, taking them to parties and bonfires on the beach, promising them we were going to keep in touch, try to make it work out, but we both knew these good intentions were lies. Maybe since we were older now, and I spent less time trying to get one night stand and was more interested in something permanent, I thought distance was not as big of an obstacle as it used to be. I said, “I don’t want you to leave. You just got here.”

She ruffled my hair. “Where were you three days ago when I was ordering pizza in the hotel room, bored to death?”

“Probably watching TV here, bored to death.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I should probably go.”

I said, “Well you know. We can keep in touch. You can come back down. It’s much nicer here in a few months.” I did not really know why I was trying to hold onto her so much. I was acting as if his had never happened before.

She said, “We’ll see.”

I watched her get ready, put on her clothes. She had tattoos on her body that I did not notice in the dark, and as I looked at them now, I could not help but think that she had to stay. We could work all of this out. We could learn to surf and I could propose to her at the beach. We could live here, have four kids, be one of those awesome couples everyone knows and envies. I led her through the house, and out the front door. The air was crisp and she shook her head when it hit her face. I did not want to beg her to stay so I said, “I can at least walk with you back to Hugo’s.”

“Actually I’m going back to the hotel. I have the pack. I have the GPS directions on my phone.”

“Okay.”

She looked at me one last time before stepping off the porch. “Thank you for last night. I had a good time.”

My heart was heavy. “Sure,” I said. “Be careful.” I stood on the porch until she was out of sight. She pulled out her phone and studied it the whole time, not once looking back.

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