If you put the religion books on one shelf, it makes god look like a phase you went through. Like a deck you were going to build until you got a few manuals and all the tools and then didn’t. No, it’s better to have those books scattered seemingly at random, snuggled between a history of space travel and a slim volume of found poems. Then it’s clear that spirituality is just one facet in a richly lived life. It says you are open to possibilities.
Chris doesn’t even know if Emily believes in god. (Or poetry, for that matter, or interplanetary travel.) He knows that she swears impressively but never goddamns anything — not once in their seven conversations. He knows that she lives in a crowded, bustling house called Ahimsa, but the house would have been named long before Emily moved to town and took over this part of his brain. And he knows that when he asked if she’d like to come apartment-sit over the long weekend, she used the word sanctuary, and said it in a way that stilled the air.
I think I have a crush on Emily, he tells Kathryn in the shower. This is where they confide crushes.
A heart crush or a boner crush? Kathryn says.
He doesn’t know how to choose. It’s not particularly sexual, his crush. He hasn’t thought about Emily that way. And Chris would never say boner. But it’s not just his heart, either. It’s his molecules.
So he tells Kathryn about his molecules. How the first time he met Emily, it felt like his DNA had been re-sequenced. How he felt an instant kinship and a tenderness that was somehow painful. How, whenever he talks to her, he comes away feeling hollowed out and nauseous like after swimming too long in a chlorinated pool. And how — this, sheepishly — he has spent days arranging and rearranging their bookshelves and postcards and takeout menus, to make the apartment not only as welcoming as possible but as informative. As compelling.
You’re awesome, Kathryn says.
Kathryn gets into bed still wet, the way she likes, and Chris makes the bed around her. A pillow between her thighs, a kiss on each knee, one arm tucked between the sheet and the blanket. She does this thing, this purring sound in her throat, which he has never been able to approximate.
Chris slides under the covers and wraps himself around her. She burrows, nestles with contentment, but then seems sad.
I wish Sharon and Kyle were coming, she says.
Me too, he says. But it’ll still be good. He holds her and tells her all the ways it will still be good. Four days in the woods — no cars, no phones, no people. Four days alone with her favourite person in her favourite place with her favourite foods. She smiles. He walks her through each meal they’ve planned, the ingredients premeasured and packed into satisfyingly compact little bundles on the backs of their bikes. She nods and mmms until she starts to twitch and is away.
Chris tries to let himself be pulled down by the warm suck of her undertow, but he is left lying in the dark. In his head, he starts to compose the offhand note he will write as they rush off the next morning. Hi Emily, Please make yourself at home. There is white wine in the fridge, and red — Hi Emily, Everything you see is yours. Hi Emily, I love you. Hi Emily, We’ll be back Monday night. Hope you have a great weekend! Love, Chris.
Love, Chris & Kathryn.
Kathryn & Chris.
It’s a two-hour ride to the big ferry, then another two hours on the other side, then a smaller ferry, another ride. By the time they get to the campsite, it will be dusk. But right now it’s still dewy and cool and they are taking it easy. Normally, there’d be the four of them riding in a line, and he knows Kathryn’s favourite thing is to ride at the back and watch them all snaking through the city, loaded with gear. Today they are riding side by side because it is too lonely not to.
Kathryn has been a little sad all morning, so to cheer her up, Chris has been amusing her with the fussy, imperceptible measures he has taken to prepare the apartment for Emily: vacuuming the coils behind the fridge, relabelling their ragtag spice jars, hiding their exercise tapes. Nothing invigorates Kathryn like a good crush — more often hers, but especially his — and she was quick to make it into a game they could both play. After they’d put on fresh sheets for Emily, Kathryn insisted they roll around on the just-made bed.
If it looks too neat, she said, it feels forbidding. What you want is a deep, deep sense of clean, yes, but then a surface that is—
(And here she made a gesture that was at once inviting and nonchalant.)
They rolled and cavorted on the bed until it needed to be made all over again.
On the smaller ferry, they stand away from their bicycles so they don’t have to field questions from bored drivers. They lean on the railing and gaze out over the water.
I used to always see whales on the ferry when I was a kid, Kathryn says. She is stretching her calf muscle without taking her eyes off the horizon. I thought that was the whole point, she says, the whales. The first time they didn’t come, I told my mom she should get our money back.
Chris always likes this story. He likes to look inside her brain and see how it works, like an ant farm or a cutaway model of a submarine — he never gets tired of looking.
He tells her, again, about the time his family went camping and how he woke up one morning to find two killer whales playing in the water just off the shore, and how he stood there for half an hour, not twenty feet from his family asleep in their tents, and never woke them up.
Her eyes well with fresh love. Sometimes Chris wonders if Kathryn remembers his stories; it often seems like she’s hearing them for the first time. But then at other times they’ll be talking and Kathryn will pluck a thread from a story Chris himself has long since forgotten, and he feels profoundly plumbed.
I hope you’d wake me up, she says.
I would definitely wake you up, he says.
He doesn’t know why he hadn’t woken his family. Or why he had hoped, almost prayed, that they wouldn’t wake up on their own. Or why, after only a few minutes, Chris had started to wish the whales would leave, even while he couldn’t stop staring and gasping with joy.
Kathryn presses into him, and they stare out over the teeming ocean. They see no whales.
Excerpted from NEXT YEAR, FOR SURE. Copyright © 2017 Zoey Leigh Peterson. Published by Doubleday Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.