“No,” he said, shaking his head and pulling his hands up onto the back of his neck in a resigned position. “I forgot to pay the renewal fee.”
“Oh,” I said. The disappointment was clear in my voice.
“It came last month, and it said on it that we had to pay it by the fifteenth, and . . . with the wedding and everything going on at work, I just . . .” He shrugged, and his voice got defensive. “I forgot, OK? I’m sorry. I forgot.”
I wasn’t mad at him. He made a mistake. But I was very concerned with what we were going to do about it. I was frustrated that I was in this position. If you do not have the ability to call Triple A, how do you fix a tire? We were not the sort of people who knew how to do that on our own. We were the sort of people who needed Triple A. I didn’t like that about us at that very moment. In fact, I was starting to think we were two useless idiots on the side of the road.
“You don’t know how to fix a tire, right?” I asked him. I knew he didn’t. I shouldn’t have asked.
“No,” he said. “I don’t. Thank you for highlighting that.”
“Well, shit,” I said, the polite cushion around my voice fading and exposing my irritation. “What should we do?”
“I don’t know!” he said. “I mean, it was an accident.”
“Yeah, OK, so what do we do? We’re on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. How are we going to get to the cabin?”
“I don’t know, OK? I don’t know what we’re gonna do. I think there is a spare tire in the trunk,” he said, walking back there to confirm it. “Yeah,” he said as he lifted the bottom out. “But there’s no jack, so I don’t know what we would even do.”
“Well, we have to think of something.”
“You could think of something, too, you know,” he said to me. “This isn’t only up to me.”
“I never said it was, all right? Geez.”
“Well? What’s your bright idea, then?”
“You know what?” I said. “I . . . Why are we even fighting right now? We’re on our honeymoon.”
“I know!” he said. “I know that! Do you have any idea how upset I am that this is happening on our honeymoon? Do you have any idea how heartbroken I am that I f**ked up this thing that we have been looking forward to for months?”
I found it completely impossible to be angry with Ryan when he was angry at himself. I melted like a popsicle the minute I suspected he might blame himself for anything. It was part of the impracticality of fighting with him. I would fight until he admitted he’d done something wrong, and then I’d spend the entire rest of the night trying to take it all away, trying to convince him he was nothing short of perfect.
“Baby, no,” I said. “No, you didn’t mess anything up. This is going to be fine. I swear. Totally fine.” I hugged him, burying my head in his chest and holding his hand by the side of the road.
“I’m sorry,” he said, meaning it.
“No!” I said. “Don’t be sorry. It’s not just your job to pay the Triple A bill. It could have happened to either of us. We had so much stuff going on with the wedding. C’mon,” I said, lifting his chin. “We’re not gonna let this get us down.”
Ryan started laughing. “We aren’t?”
“Hell no!” I said, trying to cheer him up. “Are you kidding? I, for one, am having a great time. As far as I’m concerned, the honeymoon has already started.”
“Yep,” I said. “We’ll make it a game. I’ll try to flag down the next car that comes down the road, OK? If they stop and they have a jack and they let us borrow it, I win. Next car, you go. Whoever gets the jack wins.”
Ryan laughed again. It was so nice to see him laugh.
“Neither of us knows how to use a jack,” he pointed out.
“Well, we’ll figure it out! How hard could it be? I’m sure we can Google it.”
“OK, you’re on, sweetheart,” he said.
But he never got a chance. I flagged down the first car that came down the road, and they let us use their jack. They even taught us what to do and helped us get the donut on.
We were back on the road in no time, no trace of anger or frustration. I buried my head in his shoulder, my back bent awkwardly over the center console. I just wanted to be near him, touching him. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t comfortable.
The donut got us all the way to the lodge in Big Sur. Trees surrounding us to our right, massive cliffs dropping off into the Pacific to our left. The sky above us was just turning from blue to a rosy orange.
We checked in, yet another honeymooning couple in the cabins of Big Sur. The woman at the front desk looked as if she’d seen it all before. There was nothing new about us to her, and yet everything about this was new to us.
Our hotel room was small and cozy, with a gas fireplace on the far wall. When we put our bags down, Ryan joked that our bed at home was bigger than the bed in the cabin. But everything felt so intimate. He was mine. I was his. The hard part was over: the wedding, the details, the planning, the families. Now it was just us, starting our life together.
We were on the bed before our bags were unpacked. Ryan slid on top of me. His weight pressed against me, weighing me down, pushing me further into the mattress. I had chosen a masculine man, a strong man.
“Baby, I’m so sorry,” he said to me. “I’ll renew the Triple A membership as soon as we get home. Now, even! I can do it now.”
“No,” I said. “Don’t do it now. I don’t want you to do it now. I don’t want you to ever leave this spot.”
“No,” I said, shaking my head.
“Well, what should we do, then?” Ryan asked. He used to ask this when he wanted to have sex. It was his way of making me say it. He always loved making me say the things he wanted to say.
“I don’t know,” I teased him. “What should we do?”
“You look like you have something on your mind,” he said, kissing me.
“I have nothing on my mind. My mind is blank,” I said, smiling wide, both of us knowing everything that wasn’t being said.
“No,” he said. “You’re thinking about having sex with me, you perv.”
I laughed loudly, so loudly it filled the tiny room, and Ryan kissed my collarbone. He kissed it tenderly at first and then started to lick further up my neck. By the time he reached my earlobe, nothing seemed funny anymore.
THREE YEARS AGO
I had just started a new job, still in the alumni department but now at Occidental College.
My former coworker, Mila, recommended me for the position. We’d worked together in the alumni department at UCLA, and she’d left for Occidental the previous year. I was excited by the idea of working with her again and eager to branch out. I loved UCLA, but I’d been there my entire adult life. I wanted to learn a new community. I wanted to meet new people. Plus, it didn’t hurt that Occidental’s campus was breathtaking. If you’re looking for a change of scenery, choose beautiful scenery.
And since I was making more money, Ryan and I decided to find a new place. When we saw a house for rent in Hancock Park, we pulled over. Sure, it looked too big for us. It looked too expensive for us. And we technically didn’t need a second bedroom or a yard. But we wanted it. So Ryan picked up the phone and dialed the number on the sign.
“Hi, I’m standing outside your property on Rimpau. How much are you renting it for?” Ryan said, and then he listened intently.
“Uh-huh,” he said. I couldn’t hear what the other person was saying. Ryan was pacing back and forth. “And is that including utilities?”
I was eager to hear what number this person had given him.
“Well, we can’t do that,” Ryan said. I sat on the hood of our car, disappointed. “I’ve noticed, though, that this sign has been out for a while.” He was bluffing. Ryan knew no such thing. “So I’m wondering what your wiggle room is.” He listened and then looked at me, and I smiled at him. “OK, is it open now? Can my wife and I take a look?”