by Lauren Harkawik
a strawberry daiquiri, perhaps. probably in a plastic cup, probably melting too quickly.
Up until one minute earlier, Lily knew Jake would have said it was the trip of a lifetime. And yet there was Lily, running. First through the lobby, then behind a gate, then down a path that cut through some shrubs, then into a hallway behind the kitchen of a beach-themed buffet, and then into a parking lot. The most boring parking lot. Hah! All that show, and this is where the employees parked? Sorry -- cast members. This is where the cast members parked?
Jake hadn't done anything wrong, really, which didn't change the fact that now Lily, who less than a year ago eyed him at his first staff meeting, ogled him the next day and then the day after that straddled him on the "vegan leather” couch she considered the showstopper of her apartment, was running from the vacation they’d planned together. And now she was folded over, laughing at the absurdity of it in a parking lot — the most boring parking lot — in what was, it was suddenly deliriously clear, just central Florida.
They had done the normal vacation stuff. They flew in relative peace, each doing their own thing. Picking up the rental car had been a headache, which was to be expected, and, after falling all over each other the second they got to the hotel room, they’d headed to a dinner at The Rainforest Cafe, of all places.
The restaurant, like most things they would encounter in the coming days, was not just a restaurant, but an experience. There was ambient rainforest noise. Running water. The floors and ceiling were completely covered with faux flora and, even worse, faux fauna that demanded attention. The waiter was too chipper and, too often, the lighting in the whole restaurant would change and the “sky” would fill with thunder and lightning.
Jake ate it up - not just the food, which was serviceable edging on not, but the show. When the first thunderstorm happened, Lily was horrified to find, as her eyes rounded home base from a big eye roll, that Jake’s eyes were wide with wonder. She subsequently saw his eyes light up at a robot toucan, a robot monkey, and a brownie “volcano” with a sparkler in it. And, well, she hated it. Not the show — the show was fine, whatever. She hated how much he loved it. Like, oh my god.
Now, that might have been a passing thing, had they not been in Walt Disney World, a place where the show is quite literally wrapped around every interaction. Save for the hotel — though he got a kick out of Mickey’s face embossed on the bars of soap — every minute of their so-called vacation was focused on amusement. He was amused, so purely and so innocently, and she just found it grotesque. She grew less attracted to him with every glimmer that entered, and became permanently affixed to, his eye.
What had she expected? Well first of all, she didn’t know she didn’t like men who loved cheesy things. She’d never thought to think about it. But if it really came down to it, she would have said she expected him to have the relationship she did to it. Like, ok, they fine job with the animatronics in the EPCOT retrospective of American history bafflingly co-hosted by Ben Franklin and Mark Twain. But it wasn’t so good that Lily forgot about the fact it was Fake-with-a-capital-F or that the whole show was a disaster when it came to race, gender, and white American exceptionalism. Jake, however, looked at the same animatronics and under his breath — which is how you know someone’s really being honest; they’re saying it to themselves — said, “Oh, wow.” Like he’d just seen something groundbreaking. Like it was aliens — real ones! — or an actual live ghost. Not a robot core wrapped in soft latex painted to look like the flesh of Ben Franklin and his apparent good bud, Mark Twain.
She tried to bury it, the grotesque feeling. Over and over. Because Jake was nice (that may have been a warning sign, had she thought about it) and she’d dated so many jerks. In their seven months of dinners, hikes, movies, sex, and brunch, she’d come to enjoy his company more than she enjoyed most people’s and she just figured that’s what it was supposed to feel like. Love, that is. Someday she’d realize that at the point she and Jake were being simultaneously mildly entertained and completely wowed at EPCOT, she’d never actually been in love before and certainly wasn’t then either. But she didn’t know it then.
Here’s what put her other the top, and it’s sad, because it could’ve been a nice memory for Jake. They were in the hotel gift shop, which she found tolerable because although they had a whole lot of Mickey Mouse shit in there, it was yacht-club themed and stately. They were wandering around trying to pick out something to bring back for Celia, Lily’s assistant, and Jake mentioned it was his birthday (whoops — this is a detail Lily would gloss over in retellings, but, indeed, it was his 31st birthday) and wouldn’t you know it, the cashier (or — cast cashier?) must have overheard him because seconds after he mentioned it, her phone rang, and she said hello, and then she said one moment, and then she said,
It took a few “Sir?”s before Jake realized she was talking to him. Then she handed the phone to him and he listened and then his eyes lit up the biggest they had the whole trip (that’s saying a lot) and he said, “OhMyGodLily, it’s him.”
“Who?” Lily asked. Embarrassingly, her mind went straight to Steve, their boss, which didn’t make sense considering Jake was afraid of him and, just then, he had whatever the innocent magic-believing version of an orgasm was painted all over his face.
“Mickey,” he said, like it should have been obvious. “He...he somehow knows it’s my birthday.”
And then he jumped. Like, this tiny, gleeful jump. His feet left the ground.
Lily felt her stomach flip. It was too much. Too. Much. And in what for someone else would be a moment she wasn’t proud of but for Lily was a badge to wear at dinner parties for years to come, she turned on her heels and ran. First through the lobby, then behind a gate, then down a path that cut through some shrubs, then into a hallway behind the kitchen for the beach-themed buffet, and then into a parking lot. The most boring parking lot. In central Florida.
She folded her body in half and, holding her calves while she stared at the hot pink nail polish she’d gotten at her pre-vacation pedi, she laughed so hard it had the same cathartic effect as sobbing, except that it was completely filled with glee. Unbelievable, she thought, already forgetting him, focusing instead on the fact she was free and alone in a parking lot she wasn’t supposed to be in. When she caught her breath, she called Celia and asked for a new flight home and then she wondered if she could borrow a Mickey costume to get into their room and pack up her stuff. Because — she was sure — Jake would take that at face value.