“What’s this?” April asks, when she finds a folded up piece of loose leaf on the toilet tank.
Andy call, “What’s what?” from the living room where he’s been camped out in front of the X-Box for the past five hours.
“This piece of paper, it’s not mine.” She doesn’t know why she doesn’t open it, any one else and she would have read it three times already, but she just keeps feeling the edges that are so well worn they’re almost like cotton.
The game’s music pauses and then he’s standing there next to her. “That’s my bucket list. I had to cross off try pistachio ice cream. Where’d you find it?”
“On the back of the toilet. You had pistachio ice cream on your bucket list?”
He opens the page up gently. “Yeah, see, right here.”
She can see where he crossed that out and also get married and learn the tabs to ALL Dave Matthews songs but there’s still a lot of things he apparently wants to accomplish. “When did you start doing this?”
“After Ann told me it was a thing, so...awhile ago.” He goes to fold it up again, but she puts her hand on top of his.
“I want to do this. We should do this.”
“Seriously?” he asks, incredulous, and she can’t really blame him. But if he’s going to wear a snake like a scarf before he dies, she can probably do with a little less apathy.
“Yeah, why not? Let’s try.”
He leans against the counter, hand in the dried up toothpaste that she was hoping somebody else would have wiped up by now. “Well, since you’re offering...”
“There’s nothing on there about sex.”
“You couldn’t have possibly read that whole list. Unless did you?” He scrunches his face up like when he’s trying to remember how much cash he has in his wallet. “Wow, I’ve got the smartest wife.”
“Yep, so, pick something else.”
She sighs. “Jurassic Park isn’t a real place, Andy.”
“Alright, road trip then. I was supposed to take my first one with the guys, but if they ask, a tour is different than a road trip, okay?”
She kisses him, pretty certain that wouldn’t be difficult to convince them of.
She spends the next two weeks organizing their trip purely on Ron’s time. On the second Friday, he takes her out to lunch as a reward.
He orders two steaks, and eats most of hers.
The plan was to do it all as a to be revealed kind of thing, but then she realized she’d have to drive the whole time and that’s stupid. She’s not doing that. It’s his temperamental death trap of a van, he’ll drive it. She’ll just dole the itinerary out as necessary.
On the way to Flint, they listen to the audio book of Me Talk Pretty One Day and April tries to make it like she doesn’t have entire sections memorized, but Andy catches on when she can’t help mouthing the words.
“How many times have you listened to this?”
“Like nine since I stole it from the library.”
She cranks the window down even though it’s not warm enough for that, and he just throws her these big, chunky mittens he apparently had in his coat pocket. “Where’d these come from?”
“Kyle left them at the shoe shine stand last winter.”
She makes those hand waves in the breeze and he taps out a rhythm while the chapter changes.
April booked them a room at a Holiday Inn Express, which she thinks is supposed to be for business people, but came up as one of the cheapest on the route and that’s all that’s really ever important.
“Babe, there’s a couch!” He punctuates the statement by flopping down on it. “We don’t even have a couch at home, you planned the best trip!”
“Don’t get too excited just yet. There’s probably even towels in the bathroom.”
He springs up, stumbling over the backpack he threw on the floor in front of him. “What? No way! Clean ones?”
“That is what was advertised.”
While he’s ransacking their bathroom and yelling out every amenity, including toilet seat, she texts her parents and Leslie that they arrived safely even though she feels beyond stupid for giving in to that request. “What do you want to do for dinner?”
He comes back into the room wearing the shower cap. “Do you think they have room service here? I don’t care if we have to actually use Ben’s rent money towards things like rent next month, I want to order room service.”
Andy pulls the list out of his wallet and picks one of the complimentary pens up off the dresser. “Eat...room service.” Pointing at it, he says, “Now we have to do it.”
She smiles while dialing the front desk and handing him the phone.
“Burt Macklin here, I’d like two orders of French toast because I’m with the FBI and on my way to a sting operation in Paris. Make sure there’s extra syrup. President’s orders,” He slams his hand down to hang up so hard, it makes a noise almost like it’s trying to ring.
“You didn’t give them the room number.”
“They’ll find us. In the meantime, the President also told me what he wants done on this bed.”
April shrieks, “You’re terrible!” in her crazy, accented voice and he’s chasing her around the room waving one of those hangers that the heads come off of, and she’s just laughing and laughing and threatening to expose his secrets to the CIA.
After the breakfast for dinner and some sex, she tells him she has a surprise planned.
“A surprise?” He wipes at some syrup that’s still somehow at the corner of his mouth.
“Yeah, I planned surprises out the whole way. Did you think I spent 10 days just looking at street maps?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never done a trip like this.”
“Well, shower or just put on a shit ton of deodorant, holing up in the hotel room is not yet on our agenda.”
“Did you honestly get us Led Zeppelin laser show tickets? This is...this is so incredible! I’m going to need something better than best to describe you as a wife.”
He pulls her in and kisses the top of her head, and she doesn’t even really care that people are looking at them with “aw isn’t that cute” faces.
She takes a picture of themselves on her phone, which is a slice of his face and a lot of the wall of the Longway Planeterium, before the doors open, and he’s trying to show her chord progressions on his air guitar and talking about Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, names she only knows from Almost Famous.
“You’re going to love this, though, babe, seriously, it’s so awesome. I wish you had told me, I would have snuck in some booze.”
She slides her coat and sweater to the side, exposing the little silver flask her sister bought her for her birthday in her front pocket. “Jack Daniels?”
“April, I love you.”
“I love you too,” she says, already tasting the liquor on her tongue, anticipating the feeling of his hand in hers and the strain in her neck as she tries to rest her head on his shoulder and still see the lights on the ceiling.
After the show, they walk around the University of Michigan’s campus a little bit drunk, trying to fit in as students. She bought him one of those lanyards dorky kids put their IDs on and he keeps putting the metal hoop into his mouth.
“Bonham just sounds better with lasers. I don’t know why that is.”
“He’s the drummer, right?”
“We’re seriously going to need to get you some rock education.” He crunches on the ID hook so hard, she’s sure it’s bent out of shape. “God I miss college. They probably have a class you can take on that here and actually get credits for.”
She knows they do, even her stupid school did. “I signed up for that sophomore year, but then they moved it to 9 am, so I dropped it.”
“I know I’m usually telling you you’re like the smartest woman alive, but that has to be the stupidest thing you’ve ever done. They probably would have made you buy albums instead of books.”
“Yeah, probably.” She’s a little distracted by two people up ahead arguing about where he took her to dinner and she asks, “Hey, do you want to give me a piggyback ride past that dorm and then make out on a planter to show those jerks what love really looks like?”
“I definitely want to do that,” he says, stooping over so she can hop on his back. “I love my wife!” Andy hollers as they race past, and when he lowers her down a few feet beyond them, she pulls him in by the gnawed up lanyard. April hopes the couple is staring at them all open mouths and envy, but she’s not going to open her eyes to check.
Andy steals them all of the doughnuts from the complimentary breakfast buffet while she’s checking out, and they eat those, linty from his pockets and with napkin paper melted into the glaze for the three and a half hours it takes them to get up north. She’s practically vibrating with a sugar high by the time they get to Ossineke.
She’d told him outside of Harrisville when they stopped for gas that while it wasn’t Jurassic Park, she was able to find a hopefully acceptable replacement in Dinosaur Gardens. And the look on his face when they pull up to the same chain link fence set up her grandparents have in front of their house to enter the park, tells her she might have succeeded.
“Shut. UP! How did you even find this place?!”
“It came up on a search for weird road trips. You like it?”
“Babe, there’s a dinosaur we’re going to be able to walk inside. Like, that building right there is a dinosaur. And mini-golf?! I’m pissed we’re already married, because I would have preferred to do it here.”
She smiles. “There’s a giant Jesus statue for no reason here too.”
“I’m kind of serious that we should get divorced just to get married here again.”
“Too much paperwork, let’s just walk around instead.” The plan isn’t to divorce him until they’ve at least acquired some assets to split up.
It’s nice to get out of the car after sitting for so long, and she takes Andy’s picture as he throws him arm around dinosaurs or pretends to get eaten by them, or mimes punching them in the face. He talks about the triceratops being his best man at least three times, and she can’t help texting Tom about that.
They share a brat and a hot pretzel on the grass while watching two little boys chase one another around with those T-Rex heads on sticks that can open and close their mouths.
“We’re going to buy those, right?” he says while popping a piece of bun in his mouth.
She responds, “Only if you’re a good boy,” even though she’s already thought about him trying to use one to unhook her bra.
“This place is way better than that dinosaur restaurant Leslie took us to when Tom got dumped. I like that the dinosaurs are outside, you know? It’s more natural.”
“Because natural is a word that comes into your mind when you think about this place?”
“No, you know what I mean. Hey, you want to split another pop?”
She slurps at the melted ice that’s left in the bottom of their cup. “Yeah, we’re on vacation.”
“Be right back.” He gives her a thumbs up when he reaches the line and she waves. The brothers are roaring and pinching one another’s ears, and April let’s herself think until Andy comes back that she’d like to take her kids here one day.
She didn’t plan on booking them a cottage on a lake again, but the place in the off season is really affordable, so, again, decision made.
It’s late by the time they arrive, he’d insisted on beating her at two rounds of mini-golf and she’s apparently pretty good at mini-golf even when she’s not trying to be. Plus they ate a plate of nachos while sitting on the hood of the van and fed some birds and got lost for about a half hour when they got back on the highway going the wrong way.
And despite how dark it is, the place still looks too nice to let them stay there. Way nicer than it looks on the website. Her parents would stay at a place like this.
“This lake looks awesome,” he tells her.
“I’m not water skiing,” she informs him in return.
He smirks whiles saying, “But you were so good at it!” and she throws her bag into his chest.
He’s still huffing like she knocked the wind out of him, but he says, “Yeah, I will. Because I’m strong.”
“Or because I said so.”
“We’ll never really know why I do anything, Ape. Should probably call this a wash.” He races up the steps of their cabin, and she can hear him exclaiming about how it’s way better than Burly’s place all the way out here at the van.
They play cards for hours, betting with the bag of complimentary mints that was waiting for them on the coffee table, playing war and gin rummy and some game his grandmother taught him when he was a kid that he can’t remember the name of.
He wants to know, “What are we doing tomorrow?” while shuffling the deck for the nine millionth time.
“That’s a surprise until tomorrow.”
“I trust you,” he tells her, and she wishes he had dealt the cards already so she could hide behind them for a second. “Hey, you okay?”
“Yeah,” she breathes out, and she has been wondering for a while now when the first time she was going to cry in front of him would be, but she never thought it would be in the middle of this pretty delightful weekend. “I’m just having such a great time.”
“This is a pretty unusual way to show it.” He puts down the cards to rub the back of her hand and once she does, there’s no holding back the tears.
“I heard for years that I was too distant and cold and bitter and that no one was going to love me if I was that way, but you do, and I didn’t have to change anything about myself to make it happen. But, it’s weird, too, because you make me want to be different. You make me happy and laugh, and like I’m playing cards in a cottage next to a lake and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, and that’s new for me. This is all new for me, and I think it’s because even though I never wrote it down, or acknowledged it, this was the stuff on my bucket list. You were what I needed before I died. And I can’t thank you enough.”
She wipes her hand over her face while he stares at her kind of shell shocked and there’s still a piece of her that’s afraid he’s going to find this to be too much now that it’s out in the open even though he’s not that kind of person.
But then he’s pulling her into his lap and cradling her there, and it doesn’t make her feel small, it just seems like she fits. “I have never thought of you as anything less than someone I wanted to hang out with. And at best, I’ve been so completely in love with you.” Andy kisses the top of her head and just holds her then, for awhile, as she cries into the front of his plaid shirt, feeling stupid and giddy and like it’s okay that maybe no one else is ever going to understand this.
They go for a walk, after midnight, on the cool sand of the beach, holding hands and freezing their bare feet off.
There’s no one else around and it’s that almost unsettling kind of quiet that exists out in the country. Plus those creepy stars are shining down on them so brightly the lake is sparkling and way too lit up. “You need to distract me from how much nature I’m standing in right now.”
“How do you suggest we do that?” he says with a spark in his eye that tells her he already has some possibilities in mind.
Stepping up on her toes, and pulling herself that little extra distance by tugging on his coat pockets, she kisses him. “We can probably come up with something.”
“I thought we weren’t allowed to fool around where there’s sand.” She had kind of made that point explicitly clear on their honeymoon.
“As long as I’m not in it, we’re okay.”
He says, “I can work with that,” while unzipping his fly. “Take your leggings off.”
“Are you crazy? It’s cold out!”
“We’ll warm up!”
April can’t really argue with that logic, and pulls them down, feeling the air bite into her thighs, then her knees and lastly her calves. But then he puts his hands under her, picking her up, and she already feels less chilly. “You think you’re going to be able to hold us up all the way through?”
“That sounds like a challenge and I accept.” His look is steeled and serious and she has to kiss him again, feel his grip tighten on her and only pull her closer. There’s not much in the way of foreplay, he’s quickly shoving her underwear aside and positioning them, but April doesn’t tend to need much to get herself going with him.
He keeps their gaze locked and she’s just thinking about what’s happened tonight so far, how in touch with him she feels, and before she knows it, she’s throwing her hands up in the air and shouting, “ROAD TRIP!” at the sky.
She’s not sure if it’s because he’s laughing or coming, but his knees start to buckle and they’re falling into the sand and the water and he’s apologizing and she can’t even breathe this is the most overstimulating thing that has ever happened.
The next morning they get breakfast at a little place called Connie’s Cafe that they’d driven past and Andy orders so many eggs it’s kind of like eating with Ron.
“I need protein, you tired me out,” he says while trying to call dibs on her bacon.
She says, “I hate that Chris taught you about food,” but still slides two slices onto his plate. “Are you sad that tonight’s going to be the last night we sleep somewhere not our home?”
“Yeah, but we’ll do this again. Because, here, look,” he takes out the sheet of paper that started this all. “I still want to see the Grand Canyon and go to Disneyland and visit Graceland. We’ve got a lot of trips we can take.”
“I’d really like to do that with you,” she tells him and he gives her a piece of bacon back.
The last stop is Kalamazoo because it has a stupid name, and an Air Zoo, which she should have investigated more because it’s apparently a zoo of airplanes.
“I thought it would be like cages in the sky or at least a lot of birds or something,” Andy tells her, and she has to agree.
“Do you want to look at the planes? They’re apparently special for some reason.”
He scratches at the back of his head. “Well, what else are we going to do?”
“We can check in at the Best Western in like 45 minutes.”
“Yeah, let’s totally do that.”
They stay in bed the next morning until the maid knocks to kick them out and April wishes they hadn’t spent the night before swimming in the hotel pool in their clothes and then showering until they’d used up all the hot water.
“I’m tired,” she complains, dragging her bag behind her through the hallway.
“I know, babe. We’ll be home soon.”
She asks, “You’re sure you don’t mind driving?” even though if he says yes, she’s just going to drive them right off the road to their fiery deaths.
“No, it’s cool. This way you can sleep in the car.”
“I love you more than I have ever loved anything. Including cake.” April curls up in the front seat, using his jacket as a blanket, and the last thing she feels before drifting off is him making sure her seat belt is buckled.
When she wakes up they’re at a gas station and Andy’s bought a coffee so large that she knows they’ll be stopping every half hour between here and Pawnee.
“I called Ben and he said he’d make us a welcome home dinner if we let him know when we’re like an hour away.”
“Cool. Where are we actually?”
“I’m not really sure, but we’ve got at least an hour until Indianapolis still.”
“You let me sleep forever.” She stretches and tries to unkink her spine.
“Yeah, you looked comfortable.” The pump turns off and he clicks the trigger a few more times to round the total up. “You need a longer break? Or you’re good?”
“I’m good. Let’s go.” While they’re pulling out onto 13 South, the van still reeking of unleaded gasoline, she says, “Andy, I’m really happy you made that list.”
She waits for the calm to dissipate as they get closer to their exit, but the tension never comes, and when they unlock the door, Ben has food out on the table and doesn’t ask them too many questions.