Even stared blankly at the luggage carousel, as bag after bag passed in front of him in a sea of mostly black and gray, disrupted only by the occasional geometric pattern or a flash of burgundy. He should never have gotten on that plane. Most of the suitcases appeared identical to him, and he wondered how people even recognized their own. Maybe that’s why they kept rolling in a flat circle in front of him: none of the passengers could pick theirs out of the lineup, so they stood around stupidly waiting for someone else to pick theirs up first.
He was furious with his mother for having not only RSVP’d for him without asking but also indicating that he would be bringing a “plus one,” knowing full well that he had no one to bring. As if it wasn’t humiliating enough already. Even watched as a lanky guy in a gray sweatshirt with the hood pulled over his head, stepped forward, grabbed one of the suitcases, and started walking away. The suitcase was dark green, slightly different from the row of blacks and grays, with a purple ribbon tied to the handle.
Wait a minute. Purple ribbon?
“Hey!” Even whipped around. “Hey, stop! You’ve got the wrong bag!”
The young man, however, only quickened his pace.
“Ah, fuck,” Even grumbled as he ran after him. This was all he needed.
Being freakishly tall had its advantages, Even thought, as he caught up to the thief just before he reached the exit. He grabbed the guy’s arm, forcing him to a stop. The hood of his sweatshirt slipped back as he turned to face Even, revealing a head of messy, golden curls.
“What the fuck, man?” Even asked without letting go. “That’s my suitcase.”
The guy’s blue eyes darted around the hall, as though looking for an exit, before settling on Even’s face. He coughed awkwardly.
“I uh,” he started, furrowing his brow, “I’m pretty sure this is mine.”
His voice was gravelly yet soft, and his eyes so wide that Even almost had the urge to apologize for startling him. He pulled himself together and, still holding the stranger’s arm with one hand, grabbed the luggage tag next to the purple ribbon with his other hand. Tugging on the stretchy rubber tie until it almost snapped, he lifted it towards the luggage burglar’s face.
“Is your name Even Bech Næsheim then?” he asked, eyebrows raised.
“Fuck,” the guy muttered under his breath, looking at his feet for a moment before facing Even with a sigh.
“Even?” A familiar voice rang out from behind, sending chills down Even’s spine.
Without loosening his grip on the thief’s arm, he turned around to face her.
“I thought that was you!” Sonja walked quickly over to him. Her hair was longer and pulled back in a tight ponytail. Her bare face radiated happiness. “I’m so glad you came,” she said genuinely, and gave Even a one-armed hug.
“So this is Even?” Sonja’s gentleman companion joined them slowly. He was clearly much older than she, but his age only showed in the confidence with which he carried himself. His graying hair merely made him appear distinguished and mature. The expensive, beautifully tailored suit didn’t hurt either.
Sonja didn’t seem to notice the rising tension or what Even thought was palpable discomfort. She took the man’s hand and announced happily, “Michael, this is Even. Even, meet my husband-to-be, Michael!” She beamed at both of them as Even clenched his jaw, regretting that his plane hadn’t exploded in mid-air.
“So nice to finally meet you, Even,” the smug smile on Michael’s face widened as he looked Even over. “I’m delighted that you’ll be here on our big day.”
Even forced a smile. “Likewise,” he said.
“Are you gonna introduce us?” Sonja said after a moment, and Even suddenly became aware of the wriggling arm that was still clenched in his hand.
“Oh, this is uh…” he started to explain but gave up immediately. It didn’t really matter anymore. He considered telling Sonja and Michael to have a lovely wedding but that he would be spending the week right here at the airport until it was time for his flight back.
“Isak,” the baggage bandit interjected, flashing Sonja a winning smile. Even was slightly taken aback by his newly acquired cool confidence.
“Is this… Is this your…” Sonja lowered her voice to almost a whisper, “plus one?”
“Ha!” Even chuckled, letting go of Isak’s arm, but instead of running, Isak slipped his hand into Even’s, entwining their fingers together.
“Great to finally meet you!” Isak’s gaze was fixed on Sonja as he scooted closer to Even before resting his chin on Even’s shoulder. “Evvy’s told me a lot about you.”
Evvy? Even turned his head slightly to get a better look at his tormentor, awkwardly realizing that their faces were no more than an inch apart. Eyelashes. That was all that registered in his mind before he quickly looked away again.
“Oh?” Sonja seemed delighted. “Am I the shrew that broke his heart?” she asked jokingly.
Even focused on regulating his breathing as he anxiously awaited Isak’s response.
“Not at all!” Isak assured her easily. “You... well, you are the fortunate stepping stone that brought us together.” He turned to look up at Even, silently urging him to play along with the slightest twitch of the eyebrows.
A soft laugh escaped Even’s lips when he looked over at Sonja’s suddenly disgruntled face, but before he had a chance to say anything, Michael interrupted.
“Darling, our car is here,” he said, taking Sonja’s hand and slowly guiding her toward the exit. He nodded at Even and Isak, “it was lovely meeting you both.”
“Wait,” Sonja stopped walking and addressed Even. “But aren’t you guys getting a cab, too?”
“Why, yes we are,” Isak chirped at her. “Why don’t we walk outside together?”
Even let himself be pulled through the large airport doors and ushered into a cab next to the lying, thieving stranger, who leaned over him to the open window to wave at Sonja. As their cab started to roll forward, Even turned back just in time to see Sonja gracefully enter a long black limo, followed by her frowning fiancé.
They rode in silence for a while, watching the cityscape around them slowly transform into an island paradise. Hawaii really was beautiful. Every once in a while, Even glanced over at Isak, and their eyes met for an awkward second.
“You realize you have to attend the wedding with me now,” Even finally asked.
“Yeah,” Isak nodded and volunteered no further information until Even prompted him by raising his eyebrows.
“Oh, right,” Isak finally said. “Um... You know how I was trying to steal your bag earlier?”
“Yes,” Even chuckled, “yes, I do know that.”
“Well uh… I’m desperate,” Isak said with a sigh. “I’m stranded, I’m dying to go home. All my stuff’s been stolen. I got my passport but that’s it. I’ll do anything for the money, I… I don’t know what else to do.” After a brief pause, he shot Even a one-sided smile, lowering his chin to look up at him. “And it looked like you could use a plus one, from where I was standing.”
Even considered it for a moment. He wasn’t sure he bought the story entirely, but he didn’t really have much to lose. The guy was charming, and Sonja had seemed convinced. Besides, what else was he gonna do, tell her the truth? He’d just have to make sure never to leave Isak alone with his things, and maybe, just maybe, this could work out to his benefit.
“I’m here for five days,” he said. “There are… activities and multiple celebrations planned. You would have to attend all of them with me. And be convincing. I’ll get you a fucking first class ticket home if it goes smoothly.”
“Okay,” the reply was instantaneous.
“Okay?” Even still couldn’t believe he was doing this.
“Okay,” Isak smiled and nodded.
This was completely ridiculous. But for the first time since he’d boarded the plane, Even felt like he could actually handle showing his face at Sonja’s wedding. He settled back into the seat and looked out at the sliver of blue ocean on the horizon.
“So uh…” Isak spoke again. “Do we have to pretend while we’re alone, too, or…?”
“No, of course not,” Even said.
“Can I have my hand back then?” Isak grinned at him.
With a small gasp, Even released his grip on Isak’s hand. How the hell could he have forgotten that he was holding it?
Shortly thereafter, they arrived at the beach resort and entered the open lobby. They were greeted with presents of leis and fancy looking cocktails that Even assumed had very little actual alcohol in them. He chugged his nonetheless while the concierge searched for his name in the computer.
“Let’s see… Bech Næsheim… ah, here it is! Party of two,” he said, pulling two rubber bracelets from a box and handing them to Even and Isak.
“Uh,” Even spoke quickly and quietly hoping that no one would overhear. “Is there any way we can get two rooms? I’m happy to pay extra.”
The concierge looked confused for a moment before grinning slyly.
“Ah, no no, the bride insisted that you get one of the honeymoon suites. And you know, whatever it is you bickered about on your trip over, I promise you’ll forget all about it after your visit to the couples' spa and a walk on the beach.” He winked.
“Couples’ spa?” Isak laughed.
“Of course, you don’t have to worry about anything. The bride has booked you a double date for tomorrow afternoon. It’s all included.”
Isak’s face fell and he frowned slightly as he looked over to Even, who seemed to have just given up.
The concierge handed them a set of keys, a map of the resort, and a wedding week program while quickly running through a list of rules to follow while on the grounds. He pointed them in the direction of their building before turning to the next customer with a big smile.
They walked silently to the small bungalow they were assigned to. The sun was starting to set, and small Tiki torches illuminated their path. They were so close to the beach that they could hear the waves crashing against the shore. As they passed the house directly across from theirs, Even recognized Sonja’s distinctive laughter coming through the open window. Awesome.
Once inside, they both examined their new living quarters, Isak walking around the room, picking up various objects as though appraising them.
“I thought they said it was a suite,” Even grumbled.
“What do you mean?”
“A suite usually has a living room and a bedroom. We only have a bedroom and a kitchenette.” This whole thing was getting out of control.
Isak shrugged. “There’s a breakfast nook,” he pointed in the corner.
“There’s only one bed,” Even glared at him.
“I charge extra for that,” Isak looked at him seriously for a moment before laughing and walking toward the bed, throwing himself on it.
Even wasn’t entirely convinced that he had been kidding.
“Chill,” Isak said with a wink. "It’s a big bed.”
Even sat down on a wicker chair in the breakfast nook. “So what exactly do you do… Isak?” He ran the tip of his tongue across his teeth nervously before looking up. “I mean, when you’re not being a con artist.”
Isak had gotten up from the bed and walked over to the large square window, opening it wide. The air slowly filled with the scent of the ocean and a soft tropical breeze. Isak turned to face Even, leaning back on the window sill.
“I’m a scientist,” he said. "Or, well, lab intern at this point, but I'm almost done with school."
The sky behind him was a swirl of orange and purple, and his sharp outline stood out against it, making him appear angelic. Faces like that shouldn’t be allowed on liars and cheats.
“And how did you end up stranded here?” Even pressed.
Isak laughed uncomfortably and mumbled an incoherent reply.
“What was that?”
Isak rubbed his eye and scratched his head for a moment before replying.
“I was supposed to get uhh… married, I guess, and it didn’t, it just didn’t work out so… she decided that she’d… She took all my stuff and left me at the airport.” He pursed his lips defiantly, as though daring Even to question his explanation.
“What didn’t work out?” Even was genuinely curious now.
Isak rolled his eyes. “Shouldn’t you be telling me about your situation instead? I’m the one who has to pretend to know you in front of your friends.”
“Oh,” Even hadn’t even thought of that. “Yeah, right, okay, I guess uhhh… what do you need to know?”