Yuri’s hands were sweating on the wheel. He chanced a glance at Adriana, who was busy watching street signs as they drove around looking for a place to park.
“Look at that. Ocean Avenue! Huh.”
She grinned over at him and he quickly looked back at the road.
“Think we can find anywhere to park for free?” she asked.
Yuri paused. “Don’t worry about that,” he said. “I don’t mind.”
They pulled into a little parking lot near the pier. Adriana got out and shook her hair, breathing in deeply.
“Don’t you love the way it smells?”
Yuri laughed. “Like dead fish?” he said.
“No way! Like sand, and salt, and… freedom. You know what I mean?”
Yuri didn’t really. But he found himself wishing he did.
They made their way over to the pier and Adriana started taking pictures of everything—them in front of the ferris wheel, them with the guy in the big shrimp costume in front of Bubba Gumps, them watching some break dancing street performers. Yuri started wondering if he’d shaved well enough when he noticed her taking pictures of him from the side.
“What’s up?” he said, turning to her.
She smiled. “Making it history,” she said simply.
He looked at her for a moment, his head cocked slightly. He’d never seen her do this before. Then again, they’d never done anything like this before.
“Hey,” Adriana said. “Do you want to get some lunch?”
“Sure. Anything you want.”
Adriana looked around. They were standing near the edge of the pier by a restaurant that claimed the freshest fish in California. She pointed. “Are you in the mood for fish?”
Yuri grinned. “I don’t think they sell anything else around here,” he said.
As they waited for their orders outside on round tables with umbrellas, Adriana suddenly looked a little shy.
“I have a… kind of a weird thing,” she said. “A request.”
Yuri raised his eyebrows and she continued. “I have this, kind of a fantasy, about sitting under the pier with my toes in the sand. And preferably eating fish.” She paused. “I know it’s weird.”
He grinned. Maybe it was a little weird.
“That doesn’t sound too hard,” he said. “Seems like the perfect time to knock something off your bucket list.”
Her smile got wide. “Really? You’d walk all the way down there with me?”
He laughed. “Of course,” he said. “No big deal.”
Her face went serious. “But you can’t have a single bite of food until we’re down there. Or it’ll ruin it.”
Yuri couldn’t help but feel strange as they picked up their food and walked down the pier with their bags. It was like they were on some kind of a mission. She walked a little ahead of him in her white shorts and flip flops slapping against the old wood of the pier. She was so tan and blonde, she ought to belong here. But she carried herself differently, with this deliberate way of walking. She stuck out. And Yuri thought she must be the prettiest girl on the pier.
It was hard not to laugh when they got under the pier and Adriana immediately plugged her nose. Seagulls picked at garbage and seaweed. Even the most adventurous of picnickers were only spreading their blankets out at the very edges of the sand under the pier. Adriana stopped, looked at Yuri, and marched right to the middle.
“We have to do this!” she said, brandishing her bag of fried fish. “For our children! And our children’s children!”
Yuri laughed, ignoring the little butterflies that popped up in his stomach. They sat gingerly between two piles of seaweed and pulled out their food. She tapped her fish against his and said, “To knocking things off the bucket list.”
Yuri took a bite, Adriana took a bite, and then she jumped to her feet.
“We did it,” she said. “I can’t stand it here anymore.”
And she grabbed her bag and marched right back out into the fresh air by the water. Yuri was relieved as he followed her through the soft sand. He was beginning to get used to these kinds of things. Spending time with Adriana was a little bit like learning to do the splits. He just had to get more flexible. And besides, he kind of liked the way she took him around and around, in circles, it seemed. It was kind of like following a treasure map.
They ate the rest of their lunch in the sand, away from everyone, the water rushing up and tickling their feet. Yuri couldn’t remember feeling so calm and so elated at the same time. They sat with their arms touching, brushing each other every time they reached up to their mouths or Adriana pulled her hair from her face.
“Hey,” she said after a while. “You’re a leftie.”
He smiled. “Yeah,” he said. “Sorry if I ever bump you in class.”
She put down the fry she was about to put in her mouth. “Oh,” she said. “I kind of thought that was on purpose.”
She paused and smiled at him, then looked back out at the ocean and kept eating.
“Where’d you get it from?” she said.
Yuri was mid-mouthful. “Mmm?”
“Being left-handed. Just curious. I’ll probably have to make a left-handed punnet square one of these days, you know.”
He thought for a moment. “I don’t know,” he finally said. “No one else in my family is left-handed.”
Adriana raised her eyebrows and widened her eyes. Then she grinned.
“You’re probably adopted,” she said casually.
Yuri pushed her on the arm, shaking his head. “Nice,” he said.
“Well anyway, that’s pretty cool. I always heard that left-handed people were really smart. You use a different part of your brain, or something.”
He laughed but didn’t say anything. It made him feel kind of… weird, for her to bring that up so casually. He didn’t want to mention that the same thing had occurred to him. Left-handedness wasn’t that recessive. Not normally.
Adriana was drawing in the sand and was quiet for a little while. “So what about you?” she said.
Yuri lay down in the sand, chuckling. “You’re the most vague person I’ve ever met,” he said, starting to feel that if she could say whatever she wanted, he ought to be able to do the same. “What do you mean?”
She laughed sheepishly and lay down too, her hair blending in with the sand. “What’s on your bucket list? We got one of mine today, so it’s only fair….”
He thought for a while, watching some kids build a sand castle. California was so different. He hadn’t thought up a list of what he wanted to do here yet. He had already done so many things—and they had all been in Shanghai. So what was here that wasn’t there?
Well, that one was easy. Adriana.
But Yuri didn’t have the guts and he wasn’t cheesy enough to say anything. This wasn’t a chick flick. He didn’t even know if Adriana liked that kind of stuff, anyway. He thought for a bit and finally came up with something.
“The Redwoods,” he said. “I want to drive under a tree.”
Adriana laughed—loud. She slapped the sand and said, “And I want a pony, Yuri! That’s like 10 hours away!”
She stopped and looked at him. Her voice got quiet. “Yeah,” she said. “We’ll go someday.”
She smiled for a moment and ran a finger around in the sand. Then she stopped, sat up, and changed all over again. Yuri sighed.
“So, did you see some of those shops we passed on the way over here?” she said. “I’m dying for a hokey souvenir. Like, I don’t know, a shell necklace or something.”
They found a street full of sandy old houses that had been converted into shops. Signs advertised sales everywhere—mostly t-shirts and postcards. Adriana was like a kid in a candy store. She couldn’t look at one thing for long, and she laughed at all the people walking around with overly white shoes and cameras around their necks.
“Oh, look!” she said, pulling him over to a booth displaying tiles painted with tropical fish.
Yuri’s face felt hot. She had grabbed his hand to pull him there. And she wasn’t letting go. She pointed out a couple of tiles with yellow fish on them, bargained a little with the owner, and got three for ten dollars. She didn’t let go of his hand until he reached for his wallet. She gave him a thankful look and they headed back to the car. Yuri’s mind was reeling. His fingers twitched. But she didn’t take his hand again.
They drove all the way back to Adriana’s house without a mention of it. Yuri was starting to think it hadn’t happened at all.
That was, until he dropped her off at her doorstep. The door was open and only the screen was shut. Adriana’s roommates were watching TV and laughing at each other.
Adriana looked down at her feet. “Thanks again, Yuri. For lunch, and the hokey souvenir. And, you know, helping me knock something off my bucket list, too.”
He grinned. “Anytime.”
She nodded, smiled, and stuck out a hand. She looked at him awkwardly. He smiled sideways at her and shook her outstretched hand.
“Really?” he said. “Are we… shaking hands?”
Adriana stopped. She considered him for a second. “Sorry,” she said quietly.
And she reached up on her toes and kissed him.