As I step out of the rusted station wagon, the unforgettable scents of Vancouver Island strike me — lilac, gravel, and salt. This place plays tempting tricks on visiting city dwellers, prompting us to question why we have chosen to exist anywhere else. I enter the foyer of the house and breathe in the smell of old wood coated in fresh paint. The panels below my feet let out an earnest squeak with every step I take, and I imagine the house blushing at its inability to hide its age. I head towards the staircase, lifting my bag as not to scrape its wheels on the delicate frames of the steps. The foyer at the top of the stairs presents a crossroad — there are five separate doors, four of which are closed, the other leading to a room on which Laura has already laid claim. There will be four of us staying here this summer—last-minute “girls retreat,” as my friends have been calling it. Since the beginning of university, we have been coming here every spring break. This year feels unique. Graduation is approaching quickly, and we all know that this will likely be our last visit here. I think that most of the girls will be happy to move on with their lives by the time school ends — I’ll be happy as well —but I can’t help feeling as though I still have things left to do. Time rarely leaves warnings for the young. Instead, it teases you with the illusion of endless expanse, offering no apology when you realize you have discovered its deception.
I take a left and push open the door directly across from Laura’s room, and decide to leave my bag in this one. It’s small, consisting of only a twin bed and a vanity, but there is one panelled wall adorned with tall windows that fill each corner with natural light. I stand in place for a moment, taking in my surroundings, letting my brain catch up with my body. I am truly, finally, here.
I unzip my bag and start to unpack my makeup and perfume onto the vanity, opening the window so I can make acquaintance with the sounds of the neighbourhood. Cars whizz by on the street outside, a few of the girls laugh about something while smoking in the driveway and from down the hall, I can hear Laura humming along to a Johnny Cash song. Sitting down at the vanity, I take a proper look at myself, which I haven’t done in days. Despite my transition into adulthood, I am still the same Ellery—though my hair has lightened from the sun, and my freckles threaten to expose themselves once again. Those freckles make me think of my grandmother, who used to call them “beauty spots.” Every summer, she would remind me that their patterns were formed by the universe uniquely for my body. A solar system, fitting itself faultlessly on the bridge of my nose. I’ve always thought they make me look childish.
As I lean forward to give my skin a closer look, I realize that I can see Laura in her room across the hall from the left panel of my mirror. I turn my eyes away, not wanting to invade her privacy, but I find it almost impossible not to look back. I feel a lack of control over where I place my gaze, aware of my inappropriate voyeurism. She isn’t doing anything particularly interesting, just unfolding clothes from her bag and transferring them into the nearby wardrobe. Still, her movements catch my interest. She carries herself with such mirthful energy, even when she thinks no one is watching. I place my chin on my hand, steadying myself in place so I don’t lose the precise angle that allows me to watch her from my seat. She continues humming to herself and shaking out the clothes from her bag for a few more moments. Then, abruptly, she begins rummaging through her belongings with new vigour, searching for something. She unzips the front pocket of her suitcase, triumphant. Reaching inside, she pulls out a creme-coloured dress, shaking it aggressively to loosen the wrinkles. She lays the garment down on her bed and begins to undress. My heart is beating faster now. I know I should look away, but I can’t bring myself to just yet. She removes her T-shirt first, pulling it over her head to reveal a wireless lace bra underneath. She then pulls down her skirt, leaving it to lay on the floor. My feet are restless, rhythmically pattering on the ground. Guilt makes my stomach churn. My actions are tasteless and invasive.
Laura raises the dress above her shoulders and slides it on over her head, turning to the mirror to see her figure fully. She leans closer towards the glass to get a closer look, just as I had done moments before, and a rush of panic runs through me when I realize that through the reflection her gaze has met mine. For a lingering moment, we both freeze, and a weighty wash of shame mixed with embarrassment strikes me. To my surprise, Laura’s lips draw themselves into a wanton half-smile, and she winks at me. She turns away to continue with her unpacking as if nothing at all had happened. I stand from my seat to do the same, revelling in the familiar sensation of promiscuity that overwhelms me. But—like a child, whose hands have been burned before by the coils of a hot stove—I know to keep my distance from things that make me feel this way. My body still sears, blistered from the last time I thought it was safe to share this part of myself.
Soon, I think to myself; you will be far from here. Soon, you can walk along a different beach, one far away, fingers intertwined with those of a girl who doesn’t fear her love for you. One who won’t abandon her courage come fall or hide behind mirrored reflections to meet her eyes with yours.
The events of this trip will remain, forever, within the confines of this tattered home, as they always do. Buried beneath lilac, gravel, and salt.
KELBY MACKENZIE is a twenty-two-year-old writer, who currently resides in Victoria, BC.