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Joyce Hong, 11 (Oakville, ON, Canada)

A Vacation, an Idiom, and a Wedding

Joyce Hong, 11

Todd slowly exhaled and pressed the button on the radio. Maybe there would be some song or some old nostalgic tune that would cheer him up for a bit. Allard was still at the university in some neuroscience graduate classes that Todd, graphic design major who’d graduated years ago, would never be able to understand. At least he had some time to himself before Allard would be coming back. The radio burped before letting out a few long, miserable notes:

“Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead...” He smacked the button to change the song.

“We don’t talk anymore, like we used to do...”

Click. The radio belched once more.

“You told me you love me, why did you leave me all alone...”

“Cause my heart breaks a little when I hear your name...”

“We go, breaking up like cell phones, when I speak—”

Todd picked up the radio and promptly tossed it onto the floor. While it didn’t seem even remotely broken, the music did stop. Maybe there was something broken inside. Like how there was something broken inside Todd.

He had to fix this.

Because Allard was a good guy, and he didn’t do anything wrong, and Todd didn’t want to hurt him. And if Allard began to realize that Todd didn’t love him anymore—of course, he meant, if Allard began to believe, inaccurately, that Todd was falling out of love with him, Todd wasn’t sure what he would do with himself. Because then it would be his fault.


He had to fix this.

Now, the only question was how.


“Sam, my man—”

“I’m not your man.” Beep.

“Melia, I need your help, my lobelia—”

“Did you just compare me to a flower?” Beep.

“Rowan McGowan, you must be knowing—”

“That is a pathetic rhyme, and you know it.” Beep.

“Rochel, don’t hang up!

A few moments of silence.


“THIS IS NOT MY DAY!” Todd threw his head back, slamming the phone back on the holder. “Why is everyone being so—so annoying today?” Slumping down into the chair, the door creaked closed behind him even though he hadn’t opened it in the first place.

As Todd spun around in his chair, Allard gave him a sweet, puzzled smile. It was the type of smile that used to make Todd weak at the knees.

Cute, but it didn’t make his knees feel weak anymore.

“I hope that everyone doesn’t include me.” Allard said, slinging his bag off his shoulder and dropping it onto the rug. Todd studied him in silence, a frown tugging at the corners of his mouth. Allard’s face was beginning to look increasingly concerned, his smile faltering a bit as he adjusted the cuffs of his sleeves. “Todd? You alright?”

Letting out a small, sharp laugh, Todd nodded vigorously. “Course, Ally. Course. Just... Everyone was hanging up on my calls. ALL OF THEM. Sam, Mel, Rowan, Rock. I haven’t even tried to call Bill yet, but I’m sure that he’ll hang up, too.”

“Well, actually, I saw him at uni today, and he’s going to his fiancée’s brother’s place in Trinidad for their wedding! He was actually supposed to pack weeks before, but he’d procrastinated and now he’s really hurrying and hoping that Amanda won’t catch him. So, Bill probably won’t pick up at all!” Allard’s shoulders went back, his expression so innocent, so proud of just knowing this, but again, his smile faded quickly. “Well... I guess that didn’t help much.”

“Well, you know, I’ve always told you that your optimism is infectious, hm, love?” Todd fell back into the chair. Going to his fiancée’s brother’s place in Trinidad... “And besides, speaking of going on a trip, I’ve decided to go on a vacation! Alone!” Todd slapped his thighs. “Whaddya say?”

“Todd, it’s the middle of the year. And alone? Do you remember what happened last time?”

Todd did remember what happened last time. Seven years ago, when Allard had been twenty, and Todd had been twenty-one, but still he remembered.

How could he forget?


“Todd, you’re not looking so good.” Allard gave him an adorably worried look. “You want to get off the boat before it starts?” Allard thought Todd didn’t see him, but Todd had been watching his every move as he’d glanced furtively at the speck that was Long Island.

He was not going to ruin Allard’s birthday. “Nah,” Todd said, lifting his chin up. “I’ll be fine.”

He was, of course, lying. His stomach lurched as the boat began to move. Involuntarily, Todd felt his hand grip the side of the boat tightly as his other hand threaded naturally between Allard’s fingers. He’d mentioned before that he got seasick, but... He. Was. Not. Going. To. Ruin. Allard’s. Birthday.

“How long until we reach the island?” Todd said weakly.

“Bout 'one hour twenty minutes,' I think they’d said,” responded the tall, spectacled girl sitting next to them. This was the girl that would eventually become one of their closest friends. Melia. She peered more closely at them. “You okay? You’re looking a bit green.”

Todd smiled at her placidly, trying not to let himself seem too ill. He decided that not responding would be the best option because if he were to open his mouth, he was afraid he’d hurl immediately. Casting a sympathetic look at Todd, Allard squeezed his wrist, relieving a bit of the nausea.

He’d remembered.

Well, of course he’d remembered. Allard had always been the better boyfriend.

Todd had just reached into his pocket for his seasickness medication and opened the box when the ferry rode over a high wave. Allard reached over, sweeping Todd’s hair away from his face as he yodeled out his lunch.

“I’m sorry,” Todd said earnestly to the girl.

In silence, she handed him a vomit bag that had seemingly spawned out of thin air. He took it gratefully and, as a particularly turbulent wave rocked the boat, puked again.

Todd looked back up at her. Unsure of what to say, he simply spat out the same words: “I’m sorry.”

Allard had slowly begun to laugh, and Todd shot him a mock-betrayed look as the girl began to chuckle, too. “You don’t have to be sorry,” she said. “My brother gets seasick, too. Got my grandad’s genes, that’s why.” Her expression was so serious. “I’m Melia. Where you from?”

“Niagara,” Todd said mournfully. “The Canadian side. I’m Todd, this is my, uh, person, Allard.” Allard snorted.

“You’re from Niagara? Me too!” Melia jounced on her heel.

Todd threw up in response.

At Allard’s pitying gaze, he said, as a sort of awkward compensation, “It’s worse on airplanes.”


“I won’t go too far away,” Todd said, looking up to meet Allard’s eyes. “Seriously, love.” I want to go far, far, away.

“And it’s only alone because I...” I can’t be alone with you for so long. I have to get out of here. Sort things out.

“I need a bit of time to myself.”

“Well,” Allard said, “Where are you going, then?”

I have no idea. “IKEA,” Todd said.

Shut up. Seriously, SHUT THE UP, TODD.

Allard’s eyes crinkled, and he pursed his lips even as laughter escaped. “Ikea it is. But not now, it’s getting late.” Looking somewhere between amused and confused, Allard offered, “Tomorrow?” Todd nodded frantically, and Allard smiled, turned, and disappeared into the bathroom.

Ikea? Really?


One. Day. Later.


Todd had spent two hours at Ikea and bought absolutely nothing. It was a talent of his.

Just as he was about to proceed to the checkout with nothing in the cart, his phone began to ring. He frowned at the screen, which read in clear, grey letters, “Unknown number." Todd tossed his hair from his face and pressed the phone to his ear. “Hello?”

“I’m using the landline at our new house, which is why you probably didn't recognise this number.” It was Lexan. His words were rushed out. “Liv forgot your number and asked me to call you. And I’m not really sure where my phone went. BUT GUESS WHAT?"  What, Lexan?  "WE’RE GETTING MARRIED! AHHH! It’s going to be in two weeks, because we forgot to tell you, and, really, it’s difficult mailing an invitation from Wales to Canada. But you’re invited! Isn’t that amazing?

Todd blinked. “Yeah. Yeah, wow. That—That’s pretty damn cool. I didn’t know that I would be invited to your guys’ wedding though. Me and Livvy—Livvy and I, we haven’t spoken in years.”

“You’re Liv’s favourite cousin, of course we’re inviting you!”

I am? Well, I have to say, I’m flattered.” Todd grinned. He felt quite pleased.

“You’ll be coming, won’t you? Just pop by Liv’s place on the 20th—we’re getting married in the backyard because we’re on a budget. But, Liv would be so dismayed if you didn’t come!” Todd could practically hear them pout at this. “And I would be, too! You’re my favourite cousin-in-law!” Lexan wheedled. Todd grinned, biting the inside of his cheek to stop himself from laughing.

“You say that like you have many,” Todd teased. “Of course I’ll be coming.”

“Oh, and Bring Allard!”

Lexan clucked. They continued, their voice suddenly worried, “You two’ve not broken up or something, have you?” They seemed so genuinely concerned. “Because I’d always thought you’d make the best couple and then you guys got together and we would all look at you and think, there’s the perfect couple. They’re prolly gonna get married and stay together till the end of time.” With each careless word that Lexan said, Todd’s heart sank a bit more. “So if you guys are broken up that basically means there is no more hope in the wo—”

“Nah, I just need a vacation. And this is the perfect excuse.”


“SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS, bye!” Todd pressed the shivering red button on his screen and scrolled through his contacts before slowly, reluctantly tapping Allard’s name (which used to have a bunch of heart emojis round it), and waiting as the low beeping vibrated through the air.


“Todd! You’re still not back from vacation?”

“Mm... Long vacation. Two hours, love. Such a long... ‘vacation.'”

Allard snorted.

“Well, what I actually called to say was that Lexan called and told me that they’re getting married to Liv! Apparently they’d forgotten to tell me it’s in two weeks... Wales, of course.” Todd paused to let the words sink in. After a couple of moments, he added, “So, like a vacation. Alone.”

Allard made a noise that Todd wasn’t sure what to make of and said, “Well, Rowan should be going, too. Just... stick by xem on the plane.”


The plane.

This was going to be real fun.


One. Week. & Six. Days. Later.


Rowan was still wearing sunglasses, as usual.

It was like a trademark article of clothing for xem—xe was never seen without them. Todd had never taken the time to wonder why xe always wore them, but considering the fact that it was 10:00 PM and only several weeks shy of Christmas, the sunglasses honestly seemed impractical.

“Hi,” Todd said, waving.

Rowan did not respond, which was not at all out of the ordinary. Todd could never tell if xe was listening. It never seemed like xe was listening. Xe did, however, raise xyr sunglasses up to xyr forehead, revealing mournful blue eyes.

For some reason, Todd did not think Rowan would make a very good conversation partner.

The only reason Todd was “friends” with Rowan was because Rowan had been friends with Allard in high school. But again, if it wasn’t for Rowan, Todd wouldn’t even have the chance to escape—take a break from, Todd meant, of course—Allard at all. Because if it wasn’t for Rowan, there wouldn’t have been a wedding to attend in the first place.



“... Hm?”

“Why is Rowan here, again?”

“Xe said xe wanted to visit Wales.”

“I’m leaving,” Rowan, barely nineteen, said abruptly, and Todd wondered when they’d stood up.

“I’m sorry,” Todd said, the response much more instinctive than anything.

“I can tell when you—” Xe inhaled slowly before letting out a low breath. Rowan squinted at Allard and Todd for a few moments, giving Todd some more time to wonder whether Rowan was actually nearsighted. “I shouldn’t tread in on your grand family reunion with your cousins. And, I have a friend that I’m visiting here. They’re going to meet me at a café. I can walk.”

“Wait,” Todd coughed. “Meeting a friend? Do you mean visiting a friend, or... visiting a friend?”

Rowan’s nostrils flared. “The first one.”

Allard snorted. The car door slammed shut.

Todd sighed and hopped out of the car, the stairs growling under the soles of his boots. His footsteps felt heavy. He hadn’t seen Livvy in so long—she had been fifteen, him eighteen, and now he was twenty. She was seventeen. Two years. And he knew that while old people seemed to look the same forever, on the other hand, children and teens for some reason looked so different after even just a couple of years.

He rapped his hand on the door.

“TODD!” The response was so quick that he barely caught a glimpse as the whirlwind that was Livvy crashed into him. Todd almost inhaled some strands of bronze hair as he stumbled backwards, just a bit winded.

As Livvy finally released him from her stranglehold, Todd tilted his head. “You’ve grown!”

Of course she’d grown. Todd, please say something intelligent.

She only grinned at him, opening her mouth to speak, but—

“TODD!” A different voice this time, one that Todd didn’t recognise at all. There was a bout of hysterical laughing and a bounty of footsteps. Then a shout. Todd turned around to see an unfamiliar face with a mass of curly hair, maybe seventeen or eighteen, dragging Rowan along towards the car. “START THE CAR!”

Rowan said: “Oh my god.”

Livvy inhaled, her brown eyes wide. “Who’s that?”

“The person with the glasses?”

“No.” Livvy gestured at the curly-hair person.

“WHO ARE YOU?” Todd shouted in response.

The curly-hair person waved with both hands cheerfully. “LEXAN! ROWAN’S FRIEND!”

“Lexan,” Livvy said dreamily. “That’s a nice name.”

Todd stared as the newly-discovered Lexan said something to Rowan before beginning to pick the lock of Todd’s car. Allard did not try to stop them. “Livvy,” Todd said, “Please help me save my car.” Despite nodding frantically, Livvy was still staring at Lexan.


Twelve. Hours. Later.


“Why are you here?”

Todd’s eyebrows inched together. “She’s my cousin.”

“Ally told me you wanted to go on vacation. Why are you on vacation?” It wasn’t like Rowan to suddenly start a conversation like this. But again, xe had always been close to Allard, and xe had always been uncannily observant. “You bring him everywhere with you. And Liv and Lexan know Ally well enough. So really, there’s no stark reason why you’re not with him.”

Swallowing, Todd leaned back into the backseat of the cab. “I don’t have to talk to you about this.”

“He’s my best friend.”

“I’m not talking to you about this, and especially not right now.” In all honesty, Todd was aware how childish he was sounding. And probably how childish he was looking, considering the fact that his arms had at some point folded reflexively over his chest.

But, again, in all honesty?

He didn’t care.

Todd was not going to be talking about his failing feelings to Rowan, of all people, a few hours before his favourite cousin was getting married.

“Is someone breaking up with someone?” the cab-driver said, suddenly curious.


“You don’t love him anymore, do you?” Rowan’s voice was small, and suddenly it was xem that looked like a child. Xe seemed a bit frightened, and Todd’s mind flashed to Lexan’s words on the phone: and we would all look at you and think, "there’s the perfect couple. They’re prolly gonna get married and stay together till the end of time." So if you guys are broken up that basically means there is no more hope in the wo—

In the world. That was what Lexan had been going to say.

“Just because we might break up doesn’t mean all hope is lost for everyone else’s relationships, you know.” Todd said, chuckling just a bit to himself.

“That’s only what Lexan thinks, honestly,” Rowan said stiffly. “But they’re starting to make a lot more sense than I gave them credit for.” Xe paused for several moments, before xyr eyes went wide. “You two are breaking up? Really? Because honestly, I was only about forty-percent sure about this—”

“I hope not,” Todd said, Rowan’s anxiety beginning to become contagious. “Well, as they say, ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’, right? I bet I’ll miss him a whole lot and when I get back I’ll just fall into his arms or something else just as cliché and teen-romance-movie-worthy.”

“I have to say, idioms have never been really accurate in my opinion, especially that one. You shouldn’t depend on it that much.” Rowan’s face was slightly red as the cab skidded to a stop. “I’m speaking from personal experience.”

Todd rubbed his eyes. “Well, then. I hope your personal experience is unique to you.”


“Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead...” He smacked the button to change the song.

“We don’t talk anymore, like we used to do...”

Click. The radio belched once more.

“You told me you love me, why did you leave me all alone...”

“Cause my heart breaks a little when I hear your name...”

“We go, breaking up like cell phones, when I speak—”


Todd turned towards Livvy. “First-person-to-be-married-out-of-this-generation-of-this-family?”


“Why do people write break-up songs in the first place?”

“Those are just by sad, single people wallowing in their sorrows.”

“Okay. Thanks, coz.”

“Are you being sarcastic?”

“You see right through me.”



“Yes? Wait. WHAT?”

“Rowan told me.”

“OH, NO.”

“Are you really falling out of love with Ally?”

“Maybe. Probably. Yes? I mean...”


“Well, what do you suggest I do? I took a trip to make my ‘heart grow fonder.'”

“Is it working?”

“I... I don’t think so.”




“I don’t want to break up with Ally. I like Ally. Ally’s great.”

“But do you love him?”

“I think I do. I think I used to.”

“You can’t just... lie to yourself. And him. That could lead to—”

“Lots of problems, I get it. But I just—”

“Don’t want to hurt him?”


“But not hurting him now will just hurt him after.”

“I know.”



“Who’re you talking to?”

“If you break up with Ally, can you still stay friends?”



“Of course, Livvy. Of course we’ll still be friends. He’s a good guy.”

“You know, it’s always been Ally-And-Todd. Todd-And-Ally.”

“Not always...”

“But it’s been like that for a long time.”

“Yeah. It has.”

“... Todd? I think you should break up with him.”

“I... I guess I think so, too.”

“Will you do it now?”

“I’m flying back tomorrow. There’s time.”

“You should do it now.”

“He’s across the sea right now.”

“But you might bail out.”

“That’s fair.”


Beep... Beep... Beep...




“I have to tell you something.”

“Yeah?” Allard's tone was starting to sound amused. Which made Todd even guiltier.

It’s for his own good, it’s for your own good.

“I have performed an experiment. To see whether the phrase, ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’, is true and fair.” Todd breathed in, and rushed his words out. “I have come to the conclusion that it is not, in fact, true or fair. Because I took a vacation so that I would have a chance to miss you, un-platonically, and you the same, but it’s not working. It didn’t work. I don’t want this to be an ending, okay? I want it to be a... a beginning. Allard, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

There was enough silence for Todd to hear the fire crackling through the phone. Then, slowly.
“Did you just quote Casablanca on me?”

Todd let out a hoarse laugh. “Does that mean we’re cool?”

“Cool as two people formerly in a relationship sharing a flat can be.” Allard still sounded just a bit uneasy, but Todd could hear him smile as he said, thoughtfully, “I think it might take some time, but we’ll get there. Just two friends. Two friends. Two friends who have a history, but they’re just friends, who can do friend things like give their other friends separate Christmas gifts and talk about normal things like how ugly Rochel’s shirt was.”

Another laugh. “Good. That’s a point I can get to.”

This story was originally submitted as part of our July Flash Contest. While its length precluded it from being accepted for the Flash Contest, we loved it so much we decided to publish it on our blog!

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