The four of us walked aimlessly at first from the bar, trying to determine where we were headed. The boys wanted to go clubbing, and I wasn’t going to debate.
Jon and I led the group. I had seen the club, Park, earlier in the day. Tin had pointed it out to me on our drive. The club was tucked in (shocker) a park by the cathedral, so I kind of knew where to go. Being backpackers on a budget, we opted to stop first at the gas station across the street and stock up on some beers.
Well, Jon and I did. The others just hung out. Slightly buzzed already, we stared at the cooler debating which poison we wanted and what size. We ended up with some super-sized cans of Croatian beer. Two a-piece. The plan was to sneak them into the club, so we shoved three of them into my purse and one into his shorts. It wasn’t the classiest. It wasn’t the most honest. But, it saved us a few KN so we weren’t going to feel too bad about it. Especially after Jon forked over cover for both of us.
Inside was unlike any club I had ever experienced. There was a terrace, a bar and a dance area with the DJ set on a slightly raised stage. A mix of Euro house music and cheesy 80s music flooded the room. Jon and I looked at each other and headed straight for the bar for a shot.
Needless to say, we did not last long there. We bopped our heads to the bad music and when the DJ made an announcement in Croatian, Jon could only interpret it as an apology for the crap we were listening to, and reasoned that he must have left his music at home and what we were listening to was the backup.
The rest of our party seemed to be having a good time so they weren’t keen to follow us when Jon and I decided to depart for greener pastures (and to meet his friends at another club). The thing about greener pastures is this — once you get there, they aren’t so green. Luckily for us, we never made it to another club.
We certainly tried to find it. Well, he did. I was content just hanging out, drinking the roadies we had purchased from the gas station. After stopping two people and asking them for directions to the address he displayed in his phone, we determined we weren’t making it to the club.
We were making our way back towards Fulir but neither of us were tired. The streets were beginning to empty, and workers were out hosing off the square. Instead of calling it a night we opted to sit on one of the marble platforms jutting out from the square.
We popped our beers and sat in silence for a moment, taking it all in. The wet square glistened in the lights, with the main statue of a man on horseback illuminated against the backdrop of ancient buildings with modern ads plastered on them like billboards.
Jon and I probably sat like that for a good hour, talking about lives, exchanging stories of our youth and sharing who we are today with each other.
When the beer was done we ventured to a bar — the same one I had been at the night before with the Aussie. But, this time it was different. Jon and I were not blaringly intoxicated. We were just enjoying the moment and wanted it to continue beyond the marble platform.
We spent a little time at the bar, had another drink and then decided to continue our night back at the square. We grabbed another beer from the newsstand and sat back down to talk. After a few minutes we decided it would be nice to sit in more comfortable seats at a bar, so made our way to a different bar. Only, at this point in the night, none were open. I didn’t look at my watch until way later in the evening, but it was most likely nearing 3 a.m. by that point.
“Do you want to go explore?” I asked. He nodded his agreement so we went off on the same walking tour I had taken earlier in the day, past where the farmer’s market had been, the outdoor vendors selling their wares, ending up at the cathedral. The stillness and the emptiness of the capital city took my breath away. Walking through the now abandoned streets with Jon was so magnificent. So unexpected. So … romantic.
“You have to see this,” I said, leading him towards the square behind the church. We walked right to its gate before we noticed a guard sitting in his car, sadly ending the exploration. So, instead of going to see it, we sat on one of the benches outside the cathedral and I told him about it, showing him the photos I had taken earlier in the day.
It was nearing 4 a.m., so the two of us began our walk back to the hostel. Only, neither of us wanted the night to end. Instead, we pulled up seats at the bar below the hostel and continued talking about our lives and how we ended up where we are today. He, a graphic designer by day and a music producer by night, and me, well … a communicator of things I find myself not believing in so much these days.
We finally made our way up to the hostel when one of the Brits who was sleeping in the common room came up. We went in, grabbed some food and then sat outside on the top of the steps, talking even more.
“What are your plans tomorrow?” he asked.
“I think I am going to come with you.”
My heart skipped a beat.
“You’re going to what?” I asked, not really believing what he had just said.
“I want to go with you, is that ok?”
“Of course. Yes. Absolutely.” God, I sounded eager.
I leaned my head on his shoulder, taking in the moment. Then, I looked at my watch. Hell. It was after 5 a.m.
“Well, shit,” I said. “We have to wake up in two hours, it seems.”
We both smiled, looking directly into each other’s eyes, and just put our foreheads together, exasperated at the fact we would need to be up and ready to hike in two hours time.
And, then he kissed me. Sweetly. Softly. And, just like the first time I saw him, I melted.
We went to sleep that night looking forward to the morning. And I went to sleep that night barely containing my excitement. Did I really just meet this amazing guy? Did he really just tell me he wants to travel with me? I hear stories of how people met while traveling and never really imagined it would happen to me. Stuff like that just doesn’t happen to me.
Amy came to our door in the morning and I opened it quietly. I had bound out of bed a few minutes earlier, ready for the day. I couldn’t explain my alertness except for the fact that I was floating from the night before with Jon, wandering the streets of Zagreb and experiencing something so unexpected, so … lovely.
“Hi,” I said, opening the door and beaming.
“Well hello there.”
I closed the door a little, putting myself on the outside of the room.
“So … I think Jon is going to come with us on our little trip to the park,” I said.
“What? How? I mean … well, ok.”
I went to finish packing and gently nudged Jon, who had pulled his hoodie over his head and was tucked into a little ball on his bed.
“Hey there,” I whispered. “Wake up.”
He grumbled and pulled me down next to him, kissing my head.
“We’ve got to get going if we are going to catch the bus,” I said, trying to impress upon him the urgency of our quick departure.
He got up and walked outside with me, standing against the balcony, his bluebrowngreen eyes focused intently on me.
“I just don’t know…” he mumbled.
And, there it was. The very un-Hollywood and very real ending to my travel romance.
“Right,” I said, trying hard not to convey the disappointment in my voice or let him see the hurt in my eyes.
“I just don’t think I can do it,” he said, pulling me in to him, kissing my face, my lips.
“Ok,” I said. “You do what you need to do. I have to go with Amy and catch the bus.”
“Do you want to meet in Zadar?” he asked.
The glimmer of hope lit back up in myheart.
“Sure,” I said, smiling.
“Great. I will meet you at the Sea Organ at 8 p.m.”
I would love to say that I got my happy ending. That he was there at 8 p.m., waiting for me, and we sat together, listening to the haunting music play as we looked into the night by the sea. Yeah, I would love to say that.
“What’s your phone number?” he asked.
Suddenly, the memory of my new outgoing voicemail message rang in my ears. Berry and I are on vacation. When I get back I will return your call. Oh. DAMNIT. Damnit. Damnit. Damnit. I had never set up my phone for international calls.
“I don’t have a phone,” I could barely whisper.
He looked at me, sadly and said softly, “D, I just can’t take a bus to Zadar later today and hope you will be there at 8. I can’t do it.”
In retrospect, there were a million responses, a million different options to solve the problem, but I wasn’t on point. The lack of sleep from the night before, the high from the evening we had just spent together, was dissipating quickly and I was crashing back to reality. To the balcony of the hostel. To the realization that this was not happening the way I wanted it to. Instead of fighting, or reasoning, I told him I understood.
He pulled me to him, embraced me tightly and kissed me goodbye.
I grabbed my bag, Amy leading the way down the stairs, and didn’t look back.
As soon as we were out of the side street that was occupied by Fulir, Amy started asking questions. I recounted the night I had just had, realizing it was, without a doubt, the most amazing evening of my entire life. It wasn’t just for the unexpected turn of events late in the night, but the entire evening. The experience was so surreal. Touching. Something, despite the toll time takes on memories, I knew I would never forget.
As we got closer to the station, I started to get motivated. I was in Croatia. I had just met someone amazing. Why on earth would I not take a chance and see what would happen? When we arrived to the station, I had about 10 minutes.
“I’ve got to find a computer and e-mail him, tell him to come to Zadar, that we can make it work,” I said.
“Hurry,” was Amy’s response.
I ran. And, I never run. But, there was a fire burning in me and I knew I HAD to send him that note.
I fumbled over my words on the note to him, trying to coherently convey why he should meet me in Zadar.
There’s no way this can end like this, I wrote. After the night we just had, I cannot imagine not seeing you again.
I made it back to the bus as everyone was boarding.
The day at the park was lovely. It was stunning. But, my mind was half-way to Zadar. Half-way to reading his e-mail once I got to the city. Imaging a reunion.
When I arrived in Zadar that night, I booked it to an internet cafe after dropping my bags in my room at the Sobe. I paid my 20 KN and logged onto my e-mail. He had his laptop in Zagreb. He had used it in front of me. He had to have checked his e-mail.
But, nothing from him greeted me when I logged on.
I sat there, silent. Thinking. Sadness slowly filling me up, pushing the beautiful experience away and bringing a wave of tears to my eyes.
I walked out of the cafe and towards the Adriatic. To the sea organ.
I could hear it before I came upon it. It’s deep whistle. The sparkling water reflecting the street lamps danced across my eyes, blurring when the tears of realization finally hit me.
He wasn’t here. He wasn’t coming. And the moment I had the night before was just that, a beautiful moment.
I had the memory.
There was no way I was going to let this come in the way of my happiness or my travels.