Short Story: That One Summer


"Please, one more!" I begged Carl as I pushed my phone into his hand.

"Maria, we've been taking pictures here for over ten minutes. Let's continue our walk to the waterfall. I'm in the mood for a refreshing swim by now," Carl said while showing a bored face.

"If you actually took a good picture this time, we can leave quickly." I showed him how he should frame the picture, "Enough space above my head, and don't include my hips when I stand like this because I'll look like a misshapen pear." Carl sighed. "Please. It's very important that the photo is good. I set high standards for my Instagram." I saw that he irritatedly held up my phone again and surrendered to my demand to have more photos taken.
When he would see the photos on my feed, he would understand why it took so long.
It will look perfect.
This entire vacation is perfect.
My followers clearly agreed.
The photo of us together on the Bromo volcano at sunset did best. I smiled thinking about this memory.
Indonesia is truly beautiful.
It was the right choice to travel to Asia again this year.
Thailand last year was very beautiful too, and so were Peru and Colombia, and the USA the years before, but each country has its own characteristics and I'm very much taken in by Indonesia's.

I saw that Carl was ready. He walked toward me and I snatched my phone out of his hands to look at the results. This time, there were definitely a couple of shots that would meet the standards of my feed. I opened my app and looked at the new comments under some of my posts:

"Wow! So jealous! But you earned it girl."

I purred, sure enough, I had had a very tough school year. So hard that I had to quit my side job on Saturday mornings. Well, okay, maybe that was also because I partied too much.

"If you want any tips for Bali, DM me!"

It was Julie and I certainly had. The hotel in Ubud might have been expensive but she was right, it was well worth it. And it is vacation after all! I shouldn't have to work hard all year only to suffer even more on vacation. She was off to Africa. That was on my list for next year, but my first upcoming trip was to Morocco with my parents.

"You too are sooo pretty!"

I responded with a heart emoji. It was Tina who was in Belgium. I scoffed, thinking about having to spend my vacation there. As if I wanted to. Not a bone in my body would be tempted. Not even after seeing her photos, pretending like it's such a great place to be. Yeah, sure.

"Maria, are you coming?" Carl's question made me look up from my phone, away from my thoughts.
He had already walked ahead.
"Yes, I'm coming." Quickly I put away my phone. Summer was the finest time of the year! Everyone was happy and on vacation! "Off to the waterfall!" I shouted.

That one summer. The one of Maria?
Julie never had it.
She would have liked to, but the opportunity never came.
On the contrary, her summer consisted of taking care of her mother. Paired with her 40-hour work week to support her family.
As a single mother, she had many balls to juggle. She hadn't asked to lose her partner when she just got pregnant, only to find out a few weeks later that her mother, who had been diagnosed with MS years back, was suddenly deteriorating rapidly.

Trekking around the mountains, spending minutes taking pictures for an obtuse and fake Instagram—"hey look at me!"—no life had granted her that.

She didn't need to participate in that sham. After all, she had nothing to share. Nothing that others would find interesting at least. Or nothing they expected.
When it was forty degrees outside, Julie didn't go to a patio. Instead, she would bring ice cream for her little one as a surprise, then drop her off at the neighbor's house, and go to her mother's to offer her some coolness in the scorching heat.

That's summer, too.

But one no one wants to hear about. No one asks about that.

Later, when Julie is old—if she may be so blessed—she would like to look back on life. Together with Maria for example.

Pondering—did we make the right choices?
Have we been there for others?

Because even though sometimes Julie wants to trek through those mountains, she knows and feels that she's doing the right thing. She's there for her mother. And she's there for her child. Yes, at her expense, but out of love for them.

But is Maria's motivation for vacation wrong?
Does Maria ever do something for others at the expense of herself?

Julie wouldn't know.

And Julie shouldn't judge.

Because who's right here? Who's wrong?

Who gets to decide?