Morning brought the usual avian frenzy of chirruping and, far less usually, a very cute guy next to me in the van suffering audibly from a punishing hangover. I offered help as best I could with orange juice and aspirin, and we lay there snuggling and holding hands in between bouts of queasiness. I knew I had to take Gar home, pack up, and was due to roll out with Lewis for our next destination in just a couple of hours, and the realization filled me with grey dismay. More muddy beaches and rain? What about this adorable if intermittently groaning boy I’d met by odd happenstance who was so cute and smart? What about my plans to move my return to the U.S. forward?  What was it I wanted, exactly, in the last few days of my epic journey here, 8000 miles away from home?

My mind ticking quickly through possible options, I sought out Lewis and informed him I was awake and fully planning to be gone by check out time, but had a sick boy to attend to and bring home first. He grunted at me and I went back to the van to tend to Gar, alternating check ins with forays to pack, wash up, and change.

As I pondered, I realized that, without question, there was something about Gar that left me amazed and interested and totally unwilling to say goodbye to him so soon. It was time to grow some balls and ask for what I wanted, I decided. As we prepared to leave, I asked after his plans and whether he might be down with seeing me again before he left town. I also had a few free days left – so, if he wanted to maybe get together for dinner in Hamilton, his home, I could do that too. Taken momentarily aback, he paused and said, “Well, maybe tonight – dinner or drinks after or something? We’re leaving tomorrow to go back to Hamilton, but we’re here today.” Fair enough, I thought. Time to shake up the plans.

I dropped him off at the bach and returned to Lewis at the hostel who brandished a map at me and briskly asked who would be driving that day. “We have to talk,” I replied somewhat guiltily. “I want to see Gar again – remember how you wanted me to tell you if traveling together needed to change? Well, it does now.” After a quiet and terse conversation, Lewis went to the pay phone to move up his Christchurch return and see about transport back to Auckland. With the lone early morning bus already gone for the day, I drove him 45 minutes back to a hostel in a slightly larger town with an available room and a bus ticket to the airport for the following day. He bid me a curt goodbye and I headed slowly back out to Coromandel, stopping at various beaches along the way, putting my feet up for a while oceanside with a cup of hot cocoa and my Kindle, gazing out at the waves while lounging on my van bed, feeling free and happy again, and thinking how so few hours could make such an unexpected difference.

Gar texted me just then, saying, “Plans have changed – leaving today.”  Alarmed and saddened, I called him – his friends, at whose house his car was parked, were moving up their departure plans and leaving that afternoon. “Maybe what you suggested, about seeing me in Hamilton…” he ventured. “Well,” I responded, thinking it through, “I could definitely take you back to your car, if that’s why you have to leave… in fact, you know… I have this campervan – if you’re on vacation for the next couple of weeks, maybe we can go to some touristy things together while I’m still here. What do you think?” He agreed that would work, and I proceeded back to the Coromandel bach, where a freshly showered and somewhat restored Gar he greeted me with a hug and a kiss. He fixed us both proper strong cups of tea and we snuggled, quietly chatting on the outdoor patio sofa, while the various remaining middle-aged adults clustered around the kitchen table inside, doing shots of Jagermeister and hooting loudly. We spent the night cuddled up on mattresses dragged out to the living room floor, his arms comfortably holding me close, to the blinking light of the DVD player clock and the gentle snores of the drunken big kids.