• • •
I’M SURE ETHAN WOULD LOVE to hear it was a long night for me and I barely slept, but my bed is fucking amazing. Sorry about the couch, dude.
In fact, I’m so rested and rejuvenated that I wake up convinced this running-into-people-from-our-real-life thing isn’t a catastrophe. It’s fine! We’re fine. Sophie and Billy don’t want to see us any more than we want to see them and are probably staying all the way on the other side of the resort anyway. And the Hamiltons are checking out today. We are in the clear.
As luck would have it, we run into the Hamiltons on our way to breakfast. Apparently the friendship was deeply solidified last night: they give us each a tight embrace . . . as well as their personal cell numbers.
“I was serious about that spouses club,” Molly tells Ethan conspiratorially. “We have fun, if you know what I mean.” She winks. “Give us a call when you’re home.”
They turn back to the reception desk, and we wave as we weave through the crowd toward the restaurant. Ethan leans down, muttering in a shaky voice, “I really don’t know what she means by fun.”
“Could be innocent, like a bunch of wives drinking merlot and complaining about their husbands,” I tell him. “Or it could be Fried Green Tomatoes complicated.”
“ ‘Fried Green Tomatoes complicated’?”
I nod somberly. “A group of women looking at their labia with hand mirrors.”
Ethan looks like he is literally fighting the urge to sprint down the curved driveway and into the ocean. “I think you’re enjoying this too much.”
“God, I am the worst, right? Enjoying Maui?”
We come to a stop in front of the hostess stand, give our room number, and follow the woman to a small booth toward the back, near the buffet.
I laugh. “A buffet, honey! Your fave.”
Once we’re seated, Ethan—running on slightly less sleep than I am—glares at the menu, clearly working to burn a hole in it. I wander over to the buffet and fill my plate with giant hunks of tropical fruit and all manner of grilled meats. When I return, Ethan has apparently ordered à la carte and is cradling a large cup of black coffee in his enormous hands. He doesn’t even acknowledge my return.
“All that food up there, and you ordered something off the menu?”
Sighing, he says, “I don’t like buffets, Olive, Jesus Christ. After what we witnessed two days ago, I’d think you’d agree with me.”
I take a bite of pineapple and am pleased to see him cringe when I speak with my mouth full: “I just like hassling you.”
“I can tell.”
God, he is such a grouch in the morning. “Seriously, though, you think I’m enjoying this vacation too much? Do you even hear yourself?”
He puts the mug down carefully, like it’s taking every ounce of control he has to not use it for violent means. “We did well last night,” he says calmly, “but things just got a whole lot more complicated. My ex-girlfriend—with whom I share a number of mutual friends—thinks we are married. The wife of your new boss wants to have labia-hand-mirror time with me.”
“That was just one possibility,” I remind him. “Could be that Molly’s version of fun is a Tupperware party.”
“You don’t think this is complicated?”
I shrug at him, turning the blame back where it’s deserved. “To be honest, you were the one who had to go and be ridiculously charming last night.”
He picks his mug back up and blows across the surface. “Because you asked me to be.”
“I wanted you to be sociopath charming,” I say. “Too charming, so that afterwards people look back and think, ‘You know, I didn’t get it at the time, but he was always too perfect.’ That sort of charming. Not, like, self-deprecating and cute.”
Half of Ethan’s mouth turns up, and I know what’s coming before it launches: “You think I’m cute.”
“In a gross way.”
This makes him smile wider. “Cute in a gross way. Okay.”
The waiter brings his food, and when I look up, I see that Ethan’s smile has fallen and he’s staring over my shoulder, his face ashen. With a frown, he blinks down to his plate.
“Just remembered that bacon at restaurants is ten thousand times more likely to carry salmonella?” I ask. “Or did you find a hair on your plate and think you’re going to come down with lupus?”
“Once more for the people in the back: Being careful about food safety isn’t the same as being a hypochondriac or an idiot.”
I give him a Sure thing, Captain salute, but then it hits me. He’s freaking out about something other than his breakfast. I glance around, and my pulse rockets: Sophie and Billy have been seated directly behind me. Ethan has an unobstructed view of his ex and her new fiancé.
For as frequently as I want to open-hand smack Ethan, I can also appreciate how much it would suck to continually run into your ex when they’re celebrating their engagement and you’re only pretending to be married. I remember running into my ex-boyfriend Arthur the night I defended my dissertation. We were out to celebrate me, and my accomplishment, and there he was, the boy who dumped me because he “couldn’t be distracted by a relationship.” He had his new girlfriend on one arm and the medical journal he’d just been published in in the other hand. My celebratory mood evaporated, and I left my own party about an hour later to go home and binge an entire season of Buffy.
A tiny bloom of sympathy unfurls in my chest. “Ethan—”
“Could you try chewing with your mouth closed?” he says, and the bloom is annihilated by a nuclear blast.
“For the record, it’s very humid here, and I am congested.” I lean in, hissing, “To think I was starting to feel sorry for you.”
“For being cute in a gross way?” he asks, prodding at his plate, glancing over my shoulder again and then quickly zeroing in on my face.
“For the fact that your ex is at the resort with us and sitting right behind me.”
“Is she?” He looks up and does a terrible job of being surprised to see her there. “Huh.”
I smirk at him, even though he studiously avoids my gaze. With the tiny hint of vulnerability just at the edges of his expression, the bloom of sympathy returns. “What’s your favorite breakfast food?”
He pauses with a bite of bacon halfway to his mouth. “What?”
“Come on. Breakfast food. What do you like?”
“Bagels.” He takes the bite, chews and swallows, and I realize that’s all I’m going to get.
“Bagels? For real? Of all the choices in the world, you’re telling me your favorite breakfast food is a bagel? You live in the Twin Cities. Can we even get a good bagel there?”
He apparently thinks my question is rhetorical, because he turns back to his meal, completely happy to blink those lashes at me and remain nonverbal. I realize why I hate him—he food- and fat-shamed me, and has always been a monosyllabic prick—but what is his deal with me?
I give friendly one last try: “Why don’t we do something fun today?”
Ethan looks at me like I’ve just suggested we go on a murder spree. “Together?”
“Yes, together! All of our free activities are for two people,” I say, wagging a finger back and forth between us, “and as you just pointed out, we’re supposed to be acting married.”
Ethan has retreated into his neck, shoulders hunched. “Could you maybe not yell that across the restaurant?”
I take a deep breath, counting to five so that I don’t reach across the table and poke him in the eye. Leaning in, I say, “Look. We’re deep in this lying game together now, so why not make the most of it? That’s all I’m trying to do: enjoy what I can.”
He stares at me for several quiet beats. “That’s awfully upbeat of you.”
Pushing back from the table, I stand. “I’m going to go see what we can sign up for tod—”
“She’s watching,” he cuts in tightly, quickly glancing past me. “Shit.”
“Sophie. She keeps looking over here.” In a panic, his eyes meet mine. “Do something.”
“Like what?” I ask tightly, starting to panic, too.
“Before you go. I don’t know. We’re in love, right? Just—” He stands abruptly and reaches for my shoulders, jerking me across the table and planting his mouth stiffly on mine. Our eyes remain open and horrified. My breath is trapped in my chest, and I count out three eternal beats before we burst apart.
He fixes a convincingly loving smile on his face, speaking through his teeth. “I can’t believe I just did that.”
“I’m going to go gargle bleach now,” I tell him.
No doubt it was the worst version of an Ethan Thomas kiss, and it was still . . . not terrible. His mouth was warm, lips smooth and firm. Even when we were staring at each other in horror, he still looked nice that close up. Maybe even nicer than he does from a distance. His eyes are so insanely blue, his lashes are long to the point of absurdity. And he’s warm. So war—
My brain is short-circuiting. Shut up, Olive.
Oh my God. Pretending we’re married means we might have to do that again.
“Great.” He stares at me, eyes wide. “Great. See you back in the room in a few.”
• • •
THE IDEA OF BUILDING A house from the ground up has always terrified me, because I know I’m not a person who cares about details such as doorknobs and drawer pulls and stone pavers. It would be too many choices that I simply don’t care about at all.
Looking at the list of activities feels a little like this. We have the option of parasailing, zip-lining, four-wheeling, snorkeling, taking hula kahiko lessons, enjoying a couple’s massage, and much, much more. Honestly, I’d be fine with any of them. But Trent, the overeager activities planner, stares at me expectantly, ready to ink “my” name into the schedule wherever I desire.