The issue at hand is really which activity would make Ethan scowl the least?
“A good place to start,” Trent says gently, “might be a boat ride? Our boat goes out to the Molokini Crater. It’s very calm out there. You’ll get lunch and drinks. You could snorkel, or try Snuba—an easy mix of snorkeling and scuba diving—or you could even just stay on the boat if you don’t want to get in the water.”
An option to sit down and shut up instead of join the fun? Definitely a bonus in the holster when I have Ethan in tow. “Let’s do that.”
With gusto, Trent enters Ethan and Ami Thomas onto the boat manifest and tells me to be back downstairs at ten.
Upstairs, Ethan is already in his board shorts but hasn’t yet put on a shirt. A strange, violent reaction worms through me when he turns and I see that he has actual muscles on his muscles. A dark smattering of hair over his broad chest causes my hand to curl into a fist. “How dare you.”
I know I’ve said it out loud when Ethan glances at me with a smirk and then tugs his shirt over his head. Immediately, with the abs out of my sight, the fire of hate in my lower belly is extinguished.
“What’s the plan?” he asks.
I give myself three silent seconds to linger on the memory of his naked torso before answering, “We’re taking a boat to Molokini. Snorkeling, drinks, et cetera.”
I expect him to roll his eyes or complain, but he surprises me. “Really? Cool.”
Warily, I leave this deceptively upbeat version of Satan in the living room to go get my suit on and pack a bag. When I emerge, Ethan valiantly refrains from making a crack about my suit barely containing my boobs or my cover-up being frumpy, and we make our way down to the lobby and follow directions out to a twelve-seater van waiting at the curb.
With one foot propped to climb in, Ethan pulls up short so quickly that I collide with his back. Again.
“Are you having another—?”
Ethan shuts me up with a hand shooting back, gripping my hip. And then I hear it: the high-pitched nails-on-a-chalkboard voice of Sophie.
“Ethan! You and Olive are coming snorkeling?”
“We sure are! What a wild coincidence!” He turns around and murders me with eyeball daggers, before smiling as he faces forward again. “Should we just hop in the back there?”
“Sure, I think those seats are the only open ones.” Billy’s voice sounds pretty giddy, and when Ethan ducks to climb in, I see why.
There are eight people seated in the van already, and only the very back row is empty. Ethan is so tall he has to practically army crawl to get through the gauntlet of bags and hats and seat belts crisscrossing the path. With slightly more ease, I settle in beside him and glance over. Surprisingly, the fact that he looks absolutely miserable doesn’t fill me with abject joy as expected. I feel . . . guilty. I clearly chose poorly.
But this is Olive and Ethan we’re talking about; defensiveness is the first reaction out of the gate. This feels like Cheap Airplane Ticket Fiasco, version 2.0. “You could have picked the activity, you know.”
He doesn’t answer. For someone who was so convincingly newlywed last night to cover for my lie, he sure is surly when we have to do it to cover for his. He must really hate to be indebted to me.
“We can do something else,” I tell him. “There’s still time to leave.”
Again, he says nothing, but then deflates a little beside me when the driver closes the double van doors and gives us all a thumbs-up through the window, indicating we’re ready to head out.
Gently, I elbow Ethan. He clearly doesn’t get that it’s meant as a Hang in there, tiger! because he elbows me back. Jerk. I elbow him again, harder now, and he starts to shift to return it again but I evade it, turning to dig my knuckles into his ribs. I did not expect to find Ethan’s hysterical tickle spot, and he lets out a deafening, high-pitched shriek that I swear makes me momentarily deaf. It is so startling that the entire van turns to figure out what the hell we’re doing in the back seat.
“Sorry,” I say to them, and then quieter to him, “That’s a sound I haven’t heard a man make before.”
“Can you not speak to me, please?”
I lean in. “I didn’t know she was coming.”
Ethan slides his gaze to me, clearly unconvinced. “I’m not going to kiss you again, just in case that’s what you were thinking this would lead to.”
Whowhatnow? The jackass. Gaping at him, I whisper-hiss, “I would honestly rather lick the bottom of my shoe than have your mouth on mine again.”
He turns back, looking out the window. The van pulls away from the curb, the driver cues up the mellow island music, and I am ready for a twenty-minute nap when, in front of us, a teenager pulls a bottle of sunscreen out and begins liberally spraying it down one arm and then the other. Ethan and I are immediately lost in a cloud of oily fumes with no window or door.
He and I exchange a look of deep suffering. “Please don’t spray that in the van,” Ethan says, with a gentle authority that does something weird and wavy to my breathing.
The teen turns, gives us a flat “Oops, sorry,” and then tucks the bottle back in her backpack. Beside her, her father is absorbed in a Popular Science magazine, completely oblivious.
The fog of sunscreen slowly clears and, aside from the view of Sophie and Billy making out two rows ahead of us, we are able to see out the windows, to the view of the snaking shoreline to our left, the brilliant green mountains to our right. A pulse of fondness fills me.
“Maui is so pretty.”
I feel Ethan turn to look down at me, but don’t meet his eyes, in case he’s confused that my words were delivered without insult to him. His frown could ruin this flash of happiness I’m feeling.
“It is.” I don’t know why I always expect an argument from him, but it continually surprises me when I get agreement instead. And his voice is so deep; it almost feels like a seduction. Our eyes meet, and then dart apart, but unfortunately our attention lands directly ahead of us, between the heads of the sunscreen teen and her father, where Sophie and Billy are schmoopy-murmuring to each other with their faces only millimeters apart.
“When did you two break up?” I ask quietly.
He looks like he’s not going to answer, but then exhales. “About six months ago.”
“And she’s already engaged?” I let out a soft whistle. “Yeesh.”
“I mean, as far as she knows I’m married, so I can’t be too hurt about it.”
“You can be as hurt as you want, but you don’t have to seem hurt,” I say, and when he doesn’t answer, I realize I’ve hit the nail on the head. He’s struggling to pretend to be unaffected.
“For what it’s worth,” I whisper, “Billy looks like a tool. He’s the understudy version of Reedus, without any of the scary-sexy charm. This version just looks oily.”
Ethan grins down at me before seeming to remember that we don’t like each other’s faces. His smile straightens. “They’re just up there making out. There are, like, eight other people in this van. I can see their tongues. It’s . . . gross.”
“I bet Ethan Thomas has never been inappropriate like that.”
“I mean,” he says, frowning, “I like to think I can be affectionate, but some things are infinitely better when they happen behind closed doors.”
Heat engulfs whatever words remain in my head, and I nod in agreement. The idea of Ethan doing unknown, hot things behind closed doors makes everything inside my body turn to goo.
I clear my throat, relieved when I look away, take a deep breath, and the goo dissolves away. Dear Olive Torres: This is Ethan. He is not swoony.
Ethan leans in a little, catching my eye. “You think you can bring it today?”
“ ‘Bring it’?”
“The fake-wife game.”
“What’s in it for me?” I ask.
“Hm.” Ethan taps his chin. “How about I don’t tell your boss you’re a liar?”
“Okay. Fair.” Brainstorming what I can do to help him win the nebulous Best New Partner war I suspect we’re fighting with Sophie and Billy, I lean in, meeting him halfway. “I don’t want to get your hopes up or anything, but I look really great in this bikini. There’s no revenge like being with someone new who has a great rack.”
His lip curls. “What an empowering, feminist statement.”
“I can appreciate my body in a bikini and still want to set fire to the patriarchy.” I look down at my chest. “Who knew what a little meat on my bones would do?”
“Is that what you meant at check-in? About losing your job and baking?”
“Yeah. I’m a stress-baker.” I pause. “And eater. I mean, obviously you know that.”
He stares at me for a couple of loaded seconds before he says, “You’ve got a job now. Your baking days can be behind you, if you want.” When I look up, he glances quickly away from my boobs. If I didn’t definitively know better, I might think he was hoping I’d keep up the baking just a little while longer.
“Yes, I have a job, assuming I can keep it.”
“We got through last night, didn’t we?” he says. “You’ll keep the job.”
“And maybe the rack, too.”
He reddens a little, and the sign of his discomfort gives me life. But then his eyes do another tiny dip over the front of my cover-up, almost like he can’t help himself.
“You had no problem looking in the Skittle dress.”
“To be fair, it was a bit like you were wearing a fluorescent light bulb. It drew the eyes.”
“After all this, I’m going to have something made for you out of that dress,” I promise him. “A tie, maybe. Some sexy briefs.”
He chokes a little, shaking his head. After a few beats of silence, he confides, “I had actually just been remembering that Sophie almost got implants when we were together. She always wanted bigger . . .” He mimes cupping boobs.