“That’s usually the way this goes,” she says.
“Totally fine with me,” Ethan says, and it could be my mushy brain, but his voice sounds deeper, slower, like thick, warm honey. Like maybe he’s a little turned on, too.
“The best thing about this,” Diana says, “is that now you can teach her, too.” I feel bodies shift behind me, and she sounds farther away, close to the door when she says, “I’ll leave you two to swap if you like, or you can feel free to head back to the spa for another warm soak.”
I sense when she’s gone, but the silence somehow feels fuller.
After a few long beats, Ethan carefully asks, “You okay?”
Somehow, I manage a slurred “Ohmygod.”
“Is that a good ‘oh my God’ or a bad ‘oh my God’?”
He laughs, and it’s that same maddening, amazing sound again. “Excellent.”
“Don’t get smug.”
I sense him coming nearer, and feel his breath on my neck. “Oh, Olivia. I just had my hands all over you, and you’re so relaxed you can barely speak.” He steps away, and then his voice comes from a distance, like he’s walked to the door: “You’d better believe I will be smug as hell.”
I wake up and immediately groan in pain; despite the wonder-massage, I am so sore from being pelleted in the woods that I can barely pull the covers back. When I look, my arms are dotted with bruises so colorful, for a second I second-guess whether I showered yesterday after paintball. There is a deep purple one on my hip the size of an apricot, a few on my thighs, and an enormous one on my shoulder that looks like a rare geode.
I check my phone, opening the newest message from Ami.
Checking in for a body count.
We remain alive against all odds.
How are you feeling?
Not ready to venture out into the world just yet, but alive.
And The Husband?
Oh he went out.
Yeah. He’s feeling better and was a little restless.
But you’re still sick.
Why isn’t he taking care of you?
He’s been in this house for days.
He needed some guy time.
I glare at my phone, knowing I have no reply that isn’t going to end in us arguing. “Maybe he ran out of beard wax,” I mumble, just as I hear Ethan shuffling down the hall toward the bathroom.
“I can barely move,” he says through the door.
“I am polka-dotted.” I whimper down at my arms. “I look like something from Fraggle Rock.”
A knock sounds. “Are you decent?”
“Am I ever?”
He cracks the door open, leaning in a few inches. “I can’t be social today. Whatever we do, please let it be just the two of us.”
And then he ducks back out, leaving the door open and me alone with my brain while I try to process this. Again: When did the default plan become that we spend this entire vacation together? And when did the idea of that not send us both into a wavy bout of nausea? And when did I start falling asleep thinking about Ethan’s hands on my back, my legs, and between my legs?
The toilet flushes, the water runs, and I hear the sound of him brushing his teeth. I am tripping—I am used to the rhythm of his tooth brushing, am no longer shocked by the sight of his live-wire hair in the morning. I’m no longer horrified at the notion of spending the day just the two of us. In fact, my mind spins with the options.
Ethan emerges from the hallway bathroom and does a double take when he looks into the bedroom at me.
“What’s with you?”
I look down to understand his meaning. I’m sitting ramrod straight, with my sleep mask on my forehead, the blankets clutched to my chest, eyes wide.
Honesty has always seemed to work best for us: “I’m freaking out a little that you suggested we spend the day together, just us, and it doesn’t make me want to rappel down the balcony.”
Ethan laughs. “I promise to be as irritating as possible.” And then he turns, shuffling back to the living room, calling out, “And as smug, too.”
With this reminder of yesterday, my stomach twists and my lady parts wake up. Enough of that. Pushing up, I follow him out, no longer caring that he’s going to see me in my skimpy pajamas, or that he’s in boxers and a threadbare T-shirt. After our encounter in the bathroom on the boat, the hot tub, and his hands all over my oiled-up skin yesterday, no secrets remain.
“We could hang at the pool?” I suggest.
I look out the window, thinking. “We could rent a car and drive along the coast?”
“Now you’re talking.” He tucks his hands behind his head, and his biceps pop distractingly. I roll my eyes—at myself, obviously, for even noticing—and because he’s Ethan and nothing gets past him, he cheekily does it again. “What are you looking at?” He starts to alternate between his two arms, speaking in a staccato rhythm to match the bicep flexes. “It—looks—like—Olive—likes—muscles.”
“You’re reminding me so much of Dane right now,” I say, fighting a laugh, but there’s no need because the laugh dies in my throat at the way Ethan’s entire demeanor changes.
He drops his arms and leans forward, resting his elbows on his thighs. “Well, okay then.”
“Is that an insult?” I ask.
He shakes his head, and then seems to chew on his answer for a while. Long enough for me to get bored and go into the kitchen to brew some coffee.
Finally, he says, “I get the sense that you don’t like Dane very much.”
Oh, this is some thin ice. “I like him fine,” I hedge, and then grin. “I like him more than I like you.”
It’s a weird silence that follows. Weird, because we both know I’m full of shit. Ethan’s frown slowly turns into a grin. “Liar.”
“Okay, I admit you’re not Satan anymore, but you’re definitely one of his henchmen. I mean,” I say, bringing two mugs into the living room and setting his on the coffee table, “I always thought Dane was sort of fratty and, like, a Budweiser-in-a-beer-cozy type, but what confused me is how you could be worse when you look so much more put-together.”
“What do you mean by ‘worse’?”
“Come on,” I say, “you know. Like how you’re always pulling him off to these crazy trips as soon as Ami has something nice planned. Valentine’s Day away in Vegas. Their anniversary last year, you took him to Nicaragua to go surfing. You and Dane went skiing in Aspen on her—well, our—thirty-first birthday. I ended up eating Ami’s free birthday dessert at Olive Garden because she was too drunk to hold a fork.”
Ethan stares at me, confused.
“What?” I ask.
He shakes his head, still staring. Finally, he says, “I didn’t plan those trips.”
Laughing without humor, he runs a hand through his hair. The bicep pops again. I ignore it. “Dane plans all of the trips. I actually got in trouble with Sophie for going along for the Vegas one on Valentine’s Day. But I had no idea he was missing events. I just assumed he needed brother time.”
A few seconds of silence in which I rewire my memory of all of these things, because I can tell he’s sincere. I specifically remember being there when Dane told Ami about the Nicaragua trip, how he was going to have to miss the anniversary of their first date, and she looked devastated. He said, “Ethan—the dumb-ass—got nonrefundable tickets. I can’t say no, babe.”
I’m about to tell Ethan this when he speaks first. “I’m sure he didn’t realize that he was canceling plans she’d made. He wouldn’t do that. God, he would feel awful.”
Of course he would see it this way. If the roles were reversed, I would do or say anything to defend my sister. Taking a mental step back, I have to admit that now is not the time to hash this out, and we are not the people to do it. This is between Ami and Dane, not Ethan and me.
Ethan and I are in a good spot; let’s not ruin it, shall we?
“I’m sure you’re right,” I say, and he looks up at me gratefully, and maybe with a bit more clarity, too. All this time I thought he was behind those trips—he gets that now. Not only isn’t he the judgmental asshole I thought he was, he’s also not the terrible influence that resulted in my sister’s hurt feelings. It’s a lot to process.
“Come on,” I tell him. “Let’s get dressed and get ourselves a car.”
• • •
ETHAN’S HAND COMES OVER MINE as we leave the hotel. “In case we run into Sophie,” he explains.
“Sure.” I sound exactly like the eager nerd in a teen movie agreeing with something too readily, but whatever. Holding Ethan’s hand is weird but not entirely unpleasant. In fact, it’s nice enough that I feel a little guilty. We haven’t seen her and Billy since snorkeling, so all this performative affection is probably unnecessary. But why take chances, am I right?
Besides, I have become a big fan of those hands.
We rent a lime-green Mustang convertible because we are idiot tourists. I’m sure Ethan expects an argument about who should drive, but I gleefully toss him the keys. Who doesn’t want to be chauffeured around Maui?
Once we’re on the northwestern coast, Ethan opens the speed as much as he can—people just don’t drive fast on the island. He puts on a Muse playlist, and I veto it and put on the Shins. He grumbles, and at a stoplight, chooses the Editors.
“I’m not in the mood for this,” I say.
“I don’t care.”
With a laugh, he gestures for me to pick something. I put on Death Cab and he grins over at me—it brightens the sun. With their chill sound blowing in the air around us, I close my eyes, face to the wind, my loose braid trailing behind me.