He throws up his hands. “I didn’t see anything that contradicted what he’d said!”
I take a deep breath. “Does it occur to you that your attitude can foster how people react to you? That you hurt my feelings by reacting that way, whether you meant to or not?” I am mortified when I feel my throat grow tight with tears.
“Olive, I don’t know how to say it more plainly: I was into you,” he growls. “You’re hot. And I was probably trying to hide it. I’m sorry for that totally unintentional reaction, I really am, but every indication I had—from you or Dane—was that you thought I was a waste of space.”
“I didn’t at first,” I say, leaving the rest unsaid.
He clearly reads the I do now in my expression, though, and the line of his mouth hardens. “Good,” he says, voice hoarse. “Then the feeling is conveniently mutual.”
“What a fucking relief.” I stare at him for two rapid breaths, just long enough to imprint his face in the space marked DICKHEAD in my braincyclopedia. And then I turn, storm back to the bedroom, and slam the door.
I fall back onto the bed, reeling. Part of me almost wants to get up and make a list of everything that just happened so I can process it in some sort of organized way. Like, not only was Dane sleeping around for the first two years of his relationship with my sister, but he told Ethan not to bother with me.
Because Ethan wanted to ask me out.
I don’t even know what to do with this information because it is so at odds with my mental history of him. Until the past couple of days, there has never been a hint of Ethan wanting anything to do with me—not even a flash of softness or warmth. Is he making that up?
I mean, why would he do that?
So does that mean he’s right about me? Did I misinterpret everything in that first interaction, and carry it with me for the past two and a half years? Was a single ambiguous look from Ethan enough to send me into this place of no return, where I decide we’re bitter enemies? Am I really that angry?
I feel my breath grow tight as the rest of it nudges back into my thoughts: Is it even possible that Ami knew about Dane seeing other people? She knew I was lukewarm on him from the get-go—so I have to give some space to the possibility that they had their own arrangement, and she didn’t tell me because she knew I would worry or protest out of protectiveness. Frankly, it’s hard for me to even imagine Ami and Dane in an open relationship, but whether or not it’s true, I can’t exactly call her from Maui and ask. That is not a phone call conversation; that’s an in-person conversation, with wine, and snacks, and a careful lead-in.
I pick up a pillow and scream into it. And when I pull it away, I hear a quiet knock at the bedroom door.
“Olive,” he says, sounding much calmer. “Don’t call Ami.”
“I’m not calling Ami, just—seriously—go away.”
The hallway falls silent, and a few seconds later, I hear the heavy click of the suite door closing.
• • •
WHEN I WAKE UP, IT’S midday, and the sun pours brightly across the bed, bathing me in a hot rectangle of light. I roll away from it, straight into a pillow that smells like Ethan.
That’s right. He slept in this bed with me last night. He is everywhere in this room—in the neat row of shirts hanging in the closet, the shoes lined by the dresser. His watch, his wallet, his keys; even his phone is sitting there. Even the sound of the ocean is tainted with the memory of him, of his head in my lap on the boat, struggling to overcome seasickness.
For a dark flash I derive some joy out of the image of Ethan sitting miserably by the pool, surrounded by people he’d love to befriend when tipsy, but whom he wants to generally avoid when sober. But the joy falls away when I remember everything about our fight: the reality that I’ve spent the past two and a half years hating him for a reaction he had that wasn’t at all what I thought it was, and the reality that the Ami/Dane aspect isn’t going to be resolved for a few more days, at least.
Which leaves only one thing for me to chew on, and that’s Ethan admitting that he wanted to ask me out.
It’s genuinely a rewrite of my internal history, and it takes a lot of mental maneuvering. Of course I found Ethan attractive when I first met him, but personality is everything, and his left a giant gaping hole in the column of positive attributes. Until this trip, that is, when he was not only the best sparring partner but also entirely adorable on several occasions . . . and frequently shirtless.
Groan. I stand up, walking to the door and peeking out. No sign of Ethan in the living room. Darting into the bathroom, I close the door and turn on the faucet, splashing water on my face. I stare at myself in the mirror, thinking.
Ethan wanted to ask me out.
Because Ethan liked me.
Dane told him I was always angry.
I proved Dane right that very first day.
My eyes widen as an additional possibility occurs to me: What if Dane didn’t want me to date his brother? What if he didn’t want me in his business, knowing that he was the one planning all these trips, that he was seeing other women, and God knows what else?
He’s used Ethan as a scapegoat, as a shield—what if he used the convenience of my grouchy reputation to create a buffer zone? What a dick!
Bursting out of the bathroom, I turn to the left to begin my Ethan Search and run directly into his brick-wall chest. The oof that erupts from me is cartoon-level comical. He makes it worse by catching me easily and holding me at a distance, looking down warily. I have the comical image of Ethan holding me back with an outstretched hand on my forehead while I try to take swings at him with ineffectually short arms.
Stepping back, I ask, “Where were you?”
“Pool,” he says, “I was coming to grab my phone and wallet.”
“Where are you going?”
He lifts a shoulder. “Not sure.”
He’s guarded again. Of course he’s guarded. He admitted he was attracted to me, and up until this trip I’d only ever been rude to him. Then I stormed out of the room after implying he’s still a waste of my time.
I don’t even know where to start. I realize, of the two of us, I have the most to say right now. I want to start with an apology, but it’s like pushing water through a brick—the words just won’t come.
I start with something else: “I’m not trying to do that thing I do, where I look for the worst possible explanation for things, but . . . do you think Dane was trying to keep us apart?”
Ethan immediately scowls. “I don’t want to talk about Dane or Ami right now. We can’t get into it with them while we’re here and they’re there.”
“I know, okay, I’m sorry.” I look up at him for a beat and catch just a flicker of emotion behind his eyes. It’s enough to give me the bravery to push on. “But should we talk about us?”
“The us that is having this conversation?” I whisper, eyes wide with meaning. “The us that is on this vacation together, having a fight, having . . . feelings.”
His eyes narrow. “I don’t think us is a very good idea, Olive.”
This denial is good; it’s familiar disagreement. It bolsters my resolve. “Why? Because we argue?”
“That’s a pretty mild term for what we do.”
“I like that we argue,” I tell him, willing the sticky, tender words out. “Your ex-girlfriend never even wanted to disagree. My parents won’t get a divorce but don’t speak to each other. And—I know you don’t want to talk about it, but—I feel like my sister is in a marriage where”—I hedge, so we don’t just go down that road all over again and I get angry again—“she doesn’t actually know her husband all that well. But it’s always been safe for us to say exactly what we’re thinking with each other. It’s one of my favorite things about being with you. Do you have that with everyone?” I ask, and when he doesn’t immediately answer, I tell him, “I know you don’t.”
His brows pull down, and I can tell he’s turning this around in his mind. He may be mad at me, but at least he’s listening.
I chew my lip, looking up at him. Time for a different tack. “You said I’m hot.”
Ethan Thomas rolls his eyes at me. “You know you are.”
I take a deep breath, holding it. Even if nothing happens once we get back home—and it might be smarter for both of us if we keep our distance, because who knows what nuclear fallout there will be when I finally talk to Ami—I sincerely doubt we’ll be able to keep our hands to ourselves for the next five days.
At least I know I won’t. My anger toward Ethan has melted into a fondness and attraction so acute it’s hard to not throw my arms around him in this hallway, right now, even when he’s wearing his surly face—furrowed brows, mouth a hard line—and his hands are curled into defensive balls at his side. Maybe every time I wanted to smack him in the past, I really just wanted to press my face onto his.
I narrow my eyes back at him. I am not afraid of relying on cheap seduction.
I reach for his hand, and the movement accidentally presses my boobs together.
He notices. His nostrils flare, and his eyes move higher on my face, as if he’s trying to keep them from sinking. Ethan Thomas is definitely a boob man.
I bite my lip, saw my teeth back and forth. In response, he licks his own lips, and swallows, holding steady. I’m going to need to work for this.
I take a step closer, reach out, and rest my other hand on his stomach. Holy lord it is firm and warm, and spasms slightly beneath my fingertips. My voice shakes, but I sense I’m getting to him, and it gives me the confidence to press on. “Do you remember kissing me last night?”
He blinks to the side, exhaling slowly, like he’s busted. “Yes.”
“But do you remember it?” I ask, taking another step closer so that we’re nearly chest to chest.
He hesitates, and then looks back at me, brows drawn. “What do you mean?”