He’s alone and wearing a gaudy Hawaiian shirt with a vibrant plastic lei, and when I approach the table, mouth agape, I realize that he’s brought his own glass: a plastic fluted cocktail cup with a giant $1.99 sticker on it.
“What in God’s name am I seeing?” I ask, aware that at least half of the diners and much of the restaurant staff is watching us.
It’s almost like they all knew he’d be here.
“Hi, Olive,” he says quietly. “I, um . . .” He laughs, and seeing him nervous does wiggly, protective things to me. “I was wondering whether you served mai tais here?”
I say the first thing that comes to mind: “Are you drunk?”
“I’m trying to grand-gesture. For the right person. Remember when we had delicious mai tais?” He nods to the cup.
“Of course I remember.”
“That day, I believe, was the day I fell in love with you.”
I turn and glare at Shellie, but she won’t meet my eyes. The kitchen staff scurries back into the kitchen. David pretends to be engrossed in something on an iPad near the water pitchers, and if I didn’t know better, I’d think that was Ami’s flash of dark hair darting down the hall to the bathroom.
“You fell in love with me?” I whisper, handing him a menu in a pathetic attempt to make it look like there’s nothing to see here.
“I did,” he says. “And I miss you, so much. I wanted to tell you how sorry I am.”
“Here?” I ask.
“While I’m working?”
“While you’re working.”
“Are you just going to repeat everything I say?”
He tries to wrestle his smile under control but I can see how much this exchange lights him up inside.
I try to pretend it doesn’t do the same to me. Ethan is here. Ethan Thomas is grand-gesturing in an ugly shirt, with a fake mai tai glass. It’s taking my brain a little time to catch up to my heart, which is currently jackhammering away beneath my breastbone.
It’s beating so hard, in fact, that my voice shakes. “Did you coordinate with the Hamiltons for maximum effect here?”
“The Hamiltons?” he asks, and turns to follow my eyes over to their table. “Oh!” Ducking, he glances up at me, eyes comically wide. As if there’s anywhere to hide in that shirt? Oh, Ethan. “Wow,” he whispers. “They’re here? That is . . . a coincidence. And awkward.”
“That’s awkward?” I look with meaning at his bright shirt and his Day-Glo green cup in the middle of the classy, muted dining room of Camelia.
But instead of looking embarrassed, Ethan straightens, growling a quiet “Oh, you’re ready for awkward?” He reaches up to begin unbuttoning his shirt.
“What are you doing?” I hiss. “Ethan! Keep your clothes—”
He shrugs out of it, grinning, and words immediately fall away. Because beneath his Hawaiian shirt he’s wearing a shiny green tank top that strongly resembles . . .
“Tell me that’s not,” I say, biting back a laugh that is so enormous, I’m not sure I’m big enough to contain it.
“It was Julieta’s,” Ethan confirms, and looks down at his chest. “We had it made out of her dress. Yours is, presumably, still intact in your closet.”
“I burned it,” I tell him, and he looks like he’s going to vehemently protest this decision. “Okay, fine, I didn’t. I planned to.” I can’t help but reach out and touch the slippery satin. “I didn’t realize you were attached to it.”
“Of course I am. The only thing better than you in that dress was you out of it.” Ethan stands, and now everyone is really looking at him. He’s tall, hot, and wearing a shiny green tank top that leaves nothing to the imagination. Ethan is in great shape, but still . . .
“That really is a terrible color,” I say.
He laughs, giddy. “I know.”
“Like, it says a lot that even someone as cute as you can’t pull it off.”
I watch his smile turn into something heated and seductive. “You think I’m cute?”
“In a gross way.”
He laughs at this, and it honestly sends a sharp pang through my chest how much I love that smile, on this face. “Cute in a gross way. Okay.”
“You’re the worst,” I growl, but I’m grinning and don’t pull away when he slides his hand to my hip.
“Maybe so,” he agrees, “but remember what I told you about my penny? How it isn’t so much that the penny itself is lucky, but it reminds me of times when good things happened?” He gestures to the shirt and waggles his eyebrows. “I want you back. Olivia.”
“Ethan,” I whisper, and dart my eyes around, feeling the pressure of everyone’s attention on us, still. This moment is starting to feel like a reconciliation, and as much as my heart and lungs and lady parts are on board for that, I don’t want to roll over the deeper issue here, which is that what he did by ignoring my truth wasn’t okay. “You really hurt me. We had this rare, awesome honesty, and so when you thought I was lying, it was really hard.”
“I know.” He bends so that his lips are right near my ear. “I should have listened to you. I should have listened to my own instincts. I’m going to feel shitty about that for a long time.”
There are two responses in me. One is a joyful Okay then, let’s do this! and the other is a fearful Oh hell no. The first feels breezy and light, the second feels comforting and familiar and safe. As good as it feels to be careful, and to risk boredom and loneliness over heartache, I don’t particularly want comfortable and safe anymore.
“I guess you deserve another chance,” I tell him, only inches away from his kiss. “You do give a great massage.”
His smile comes to rest on mine and the entire restaurant erupts. All around us, people stand from their chairs and I look up, realizing that men in the corner were Dad and Diego in wigs, and the table of women in the back was Mom, Tía María, Ximena, Jules, and Natalia. The woman in the hallway to the bathroom really was Ami, and the restaurant is filled with my family, who are all standing and clapping like I’m the luckiest woman alive. And maybe I am.
Looking over, I see the Hamiltons near the window, standing and clapping, too. I suspect that they didn’t just show up here tonight—that Ami got them here so they could see that what they endured with us in Maui resulted in something enduring between me and Ethan here tonight—but in the end it doesn’t matter.
I don’t think I’ve ever imagined happiness like this.
Luck, fate, determination—whatever it is, I’ll take it. I pull Ethan down to me, feeling the slippery slide of his tank top under my hands and my laugh echoing into our kiss.
Two years later
“Man, he is out.”
“Is he drooling?”
“He’s a cute sleeper. But deep, wow. I bet people drew on his face in college.”
“Not usually this deep.” A pause. I try to open my eyes but the fog of sleep is still too heavy. “I’m tempted to lick his face to wake him up. Would that be mean?”
Many have said that my girlfriend and her sister are so similar that even their voices sound the same, but after two years with her, I can distinguish Olive’s easily. Both voices are soft, with an almost imperceptible accent, but Olive’s is huskier, slightly scratchy around the edges, like she doesn’t use it much. Always the listener with most people; the observer.
“Lucas?” It’s Ami’s voice again, wavy and slow, as if coming through water. “Can you carry him off the plane if we need to?”
I am jostled. A hand comes up to my shoulder, sliding up my neck to my cheek. “Ethannnnn. This is your faaaaather. We are laaaaanding.”
It isn’t my father, in fact; it’s Olive, speaking through her fist directly into my ear. I drag myself out of sleep with intense effort, blinking. The seat in front of me comes into blurry focus; the surface of my eyes feel syrupy.
“He lives!” Olive leans over into my field of vision, and grins. “Hi.”
“Hi.” I lift a heavy hand and rub my face, trying to clear the fog.
“We’re almost on the ground,” she says.
“I swear I just fell asleep.”
“Eight hours ago,” she tells me. “Whatever Dr. Lucas gave you worked well.”
I lean forward, looking past Olive in the middle seat and Ami on the aisle to where Ami’s new boyfriend—and my longtime friend and physician, Lucas Khalif—sits on the other aisle seat. “I think you gave me a dose for a horse.”
He lifts his chin. “You’re a lightweight.”
I fall back against the seat, preparing to close my eyes again, but Olive reaches for me, turning my face to the window so I’ll look. The view sucks the breath out of my throat; the intensity of color is like a slap. I missed this the first time we came to Maui, spending the entire flight pretending to not look at Olive’s boobs through my anxiety haze, but below us, the Pacific Ocean is a sapphire, resting on the horizon. The sky is so blue it’s nearly neon; only a handful of wispy clouds are brave enough to block the view.
“Holy shit,” I say.
“Told you.” She leans in, kissing my cheek. “You okay?”
Olive reaches up and tweaks my ear. “Perfect, because first up is a dip in the ocean. That’ll wake you up.”
Ami dances in her seat, and I glance at my girlfriend as she takes in her sister’s reaction. Ami’s excitement is infectious, but Olive’s is nearly blinding. Things were hard for her for a long time after losing her job, but it also gave her a clarity she’d never had before. She realized that, while she loved science, she didn’t particularly love her job. While waiting tables at Camelia, she served a woman who ran a nonprofit health advocacy center. After a long meal peppered with intense, enthusiastic conversations while Olive worked a busy dinner shift, Ruth hired Olive as her community education coordinator, in charge of speaking at schools, church groups, retirement communities, and businesses about the science behind vaccines. She gets to geek out all over the Midwest about the flu vaccine now.