“You can say it,” I tell him.
“Breasts. Boobs. Jugs. Knockers.”
Ethan wipes a hand down his face. “Jesus, Oliver.”
I stare at him, daring him to look at me. Finally, he does, and he looks like he wants to crawl out of his skin.
“So she wanted implants,” I prompt.
He nods. “I bet she regrets not getting them back when she was enjoying my paychecks.”
“Well, there you go. Your fake new wife has great boobs. Be proud.”
Hesitating, he says, “But it has to be more than that.”
“What do you mean, ‘more than that’? I’m not going to wear a thong.”
“No, just—” He runs an exasperated hand through his hair. “It’s not only about me being with someone hot now.”
Wait, what? Hot?
He rolls on like he hasn’t said anything completely shocking. “You have to pretend to like me, too.”
A curl falls over his eye just after he’s said this, turning the moment into a Hollywood shot that completely mocks me. A small set of fireworks—only a sparkler, I swear—goes off beneath my breastbone, because he is so goddamn pretty. And seeing him vulnerable, even for a second, is so disorienting it makes me imagine a time when I can look at his face and not hate it.
“I can pretend to like you.” I pause, adding out of the self-preservation instinct, “Probably.”
Something softens in his demeanor. His hand moves closer, curling around mine, warm and encompassing. My reflex is to jerk away, but he holds me steady, gently, and says, “Good. Because we’re going to have to be a lot more convincing on that boat.”
The boat in question is enormous, with a wide lower deck, a plush indoor area with a bar and grill, and an upper rooftop deck in the full, bright sun. While the rest of the group finds places to stow their bags and get snacks, Ethan and I head straight for the bar, grab drinks, and make our way up the ladder to the empty rooftop. I’m sure the emptiness won’t last, but the tiny reprieve from feeling like we’re performers onstage is awesome.
It’s warm; I take off my cover-up, Ethan takes off his shirt, and then we’re both half-naked together, in broad daylight, drowning in silence.
We look at anything but each other. Suddenly I wish we were surrounded by people.
“Nice boat,” I say.
“How’s your drink?”
He shrugs. “Cheap liquor. It’s fine.”
Wind whips my hair into my face, and Ethan holds my vodka tonic while I pull a rubber band out of my bag and tie my hair up. His eyes dart from the horizon to my red bikini and back again.
“I saw that,” I say.
He sips his drink. “Saw what?”
“You checked out my chest.”
“Of course I did. It’s like having two other people up here with us. I don’t want to be rude.”
As if on cue, a head pops up at the top of the ladder—fucking Reject Daryl Dixon, of course, followed closely by Sophie. I swear I can hear Ethan’s soul scream.
They climb onto the deck, holding their own margaritas in plastic cups.
“Hey, guys!” Sophie says, approaching. “Ohmygod. Isn’t it gorge?”
“So gorge,” I agree, ignoring Ethan’s horrified expression. No way he’s judging me any harder than I’m judging myself.
We stand together, the world’s unlikeliest foursome, and I attempt to diffuse the uncomfortable tension between us. “So, Billy. Where did you two meet?”
Billy squints up into the sun. “At the grocery store.”
“Billy is assistant manager at a Cub Foods in St. Paul,” Sophie says. “He was stocking school supplies, and I was buying paper plates across the aisle.”
I wait, assuming there will be more. There isn’t.
The silence stretches on until Ethan comes to the rescue. “The one on Clarence or—?”
“Huh-uh,” she hums around her straw, shaking her head as she swallows. “Arcade.”
“I don’t usually go there,” I say. More silence. “I like the one on University.”
“Good produce department at that one,” Ethan agrees.
Sophie stares at me for a few seconds, and then looks at Ethan. “She looks like Dane’s girlfriend.”
My stomach drops and inside my cranium, my brain takes the shape of Munch’s The Scream. Of course Sophie would have met Ami. Together Ethan and I are above-average intelligent people, so why are we so stupid together?
I send him a barrage of panicked brain waves, but he just nods calmly. “Yeah, they’re twins.”
Billy lets out an impressed “Dude,” but Sophie is clearly less excited by the potential for homemade pornos.
“Isn’t that sort of weird?” she asks.
I want to shout YES—VERY—ALL OF THIS IS VERY WEIRD, but manage to clamp my mouth to my straw and drain about half of my drink. After a long pause of his own, Ethan says, “Not really.”
A seagull flies overhead. The boat rocks as we push through the waves. I reach the bottom of my drink and loudly suck watery air through my straw until Ethan elbows me in the side. This is so painful.
Eventually, Sophie and Billy decide it’s time to sit and make their way to a padded bench directly across the deck from where we’re standing—close enough that we’re very clearly sharing the same general space, but far enough that we no longer have to attempt conversation, or hear whatever disgusting thing Billy is currently whispering in Sophie’s ear.
Ethan clamps an arm around my shoulder in a clunky, robotic sign of We Are Also Affectionate; again, he was so much smoother last night. With ease, I reach up, sliding my hand around his waist. I’d forgotten he was shirtless, and my palm makes contact with his bare skin. Ethan stiffens a little beside me, so I lean in fully, stroking his hip bone with my thumb.
I’d intended to do it to needle him, but actually . . . it’s nice.
His skin is sun-warmed, firm, distracting.
It’s like having a single bite of something delicious; I want to go back for more. The point of contact where my thumb touches his hip is suddenly the hottest part of my body.
With a cheesy growl, Billy pulls Sophie onto his lap, and she kicks her feet up, giggly and petite. After a stretch of silence during which I really should have seen it coming, Ethan sits, too, jerking me down onto his thighs. I fall far less gracefully—far less petite—and let out a burp when I land.
“What are you doing?” I ask under my breath.
“God, I don’t know,” he whispers, pained. “Just go with it.”
“I can feel your penis.”
He shifts beneath me. “This was so much easier last night.”
“Because you weren’t invested!”
“Why is she up here?” he hisses. “There’s an entire boat!”
“You guys are so cute over there,” Sophie calls, smiling. “So chatty!”
“So chatty,” Ethan repeats, smiling through clenched teeth. “Can’t get enough of each other.”
“Totally,” I add, and make it even worse by giving a double thumbs-up.
Sophie and Billy look so natural at this. We, however, do not. It was one thing in the restaurant last night with Mr. Hamilton, where we had our own chairs and some degree of personal space. But here, my sunscreen-slicked legs slide all over Ethan’s, and he has to adjust me again. I’m sucking in my stomach and my thighs are shaking from the restraint it’s taking to not lean my full weight into him. As if sensing this, he pulls me back into his chest, trying to get me to relax.
“Is this comfortable?” he mumbles.
“No.” I am acutely conscious of every doughnut I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.
“Like . . .” He guides both of my legs to the right, helping me curl into his chest. “Better?”
“I mean . . .” Yes. It is better. “Whatever.”
He stretches his arms across the deck railing and, gamely, I wrap an arm around his neck, trying to look like someone who enjoys frequent sex with him.
When I glance up, he’s just looking up from my chest again.
He looks away, blushes, and an electric zap travels down my neck. “They are pretty great, you know,” he finally admits.
“They do look better in this than in the Skittle dress.”
“Your opinion is so important to me.” I shift, wondering why I’m so flushed. “And I can feel your penis again.”
“Of course you can,” he says, with a tiny wink. “It’d be hard not to.”
“Is that a size joke, or a boner joke?”
“Uh, definitely a size joke, Orville.”
I take a gulp of my drink and then exhale directly into his face so that he winces from the fumes of cheap vodka.
Squinting, he says, “You’re a real seductress.”
“I hear that a lot.”
He coughs, and I swear I see Ethan Thomas battling a genuine smile.
And I get it. As much as I hate him . . . I think I’m starting to like us.
“Have you ever snorkeled?” I ask.
“Do you like it?”
“Are you usually better at conversations than you are with me?”
We fall back into silence, but we are so close, and across the deck there’s only the wet sounds of Sophie and Billy making out. Ethan and I can’t not talk. “What’s your favorite drink?”
He looks at me with pained patience, growling, “Do we have to do this?”
I nod over toward Ethan’s ex and her new fiancé, who look like they’re only seconds away from dry humping. “Would you rather watch them? Or we could make out.”