For the first time in days, I am completely, no-hesitation, no-doubting-it happy.
“I am the smartest woman alive for suggesting this,” I say.
“I’d like to argue for the sake of arguing,” he says, “but I can’t.”
He smiles over at me, and my heart does an uneasy somersault beneath my breastbone because I realize I’m wrong: for the first time in months—maybe years—I’m happy. And with Ethan, of all people.
Being an expert at self-sabotage, I revert back to old habits. “That must be hard for you.”
Ethan laughs. “It is fun to argue with you.”
It’s not a jab, I realize—it’s a compliment.
He glances at me and back to the road. “Stop what?”
“Being nice.” And God, when he looks at me again to see whether I’m joking, I can’t help grinning. Ethan Thomas is doing something weird to my emotions.
“I did promise to be irritating and smug, didn’t I?”
“You did,” I agree, “so get to it.”
“You know, for someone who hates me, you sure moaned a lot when I touched you,” he says.
He grins over at me and then back at the road. “ ‘Press together. Don’t spread.’ ”
“Will you. Shut up.”
He laughs this wide-open laugh; it’s a sound I’ve never heard, and it’s an Ethan I’ve never seen: head tilted back, eyes crinkled in joy. He looks as happy as I feel.
And miraculously, we spend hours together without arguing once. My mom texts a few times, Ami, too, but I ignore them both. I’m honestly having one of the best days I can remember. Real life can wait.
We explore the rugged shoreline, find several breathtaking blowholes, and stop to eat roadside tacos near a coral-strewn bay of crystalline aquamarine water. I have nearly forty pictures of Ethan on my phone now—and sadly none of them can be used as blackmail, because he looks great in every single one.
He reaches over, pointing to my phone screen when I scroll to a photo of him. He’s grinning so wide I could count his teeth, and the wind is whipping hard enough to press his shirt tight to his chest. Behind him, the Nakalele blowhole majestically erupts nearly a hundred feet into the air. “You should frame that one for your new office,” he says.
I look over my shoulder at him, unsure whether he’s kidding. An inspection of his expression doesn’t clear things up for me.
“Yeah, I don’t think so.” I tilt my head. “It’s oddly obscene.”
“It was windy!” he protests, clearly thinking I’m referring to the fact that every contour of his chest is visible beneath the blue T-shirt.
Which—yes, but: “I was talking about the enormous ejaculation behind you.”
Ethan goes quiet, and I glance up at him again, shocked that he hasn’t immediately run with this one. He looks like he’s biting his tongue. I register I’ve veered away from insult territory and sprinted headlong into sexual-speak territory. I think he’s gauging whether I intended to be flirty.
And then he seems to decide that I hadn’t—which is true, but now that I’m thinking about it, maybe I should have been—and bends to take the last bite of his taco. I exhale, swiping to the next photo: a picture he took of me standing in front of the famous heart-shaped rock. Ethan looks over my shoulder again, and I feel us both go still.
Admittedly, it’s a great picture of me. My hair is up, but blown loose from the braid. My smile is enormous; I don’t look like the pessimist I am. I look entirely smitten with the day. And hell, with the wind plastering my shirt to my torso, the twins look amazing.
“Send me that one, okay?” he says quietly.
“Sure.” I airdrop it to him, and hear the small ding when his phone receives it. “Don’t make me regret that.”
“I need an accurate image for my voodoo doll.”
“Well, as long as that’s your intention.”
“As opposed to?” He leans into the naughty tone, and won’t let up on the eye contact, which suddenly screams spank bank.
My stomach rolls again. A masturbation insinuation. Suggestive humor. This feels like free-falling without a parachute. I can handle Ethan when he’s terrible; I don’t know how to handle him when he’s turning his legendary charm on me.
“What are we doing tonight?” he asks, blinking away and immediately clearing the mood.
“Do we really want to push it?” I ask. “We’ve been together for . . .” I pick up his arm and glance at his watch. “Like eighty years straight. There are bruises, but no bloodshed yet. I say we quit while we’re ahead.”
“What does that entail?”
“I get the bedroom and Netflix, you wander the island to check on your hidden horcruxes.”
“You know in order to create a horcrux you have to have murdered someone, right?”
I stare up at him, hating the tiny fluttering that gets going in my chest because he knows the Harry Potter reference. I knew he was a book lover, but to be the same kind of book lover I am? It makes my insides melt. “You just made my joke very dark, Ethan.”
He balls up his taco wrapper and leans back on his hands. “You know what I want to do?”
“Oh—I know this one. You want to have dinner at a buffet.”
“I want to get drunk. We’re on an island, on a fake honeymoon, and it’s fucking gorgeous out. I know you like your cocktails, Octavia Torres, and I haven’t seen you as much as tipsy once. Doesn’t the idea of a few drinks sound fun?”
I hesitate. “It sounds dangerous.”
This makes him laugh. “Dangerous, like we’d end up either naked or dead?”
It feels like being punched, hearing him say this, because that is exactly what I meant, and the idea of ending up dead doesn’t scare me nearly as much as does the alternative.
• • •
ABOUT HALFWAY BACK TO THE hotel, we pull into the dusty lot of Cheeseburger Maui —which boasts $1.99 Mai Tai Wednesdays. This is thrilling as it is Wednesday and I am broke.
Ethan unfolds from the front seat, stretching distractingly. I definitely do not grab an eyeful of happy trail. But if I did, I would notice how soft it looks against his hard, flat—
“Ready?” he asks, and my attention rockets to his face.
“Ready,” I say in my best aggressive robot voice. Definitely not caught swooning. I hold out my hand, beckoning, and for a hilarious beat, Ethan clearly thinks I want to hold his hand. He stares at it, bewildered.
“Keys,” I remind him. “If you’re getting drunk, I’m driving.”
After he sees the logic here, he tosses them over to me, and given that I am the least athletic person alive, I manage to nearly catch them but ultimately slap them into a pile of gravel near the tire.
Ethan laughs as I jog to retrieve them, and when I pass as he holds the bar door open for me, my elbow slips and digs into his stomach. Oops.
He barely winces. “That all you got?”
“God, I hate you.”
His voice is a growl behind me: “No, you don’t.”
The inside of the restaurant is over-the-top and kitschy and so positively magical that I pull up short. Ethan collides with my back, nearly sending me sprawling. “What the hell, Olive?”
“Look at this place,” I tell him. There is a life-size shark coming out of the wall, a pirate complete with pirate ship mural in the corner, a crab wearing a life preserver suspended in a net overhead.
Ethan whistles in response. “It’s something else.”
“We’re having such a good day not murdering each other that I’m going to be polite and suggest that we can go somewhere a little more hifalutin’ if you’d prefer, but I don’t see a buffet anywhere, so . . .”
“Stop acting like I’m such a snob. I like this place.” He sits down and picks up a sticky menu, perusing it.
A waiter in a Cheeseburger Maui T-shirt stops at our table and fills our water glasses. “You guys want food, or just drinks?”
I can tell Ethan is about to say just drinks, but I jump in first. “If we’re in this for the long haul, you’re going to need food.”
“I just had tacos,” he argues.
“You’re like six foot four and weigh two hundred pounds. I’ve seen you eat, and those tacos aren’t going to sustain you for long.”
The waiter mm-hmms appreciatively beside me, and I look up at him. “We’ll check out the menu.”
We order drinks, and then Ethan leans his elbows on the table, studying me. “Are you having fun?”
I pretend to focus on the menu and not the curl of unease I feel at the sincere tenor to his words. “Shh. I’m reading.”
“Come on. Can’t we have a conversation?”
I put on my best confused face. “A what?”
“The exchange of words. Without banter.” He exhales patiently. “I’ll ask you something. You’ll answer, then ask me something.”
Groaning, I say, “Fine.”
Ethan stares at me.
“God, what?” I ask. “Ask me a question, then!”
“I asked you whether you’re having fun. That was my question.”
I take a sip of my water, roll my neck, and give him what he wants. “Fine. Yes. I’m having fun.”
He continues to watch me, expectantly.
“Are you having fun?” I ask obediently.
“I am,” he answers easily, leaning back in his chair. “I expected this to be a hellmouth on a tropical island, and am pleasantly surprised that I only feel like poisoning your meals about half the time.”
“Progress.” I lift my water glass and clink his.
“So when was your last boyfriend?” he asks, and I nearly choke on a piece of ice.
“Wowza, that escalated quickly.”
He laughs and gives a wince I find so adorable I want to spill his water into his lap. “I didn’t mean that to be creepy. We were just talking about Sophie yesterday, and I realize I didn’t ask anything about you.”