Once the waitress leaves, I pull out my phone and pretend to be incredibly busy, but really I’m just playing poker.
Obviously, I was right: the sex was a huge mistake, and now we have five days left together. Should I suck it up, pull out the credit card, and get a room for myself? It would be a huge expense, but it might allow the vacation to continue to be . . . fun. I could do all the activities left on my bucket list, and even if it’s 30 percent as fun as doing it with Ethan, it’s still 100 percent more fun than I’d be having at home. But the idea that I may be done with the particular brand of Ethan-hassling fun I’ve been enjoying so far is a bummer.
I look up in surprise when he says it, but he doesn’t immediately continue. “Yeah?”
He opens his napkin, sets it on his lap, and leans on his forearms, meeting my eyes directly. “I’m sorry.”
I can’t tell if it’s an apology for lunch, for the sex, or for about a hundred other things he could probably stand to apologize for. “About . . . ? ”
“About lunch,” he says gently. “I should have focused only on you.” He pauses and runs a finger over a dark brow. “I wasn’t at all interested in having drinks with Sophie. If I was withdrawn, it was because I was hungry and tired of running into her.”
“Oh.” Everything in my head seems to come to a standstill, words momentarily on hiatus. That was so much easier than getting a new hotel room. “Okay.”
He smiles. “I don’t want things to be weird with us.”
Frowning, I ask, “Wait. Are you apologizing so you can have sex with me again?”
Ethan looks like he can’t decide if he wants to laugh or throw his fork at me. “I think I’m apologizing because my emotions tell me I need to?”
“You have emotions besides irritation?”
Now he laughs. “I don’t think I registered that I seemed to be quietly enjoying her jealousy. I won’t lie and say that it doesn’t bring me some pleasure that she’s jealous, but that’s independent of how I feel about you. I didn’t mean to seem preoccupied with Sophie after we’d just been together.”
Wow. Did some woman text him that apology? That was fantastic.
“She texted me earlier, and I replied,” he says, and turns his phone around so I can read it. The text says simply, Gonna pass on drinks. Have a nice trip. “Before you got back to the room. Look at the time stamp,” he says, and points, grinning. “You can’t even say that I did it because you were mad, because I had no idea you were mad. Finally, my cluelessness comes in handy.”
Our waitress slides our salads down in front of us, and now that things are better between us, I regret not getting a burger. Forking a piece of lettuce, I say, “Okay, cool.”
“ ‘Okay, cool,’ ” he repeats slowly. “That’s it?”
I look up at him. “I mean it: that was an impressive apology. We can go back to being rude to each other for fun now.”
“What if I felt like being nice to each other for fun now?” he asks, and then flags down the waitress.
I narrow my eyes at him. “I’m trying to imagine ‘nice’ on you.”
“You were pretty nice on me earlier,” he says in a quiet growl.
“See? I knew you apologized just to have sex with me again.”
At the side of the table, a throat clears. We both look up to see that the waitress has returned.
“Oh. Hi. That was timely.” I wave to her, and Ethan laughs.
“Can we get a bottle of the Bergstrom Cumberland pinot?” he asks her.
She leaves and he shakes his head at me.
“You’re going to loosen me up with alcohol now?” I ask, grinning. “That’s one of my favorite wines.”
“I know.” He reaches across the table, taking my hand, and my insides turn warm and wavy. “And no, I’m going to loosen you up by refusing to fight with you.”
“You won’t be able to resist.”
Bending, he kisses my knuckles. “Wanna bet?”
As Ethan chatters easily throughout his meal and into dessert, I stare at him, working to not let my jaw fall open too frequently: I don’t think I’ve seen him smile this much, ever.
Part of me wants to pull my phone back out and take a picture; it’s the same part of me that wants to catalog every one of his features: the dramatic brows and lashes; the contrast of his bright eyes; the straight Roman line of his nose; his full, intelligent mouth. I get the sense that we’re living on a cloud; no matter what I tell my head and my heart, I worry I’m in for a rough crash landing when we fly home to Minnesota in a matter of days. As much as I fight the thought, it keeps returning, uninvited: This can’t last. It’s too good.
He drags a strawberry through a drizzle of chocolate syrup beside the cheesecake we’re sharing, and holds the fork aloft. “I was thinking we could do Haleakal? at sunrise tomorrow.”
“What’s that?” I steal the fork and eat the perfect bite he’s crafted. He doesn’t even scowl—he smiles—and I try to not let this throw me. Ethan Thomas is totally fine with me eating off his fork. Olive Torres from two weeks ago is floored.
“It’s the highest point on the island,” he explains. “According to Carly at the front desk it’s the best view around, but we have to get there pretty early.”
“Carly at the front desk, eh?”
He laughs. “I had to find someone to talk to while you were off shopping all afternoon.”
Only a week ago I would have made a cutting sarcastic remark in response to this, but my brain is full of nothing but heart-eyes and the urge to kiss him.
So I reach across the table for his hand. He takes mine without any hesitation, like it is the most natural thing in the world.
“So I think,” I say quietly, “that if we’re going to be up for the sunrise, we should probably get to bed soon.”
His lips part, eyes drop to my mouth. Ethan Thomas is quick on the uptake: “I think you’re right.”
• • •
ETHAN’S ALARM GOES OFF AT four, and we startle awake, mumble into the darkness, and roll in a naked, sheet-tangled tumble from bed and into our layers of clothing. Although we are on a tropical island, Front Desk Carly told Ethan the predawn temperatures at the peak of the mountain are frequently below freezing.
Despite our best intentions for an early bedtime, the man kept me up for several hours with his hands, and mouth, and a shockingly large vocabulary of dirty words; it feels like a thick sex fog hovers in my brain even when he turns on the lights in the living room. With teeth brushed and kisses given, Ethan brews coffee and I pack a bag with water, fruit, and granola bars.
“Wanna hear my mountain-climbing story?” I ask.
“Is bad luck involved?”
“You know it.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“Summer after sophomore year in college,” I begin, “Ami, Jules, Diego, and I took a trip to Yosemite because Jules was on a fitness kick and wanted to climb Half Dome.”
“Yes!” I sing. “It’s a terrible story. So, Ami and Jules were in great shape, but Diego and I were, let’s say, more marathon couch potatoes than runners. Of course, the hike itself is insane and I thought I was going to die at least fifty times—which has nothing to do with luck, just laziness—but then we start the final vertical ascent up the subdome. No one told me to watch out where I put my hands. I reached into a crevice to get a grip and grabbed a rattlesnake.”
“Yeah, bit by a fucking rattlesnake, and fell like fifteen feet.”
Ethan gapes at me. “What did you do?”
“Well, Diego wasn’t going to climb that last stretch, so he was there standing over me, acting like his plan was to pee on my hand. Thankfully the ranger came over and had some antivenin, and it was okay.”
“See?” Ethan says. “That’s lucky.”
“To be bitten? To fall?”
He laughs incredulously. “Lucky that they had the antivenin. You didn’t die on Half Dome.”
I shrug, dropping a couple of bananas in the backpack. “I see what you’re saying.”
I can feel him still watching me.
“You don’t really believe this, though, right?” Off my look, he adds, “That you have some sort of chronically bad luck?”
“Absolutely. I’ve already shared a couple of winners, but just to keep it recent: I lost my job the day after my roommate moved out. In June, I got some car repairs done and a ticket when a hit-and-run shoved my brand-new car into a no-parking zone. And this summer an old woman fell asleep on my shoulder on the bus, and I only realized she was dead, and not actually asleep, after I’d missed my stop.”
His eyes go wide.
“I’m kidding about that last one. I don’t even take the bus.”
Ethan bends, cupping his hands over his knees. “I don’t know what I would actually do if someone died on me.”
“I think the odds are pretty slim.” Even half-asleep, I grin as I pour our coffee into two paper cups and slide one in front of Ethan.
Straightening, he says, “I guess I’m suggesting that you give the idea of luck too much power.”
“You mean how positivity breeds positivity? Please don’t tell me you think you’re the first one to mention this to me. I realize part of it is outlook, but honestly—it’s luck, too.”
“Okay, but . . . my lucky penny is just a coin. It doesn’t have any great power, it’s not magic, it’s just something I found before a bunch of awesome things happened. So now I associate it with those awesome things.” He lifts his chin to me. “I had my penny the night we ran into Sophie. Logically, if everything was about luck, that wouldn’t have happened.”