“Unless my bad luck countered your good luck.”
His arms come around my waist, and he pulls me into the heat of his chest. I’m still so unaccustomed to the ease of his affection that thrill passes in a shiver down my spine.
“You’re a menace,” he says into the top of my head.
“It’s just how I’m built,” I tell him. “Ami and I are like photo negatives.”
“It’s not a bad thing.” He tilts my chin, kissing me once, slowly. “We’re not supposed to be carbon copies of our siblings . . . even when we are outwardly identical.”
I think about all this as we move into the hallway. I’ve spent my entire life being compared to Ami; it’s nice having someone like me for me.
But, of course, this awareness—that he likes me the way I am—trips the following one, and once we’re in the elevator and headed to the lobby, the thought bursts out of me, unattended. “I guess I’m a pretty firm one-eighty from Sophie, too.”
I immediately want to sift the words out of the air and shove them back into my face.
“I guess, yeah,” he says.
I want him to add, “But not in a bad way,” again, or even “I’m glad,” but he just grins down at me, waiting for me to spew some more nonsense.
I will not indulge him. I bite my lips closed and glare up at him: he knows exactly what he’s doing. What a monster.
Ethan continues to smile down at me. “Are you jealous?”
“Should I be?” I ask, and then immediately amend, “I mean, we’re just having a vacation fling, aren’t we?”
He lets surprise slowly—skeptically—take over his features. “Oh, is that all this is?”
The way this lands feels like a boulder rolling down my spine. We’re only a couple of days away from hate and into tenderness—it’s way too soon to be talking about this in any serious way.
Or is it? I mean, technically we’re in-laws now. It’s not like we can leave the island and never see each other again; at some point we’re going to have to deal with what we’re doing . . . and what the fallout will be.
We step out of the elevator, pass through the lobby, and, in the darkness, get into a cab; I still haven’t answered him. This is one I need to sit with for a little bit, and Ethan is apparently fine with that because he doesn’t prompt me again.
What’s amazing is that even at four thirty in the morning there is traffic headed up through the national park to the crater’s peak; there are vans with bicycles, hiking groups, and couples like us—we’re a sort of couple—planning to lay down a towel and huddle together in the morning chill.
It takes an hour to get through the traffic and to the top, where we scrabble up a series of rocks to the peak. Even though the sky is still mostly dark, the view is breathtaking. There are clusters of people standing huddled together in the cold or sitting on the ground with blankets, but it’s oddly quiet, like everyone is respectful enough to keep their voices down when they’re about to witness a 360-degree sunrise.
Ethan spreads out a couple of beach towels we borrowed from the hotel and beckons me down. He guides me to sit between his long, outstretched legs and pulls me back against his chest. I can’t imagine he’s very comfortable, but I am in heaven, so I give in to it and just let my guard down for a long, quiet stretch.
I wish I knew what was happening, both between us and inside my heart. It feels like the organ itself has gotten bigger, like it’s demanding to be seen and heard, reminding me that I am a warm-blooded female with wants and needs that go beyond the basics. Being with Ethan increasingly feels like spoiling myself with a perfect new pair of shoes or an extravagant dinner out. I just remain unconvinced that I deserve this daily . . . or that it can last.
It’s obvious to me that we’ve both fallen into quiet reflection about us, and I’m not at all surprised when he says, “I asked you something earlier.”
We’re just having a vacation fling, aren’t we?
Oh, is that all this is?
He goes quiet again; obviously he doesn’t have to repeat what he said. But I don’t feel entirely sure where my head is on this particular issue. “I’m . . . thinking.”
“Think out loud,” he says. “With me.”
My heart does this tight, twisting maneuver at the way he so easily asks me for what he needs and knows I can give him: transparency.
“We didn’t even like each other a week ago,” I remind him.
His mouth comes to a gentle landing on the side of my neck. “I think we should chalk all that up to a silly misunderstanding. Would it help if I treated you to cheese curds when we got home?”
“You’d promise to share them with me?” He kisses me again.
“Only if you ask very nicely.”
At this point, I can only attribute my own pre-Maui feelings about Ethan to being reactionary and defensive. When someone doesn’t like us, it’s natural to not like them in return, right? But the memory that Dane told him I was always angry does bring up something Ethan has been hesitant to discuss . . .
I know I tend to be the pessimist to Ami’s optimist, but I’m not angry. I’m not sharp. I am cautious and wary. The fact that Dane told Ethan that—and that Dane happened to be sleeping with other women when he said it—makes me particularly wary of Dane.
“I don’t think we can have this conversation without also exploring the possibility that Dane wanted to keep us away from each other.”
I feel the way he stiffens when I say this, but he doesn’t move away or let me go. “Why would he do that, though?”
“My theory?” I say. “He let Ami believe he was monogamous, and you knew he wasn’t. If you and I started talking, it would eventually slip out that he was seeing other people. Just like it did, here.”
Behind me, Ethan shrugs, and I know him well enough now to imagine the expression he’s making: unconvinced, but unconcerned. “It probably just felt weird to him,” he says. “The idea of his big brother dating his girlfriend’s twin sister.”
“If I agreed to go out with you,” I add.
“Are you telling me you wouldn’t have?” he counters. “I saw the thirst in your eyes, too, Olivia.”
“I mean, you’re not horrible to look at.”
“Neither are you.”
These words are spoken into the sensitive skin behind my ear; the particular Olive-and-Ethan brand of compliment blows through me, soft and seductive. Ethan’s reaction to me at the wedding gave no indication he thought anything other than that I was a short green satin troll. “I’m still rewiring that aspect of things.”
“I always assumed my attraction was obvious. I wanted to translate your frowns and find out what your problem with me was and then bend you over the back of my couch.”
All of my internal organs turn to goo at his words. I work to remain upright, letting my head fall back into the crook of his neck.
“You still haven’t answered my question,” he reminds me quietly.
I bite back a smile at his persistence. “Is this just a fling?”
“Yeah,” he says. “I’m fine with a fling, I guess, but I want to know so I can figure out how to handle it once we’re home.”
“You mean whether or not you’ll tell Dane?” I ask carefully.
“I mean whether I’ll need some time to get over you.”
This corkscrews an ache through my heart. I turn my head so that I can meet his kiss as he bends to deliver it and let the feeling of relief and hunger wash over me. I try to imagine seeing Ethan at Ami and Dane’s house, keeping my distance, and not wanting to touch him like this.
I can’t. Even in my imagination it’s impossible.
“I’m not entirely done with whatever this is,” I admit. “Even if it is a fling, it doesn’t feel—”
“Don’t say it.”
“—flung.” I grin up at him and he groans.
“That was almost as bad as your ‘on the cuff’ line at the wedding.”
“I knew that would hold a special place in your memory.”
Ethan bares his teeth on my neck, growling.
“So, I guess what I’m saying is,” I begin, and then take a deep breath like I’m about to jump off a cliff into a pool of dark water, “if you wanted to keep seeing each other once we’re home, I wouldn’t be totally opposed.”
His mouth moves up my neck, sucking. His hand slides beneath my jacket and shirt, coming to a warm stop over my breastbone. “Yeah?”
“What do you think?”
“I think I like it.” He kisses along my jaw to my mouth. “I think this means I get to do this even after our fake honeymoon is over.”
I arch into his palm, urging it over with my own hand until he’s cupping my breast. But with a frustrated growl, Ethan pulls his fingers back down to my stomach. “I wish we’d had this conversation back at the room.”
“Me too.” Because we definitely can’t fool around now: the sun isn’t visible yet, but it’s off the horizon, lighting the sky a million shades of orange, red, purple, and blue.
“Did we just decide something?” he asks.
I squeeze my eyes closed, grinning. “I think so.”
“Good. Because I’m sort of crazy about you.”
Holding my breath, I quietly admit, “I’m crazy about you, too.”
I know, if I turned back to look at his face, he’d be smiling. I feel it in the way the band of his arms tightens around me.
We watch together as the sky continues to transform every few seconds, an unreal canvas changing constantly in front of us. It makes me feel like a little girl again, and instead of imagining a castle in the sky, I’m living in it; truly the only thing we can see all around us is this dramatic, painted sky.