“So, Ethan and I went in their place.” I give him a wobbly smile. “Before that trip, we hated each other. Or, I hated him because I thought he hated me.” I wave this off. “Anyway, I am terrible at lying and really hate doing it. I kept almost explaining it to everyone I saw. And when the massage therapist called me Mrs. Thomas, and you asked if I’d gotten married, I panicked because I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t Ami.” I fidget with a magnetic paperclip holder on his desk, unable to look at him. “But I didn’t want to lie to you, either. So, either I lie and tell you I’m committing fraud to steal a vacation, or I lie and tell you I’m married.”
“Pretending to be your sister to get a vacation doesn’t sound like such a horrible lie, Olive.”
“In hindsight—and I mean, immediate hindsight—I knew that, too. I don’t think the massage therapist would have reported me or anything, but I really didn’t want to be sent home. I panicked.” I finally look up at him, feeling the apology all the way to my breastbone. “I’m really sorry for lying to you. I admire you immensely, admire the foundation of this company and have been feeling sick over it for the past couple weeks.” Pausing, I say, “For what it’s worth—and at the risk of being unprofessional—I think that dinner with you was the reason I fell for Ethan on that trip.”
Mr. Hamilton sits forward to rest his elbows on his desk. “Well, I guess I’m reassured that it made you uncomfortable to lie,” he says. “And I appreciate your bravery in telling me.”
He nods, and smiles, and I exhale for the first time all day, it seems. This has been weighing on me, making my stomach feel wavy for hours.
“The truth is,” he says, and slides his glasses back on, looking at me over the rims, “we enjoyed that dinner. Molly really loved your company, adored Ethan.”
I smile. “We had a great—”
“But you sat across the table for an entire meal and lied to me.”
Dread turns the surface of my skin cold. “I know. I—”
“I don’t think you’re a bad person, Olive, and honestly—under any other circumstance, I think I’d really like you.” He inhales slowly, shaking his head. “But this is a weird situation for me. To think we were together for hours and you were fooling us. That’s weird.”
And I have no idea what to say. My stomach feels like a concrete block now, sinking inside me.
He slides a folder closer to him and opens it. My HR folder. “You signed a morality clause in the employment contract,” he says, looking down at the papers before turning his face back up to me. “And I’m truly sorry, Olive, but given the oddness of this situation and my overall discomfort with dishonesty, I’m going to have to let you go.”
• • •
I DROP MY HEAD ONTO the bar table and groan. “Is this really happening?”
Ethan rubs my back and wisely stays quiet. There is literally nothing that can turn this day around, not even the best cocktails in the Twin Cities or the best pep talk from a new boyfriend.
“I should go home,” I say. “With my luck, the bar will catch fire and fall into a black hole.”
“Stop.” He pushes the basket of peanuts and my martini closer and smiles. “Stay. It’ll make you feel better to see Ami.”
He’s right. After I left Hamilton with my tail between my legs, half of me wanted to go home and burrow in my bed for a week, and half of me wanted to pull Ethan on one side and Ami on the other and have them hold me up for the rest of the night.
And now that I’m here, I actually need to see my sister’s indignant rage over my getting fired on my first day—even if it isn’t entirely fair, and a large part of me doesn’t blame Mr. Hamilton at all. But it will make me feel a million times better.
Straightening beside me, Ethan looks toward the door and I follow his attention. Dane has just arrived, but there’s no Ami with him, which is weird since they usually commute together.
“What’s up, party people?” he booms across the room. A few heads turn, which is just how Dane likes it.
Ugh. I push down the snarky voice in my head.
Ethan stands to greet him with a bro hug, and I give Dane a limp wave. He flops down onto a barstool, shouts for an IPA, and then turns to us, grinning. “Man, you guys are so tan. I’m trying not to hate you.”
Ethan looks down at his arms like they’re new. “Huh, yeah, I guess.”
“Well, if it makes you feel any better,” I say, and then affect a stuffy British accent, “I’ve been sacked.” I’m trying—and failing—to bring some levity to my mood, but Dane misinterprets my meaning and goes in for an immediate high-five.
“Yeah you have!” Dane shouts, hand outstretched.
I don’t want to leave the poor man hanging, so I tap a finger to the middle of his palm and shake my head. “Like, fired,” I clarify, and Ethan follows it up with a quiet “Not sexy.”
Dane’s mouth pinches into a weird little butthole and he lets out a sympathetic “Oooh, that sucks.”
He’s not even doing anything douchey right now, but I swear his perfectly manicured beard and his fake glasses that he doesn’t even need and his trendy pink dress shirt just make me want to toss my martini in his face.
But that reaction is just so . . . Olive, isn’t it? I’m back in town for only a few days and I’m already in A Mood? Lord.
“I’m so grumpy,” I say out loud, and Dane laughs like I know, right? but Ethan leans in.
“To be fair, you did just lose your job,” he says quietly, and I smile grimly at him. “Of course you’re grumpy.”
Dane stares at us. “It’s gonna be hard to get used to seeing you guys together.”
“I bet,” I say with semi-intentional meaning, and meet his eyes.
“I’m sure you had a lot to talk about on the island.” He winks at me, and then adds breezily, “Having hated each other’s guts beforehand.”
I wonder if Ethan is having the same thought I am—that this is a super-weird thing to say, but exactly the thing that someone who is afraid of being busted would say.
“We did,” Ethan says, “but it’s all good.”
“You didn’t have to tell Ethan that I’m angry all the time,” I say, unable to help myself.
Dane waves this off. “Eh, with you, it’s a safe bet. You hate everyone.”
This tilts inside me, ringing untrue. For the life of me, I can’t think of a single person I hate right now. Except maybe myself, for lying to Mr. Hamilton and ending up in this place, where I’m not sure I’ll be able to pay my rent in a month . . . again.
Ethan puts his hand over mine, a silent Let it go. And truly, with Dane right now—or ever—arguing hardly seems worth it.
“Where’s Ami?” I ask, and Dane shrugs, peeking back over his shoulder at the door. She’s fifteen minutes late, and it’s disorienting. My sister is the prompt one; Dane is the late one and he’s already flagging down the bartender for a second beer.
“So, was this the job offer you got in the airport?” Dane asks once she’s gone.
“Was it, like, your dream job?”
“No,” I say, “but I knew I’d be good at it.” I lift the toothpick and swirl the olive in my martini glass. “The best part? I was fired because I saw my new boss in Maui, and we lied to him about being married.”
A laugh bursts out of Dane’s mouth before he can contain it. He seems to realize I’m being sincere. “Wait. Seriously?”
“Yes, and the wife, Molly, really loved Ethan and invited him to the spouses club and all of that stuff. I think Mr. Hamilton felt uncomfortable trusting me knowing that I’d completely lied my face off for an entire meal with him, and I can’t say I blame him.”
Dane looks like he has more laughs in him but is wisely keeping them contained. “Why didn’t you just tell him you were taking your sister’s vacation?”
“That, Dane, is the question of the hour.”
He lets out a long, low whistle.
“We can talk about anything else, by the way,” I say. “Please.”
Dane deftly changes the topic to himself, his workday, how much better he’s feeling. How he’s gone down a pants size. He has some pretty entertaining stories about explosive diarrhea in public restrooms, but for the most part it just feels like the Dane Show.
The moment Dane pauses to toss a few peanuts in his mouth, Ethan excuses himself to use the men’s room, and Dane waves to the bartender for a third beer. Once she leaves again, he turns back to me. “It’s wild how much you and Ami look alike,” he says.
“Identical, they say.” I pick up a straw wrapper and roll it into a tight spiral, feeling oddly uncomfortable sitting here with just Dane. What’s odd is how I used to see the family resemblance in Ethan and Dane, but in this moment, they look nothing alike at all. Is it because I know Ethan intimately now, or is it because he is a good human and his brother seems rotten from the inside?
It’s especially uncomfortable because he’s still looking at me. Even though I’m not meeting his eyes, I can feel his focus on the side of my face. “I bet Ethan told you all kinds of stories.”
And oh. My mind is immediately buzzing. Is he talking about what I think he’s talking about?
“About himself?” I deflect.
“About all of us, the whole fam.”
Dane and Ethan’s parents are two of the most milquetoast people I’ve ever met in my life—the epitome of Minnesota nice, but also exceedingly dull—so I think both Dane and I know that Ethan wouldn’t share many adventures about the whole fam. Is it my eternal skeptical filter here that’s making me think he’s talking about the brother trips being Dane’s ideas and, of course, all of his pre-engagement girlfriends?