I put the menu down on my coffee table and sprawl on the carpet. The possibility that this rift between me and Ami could become permanent makes me light-headed. It would probably be a good idea for me to hang out with someone for distraction, but Diego, Natalia, and Jules are all at work, Mom will only worry if she knows what’s going on, and calling anyone else in my family will just result in fifteen people showing up on my doorstep with sympathy dinner later when Ethan and I are trying to hash things out.
Thankfully he doesn’t make me wait. He comes over right at seven, holding takeout from Tibet Kitchen that smells so much more appealing than the pizza I’d ordered for us to share.
“Hey,” he says, and gives a little smile. He ducks, like he’s going to kiss my lips, but then makes a detour at the last second, landing on my cheek instead.
My heart drops.
I step back, letting him in, and it suddenly feels too warm in my apartment; everything seems too small. I look everywhere but at his face, because I know if I look at him and get the sense that things between us really aren’t okay, I’m not going to be able to keep myself together for the conversation we need to have.
It’s so weird. He follows me into the kitchen, we make up plates of food, and then we sit on the floor in the living room, on opposite sides of the coffee table, facing each other. The silence feels like a huge bubble around me. For the past week, Ethan has practically lived here. Now it feels like we’re strangers all over again.
He pokes at his rice. “You’ve barely looked at me since I got here.”
The response to this dries up in my throat: Because you kissed my cheek when you walked in. You didn’t pull me against you, or get lost in a long kiss with me. I feel like I barely had you, and now you’re already gone.
So instead of answering aloud, I look up at him for the first time and try to smile. He registers the failed effort, and it clearly makes him sad. An ache builds and expands in my throat until I’m honestly not sure I’ll be able to get words around it. I hate this somber dynamic more than I hate the fact that we’re fighting.
“This is so weird,” I say. “It would be so much easier to be snarky with each other.”
He nods, poking at his food. “I don’t have the energy to be snarky.”
“Me either.” I really just want to crawl across the floor and into his lap and have him tease me about my bra being too small or how I couldn’t stay away from him long enough to finish my dinner, but it’s like Dane and his fratty face are just parked here in between us, keeping us from being normal.
“I talked to Dane last night,” he says right then, adding, “late. I went over there late.”
Ami didn’t mention this. Did she even know that Ethan stopped by last night?
“And?” I say quietly. I have no appetite and basically just push a piece of beef around the plate.
“He was really surprised that that’s how you took what he said,” Ethan says.
Acid fills my stomach. “What a shock.”
Ethan drops his fork and leans back on both hands, staring at me. “Look, what am I supposed to do? My girlfriend thinks my brother hit on her, and he says he didn’t. Does it matter who is right here? You’re both offended.”
At this, I am incredulous. “You’re supposed to believe me. And it absolutely matters who’s right here.”
“Olive, we’ve been together for like two weeks,” he says helplessly.
It takes a few seconds for me to be able to unscramble the pile of words that falls into my thoughts. “I’m lying because our relationship is new?”
Sighing, he reaches up, wiping one hand over his face.
“Ethan,” I say quietly, “I know what I heard. He propositioned me. I can’t just pretend like he didn’t.”
“I just don’t think he meant what you thought he did. I think you’re primed to think the worst of him.”
I blink back down to my plate. It would be so easy to choose to make peace with Ethan and Ami and just say, “You know what? You’re probably right,” and just let it be, because after all this, of course I’m primed to think the worst of Dane, and I could easily give him a wide berth for the rest of time. But I can’t do that. There are too many red flags—why am I the only one who can see them? It’s not because I am a pessimist or look for the worst in people; I know that isn’t true about me, not anymore. I fell for Ethan on that island, after all. I’m excited about a job at Camelia so that I have time to really think about what I want my life to look like. I’m trying to fix all the parts of me that aren’t working because I know I have a choice in how my life goes—that it isn’t all luck—but as soon as I try to be proactive, it’s like no one wants to let me.
And why isn’t Dane here with Ethan, trying to make things right with me? Actually, I know why: He is so sure that no one will believe me, that everyone will think, Oh, Olive is just being Olive. Just believing the worst about everyone. My opinions are so inconsequential because in their eyes I’m always going to be the pessimist.
“Have you talked to Ami?” he asks.
I feel the way heat crawls up my neck and across my face. The fact that my twin is on Ethan and Dane’s side here is truly killing me. I can’t even admit it out loud, so I just nod.
“You told her about him dating other people before they were exclusive?” he asks. I nod again. “And about yesterday?”
“I thought you weren’t going to say anything to her,” he says, exasperated.
I gape at him. “And I thought Dane wouldn’t hit on his wife’s sister. I guess we’ve both disappointed you.”
He stares at me for a long beat. “How did Ami take it?”
My silence clues him in that Ami didn’t believe me, either. “She didn’t know about the other women, Ethan. She thinks Dane has been committed since day one.”
Ethan looks at me pityingly and it makes me want to scream. “So you’re not going to be able to move past this?” he asks.
My jaw actually drops. “Which part? My sister’s husband cheating on her before they were married, your brother hitting on me, or my boyfriend not believing me about any of it?”
His gaze turns back to me, and he looks apologetic but unwavering. “Again: I don’t believe his intent was what you think it was. I don’t think he’d hit on you.”
I let him hear the shock in my voice. “Then you’re right,” I say. “I’ll have a hard time moving past this.”
When he leans forward, I think he’s going to dig into his plate, but instead he pushes to stand. “I really like you,” he says quietly. He closes his eyes and drags a hand through his hair. “I am crazy about you, actually.”
My heart twists, painfully. “Then take a step back and look at this situation from a different angle,” I plead. “What do I have to gain from lying about Dane?”
We’ve had so many disagreements, and they all seem so hilariously minor in hindsight. The cheese curds, the airplane, the Hamiltons, Sophie, the Skittle dress. I get it now—that all of those were opportunities for us to have contact with each other. This is the first time we’ve been at a true impasse and I know what he’s going to say before he even gets the words out.
“I think we should probably break up, Olive. I’m sorry.”
It’s the quiet before the dinner rush, and I’m doing the final check of my section. Natalia is the fourth family member this week to just happen to stop by Camelia at exactly four o’clock. She said she wanted to say hi to David because she hasn’t seen him in forever, but I know that’s bullshit because Diego—who came by yesterday to hassle me using a similarly flimsy story—said both David and Natalia were at Tía María’s less than a week ago.
As much as the size and presence of my family can feel oppressive at times, it’s the greatest comfort I have right now. Even if I pretend to be annoyed that they’re constantly checking up on me, they all see through it. Because if it were any of them struggling—and it has been, many times—I would find a reason to drop by at four o’clock wherever they work, too.
“Mama, when we’re sad, we eat,” Natalia says, following me with a plate of food as I adjust the placement of two wineglasses on a table.
“I know,” I tell her. “But I swear, I can’t eat anymore.”
“You’re starting to look like a bobble-headed Selena Gomez.” She pinches my waist. “I don’t like it.”
The family knows Ethan broke up with me, and that Ami and I are “arguing” (although there’s nothing active about it; I called her a few times after our big blow-up, and two weeks later she has yet to return any of my calls). In the past ten days, I’ve been bombarded with well-meaning texts and my fridge is completely packed with food that Mom brings daily from Tío Omar, Ximena, Natalia, Cami, Miguel, Tío Hugo, Stephanie, Tina—almost as if they’ve made a Feed Olive calendar. My family feeds people; it’s what they do. Apparently my missing Sunday dinner for two weeks in a row—because of work—has gotten the entire family on high alert, and it’s driving them all crazy not knowing what’s going on. I can’t blame them; if Jules, or Natalia, or Diego went into hiding, I’d be out of my mind worried. But it isn’t my story to share; I wouldn’t know how to tell them what is happening, and according to Tío Hugo, who came by yesterday to “Um, get a business card for an insurance agent from David,” Ami won’t talk about it, either.
“I saw Ami yesterday,” Natalia says now, and then pauses long enough for me to stop fussing with the table settings and look up at her.
“How is she?” I can’t help the tight lean to my words. I miss my sister so much, and it’s wrecking me that she isn’t speaking to me. It’s like missing a limb. Every day I get so close to caving, to saying, ‘You’re probably right, Dane didn’t do anything wrong,” but the words just won’t come out, even when I test the lie out in front of the mirror. It sticks in my throat, and I get hot and tight all over and feel like I’m going to cry. Nothing all that terrible even happened to me—other than losing my job, my sister, and my boyfriend in a twenty-four-hour period—but I still feel a kind of burning anger toward Dane, as if he slapped me with his own hand.