Laman utama The Unhoneymooners
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Absolutely loved this book
06 June 2021 (20:09)
^me trying to find who asked...
10 June 2021 (09:40)
^me trying to understand why salty people even bother like, can't you keep your misery to yourself better yet, get a therapist
11 June 2021 (00:11)
^agreed. ps loved the book!
12 June 2021 (08:49)
I read this book in one day, it was amazing. Adorable, I couldn’t stop smiling
17 June 2021 (13:02)
Did that girl just say who asked in an open comment section:-/
17 June 2021 (21:53)
Praise for the Novels of CHRISTINA LAUREN “Heartfelt and funny, this enemies-to-lovers romance shows that the best things in life are all-inclusive and nontransferable as well as free.” —Kirkus Reviews on The Unhoneymooners (starred review) “A funny, sexy page-turner that warns: Keep your friends close and their avatars closer.” —Kirkus Reviews on My Favorite Half-Night Stand “This is a messy and sexy look at digital dating that feels fresh and exciting.” —Publishers Weekly on My Favorite Half-Night Stand (starred review) “You can never go wrong with a Christina Lauren novel . . . a delectable, moving take on modern dating reminding us all that when it comes to intoxicating, sexy, playful romance that has its finger on the pulse of contemporary love, this duo always swipes right.” —Entertainment Weekly on My Favorite Half-Night Stand “With exuberant humor and unforgettable characters, this romantic comedy is a standout.” —Kirkus Reviews on Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating (starred review) “The story skips along . . . propelled by rom-com momentum and charm.” —New York Times Book Review on Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating “Lauren has penned a hilariously zany and heartfelt novel . . . the story is sure to please readers looking for a fun-filled novel to escape everyday life with.” —Booklist on Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating “From Lauren’s wit to her love of wordplay and literature to swoony love scenes to heroines who learn to set aside their own self-doubts . . . Lauren writes of the bittersweet pangs of love and loss with piercing clarity.” —Entertainment Weekly on Love and Other Words “A triumph . . . a true joy from start to finish.” —Kristin Harmel, internationally bestselling author of The Room on Rue Amélie on Love and Other Words “Lauren’s standalone brims with authentic characters and a captivating plot.” —Publishers Weekly on Roomies (starred review) “Delightful.” —People on Roomies “At turns hilarious and gut-wrenching, this is a tremendously fun slow burn.” ; —Washington Post on Dating You / Hating You (A Best Romance of 2017 selection) “Truly a romance for the twenty-first century. . . . A smart, sexy romance for readers who thrive on girl power.” —Kirkus Reviews on Dating You / Hating You (starred review) “Christina Lauren hilariously depicts modern dating.” —Us Weekly on Dating You / Hating You “A passionate and bittersweet tale of love in all of its wonderfully terrifying reality . . . Lauren successfully tackles a weighty subject with both ferocity and compassion.” —Booklist on Autoboyography “Perfectly captures the hunger, thrill, and doubt of young, modern love.” —Kirkus Reviews on Wicked Sexy Liar “The perfect summer read.” —Self on Sweet Filthy Boy “Christina Lauren’s books have a place of honor on my bookshelf.” —Sarah J. Maas, bestselling author of Throne of Glass “In our eyes, Christina Lauren can do no wrong.” —Bookish Thank you for downloading this Simon & Schuster ebook. * * * Get a FREE ebook when you join our mailing list. Plus, get updates on new releases, deals, recommended reads, and more from Simon & Schuster. Click below to sign up and see terms and conditions. CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP Already a subscriber? Provide your email again so we can register this ebook and send you more of what you like to read. You will continue to receive exclusive offers in your inbox. For Hugues de Saint Vincent. Work like a captain, play like a pirate. chapter one In the calm before the storm—in this case, the blessed quiet before the bridal suite is overrun by the wedding party—my twin sister stares critically down at a freshly painted shell-pink fingernail and says, “I bet you’re relieved I’m not a bridezilla.” She glances across the room at me and smiles generously. “I bet you expected me to be impossible.” It is a statement so perfectly dropped in the moment, I want to take a picture and frame it. I share a knowing look with our cousin Julieta, who is repainting Ami’s toes (“It should be more petal pink than baby pink, don’t you think?”), and gesture to the bodice of Ami’s wedding gown—which hangs from a satin hanger and on which I am presently and painstakingly ensuring that every sequin is lying flat. “Define ‘bridezilla.’ ” Ami meets my eyes again, this time with a half-hearted glare. She’s in her fancy wedding-bra contraption and skimpy underwear that I’m aware—with some degree of sibling nausea—her dudebro fiancé, Dane, will positively destroy later. Her makeup is tastefully done and her fluffy veil is pinned in her upswept dark hair. It’s jarring. I mean, we’re used to looking identical while knowing we’re wholly different people inside, but this is something entirely unfamiliar: Ami is the portrait of a bride. Her life suddenly bears no resemblance to mine whatsoever. “I’m not a bridezilla,” she argues. “I’m a perfectionist.” I find my list and hold it aloft, waving it to catch her attention. It’s a piece of heavy, scalloped-edged pink stationery that has Olive’s To-Do List—Wedding Day Edition written in meticulous calligraphy at the top, and which includes seventy-four (seventy-four) items ranging from Check for symmetry of the sequins on the bridal gown to Remove any wilted petals from the table arrangements. Each bridesmaid has her own list, perhaps not quite as long as my maid-of-honor one but equally fancy and handwritten. Ami even drew checkboxes so that we can record when each task is completed. “Some people might call these lists a little overboard,” I say. “Those are the same ‘some people,’ ” she replies, “who’ll pay an arm and a leg for a wedding that is half as nice.” “Right. They hire a wedding planner to—” I refer to my list. “ ‘Wipe condensation off the chairs a half hour before the ceremony.’ ” Ami blows across her fingernails to dry them and lets out a movie-villain laugh. “Fools.” You know what they say about self-fulfilling prophecies, I’m sure. Winning makes you feel like a winner, and then somehow . . . you keep winning. It has to be true, because Ami wins everything. She tossed a ticket into a raffle bowl at a street fair and walked home with a set of community theater tickets. She slid her business card into a cup at The Happy Gnome and won free happy hour beers for a year. She’s won makeovers, books, movie premiere tickets, a lawnmower, endless T-shirts, and even a car. Of course, she also won the stationery and calligraphy set she used to write the to-do lists. All this to say, as soon as Dane Thomas proposed, Ami saw it as a challenge to spare our parents the cost of the wedding. As it happens, Mom and Dad could afford to contribute—they are messy in many ways, but financially is not one of them—but for Ami, getting out of paying for anything is the best kind of game. If pre-engagement Ami thought of contests as a competitive sport, engaged Ami viewed them as the Olympics. No one in our enormous family was surprised, then, when she successfully planned a posh wedding with two hundred guests, a seafood buffet, a chocolate fountain, and multicolored roses spilling out of every jar, vase, and goblet—and has shelled out, at most, a thousand dollars. My sister works her ass off to find the best promotions and contests. She reposts every Twitter and Facebook giveaway she can find, and even has an email address that is aptly named AmeliaTorresWins@xmail.com. Finally convinced there are no misbehaving sequins, I lift the hanger from where it’s suspended from a metal hook attached to the wall, intending to bring the gown to her. But as soon as I touch it, my sister and cousin scream in unison, and Ami holds up her hands, her matte pink lips in a horrified O. “Leave it there, Ollie,” she says. “I’ll come over. With your luck, you’ll trip and fall into the candle and it’ll go up in a ball of sequin-scented flames.” I don’t argue: she isn’t wrong. • • • WHEREAS AMI IS A FOUR-LEAF clover, I have always been unlucky. I don’t say that to be theatrical or because I only seem unlucky in comparison; it is an objective truth. Google Olive Torres, Minnesota, and you’ll find dozens of articles and comment threads dedicated to the time I climbed into one of those claw crane arcade games and got stuck. I was six, and when the stuffed animal I’d captured didn’t drop directly into the chute, I decided to go in and get it. I spent two hours inside the machine, surrounded by a lot of hard, coarse-furred, chemical-smelling toy bears. I remember looking out through the handprint-smudged plexiglass and seeing an array of frantic faces shouting muffled orders to each other. Apparently, when the owners of the arcade explained to my parents that they didn’t actually own the game and therefore didn’t have the key to get inside, the Edina fire department was called, followed quickly by a local news crew, who diligently documented my extraction. Fast-forward twenty-six years and—thank you, YouTube—there’s still video floating around. To date, nearly five hundred thousand people have watched it and discovered that I was stubborn enough to climb in, and unlucky enough to catch my belt loop on the way out, leaving my pants behind with the bears. This is but one story of many. So yes, Ami and I are identical twins—we are both five foot four with dark hair that misbehaves when there’s even a hint of humidity, deep brown eyes, upturned noses, and matching constellations of freckles—but that’s where the similarities end. Our mother always tried to embrace our differences so we’d feel like individuals rather than a matching set. I know her intentions were good, but for as long as I can remember, our roles were set: Ami is an optimist who looks for the silver lining; I tend to assume the sky is falling. When we were three, Mom even dressed us as Care Bears for Halloween: Ami was Funshine Bear. I was Grumpy. And it’s clear the self-fulfilling prophecy works in both directions: From the moment I watched myself picking my nose behind a piece of grimy plexiglass on the six o’clock news, my luck never really improved. I’ve never won a coloring contest or an office pool; not even a lottery ticket or a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. I have, however, broken a leg when someone fell backward down the stairs and knocked me over (they walked away unscathed), consistently drew bathroom duty during every extended family vacation for a five-year stretch, was peed on by a dog while sunbathing in Florida, have been crapped on by innumerable birds over the years, and when I was sixteen I was struck by lightning—yes, really—and lived to tell the tale (but had to go to summer school because I missed two weeks of classes at the end of the year). Ami likes to sunnily remind me that I once guessed the correct number of shots left in a half-empty bottle of tequila. But after drinking most of them in celebratory glee and subsequently throwing it all back up again, that win didn’t feel particularly fortunate. • • • AMI REMOVES THE (FREE) DRESS from the hanger and steps into it just as our mother comes into the room from her (also free) adjoining suite. She gasps so dramatically when she sees Ami in the gown, I’m sure both Ami and I share the thought: Olive somehow managed to stain the wedding dress. I inspect it to make sure I haven’t. All clear, Ami exhales, motioning for me to carefully zip her up. “Mami, you scared the crap out of us.” With a head full of enormous Velcro rollers, a half-finished glass of (you guessed it: free) champagne in hand, and her lips thick with red gloss, Mom is managing an impressive impersonation of Joan Crawford. If Joan Crawford had been born in Guadalajara. “Oh, mijita, you look beautiful.” Ami glances up at her, smiles, and then seems to remember—with immediate separation anxiety—the list she left all the way across the room. Hitching her billowing dress up, she shuffles to the table. “Mom, you gave the DJ the thumb drive with the music?” Our mother drains her glass before daintily taking a seat on the plush couch. “Sí, Amelia. I gave your little plastic stick to the white man with cornrows in the terrible suit.” Mom’s magenta dress is impeccable, her tan legs crossed at the knee as she accepts another flute of champagne from the bridal suite attendant. “He has a gold tooth,” Mom adds. “But I’m sure he’s very good at his job.” Ami ignores this and her confident check mark scratches through the room. She doesn’t really care if the DJ isn’t up to our mother’s standards, or even her own. He’s new in town, and she won his services in a raffle at the hospital where she works as a hematology nurse. Free beats talented, every time. “Ollie,” Ami says, eyes never straying from the list in front of her, “you need to get dressed, too. Your dress is hanging on the back of the bathroom door.” I immediately disappear into the bathroom with a mock salute. “Yes, ma’am.” If there’s one question we’re asked more than any other, it’s which one of us is the oldest. I would think it’s fairly obvious, because although Ami is a mere four minutes older than me, she is without a doubt the leader. Growing up, we played what she wanted to play, went where she wanted to go, and while I may have complained, for the most part I happily followed. She can talk me into almost anything. Which is exactly how I ended up in this dress. “Ami.” I throw open the bathroom door, horrified by what I’ve just seen in the small bathroom mirror. Maybe it’s the light, I think, hiking up the shiny green monstrosity and making my way to one of the larger mirrors in the suite. Wow. It’s definitely not the light. “Olive,” she answers back. “I look like a giant can of 7UP.” “Yes, girl!” Jules sings. “Maybe someone will finally crack that thing open.” Mom clears her throat. I glower at my sister. I was wary of being a bridesmaid in a Winter Wonderland–themed wedding in January, so my only request as the maid of honor was that my dress wouldn’t have a scrap of red velvet or white fur. I see now that I should have been more specific. “Did you actually choose this dress?” I point to my abundance of cleavage. “This was intentional?” Ami tilts her head, studying me. “I mean, intentional in the sense that I won the raffle at Valley Baptist! All the bridesmaids dresses in one go—just think of the money I saved you.” “We’re Catholic, not Baptist, Ami.” I tug on the fabric. “I look like a hostess at O’Gara’s on St. Paddy’s Day.” I realize my primary error—not seeing this dress until today—but my sister has always had impeccable taste. On the day of the fittings, I was in my boss’s office, pleading, unsuccessfully, to not be one of the four hundred scientists the company was letting go. I know I was distracted when she sent me a photo of the dress but I don’t remember it looking this satiny or this green. I turn to see it from another angle and—dear God, it looks even worse from the back. It doesn’t help that a few weeks of stress-baking have made me, let’s say . . . a little fuller in the chest and hips. “Put me in the back of every picture, and I could be your green screen.” Jules comes up behind me, tiny and toned in her own shiny green ensemble. “You look hot in it. Trust me.” “Mami,” Ami calls, “doesn’t that neckline show off Ollie’s collarbones?” “And her chichis.” Mom’s glass has been refilled once more, and she takes another long, slow drink. The rest of the bridesmaids tumble into the suite, and there is a loud, collective, emotional uproar over how beautiful Ami looks in her dress. This reaction is standard in the Torres family. I realize this may sound like the observation of a bitter sibling, but I promise, it’s not. Ami has always loved attention, and—as evidenced by my screaming on the six o’clock news—I do not. My sister practically glows under the spotlight; I am more than happy to help direct the spotlight her way. We have twelve female first cousins; all of us in each other’s business 24/7, but with only seven (free) dresses included in Ami’s prize, hard decisions had to be made. A few cousins are still living on Mount Passive-Aggressive over it and went in on their own room together to get ready, but it’s probably for the best; this room is way too small for that many women to safely maneuver themselves into Spanx at the same time, anyway. A cloud of hair spray hangs in the air around us, and there are enough curling and flat irons and various bottles littering the counter to keep a decent-sized salon going. Every surface grows either tacky with some sort of styling product or hidden beneath the contents of someone’s overturned makeup bag. There’s a knock at the suite door, and Jules opens it to find our cousin Diego standing on the other side. Twenty-eight, gay, and better groomed than I could ever manage, Diego cried sexism when Ami told him he couldn’t be part of the bridal party and would have to hang with the groomsmen. If his expression as he takes in my dress is any indication, he now considers himself blessed. “I know,” I say, giving up and stepping away from the mirror. “It’s a little—” “Tight?” he guesses. “No—” “Shiny?” I glare at him. “No.” “Slutty?” “I was going to say green.” He tilts his head as he steps around me, absorbing it from every angle. “I was going to offer to do your makeup, but it’d be a waste of my time.” He waves a hand. “No one will be looking at your face today.” “No slut-shaming, Diego,” my mother says, and I notice she didn’t disagree with his assessment, she just told him not to shame me for it. I give up on worrying about the dress—and how much boob I’m going to have on display for the entire wedding and reception—and turn back to the chaos of the room. While cousins Static Guard each other and ask opinions on shoes, a dozen conversations are happening at once. Natalia dyed her brown hair to blond and is convinced she has ruined her face. Diego agrees. The underwire popped out of Stephanie’s strapless bra, and Tía María is explaining how to just tape up her boobs instead. Cami and Ximena are arguing over whose Spanx are whose, and Mom is polishing off her glass of champagne. But amid all the noise and chemicals, Ami’s attention is back on her list. “Olive, have you checked in with Dad? Is he here yet?” “He was in the reception hall when I got here.” “Good.” Another check. It might seem strange that the job of checking in with our dad fell to me, and not his wife—our mother—who is sitting right here, but that’s how it works in our family. The parentals don’t interact directly, not since Dad cheated and Mom kicked him out but then refused to divorce him. Of course we were on her side, but it’s been ten years and the drama is still just as fresh for both of them today as it was the day she caught him. I can’t think of a single conversation they’ve had that hasn’t been filtered through me, Ami, or one of their combined seven siblings since Dad left. We realized early on that it’s easier for everyone this way, but the lingering sense I have from all of it is that love is exhausting. Ami reaches for my list, and I scramble to get to it before she does; my lack of check marks would send her reeling into panic. Scanning down, I am thrilled to see the next to-do requires me to leave this foggy den of hair spray. “I’ll go check with the kitchen to make sure they’re making a separate meal for me.” The free wedding buffet came with a shellfish spread that would send me to the morgue. “Hopefully Dane also ordered chicken for Ethan.” Ami frowns. “God, I hope. Can you ask?” All chatter in the room comes to a deafening halt, and eleven pairs of eyes swing my way. A dark cloud shifts across my mood at the mention of Dane’s older brother. Although Dane is firmly adequate, if not a bit bro-y for my tastes—think yelling at the television during sports, vanity about muscles, and a real effort to match all of his workout gear—he makes Ami happy. That’s good enough for me. Ethan, on the other hand, is a prickish, judgmental asshole. Aware that I am the center of attention, I fold my arms, already annoyed. “Why? Is he allergic, too?” For some reason, the idea of having something in common with Ethan Thomas, the surliest man alive, makes me feel irrationally violent. “No,” Ami says. “He’s just fussy about buffets.” This jerks a laugh from me. “About buffets. Okay.” From what I’ve seen, Ethan is fussy about literally everything. For example, at Dane and Ami’s Fourth of July barbecue, he wouldn’t touch any of the food I spent half the day making. At Thanksgiving, he switched chairs with his dad, Doug, just so he wouldn’t have to sit next to me. And last night at the rehearsal dinner, every time I had a bite of cake, or Jules and Diego made me laugh, Ethan rubbed his temples in the most dramatic show of suffering I’d ever seen. Finally I left my cake behind and got up to sing karaoke with Dad and Tío Omar. Maybe I’m still furious that I gave up three bites of really good cake because of Ethan Thomas. Ami frowns. She’s not the biggest fan of Ethan either, but she’s got to be tired of having this conversation. “Olive. You barely know him.” “I know him well enough.” I look at her and say two simple words: “Cheese curds.” My sister sighs, shaking her head. “I swear to God you will never let that go.” “Because if I eat, laugh, or breathe I’m offending his delicate sensibilities. You know I’ve been around him at least fifty times, and he still makes this face like he’s trying to place who I am?” I motion between us. “We’re twins.” Natalia speaks up from where she’s teasing the back of her bleached hair. How is it fair that her big boobs manage to fit inside her dress? “Now’s your chance to make friends with him, Olive. Mmm, he’s so pretty.” I give her the Displeased Torres Brow Arch in reply. “You’ll have to go find him anyway,” Ami says, and my attention whips back to her. “Wait. Why?” At my baffled expression, she points to my list. “Number sev—” Panic sets in immediately at the suggestion that I need to talk to Ethan, and I hold up my hand for her to stop speaking. Sure enough, when I look at my list, at spot seventy-three—because Ami knew I wouldn’t bother reading the entire list ahead of time—is the worst assignment ever: Get Ethan to show you his best man’s speech. Don’t let him say something terrible. If I can’t blame this burden on luck, I can absolutely blame it on my sister. chapter two As soon as I’m out in the hallway, the noise, chaos, and fumes of the bridal suite seem to be vacuum-sealed away; it is beautifully silent out here. It’s so peaceful, in fact, that I don’t want to leave the moment to go find the door down the hall with the cute little groom caricature hanging above the peephole. The tranquil figurine hides what is no doubt a weed-and-beer-fueled pre-wedding rager happening inside. Even party-loving Diego was willing to risk his hearing and respiratory health to hang with the bridal party instead. I give myself ten deep breaths to delay the inevitable. It’s my twin’s wedding, and I really am so happy for her I could burst. But it’s still hard to buoy myself fully, especially in these solo, quiet moments. Chronic bad luck aside, the last two months have genuinely sucked: my roommate moved out, so I had to find a new, tiny apartment. Even then, I overextended what I thought I could afford on my own and—as my patented bad luck would have it—got laid off from the pharmaceutical company where I’d worked for six years. In the past few weeks, I’ve interviewed at no fewer than seven companies and haven’t heard back from a single one of them. And now here I am, about to come face-to-face with my nemesis, Ethan Thomas, while wearing the shiny, flayed pelt of Kermit the Frog. It’s hard to believe there was a time when I couldn’t wait to meet Ethan. Things between my sister and her boyfriend were starting to get serious, and Ami wanted to introduce me to Dane’s family. In the parking lot at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, Ethan climbed out of his car, with astonishingly long legs and eyes so blue I could see them from two car-lengths away. Up close he had more eyelash than any man has a right to. His blink was slow and cocky. He looked me squarely in the eye, shook my hand, and then smiled a dangerous, uneven smile. Suffice to say, I felt anything but sisterly interest. But then apparently I made the cardinal sin of being a curvy girl getting a basket of cheese curds. We had stopped just past the entrance to make a game plan for our day, and I slipped away to get a snack—there is nothing more glorious than the food at the Minnesota State Fair. I came back to find the group near the livestock display. Ethan looked at me, then down to my delicious basket of fried cheese, frowned, and immediately turned away, mumbling some excuse about needing to go find the homebrew competition. I didn’t think all that much of it at the time, but I didn’t see him for the rest of the afternoon, either. From that day on, he’s been nothing but disdainful and prickly with me. What am I to think? That he went from smile to disgust in ten minutes for some other reason? Obviously my opinion of Ethan Thomas is: he can bite me. With the exception of today (wholly because of this dress), I like my body. I’m never going to let someone make me feel bad about it or about cheese curds. Voices carry from the other side of the groom’s suite—some fratty cheer about man sweat or beer or opening a bag of Cheetos with the force of a hard stare; who knows, it’s Dane’s wedding party we’re talking about. I raise my fist and knock, and the door opens so immediately that I startle back, catching my heel on the hem of my dress and nearly falling. It’s Ethan; of course it is. He reaches out, his hands easily catching me around the waist. As he steadies me, I feel my lip curl, and watch the same mild revulsion work its way through him as he pulls his hands away and tucks them into his pockets. I imagine he’ll rip open a disinfectant wipe the moment he has the chance. The movement draws my attention to what he’s wearing—a tuxedo, obviously—and how well it fits his long, wiry frame. His brown hair is neatly combed off his forehead; his eyelashes are as preposterously long as they always are. I tell myself that his thick, dark brows are obnoxious overkill—settle down, Mother Nature—but they do look undeniably great on his face. I really don’t like him. I’ve always known Ethan was handsome—I’m not blind—but seeing him dressed in black tie is a bit too much confirmation for my liking. He gives me the same perusal. He starts with my hair—maybe he’s judging me for wearing it clipped back so plainly—and then looks at my simple makeup—he probably dates makeup-tutorial Instagram models—before slowly and methodically taking in my dress. I take a deep breath to resist crossing my arms over my midsection. He lifts his chin. “That was free, I’m assuming.” And I’m assuming driving my knee right into his crotch would feel fantastic. “Beautiful color, don’t you think?” “You look like a Skittle.” “Aw, Ethan. Stop with the seduction.” A tiny grin twitches the side of his mouth. “So few people can pull off that color, Olivia.” From his tone, I can tell I am not included in this few. “It’s Olive.” It amuses my extended family to no end that my parents named me Olive, not the eternally more lyrical Olivia. Since I can remember, all my uncles on Mom’s side call me Aceituna just to rankle her. But I doubt Ethan knows that; he’s just being a dick. He rocks back on his heels. “Right, right.” I am tired of the game. “Okay, this is fun, but I need to see your speech.” “My toast?” “Are you correcting my wording?” I wave a hand forward. “Let me see.” He leans a casual shoulder against the doorframe. “No.” “This is really for your safety. Ami will murder you with her bare hands if you say something dickish. You know this.” Ethan tilts his head, sizing me up. He’s six foot four, and Ami and I are . . . not. His point is made, very clearly, with no words: I’d like to see her try. Dane appears over his shoulder, his face falling as soon as he sees me. Apparently I’m not the beer wench they were both hoping for. “Oh.” He recovers quickly. “Hey, Ollie. Everything okay?” I smile brightly. “Fine. Ethan was just getting ready to show me his speech.” “His toast?” Who knew this family was such a stickler for labels? “Yeah.” Dane nods to Ethan and motions back inside the room. “It’s your turn.” He looks at me, explaining, “We’re playing Kings. My big brother is about to get owned.” “A drinking game before the wedding,” I say, and let out a little chuckle. “Sounds like a prudent choice.” “Be there in a minute.” Ethan smiles at his brother’s retreating form before turning back to me, and we both drop the grins, putting our game faces back on. “Did you at least write something?” I ask. “You’re not going to try to wing it, are you? That never goes well. No one is ever as funny off the cuff as they think they are, especially you.” “Especially me?” Although Ethan is the portrait of charisma around nearly every other human, with me he’s a robot. Right now his face is so controlled, so comfortably blank, that I can’t tell whether I’ve genuinely offended him or he’s baiting me into saying something worse. “I’m not even sure if you could be funny . . .” I falter, but we both know I’m committed to this horrific rim shot: “. . . on the cuff.” A dark eyebrow twitches. He has successfully baited me. “Okay,” I growl, “just make sure your toast doesn’t suck.” I glance down the hall, and then remember the other bit of business I had with him. “And I assume you checked with the kitchen to make sure you don’t have to eat the buffet for dinner? Otherwise I can do it when I’m down there.” He drops the sarcastic grin and replaces it with something resembling surprise. “That’s pretty considerate. No, I hadn’t asked for an alternative.” “It was Ami’s idea, not mine,” I clarify. “She’s the one who cares about your aversion to sharing food.” “I don’t have a problem sharing food,” he explains, “it’s that buffets are literal cesspools of bacteria.” “I really hope you bring that level of poetry and insight to your speech.” He steps back, reaching for the door. “Tell Ami my toast is hilarious, and not at all dickish.” I want to say something sassy, but the only coherent thought that comes to mind is how insulting it is that eyelashes like his were wasted on Satan’s Errand Boy, so I just give a perfunctory nod and turn down the hall. It’s all I can do to not adjust the skirt while I walk. I could be paranoid, but I think I feel his critical eyes on the tight sheen of my dress the entire way to the elevators. • • • THE HOTEL STAFF HAVE REALLY taken Ami’s Christmas-in-January theme and run with it. Thankfully, instead of red velvet Santas and stuffed reindeer, the center aisle is lined with fake snow. Even though it’s easily seventy-five degrees in here, the reminder of the wet, slushy snow outside makes the entire room feel cold and drafty. The altar is decorated with white flowers and holly berries, miniature pine wreaths are hung from the back of each chair, and tiny white lights twinkle from inside the branches. In truth, it’s all very lovely, but even from the back where we’ve lined up, I can see the little placards attached to each chair encouraging guests to Trust Finley Bridal for your special day. The wedding party is restless. Diego is peeking into the banquet hall and reporting back the location of hot male guests. Jules is valiantly trying to get the phone number of one of the groomsmen, and Mom is busy telling Cami to tell Dad to make sure his zipper isn’t down. We are all waiting for the coordinator to give the signal and send the flower girls down the aisle. My dress seems to be growing tighter with each passing second. Finally Ethan takes his spot next to me, and when he holds a breath and then releases it in a slow, controlled stream, it sounds like a resigned sigh. Without looking at me, he offers his arm. Although I’m tempted to pretend I don’t notice, I take it, ignoring the sensation of his curved bicep passing under my hand, ignoring the way he flexes just a bit, gripping my arm to his side. “Still selling drugs?” I clench my teeth. “You know that’s not what I do.” He glances behind us and then turns back around, and I hear him take a breath to speak, but then he holds it, wordless. It can’t be about the size, volume, or general insanity of our family—they broke him in long ago—but I know something is bugging him. I glance up at him, waiting. “Whatever it is, just say it.” I swear I am not a violent woman, but at the sight of his wicked smile aimed down at me, the urge to dig my pointy heel into the toe of his polished shoe is nearly irresistible. “It’s something about the line of Skittle bridesmaids, isn’t it?” I ask. Even Ethan has to acknowledge that there are some pretty amazing bodies in the bridesmaid lineup, but still, none of us can really pull off spearmint-green satin. “Mind-reading Olive Torres.” My sarcastic smile matches his. “Mark the moment, people. Ethan Thomas remembered my name three years after we first met.” He turns his face back to the front, smoothing his features. It’s always hard to reconcile the restrained, biting Ethan I get with the charming one I’ve watched make his way through a room, and even the wild one I’ve heard Ami complain about for years. Independent of how he seems determined to never remember a thing I tell him—like my job, or my name—I hate knowing that Ethan is a terrible influence on Dane, pulling him away for everything from wild weekends in California to adrenaline-soaked adventures on the other side of the world. Of course, these trips conveniently coincide with events deeply cherished by contest-hunters such as my sister, his fiancée: birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day. Just last February, for example, when Ethan had whisked Dane off to Vegas for a guys’ weekend, Ami ended up taking me to a romantic (and free) couple’s dinner at the St. Paul Grill. I’ve always thought the basis for Ethan’s coldness toward me was just that I’m curvy and physically repulsive and he’s a bigoted, garbage human—but it occurs to me, standing here, holding on to his bicep, that maybe that’s why he’s such an ass: Ethan resents that Ami has taken such a big part of his brother’s life, but can’t show that to her face without alienating Dane. So he takes it out on me instead. The epiphany washes cool clarity through me. “She’s really good for him,” I say now, hearing the protective strength to my voice. I feel him turn to look down at me. “What?” “Ami,” I clarify. “She’s really good for Dane. I realize you find me completely off-putting, but whatever your problem is with her, just know that, okay? She’s a good soul.” Before Ethan can respond, the (free) wedding coordinator finally steps forward, waves to the (free) musicians, and the ceremony begins. • • • EVERYTHING I EXPECTED TO HAPPEN happens: Ami is gorgeous. Dane seems mostly sober and sincere. Rings are exchanged, vows are spoken, and there is an uncomfortably raunchy kiss at the end. That was definitely not church tongue, even if this isn’t a church. Mom cries, Dad pretends not to. And throughout the ceremony, while I hold Ami’s massive bouquet of (free) roses, Ethan looms like a silent cardboard cutout of himself, moving only when he has to duck a hand into his coat pocket to produce the rings. He offers his arm to me again as we retreat down the aisle, and he’s even stiffer this time, like I’m covered in slime and he’s afraid it’s going to rub off on his suit. So I make a point of leaning into him and then giving him a mental bird-flip when we’re off the aisle, allowed to break contact to disperse in different directions. We have ten minutes until we need to meet for wedding party photos, and I’m going to use that time to go remove wilted petals from the dinner table flower arrangements. This Skittle is going to cross some things off her list. Who cares what Ethan is going to do? Apparently he’s going to follow me. “What was all that about?” he says. I look over my shoulder. “What was what about?” I ask. He nods toward the wedding aisle. “Back there. Just now.” “Ah.” Turning, I give him a comforting smile. “I’m glad that when you’re confused, you feel comfortable asking for help. So: that was a wedding—an important, if not required, ceremony in our culture. Your brother and my—” “Before the ceremony.” His dark brows are pulled down low, hands shoved deep into his trouser pockets. “When you said I find you off-putting? That I have a problem with Ami?” I gape up at him. “Seriously?” He looks around, like he needs a witness to corroborate my stupidity. “Yeah. Seriously.” For a beat, I am speechless. The last thing I expected was for Ethan to need some sort of clarifying follow-up on our constant wave of snarky comments. “You know.” I wave a vague hand. Under his focus, and away from the ceremony and the energy in the full room, I am suddenly less confident in my earlier theory. “I think you resent Ami for taking Dane away from you. But you can’t, like, take it out on her without him getting upset, so you’re a chronic dick to me.” When he simply blinks at me, I barrel on: “You’ve never liked me—and we both know it goes way past the cheese curds, I mean you wouldn’t even eat my arroz con pollo on the Fourth of July, which is fine, your loss—but just so you know, she’s great for him.” I lean in, going for broke. “Great.” Ethan lets out a single, incredulous laugh-breath and then smothers it with his hand. “It’s just a theory,” I hedge. “A theory.” “About why you clearly don’t like me.” His brow creases. “Why I don’t like you?” “Are you just going to repeat everything I say?” I produce my list from where I’d rolled it into my small bouquet and shake it at him. “Because if you’re done, I have things to do.” I get another few seconds of bewildered silence before he seems to surmise what I probably could have told him ages ago: “Olive. You sound legitimately insane.” • • • MOM PUTS A FLUTE OF champagne in Ami’s hand, and it appears to be on someone else’s to-do list to keep it filled to the brim because I see her drinking, but I never see it empty. It means that the reception goes from what was arguably a perfectly scheduled, slightly rigid affair, to a true party. Noise levels go from polite to frat house. People swarm the seafood buffet like they’ve never seen solid food before. The dancing hasn’t even started yet, and Dane has already thrown his bow tie into a fountain and taken his shoes off. It’s a testament to Ami’s inebriation that she doesn’t even seem to care. By the time the toasts roll around, getting even half of the room to quiet down seems like a monumental task. After gently tapping a fork against a glass a few times and accomplishing nothing by way of noise control, Ethan finally just launches into his toast, whether people are listening or not. “I’m sure most of you will have to pee soon,” he begins, speaking into a giant fuzzy microphone, “so I’ll keep this short.” Eventually, the crowd settles, and he continues. “I don’t actually think Dane wants me to speak today, but considering I’m not only his older brother but also his only friend, here we are.” Shocking myself, I let out a deafening cackle. Ethan pauses and glances over at me, wearing a surprised smile. “I’m Ethan,” he continues, and when he picks up a remote near his plate, a slideshow of photos of Ethan and Dane as kids begins a slow scroll on a screen behind us. “Best brother, best son. I am thrilled we can share this day with not only so many friends and family, but also with alcohol. Seriously, have you looked at that bar? Someone keep an eye on Ami’s sister because too many glasses of champagne, and there’s no way that dress is staying on.” He smirks at me. “You remember the engagement party, Olivia? Well, if you don’t, I do.” Natalia grips my wrist before I can reach for a knife. Dane shouts out a drunk, “Dude!” and then laughs at this an obnoxious amount. Now I wish that the Killing Curse were a thing. (I didn’t actually take my dress off at the engagement party, by the way. I just used the hem to wipe my brow once or twice. It was a hot night, and tequila makes me sweaty.) “If you look at some of these family photos,” Ethan says, gesturing behind him to where teenage Ethan and Dane are skiing, surfing, and generally looking like genetically gifted assholes, “you’ll see that I was the quintessential big brother. I went to camp first, drove first, lost my virginity first. Sorry, no photos of that.” He winks charmingly at the crowd and a flutter of giggles passes in a wave around the room. “But Dane found love first.” There is a roar of collective awwws from the guests. “I hope I’ll be lucky enough to find someone half as spectacular as Ami someday. Don’t let her go, Dane, because none of us has any idea what she’s thinking.” He reaches for his scotch, and nearly two hundred other arms join his in raising their glasses in a toast. “Congrats, you two. Let’s drink.” He sits back down and glances at me. “Was that sufficiently on the cuff for you?” “It was quasi-charming.” I glance over his shoulder. “It’s still light out. Your inner troll must be sleeping.” “Come on,” he says, “you laughed.” “Surprising both of us.” “Well it’s your turn to show me up,” he says, motioning that I should stand. “It’s asking a lot, but try not to embarrass yourself.” I reach for my phone, where my speech is saved, and try to hide the defensiveness in my voice when I say, “Shut up, Ethan,” before standing. Good one, Olive. He laughs as he leans in to take a bite of his chicken. A smattering of applause carries across the banquet hall as I stand and face the guests. “Hello, everyone,” I say, and the entire room startles when the microphone squawks shrilly. Pulling the mic farther away from my mouth, and with a shaky smile, I motion to my sister and new brother-in-law. “They did it!” Everyone cheers as Dane and Ami come together for a sweet kiss. I watched them dance earlier to Ami’s favorite song, Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love,” and managed to ignore the pressure of Diego’s intense efforts to catch my eye and nonverbally commiserate about Ami’s famously terrible taste in music. I was genuinely lost in the perfection of the scene before me: my twin in her beautiful wedding dress, her hair softened by the hours and movement, her sweet, happy smile. Tears prick at my eyes as I tap through to my Notes app and open my speech. “For those of you who don’t know me, let me reassure you: no, you aren’t that drunk yet, I am the bride’s twin sister. My name is Olive, not Olivia,” I say, glancing pointedly down at Ethan. “Favorite sibling, favorite in-law. When Ami met Dane—” I pause when a message from Natalia pops up on my screen, obscuring my speech. FYI your boobs look amazing up there. From the audience, she gives me a thumbs-up, and I swipe her message away. “—she spoke about him in a way I had never—” What size bra are you wearing now? Also from Natalia. I dismiss it and quickly try to find my place again. Honestly, whose family texts them during a speech they are obviously reading from a phone? My family, that’s who. I clear my throat. “—She spoke about him in a way I’d never heard before. There was something in her voice—” Do you know if Dane’s cousin is single? Or could be . . . ;) I give Diego a warning look and aggressively swipe back to my screen. “—something in her voice that told me she knew this was different, that she felt different. And I—” Stop making that face. You look constipated. My mother. Of course. I swipe it away and continue. Beside me, Ethan smugly laces his hands together behind his head, and I can feel his satisfied grin without even having to look at him. I push on—because he can’t win this round—but I’m only two words deeper into my speech when I’m interrupted by the sound of a startled, pained groan. The attention of the entire room swings to where Dane is huddled over, clutching his stomach. Ami has just enough time to place a comforting hand on his shoulder and turn to him in concern before he claps a hand over his mouth, and then proceeds to projectile-vomit through his fingers, all over my sister and her beautiful (free) dress. chapter three Dane’s sudden illness can’t be from his alcohol intake because one of the bridesmaids’ daughters is only seven, and after Ami retaliates and throws up all over Dane, little Catalina loses her dinner, too. From there, the sickness starts to spread like wildfire through the banquet hall. Ethan stands and drifts away to hover near one of the walls. I do the same, thinking it’s probably best to watch the chaos from higher ground. If this were happening in a movie, it would be comically gross. Here in front of us, happening to people we know and who we’ve clinked glasses with and embraced and maybe even kissed? It’s terrifying. It goes from seven-year-old Catalina, to Ami’s hospital administrator and her wife, to Jules and Cami, some people in the back at table forty-eight, then Mom, Dane’s grandmother, the flower girl, Dad, Diego . . . After that, I am unable to track the outbreak, because it snowballs. A crash of china tears through the room when a guest loses it all over an unlucky waiter. A few people attempt to flee, clutching their stomachs and moaning for a toilet. Whatever this is, it appears to want to exit the body through any route available; I’m not sure whether to laugh or scream. Even those who aren’t throwing up or sprinting for the restrooms yet are looking green. “Your speech wasn’t that bad,” Ethan says, and if I weren’t worried he might vomit on me in the process, I’d shove him out of our little safe zone. With the sound of retching all around us, a heavy awareness settles into our quiet space, and we slowly turn to each other, eyes wide. He carefully scans my face, so I carefully scan his, too. He is notably normal-colored, not even a little green. “Are you nauseated?” he asks me quietly. “Beyond at the sight of this? Or you? No.” “Impending diarrhea?” I stare at him. “How are you single? Frankly, it’s a mystery.” And instead of being relieved he’s not sick, he relaxes his expression into the cockiest grin I’ve ever seen. “So I was right about buffets and bacteria.” “It’s too fast to be food poisoning.” “Not necessarily.” He points to the ice trays where the shrimp, clams, mackerel, grouper, and about ten other fancy varieties of fish used to be. “I bet you . . .” He holds up a finger as if he’s testing the air. “I bet you this is ciguatera toxin.” “I have no idea what that is.” He takes a deep breath, like he’s soaking in the splendor of the moment and cannot smell how ripe the bathroom has grown just down the hall. “I have never in my life been more smug to be the eternal buffet buzzkill.” “I think you mean, ‘Thank you for procuring my plate of roasted chicken, Olive.’ ” “Thank you for procuring my plate of roasted chicken, Olive.” As relieved as I am to not be barfing, I am also horrified. This was Ami’s dream day. She spent the better part of the last six months planning this, and this is the wedding day equivalent of a road full of advancing, flaming zombies. So I do the only thing I can think to do: I march over to her, reach down to loop one of her arms over my shoulders, and help her up. No one needs to see the bride in a state like this: covered in vomit—hers and Dane’s—and clutching her stomach like she might lose it out the other end, too. We’re lurching more than walking—really, I’m half dragging her—so we’re only halfway to the exit when I feel the back of my dress rip wide open. • • • AS MUCH AS IT PAINS me to admit it, Ethan was right: the wedding party has been demolished by something known as ciguatera, which happens when one eats fish contaminated with certain toxins. Apparently the caterer is off the hook because it isn’t a food preparation issue—even if you cook the living daylights out of a contaminated piece of fish, it is still toxic. I close out Google when I read that the symptoms normally last anywhere from weeks to months. This is a catastrophe. For obvious reasons, we cancelled the tornaboda—the enormous wedding after-party that was going to be held at Tía Sylvia’s house late into the night. I already see myself spending tomorrow wrapping and freezing the ungodly amount of food we spent the last three days cooking; no way will anyone want to eat for a long time after this. A few guests were taken to the hospital, but most have just retreated home or to their hotel rooms to suffer in isolation. Dane is in the groom’s suite; Mom is next door curled over the toilet in the mother-in-law suite, and she banished Dad to one of the bathrooms in the lobby. She texted me to remind him to tip the bathroom attendant. The bridal suite has become a triage unit of sorts. Diego is on the floor in the living room, clutching a garbage can to his chest. Natalia and Jules each have a bucket—compliments of the hotel—and are both in the fetal position on opposite ends of the living room couch. Ami whimpers in agony and tries to wiggle her way out of her completely saturated dress. I help her and immediately decide she’s fine in her underwear, for a while anyway. At least she’s out of the bathroom; I’ll be honest, the noises coming from inside had no place on a wedding night. Careful to watch my step as I move around the suite, I wet washcloths for foreheads and attempt to rub backs, emptying buckets as needed and thanking the universe for my shellfish allergy and constitutionally solid stomach. As I step out of the bathroom with rubber gloves pulled up to my elbows, my sister zombie-moans into an ice bucket. “You have to take my trip.” “What trip?” “The honeymoon.” The suggestion is so exceedingly random that I ignore her and grab a pillow to put under her head instead. It is at least two minutes before she speaks again. “Take it, Olive.” “Ami, no way.” Her honeymoon is an all-inclusive ten-day trip to Maui that she won by filling out over a thousand entry forms. I know because I helped her put the stamps on at least half of them. “It’s nonrefundable. We’re supposed to leave tomorrow and . . .” She has to take a break to dry-heave. “There’s no way.” “I’ll call them. I’m sure they’ll work around this situation, come on.” She shakes her head and then hurls up the water I made her sip. When she speaks, she sounds froggy, like she’s the victim of a demon possession. “They won’t.” My poor sister has turned into a swamp creature; I’ve never seen anyone this shade of gray before. “They don’t care about illness or injury, it’s in the contract.” She falls back onto the floor and stares up at the ceiling. “Why are you even worried about this right now?” I ask, though in reality I know the answer. I adore my sister, but even violent illness won’t get between her and redeeming a prize fairly won. “You can use my ID to check in,” she says. “Just pretend you’re me.” “Ami Torres, that’s illegal!” Rolling her head so she can see me, she gives me a look so comically blank, I have to stifle a laugh. “Okay, I realize it isn’t your priority right now,” I say. “It is, though.” She struggles to sit up. “I will be so stressed out about this if you don’t take it.” I stare at her, and conflict makes my words come out tangled and thick. “I don’t want to leave you. And I also don’t want to be arrested for fraud.” I can tell she isn’t going to let this go. Finally, I give in. “Fine. Just let me call them and see what I can do.” Twenty minutes later, and I know she’s right: the customer service representative for Aline Voyage Vacations gives zero damns about my sister’s bowels or esophagus. According to Google and a physician the hotel called in who is slowly making the rounds to each guest room, Ami is unlikely to recover by next week, let alone tomorrow. If she or her designated guest doesn’t take the trip on the allotted days, it’s gone. “I’m sorry, Ami. This feels monumentally unfair,” I say. “Look,” she begins, and then dry-heaves a few times, “consider this the moment your luck changes.” “Two hundred people threw up during Olive’s speech,” Diego reminds us all from the floor. Ami manages to push herself up, supporting herself against the couch. “I’m serious. You should go, Ollie. You didn’t get sick. You need to celebrate that.” Something inside me, a tiny kernel of sunshine, peeks out from behind a cloud, and then disappears again. “I like the idea of good luck better when it isn’t at someone else’s expense,” I tell her. “Unfortunately,” Ami says, “you don’t get to choose the circumstances. That’s the point of luck: it happens when and where it happens.” I fetch her a new cup of water and a fresh washcloth and then crouch down beside her. “I’ll think about it,” I say. But in truth, when I look at her like this—green, clammy, helpless—I know that not only am I not taking her dream vacation, I’m not leaving her side. • • • I STEP OUT INTO THE hall before remembering that my dress has an enormous tear all down the back. My ass is literally hanging out. On the plus side, it’s suddenly loose enough that I can cover my boobs. Turning back to the suite, I swipe the key card against the door, but the lock flashes red. I go to try again and the voice of Satan rings out from behind me. “You have to—” An impatient huff. “No, let me show you.” There is nothing in the world I wanted less in this moment than for Ethan to show up, ready to mansplain how to swipe a hotel key. He takes the card from me and holds it against the black circle on the door. I stare at him in disbelief, hear the lock disengage, and begin to sarcastically thank him, but he’s already preoccupied with the view of my tan Spanx. “Your dress ripped,” he says helpfully. “You have spinach in your teeth.” He doesn’t, but at least it distracts him enough that I can escape back into the room and close the door in his face. Unfortunately, he knocks. “Just a second, I need to get some clothes on.” His reply is a lazy drawl through the door: “Why start now?” Aware that no one else in the suite is remotely interested in watching me change, I toss my dress and Spanx onto the couch and reach for my underwear and a pair of jeans in my bag, hopping into them. Tugging on a T-shirt, I move to the door and open it only a crack so he can’t see Ami inside, curled into a ball in her lacy wedding underwear. “What do you want?” He frowns. “I need to talk to Ami real quick.” “Seriously?” “Seriously.” “Well, I’m going to have to do, because my sister is barely conscious.” “Then why are you leaving her?” “For your information, I was headed downstairs to look for Gatorade,” I say. “Why aren’t you with Dane?” “Because he hasn’t left the toilet in two hours.” Gross. “What do you want?” “I need the info for the honeymoon. Dane told me to call and see if they can get it moved.” “They can’t,” I tell him. “I already called.” “Okay.” He exhales long and slow, clawing a hand through hair that is thick and luscious for no good reason. “In that case, I told him I’d go.” I actually bark out a laugh. “Wow, that is so generous of you.” “What? He offered it to me.” I straighten to my full height. “Unfortunately, you’re not her designated guest. Dane is.” “She only had to give his last name. Incidentally, it’s the same as mine.” Damn it. “Well . . . Ami offered it to me, too.” I’m not planning on taking the trip, but I’ll be damned if Ethan is getting it. He blinks to the side and then back to me. I’ve seen Ethan Thomas blink those lashes and use that dangerously uneven smile to sweet-talk Tía María into bringing him freshly made tamales. I know he can charm when he wants. Clearly he doesn’t want right now, because his tone comes out flat: “Olive, I have vacation time I need to take.” And now the fire is rising in me. Why does he think he deserves this? Did he have a seventy-four-item wedding to-do list on fancy stationery? No, he did not. And come to think of it, that speech of his was lukewarm. Bet he wrote it in the groom suite while he was chugging back a plastic pitcher of warm Budweiser. “Well,” I say, “I’m unemployed against my will, so I think I probably need the vacation more than you do.” The frown deepens. “That makes no sense.” He pauses. “Wait. You were laid off from Bukkake?” I scowl at him. “It’s Butake, dumbass. And not that it’s any of your business, but yes. I was laid off two months ago. I’m sure that gives you an immeasurable thrill.” “A little.” “You are Voldemort.” Ethan shrugs and then reaches up, scratching his jaw. “I suppose we could both go.” I narrow my eyes and hope I don’t look like I am mentally diagramming his sentence, even though I am. It sounded like he suggested we go . . . “On their honeymoon?” I ask incredulously. He nods. “Together?” He nods again. “Are you high?” “Not presently.” “Ethan, we can barely stand to sit next to each other at an hourlong meal.” “From what I gather,” he says, “they won a suite. It’ll be huge. We won’t even really have to see each other. This vacation is packed: zip-lining, snorkeling, hikes, surfing. Come on. We can orbit around each other for ten days without committing a violent felony.” From inside the bridal suite, Ami groans out a low, gravelly “Gooooo, Olive.” I turn to her. “But—it’s Ethan.” “Shit,” Diego mumbles, “if I can take this garbage can with me, I’ll go.” In my peripheral vision, Ami lifts a sallow arm, waving it limply. “Ethan’s not that bad.” Isn’t he, though? I look back at him, sizing him up. Too tall, too fit, too classically pretty. Never friendly, never trustworthy, never any fun. He puts on an innocent smile—innocent on the surface: a flash of teeth, a dimple, but in his eyes, it’s all black-souled. Then I think of Maui: crashing surf, pineapple, cocktails, and sunshine. Oh, sunshine. A glance out the window shows only dark sky, but I know the cold that lies out there. I know the car-grime-yellowed snow lining the streets. I know the days that are so cold my wet hair would freeze if I didn’t completely dry it before leaving the apartment. I know that by the time April comes and it still isn’t consistently warm, I will be hunched over and resigned, Skeksis-like. “Whether you’re coming or not,” he says, cutting into my rapid spiral down the mental drainpipe, “I’m going to Maui.” He leans in. “And I’m going to have the best fucking time of my life.” I look back over my shoulder at Ami, who nods encouragingly—albeit slowly—and a fire ignites in my chest at the thought of being here, surrounded by snow, and the smell of vomit, and the bleak landscape of unemployment while Ethan is lying poolside with a cocktail in his hand. “Fine,” I tell him, and then lean forward to press a finger into his chest. “I’m taking Ami’s spot. But you keep to your space, and I’ll keep to mine.” He salutes me. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” chapter four Turns out I’m willing to take my sick sister’s dream honeymoon, but I have to draw a line at airline fraud. Because I am essentially broke, finding a last-minute flight from the freezing tundra to Maui in January—at least one that I can afford—requires some creativity. Ethan is no help at all, probably because he’s one of those highly evolved thirtysomething guys who has an actual savings account and never has to dig in his car’s ashtray for change at the drive-through. Must be nice. But we do agree that we need to travel together. As much as I’d like to ditch him as soon as possible, the travel company did make it abundantly clear that if there is any fraud afoot, we will be charged the full balance of the vacation package. It’s either the proximity of probable vomit or the proximity of me that sends Ethan halfway down the hall toward his own room with a muttered “Just let me know what I owe you,” before I can warn him exactly how little that might be. Fortunately, my sister taught me well, and in the end I have two (so cheap they’re practically free) tickets to Hawaii. I’m not sure why they’re so cheap, but I try not to think too much about it. A plane is a plane, and getting to Maui is all that really matters, right? It’ll be fine. • • • SO MAYBE THRIFTY JET ISN’T the flashiest airline, but it’s not that bad and certainly doesn’t warrant the constant fidgeting and barrage of heavy sighs from the man sitting next to me. “You know I can hear you, right?” Ethan is quiet for a moment before he turns another page in his magazine. He slides his eyes to me in a silent I can’t believe I put you in charge of this. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone aggressively flip through a copy of Knitting World before now. It’s a nice touch to keep magazines in the terminal like we’re at the gynecologist’s office, but it’s a little disconcerting that this one is from 2007. I tamp down the ever-present urge to reach over and flick his ear. We’re supposed to pass as newlyweds on this trip; might as well start trying to fake it now. “So, just to close the loop on this stupid squabble,” I say, “if you were going to have such a strong opinion about our flights, you shouldn’t have told me to take care of it.” “If I knew you were going to book us on a Greyhound with wings, I wouldn’t have.” He looks up, and glances around in horrified wonder. “I didn’t even know this part of the airport existed.” I roll my eyes and then meet the gaze of the woman sitting across from us, who is clearly eavesdropping. Lowering my voice, I lean in with a saccharine smile. “If I knew you were going to be such a nitpicker, I would have happily told you to shove it and get your own damn ticket.” “Nitpick?” Ethan points to where the plane is parked outside what I think is a plexiglass window. “Have you seen our aircraft? I’ll be amazed if they don’t ask us to pitch in for fuel.” I take the magazine from his hand and scan an article on Summer Sherbet Tops and Cool Cotton Cable Pullovers! “Nobody is forcing you to take a free dream trip to Maui,” I say. “And for the record, not all of us can buy expensive same-day airplane tickets. I told you I was on a budget.” He snorts. “Obviously I didn’t know what kind of budget you meant. Had I known, I would have loaned you the cost.” “And take money from your sexual companion fund?” I press a horrified hand to my chest. “I wouldn’t dare.” Ethan takes the magazine back. “Look, Olivia. I’m just sitting here reading. If you want to bicker, go up there and ask the gate agents to move us to first class.” I move in to ask how it’s possible that he’s headed to Maui and yet somehow even more unpleasant than usual when my phone vibrates in my pocket. It’s most likely one of the following: A) Ami with a vomit update, B) Ami calling to remind me about something I’ve forgotten and don’t have time to get now anyway, C) one of my cousins with gossip, or D) Mom wanting me to ask Dad something, or tell Dad something, or call Dad something. As unpleasant as all of these possibilities sound, I’d still rather listen to any of them than have a conversation with Ethan Thomas. Holding up my phone, I stand with a “Let me know if we board,” and get nothing but a noncommittal grunt in return. The phone rings again but it’s not my sister on the screen, it’s an unfamiliar number with a Twin Cities area code. “Hello?” “I’m calling for Olive Torres?” “This is Olive.” “This is Kasey Hugh, human resources at Hamilton Biosciences. How are you?” My heart bursts into a gallop as I mentally flip through the dozens of interviews I’ve had in the past two months. They were all for medical-science liaison positions (a fancy term for the scientists who meet with physicians to speak more technically than sales folk can about various drugs on the market), but the one at Hamilton was at the top of my list because of the company’s flu vaccine focus. My background is virology, and not having to learn an entirely new biological system in a matter of weeks is always a bonus. But to be frank, at this point I was ready to apply to Hooters if that’s what it would take to cover rent. With the phone pressed to my ear, I cross to a quieter side of the terminal and try not to sound as desperate as I’m feeling. After the bridesmaid dress fiasco, I am far more realistic about my ability to pull off the orange Hooters shorts and shimmery panty hose. “I’m doing well,” I say. “Thanks for asking.” “I’m calling because after considering all the applications, Mr. Hamilton would like to offer you the medical scientist liaison position. Are you still interested?” I turn on my heel, looking back toward Ethan as if the sheer awesomeness of these words is enough to set off a flare gun of joy over my head. He’s still frowning down at his knitting magazine. “Oh my God,” I say, free hand flapping in front of my face. “Yes! Absolutely!” A paycheck! Steady income! Being able to sleep at night without fear of impending homelessness! “Do you know when you can start?” she asks. “I have a memo here from Mr. Hamilton that reads, ‘The sooner, the better.’ ” “Start?” I wince, looking around me at all the cheapo travelers wearing plastic leis and Hawaiian print shirts. “Soon! Now. Except not now now. Not for a week. Ten days, actually. I can start in ten days. I have . . .” An announcement plays overhead, and I look to see Ethan stand. With a frown, he gestures to where people are starting to line up. My brain goes into excitement-chaos overdrive. “We just had a family thing and—also, I need to see a sick relative, and—” “That’s fine, Olive,” she says calmly, mercifully cutting me off. I squeeze my forehead, wincing at my stupid lying babble. “It’s just after the holidays and everyone is still crazy. I’ll put you down for a tentative start date of Monday, January twenty-first? Does that work for you?” I exhale for what feels like the first time since I answered the phone. “That would be perfect.” “Great,” Kasey says. “Expect an email soon with an offer letter, along with some paperwork we’ll need you to sign ASAP if you choose to officially accept. A digital or scanned signature is fine. Welcome to Hamilton Biosciences. Congratulations, Olive.” I walk back to Ethan in a daze. “Finally,” he says, with his carry-on slung over one shoulder and mine over the other. “We’re the last group to board. I thought I was going to—” He stops, eyes narrowing as they make a circuit of my face. “Are you okay? You look . . . smiling.” My phone call is still playing on a loop in my ears. I want to check my call history and hit redial just to make sure Kasey had the right Olive Torres. I was saved from terrible food poisoning, managed to snag a free vacation, and was offered a job in a single twenty-four-hour span? This sort of luck doesn’t happen to me. What is going on? Ethan snaps his fingers and I startle to find him leaning in, looking like he wishes he had a stick to poke me with. “Everything okay there? Change of plans, or—?” “I got a job.” It seems to take a moment for my words to sink in. “Just now?” “I interviewed a couple weeks ago. I start after Hawaii.” I expect him to look visibly disappointed that I’m not backing out of this trip. Instead he lifts his brows and offers a quiet “That’s great, Olive. Congratulations,” before herding me toward the line of people boarding. I’m surprised he didn’t ask me whether I would be joining their janitorial team, or at least say he hopes my new job selling heroin to at-risk children treats me well. I did not expect sincere. I’m never on the receiving end of his charm, even if the charm just now was diluted; I know how to handle Sincere Ethan about as well as I would know how to handle a hungry bear. “Uh, thanks.” I quickly text Diego, Ami, and my parents—separately, of course—to let them know the good news, and then we’re standing at the threshold to the Jetway, handing over our boarding passes. Reality sinks in and blends with joy: With the job stress alleviated, I can really leave the Twin Cities for ten days. I can treat this trip like an actual vacation on a tropical island. Yes, it’s with my nemesis, but still, I’ll take it. • • • THE JETWAY IS LITTLE MORE than a rickety bridge that leads from our dinky terminal to the even dinkier plane. The line moves slowly as the people ahead of us try to shove their oversize bags into the miniature overhead compartments. With Ami, I would turn and ask why people don’t simply check their bags so we can get in and out on time, but Ethan has managed to go a full five minutes without finding something to complain about. I’m not going to give him any bait. We climb into our seats; the plane is so narrow that, in each row, there are only two seats on each side of the aisle. They’re so close together, though, they’re essentially one bench with a flimsy armrest between them. Ethan is plastered against my side. I have to ask him to lean up onto one butt cheek so I can locate the other half of my seat belt. After the disconcertingly gravelly click of metal into metal, he straightens and we register in unison that we’re touching from shoulder to thigh, separated only by a hard, immobile armrest midway down. He looks over the heads of the people in front of us. “I don’t trust this plane.” He looks back down the aisle. “Or the crew. Was the pilot wearing a parachute?” Ethan is always—annoyingly—the epitome of cool, calm, and collected, but now that I’m paying attention I see that his shoulders are tense, and his face has gone pale. I think he’s sweating. He’s scared, I realize, and suddenly his mood at the airport makes a lot more sense. As I watch, he pulls a penny from his pocket and smooths a thumb over it. “What’s that?” “A penny.” My goodness, this is delightful. “You mean like a good luck penny?” With a scowl, he ignores me and slips it back into his pocket. “I never thought I had good luck,” I tell him, feeling magnanimous, “but look. My allergy kept me from eating the buffet, I’m going to Maui, and I got a job. Wouldn’t it be hilarious”—I laugh and roll my head in his direction—“to have a streak of good luck for the first time in my life, only to go down in a fiery plane crash?” Judging by his expression, Ethan does not see the humor at all. When a member of the flight crew walks by, he shoots an arm out in front of me, stopping her. “Excuse me, can you tell me how many miles are on this plane?” The flight attendant smiles. “Aircraft don’t have miles. They have flight hours.” I can see Ethan swallowing down his impatience. “Okay, then how many flight hours are on this plane?” She tilts her head, understandably puzzled by his question. “I’d have to ask the captain, sir.” Ethan leans across me to get closer and I push back into my seat, scrunching my nose against the obnoxiously pleasant smell of his soap. “And what do we think of the captain? Competent? Trustworthy?” Ethan winks, and I realize he’s no less anxious than he was a minute ago, but he’s coping via flirtation. “Well-rested?” “Captain Blake is a great pilot,” she says, tilting her head and smiling. I look back and forth between the two of them and dramatically fidget with the gold wedding band I borrowed from Tía Sylvia. No one notices. Ethan gives her a smile—and wow, he could probably ask her for her social security number, a major credit card, and to bear his children, and she’d say yes. “Of course,” he says. “I mean it’s not like he’s ever crashed a plane or anything. Right?” “Just the once,” she says, before straightening with a wink of her own and continuing on down the aisle. • • • FOR THE NEXT HOUR, ETHAN barely moves, doesn’t speak, and holds himself as if breathing too hard or somehow jostling the plane will make it fall out of the sky. I reach for my iPad before realizing that of course we don’t have Wi-Fi. I open a book, hoping to get lost in some delicious paranormal fun, but can’t seem to focus. “An eight-hour flight, and there’s no movie,” I say to myself, glaring at the screenless seat back in front of me. “Maybe they’re hoping your life flashing in front of your eyes will be distraction enough.” “It lives.” I turn and look at him. “Won’t speaking upset the barometric pressure in the cabin or something?” Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out the penny again. “I haven’t ruled it out.” We haven’t spent much time together, but from stories I’ve heard from both Dane and Ami, I feel like I’ve built a pretty accurate picture of Ethan in my head. Daredevil, adventure hound, ambitious, cutthroat . . . The man clinging to the armrest as if his very life depends on it is . . . not that guy. With a deep breath, he rolls his shoulders, grimacing. I’m five foot four and mildly uncomfortable. Ethan’s legs have to be at least ten feet long; I can’t imagine what it’s like for him. After he speaks, it’s like the stillness spell has broken: his knee bounces with nervous energy, his fingers tap against the drink tray until even the sweet old lady wearing a Day-Glo muumuu in front of us is giving him a dirty look. He smiles in apology. “Tell me about that lucky penny of yours,” I say, motioning to the coin still clutched in his fist. “Why do you think it’s lucky?” He seems to internally weigh the risk of interacting with me against the potential relief of distraction. “I don’t really want to encourage conversation,” he says, “but what do you see?” He opens his palm. “It’s from 1955,” I note. “What else?” I look closer. “Oh . . . you mean how the lettering is doubled?” He leans in, pointing. “You can really see it right here, above Lincoln’s head.” Sure enough, the letters that read IN GOD WE TRUST have been stamped twice. “I’ve never seen anything like that before,” I admit. “There’s only a few of them out there.” He rubs his thumb over the surface and slips it back into his pocket. “Is it valuable?” I ask. “Worth about a thousand dollars.” “Holy shit!” I gasp. We hit some mild turbulence, and Ethan’s eyes move wildly around the plane as if the oxygen masks might deploy at any moment. Hoping to distract him again, I ask, “Where did you get it?” “I bought a banana just before a job interview, and it was part of my change.” “And?” “And not only did I get the job, but when I went to have some coins rolled the machine spit the penny out because it thought it was a fake. I’ve carried it around ever since.” “Don’t you worry you’re going to drop it?” “That’s the whole point of luck, isn’t it?” he says through gritted teeth. “You have to trust that it’s not fleeting.” “Are you trusting that right now?” He tries to relax, shaking out his hands. If I’m reading his expression correctly, he’s regretting telling me anything. But the turbulence intensifies, and all six-plus feet of him stiffen again. “You know,” I say, “you don’t strike me as someone who’d be afraid of flying.” He takes a series of deep breaths. “I’m not.” This doesn’t really require any sort of rebuttal. The way I have to pry his fingers from my side of the armrest communicates it plainly. Ethan relents. “It’s not my favorite.” I think of the weekends I spent with Ami because Dane was off on some wild adventure with his brother, all the arguments those trips caused. “Aren’t you supposed to be like, Bear Grylls or something?” He looks at me, frowning. “Who?” “The trip to New Zealand. The river rafting, death-defying bro trip? Surfing in Nicaragua? You fly for fun all the time.” He rests his head back against the seat and closes his eyes again, ignoring me. As the squeaky wheels of the beverage cart make their way down the aisle, Ethan crowds into my space again, flagging down the flight attendant. “Can I get a scotch and soda?” He glances at me and amends his order. “Two, actually.” I wave him off. “I don’t like scotch.” He blinks. “I know.” “Actually, we don’t have scotch,” she says. “A gin and tonic?” She winces. His shoulders slump. “A beer?” “That, I have.” She reaches into a drawer and hands him two cans of generic-looking beer. “That’s twenty-two dollars.” “Twenty-two American dollars?” He moves to hand back the cans. “We also have Coke products. They’re free,” she says. “But if you’d like ice that’s two dollars.” “Wait,” I say, and reach into my bag. “You’re not buying my beer, Olive.” “You’re right, I’m not.” I pull out two coupons and hand them over. “Ami is.” “Of course she is.” The flight attendant continues on down the aisle. “Some respect, please,” I say. “My sister’s obsessive need to get things for free is why we’re here.” “And why two hundred of our friends and family were in the emergency room.” I feel a protective itch for my sister. “The police already said she wasn’t responsible.” He cracks his beer open with a satisfying pop. “And the six o’clock news.” I mean to glare, but am momentarily distracted by the way his Adam’s apple moves as he drinks. And drinks. And drinks. “Okay.” “I don’t know why I’m surprised,” he says. “It was doomed anyway.” The itch flares to a full-on blaze. “Hello, Ethan, that’s your brother and sister-in—” “Calm down, Olive. I don’t mean them.” He takes another gulp and I stare. “I meant weddings in general.” He shudders and a note of revulsion coats the next word: “Romance.” Oh, he’s one of those. I admit my parental model of romance has been lacking, but Tío Omar and Tía Sylvia have been married for forty-five years, Tío Hugo and Tía María have been married for nearly thirty. I have examples of lasting relationships all around me, so I know they exist—even if I suspect they might not exist for me. I want to believe that Ami hasn’t started something doomed, that she can be truly happy with Dane. Ethan drains at least half of the first beer in a long chug, and I try to piece together the extent of my Ethan knowledge. He’s thirty-four, two years older than us and Dane. He does some sort of . . . math thing for a living, which explains why he’s such a laugh a minute. He carries at least one form of personal disinfectant on his person at all times, and he won’t eat at buffets. I think he was single when we met, but not long after he entered into a relationship that seemed at least semiserious. I don’t think his brother liked her because I distinctly recall Dane ranting one night about how much it would suck if Ethan proposed to her. Oh my God, am I going to Maui with someone’s fiancé? “You’re not dating anyone now, right?” I ask. “What was her name . . . Sierra or Simba or something?” “Simba?” He almost cracks a smile. Almost. “No doubt it shocks you when someone doesn’t keep close track of your love life.” His forehead scrunches up in a frown. “I wouldn’t go on a fake honeymoon with you if I had a girlfriend.” Sinking back in his seat, he closes his eyes again. “No more talking. You’re right, it shakes the plane.” • • • WITH LEIS AROUND OUR NECKS and the heavy ocean air adhering our clothing to our skin, we catch a cab just outside the airport. I spend most of the ride with my face pressed to the window, taking in the bright blue sky and the glimpses of ocean visible through the trees. I can already feel my hair frizzing in the humidity, but it’s worth it. Maui is stunning. Ethan is quiet beside me, watching the view and occasionally tapping something into his phone. Not wanting to disturb the peace, I snap a few blurry photos as we drive down the two-lane highway and send them to Ami. She replies with a simple emoji. I know. I’m sorry. Don’t be sorry. I mean, I have Mom with me for the foreseeable future. Who’s the real winner here? Enjoy yourself or I’ll kick your ass. My poor sister. It’s true that I’d rather be here with Ami or . . . anyone else, for that matter, but we’re here and I’m determined to make the most of it. I have ten beautiful, sun-drenched days ahead of me. When the taxi slows and makes a final right turn, the hotel grounds unfurl in front of us. The building is massive: a towering tiered structure of glass, balconies, and greenery spilling everywhere. The ocean crashes right there, so close that someone standing on one of the higher floors could probably throw a rock and make it into the surf. We drive down a wide lane lined on both sides with full-grown banyan trees. Hundreds of lanterns sway in the breeze, suspended from branches overhead. If it’s this gorgeous during the day, I can’t imagine the sight once the sun goes down. Music filters through speakers hidden in the thick foliage, and next to me even Ethan is sitting forward, eyes trained on the grounds as we pass. We come to a stop, and two valet attendants appear out of nowhere. We climb out, stumbling a bit as we look around, eyes meeting over the roof of the car. It smells like plumeria, and the sound of the waves crashing nearly drowns out the sound of engines idling at the valet. I’m pretty sure Ethan and I have reached our first, enthusiastic consensus: Holy shit. This place is amazing. I’ve been so distracted that I startle when the first valet pulls out a handful of luggage tags and asks for my name. “My name?” The valet smiles. “For the luggage.” “The luggage. Right. My name. My name, is—well, it’s a funny story—” Ethan rounds the car and immediately takes my hand. “Torres,” he says. “Ami Torres-soon-to-be-Thomas, and husband.” He leans in, pressing a stiff kiss to the side of my head for realism. “She’s a bit wiped from the trip.” Stunned, I watch as he turns back to the valet and looks like he’s resisting the urge to wipe his lips with his hand. “Perfect,” the attendant says, scribbling the name on a few of the tags and attaching them to the handles of our luggage. “Check-in is through those doors there.” He smiles and points to an open-air lobby. “Your bags will be brought up to your room.” “Thank you.” Ethan presses a few folded bills into the valet’s palm and steers me toward the hotel. “Smooth,” he says as soon as we’re out of earshot. “Ethan, I’m a terrible liar.” “Really? You hid it so well.” “It’s never been my strength, okay? Those of us who aren’t summoned by the Dark Mark consider honesty to be a virtue.” He curls his fingers toward his palm, beckoning. “Give me both IDs—yours and Ami’s—so you don’t accidentally hand them the wrong one at the front desk. I’ll put my credit card down for incidentals, and we’ll square it up later.” An argument bubbles up in my chest, but he has a point. Even now, with a bit of mental rehearsal, I am sure the next time someone asks my name, I will shout, “I AM NAMED AMI.” Better than nearly spilling our entire cover story to a valet attendant, but not by much. I reach into my purse for my wallet and pull out both IDs. “But put them in the safe when we’re in the room.” He slips them in his wallet next to his own. “Let me do the talking at reception. From what Dane told me, the rules of this vacation are really strict, and even just looking at you, I can tell you’re lying about something.” I scrunch my face, and then frown and smile in quick succession to try to clear it. Ethan watches, expression mildly horrified. “Get it together, Olive. I’m sure it was on my bucket list at some point, but I don’t really want to sleep on the beach tonight.” “Mele Kalikimaka” plays quietly overhead as we enter the hotel. Holiday festivity lingers post–New Years: massive Christmas trees flank the entrance to the lobby, their branches dripping with twinkling lights and the weight of hundreds of red and gold ornaments. Gauzy garlands and more ornaments hang from the ceiling, wrap around columns, and sit in baskets and bowls decorating every flat surface. Water from a giant fountain splashes into a pool below and the scents of plumeria and chlorine intermingle in the humid air. We’re greeted almost immediately at reception. My stomach twists and my smile is too bright as a beautiful Polynesian woman takes Ami’s ID and Ethan’s credit card. She enters the name and smiles. “Congratulations on winning the sweepstakes.” “I love sweepstakes!” I say, too brightly, and Ethan elbows me in the side. And then, her eyes linger on Ami’s photo a moment before slowly blinking up to me. “I’ve put on a little weight,” I blurt. Because there is no good response to this, she gives me a polite smile and begins entering the information. I don’t know why I feel compelled to continue, but I do. “I lost my job this fall, and it’s been one interview after another.” I can feel Ethan tensing at my side, the casual hand on my lower back clutching at my shirt until his grip must resemble a bird of prey trying to put a struggling field mouse out of its misery. “I tend to bake when I’m stressed, which is why I look a little different in the photo. The photo of me. But I did get a job. Today, actually, if you can believe it. Not that it’s unbelievable or anything. The job or the wedding.” When I finally come up for air, both the woman and Ethan are just staring at me. Smiling tightly, she slides a folder filled with various maps and itineraries across the counter. “It looks like we have you in our honeymoon suite.” My brain trips on the phrase honeymoon suite and fills with images of the room Lois and Clark Kent share in Superman II: the pink fabrics, the heart-shaped tub, the giant bed. “The romance package is all-inclusive,” she continues, “and you can choose from a number of amenities, including candlelit dinners in the Molokini Garden, a couple’s massage on the spa balcony at sunset, turn-down service with rose petals and champagne—” Ethan and I exchange a brief look. “We’re really more the outdoorsy types,” I cut in. “Are there any activities available that are a little more rugged and a lot less . . . naked?” Cue the awkward pause. She clears her throat. “You can find a more comprehensive list in your room. Take a look, and we can schedule anything you like.” I thank her and chance a peek over at Ethan, who is now gazing at me lovingly—which means he’s planning the nonbuffet menu for my funeral reception, after he’s murdered me and hidden my body. With a final swipe of our room keys to activate them, she hands them to Ethan and smiles warmly. “You’re on the top floor. Elevators are around that corner there. I’ll have your bags sent up immediately.” “Thank you,” he manages easily, without spilling the details of the past year of his life. But I’m pleased to see him falter in his smooth footsteps as she calls out after us: “Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas. Enjoy your honeymoon.” chapter five The lock chimes and the double doors swing open. My breath catches in my throat. Never in my life have I stayed in a suite, let alone one this opulent. I pour one out for Ami’s dream honeymoon and try not to feel grateful that she’s back in St. Paul suffering so that I can be here. But it’s hard; objectively this has turned out very well for me. Well, mostly. I look up at Ethan, who gestures for me to lead us inside. Ahead of us is an absurdly spacious living room, with a couch, love seat, two chairs, and low glass coffee table on a fluffy white rug. The table is topped with a beautiful violet orchid in a woven basket, a complicated remote that looks like it probably operates a bionic housekeeper, and a bucket with a bottle of champagne and two flutes that have Mr. and Mrs. etched in the glass. I meet Ethan’s eyes only long enough for both of our instinctive sneers to take root. Just to the left of the living room is a small dining nook, with a table, two brass candlesticks, and a tiki-themed bar cart covered in all manner of ornate cocktail glasses. I mentally gulp down about four margaritas and get an anticipatory buzz from all the upcoming free booze I’m about to enjoy. But at the far end is the true beauty of the room: a wall of glass doors that open to a balcony overlooking the crashing Maui surf. I gasp, sliding them to the side and stepping out into the warm January breeze. The temperature—so balmy, so not Minnesota—shocks me into a surreal awareness: I’m in Maui, in a dream suite, on an all-inclusive trip. I’ve never been to Hawaii. I’ve never done anything dreamlike, period. I start to dance but only realize I’m doing it when Ethan steps out onto the balcony and dumps an enormous bucket of water on my joy by clearing his throat and squinting out across the waves. He looks like he’s thinking, Eh. I’ve seen better. “This view is amazing,” I say, almost confrontationally. Slowly blinking over to me, he says, “As is your propensity to overshare.” “I already told you I’m not a good liar. I got nervous when she was looking at Ami’s ID, okay?” He holds his hands up in sarcastic surrender. With a scowl, I escape Mr. Buzzkill and head back inside. Just to the immediate right of the entry, there’s a small kitchen I completely bypassed on my way to the balcony. Past the kitchen is a hallway that leads to a small bathroom, and, just past it, the opulent master bedroom. I step inside and see there’s another huge bathroom here with a giant tub big enough for two. I turn to face the gigantic bed. I want to roll in it. I want to take off my clothes and slip into the silky— I feel the tires come to a screeching halt inside my brain. But . . . how? How have we come this far without discussing the logistics of sleeping arrangements? Did we both truly assume that the honeymoon suite would have two bedrooms? Without a doubt, we both would happily die on the Not Sharing a Bed with You hill, but how do we decide who gets the only bedroom? Obviously, I think I should—but knowing Ethan, he probably thinks he’ll take the bed and I’ll happily build my little troll fort under the dining table. I step out of the bedroom just as Ethan is closing the wide double doors, and then we are sealed into this awkward moment of unprepared cohabitation. We turn in unison to gaze at our suitcases. “Wow,” I say. “Yeah,” he agrees. “It’s really nice.” Ethan coughs. A clock ticks somewhere in the room, too loud in the awkward silence. Tick. Tick. Tick. “It is.” He reaches up, scratching the back of his neck. Ocean waves crash in the background. “And, obviously you’re the woman. You should take the bedroom.” Some of those words are the ones I want to hear, and some of them are just terrible. I tilt my head, scowling. “I don’t get the bedroom because I’m a woman. I get the room because my sister won it.” He gives a douchey little wince-shrug and says, “I mean, if we’re going by those standards, then I should get the room, since Ami got it partly using Dane’s Hilton status.” “She still managed to organize it all,” I say. “If it was up to Dane, they’d be staying at the Doubletree in Mankato this week.” “You realize you’re just arguing with me for the sake of arguing, right? I already told you you could have the room.” I point at him. “What you’re doing right now isn’t arguing?” He sighs like I am the most irritating person alive. “Take the bedroom. I’ll sleep on the couch.” He gazes at it. It looks plush and nice, sure, but it is still a couch and we’re here for ten nights. “I’ll be fine,” he adds with a hefty spoonful of martyrdom thrown in. “Okay, if you’re going to act like I’m beholden to you, then I don’t want it.” He exhales slowly, and then walks over to his suitcase, lifting it and carrying it to the bedroom. “Wait!” I call. “I take that back. I do want the bedroom.” Ethan stops without turning to look at me. “I’m just going to put some things in the drawers so I’m not living out of my suitcase in the living room for ten days.” He glances at me over his shoulder. “I presume that’s okay?” He is so carefully balancing being generous with being passive-aggressive that I am all mixed up about how big an asshole he really is. It makes it impossible to measure out the correct dose of snark. “It’s fine,” I say, and add magnanimously, “take all the dresser space you want.” I hear his bemused snort as he disappears from view. The bottom line is that we don’t get along. But the other bottom line is that we don’t really need to! Hope fills me like helium. Ethan and I can move around each other without having to interact, and do whatever we like to make this our individual dream vacations. For me, this slice of heaven will include the spa, zip-lining, snorkeling, and every manner of adventure I can find—including adventures of the alcoholic variety. If Ethan’s idea of a perfect vacation is brooding, complaining, and sighing exasperatedly, he can surely do that anywhere he wants, but I don’t have to endure it. I quickly check my email and see a new one from Hamilton. The offer is . . . well, suffice it to say I don’t need to look through anything else to know I’ll take it. They could tell me my desk was perched on the lip of a volcano, and I would accept in a heartbeat for this kind of money. Pulling out my iPad, I digitally sign everything and send it off. Practically vibrating, I thumb through the list of hotel activities and decide that the first order of business is a celebratory facial and body scrub down at the spa. Solo. I don’t think Ethan is much of a pampering type, but the worst thing would be to have him lift a cooling cucumber slice off my eyelid and glare down at me while I’m lounging in a robe. “Ethan,” I call, “what are you up to this afternoon?” In the answering silence, I sense his panic that I might be requesting his company. “I’m not asking because I want to hang,” I add quickly. He hesitates again, and when he finally answers, his voice comes out tinny, like he’s actually climbed into the closet. “Thank God.” Well. “I’m probably going to head down to the spa.” “Do whatever you want. Just don’t use all the massage credits,” he tacks on. I scowl, even though he can’t see me. “How many times do you think I’m going to get rubbed down in a single afternoon?” “I’d rather not contemplate.” I flip the bird in his general direction, consult the directory to confirm that the spa has showers I can use, grab my key card, and leave Ethan to his surly unpacking. • • • GUILT EDGES IN A TINY bit when I am being pampered and indulged for nearly three hours using Ami’s name. My face is exfoliated, massaged, and moisturized. My body is covered in clay, scrubbed until I’m red and tingly all over, and then covered with warm eucalyptus towels. I make a silent promise to put aside money from each paycheck for a while so that I can send my sister to a lavish spa back home when she no longer feels “like a freshly reanimated corpse.” It may not be Maui, but any little bit I can pay her back for this, I’m committed to do. All I have to do this entire week is tip the staff; it seems so preposterous. This type of blissful, transcendent spa experience isn’t for me. I’m the one who gets a fungal infection from a pedicure in the Cities and a bikini wax burn at a spa in Duluth. Limp as a jellyfish all over and drunk on endorphins, I look up at my therapist, Kelly. “That was . . . amazing. If I ever win the lottery, I’m going to move here and pay you to do that every day.” She probably hears that daily, but she laughs like I am exceedingly clever. “I’m glad you enjoyed yourself.” Enjoyed myself is an understatement. Not only was it dreamy, but it was a full three hours away from Ethan. I’m led back to the lounge, where I’m told to take as much time as I want. Diving into the plush couch, I pull my phone from the pocket of my robe. I’m unsurprised to see messages from my mom (Tell your dad to bring us some toilet paper and Gatorade), my sister (Tell Mom to go hooooome), Diego (Is this punishment for making fun of Natalia’s terrible bleach job? I’d say I’m sorry but I’ve seen mops with fewer split ends), and Jules (Do you care if I stay at your place while you’re gone? This thing is like the plague and I might have to burn down my apartment). Too tired and blissed out to deal with any of it now, I pick up a well-loved copy of Us Weekly. But not even celebrity gossip or the latest Bachelor drama can keep me awake, and I feel my eyelids closing under the weight of happy exhaustion. “Ms. Torres?” “Hmm?” I hum, groggy. “Ms. Torres, is that you?” Eyes bolting open, I nearly overturn the cucumber water I’ve got precariously perched on my chest. When I sit, I look up and nearly all I see is an enormous white mustache. And oh. I know this mustache; I first met this mustache at a highly important interview. I remember at the time thinking, Wow, a Sam Elliott doppelgänger is the CEO here at Hamilton Biosciences! Who knew? My eyes move up. Yes, the Sam Elliott doppelgänger—Charles Hamilton, my new boss’s boss—is right in front of me at the Spa Grande in Maui. Wait . . . what? “Mr. Hamilton! Hi!” “I thought that was you.” He looks tanner than when I saw him a few weeks ago, his white hair a touch longer, and he definitely wasn’t wearing a fluffy white robe and slippers. He crosses the room, arms outstretched for a hug. Oh. Okay, we’re going to do this. I stand, and he catches my expression of discomfort—because I don’t usually hug my bosses, especially not when naked under a robe—and then I see when he registers that his brain is on vacation and he doesn’t hug his employees, either, but we’re committed now and come together in an awkward side hug that ensures our robes don’t gape anywhere. “If this isn’t a small world,” he says once he’s pulled away. “Recharging the batteries before starting your new adventure at Hamilton? That’s exactly what I like to see. Can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first.” “Exactly.” My nerves have dumped buckets of adrenaline into my veins; going from Zen to New Boss Alert is jarring. I pull the tie on my robe a little tighter. “And I want to thank you again for the opportunity. I am beyond excited to be joining the team.” Mr. Hamilton waves me off. “The minute we spoke I knew you’d be a great fit. Your dedication to Butake was commendable. I always say that Hamilton is nothing without the good people working there. Honesty, integrity, loyalty—those are our hallmarks.” I nod; I like Mr. Hamilton—he has an impeccable reputation in the biosciences field and is known for being an incredibly involved and hands-on CEO—but I can’t help but note that this line is an almost exact replica of the one he gave me as we shook hands at the end of the interview. Now that I’ve lied to about twenty people on the hotel’s staff, hearing it here feels more ominous than inspiring. The sound of quickened footsteps can be heard on the other side of the door before a panicked Kelly bursts through. “Mrs. Thomas.” My stomach drops. “Oh, thank God you’re still here. You left your wedding ring in the treatment room.” She offers an outstretched hand and places the simple band in my palm. I let out a deranged silent scream inside my cranium while I manage to give her a muted thanks. “ ‘Mrs. Thomas?’ ” Hamilton prompts. The therapist looks between us, obviously confused. “You mean Torres,” he says. “No . . .” She blinks down to a clipboard and then back to us. “This is Mrs. Thomas. Unless there’s been some mistake . . . ?” I realize there are two things I can do here: 1. I could admit that I had to take my sister’s honeymoon because she got sick and I am pretending to be married to a guy named Ethan Thomas so we can snag this sweet honeymoon package, or 2. I could lie my face off and tell them that I just got married and—silly me—I’m not used to my new name yet. In either case, I am a liar. Option one leaves me with my integrity. However, with option two I won’t disappoint my new boss (especially given that half my interview was focused on building a workforce with “a strong moral compass” and people who “put honesty and integrity above everything else”), and won’t end up sleeping on the beach, hungry and unemployed, with only a giant spa and hotel bill to use as shelter. I know there’s an obvious right choice here, but I do not make it. “Oh yeah. Just got married.” Oh God. Why? Why does my mouth do this? That was honestly the worst choice. Because now, when we return home, I’m going to have to pretend to be married whenever I run into Mr. Hamilton—which could be daily—or fess up to getting fake divorced immediately after the fake wedding. Gah. His smile is so big it lifts the mustache. The therapist is relieved the weird moment of tension is gone and excuses herself with a smile. Still beaming, Mr. Hamilton reaches out, shaking my hand. “Well, now, that is some wonderful news. Where was the wedding?” At least here I can be truthful: “At the Hilton, downtown St. Paul.” “My gosh,” he says, shaking his head, “just starting out. What a blessing.” He leans in and winks. “My Molly and I are here celebrating our thirtieth anniversary, can you believe it?” I make my eyes round, like it’s just wild that this white-haired man has been married for so long, and fumble through some noises about that being amazing and exciting and you must just be . . . so happy. And then he takes out a metaphorical anvil and knocks me into the floor: “Why don’t you two join us for dinner?” Me and Ethan, sitting beside each other at a table, having to . . . touch, and smile, and pretend to love each other? I stifle a chortle. “Oh, we couldn’t impose. You two probably never get away together.” “Of course we do! The kids are out of the house—it’s just us two all the time. Come on. It’s our last night, and I’m sure she’s sick of me, to be honest!” He lets out a hearty laugh. “It wouldn’t be any imposition at all.” If there’s a way out of this situation, I’m not coming up with it fast enough. I think I have to bite the bullet. Smiling—and hoping I look far less terrified than I feel—I give in. I need this job, and am dying to land in Mr. Hamilton’s good graces. I’m going to have to ask Ethan for a huge favor. I’m going to owe him so big, it makes me want to hurl. “Sure, Mr. Hamilton. Ethan and I would love that.” He reaches out and squeezes my shoulder. “Call me Charlie.” • • • THE HALLWAY WEAVES AND ELONGATES in front of me. I wish it weren’t just an illusion bor