“Sean! I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”
He waved her concerns away.
“I can call the front desk. I’m sure they’d have an ice pack or something.” She lifted the receiver to her ear.
“No,” he said, pushing her hand with the phone back down onto the cradle. “I’ll be fine. Let’s get to bed.” His voice was muffled by his hand.
She lay silently next to him, feeling a bit awkward. They had never been on holiday together before. Sean had gotten a new contract, and he had wanted to go away for the weekend to celebrate. He had been to Honolulu several times before, so he had booked everything. “You’ll love it,” he had told her enthusiastically. “Great place.” And it had looked wonderful. She spent ages browsing the hotel website, admiring the polished lobby with its tropical plants and trickling waterfalls.
The mattress squeaked angrily as she rolled over, trying to get comfortable. She supposed the pictures of the rooms must have been the suites.
In the morning, they had breakfast at a coffee shop Sean liked that was just around the corner from the hotel. Then they headed to the beach. This was what she had been waiting for. The turquoise surf rolled in, the sand was warm between her toes, and palm trees waved gently overhead. Sean spotted a game of volleyball farther up the beach and jogged over. By the time she caught up, he was setting the ball over the net, the opposite team lunging for it in vain. She hovered a few metres from the court, not sure whether she should say anything, and laid out her towel a safe distance away.
“Want to join in?” called one of the guys on Sean’s team. She shook her head, smiling, and thanked him.
The hours rolled by, one game followed by another. Liz wanted to go for a swim, but she thought the players were too absorbed to watch her belongings. Around 4, they finally all crashed into the ocean, sunburnt and sweaty. The saltiness of the water surprised her; she floated easily, buoyed up on the undulating surface. Gazing up at the cloudless sky, she finally relaxed.
Suddenly, with a splash and a painful thud, she was knocked underwater. She heard muted shrieking and raucous laughter above her. Spluttering, she emerged from the water and pushed her hair out of her eyes. It felt like her entire head was filled with salt and sand.
“Sorry!” gasped one of the volleyball players, laughing.
“You should be sorry!” trilled the player he had apparently thrown in the water. She mock beat him on the arm, but then stopped and kissed him on the shoulder.
“Sorry,” she said to Liz. “Dylan is such an ass sometimes.” She giggled.
“Food? Yes?” called another of the players.
“You in?” Sean asked her, starting up the beach with the others.
“Sure, if you want to?”
Sean led the group to a diner in town, where he bantered with the owner before getting them seated in a turquoise vinyl booth. The food was terrible. Liz was embarrassed that he had recommended this place to a group of strangers, but no one else seemed to notice. They chattered and teased each other over burgers.
“Hey Sean, what’s on your chin there?” asked one of the guys, pointing at a green bruise.
Sean swallowed. “Liz may be tiny, but she’s got a solid elbow,” he confessed, pretending to shrink from her in fear. She coloured. Maybe she and Sean could go out by themselves in the evening, she thought. There were lots of nice bars listed in her Lonely Planet.
But as they were finishing dinner, he glanced at his phone. “My buddy’s in a rough spot right now,” he told her confidentially. “I’m going to have to go grab a drink with him. I’m sorry!” he added, kissing her on the forehead. “I know, this was supposed to be a nice trip for us. But there’s no one else who can take care of him, and it’ll take an hour or two, max. I’ll meet you at the hotel?”
This would be a great chance to relax and get ready, she decided. She took a bath in the olive green tub, and soaked off all the salt and sand. Then she blow-dried her hair, got dressed, and applied makeup. She heard footsteps in the hallway, and the key in a lock, but Sean didn’t appear. It must have been a different room.
She read her novel for a while, but she had gotten through most of it at the beach, so it didn’t take long to finish. She read the epilogue, and the questions for book groups, and the author bio. She flipped on the TV.
At 11:00 she texted him. Hey, you coming back soon? No response.
At 11:30 she called, not caring much anymore if it interrupted his conversation. The call went straight to voicemail. Hi! You’ve reached Sean. She hung up, exasperated. “No, I haven’t!” she snapped aloud. There were more footsteps in the hall – there, he only hadn’t picked up because he was nearly back. She was being stupid. She smoothed her hair and turned off the TV, ready to leave. But the footsteps faded away, and a door down the hall creaked open.
She watched three episodes of The Nanny, and was about to start on a fourth, when she suddenly shut off the TV and stood up to leave. She had made the decision without even realizing she was thinking about it. She started to write a note, and then decided in a fit of passive aggressiveness not to bother.
The beach by night was stunning, and completely different. Huge streetlights illuminated the white froth of the surf, and the air was full of the roar and rush of waves. She took off her shoes and walked along the edge of the water, letting the cool sea whisper over her ankles. Here and there tiki torches cast a flickering golden light over the sand.
She wandered into a beachside bar and ordered a strawberry daiquiri. She was unreasonably pleased by the garnishes: a skewer of fresh fruit and a little paper umbrella. You’ll have to go back, an anxious voice kept admonishing in her head. You really should have left a note. What if he’s there now, and worried? What if the police are looking for you?
But she was enjoying the cool, salty breeze, and the mingled noises of the evening: the surf, the rustling palm trees, and the murmur of strangers’ conversations. She was enjoying the thrill of playing truant, and was not quite ready to re-enter the stale air-conditioning of the hotel.
She allowed herself to imagine a tall, dark-haired stranger walking into the bar, tucking a frangipani flower behind her ear, and ordering her a drink. She imagined the angry joy of letting him kiss her, and disappearing into the darkness. Then she thought of Sean, worried sick, and felt bad. She paid for her drink, and left the bar.
Back at the hotel, Sean had finally arrived. He lay spread out on his back, sunburnt and fast asleep, hair matted to his forehead. Liz tried to slip in beside him, but there wasn’t any room. She stood beside the bed for a moment, then walked around it.
Taking a firm hold of the sheets under him, she dragged Sean so far to one side that he was perilously close to tumbling onto the floor. Then she climbed under the covers and fell asleep.