The resort’s immaculate, luxurious spa was built into rock face. Amanda and Chloe followed a precarious path to a big, open front room. A grandmotherly woman showed them the dimly lit area where she and her sister would administer coconut-avocado body rubs followed by seaweed wraps.
After which, Chloe and Amanda tied on sarongs like strapless dresses and lunched on little sandwiches and lemongrass tea.
“If you’re Ikan’s personal guest, not the resort’s, does that mean—no charge?”
“I sleep in his bed, Chloe. What’s the going rate for that?”
“I meant the spa and hair salon.”
“I’ll ask for a bill.”
“No, too obvious. Tip in full. Do you have enough cash?”
“Including highlights?” Chloe had been urging highlights since they’d met. “They’ll grow out, Amanda.”
“In six weeks?”
“If Ikan has some fantasy about you six weeks from now, don’t listen to him.”
“Chloe, if either of us doubted this was anything but a one-time fling, it wouldn’t be happening.”
“So what’s in six weeks?”
“The man who’s always loved me.”
“Who isn’t Mike, even if you still sleep with him whenever he can arrange it. What a slut you are.”
The woman doing Amanda’s hair told Chloe, “Hush, please.”
At first, Amanda’s honey-colored highlights pleased her. But after a second, she wondered if her lightened hair was the same color it had been when she was eleven. Meanwhile, Chloe gloated until Amanda said, “You were right. I look—happier.”
“Happier? You look beautiful. Can’t you see that?”
“I said you were right.”
“But you didn’t mean it.”
Seeing Ikan waiting for her, Amanda asked, “When can I get your advice?”
“Oh, you still want that? Well then tomorrow, if you skip kite boarding. And we’re sitting together on the flight home.”
Amanda turned around and after Chloe disappeared, Ikan stroked her hair. He lifted the ends.
But Amanda was thinking about Walter. What if when he finally saw her, she came across as a shiny haired nymph? Irrational, that fear, because who was more adult than Amanda?
Nearing his house, Ikan asked if she wanted time to herself.
“Not at all.”
“You seem lost in thought.”
So they drank cold lime soda from bottles. Before dinner, he drove her to a secluded cove where the water was a startling blue and the waves carried thick white frills.
The next day, while Ikan took a large group kite boarding, Amanda and Chloe waited for the cooking staff to leave the pavilion and slid into parallel hammocks. Amanda sighed and Chloe said, “Speak!”
She admitted her fear was stupid but it haunted her—this idea that at O’s wedding she’d appear to be eleven years old.
“What the hell?” Chloe sat up, which wasn’t easy in a hammock. “Come on, Amanda. Tell me.”
“It’s complicated. But Walter took care of me in seventh grade.”
“So he’s like your surrogate father.”
“No. Walter alone cared if I lived or died. And I loved him with everything I had—meaning not as a father. Although, I did know enough to act like that. Sometimes I forgot and pushed closer to the truth.
“You know how as a child you feel all these grown-up secrets surrounding and bewildering you? And if you start to figure them out at all, you’re told—adults only. Walter acknowledged that. All through seventh grade he kept me from the abyss. He kept me innocent—to him and to myself.”
“Jesus, Amanda. Why didn’t you tell me sooner? My advice is gonna sound harsh, but here it is: get over him.”
“You wouldn’t say that if you’d loved Walter with your entire self, who everyone else had always found totally intolerable. But Walter found them intolerable, he loved me so much. He loved me whatever the cost. And far too much to hurt me.”
Chloe jumped from her hammock and loomed over Amanda whose hands covered her face. “You’re talking like ‘It’s a far, far better thing…’ A nice ending for Dickens’ novel about the fucking French revolution. In real life nobody sacrifices his neck.”
“Shut up, Chloe. Walter didn’t go to prison because it was a far better thing! I have no idea why he took me to Disneyworld. But if I knew that making me happy was going to make him a criminal, I would have said, no way. And Walter listened to me. What I said mattered to him—eleven years old or not.”
“You mean he loved you for your mind.”
So Chloe had to run half a mile on the beach, ankle deep in sand, yelling, “Amanda, I’m sorry.”
Until finally, she stopped and turned around.
“I’m sorry,” Chloe said. “It’s awful and I’m awful.”
They walked a long ways on the beach, not talking. Chloe had imagined, combining her experiences with her sisters’, she’d heard everything. She had’t known about Amanda’s childhood.
Then, shouting distance, they saw Ikan stacking equipment. He saw them and waved. Amanda said, “Apology accepted,” and walked away, toward Ikan. Thank God for Ikan.
The sun rose before the lovers believed it. They didn’t say “Good-bye.” They held
each other outside his bedroom, until Sebastian, who was driving, honked the horn. Their arms slid, one along the other, until their fingertips parted.
In the van, Chloe said, “He’s hiding.”
Amanda closed her eyes and was soon breathing the rain forest’s oxygen.
On the plane, she didn’t say a word, and Chloe didn’t dare comment.
But when the jet hit ground, Amanda asked if she’d help her choose her bridesmaid’s dress.
“Now that’s something I’m good at.”
“Olivia, I mean O, said I was gonna cause mayhem at her wedding, which is what she wants. But all I can think is that I’m the reason her father was in prison the whole time she was growing up.”