“Thank you. There was no question. Maia is”—Ayers grabs Maia’s ponytail because now she has climbed into Edith beside her—“my best girl.”
“Well,” Swan says. She’s clearly overcome, and her son, Colton, is tugging on her arm. But Swan seems hesitant to end the conversation, and Ayers fears the question that might be coming. Have they figured out what happened? Ayers refuses to address that topic in front of Maia, or at all, and so she just gives Swan a wave and backs Edie out into the street.
“Thank you for saving me,” Maia says. She pulls out her phone. “I’m tired of people asking me how I’m doing.”
Ayers is astonished by, and maybe even a bit uneasy about, how well-adjusted Maia seems. Ayers was expecting a sadder girl, possibly even a broken girl. She hopes Maia isn’t burying her feelings, which will then fester and come spewing forth later in some toxic way, like lava out of a volcano. Ayers wants to ask Maia how she’s doing, but then it will seem like Ayers isn’t listening. Maia is sick of that question. She probably doesn’t want to be seen as a twelve-year-old girl whose mother just tragically died; she wants to be seen as a twelve-year-old girl.
“Mrs. Seeley was lending her support,” Ayers says. “She thinks I’m a positive role model in your life. Ha! That shows how little she knows!” There’s no response. Maia is down the rabbit hole. Ayers grabs Maia’s phone away without taking her eyes off the road and says, “Hey, where to? Happy hour at Woody’s?”
“Pizzabar in Paradise,” Maia says. “Then Scoops.”
“Pizza and ice cream on opposite sides of the island,” Ayers says. “I feel like you’re taking advantage of me because you know I would do absolutely anything in the world for you. What did Huck pack you for lunch?”
“What do you think?” Maia says.
“A leftover fish sandwich on buttered Wonder bread?” Ayers says.
Maia pulls a greasy paper bag from her backpack and Ayers can smell the fish. “First order of business, throwing that away.”
“Facts,” Maia says. She reclaims her phone, and Ayers understands what it’s like to be the parent of a teenager.
They pull into Pizzabar in Paradise at three thirty, which is a time that nobody other than a sixth grader with a stinky lunch wants to eat, and so they have the place to themselves. Maia orders the margarita pizza. “Why mess with perfection,” she says.
Ayers nearly orders the bianco, which was Rosie’s favorite. She thinks it might be a tribute of sorts, but she doesn’t want to seem like she’s trying to be Rosie, and besides, she isn’t hungry at all. She had a turkey sandwich on the beach with the tourist.
She says, “Will you think I’m a bad influence if I order a glass of wine?”
“You’re my surrogate mom now, right?” Maia says. “Moms have wine.”
“Perk of the job, I guess,” Ayers says, trying to keep things light. She waves to the owner, Colleen, and orders a glass of the house white with a side of ice to water it down. She’s keyed up and she needs to relax. She should ask Maia about school, about things at home, about her feelings, but Maia is into her phone, which gives Ayers a few minutes of freedom to think about the tourist.
She rummages through the factoids: Houston, son Floyd, wife left him, brother Cash, mother here at the mysterious villa, father dead, father loved the tropics. Ayers realizes she doesn’t know Baker’s last name. She remembers that at the reception, he signed only “Baker” in the guest book. Ayers had made a joke about it. Madonna. Cher.
Had Cash mentioned their last name? Ayers doesn’t think so. But they’ll have it in the files at the Treasure Island office. Ayers will have to remember to check tomorrow.
She sips her wine, watches Maia scroll through other adolescent girls performing lip-sync on musical.ly, and tries to talk herself out of her feelings for the tourist. Yes, he’s tall and super-hot; yes, he’s charming and a really, really good sport. The circus act of trying to have sex on Grootpan Beach, the slapstick of the chair collapsing—that might have sapped anyone’s confidence. But Baker had rebounded like a champ.
And now they have a date at Caneel Bay. Ayers is embarrassed about how excited she is, and she issues herself a stern warning: she is not to fall in love with the tourist! And yet, an overnight date at a five-star resort like Caneel, with a candlelit dinner at ZoZo’s first and a midnight swim and uninhibited, unimpeded hotel sex and a breakfast in bed of percolated coffee and banana French toast might tempt her down that forbidden path. Ayers’s life is so devoid of luxury and, even some days, comfort, that the allure of a splurge is strong. Baker wants to treat her like a queen, and that is a powerful aphrodisiac.
That, Ayers thinks, is how the Pirate stole Rosie’s heart. And later, the Invisible Man. It’s not necessarily the creature comforts themselves, it’s that someone thinks you deserve them.
Maia’s pizza arrives, fresh and hot.
“Want a slice?” Maia asks.
“Duh,” Ayers says, because who can resist a piping hot pizza?
Ayers lifts a slice, and strings of cheese stretch all the way to her paper plate. Then she feels something warm and hairy crawling around her ankles and she shrieks and looks down. It’s Gordon, Mick’s dog. Ayers watches Maia’s eyes widen. She fully expects to find Mick and Brigid behind her. A split second later, the stool next to Ayers’s is yanked out and Mick sits down. He helps himself to a slice of pizza.
“Hey!” Quick surveillance tells Ayers there’s no Brigid. “That’s Maia’s.”
“It’s okay,” Maia says to Mick. “You can have some.”
“It’s okay,” Mick says to Ayers. “I can have some.” He chucks Maia on the arm. “How you holding up, bae?”
Maia turns pink and Ayers remembers that Maia has always been smitten with Mick. He’s nowhere near as good-looking as Baker, but Mick has that something, a magnetism, a masculinity, a sly sense of humor that makes him appealing to women of all ages.
“I’m okay,” Maia says.
“Oh yeah? Really? I’d say you’re better than okay. I’d say you’re the coolest young lady on the whole island.” He winks at her. “And of course, the prettiest.”
Maia fist bumps him. “Facts.”
This makes Mick laugh. He turns to Ayers. “Yeah, I’d say she’s okay. Self-esteem fully intact.”
“What are you doing here?” Ayers asks. Without thinking about it, she finds herself rubbing Gordon’s sweet bucket head, and he closes his eyes in ecstasy. Gordon feels about Ayers the way Maia feels about Mick: pure devotion.
“Hangry,” Mick says. He devours his slice in three bites and reaches over to take what’s left of Ayers’s slice, and she lets him. “I have to be at work in an hour.”
Right, Ayers thinks. The only other people who eat at three thirty in the afternoon? Everyone in the restaurant business.
“So how was your date last night?” Mick asks.
“What date?” Maia asks Ayers.
“Friend of mine, Baker,” Ayers says. “We went to dinner.”
“I call shenanigans,” Mick says. “I swung by De’ Coal Pot. You weren’t there and you hadn’t been there. I asked.”
“We went somewhere else,” Ayers says.
“Where?” Mick says.
“Who’s Baker?” Maia asks. “Do I know him?”
“You don’t,” Ayers says. “He’s visiting.”
“He’s a tourist,” Mick says.
Maia tilts her head. “I thought you didn’t date tourists.”
“There’s an exception to every rule,” Ayers says.
“So you’re dating that guy, then?” Mick asks. “Seriously? He looks like… a banker.”
Ayers throws back what’s left of her wine. Oh, how she would love to order another, but she can’t. She has to drive all the way across the island to Scoops, and then drive home.
“He’s taking me to Caneel Bay tomorrow. The hotel. Overnight.”
Mick cocks an eyebrow. “Really? So he is a banker.”
“None of your business,” Ayers says.
“Are you jealous?” Maia asks Mick. “Do you still love Ayers?”
“Maia!” Ayers says.
“Yes,” Mick says. He turns to Colleen and orders a pizza—the pepperoni and ham, which Ayers could have predicted. Mick is a devout carnivore. “Yes, I do still love Ayers.”
“Mick, stop,” Ayers says.
“Do you really?” Maia asks.
“Yes, I do, really.”
“Oh,” Maia says. “I thought you broke up with her.”
“I did something wrong and Ayers broke up with me,” Mick says. “I made a huge mistake and I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. But just because I made that mistake doesn’t mean I don’t still love Ayers.”
“Love is messy,” Maia says. “My mom used to tell me that. She said love is messy and complicated and unfair.” Maia rolls her eyes. “I’ll take a no-thank-you helping.”
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com