It was hours before Rome wandered up the path to the house, gleaming with water, her hair a glossy water-laden sheet down her back. She was grinning brilliantly.
“Have you been out here long?” Rome chirped, stopping just short of where Ana lounged on the couch. She dripped puddles of salty water onto the polished squares of white stone beneath her.
Droplets of water caught in her lashes shimmered in the golden light.
Rome didn’t wait for a response, perhaps knowing that Ana had no intention of providing one, and glided toward the patio’s outdoor shower, buzzing with joy.
Hidden from Ana’s view by a strategically-planted screen of palms and from the beach by a frosted-glass wall that rose to her shoulders,
Rome stood under the steamy water and looked out across the horizon while the sky melted from gold to orange, and then orange to pink.
When she finally turned off the water, the sky was a soft, rosy red. “Is there anything you want to do tonight, before dinner?” Rome called, knowing Ana was still there.
“Of course not,” was Ana’s tart reply.
Rome stepped out wrapped in a fluffy white towel and headed inside, reluctantly trailed by Ana into the kitchen.
She dropped three raspberries into a tall, slender glass and poured herself some of the chilled lavender lemonade Clara had left out for them on the countertop.
Leaning against the island, she mused, “I was thinking some shopping on Papillon Boulevard and then dinner somewhere over there."
She plucked a sprig of lavender garnishing the pitcher of lemonade and dropped it into her own glass.
Ana wore a disapproving look, already visibly hating the idea. “Shopping, but no dinner.”
“You’re right,” Rome said sweetly, batting her lashes, making Ana roll her eyes. “No dinner, just dessert.”
“Just. Shopping,” Ana ground out, heat flaring in her dark eyes.
Rome pouted, giving Ana an imploring look for just a split second.
She was thin, but did she look too waifish? Was her straight dark hair dull? Were her cheeks hollowed? Rome decided not, and relented. For now. “Fine.”
Ana didn’t follow her upstairs. She changed quickly, into an airy red romper that should make Ana compliant.
When she returned downstairs, Ana already had her little black camera in her hands and a purse slung over one shoulder.
She glared impatiently at Rome, scoffed at the bright smile Rome offered her and led the way out the door.
Ana watched out of the corner of her eye as Rome picked up a silver silk dress with thin, insubstantial shoulder straps.
Rome held it out, examined it, ran her hand over it as its slender hanger dangled from her fingertips.
She seemed distracted, though, spending so long examining the scrap of silver silk with a daydreamy, faraway expression.
Ana felt her skin prickle unpleasantly. “Do you like it?” she asked, her tone sharp, forcing Rome back into the present.
Rome’s eyes wandered over the rest of the spotlight-speckled store.
“I like the little bow,” Rome said softly, her fingers toying with the ribbon tied around the waist of the dress in a delicate little bow.
Ana followed Rome’s line of sight to a boy, a beautiful boy across the store.
He smiled down at a pretty brunette who was holding up a white half-sleeve boatneck top with slender black stripes running across it.
When he grinned, it was dazzling, showing off the sharp cut of his jawline and his square cheekbones.
“So, you and Ben are practically engaged,” Ana said suddenly, not even bothering to hide the snappy edge to her voice. “It’s getting pretty serious, isn’t it?”
Rome glanced at her with a brief, sharp look. “Is it?” she chirped breezily.
“I didn’t know Gray would be on the island so soon,” Ana said, nodding toward the boy across the room, currently not listening to the girl he was with as she talked,
instead looking down at his phone while his thumbs flew deftly across it.
“Neither did I,” Rome said brightly, turning her attention back to the silver dress in her hands.
She was busy examining the others on the rack behind it while Ana watched Gray and the brunette paid and wandered outside.
After a few minutes of examining more of the gauzy, insubstantial, almost ethereal garments hanging on the walls and shiny chrome racks,
Rome decided she was done perusing and pulled Ana to the front of the store to pay.
When Ana paused to glare at her reflection in a full-length mirror, Rome plucked the striped top from where it was hung and added that in with her silk dress.
Ana wandered back toward her after both were wrapped in tissue paper and tucked safely away into the bag. She didn’t know. Rome hummed with excitement and satisfaction.
She glanced over toward the exit, where Gray and the girl wandered outside. She saw him slide his phone back into his pocket, and a second later her own vibrated.
While the cashier rang her up, she took a peek.
I see you
Rome smiled graciously and thanked the cashier before she wandered outside, Ana trailing sullenly behind.
She was careful to wait until Gray and the girl were safely away and successfully avoided them as she and Ana stepped outside.
She took Ana’s hand and wandered down the street in the opposite direction, admiring the bluish-lavender hue of the clear sky and the glowing,
pale pinpricks of light that were the first stars emerging in the twilight.
“Ooh, how about seafood?” Rome suggested, batting her lashes at Ana. Ana looked like she was about to argue, so Rome begged, “Please? I’m hungry. Just come with me."
She bit her lip and toyed with the hem of her gauzy romper, and Ana’s resolve melted before her eyes.
Down the street, they found a charming little boutique restaurant on the water, and with a bright smile from Rome,
they convinced the hostess to seat them outside in the quaint little alleyway that dead-ended at the water’s edge.
Under twinkling fairy lights strung overhead, the intoxicating scent of the flourishing fuchsia bougainvillea vines creeping up the walls,
and the rhythmic sound of the gentle waves below the sidewalk’s edge, it made for a magical and romantic atmosphere. More stars sparkled in the indigo sky.
Rome sweet-talked Ana into ordering a glass of red wine with her and a small salad.
By the time Ana’s salad and Rome’s lobster arrived, Ana was enveloped in a stormy silence, shooting only occasional glares at Rome.
Ana drank her red wine and toyed with the leaves of her salad without actually eating any of it while Rome ate, and Rome noticed, but made the decision not to push.
Until, inevitably, Ana decided to pick a fight.
“Gray looked good today, didn’t he?” Ana said, skinny fingers holding her fork, pushing arugula leaves around her shallow plate.
A perfectly innocent thing to say, if it hadn’t come out of Ana’s mouth.
She didn’t even have a cold edge to her voice, but her mirror-black eyes, meeting Rome’s own over the lavender-scented candle flickering between them, were steely with a challenge.
Rome stared at Ana, feeling her cheeks flood with heat as she flushed and her heart fluttered in her chest.
Every time Ana did this, she panicked a little, her head began to swim, her heart pounding like it was trying to crack open its ivory bone cage in her chest.
She felt a little sick, hot and cold all over simultaneously.
And this girl across from her, this rail-thin, waifish, scared, sad girl with the wide, dark eyes and the curtain of chestnut hair that Rome stared at when Ana’s back was turned,
this girl did this to her every time.
In slow motion, Rome closed her eyes. “He sure did,” she said, razor-sharp. “He’s so hot. Too hot for that girl he was with, for sure.
In fact, I might as well tell you that I’m in love with him. Yeah, I’m sleeping with him. Just thought you should know.” Rome opened her eyes to take in the damage, tally the casualties.
Ana’s eyes didn’t waver from her face. Her grip on the stem of her empty wineglass was white-knuckled. “Is that what you wanted to hear, Ana?” Rome asked softly.
Ana just stared at her in stony silence. She remained silent while Rome drained her own glass, threw a wildly inappropriate amount of money on the table, and stood up.
“Let’s go home,” she said wearily.