Ch 6. Womanly Shoulders

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*** Beth ***

She arrived breathless in the lobby where Russell was laughing with one of the hotel employees. Funny - one of the only times she had ever seen him laughing out loud. She mentally thumbed through work days and various parties and projects where they had been together over the last two years, but she couldn't think of a single time that he had laughed, and not just chuckled politely at a joke or story.

He cocked his head to study her as she approached, causing her step to falter. Tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear, she asked him if everything was all right. She felt exposed like this, her work-clothes armor dropped aside, her business woman façade scrubbed clean.

"Everything's great. The luau is being served," Russell said, still looking at her. "I've never noticed what nice...shuh-shoulders you have. You always wear those suits to work."

Shoulders, huh? she thought, giving them a little roll back. But that's not what he was looking at. Her tank was fitted and sleek, and rather low-cut. Well, if he wants to admire my shoulders, he can.

Size-wise she was in between an eight and a ten, but at five-eight, this translated into a tall figure with curves. Womanly curves, as her mother said, to be proud of. Brian had fallen in love with those curves; unfortunately, he had fallen out of love fairly quickly and started 'encouraging' her to get 'healthy.' He did this most often by buying her traditional fashion magazines that featured stick-figure models and had articles entitled Lose that Belly Fat or Bikini Ready in Two Weeks: 5 Exercises and 1 Miracle Soup.

Screw that. She had always loved her curves, ever since they started popping out. So when he said she should get healthy, she decided to eat apples for snacks and ice-cream with dark chocolate syrup for dessert, and not worry if anyone else thought she was bikini ready.

She caught Russell admiring her shoulders several times all the way to the buffet next to the beach. Tables and chairs were set out and they claimed one in the half shade of a palm tree. A waiter asked for their drinks, recommending the house piña colada. It was served in a pineapple shell complete with a paper umbrella, orchid, and several curling grey leaves resembling octopus tentacles. Perfection.

Since Beth couldn't stand her growling stomach any longer, they did not wait for the drinks, but went on to the buffet line.

"Some of this stuff you'll recognize, but a lot of it is typical luau," Russell was explaining as they filled their plates. "Here is the kalua pig, grilled salmon, taro chips, lomilomi which is a sort of raw salmon salsa, and you definitely have to try the poi."

Beth stopped short at this last suggestion. Everything else so far looked and smelled delicious; it would take her half an hour to clear her plate of all the mouth-watering fair. The poi, however, did not look appealing.

"It is the quintessential Hawaiian dish," Russell said, adding a small bowl of the purple-grey, slimy pudding stuff to his pile of food.

"Quintessential, you say?"

"Yes. You don't have to like it, even I can admit it's a bit different, but you do have to try it."

"Can I try from your bowl? That way I don't waste any if it doesn't work out between us," she said, batting her lashes at him, as though pretending to flirt. She was actually flirting; she didn't want him to know it, though.

"Fair enough," he replied.

The hotel staff began setting up a stage and musicians and dancers in traditional dress were arriving. When they reached the table, Beth sat back with her cocktail and soaked it in.

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