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THE BOY SAT IN THE SAME spot she had left him, nearly an hour before, his blue eyes trained on the traffic rolling by. Here on this row of fancy shops, where purses cost half a year’s salary, where you couldn’t hear the mild waves hitting Waikiki’s soft white sand. Where you might as well be on any retail-laden street in the world, not paradise.
Not a boy. A man, Gina corrected herself. And she hadn’t left him. He was simply there, on his own. He leaned against the austere Gucci building, which rose like bleached whale bones out of the hot tarry asphalt. Tourists cackled and shouted in German, Japanese, English. A city bus belched out a hot plume of diesel as it roared away from the curb.
Gina turned and walked by him again, slower, moving her long black slick of hair out of her face. She adjusted the belt on her flowing dress, green and decorated with yellow circles. She sucked in her tummy, pulled her shoulders back.
He turned the pages of The Fountainhead unseeingly. Beside him sat a battered cardboard box with two one-dollar bills inside. His brown hair had been sun-lightened to a cornsilk-yellow on the ends, his skin tanned. She watched his throat move in a silent, dry gulp, his cheekbones and jaw prominent. Gina thought him beautiful.
It’s him. Those were the lips she had kissed, once. The cupid’s bow, the thin lower lip. She remembered running her hand over his arm, the hairs under her palm. His arm heavy around her as she slept.
Her pulse sped. “Brady,” she whispered. The man did not turn.
Gina’s hand tightened around her plastic cup of iced green tea. She stopped in the shop doorway, in front of the Christmas tree shining in the window, and studied the glittered seashell ornaments to steady herself.
She walked back in front of him. He didn’t glance up. Fumbling through her too-large fake-leather bag, she extracted the only bill she had: a twenty. A lot of money for her, really. She tossed it into the box.
“Thank you,” he said quietly, and she strained to hear. A tenor, not a baritone like Brady. She took a deep breath. Why wouldn’t he look at her? She glanced at her reflection, at the hair kept black by the salon, her impeccable makeup on her still-smooth face with high cheekbones. No signs of jowls yet. Benefits of her Japanese descent and the nightly, unaffordable Crème de la Mer she slathered over her face. She was forty-two, but surely she merited a glance. He took the twenty and tucked it into the pocket of his shorts.
She squatted down to his eye level, right in front of him, so she was unavoidable. He blinked. The whites of his eyes were, in fact, white, not the red she’d expected. His irises were a particularly vivid light blue she’d seen only once before. He wasn’t deranged or dirty or drugged-up. He looked like a regular college student. Maybe he’d just run out of luck, having the “newcomer’s curse” the islands inflicted. Dreamers who thought they could make it here by waiting tables spent all their money, couldn’t get home, and ended up sleeping on the beach. Maybe he had nobody to send a check to the Western Union for him.
She put her hand on his wrist without realizing it. “Are you all right?”
He nodded, once. His eyes moved over her face and she felt herself blush.
She handed him the green tea. “Here. I haven’t had any.” She’d been clutching it to her breast, and the condensation had made her upper chest wet. She dabbed at her skin self-consciously.
He took the drink. “Thanks,” he said again.
She continued to squat, fighting the urge to put her arms around him. Her breath came out in a rasp. “I’m Gina.”
I’m Brady, she expected him to say. But, of course, he did not. “Will,” he said. The word popped out like a bubble.
Something in his voice caused her eyes to fill. Struggling for control, she stood up, knees cracking. She was getting too old to contort like that. “You look like someone I knew.” She spoke slowly, as though he were a customer she wanted to impress, careful not to lapse into the local pidgin. Brady had liked that about her.
Will turned another page, this time actually focusing. It was as if she had said nothing at all.
“Is that a good book?” she tried again.
“It’s interesting.” He turned yet another page, his thick blondish eyebrows knitting together.
Gina felt her brow furrow. There’s no way he can read that fast. He wants me to leave. She took a business card out of her purse. “If you need anything,” she said, “I work at the salon. Over there.” She pointed down the street, to a single-story glass-walled building. “The salon’s on the other side of the block, facing the water. You just ask for Gina.”
“Thank you,” he said again. This time he focused on her, his gaze going from her face down, back up, sending a new flush over her whole body, to her hairline.
“Take care.” She walked away, wondering if he was watching. If he would follow. She glanced back, but he was already staring down at the book.
If Gina’s fifth-floor apartment—by the base of Punchbowl, near the National Cemetery—were a little higher, you’d be able to see the ocean, but instead it overlooked the steady thrum of the H-freeway leading to the West side of Oahu. The famous trade winds were blocked by other buildings. Sometimes, if she stood on her toilet and looked a certain way out the tiny screened window, she caught a glimpse of blue. She saw the water all day at work, across the five lanes of traffic; there was no need to see it at home, too. The apartment walls were cinderblock, reaching eight stories, crooked and swaying with every tropical rainstorm. Gina was sure that if there were another hurricane, the building would crumple like a defeated Jenga tower.
She walked in, tossed her keys into her old crystal ash tray, got a can of Slim-Fast out of the fridge. Sitting down on the sagging blue couch, she turned on her television: a big old fat set, not a flat screen. Her furniture was used bamboo, from the Goodwill, acquired slowly. She didn’t care much about things. She’d always planned to leave. Follow Brady to California. Even her lease was month-to-month, still, after all these years.
Her phone buzzed with a text. Her friend Malia, inviting her for girls’ night out. Gina pictured the scene: her four best friends, two married, two divorced, all with kids, getting so fall-down drunk they had to hire a cab. The single ones among them eyeing the men at the bar, deciding which ones were truly free, and which ones had just twisted off their wedding bands for that night. She erased the message.
Next door, people argued in loud Chinese. She turned up the television to drown out the noise and closed her eyes, not bothering to get up and go into the bedroom.
She had met Brady more than twenty years ago. It seemed an impossible number. He’d been in his last year of the military, a Marine stationed at Kaneohe, and they were both taking a community college class. English Romantic Literature. She remembered nothing of the class, only Brady.
His eyes were the opalescent blue-violet of a Portuguese Man of War, the jellyfish that swarmed five days after every full moon. Gina blinked at their intensity, astonished. She’d never seen such a color outside of the water. Will’s eyes were that color, too. Brady’s head was shaved close, making his eyes stand out all the more. He passed the syllabus back to her and whispered, “And as he gazed, his dizzy brain spun fast/And down he sunk.”
“What’s that?” Gina whispered back, unable to smile, her pulse pounding in her ears.
He pointed to a spot on the syllabus. “Lord Byron. Don Juan.”
Gina wrinkled her brow. “Don Juan, the great lover? Is that you or something?” Her voice sounded stern. Brady told her later he’d thought she was a real hard-ass. Most women caved to him immediately. She had caved, too, but she hid it well. It made him curious.
Brady smiled, teeth slightly crooked. He raised his brows. “I wouldn’t say I’m that prolific. But some say I’m pretty great.”
“Is that so?” Gina traced her lips with the eraser tip of her pencil.
His eyes followed the pink sponge. “When you’re deployed and bored, sometimes poetry’s the best thing.”
Then the professor cleared her throat pointedly, and Brady turned back around. When Gina looked at the back of her syllabus, she saw his phone number written on it. Bold. She giggled, and the sound made him turn around again and steal a glance over his broad shoulder.
She opened her eyes again, disappointed to still find herself in her little apartment, not transported through time. Gina turned on her side to face the back of the couch and the white-painted cinderblock wall, and slept.
A rooster cockadoodledooing woke her at dawn. Mrs. Lao. She groaned and put the throw pillow over her head. One of these days, she’d eat that thing for dinner.
Her stomach clenched in hunger. She thought of the boy—the man—on the beach, wondered where he’d slept last night, what he’d had to eat. She should have bought him a meal. Even a Happy Meal from the McDonald’s would have been all right. Green tea wouldn’t sustain anybody for long.
Her radio alarm clock went off, shouting to life in the middle of an old song: “Oh, how I cannot bear the thought of you.” She knew the group, but couldn’t remember the name. Today she didn’t have to work until early afternoon, so she hit OFF so hard the clock jumped off the table.
I should run down to Kalakaua Boulevard, see if he’s still there. Or maybe on the beach. Bad idea. What would she do, walk along the whole coast, visiting every tent city? The police had moved the tents out of public view; now people camped out all over the place. By the freeway onramps, in green medians only six feet wide. Across the street from the K-Mart in a vacant lot. Way up the 72 in Waimanalo. She’d never find him. Gina wished she’d asked for his last name, what he was doing there. Then she might know how to help.
Instead, she decided to go see her family. She left the apartment and waited for the bus, the Number 22. A light rain fell. The bus went fast before rush hour, filled with grandmas and their young grandchildren, only making a few stops. It drove out of downtown Honolulu, past Diamond Head. When Gina could see Koko Head and the multi-million dollar oceanfront mansions of Portlock, it swung left. They drove miles past the Foodland and the movie theater, back into Hawaii Kai, until no hint of ocean remainedand the hills were brown and dead.
Her parents lived in a small house that backed up to rec center and gun range land. On top of their twelve hundred square feet, they’d built another house, a flat for Gina’s sister, Theresa.
Here, the rain had passed, as it so often did quickly in Hawaii, and the sun was out. “Auntie Gina! Auntie Gina!” Yuki, Theresa’s three-year-old girl, ran into her arms. Her four-year-old brother, Kai, clung to Gina’s leg, the two-year-old brother, Keoni, to Gina’s other leg. Their skin tones varied from pale to deep mocha.
“Hey.” She kissed the top of each of their dark, curly heads, and gave them quarters from her bag. “What’s up? Where’s your mom?”
“In talking to Obachan,” Yuki said. She beamed at Gina and ran into the backyard, her brothers tumbling after.
Gina found her sister and mother sitting in the dim kitchen, three fans blowing on them from different angles. “Hey,” Theresa said, mostly into the small fan on the table. Strands of her black-and-blonde hair flew over her face. “What’re you doing up here?”
“Nothing.” Gina bent and kissed her mother on the head. Her mother had fat purple bags under her eyes, liver spots all over, and sagging folds of fat around her neck. Not like those mythical Japanese women who never got old. It was because of Theresa worrying her. Gina slipped a fat envelope under her mother’s arm. Half of last week’s tips, to supplement her dad’s postal service pension. Help support her sister. “How’s the job search going?”
Mom took a sip of her sweetened iced tea and rolled her eyes.
Theresa bristled and crossed her slightly chubby arms. She wore a purple hibiscus-print muumuu, cut low to show off her breasts, what Theresa considered to be her best feature. “I saw that. It’s going, you know.”
“Did you check the post office? Dad said he knows people.”
Theresa shrugged. “Childcare is tough.”
Gina didn’t say what they all knew, that Mom watched the kids most of the days anyway, even when Theresa was home just watching television. In the evenings, Theresa went over to Sandy’s Beach and watched the surfers riding the rough waves, and smoked pot with her friends. Her parents ought to kick Theresa out, but then those kids would be in trouble, probably eat M&Ms for dinner every night. Gina rested her hands on her mother’s shoulders. At seventy-five, Mom should be slowing down and relaxing on the porch.
“You’re a good girl,” Mom said, patting Gina’s hand. “A very good girl. You staying for dinner?”
“No. I’ve got the late shift at work.” Gina swallowed. “Where’s Dad?”
“In the back.”
Gina slid open the broken screen, holes big enough for flying roaches to get through, and went out into the yard. Dad sat cross-legged in the middle of the small lawn, clipping blades of grass with a tiny pair of scissors. The kids played in a wading pool nearby.
“Hey, Gina, how’s it?” He waved his big straw hat at her, his wizened eyes wrinkling into a smile. His face was deeply tanned. His great-grandparents came to Hawaii from Japan to work the sugar plantations. His grandfather owned a farm. Now her father owned this patch of lawn.
She sat beside him. “I think you missed a spot.” She pointed. Of course he hadn’t. This was Dad’s big hobby. Clipping grass, pulling weeds only he could see from his immaculate yard.
“Yeah.” He snipped. “Good eye.”
They sat silently like that, Gina half-watching the shrieking children, Dad clipping away. Over the stucco wall, sounds of gunfire echoed. Shotgun, Gina guessed.
“Flash flood warning tonight,” Dad offered.
“Doesn’t look like it.” She turned toward the ocean. Dim grey clouds gathered, distantly.
He shrugged, so often his answer.
After Brady, her parents used to sometimes ask who she was dating. “When it’s serious, I’ll tell you,” Gina always said. “I’m busy with my job, you know.” “It” had never been serious again. That’s just how things worked out.
Unlike the motives of so many men she’d dated since, Brady’s intentions had always been clear. Within two weeks of spending every day together, Brady had taken her to the Pali Lookout, where Hawaiian chiefs had thrown people to their deaths, now a spot packed with camera-toting busloads of tourists. Gina and Brady stood on the stone wall, overlooking the green valley below, the ocean, as always, just beyond. The wind blew colder here than any other place on the island, and Gina had no jacket. Brady wrapped his arms around her, his back to the wind, and Gina put her face in his chest. She breathed in his scent deeply: Ivory soap, musk, and even a whiff of herself.
“We’ll get married one day,” Brady said, rocking her. She felt the words reverberating into her cheekbones. “When my enlistment is up, I’m going back to the mainland and finishing my degree. You can come with me. Hairdressers can cut hair anywhere, right?”
“Okay,” Gina said. She had never felt more secure than she had that day, wrapped in his arms.
They decided he’d go out to the States, first, and send for her after he was settled. It was Gina who, lonely and restless, started picking fights long-distance. She’d met a bar owner through work, already successful and settled in Gina’s hometown. “I don’t know,” she kept telling Brady. How easy it was to dismiss him when he wasn’t right there, holding her. “Let’s wait until you’re done with school.”
“Don’t be afraid to leave the island,” Brady said. “We’ll visit your family.”
But she had been afraid. That was the truth. He had always seen through her, that Brady.
“I will never give up on you,” Brady told her. Gina hadn’t listened.
By the time she realized what a mistake she’d made, she had succeeded in pushing him away. Her calls went unanswered. Her letters, too.
He definitely didn’t want to be found—he wasn’t on the Internet. She had checked, multiple times. She figured he was married, had a job, a son and a daughter. What career had he ended up with? She imagined him a college professor in a tweed jacket with elbow patches, at some leafy liberal arts school, talking about Keats. She should have taken the chance and gone with him right away.
She imagined Brady was looking for her, his jealous wife finding out, banning him from Facebook. Maybe he still pined for Gina. Maybe his parents had kept her letters from him and lied to her. People did less crazy things.
Her mind would not entertain the most probable answer. He’d forgotten her. Moved on, Gina-free. Pure and simple.
She thought she’d moved on, too, until she saw Will. It was as if she’d time-traveled back twenty years. A kidney-punch to her psyche.
Could this man, Will, be Brady’s son? She realized he could be old enough. She shivered in the eighty-five degree heat of her parents’ backyard. “You need a sweater?” her father asked. “You got chicken skin.” He pointed to her goosebumped arms.
“I’m fine,” she said, standing up, shaking out her legs. “I’ve got to go. My shift is starting soon.”
The salon’s only color was black. Black everywhere, inside and out. Midnight matte floors that showed every scuff, black walls, glossy black sinks, black hairdryers hanging from the ceilings. Only the bank of windows pointed at the ocean provided any respite, so Gina kept her face toward the water instead of toward the mirror. She said it was so her clients could be surprised, but really, it was because she needed the light. She felt like the salon was swallowing her.
The clouds were puffier, more voluminous now in the approaching evening, all curves and dips, fat on top like giant squashed muffins. Only a few surfers were out, riding the waves of the upcoming storm system, against the dire predictions of the weatherman. There were always a few thrillseekers. Even during the tsunami warning last year, when everyone had been evacuated, one guy had still gone out, waiting for the ultimate big wave. “That lolo buggah,” Gina’s father had yelled at the TV. “They ought to shoot a spear at him.” You couldn’t stop people from themselves.
Near closing time, Gina’s feet ached in her tall platform shoes. As one last new client slid into the chair, she forced a smile and pulled discreetly down on her red bandage dress. Sure, she looked like she was going clubbing, but her salon had an image to maintain, and as the manager, she had to look a certain way. Everyone in here was younger than she, their bodies naturally thin, hair untouched by gray. She had to compete.
She applied a hot flat iron to the woman’s blondish-brown hair. Everybody coming in wanted the flat-iron or a Brazilian blow out, something that would last in the unrelenting humidity. This woman, Anna, was white, probably pretty just a few years ago. Now, her face was a permanent blotchy red, her forehead leathery, a deepening line between her brows from squinting. Gina felt sorry for her.
“So, ohmygod.” Anna’s voice reminded Gina of a baby chick’s, high and chirruping. “The west side is such a dump. I told my husband if we have to be here for three years, I’d die. Really.” The woman tittered, and Gina realized she had to be under thirty. “We’re in Waikiki now. Much better.”
Gina pulled down on the hank of hair, steam sizzling up. She shouldn’t be angry at the woman, but she couldn’t stand these foreigners coming in and complaining, complaining, complaining. This was Gina’s home, for God’s sake. Gina spun her around so Anna could see her hair in the mirror. It fell in perfectly smooth sheets around her face.
The woman broke into a grin, so spirited she looked pretty again. “Thank you.”
Gina put her hands on her shoulders and tried to smile. “You’re welcome.”
Jade, the hair salon receptionist, clicked toward her in spiky heels. Gina looked up. “Gina,” Jade said, her voice low, “somebody’s here for you.”
Gina glanced over to the reception area, beyond the curved desk. A man’s blond head. She put the flat-iron away and gestured for one of the junior stylists. “Mark, come finish her, please. Spray, part on the right.” Gina smiled again at the young woman, this time effortlessly. “You’re just about done. Good luck.”
“Thanks,” the girl called. Gina didn’t bother answering. She was walking toward Will, trying not to slip in her heels.
Will stood as she neared, wearing different clothes than he’d worn yesterday. He wore a light-colored denim jacket and carried a big military duffel bag. His face was drawn and he had dark circles under his eyes.
“Sorry to bother you,” he said, and he spread out his hands uselessly. He shook his head. Will looked so hopeless, not stoic. “I don’t know why I came. I’ll go.”
“No.” She grabbed his sleeve. He smelled of salt water, like he’d been out swimming. She stepped closer, unable to help herself, and he did not step away. “I was just about to leave.” She nodded at Jade, who responded with raised eyebrows.
They walked down Ala Moana. Rain had begun in earnest, and Gina worried that her makeup would sluice right off her face. They didn’t speak. She stole a glance at him. He looked straight ahead.
“We have to take the bus.” She said it like an apology.
He hesitated, then nodded.
She stepped off the high curb onto Robertson and her pump slipped. She caught his arm and he steadied her. His arm was strong. She thought again of Brady.
They walked up away from the water and waited for the bus, squeezed together under the stop, next to an ancient Chinese woman in a brown Mao suit clutching a bag of green onions, and a homeless man muttering to himself. Will stepped toward her. Protective.
“Where do you sleep?” Gina said.
His gaze left her, obscured again. He shrugged.
Maybe he would talk later.
They got on the bus and she paid both fares. He said nothing. He seemed resigned to whatever was going to happen, content to let her lead him around.
He sat across from her, his face impassive. She’d watched enough detective shows to wonder at his motives, to wonder if he was planning to rob her, kill her, rape her, or all of the above.
“I need to know,” she said. “Are you using?”
He squinted. “Using what?”
She pointed to her arms. “You know. Drugs.”
He looked at her face. “I found you because you’re the only person who’s spoken to me in three weeks.”
Do you have parents you want to call? she wanted to ask. But the words evaporated. She struggled with her key in the apartment’s main door; the rain had warped the wood. He turned it for her and followed her up the stairs.
The shouts of children echoed on the concrete stairwell, every innocent shriek amplified into a cry of terror. Gina always jumped, thinking one of them was in trouble, when in fact even when they were merely playing. She glanced at Will, but he was calm. Her next-door neighbor, Mrs. Lao, was cooking something with fish stock and greens and soy sauce, the same ingredients every day. The rice cooker pinged. This comforted Gina. If I need help, Mrs. Lao will hear me, she thought.
She opened the door to her apartment and the boy walked inside as if he had been here a thousand times, no invitation needed. He left his bag and his shoes by the front door, next to the four pairs of Gina’s shoes. She imagined, briefly, what her parents would say if they came over and saw his stuff. Would they see Brady in him? Her parents had loved Brady. Her mother had already made plans for visiting Gina when she moved away. “Big things will happen for that boy,” her mother had predicted.
Will sat on the futon and crossed his ankles. His feet were bare. “Would you like a drink?” Gina asked, remembering frozen mai tai mix still in her freezer from the last time her friends had come over.
She went to the kitchen and got him a glass. He drank it thirstily, and then asked for more.
“I thought I could use your phone,” he said at last.
She leaned against her counter, thrusting her hip toward him. “You could have done that at the salon.”
He nodded. “And your shower.”
Gina thought about her bathroom, the mildewed strip along the tub, and felt a tiny twinge of panic. She ought to bleach that. Silly. Will wouldn’t care. He’d been showering at the beach. She nodded back. “Sure.”
“The shelters are full.” He sniffled and she pushed a box of tissue toward him.
“Are you a student?”
He shook his head and took off his jacket. Underneath, he wore a white T-shirt, so thin she could see his skin through it, the small hairs on his chest and stomach.
They said nothing for a while. Gina counted to thirty, then sixty. Will watched her, alert as a cat. A thrill went through her. “Did you finish it?” she asked, thinking of his book.
He wrinkled his forehead, but knew what she meant. “Oh, that. I’ve read it a thousand times.”
“I have some other books you could have.” She pointed to the cheap shelves next to her TV, to the mass market paperbacks of bodice-rippers and thrillers. He glanced over them, disinterested, and a wave of shame hit her. She’d gotten rid of all the books Brady had bought her. “I got most of them at the library sale. A dime a book.” She crossed her arms. There was nothing wrong with her books.
“Maybe later,” he said. “I’m trying to travel light.” He stood and went to his bag, unzipping it and taking out his book. He handed it to her. “I’m done with this.”
“Thank you.” She tilted her head at him automatically, in the way her parents did. The late afternoon sun was coming in now, and his skin glowed copper, as if someone had painted him with a marker. She hoped the light flattered her as well. “I’ve read lots of other books. Not that one. I thought you might be a philosophy student or something. Lots of kids come out here to U of H. Then their parents, you know, something bad happens. The kids can’t get back.” She couldn’t stop talking.
He inhaled, thankfully ignoring most of her speech. “I came out here for a job. It didn’t work out.”
“Oh. So you got stuck out here on this rock in the middle of the Pacific.”
That meant he had no family here, nobody to turn to for help. She jumped up. “I’m so rude. I haven’t offered you any food. I’ll make some rice. A hamburger. How about an egg?” She dashed into the kitchen, open through the narrow hole between the counter and upper cupboards of an island, and washed her hands, spilling Palmolive all over the edge of the sink.
He watched her. He didn’t have to watch her. He could be watching television. “Do you always do this?”
She took a frozen hamburger patty out, heated up the fry pan. “No. Never. I’m a terrible cook.”
“That’s not what I meant.” She knew that. He bent to look at her through the pass-through. “Help people like me.”
“No.” She cracked an egg. “I’m the one who ignores them.” She always suspected they’d use the money for alcohol. “Maybe it’s my turn to help.”
“Why me?” At last, some emotion blossomed on his face. Simple curiosity, perhaps, but it was something new, and Gina grasped at it.
Her cheeks filled with blood again. She was acting like she was on a date, and she had to remind herself that he wasn’t Brady. He could be good. She didn’t know. It felt wrong to ask his age, somehow. No, she would offer him help only, which was all he wanted.
Will was looking at her. Waiting—for what? For her to come over to the couch and kiss him? She didn’t want to make him feel obligated, like he was some kind of gigolo and she a desperate cougar. She wiped her palms on her dress and turned toward the small fridge and pulled out a bottle of wine. “Here. Let’s have this.”
He picked up the corkscrew sitting on the dining table without being asked. She watched the muscles of his back tremble through his T-shirt as he pulled the cork out.
In the morning she opened her living room door, half expecting to see the cheap TV gone and the drawers all rifled through. But everything was as she’d left it. The breeze lifted the gauzy curtains to the ceiling, blowing over the sleeping man on the couch, covered by the crazy afghan Gina’s grandmother had knitted, in shades of pea green, orange, and gold.
Brady had always woken up as soon as the sun touched his skin. He used to make her breakfast whenever they were together, put the coffee and the water in the pot for her even if he had to go in to work early. He was, she realized, the only man who had cared for her like that.
Will sat up suddenly, as if he’d been frightened. Gina gasped, and hit her back against the doorjamb.
“Hey.” He looked around. “I didn’t know where I was.” He was shirtless, his skin tan, a light dusting of blondish hair over his pecs.
“Did you sleep well?” She pulled her robe tighter.
He shook his head. “I guess I’m used to the open air now.”
“I could turn the fan toward you,” she said.
He shrugged. “I haven’t slept well since I was about twelve years old. No worries.”
She remembered, then. He had wanted to use her phone and she’d taken it into the bedroom with her. She jumped it to retrieve it, running back out with it cupped in the palm of her hands. “Here. Are you going to call your parents?”
“Not today.” He took the phone from her. It looked like a toy in his large hands. He put it on the coffee table. He stood up, went to the window, peered into the sky. His back was muscled. All he wore was a pair of black-and-red polka dotted boxers.
Gina could not take her eyes off him. “What should we do today? Do you want to leave, or I could try to find some services for you …” she trailed off. What did he want? To fly back home, to get a job here?
“It’s cleared up outside.” He turned back to her, his smile broad. “Want to go to the beach?”
“Sure.” She smiled back at him.
They took the Beach Bus up to Sandy’s, sitting amid tourists and teenaged kids clutching boogie boards. The bus smelled of body odor, zinc oxide, and too much cologne. The others shouted conversation above the bus motor, but Gina and Will sat quietly, their arms touching. Occasionally, as the bus turned, she was thrown into Will, but never he into her.
As they came around the bend between two cliffs, past Koko Head, the whitewater came into view, churning impressively below them. The ocean spread out to infinity, the sun brilliant. A collective gasp arose from everyone on the bus, including Will. He turned to her. “Do you ever get used to living here?”
She nodded. To her, the view was no more remarkable than walking into a grocery store.
The bus stopped at Sandy’s. They disembarked and walked across the parking lot. Already the sun made the sand hot, as they picked their way toward the water. Gina used to watch Brady bodysurf here. She’d sit on the beach, trying not to inhale the fumes from the landfill behind. He’d wear bright orange trunks, the spot of color the only way she could pick him out of the line of surfers. The water was too rough for her, though she’d grown up on the island—Gina knew plenty of locals who couldn’t swim—but that didn’t stop tourists from trying to wade in with their pink inner tubes, practically begging to be dashed open against the sharp lava rocks.
As they were today. “Go back to Waikiki!” a lifeguard shouted at a couple bearing hotel towels and a little girl in a pink striped bikini. “You wanna die?”
Gina put their things down on the beach, her large beach tote containing a change of clothes, his book, two bath towels—she never went swimming—and a tube of sunblock. She sat. Will put his hands on his hips, surveying the water. He wore yellow trunks. Nobody came to Hawaii without a bathing suit, even if they lack in every other worldly good. “I’m going in.”
Gina peered at the waves. At least five feet today. The force of them was what got you. No gentle breakers here. This beach was the roughest around, except for North Shore during the winter. “Are you sure?”
He held out his hand to her. “Come in with me.”
His fingers wrapped around her palm, warm and strong. Gina let him pull her up. She was going to tell him she couldn’t swim, but something about the way he was looking at her, his head to the side, waiting, took her words. She nodded.
Will never let go of her hand. The water, though seventy-eight degrees, felt like ice on Gina’s legs. Bits of tiny shells hit her shins. She yelped.
“Wait for the wave to almost break,” he said. “Dive below the crest. Then we’ll swim beyond, to where it’s calm.”
She swallowed her anxiety. “You go first.”
She watched as he dove into a wave, disappearing in its roll. That was something Gina could never do. He stood up and waved to her, then watched for the next wave. As it was about to break, he began swimming, catching it.
She stumbled in the water as it rushed around her ankles, knocking her off balance. The current was so strong, even where it was shallow. In or out, she said to herself. Her feet made holes in the sand.
Then Will was beside her. “Come on. I’ll stay next to you.” He took her hand again.
The roar deafened her. Gina sloshed backwards. “I can’t.”
He ignored her. “It’s coming. If you don’t dive, it’ll hit you bad.” A dark monstrous swell hurtled toward them. It was as tall as she. He wouldn’t let go of her hand. “One, two, three. Dive!”
And then she found herself holding her breath and diving, her hands forward but not together.
He lost his grip on her. She tried to go deep, below, but she hadn’t dived deep enough and she was rolling, tumbling around, her face scraping on the bottom, the billions of tiny broken shells making up the sand here. Churning white bubbles everywhere. She couldn’t tell where the sky was. Her lungs hurt. Panicked, she flailed around, but that only made her turn more. Dimly, to her right, she saw sunlight, and suddenly she was free and rising to the surface, spitting, gasping for air.
Will surfaced a few feet away and grabbed her waist. Now they were beyond the waves, bobbing on the open ocean. Toward land, the waves continued to break. She tried to touch the floor with her foot and couldn’t find it. Gina treaded water awkwardly, moving her legs and arms in circles.
He shook his head. “You really can’t do this, can you?” That strange vacancy had vanished and he was all warmth now. He held up a hank of her hair. “You’re covered in shells.”
She put her hand up and felt the grit, her hair swirled into dreadlocks. “Oh no.”
“You want to go in?” He was close to her now, pressed against her.
She put her arms around his neck. “Let’s stay out here for a little while longer.”
He rested his forehead against hers briefly and she lifted her face to his. But then he was turning, taking her by the hand. “Come on. I see a chance.”
He helped her come in—she flailing in the waves, he as graceful as a dolphin—then she lay on the beach towel among the other tourists. A couple stretched out on a double-wide towel next to them, kissing. Gina watched their newly minted gold bands gleaming in the sun. Of course. Who else makes out like that?
“I’m going back for a while,” he said.
She wished he would stay, sit by her, kiss her. “All right.” She looked down at the sand, feeling the mooniness on her face, not wanting to scare him off.
Gina watched him enter the waves, no longer worried like she had been when Brady had done it. Maybe she could be a good swimmer after all. Even take surfing lessons. Gina relaxed on her small towel, using the other one to cover her face from the sun. She fell asleep.
When she awoke, the sun was directly above her. At least an hour had passed. She looked around, but didn’t see Will anywhere in the waves.
She got up and walked up and down the waterline, searching for yellow. Nothing. She went back to the towel. The newlyweds were still there, a tangle of arms and legs. “Have you seen the guy in yellow trunks come by?” Gina asked.
The woman rolled away, her new husband’s hand still holding the small of her back. “He got something out of the bag, then went up there.” She pointed up to the bus stop.
Gina sank into the sand. She looked in her tote. Her wallet was still in place, her two twenties gone. Her phone sat in its side pocket. Pain seared her chest, sharp as those lava rocks out there.
Perhaps the woman was mistaken and he’d only gone up to the bathroom, or to use one of the ancient payphones. She gathered her belongings and trudged back up. No, he was gone.
Where did he go? Back to her house? To the beach? To get food? Had called his parents at last? Her stomach hurt and she pressed it with the palm of her hand. She pulled the towel around her shoulders, wiping off the scratchy sand and salt water dried on her back.
Gina walked across the slanting asphalt parking lot to where the bus waited to take her home. There was no use staying here. She wedged herself between a tanned girl in a bikini and an obese perspiring white man in a T-shirt. Next to the man sat his wife and little boy. She wiped a stray tear off her face. Stupid of her to cry. She was just lucky he hadn’t stolen more.
“There it goes,” the man next to her said excitedly. “Wave bye-bye to the water.”
“Bye-bye,” said the boy, pumping his hand up and down. “Bye!”
Her shoulder clung sweatily to the man next to her and she moved away, sticking to the vinyl seat. Gina turned to face the disappearing water, scanning one last time for a glimpse of yellow, or even orange. It was too far to see the colors on swimmers, and anyway, Will wasn’t there. Neither was Brady.
She caught sight of her reflection in the window, next to the sallow tourists. Her hair blew about her face. She lifted her chin. She looked very young, like a girl. She sniffled. She was young, she thought. She pictured her mother and Theresa. She was not the same. She had more than thirty years before she was her mother’s age—that was practically a lifetime.
Gina opened the beach tote again, digging around. Her fingers closed around Will’s paperback. She took it out and flipped it open, looking for a message, an inscription, notes. Anything. Nobody had written on the pages, or even dog-eared them. She exhaled in a long whoosh.
She closed the book and held it on her lap, then turned her head away from the water, toward home.
About the Author
MARGARET DILLOWAY is the author of The Care And Handling Of Roses With Thorns, chosen as the 2013 American Library Association’s Literary Tastes selection for Best Women’s Fiction, and How To Be An American Housewife, a finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Award. Margaret lives in San Diego with her husband and three children, where she’s recently completed her third novel, Sisters of Heart and Snow. Preorder at margaretdilloway.com