I’ve combed through my hair at least 10 times. That’s about eight more times than I needed to.
I brushed my teeth, put on a bit of make-up and put my dirty clothes back on. In the rush to not have to see Gary, I ran into the bathroom without any clean clothes. I think I’ve stalled in here as long as I can and I’m sure my breakfast isn’t warm anymore.
For his part, Gary hasn’t bothered me. He hasn’t knocked on the door and said my food is getting cold. Or that I’ve used all of the water on the island in my long shower.
I take a deep breath, clothes my eyes, and decide it’s time to face him.
I open the door and step into the kitchenette where my Loco Moco is sitting on a plate.
“Hey, little girl,” Gary says from the nearby couch. “I thought you fell in.”
He chuckles to himself and I’m able to muster a small laugh.
“I forgot to grab clothes when I went in,” I say as I move towards my suitcase on the living room floor, without looking him directly in the face.
“I need to change,” I say.
“Your food is probably freezing,” he says.
I look at him out of the corner of my eye and see he’s engrossed in something on his phone.
“I’ll use the microwave then,” I say as I dig through my suitcase.
It seems like everything in my suitcase is dirty or has been worn before. I’m on my last day and really need to do laundry, but that’s not going to happen. I’ve got way more important things to do today.
I find a pair of black shorts buried in the bottom that haven’t been worn yet, and an oversized vintage t-shirt with a surfer on it that I brought as a swimsuit cover up. This will work for today.
I stand up and head back to the bathroom, but Gary doesn’t seem to notice. I feel relieved that he’s preoccupied. I don’t want him to pay too close attention to me. I’m worried he’ll see my conflicting feelings for him that are right beneath the surface.
I close the bathroom door and quickly change my clothes. I feel so much better now that I’ve showered and put on clean stuff. Like a new woman.
I look in the mirror and brush through my long hair one last time. For the first time in many years, I’m considering cutting it. The tips of it brush my waist and it feels like it’s been that length since I was a kid. I could probably cut a foot off and not even notice. Maybe I will.
I open the bathroom door and go straight for the plate of food. Maybe if I keep myself looking busy, Gary won’t talk to me. I put the plate in the microwave and set the timer for one minute.
I look over at Gary who’s still deep in his phone. I see my phone sitting on the end table near the couch. The screen lights up with a notification prompting me to walk over and pick it up. Gary doesn’t pay attention to my movement and I wander back to the microwave staring at the screen of my phone.
I see notifications for a missed Face Time call from Johanna and a Snap notification from Kala. I haven’t talked to or messaged with Johanna in days. I feel totally disconnected from her, which is a strange feeling. Normally we talk almost every day. I feel bad and wonder if she’s mad at me or upset.
“Are we going to talk?” Gary says, interrupting my thoughts.
I look up to see him staring at me, his phone now face down on the couch next to him.
“Sure,” I reply without thinking.
I have no idea what to say, but I did agree we would talk. I really just want to eat my breakfast and get out of here. But that’s not going to help clear the air with Gary. And we have to get to a somewhat normal place, even though I’ll never be able to erase the image from my memory of him and the young woman in our motel room.
“I know you want me to apologize to Kala, do you think I should call him?” Gary asks.
Then the microwave beeps.
“Uh, yeah, that would probably work,” I say as I distract myself with pulling the plate out of the microwave.
“Or do you think I should do it in person?” He asks.
I’m only half paying attention to him and am not in a mental space to process his question the way I normally would. Even so, I’m with it enough to realize him talking to Kala in person doesn’t feel like the best option. It scares me for some reason.
“I think the phone is better,” I say as I search through a drawer for a fork.
I find the fork, set it on the plate and grab a water bottle from the counter.
“I’m gonna sit on the lanai,” I say without looking at him.
“You mind if I join you?” He asks.
It’s a simple question but it overwhelms me with sadness. At that moment I’m able to contrast where we were a month ago, and where we are today in our relationship. We went from laughing and joking to a place where Gary has to ask if he can sit with me while I shovel food in my mouth? It makes we want to cry.
“Of course,” I say, a bit exasperated. “You don’t have to ask that, Gary.”
“OK,” he says sheepishly. “I don’t want to piss you off.”
I stop before I step out of the sliding glass door and look at him. He looks solemn. I’ve never liked it when he’s sad or out of sorts.
“Gary, I’m not pissed anymore,” I say, even though that’s not completely true. “Can we just act normal?”
Gary stands up to follow me and he seems like a giant. He’s a tall man (around 6’2”) and I’m pretty short (just under 5’3”), so he’s towered over me my entire life. I always saw it as comforting in a protective way. Like he was this huge mountain that could block anything bad from getting to me.
But now his height and overall hugeness feel intimidating. Seeing him with those tentacles coming out him transformed his size into something almost threatening.
I stop and freeze halfway through the slider. Did I just call them tentacles? I did. I just called those things I saw coming out Gary “tentacles” in my mind. Just like what I call what comes out of Kala and I. What the hell?
“Josie,” Gary says from right behind me. “You gonna go through?”
Tentacles, I think. Like me and Kala? Gary has tentacles, too.
“Beep, beep, Josie,” he says in my ear with a laugh.
I jump involuntarily and almost drop my plate of rice, eggs, gravy and hamburger.
“Oh, sorry,” he says from behind me. “Are you OK?”
“Uh,” I say as force my body to move towards the small table and chairs on the lanai.
“I thought I saw a bug,” I say as I set the food down.
“A bug?” Gary asks with a laugh. “Wow, Josie, you’re still scared of bugs? Reminds me of when you were little and would freak out if you saw an ant.”
I don’t know how to respond to Gary right now. My mind is reeling with the realization that Gary and I both have tentacles. I think of the basic facts I know. I have six tentacles. Kala has six tentacles. Gary has twelve. I’ve never connected to anyone but Kala with mine. Gary looked like he was connected to someone who didn’t even have tentacles.
“Another beautiful day in paradise,” Gary says as he sits down with a thud on the small patio chair.
The plastic legs of the chair slightly bow with his weight and I recognize how fragile the patio furniture actually is under his heaviness.
I don’t know what to say so I quickly stick a fork-full of hamburger and gravy in my mouth.
“How’s the Loco Moco?” He asks, motioning to my plate of food.
I give him a thumbs up and try to force a smile as I chew through the too big bite I put in my mouth.
“It’s cool that you’re trying so much Hawaiian food,” he says with a smile. “We’re going to have to search for some restaurants with Hawaiian food when we get back home. I’m going to miss all of it once we’re gone.”
The thought of leaving Hawaii alone with Gary makes my stomach feel sour. Suddenly the gravy in my mouth feels congealed, the hamburger overcooked. I swallow hard and take a huge drink of water to wash the remnants of the bite down my throat.
Gary thankfully looks away from me to the mountain in the distance and is silent for a few minutes. I try a few more bites of food but it’s somehow been ruined. I barely get through half of it and then push my plate away and sit back in my chair.
“Done already?” He asks.
“Yeah,” I say. “I guess I wasn’t as hungry as I thought.”
“Well save it, I’ll eat it later,” he says.
“OK,” I say with a nod.
“So,” he says. “I’ll give Kala a call and apologize?”
“Yeah,” I say. “I think that would be a good idea. What about Uncle Paolo? Don’t you think you should apologize to him, too?”
A shadow of darkness crosses Gary’s eyes.
“I don’t think so,” Gary says.
“Why not?” I ask.
“He’s a pushy old bastard, that’s why,” Gary says with disgust.
“Gary,” I say, surprised. “He’s our uncle. He’s some of the only family we have left.”
“Yeah?” Gary asks. “Well I’m starting to understand more and more why my mom and dad left.”
I’m confused and don’t understand his anger at Paolo. I mean, he was pushy, but at the same time he seemed to genuinely care about us.
“But, I thought we came here to connect with our family?” I ask.
“We came to see my mom’s side of the family,” Gary says, looking in the distance again. “I had no intention of seeing dad’s side. They disowned him, remember?”
“Well, yeah,” I say.
That is true, but I guess I thought we were going to try to move past that.
“Don’t you wonder why your grandpa and Tutu would’ve left here and never talked to his family again?” Gary asks.
I think for a moment.
“Honestly, I haven’t gotten the chance to process much of the situation,” I say. “I just found out about most of this in the last week, remember? I have no idea how I feel about any of it.”
“Good point,” Gary says. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. My dad didn’t get along wit his family and they didn’t support him. I don’t think he would want you and me trying to rekindle the relationship with any of them.”
I’m surprised at Gary’s bitterness. It’s not like him and it doesn’t match up with the family-first philosophy I’ve been exposed to since we’ve been on Kauai. That philosophy has started to weave itself into who I am. Why hasn’t it with Gary?
“So, you don’t want to see Paolo again before we go?” I ask.
“No way,” he says. “Do you?”
I guess it doesn’t matter if I do or don’t. It would be awkward for sure after Gary’s blow-up. And all I’m really thinking about now is spending as much time with Kala as I can before we go.
“I don’t know,” I say shrugging my shoulders. “I wouldn’t be against it, but if you don’t want to, that’s fine.”
“He pushed me too far, Josie,” Gary says. “I was mostly pissed at him last night, not at you or Kala.”
“Well, why did you get mad at us, then?” I ask, exasperated.
“I don’t know,” he says. “It felt easier than yelling at an old man. I mean, I was upset, when Paolo said you and Kala did some ancient ritual together. Are we going to talk about that? What does that even mean?”
Terror flashes across my brain. I see Gary “connected” to the young woman on the bed. Is that why he was so upset when he heard Kala and I practiced the ancient ritual that Paolo described? Because he thought Kala did to me what Gary himself does to others?
“It’s private, Gary,” I say, looking away from him to my cold plate of food.
“Listen, I’m not talking about sex,” Gary says.
Oh no, he’s going there? I can’t do this.
“I’m definitely not talking about that,” I say.
“I know,” he says. “I’m not asking you to. But Paolo said you and Kala performed some ritual that took physical and spiritual connection. What did he mean?”
I don’t want to talk about this. Do I have to talk about this?
“Gary, it’s really hard to explain,” I say.
“Well try,” he says.
I take a deep breath and look him in the face. His hair is pulled back in a man bun per usual, and he’s got several days of stubble on his tan face. His green eyes are boring through me. I notice the beginnings of crow’s feet at the corner’s of his eyes. And then I see him for who he really is: my father/uncle who’s concerned for me and wants to protect me. I don’t see someone evil or monstrous. I see the man who’s raised me for so many years. Comforted me. Dried my tears. Helped me to be who I am today. He’s just scared for me. And regardless of what I saw this morning, that can’t be erased. I love him and I think I still trust him.
“OK, Gary,” I say. “It’s hard to explain because it feels like an involuntary thing. Like something I’m not able to control. I don’t think Kala can control it either.”
He nods his head.
“Go on,” he says.
“When I first met Kala, I felt this rumbling in my stomach I’ve never felt before,” I say, thinking back to that day in the little shop in China Young Village.
“Every time I’ve been around him since, it’s grown stronger and stronger. Then after I sang at Da Nui and he protected me from that floating man, it just happened outside on the street. Something connected us. It reached out from here,” I say, pointing to my stomach.
“It reached out from both of us and met, and when we connected, I finally felt relief from the rumbling,” I said. “Then we did it purposely at his house. Kala knows what it is. He calls it ‘pili’ but he doesn’t know everything about it. He said his parents prepared him for it.”
I look back to Gary expecting to see horror or confusion, but instead see a knowing look. He nods to me as if he understands what I’m saying.
“It’s not about sex, Gary,” I say. “We heal each other or something, I’m not sure.”
“How many times have you done this?” He asks.
“I don’t know,” I say. “A lot I guess. It’s happening more frequently when we’re around each other. It just happens, but then we started practicing it.”
“Practicing?” He asks. “What does that mean?”
“We’ve been trying to see how far apart we can be physically while still connected,” I say. “We can be pretty far apart and maintain the connection. It’s hard though because it hurts sometimes when we disconnect, especially at a distance.”
“I don’t understand, why are you trying that?” Gary asks.
“Because I think if we are connected, none of the floaters can get to me,” I say. “It almost creates a boundary between us where nothing can get in.”
“Oh,” Gary says.
I measure his response and he seems confused. But there’s something else there that I can’t understand.
“Does any of this sound familiar to you?” I ask. “Like something you’ve felt or you’ve heard of before?”
“No,” he says quickly, shaking his head. “I don’t know anything about it.”
I’m surprised and disappointed. I opened up to him and now he’s lying to me. He obviously knows something about the tentacles and connecting; I saw him doing it this morning. Although I realize it might not be exactly what Kala and I do.
“Oh really?” I ask. “So my grandpa and Tutu didn’t do this? They never talked about it?”
“No,” he says. “I don’t know how my dad cleared spirits but he never talked about ‘pili’ or connecting in that way.”
“Hmmmpphh,” I say.
I’m frustrated. Why can’t I just get some answers to the questions I have about all of this weird stuff with my family? It’s like every question leads to another question. And it’s not helping that Gary isn’t being completely honest with me. What’s it going to take to get him to tell me the truth?
“You should be careful, Josie,” he says, interrupting my thoughts.
“What?” I ask.
“You need to be careful with what you’re doing with Kala,” he says. “You could get hurt.”
“What do you mean?” I ask. “Kala wouldn’t hurt me.”
“I don’t mean Kala,” he says. “I mean you’re playing with something with this ‘pili’ that you don’t know anything about and don’t understand. It could be dangerous.”
“I don’t think so, Gary,” I say. “I think it’s the opposite. I think it could keep me safe from the spirits that want to get to me.”
“Josie, don’t you think there’s another way to keep you safe?” He asks with a shrewd look on his face.
“No,” I say. “How?”
“It’s only happened when you sing, right?” He asks. “So just don’t sing, and you’ll be safe.”
“Just don’t sing?” I ask. “Are you serious? You’re the one who told me Lono gave me the gift of singing! You’re the one who told me to do it!”
“Shhhhh, Josie,” he says. “Don’t start getting angry and don’t yell. The neighbors might come out.”
I pause for a moment and take some deep breaths. I am angry. How could Gary suggest I not sing now?
“Gary, I’m singing tonight at Da Nui,” I say. “Someone in the music industry saw me sing the other night and wants to see me sing again. I’m doing it Gary. I think it’s my mo’olelo. I’m practicing today with the band and we’re performing tonight.”
“Your mo’olelo?” He says with a chuckle. “You believe in that?”
“What?” I ask, shocked. “Are you serious, Gary? You don’t? You’re the one who brought me here! You’re the one who led me down this path. Why are you saying this?”
“I just think you’re taking it too far,” he says matter-of-factly. “We’re going back home tomorrow and everything will go back to normal. You’ll go back to the coffee shop and I’ll go back to work and my clients.”
I can’t believe how wrong he is. Nothing will ever be normal again. And yes I will go back to the coffee shop, but my life has changed forever. Why can’t he see that?
“Gary, I can’t do this,” I say, putting up my palms flat towards him. “I’m singing tonight, Kala will protect me, and I’ll figure the rest out when we get back home. If you decide you’ve got anything you want to tell me or admit to me, just let me know. But for now, I’m done.”
I stand up and push my chair behind me.
“Hey,” he says. “What are you talking about? Admit what?”
“Oh nothing, Gary,” I say as I push the chair into the small table. “Nothing at all, Gary. Everything’s totally ‘normal’ in our lives. My grandparents didn’t have strange ancient powers. I don’t have them and you don’t either. We’re just regular people. See you later.”
I walk into the motel, grab my phone and little backpack, and walk out the front door of our room for the first time. Gary stays behind on the lanai and doesn’t follow me.