There’s a soft, light blue haze in the sky right above where fluffy white clouds meet the dark blue ocean. I can see the sun is about to pop over those clouds, but for now the only evidence it’s coming is a few uneven yellow lines that float above the clouds, reaching for the top of the sky.
Kala and I are side-by-side, holding hands on the sand, covered in a blanket. The blanket was his idea and I’m really glad he grabbed it off of his couch before we left his house. We were able to sneak out without anyone waking up, thankfully. I just can’t see his family right now.
As if reading my mind, he asks, “Hey, why don’t you want to see my family? Don’t you like them?”
I look away from the verging sunset to him, and he looks so vulnerable, with a sadness in his eyes.
“Oh, no, it’s not that at all,” I tell him, reassuringly. “Your family is cool. They’ve been so good to me. I like them a lot.”
I pause for a few seconds.
“I’m actually worried they think I’m weird,” I admit.
“What?” He asks, surprised. “Why would you think that?”
Do I really want to get into this? How I freaked out in front of his mom and sister at the beach the other day? I consider it. I’m going to have to get into it. I can’t bear for him to think I don’t like his family. And I can’t stand to see that pain in his face.
“Did they tell you about the other day when I ran into them on the beach?” I ask.
“Yeah, of course,” he says.
“Well, did they tell you I was acting, uh, strange?” I ask reluctantly.
“No,” he says, shaking his head. “Wait, are you talking about seeing Pele on the beach?”
“Who?” I ask.
He caught me off guard. Of course I’ve heard of the goddess, Pele. She’s probably the most well-known Hawaiian goddess. Is that who he’s talking about?
“You know the goddess, Pele, right?” He asks.
“Yeah, but I didn’t see her on the beach,” I say, shaking my head. “How could that have happened?”
“That’s what mom and Makaila said,” he says with a shrug. “That you saw Pele and got upset. It happens all of the time, Josie. It’s not a big deal.”
They think I saw Pele? What is going on?
“Why do they think I saw Pele?” I ask. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s part of Hawaiian folklore,” he says. “You know Pele is the goddess of fire, right? Anyway, people see her on the islands. A lot of people say they see a beautiful woman in white, with long, dark hair. Some people see her in photos after they’ve taken them. Some see her in the lava of active volcanoes, or as a hitchhiker. But most people see her walking on the beaches. Mom and Makaila said you did.”
I sit in silence. I don’t know what to say. Is that who I saw the first time I surfed with Kala, too? I thought that was my mom as well. I saw a pretty lady with long dark hair on the beach. And then she disappeared, just like the other day when I was surfing alone and she disappeared.
“Well, if that’s Pele, I’ve seen her twice,” I say.
I’m not sure I believe him. I look away from his face to see the orange sun break over the clouds.
“On the same beach, in pretty much the same spot,” I say.
“Twice?” He asks.
“Yeah, I guess I saw her the first time we surfed,” I say, as I watch the fire of the sun grow higher on the horizon.
“You have to take gin to her, to that spot on the beach where you saw her,” he says.
“Gin?” I ask. “Why gin?”
“I don’t know why gin, but you need to put it on the beach as an offering to her,” he says. “Pele can bring destruction with fire, but also rebirth after the fire. It’s our tradition to offer gin to appease her.”
“Oh,” I say. “That’s cool.”
I’m starting to get used to Hawaiian folklore. I’m not sure I believe I saw Pele, but is that stranger than thinking I saw my mom? Why didn’t I learn about Hawaiian gods in school like I did the Greek and Roman gods? The Hawaiians seem to have just as many gods with equally great stories.
“Will you help me do it?” I ask.
“Of course I will,” he say, leaning in and kissing me on the cheek. “We can do it in a couple of hours once the shops open.”
“So your mom and sister don’t think I’m a weirdo?” I ask sheepishly.
“No way, Josie,” He says. “I told you, they know you saw Pele. It happens all of the time.”
I sigh out and tilt my head back.
“I’m so relieved,” I say. “I hated thinking that they didn’t like me, or thought I was strange. I want your family to like me.”
“Josie, my family already likes you a lot,” he says. “You don’t need to worry about that.”
I lean into his shoulder and look back at the sun, now high in the sky. Streaks of orange and yellow shoot across the horizon in all directions.
“Errr-a-errr-a-errrrrrrrrrrr!” A rooster screams from behind us, and I jump from my seat on the sand.
Kala rolls on the sand laughing.
I turn around and see the rooster walking on the sand towards us as he screeches his greeting again. Two others follow him.
“That bird scared the shit out of me,” I say, holding my hand to my chest. “What’s with all the roosters around here?”
“I don’t know,” Kala says through laughter. “I don’t even notice them. You should’ve seen the look on your face!”
“There’s no story of a god or goddess to explain all the roosters?” I ask jokingly, as I get my composure back.
Kala moves quickly, grabs me by the arm, and pulls me down on the sand with him.
“Oh, you think you’re funny,” he says laughing, as he pins my arms down and sits on my legs.
I laugh with him and playfully struggle, but I have no desire to get out from under him. I’m perfectly content right here in the sand with the sunrise overhead.
Kala stops pinning my arms but remains sitting on my legs. He throws his head back, closes his eyes, and our tentacles connect with a snapping sound. It’s a solid wack to my stomach and I breathe out hard. I almost forgot this is what we came here for.
I close my eyes and lay there as I picture each of our six tentacles connected in the air between us. They float and bob on the wind carried in from the ocean. I feel Kala move off my legs onto the sand next to me, but I keep my eyes closed. I see the tentacles rocking in the air as he slowly moves away from me.
I sit up, and then stand, all with my eyes closed. I can tell we are still connected, but sense that he’s moving further away from me. I gingerly start to walk backwards, one step at a time. I see both of our tentacles outstretched between us, meeting in the middle of that distance, instead of locking against either of our bodies.
Although I logically know I’m walking backwards, it feels more like floating backwards. I think it’s partly because my eyes are closed, but it’s also because our tentacles are connected. I feel a force field around us grow larger as we move farther apart. I keep walking without a thought. I don’t think about stopping or what our original plan was that we discussed on our short walk to the beach.
“Josie,” Kala says.
But it’s muffled and far away.
“Listen to me,” he says, and I strain to hear him over the lapping ocean. “Gently open your eyes but keep concentrating. Don’t stop seeing the ‘awe’awe between us.”
I’ve never heard the word ‘awe’awe before, but I somehow know he’s referring to what I’ve been calling tentacles in my mind.
I slowly squint my eyes open and see the burning orange of the sun. I open them wider and don’t see Kala. I focus and look in the distance and see his figure. He’s got to be at least 300 feet away from me! And we are still connected.
“Kala!” I yell. “It’s working!”
“I know!” He hells back. “Look at the chickens! They won’t come between us!”
I look over at the roosters that were closing in on us earlier and see that he’s right. They’ve stopped pecking around, and cawing. In fact, they aren’t moving at all. They’re frozen in the spot I last saw them in before Kala pinned me down.
“Kala!” I yell. “Can we stop now?”
“Yeah!” He yells back. “But I think it might hurt!”
“Maybe we,” I start to say, but dizziness and pain in my stomach overtakes me.
I bend over, grabbing at my stomach.
“Kala!” I yell through clinched teeth. “Kala!”
“Josie,” I hear him say softly in my ear.
I open my eyes but he’s nowhere near me; he’s still at the other end of the beach.
“See the ‘awe’awe between us,” he says, somehow in my ear, even though I could barely hear him yelling a few second earlier.
“Do you see them?” He asks.
“Yes,” I breathe out in between painful jabs to my stomach.
“Now see them slowly disconnect and retreat back into our bodies.
“Kala, no, it hurts,” I say through clenched teeth.
“Josie,” he says again softly.
His voice is comforting. I can’t help but listen. It’s like heavy cream poured into a hot coffee. It spills over me and washes through me.
“The pain will stop if you calm down,” he says. “See the ‘awe’awe disconnect and then pull yours back to your body. See it in your mind.”
“I’m trying,” I say, breathing out hard.
I close my eyes tight and try to recall the vision I had a minute ago of the tentacles outstretched between us, bobbing and swaying in the ocean wind. I find it’s easier than I thought it would be. As I visualize Kala and I connected on the beach, the pain starts to fade away.
“That’s it, Josie,” he says. “Now at the same time, see the ‘awe’awe disconnect. Are you ready?”
“Yes,” I whisper.
“One, two, three, disconnect,” he says softly.
I see our outstretched tentacles let go of each other and hang in the air.
“Now pull them back,” he whispers.
I concentrate on pulling them back to my body but it’s an unfamiliar sensation. What appendage can you pull back and forth out of your body? I can’t think of anything to compare this to. I think about pushing my arm out into the air away from my body and then pulling it back to my side. Then, I see my hands grabbing the tentacles and pulling them back towards me like a long rope. As I pull the rope-like tentacles, they disappear into my body. I slowly pull and pull until they disappear completely.
I squint my eyes open and the bright sun blows out my vision for a moment. All I can see is bright white and yellow. I open my eyes completely and see Kala running towards me. I don’t feel any pain, and he must not either because he has a huge smile on his face.
“We did it!” He yells from far away.
No more whispering in my ear.
“You could hear me?” He asks, as he finally meets me on the sand, a bit breathless.
I look over at the formerly motionless roosters and see they’ve gone back to pecking around.
“Errrr-a-errrrrrrrrrrr,” a rooster caws into the air.
“Yeah, I heard you,” I say. “How did you do that? You were so far away.”
“I don’t know,” he says with a laugh.
I can tell he’s excited, so much that it’s bubbling over.
“Did you see the chickens?” He asks. “They didn’t even move.”
“I did,” I say, pointing towards them. “Look at them now, they’re back to normal.”
As excited as Kala seems, I feel just as confused. Was he communicating with me telekinetically? Without speaking?
“Kala, I don’t get it,” I say, shaking my head. “What are we doing? How is this possible?”
“Which part?” He asks, with another laugh.
“I’m serious,” I say. “This is starting to freak me out.”
“You mean, us?” He asks.
I see hurt in his eyes, and I feel pain in my chest because of it.
“No,” I insist, as I put my hands on his shoulders. “Us is awesome. Us is the best thing that’s ever happened in my life. It’s just the pili and the ‘awe’awe, and you talking in my head. What is this? How is all of this happening?”
“I don’t know,” he says sincerely. “I told you my parents prepared me for this my whole life. Not all of this, but enough of it that I’m not questioning it, I guess.”
“Yeah, that makes sense,” I say, thinking about how robbed I was of not growing up knowing my Hawaiian roots.
“I’m starting to get mad at Gary, at my mom, at all of them,” I say with some spite that’s not like me.
I feel a darkness creeping into the back of my mind. It’s a seed of anger that I would direct at my whole family if they were still here. Unfortunately, the only one left to direct that anger at is Gary.
“Why didn’t they tell me all of this like your parents did?” I ask. “Why didn’t they keep me here on Kauai?” I ask again to no one in particular. “We could’ve grown up together, everything could’ve been different.”
“Hey, Josie,” Kala says, interrupting my rant.
He puts his hand on my cheek and pushes my hair behind my ear.
“It doesn’t matter,” he says. “That’s not how it happened. And we are still here together. We will figure this out together. My family can help. Maybe your cousins here can help. It’s going to be OK, I promise.”
I take a deep breath, sigh hard and look at the ground. It feels like he’s dismissing my feelings. But it also feels like he’s trying to comfort me. What’s he supposed to say, anyway? He has nothing to do with the choices my family made, and he’s just trying to help me.
“Also, aside from the fact that you’re a little freaked out by the pili and everything,” he says. “I think we just figured out how you sing at Da Nui tonight.”
Oh! I’d almost forgotten about Da Nui.
“We did?” I ask. “Oh wait, we did!”
“Do you think you can sing with your eyes closed and seeing the ‘awe’awe?” He asks with a laugh.
“I can sure try,” I say.
I wrap my arms around his neck and kiss him softly under the freshly risen sun.