“Take it! Take another little piece of my heart now babaaaaayyy!” The young Hawaiian man in a tropical shirt sings from the stage at Tahiti Nui.
“Break it! Break another little piece of my heart, oh darlin’ yeaaaaahhhh,” he continues.
I’m peeking in between columns watching what must be Kala’s friend’s band from the front porch of the restaurant. This place actually looks more like a house with a wrap-around porch on the front. It’s absolutely packed and there’s no room inside for me to sit down. Kala isn’t here yet so I’m sitting out here enjoying the show.
The big, rolling green mountains frame the sky behind me. People stroll along the gravel on the side of the main road through Hanalei, just a few feet from where I sit. Cars slowly hum along, carefully pausing for pedestrians crossing and walking on the street.
I’m getting used to the slow rhythm of this place. It’s so peaceful and calm – no honking horns, no huge crowds of people. Just a harmonious little neighborhood set in what must be the most beautiful place in the world.
“Babe, and I cry all the time. But each time I tell myself that I, well I can’t stand the pain. Then you hold me in your arms and I’ll sing it once again,” he sings.
The ukulele player in the band adds a distinctly Hawaiian feel to the song I’ve heard at least 100 times. Everything here feels like my life, but with a Hawaiian overlay.
Like at Disneyland for Halloween, they do a “Nightmare Before Christmas” overlay on the Haunted Mansion. It’s still the Haunted Mansion, but with an overlay that makes it even better for the holidays. I’m not sure if that that even makes sense, but I’m getting used to having a Hawaiian overlay on my life.
I sing quietly along with the band from my seat on the porch. The energy of the band and the people around me are making my argument with Gary seem less important, thankfully. It will be good to have time away from him tonight so we can both cool off.
“Break it! Break another little piece of my heart now babaaaay,” I sing along with the band.
I close my eyes and can see the Janis Joplin “Greatest Hits” album I’ve heard this song from over and over. It’s a part of Gary’s prized record collection. As I sing along, I see Janis, perched atop a Harley Sportster in a maroon embroidered peasant dress, big round sunglasses covering half her face.
“You know you got it, if it makes you feel good!” I continue with my eyes closed.
“Damn, girl, you sing too!” Kala says, breaking me from my commune with Janis.
I open my eyes and Kala’s standing right in front of me, blocking my view of the band. He’s a sight for sore eyes, as Gary would say. His hair is up in its usual ponytail but he looks dressy in a blue, linen button-down shirt and dark pressed shorts.
“Hey, Josie,” he says as he leans in and kisses me on the cheek.
I check my emotions and realize I’m not embarrassed at all that he caught me singing.
“I love your voice,” he says, sitting down at the table with me. “You’ve got to sing for me for real sometime.”
“OK,” I say, feeling a bit shy. “Maybe I will.”
He smirks at me.
Oh, I missed that smirk. Had I almost forgotten about it in just a few hours? It sends me into a place I’ve never been before. Somewhere in a fluffy white cloud of blue butterflies and floating pink heart emojis.
“What do you think of Da Nui?” He asks. “You wanna sit inside?”
“Yeah, I tried, but the hostess said the wait was a couple of hours,” I tell him.
“Oh, Lani?” He asks, pointing to the blonde woman standing at the hostess stand.
“Yeah, that’s who I talked to,” I reply.
“No worries, Lani and I go way back,” he says with a chuckle. “I’ll talk to her and get us a spot inside.”
He gets up and walks towards Lani and a tiny dagger stabs my heart. I swallow hard against what feels like a growing lump in my throat. Lani smiles at him and the dagger stabs deeper.
What is wrong with me? Am I jealous? Of Kala knowing another girl? That can’t be. I am most certainly not a jealous person. I only got jealous when I was younger because Gary would leave me with a sitter to go out with his girlfriends every weekend. But that’s a little kid emotion that I’m pretty sure I haven’t felt forever.
I look away from their conversation, close my eyes and take a deep breath.
“I am not a jealous person,” I say quietly to myself.
I open my eyes and see Kala walking towards me. He motions for me to come with him so I grab my phone and stand up. I smooth down the yellow fabric of my dress against my legs and walk towards him. As I approach, he reaches out his hand to hold mine. I oblige and put my hand in his. The tentacles erupt in my stomach and for a moment, they take over.
“Kala,” I whisper in his ear.
He stops and turns in my direction. I put my hands on the sides of the grown out shave on his head and kiss him on the lips. I can tell he’s surprised, but he responds by putting his arms around my lower back and kissing me softly.
I pull away but keep my hands on his head and stare into his dark eyes.
“I’m so happy to see you,” I tell him.
Then I drop my hand back into his and we walk off of the porch into the restaurant. I glance at Lani and she smiles with a sweet nod in my direction.
Kala leads me to a small empty table, right by the stage, with two chairs. The perfect spot for us.
The crowd cheers as the band finishes up the Janis song.
“Mahalo!” The singer says. “We are Mele.”
The ukulele player starts a riff that I recognize, but can’t place. That Hawaiian overlay makes recognizable things seem new, but I know what’s coming.
“I haven’t heard this song since I was little!” I say with excitement to Kala. “Puff the Magic Dragon!”
“Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea. And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Hanalei,” the lead singer of Mele sings.
“My tutu used to sing this to me,” I say excitedly.
Kala is smiling as I sing along.
“Do you know what the song is about?” Kala says over the music.
I think for a moment.
“No, not really,” I tell him. “I’ve never thought about it. I just love it because it reminds me of my tutu.”
“It’s about the mountains behind you,” he says, motioning to the big green mountain surrounding Hanalei that I’ve been in wonder of since I got here.
“When you get outside, look at the shape of the mountain,” he says. “It looks like a sleeping dragon, with its snout ending in the sea.”
Consider my mind blown. With what I’ve seen of the mountain, especially from the view inside the ocean, it makes perfect sense.
“Woah, that’s cool,” I say. “And the original version said Honalee but it’s supposed to be Hanalei?” I ask, emphasizing the “ay” instead of the “ee” in the original version.
“Exactly,” he says. “Peter, Paul and Mary wrote it after visiting Kauai, or at least that’s the story I’ve always been told.”
“You’re just full of interesting information,” I say to him.
I reach over to put my hand on his arm and those tentacles in my stomach push so hard against my insides, they almost hurt. It seems they are starting to get a mind of their own. I think the sleeping dragon might be in my stomach instead of in the mountain.
I sit in peacefulness and joy as the band finishes the song. I haven’t felt this free and happy since before mom died. I didn’t think feeling this way was possible anymore, but now that I’ve met Kala, it seems anything is possible.
The band stops for a break and the lead singer nods to Kala who nods back. The quartet heads to the bar while Kala and I sit at our table.
Kala stares at me for a moment and smirks again.
“Wow, you look beautiful, Josie,” he says. “Is that dress new?”
“Yes,” I say and look down.
I like what he’s saying, but I’m not used to compliments like this.
“Do you sing a lot?” He asks.
“Not really,” I say. “Only to my uncle when he surfs.”
I let out a nervous laugh and Kala smiles.
“When he surfs?” He asks.
“Yeah, he says I help him catch waves,” I say.
I’ve never told anyone our singing and surfing secret, but I feel like I could tell Kala every secret I have with no regret.
“Hmmmm,” he says. “Have you ever tried singing in front of people?”
“Yeah,” I say with hesitation.
The memories come flooding back of 18th Street Arts, my fainting, and the whole nightmare with the spirit that Manu “ate.” How was 18th Street Arts only a couple of weeks ago? Feels more like a year ago.
“It didn’t really turn out the way I thought it would,” I say carefully, trying to push those memories away.
I guess I’m not prepared to share every secret after all.
“You want something to drink?” He asks.
“Yeah, what should I get?” I ask.
“Well, you don’t drink, right?” He asks.
“Not really,” I say.
But I am almost 21, and this seems like the perfect chance to try something new.
“But I’d like to try something that’s maybe sweet?” I say.
“Oh yeah, you’ve got to try their Mai Tai then,” he says. “Aunty Louise created the recipe and its the best on the island.”
“OK, yes, let’s do it,” I say with excitement.
Johanna is going to be so annoyed that I’m doing all of these things she’s tried to get me to do for years without her. I’ll tell her about it tomorrow and be prepared for the dramatic response.
“I’ll be right back,” Kala says.
He gets up and walks towards his friends in the band at the bar. They look at me as he approaches and I look away to survey the inside of Da Nui.
The place doesn’t look as much like a house on the inside as it does on the outside. The walls are covered with what looks like blonde bamboo. There’s a large bamboo bar and about 20 small tables sprinkled throughout the space. Different colored globe lights hang from the ceiling, and framed pictures of old surfers and what appear to be old family pictures cover the walls.
The vibe here is so chill. I’m glad Kala told me about this place. Gary’s right, locals always have the best advice on where to go.
Oh, Gary. He’s still mad at me.
He left the motel before I could talk to him. He left a note that said he’d be back later. I thought about texting him, but then decided I should give him more space.
He probably went back to that blonde lady’s house, but I’m trying not to think about that. It really isn’t my business anyway. I just want better for him. I don’t want him to be that kind of a guy. But I also don’t want to fight with him.
Anyway, why am I thinking about him? I need to refocus on why I am here: to spend time with Kala.
I look at the bar and see the old bartender handing Kala what must be two Mai Tais. They’re yellow-orange at the bottom of the glass and red on the top with a big slice of pineapple on the side. They look good.
I never got into drinking. Some of my friends in high school got out of control going to parties and sneaking alcohol from their parents. I tried drinking a few times but it just gave me a headache and made my stomach hurt.
It helps that Johanna doesn’t drink either. She’s into occasional party drugs, which I don’t like. But I don’t judge her for it. I’m smart enough to know I am the abnormal one among people my age, and not the other way around.
“Mai Tai, Josie,” Kala says with a smile as he sets it in front of me.
“This looks so good, thank you,” I say and pull a long sip from the straw.
“Yum, that’s delicious,” I say. “Is it mostly juice?”
“Yeah, mostly,” he says. “But there’s a lot of rum in there too, so just be careful. Don’t drink it too fast.”
“OK,” I say compliantly, and set the drink back down.
“Hey,” he says, swallowing a drink of the sweet Mai Tai. “I asked Paul if you could sing a song with them. They’re down, what do you think?”
I’m frozen with fear. Me, sing? Tonight? After what happened at Gary’s show? No way.
I can’t sing. I look at Kala’s face, about to tell him no. He’s so sincere and sweet, though. He must’ve really thought he was offering up something I would appreciate.
“Don’t feel like you have to, Josie,” he says after seeing the fear on my face. “I just thought you might think it was fun. You singing here at Da Nui, it just feels right for some reason.”
Beneath my fear, I think I understand what he means. I am scared to repeat what happened at Gary’s art show, but for some reason, deep in my gut, I don’t think that will happen again. I feel like I’m protected, somehow.
I instinctively touch my stomach where Manu’s belt is tied. I feel like the island and the spirits of those I come from are close, and won’t let any harm come to me.
“I have pretty bad stage fright,” I tell him. “I kind of have to build myself up for a couple of days before I sing.”
I say this as if I’ve sang a bunch of times, which I haven’t, but the stage fright part was true last time.
“Maybe if you have a little bit of that drink, it will help?” Kala says motioning to the Mai Tai sitting in front of me.
I consider his suggestion.
“Well, I guess it couldn’t hurt?” I ask.
“Nah, it won’t hurt, just don’t drink it too fast,” He says with a smile.
Oh, he is so cute. I’ve got to pinch myself that I am sitting here with this hot guy. And he’s interested in me. This is not my life, ever. But somehow it is. With a Hawaiian overlay.