“Can I ask you something?” Kala says from beside me on a surfboard in the water.
After surfing for nearly two hours, we are laying on our backs, floating on our boards in the bay. I’m exhausted.
“Of course,” I say.
That dreamy feeling is still with me. It’s been there since he grabbed my hand for the first time as we walked into the water. He’s held my hand and my body at least a dozen times since then, and I think this might be the best day of my life.
“What’s that belt thing you’re wearing under your shirt?” He asks.
“What?” I ask from a far-off place.
“That belt under your top,” he repeats. “I felt it when you … hugged me. Is it like a belly chain or something?”
My hand reaches instinctively to my solar plexus and the piece of leather with a little surfer girl burned into it that Manu gave me. A familiar pang of a ghostly pain pulses there and disappears.
“Oh, it’s,” I stammer. “It’s a belt. A belt… a friend gave me.”
“Huh?” Kala asks. “You always wear it?”
“Um, yeah,” I say, looking away from him. “Ever since I got it, I guess.”
“Where’d you get it?” he asks.
Why the persistence? I wonder to myself.
“I got it a couple of days ago, from this guy,” I say, hopeful that the information will end the line of questioning.
“From someone on the island?” He asks.
“Yeah,” I say.
“I’ve seen those before,” he says. “That’s why I asked.”
“Oh yeah?” I say.
I don’t want to talk about this but don’t know how to not talk about this. I want to be open and honest with Kala.
“Did something happen to you?” He asks seriously. “Those are usually used for protection.”
I can’t talk about this. I won’t talk about this. I just want to go back to my dreamy perfect day.
“I’m fine,” I say with a laugh. “No big deal.”
“I’m serious,” Kala says, looking me in the eyes. “Did something happen to you?”
The smile on my face disappears and I look down at the tattered board Kala rented on the beach a few hours earlier.
“I really don’t want to talk about it,” I say. “Can’t we just float here?”
“Oh,” he says. “I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s hard to explain, but I …”
“It’s fine,” I say with the biggest smile I can manage. “I should probably go. I bet my uncle has called me a hundred times.”
I sit up on the board, swing my legs behind me and lay flat on my stomach. I start paddling towards the shore without Kala.
“Hey,” Kala says as he begins to paddle with me. “I didn’t mean to bring anything up. I’m really sorry.”
He catches up to me quickly, reaches over and grabs my board to stop my forward motion.
“Look at me,” he insists and I look over at him. “We good?”
His face looks like he’s ashamed.
“Yes,” I say, feigning enthusiasm. “It’s all good.”
I touch his arm briefly and feel that spark again that I’ve felt all day. He lets go of my board and I continue paddling towards shore. He follows me in silence.
We reach the shore and I stop to wait for Kala. He comes out of the water but isn’t as enthusiastic as he’s been for most of the day.
“I feel like I screwed something up,” he says plaintively as he walks towards me and stops. “Did I?”
“No, you didn’t,” I say, shaking my head.
I let the surf board fall away and I reach up to his shoulders again like I did in the water earlier in the day. I pull him to me and hug him tight. Those tentacles in my stomach take over momentarily and pull me as close as I can to him. It feels like they are trying to find a resting place outside of my body and inside his.
I pull away from the embrace to look him in the face.
“I’ve had the best day I’ve had, maybe in my whole life,” I tell him. “You got me to surf again, and I will never forget it.”
He smiles a bit.
“You wanna do it again sometime?” he asks flirtatiously.
He’s now comfortably resting both of his arms around my lower back.
“I’d love to,” I say and quickly kiss his lips.
“I’ve got to get back to my uncle now though,” I tell him and pull away. “He’s probably worried sick about me.”
I pick up the surfboard I let fall to the ground.
“Where should I put this?” I ask.
“Just leave it,” he says, motioning to the ground. “I’ll take care of it.”
“OK, thanks,” I say. “I better go.”
“Wait!” He says before I can take off. “Let’s take a picture for Snap.”
He drops his board and walks a few feet to an old backpack filled with a towel, sunscreen and his phone.
“OK, sure,” I say, trying to show I’m down with taking selfies, even though I barely know how to.
Kala puts his arm around my shoulder and holds the phone up at an angle. I smile my biggest smile and he hits the side button on his phone to take several pictures. He pulls his phone down to show me the results.
“Which one do you like best?” He asks.
I stand next to him peering at his phone and swiping through the three pictures he took. Jeez, he really knows how to take a selfie. I am smiling like a dork and he’s got this serious smize going that Tyra Banks would be proud of.
“I didn’t know we weren’t smiling,” I say jokingly.
“I don’t know,” he says with a shrug. “I like them all.”
“OK, you pick then,” I say. “Be sure to tag me.”
“I will,” he says with a smirk.
He takes advantage of the lack of distance between us and kisses me one last time. It’s short and sweet but is the best ending to our day together.
“Snap me later?” I ask as I gather my things I set down on the beach with his earlier.
“Yeah,” he says with a nod. “We can plan when we surf next.”
“OK,” I say as I put my backpack over my shoulder. “Well, bye,” I say with a wave and turn towards the parking lot.
My head is spinning. I don’t want to look back because I am scared I will look desperate, but I have to see him one last time. I turn around and see he’s watching me walk away. The look on his face is strange, though. It’s not sadness but it’s not happiness either. It’s contemplative, I guess. Like he’s deep in thought. I wave goodbye one last time, and he smiles and waves back.
I turn around and continue walking towards the parking lot and pull out my phone. Five missed calls from Gary.
Ooops. I let the day get away. I hit his contact and he picks up on the first ring.
“Josie!” He yells into the phone. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, yes, Gary, I’m fine,” I tell him calmly. “I lost track of time but I am fine. I’m walking back to the motel now.”
“You scared me,” he says emphatically. “I’ve called you like ten times.”
“It was actually five but who’s counting,” I tease him.
“Josie, seriously,” he says. “Couldn’t you have texted me or something?”
I’m navigating cars in the parking lot and walking out onto the main street that will eventually take me back to the Hanalei Inn.
“Gary, I was in the water the whole time,” I tell him. “I just got out and called you immediately.”
“Do you want me to pick you up?” He asks.
“No, no, I am fine, Gary,” I repeat. “The walk will do me good. I’ll see you in a little bit.”
“Well, did you surf?” He asks.
He’s not letting me off the hook as easily as I hoped.
“Yes, I did,” I tell him. “It was amazing and beautiful and I feel like I have a new lease on life.”
“Are you serious or are you messing with me?” Gary asks.
I start laughing hard. Once I catch my breath, I respond.
“I am dead serious, Gary,” I say between laughter. “It was the best experience of my life.”
“Oh no,” Gary says.
“What?” I ask.
“You’re in love,” he says with a bit of remorse.
“I am not!” I yell defensively.
A group of young kids looks at me from the other side of the road, so I lower my voice.
“Don’t even start with that, Gary,” I warn him. “I am not talking about Kala.”
“Kala, huh?” Gary says. “We’ll see. I’ll see you in a few,” he says and then ends the call.
“Gary!” I yell into the phone but it’s no use.
He’s left me to contemplate how much I will have to tell him about my amazing day with Kala.
Kala. Oh my gosh, Kala. I picture his face and ponytail of curls that brushed up against my shoulder over and over today.
Gary might be right. I think I am in love.