Gary and I need somewhere to sleep. Although I think we’re on good terms with Halani now, it’s unspoken that we aren’t staying with her as planned.
We thank her for her help and kiss her goodbye. As I hug her and hold her hand, I get an all-consuming feeling that I’ll never see her again. I don’t know where it’s coming from, but it feels certain. Gary and I walk to the rental car to leave her house for what I am sure is the last time.
“Gary?” I ask. “Did you find somewhere we can stay this week?”
We aren’t scheduled to go back home for another week. Between all of the hotels and rentals on the island, I’m sure we can find someplace.
“Yeah,” Gary says absently, fully engrossed in the hotel search on his phone as we sit in the car in the driveway.
“It looks like Hanalei Inn has availability for the next two weeks,” he says. “They’ve got studios, but just a Queen bed. I’m gonna call and see if they have a roll-away or something.”
Gary calls the hotel and starts driving back towards the pizza shop parking lot near Halani’s house. He’d never talk on his cell while driving in Venice, but it must not be against the law here.
He books our reservation over the phone as he stops in the parking lot.
“We’re all set, Josie,” he says.
“Cool,” I tell him. “I’m gonna go walk through that plaza for a minute. Let me know when you’re ready to go.”
“OK, Josie,” he says, still distracted by his phone.
I get out of the car and trek across the gravel parking lot. Gary isn’t acting like himself at all. I understand, though. I know I’m not acting like myself either. This has been the weirdest two weeks of my entire life; with today probably being the absolute strangest.
I wander past a chicken shack and a shaved ice shop up to a big sign that says “China Young Village” and “The Heart of Hanalei.” I see tourist shops and other restaurants beyond the sign, including the pizza shop Gary was in earlier today. I walk through the plaza entrance and lose myself in thoughts about my mom.
I’m trying to remember anything I can about my dad. I ruffle through the file cabinet in my mind and it takes all of my focus. It’s like there’s this block that says “mom never told you anything about your dad,” but I’m not sure that’s completely true.
Couldn’t she have said a few things here and there? Something like “your father used to do that too,” comparing some cute little thing I did to him.
But as I concentrate, nothing comes. Just a giant blank space.
I enter a small gift shop and notice magnets that say “Hawaiian Love” and “Find Your Ohana in Hanalei,” along with rows of t-shirts, a dozen flavors of Kaloa Rum, and cheap ukuleles. As I look around the shop, I’m more focused on my thoughts than what’s in front of me. Maybe thinking of my mom in general will help drum up some memories.
The first memory that comes is of the last time I saw her before she died.
“Not that one,” I gently tell myself aloud. “Think earlier.”
I think back to when mom and I had our own apartment in Venice, just down the street from my grandparent’s house. I had my own bedroom and it was painted yellow. I had a white bedspread on my twin bed with little yellow and pink flowers. I had that bedspread until mom died and I moved in with Gary.
“Not that one,” I gently redirect my thoughts as I walk around the shop. “Think about when you were little.”
I think back to the time in the apartment when I was in kindergarten. Gary still lived with my my grandparents then. Gary told Halani my tutu helped people. Do I remember that? I think hard while staring at, but not really seeing, a shelf with bobble-head hula dancers.
I remember strangers being at my tutu’s house sometimes. Strangers who seemed sick, maybe. But they always left when mom and I arrived. Tutu would watch me sometimes when mom worked at night, but I don’t remember anyone there except for Gary and my grandparents.
As I’m staring at the slowly shaking hula girl on the shelf, a memory grips me. It grabs me by the throat and I bring my hand up to cover my mouth as I gasp.
A man. I remember a man coming to the door one time when mom dropped me at tutu’s. I was watching “Sesame Street” in her front living room, so I couldn’t have been older than five or six. The man banged on the door and yelled my tutu’s name.
“Malia!” He screamed through the door.
It scared me. Both the loud noise and hearing someone call my tutu by her first name.
“Maliaaaaaaaaaaa!” he screamed.
I got up from the floor and ran to the bathroom where I knew my tutu was.
“Tutu!” I yelled and opened the door to her sitting on the toilet.
“Josie!” She squealed in surprise. “Privacy!”
I looked away at the sight of tutu with her house dress pulled up on the sides of her legs and draped over the front of them.
“Tutu,” I began to cry, both from embarrassment and fear of the man at the door. “There’s a man at the door screaming for you.”
“What?” Tutu asked. “Mo’opuna, turn around.”
I turned and faced the door while tutu picked herself up off the toilet.
“Go to my room and shut the door,” she said.
I complied and continued to the back of the house to her and grandpa’s bedroom. I left the door open just a crack so my little eyes could peek out. I couldn’t help but want to know what the man wanted from my Malia tutu. Plus, I think I was scared for her.
“Are you pupule?” I heard tutu say stearnly.
I never heard her talk that way before.
“You scared my Mo’opuna!” She yelled at the man.
“Malia, I’m sorry,” he said, muffled. “It didn’t work, Malia. I thought it worked but it’s still there. It won’t leave her alone.”
“Shhhhh, quiet!” My tutu demanded. “Now is not a good time.”
“Malia!” He insisted in a whisper scream. “You promised to help us! It didn’t work.”
“Get ahold of yourself, kane,” she said less angered. “Now is not a good time. My ohana is here.”
“I understand, Malia,” he said.
It sounded like he was crying.
“But what am I supposed to do? She’s dying, Malia. It didn’t work.”
“I will call you later,” she said. “After my little kaikamahine goes home. It will be OK, but you can’t come here like this again.”
“Thank you, thank you Malia,” he said.
“He mea iki,” she said.
I heard the front door shut and I quickly shut her bedroom door and jumped onto her bed. I laid on the bed face down and pretended I was sleeping.
Tutu opened the door.
“Josie,” she said sweetly. “Aloha, where are you?”
“I’m here tutu,” I said rolling over and showing her I wasn’t really sleeping.
“Did you fall asleep my angel?” She asked as she sat by me on the bed.
“I don’t know tutu,” I said. “Who was that man?”
“Oh, he was a neighbor,” she said. “He’s got some problems your grandpa and I are helping with.”
“He was scary, tutu,” I said. “I didn’t like him.”
“Don’t worry, my Josie,” she said, patting my hair softly and scooting closer to me on the bed. “People can act scary when they’re scared, but he’s not a scary man. Fear makes people do things that are out of character. Do you know what that means?”
“They aren’t being themselves?” I ask.
“That’s right,” tutu said with a warm smile. “My Josie is akamai. Smart, smart girl.”
I smiled and hugged my tutu, sitting in her arms for awhile.
I feel a bump on my shoulder and a body behind it.
“Oooff,” I say without thinking and bend over a bit while grabbing my arm that got bumped.
I look around and realize I’ve wandered away from the hula girl bobble heads and am now in the alcohol section.
“Oh, hey, my bad,” a man’s voice says behind me.
I turn to see a tall, young man, around my age dressed in board shorts and no shirt.
“It’s OK,” I say automatically. “I wasn’t paying attention.”
I look up into his eyes and see they’re dark brown, almost black, and that he’s taller than Gary.
For a moment, we’re both still. Staring into each other’s eyes. I’m struck by his face in a way that’s hard to explain. He’s attractive with light coffee skin and long black hair that’s pulled into a ponytail behind his head. The sides of his head look like they were shaved about a month ago and growing out, and the ponytail sits atop the shave that wraps around the back of his head.
“I, I’m sorry,” I say because I don’t know what else to say.
I feel something in my chest and stomach stirring. It feels like tentacles slowing waking up and shaking off a long sleep.
“You look so familiar,” he says to me. “Where you from?”
I forget I’m in the store. The details of the Koloa rum to my right and the cooler of juices, water, and beer to my left dissolve into a blur of light and color.
“Venice,” I say, dreamily.
“Italy?” He asks.
I start laughing and his cheeks blush with color.
“No,” I say with a giggle. “California.”
“Oh,” he says with a little laugh. “Sorry.”
“It’s OK,” I say. “You look kind of familiar too. Have you ever been to Venice?”
“I’ve never been to the mainland,” he says. “I’m Kala.”
He reaches out his right hand for me to shake and it seems so formal. I never shake people’s hands when I meet them, but I oblige and offer my right hand as well.
“I’m Josie,” I say.
When I shake his hand, the tentacles inside my chest and stomach shiver. It causes goosebumps to break out on the back of my neck and down my spine.
I’m suddenly embarrassed. I don’t want Kala to see my involuntary reaction to him. I look away from his eyes to the bottle of Koloa Rum Punch.
“You pickin’ up some rum?” He asks.
I start laughing again and he gets a puzzled look on his face.
“No,” I say. “I don’t drink.”
“Not 21 yet?” He asks.
“Not until February of next year,” I say.
“February?” He asks. “When?”
“Uh, the 12th,” I say, with a question in my voice.
“No way,” he says. “Me too.”
“Huh?” I say. “Your birthday’s February 12th.” I deadpan. “You’re lying.”
“No, I swear,” he says putting his hands up.
I notice his hands are meaty with long, thick fingers. His chest and shoulders are solid with muscle, but he’s not as jacked as some of the “meatheads” (as Gary calls them) that hang out at Muscle Beach in Venice.
“Wow, that’s strange,” I say as my eyes move back to his eyes.
I guess I believe him.
“How old are you?” I ask him.
“21,” he says. “I’ll be 22 in February.”
“We’re exactly a year apart then,” I say, a bit confused as another shiver goes down my spine.
The tentacles in my stomach have given it a rest for a minute, thankfully.
“You staying around here?” He asks.
“Yeah, I think so,” I reply.
“You think so?” He asks with a smirk.
That smirk. Woah. He’s really cute. Maybe the cutest guy I’ve ever seen. And I see a lot of cute guys and girls in the coffee shop back home.
“I mean, yes,” I stammer. “At the Hanalei Inn,” I say with a giggle.
When was the last time I giggled this much in a brief conversation? Oh, Johanna would make fun of me so bad if she was standing here.
“Oh that’s cool,” he says. “I live here, over on Hee Road near the beach.”
“Oh nice,” I say. “I haven’t even seen the water up close yet. We just got here.”
“You surf?” He asks.
“Yeah,” I say.
But why did I say that? Of course I know how to surf, but I haven’t surfed in years.
“You’re a he’e nalu,” he says. “That’s cool.”
“I’m sorry?” I say. “My Hawaiian is terrible.”
“Oh,” he says. “It just means you’re a surfer. I could tell when I saw you.”
“Really?” I say with a smile. “How?”
His cheeks pink with blush again and he smirks. I realize that smirk is somehow overpowering. I think I’d do anything he asked me to with that smirk.
“I guess it’s the way you walk,” he says. “Hele wawae we say. The way you move on your feet.”
“Hele wawae,” I repeat. “Hele wawae.”
“Your pronunciation’s good,” he says. “Are you Hawaiian?”
Now it’s my turn to blush a bit, although I don’t know if my cheeks are pink.
“I’m half,” I say with a nod. “On my mom’s side. I grew up with my tutu speaking Hawaiian and English, so the words are sort of familiar in my mouth.”
“In your mouth,” he says. “Huh.”
He’s looking at my mouth. And my hair. And my eyes.
“Hey, can I get your Snap or Insta?” He asks.
“No,” I say.
“Ah sorry,” he says sheepishly.
“No, no, I mean I’m not on social,” I say.
“What?” He says with a laugh. “OK, that’s cool, I get it,” he says and starts to turn.
“No, I mean it,” I say and reach out to touch his arm to keep him from going.
When I touch him, those tentacles wake up in my stomach and feel like they want to shoot through my skin. It’s not painful, but tickles like butterflies. As my hand lingers on his bicep I realize those tentacles are reaching for him. I pull my hand away quickly and smooth my hair down.
“I’m seriously not,” I say shyly. “I know it’s kind of strange. It’s like a family thing, I guess. My mom didn’t like it and my uncle doesn’t like it, so I just have never really had my own accounts.”
“Oh, OK,” he says and turns his body back. “You wanna get on Snap? It’s super easy and you don’t have to do anything.”
“I guess, I think so?” I say. “I know how it works. My best friend Johanna has it and I mess with hers sometimes.”
“Oh,” he says. “So you’re a lurker?” He starts to laugh.
“No,” I say, returning the laugh. “Well, sort of.”
“I’ll help you,” he says. “Let’s set up your account.”
“Right here?” I ask, looking around the shop.
“Sure, why not? Leilani doesn’t care,” he says pointing to an older woman behind the cash register who’s lost in something on her phone.
“Switch over to WiFi,” he says, pointing to the phone in my hand.
“You know the password?” I ask.
“Yeah, Leilani gave it to me,” he says.
I select the WiFi called “Village Variety” and hand my phone to Kala to enter the password. He quickly types it in.
“Care if I download Snap on here?” He asks, showing me my phone.
“Go ahead,” I tell him.
For some reason, I’m not at all concerned about sharing my phone with a total stranger. It’s because he doesn’t feel like a total stranger.
“Here you go,” he says and hands the phone back to me. “Once it downloads, I’ll help you set it up and then we can connect.”
The word “connect” hangs in the air as I stare at Kala. I see now that his hair is curly and hangs all the way down to the middle of his back in thick, soft bushels.
“I like your hair,” I say absently.
Did I actually just say that aloud?
“Thanks,” he says with that smirk. “I like yours too.”
I think I forgot for a minute that I even had hair. Or a body. Or where I am. I’ve never felt this way before.
“Oh thanks,” I say shyly, as I take my right hand, sweep my hair across the back of my neck and bring it to rest over the top of my right shoulder. It hangs nearly to the front of my waist.
I look down at my phone and see the new application is done downloading.
“It’s done now,” I say, showing Kala my phone.
“Cool,” he says and moves in close to me, sharing the view of my screen.
I place my hand over my stomach in an attempt to quiet the tentacles when I feel the leather belt Manu gave me that’s hidden there. I remember the surfer girl etched into the leather and smile.
“What do you want your screen name to be?” He asks.
“Oh jeez,” I say. “I have no idea. Isn’t that like the biggest deal? Figuring out some cool screen name?”
“Sort of,” he says. “But it’s not that big of a deal. You could do a play on your name, like @josieandthepussycats. You know, like the comic?”
Of course I know the comic. I’ve only been reminded of it throughout my whole life by old people like Gary. How did he know the comic though? Most people my age have no idea.
“That’s kind of long, don’t you think?” I ask.
“Yeah, maybe,” he says. “How about just @josiepussycat?”
“Hmmm,” I say. “I guess, yeah, I like it.”
“Ok, perfect,” he says, entering the screen name. “You’re set. But I had to make it @josie_pussycatt cause the other one’s already taken.”
“Thanks,” I say with a smile. “What’s yours?
“@kalathesun,” he says.
“Why the sun?” I ask.
“It’s what my name means,” he says handing the phone back to me. “I just connected us.”
More rumbling from those tentacles. And then silence.
“Well, I should go,” Kala says. “Um, you wanna hook up and surf this week?”
“Yes,” I say. “That’d be cool.”
“Alright,” he says, turning to leave. “I’ll hit you up on Snap Josie pussycat.”
“Bye, Kala the sun,” I say.
He smirks one last time, turns around and walks away. As he leaves the shop, I see he has a giant tattoo covering his back. A black sun made from what looks like a tribal design covers him from neck to waist. I watch him leave the store.
“Howzit Leilani?” He says with a nod to the woman behind the counter.
I’m staring mesmerized as he walks out into the daylight. Outside the shop doors, Gary is pacing with a a concerned look on his face, messing with his phone. Just then, my phone rings. I instantly answer it.
“Josie?” Gary asks. “Where are you? I’ve been trying to find you.”
He sounds concerned.
“I’m fine, Gary,” I say. “In fact, I can see you. I’m in the shop to your right, called Village Variety.”
I end the call and see Gary look right, recognize the sign and walk in.
“I’m back here,” I yell to him with a wave.
Gary looks at Leilani behind the counter, who suddenly perks up.
“Aloha,” she says to Gary.
“Aloha,” he says back with his infamous smile.
The smile fades as he walks towards me. I suddenly remember everything that happened today with Halani and Manu.
Did I just forget about all of that? I think I did. But Gary clearly hasn’t shrugged off the stress yet.
“Hey little girl,” he says in an unusual monotone.
“Don’t call me that old man,” I say jokingly.
“Hey!” He says, with a bit more animation. “She’s got some spirit!”
We both laugh. I’m relieved to hear that familiar sound come out of him. I just want everything to be normal again.
“You ready to go to the hotel, grandpa?” I ask.
“Watch it,” he says, sarcastically wagging his finger at me. “Someday you’ll be this old.”
“You’re hardly old, Gary. I’m just teasing.”
“That’s true young one,” He says. “Hanalei Inn has a rollaway. You can take the Queen and I’ll sleep on the Iron Maiden.”
I snort with laughter.
“What’s that?” I ask.
“The medieval torture device I’ll be sleeping on for the week,” he says as he wraps his big arm around my shoulder. “You hungry, little girl, cause I could eat a bear.”
“I don’t think bear is native to Hawaii, Gary,” I say.
“True, but musubi is and I need some,” he replies.
“Spam?” I say with disgust. “Ekkkk!”
“What you want then?” He says as we walk out of the store. “Are you even Hawaiian?”
“Can I help with anything?” Leilani asks from behind the counter, her eyes trained on Gary.
She looks at least 20 years older than him, but that’s never mattered to any woman before.
“We’re good,” Gary nods with a smile. “We’ll be back though, have a nice afternoon.”
She smiles back.
“You too,” she says. “See you soon.”
We walk out into China Young Village to find some dinner.