“Mana Road is not four-wheeling.” Hugh argued.
“Depends on how far you go on it.” Kumai said.
“Oh?” He put a hand on his hip. “Oh no. This is going to take forever.”
“Yeah. ‘Fraid so.”
“Guess I’ll get something to eat then.”
“Yeah. Get it to-go so you can eat and drive. We don’t wanna to scrabble over Mana Road after dark.”
“Okay. But you owe me.”
“I was going to tell you the same thing.” Kumai gestured like like a game-show hostess revealing a letter, “Off-duty solo time with Kirby…”
“Well,” Hugh said, “There’s that. So we’re kind of even.”
They went in. After introductions all around, Hugh ordered and paid. Another group needed their table so the five of them stood in an awkward circle waiting for his food. The only area to stay out of the way was in the center of the confined space.
“Oh?” Leo said. “Well, that’s wise. Thank you. You’ve earned your lei.”
Hugh’s eyebrows shot up. Kumai pointed to her flower necklace.
“Lemme guess.” Kirby said and patted Hugh on the back. He looked at Kumai. “I’m with Hugh.”
“Until I drop off my ohana.”
“Oh?” Kirby perked up.
“Yeah, then you two will take me to Susan’s ranch.”
Kirby wilted. Hugh stalked to the counter to ask why his food was taking so long.
“He’s doing me a favor.” Kumai said. “Appreciate him.”
“Afraid to be alone with me?”
Something like that. “Okay, Hugh’s got his food. Everyone ready to go?” She asked.
Kumai’s ohana were subdued on the drive. Maybe it was the beer. They were silent about Kirby although she could sense that they wanted to ask her about him. She was grateful that they didn’t and searched for a topic.
“Tomorrow when you guys head to Kona, could you pick me up if I can go into town?”
“Sure!” Helen chirped.
“Tom has my car, and I’ve been driving Susan’s truck. I’d like to get back to my home and my life at some point.” Kumai said.
“You’re not homesick.” Leo said.
“Weird, huh?” Kumai laughed. “Not like me. But something about the White Benefit last night was unnerving.”
“What?! You went to the White Benefit?” Helen leaned forward. “Tell us all about it.”
Hugh had fallen behind while following her. Kumai saw that he had taken the last turn she took. He would catch up soon enough. By the time she had helped her ohana safely into their lodgings, Kirby’s truck pulled up and parked.
“You could have waited for me.” Hugh said. “What if I’d had a flat or some trouble?”
“Kirby’s got my number.” Kumai answered.
“We probably don’t even have a signal up here. What is this place, anyway? Could you have chosen a worse road? Geez.”
“Hugh.” Kirby said. “We’re helping out the lady.”
Hugh huffed and said to Kumai, “Are you getting in?”
“Yes, but I’d like to drive if it’s all the same to you.”
“We might get me back to the ranch a little faster.”
“I want to get back alive, I don’t care how long it takes. This road is murder.”
“Hugh.” Kirby said.
Hugh let out an exasperated, aah, and opened the driver door. He stormed to the other side. Kirby hopped out and leaned the seat forward to get into the back seat. Hugh protested, “No, let me sit there.”
Kirby continued to climb in and pulled the seat upright.
“Fine.” Hugh said. “Ignore me.”
“I appreciate your help tonight, Hugh.” Kumai said.
“Don’t even try it.” He grumbled.
They drove for a while in silence. Dusk painted apricot light across the exposed grasses and stretched the trees’ shadows to eerie reaching. Trunks and branches were slathered on one side with the orange glow of sundown. Their shadow sides disappeared into purples. Everything seemed to vibrate with color and light. Kumai sighed.
“Beautiful, huh?” Kirby asked.
“Surreal.” Kumai agreed.
“Whatever.” Hugh said.
Fog hid them as they descended into the cloud layer and drove through the gnarled branches of old Koa forest. They rolled up the windows on the truck to keep out the sudden chill and the weird silence. Kumai turned on the headlights and then the radio. Kirby had it tuned to a country station. She fought with herself not to change the selection. Instead, she clenched her jaw and turned it down.
A song about people married for longer than most prison sentences instructed Kumai on how to Love Like Crayayay Yayzy. Kirby hummed along in the back. Hugh let out a disgusted sigh.
Kumai was with Hugh. Why is being married forever a definition of success?
“Kirby?” Kumai asked. “How long has your brother been married?”
Another song came on that Kumai would have called rock-n-roll except for the nasal whiney twang guy singing. He sang about his lifestyle of staring lecherously at young women.
Kirby breathed out some other melody and the words, “Half time goes by.”
Hugh muttered, “I see why you asked for a driver.”
Kirby continued in a low voice, “Suddenly you’re wise.”
The radio transmitted hip-hop country next, complete with rap lyrics.
“Gah.” Kumai said and pushed the preset radio button number two. She squinted, waiting for whatever might assault their hearing.
“Remove my ears.” Hugh begged.
“Another blink of an eye…” Kirby murmured.
The next station played country women singers.
“Thank you.” Hugh said and started singing along about a Good Girl.
Kumai let Hugh have his karaoke moment. Then a song come on that hit the mark talking about a Girl in a Country Song and the disrespect that the music paid to women. Next was a woman warbling and yodeling without saying much. Kumai waited for another raising-awareness piece and got treated to an earworm about why God Made Girls (for men). Kumai punched button number three.
Hawaiian slack key and ukulele drifted from the speakers. All three of them sighed with relief.
“You know,” Hugh said, “They ought to do a study on what music was playing during incidents of road rage.”
Kumai nodded agreement while navigating the last rough patch of dirt road. It was getting too dark to see well and she dropped the right rear wheel into a hole.
“Ouch.” Kirby yelled.
“You okay?” Hugh asked.
“I’m fine. But my truck may not survive this.”
“That sobered him up.” Hugh said. “Hit another one.”
“It’s more of a truck than that.” Kumai assured Kirby. “We’re out of the bad part now.”
Once out on the pavement the drive went quickly. To help herself say goodbye, Kumai invented a story line of dating Kirby where they never really connected because of his over-indulgence. She painted a bleak series of events so that she wouldn’t want to date that. Well, she still might. She wasn’t looking for a forever someone.
“Nobody believes in ‘true love’ anymore.” Hugh commented and turned to look out his window.
In the rear view mirror, Kumai saw Kirby’s hand go up.
They got trapped behind a slow-moving truck with a rusty rack and a bumper sticker that said, “Kona: a drinking town with a fishing problem.”
Kumai asked Hugh, “Do you think Waimea has a cowboy problem?”
Hugh glanced to the back seat but remained silent.
She said, “I believe in true love. I’ve seen it, like with my Auntie and Uncle tonight. But I think its rare.”
“Rare like a unicorn?” Hugh asked.
“Unicorns don’t exist. Maybe you already know that.”
“Wait, what?” Hugh sounded distressed. “What do you mean they’re not real? Like you’ve never really seen one?”
Kumai laughed. “I’ve never really seen one. Have you?”
“Well no, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.” Hugh sounded serious.
“Is he serious?” Kumai asked Kirby.
“Are you serious?” Kirby asked Hugh.
But Hugh didn’t answer. He was using his phone for something.
“Oh no way.” Kirby said, looking over Hugh’s shoulder. “No no no. He’s googling it.”
“There’s no I in team, Kirby.” He said.
“Well, just because you may not have found true love doesn’t mean it isn’t real, either, Hugh.” Kumai said.
“Kirby believes he has found true love.” Hugh said, his attention focused on his smartphone.
A shocked silence pushed into the vehicle. Kumai opened her window to let out some air pressure. The guys opened their windows too.
“I would think it takes time, lots of years, to know if it’s true and not just lust or something.” Hugh continued, aware of having breached a confidence.
“There’s no I in team, Hugh.” Kirby said.
“What are you guys talking about?” Kumai asked.
“Kirby’s telling me to shu’ da fu’.” Hugh answered.
“Huh?” Kumai said.
Kumai made the turn and drove down to the main house. She wondered if she would see Kirby again. She stopped in the driveway and found herself reluctant to get out of the truck.
“You waiting for the mother ship to give you transporter clearance?” Hugh asked.
“Shut up, Hugh.” Kirby said.
Hugh quietly stepped out of the truck and tilted his seat forward for Kirby. He walked to the rear of the truck and messed with the tailgate. Kirby moved up to Hugh’s seat and closed the passenger door. Kumai sat in the driver’s seat and studied her hands.
“We’d never work, you know.” Kirby said.
”I like country music. And you like…”
“Ugh. See what I mean?”
“Yeah. I do. I like, no, love the ocean. You…”
“…could take it or leave it.”
“You don’t hate the ocean?” Kumai’s question sounded too hopeful for this farewell.
“Doesn’t matter.” He said. “Cuz you’re dating Bradon.”
”I’m dating Bradon.” She nodded. “So…”
“So I’ll see you around.” Kirby said.
She couldn’t figure out why she didn’t move, didn’t go in, why she felt like she was forgetting something. A huge breath inflated her and she huffed it out. She was forgetting to kiss Kirby.
“I hope I’ll see you around, Kirby.” She said, knowing it was unlikely since it took a year for them to be at the same function just a few days ago.
A brief fantasy floated through her mind where Hugh took over care of Susan and Kumai went somewhere with Kirby tonight. She opened the driver door.
“Kumai?” Kirby said.
She stopped. “Yeah?”
“Be careful. Please. I don’t want to, with my work… well, please, be safe.”
“Thanks, Kirby. I will.” And for some reason she knew that she might actually be more cautious, if just for Kirby’s sake.
“Thanks, Hugh.” She waved and walked toward the entry.
Susan’s house glowed from up-lighting in the porch cochere. Kitchen light trailed out along the driveway. Kumai saw Elena at the sink and waved. She hoped they had finished their meeting.
“Aloha, all.” Kumai said as she stepped in and removed her flip flops in the foyer.
“I’m in here.” Susan called from her office. No sign of Jorge meant that the meeting was adjourned.
Kumai went in to say hello. “How’d it go?”
“No real progress, I’m afraid. It’s back to the idea that whatever I say is what happens.”
“Unless you try to say that everyone has a say, then that doesn’t happen?”
“Exactly. I may be stuck.”
“It’s fatigue. Solutions will provide themselves when you get some rest.” Kumai suggested.
“I’ll go say hi to Elena.” Kumai excused herself, “Need anything?”
“Nope, I’m good, thanks.”
The kitchen smelled of warm corn and fresh tomatoes. “Hola!”
“Aloha.” Elena smiled. “Que bonita!”
“Oh, thanks.” Kumai fingered the jade lei. “My Auntie made it. Here, now it’s yours.”
Elena put up her hands in protest. Kumai insisted and placed the circle of waxy blooms over her head with a peck to each cheek.
Elena threw her head back in a delighted laugh. “Muchos gracias.”
“My pleasure.” Kumai said. And it was true simply because of Elena’s thrill with the random gift. She went to her room, sat down on the bed, and opened her laptop.
She fired up all her web pages, scanned emails that were mostly forwards, rolled through memes on facebook, and logged in to SOS. She heard Elena depart through the garage. A glass of water and maybe even a cup of tea sounded good so she went back to the kitchen.
Susan came in, “Boil enough for me too, would you? Or do you want some of that champagne?” She pointed to the three cases on the floor where the couriers had left them. Kumai was tempted to taste again the liquid gold from those humble wooden boxes. Then Kirby came to mind in a jumble of thoughts about her being safe, how much he might be hurting tomorrow morning, and how she didn’t want to feel hung over too.
“Thanks, I would love some. However, I still have work to attend to tonight.” She wanted to hit herself for passing up such a treasured refreshment. Water would have to be refreshing enough tonight.
“Ah, just as well. I still haven’t detoxed from last night. Chamomile for me, please. I need some sleep!”
Kumai prepared two mugs for brewing. “I was hoping that Mana would want to sleep in my room tonight.”
“Oh! The dog! I keep forgetting the dog. I’ll ask Jorge for him in the morning. What’s your work tonight?”
Kumai wanted to tell Susan that it was an SOS meeting, to give her an understanding of where Kumai came from on her choices. She was clear that it was important to any permanent position with Susan to volunteer her story about Kate and Florida. But she didn’t know where to start. She hesitated.
“Oh, that was thoughtless of me. Confidentiality and all that…”
“No no, it’s fine. There’s something I want to tell you about. The story is kinda involved.”
Susan grimaced. “I’m not sure that I can give your story any attention tonight, I’m too tired to focus. Can it wait for morning?”
“Um, sure.” It can wait forever.
“Great. Thanks for the tea. I’m glad you’re back safely and I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Okay. Good night.”
“Do you want to give me a hint about your story?” She must have sensed something.
“Oh, uh, well, it involves diving.”
“Which we need to do soon.”