Kumai’s first thought after falling off of the pier was to stay under water for a while. She could. Maybe she would just swim away. Maybe Taka would just go on with his day and leave her alone with her humiliation.
Her next thought was that she should have worn something under the white T-shirt. Keeping an outfit simple was fine, but she had pared it down to one layer which would now be transparent.
She surfaced and tread water as best she could while keeping her knees bent. If she touched coral or wana, the only cure she knew for those wounds was something she did not want to ask of Taka, urine.
“There’s a ladder here.” Taka walked over to it and reached for her. “Are you hurt?”
“I think I’ve compound fractured my dignity.” She stayed put.
“Can you get yourself to the ladder?” He asked.
“I’m not sure.”
He started unbuttoning his shirt. Stunned, it took Kumai a moment to realize that he was intending to come in after her. He was pulling off his shirt and about to drop it on the pier. She really hated to interrupt. But his good clothes were going to get dirty. “Wait, Taka. I’m fine. See? Here I come. Don’t drop your clean shirt.” But don’t put it back on, either. Okay?
She doggie paddled to the ladder and hung on to the bottom rung. In order to keep her modesty submerged she held on with one hand and floated up, then down with the water.
“You’re not okay.” He said, forgetting his shirt and dropping it.
“I just can’t use both arms.” She explained, holding one across her chest.
“Did you break it?” He crouched at the top of the ladder. When the next surge lifted her, he grabbed her by the waist and lifted her out of the water to stand in front of him.
Surprised by the sudden extraction, she wobbled on her feet. He surrounded her with his arms and held her steady, close, and very still. They both had stopped breathing because even one small breath would increase their awareness of his bare chest pressed against her wet top. She gave in, wrapped her arms around him, and rested her cheek on his shoulder. His wonderfully warm chest pressed against her chill.
“Your arm is working.” He said, his voice silky.
“Not really.” She muttered into his chest. “It was supposed to be covering something.”
Taka chuckled. She shivered with delight. He gave her a gentle squeeze and kissed her wet hair. Then he bent down, got his shirt, and draped it over her without looking. From the inside, she clasped the shirt closed at the front.
“We’ve ruined your Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes.” She said, gesturing to his soaked shorts.
“Your foot’s bleeding.” He said.
Kumai looked down to see a cut on her little toe. “I tripped on a nail.”
“Can you walk?” He asked, taking her free hand and resting it inside his bent elbow. He pulled the back of her hand against his well-muscled side.
I’m levitating, thank you. “Yup.”
He held her steady even so. She decided not to protest.
“Do you have time for me to run your clothes through the wash?” Kumai asked as they hobbled to her house.
“I would love for you to get me out of my clothes. Unfortunately, that will have to wait because this meeting will not.”
“I’m sorry.” Kumai couldn’t look at him. She hobbled onto her lanai, grabbed a beach towel to wrap herself and held out his shirt.
He reached for the shirt but took her hand as well, pulling the shirt and her closer. He drew her hand to the center of his chest, pressed it there and with his other hand stroked the side of her neck. Then he slid his hand to the base of her head. When she finally looked up to see if he was going to kiss her, he pressed up on the base of her skull. Her head tilted down. He touched his forehead to hers, rolling both their heads up only until their noses touched.
Kumai simply breathed. Taka smelled of cut grasses, cinnamon, tomato plants, and the sun on skin. She drew in a bigger breath as he continued to gently prevent her from tilting her head up to kiss him. She really wanted to kiss him. Actually, she wanted to devour him, to drink him up, and to breath him in. Since all she could do was breathe, she breathed.
Then she remembered that she still had a free hand. Without opening her eyes she rested her palm on the side of his face, felt his features, and lightly brushed his lips with her thumb.
He sighed and released her. “Where did you learn to exchange ha?”
“Huh?” She asked.
He smiled, then laughed. “You are so fine.” He put on his shirt and left.
Kumai sat down on the punee to think. She couldn’t. English was no longer her first language. She felt like she had been given a full-body shot of Novacaine. Life had become floaty, pain free, and swollen with potential not there before she and Taka had touched. Language, in fact, was no longer her first language.
She walked into the house looking for something to ground herself. She drank some water, set down the empty glass, and spotted the folded map in a baggie. A map.
No triangles jumped out at her as she unfolded it. Very pronounced, however, were white lines where the copier had not printed, and black lines where it had printed too much. It reminded her of another zebra-striped paper she had seen recently. She remembered how at the time it seemed unprofessional. But where did she see it? She went to her stack of things she never intended to do and rifled through the sheets of paper.
The matching stripe pattern showed up on a pamphlet. It was for Kumu Lani’s gardening class. She wondered who had made copies for Lani. She almost reached for her phone to text Kaandi and ask, then caught herself. She looked out to the water and no longer saw Bradon’s boat.
Looking again at the map, she found a rectangle with two plus signs inside of it marking the spot where she and Susan had come upon Bradon and the others. She turned the map over and on the back drew the symbols that were scratched onto the pier.
On her laptop she researched the symbols and found that Taka was right. When she used the word topography in her search, similar icons came up. Next to the symbols she had sketched, she jotted what she understood each to represent. The area where Bradon and company had been was marked as a burial ground.
An instant message pinged from her SOS sponsor, checking in with her. She happily reported no recent urges. Or at least no urges to use cocaine. They signed off and she checked her email. No messages, which was normal. There were also no forwards from Sage with inspiring quotes on photoshopped pictures of nature, which was unusual. Her mermaid friend was probably angry about Bonnie’s eviction.
That reminded Kumai to go look at her great sense of decor. She cleaned her little toe and wrapped it with a folded half of paper towel. Her explorations of her home began in what Sage had called “Bonnie’s room”. Kumai’s pastel coverlet, a 1980’s castoff from one of the resorts, had been replaced by a riot of colorful handiwork. A handmade Hawaiian quilt was topped with granny square and zigzag afghans in kaleidoscopic colors. It looked like jazz improvisation in visual form. Throw pillows with tiny mirrors and tribal embroidery caught the light and glimmered.
Kumai hesitated. She liked it. It was completely different from anything she would have chosen. Did that make it less her home?
She went next to the room where Sage and Tom stay. Bonnie had found a duvet cover in green that matched the ti and hibiscus leaves outside the window. The rest of the room was swept clean of geegaws. New pieces added to the room were a small areca palm in a bamboo basket and a couple of mismatched green chairs with a round table between them. Kumai sighed. The room was restful, like a garden retreat.
Where had Bonnie gone, she wondered. She texted Sage, then waited for a reply. Nothing. So she decided to call Bonnie.
The call went to voicemail. “You’ve reached the bottom of Bonnie’s purse. If you want a call back, leave a message and she’ll dial you when she finds her phone.”
At the tone Kumai left a brief message to call. She didn’t know what she would say. She felt like maybe there could be room in her house for both of them, but she didn’t want to commit to anything permanent.
Then she dialed Sage and reached her breathy voicemail, “Underwater Wonder Sage Smith is in her watery world right now. Please leave a detailed message for your booking. May you be Oceanic. Mahalo nui loa.”
“Sage, this is Kumai. Hey, I’m trying to reach Bonnie and wondered if you knew where I could find her. Please call me when you get a minute? Thanks.”
As she touched the phone screen to end the call she saw that she was thirty minutes past the resort office hours. Still feeling at loose ends, she wandered back into the kitchen.
Her stomach growled. She groaned knowing that she hadn’t brought home any groceries. But upon opening the refrigerator she found all the prepared food from this morning. There was white pineapple cored, peeled, and sliced. Little breakfast musubi were fanned out in a decorative circle on a slate tile. And there was a mountain of kiawe-smoked cooked bacon.
As she grazed from the plates, she admitted that plenty of room remained in her hale for another person.