Kumai tossed a cube of mango into her mouth before carrying the bowl out to the lanai. The juices hummed on her tongue with piney flavor.
“You’re drooling.” Sage said and extended a napkin.
“This mango, though.” Kumai said.
“I know.” Susan agreed, taking a chunk. “Bonnie says they’re in season.”
“Where’s Kirby?” Tom asked.
“Inside, using my computer.”
“Phew what?” Kumai asked. “What ‘phew’?”
“Nothing.” Tom fidgeted. Kumai waited, looking at him. “Okay, it’s just. Well, it seems like… I only see it from the outside, you know? And I could have only part of the story…”
“What, Tom? Seems what?” Kumai put her hands on her hips.
Tom took Sage’s hand for courage and then said, “From the outside it looks like maybe you send men away.”
“Send men away?” Kumai squeaked, more loudly than she intended.
“Well, yeah, I mean, Bradon is telling people that you dumped him. What happened with Bradon?” Tom asked. Sage pulled her hand out of his.
Kumai felt anger rising and tamped it down. “You definitely have only part of the story.” She turned to go back into the house. “And the rest of the story is none of your business.”
She hurried into the kitchen, pressed her hands onto the counter, and forced herself to breathe using her mantra for strong emotions, Breathing in, I know that anger is in me. Breathing out, I know that this is an uncomfortable feeling. When the anger shifted to sadness, she stopped. She didn’t want to cry.
“What’s going on?” Kirby asked as he came into the kitchen. KAPA radio played softly from the computer where he had been signing up for SOS meetings.
“Oh, uh, Tom was being stupid.”
“And that’s a new experience for you?” Kirby asked.
Kumai laughed. “No, not new. Just frustrating.”
“Anything I can do?” He asked.
“No.” She said, then asked, “Well, uh, can you tell me, did I send you away?”
“Send me away?” Kirby asked. “You mean, like an unneeded waiter or something?”
Kumai chuckled, “I guess so, like that.”
“You simply didn’t invite me into your life.”
“Which was the perfect way to handle a drinker who was trying to start a relationship. You saw that the bottle would come first for me.” Kirby shrugged.
“Start a relationship?” Kumai asked.
“Well, yeah. I don’t just want you, Kumai. I also want to know you, to be friends and like that.”
“Oh.” She said. “Wow.” She felt herself trying to get some distance from all of this, pulling away. Was Tom right? Was she preparing to send Kirby away? “I just, I’m not the sort to settle down. I like to have wings, not roots.”
“I’m not asking you to marry me.”
“Yeah.” She shifted nervously as the music from her room changed to the song Ku’ulei Ku’uipo.
“I’m asking you to let me have another opportunity, for us to get to know each other better.” Kirby sat on a stool.
Kumai was glad that he didn’t move closer or try to kiss her because she would have said yes to everything. A relationship sounded so good. But she knew how tough it could be to heal from addiction. It wasn’t a clean start just because Kirby wanted it, there were hard times ahead for him. Being rational was the only way to make this decision. “I need a moment to calm down from Tommy. I’ll just…?” She pointed in the direction of Bonnie’s room as she took a step that way.
“Sure. I’ll get back to the forum.”
“Thanks.” Kumai wanted to hug him. If she had any physical contact with him in this moment, however, her relief would only shift into confusion again.
Bonnie stepped into her room from the lanai. “I got that at a garage sale for two dollars. Middle-aged man was selling it. He said he made it when he was a boy. A neighbor lady taught him how to crochet even though she had gone blind. By feel, she showed him how to make the stitch, then finished the edge for him. He kept it all these years.”
Kumai studied the discordant colors, the various oranges from leftover skeins, fluorescent pinks, and differing blues.
Bonnie continued, “I bought it because his story reminded me that we can always do something positive, no matter what we lose.”
“Yeah.” Kumai agreed. “Say, Bonnie, did you find anything that Taka may have left here or had sent to me? Something silver?”
“Don’t think so. Who’s Taco?”
“Oh. Doesn’t matter.”
“Sure it does, if he’s the bird in the bush.”
“Huh?” Kumai asked.
“Listen, Honey. You seem smart enough but I’m gonna make it so basic you can’t miss it: Kirby is a nice guy. He’s smitten with you. And you want a fella, whether you admit it to yourself or not.”
Kumai looked up and gave half a smile.
“So this Taco guy might be a hopeful but he ain’t here.” Bonnie finished.
“‘Love the one you’re with’?” Kumai quoted.
“That’s a theme song for STD’s. Not what I meant.” Bonnie said. “Just choose who chooses you and see if you both can stand each other. It’s as simple as that.”
“Is that what you did?” Kumai asked.
“Oh my story? It’s a lot like Susan’s. Me and my man couldn’t stand each other to start with. Always fighting. Turned out it was passion’s dark side. But we got it turned around alright.”
“Susan has a sweetheart?” Kumai asked.
“Had.” Bonnie corrected. “That’s what she went back to California to take care of, to let him go.”
“That’s hard.” Kumai agreed.
“She feels like she killed him.” Bonnie mused.
“That seems… a little extreme. He musta been crazy about her.”
“He was, according to her. And she felt, feels, the same way about him.”
“If they still love each other, why didn’t she hang on to him?” Kumai asked.
“Couldn’t. He was in a coma.”
“On life support. He had a living will, so they never shoulda put a respirator on him. But in emergencies, they check that out later.”
“What happened?” Kumai asked.
“Docs told her that he could live a long time off of support, or a few weeks, or only a few minutes. No way to tell. She told them to pull out the respirator. She said her piece. And he died.”
“Geez.” Kumai said. She thought about how Susan must be feeling. Sad. Relieved. Angry. A swirl of all those emotions and more. Regret? “How did he get into a coma?” She asked.
“He was one of them Moto GP pros.”
“Moto GP?” Kumai asked.
“Motorcycle racing? That’s dangerous. So, does she hate motorcycles now?” Kumai asked.
“No, she was his sponsor when they met. His biggest supporter in every way. He won a lot of races. Was really getting his career going, then he fell.”
“Fell? New bike? Where was his helmet?” Kumai asked.
“In the shower.”
“Why was his helmet in the shower?”
“No,” Bonnie corrected, “He slipped and fell in the shower. Took a serious blow to the head on the tile.”
“Are you kidding me? That’s like,” Kumai swirled both hands in the air trying to whip up a comparison, “Like, a skydiver breaking her neck on some stairs. That seems so…”
“Unfair.” Bonnie finished.
Kumai nodded. “Bizarre,” she added and then thought aloud, “So she feels like she killed him.”
“By pulling the plug.”
Kumai studied her hands. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Best then not to say anything. I’m hungry. Mr. Yelley says the food’s ready. Go get your hottie beau and come eat.”
Kumai chuckled softly and stood up. “Okay.” Maybe she would take Bonnie’s advice and see if she and Kirby could stand each other.
Kumai knocked on the door frame of her room to warn Kirby that she was there. “How’s it going?” she asked.
“Meeting’s finishing up.” Kirby said and turned to look at Kumai. “You?”
“I’ve regained my balance, thanks.” She walked slowly toward him, took both of his hands and pulled gently for him to stand up. She wrapped her arms around him and hugged.
He sighed, hugged her, then held her at arms’ distance. “Everything okay?” he asked.
“Fine.” She grinned. “I’m very glad that you are here. I like your offer of staying the night.” She nodded toward the couch even though she had in mind the bed. Time would sort that out.
At the split in the front of her pareo Kirby slid his hands inside and wrapped them around her waist. His hands were warm and dry as he pulled her closer, her skin cool with perspiration. He nuzzled her, brushed his lips on her bare shoulder, and worked his way up her neck. She turned her head toward him and invited a kiss.
Where before their kisses had been hungry, urgent, passionate, this one was light and fragile, like crystal champagne flutes ringing in a toast. She felt the chime of their contact all the way through her spine.
Kumai wanted to hold her breath, to hold this experience before any confusion or muddiness kicked in. But she knew from diving that she had to breathe or she would explode. Like each breath, each moment had to be relinquished for the next. She sighed. He pulled her tight for a more passionate kiss and she drew him closer.
From the front of the house came two strange noises, like a muffled tire blowing out. Twice.
He released her. “What was that?” Kirby asked.
She straightened her batik wrap and said, “Gunshots.” She tried to bring him back to what they were doing and pick up where they left off.
He undid her hands from around him and held onto them. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. We should check on the others.”
Since they didn’t hear any screaming or voices, Kumai presumed everyone was fine and that they should resume their kiss. But that canoe had drifted and now they both would be distracted. “Yeah.” she said.
He pulled her toward the lanai. Kumai almost wriggled her hand free of his. Going out there together like this made an announcement that she wasn’t ready to broadcast. Then she remembered Bonnie’s encouragement and decided to jump in with both feet.
One of Peter’s men was standing with him on the lanai. The chairs were empty. The food was all on the table.
“Where is everyone?” Kumai asked.
“Inside.” Peter said. “Get inside.” He gestured like he was herding ducks off a highway.
Everyone was watching the two men, until Kumai and Kirby stepped into her living room holding hands. Sage’s jaw dropped. Bonnie smiled. Susan looked out to sea. Tom gave Kirby a shaka.
“What’s going on?” Kumai asked her friends. “We heard shots.”
“Peter made us come inside before we could hear much.” Susan grumbled.
“But we did hear that one of their guys was grazed on the arm by a sniper’s bullet.” Tom said.
“Here?” Kumai asked.
“Yeah.” Bonnie answered. “Wounded, but okay. I imagine they are reworking their plan.”
Peter came inside while the other man resorbed into the jungle.
Tommy was the only one who had thought to bring in a plate loaded with food, as well as a cold beer from the cooler. He handed Sage the plate.
“Everyone needs to stay here tonight.” Peter announced.
They all looked at each other. Three beds. Six people, not including Peter. Only one couple.
“I can stay in Kumai’s room.” Sage offered.
“Someone needs to be with Kumai at all times.” Peter agreed.
“That’s fine, but I’m staying with Sage wherever she is.” Tom announced.
“Sage, it makes more sense for you stay with Tom in the guest bed that I had. I can stay in Kumai’s room.” Susan said.
Bonnie offered to Susan, “I can stay in Kumai’s and you can have my bed.”
Everyone looked at Kirby. “I was planning to stay on the bed, uh, shoots, I mean couch in Kumai’s room.” He looked at Kumai.
“Right.” Kumai said. “I assume that you’re not sleeping tonight, Peter? And since everyone else is in my room, where should I sleep?”
They all laughed.
She thought again about spiriting herself away for chemical reinforcement. Maybe she should have talked a little more with her online sponsor.
Peter said, “You can’t be alone. Best arrangement is someone in every room. Bonnie in her room, Sage and Tom in the guest room. Sorry Susan, that means sleeping on the sofa in the living room for you. Can you manage that?”
“Sure. Gotta be more comfortable than a chair in a hospital room.” Susan said.
Peter concluded, “Then I’ll cover the lanai if Kirby covers Kumai.”
Everyone stayed very quiet.
“Kumai’s room.” Peter stammered. “I mean with Kumai in her room.”
“I think we got it. I’m staying in my room.” Kumai said. “With Kirby.”
“That’s tonight. But we need to get you to safety tomorrow.” Peter said.
“I thought I was going to explore new places on the island tomorrow.” Kumai said.
“Not alone.” Peter insisted.
Kumai looked at Kirby. “You working?”
“I was. I’ll try to get off. Where we going?” He asked.
“North Kohala.” Kumai announced.