Lightning’s bench seat allowed the pup to stretch out beside Kumai as she drove. Shifting gears prevented her from multitasking until she reached the Queen’s Highway. The old truck’s top speed was 53 mph in fourth. She pulled out her notepad and noticed her darkened letters “WEAR I.D.”
“Woops.” She whispered. The dog opened one eye, snuffled, and stretched. Kumai set her notepad on the furry flank and jotted ideas for dog names while she drove. She passed the turnoff for Waimea and Mana Road, which caused her to think of two things simultaneously: Mana was the perfect name for this dog. And she couldn’t delay calling Bradon any longer. She closed the notepad, put in her bluetooth, cranked her window almost-closed, and said, “Call Bradon.”
She hoped he wouldn’t answer. Realizing that she didn’t know what to say in a message, she moved to disconnect the call. His phone would show that she had tried to reach him, at least. But he answered.
“Bradon! Hi. It’s Kumai. Sorry about last night. I didn’t get to go up to Waimea after all.”
An awkward silence was followed by, “I need to know if we are, you know, I don’t know how to say it…”
“We are friends, Bradon.” Kumai answered. She didn’t want to be making these decisions right now.
“Not for now. It’s too soon for me…” I have no idea what I’m saying, she thought. I have no idea what I want. All I know is I want less anchor and more sail.
“After a year.”
“Bradon, listen,” Kumai wanted intimacy with somebody, she just wasn’t sure she wanted that somebody to be Bradon. She didn’t even know if she wanted to stay in Hawaii.
“No, it’s okay. Friends it is.” Bradon said. “I’ll see you around.”
He disconnected. Kumai’s shoulders relaxed but her heart clenched. She liked Bradon. Maybe Bonnie was right: she should simply get a beau. The image of Kirby in his EMT uniform volunteered itself. Then a memory of Kane surfaced from when he had helped her to redeem the pup from the airport. Kane! Was she supposed to meet him tonight? No, that’s on Friday. This was Wednesday. She made herself focus on melting her shoulders again. She enjoyed the drive, especially watching Mana hang his head out of the window riding around town.
Oshima’s Drugstore carried local items to fill a welcome-to-the-islands basket. For Susan, Kumai gathered packets of arare, li hing gummi bears, taro chips, genmai cha, rice crackers, and ahi jerky, along with a silk flower lei. Pualani’s Floral, their next stop, could rig up a gift basket from the snacks, adding sprays of real orchids and seasonal fruits: mango, avocado, and citrus.
In the checkout line, Kumai’s cell chimed a simple ukulele chord. It signaled a text from Susan, “Delayed until tomorrow. Use your discretion for dog. Thx.”
“Huh.” Kumai said, then bailed out of the line. Do I buy this stuff now or wait to see if this lady will ever take the drop? She texted her reply, “Got it, thanks.”
She strolled the aisles of coolers and fishing tackle. The kids’ snorkel sets pushed her thoughts toward tonight’s dive. Avoiding that, she made a cutback and dropped into one of the four liquor aisles, which didn’t work for her either. Alcohol served as a gateway drug when she was at loose ends, like now.
“Lost?” Kirby chuckled.
“Oh Hey!” Kumai laughed, noticing him. “Yeah, kinda. My client just cancelled her arrival tonight.”
“Yeah.” Kumai realized that she had now opened herself to a night out with Kirby. “But my dive master…”
“You don’t want to hear this. How are you?”
“I’m good. Stocking up.” He raised a case of Steinlager. “Best prices here.”
“Yeah, so I hear.”
“You don’t drink.”
Kumai noted that it was a remark and not a question. And she wondered again what Kirby was like besides having distracting biceps and a sweet smile. Did she want to give up a free evening to find out? Or maybe she should be going on that dive. Or she could go up to Susan’s ranch and hide from it all. She knew she didn’t want to return home yet. “Well. I’m just…” She gestured something meaning nothing with her free hand.
“My arms are getting tired. I think I’ll go to the checkout.”
“Oh, yes, sure. Sure.” She found it attractive that he didn’t ask her again to go do something. It made her want to, and what would an hour or so over a beer hurt? “Kirby, um, your message? Do you still want to go somewhere for a bit?”
He looked at her, clinically observing her as if assessing a patient’s condition, then smiled, “Shoots. Where you wanna go?”
His relaxed speech dissolved her reserve. “Somewhere on the ocean. Where I can take a dog.”
“Gotta be Lava Java’s then, outside. First one there gets a table.” He said over his shoulder, heading to the front of the store. Kumai left by another aisle.
Grilling scents mixed with roasting garlic at Lava Java where she found an ocean-facing table. She settled Mana on the bricks with a bowl of water from their server. She tethered the pup to the rubber tree so that he could observe any sparrows seeking crumbs, but not lunge under tables for them. Kirby arrived just as the server returned and turned her manga eyes on him. He gestured for Kumai to order first.
“Coconut Porter, with a lime if you have. And a glass of ice, please.” Kumai said.
“Longboard,” Kirby said, pulling out the chair across from Kumai rather than either one next to her. “And a glass, thanks.”
“My pleasure!” their server said, a little too pleased.
“Things calm down after last night?” Kirby asked.
Kumai didn’t know what to say. If she said no, he’d want details.
“What’s the dog’s name?” Kirby asked. “I didn’t hear it last night.”
“Mana.” Kumai answered, glad for the change of subject. Just then from the open sea her dive boat cruised into view headed for the pier. She startled, then looked down.
“You okay?” Kirby asked, his concern hidden by leaning back in his chair. He looked over his shoulder out to sea.
“I’m okay. Jumpy after last night.” she said.
Their beers arrived. “Understandable.” he nodded, raising his glass to hers, “To beer.”
Kumai leaned forward and asked, “Kirby, could their deaths have been suicides?”
“I’m not trained as a pathologist. I don’t know. Maybe, but, I dunno.” He leaned forward to pat Mana. “You haven’t heard anything on cause of death yet?”
“Don’t think I will, either.” she said, squeezing the lime into the chocolate-brown beer.
“What’s the glass of ice for?” Kirby asked.
“The second half of my beer. I’m not crazy about drinking it warm.”
Kumai observed the sets of waves rolling in. She mused, “Don’t you just love the sea?”
There was a long pause. Kirby tilted his head to assess her again and seemed to decide something. “Not really, no. It’s pretty. But I could take it or leave it.”
“But,” Kumai sputtered in disbelief. She couldn’t think of anyone not loving the ocean. “Aren’t you from here?”
“Grown here not flown here.” Kirby agreed.
“Did, uh,” Kumai tried to think of how to ask, “Did something traumatic happen with the ocean?”
“Not for me, no. I spent plenty days playing in the ocean, body surfing, snorkeling, spear and net-fishing, you name it. It’s just not my thing.”
Friendship with this guy might be difficult. Her life circulated around the sea. “What is your thing?” She asked, trying to sound casual and fearing it came out curt.
“I like my work…” Kirby drained another third of his beer. “But that’s also where I got to see what the ocean can do. Talk about mana.”
“Sobering.” Kumai agreed, thinking of Kate.
“And I have other interests outside of work.” Kirby said. He signaled the server. “Are we eating?” He asked Kumai.
“I’d have a pupu.” Kumai said. “Seafood?”
“Their Kalua pig is great. Have you had it?” Kirby ran his finger down the menu. “They have poke.”
“I like poke, but nothing raw for me today.” Kumai looked to the server, “The Luau Platter.”
“Catch of the day is Ahi, or pork?” The server asked.
“With Kalua Pork, please.”
Kirby handed the server his menu as Kumai explained that they would share. He studied Kumai while she checked on the dog. Then he said, “Your work must require you to take charge, huh? What is it you do?”
“I’m uh, did I just order for both of us without asking you?” Kumai felt her face turn hot.
“Kinda. You ordered what I wanted, though…”
“Oh. Well, wow, that was awkward of me. Yeah, I do spend a lot of time anticipating what people need. I’m sorry.” She smiled bashfully. “I, uh, actually I really enjoy my occupation. It’s a great feeling to help people get what they want.” She told a little more about her concierge work.
They ate the pork, sharing bites with the dog. Kumai avoided any talk about her diving. She tried to focus on asking the right questions about Kirby’s employment, but watching the preparations in the distance on the dive boat was distracting.
Kumai was working to make it less awkward at their table. As meeting that need slipped away from her, she started to think of how to end the date, or whatever this was. A man known to locals as Charles wandered past on the ocean side of Alii Drive.
“That guy is pretty rough.” Kirby commented, forking another bite to the dog.
Kumai looked at Charles’ mats of hair and agreed but wanted to disagree. She put down her fork, “Isn’t he homeless?”
Kirby set down his fork. “I’ve taken that guy to the ER in our ambulance. That long dreadlock pelt is only the obvious part. His fingernails, the bottoms of his feet…”
“Like he has a shower and a washing machine behind a tree?” she challenged.
Kirby pushed back from the table and set down his napkin. “Passes out from too much of something…”
“Like a heart attack, maybe?”
“Alcohol, more likely.”
“But you don’t know?”
“We don’t get to stick around for diagnoses and treatment.” Kirby said.
Kumai paused, watching Charles’s sunburned leathery back disappear toward the pier in a slow rolling walk. “Maybe you should. I’ve heard good things about Charles from some people in the community.”
“Old hippies, you mean?” Kirby asked.
“I guess so.” Kumai answered, gulping her beer. She set down the last third of the glassful, looked at the unused glass of melting ice, and decided that she was ready to move on. “Well, I’d best be going to my next stop.” She smiled, lips closed.
Kirby nodded. “Me too.”
“It was…” Kumai tried to think of something. “good pork. Just as you said.” She fished out a twenty. “Think this’ll do it?”
“I’ve got it.” Kirby offered.
“That’s okay, but thank you.” Kumai pinned the money under the unlit table candle, then untethered Mana. “Have a good evening.” She heard herself sounding formal like she was at work.
“You too.” Kirby said and nodded politely, not looking at her.
Their server returned. She asked Kumai as sweetly as coconut syrup over banana pancakes, “Leaving so soon?”
Kumai assented and led the dog away. She could hear the server warming up to Kirby, “You from Kona-town, then?”