“What’s wrong?” Kirby asked as Kumai stiffened in his arms. “See some people you know?”
Kumai referred to her go-to question for relationships: What Would Queen Latifa Do? With this one, the queen would just shake her head. Kumai was on her own facing Bradon.
What she wanted to do was close her eyes and return to her imaginary cave exploring with Kirby. That thought brought a smile, which Bradon responded to with a wave. So she waved back.
“Do you need to greet them?”
“In a minute. We’ve been… He’s…”
“He?” Kirby turned around to look. “Oh, Bradon McCandless?”
“Right.” Of course. Everyone in Waimea would know him from his antiques shop. Kumai added, “I haven’t been to his shop in a while. I guess I’m feeling a little guilty.”
“You didn’t just say that. Gender-specific old stuff?”
“Well, you know…”
“Not really, no. I like model cars. And tools. And…”
“Okay. Here we go.”
“What?” Kumai stopped dancing and put a hand on her hip.
Kirby pulled her back in and continued, “This is where we have some difference of opinion and you es-cop-pay.”
Kumai snorted. “I don’t escape. I leave.”
“Time to go?”
“Not yet. I like it here.”
“It is a nice lodge.”
“No, here. In your arms.”
“What about Bradon?”
“Well, there’s the rub.”
“How long have you known each other?”
“Can we just dance?” Kumai looked down at their feet. Kirby was wearing cowboy boots, which she hadn’t expected.
“The song’s almost over. Want to go for another one?”
“I’d best not.”
“I take that to mean that you and McCandless are a thing.”
“Kind of. Not really. But maybe.”
“Okay. I think that’s pretty clear. You need to know that I don’t do casual hook ups.”
“What does that mean? Do you think I want that?”
“I’m trying to get to know you. But your smile to Bradon says I don’t have a chance.”
“That smile was… oh nevermind! Dang it, Kirby. You’re the one who came here with our waitress.”
“Okay, listen, we’d better stop now.”
“I need to go say hi to Bradon.”
“Of course you do.” He released her. The song hadn’t quite finished.
She turned to see where Bradon went and saw that he was still standing at the entrance. When she turned back, Kirby was gone from the dance floor.
Kumai walked to the entrance.
“I’m late for our start-over date.” Bradon kissed her other cheek. Fire and ice. “I suppose I deserve someone filling in for me.”
“Not hardly. Besides, I’m at work, remember?” Kumai smiled. “You’ve only missed the salad course.”
“Okay. I’d better find my table. Save a dance for me?”
Kumai wanted the dancing to be over for the night. All she felt was confusion and anger. The swirl of emotions pulling at her made her think, I don’t really want these feelings so I’ll have some more champagne instead.
Apparently Dr. Ching had the same idea and took a head start at it. Ice buckets were on either side of him, one with an up-ended bottle. Their server preceded Kumai to the table with a fresh bottle.
Susan was out on the floor for a second spin with Kane. Dr. Ching raised his glass to Kumai.
“Kompai.” She said.
He said, “L’Chaim!”
Taka said, “Cheers” from across the table. Manya raised her glass and said, “Bottoms up!” For some reason that made Kumai think of diving. After they drank to each others’ health, Manya led Taka to the dance floor.
“You know,” Dr. Ching said, “Sits not like I try to be boring. I know, I know how people feel about my work. S’alright.” He nodded no.
“How do you feel about your work?” Kumai asked.
“I love it! Hey, yeah, shwhat if everybodies elsh is borded by it. I like it.” He scowled. “Do my eshes sound like sh to you? sss, sh, s, s. No, I can shtill make eshes sounds.”
“Sometimes.” Kumai agreed. She noted that his coral key chit was on the table. It might be time to spirit it away. They had rooms at this lodge.
“How ’bout you?” He asked.
“I can make my esses okay, I think.”
“No ha ha ha no. Do you like your work?”
“I love it.”
“Mmm. Hmmm. But?”
Kumai looked at him. It wasn’t likely that he was going to remember tonight or their conversation, so what the heck. “Well, my work situation is growing less certain by the minute. But what’s really bugging me tonight is the idea of a boyfriend.”
She went on. “Two men here are interested in me, and me them…”
Maybe she should have stuck with conversing about the job. “Well, I don’t know how to choose. I’m safe with one fellow but kind of lukewarm about him after a year of dates. The other is exciting, but we’re really different. And I only just met him.”
“A year with the boring one.” Dr. Ching nodded knowingly and raised his glass to that.
“It doesn’t matter. You know what? We’re the lucky ones, you and me!”
“Yeah! We love our work. How many people can say that?”
“Not sho many shay that.”
“Exactly. I’m not making bank, but I have a good life.”
“Not gonna buy the Moona Lodge or shom mansion. Manson. Mansion. Ish there shposed to be a sh in mansion? No, no, it’s an esh.”
The main course was being set up near the service doors as the song finished. Everyone returned to their tables for the meal and entertainment.
Polynesian dancers lined the darkened stage as the steady beating of drums set a solemn tone. The women wore floor length white grass skirts, white shell tops, and long white feather plumes charging down their waist-length dark hair. The men wore knee length white wraps with long grasses tethered to each leg below the knee. Each man wore a white bone necklace carved in whorls, swirls, or detailed fish hooks that looked like reverse tattoos on their dark skin.
Then came silence and the sounding of the Pu to the four directions. The resonant tone of the conch shell raised the hair on Kumai’s arms. Reverence for the performers electrified the room. The stage lights flared. As the dance started, women in the audience let out howls and yaps of encouragement.
Susan whispered, “I love hula.”
Kumai winced, then let it go.
The Tahitian dancers stepped and moved to the simple beats in perfect rhythm. Then a peppering of faster beats rode on top of the base thumping. The women’s hips kept time with the half, then quarter beats. The grasses became a white blur of motion, while the dancers’ shoulders, arms, and hands remained peacefully still. The men worked their knees in rapid movement with the drumming, making wild jumps and crab-like walks across stage in the impossible cadence. Dancers alternated displaying their precision in a visual feast. With final loud drum beats, they stopped.
The audience cheered and applauded wildly. Kumai couldn’t believe that after such a level of exertion, the dancers were still smiling. She knew she would have been doubled over gasping for air.
Triangular white plates of opakapaka with lilikoi hollandaise, white asparagus, navy beans, and jasmine rice arrived at the table. Kumai wished she had taken Susan’s bet.
Susan looked at her plate in disbelief. “This violates every principle of beautiful food.”
“Let’s taste it.” Kumai suggested.
The white beans had a hint of cumin, so subtle it was like a whisper. Same with the seasonings on the other foods.
“This fish is to die for.” Susan raved.
“One of my favorites.” Taka agreed.
“Not ash boring ash it look, uh?” Dr. Ching giggled.
Manya leaned toward them and quietly said to Susan, “Those dances were Tahitian, not hula.”
“Oh, how embarrassing.” Susan said, “I’m sorry. I simply don’t know.”
“It’s generally safe to say ‘Polynesian dance’.” Manya offered.
“Unless they’re First People from a North American tribe, or from Africa.” Manya smiled warmly at Susan but dropped her softness when her eyes met Kumai’s.
Maybe, Kumai thought, I acted too friendly with Taka? Or have I made a cultural faux pas too, but I’m supposed to know better? It was unnerving to feel anger coming from the woman.
They finished the main course and dance music started again. Small waffle cones of palate-cleansing coconut ice circulated the the room. Massaging away a massive brain-freeze, Kumai looked up to see Bradon extending his hand to her for a dance.
After a few steps, she began to wonder if it was dancing that she loved. Here now in Bradon’s arms she felt comfortable, happy, and at home.
“I’ve missed you.” He said.
“Thanks. This is nice.”
“What do you say we go diving soon?” Bradon asked.
“I’d love that. My client asked to go, if she could come along?”
“No caves, then?”
Kumai blushed. Bradon had other plans for their dive than she had realized. She couldn’t decide if she liked the idea of exploring caves with Bradon or not, but she was willing to give him a chance.
“Caves can wait a little longer.” She said.
“How long’s the client in town?”
“I don’t know.” Kumai laughed. “But she won’t need to join me for every dive.”
“Then there’s hope.”
“There’s hope.” Kumai agreed.
Taka interrupted them and asked Bradon if he could cut in. Bradon bristled, then said to Kumai, “Save the last dance for me.”
“You’re not diving tonight.” Kumai observed to Taka.
“Nor are you.”
“Clearly not. Sounds like we’re both not thinking again.”
“One of us isn’t thinking too clearly. That attacker is here somewhere. You don’t want to have your reflexes slowed.”
“But I’ll never get to drink it again.” She knew she was whining.
“You won’t for sure if that fella stabs you.”
“Do you think he’s the person who killed the guy last night? But no, the one I pursued out of town ran toward his car way ahead of me.”
“I told Yelley you had a good reason for leaving.”
“You vouched for me? That’s so sweet. Why don’t you put in a good word for me with your beautiful-but-scary girlfriend or wife or whatever she is?”
“Do you want me to guess what that means?”
“That could be entertaining but it would probably embarrass one of us. She is my chief.”
Kumai danced with him in silence for a moment. “Okay. But that doesn’t explain why she’s giving me stink eye.”
“She thinks you’re with your Kumu Lani.”
“Lani is my former Kumu. But why would that matter?”
“They’ve had some differences.”
Kumai tried to imagine such powerful women at odds. She arrived at two conclusions. One: never get between them. Two: the world would change if they ever worked together.
“So, Taka, are you with Peter’s ‘Company’?”
“It’s a collaboration between governments.”
“Over old drugs?”
Taka didn’t answer. Kumai guessed that to mean that he wasn’t going to lie to her. And he also wasn’t going to be a lava flow of information. So be it.
“Is there anything I can do to help Manya not hate me?”
“You can always ask questions.”
“She won’t bite my head off? What if I ask something really stupid?”
“We stopped eating people quite a while ago. Explain your story. Everyone wants to help others understand. Help her to understand your heritage.”
“What ancestors you carry inside.”
“What if I don’t know?”
“Start investigating. You need to know.”
Taka led them back to the table at the end of the song and thanked Kumai for the dance.
The next entertainment were a Kupuna Hula halau. Beautiful older women moved in graceful unison to their Kumu Hula’s falsetto singing and ukulele strumming. One woman sat crosslegged on the stage, beating a rhythm on an ipu, and calling out. The halau called back in response and danced with joyous swaying.
Kumai sighed. Dr. Ching had tears on his cheeks by the time they finished.
“Hana hou!” The room cheered for an encore.
The halau looked to their Kumu who nodded assent. The room silenced. He called out a new dance. The women shifted their places then performed a brief piece which Kumai understood to be about picking flowers for a lover who had gone out to sea. This time she teared up. Boyfriends, meh.
When the applauding faded, they turned to the bowls of raw fish and passed the foods to share. Dr. Ching moved to pour more champagne but Taka stood up, reached over and intervened.
“Allow me.” He said.
“Snice.” Dr. Ching told Kumai.
Taka put a splash in the doctor’s glass, touched the bottle to Kumai’s goblet without pouring, and served the others.
Dr. Ching whispered, “I’m not drunk ash thinkle peep.”
“Wasn’t that dancing exquisite?” Susan asked.
“I’m jus’ a little slort of sheep.”
“That happens.” Kumai said.
Bradon inserted himself between Kumai and Dr. Ching. She relaxed in relief.
“I would appreciate it if you didn’t dance with other men.” Bradon said.
Kumai’s relief popped like a champagne bubble. She took a deep breath, gathering her thoughts to speak.
Susan put her hand on Kumai’s arm, “Can you show me where the restrooms are?”
Kumai smiled coldly to Bradon and said, “Excuse me.”
Susan and Kumai rose from the table just in time to see four police officers enter the lodge. They wore dress whites. Two fanned out to the left and two went to the right.
“Oh crap.” Kumai muttered.
“What?” Susan asked.
Kumai nodded toward the entry, then took Susan’s arm to speed her to the restroom. “Those officers are here for us.”