Susan swam nearer and smoothed over the poolside tension. “I explained to Skip that we were in Europe. He was just telling me how the FBI investigated his staff and discovered that some of his new people were infiltrators.”
“For whom?” Kumai asked.
“They wouldn’t say. Scary stuff, that.” Skip inserted.
“You think?” Kumai said.
“Ms. Kaimana, please allow me to make it up to you.” Skip Summerbourne swam closer to the edge of the pool near Kumai.
Kumai stepped back, almost tripping off of the pavement edge into the landscaping. “Susan, I’m headed back to the room.”
He tried again, “Please, you must know how horrified I am.”
“Okay, good.” Kumai said. Then to Susan, “I’ll wait up for you.” She left.
Back at the room, the masseuse was as good as Susan had said. Unfortunately, Kumai tensed up after resisting the impulse to drown Skip Summerbourne. It helped nothing to leave Susan alone with him at the pool. Now Kumai worried about Susan making it back to the room safely.
Near the completion of Kumai’s massage, Susan returned to the room. When Susan plopped down on the loveseat, the masseuse whistled. “There we go. Couldn’t get this one to release.”
“Tense?” Susan asked Kumai.
“Skip has asked us to lunch tomorrow. He really feels terrible about what happened to you.” Susan opened their door to room service. A cart with a fresh ice bucket of champagne and a large covered platter rolled past Kumai’s face-down body. “We have pupu’s when you’re done.”
The masseuse said, “Best we stop here. She has gone rigid again. Maybe we could try this again tomorrow, without mentioning that name you just said. It locked up her muscles.”
“Sure,” Susan said and tipped the masseuse.
Kumai sat up and looked at the food cart. She found a box of matches next to the tiny brazier and lit it. Then she removed the cover from the pupu array. Her stomach growled.
“Me too,” Susan said. “Being angry burns a lot of calories.”
“What are you angry about?” Kumai asked.
Susan raised her eyebrows. “Really? Honolulu?”
“Oh, that.” Kumai grimaced. “Sorry again.”
“Turns out that my being here could be a good thing. I needed to reconnect with Skip anyway. He’s helping our land trust sort out water rights.”
“What is it with that man and water?”
“You noticed,” Susan said. “He’s brilliant.”
“Sparkling.” Kumai scoffed and lifted her fresh glass of champagne to Susan. “What do you want to toast to?”
“Forgiveness.” Susan said and clinked flutes with Kumai.
“You seem pretty sure that he had nothing to do with the attempt on my life on his yacht.”
“He would never.” Susan said. “His style is destruction in the courtroom. Besides, he’s smitten with you. He wants you to live.”
“Oh good.” Kumai stuffed some freshly roasted huli chicken in her mouth, then slugged down champagne to cool it. She talked with her mouth full, “He and I have found our first point of agreement.”
“Lunch should go very smoothly then.”
“I thought we’d head back to the Big Island in the morning.” Kumai said.
“My jet won’t be ready until the day after tomorrow.”
“Ah.” Kumai wilted. Somehow being trapped on Oahu for a day caused her to relax more than the massage had done. “Would it be safe to say that you have tomorrow’s agenda filled for us?”
Between the hot tub, champagne, and massage, Kumai knew she would sleep well. On the floor at the side of her bed was a freshly placed white cloth with a damask orchid. A floor napkin of sorts, to protect Kumai’s bare feet from touching a public floor. Turned back with a tiny white chocolate orchid on the fold, her bed was unbelievably comfortable. She snuggled in. And lay there. Her eyes would not stay closed.
She turned the digital clock to hide the slow passing of minutes, then hours. Hawaiian music drifted up from the beach bars below then silenced as the night crept along. Finally, she huffed, got out of bed and opened her room shutters to find a nearly-full moon glistening over the bay of Waikiki. She scuffed out to the long lanai and found Susan standing at the railing on the other end.
Kumai sat on a chaise at her end and left Susan in peace. But Susan heard her and walked over. “Can’t sleep either? Maybe it’s the moon.”
“Beautiful.” Kumai said. “Wanna have a seat?” She pointed to the other lounge beside her.
Susan stretched out, crossing her long pale legs.
“Whenever we’re out in the sun, you slather on sunscreen. I’ve never seen anyone put it on their legs.” Kumai observed.
“The first sign of skin cancer is a healthy tan.” Susan quipped.
Kumai rubbed her nose. Maybe it was time for her to be more careful about such things. “What’s got you not sleeping?”
“Thinking about my husband.”
“Terribly.” Susan pulled up her legs and hugged her knees. “He was such a gentleman. Always considering me first, no matter what his wishes were.”
“Sounds like he loved you very much.”
“And I him. We loved each other well.” Susan sat in silence. Then she mused, “I don’t think I’ll find another one like him. I don’t think that I want to.”
Kumai waited for that to sink in, then said, “So when you’re ready, find a different one?”
Susan guffawed. “Yes. A different one. That should be much easier.”
“I don’t mean an abuser or anything…” Kumai feared that she sounded callous.
“You’re so much wiser than you realize, Kumai. I appreciate your friendship. And your candor. You have helped me through a dark time in my life.”
“Oh.” Kumai stammered. “Well.”
“What makes you, you?” Susan asked.
“Um. Hmmmm.” Kumai said.
“Right? It’s such an interesting question. When I released my husband from life support, he just slipped away. Profound stillness, deep silence, gone. What was gone? His body was there, but he was not.”
“Interesting.” Kumai agreed. “I don’t know.”
“Do you have any beliefs about life after death?” Susan asked.
“Um, uh. Hmmmm.” Kumai said.
“Yeah, me too.” Susan stood up. “I think I can sleep now. You are such a good listener. Thank you.”
“Sure.” Kumai said. She sat there, still awake, wondering what answers she would have given to those questions. What made her herself had always been identifying as a diver, a lover of the ocean. If something ever happened to make diving impossible, what would she be then?
As to the end of life, she had her own ideas about death. Her mother raised Kumai in the Catholic church for as long as she could, just until after catechism. Being a doctor, her mother pushed for exposure rather than conversion. Her father simply presented ideas for her to consider, as he had received from his Buddhist mother and Methodist father.
She started down the Christian route and accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior. Then she read the Bible. It held different messages than the Methodist and Catholic churches were teaching her. In fact, it contained contradictions internally as well. The message of love from Jesus was the part that made the most sense to her, including not throwing stones, while still paying taxes and drinking wine. Both of the testaments said that God’s law was written on people’s hearts and minds. She decided to take that agreement between the old and new as her doctrine.
Whenever she visited her mother’s sisters in Mexico, they would fuss over her and say, “Mija, vamonos a la Iglesia!” and pull her along with them. She thought their nickname for her was Mia until she heard other women calling young girls Mija. And she was excited by all of their plans while she thought they were going to see Julio Iglesias, but he never showed.
Her mother still worried about her soul, to which Kumai simply replied that nothing could ever separate her from God’s love. Besides, she argued, she was in the safe zone already. Living by faith meant that God had this. The name God came out of her mouth only to be able to talk to her mother. That name conjured an imaginary friend who looked strangely similar to Mr. Claus, or Zeus, and felt just about as real as either of them.
The idea of reincarnation never grabbed her. It was possible that she was only in her first life because she remembered nothing from before. Or, she might have been royalty, and when they beheaded her she forgot everything from her past lives. And if she did come back again, she already knew she wanted to come back as any one of her client’s dogs. Except maybe Susan’s dog.
People, especially in her twelve-step groups, tried to tell her that relinquishing control to a Higher Power was the way to peace of mind. And she knew of powers greater than herself: life, the ocean, the internet.
Her Abuelito had lived a miserable life in Mexico. Then she married and moved to Idaho where she found seasonal income as a migrant worker on potato farms. She often told Kumai of the wonders of heaven and how she could hardly wait to go there. Her beliefs were so strong, Kumai wondered why she had stayed alive all of those bad years if heaven had better conditions waiting. But some religious law against premature heavening prevented her grandmother from accessing her reward until God’s timing brought her in. At ninety, her Abuelito was completely ready to go, but really no more so than Kumai knew her to be throughout life. Sometimes Kumai wondered if her grandmother missed all of the time she had spent waiting.
Through unrequited longing, her grandmother taught her about the highest power Kumai knew: the present moment. If there was no heaven, it would be a waste to spend a lifetime wishing for something other than right now. All of the information seemed to point to one conclusion for Kumai: this is it.
Thoughts drifted, mixed, and slid away from her. She saw Skip Summerbourne vending candy necklaces at a pool concession stand. He told her not to get hers wet. She looked at him like he was an idiot and took over the stand, which also now vended an inventory of rosaries and hunting knives for children.
But then he never came back and she needed the restroom. She awoke with a start and found herself in a chaise lounge on a lanai at a premier resort on Oahu. It interested her to note that she wished she were at the dream concession stand instead. She got up and carried her disappointment with her to the bathroom, and then to bed, where any hard feelings evaporated in the cloud-like bedding.