Taka’s lifestyle suited Kumai’s penchant for escape. But she was possibly bound to a relationship with Kirby. She sat in the Range Rover in her driveway staring at Taka’s scooter. She looked at her hands on the steering wheel. Maybe she should just go for a drive and escape this situation too.
“Possibly bound…” she muttered and reached for her phone. The dark screen stared back at her. Maybe technology could help. She asked, “Siri, are Kirby and I dating or not?”
The British male voice responded, “Interesting question.”
She tried, “Should I be alone with Taka?”
Mr. Siri sounded like an apologetic hair stylist, “I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that.”
She tried several other questions which resulted in, “I’m not sure I understand.”
She had to agree with Siri but cursed anyway.
“Kumai, language!” the shocked phone answered. She put it away.
The problem seemed to be that she didn’t want to be alone with Taka. Last time she had seen him was when he showed up in Paris for an international spy meet or something. He didn’t say why he was there. She still wasn’t sure why he had been dressed in a casual linen shirt and fitted jeans if he was working. Maybe he was undercover as a model.
She caught herself wondering what he was wearing right now and then understood the reason for her hesitation to go inside her home. The problem was that she did want to be alone with Taka. Clearly, she should just go for a ride.
As she started the engine, she looked up to see Taka holding open her bamboo gate for her. She shut off the vehicle and stepped out.
“Welcome home.” Taka smiled. “Luggage?”
“None.” Kumai smiled and then looked at her feet. She couldn’t gaze at the Maori or she would melt. He had on board shorts.
“I’ll travel with you anytime.” He drew out his Australian accent. “I usually carry just a backpack and I thought I traveled light.” He said loyt for light.
Kumai breathed. She didn’t want to tell him. But then she did, “Lost luggage.” She was pretty sure with Taka that whatever she did or didn’t want to do was now completely scrambled. He sported tribal tattoos that begged for artistic appreciation.
“I’m actually here for work.” Taka’s tone was filled with regret.
“Dressed for success.” Kumai quipped and strode past him onto her lanai. The cement, swept clean of leaves, was warm under her feet as she kicked off her shoes. She tried to remember if she had ever swept her front lanai.
“I waited on your back lanai.” Taka pointed around the house as if he would go that way. “My shirt’s out there. I was thinking about a swim.”
“Come on through. We can work out back and then I’ll join you for that swim.” She held the screen door open for him.
Inside, her house was barely changed from when she had left. Except that it was better somehow. Things were tidy and straightened. Her inherited geegaws were clustered in meaningful arrangements. Her deCillia painting had moved to a different wall. It looked better. Why hadn’t she thought of hanging it there? Her sense of awe wrestled with a feeling of violation.
“Everything okay?” Taka scanned the room. “It’s nice.”
“Yes. Yes, it is noyce.” Kumai glanced at the model sailboat but couldn’t tell if it had been disturbed. It could wait. “Take a look in the fridge and pour us both something cold. I’m going to go put on my suit.”
Her bedroom was arranged in tidy alignment, dusted, straightened, fresh. She could get used to coming home to a lived-in hale. She could still do without an actual live-in however. And now, with Taka here, her alone time was ticking away. Maybe she could hurry along their work.
She emerged wearing board shorts and a swim tank, raised a glass of mango juice from Taka in a toast, and asked, “What work?”
“A while ago you reported a dossier full of documents stolen from your car.” He held open the screen for her to go out onto the back lanai.
It all flooded back to her. The envelope intended for her neighbors who were found dead when she got home, the browned papers on her uncle’s table, the mangled trunk on her Miata, two police reports in one day. The murders. She nodded reluctantly for Taka to go on.
“We suspect that there was more to those old papers. They could be quite valuable.”
“Somebody else apparently thought so too.”
“Any idea who?”
“I would say Kane. Has he turned up yet?” She shivered.
“He surfaced in Vegas but disappeared right after he arrived there. We’re thinking he went toward California and maybe into Mexico.”
Kane was a fine-looking young man who tried to hit on Kumai and then put a hit on Kumai. She still wasn’t sure why, on both.
Taka drank his juice, then suggested, “I wonder if your Kumu would know anything.”
“Kumu Lani? My former Kumu? Why would she know anything about Kane?”
Taka shrugged. “Or the papers.”
“Why would she know anything about the papers?”
Taka shrugged. He was like a nonverbal Siri.
Kumai decided to be Siri, “Interesting questions.”
“Yup.” Taka nodded. “So you’ll ask her?”
“Uh.” Kumai lifted her glass to drink, to stall. Last time she had tried to help, she ended up risking her life. Much as Kumai loved to help people get what they wanted, nothing was worth that.
“I really wanna stay out of this, Taka. I don’t have special training or any real idea of what we’re after. I think I’ll sit this one out.”
She wanted to say something about focusing on her life now but she had not decided what she was going to do next. The resort might have replaced her after this extended leave. Susan had flown to California and might not need her services here in Hawaii for a long time again, if ever. Job hunting, ugh. Career hunting, forget it.
“At least think about mentioning it to Lani. Even if you just ask when you run into your Ku… your former Kumu somewhere.” He pleaded with his dark chocolate eyes.
Not fair. Kumai stood up. She would make no promises. “I’m ready for that swim. You?”
They entered the water at the rocky beach that marked the end of her back yard. Taka stumbled and Kumai instinctively reached out to stabilize him. Contact with Taka was like touching sun-warmed lava, a little too hot. She pulled away but he gripped her hand firmly until he released it to slip beneath the surface of the water.
As she submerged and followed, he swam down around a globe of coral. Taka apparently had some freediving experience to be able to hold his breath for this long. Kumai came up for a full breath, then dove to follow. But Taka had disappeared. She circled the coral formations then looked up to check for him at the surface. Just before her panic had a chance to kick in, he peeked around the coral behind her with a grin. She chuckled out a stream of bubbles, stopped before she sucked in water, and shot to the surface for air.
She was laughing but something about their game of hide-and-seek was upsetting. It wasn’t dangerous. Clearly they were both skilled divers. Skilled divers. Kumai gasped as she burst into tears. She had been messing around diving when Kate died. It all rushed back again, threatening to drown her in guilt. The sobbing made her aspirate sea water. She coughed, gagged, and flailed the surface to get to the shore.
Taka grabbed her in a survival float and dragged her to shallow water. By the time she was sitting in waist deep water, her swim tank was bunched up near her throat. Taka gently pulled the top back down over Kumai’s exposed breasts as she fought away his hands.
“I’m okay. I’m okay.” She sobbed. “It’s okay.”
Taka sat beside her in the water, looking out to sea.
Her sobs eased, then stopped. Kate, her dive buddy in Florida, had dived in to rescue Kumai but only one of them survived that day. Her breathing returned to normal but her heart ached. They sat there in the water until her fingers wrinkled.
“You open your eyes underwater without a mask.” Taka stated.
“You freedive.” Kumai stated.
“What happened back there?”
“Flashback or something.”
“A trigger.” Taka nodded in recognition. “They’re the worst.”
Kumai looked at him from the side and raised one eyebrow.
“Iraq. Three tours.”
He stood up, extended a hand to Kumai, pulled her up, and then wrapped her in his arms. A fresh sob threatened to bubble up then dissolved into a deep sigh. She shivered.
“Think about what I asked you?” Taka muttered into her hair.
Kumai tensed as she felt herself wanting to stay in Taka’s arms. She really needed him not to touch her.
Or to not stop touching her. One or the other.