Whatever it is, I decide not to pursue this any further. Another evasion tactic I’ve learned: Change the subject as many times as you need in order to avoid uncomfortable conversation.
“I see you have a sister who surfs.”
“Yeah,” he says, and he looks happy that I changed the subject too. “Lana’s killing it. She’s got crazy potential. People say she’ll be way bigger than my pops—maybe even bigger than my granddad.”
I wonder if this is a point of contention between them, if it hurts his boy pride. But he’s digging his phone out from his pocket to show me photos. A girl on a board inside the tunnel of a giant, curling wave. I can’t really make out much about her face, only that she’s wearing a yellow-and-black wet suit like a second skin and looking like she’s about to be swallowed by the ocean. Porter shows me others, some closer, some in which she looks impossibly upside down in the middle of the wave. The last one he shows me is the two of them together on the beach, both of them with curly hair drying in the sun, wet suits peeled down to their waists, brown skin gleaming. He’s behind her, arms around her shoulders, and they’re both grinning.
And right now, sitting across from me, there’s nothing but pride on his face. He doesn’t even try to hide it. His eyes are practically sparkling.
“She’s pretty,” I say.
“Looks like my mom. It’s our Hapa genes.” He glances up at me and explains, “Half Hawaiian. My grandparents were Polynesian and Chinese. My dad met my mom when he was my age, surfing the Pipeline on the North Shore. Here.” He pulls up another photo of his mother. She’s gorgeous. And she’s standing on the boardwalk near my favorite churro cart, in front of a familiar shop: Penny Boards. Well. Guess that answers that; it was his family’s shop, after all. Note to self: Pick another churro cart, already!
Feeling strangely shy, I glance at his face and then quickly look away.
“Is it weird having a younger sister who’s going pro?” I ask, more out of nervousness than anything else.
Porter shrugs. “Not really. She’ll be heading out on the Women’s Championship Tour for the first time next year. It’s kind of a big deal. She gets to travel all over the world.”
“What about school?”
“My dad’s going with her. He’ll homeschool her during the tour. I’ll stay and help my mom run the shop.” Porter must see the look of doubt on my face because he blinks a few times and shakes his head. “Yeah, it’s not ideal, but Lana doesn’t want to wait until she’s eighteen. Anything could happen, and she’s on top of her game now. On the tour, she gets a small salary and a chance to win prize money. But the big thing is the exposure, because the real money is in the product endorsements. That’s pretty much what we used to live off of until Dad lost his arm.”
Sounds a little pageant mom–y, making the kid perform on stage for money, but I keep this opinion to myself. “You guys don’t own the shop?” I say, nodding toward his phone.
“Sure, but what people don’t understand is that the shop barely breaks even. The overhead is ridiculous; rent keeps going up. And now that my dad isn’t surfing anymore . . . well, no one wants a one-armed man pimping hats.”
Yikes. This conversation is heading into awkward waters. I turn away to find the sea monster’s big eye judging me—You had to be on your phone, looking this up at work, didn’t you? Couldn’t wait until you got home?—so I turn back toward the table and pick at my half-eaten cookie.
“I knew one out of three had to be right.”
“Mmm?” I swallow cookie while trying to look cool and nearly choke.
“You like sugar cookies. I didn’t know which one. I was just hoping you weren’t vegan or gluten-free or something.”
I shake my head.
He breaks off a piece of my cookie and eats it, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I don’t know where his hands have been. We aren’t friends. And just because his dad’s missing an arm, doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven him for being a grade-A assbag.
“You aren’t going to ask me?” he says. “Or do you already know?”
“How my dad lost his arm?”
I shake my head. “No, I don’t already know. Are you going to tell me?” Or should I just wait until you leave and look it up? That works for me, thanks, see you later, hasta luego.
“Three years ago, I was fifteen, a year younger than Lana. I went down to Sweetheart Point to watch my dad surf for this charity thing. It wasn’t a competition or anything. Mostly older surfers, a few big names. Out of nowhere . . .” He pauses for a second, lost in thought, eyes glazed. Then he blinks it away. “I see this big shape cut through the water, a few yards away. At first, I didn’t know what it was. It heads straight for my dad and knocks him right off his board. Then I saw the white collar around its neck and the mouth open. Great white.”
My mouth falls open. I shut it. “Shark?”
“A small male. They say it’s like getting struck by lightning, but damned if it didn’t happen. And let me just tell you—it wasn’t like Jaws. Hundreds of people around me on the beach and no one screamed or ran. They all just stood there staring while this thousand-pound monster was dragging my dad through the water, and he was still leashed to his board by the ankle.”
“Oh, my dear God,” I murmur, stuffing half of the second cookie in my mouth. “Whaa haaappened next?” I say around a mouthful of sugar.
Porter takes the rest of the cookie, biting off a corner and chewing while shaking his head, still looking a little dazed. “It was like a dream. I didn’t think. I just raced into the water. I didn’t even know if my dad was still alive or whether I would be if I bumped into the shark. I swam as hard as I could. I found the board first and followed the leash to the body.”
He pauses, swallowing. “I tasted blood in the water before I got to him.”
“The arm was already gone,” Porter says quietly. “Skin flapping. Muscles hanging. It was a mess. And I was so scared I was going to make it worse, carrying him back to shore. He was heavy and unconscious, and nobody was coming to help. And then the shark doubled back and tried to get my arm too. I managed to hit him and scare him off. Took sixty-nine stiches to sew me back together.”
He unfolds his left arm until it’s extended in front of me, and rucks up the short sleeve of his security guard uniform. There, above the bright red surf watch, are his zigzagging pink scars, bared for my perusal. Looking at them feels pornographic. Like I’m doing something I shouldn’t be doing, and any moment, someone will catch me . . . but at the same time, I can’t make myself look away. All this golden skin, all these eggshell-glossy scars, a railroad track, crisscrossing miles of sculpted lean muscle. It’s horrifying . . . and the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
Seeing the scars reminds me of something else about myself. Something I can’t tell him. But it tugs on a dark memory inside me that I don’t want to think about, and a fluttering of unstable emotions threatens to break the surface.
I breathe deep to push those feelings back down, and when I do, there’s that scent again, Porter’s scent, the wax and the clean coconut. Not the suntan-lotion fake kind. What is this stuff? It’s driving me nuts. I don’t know if it’s the lure of this wonderful smell, or his story about the shark, or my urge to contain my own unwanted memories, but before I know what I’m doing, my fingertips are reaching out to trace the jagged edge of one of the scars by his elbow.