Eventually the bags get moved into my trunk and then I get Loan as my passenger.
“Hello,” I say to her as she shuts the door, shaking the rain out of her hair.
“Hello,” she says to me curtly, giving me the once over before putting on her seatbelt.
Okay, so Kessler never quite told me how much English Loan knows. I never had a nanny growing up, but a girl across the street did, a Swedish one that her father eventually ended up banging according to my mother, and she didn’t speak a word of English.
I’m pretty awkward with small talk so I don’t say anything while I drive out of the hills and to the freeway, turning up the music on the radio. You don’t hear Jack Johnson here as much as you think you would but I figure he’s pretty good for putting people in a relaxed mood. I mean, who can be angry when you’re thinking about banana pancakes?
It isn’t until we’ve crested the mountains and started heading down towards the north shore that Loan turns to me. “Do you have Wi-Fi?”
I stare at her for a moment before looking back to the road.
“Do I have Wi-Fi?”
“At the house.”
“Of course. Five G.”
She nods. “Okay. Good signal?”
“As good as it gets out there,” I tell her. “Why, are you a video gamer?”
I swear I see a touch of a smile on her lips. “No. I like to Facetime my boy.”
“You have a son?”
She nods, staring out the rain-streaked window. “Yes. Hai is my son. And my husband is Binh. In English their names are Ocean and Peaceful.”
“That’s lovely. I had no idea. So where are they, in Vietnam?”
She nods. “In Hanoi. Binh owns a restaurant. My mother looks after Hai. I’m just here for a few years to help bring in some money. It’s better this way than for me to stay there. This way I only have to work a little and I’ll bring in the same amount as if I worked a lot there.”
“How old is Hai?”
“He’s thirteen now,” she says. “I’ll go back for good when he’s sixteen. I still visit every year. Once he came here, he loved it.”
“That must be hard to leave them for so long.”
She shrugs a shoulder. “It is hard but it must be done and so I do it. It’s how you get through it.”
She doesn’t say anything after that, but she doesn’t need to. Her words had so much conviction in them it was hard for me not to ruminate on them for the rest of the drive.
Finally, we pull up to the house.
No surprise, the place is painted a dark teal, though you can’t tell that from the faint light of the road. It’s large, slightly raised above ground with a sprawling porch and a copious amount of Ti bushes and bamboo along the edges of the property that I keep between tamed and unruly. I’m about four blocks from the shore, so if the night is calm and you listen hard, you can hear the famously powerful surf.
Tonight though, it’s raining. It’s often raining here, hence why it’s so lush and green, and in a way it reminds me of home.
With Kessler parking behind me in the driveway, we make quick work of getting everything inside, even though we all get soaked in the end.
It’s only then that I finally get my first proper look at Hunter.
The boy is gorgeous. Gorgeous in a way that makes my heart ache.
I briefly have flashes of Kess and I together, the times that he was so tender and attentive with me, the way he made me feel like I was the only person in the world. It was during those times that my mind and heart ran away with me. Where I started to wonder, what would it be like to marry him? To have his children? Where would we live, what would our children be like?
I pictured them with a lot of me, of course, maybe curly black hair and bronzed skin and full lips. I also pictured them with blue eyes, maybe green, and a strong jaw. There were a million variations of all the could-have-beens running through my head.
And yet seeing Hunter standing before me, his actual son, I’m totally floored because even though he’s not my child and Kessler is totally new at this parenting thing, I see a product of my imagination come to life, just a million times more beautiful.
Hunter must take after his mother when it comes to the color of his sandy blonde hair and pale skin, but his curly waves, his light eyes and dark brow are totally Kessler. Even though he looks a bit shell-shocked to be where we are, in a totally strange and foreign house, adorably clutching a Kahuna Hotels pineapple stress-ball to his chest, he looks like he’s ready to laugh at any second.
That’s pure Kessler. And when I glance up at Kess, who has been watching me carefully as I take in his son, I know my approval means something.
“Hey Hunter,” I say to him, crouching down to his level. “We haven’t officially met yet. I’m Nova. This is my house that you’re going to be staying in for a few days while those nasty cockroaches are cleaned up.”
“Leprechauns,” he corrects me. “They live at the bottom of the rainbow.”
“Or the bottom of the toilet bowl,” Kessler says. “Either one. Should we find you your room, buddy?” He glances at me for guidance.
“Of course,” I say, walking down the hall. “There’s one guest bedroom down there,” I say, looking at Loan. “You could use that if you want. It has a nice view of the mountains in the back and there’s the bathroom right here. On the other side is this room I use as a study but there’s a really comfy pull-out couch in there that might be good for Hunter.”
Loan nods and takes Hunter’s hand, leading him to the rooms for his approval.
“And where am I staying?” Kessler asks in a low voice. “In your room?”
I give him a withering glance. “Yeah right. Of all things to not forget right now, let’s not forget you’re my boss.”
“I can forget if you can,” he says, wagging his brows.
I reach out and slap him across the chest. “Hey. I’m serious. I didn’t help you out for any other reason than I’m a good person and I felt sorry for your son and your nanny. Both of whom have to put up with you now on a daily basis. So, if you’re going to test your luck in any sort of way with me, I’m going to kick your ass to the curb. The others can stay.”
He stares at me in challenge and I know from the way his eyes search mine that he’s looking for some sort of weakness in me, some way he can come out on top. But the fact is, he no longer has the upper hand. He’s currently homeless and I’m his helping hand. Actually, it probably pisses him off in some way, having to depend on me like this.
I can’t help but smile.
“Uh oh,” he says, leaning in close as he frowns at me. “I don’t like that smile. I know that smile. That smile has rarely led to anything good.”
I raise a brow. “Just behave yourself, okay there, sweat monster?”
I nod at his forehead which is already glistening. “Sorry, I forgot to mention I only have AC in my bedroom.”
“And I’m not sleeping there.”
“Correct. Let me show you where you are sleeping,” I tell him, heading up the stairs and incredibly aware that my ass is swinging back and forth in his face as I make the climb. My skin practically heats up knowing his eyes are locked to it.
Actually Kessler’s bedroom isn’t that bad. It’s right across from mine, the entire upper floor just our bedrooms and we both have an en suite. It has a large fan, plus the windows face the ocean so you have that sea breeze always coming in. I originally wanted that room to be mine, but mine was the room I’d got when I first arrived and I’m too attached to it to switch.
“This is yours,” I tell him, opening the door and flicking on the light. I’d recently gone through and cleaned all the rooms and changed all the bedding in the hopes that my parents might come for Christmas but we all know that’s not happening now.
He walks inside, hauling his suitcase to the middle of the room, and looks around.
“Did you decorate?” he asks.
I nod. “I did.”
“You know it looks like I walked into a room at a Kahuna Hotel.”
I grin sheepishly. Okay, so I may have a problem with pilfering Kahuna Hotel swag whenever I get the chance. It’s a pro of working in marketing, I get to test the products out, which means I have golden pineapple-themed everything. Including bedspread, which Kessler is inspecting right now.
“Really?” he asks. “It’s going to be like sleeping at the office. Shit, did you steal those paintings too?” He points at the walls.
“I didn’t steal anything,” I hiss at him. “They were leftovers. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m wet and it’s been a long day and I’m ready for bed.”
I turn and head out of the room, half-expecting him to say something with regards to the wet comment.
Instead I hear a faint shriek.
I turn around and poke my head back in his room.
“Was that you?” I ask. “It sounded like a little girl.”
He’s standing by the bed but his eyes are glued to the space above the doorway. I step inside and look up.
There’s a gecko perched on the wall, minding his own business.
“What?” I ask, looking back at Kessler who seems frozen on the spot.
“What is that?”
“What is that?” I repeat. “That’s a gecko.”
“He’s huge,” he hisses, eyes wide. You’d think he was staring at Godzilla.
“That’s why his name is Dwayne Johnson,” I tell him.
He does a double take. “I’m sorry, he has a name?”
“He’s a big gecko.”
“Geckos are good luck. You’re crazy to be afraid of them.”
“I’m not afraid of them,” he says sharply. “I just don’t like lizards. It’s a natural dislike to have.”