I lean against the doorway and breathe in deep. It smells like ginger and chicken and lemongrass and it immediately calms me.
“You don’t look so good,” Loan says to me. “Here, sit down. Hunter!” she calls out. “Lunch is ready.”
Hunter appears from the living room where I realize he’s been watching Moana. It’s pretty much been on repeat since he’s got here.
“I want a Hei Hei,” he says, gesturing to the chicken on the screen as Loan helps him up into his chair.
“I wouldn’t ask your father for one,” I say under my breath.
“You already have a Hei Hei,” Loan says.
“I want that one,” he says. “And I want to go see Maui at the beach. I want to put on baby soup.”
I glance at Loan, brows raised. Baby soup?
“What are you talking about, Hunter?” Loan asks. “Do you want some soup?”
“Baby soup,” he says. “I want to put it on and go swimming.”
“You mean…bathing suit?” I guess and Hunter nods.
“Yeah I want to swim and you swim in a baby soup.”
“Do you know how to swim?”
He shakes his head. “No. Will you teach me?”
“I could but I think that’s your daddy’s job.”
“We could go to the beach though,” Loan says, looking at me for approval, as if I’m Kessler’s partner now.
I shrug. “Sure. I’m sure that would be great. I guess I’m stranded here today.”
“You need to rest,” Loan says. “You are very loud when you throw up.”
I wince. “Sorry.” I sigh. “Maybe I should call an Uber and go to work.” Even though now the mention of Uber has my mind going back to Harold and oh god, what had I said in front of Kessler? I didn’t say anything embarrassing last night, did I?
“You stay here,” she says. “Mr. Rocha said for me to take care of you.”
“Of course he did.” So he could look like Mr. Big Shot at work.
I have half a mind to call him up again and yell at him, but then my head starts to pound, and the soup is wonderfully distracting and before I know it, Loan and I have packed up a beach bag and we’ve walked the four blocks to Kaiaka Bay Beach Park.
I have to say, even though I feel rotten and I’m still seething over Kessler and having to miss work like this, I’ve had worse days. It’s nice to talk to Loan, and the longer I’m around her, the more she opens up, particularly about her life in Hanoi with her family.
“You don’t have a man in your life?” she asks me, rather bluntly I might add, as she slathers more baby sunblock on Hunter’s arm and ties his little straw hat on tighter.
“You know, I’m glad you’re talking more but jeez…” I say with a chuckle, brushing stray sand off my towel.
“No man because of Mr. Rocha,” she says, letting Hunter go so he can continue to make lumpy sandcastles beside us, the sand going everywhere, including back on my towel.
“Mr. Rocha has nothing to do with it,” I tell her, giving her a steady look over my sunglasses.
“Mmmhmm,” she says stone-faced. “I would say otherwise. There was something going on between you once.”
“Why do you say that? Let me guess, he looks at me a certain way,” I say wryly.
“Oh.” I’m strangely deflated.
“You look at him a certain way.”
I sit up straighter, propped on my elbows. “How so?”
“Like you hate him.”
I shrug. “Well, you’re not too far off with that one.”
“Because you love him.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Now I’m fully sitting up, my bikini top nearly coming off and I have to quickly retie the string around my neck. “That’s just not true.”
She nods. “It is. I see things. I know things.”
“You know nothing, Miss Loan.”
There’s a small quirk to her lips. “I know things,” she says again, “because that’s my job. I’ve worked for many families and I know the signs when one of them is cheating on the other and I know the signs when someone is falling out of love and I also know the signs when someone is still in love, and you are still in love. It’s the truth, Miss Nova.”
I shake my head, glad that Hunter has taken no interest in what we’re talking about. I can’t imagine how confusing it must be so far for him, having his mother for the first three years of his life, then having her go away, replaced with a father he never knew, then moving over here to Hawaii where he’s now with us. Kessler was right when he said he was adaptable.
“Okay,” I admit. “So maybe I was in love with Kessler once. But that went away when we broke up.”
“What ends can start again.”
“He annoys the,” I glance at Hunter, “heck out of me.”
“As I said, you only hate him because you still love him.”
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” I say quickly, my headache coming back. “I’m going for a dip.”
“Suit yourself,” Loan says, as I get up and walk toward the surf, hoping a quick swim in the ocean will set me right.
“Baby soup!” Hunter cries out.
I know Nova is mad at me even before I set foot in her house.
I know because I saw a bunch of missed calls from her all day but no messages.
No texts either.
I know when she gets really mad, she saves herself for a big argument, like she’s conserving her anger in a giant reservoir, waiting for the right time to open the dam. Errant messages and texts don’t cut it with her, they merely take away from the big explosion
I have a feeling I’m going to be a victim of that big explosion the moment I go inside.
Which is why I’m sitting in my car in her driveway and staring at the house.
Even though she was right in that arguing with her does turn me on, sometimes she can be downright frightening. She used to love my dick but you often hurt the things you love and I have no doubt she thinks a lot of problems can be solved with a kick to the groin.
Eventually Hunter spots me as he appears at the screen door and yells, “Daddy!”
I have to say, it gives me strength.
The other night when he first called me Daddy, I felt like a motherfucking king on top of the world, higher than cloud nine. That was hot on the heels of the fact that I just kissed Nova and her lips felt even more amazing than I had remembered. I didn’t even care that I had to clean up Hunter’s shit on the floor because two of the most important things in my life were both happening at once.
“Hey, Hunter,” I call out to him as I get out of the car, remembering to grab the stuffed sea turtle I picked up for him at the gas station along the way.
I go up the steps, slowly, smiling for Hunter but I feel like my back is being used for target practice, like Nova might appear at any moment.
I open the door and step inside, scooping my son up into my arms and giving him a squeeze. “How was your day, buddy? I brought you a friend.” I show him the turtle which he eagerly grabs.
“Crush,” he says. “He was in Finding Nemo.”
“That’s right, it’s totally Crush,” I tell him, even though it’s a rather cheap knockoff, but that’s what you get when you go shopping for gifts at Exxon.
I walk down the hall and look in the kitchen where Loan is at the stove cooking something in a giant pot, gently placing Hunter back on his feet.
“Hi, Mr. Rocha,” she says without glancing at me. “You’re home early. Dinner won’t be ready for another hour.”
“That’s fine with me,” I tell her, as Hunter runs off with Crush. “Where’s, uh, Nova?” I ask, warily looking around, as if I’m about to ambushed.
“She went for a walk.”
“Did she look mad?”
“She always looks mad.”
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right.”
“Moving day tomorrow, right?” Loan asks.
“Unless the exterminator calls before then, yes.”
“I like this house. Maybe we can stay here with Miss Nova. Tell that Mr. Mike we don’t want to stay in his house. Cockroaches can live a month without their head.”
I both sigh and shudder at once. I’ve been thinking about it because, even though I’m sure the cockroaches will be gone, I’ve gotten used to this blue house on the North Shore, with the town of colorful houses around the corner. But I would never impose on Nova that way. She has her life here and after her drunken confessions the other night, it’s apparent that she really doesn’t want me messing it up.
“I don’t think Miss Nova would approve,” I tell her.
“Hmmm maybe,” she says. “I’ll miss her though. You should bring her around to the house then.”
“We’ll see,” I tell her even though I highly doubt Nova will ever come over.
“You’ll miss her too,” she says.
“I’ll still see her at work every weekday,” I remind her, even though, yes, I actually will miss her in this context, away from the office walls. Surrounded by geckos.
And even though I know she’s mad at me because I let her sleep in and she missed work, I decide that it’s my last night here and perhaps I should welcome the fight.
“I’m going to go for a walk, see if I bump into her,” I tell Loan.
“I thought you would,” Loan says under her breath.
“What was that?”
“Be back in one hour,” she commands.
I have no idea where Nova might go but even so I walk around the block, taking in the evening. The sun is starting to set and a lot of people are either just getting home from work or hanging out in their yard, drinking beer and BBQing. Nearly every person I see raises their hand in greeting and says “Good evening” or “Hey” or “Aloha.” They’re all in good spirits, happy to be outside in the fresh warm air, enjoying life.