But after the first song, I’m starting to get the hang of it and now all the kids, Hunter included, are at the front of the stage, copying the hula dancers. It’s pretty fucking cute.
And then I see her.
At the back of the crowd, beer in her hand, talking to Kate, staring at me.
Of course she’s laughing. This is probably making her year to see me up here like this. With the beard and the faux belly, she’s probably imagining what I’m going to look like in a few decades.
Well, there’s no point hiding it. I commit myself to the moment, to the character, to the hula, to…
To the far left, on the other side of the pool, is the chicken.
Not just any chicken.
The motherfucking one.
And he’s looking right at me.
Bright beady yellow eyes.
Spots on his chest feathers.
“You okay?” Bradah Ed whispers in my ear. “We’re almost done here.”
I realize I’ve completely stopped moving.
I can’t help it.
I can only see the chicken.
It’s coming toward me now, at a fast pace, like it’s in a hurry.
Going around the pool…
I feebly try to move my arms in whatever pattern the hula dancers are doing around me but I can’t look away, not now.
He’s out to finish what he started.
“Oh no you don’t,” I say to myself, shaking my head, a grin spreading across my face. I’ve got him right where I want him.
“Kessler?” Bradah Ed says, hula-ing into my side. “I mean, Santa?”
“Shhh,” I hush at him, watching as the chicken starts running parallel to the stage. No one is paying it much attention, but only because they don’t have the relationship with the cocky bastard that I do.
Then, as if he knows what I intend to do to it, it starts running away.
I don’t even think.
I start running down the stage at full speed and leap off, launching myself through the air, arms open wide, the chicken right below me like a landing pad.
I land with a painful thump in a flowering bush, colliding with the chicken in a flurry of squawks and flying feathers and flowers.
The music stops.
I can’t see anything except for the plant and feathers, my hands are around the chicken’s throat for a moment but then it starts pecking at my forehead and pulling at my beard.
I’m rolling out of the bush now, onto the ground in front of the stage.
The children are crying.
And the chicken is getting the upper hand.
The pecking intensifies and then the claws are scratching down my hands and now they’re tangled with my beard and somewhere in the background I hear someone yelling “Stop it Santa, stop it! Let the chicken live!” but I have no choice now.
I’m no longer trying to kill the damn thing, I’m trying to defend myself.
And I’m not even doing a good job at that.
Finally, the chicken starts to ease up and then it’s gone.
I’m being beaten with something and I realize that Bradah Ed is standing above me, whacking me repeatedly with a palm frond.
“Now that,” he says to me, “was a cock-a-doodle don’t.”
“Oh god,” I cry out, covering my face with my hands. “Did everyone see?”
“Uh yeah, they’re all staring at you like Santa has gone crazy, so why don’t you straighten your beard, get up, give a smile and a wave, and I’ll help you out of here, okay?”
Bradah Ed helps me up and pain shoots through me.
I manage to wave at the shocked crowd and then Bradah Ed announces, “That chicken was trying to steal presents so Santa was making sure he didn’t get yours. I’m going to take him to see his reindeer for a minute.”
He leads me off of the patio area and onto the beach, pulling me along the sand until we’re far enough away from the hotel and I collapse beneath a palm tree.
“Now here, take this,” Bradah Ed says as he crouches down beside me, handing me his flask from his pocket. “I have more where that came from but you seem like you need it now.”
I take a long swig from the flask and wince, the alcohol running onto my hands and burning the cuts and scratches.
He takes it from me, has a small sip before giving it back. “Now, you want tell your bradah here why you fucking crazy?”
“That chicken,” I start to say, not realizing how crazy I really do sound. “We’ve met before.”
“Uh huh. But this obviously ain’t about a chicken, eh? Why don’t you tell me about Nova?”
I take another gulp of rum. “Nova? What does she have to do with any of it?”
“I ain’t no doctor, Kess, but there’s something going on with you two. I don’t really care, I believe in sex for everyone, inter-office, inter-spacial romances or whatever you want to call it. But I noticed you saw her while you were on stage and it was only then that you saw the chicken. Are you even sure it was the same chicken you have a vendetta against?”
“Hey, the chicken started it. He has the vendetta against me.”
“So what happened with you guys? Not the chicken. Nova. You broke up? I know Nova, she’s just as shook up by you as you are with her.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I mutter, bringing my attention to the waves and faded silhouette of Diamond Head in the distance. Sometimes I have to pinch myself that I’m in Hawaii, especially the more I fall in love with the place. Then sometimes I have to wonder how fickle paradise can be. Your problems don’t take a vacation.
“Well maybe you oughta talk about it with someone, or else every chicken on this island is going to be in trouble. Hell, maybe you should start by talking it over with her.”
“We’re not so good with talking,” I admit, then finish the rest of his bottle.
“Then communicate in other ways, brah,” he says, taking the empty bottle from me. He looks down the beach and then starts to sing, “Woah oh here she comes, watch out boy, she’ll chew you up.”
“Why are you singing Maneater?” I ask, and look to see Nova approaching us.
“I was just leaving,” Bradah Ed says to Nova as he passes her. “Take it easy on him. It ain’t easy being Santa.”
Nova laughs softly and stares down at me. “Why do I feel like this is a reverse of a few weeks ago. You, drunk and sitting on Waikiki Beach. Me, hovering above you obnoxiously.”
“Except you weren’t Santa Claus.”
“No, I definitely wasn’t.”
I glance up at her but can only see shadows on her face. “Do you think Hunter was traumatized?”
She laughs and sits down on the sand next to me. “Hunter was laughing. He thought you were trying to get him a Hei Hei for Christmas.”
I breathe out in relief and lean back against the tree. “Why did you come over here?” She adjusts herself so she’s sitting cross-legged, and up close I see her long black dress is dotted with shimmering sequins. “You look beautiful, by the way,” I add.
She gives me a quick smile, her face now lit up by the faint glow of nearby tiki torches. “Thank you. I came here because I’m worried about you.”
“Could have fooled me. You’ve been avoiding me.”
She sighs and rests her elbows on her thighs. “I know. I’m sorry.”
“You regret the hot sex, don’t you?”
She laughs. “It’s hard not to when you put it that way.”
She glances at me and shakes her head, positioning herself so that she’s facing me head on. Her hands go to my face and she pulls off my beard until it’s under my chin. “I’m sorry. I can’t take you seriously with that thing on. You look like you had your face dipped in glue and then shoved in a vat of cotton balls.”
“Are you saying I wasn’t a very convincing Santa?”
“Well the keiki seemed to believe you and that’s the most important part.”
“I think I fooled Hunter,” I muse. “I asked him what he wanted for Christmas and he told me he wanted a submarine and a mom.”
I nod. “Yeah. So that was rough.”
She scrunches up her nose. “I bet. I’m sorry.”
I stare at her, how beautiful she looks under this light, under these stars, wishing that our gentle little moments like this could last forever. They’re just as impactful as all of our explosions.
“He said you could be his mother,” I say softly.
Her eyes widen. “Oh shit.”
I reach out and touch her hair, pushing it behind her ear. “He said you’d be into it.”
“Oh he did, did he?”
“The little guy likes you.”
“Yeah, well, he’s easy to please.”
“So am I.”
She gives me a wry twist of her mouth. “In a very different way.”
“I like you.”
“Kessler,” she says, but before she can say anymore I lean in and kiss her, soft and sweet and warm.
But the kiss just lasts a second before she’s placing her hand on my chest and gently pushing me back. “It’s not a good idea, Kess.”
“Is it the beard? Do you want me to put the beard back on?”
She gives me a small smile, her eyes brimming with sadness as she looks up at me. “No. It’s not the beard. You and I together…what happened the other week at the office just has to stay that way. In the past.”
“We’re good together,” I tell her, trying not to plead but Bradah Ed’s rum is coursing through me. “You know we are.”
“We’re good at fighting,” she says. “And we’re really good at makeup sex. But Kess, you know where this is headed. It’ll end the same as it did last time, in heartbreak.”