He had wanted me to tell him back then, even though we both knew it wouldn’t have changed anything, that he didn’t love me and probably wouldn’t have. But me telling him now, I feel like it already has changed something. Maybe it’s just me finally letting bygones be bygones. Maybe it’s my heart’s way of preparing for something, clearing the way for the future.
I don’t know and I don’t want to think about it too much. I’ve been so guarded for so long, the death of my sister throwing me into a deeper chasm, that even thinking about being open again is scary.
Especially when it comes to my level-ten heartbreaker.
And yet Kessler is in front of me and in those eyes of his that I just admitted were the most beautiful I’d ever seen, I see a different version of him. The one who doesn’t want to be a heartbreaker, not on any level. Not with me.
“Nova!” Hunter yells out. “Simply, having, a wonderful Christmas time!”
Kessler gives me a sheepish smile that makes his dimples pop. “Sorry.”
I shake my head and laugh and then remember something.
“Hey Hunter, I got you a Christmas gift!” I tell him.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Kessler says.
I shrug. “I was going to bring it to work and give it to you. It’s not a big deal.”
I go over to the tiny stack of presents I have by my tree. I originally was going to ignore the whole Christmas thing once I learned my parents weren’t coming. It was just too hard without them, without Rubina. But then I thought ignoring Christmas wasn’t going to make it go away. So I embraced it. I went to a tree farm and got a small pine that smells oh so heavenly and decorated with millions of teeny tiny sparkling lights. It’s very girly and very pretty and I love it.
I pull out a box and hand it to Hunter. “Here you go.”
Hunter takes it and sits on the floor, eagerly tearing into it.
“Whoa!” he cries out, lifting it up for his dad to see. “Maui!”
Specifically, they’re Moana-themed inflatable water wings.
I glance at Kessler who looks thoroughly surprised. “Hunter told me he wanted to swim, like Maui from the movie,” I explain. “So I thought you could teach him. I got him these water wings to help.”
“Oh,” Kessler says quickly. He’s acting rather odd. “Huh. Well, yeah. That’s good.”
“Daddy,” Hunter says, putting on his most adorable voice. “Can we go to the beach? Today?”
“Now?” Kessler bites his lip, slowly nodding. “Yup. Sure. Okay.”
“You good?” I ask him quietly. “Are you upset I didn’t get you a present?”
“What? No.” He smiles. “I’m fine. But I did get you one.”
“Well I got you one too.”
A box of macadamia nut chocolates. Not the most original Christmas gift, but that’s what happens when you do yours last minute at the ABC store. I just hope he didn’t buy me a bunch of flavored condoms.
“You just said you didn’t.”
“I was playing my cards right and seeing how the day went. If you were naughty or nice.”
“You know I’m nothing but naughty.”
“Oh I know. Which makes you oh so nice.”
There I am with the flirting again. I should knock it off but it’s just so damn easy with him. It’s making me smile from the inside out.
We promise to give each other our gifts later, and Kessler seems to get over his hesitation about the beach. Perhaps it reminded him of what happened the last time we were there. We tell Loan we’ll be back and she seems more than happy to be at peace in the kitchen, cooking up a feast and watching Vietnamese dramas on my Netflix.
Going to the beach on Christmas Day is pretty much tradition in Hawaii, and it’s absolutely packed with families. I’m glad we only had to walk a short bit because parking would have been a nightmare, but we manage find a spot in the sand near where a jetty of rocks stick out in the water, creating a pool of sorts that’s safe for kids.
I can tell Hunter wants to go right into the water and try out his Maui wings but we decide to eat lunch first. I packed a cooler with some ahi poke I got at the Suprette in Kahuku and kalua pig burritos. Normally I’d grab some kombucha from the Sunrise Shack but being Christmas and all, I’ve brought a bottle of Veuve Cliquot and some POG juice. I like to call it “POG Cliquot.”
“Okay, you’re going to have to explain all this food to me again,” Kessler says, looking over the spread as he takes a nibble of the poke. “I mean this is good, whatever this is, but I don’t know what it means.”
“You mean you’ve been here a month and you haven’t had poke yet?”
“Oh that’s how you pronounce it. Po-kay. I thought it was poke, like this.” He pokes me in the side, making me giggle.
“Stop it. And yes, po-kay. In Hawaiian you pronounce every single letter. Makes it a lot easier when you think of it that way. Like Merry Christmas is…”
“Merry Kalamata olives.”
I roll my eyes. “Mele Kalikimaka. If you saw it spelled out, it would read the same way. And this burrito is filled with Kalua pork, which is like the pork you eat at a luau, all shredded.”
“And Pog? Weren’t there trading cards called Pog?”
“They were milk caps and they came from this POG, which stands for passionfruit, orange and guava. To have champagne and POG is basically a Hawaiian mimosa.” I stare at him for a moment. “I really need to get you acclimatized to this place.”
“Hey, I’ve acclimatized. If you haven’t noticed, I’ve stopped sweating.”
I peer at his brow. “You’re sweating a little.”
“I’m glistening,” he corrects me. “It’s like a glow. Everyone here has that glow. Now I glisten like the locals do.”
I look him up and down, focusing on his large forearms and biceps sticking out from beneath his soft t-shirt. “Well I definitely thought you would be a lot more tanned by now.”
He gives me a look. “In case you don’t remember, I work long hours five days a week. All these people who walk around Hawaii all tanned are either natives or they work in Sunrise shacks and surf schools. Or are tourists who have time to work on their tans all day. We work inside and I’m always wearing suits.”
“Then explain why I’m tanned?”
“Your mother is from the Bahamas,” he says.
“It’s because I make time to play. So should you.”
“You know I’ll play with you any day, Supernova. And you’re a liar. You don’t make time to play. Tell me how often you come to the beach?”
I clamp my lips shut because he’s got me there. “I’m here now.”
“So am I. I work a lot and so do you. Maybe we both work too much.”
“Maybe we’re both afraid of what happens if we step back,” I say.
He raises a discerning brow, studying me. “Well, well, well. Another Christmas miracle.”
“I’ve never heard you associate the word fear with work before.”
I shrug, taking in a deep breath. I used to be scared to talk about this with anyone, let alone Kessler, but since I discovered how good it felt to be honest the other day with him, I’m letting my guard down. “It’s true. For me, anyway. I’m afraid that if I stop working so hard, if I stop trying so hard, that everything I’ve worked for is going to slip away from me.”
“That’s not going to happen, Nova,” he says. “And I’m not saying that as your boss because we both know that title is bullshit. Everyone sees the work you put in.”
I shake my head. “They don’t. George doesn’t.”
“You know it wasn’t George who recommended me to take Mike’s place. That was Mike himself. I know George didn’t agree and Desiree wasn’t sold. That’s why I’m temporary, on probation. I guarantee it would have gone to you. You deserve it. You’re the best at it and they know it.”
“Then why did Mike recommend you?”
He shrugs. “Big hockey fan.”
“Have you seen inside his house? It’s like a fucking shrine to the NHL. I have a theory that he’s set up cameras all over just to watch me shower and shit, probably has Loan cut locks of my hair at night.” He shudders.
“I can’t believe you never told me that,” I tell him. “You knew that’s what I thought.”
“I know. I didn’t want you to be right and I especially didn’t want you to know that you’re right. There’s nothing more dangerous.”
I punch his arm. “Well, if it makes you feel any better, I do think you’re great at the job. Aside from a few blunders. Like the condoms.”
“Just you wait and see, it will be a huge success. As will the bike program.”
“Now you’re just being nice on purpose.”
“Does this mean we can’t argue with each other anymore?”
I laugh. “Don’t worry, we have plenty to butt heads over.”
“But seriously,” he says, twisting to face me. “I think it would be good for you to just take a step back and relax about everything. You live in this beautiful place that’s filled with Aloha and you’re like the sarcastic ha part of the word.”
“That’s a new one,” I mutter. “I’ll relax more when you relax more.”
“Well I can’t. Not yet. I want to stay here. I want to keep my position. I need to keep working hard. I need to prove myself. It’s what’s driving me at the moment.”
I give him a small smile. “But those are all my reasons too. And I’m after your job.”
He holds my gaze and it’s then that we realize the kicker of this situation. Even if we get along, even if we start opening up with each other, even if whatever kind of relationship we have, whether it’s a friendship like this or friends with benefits or something more, it will always come down to the fact that he has the job I’ve been working toward.