But the silence inside the car is killing me.
“I’m sorry,” I say again, glancing at Kessler. He’s look out the window, avoiding my eyes, towel wrapped around his broad shoulders. When he doesn’t say anything, I look in the rear-view mirror at Hunter in his car seat. “I’m so sorry Hunter.”
“Don’t talk to him,” Kessler snaps at me quietly.
My eyes widen as I look over at him. “Why not? I’m sorry.”
“He doesn’t need your apology.”
“Well do you need my apology?”
“You know, I was gone for one second.”
I feel like I’ve just been poked with a pin and I’m slowly draining. I suppose it’s better than shattering on the spot. “And I just turned my back for one second.”
“You shouldn’t be turning your back at all.” He looks away and mutters under his breath, “But I guess that’s what you do.”
We’re going there?
“What were you doing?” he asks.
“I was looking for my book!”
He shakes his head. “Can’t even trust you to put your own needs aside for one second.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Don’t swear in front of my child. I think you’ve done enough to him for one day.”
“Why are you turning into a monster?” I cry out, my grip tightening on the wheel, my temper ready to fly off the handle. I take in a deep, sucking breath. “Look, I know you’re upset. He almost drowned, you almost drowned. I know it’s a lot to handle but please, I didn’t do it on purpose. I would never do that to you, I would never hurt you, either of you, you know that.”
“I don’t think I know shit anymore.”
“What does that mean?”
His eyes are blazing, sharp and dangerous, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him this angry, this vicious. It hurts to know how badly he can hurt me if he chooses.
Please don’t hurt me, I think. Please don’t say anything to hurt me.
“It means I have no idea what you want, what you’re even doing with me. Maybe this is just some game to you, a fun way to pass the time. Today was just a prime example of you being selfish, of thinking of no one but yourself.”
“Excuse me?!” I shriek.
“Mommy, Daddy, stop fighting!” Hunter yells from the backseat.
His words catch me off guard for a second but Kessler plows right on through.
“She’s not your mother, Hunter,” he says in a hard voice. “She’s just a friend. Just your friend, just my friend. Nothing more. Isn’t that right, Nova?”
I am fucking speechless. I can’t even answer him and I don’t know what I would even say.
So he does know how to hurt me and has no problems in doing so.
As if I couldn’t feel guilty enough for what happened, as if I haven’t had to deal with enough guilt in my life. But hell, there I am making it all about me again.
Selfish, selfish Nova.
The air in the car is so thick with tension I’m surprised I can see out the windshield, surprised that I actually get us home.
I park in the driveway, ready to get out when Kessler says, “Sorry.”
He’s good at apologizing, but not this time.
He went too far.
And now, I feel myself being reeled back in like an empty fish hook.
Walls going up.
Brick by frozen brick.
I get out of the car and manage to hold it together enough to say goodbye to Hunter. Thank god the kid doesn’t seem to harbor any grudges against me, nor does he seem that shaken up or traumatized.
But when it comes to Kessler, I keep my distance.
I watch as he puts the car seat in the back seat of the Audi and then goes around to his side.
He doesn’t say anything to me and, with his sunglasses on, I can’t read his expression.
But I can feel him.
All his cells and electricity inside him, I can feel how much he doesn’t want me around, I can feel that I screwed up big time, not only by not paying enough attention today but by not paying enough attention to our relationship in general. Not giving him what he needs when I don’t even know my own needs.
Kessler hesitates, hand on the open door, and takes his sunglasses off.
That’s when I see the anger in his eyes has dissipated—all I see is pain.
Pain I caused. Pain we caused.
“I don’t want to end it like this,” he says.
“And yet that’s what’s happening,” I tell him, crossing my arms, trying to hold my ground even though I don’t know what I’m standing for anymore.
He swallows and nods.
Gets in the car.
I watch until he disappears around the corner and I look up at the mountains and wish I could bury my heart somewhere deep inside the green ridges, perhaps in a deep, secret cave. Keep it there until it feels safe to come out.
It’s then that I realize it’ll never be safe for me.
Whatever I was trying so hard to shield my heart from, happened anyway.
I think I’m still in love with him.
I think I love him more than before.
I think I might have just kicked that love to the curb.
And everything I think…I know.
“Daddy. Daddy. Daddy.”
Hunter’s cries enter my dream. For a moment I’m back in the ocean and he’s drowning, slipping through my grasp.
No, no, no, no, no.
Not my son.
Not my love, my world.
I reach for him in the depths but soon I’m drowning too, swallowed into the darkness, seeing Hunter float away, getting smaller and smaller.
I wake up, covered in sweat, and see the shadow of Hunter by my bed.
“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” he’s crying out, tugging on the sheets.
“What is it? Did you have a nightmare?” I ask, my throat closed and words sluggish. I wipe the sweat off my face and peer at him, wondering if he’s going to be scarred for life by what happened today, if he’ll ever swim, if he’ll need therapy. First he loses his mother to prison, then he nearly drowns.
Fuck, I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it. I highly doubt it.
“I’m scared,” he says in a small voice. “Can I come in bed with you?”
“Of course, little buddy,” I say to him, picking him up by his waist and placing him in bed beside me, getting him under the sheets. “Tell me what you’re scared of. It’s the water isn’t it?”
He shakes his head. “No. I’m scared of the Menehune.”
I stare at him for a moment, figuring I heard him wrong. “Like…mermaids?”
“No, the Menehune,” he says. “They’re like Leprechauns.”
Oh god. I sit up straighter and peer at the time. It’s only ten thirty at night. I must have passed right out earlier after everything that happened today. “The cockroaches are back?”
“No,” he says, getting impatient now. “The Menehune.”
“I’m sorry Hunter, I don’t know what the Menehune are.”
“The Menehune are tiny people who live under your bed.”
This isn’t good. “By tiny people, do you mean insects? Like the cockroaches?”
Shit, maybe it’s now a centipede infestation. I heard their bite can hurt for months.
He sighs. “Tiny people. They are this big.” He gestures to the size of a Barbie doll. “They used to live in the forests but now because people are everywhere they can live in your house. That’s what Nova said.”
Oh shit. This explains everything. “Nova told you about them?”
He nods, his lower lip trembling. “Yes. The other day. She said they were chevious.”
“Mischievous?” I say.
“Yes miss chevious,” he says. “And they like to play tricks on you and hide things. I think there’s one under my bed and he wants to eat my toes!”
I sigh loudly and pull him in for a hug. “Listen, Hunter. There are no Menehune.”
“There are, I heard other people talking about them, too.”
I’m not too sure about that but I have to do damage control.
“I think maybe you’re just scared over what happened today. It’s okay if you want to talk about it. You know what, I was scared too. I thought I couldn’t save you and then I thought I couldn’t save myself and it’s like my whole world came crashing down on me.”
Hunter is staring at me with big eyes, nodding. “You were like Maui.”
“I was barely like Maui. I needed help.”
“I wish I knew how to swim.”
Fuck, this is breaking my heart. “You will. You just weren’t ready and you took a tumble. It’s not your fault.”
“I want to be all powerful like you are.”
I chuckle. “Oh, if you only knew the half of it. Tell you what, if you think I’m all powerful, then I will kill the Menehune under the bed for you. You said it’s only one, right?”
“No,” he cries out. “You can’t kill it. Don’t kill it Daddy.”
“Okay, okay, I won’t kill it. I’ll just remove it and put it outside.”
“You can’t. Only the Hawaiian people can do that. You are what Nova calls a Nuck.”
“A Nuck?” He must mean Canuck. “So Nova knows all about the removal of Menehune then?”
He nods thoughtfully. “I think so. You should call her.”
I let out a dry laugh even though he has no idea why it’s funny. I guess he doesn’t even remember us fighting today, which is good. “It’s late, buddy.”
“I can call her.”
“We aren’t calling Nova right now, she’s sleeping.”
“But I can’t sleep until the Menehune is gone!”
This back and forth literally goes on for another ten minutes before Hunter passes out in my arms.