When she looks at me, her sweet eyes are brimming with tears. “I thought I lost you,” she says. “When I saw you jump in the pool and you sank…I thought I lost both of you forever.” She pauses, taking in a wavering breath. “I shut down inside. I thought about how risky all of this is, to be with someone when you could lose them. Again. And I just shut off…and I hate how I do that, Kess, I really do. I want to change. I want to be with you.”
“You are with me, baby,” I tell her, taking her hand and kissing her knuckles. “I’ve got you and I’m not letting go. It was just a fight. It was a scary fucking moment and a lot of shit came out because of it, shit that I should have been dealing with like an actual functioning human being. I talk a lot, Nova, but my actions don’t always follow through and I’m sorry. I need to step it up too.”
She chews on her lip, looking more crestfallen and vulnerable than I’ve ever seen her. “Nova,” I say softly. “We’re okay. None of this was your fault. I was scared shitless when I sank but I wasn’t thinking of you and how mad I was. When I ran to save Hunter, I wasn’t even thinking about how I’d probably drown. All I thought about was that I would do anything for my son, no matter what, and tonight I learned that you’d do anything for him too. And now I’m thinking, you know what, he’s a fucking lucky kid to have two bumbling adults in his life who would risk their life for him.” I gesture at her outfit. “Or humiliation, as it were.”
“This was nothing,” she says, looking down at herself.
I grin. “Nova. I know you. You know I find you adorable with the headlamp and hot as sin in this wetsuit. What was something was the fact that you drove all the way here when we were both mad at each other and did this for Hunter. And, by way of that, you did this for me. You’re a very proud stubborn woman. This sort of thing does not come easy to you and, believe me, I appreciate it.”
I thought that would get a smile out of her but instead she gets up off the bed and starts pacing back and forth in front of me. I’m not sure what to do, if she’s about to unload something awful on me, if she’s going to put things back together. I watch in fear and awe, waiting.
When she finally stops pacing she looks at me again and it’s like she’s taken off a mask. Her eyes plead with me while her heart is on her sleeve.
“I know I’m difficult,” she whispers hoarsely, hands flying to her sides. “I’m cynical and hard in places and too soft and sensitive in others. I’m running cold one second and then I’m a fiery volcano the next, with no way to turn me off. I’m ambitious and competitive and a little too focused. I should be more social. I should call more people and make more plans. Sometimes it feels like my head isn’t on straight, some days I just want to stay in bed and cry. At night I get unbelievably afraid in the moments before I fall asleep, like I’m scared to let go and drift away, while in the mornings even three pots of coffee aren’t enough to make me human. I want too much and I worry that I want too much. I want people to love me but I’m afraid to love them first. Most of all, I’m afraid that I’ll lose the ones I do love because I was too much of something for them. Too much of me. Too broken and flawed and imperfect and selfish, with too much wrong in me and not enough right.” She pauses, taking in a deep shaking breath that I feel to the very soul of me. “I wish I were easier to love.”
And there it is.
Her truth offered to me on a fragile plate.
She’s trusting me with it.
I’ve never wanted anything more.
“Nova,” I manage to whisper. “It was just a fight. I’m not going anywhere.” I get up, my legs shaking, maybe from the pool, maybe from what I’m about to say. I gently take her face between my hands, cupping it. “I love you. I love you so incredibly much it’s like I’m seeing this world in color for the first time and it’s nothing but the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets and even the stars make the night sky shine.”
I kiss her and already things are brighter, lighter.
“Kessler,” she whispers against my lips, almost whimpering
I pull back an inch, resting my forehead against her. “You don’t have to say it. I know you didn’t come here to tell me you love me and if you did, you did it without words. It’s enough for me, just to have you here. Just to let me tell you that I love you.”
“I can’t believe you love me,” she whispers.
“I do. Very much. So much. More than enough. I love you now in ways I never could have back then because I didn’t understand what it meant. I didn’t understand how much I wanted it, needed it. It took losing you once to know that I won’t lose you again. Just…tell me that you at least Aloha me.”
A wry smile creeps on her lips as she frowns. “Aloha you?”
“Yes. You don’t have to say you love me, I get it, you need to do things in your own way and in your own time. But tell me you Aloha me, at least.”
“Kess, no…that’s not how the word works.”
“No? That’s totally how the word works. Aloha has a million different meetings. It’s more than just hello or a greeting. It’s a way of life. That’s what all the postcards say. It’s a spirit and you’re my spirit. You’re my Aloha.”
“Just because something is cheesy, doesn’t mean it’s not valid or good. I mean, what is cheesy but too much cheese and, honestly, how could you ever have too much cheese? Cheese is fucking awesome. Brie and pecorino and smoked applewood cheddar…”
“Aloha is everything,” I go on. “It’s the land and sea and sky and harmony. It’s a way of life.” I grab her by the shoulders. “Aloha means never having to say you’re sorry.”
“I’m just a boy standing in front of a girl, asking her to Aloha him.”
She’s laughing now. “Please.”
“Nova, you…Aloha me,” I say in my best Tom Cruise impression.
“You had me at Aloha?” she offers.
“Yes! You had me at Aloha.”
“Can we stop saying the word Aloha now? It’s starting to sound funny.”
“Okay fine, but I had you at Aloha.”
“Yes,” she says with a reluctant sigh. “You did.”
At least she admits it.
“Now come, let me get you out of this wetsuit. Where did you get this anyway?”
She pushes my roving hands away as I reach for her zipper. “Sometimes the water gets cold enough here.”
“Well I wouldn’t know because I am never going in the ocean again.”
She gives me a sympathetic look. “Yes, you are. I know today was scary but I have no doubt that even if I didn’t jump in after you, you would have made it out. I mean, fuck man, you have some powerful quads.”
“I gave you a good wallop, didn’t I?” I wince.
She shrugs. “I’ve had worse. But I’m being serious. I know it felt like you were drowning but you were keeping yourself afloat, not me. Like I could keep a man your size afloat like that. And you saved Hunter’s life, so really, I think you’re part fish already. I think you’ll both be one with the ocean in no time.”
“If you think I’m about to turn into Aquaman, you have another thing coming.”
She grins at me. “All I know is that if you wanted to dress up as Jason Momoa, I wouldn’t mind.”
“That guy is Hawaiian isn’t he?”
“That fucker. All the women want him because he can swim.”
She raises her brow. “Yeah,” she says dryly. “That’s totally the reason why.”
“So about you taking off this wetsuit,” I tell her. “Unless you have a hole somewhere, then you can keep it on.”
“I’m going to go,” she says, heading for the door.
“It’s very late now and I just wanted to drop by.”
“You can’t just come here unannounced, exterminate a Hawaiian goblin, leave me a gecko, and then fuck off.”
“I’ll see you on Monday Kess,” she says.
I grumble in response as I see her out.
“See you Monday.”
I never thought I’d look forward to a Monday like this before.
I never thought I’d look forward to any day like this.
After the horrors of Saturday and the near drowning at the pool, after I showed up at his house, ready to fight the mythical Menehune, everything changed.
I unloaded on Kessler everything I’d felt about myself, all my fears, all my insecurities, all the things I’m strangely proud of too. I didn’t want to hide anything from him anymore, didn’t want to be a closed book.
I realized I was in love with him and I was past the point of no return.
There was no saving me from heartache.
If it happened, it happened.
I couldn’t protect my heart from it even if I tried, and if I did try, I would miss out on all the joy there is in giving in and loving someone.
It’s a surrender.
I was waving my flag.
And he waved his right back.
He loved me.
Loved me with all his ambition and brawn and ridiculousness and sweat.
Scratch that—loves me.
Because he does.
I left his house late Saturday night feeling his love beating in every corner of my body, like it had fused with my blood and infiltrated my veins and turned me into someone new, someone better.
Yeah, I know. That’s the cheese I accused him of and I’m living it right now.
It’s actually kind of hard not to be cheesy. I guess that’s what love does to you, a minor drawback, if you will. All sense of cool has been compromised.
But I don’t care.