Catch up here.
J.D. carries both duffle bags off the plane. I trail behind him, adjusting my backpack nervously, as he approaches a thin woman in the terminal. She is five inches taller than me, wearing white twill shorts and a white short-sleeved blouse. Her short blonde hair is layered with loose curls. Grey-green eyes light up when he sets the bags down. He remains stooped over for her to place an open maile lei around his neck then wraps his arms around her.
“I’ve missed you,” he says adoringly.
The scent of the sweet leaves wafts over to me.
“I’ve missed you, too, Jack. Took you long enough to come back,” she chides.
“Sorry, Mom.” He lets go and turns aside. “Mom, this is Ari.”
“So good to meet you, Ari.” She reaches out and places a fragrant pikake and pink rosebud lei over my shoulders while kissing my cheek.
“Thank you. It’s good to meet you, too, Mrs. Devlin.”
“Call me Karen, dear,” she says sweetly. “Now, let’s get you two home.”
Karen and J.D. catch up with each other on the way to her truck.
J.D. sets our bags and my backpack in the bed of Karen’s 1991 silver Ford Ranger. I clamber into the passenger side backseat facing the driver side backseat.
He pokes his head behind the front seat still propped forward. “Babes, I can sit in the back so you can enjoy the view.”
“You’re too tall. You’ll be cramped,” I protest.
“Don’t be stubborn.”
“Don’t be bossy,” I fire back.
He smirks. “Are you sure you don’t want to sit in front?”
He pushes the seat back and climbs in. We engage in small talk on the way as Karen and I get to know each other better.
“J.D. never told me you live upcountry,” I say when I notice we’re headed for Kula.
“I lucked out on the house. It was a foreclosure,” she shares.
Karen pulls the truck into the garage of a gray house with white trim overlooking the valley. She leads us inside through the garage. Stairs lead up to her room over the garage and around the corner is an open living space separated from a long U-shaped kitchen by a high breakfast counter. A long dining room table takes up half the space and a tan leather sofa sits next to another room separated by large shoji screen doors. Two sets of French doors are set into the wall space that opens up to the front lanai. A door next to the back wall of the kitchen opens up into the backyard.
“You two are in that room.” She points to the room behind the shoji screens as she opens up the French doors.
We take our bags into the long room and set them down at the foot of the queen size bed covered in a light green Hawaiian print. I stare at the bed achingly as we drape our leis on it.
“Hey,” he murmurs and takes my hands. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll sleep on the floor or the sofa.”
Tears start to well.
“It’s okay, babes.” He wraps my arms around his waist then cradles the back of my head. “It doesn’t matter, remember?” he whispers.
I nod then lift my head. “It’s always there, J.D. In the back. Always ready to haunt me. It always will be.”
“I know. I know,” he whispers and wipes away my tears. “But I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.”
Karen is in the kitchen fixing breakfast and the aroma of brewing Kona coffee fills the air.
“Can I help with anything?” I ask as J.D. sits on the lanai.
Portuguese sausage crackles as she adds it to a heated pan. She points to the cutting board next to the fruit bowl in front of the breakfast bar. “You can cut up two mangoes, please.”
I carefully slice down the each side of the pits.
“Thank you for taking off work to come with Jack for a long weekend. I’ve been trying to get him to visit since last month.” She works at the stove with her back to me.
“I’m sorry,” I apologize sheepishly.
“No, don’t be sorry, dear,” she says pleasantly. “He seems settled and much happier since his first visit this Summer.” She whisks a bowl of eggs.
“I don’t what he’s told you, but he was miserable before med school. With Tommy gone, I didn’t blame him. I knew there was something he wouldn’t tell me though.”
“Do you know now?” I ask wondering what J.D. told her. I cut the mango into chunks while still in the skin then scoop them out with a spoon.
“Yes,” she answers matter-of-factly. Eggs sizzle on contact in another hot pan.
I look through the open doors. J.D. is in a deck chair relaxing against the back and legs spread out in front of him, serenely taking in the view. I let out a small sigh.
“He cut loose in med school,” she informs me. “He kept up with his work and was competitive with the other students, but he partied hard. There were weekends I’d call when it was afternoon there and he was still asleep or still hungover.”
“He didn’t tell me,” I say stunned.
“He’s not proud of that time in his life. I was so worried he’d end up like Rick. I think he got his wake up call last year when he came home and had to deal with Rick alone for the first time,” she explains.
“It makes sense now,” I mumble to myself.
“What was that, dear?”
“Sorry, I was talking to myself. I understand his motivation now that I know about Rick and what J.D. was doing.”
“He’s not proud of what he did to you either, Ari. I’m glad you gave him a second chance,” she says placing her hand on my shoulder blade while I watch J.D. “He loves you.”
I turn my head to her and the corners of my mouth rise slowly. “I know.”
She returns the smile then resumes her attention to the last of the eggs on the stove.
“I’ll make sure he visits more,” I declare while pouring coffee into three plain red mugs.
“Thank you, dear. Jack,” she calls, “come get your breakfast.”
I sip from a mug as I hand one to J.D., eyeing him over the rim.
“What?” he asks defensively. “What stories has my mom told you?”
“No stories, Jack. Just the truth,” she states plainly as she pads to the lanai with her breakfast and coffee.
“What did she say?” he asks under his breath.
I lean sideways against the counter. “She told me about your extreme partying.”
He rolls his eyes.
I reach up and lay my palm against his cheek. “I get it now.”
“You do?” he asks flabbergasted.
“If you told me about it and your dad when we were at Duke’s, I would’ve gotten it sooner. I might’ve been less angry with you, too.”
He covers my hand with his. “I don’t deserve you.”
“I don’t deserve you either, but here we are.”
He takes hold of my waist, tugs me closer, and bends over. Our lips meet tenderly and linger several heartbeats before parting.
“Come on. I’m sure your mom is wondering what is taking us so long.”
“All she has to do is turn around,” he jests.
I grin and pick up my mug and plate then join Karen on the lanai with J.D. behind me.
I wake up to a hand gently shaking me. I open my eyes to pitch dark in an unfamiliar bed and gasp. I scramble away from the hand and wrench the covers up protectively while my heart pounds against my ribs.
“Shh. It’s me, babes.”
“What are you doing?” I ask rattled.
“We’re going to Haleakala. Remember?”
“Shit. I’m sorry.” I sit up resting my arms on bent knees and drop my forehead onto the heels of my palms.
He sits down next to me and caresses my back lightly.
“I forgot where I was.” I lean into him.
“I wasn’t thinking. I should’ve turned on the light.” He kisses the top of my head.
We are in the truck dressed in jeans, sweatshirts, and jackets to watch sunrise on Haleakala fifteen minutes later. J.D. fishes a cassette tape case out of his pocket and rattles it, grinning. I notice the megaphones against a desert sky artwork for Music for the Masses before the cab light goes out.
I’m taking a ride with my best friend
I hope he never lets me down again
He knows where he’s taking me
Taking me where I want to be
The sky is light grey when we arrive. Frigid air bites into my face and my breath puffs out in front me as I step out into the mountain air. I pull the hood of my sweatshirt over my head and cram my hands in my jacket pockets. I keep my head low as we walk to an overlook while he carries a blanket.
We decide on a spot and J.D. grabs two corners of the blanket then swings it behind him. He draws me back first into him and cocoons us in the blanket.
Dawn is painted on the horizon in gradually deeper shades of burnt orange topped by lemon yellow. The sun leisurely breaches the horizon and takes flight into the cobalt sky.
A hand clamps over my mouth and my scream is muffled. I struggle to pry the hand away and my legs hammer against the muscled body. I make a fist when my efforts to tear the hand off my face fail and beat at the body holding me down.
“Wake up, Ari,” a voice orders quietly.
Hands on my upper arms pull me up then press my head against a shirtless chest.
My eyes fly open to the outline of J.D. holding me on the guest bed. My breathing is heavy and my shirt is sticking to my skin.
“You’re okay, babes. It was a nightmare.” J.D. strokes my head. “Just a nightmare.”
Sobbing sets off trembling throughout my body. I seize his arms and he hauls me closer. I throw my arms around him.
He rocks back and forth and whispers, “I’ve got you. I’m not letting go.” His lips brush my forehead then he rests his head atop mine. “You’re safe. No one can hurt you. Shh,” he susurrates.
The shuddering lessens as the tension leaves my body and the crying stops. I notice the rhythmic thump-thump of his heart, steady and strong in spite of my terror.
He lays us down on the mattress, keeping his left arm around me. He gently massages my back in long steady strokes with his right hand. I drift off as he sings.
Like a baby in your arms
Be gentle with me
I’d never willingly
Do you harm
Are all you seem to get from me
But just like a child
You make me smile
When you care for me
I awake nestled between J.D.’s arm and his torso with my arm draped across his chest. I lift my head off his shoulder.
“Morning, beautiful,” he greets without opening his eyes.
“Morning.” I lay my head back down. “Was I fighting with you last night?”
“Yeah. You were thrashing around mumbling. I was trying to wake you and you started punching me.” He traces his fingers lightly across my arm. “Is it like this every night?”
“Before, yes. Now it’s a few nights a week.”
“Is it the same every time?”
“Sometimes. Other times it’s just variations on a theme.”
“I wish I could make it all go away.”
“You made me feel safe. I’ve never had that after a nightmare before.”
He rolls me over onto my back and leans over me on his forearm while his right fingertips trail delicately down my cheek. Chocolate discs gaze into my eyes, e “I would do that every night for the rest of my life for you.”
I suck in breath and butterflies awaken in my chest.
He brushes my hair back. “I love you, Ariana.”
“I love you, James,” I return without hesitation.
©2013, Debi Smith