“Pity,” he said, letting out a sad sigh. “Well, is there anything else I can help you with?”
I hesitated. “Um, this may sound weird, but I am having trouble understanding some of the other kids.”
He laughed, murmured something about teenagers being so confusing, then admitted that he himself was often flummoxed by his students.
“No, no,” I tried again. “I mean I can’t understand their speech. It’s like they speak another language. You know, like Portuguese.”
“Ah!” Headmaster Field cried. “That’s not Portuguese, that’s pigeon.” He went on to explain that Hawaiians often slipped into what was called “pidgin” English, a very casual way of talking that set the locals apart from the tourists. For example, “How is it?” would be “howzit?” And “would you like to go to dinner” would be “wanna goda dinna, huh?”
Great. As if moving from Asher to Maui weren’t hard enough. Now there was a language barrier.
Before we met Mr. Hunter, we lived in what seemed to be an endless series of dark, cramped apartments. Because of my brother, there was never enough money. Carl was expensive. We were always looking for ways to save a dollar or two. Sometimes, like when my mother had to perm my hair at home or when we ate spaghetti for a week, I’d blame Carl. Afterward, I always felt bad and would apologize to my brother and Henry, the stuffed monkey who was his constant companion.
Our minister once told me, “Felicity, it’s not Carl’s fault, or your parents’. You must not blame them.”
Okay. So, if it wasn’t Carl’s fault, and it wasn’t my mother’s or my father’s, then whose fault was it? One time, when Mom was pregnant, I ran to give her a hug. Only I was going so fast I knocked her down. Maybe I hurt the baby. Maybe that’s why his brain was damaged. Maybe all our family’s sorrows were because of me.
My mother became a nurse so she could look after my brother. But as he got older, it got harder. Carl would spit out food. He’d wail and cry, and so would she. Even though he had the IQ of a one-year-old, my brother was bigger than both of us. After Carl broke Mom’s nose for the second time, he went to live in a special needs home. I remember his first night. At my mother’s urging, I kissed him and then waved good-bye. Carl, thinking it was a game, gave me one of his big sloppy kisses and made Henry wave back to me. He didn’t know he wouldn’t be coming home.
Even with Carl safely tucked away, my father couldn’t deal with my brother. It troubled him that his son would never be the man he was. So Dad left us for some woman he met at Rotary. That’s how Mom and I came to be poor and on the run from landlords.
I’d love to say that Mom and Mr. Hunter “met cute” like those romantic comedies she is so fond of. Only, that’s not quite how it happened. During a first-class flight back from New York, Mr. Hunter had a stroke and the plane was forced to land. An emergency room nurse was credited with saving his life. On the day he checked out, Mr. Hunter proposed to her and Mom accepted.
Mr. Hunter’s house was unlike anything I had ever seen before. In the bathroom, metal grip bars were next to the toilet. A plastic chair sat in the master bedroom shower. All the light switches were down low, so Mr. Hunter wouldn’t have to get out of his wheelchair to reach them.
The house was sprawling and flat with smooth blond wood floors. Sliding glass doors opened silently onto lushly landscaped grounds, where blue jays, something rare in Asher, adorned the trees. There was a view of the ocean from almost every room. The house was gorgeous and it didn’t cost us anything. Well, it didn’t cost any money.
Old and frail, Mr. Hunter’s face was pocked and wrinkled and the color of sand. When he coughed, which was often, phlegm or blood, or both, stained his handkerchief. He shook violently, and when he was not in his wheelchair he hunched over, leaning on his carved wooden cane, or my mom, for support.
But Mr. Hunter was good to my mother. Unlike my father, he never beat her, he never called her a mean name or even raised his voice to her. In return, she gave him youth and companionship and, in the end, love.
Despite going solo at lunch, I was determined to make friends at my new school. I didn’t let the fact that I was being ignored deter me. Sure, it was something I was unaccustomed to, but I could understand why. No one knew what I had to offer—but that was about to change.
I took a deep cleansing breath, put on my best majorette smile, and, as I strolled down the halls, I twirled. Nothing too fancy, I didn’t want to show off. To my surprise, the more I twirled, the more people ignored me. Well, not everyone.
With the athletic program suspended, there was a new sport. It involved former athletes grabbing my baton, tossing it to each other, and then hurling it over the balcony like a javelin. After two days of this I left my lucky baton at home.
I need to take a moment to describe my peers at Kahanamoku Academy. At least a third of the kids seemed to be native Hawaiians or at least some version of Asian, and a third were white, and a third I couldn’t tell. With about two hundred students in each grade, the school was twice the size of Asher High. The girls had a sheen to them like they had just slipped off the pages of a glossy fashion magazine.
In Asher, I didn’t dare leave home without concealer, foundation, powder, blush, liner, shadow, eyebrow pencil, mascara, lip liner and two lipsticks (to get my signature color). Yet the strange thing about the Kahanamoku girls was that they appeared to go without makeup, and still looked beautiful. They didn’t seem to sweat, either. And modesty certainly wasn’t an issue with them considering that their clothes consisted of little more than short shorts and tiny tops that looked like underwear.
The boys resembled ads for Sun & Surf Suntan Oil. Muscled and supremely confident, they carried themselves like athletes without the letterman’s jackets. One boy in particular had the looks of a movie star, the build of an Olympic athlete, and the swagger of someone who has never doubted himself. He was so handsome it hurt to even look at him. Kai Risdale was like the sun, with the other planets orbiting around his fiery glow.
At the risk of being blinded by his beauty, I stared. Everyone else stared at Kai, too, except for the few scholarship students who mostly kept their heads down and clutched their books tight to their chests like armor. Perhaps it was. They couldn’t afford to get hurt. Without a scholarship, the privilege of attending Kahanamoku was over eighteen thousand dollars a year.
If in Asher, Ohio, I was considered pale, in Maui I was a ghost. I was peppy at a school where the less pep you had, the more popular you were. Everything was so confusing. The cool kids at Kahanamoku seemed to do nothing more than stand around. Whereas at Asher, the only time people stood still was for the morning flag salute.
At the end of the week things finally started to look up. I was about to head home when Kai brushed past me. With ease, he hoisted himself onto the pedestal where the bronze statue of Duke Kahanamoku stood bare-chested and ready to surf. Duke, the legendary Hawaiian surfer and namesake of the school, was akin to God on the islands. As Kai leaned on the statue I could see that his biceps rivaled Duke’s. I shut my eyes and wondered what it would be like to be held in Kai’s arms. My eyes fluttered open when I heard Kai cry, “C’mon, everyone, party at my house!”
A cheer filled the air and what appeared to be the entire student body started to follow Kai. Not to be left out, I ran to catch up. A party! This would be my first Hawaiian party and I was intent on showing everyone how fun I could be. In Asher, I was known for being something of a party animal. At Natalie Catrine’s sweet sixteen, I was dared to—and did—eat three cupcakes without using my hands.
Suddenly Kai stopped and I almost bumped into him. He smelled like coconuts. “Where do you think you’re going?” he asked.
I looked around before I realized he was talking to me. “To the party?” I said, making it sound like a question. Being this close to Kai made me feel faint.
He smiled for the benefit of those watching and then answered, “That’s funny, because no one invited you.”
My face was on fire. “But,” I stammered, “you said, ‘everyone, party at my house.’”
“Yes, I did say that,” Kai mused agreeably. He had flecks of brown in his green eyes. “But what I meant was everyone but you.”
Laughter filled the air, and even though it pained me, I joined in. According to the Miss Pep mission statement, “Asher High School’s Miss Pep is always peppy, even in the face of adversity.”
If I had thought things couldn’t get any worse, I was wrong. I had tried to befriend the scholarship students, but they eyed me with suspicion once it was discovered that Justin Hunter of Justin Hunter Electronics was married to my mother. Yet our newfound money wasn’t enough to buy my way into the popular group.
In an attempt to fit in, I toned down my blush and switched to a waterproof mascara since the humid weather made my makeup melt. I stopped putting ribbons in my hair, and although I didn’t wear short shorts or skimpy tank tops, I did go sleeveless quite often. I even tried to swear like the popular kids by throwing the occasional “damn” into my sentences. Once I even said “bitch,” though I instantly regretted it.
One day Kai cornered me by my locker. “Hey, you, what’s your name?”
It didn’t matter that I had been at school for almost two months, or that the teachers often called on me in class, or that anytime Headmaster Field saw me he’d say, “How are you today, Felicity?”
“So what’s your name?” Kai asked again, this time leaning in so close I could smell cigarettes on his breath. My heart raced. His friends looked bored.
It had occurred to me that maybe Kai was testing me. Or joking, the way the boys at Asher High did when they were flirting. Back home, I had 1.5 boyfriends. The first, Don Connelly, was in band. If you saw him strut and play the trumpet, you’d understand what the attraction was. We were named His and Her Asher High Sophomore Spirit leaders during football kickoff week last year. Don and I dated for three months, but there was never any true spark between us. Plus, I never liked it that he tucked in his sweaters.