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Leaving the Nest

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On Saturday Jumba stomps into the kitchen and declares, “I am covered in tiny humans! Who will rescue me?”

The twins giggle and cling to his shirt, their black ponytails bouncing with every heavy footstep Jumba makes. Behind him, Davey bounds behind him like a happy cat, waving a toy phaser at Jumba's back and making “pew pew pew” noises on a never-ending loop.

“Oh, Davey, please pipe down,” Nani asks, her voice barely veiling her exhaustion. Summer's almost over, and Lilo has never seen her sister so thrilled for the oncoming start of school. The twins start preschool this year, half-days of learning to color inside the lines and make paper flowers with brightly colored construction paper, and every time Nani thinks of her free mornings this glazed look dawns in Nani's eyes which makes David and Lilo share silly grins.

This morning, though, the twins are still trouble and Davey is still full of sugary cereal and even Kalea – normally the calmest of the lot – fidgets in her seat at the breakfast table as Nani brushes her hair, impatient to go out with Pleakley for a nature walk. Lilo absently pokes at her pancakes with her fork, her gaze drifting outside to the calling waves. Only a few more days, she thinks, and sighs heavily.

Nani shoots her a curious look, but doesn't address Lilo's mood. Instead she just shakes her head and dives back into the frantic whirlwind of parenting so many little kids. “Davey, don't poke Jumba in the stomach,” she says, quickly braiding Kalea's thick black hair with nimble fingers. “Remember what I said about stopping when someone's not having fun anymore?”

Jumba chooses that moment to chortle and chase after Davey as he scampers into the living room, leading Nani's eyes to roll skyward in response.

“I swear that one is no help sometimes,” she mutters. With a deft twist and snap, she finishes the braid and fastens it with a hair tie, and Kalea squeals before racing out of the room.

As soon as the kids are all gone, the aliens have departed, and it's just Lilo and her again, Nani sags back in the kitchen chair like a limp doll, her arms dangling. Lilo pops a slice from her pancake into her mouth and chews as Nani breathes a sigh of relief. “Finally,” she huffs. “When David comes back from this business trip to Hilo for the hotel, remind me to ask him if we should start slipping horse tranquilizers into the kids' chicken nuggets.”

Lilo laughs around her mouthful of pancake, but says nothing. Her silence draws Nani's undivided attention, and Lilo cowers a little as Nani's narrowed eyes focus on her.

“Where's Stitch?” Nani asks.

Lilo swallows, then shrugs. “Packing.”

“So now he's going?”

“He was going before.”

“Which before? Either he decides he's going to stay, or you decide maybe it's better if he stayed, or –“

“Well, now he's coming,” Lilo says. “He even packed all my Elvis Presley abums in his suitcase. He wouldn't let me go without them.”

“Mmm-hmm,” Nani says dryly. Lilo wonders if Nani suspects the same thing she does, that Stitch would probably manage to sneak one or two of the Elvis records in Lilo's collection into his room if he decided to stay.

He won't, though. Lilo is sure of it.

Or at least, she is this morning.

Frowning, she pushes her plate away and gets to her feet. “I'm going down to the beach,” she says. “You need anything while I'm out?”

After a long moment, Nani shakes her head, and Lilo darts out of the room before Nani wrings the truth out of her.

*

The beach spreads out damp and toasty-warm under Lilo's bare feet, and she digs her toes in the sand as she props up her surfboard in the sand. It's pushing ninety and humid – if air could sweat, it would feel like this. Instead, there's barely any clouds above, not even a hint of rain in the future. The day is perfect, and Lilo bets tomorrow will be just as perfect as she boards her flight to Honolulu for college.

College … it seems like such a faraway magical place in a way it wouldn't have only a few short years ago. Even when she graduated two years ago, with everyone else around her at the ceremony chattering happily about the scholarships they'd received or the campus they planned to move to only a few short months later, Lilo was just happy to get high school done and over with. There were part-time jobs to acquire, nieces and a nephew to babysit, aliens to wrangle. College could wait, if she ever got to it at all.

Except … except there was a photographer staying at the hotel. An actual photographer, not some young woman just out of high school taking photos of tourists for extra spending money. They got to talking, and Lilo showed him some of her more recent shots – the ones of less prepared tourists, candid shots of outsiders with their sunburned flab and tanned rolls, the ones she likes the best.

She doesn't expect him to call a friend at the University of Hawaii. She didn't even ask. And yet …

Of course, that means leaving. Leaving Nani and David, leaving the kids and the aliens and maybe even Stitch.

It's just … it's an adventure and a horror story all at once. This is how those terrible movies start when someone who's not human. Lilo's watched them with the others, all of them piled in front of the television and passing around enormous bowls of popcorn. She cried at “E.T.” for so long Stitch had to read her a bedtime story, and she wasn't even a kid anymore.

She worries about him. She can take him with her, or she can leave him here in this energetic typhoon of toddlers and aliens and the occasional passing duckling. She's not sure she's willing to risk the alternative.

As if on cue, Stitch appears out of nowhere, hollering as he snatches the surfboard out of the sand and bounds toward the waves. Giggles burst forth from Lilo's chest as Stitch pounces on the board and floats in the water, then waves his arms in the air and yells something unintelligible which can only be a request for her to join in.

She grins, wide and happy, and chases after him. As if she could ever leave him behind. No one gets left behind, even if geography has anything to say about it.