In Tahiti, where it is understood the ancestors of those who crossed the ocean to Hawai’i originated on their journey, there is a word that describes the peculiar sense of fatigue and ennui that often affects those who inhabit tropical isles. The Tahitian word, fiu, has an exact translation to neither English nor Hawaiian, but like many words in the Hawaiian language (which is mainly derived from Tahitian) it has multiple nuanced uses that take some time to fully grasp, yet add deep richness to the language and culture of the people who use it.
Danny was definitely fiu, Steve thought, as he watched his partner collapse into the lounge chair next to him, sweating beer in hand. His face, lit by the full moon inching its way above Moloka’i in the eastern sky, betrayed neither fatigue nor angst, neither exasperation nor satisfaction. Merely a blank slate devoid of thought or consideration, blue eyes turned ebony pools in the darkness that still glinted with the reflection of the moonlight, itself reflected off the calm waters of the Pacific. Perhaps there was the slightest hint of strain taking residence in the soft skin surrounding those sparkling eyes, but aside from that tiny hint that Steve wasn’t even sure he could see, there was nothing but fiu.
Danny laid flat against the back of the chair, took a tentative swig of his beer, swallowed, licked his lips and looked over at Steve. Fiu was almost entrancing when he encountered it, and instead of breaking the silence he merely nodded, and smiled, sipped his own beer, and returned to tracking the moon’s reflection as the smell of the fish he was grilling washed down from the lanai.
True to form, Danny snapped out of his trance as soon as the smell of food reached him.
“Opakapaka.” Steve smiled to himself, knowing Danny would make a face, and Danny didn’t disappoint him. “And a side of ribs for you, Danno.” He laughed.
“Mo’ b-“ Danny caught himself.
Steve almost leaped out of the chair. “I’m sorry, what was that?” His smile broadened as he cupped a hand behind one ear. “Did my Jersey boy almost say ‘Mo’ bettah’? Could Danno be getting assimilated?”
Danny smiled, defeated, leaned his head back against his own chair and took another swig of his beer. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” he said, with his eyes closed. Even with them closed, Steve could detect a sparkle in them, and he knew Danny’s lips were pursed because he was stifling a smile.
A sense of urgency poured over Steve as he knew it had been a few minutes, and although everything on the grill was cooking on low it was about time to go check, but he savored a few seconds in the chair next to Danny as he studied his moonlight framed profile. Familiar territory this, he still studied it as though he were a first year geography student struggling to remember major landmarks. From the ears that were a favorite of his to softly nibble, he followed the proportioned curve of the jawbone down to where it settled into the perfect square of a chin that reminded Steve of hospital cornered sheets on a mattress – symmetrical, precise, yet not quite immaculate thanks to the generous several days stubble growth to which a tiny, distinguished hint of grey had begun to sneak in at the corners. He continued his journey up the cliff face of his chin, over his thin lips that he knew to be expressive and versatile, with amazing utility that almost made Steve blush when he considered it. Past the lips, over his nose, just prominent enough to add some character, struggling not to get lost again in those sparkling eyes bookended by the thick folds of his crow’s feet that reminded Steve of a shar-pei, especially when Danny was squinting or giving him that wide smile where the corners of his lips cat-eared and he almost appeared to be deliberately baring his teeth.
How lucky he felt that this man loved him. How fortunate he considered himself that he chose to return to Steve’s house—nay—their house, at the end of the day and spend every evening and night with him as well. It seemed as though Danny had awakened him to the idea of counting his blessings the moment he’d considered Danny the most important among them; while he’d always hoped to find fulfillment and satisfaction in his life, his Danny had more than exceeded those expectations and he frequently fought back feelings of disbelief that he was still fully entrapped in the inescapable grips of reality.
Remembering the grill, he stood from the chair, stared dumbly at the sea for a brief moment before draining his beer, and almost on impulse found himself behind Danny’s chair, tracing his hands down his shoulders, across broad biceps that tapered to small-featured forearms and even smaller hands that Steve cupped in his own much larger ones, and bent down to kiss the top of his head through the blond plumage that he managed to keep in perfect place in spite of the ever present trade winds.
Danny’s timing had been perfect, and the meal turned out very well. Danny seemed a bit more animated after a couple bites, although when he’d taken the ribs out of the freezer he’d forgotten that Danny was picky about them. He used a fork to separate the meat from the bone before eating it. Steve had never seen anybody eat ribs in such a way, and he teased Danny mercilessly about it the first time he’d watched Danny eat them.
“I ran into Bill Casey today.” He eyed Danny, who was surgically deboning another rib.
Danny didn’t look up; he was busy slicing the meat into bite-sized pieces. “Bill Casey. Remind me who that is.”
“Classmate from Annapolis. I’m sure I told you about him.”
Danny paused for a moment while he finished chewing. “McGarrett, you have told me more stories involving sailors than could a Singapore Madame. They run together.”
Steve sighed. “He’s from Alaska; we might have been notorious at the Academy for streaking.”
Danny smiled. “I seem to remember something about the streaking. What did he have to say?”
Steve eyed Danny again, hoping he wouldn’t take umbrage with what he had to say.
“Well he’s on O’ahu for the weekend on his way to Australia and he mentioned he’s staying at Hale Koa and I said, ‘Nonsense why don’t you come stay with me and Danny through the weekend’ and we got to talking about things and how I’d always wanted to see Alaska and he mentioned he had a cabin on a lake and it’s the perfect time to go because he’s not going to be there and-“
“Wait.” Danny cut him off. “Just wait. Are you telling me we’re going to Alaska?”
“Well, Danno, I, you know it’s been a while since we’ve gone anywhere and it sounds kind of interesting, and you’re always bitching about the island so I thought you might like to, ya know, take a trip.”
“To Alaska, Steven? Alaska! You do realize we’re getting married next weekend, right? We’re not going to meet my parents at the airport, sort out the wedding cake business, keep your sister out of jail, and rewire Gracie’s cell phone so no boys can call her, ever, when we’re in Alaska! I can’t believe you’d even think to go somewhere last minute when we have all this work to do!”
Steve eyed his partner while he ranted. He was relieved that Danny was ranting. Steve chuckled to himself, amused at how easy it was to bait him.
“Why are you laughing?” Danny was gesturing and nearly shouting.
“I’m laughing because you’re so predictable.” Steve flashed him a broad smile. “I’m just kidding, Danno.”
Danny wiped his mouth and pushed his plate away. “You think that’s funny? You’d never make it in the frozen north without a seasoned cold-weather veteran, i.e. me, to show you exactly how to keep warm away from the tropical climes of your natural habitat.”
Steve couldn’t help but keep smiling as he took Danny’s hand. “You do keep me pretty warm, Danno.”
“You.” Danny smiled, with a mocking look in his eye as he squeezed Steve’s hand in return, “Are a rabid, crazy, wild animal, and we’re getting you fixed right after the wedding.”
“Maybe we’d both get better sleep then.” He nudged Danny’s knees apart with his own left knee underneath the table. “Just think about it – warm tropical nights in bed with you – lots of Sudoku, John Le Carre spy novels, reverent discourse on all matters moral.”
“Point taken.” Danny huffed. “How about we wrap up the rest of that aquarium you didn’t eat and take care of these dishes, and then that bed thing you were talking about sounds pretty hot. We should go try that.” He was smiling up at Steve, wide-eyed with forced innocence.
“You got it baby.” Steve smiled.
Honolulu: June 9, 2012
“You’re thinning on top, Danno.” Steve mused, smiling as he felt Danny tense on top of him.
Danny, whose right cheek was perched on Steve’s left pec, didn’t bother to look up before answering without missing a beat.
“Don’t call me Danno in bed. And I don’t care how cute you are, you leave the hair alone, okay?” He mumbled into Steve’s chest, half awake.
If Steve strained just a little, he could see the corners of Danny’s mouth turn up into a goofy grin, and the crow’s feet bookending his left eye tighten as he squinted with his smile. Steve pressed a long kiss right in the middle of that thinning mess of hair as he listened to the wind pick up against the palms in the yard before hitting side of the house increasing the speed and intensity of the tiny raindrops that had just begun to fall and creaking the windowpanes in their fittings.
“Cranky this morning.” Steve mused.
“Mm-mm.” Danny mumbled disagreement.
“Little coffee’ll fix that.” Steve said, moving to get out of bed, but Danny tightened his grip across Steve’s chest.
“Mm-mm.” He mumbled again.
“No coffee?” Steve asked, settling back into the pillow.
“Pineapple?” Steve smiled.
“MM-mm.” That one sounded irritated. Steve chuckled.
“Six mile run and three mile swim?”
“Mm-MM.” Danny was more emphatic on that one. Steve couldn’t tell if it was because he particularly disliked the idea or because he had hoisted himself on top of Steve, settling his hips into that familiar position between Steve’s thighs, morning erection persistently spelling out his intentions.
“You sure you’re up for it, sleepyface?” Steve smiled at the top of Danny’s head as he patted his hands on Danny’s bottom, repositioning him just slightly for comfort (he had a tendency not to notice when his hipbones were grinding on Steve’s) and holding him in place.
Danny’s check was still flush atop Steve’s chest. “Mm-hmm.”
“You don’t seem up for it.”
Steve felt Danny’s facial muscles tighten into a smile on his chest as Danny exhaled, gave a few half-hearted thrusts with his hips, mumbling “Mm” on each, and smiled.
“Well that’s hot, babe.” Steve chuckled.
Danny gave a long exhale and drew in a long, deep breath while drawing his head up to face his partner.
“Morning baby.” Steve smiled into his eyes.
Danny scrunched his eyes closed and twisted his mouth to one side, reopened his eyes and blinked several times before his vision focused and he smiled back.
“Cock-a-hookah.” Danny tried, slowly.
Steve laughed out loud, so loud that Danny flinched from his morning breath. He was still giggling at Danny’s irritated stare as he drew his hands up Danny’s back and wrapped them around his shoulders.
“Nice try, Danno.” Steve kissed him.
“Don’t call me Danno in bed.” Danny grumbled softly.
Steve shut him up with another kiss. “Say Aloha kakahiaka correctly and I won’t, Danny.”
Danny dropped his cheek back down to Steve’s chest and waited a good long moment before speaking again.
Steve kissed the blond head again in response. He loved these lazy mornings with Danny, not really in a rush to get out of bed, although he knew they were both surreptitiously glancing over at the bedside clock. Danny’s family was flying in from New Jersey that afternoon and Steve had promised to pick up the key to their rental, a few houses down, from the caretaker that morning before he left to visit family on the Big Island for the weekend. Steve mentally considered the list of things he wanted to check out at the house before they arrived and he suddenly felt he had too little time.
“We gonna do this or what?”
Danny looked up at him with a twinkle in his eye. “What’s Hawaiian for ‘spread your legs?’”
Honolulu: June 9, 1941
Rebecca knew there had been weddings in the house on Piikoi Street before. She knew it because there were boxes and boxes of photos of brides and grooms taken in front of the beachfront she felt she had by now memorized every grain of sand upon. Digging through the moldy photo boxes she had seen picture after picture of smiling couples with an assortment of tropical flowers, flushed and beaming out at her from the glossy paper.
A lot of the men had been in uniform, too, just like McGarrett had been at their wedding. The wedding was not, however, at the little white house in ‘Aina Haina. Instead it had been inside a stuffy whitewashed barracks before a naval magistrate with her parents and some officers from the U.S.S Arizona serving as witnesses. They had spent their wedding night among the cobwebs and water damaged wicker strewn about their new home, purchased at auction by Father only the day before.
The whole affair had been pretty turnkey, she thought ruefully – as though Father had been lying in wait, secretly hoping she would get herself in trouble and afford him the perfect opportunity to simply throw her and some cash at another man and be rid of the daughter he never wanted. She longed for him to yell at her, or beat her, or refuse to see her again, but he’d handled that just like he handled every other business transaction, from leaving the domestics change for the newspaper subscription to closing a land deal. He spoke frugally and directly, and there was no discussion: she would marry McGarrett, she could keep the car they’d brought with them onboard the ship from San Francisco, and he’d find a house. The bare minimum, she thought, to feel as though he’d handled the situation with charity and understanding.
That had been two Saturdays ago. The following Saturday her husband had been back onboard the ship, having received only four days leave to celebrate his own nuptials. Rebecca was somewhat relieved. Although he’d seemed nice enough (he was certainly handsome enough), and didn’t need much convincing to help a young society debutante from California rid herself of the pesky virginity it seemed everyone prized but her, the honeymoon, both literal and figurative, was short. McGarrett had turned out to be a son of a bitch. Brusque, sarcastic, and prone to self-pity, she soon discovered he was that odious type of man who felt that nothing ever went right, and no bad fortune that befell him ever had anything to do with his own choices.
He reminded her of several of the young gentlemen she’d been introduced to in San Francisco upon her coming out the previous season, and they all had one thing in common: they were spoiled, overindulged brats who weren’t expected by their families to do a damned thing for themselves or anybody else. Thankfully, most of the young men she met were upstanding sons who were expected to take over their family businesses; having been groomed for great responsibility, it was apparent in their dispositions, and Rebecca was nothing if not spoiled for choice until Mother’s health failed her yet again (tuberculosis, the doctor said) and it was recommended the family take a journey to Hawai’i; the sea air and tropical breezes thought to have a curative effect.
Neither rich nor well-bred, McGarrett’s whining came as a mystery to her. From what little of his history she’d managed to extract from him, he was the son of a school teacher at some private school for the wealthy, Punahou. She’d actually heard of it before. She’d attended a mixer at Stanford and met several boys from Hawai’i, whose families were mostly in shipping or sugar or pineapples; they were all Punahou alums, and were for the most part very agreeable. What little family he’d known all seemed to have died, and at twenty, he’d been in the Navy for a year and a half.
But damned if he wasn’t handsome. He was tall, inexplicably well built for someone who sat on his ass all day (he was a radio operator on the Arizona; at home he seemed to do little else but nap), and on the rare occasion he did smile, Rebecca seemed to forget all of his shortcomings and find herself at loss for words, which had never served their purpose well for her anyway. Debutante though she was, she could match her sailor husband curse for curse when it came to foul language. She had no idea exactly where she’d picked it up, but she’d spent time perfecting her craft because she knew it irritated Father. She particularly enjoyed the voyage to Hawai’i, where she’d made a study of some of the crew, being particularly amused with the word “cocksucker”, which she’d found occasion to use to dispatch a particularly forward newspaper reporter soon after her arrival.
That next Saturday she’d also sat on the beach in front of the house, having figured out how to make iced tea (apparently you had to brew the tea, then pour it over ice rather than putting teabags into ice water) and watched as the S.S Lurline departed Honolulu with her parents onboard, bound again for San Francisco. At the wedding Father had informed her they’d be leaving Hawai’i after only two months, as Mother’s health wasn’t improving and it was thought perhaps the dry air of Palm Springs would be a better alternative.
This Saturday morning was yet another in a long, endless stream of gorgeous Saturday mornings that she had spent watching the ocean since she stepped off the Lurline in early April. She’d repeated her success with the iced tea, drank half of it, for despite the sun having risen only a little bit the day was already sweltering, and busied herself with picking up the plumeria blossoms that had fallen onto the yard from the large tree that hid much of the shoreline from the back door. She carried two baskets she’d found in the attic; one for fresh blossoms to take inside, and one for the rotted brown ones to be cast into the ocean. At length she put both baskets down and stopped for a sip of tea as she regarded the back door of the house.
There was a small platform and a set of five steps, one of which was broken, as she’d learned her first night in the house when she descended them in the dark and gone sprawling across the lawn. The next time Stephen was on leave she planned to ask him to see about building a lanai out that back door instead of the stairs, like she’d enjoyed at the Moana Hotel, underneath the sprawling 40 year old banyan tree rumored to have been imported from the Far East.
She set the glass back down and resumed plucking the five-petaled plumeria blossoms from the grass. She had loved them from the moment a lei of them had been placed around her neck when she arrived at Honolulu Harbor. The fragrance was so delicate it managed to fade after a few moments, even surrounded by the floral windfalls, and she stopped every other moment to hold a particularly fresh blossom to her nose to inhale the intoxicating fragrance that smelled almost good enough to eat, like the most luscious cake or most sublime confection she’d ever had the imagination to consider. She knew they couldn’t be eaten, however, for a book she’d read in the ship’s library told her the sticky white sap from the stems of the flowers was mildly poisonous.
If not for collecting the flowers she would have gone mad. Even the poor company McGarrett provided was better than the still silence that pervaded the house, broken only by the wind and the crash of the surf on the shore. As far as neighbors were concerned there were none of any note; the house was surrounded by pig and poultry farms, and the large Hind-Clarke Dairy, the traffic at which never failed to wake Rebecca earlier than she was accustomed each morning.
The traffic she did not mind was Mr. Zhou with his fruit truck, who bleated his horn in front of her house three times a week. This morning it was almost noon by the time he arrived, and Rebecca found herself smiling as she hurried around the house and through the front yard without even having set her plumeria baskets back down.
The fruit truck, which in reality carried everything from loaves of bread to cigarettes to dish soap in addition to boxes upon boxes of fruit both local and imported, was a life saver for Rebecca; although she’d been left with the car, she’d never learned how to drive it. McGarrett had grown up in the city, and having been without means, had rarely ever ridden so much as a streetcar. He’d tried to insist that Rebecca sell the car, but she’d reasoned it would be necessary should she have an emergency and need to see the doctor. In the short time she’d been in Hawai’i she’d quickly fallen in love with local delights such as papaya and passionfruit, even chewy breadfruit and poi, the steamed mashed taro root which was the staple starch in the islands, all of which could be had for a few pennies from Mr. Zhou’s truck. When she was in the mood for a taste of home he always seemed to have tomatoes, apples, and oranges shipped weekly from the Bay Area.
In the few times she’d bought fruit from him, she’d already come to consider the cheerful Mr. Zhou, with his diminutive stature and several teeth missing when he grinned, a friend. Though he had no other custom in the immediate neighborhood, he seemed to take an instant liking to her, and often tarried to share some coffee from the thermos he carried with him in the cab of the truck.
“Aloha Mr. Zhou!” She called as she approached the truck with her baskets. She could see he’d already poured her a cup of coffee which he’d set on the rear fender next to the loaves of bread stacked on the shelves, while he sipped his own mug, having taken off his cap to reveal his crown of thinning white hair as he leaned up against the truck with one foot resting on the rear tire, the other out in front of him.
Mr. Zhou held up a hand in welcome. “Aloha Kahakiaka Mrs. McGarrett!” he called loudly. Despite being such a slight man, his boisterous voice carried, as did his frequent belly laugh.
“What you got dea eh? Plumeria yeah?” he said in his lilting Canton accented Pidgin.
She nodded as he took another sip of his coffee. “Little bastards all over the grass every morning.”
He examined the flowers for a moment before plucking one from the basket of fresh and put his coffee down on the fender, beckoning to her to lean in closer. He tucked it over her left ear, pushing back a few strands of her brown hair that had flown out of place.
“Dis the way married wahine wear pua in Hawai’i.” he counseled. “Same side as wedding ring. Come, drink coffee ‘fo it get cold.”
She sipped the coffee and examined his fruits and vegetables, wishing she’d remembered to make a list of what she needed. At length she picked out some potatoes, some papaya, a particularly lush looking pineapple, a can of spam, a can of green beans, another of peas, and a loaf of bread. Mr. Zhou hadn’t been much for conversation; she noticed he’d spent several minutes examining her basket of plumeria while she’d been picking out fruit, a hand on each knee as he squatted down closer to look at the basket, periodically pinching one or two of the blossoms and digging to see how deep the basket was.
“Do you have fish?” she asked.
He looked up from the basket of plumeria for a moment. “No can keep on truck. No have cooler. Can get for you if you like, but mo bettah you pick out which kine you like at the market. Is different every day. You pretty wahine they give you good deal – not me!” He laughed at his own joke. “You got car – go to town! Mo bettah go Chinatown and see my cousin Mr. Ong.”
She laughed at his earnestness. “If I could figure out how to drive the goddamned thing!” she said. “How much do I owe you?”
He looked at her thoughtfully for a moment. “Trade you for plumeria. Whole basket.” He said.
“Are you on the level?” She eyed him skeptically. “All this for a basket of flowers?”
“Shit yeah!” He laughed. “Haole tourist pay 75 cents for fresh plumeria lei in Waikiki – you got enough pua here for at least two. I give you credit for next time, and I teach you drive for plumeria.”
“Deal.” She said, almost losing grip of the can of spam to shake his hand before piling her cans and fruit and the loaf of bread on top of the basket of dead blossoms she’d planned to throw away anyway. Mr. Zhou held out an empty bread bag and she filled it with the fresh plumeria.
“You make good business that tree keep dropping flower.” He told her as he drained his coffee cup.
“I’ll see you Monday then?”
He grunted as he pulled down one of the canvas sides of the truck to cover the produce and latched it into place. “Monday.” He said, before going to work on the next canvas flap. “Same time.”
Satisfied that all the flaps had been secured, Mr. Zhou wiggled his outstretched thumb and pinkie at Rebecca in what had become a familiar gesture to her in her few months on O’ahu, which she returned in kind before collecting her baskets – one now empty – and started up the short footpath back to the house. She was excited for Monday, and the opportunity to get out in the car and explore some more of the island, and meet some new people.
Yes, Monday. Monday would be the day she’d break the silence and be among real people again.
After their delayed breakfast, Steve found Danny in the back yard underneath the large plumeria tree, staring ponderously at the large green plumed leaves bursting out from the spindly gray branches, seeming to count the clusters of yellow throated white flowers.
“Do you think we have enough flowers to make leis for my parents?”
“The plural of lei is lei, Danny.”
Danny through up a hand in mock frustration. “Do we have enough, Commander Grammar, or what?”
“For two single strands we probably have enough, but we’ve got to get going, it’s almost noon. We’ll probably have just enough time to stop in Chinatown at one of the lei stands.”
Danny made a face.
“Why are you just thinking of this now?” Steve asked, slipping his arms around Danny’s waist from behind and nuzzling the soft skin just behind his left ear.
“I dunno.” Danny said softly, wrapping his own arms around Steve and leaning back into his arms. I’d like to say we made something for them.”
“When Grace comes over tonight we can string some for your sisters when they come in tomorrow, and your Mom and Dad can help.”
Danny breathed in deeply. “Mom would like that. Dad would probably take more interest in the baseball game.”
“We’ll figure it out baby.” Steve squeezed him in his arms. “But for now we’ve gotta go or they’ll be waiting on the curb.”
They walked back into the house holding hands. “How long has that tree been there, do you know?” Danny asked.
Steve thought for a moment as they took the stairs up to the lanai. “I’m not sure, but I think it was here when we bought the house. It was Grandma’s favorite place on the island, and we scattered her ashes beneath it when she died.”
“And how long was she married to your Grandpa before he died?” Danny asked.
“’Too long’ she always said, whenever I asked.” Steve said. “I was never sure whether she was joking or not. I don’t think it was that long. Not even a year.”
The twinkle in Danny’s eye had returned. “And how long have we been together, Steven?”
Steve smiled. “Not long enough.”