Pieces of Blue: A Novel (2024)

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1

The family stepped through the double-glass doors into the open-air concourse of the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, and the clouds overhead exploded with rain. The dripping palm fronds bobbed in the humid breeze as the foursome walked under the portico to the baggage collection area. Lindsey put her arm around Sena, her younger daughter. The little girl’s expression was tense, and the look on Lindsey’s face was equally strained. Lindsey took in a deep breath, telling her kids, It’s raining, just like at home.

Olivia, the oldest, corrected her mother. Hawai‘i is home now.

At the baggage carousel, friends and family carrying colorful leis greeted the arriving passengers. Soon more than half of the people on their flight had wreaths of flowers hanging around their necks. Lindsey impulsively reached for her wallet. Come on, kids! She headed toward an older man in a brightly printed shirt seated on a three-legged stool. Behind him was a glass-doored refrigerator filled with garlands of plumeria, tuberose, carnations, orchids, and maile leaves.

Lindsey could hear the suitcases starting down the chute as she lifted her phone and took her first photo in Hawai‘i. Her children, draped in their newly purchased wreaths of expensive, fuchsia-colored orchids, were all smiling. She hadn’t seen that in a long time. Then Sena’s smile dissolved. Mama, you don’t have a flower necklace.

I don’t need one, sweetheart.

Sena lifted her lei over her head. Here, we can take turns.

Carlos seemed eager to get rid of his orchids. No. Really. Have mine.

Sena stepped back. Don’t fight.

Olivia answered as if taking a bite out of her sister. Who’s fighting?

And suddenly the spell was broken. Fatigue, disappointment, and heartbreak were back.

Lindsey started toward the baggage carousel, angry at herself for spending nearly one hundred dollars on the flowery strings. It felt like a real tourist move. They were going to be living here now.

She turned around, hoping to reset, only to see the kids were gone. For the briefest moment her adrenaline surged, then she spun in the other direction and discovered her children talking to the flower salesman. They appeared to be cutting some kind of deal. In seconds her daughters and son were back at her side, their expensive orchid leis gone. Around the kids’ necks were bright blue carnations. A fourth string of the dyed flowers was in Sena’s outstretched hands.

We traded, Mama. So you got one, too.

Lindsey kissed the top of Sena’s head and slipped the electric blue lei around her neck, always startled at how easy it was as a parent to go from fiery frustration to affection. She worked hard to keep it together as she mumbled, Thank you, sweetheart, and then pulled her kids together in a hug so tight that Olivia yelped.

Mom, you’re hurting my ear.

Their bags dribbled out as if they had been separated in the cargo hold to cause maximum irritation. Olivia’s suitcase was the very last one to hit the carousel. In the twenty-six months since their family tragedy, they had whittled down their possessions until each had only a carry-on, a backpack, and a Costco Kirkland Traveler’s Choice, a thirty-inch piece of luggage with spinner wheels. Starting over, Lindsey kept repeating, meant making hard choices and leaving the material past behind.

Carlos took charge of commandeering a cart for the luggage. Sena insisted on still pulling her carry-on. It wasn’t until they were in the small bus heading to the cheapest car rental agency available online—the one two miles from the airport’s central ring—that Lindsey realized her youngest child had been quiet for thirty minutes. Sena alternated from being the most talkative of the three kids to the mute observer, and both states came with red flags. But at least Olivia, fourteen going on twenty-four, looked steady as she scrolled through pictures on her phone. The girls, separated in age by seven years, were so different.

Lindsey could gaze at each of her children and see something of herself, but only if she did so with a penetrating stare. Teenage Olivia had a long neck and an oval face that might appear severe but at the right angle could be as classic as a Renaissance marble sculpture. She had straight brown hair and muddy eyes that in low light seemed flecked with gold. Seven-year-old Sena had a round face and a head of curls inherited from her father’s side of the equation. Carlos, only two years younger than Olivia, completed the exercise in the variable nature of genetics. He had copper-colored hair, blue eyes, and skin so pale his medical chart read ultra-Caucasian. He reacted so badly to the sun that the pediatrician had warned moving from the Pacific Northwest to Hawai‘i was a health risk. But by then Lindsey’s decision had been made.

The E-Z Car Rental Agency didn’t live up to its name. The office was a narrow trailer on cinder blocks, and there was no parking lot filled with shiny waiting cars. This place had a cramped driveway with several beat-up vehicles wedged into a short alley. A hose dripped into a black puddle of sludge, and the smell of diesel fuel hung in the air. After electronically signing what felt like a mortgage application, Lindsey and the kids were finally directed outside to a white four-door Ford Crown Victoria. The sedan didn’t look like any rental car she’d ever seen and had to be at least ten years old. Lucy, the smiling woman with the clipboard who appeared to be E-Z’s only employee, explained that Lindsey’s reservation promised no specific vehicle.

Carlos elbowed his big sister. I think it used to be a police car.

Olivia shook her head. No way.

Carlos held his ground. Well, it looks just like a police car. You know they sell them when they’re done.

Lucy then asked a question Lindsey got all the time. Are these all your kids?

Lindsey was from Wales. Strangers often assumed that because of her accent, and how different her children all looked, Lindsey was a nanny.

Yes. They’re mine. She flashed a weak smile and wished she weren’t so tired. A good mother would have sounded more enthusiastic.

She took the keys after being informed by the cheerful but increasingly firm Lucy that the Crown Victoria was the only available car on the lot. Lindsey felt certain the Ford would get terrible mileage and drive like a tank, but it was only temporary, so she and the kids dumped everything in, grateful that it had a big trunk. Lindsey settled behind the wheel, her phone in one hand and a printout of a map with directions in the other as a backup. We’ve got about an hour-and-a-half drive. Honolulu is a major city. It’s a big place. We’re moving to a remote location.

Olivia shot her a withering look. You’ve told us that maybe one hundred times. Plus, we have Google Maps open on our phones.

Except me, Sena piped up. I don’t have a phone.

Lindsey didn’t respond. But Olivia did. You’re seven. No seven-year-old has a phone.

"Wrong, Olivia. Lots of six-year-olds have phones. At least at Ross-Stanton."

The name of their former private school hung in the air, a reminder of all the changes in their lives.

Carlos, ever the diplomat, called out, Mom, can we just go? It’s hot in here.

Lindsey pressed down hard on the gas. Too hard. The Crown Victoria lurched forward, and before Lindsey could turn the steering wheel the car slammed into a row of garbage cans lined up like bowling pins against a cement wall. The left side of the front bumper and the hood sustained significant damage.

Back in the E-Z office, there were new forms to be filled out. Lucy was icy as she intoned, "This is why I said it was a good idea to take the extra insurance." Olivia slumped down into one of the blue plastic chairs by the door, and Carlos took a seat at her side. Only Sena stayed at the counter with Lindsey as Lucy organized the accident paperwork.

The little girl whispered to her mother, You break it, you buy it. Remember that sign in the antique market in Lake Oswego? Lindsey nodded. She had no idea where this conversation was going. Sena leaned closer. Maybe the best thing would be to just buy the car.

Lindsey hoped she sounded patient. Honey, why don’t you go wait with your brother and sister?

Sena didn’t move. We have to buy a car at some point. Maybe they could sell us this one since you smashed it. Plus, our bags are already in the trunk.

Lucy looked up from her computer screen. You’re not just visiting?

Lindsey shook her head. We’re moving here. From Oregon. It’s a long story.

You aren’t British tourists?

I’m Welsh, actually. Originally. I’m a US citizen now. We’re going to be residents of Hawai‘i. I bought property near Lā‘ie.

Lindsey was unaware that she pronounced the town wrong, but Lucy’s formality instantly disappeared. So, you’re going to live in the country. Your kid’s right. You should buy a car. Rentals are for tourists. Way too expensive.

The Crown Victoria got eleven miles to the gallon and had dings on all four doors as well as sizable creases in both the front and rear bumpers, not including the new damage Lindsey had just done. Yet it still felt like they won a prize when the powers that be at E-Z (Lucy’s aunt Coco, who lived in Makakilo) agreed to the sale. In the time it took to complete the purchase paperwork, the sky had cleared and there wasn’t a single cloud overhead when they finally drove away from the rental agency. The Crown Vicky, as Carlos called the sedan, belonged to them.

Lindsey wished she could put blinders on her three kids as they stared wide-eyed out the car’s open windows when they merged onto the H-1.

I didn’t know there would be so many tall buildings, Carlos said. And these kinds of wide freeways.

There won’t be where we’re living, Lindsey replied. She didn’t admit she was equally surprised by what she could see. The enormous, sprawling metropolis of Honolulu was built on a wide, deep-water bay with the volcanic tuff cone known as Diamond Head on the eastern edge. Early British explorers had believed that the crystals found there were diamonds, and the name they gave the place stuck. The largest city in Hawai‘i was anchored by this half-a-million-year-old land mass, which at all angles presented itself as a wonder. Nearly one thousand hotels, from the highest-end resorts to residential motels, crowded together, angling for a glimpse of the bay’s famous beaches. Forty thousand tourists from around the world descended on the place each day. But Lindsey had no intention of starting her family’s next chapter in the big city. The high-rises, shopping plazas, and mostly man-made beaches weren’t why they had moved to this island.

It was late afternoon and traffic was heavy as they headed inland, leaving the buzzing city behind. Soon they passed Wheeler Army Airfield. All the windows on the Crown Victoria were down and the warm wind whipped their hair and riffled their T-shirts. Sena shrieked at a man on a motorcycle driving in the adjacent lane, This is our new car!

Olivia, usually too old to join anything that she didn’t start, yelled, We own our own motel!

Lindsey, laughing hard, shouted, We have no idea what we’re doing!

The motorcycle driver gave them a thumbs-up, and as he sped off, they all cheered.

Further north, the businesses and houses of Wahiawā disappeared and were replaced by green fields and a wide stretch of land with asparagus and papaya groves. On acres of red soil that once grew sugar cane, coffee plants hugged the ground. There were rolling hills of farmland wondrously framed by the sharp angles of the volcanic Ko‘olau Mountains on the right and the arresting emerald-green Wai‘anae Range on the left. Nothing felt further from Portland, Oregon.

The Crown Victoria chugged along, guzzling gas, until they reached the crest of the highway that cut across the island. Revealed below was the bluest-blue Pacific Ocean, off the North Shore of O‘ahu, spread out in breathtaking splendor. The sight made them all giddy. The angle of the afternoon sun caused large portions of the endless indigo expanse to shimmer as if millions of jewels were floating on the surface. There were no skyscrapers below, no cruise ships, nothing but verdant land meeting the deep blue sea.

Olivia’s mouth dropped open. "That’s our ocean?"

And it’s not cold, right, Mom? asked Sena. It’s warm like a bath?

Lindsey worked to keep her eyes on the road. The sight of the water was hypnotic. She managed, Yes, sweetheart, it’s warm. All year long. And it’s our ocean.

Carlos murmured, Dad would’ve loved it.

The mention of their father could darken any conversation. Lindsey needed to keep the mood positive. Dad and I were here together before any of you were born. And we were so happy.

Of course, they had heard this fact many times, but Lindsey’s proclamation sounded suddenly very important. She looked up into the rearview mirror to see Sena reach over and take Carlos’s hand. Under other circ*mstances she knew her son would have freed himself from his little sister’s grasp, but today he held her small fingers as they all did their best to believe that part of Paul Hill, husband, father, protector, provider, dreamer, coder, surfer, and dead man, was on this ride beside them.

2

They drove along Kamehameha Highway almost an hour past the small town of Hale‘iwa, no longer on the North Shore but in the Ko‘olauloa District. There were times when the ocean was visible, but more often it was obscured by a curtain of green landscape, overgrown and wild. Lindsey, staring at her phone screen’s approaching blue dot, slowed down. Carlos shouted, There it is!

An old wooden sign on the right side of the two-lane road read: MAU LOA MOTEL. An arrow pointed left toward the dense thicket of tropical trees and plants, which stood between the blacktop and the unseen water. Lindsey put on the brakes. They were only going thirty miles an hour, but the Crown Victoria’s tires squealed, sending puffs of burnt rubber into the air. Everything about the car was dramatic. They all held their breath as Lindsey swung left and headed down a single lane. It wasn’t paved; there were cement runners designed to be the width of a car axle. The tires, in theory, were supposed to stay on the two parallel paths, but Lindsey hit the entrance at an angle, sending gravel flying into the air as the tangle of greenery scratched against the wide Ford.

Sena scrunched up her nose. This is sort of creepy.

Lindsey kept her foot evenly on the gas. We just need to have the plants cut back.

Bougainvillea threaded through massive leafy trees. Coral creeper vines wrapped around ferns. Tropical flowers popped against the choking vegetation. Olivia rolled up her window after a branch whipped inside and slapped her across the cheek. Well, it’s dangerous. And what do we do if we meet up with another car?

Lindsey had no idea. She went off the cement treads again as she steered the Crown Victoria around a wide curve, and the jungle suddenly gave way to a manicured area where dozens of palm trees bent in gravity-defying arcs. Parked under them was a rusty, once-turquoise 1940 Chevrolet panel truck without tires. Leaning against the decaying vehicle was a sign that read:

PRIVATE ROAD

IF YOU AREN’T SUPPOSED

TO BE HERE

DON’T BE HERE!

KAPU!

Sena looked at her mother with alarm. That’s the motto of our new motel?

Lindsey continued steering around the wide bend. We’re supposed to be here, so it’s okay.

Carlos asked, "What’s kapu mean?"

No one knew. Suddenly the ocean reappeared, an enormous plain of green-blue. In the foreground was a grassy area with eight plantation-style wooden cottages all built off the ground on uprights. Each one of the small structures was tilting. It was impossible to tell what color they had been originally, but they were now a washed-out gray-green with flakes of honey-colored window trim.

To one side of the eight cottages was a two-story structure, also in the plantation style, with a wraparound veranda. Painted above the front door in large, faded red letters was the word OFFICE. A mud-splattered pickup truck was parked close by. Next to it was a battered motorcycle. A dozen chickens, with a single rooster at their side, darted from underneath one of the cottages onto the lawn, where they pecked at grass blades, seemingly oblivious to the one-eyed brindle cat crouched under the canopy of an African tulip tree, ready to spring. The place was beautiful, fragile, and lost in time. This was the Mau Loa Motel.

Lindsey put on the brakes and slowed to a stop.

No one moved inside the Crown Victoria.

Sena saw only the chickens and imagined making the feathered creatures her best friends. Carlos saw only the waves launching toward the shoreline in perfect sets and imagined becoming a lifeguard. Olivia saw only a tall, lanky teenage boy coming out of the office and slumping down into a wicker rocking chair on the veranda and imagined having her first real boyfriend. And Lindsey saw only eight rundown cottages surrounded by an overgrown jungle and imagined working eighteen-hour days for the rest of her life.

The Crown Victoria edged off the cement runners onto a parking area made of gray pumice that crunched under the car tires like potato chips. Lindsey cut the engine and hoped she sounded upbeat. Well, this is it!

Carlos kept his eyes on the ocean. Can we go swimming?

Olivia took charge. Of course not. We’ve got to meet the Kalama family. She was still staring at the teenage boy on the office porch. Carlos didn’t put up a fight, but no one moved to get out of the Crown Victoria, which was starting to feel like a safe haven.

Sena piped up. Are those our chickens? Or do they go with the Kalamas?

I’m not sure, Lindsey answered.

Rangi Kalama, eighty-four years old but with the gait of a man ten years younger, emerged from the office and headed toward them, shouting, I heard you bought yourselves a car.

They spilled out of the dented Ford, and Rangi bowed his head in a formal greeting. Welcome. We’ve been waiting for you.

The screen door slapped shut as Pearl Kalama appeared. She was also in her eighties, rounder than her husband, with white hair that trailed in a thick braid down her back. Lindsey could see that she walked with a pronounced limp.

Pearl called out, You’re finally here!

The teenage boy on the veranda got up with a sour look and walked behind the building. He emerged with a fat-tire bike and a backpack. Olivia kept her eyes on him. The boy barely looked in her direction before slinging the backpack over his shoulder and pedaling off, disappearing down a path that appeared to run parallel to the driveway. Pearl Kalama started to call after him, but changed her mind and redirected her attention to Lindsey and the kids, making a clicking sound with her tongue. Three children. Like you said. Good ages. She added, We thought you’d be here earlier.

Lindsey tried not to sound defensive. Buying the car took some time.

Sena turned to Rangi. It’s not a police car.

Rangi smiled. You have on leis. Very good. We have more for you. My wife made them.

The Kalamas escorted Lindsey and the kids across the gravel to the grass. Pearl’s right index finger sliced the air as she spoke. Rangi and I have lived here for almost sixty years. Can you believe it? But that’s over. This is yours now. We moved out all our stuff last week. We’ve been sleeping at my sister’s.

Lindsey was struck by Pearl’s emotionless tone. It was impossible to tell if she was happy or sad to be leaving.

Rangi started up the porch steps. "Anyone need to go shishi?"

Pearl said, He means use the bathroom.

They all did. But they shook their heads.

Rangi headed into the office with Pearl at his heels. Lindsey and the kids followed up the uneven wooden steps and through the screen door into what was both the Mau Loa reception area and the Kalamas’ home. It had been so bright outside that their eyes took a moment to adjust. Lindsey saw that aged fishing nets had been attached to the ceiling, holding shells, driftwood, old Japanese green glass buoys, and other dried-up treasures from the sea. Tiny Christmas lights were threaded through the webbing, and the whole effect was simultaneously amazing and unsettling, at least to Lindsey. Olivia and Carlos gazed up in wonder, but it was Sena who pointed to the ceiling and asked what Lindsey had been thinking. How do you clean that stuff?

Rangi Kalama opened his mouth to answer, but Pearl beat him to it. You don’t. She put her hand down on a large desk as if she were touching a beloved pet. It was made of dark mahogany, its legs shaped like swirling fish with dull inlaid jade eyes.

Pearl exhaled. We’re leaving this. It came over originally with my parents. We think they framed the place around the furniture because it’s bigger than the door. We would have had to cut open the wall to get it out.

Rangi added, Which is why we didn’t take it.

There was a flash of sadness on Pearl’s face. Lindsey wasn’t sure what to say, so she settled on a simple, Thank you. We’ll take good care of the desk.

Sena stepped forward. What about the chickens? Do they stay?

Rangi looked amused. "Oh, they come with the property. So do a pair of owls. We see them mostly just after sunset. There are many owls up at Ka‘ena Point. You’ll need to go check them out. Pueo. They’re hard workers. Owls keep down the rodents."

Pearl leaned close to Sena. "Pueo is our ‘aumākua."

Sena nodded but looked confused. The old man turned away from the unmovable desk to head up the stairs. They all followed.

We left you with the basics. The three bedrooms have fresh sheets and towels. We put two beds in one room for the girls. The kids peered into open doorways. They were all small spaces, but every window had a postcard view. Wallpaper, once possibly gold, now the color of dried Dijon mustard, held the barest outlines of cherry trees. At some point varnish had been applied, and the sealer was mottled with age, giving the surface a three-dimensional quality.

They only had time for a quick glimpse before they were back on the tour, descending to the kitchen, where Pearl opened an old, avocado-colored refrigerator and removed four leis wrapped in moist paper towels. The garlands were nothing like the ones in the Honolulu airport salesman’s cooler. These were made of fresh plumeria. Knotted blue string held the flowers together. Pearl slipped a lei around each of their necks, murmuring something they couldn’t understand as she buzzed both sides of their cheeks. They all said thank you, but it was Sena who turned her face upward and, standing on tiptoe, gave the old woman a kiss. Lindsey and the other two kids exchanged a look. Sena was always the slowest to warm up to

Pieces of Blue: A Novel (2024)
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