“Who’s your favorite band?” Joey asked.
The question had come at the tail end of an evening of silence, just like all the others before it. He looked at Alani from across the Oak table with respectably earnest curiosity. The first one had startled her, but now she spent her nights waiting for them with gritted anticipation.
“I don’t know. The Beatles I guess?”
Joey snorted. “Cool band.”
Alani remained silent. He was baiting her and she knew it.
The first night she’d fallen for it. He’d asked her about her favorite childhood toy. Alani was so taken aback by the sudden breach in their silence, she confided to her husband that she and her sisters used to play double-dutch. He laughed and asked if hop-scotch had been too complicated for them. It instigated an argument that quickly escalated beyond the stupid remark and ended with Joey slamming the door behind him, Alani spending the night alone.
It wasn’t until the third night that the subject of divorce came up and Alani finally caught on to what her husband was doing.
Cool band. He smiled like a child asking the preacher if God can make a pizza so big even he can’t eat it. He was wearing his uniform. ‘Knight Vision Security’ was embroidered in gold against the black cotton weave of his left breast. Alani thought it looked proud, like heraldry. He wore it like a straightjacket.
Alani shrugged her shoulders and took their plates to the kitchen. The rain hammered against the single pane window over the sink. It always rained in Oregon. It rained the day they moved in too. Not a torrent of hard pellets like today, but a gray drizzle that made you wet without your realizing until it was too late. Still, it wasn’t a bad day.
They’d arrived one day before the cargo ship carrying all their furniture made harbor. They’d gotten a good deal on the shipping container. It was much cheaper shipping to the continent from Oahu than the other way around. The house was massive compared to their old apartment, the wide arching rooms frozen in the early spring. Joey built a fire in the hearth. Alani, having grown up in Hawaii, had never seen an actual fireplace before. She was giddy at its quaintness and impressed that Joey actually knew how to operate it. They ordered noodles and washed them down with the scotch they’d bought at a liquor store outside Portland, making love by the warm glow of the embers just like in her mother’s secret stash of paperbacks.
He was standing in the doorway behind her, watching as Alani threw away the crusty, mildew drenched sponge they had been using and ripped the plastic off a fresh yellow one.
“I mean, the Beatles are just one of those bands it’s impossible not to like. Saying ‘I like the Beatles’ has got to be one of the safest claims a person can make.”
Alani shrugged again as she ran plasma blue soap over the sponge, working it into a lather.
Joey stood there for a couple more minutes, staring at the back of his wife’s head before he finally walked away.
When the dishes were done, Alani left the tap running and stayed by the sink, watching the dark droplets hurl themselves against the glass.
In rained in Kailua too of course, but that was different. That was Hawaiian rain, warm and comfortable. You could fall asleep under the open sky and wake up pruney, but otherwise none the worse for wear. It was raining the day she and Joey met in fact.
When the squids at Pearl Harbor-Hickam got shore leave, a lot of them liked to go up to the Northern beaches and bulge their muscles at the local girls. Alani, like so many other Hawaiian girls, had made mistakes with the navy boys before. They came riding in on rented jeeps loaded down with heavy coolers and brotherly adrenaline. They were clean-shaven, with shirts forgotten and eyes obscured behind plastic Oakleys. Like cigarettes, Alani’s father had spent her whole life warning her to stay away from them, which only made her want to try one that much more.
She thought she was past that when she saw Joey, sitting in the beach next to a surfboard with a shammy cloth in one hand and a jar of wax in the other. He was vigorously rubbing sand into the varnished wood, his face pinched with frustration. She couldn’t help but pity him.
“Your knees are gonna hate you for that.”
He looked up at the bronze skinned native and swallowed. She could feel his gaze sweeping as low as her knees before he forced himself to make eye contact. “I know. I can’t seem to get it out.”
“That’s because you’re doing it on the beach. That’s like trying to dry a towel in the ocean.”
Joey had a boyish smile. Not cocksure and arrogant like so many others but a calm, sly confidence that he wore like a comfortable shirt.
“You show me how to do it then.”
She helped him clean and re-wax his board and spent the afternoon trying to teach him to surf. He fell off nearly every wave but never got frustrated. He simply picked up the board and asked, “what did I do wrong this time?”
When it started to grow dark, he asked Alani where her favorite places on the island were, the places where the tourists never went. A lot of men were interested in her secret places. They wanted to explore something exotic. She considered saying no but Joey looked at her with such innocent excitement that she resigned to give him the full tour.
When she couldn’t pretend to be washing dishes any longer, Alani turned off the faucet and walked back into the living room. Her husband, now in sweatpants was lying on the couch watching baseball. At his feet, the fireplace stood hollow. She walked past him as quietly as she could to the garage.
“What are you doing?” Joey asked, without looking up from the game.
“I’ve got some pieces I need to finish before the post comes tomorrow,” she answered.
“What?” Alani asked startled, her muscles trembling as she held open the heavy door.
“Not you,” he answered gesturing toward the television.
She ducked away, dropping the door behind her. It closed with a heavy flump that compressed the air. She turned on the halogen lamp that hung over her work desk. Bits of wire and tools were strewn across the wooden surface in cruel clarity under the light. Making jewelry had been a hobby of hers in Hawaii, something she tinkered with on stormy days. When Joey suggested she start up her own shop, selling her jewelry online, it had seemed the sweetest thing a husband could offer. He’d bought her desk, tools, safe, and enough gems to get her started. Alani still believed his intentions had been good, he wasn’t trying to bottle her up.
When Joey’s father had gotten sick, she’d been the first to suggest they move to Oregon. She didn’t want him to be an ocean away when he died. He was tentative at first.
“Are you sure? We’d be leaving your home, your parents?”
“You need to be with your father, we’re going. Besides, I’d love to see where you grew up. I don’t want to spend my whole life on an island.”
Alani sat in the computer chair and rolled over to the safe. It wasn’t big, about the size of a breadbox. She’d worried that any thief who wanted to could simply pick the whole thing up and walk away. When she expressed her fears to Joey he bolted it to the wall. She tapped in the combination and opened it.
Inside was a tray lined with stiff, midnight blue velvet and row upon row of little plastic cases, each containing tiny gems. Alani removed the tray from the safe and moved it to her desk. She pinched the edges of the velvet liner and took it, along with all the gems, out of the tray to get to the hidden manila folder underneath. She took a series of photos from between its ridged pages and spread them across her desk, lining them all up corner-to-corner.
After they’d gotten settled in the house, Joey started his new job and was spending most of his free time with his father. Alani spent most of her time alone, delving her energies exclusively into her jewelry. At home she’d made simple necklaces and bracelets from puka shells and sharks teeth that her aunt sold to the tourists. Now she had her aunt ship her shells that she fixed with gems the way a clam holds a pearl. They were startlingly popular. It allowed her to have her own money, separate from Joey’s guilt heavy checks. She spent most of her days in the garage, listening to crafting podcasts and trying to keep up with the orders. In an attempt to make her feel less isolated, he had convinced Alani to host his mother’s book club.
They’d been nice enough, welcoming her to the neighborhood and asking about the wedding, about life in Hawaii. They brought stacks of Tupperware, laden with cookies, Danishes, cupcakes, brownies, croissants and various other baked goods. They chittered enthusiastically about the latest Nicholas Sparks novel that they’d just finished. Alani spent most of the night trying to figure out if they were being ironic, they weren’t.
Helena, Joey’s mom, introduced Alani to Beth, Cindy’s daughter and an old friend of the family. Beth was the only one there remotely similar to Alani in age though she dressed like the rest of them in high wasted skirts and cardigans. Alani had taken to wearing Joey’s thick Mariners hoodie, as it was the only thing that kept her warm around the house. She felt woefully underdressed.
“It’s such a pleasure to finally meet the woman behind the myth. Joey won’t stop bragging about his Polynesian queen,” she said smiling. Her teeth were a shade too white, a millimeter too straight. Her shiny blond hair was pulled back into a tight plait. Her perfume smelled like coconut. “How are you liking the area?”
“I haven’t seen much of it yet.”
“Well there isn’t much to see, not coming from Hawaii anyhow,” she laughed like a bird. “I visited once. Spent the whole time on the beach getting tan and letting beautiful men pamper me. Why you left paradise, I’ll never know. If I could have stayed I certainly would have.”
“We came so Joey could be near his father.”
Helena took Alani’s hand. She’d forgotten that she was still standing there. The older woman’s presence made the room feel heavy.
“Of course, how stupid of me.” Beth murmured an apology and shuffled away to make a show of straightening the buffet table.
Helena’s eyes were glistening as she squeezed Alani’s hand, but then she blinked and it was like nothing happened. The room started breathing again.
Alani didn’t go to any of the other book club meetings. She didn’t go much of anywhere until Joey’s father died.
The memorial took place at the Grand Elks Lodge where before he got sick, Joseph and his army buddies would meet and drink once a week. It was a crowded affair. Alani stood alone in a sea of strangers, half of whom were in uniform, while Joey consoled his mother. Alani knew she shouldn’t have resented it.
“You left me alone.”
“I needed to be with my mom.”
“You left me alone. You promised you wouldn’t but you did.”
“My dad just died. You’re supposed to be supporting me, not scolding me for consoling my mother.”
“I didn’t know anyone. I sat at the bar for hours and no one talked to me.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“The stack of glasses was hard to miss.”
The argument ended with Joey slamming the door and going to stay at his mother’s. In the morning when she woke, Alani found that her husband had returned. He was lying next to her sleeping soundly like nothing had happened. She leaned over to touch him, to breath him in and tell him how sorry she was but the powerful scent of coconut caught in her lungs. Then came the long silence, then the questions. What’s your favorite food? Favorite movie? Favorite car? Each night he’d ask a single question. Something simple a husband should know. It didn’t matter what answer she gave, he’d find a way to turn it into a fight. Find a reason to storm out into the bitter rain and come back stinking of coconut.
The private detective had been a nice man. She explained her plan and told him when and where to wait for her husband. He was sympathetic, noting that his own daughter had been in a similar situation with her husband. He said it was better to know.
That night Joey asked her what her favorite state was. She made it easy on him, she said Hawaii.
Alani expected this to take longer, a few nights at least. She didn’t expect the PI to show up at her front door at the crack of dawn. The dust from Joey’s truck had barely settled. The kind man laid out the pictures in front of her and rubbed her back consolingly as she sobbed.
Now she had them laid out the same way on her desk, a single word scrawled across his naked body. “Goodbye.”
She pulled out the suitcase she had hidden under a tarp and checked the front pocket for her ticket. Once she was satisfied, she dumped the jewels into the main compartment, sealed it and lifted the garage door. The weather looked like it might clear up soon. The deluge had mellowed to a somber trickle, but you never knew what storms lie around the corner.