Authors: Robin Jones Gunn
“It has. Hey, what happened with you and the delay? Why were you on a later flight?”
Laurie sighed. “Gabe and I looked at another house outside of San Francisco. It took longer than we thought. We got caught in traffic, and I missed the flight. I was not a nice person to be around.”
“Well, you’re here now. That’s all that matters. And what about the house? Do you like it?”
Gabe and Laurie had been talking about moving closer to
the city for several years. None of the previous leads on houses or property had suited them well enough to prompt them to uproot from the Napa Valley, where they both had lived all their lives.
“It’s a fabulous house. The entryway is breathtaking—Italian marble with a fountain—and it has enough acreage for Gabe to build the studio of his dreams.”
Laurie gave a shrug. “I suppose. It’s just that I’m not too excited about the whole idea of moving. I’ve told you that before. This house has plenty of potential, so I’m trying to be open, but I’m still not convinced we should move. I can’t believe our Realtor has been so patient with us. We have to be the pickiest clients she’s ever had.”
The elevator door opened, and we headed down the hall to our room. I hoped Laurie wasn’t still in a “picky” mood when she saw the room because the decor definitely wasn’t for those with more discriminating taste.
“So, what do you think?” I asked after Laurie had a moment to stand in the center of the room and absorb the full impact of the flower-power ambience.
“Audacious!” she exclaimed with a sparkle in her tone.
I laughed. “Now there’s a descriptive word I haven’t heard in a long time.”
“I love it! I think they used this exact room to film one of the scenes in
When I didn’t respond, she said, “You know, Elvis.”
“Right! I thought the same thing.”
Laurie looked at me with a patronizing grin. She knew I’d never seen an Elvis film in my life. “I have to take a picture.” Laurie pulled several cameras from her shoulder bag.
“How many cameras did you bring?”
“Three. They’re all different. This one is digital, the one with the yellow tape has black-and-white film, and the one with the big lens has color film and is the one I use the most.”
“You’re becoming serious about photography.”
“They each serve a different purpose. You’re welcome to borrow any of them, whenever you want. Now, stand over there by the wall, would you?”
“Yes, of course you. You don’t mind, do you?”
“Only if you take it from the neck up.”
Laurie laughed. “Wait. I have an idea.” She pulled the red and white hibiscus-dotted bedspread off the bed. “If you wrap yourself in this and stand against the wall just right, you’ll blend in. Your head will be the only thing showing.”
Don’t ask me why this seemed like a good idea or why I so willingly went along with it. Laurie could be persuasive when it came to stage direction. I complied as she wrapped little Emilee and me in the gaudy bedspread cocoon. She kept moving me, trying to match the hibiscus on the fabric with the hibiscus on the wallpaper. The purple orchid lei was distracting, so it came off.
“I can’t believe I spent an entire day flying to Hawai’i only
to spend my night allowing you to turn me into a human wallflower.”
“This is going to be hilarious.” Laurie took a shade off one of the end table lamps and moved the lamp this way and that until she got the lighting the way she wanted. “Now don’t move.”
The thing about digital cameras is that you never know if the person is done with the shot or not because you don’t hear a click.
“Just a second.” Laurie stepped over to the doorway.
I thought she was turning on more lights. Instead, she opened the door and let the bellman in with her luggage.
“Hello?” I called out.
Like a mummy come back to life, I frantically twisted and turned my way out of the bedspread wrap. The floral prop puddled on the floor. I stepped away from it as if the wild thing had simply sprung from the bed on its own, and I was trying to get out of the way.
“No, that’s fine,” Laurie said. “You can leave the luggage right here by the door. Here you go. Thank you. Good night.” She shooed off the bellman before he could step far enough into the room to see what was going on around the corner.
“Sorry about that,” Laurie said to me. “Do you want to see the picture?”
I looked at the screen on her digital camera, and my longtime suspicion was confirmed. Laurie had a gift. A quirky gift, but a gift nonetheless. My head looked as if it were floating in a
sea of garish hibiscus. Laurie said my head appeared to be tacked to the wall by the ends of my flippy hair.
I couldn’t help but admire her natural, albeit peculiar, talent. “You are amazing. With you, a camera could be a deadly weapon, if you wanted to ruin your friends.”
“Not ruin them. Capture them for one moment of life.”
“You can erase it now.”
Laurie gave me her best pout. “Do I have to? This is too fun, Hope. Please? I won’t show it to anyone unless you say I can.”
“Well, okay. You can keep it. E-mail me a copy. But don’t turn it into screen savers or mouse pads or anything.”
“I promise I won’t.”
An insightful woman would have seen all the signs after such an encounter and realized that Laurie was on the brink of something. I, on the other hand, was simply on the brink of exhaustion. It was almost one in the morning back in Connecticut.
Assuming pardon and grace would be extended to a cheeky pregnant woman, I nodded toward the disheveled bed next to the wall and said, “Do you mind if I take the bed by the window?”
he pleasant, lulling sound of the endless ocean rocked me to sleep while Laurie took a bath and unpacked. Wrapping my arms around my middle, I lay still, waiting to see if Emilee might start her midnight butterfly dance. The boys did the same dance. As soon as I stopped moving, they would wake up and flutter around inside. Tonight, however, Emilee slept deeply, and so did I.
When I woke, it was still dark outside. The clock radio showed me three blurry numbers: 5:32. I closed my eyes and did the math. East Coast time was five hours ahead: 10:32. If I were at home, I would consider this sleeping in. I felt rested and energetic.
Laurie appeared to be sound asleep. In the stillness, I stretched out on my back with a hand on my tummy. Emilee greeted me with a tickling flutter, followed by a definite push of a hand or foot.
Good morning, little princess. Did you sleep as well as the runaway princess in the bed beside us?
I padded to the bathroom, changed into shorts and a T-shirt, and tiptoed back across the room in the silence of the predawn darkness. Slowly opening the sliding glass door, I ventured onto the lanai. Below me, the thundering ocean gleamed like obsidian in the artificial light cast on it from the hotel. I held on to the railing, bracing myself as the damp wind raced up my bare legs and puffed out my T-shirt. This was a completely different world from the one I’d watched in this same spot twelve hours earlier.
What a difference light makes
I wanted the day to come. I wanted to see it come.
Standing straight, I felt like the only human on guard, like a sailor who was exploring the ends of the earth. I would stay right here, in my elevated crow’s nest, scanning the horizon while the rest of the crew slept below deck. I would be the first one to spot the dawn.
I thought of my boys. My men. All four of them had been at school now for a few hours. Had they managed to find clean socks and pack their own lunches? My thoughts turned into prayers, which I whispered reverently like a simple morning song sent out across the waters.
As if a returning echo to my prayers, I heard a faint, melodic call sent out by a single bird in the darkness. A breath later, an echo came. This song was from a different bird with a different pitch, resonating a glad response. As I stood in a
pocket of holy stillness, there rose on the softening winds a symphony of exultant twitters, chirps, and calls. The birds were welcoming the new day with me. Or perhaps it was I who was joining them in their morning worship.
I knew I had to go down to the water. I had to be there, front row, to see this day come.
“Laurie.” I gently touched her shoulder. “I’m going to walk on the beach.”
“What time is it?”
“Early. The sun hasn’t come up yet.”
“Then what are you doing up?”
“I’m not tired. You don’t have to get up. I wanted to let you know where I was going.”
Laurie pulled the covers back up to her chin. “Have a good time. And take your cell phone.”
“Okay. Call me if you want anything. Oh, and happy birthday, Princess Laurie.”
She smiled and went back to sleep.
It took only a few minutes to collect what I needed. I was down the elevator, through the lobby, past the pool, and onto the sand in what felt like one swift, unbroken motion.
The instant I stepped onto the beach I was shod with a custom-fit pair of sand booties for my bare feet. In front of me, at the water’s edge, a wavy line as white as chalk traced the waves. I moved closer, wedged my feet into the wet, and waited for the cool salt water to push the sand up to my ankles.
I shivered and drew in deep breaths of the salty air. Twisting my feet deeper into the wet sand, I waited.
First light came from behind me.
“Mauka,” I murmured. “From the mountains.”
Then the sun rose, feeling like a warm hand on my shoulder, on my neck, on the top of my head. I fixed my gaze on the ocean and watched as rows of rising clouds lifted their gray nightshirts and shamelessly fluffed up their ruffled petticoats.
To the left of me, proud Diamond Head, the prow of this anchored isle, stretched bodice-first into the sea. The sunlight rolled across the sides of the darkened knoll, transforming the deep browns into a tapestry of greens and grays and bronze.
A young couple strolled by, hand in hand, with their backs to Diamond Head. A hunched man wearing a sweatshirt and faded shorts methodically passed a metal detector over the sand. A young woman jogged toward me, chattering on her cell phone.
You’re missing it!
I wanted to call out to all of them.
Look, it’s a new day!
said a warm voice behind me.
I hadn’t heard the old woman approach. She stood only a few feet away, with her face to the ocean and hands behind her back. She wore a simple mu’umu’u and a bright wreath of flowers around her head. The morning light illuminated her white hair with a diaphanous glow.
“You see it, don’t you?” she said to me.
I nodded hesitantly, not sure what I saw or who was asking me.
Taking slow, even steps, she came and stood beside me. “This is our word for such a morning:
“Is that Hawaiian for ‘beautiful’?” I asked.
“No.” She shook her radiant head. “It is Hawaiian for ‘beach morning glory.’ There is no equal word in English.”
“Po-hue-hue,” I repeated under my breath.
“You see it, don’t you?”
“Yes.” I felt at ease with this woman.
We stood together, silently watching.
In a blink, the sun had risen to just the right angle so that spears of radiant light pierced the foaming curl of the morning waves, transforming the sea into a silver-laced field of turquoise blue.
Then, just as the birds had sung before the first light, the woman beside me drew in a deep breath and projected her rich, warbling voice across the waters.
“He Akua hemolele.”
Her song was as deep as the ocean itself.
“He Akua hemolele. Ke Akua no kakou.”
I didn’t know what image I’d imprinted on my mind of what I thought it would be like to finally stroll the beach at Waikiki after twenty years of anticipating it, but it was nothing like this. I had never imagined an encounter with a Hawaiian woman who would fill the morning air with such delightful reverence. I never dreamed this world held such spectacular
“beach morning glory.” I felt alive with the sensations that now enfolded me. God seemed so close. The calm breeze felt like His breath on my neck.
I wanted to dance. I know that sounds silly, but the song of this surprising old woman was going inside me, making me want to stretch my arms to the heavens and give movement to all my heightened senses.
But sensibility restrained me.
What would the other early-morning tourists here on the beach think of me? I’d look like an unbalanced woman, twirling around with a big bubble in my middle
So I stood still and didn’t move. The joy slowly dissipated from my spirit. The desire to dance fell away. The song of my morning companion ended.
“That was beautiful,” I said, barely above a whisper.
She smiled at me.
“I wish I understood Hawaiian so I’d know what you just sang.”
“It is not a great mystery. I was singing words that come from the Bible.”
“Psalms. One hundred and four.”
With a few more buttery words in Hawaiian, the woman leaned close to me and breathed out the word, “Aloha.” Then she turned and continued her trek down the beach.