by Barbara Johnson
The Aloha Airlines flight buzzed with excitement as vacationers, young lovers, and adventurers caught their first glimpse of the cloud-covered mountains of the approaching island. Amalia Grant wishes she could share the joyful feelings of her fellow passengers, but knows that is impossible. Her greatest hope is that the solitude and drastic change of scenery will help her forget…
Amalia is soon awed by the Big Island’s rich tapestry of color and texture, its warm, sensuous landscape of shimmering black sand beaches, hidden waterfalls, lush valleys, dripping rainforests, and steaming volcanoes.
And nothing can prepare her for a moonlit meeting on Kilauea’s lava fields—or the way her body and soul reacts to a stranger’s fiery touch!
First Published 1999 Naiad Press.
The ringing doorbell roused Amalia from her doze on the couch. She sat unmoving, waiting for Sheba to start barking, but then remembered her beloved golden retriever would never bark again. The cancer that had eaten away at Sheba for a year had finally claimed her life. With a deep sigh, Amalia pushed up from the couch and went to the door. She couldn’t help but smile when she saw the delivery man loaded down with boxes and bags from Macy’s. Her new vacation wardrobe had arrived.
She had the man set the parcels down in the bare dining room and quickly paid him a tip. She felt like a schoolgirl again as she sat on the polished hardwood floor and unpacked box after box, delighting in the rustle of tissue paper and flash of brightly colored resort wear. She could almost forget the pain and heartache of the past two years—almost, but not quite. It lingered along the edges of her consciousness, ready to creep out like the imaginary monsters under the beds of her childhood. But she had taken one of the many steps toward a full recovery, toward a new life, a life without Kathy.
Amalia left the clothes scattered across the floor and scampered up the stairs, carrying the new swimwear. She paused briefly outside one closed door, feeling the pain grab at her, but she shook her head and entered her bedroom instead. Quickly stripping off her jeans and polo shirt, she slipped into the flower-patterned bikini first. She felt her breath heavy in her chest and had to take two great gulps of air before she could turn to face the full-length mirror propped against one newly painted wall.
She didn’t realize she had her eyes closed until the darkness behind her eyelids turned blood red. She opened them slowly and gazed at the figure reflected before her. She was still thin, but she no longer looked like some emaciated fashion model. She was eating right again, and the physical therapy and exercise had finally paid off. She actually had some shape to her body. The doctors had done a good job of putting together her shattered bones. Her legs were long and lean and would become more muscular as her strength and stamina increased enough to let her once again run for miles through the countryside. She was beginning to feel like a woman again. The doctors had not lied to her; the scars that crisscrossed her body were barely noticeable, except for one.
She ran her fingernails along the vertical scar that started above her left breast right at the bra line and continued down her belly to disappear into the bikini bottom. The scar was pink now, like summer’s first blush rose. She could still recall the first time she’d seen the mark of the incision—an angry, mottled, crimson welt that split her body in two and seemed to pulse with a life of its own. She’d buried her face into her mother’s comforting bosom and sobbed until she had no tears left. She traced it almost lovingly now, feeling the slight ridge in its center. She viewed it as a battle scar, proof of her endurance and strength.
She cocked her head to one side, feeling the silken strands of strawberry-blonde hair move across her shoulders, soft, like a lover’s touch. She decided the scar was still too noticeable and stripped off the bikini to put on the blue-and-gold one-piece. She nodded; this one was much better. She next tied a matching blue sarong around her waist. Rising up on her toes, Amalia danced to the tune in her head. The light cotton sarong fluttered against her legs, tickling. After a few minutes, she stopped and laughed out loud. It felt good to laugh again.
The creaking of the old house caught her attention. “Settling noises,” Kathy had always said, ever the practical one. Amalia’s more fanciful nature, and her Irish grandmother’s influence, made them into leprechauns scampering through the air ducts. Well, this time she heard only an old house creaking. She sat on the bed and looked around the room. What now served as her bedroom was to have been the guest room. It was very pretty, with pale lavender walls and matching carpet. The big bay window let in sunshine and fresh air, the sheer lavender curtains billowing slightly in the breeze. The window seat held white cushions adorned with tiny lavender flowers. It had been Kathy and Amalia’s intention to match the bedspread and draperies to those cushions, but only the cushions had been done before the accident. And Amalia had forgotten where to find the material.
She lay back on the bed, suddenly exhausted. She was proud of the work she’d done over these last few months, but no one really knew how it nearly drained what life was left in her. After she’d gotten out of the rehabilitation hospital, her friends had convinced her that finishing the renovation of the old stone farmhouse would be the best therapy for her shredded emotions and shattered dreams. In a way, her friends had been right. Part of healing and accepting Kathy’s death was to transform the neglected structure into the beautiful showcase it could be, to make their dream come true. They’d scrimped and saved every penny, each taking two jobs. How ironic that money from the accident settlement was what paid for the renovation. Finishing the house was Amalia’s final tribute to Kathy and the love they’d shared, and now it was time to let it go.
Most of the furniture was gone. She only had the few pieces necessary to be comfortable, but tomorrow the movers would come and take them to storage. The house was rewired, repaired, and repainted. New copper plumbing ran throughout, and the hardwood floors had been refinished to their original sheen. New windows, new carpeting in the upstairs bedrooms, new bathrooms. New owners.
Amalia suddenly beat her fists against the bed in frustration and rage. “Damn you, Kathy,” she screamed, “why did you have to die?”
She turned and wept into her pillow. She’d thought she had no tears left, but still they came, day after day, night after night. The aches in her body reminded her daily of her ordeal, of her loss. She fought hard against the memories, the anguish. Her lesbian psychiatrist kept telling her she was making good progress. It made Amalia laugh. Today, she had thrown away the doctor’s business card and the pills. One more step toward becoming a whole person again.
Amalia didn’t know when she stopped crying or when she’d fallen asleep, but the shrill ring of the phone jolted her awake. “Hello?” she mumbled.
“Amalia, darling,” Alexander said, “you must be so psyched up.”
She smiled at his choice of words. “Actually, I was sleeping in my new bathing suit. Practicing for those lazy days on the beach.”
“You can’t fool me. I know you’ve been soaking your pillow again. I hear it in your voice. Do you need me to come over?”
She sat up. “That’s okay. I’ll be seeing you later tonight, at dinner.”
“But I’ll have to share you with all those dykes. And then you’ll be off to Hawaii for God knows how long.” He clicked his tongue. “Really, how many people go to Hawaii with a one-way ticket?”
She chuckled. “You know why I have to go, Alex.”
“Yes, I do. And you know I only like to tease you. It’s good to hear you laugh. I’m just jealous. All those gorgeous Hawaiian boys over there, and me stuck here. Well, you’ll have to squeeze one into your luggage when you come back.”
“You can count on it.”
“See you tonight, sweetheart.”
Amalia hung up the phone and got out of bed. She would miss Alexander terribly. He seemed to be the only person in her world right now who didn’t treat her like some fragile doll. Everyone still tiptoed around her, afraid to even mention Kathy’s name. But they all jabbered incessantly about Sheba, as if the death of a pet was somehow a more acceptable topic of conversation. Even her parents couldn’t seem to grasp that the dog’s death had reached deep inside her and wrenched her heart out. But Sheba and the house had been the last physical reminders of Kathy, and tomorrow it would be over once and for all.
She took off the bathing suit and put her jeans and shirt back on. She had to pack the clothes that had come from Macy’s. It took more than one trip, but she finally had everything piled on the bed. She put a CD of Hawaiian music in the stereo to get her in the mood. She couldn’t help but sway to the music, which convinced her that she’d sign up for hula lessons once she got settled on the island. Finally, everything was carefully folded or rolled and packed in the suitcases. She decided she’d wear her jeans on the plane, but she chose a new Hawaiian print shirt and the sparkling white Keds to go with them. The only thing left to do in the morning was the carry-on bag.
As she locked the last suitcase, the photo on her bedside table caught her eye. Kathy’s brown eyes looked shyly into the camera, her head tilted slightly downward. Her dark blonde hair was parted in the middle, with bangs feathering back from her face. The longest layer brushed gently against the back of her neck. She wore an orange T-shirt with a red bandanna circling her throat. The smile was tentative, yet mischievous.
The day it was taken, they’d gone on a picnic with Alexander and his lover at the time to Lake Linganore up in Frederick County. Alex’s lover was studying to be a fashion photographer and had cajoled them all into posing. As usual, Amalia hated the photos of herself, but she’d paid to have the one of Kathy enlarged. She smiled as she thought of Kathy’s protests.
“Why do you want to have that on the nightstand?” she’d asked. “I look so dopey.”
Amalia kissed her. “No, you look sweet. C’mon, it’s a great photo. I think we should put it on our Christmas card.”
Kathy vigorously shook her head. “That’s where I put my foot down. No tacky photo Christmas cards, especially when it’s my photo. Okay, I’ll let you have the nightstand, but that’s it.”
They’d fallen laughing onto the bed and playfully wrestled for the photo. Before long, it had fallen to the floor as their playfulness had turned passionate. Amalia thought Kathy had made love to her that night like no other time. It was as if they were newly together, yet they’d been a couple for four years. Who could have known that a year later, almost to the day, Kathy would be stolen from her in the most horrifying way possible?
Amalia shook her head. She’d promised herself she wouldn’t think about the accident. It had actually been several days since she’d last thought about it. Who could blame her now, with Kathy’s image caught so vividly in the photo? Amalia went to the nightstand and snatched the photo up. She started to put it in a box destined for storage, but on second thought reopened a suitcase and shoved the photo underneath all the clothes. Kathy had been the most important part of her life, and she couldn’t just pretend the past had never happened.
She looked at her watch. Damn! It had gotten so late. She was supposed to meet Alexander and the others at the Niwano Hana Japanese restaurant in Bethesda in twenty minutes. Oh well, she’d be late again. She jumped in the shower and then dressed in black tailored pants and a purple silk blouse. On a whim, she wore her pearl choker and matching earrings. It had been a long time since she’d dressed up for dinner or anything else. May as well make her farewell dinner fashionable as well as memorable. She only hoped she could endure it.
* * *
Three hours later, Amalia was ready to bolt. All her friends were being too sweet and so incredibly annoying. She could tell that deciding to abandon her life in Maryland and run off to Hawaii was going to be one of the best decisions she’d ever made. She sighed as Heather ordered yet another round of sake.
“Really, Amalia,” Jacquie was saying, “I still don’t understand why you’re running away like this. You might as well be joining the Peace Corps for all we’ll ever see you again.”
“I actually did think of joining the Peace Corps, but they said my medical condition would prevent that.”
“Medical condition?” Randy chimed in. “What medical condition? I thought you were all patched up and ready to dance?”
“I guess they thought I might have a heart attack or something.”
“But that’s ridiculous. The doctors said you’re as good as new.” Randy looked at Amalia over the top of her glasses. “Didn’t they?”
Amalia laughed. “They always say that, but I do have that abdominal aortic aneurysm that needs to be monitored. An ultrasound might not be standard equipment in some Third World countries.”
Alexander pursed his lips. “Oh, I just love it when you talk medical. It reminds me that I must find a rich doctor to take care of me.”
“So,” George cut in, “are you happy with the new owners of the house?”
“They seem nice. The wife loves animals and gardening, and the husband collects toy trains. It doesn’t really matter now anyway. They move in tomorrow and I move out. I finished the house like Kathy and I wanted. It’s someone else’s turn to worry about it.”
The table fell silent at the mention of Kathy’s name. Amalia wanted to shake them all as they looked everywhere but at her. Only Alexander looked her in the eye and smiled as he patted her hand. “You did a damn fine job too. Kathy would be so proud.”
“You know,” Amalia said as she sipped her sake, “you don’t need to treat me like someone who needs to be protected. I can talk about Kathy without getting hysterical. She’s been gone two years, and I’ve grown a lot in that time. Who would have thought a femme like me could renovate a house?”
Jacquie looked sheepish. “We’re sorry. It’s just hard to deal with it. The terrible accident, Kathy’s dying, your ordeal in the hospital all those months…We love you.”
Amalia searched six earnest faces. “But I’ve moved beyond all that, don’t you see? And all my friends have helped me, even if you do skirt the issues.” She reached around the table and touched each one lightly on the hand. “I’m going to miss each and every one of you, but I can’t say that I’m ever coming back.”
Randy laughed. “Well, just be prepared for the hordes to descend upon you over there in paradise. Staying with you will be a hell of a lot cheaper than a hotel.”
“Just which island are you going to?” Heather asked.
“Yeah,” Sam echoed, “which one?”
“I thought I’d try them all out at first, but I’m leaning toward the Big Island of Hawaii. It’s less populated than the others.”
“And what about money?” Randy asked with characteristic bluntness. “I know you got a big settlement from the insurance companies, but you spent a lot of it on the house. You can’t have much left.”
Amalia swallowed nervously. She hated talking about money. Only Alexander and her parents knew just how much money she had received, and it was enough that she’d never have to work again. Even her medical bills not covered by insurance and the house expenses had barely put a dent in her bank account. She was, literally, a millionaire several times over, but she’d give it all up to have Kathy back.
“Oh, I expect she’ll get some fun job over there,” Alex said, saving her from having to answer. “It’s not like she’ll need a lot. I mean, no more winter coats and boots, no more snow tires, no more astronomical heating bills.”
Amalia smiled her thanks at him and then looked at her watch. “I’m sorry to have to break this up, but I go to settlement at the real estate lawyer’s early tomorrow, and then the movers are coming. I have to be out of the house by noon, and my plane for L.A. leaves at three. It’s been a wonderful dinner, but I really do have to go.” She stood up.
“How are you getting to the airport?” George asked.
“I’ve called for a limo.”
Jacquie raised her eyebrows. “Ooohhh, a limo. We’re going out in style, aren’t we?” She got up and kissed Amalia’s cheek. “Not that you don’t deserve it.”
“What’d you do with your car?” Sam interjected.
“I donated it to the Salvation Army. They’re coming by tomorrow to pick it up.”
They all stood then and clustered around Amalia, each one wanting to get in one more hug, one more kiss. She felt the tears well up in her eyes. She tried to speak, but the words stuck in her throat. Alexander gently took her arm. “Let’s go, sweetheart,” he said and led her out of the restaurant. She looked back once more and saw five serious faces. She could tell that Heather and Jacquie were crying, and maybe even George and Sam too. Randy, ever the stoic butch, put an arm around her weeping lover. She would shed no tears, that one. At least, not in public. With a final wave, Amalia left the restaurant.
* * *
She woke early the next morning. The sunlight barely peeped around the edges of the window shades. She lay in the big bed and listened one more time to the house. It was very quiet, an almost death-like stillness. Even the creaks were silent. There was no click of Sheba’s claws on the hardwood floors of the hallway, no labored breathing at the foot of her bed.
In her mind’s eye, Kathy came to life, stooping down to hug an ecstatic Sheba who no longer limped in pain but leapt with the energy of a puppy. And Kathy’s mangled body was whole again, her brown eyes sparkling with laughter and love. Amalia smiled as she opened her eyes and got out of bed. Pain is only for the living, she thought as she washed up and packed the last of her things.
But a new life awaited her in a tropical paradise, one in which she knew Kathy and Sheba would always be with her, in her heart.