I DON’T KNOW if it was because of everyone’s prayers or swift medical care, but Kurt survived, albeit with some changes. His words came more slowly, and what he said was a bit nicer. Still, the military doctors at Tripler, where he was transferred, were sure he was fit enough to stay with the SEALS. I was also relieved that he didn’t resent me for what happened, but rather credited me for sticking around in a dangerous place long enough to save his life.
A number of other good things happened, too. Charisse’s hair band, which I’d worried so much about moving, was still inside the bath drain cover along with a few strands of her hair. The tape-recorder I’d worn had functioned and recorded all the damning words that Calvin had said. As a result, both Jiro and Calvin had been charged in the murder of Charisse. Additionally, Calvin faced charges of arson, and various counts of attempted murder regarding Michael, Kurt, my father, and myself.
Over the phone from Tokyo, Hugh had said the way that things played out was sheer luck-that a hair band in a bath drain alone probably couldn’t have sent Jiro and Calvin to jail, and Michael, Kurt and I might have been charged with home invasion if Calvin and Jiro hadn’t so clearly attempted to murder us.
“I miss you, Rei, but I don’t miss all your high drama and danger,” Hugh had said at the end of our conversation. I’d hung up and thought about his comment. For me, events in the month had been remarkable; I’d come to believe that Hawaii was a place where miracles could, and did, happen. After all, my father had gotten better, and so had I. And, in my case, healing meant more than a recovery from poisoning; it was a recovery from chronic loneliness, the discovery that not only was I able to live with other people, I loved it. Taking care of my father, uncle and cousin had been the opening act; now I could commit myself to Michael with an open heart and confidence. And while I would probably always love Uncle Yosh and Courtney and the rest of the Hawaiian Shimura clan, I felt Edwin had learned something from knowing us, and I fully accepted my role in his particular tribe.
Edwin had finally made some money on an internet auction, and he’d undertaken a new job to keep himself busy: family wedding planner, although Aunt Margaret was the one who actually secured a sunset wedding on the hotel lawn, with just five days’ notice. Braden was dutifully filling out his application for the James School with the help of my father, Uncle Hiroshi and Tom, who all had a different take on the essay question ‘Tell Us about Yourself!”
Courtney and Uncle Yosh had been my shopping companions at every bridal boutique in Honolulu, and helped me decide on a long, bias-cut, creamy silk gown tinged with just a bit of yellow on the bottom. “Look like plumeria,” Uncle Yosh had said, and Courtney had promised to make both Michael and me wedding leis that were rich with my favorite Hawaiian flowers.
Michael returned to D.C. the day after Jiro and Calvin were arrested. That morning, he’d come Leeward one last time to ask my father, who was still in the hospital, permission to marry me. Of course, my father granted it, and Michael and I drove back to Waikiki to pick up his luggage and walk the Alai Wai Canal one last time.
“There’s something we need to talk about,” Michael said.
I shot a glance at him, because he sounded so sober. Surely he wasn’t changing his mind?
“The other night, you made a crack about there being some kind of James Bond attraction.”
“Yes, I did say that, although of course, I don’t really want to marry James Bond. I want to marry you.”
“When you rescued me in the garage, I told you I was getting out of the business. I mean to do it. No more spying.”
“Oh, well. At least I’ll have my memories.” I squeezed his hand.
“Actually, when I was meeting with my old friend at Pearl Harbor-I didn’t mention it before, but that lunch was more like a job interview.”
“Do you want to join the Navy again?” I felt something inside me drop. Sure, the Navy was safer work than OCI, but he’d be away from me for months at a time every year. It would be like being single again.
“I wouldn’t reactivate, no. But there’s a center for Pacific Rim intelligence based right here. The pay’s OK, and…well, we could live here, in Hawaii.”
“You’d want to live here?” He’d hinted at it before, and of course I loved Hawaii, but I hadn’t imagined it could ever happen. I was used to hardship and suffering, not the prospect of life on a tropical island.
“After I get Braden squared away at the James School and some projects are tied up at OCI, I’d love to come back. The sailing is unbelievable, and this mix of Asian and Western culture makes it the perfect place for us to raise children. They won’t be singled out for being half-anything; they’ll just be like everyone else.”
“I see your point,” I said slowly.
“And it’s not just for our kids; it’s the state itself. We’re halfway between Japan and the US, the perfect neutral ground for both of us. You can continue with OCI, and there’ll be no conflict of interest if I’m working for the federal government at Pearl Harbor.”
I imagined myself in Japan, overworked, alone and exhausted in OCI’s luxurious apartment in Hiroo. Then I flashed to myself queuing at Narita airport every second weekend for the flight that would take me to join Michael in the sun for two or three days at a time. I shook my head firmly. “No. Forget OCI; the only reason I kept my ties to that place was to be with you. I don’t want to live away from you, or have you worry about me. I don’t exactly know what I’ll wind up doing here, but jobs have a way of finding me, don’t you think?”
“Trouble has a way of finding you,” Michael had said, and then he kissed me, as if we were the only two people alongside the canal. By the time we’d broken apart, the ring that I’d thought he’d returned had transitioned from his pocket to my finger, and now all I had left to do was convince my fianc? that in Hawaii, not only brides wore white, but grooms too.
“WILL YOU COME to my wedding?” I asked Josiah Pierce, when I’d accepted his invitation to tea in the garden of his Tantalus home. I was flushed with joy, for now the pending marriage felt real, and I knew it was the right thing to do. My fear was gone.
It was the afternoon of the day after Michael had left for the mainland and, as if in protest, the weather was bad. The sky had opened right at the start of Mr. Pierce’s exhaustive garden tour, so we traversed the garden under the protection of a golf umbrella. Standing close to him, I wondered how I could ever have been afraid. His courtesy, and thoughtful attention to old manners, reminded me of my Japanese mentor, Mr. Ishida. Of course I would want Mr. Pierce at my wedding, where he could meet Mr. Ishida and the rest of the handful or so of very close Japanese friends and relatives who could come to Hawaii on short notice.
“What do you mean, wedding? Are you leaving the husband you have?” Josiah Pierce’s wry question brought me back to the present, and I remembered my long-ago fib.
“I’m not leaving Michael. I must to admit to you, with some embarrassment, that we’re marrying. For the first time.”
“You didn’t want me to know you lived together? My, you are an old-fashioned girl.”
“No, that wasn’t our situation. It’s actually a rather new romance. I’m sorry we weren’t honest at the start, when we met you. Michael thought…” I trailed off. It was impossible to explain.
“Well, I can only imagine that Michael said these things because he wanted the situation to be different. I think that’s an indication he’s likely to be a devoted husband.” Josiah Pierce sat down on an aged iron garden settee, and indicated that I should join him.
“I used to question whether I…whether I could commit to anyone,” I said. “But those fears are gone now. Permanently.”
“What changed for you then?”
“I credit it to spending time with my father, day in and out. I just got used to living with someone I cared about, and having more family around. And I think it’s better that way. You know, Michael and I are in the midst of deciding whether to permanently relocate here. It seems crazy to give up our past lives, but awfully tempting.”
“Yes, lots of people want to live in paradise, but when they really settle in, they get something we call Rock Fever-an insatiable desire to get off this island and go somewhere larger and more interesting.”
“Don’t you think we could make it here? We can’t help speaking with mainland accents, so maybe we’ll never escape being malihini.”
JP smiled. “Oh, don’t worry about that. This is not only the best place on earth to raise children, but also to grow old. But before the children come, what will you do to stay busy?”
He meant well, so I decided to ignore my slight irritation at his assumption that I would stop working forever if we had a child. “Well, I will concentrate of finding us a place to live first, which I gather is no easy feat on Oahu, and at the same time try to arrange some job interviews, maybe at the museums. I have more or less the right training and experience for museum work, but I always seem to be getting distracted.”
“Back up a moment. You’re talking about buying or renting a place before you’ve got the two salaries in place, and one of them will be at a non-profit? This island is expensive, if you haven’t noticed.”
“There are small apartments in the urban areas that aren’t that bad…but Michael and I really have become fond of the Leeward Side. It’s cheaper, sunnier, and it’s where the real people live.”
“I like the Leeward Side too, but you’ve got to remember to call it what we do: Ewa. And you may want to hold on to the mainland condominium. The more real estate you can afford to hold close, the better.”
“Spoken like a true robber baron,” I teased.
JP laughed. “I don’t drive much anymore, Rei, but if you have time this afternoon, I have a hankering to go Ewa.”
“Do you want to see the burned village?” I asked, not wanting to revisit the destruction Calvin had caused on this particular beautiful day.
“Actually, I don’t want to make myself sad on such an afternoon of good news. There’s a place I’d been thinking of showing you, but then you fell ill and I didn’t think you’d want to go anywhere alone with me. Now we can visit this place, but only if you aren’t in a rush.”
“Sure.” I thought for a minute, and then took the plunge. “And maybe-on the way back-we can stop and say hello to my Great-Uncle Yoshitsune. I think you should meet each other.”
JP nodded. “Yes, I’d like to see him, if he’ll see me. I agree that a conversation is long overdue.”
WE DEPARTED THE congestion of Honolulu freeways to H-1 West, where the dark skies gave way to a giant rainbow, and then plenty of sun-so much that I gave up on the ailing air-conditioner and asked Mr. Pierce if he didn’t mind my rolling down the windows. From the Ewa Beach exit, Mr. Pierce directed me to a smooth, limited-access road, bordered by housing developments, gas stations, and strip malls. Then we left the highway for a spur road that led to a narrow quiet street overhung with old, lush trees. On the right side was a one-story church built in the long, simple form of a barn; it looked quite old, but was painted a fresh white and had a sign that indicated a community pre-school was operating within. Across the street from the church stood the abandoned sugar mill, a monument of rusted metal and broken glass.
“That was the last mill in operation on our island,” Josiah Pierce said softly. “So many people cried when it closed.”
“Well, at least it’s not a ghost town around here. It looks as if people are still living in this area. The church has a school.”
“Yes, and take a right on the next street. You’ll see the village has residents, too.”
This was a plantation village? As I slowly drove the streets, I passed simple, box-shaped cottages similar to those I’d seen near Kainoa’s coffee shop. But in this neighborhood, smoothly paved roads ran alongside freshly painted cottages, and the gardens were full of healthy fruit trees, flowers, and vegetables.
“You’ve brought me to old houses that are living happily ever after. What a wonderful gift!” I beamed at him.
JP looked at me with satisfaction. “This neighborhood, Tenney Village, is a state-sponsored project-subsidized, so people of a certain income level were allowed to buy these 1920s plantation village homes at very reasonable rates.”
“It must have been difficult to get people to believe this could be done.”
“Yes, indeed. I was one of the naysayers, given the deplorable state of my own decrepit plantation villages, and the lack of interest from anyone except big money developers who wanted to raze them. But this village has something our older area by Kainani doesn’t: it’s close to the shopping in Waikele, and about twenty minutes from central Honolulu. Some people even commute by boat to their jobs at Pearl Harbor or downtown.”
I wanted to ask more questions about the development, but Josiah Pierce was looking at his watch and urging me back to the van. I got in again and said, “To my uncle’s house, then?”
“Yes. But there’s another stop just five minutes away that I’d like you to see.”
With the van windows rolled down to bring in the gentle trade winds, I cruised back on to the limited-access highway, and then followed Mr. Pierce’s directions to make a couple of lefts. Passing a ramshackle supermarket and a series of worn-looking apartment buildings, we came to a rough path of gravel and that led to a vintage cottage with peeling paint, and then another just like it.
“Another plantation village,” I said.
“Yes, and this village still belongs to my brother, Lindsay and me. It used to house the workers for a pineapple-growing and canning operation that folded in the thirties, when Hawaiian fruit became too much of a luxury for mainlanders.”
“Where’s the pineapple field?” I was confused, because this tiny housing area seemed hemmed in by modern development.
“That supermarket you just saw, plus the strip mall, plus the apartments-there were the fields and plant buildings! Now, let’s park and do some walking.”
I wandered a few paces behind my guide, spotting amid the tiny houses a longer plantation store building with faded lettering advertising groceries and beer. It was clearly vacant, with vines growing out of the glassless windows. A few of the houses in one cluster had trucks outside them, giving me the feeling someone was living there, perhaps illegally. A step up from the outdoors, I thought, remembering the homeless people I’d seen on Maile Beach.
These things didn’t seem to faze Josiah Pierce, who was walking determinedly ahead, as if he had somewhere in particular to go. I picked up my pace, and when he rounded a corner, I saw a Beach Access sign, and a straight row of slightly larger cottages.
Beach access meant ocean. As we drew closer, I saw flashes of blue behind the houses. “Great location,” I said. “Who was housed in this row?”
“This is the Portuguese village, so basically any family in that community with enough children for two or three bedrooms. Swimming and lying on the beach weren’t on the minds of many around here; they were too tired.”
He walked up to a door and tapped it lightly. It swung open, and he beckoned for me to follow him in.
“I don’t know if we should walk through the houses,” I called out. “The floors are likely to be rotten.”
“I’ll take that risk.” He looked over his shoulder at me. “If it’s any reassurance, I was out here fairly recently with my property manager. This house is the soundest one.”
I stepped a few feet further into the empty entry hall, noticing now what I should have seen earlier, the footprints in the dust. Yes, this place had been recently explored, and if I stepped in the places where other feet had been, chances were I wasn’t going through the floor.
To my left was a square room that I imagined had been the parlor. To the right were two doorways leading to smaller rooms-bedrooms. There was a crumpled-up, ancient newspaper in a corner of one of them. I saw the date, 1938, but I couldn’t read the Portuguese under it. The windows were large, and I saw traces of old electricity: the push-button light switches on the mottled walls, and old glass-shaded light fixtures and fans on the ceilings.
Proceeding to the rear of the house, I saw a small bathroom, all with the original porcelain fixtures, and a kitchen with a charming antique icebox, an apron sink, small table, and some old crockery on shelves. Josiah Pierce had opened the back door and was looking out.
“Big waves tonight,” he said.
I moved to stand next to him, and then went down the steps to explore a narrow stretch of overgrown garden, and a rough gravel path leading downward to a strip of sand and a broken wooden dock, and then the Pacific.
“This location is paradise,” I said. “I’m very surprised you didn’t sell it to Jiro Kikuchi or somebody earlier on.”
“Who wants to build a resort behind a downscale shopping center?”
“Well, you could tear it down. Couldn’t you?”
“The commercial areas you saw aren’t under my control. All I have in Ewa is this little portion of-as you put it-paradise.”
“I’m sure the local people would prefer a supermarket to another resort. This little area is such a haven, though. The area’s convenient, and the water access is amazing.”
“Do you think this is the kind of place you might like to start your married life?”
“Sure.” I laughed shakily. “The only problem is, each plot alone would be a million and more, wouldn’t it?”
“If you knocked everything down to create a brand new housing development, perhaps. But that’s not what I have in mind, so the price I was thinking of is somewhere around ten grand.” Before I could recover from the shock, he’d moved on. “It’s a low price because of all the renovation you’d have to pay for yourselves, according to your taste. That, and there would be an additional expectation.”
“Aha!” I smiled at him. “I imagined some strings were attached.”
“You saw how Tenney Village was restored, and I’d like to do that, but I’m afraid I prefer not to have state involvement. I want someone to create aesthetic guidelines for the entire redevelopment and live onsite in a cottage that has been renovated to the highest standards. The homes are going to be reasonably priced and comfortable, but there will be development covenants, and ensuring buyers are agreeable to the covenants will take some finesse.”
“I understand.” I was afraid to ask the next question, because I wanted the job so badly, but I was afraid he’d think I was unqualified. “The employee you mention-is he or she already working within Pierce Holdings, or are you getting an architect from outside?”
“I’m thinking of you, Rei. You may refine the title as you like, but the important thing is to remember that even though these cottages are small, you must think on a large scale.”
“I…I will!” I stammered, thinking that this really was a position I wasn’t trained for, just like every other one I’d taken on in my life.
“There are things that only a person living here, day in and day out, could figure out, such as whether some unsalvageable or badly located cottages should be removed for open space. In the old days, we had lots of sports in the plantation villages, playing baseball in the evenings and so on.”
“That’s a great idea, and you could also…make it a little more like a resort?” I knew I was throwing myself out on a limb, since he was so cautious about modern development.
“This is going to be housing for local people. In what way should we make it like a resort?” He sounded puzzled.
“There could be a communal barbecuing area, a small playground, and at least one swimming pool. And what about that empty plantation store? It’s perfect for a coffee shop, which also could sell fishing and boating supplies.” I already had an idea who could run the place.
“I like those ideas.” Josiah Pierce’s voice was firm. “And I won’t develop this village unless you agree to take the job. Of course, you may want to discuss it with Michael.”
BUT I WAS headstrong, so I had no intention of discussing it with Michael. Instead, I just married him. I had expected the wedding to be full of little mishaps, but there was nothing but sunshine and smiles as I made my way barefoot in a thin white silk gown toward Michael. I felt overwhelmed when Michael slipped a pale pink plumeria wedding lei around my neck, because this intimate moment was being shared by so many people I cared about.
My old friend Andrea Norton and her Japanese mother Pearl had come from Washington, DC. Richard and Enrique were representing Tokyo quite stylishly in their ivory tuxedo jackets worn over jeans. Aunt Norie and my cousin Chika wore proper black wedding suits, and my friends Nana and Akemi Mihori of Kamakura came in exquisite silk kimonos. Mr. Ishida had thought the journey was too taxing for his health, but he had sent a sweet letter and an 18th century woodblock print of a Japanese bride and groom. I could not wait to frame it for the new bedroom-no, I corrected myself. Our new bedroom.
Only after a long day of hugging new relatives and old friends from Japan was the time finally right to give Michael the news about our future. We waved Michael’s parents and mine off to dinner at Alan Wong, and boarded our white limousine, decorated in the gaudiest manner imaginable by Braden and Courtney. When we were safely en route to the Halekulani, I slid the glass partition separating us from the driver and instructed him to detour to the faded supermarket near Ewa Beach.
“Did you forget something?” Michael asked, looking at me with concern. “If you really need it tonight, we can go to the supermarket, but I think we’ll be a laughing stock, dressed like this.”
“Just wait,” I said, and continued with my directions to the old Pierce village. I remembered the little street, and had the driver stop, and ushered Michael out and up to my favorite cottage in the row.
“Let me guess-Josiah Pierce owns this area?” Michael asked as I led him up the short flight of steps and inside the empty old house.
“It’s about to become mine-I mean, ours.” I laughed slightly, and leaned into him. It was going to take a while to get used to being married. As Michael listened, I explained Josiah Pierce’s offer of a house, and an exciting new job for me. When I’d finished, he walked out to the back of the house, opened the door, and there was ocean.
“I could sail to work,” Michael said. “This is…unbelievable.”
“Yes, and I haven’t even told you how low the price is. You could keep your condo in Virginia, in case you-I mean, we-decide to go back.”
“There’s no going back,” Michael said, slipping his arms around me, and burying his face in my hair for a moment.
“Hey, do you smell something?” I asked, finally noticing what had seemed different this time around.
“Just your skin. Is that plumeria body cream?”
“No, and I left my lei in the limousine. I think there’s fresh plumeria nearby, and I swear it’s not growing in the garden.” I broke away from Michael, and he wandered after me into the former parlor, which I’d pegged as our future bedroom.
I hadn’t noticed anything before, but the room now held a small, weather-beaten card table, and on it was one of the old crocks from the kitchen filled with yellow hibiscus and white plumeria: the colors of my wedding gown.
“You didn’t arrange this to welcome me?” Michael said, leaning over and sniffing the lush bouquet.
I shook my head. “No, and nobody knows this will be our cottage. I never told JP I came back here one afternoon, looked at all the houses, and decided this is the one I like best of all.”
Michael straightened up and slipped his hand into mine. “Well, by the time we move in, we’ll hopefully have an answer to this mystery.”
I smiled back at him, thinking to myself that it wasn’t going to be that simple. I didn’t need to know who’d brought flowers to the house. All I cared about was their scent, and my dreams.