Fiction by Melissa Llanes Brownlee
The streetlights are puddles in ink as Kahea weaves her way home along the cracks in the sidewalk, their sodium orange glow weakly shining on the neighbors’ mango, avocado, tangerine, plumeria trees. She’d just gotten off the night shift at the Sack n Save with a few pau hana shots in the back with the stocking crew before they got to work unpacking pallets loaded with canned food from the mainland.
Her car had broken down and she didn’t have enough to get it fixed, so she walked the two and a half miles to work and back home again. She loved the quiet of the road at night. During the day, the streets were lined, bumper to bumper, no space for all the people who lived on the island. She’d walk past open windows blasting reggae or bass so low it vibrated her toes, closed windows filled with icy coolness she envied, and lifted trucks where her head barely reached the door handle, her embarrassment of not having a car a high humming counterpoint in her stomach.
She hears a screen door slam open as she nears her parents’ house, her head snapping towards the sound. It’s the house across the street. Jake’s house. She hadn’t spoken to him since she came back in failure from her one semester at a mainland college, no money to pay the tuition, the scholarships she had worked so hard to get not enough to cover everything, her parents too poor to help. She had left for college without saying goodbye. She couldn’t. He never understood her need to leave their island behind. Their last night together a mess of booze and sex and anger on a beach under these same damn stars, pinpricks of don’t leave, stay, marry me, their gravity wells, a prison.
She is surprised to see Jake, his long frame throwing its shadow against her. She won’t make it to her own screen door before he gets to her so she stands her ground. He goes to hug her and she pushes him away. His hair is shorn short. His eyes sunken.
“Kahea. I wen miss you.”
“I know.” She steps away from him.
“You neva say goodbye. You neva tell me you wen come back home.”
“Why? Why I need for do any of that?”
“Cuz I love you.”
“You don’t even know what that means.”
“You know I wen join up?” She shakes her head, not wanting to hear it. “I stay home from boot camp.”
“Don’t you love me?”
She breathes in the heavy scents of the yards around her, the heat of the day cooling, releasing life into the darkness.
“No.” She turns away into the light of her parents’ porch.
“I’m sorry,” he says into the empty space she’s left behind.