BOOK PREVIEW: Escape to Molokai
Chapter 1: Night
George lit a candle on his bedside table and examined his thigh in the dim flickering light. The burn was the size of a fried egg and felt like it was still on fire. He frowned. Sometimes it felt like everything he did backfired.
Pulling a torn shred of aloe from his pocket, he squeezed the tuberous leaf until its juice dripped onto the burn. It stung and soothed it at the same time. One thing for sure, he wouldn’t pretend to be a fire-dancer again anytime soon. He didn’t like looking stupid, not even in front of his best friend, Jonathan.
He smiled. Jonathan had looked pretty stupid tiptoeing across the neighbor’s yard for the aloe. When Mr. Kim drove up, Jonathan had bolted like he was being chased by zombies.
Still grinning, George squeezed the leaf one last time and covered the burn with a bandage he'd filched from his grandmother’s medicine cabinet. The last thing he needed was for it to get infected. Then he’d have to tell his grandmother, and he was already in enough trouble for one day.
Footsteps. He blew out the candle, stripped off his shirt, and leaped into bed; sandy shorts, dirty feet and all.
“You still awake?” Tutu came in carrying a kerosene lamp. She flipped the quilt back so she could sit on the edge of the bed, bumping up against his burned leg.
He gulped in a breath and forced a smile.
She pulled a white envelope from her pocket. It had a clipped corner. “You look a little tired. It’s just as well Jonathan went home. The two of you would have been up all night.”
To change the subject, he pointed to the envelope. “That from my parents?”
She nodded and handed him the letter.
“Why does he always cut off the corner of the envelopes?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
He tore it open and read. It didn’t say much. Their garden was doing good. His father had fixed a leak in their roof. It ended with they missed him.
His eyes went to the framed picture of his parents on the wall. If it weren't for the picture, he'd have forgotten what they looked like. Over one corner hung a necklace with a carved bone turtle. It had been his father’s. Now it was his. He never wore it, because he was afraid he might lose it.
“Tell me again why we live here on Maui and they live on Molokai,” he said, even though he knew the story.
Smile lines appeared around her eyes. “Again?”
“Please?” He liked hearing the story because while she told it, he could believe it. Believe that he belonged and that his parents hadn’t dumped him like a piece of unwanted trash on his grandparents’ doorstep. Believe they missed him. Believe that it was the war’s fault his family was scattered between the islands.
She smiled. “Okay. Before you were born the whole family lived on the Big Island. We had a huge farm with chickens and…”
George relaxed and for a while forgot about the throbbing pain on his thigh.
“. . . Times got hard and in the end we were forced to move on. Kapuna found work here on Maui at the docks. The only work your father could find was on Molokai, in the sugarcane.”
Maybe it was the burn. Maybe it was something else, but he’d finally worked up the courage to ask the question he’d never dared to ask. “Why didn’t he get a job here? There are sugarcane fields on Maui.”
She paused for a moment. Her eyes wouldn’t meet his.
“There weren’t any jobs at the time,” she said and patted his leg.
George winced as pain shot like lighting bolts from the burn. He grabbed her hand.
She smiled. “You and your sister were born on Molokai and-”
“And now I live here with you and Kapuna?” he finished for her.
She held him in a tight hug. “Like the sweet scented blooms of a plumeria tree, you are my blossom of joy.”
Even though he'd never admit it to anyone, especially not to Jonathan, he liked being the sweet scent of a flower to his grandmother, and he liked being held.
Tutu tucked the quilt over his shoulders. “You sure are full of questions tonight.”
“It's just that I can't remember them.”
Tutu picked up the lamp and moved to the door.
“Why can’t we visit them? Or they visit us?” he asked for what must have been the ten thousandth time.
“You know we can’t afford to travel.”
She blew out the lamp. Shadows filled the room, streaked with silver moonlight. She turned her back to him.
“What about my sister and my other grandparents? Can we visit them?”
“No.” Tutu paused. ”I’ve been meaning to tell you, Launi’s moved to Molokai to live with your parents.”
George sat up, his stomach suddenly queasy. His parents wanted her, but not him. “Launi gets to live with them and I don’t?”
She turned, and he thought he saw tears in her eyes, but he couldn’t really tell in the poor light.
When she spoke, her voice was strained. “No more questions tonight. They love you more than you’ll ever know. Now go to sleep.”
“Did you see the little ring around the moon?” George asked, not ready for her to leave. Not before he’d made amends for sounding ungrateful.
“Yes. Tomorrow will be a good fishing day. Kapuna and I need to be up before the sun rises.”
“That’s right,” Kapuna said from the doorway. “Time to pack it in for the night. Tomorrow will be a busy day.”
He came in as Tutu left.
“Can’t I go fishing with you guys?” George asked. “Please?”
“Not this time. Remember, you’re helping Mr. Kim in his garden.”
“He always blames things on me. Even when I don’t do anything.”
“Mr. Kim is our neighbor and we have to get along.” Kapuna ruffled George’s hair. “Sometimes he is a grouch, but this time it’s different. You and Jonathan pretty much trampled his garden. You’ll have to undo the damage you did.”
“But it was his Poi Dog’s fault. He was chasing our chickens.”
Kapuna sighed. “We’ve already been over this. You’re thirteen. It’s time you take on a little responsibility.”
“I hate living here,” George blurted. “I can’t wait for my parents to send for me.”
Kapuna froze. The look on his face made George regret his words for the second time that night. Why had he said that? He wished he could take back the words, but it was too late.
Kapuna tucked in the covers. “Moi, Moi. Sleep well, my grandson.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”
“I know you didn’t.” Kapuna closed the bedroom door.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Why had he said that to Kapuna? He didn’t hate living here. He didn’t want to move. This was his home. Kapuna and Tutu were his family. He just wished his parents would move to Maui and they all could live together like before the war.
What he did hate, was having to spend a whole day with Mr. Kim. The old man was never satisfied. Before tomorrow was over, he knew he’d be in some sort of new trouble; real or imagined.
Outside his window, the shadow of a palm swayed in the moonlight. It looked spooky and even a little bit mysterious. He grinned. It was perfect, because he and Jonathan had mysterious plans for the night.
A clandestine meeting at midnight!