“What do chicken coops look like with no chickens in them?” I ask, driving past a couple of brightly painted wooden lean-tos.
“That could be them,” Stone says, looking up. “Though usually I can tell something’s a chicken coop because there’s a chicken in it.”
On his lap he’s got the napkin map, a state atlas of Hawaii, and his phone. Early this morning we packed our stuff up, checked out of the resort, and rented a Jeep.
Fuck resorts. We’re going on an adventure.
“Chickens might live in those,” I say, shrugging. “So after the chicken coops we turn at the big tree?”
“That’s what the guy at the bar said,” Stone says, consulting all three maps. “The real maps don’t show any roads that turn off this one, though.”
I point at a big tree with, a two-lane dirt track next to it. There’s no one else on the road in either direction, so I just stop the Jeep.
“Is that it?” I say.
It doesn’t look like a road. It looks like a shortcut made by wild pigs and surfers.
“It’s after the chicken coops and next to the big tree,” Stone says. “I think that’s — wait, there’s a chicken.”
We both look over. It’s standing at the side of the road, just staring at us, blinking its beady little eyes. Up ahead is another plywood building that might be a chicken coop.
We both stare back at it for a minute.
“It’s not in the chicken coop,” I mutter, like I’m afraid the chicken will hear me talking about it.
It takes one jerky step forward, still looking me right in the eyes.
“Don’t make eye contact,” Stone says, lowering his voice. “It thinks you’re challenging it, and roosters are nasty motherfuckers.”
“Stone,” I say, still staring at the chicken. “I’m a human, and I will kick this chicken’s ass if I need to. Also, that’s a hen.”
Stone’s quiet a moment.
“How can you tell?” he asks.
“It doesn’t have that red thing,” I say, putting my hand on top of my head and wiggling my fingers to demonstrate a rooster’s comb. “And it’s not furious that we’re looking at it. Roosters are motherfuckers.”
“Can you tell where it lives?” he asks. “Since you’re an expert and we need to know which chicken coops are uninhabited.”
“You’re the one who got those directions and this map and decided they were good enough,” I tease. “I’d have asked some follow-up questions.”
“No, you’d have been sticking your tongue down my throat because some girl kept bumping into me and you were drunk,” he says.
“Sounds terrible,” I say, and lean over for a kiss.
Someone honks behind me, and I jerk away, then glance in the rearview mirror. This road isn’t that deserted.
“Sorry!” I shout, as if the other driver can hear me, waving into the rearview mirror.
Then I hit the gas and turn onto the skinny dirt road, because fuck it, this is probably the right way. The other car zooms by in the rear view mirror.
I get maybe a quarter mile before I have some regrets.
We’re in the jungle. I can barely tell where we’re supposed to be going, and the road is getting worse and worse. It was rough to start with, but now it’s muddy and full of enormous potholes, our luggage in the back is sliding around.
Finally, we come to a rutted downhill section and I stop the Jeep. It’s not that long or that steep, but it looks like hell.
“We’ve gotta be lost,” I say.
“The guy said it was pretty dicey,” Stone says. “Give it a shot.”
This can’t possibly be the way most people get to this hotel, I think.
“I’m afraid I’m gonna break the Jeep,” I say, inching forward slowly. The car lurches from side to side as we roll over a couple of ruts.
Then we start to slide sideways, and I yelp.
“You gotta gun it, Detective,” Stone says.
“Fuck no!” I say. My knuckles are white on the steering wheel.
“That’s how you drive in mud like this,” Stone says. “If you go too slow or stop you’ll slide. Come on.”
I do not like this. Not at all.
I take a deep breath.
“You’re sure?” I ask.
“You’re the chicken expert, I’m the car expert,” Stone teases.
“Most people know the difference between roosters and hens,” I say.
I’m still looking at this downhill, because drive hell for leather really sounds like the worst possible idea.
“You want me to drive?” he asks.
“No, you’re not on the rental agreement,” I remind him.
Someone got three moving violations in one calendar year, and now his insurance is sky-high for rentals.
“So don’t tell the cops,” he teases.
“If I do this and we crash into a tree it’s your fault,” I say.
“You’re not gonna crash into a tree,” he says.
I take a deep breath.
“You’re fine,” Stone says, one hand on my thigh. “Just keep it fast enough that you don’t slide too much into the mud.”
I hit the gas and we start jerking forward down the muddy, rutted road. Really, road is being generous. It’s two dirt ruts through the jungle.
“Faster,” Stone says.
I look at the speedometer. I’m only going ten miles an hour, even though it feels like sixty. I push the gas down a little more.
We start to slide sideways in the mud, toward a ditch.
“Go!” Stone says.
“Punch it!” Stone says, grabbing the handle over the door.
“I don’t want to hit a tree!”
“You won’t hit a tree!” he nearly shouts. “Luna, just speed up before we go into the ditch!”
I press harder, and I can feel the tires spin a little.
“Luna, I swear, just—”
I practically fucking stomp on the gas pedal, and the Jeep jerks forward as we careen down the hill. We both shout. My teeth rattle together. Stone hits his head on the roof of the Jeep as everything pitches and tosses and turns and I swear I’m afraid we’re going to tip over.
There’s a huge tree at the bottom, and the second the hill starts to flatten out, I slam on the brakes. We slide in the mud again, and there’s a second where I’m certain we’re going to hit it.
We don’t, but we’re about a foot away, and that’s not nearly enough to make me feel better.
I stare at the tree. My hands are white on the wheel, and I’m holding my breath.
I look over at Stone. He looks at me.
“Told you,” he says, and grins.
I thump him on the arm, but I’m laughing.
“What?” he says. “I did tell you we’d be fine.”
“We almost hit that,” I point out, putting the Jeep into reverse.
“But we didn’t,” he says, and leans over. I give him a quick kiss.
“When we leave, you’re driving,” I say as I maneuver around the tree.
“You promise not to arrest me?” he asks.
“I don’t even have jurisdiction here,” I say.
“Is that all that’s stopping you?”
We go over a big pothole and the car thumps up and down.
“When you are going to stop reminding me about the time I arrested you?” I tease. “I was hoping maybe rescuing you would do it, and then I was hoping maybe marrying you would do it…”
“I think you’ve got a couple more years,” Stone says, grinning at me. “Do you know how long that drunk guy talked about seals for?”
“I’ve got a pretty good idea,” I say. “He was in the other night, and I don’t know what elephant seals ever did to him but he really hates — holy shit.”
I drive around a small bend and suddenly we’re out of the forest, two hundred feet from the edge of a sea cliff. I stop the Jeep and just stare: perfectly blue water, waves crashing against the rocks, beautiful green mountains rising up and away, their tops buried in mist.
It looks like a tourist brochure.
“Wow,” says Stone.
Then he points at a big white building on the other side of a small lagoon.
“I think that’s it,” he says.
* * *
The next morning, I wake up at an ungodly hour because I’m still on California time. Stone is still asleep, and the moment I move he rolls over and curls himself around me, burying his face in my neck.
I don’t fall back asleep, but I stay like that for a while, feeling his chest rise and fall against my back. It’s simple and uncomplicated, but it’s perfect like this.
I was nervous about Stone for a long time. Longer than he even knows. I hate admitting that, but it’s true. I know what recidivism rates are like, and they’re bad. Most people who go to prison once go back. Especially people like Stone, who never had anything else to fall back on.
In bed, I slide my fingers over his lightly, settling mine in the valleys of his. I squeeze, and he pulls me a little closer in his sleep, like I’m some sort of giant stuffed animal.
He’s pretty much the last person I ever imagined myself with, but here I am. We’re married, on our honeymoon, and I can’t imagine being happier.
After about half an hour, I give up on going back to sleep. I give Stone a kiss on the temple, get out of bed, dig out my swimsuit and rash guard — the water here’s warm enough that I don’t need a wetsuit — grab my surfboard, and head down to the beach. I’ll probably be back before he’s awake, and even if I’m not, he’ll find me. There aren’t that many places I could go.
It’s a long path down a cliffside, but not too hard, even with a surfboard. The water’s warm, the sun is coming up over a bank of cliffs to the east, and there’s only a small handful of other surfers.
The water’s warm. The waves are great. They’re big, way bigger than I’m used to, and I get tossed around a little paddling out, but once I finally make it past the breakers it’s the most perfect morning I’ve ever seen. I sit out there for a while and just take in the scenery: the sun over the cliffs, the water that’s such a deep blue it looks fake, the narrow pristine half-moon beach.
This hotel has a tiny pool, no hot tub, no spa, and only one bar in the lobby, but it’s so much better than the place we were supposed to stay at. It turns out I don’t really give a shit about amenities, but I like feeling like I’m alone at the end of the world with Stone, like we’re in a secret place that no one else knows about.
It seems a little bit like the kind of place where someone could get murdered and then the other guests would have to solve the mystery before we left, like an Agatha Christie book, but that wouldn’t be so bad. I’m pretty good at that kind of thing.
Not that I want anyone to get murdered. Maybe there could be… a theft, or something.
The swells start to get a little bigger, and I realize that I should catch one of these before they get huge. I pick one and start paddling in, trying to catch it just as it crests.
For a moment it flows under me and I think I’ve missed it, but then there’s a sudden burst of momentum and it feels like the ocean is pushing me up toward the sky, and I get on my feet on my surfboard and I feel like I’m flying.
It’s pure rush, the feeling of the wave under my feet, the raw power of the sea with me floating on top. The ride only lasts a couple seconds, and then I’m on the beach again, but those seconds are why we came to Hawaii instead of somewhere else.
I head back out. One of the other surfers gives me a thumbs up for nice wave and I give him a thumbs up back, then sit on my board and wait as the sun crests over the cliffs.
As far as I’m concerned, all the waves here are good waves. The other surfers are more selective, but compared to what I’m used to, this is out of the world. I miss a couple but I catch plenty more, and even though paddling back gets harder and harder, this is the best surf session I’ve had in a long time.
Finally, my shoulders ache and my arms feel like lead, but I want to catch just one more, so I wait for the right one, and when the other surfers, the picky ones, start paddling for it, I know this is it. The big one.
I paddle hard, forcing my muscles to keep working even though they want to give up, and then the wave catches me and I’m on my feet, but the second I do I know it’s wrong. I’m at the wrong angle, I’m being pushed in the wrong direction, I’m off-balance.
Shit, I think, and then I fall.
It’s the worst I’ve gotten tossed around in a long, long time, so bad that at one point I can’t figure out which way is up or where the surface is, and there’s a horrifying second where I’m certain I’m going to drown.
Then there’s sand underneath my knees and I scrabble at it, pushing my head in the other direction, and then my head’s out of the water and I can breathe again, even as my surfboard tugs at the leash on my ankle. I stumble forward, out of the zone where the waves are crashing, then fall on my knees and cough water out of my lungs.
“Jesus fuck,” I mutter to myself as I gasp for air, both hands in the sand. My entire face burns, because I got salt water in my eyes, in my nose, down by throat, everywhere.
Hell, I’m probably lucky that my swimsuit bottoms stayed on.
I close one nostril with a finger and blow through the other as hard as I can, trying to clear out my sinuses, and it’s not like I’ve got tissues with me. Tons of snot flies onto the sand, and it’s pretty gross, but the only other people here are surfers and I know they’ve all done this before.
I close off the other nostril, and there’s a hand on my back. I jump, because over the roar of the surf I didn’t hear anyone coming.
“You okay?” Stone asks.
I look over at him, my hand still holding my nose, and nod.
“I was on the path down when you wiped out,” he says, sitting in the sand next to me. “That looked rough, you sure you’re okay?”
I clear my saltwater-clogged throat and nod again.
“Hey, could you do me a favor and turn around for a second?” I ask. “Or maybe just… walk like five feet away.”
Stone rolls his eyes, but he turns his head away and looks at the cliffs. I blow snot from my other nostril quickly, then toss sand over the whole disgusting mess and scoot away.
“You get the seaweed out?” he teases.
“Are you going to ask me that every time I go surfing?” I ask.
“Probably,” he says. “It sure made an impression.”
I make a face.
“I still had to jerk off when I got home, though,” he says, then reaches behind himself and grabs two mugs full of coffee, handing me one.
I just laugh and take a sip of the coffee, and Stone puts his arm around me. I lean my head against his shoulder.
“How long were you watching me surf?” he asks. “Before you said anything?”
“You make it sound like I was stalking you,” I say. “I just saw you from down the beach a couple times and thought, hey, that guy’s cute.”
I take a sip.
“And also not very good at surfing,” I go on.
“It worked,” he teases. “You came over to make sure I was okay.”
“Was that your strategy?” I ask.
Stone chuckles, the sound reverberating from deep in his chest.
“It was a good Plan B,” he says. “Though Plan A was to impress you so much with my great surfing skills that you demanded to have sex with me right there on the beach.”
I laugh and snuggle into him a little more until I’m leaning against his chest, looking out at the ocean.
“Sorry I’m wet,” I say.
He tightens his arm around my waist as I take another sip of coffee.
“Don’t ever apologize for being wet, Detective,” he says into my ear.
I wrinkle my face at him, then press my head against his chest so my wet hair soaks through his shirt. Stone laughs, then kisses me on top of the head.
“This is better than the other place,” I say.
“Way better,” he agrees. He’s got his hand over mine and he’s absently tracing his fingertips in circles around my knuckles. It’s a weird thing he does all the time, but I like it because it’s oddly intimate, the sort of thing you do when you know someone else’s body almost as well as your own.
I drain my coffee and put the mug down on the sand.
“You really do have to drive back, though,” I say.
“Just floor it,” he teases me. “You know there’s no speed limit in the jungle, right?”
“That was not my concern,” I say, but he bends down and kisses me, hard and slow.
He tastes like coffee, but I don’t care.
“I’l drive and I’ll fight a rooster for you if I have to,” he says. “How’s that sound?”
“It sounds perfect,” I say.
Thanks for reading! That’s all for Stone and Luna, but stay tuned… I’m already working on the next book 😉