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One Boy, No Water
By Lehua Parker, Corey Egbert
Jolly Fish Press Copyright © 2012 Lehua Parker, LLC
All rights reserved.
The End of Summer Fun
~Like beef?: an invitation to a fight, not dinner.~
"Zader, like play?" my almost twin brother Jay asked. I was sitting under the monkey pod tree by the soccer field, drawing lines with an old popsicle stick. It was the last day of our last year of Summer Fun and I wanted to go home already. "Zader?" Jay said.
"What?" I didn't look up.
"Do you wanna play? Frankie and me and you against Jerry, Carson, and Benji. Shambattle. Down by the tetherball pole. No sprinklers over there." Juggling a red playground ball, Jay jerked his head toward the courts.
I flicked my eyes to the sky, considering. I wasn't wearing my rain jacket, and playing shambattle meant my umbrella would be on the ground out of reach, but with clear skies and no chance of sprinklers suddenly turning on, I should be okay. I shrugged my shoulders and dropped the stick.
Beats scratching like a chicken in the dirt, I thought.
"Nah, Jay," drawled Chad Watanabe from the picnic table, "You're wasting your time asking Zader. Zader can't handle shambattle with the boys. He's a runner, not a fighter. Chasemaster with the girls is more his style."
Great, I thought, one-note-Chad getting ready to sing his favorite tune: "Mess with Zader" by the Mouth Breathers.
Jay didn't even turn around. "Shut your face, Chad."
"What you said, stupid-head?" Tunazilla lurched up from the under the slide where she'd been counting ukus.
"N-n-nothing," Chad said, backpedaling.
Making fun of me was one thing; getting on Tunazilla's girl-power radar just cranked Chad's little man taunting game into the big leagues.
"Chad said girls are lame," Jay smirked. "They can't play shambattle like boys. Sic 'em, Tuna."
Like a giant gecko under a heat lamp, Tunazilla blinked and turned her big head toward Chad, cupping her right hand into a loose fist as she spoke. "So girls are only good at running away, hah? You wanna see what a girl can handle? You like beef?"
"N-n-no," said Chad. "I wasn't talking about you, Tuna-zil — uh, I mean, Petunia."
She nodded. "So you no like beef?"
Chad looked at her hands, the size of baseball mitts, and blanched. "No way! I was talking about Zader. He's the runner."
"Yeah, he's not a tough tita like you, Tunazilla!" laughed Alika Kanahele, Chad's BFF. Like hyenas, they hunted as a pack. Chad was slighter and sneakier and smart enough to leave most of the heavy lifting to Alika. Alika was Petunia's cousin and the only person in the world who would dare call her Tunazilla to her face. Held back in third grade, he towered over everybody except Tuna and liked to stand too close.
Still grinning, Alika turned toward me and away from the picnic table where he'd been using his broken utility knife to carve something witty like his initials. All summer long he'd hid the blade from Mr. Tony, our twenty-something Summer Fun Leader. Whenever Mr. Tony and Jay were busy, Alika liked to wave his knife at me and pretend to slit his throat.
Well, my throat, technically.
Ignore it. I thought, as Alika flashed his knife at me for the third time that week. Thoughts chased like schools of fish through my head. Tell Jay. Tell Mr. Tony. Maybe one of these times he'll actually do it.
I glanced back to our classroom where Mr. Tony was counting the juice money with bossy Lisa Ling and my calabash cousin Char Siu Apo. Since the beginning of Summer Fun Lisa had campaigned hard for the title of teacher's pet, always wiping the whiteboards with their special cleaner, making sure everybody stayed in line on the way to the cafeteria, and deciding who got a bathroom pass. I don't know why Char Siu tagged along; she didn't need to stand in Lisa's shadow. With the three of them working on it, it wouldn't take long to get the juice order ready to turn into the office. I figured Alika and Chad had maybe five more minutes before Mr. Tony and the girls came walking out. I turned my attention back to Alika.
Not enough time to make serious trouble, but I'm keeping an eye on him.
"What're you looking at?" Alika sneered.
Stay chilly, I thought. It's all words.
Walking towards me, but hiding the knife from Jay, Alika called, "Eh, Tuna! Chad's wrong to call Zader a girl. He's not like girls either. The reason Zader can't handle shambattle with the boys is because he's a panty. Girls get panty. That's the difference."
"Good one, Alika!" Chad snorted. "Whop yo' jaws, Zader!"
So funny I forgot to laugh, I thought. I gritted my teeth, picked up the stick, and started poking at the dirt again. Just five more minutes. I can do anything for five minutes.
But my hanai brother Jay would never take crap for a second, let alone five minutes.
"Shut up, Alika," Jay snapped. "No one was talking to you."
"No one was talking to Darth Zader either," Alika retorted. "Loser."
Chad laughed and started sucking air in and out like a scuba diver, his best attempt at a Darth Vader impersonation.
Like I haven't heard that one before.
"Wow, when you make that sound it's so natural, Chad," Jay said. "Sounds like you're stupid fo'real."
Chad stood up. "What did you say?"
"Ha! Deaf, too?"
"Jay," called Frankie, bouncing another ball. "We playing or what?"
"Yeah," Jay answered, never taking his eyes off Chad or Alika. "We're gonna play. You coming, Z?"
I checked the clouds again, white and fluffy and clinging to the pali cliffs far away. I nodded and picked up my umbrella.
Anything to get out of here.
I was walking toward Jay when it happened.
Alika threw a Dixie cup of water on me.
"Zader!" Jay shrieked.
The water hit my left shoulder. Hot lava fingers oozed down, scalding, sizzling, burning everything in its path like acid. Like snake venom. Like death. On fire, I dropped to the ground and rolled.
"Awesome, Alika!" Chad crowed. "Check it! It's just like holy water on a devil!"
Wide-eyed, Alika crossed himself. "He's possessed!" he shouted. "Everybody, Zader's possessed!"
Through the pain, I felt Jay kneel next to me, his hands ripping at the bottom of my t-shirt. "Zader, off! Get it off! Lift your arms so I can get it off." As he threw the shirt over my head, I felt a final sting as a wet sleeve brushed against my face, raising another angry line of welts along my cheekbone. More shadows ringed me.
Please don't let me barf, I prayed.
I swallowed hard as Jerry Santos and Benji Chang looked down, mouths open and catching flies. When I was sure breakfast was staying put, I pushed Jay away and stood up, covering the weeping sores and broken blisters with my hands.
Alika jammed his knife back into his pocket, jumped up on the picnic table bench, and thrust out his arms, making the sign of the cross with his index fingers. "You stay away from me, Zader, you freak," he yelled.
Jay didn't yell back, but launched himself at Alika, knocking the fat bully off the bench. He sat on Alika's stomach, cranked his fist back, and POW! He broke Alika's nose.
"Owweeeeeee!" Alika squealed.
"Confunit!" Mr. Tony charged out of the classroom door late as always, the girls flowing behind and around him like bees from a hive.
"Jay punched Alika!" Chad tattled, already scrambling to cover his 'okole.
Mr. Tony reached down and pulled Jay away. He grabbed my wet shirt, snapped it once to get the dirt off, and used it to mop up the blood from Alika's gushing nose.
I'm never wearing that again.
Jay stood breathing like bull and clenching his fist.
"You're not supposed to say confunit," Lisa Ling said, tucking the juice money box under her arm. "It's Pidgin. We're supposed to speak English at school."
"Oh, give it a rest, Lisa," Char Siu said. "We may be at Lauele Elementary, but it's Summer Fun, not school!"
"Sorry," Mr. Tony said. "But confunit, what's going on?"
On the ground Alika wailed like a tsunami siren.
"Jay punched Alika!" Chad shouted again.
"I can see that, Captain Obvious. Why?" Mr. Tony asked.
"Because he's mental," Chad said, "just like his freaky brother. Alika never did anything."
"Alika threw water on Zader," Frankie chimed in.
"Zader's got blisters," Benji said. "Look."
"Blisters? From what?"
Jay hissed, "Zader's allergic to water! Everybody knows he gets blisters when he gets wet. He can't get wet. It would kill him." Jay, my champion as surely as if he'd been riding a white horse, was deeply, thoroughly ticked. He ran his bloody knuckles through his hair, trying to keep it together, but I could tell he was about to snap. Words were nothing compared to water, and Alika'd crossed the line.
"What? I never knew Zader was allergic to water!" Mr. Tony said. "Oh, enough already, Alika." He sat him up.
Alika hiccupped and gasped for air.
Who's the panty now?
Mr. Tony pulled my bloody t-shirt away from Alika's nose. "Huh. Maybe you better go to the office." He leaned closer. "I think it's broken."
"Owweeeeeee!" Alika ramped up again.
As bad as it was, Alika was lucky. If Jay hadn't needed to take care of me first, along with his broken nose, Alika would be spitting out teeth after choking down the Dixie cup. He'd be breathing through his ear. I smiled.
"Shhhhhh." Mr. Tony clamped my t-shirt back on Alika's face. "Quiet. You're going to make it bleed more. Chad, take Alika to the office."
"What's that thing on Zader's back?" Becky Waters asked. "It's gross!"
My birthmark! I'm not wearing a shirt!
"Shut up, Becky!" said Char Siu. "What's that on your face?"
"Freckles aren't like that! That thing looks like a giant triangle tattoo. No wonder Zader always wears a shirt."
"You're being rude!" Char Siu snapped. "It's a birthmark, not a tattoo!"
"Check out Zader's blisters," whispered Lisa.
I looked at my shoulder and through my fingers I could see the blisters shrinking, forming pox marks of gray, scaly skin. Like a sunburn on hyper drive, these patches hid smooth healthy skin underneath. I brushed my fingers and thin gray flakes fell like confetti.
"Ewww!" Lisa gagged. "That's skin!"
"No way I'm walking by the monkey pod tree ever again," Becky shuddered.
"Shut-up," said Char Siu. "Where's your manners?"
I turned away, hiding my birthmark where they couldn't see.
Just let me disappear.
But then Alika spotted my birthmark in all its blue-black glory. "Mmmnevvvilll!" he shouted through my blood-soaked t-shirt, his arm stretched out toward me, finger pointing like the judgment of God.
"What?" Lisa asked.
"He called my cousin a devil," explained Char Siu as she drew back her foot. "And that's really rude!"
"Charlene Suzette Apo!" cried Mr. Tony.
"Owweeeeeee!" Alika scrambled, trying to protect both his bleeding nose and bruising shin with his hands. Chad stepped close, hooked Alika's arm around his neck, and turned him toward the office.
"Ha-la, Alika!" Tunazilla rumbled from her lair beneath the slide. "You gonna get plenny lickings tonight! Just wait until Tutu sees your face!"
Mr. Tony said, "Zader, I need you to —"
If I'm a devil, I can just leave, I thought. What's Mr. Tony going to do? Throw more water on me? Make me stay another day in Summer Fun? I don't care if I'm busted. Jay can play shambattle with his friends. I'm outta here.
Still rubbing my shoulder, I turned away from their stares and ignored Mr. Tony's calls. I started towards home, the sun warm and bright on my bare back, my umbrella abandoned under the monkey pod tree.CHAPTER 2
~Howzit: hello, how's it going, good to see you.~
"Eh, Z-boy, howzit?" Uncle Kahana said. He and Ilima, his yellow poi dog, were coming back from the ocean, walking around the naupaka kahakai bushes that separated the beach from the road. Long before I saw them, I smelled the fresh fish in his net bag as it dripped saltwater and blood into the dust by the roadside. I shuddered and tried not to watch each drop as it grew fat and fell.
"Howzit, Uncle Kahana," I said, looking everywhere but the bag.
Uncle Kahana paused, giving me a sharp once over. "Why aren't you wearing a shirt? Where's your umbrella, hah?" he badgered. "Your mom's going to flip if she finds out you're running around without it. Wait. Summer Fun's not over yet. Where's Jay?"
I shrugged. It was easier than trying to explain.
He narrowed his eyes at me. "Don't give me that," he said. "What happened?"
"Jay punched Alika Kanahele and gave him a bloody nose. Mr. Tony, the Summer Fun guy, took my shirt to stop the bleeding."
Uncle Kahana's eyes narrowed even more. Ilima chuffed. "I know, girl, he's not telling the whole story, and the parts that're missing are the most important parts."
He tilted his head to the side. "Tell me, Z-boy. I can't help if I don't know."
You also can't hurt if you stay out of it, I thought and sighed.
"My house," said Uncle Kahana. "We'll talk story there."
* * *
Uncle Kahana and Ilima lived in an apartment above Hari's, a store bigger than an ordinary neighborhood convenience store, but not as big as a supermarket. Hari's carried a little bit of everything, from octopus lures and crack seed to 'ukulele strings, motor oil, and macadamia nut candies for tourists. It didn't make sense that Uncle Kahana lived there and got everything at Hari's for free. When I asked, Mom said Hari and Uncle Kahana had been in the war together and to stop being so niele.
Grown-ups. Everything's a mystery.
We walked around the side of Hari's store to the back lanai, a covered porch area with a sink, hose bib, table, and folding chairs. He tossed me a clean shirt from the clothesline. "Put this on."
"Thanks." It was big, but much better than nothing. As much as I hated wearing jackets and carrying an umbrella, I hated people staring at my birthmark even more.
At least Uncle Kahana cares, I thought.
Uncle Kahana placed his net bag with the fish in the sink and motioned toup the stairs attached to the side of the building. "Go on up. It's not locked. Ilima and I gotta clean up a little first." He waited until I was halfway up the stairs before turning on the hose.
"Come on, Ilima, don't be a baby," Uncle Kahana said.
"No, the water's not that cold. Look, I'll go first."
"What're you talking about? Of course you need to rinse off! I don't want hairy salt all over the place."
Bark, bark, bark!
"So stay outside in the sun for a while. Dry off."
"Codeesh, Ilima! Stop acting like a diva-lani! I'm not going to heat the water for you! Come on! Zader's waiting!"
I kicked off my slippahs and entered the apartment. The main area was a large room split into a living room and kitchen-dining space. Uncle Kahana's furniture was old, but comfortable.
To the left of the entry was the living room with its brown, fake leather couch piled high with throw pillows in bright Hawaiian prints and a sliding glass door that led to a narrow ocean-view lanai that formed the roof of the front overhang of the store. To the right was a dining table and chairs nestled in front of a bachelor's bare bones kitchen and breakfast counter. Along the back wall between the kitchen and living room was a short hallway that led to Uncle Kahana's bedroom, bath, and a large storage closet. Directly in front of the entry and almost blocking the way was Ilima's pillow, the center and heart of the home.
"Fine," said Uncle Kahana as he climbed the steps. "You can stay outside on the landing and guard the slippahs. Nobody wants a wet dog in the house."
I stepped away from the entry to make room for Uncle Kahana. He walked through the door wiping his arms on an old hammajang towel. Flicking his slippahs off, he turned back towards the door.
Ilima slunk up the stairs, tail and ears dripping and drooping. She plopped down in the sun outside the front door, eyeing her pillow in the house longingly.
"I said when you're dry."
Ilima sighed a huge doggy sigh.
"Look, I'll leave the door open so you can still hear what's going on."
Ilima closed her eyes and sighed again.
"No act Ilima," said Uncle Kahana. "Like you never take a bath every time we come back from the beach!"
Uncle Kahana turned to me. "Sit, sit, sit." He flapped his hands at the couch. "You look like you could use a drink. I'll check the ice box."
Excerpted from One Boy, No Water by Lehua Parker, Corey Egbert. Copyright © 2012 Lehua Parker, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Jolly Fish Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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