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The dude with the lime-green Mohawk and dark wooden plugs in his earlobes looked down at me, the long silver needle in his rubber-gloved hand pointed directly at my face.
“Wait.” I swallowed and gripped the arms of my chair.
Jutting out one hip, he rolled his eyes. “Do you want your nose pierced or not?”
“Yes, just … can you tell me something worse?” I pointed at the needle. “Something that is worse than that?”
He probably thought my request was insane, but that was how I coped with unpleasant things. Once I found out something worse, then it was easier to deal with. Whether it was a filling at the dentist or an end-of-term physics test, finding out things that were worse helped me deal with new challenges.
Green Mohawk Dude seemed to think about it as he looked around. A blond pregnant woman in tall suede boots and a fuchsia halter dress browsed through the gold hoops. With one gloved finger, he pointed at her. “Childbirth. Fairly certain that hurts worse.”
“I’m fifteen.” My turn to eye roll. “Something a little more relative? Not so obviously inappropriate?” I got ready to leave.
He pointed down at his black flip-flops. “See my big toes?”
My glance went downward and I flinched. His toes were big and callousy with yellowish nails. Easily the ugliest toes I’d ever seen.
Green Mohawk Dude said, “Last year I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Coming down, my toes got smashed into the front of my boots. Ended up losing both my big toenails. Took them eleven months to grow back.”
I asked, “And that hurt worse than getting your nose pierced?”
“Guess so.” He shrugged. “Now, can we do this?”
Nodding, I closed my eyes as he shoved the needle through my skin.
A rush of stinging flooded up my nose. “Holy crap!” My eyes watered so bad I had to blink like crazy, then I finally gave up and kept them shut for a while. When I did open them again, first I glared at the green-haired liar standing in front of me, then looked in the mirror to check out the diamond adorning my nose. “Sweet.”
“No swimming in pools for a month. Even though they’re chlorinated, they could have germs. And lakes, rivers … avoid those. The ocean too. Just to be safe. You don’t want to get it infected.” He handed me a plastic baggie with alcohol swabs and Xeroxed instructions. “So now you can go back to the mainland with the new look you got in Honolulu.”
“Um, yeah,” I said, suddenly wondering just how much trouble I would be in when my parents saw my nose. “Actually, I don’t live on the mainland. I live the other direction, out on Midway Island.”
“Midway as in the Battle of Midway?”
His eyebrows went up and he nodded. “Very cool. You’re lucky.”
If I had a dollar for every time someone called me that, I’d be rich, because that’s all I heard when I told people about my life.
When I told them that I lived on a coral atoll in the middle of the Pacific:
When I told them that I didn’t go to a real school:
When I told them that I hung out among dolphins and monk seals and nesting albatross:
For three years, my parents had been research biologists on historic Midway, now a national wildlife refuge, so I lived there too, in the old admiral’s home called Midway House. Sure, there were cool things like having my own golf cart and making my own hours for home school and getting to hang out with National Geographic photographers. Plus the fact I knew more about ocean fish and seabirds than most postgraduate researchers.
Those things did make me feel lucky.
But then there were other things that did not make me feel so lucky.
Like having the Internet crap out for days at a time, and not even owning a cell phone because there was no reception, and getting only three television channels, one of which was CNN, none of which were MTV. What’s the point of even having television?
Not to mention being the only kid among fifty or so adults, which left me no one to talk to except for Facebook friends, and that was only when the Internet worked.
Lately it seemed there were a lot more days when my life felt less like luck and way more like suck.
I paid Green Mohawk Dude, tipped him a little, and then headed back for AJ’s apartment.
What saved me from going crazy most of the time was Dad’s sister, my aunt Jillian, who lived in Honolulu. AJ, as I called her, had a place right on Waikiki Beach and was a consultant, which meant she got to do all her work from home. She was way younger than Dad, only about thirty, and when I couldn’t take the isolation anymore, my parents would throw me on the supply flight returning to Honolulu from Midway and send me to her. And that’s where I had been spending the month of June.
When I walked in, AJ was on the phone. Her long brown hair was up in a clip and she had a plumeria-laden cover-up on over her red bikini. AJ’s eyes widened when she saw my nose, then she gave me a thumbs-up. As soon as she hung up, she came over and grabbed my chin, eyeing my new piercing. “Let me see this diamond I paid for.” She grinned. “Your parents are never going to let you come here again.”
I tossed my green crocheted purse on the table. “I’m getting my suit on.”
* * *
AJ spent every day sitting by the pool with me, although she did try to get me to branch out. She called through the bathroom door: “Can’t we do the beach today, Robie? We can get a good spot by the Hilton.”
“Nope.” I put on my purple cheetah bikini. “Two words. Sand and waves.”
She laughed. “For someone who lives on an island, you are the most ocean-aversive person I’ve ever met.”
“I love the ocean!” I protested, as I opened the door.
AJ groaned. “You just don’t like to touch it.”
“Exactly. I just like to look.” I pointed at my nose. “Plus I have instructions not to go in the water.”
She shook her head. “Finally, your perfect excuse to not get wet.”
We went down to the pool. Wearing my contented smile, I leaned back on my pool chair and turned on my e-reader to Stephen King’s newest, which I was almost done with. There was absolutely nowhere else I would rather be at that moment. “Now, this is the life.”
She asked, “So what shall we do tonight?”
Every evening we headed off to do something, like see a movie or get pedicures at Ala Moana Center. My toes currently sported bright orange polish, rhinestone flowers on both big toes. One night my aunt surprised me by having a friend of hers come and give me cornrows. My dirty-blond hair was almost to my waist, so it took forever. When she finished, I looked in the mirror and tried not to show my shock. With my tan, the cornrows looked a little tacky. And I didn’t look anything like myself. But I didn’t want to make AJ feel bad, so I lied and said I loved them. My dad would like them, so I planned on keeping them until I got back to Midway, just so he could see. Plus it was kind of fun to walk around, feeling unrecognizable.
AJ waited for me to answer about tonight.
“International Market Place?” I suggested.
“Sure. Cheesecake Factory after?”
That evening at the International Market Place, a collection of booths and shops selling anything and everything, I found a henna tattoo stand where a pretty Hawaiian lady, dark hair to her waist and three rings in her nose, beckoned to me.
I wanted a real tattoo, but my parents were already going to freak over my nose. AJ had signed the permission form only after I promised to take all the blame. That’s how deep her coolness went. She had even sprung for the diamond, which, even she admitted, totally rocked. So, given I’d already used up my quota of quasi-permanent bodily changes my parents would dislike, I started to look through the book of henna tattoo samples.
AJ tapped me on the arm. “I’m going to be right over there by those shell planters.”
The tattoo lady asked, “You want your aumakua?”
“Your ancestral guide. The spirit that protects your ohana. Your family, yeah?”
“I’m not Hawaiian.”
The tattoo lady smiled. “Mine is the honu.” She pointed to a picture of a sea turtle.
“I love green sea turtles.” I sat down on the wooden chair and propped my foot up on a stool.
With a little plastic bottle, she squeezed the brown henna out like she was painting, and it tickled my ankle. The henna turtle looked like brown mud when she finished. “It will dry, but leave it on, yeah?” She handed me a little baggie with a cotton ball inside. “It’s soaked in lemon juice. Squeeze this on several times and the henna will last longer.”
I handed her three wrinkled fives and went to find AJ.
There was a huge line outside the Cheesecake Factory, but I made my way through the crowd and inside the noisy restaurant where AJ was already at a table. We shared a slice of turtle cheesecake. AJ had just gotten a refill of decaf when her phone rang.
She glanced at her phone. “Barney.”
Even I knew Barney was the guy who gave her the most consulting work. AJ always took his calls. “Hey, Barn.”
I leaned down and touched my tattoo. The henna was stiff and felt like it was drying out my skin.
Back above the table, AJ’s eyes narrowed as she listened for a while. “Seriously?” She listened a little more and rolled her eyes. “No. No, that’s fine. I’ll come tomorrow.” She hung up and put a hand on mine. “I am so sorry, Robie. I’ve got to go to LA tomorrow.”
“That sucks.” I wasn’t looking forward to cutting short my trip and going back to Midway. But I saw her face and added, “It’s only a week short, I was going back next week anyway.” I took a sip of my Coke.
The waitress brought the bill and AJ got out her reading glasses. “You don’t have to go back.” She leaned forward like she was going to tell me a secret. “Bobbi can stay with you.”
Stifling a groan, I faked a smile.
Bobbi was a friend of AJ’s who lived on the other side of Oahu. We’d been up to see her a couple times at her beach house, which was always messy and full of smelly cats. Bobbi was old, like fifty, and had thick, waist-length dreadlocks and really tan, leathery-looking skin. She didn’t believe in bras. Or deodorant.
“No, that’s okay. I can go back to Midway.” I paused. “Or … I could just stay at your place by myself.”
She started to shake her head and protest, but I cut her off. “AJ, I’m almost sixteen.”
AJ huffed out her nose. “Robie. You are not almost sixteen. You’ve only been fifteen for two months.”
I shrugged. “Still, you have security up the ying-yang at your place, I know my way around…”
She looked at me over the top of her black cat-eye reading glasses. “Your parents would kill me.”
“We won’t tell them?”
AJ tapped the pen on the bill for a moment, and then pointed it at me. “Only if Bobbi stops in every day after work.”
Ew. “Every other day.”
Her voice was firm. “Every day.”
“Fine.” I held out my hand and we shook.
The next morning, after about an hour of instructions, admonitions, and warnings, AJ left for the airport. I was just getting ready for the pool when the phone rang. Bobbi said, “Hi, Robie. Jillian fly out yet?”
Technically not, since she was probably still sitting at the airport. “No.”
“I can’t talk, but can you give her a message for me?”
Bobbi’s words were rushed. “I’m not gonna be able to stop in like she asked me to. My car died and I have to carpool with a guy from up here.”
“That’s okay.” I smiled as I noticed AJ had left me a small fortune’s worth of bills on the counter.
“Can she get someone else to check in on you?”
“Yes. Definitely. Don’t worry about it.”
I hung up. I was free for a week. Although I did already miss AJ, I did a little dance.
Copyright © 2012 by S. A. Bodeen