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One Year Later
Annie Tagama squatted on the lava and examined the cracks. Vog burned her nose and eyes. She barely noticed the stink of sulfuric gases that hung in a miasma around her. The thick air was as much a part of her world as the rough lava under her feet and the blue Hawaiian sky over her head. Even though she knew she was safe here in this stable part of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, caution dictated her choices on this work day--her first since the accident.
"Can you bring me a new GPS receiver?" Monica Rogers called from the edge of the lava shelf. "This one is shot." The older woman's voice reminded Annie of Minnie Mouse, and it didn't match Monica's stocky frame.
Annie stood and took two steps toward Monica. She peered toward the drop-off, where heavy clouds of sulfuric mist billowed. Sweat broke out on her forehead. Her lungs constricted. You can do it. It's safe. She swallowed the sour taste in her mouth. Carrying the new receiver, she took a few more steps.
"Hurry up!" Monica squeaked.
"I'll do it." Annie's best friend, Fawn Trenton, took the receiver from her hand, her expression warning Annie not to cross Monica.
Annie froze, and Fawn hurried toward Monica. Thirtysomething Fawn turned heads wherever she went. Her tawny hair gleamed in the filtered wash of sunshine. Bright blue beads decorated the long braid that hung over one shoulder. Her T-shirt read SAVE THE RAIN FOREST.
Annie stepped away from the edge and sighed with relief. She had to get over this fear that turned her knees to jelly, but she wasn't sure how to go about it. The shelf out there was perfectly safe. It hadn't had a collapse in years. But her face was still damp, and her pulse still galloped. She was such a failure.
Turning her back on the other women, she returned to her task. Her pack held cans of yellow spray paint. She grabbed one and began to spray the cracks in the ground. Watching the paint over the coming weeks would tell the scientists about the earth's movement. She forced herself to focus, though it was hard not to let her gaze stray to the vog drifting up from the drop-off.
Half an hour later, Monica and Fawn joined Annie near the two all-terrain vehicles. Monica's lips were tight, and she kept shooting angry glares toward Annie. "I'm going to headquarters," she said. Her movements stiff, she stalked to her ATV and drove off.
"I hope she doesn't rat on you," Fawn said.
Annie bit her lip. "I don't think Gina will listen if she does." Limping toward her ATV, she saw a glint of metal in the sun. She stooped and picked up a delicate necklace. What was this doing here? The familiarity made her catch her breath. It couldn't be her sister's, could it? Surely there were many necklaces like this on the island.
Fawn peered over her shoulder. "What's wrong?"
Annie turned over the heart-shaped pendant and saw the initials A. T. on the back. "It's Leilani's," she muttered. She rubbed her forehead.
"How did it get here? Your sister wouldn't set foot on the volcano if you paid her."
Unease began to coil in Annie's chest. "She didn't come home last night. I figured she was out with her friends and didn't think much about it. You know how she is. I'm sure she called Father after I left the house this morning." But that didn't explain the necklace's appearance out here.
Fawn's gaze followed hers. "Maybe she loaned it to someone? Did you borrow it a few days ago and forget about it?"
Annie shook her head. "She never takes off this necklace. Mother gave it to her the week before she died. Leilani even showers in it. These are Mother's initials. A. T. Adele Tagama." When their mother committed suicide a year ago, she and Leilani both had clung to anything of their mother's. Her thoughts boiled with possibilities--all of them dire.
Fawn squeezed Annie's arm. "Don't go jumping to conclusions. Maybe it broke and someone found it."
It was hard not to jump to conclusions, not after her mother had died out here. She'd thrown herself into the lava, leaving only her Surfah flip-flops behind. Blue ones that Annie kept on her dresser. She shuddered. Trouble had been Leilani's middle name since then. Annie was ill equipped to deal with Leilani's rebellious ways. Though her sister was only five years younger than Annie's thirty years, sometimes Annie felt generations older.
Annie told herself not to worry. There was likely a perfectly reasonable explanation. "You're probably right. It's not unlike her to be gone overnight. It's just this necklace." She went toward their vehicle. "I'd better check and see if my dad has heard from her. I'll call some of her friends. I'm sure there's some explanation."
Fawn followed her. "Annie to the rescue. Don't you ever get tired of being the one that everyone leans on? You'll never get to live your own life."
"I love my family," Annie said. They reached the Kawasaki ATV. "Hop on, let's go."
Fawn shrugged and got behind her. "Your family's expectations are going to kill you. I hate to see the way you beat yourself up when you can't do everything. Have you been drinking the chamomile tea I gave you? It should help with the stress."
Annie grinned. "Yes, doctor."
"I know you think I harp on this too much, but you've taken over everything for them since your mom died. They're never going to let you have a life if you make it too easy for them. They've all turned into babies. They're adults. Make them act like it."
"I know, I know. I will." Annie negotiated the a'a trail carefully. She didn't dare drive too fast, or the sharp bits of lava would shred the ATV's tires. The a'a finally gave way to black gravel, and she picked up her speed. "Harp is a good word. On a double-word square it would be worth eighteen points." Talking about Scrabble was better than thinking about the necklace in her pocket. Or about how accurate Fawn's observations were. Things had changed for the Tagama family, but there was no going back. Annie couldn't bear to see her family suffer anymore, not if she could shoulder the burdens for them and ease their lives.
"I should save my breath," Fawn said. "I was going to offer to get you an appointment at the Fairmont for a Lomilomi massage, but you don't deserve it."
Fawn knew how to stab her where it hurt. "Meanie." Annie turned the corner onto concrete. The long, squat building that housed the offices sat at the top of a small rise and was surrounded by lava fields. To the right of the Hawai'i Volcanoes Observatory was the Jagger Museum, containing a history of the Hawai'i volcanoes. Scientists from all over the world came here to study the geological processes that triggered volcanic activity. She parked the ATV and waited for Fawn to hop off, then dismounted.
Fawn smoothed the locks of hair the wind had teased from her braid. "You're too young to spend your life in front of a board game. When was the last time you went to the movies or even out to eat?"
Annie scrunched her forehead as she thought. "Um, the last time you and I went. I guess it was last month," she said.
"My point exactly. Five weeks ago, to be exact. I've invited you to do something every Friday since then too, and you always say you have to fix dinner for your dad. That's not normal, Annie. You're only thirty, not eighty. And you're letting him become a tyrant. I think he thinks he's a Japanese emperor from the 1800s now that your mom isn't around to keep him in line."
"I know, I know." The parking lot beside the squat brick building was nearly empty, and Annie realized it was after five o'clock. Gina's car was still in the lot though. Annie started toward her Nissan Pathfinder. A movement at the office door caught her eye, and she glanced up to see her boss waving at her imperiously.
"Annie, I need to see you," Gina called.
Annie sighed. Fawn raised her eyebrows. Their boss, Gina Sarris, turned and walked back inside. Judging from Gina's stiff back, Annie was headed for trouble. Annie limped toward the building. She didn't have time for this.
The hum of the banks of computers greeted her as she opened the door. The familiar squawk of the scanner and the click of the seismometer eased her tension a little. She went down the hall, which was lined with pictures of volcanoes in various stages of eruption. Other walls held photo essays of the various studies going on--projects like gravitational studies, electrical processes, gas geochemistry, and ground deformation. She stepped into her boss's office. It was empty. She went to the office chair by the window.
"Sorry to keep you." Gina came into the room and moved to her desk. Barely five feet tall, she still wore the heavy work pants she donned when out in the field. A stench of sulfur followed her. The cracked leather chair practically swallowed her. She pulled her glasses to her nose, then flipped open a folder.
"I need to get home right away." Annie slipped her hand into her pocket and fingered her sister's necklace.
Gina gave her a kind smile. "Don't look so scared, Annie. We're just going to talk."
Gina had taken over as Scientist-in-charge a little over a year ago. Things had run smoothly under Gina's supreme organizational skills. Her dark hair never dared to be out of place, and every paper clip on her desk was perfectly aligned. Though in her fifties, she was still beautiful with perfect, unlined skin. She had a faint accent no one had been able to figure out. With her dark coloring, she could be French, Greek, part Hawaiian, or any of the other nationalities in this melting pot.
Annie knew Gina liked her. That was the only thing that might save this interview from going south. "Okay." She moved toward Gina's desk.
"It's good to have you back. How have you been feeling? I noticed you're only limping a little now."
"Pretty good. The doctor says the limp may go with time, or it may hang around. But either way, it's not bothering me much. The pain is gone and it's just still a little stiff."
"Scars? You don't have your slippers on today. I kind of miss the designs on your toenail polish."
Annie managed a smile. "The designs are still there. I just figure no one wants to see the scars." Especially me. Every time she saw her right foot, she averted her eyes. "They're pretty gruesome."
Gina closed the folder and folded her hands. "Could you explain what happened today? Monica says you refused to bring her some equipment."
Annie bit her lip. How could she explain the way fear had paralyzed her? "I couldn't," she whispered. She put as much pleading into her expression as she could. "Maybe I'd better stay in-house for a while until I get my bearings. I just froze out there. All I could think about was the pain of falling into the lava." She rubbed slick palms against her jeans.
Gina shook her head. "We need your expertise in the field. Those new GPS receivers need to be planted. You're going to have to face your fears, Annie. I know how scary it must have been for you when that lava bench gave way. But you're a volcanologist. You can't study volcanoes from inside this building."
Annie nodded. Gina was right about that, but there was no way anyone who hadn't gone through it could understand what Annie experienced. One minute she had been walking on solid ground, and the next moment she'd found herself standing in hot lava. The only thing that had saved her was the fact that the stream of lava was so small. The lava in the tube had almost emptied. What if the next time a full river of lava swallowed her? And the pain had been horrific. She still had nightmares about it. Besides, her mother had died out there. Maybe she was cursed to do the same. She wrapped her fingers around the delicate chain on the necklace in her pocket.
When Annie didn't answer, Gina sighed. "You can't let this fear defeat you, Annie. Face it and go on with your life."
"Just a few weeks," Annie pleaded. "I can't go out there right now."
"You can and you will." Gina's voice hardened. "What kind of a boss--and even more importantly, a friend--would I be if I didn't make you face your fears and do what is best for you in the long run? I know it's hard. But you're stronger than you realize, Annie. I want you back on the job. You're too good a scientist to let this beat you."
It helped to hear Gina's confidence in her, but Annie cringed at the thought of going back on the lava. "One week," she begged.
Gina's face softened. "Okay. But see a professional about this if you need to. I don't want to lose you. I know I shouldn't play favorites, but I've seen myself in you so many times, Annie. Your quick mind and total dedication to your work is outstanding. You have a bright future ahead of you. Don't let this experience ruin your career. Get over it. I want my little 'volcano cowboy' back."
Annie's face burned at the reprimand. She gave a brief nod. "I just need a little more time."
"One week. That's the best I can do. I need a crew that can pull its weight. If you can't get control of this fear, you're going to need to look for a new line of work. What about your underwater research with Jillian?"
At least this was one area where she wouldn't let Gina down. "That's still ongoing. I'm okay in the water."
Gina nodded and stood, and Annie knew she was dismissed. "Mahalo, Gina." She couldn't talk anymore. She rose and practically ran from the room. Outside the office, she nearly mowed down Jillian Sommers. "Sorry," she muttered.
Jillian was Annie's inspiration. If Jillian could recover from the blow life had dealt when her husband abandoned her, Annie could get over a simple injury. Annie smiled. "You're here late."
"You too." Jillian's ash-blond curls lay against her sculptured cheeks. She'd lost weight since Noah left. "I was just going over the data from the seamount. Some of our bottom-pressure recorders are going bad. We're going to have to go down to replace them. What's your schedule looking like?"
"Maybe Monday?" Annie hoped to get home and find Leilani there safe and sound.
"Sounds good. I'll touch base with you then." Jillian said good-bye, and Annie hurried to her car.
The fresh, cool air relieved her heated skin as Annie passed through the rain forest. The ohia trees that grew in abundance along the road to her house pressed close to the SUV. The Tagama family had owned the hundred-acre compound for more than fifty years, though she wasn't sure how much longer they could hold onto it. When she was a little girl, she used to lay under the hapu'u ferns beneath the trees and pretend she was a fairy in her house. It was her way of escaping her father's high expectations. She hated to disappoint him, even as a child. Since her mother's death, his expectations had risen exponentially. She hardly recognized the demanding man as the exemplary father figure he'd been all her life.
There would be no escaping her father's anger if Leilani wasn't home. Annie had no doubt his first reaction would be to blame her. She slipped her hand into her pocket and rubbed her thumb over the pendant. Leilani would never lose this necklace. It meant too much to her. So what did it all mean? Annie was afraid to find out.
She pushed open the door. "Father? Where are you?" Her pet mongoose, Wilson, scurried to meet her at the door. He wrapped himself around her ankles. An orange peel teetered on his back. She scooped him up and picked it off. "What have you been into?" He was almost dead when she'd found him months ago beside his dead mother and siblings. Though she nursed him back to health herself, he never gained the full size of a regular mongoose. He was only a foot long, head to tail. The warmth of his sleek body gave her courage. She dropped the peel in the trash in the kitchen, then went down the hall to the living room.
Her father scowled when he saw Wilson in her arms. "I told you to get rid of that animal, Annie, yet you continue to defy me. He got in the trash again and dumped it all over the floor. I want him gone."
Annie's fingers stilled, and she clutched Wilson closer. "I'll clean it up, Father."
Her father's jaw hardened, and he stepped toward her. "Give him to me. I'm getting rid of that creature once and for all."
"No!" Annie stepped back. She softened her voice. Harsh words would only make her father more unyielding. "I mean, please give him another chance, Father. I'm still training him. He'll learn. He . . . brings me comfort since Mother died."
Her father's face softened at the mention of her mother. He shook his head, and his frown returned. "You don't have time to be cleaning up after him all the time. I have some dictation I need you to do tonight."
"I'll have time to do both."
He harrumphed, but he didn't try to take the mongoose again. She needed to ask him about Leilani, who obviously had not returned. Wetting her lips, she tried to decide how to raise the question without bringing more disapproval on her own head.
Her father peered past her out the glass in the storm door. "Who is here?"
Annie turned. An unfamiliar car crowded to the back of her car. A pale blue Chevrolet, it looked like one of those nondescript rental cars. Maybe it was about Leilani. Annie hurried to the front door. A burly figure got out of the vehicle. She froze. Her nails bit into the palms of her hand, and she nearly turned and slammed the door.
Mano Oana. She hadn't heard from him in more than a year, not since he called to tell her about her older brother Tomiko, nicknamed Tomi. She wasn't ready to face him even now. Wilson burrowed against her neck and squeaked. She told herself to move, to go to the door. Her hand shook when she finally reached out and opened it quickly. There was nothing to be gained by delaying the inevitable.
Mano's gaze fastened on her face, and he gave a tentative smile. As always, she found herself caught by his dark eyes. If eyes really were the windows to the soul, Mano's soul was full of intensity and passion. His name meant "shark," and it had never seemed more apt than this minute. He could destroy the even tenor of her life as easily as a great white could thrash a seal.
Annie wet her lips and tried to find something to say that didn't sound inane. "Mano, what are you doing here?"
"Could I come in a minute?"
She stepped aside silently. Her father had turned his back. He looked out the opposite window toward the Japanese garden her mother had loved so much. A curl of incense drifted around him from the bowl on the table. It was her father's favorite scent: Joy, a blend of sandalwood and tea leaves that was supposed to evoke memories of happiness, though Annie couldn't remember a single happy moment since her mother had died. Without her mother's attention, weeds had choked the path to the koi fish pond in much the same way that the family's cares had begun to strangle Annie. The bonsai had lost its shape, too, just as her family no longer resembled the perfect unit it had once been.
Mano would find them much changed.
Her father would be no help. Annie turned back to Mano, who hadn't moved though she'd stepped out of the way. "Come in."
Mano stepped inside and nodded to her. "Annie. It's been a long time."
"Not long enough." Wilson struggled in her arms, but she held on. She needed him. After a final wiggle, he went still. She stared at Mano. "What do you want?"
Annie had to wonder if his cool self-assurance was just a charade. Her gaze traveled to her father. Though in his midfifties, Edega Tagama's black hair was still thick and lustrous, but the past months had aged his face. He turned and stared at Mano with an attitude of belligerence. At one time, Mano had been almost part of the family, but he wasn't welcome here anymore.
Mano glanced at the cane-backed chair under the window. "Okay if I sit down? This may take a little while."
Her father thrust out his chin. "We have nothing to say to you."
Trying to hide her limp, Annie went to the loveseat. "I have plenty to say. Sit down." She tried to adopt a nonchalant attitude by crossing her legs, but her leg trembled and gave away her agitation, so she uncrossed them and steadied her tremors by pressing her heels into the ground. She hoped he didn't see how much his presence affected her.
Mano's U.S. Navy uniform fit him superbly. Impeccably pressed and spotless, he was the epitome of a spit-and-polish officer. His white mess jacket over navy pants hid the muscles she knew lurked under the fabric. He was a wrestler. Leilani and Annie used to go to watch his matches on the base with their brother. She averted her eyes. It was best not to think about what used to be. She swallowed and tried to compose herself.
Her father gave a disgusted snort, then moved to the sofa and perched on the edge. "I will hear this if I must. Then you are no longer welcome in my home."
Mano took a deep breath. "I'm sorry I missed Tomi's funeral, but I was--" He glanced away as his words died.
"You killed him," Annie said. Her voice trembled as much as her limbs, but she forced herself to meet his gaze. "And by killing him, you killed my mother."
"I'm sorry about your mother," Mano said. The muscles in his neck moved as he swallowed. "It seemed so out of character for her--" He stopped at Annie's glare.
"You will not mention my wife," Edega burst out.
Mano's gaze slid back to Annie, and she read the desperation in his face. She took pity on him, though she knew he deserved every bit of her father's anger. "Why are you here, Mano?" She wanted to get rid of him and talk to her father about Leilani.
He squared his shoulders. "I have your brother's belongings. I wanted to bring them to you." He hesitated. "I have something else to talk to you about too. Is Leilani here?"
An ache spread from Annie's center outward. Leilani was always the one men noticed. Annie had gone on one date in her life, a mercy date for the bash her family threw her when she got her PhD. Leilani had arranged for one of her castoffs to escort her. Mano was one of those now too.
Maybe Mano wanted to try his luck again. The pain that rippled through her at the thought surprised her. "She's not here," she said shortly. She thought she saw disappointment on his face. And why not? Leilani was beautiful and vivacious, while Annie was a brown, colorless Eurasian sparrow.
"I really wanted to talk to all of you together." Mano turned toward the door. "Let me get the stuff from the car." He went to the door and stepped outside.
As soon as she heard the door slam, Annie sagged against the loveseat. She wouldn't cry, not until she was safely in her room. Her father would demand to know what she was upset about, and he wouldn't understand. She didn't understand herself. The lump that formed in her throat was as acrid as the smoke from Kilauea. Her eyes burned. She didn't know if she was ready to go through Tomi's belongings.
"Leilani should be here," her father said. His voice trembled. "We should present a united front."
Leilani. Annie put down Wilson and her hand went to her pocket. She pulled out the pendant. "Have you talked to her today?"
"She has not shown her face since yesterday, the silly girl." Edega stood and paced. "She has been out since then?" Annie nodded. "We shall have a most stern talk with her when she gets home."
Annie sighed. She opened her fist and showed her father the locket. "I found this near the Kalapana Trail."
The anger left her father's eyes. "She never goes to the volcano. You don't think--" He gulped and choked back his words.
Annie hadn't wanted to even consider suicide, but she realized the thought had hovered at the back of her consciousness. "Surely not," she whispered. "She would never kill herself, especially not there."
"She's been acting strange since she joined that club." Her father sounded fearful. "Secretive and sometimes despondent. You should have put an end to it, Annie."
Annie exhaled slowly. She should have, but Leilani was so headstrong. She glanced out the window. Mano was still unloading the trunk of the car. He seemed to be taking his time. Maybe he was less self-assured than she first thought.
She grabbed the portable phone on the table beside her and called the shop where Leilani worked. Her sister had not shown up for her shift. Annie dialed CeCe but couldn't reach her. Annie called the police next. The dispatcher promised to send out an officer. Annie clicked off the phone and let her eyes return to Mano as he hefted three stacked boxes and started toward the house. She let her gaze linger on his dark hair. In her daydreams, she used to imagine plunging her fingers into that thick thatch. No more. Mano Oana had destroyed her family as surely as if he'd sent a cloud of choking ash to smother them all.