The .5 was Jeremy Hall. Since we were both major Sound of Music (Do-Re-Mi!) and Julie Andrews fans, we started hanging out. Before we knew it, we were an item. This came as a surprise to us, since the other thing we had in common was that we both had a huge crush on Kyle Kincaid, the actor from that musical where rival schools are pitted against each other in a battle of the bands on Mars. If only Jeremy hadn’t been gay. I think we could really have had something special.
My name is Felicity,” I told Kai cautiously.
“What was that?” Kai said, even though I had taken the care to enunciate clearly. “Felicity.”
“Interesting name,” he said, toying with my hair. “Fellatio?” Kai boomed, “I’ve never met a girl named Fellatio before.”
“It’s FELICITY,” I said loudly, trying to mask the sound of my heart beating furiously. “Felicity. F-e-l-i-c-i-t-y.”
“Fellatio?” Kai repeated as his entourage howled. “Isn’t that the technical term for oral sex?”
After weeks of being ignored, suddenly everyone knew who I was. Only, instead of saying, “Hi, Felicity!” or “Loved your routine, Felicity!” the Kahanamoku students would shout, “Hellooooo, Fellatio!” Sometimes the girls would chide their boyfriends, but then they would crack up, too.
I had turned into one big joke.
As the rest of the year wore on, the fellatio wordplay wore old. By then everyone had taken to calling me BJ, the slang for blow job, which I discovered when I looked it up in the Oxford American Dictionary, was the slang for fellatio. Even though I would have preferred to be called Felicity, BJ was at least a compromise I could live with.
At home, whenever Mom asked about school, I’d just say, “It’s great!” I didn’t want to worry her. She was having trouble adjusting, too. With Carl settling into Celebration Residential Center, my mother now took care of Mr. Hunter, who was falling apart even faster than I was.
I visited my brother every day. We’d sit and talk for hours. Well, I’d sit and talk for hours. Carl would listen, or at least I liked to think he did. It was hard to tell how much Carl comprehended. Just when you thought you were breaking through to him, he’d fall asleep or fling himself out of his wheelchair, or throw his plush monkey across the room. Once he even tossed Henry out the window. If it hadn’t been for a Good Samaritan down below, Henry might have been lost forever.
The six-hour time difference made it difficult to call to my friends back home—most were busy with their twirling and school activities. And when I did talk to Natalie Catrine and the rest, they refused to hear that I was miserable. They were more interested in the white-sand beaches, Maui’s current temperature, and Mr. Hunter’s big house.
“Paradise,” Natalie Catrine would murmur. “Felicity, you’re living in paradise.”
One day as I walked home, I spotted a tour bus near the waterfall. I didn’t believe it at first, but sure enough, there was Mrs. Cardiff, from the dry cleaner back in Asher! She was the last person I would ever think would travel to Maui. Mrs. Cardiff was shading her eyes with one hand and fanning her face with the other. I hardly recognized her—she must have put on eighty pounds.
I raced over and before I could stop myself I was sobbing, telling Mrs. Cardiff about my poor sad life. When I got to the Fellatio part, I could see the fear in her eyes. That’s when a skinny pale man in shorts with a leather fanny pack cinched tightly around his waist stepped in and said, “Beatrice, is this girl bothering you?”
Only then did I realize I wasn’t talking to Mrs. Cardiff at all. Instead this was just some fat version of someone I once knew. I apologized profusely as she scurried back to the safety of the bus.
After school and on weekends, when most of the kids headed to the beach, I pushed past them in the other direction. My skin burned easily, and as a rule I stayed away from the shore except at dusk when the water looked the prettiest and the sun was kinder. It was cool inside the library, and I would spread my homework out under the approving eye of Mrs. Yamashiro the librarian who, like me, looked like she rarely ventured outdoors. The musty smell of the books was the sweet perfume I preferred to the strong sea air or the mockery of the students who hung around Kahanamoku to socialize, score drugs, or have sex.
In less than four months, I had morphed from golden girl to invisible girl, the former Felicity, Fellatio, BJ, and who now was not called anything at all because none of the other students even noticed her. Or if they knew me, it was only as the weird girl who had tried to impress everyone with her baton. It pained me to even think about it. Was this how my brother felt, I wondered? In Maui, whenever I took Carl out in public, little kids gawked and all others pretended not to see him. It wasn’t that way back home. There, the only person who pretended that Carl didn’t exist was my father.
Occasionally, I’d spy a fellow Kahanamoku student, but they always averted their eyes, especially if Carl was howling or making the loud moaning sounds that signaled he was happy. With no one to hang out with I threw myself into my studies. I was determined to get into a good college. At Asher High I had wanted to prove to everyone that I was someone. At Kahanamoku I needed to prove it to myself.
When third quarter reports came, I was pleased, although not surprised, to discover I had gotten all A’s. With several students within earshot, Headmaster Field congratulated me with unbridled enthusiasm. My feeling of pride quickly dissipated when he turned to congratulate Kai, whose report card apparently mirrored mine.
I took in a sharp breath that felt like a stab to the heart. Kai never studied, turned in his homework, or aced any exams. “How can this be possible?” I said out loud.
Danny, one of the scholarship students from my AP English class, slammed his locker shut and shook his head. For a brief moment our eyes met. Then he turned away.
At Asher High every good grade was earned. Here at Kahanamoku Academy it seemed that actual work didn’t factor into the GPA. I hated Kai, and hated myself even more for not being able to stop thinking about him. Ever since I had spied him surfing one afternoon, Kai had worked his way into my dreams. His body was the definition of perfection, and as his surfboard cut through the water, it appeared as if the Hawaiian sun and surf had materialized solely for his benefit.
That afternoon, I bypassed the library in favor of the Golden Goodness Bakery, where I bought a big bag of malasadas, the Hawaiian version of donuts. I carried the brown paper sack to the park that lined the shore across the street. As I bit into a malasada, I savored the taste of the sweet balls of fried dough rolled in sugar. Carl loved these and I made sure to save some for him. In the months that I had lived on Maui, my skin no longer burned an angry red thanks to the natural adjustment of my pigment and SPF 80 sunscreen. The warm weather did wonders for my mother and brother, too. Everyone had taken on a healthy glow, except for Mr. Hunter, who appeared to be fading.
Carl clapped and set Henry aside when he saw me. “You do know how much I love you, don’t you?” I asked. Carl merely smiled and moaned as he motioned for another malasada. It was only when the bag was empty that Carl picked up Henry and retreated into his silence.
His doctors always said that he didn’t understand much. Yet Carl always knew when I was leaving. “It’s okay,” I’d say, wiping away his tears. “I’ll be back tomorrow, silly. You know that.” Then I’d kiss him and wave good-bye.
As we entered the last quarter of my junior year, I started going to the park every day and began twirling once more. When my baton flew high in the air, so did I. It made me happy.
One day when I was practicing I spotted a familiar group of boys. When they got close, I had trouble focusing and dropped my baton. Kai and I reached for it at the same time. “Give it to me, BJ,” he whispered in a low growl that made me want to swear and swoon at the same time. I despised myself for that.
With his cronies looking on, Kai tried to yank the baton from my hand, but I hung on tight. He loosened his grip and before I could think, I grabbed the baton and whacked him on the head.
Instantly, the laughter stopped.
Novice twirlers get hit on the head all the time and seldom sustain injury. Of course, none of this mattered to Kai. His eyes narrowed as he hissed, “You’re lucky I don’t hit girls.”
I held my baton like a baseball bat, ready to strike again. “Shove it, Kai,” I shot back. “You’re lucky I don’t hit girls, either.”
Kai blinked his long eyelashes as if unsure of who or what I was. Then, he slowly reached toward me. I stood frozen, determined not to flinch. “BJ, you’re all right,” he said, tousling my hair.
His laughter gave the others permission to laugh, too.
As I watched Kai and his pals stroll away, I wasn’t sure what had just happened. In my confusion, I hardly noticed the giant gecko standing nearby. He waddled up to me and in a muffled voice said, “That was really something.”
“Excuse me?” Maybe I was the one who had been hit with the baton. The gecko handed me a brochure. “Auntie Alea’s Authentic Hawaiian Luau?” I read out loud.
The gecko nodded and then said, “Help me get this head off, will you? It’s like Hades in this costume.”
It was a struggle, but finally I was face-to-face with an elderly Hawaiian gentleman. Despite his being in a lizard costume, he had a regal bearing. His skin was dark and smooth and his brown eyes glistened, like he knew a secret. “My name’s Jimmy Chow and I’m Alea’s second cousin,” he said. “I’ve been watching you. You’re amazing. Have you ever twirled fire?”
“I can twirl anything,” I told him.
“We could use someone like you,” Jimmy mused. He was almost as old as Mr. Hunter, only wiry and full of energy. “Help me get my head back on; there’s a tour bus I have to meet. But first, promise me you’ll call Alea. Be sure to say Jimmy sent you.”
On Jimmy’s recommendation, and three auditions later, I became the only female and the youngest baton flame twirler at Auntie Alea’s Luau. Sure it’s a tourist attraction, but aren’t we all tourists at some point? I was also the only haole. Haole. That’s Hawaiian for white person. Shortly after, I had another name change, but this time I didn’t protest. Auntie Alea christened me Kalani. It means heaven and sky.