She was all smiles, in a doozy of a mood, at her most benevolent. It made all of us a little wary. You had to worry a bit, when Tutu was that happy. She hugged me, a seat magically vacating itself so she could sit beside me. She gave Akira a pointed look. “Well? What are you waiting for? Go work the café. I need to talk to my granddaughter.”
He gave her a borderline unfriendly look, but sure enough, he obeyed.
Tutu turned her regard to me, and I was almost scared at her intense expression.
Tutu hadn’t liked me at first, when I began to dog Akira’s heels as a child. She’d called me a haole, and ignored me. I hadn’t gone away, so eventually, she had started to talk to me. At first, I’d just gotten lectures about how Maui should belong to the locals again, and how men like my father were the problem. She had scared me as a child, so I hadn’t argued with her, not even to defend my dad. I had just nodded solemnly, as though I understood what she was saying well enough to agree. I hadn’t, but she had taken my agreement as respect. And so our special bond began. I grew on her over the years with my earnest perseverance. She respected my persistence, and my audacity, and I respected her. I had desperately wanted her approval.
I was around ten when I began to tell anyone who would listen that I was going to marry Akira when I grew up. Tutu hadn’t liked that. She had been mad at me whenever I worked up the nerve to repeat it to her. But I’d respected her, so I had wanted her to know my intent. She had finally berated me so soundly for it that I had run to Akira, crying. I had explained it to him, and he had been sympathetic, taking me back to the formidable woman so that we could make up.
Tutu had patted my head affectionately then. “It’s not your fault, Lana. You’re not a local; you can’t help that. Akira needs to marry a local girl. It’s our way.”
I had been crying, but I had stood my ground, anyway. “But I want to be in your family!” I had told her in an angry little voice.
She had studied me with a little smile. She was a diabolical woman, so even that smile had been a little scary to a ten-year old. “I’ll tell you what. I don’t have any grandkids, because of my worthless children.” She had paused there to send Akira a long, malevolent glare. He’d smirked, unaffected. “But you are a lovely child. I’ve never seen a little girl more beautiful than you. Your purple eyes make me think you might have magic, which is very good. And you’re smart. And you’re a stubborn little thing. And I like your backbone. And I think you’re just ornery enough to be a Kalua. So, you may have the distinct honor of calling me Tutu. It means grandma.”
I’d looked at Akira, wanting him to approve. He’d smiled warmly at me, and I was ecstatic. I knew it was the biggest accomplishment of my young life, being the first to call her Tutu.
“So you’re family now. Perhaps Akira will be less worthless and stupid when you’re finally a grown-up.” I looked at Akira as she spoke.
His nose had just wrinkled at her, his only answer. The look said ‘Not happening’.
Tutu had continued, thankfully ignoring the look. “And since you’re family now, and therefore a local, I will approve of the marriage.”
I had been on cloud nine for ages after being added to my favorite family. Akira and Mari had turned it into a bit of a joke, and took to calling her Tutu, as well. They said that since she wanted grandkids so badly, that everyone should just call her Tutu, since neither of them planned to ever get married. Soon, all of the locals took up the habit of calling her Tutu, and she had taken to the title as though that was what she had wanted all along.
Tutu brought me back to the present by leaning forward to press her nose and forehead against mine. It was an affectionate gesture, one you would give a granddaughter. I smiled at her fondly as she pulled back to study me. “You know, I’m old and stubborn, and I decided a long time ago that I’m too old to have to change my mind about anything. I get to be set in my ways now. It’s the law. But I have decided to change my mind about one thing. I wasn’t wrong about it. I’ve just changed my mind. Your haole dad is not the problem with Maui.”
I raised my brows at her, wondering where this was going. I had always suspected that she was secretly grateful to my dad for being a mentor to Akira, but she would never admit it. Or so I had thought.
“He isn’t the problem, because he had you. And if you have Akira’s babies, lots of them preferably, then they will inherit back some of our land for us. So you see, your dad is only some of the problem with Maui.”
I smiled at her weakly, uncomfortable talking with her about anything to do with Akira, now that I was grown. It was obvious that my promise to marry him would not be kept, at this point.
She just patted me on the shoulder and stood. “I just needed to get that off my chest. I might die tomorrow, so you should listen to me. I might haunt you forever if you don’t.”
That one made me laugh, my discomfort passing. I had heard that famous Tutu quote many a time. It was one of my favorites. Even as a child, when the thought of being haunted had been kind of scary, I had still felt a little comforted by the notion of Tutu staying near me forever.
Akira was grimacing as he re-joined me. He studied me. “Tutu was giving me the most evil cackle when she sent me back in. You okay? What crazy thing did she say to you?”
I just shook my head, smiling. “Just some Tutu wisdom. She’s in rare form today. She even threw her, ‘I might die tomorrow, I’ll haunt you forever,’ line at me. Cantankerous as ever.”
That made him laugh. I touched the dimple in his cheek as he did so. I couldn’t seem to help it, my hand had a mind of its own. And his eyes got so soft when I did that. He shocked me by pulling me snugly into his arms, placing a sweet kiss on top of my head. When he didn’t immediately release me, I just went with his affectionate mood, throwing both of my arms around his neck, and burrowing my face into my favorite spot on his chest. I knew the bar crowd was staring at us. Akira was not exactly known for being a demonstrative, affectionate man. Just the opposite, in fact. But he had always been different for me. Everyone had probably just forgotten that. I had been gone a long time.
He was in a kind mood, and so let me stay like that for a long time, my cheek on his chest, his hand stroking over my hair. I felt him playing with the streaky waves. He even brought a lock to his lips at one point. I wanted to stay like that forever, crowded bar or not. I felt cherished like that.
We didn’t speak for a long time. I didn’t even consider it. I didn’t want to risk breaking the spell. He took long drinks of his beer, but never relinquished his hold on me, and didn’t push me away. I wasn’t planning to move an inch if he didn’t make me.
“Do you want me to get you more tea?” Akira murmured, his mouth close to my ear as he spoke.
I made a non-committal noise into his shirt. “Maybe later.”
His hands stroked my back. “I need to go tell Mari that you’re here, anyway. She’ll never forgive me if you come here to hang out and she doesn’t even know about it. I’ll be right back, k?” He set me away from him as he spoke, and I sat back down in my chair, already missing that warm embrace. He kissed my head before he left.
Milena must have had someone on the watch-out for him to leave, because just seconds after he’d left the bar, she was taking his seat beside me. She glared at me malevolently. I recognized that she was beautiful. But I had never understood why Akira was with her, other than that. He could have had anyone. And she was rude and mean, and overly aggressive. I had never understood their relationship, but I’d always hated it.
“You think you’re special to him, but you’re not. You’re nothing but his little puppy,” she said in a vicious voice.
I just sighed at her weak attack. Really, she could have done better. It wasn’t hard to hurt my feelings where Akira was concerned, but she had somehow managed to miss a very large target.
“Did you have a point? He says you’re not his girlfriend anymore,” I said, wanting to hear her take on that.
She flushed. “Not now, I’m not. But he was mine for years, haole. How long did you get him for? A night or two? Just think of how good those nights were, and then think of a thousand nights like that. That’s what I got from him. You got nothing. You are nothing. And yet you have the nerve to disrespect me.”
I raised my brows at her. “How so? I think I do a pretty good job of staying out of your way, which is what you clearly prefer.”
I saw her getting visibly more agitated at my words. That hadn’t been my intention. I wasn’t trying to make her mad. I just wanted her to go away.
She pointed a red tipped finger at me. “You fucked him when he was my man, back when you were eighteen. I heard you talking about it, so you can’t even deny it.”
I froze at that accusation, because it actually hurt. “You were broken up at the time,” I told her, lifting my chin.
That sharp nail poked me in the chest, hard. It stung. Her voice was a near-shout when she responded, “That breakup was his idea, and I didn’t agree to it! And, since we got back together a few months later, that breakup didn’t even count. So you fucked my man!” As she spoke, her nail jabbed hard into my chest several times to emphasize her point.
My eyes widened. So they had been broken up when he’d made love to me the first time. I hadn’t been sure of that, after overhearing a conversation they’d had the day after he’d been with me. The idea that he’d lied to me about something like that had haunted me for years. I was so relieved to find that he really hadn’t lied.
I just looked at her steadily, determined to pretend her sharp pokes didn’t sting like a bitch. “Do you have any idea how crazy you sound right now? If someone breaks up with you, that is called being broken up. You don’t have to agree to it for it to count.”
Her eyes widened and I saw the moment her crazy switch snapped on, her eyes going wild, her fingernails flying at my face.
I’d never been in a fight before, but I’d seen quite a few of them, and I’d always looked down on the girls that used their nails, or went for the hair. I had always told myself that if I ever had to fight somebody, I’d use my fists, goddammit.
It was pure instinct that had me slapping my hand to her forehead before those mean nails could reach my face. I was taller, so my reach was better. It was that simple. But it hurt like crazy when she started scratching at my arm like a wild animal. I fisted my free hand, almost excited to try my first real punch on somebody. Especially since that someone was Milena. I swung at her face, since her cheek was practically asking me to. It was pointing right at me.
It didn’t knock her out cold, unfortunately, as I’d been sort of fantasizing it would. It didn’t really even slow her down. I made solid enough contact that it hurt my hand, but it only seemed to piss her off more, if that was possible.
She finally got ahold of my hair, in spite of my better reach. She yanked a hunk out, hard, calling me every nasty name in the book. I had a few choice words for her as well, the most prevalent one starting with a C.