Fly Away Page 6


“We’re going to Hawaii for a week. We can—”

“What? When?”

“We’re leaving here in two hours. Kauai is—”

“No way,” she screeched.

Her outburst was so unexpected he actually forgot what he was saying. “What?”

“I can’t take off from school. I have to keep my grades up for college. I promised Mom I’d do well in school.”

“That’s admirable, Marah. But we need some time away as a family. To figure things out. We can get your assignments, if you’d like.”

“If I’d like? If I’d like?” She stomped her foot. “You know nothing about high school. Do you know how competitive it is out there? How will I get into a good college if I tank this semester?”

“One week will hardly throw you under the bus.”

“Ha! I have Algebra 2, Dad. And American Studies. And I’m on varsity soccer this year.”

He knew there was a right way to handle this and a wrong way; he just didn’t know what the right way was, and honestly, he was too tired and stressed out to care.

He stood up. “We’re leaving at ten. Pack a bag.”

She grabbed his arm. “Let me stay with Tully!”

He looked down at her, seeing how anger had stained her pale skin red. “Tully? As a chaperone? Uh. No.”

“Grandma and Grandpa would stay here with me.”

“Marah, we’re going. We need to be together, just the four of us.”

She stomped her foot again. “You’re ruining my life.”

“I doubt that.” He knew he should say something of value or lasting importance. But what? He’d already come to despise the platitudes people handed out like breath mints after a death. He didn’t believe that time would heal this wound or that Kate was in a better place or that they’d learn to go on. There was no way he could pass along some hollow sentiment to Marah, who was clearly hanging on by as thin a strand as he was.

She spun away and went into her bathroom and slammed the door.

He knew better than to wait for her to change her mind. In his bedroom, he grabbed his phone and made a call as he walked into the closet, looking for a suitcase.

“Hello?” Tully answered, sounding as bad as he felt.

Johnny knew he should apologize for last night, but every time he thought about it, he felt a rush of anger. He couldn’t help mentioning her disappointing behavior last night, but even as he brought it up, he knew she would defend herself, and she did. It’s what Kate wanted. It pissed him off. She was still talking about it when he cut her off with: “We’re going to Kauai today.”

“What?”

“We need time together now. You said so yourself. Our flight is at two, on Hawaiian.”

“That’s not much time to get ready.”

“Yeah.” He was already worried about that. “I gotta go.” She was still talking, asking something about the weather, when he hung up.

* * *

SeaTac International Airport was surprisingly crowded on this midweek October afternoon in 2006. They’d arrived early, to drop off Kate’s brother, Sean, who was returning home.

At the self-service kiosk, Johnny got their boarding passes, and then glanced at his children, each of whom held some electronic device; Marah was sending something called a text on her new cell phone. He had no idea what a text was and didn’t care. It had been Kate who’d wanted their sixteen-year-old to have a cell phone.

“I’m worried about Marah,” Margie said, coming to stand beside him.

“Apparently I’m ruining her life by taking her to Kauai.”

Margie made a tsking sound. “If you are not ruining a sixteen-year-old girl’s life, you are not parenting her. That’s not what I’m worried about. She regrets how she treated her mother, I think. Usually one grows out of that, but when your mom dies…”

Behind them, the airport’s pneumatic doors whooshed opened and Tully came running toward them wearing a sundress, ridiculously high-heeled sandals, and a floppy white hat. She was rolling a Louis Vuitton duffel behind her.

She came to a breathless stop in front of them. “What? What’s wrong? If it’s the time, I did my best.”

Johnny stared at Tully. What the hell was she doing here? Margie said something quietly, and then shook her head.

“Tully!” Marah cried out. “Thank God.”

Johnny took Tully by the arm and pulled her aside.

“You aren’t invited on this trip, Tul. It’s just the four of us. I can’t believe you thought—”

“Oh.” The word was spoken quietly, barely above a breath. He could see how hurt she was. “You said ‘we.’ I thought you meant me, too.”

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He knew how often she’d been left behind in her life, abandoned by her mother, but he didn’t have the strength to worry about Tully Hart right now. He was close to losing control of his life; all he could think about was his kids and not letting go. He mumbled something and turned away from her. “Come on, kids,” he said harshly, giving them only a few minutes to say goodbye to Tully. He hugged his in-laws and whispered, “Goodbye.”

“Let Tully come,” Marah whined. “Please…”

Johnny kept moving. It was all he could think of to do.

* * *

For the past six hours, both in the air and in the Honolulu airport, Johnny had been completely ignored by his daughter. On the airplane, she didn’t eat or watch a movie or read. She sat across the aisle from him and the boys, her eyes closed, her head bobbing in time to music he couldn’t hear.

He needed to let her know that even though she felt alone, she wasn’t. He had to make sure she knew that he was still here for her, that they were still a family, as wobbly as that construct now felt.

But timing mattered. With teenage girls, one had to carefully pick the moment to reach out, or you’d draw back a bloody stump where your arm had been.

They landed in Kauai at four P.M. Hawaiian time, but it felt as if they’d been traveling for days. He moved down the jetway while the boys walked on ahead. Last week they would have been laughing; now they were quiet.

He fell into step beside Marah. “Hey.”

“What?”

“Can’t a guy just say hey to his daughter?”

She rolled her eyes and kept walking.

They walked past the baggage claim area, where women in muumuus handed out purple and white leis to people who’d come here on package deals.

Outside, the sun was shining brightly. Bougainvilleas in full pink bloom crawled over the parking area fence. Johnny led the way across the street to the rental car area. Within ten minutes they were in a silver convertible Mustang and headed north along the only highway on the island. They stopped at a Safeway store, loaded up on groceries, and then piled back into the car.

To their right, the coastline was an endless golden sandy beach lashed by crashing blue waves and rimmed in black lava rock outcroppings. As they drove north, the landscape became lusher, greener.

“Uh, it’s pretty here,” he said to Marah, who was beside him in the front passenger seat, hunched down, staring at her phone. Texting.

“Yeah,” Marah said without looking up.

“Marah,” he said in a warning tone. As in: You’re skating on thin ice.

She looked over at him. “I am getting homework from Ashley. I told you I couldn’t leave school.”

“Marah—”

She glanced to her right. “Waves. Sand. Fat white people in Hawaiian shirts. Men who wear socks with their sandals. Great vacation, Dad. I totally forgot that Mom just died. Thanks.” Then she went back to texting on her Motorola Razr.

He gave up. Ahead, the road snaked along the shoreline and spilled down into the verdant patchwork of the Hanalei Valley.

The town of Hanalei was a funky collection of wooden buildings and brightly colored signs and shave-ice stands. He turned onto the road indicated by MapQuest and immediately had to slow down to avoid the bikers and surfers crowded along either side of the street.

The house they’d rented was an old-fashioned Hawaiian cottage on Weke—pronounced Veke, apparently—Road. He pulled into the crushed-coral driveway and parked.

The boys were out of the car in an instant, too excited to be contained a second longer. Johnny carried two suitcases up the front steps and opened the door. The wooden-floored cottage was decorated in 1950s bamboo-framed furniture with thick floral cushions. A koa-wood kitchen and eating nook was on the left side of the main room, with a comfortable living room on the right side. A good-sized TV delighted the boys, who immediately ran through the house yelling, “Dibs!”

He went to the set of glass sliding doors that faced the bay. Beyond the grassy yard lay Hanalei Bay. He remembered the last time he and Kate had been here. Take me to bed, Johnny Ryan. I’ll make it worth your while …

Wills bumped into him hard. “We’re hungry, Dad.” Lucas skidded up beside them. “Starving.”

Of course. It was almost nine P.M. at home. How had he forgotten that his kids needed dinner? “Right. We’ll go to a bar that your mom and I love.”

Lucas giggled. “We can’t go in a bar, Dad.”

He ruffled Lucas’s hair. “Not in Washington, maybe, but here it’s A-okay.”

“That’s so cool,” Wills said.

Johnny heard Marah in the kitchen behind him, putting groceries away. That seemed like a good sign. He hadn’t had to beg or threaten her.

It took them less than thirty minutes to put their things away, claim their rooms, and change into shorts and T-shirts; then they walked along the quiet street to a ramshackle old wooden building near the center of town. The Tahiti Nui.

Kate had loved the retro Polynesian kitsch of the place, which was more than just a décor here. Rumor was that the interior had looked the same for more than forty years.

Inside the bar, which was filled with tourists and locals—easily separated by their dress—they found a small bamboo table near the “stage”—a three-foot-by-four-foot flat area with two stools and a pair of stand-up microphones.

“This is great!” Lucas said, bouncing on his seat so hard Johnny worried that he might fall through and hit the floor. Normally Johnny would have said something, tried to tame the boys, but their enthusiasm was exactly why they’d come here, so he nursed his Corona and said nothing. The tired-looking waitress had just delivered their pizza when the band—two Hawaiians with guitars—showed up. Their first song was Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s iconic ukulele version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Johnny felt Kate materialize on the bench seat beside him, singing quietly in her off-key voice, leaning against him, but when he turned, all he saw was Marah, frowning at him.

“What? I wasn’t texting.”

He didn’t know what to say.

“Whatever,” Marah said, but she looked disappointed.

Another song started. When you see Hanalei by moonlight …

A beautiful woman with sun-bleached blond hair and a bright smile went to the minuscule stage and danced a hula to the song. When the music stopped, she came over to their table. “I remember you,” she said to Johnny. “Your wife wanted hula lessons the last time she was here.”

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