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Chapters 1-7

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Copyright

Copyright © 2023 by Brooke Gilbert

 

Cover Image License provided by Canva Pty Ltd. Cover design by Brooke Gilbert. Original Cover design copyright © 2022 by Brooke Gilbert. Edited by Caitlin Miller.

 

The following is a work of fiction. All people, places, names, events, and situations are a product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to a person, dead or living, is completely coincidental, and is not to be taken as reality.

 

Library of Congress Control Number: 

 

First Edition

 

Paperback ISBN: 979-8-9872622-4-5

Amazon Paperback ISBN: 979-8-9872622-5-2

Amazon Hardback ISBN:  979-8-9872622-6-9

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, copied, transmitted, or distributed in any form without the author’s written permission.

www.brookegilbertauthor.com

Dedication

For the community of Maui and to everyone who lost someone in the devastating fires. You have shown us what Ohana truly means. The beauty and resilience of this community is incredible to see. Please see the author’s note for ways you can donate to Maui Relief. A portion of the proceeds from this book will be donated as well. Prayers and love for healing. 

 

To Cynthia Lin and the beautiful ukulele community! Your music therapy provided a light for me on days when there was  none. Strumming those strings until sometimes four or five in the morning was my only reprieve from the darkness of my illness. And chatting with this encouraging and positive community made all the difference in my world. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! And to my fellow Lupus warriors: we may not be able to enjoy the sunlight in the same way as others, but I have found this community to be an even more beautiful source of light through your love and support. You’re a beautiful force, and I see you providing your own light every day. Don’t let anything diminish or take it away from you!

 

A special thanks to Claire, who graciously answered any questions I had and helped give me the courage to tell Guin’s story the way I wanted. So happy books have connected us.

 

For my grandparents, whose story may have been touched by Alzheimer's but only became a better example of what selfless love looks like. And to all the families who have been affected by this disease.

And to my Aunt Teena whom I love dearly. I believe in miracles and the goodness of people. 

 

And finally, to those brave, selfless souls who have become donors for those in need. You gave the ultimate gift: an opportunity for someone else to live a longer life. And to those fearless recipients who have kept on fighting and those who are still waiting in the hope that their turn will come. This one’s for you.

 

Over 100,000 people are on the national transplant list in the U.S. More than 90,000 of them are waiting for kidneys. 17 people die every day waiting for a transplant. Only 42,000 received one in 2022. Are you an organ donor?

https://www.organdonor.gov/learn/organ-donation-statistics

Epigraph

“Let nothing dim the light that shines from within,” -Maya Angelou

 

Content Caution

 

Hello Lovely Reader, 

First, I would like to thank you for choosing my novel to read. I know there are so many other books for you to select from and the fact that you’ve chosen mine means the world to me. You are the reason I keep publishing my writing. With that in mind, I wanted to make sure to take a moment to discuss the content of my novel with you. 

Nothing bothers me more than novels without content warnings, so I am going to try my best to provide them here without giving away any spoilers! There are mild medical episodes that include descriptions of pain associated with Lupus and migraines with fainting. There are also discussions of organ transplant, emotional abuse with gaslighting (minimal), and mental health in relation to chronic illness and disability. This novel features a water-related accident; however, I have tried to keep the episode vague. If you would like to avoid reading the details, please skip chapter thirty. 

Please note the characters struggle with ableism and the “standards” of normal body image. As is sometimes the case, especially early in a journey with a disability, the urge to try to hide or fit into “the norm” can become debilitating within itself. This book is about learning to love and accept all of yourself–including your disabilities. And sometimes it takes someone else’s love and acceptance before you can do that for yourself. I promise there’s a happy ending for these issues. Or at least I hope I provided one for you!

Please be kind to yourself and if now isn’t a good time to read this novel, then I will definitely understand. Perhaps, there will be a better time in the future. And if you would like modifications, there are chapters you could skip and I'd be happy to discuss those options with you. Or if you still have questions and specific triggers in mind, know that my door is always open. I’m available through Instagram (@brookegilbertauthor) and email (brookegilbertauthor@gmail.com). 

This novel features Own Voices Lupus, arthritic and chronic pain from Lupus, migraines, fainting, and mental health. This disability representation is written by an author who also battles several autoimmune disorders herself. This book also features kidney failure, organ transplant, service dogs, and other disability representation as well. Themes of second chance, found family, acceptance, and forgiveness are present throughout.

I also wanted to take a moment to discuss the location of this book. After the devastating fires in Maui this past summer, I thought about pulling plans for publication at the end of the year. I also debated moving the location of the book to another island. After much consideration, I have decided to keep the book as it was written before the fires took place. However, I did change the location of scenes that took place in Lahaina. This book strives to bring awareness to the meaning of Ohana, as well as highlighting the beauty of Hawaiian culture and its people. Therefore, a portion of the proceeds will go toward the Maui Strong Relief fund. More information about this donation is in the author’s note at the end of the novel :)

This is a ‘sweet’ novel. Descriptive kissing only. No cursing. 

Please note that faith conversations are included. This has been a part of my chronic illness journey so it is a part of the characters’ as well. The conversations are minimal and I hope you will find them respectful.

I hope you enjoy your time in Maui! I can’t wait to discuss this novel with you :)

 

Sending you love and endless spoons, 

 

Brooke

Prologue | Locke 

 

 

If you see a mermaid wash up on shore you better do one of two things . . . Walk away before she steals your heart . Or . . .  go to her aid being fully aware that you’re not fooling anyone. She’s more than capable of saving herself. 

 

Chapter 1 | Guinevere

 

“I don't understand. All my life I've been waiting for someone and when I find her, she's . . . she's a fish.” -Tom Hanks, Splash

 

My grand landing onto the magnificent Hawaiian shores was one of a beached whale–definitely not of a graceful mermaid. The gorgeous, sparkling sand beach that had originally greeted me was now rough, abrasive, and completely uninviting against my skin. It felt like the coarsest of sandpapers as I taxied in from my rough ride under the sea and made my bumpy landing onto this beautiful Maui beach. 

The last thing I remember before going under the waves was bobbing like a lost cork in the surf, trying to enjoy the ocean for the first time in my life. I remember being surrounded by idyllic aquamarine water and thinking how bright and crystal clear it looked. And then, as if cueing Jaw’s ominous music, huge and unexpected waves ambushed me. I’d never seen waves like that before. They hadn’t looked nearly that big from the shore, but out in the water they were seriously scary. Now I understood why this was a surfer’s paradise. But for someone like me who had never been in the ocean, and was totally untrained to handle supersized surf, it was absolutely terrifying. 

As soon as I’d seen the mega waves approaching, I’d done my best to attempt a doggie paddle back toward the beach, which had lasted all of five seconds. I was abruptly swept up mid-paddle in the wave’s path and tossed onto the shore like ripped delicates caught in the rough spin cycle of a washing machine. Completely beached. My black swimsuit felt mangled. Having made its way as far down my body as possible like an extremely precarious elastic band on the verge of snapping. Well, it didn’t look that good on me anyway. It’s funny the things you think about at a time like this. 

Even through my disorientation, I thought I heard familiar yelps on the shore, but they were muffled by my ringing ears. And I was way too embarrassed to open my eyes to check. Maybe if I closed them tight enough, my swimsuit would magically wrap itself back around me like some magic carpet. But it was too late for any wishes because I heard voices surrounding me. I was too humiliated to try ungluing myself from the sand. No, I was only ready to burrow down deeper, except for the fact that my skin felt like it had been burned by “the fire of a thousand suns.” 

Suddenly, a sound cut through the noise and confusion of my mind. A deep, rough voice floated over me. Ironically caressing me, even though it sounded coarser than those nasty little granules under me. Although, I was enjoying this intrusion much more.

The voice boomed, “Ok, show’s over. The current’s particularly strong today. I’d like to see one of you battle those waves.” Then a towel landed on top of me and after a few minutes, the voice washed over me again, this time with a touch of softness. “You can open your eyes now. They’re gone and I’ve got you covered up with the towel. I’m not exactly sure about the state of your swimsuit.” Humor resonated throughout his tone and hot embarrassment filled me. He must have witnessed my whole crash landing.

I hesitantly cracked open my eyes to see a man crouched down beside me with his elbows lazily resting on his thighs. He was right next to where my cheek “kissed” the sand. What a misnomer. It felt more like my face had been mauled by some wild beast. 

I may have been disoriented, but he did appear to glow as he blocked the sun’s rays and they created a golden aura around him. I couldn’t just be dreaming him up, could I? I squinted my eyes harder, trying to focus my eyesight, as I looked up to see a figure with striking jet-black hair set against warm tanned skin. And he had deeply penetrative eyes. Classically handsome–if you were into that kind of thing. Think Clark Gable . . . very much giving a “you know what.”  

Before he could say anything else, I felt little licks all over my face. Thank goodness Sebastian had found me. Yes, I was obsessed with The Little Mermaid and all the creatures “under the sea,” yet somehow I’d never been to the beach before. I know. But look at how well it was going so far. 

I saw golden fur zooming all around me from the corner of my eyes. “Sebastian, I’m so glad you found me,” I said with relief. 

“What?” The man seemed startled by my words. Oh no, not him too. I knew it wasn’t exactly normal to name a dog after a lobster, but I was in no mood to debate that particular moniker. However, I didn’t get to ask him to clarify before I felt another tongue licking me as well. 

“What’s going on?” I asked with confusion, not able to see anything with Sebastian leaning over me. 

“Uh, I don’t know,” he said in bewilderment. There seems to be two dogs. And only one of them is mine.” 

Oh, thank goodness, it was another dog licking my face. For a moment there, I was worried this stranger might have a face licking obsession, just like my dog. I loved Clark Gable, but maybe not that much.

“Well, only one is mine,” I replied quickly. 

“Uh, well that would explain it,” he said with a laugh. 

I tried looking around, but all I could see were shades of golden fur whipping around my face. This was so unfair. I couldn’t see either one of them clearly. 

The man seemed to gather as much. “Let’s get you out of here, ok?” He placed his hands around the towel at my hips and then started to pick me up. By the time I realized what he was doing, I was too sore and flustered to even protest. And honestly, I just wanted out of here as fast as possible. I was grateful he was offering me a fast pass. He asked, “Can you help me by grabbing the towel and pulling it around you?”

I nodded my head in reply, and took some time to arrange my swimsuit under the cover of the towel. Then he commenced picking me up ever so carefully and cradling me in his arms. Literally cradling me, as in Creature from the Black Lagoon-style. Even I could admit that it didn’t get much sexier than that. He certainly had the muscles. And he had a dangerously attractive allure about him too. But then again, I’d always been a little attracted to the Black Lagoon Creature. That probably wasn’t normal. While other girls were fantasizing about Ken, all I wanted was  The Creature to pick me up from the lagoon and carry me back to his lair. 

Well, this was my moment and I was going to bask in it . . . except for the fact that my raw skin was screaming bloody murder, especially where it scraped against this stranger. I winced as he pulled me and the towel toward him protectively. 

“Sorry,” he said, noticing my reaction and realizing that he was probably making the wrong move. But it was oddly worth the pain to see his primal reflex, especially knowing I had been able to elicit it from him. He gazed at me as he spoke, assessing the damage. Those deep, dark pools looked at me with such intensity. I rearranged myself so the unscraped backs of my arm and body were next to his skin. The parts of me that weren’t covered with “sand burn.” Ahhh, much better. He seemed to realize that as well, so he loosened his hold on me as I rearranged myself.

“I’ll take you to my hale–my bungalow. It’s just a little ways off the beach.” Then he looked at me, suddenly realizing you don’t just carry strange women back to your bungalow caveman-style. That might make someone a little  uncomfortable. “Uh . . . or I have a surf shop where I could take you, but my tutu, grandma, is at the bungalow, and she’ll be able to help you with your burns. She’s a pale keiki.” I just looked at him, blinking with confusion. He clarified, “A midwife. She’ll know what to do. We’ll get your “Hawaiian tattoo” taken care of immediately.” And there was a twinkle in his eyes as he said it.

Chapter 2

“A Hawaiian tattoo?” I questioned in a tiny voice. 

I now had both hands locked around his neck, hanging on for dear life since the terrain had become much bumpier as we moved further up the beach. I had the towel wrapped around me as best I could while keeping it from touching as little of my skin as possible. I didn’t even want to look under the towel. Some of the shock was beginning to wear off and the pain from my sand burn was starting to grab my full attention. I was also becoming increasingly aware that while “my rescuer” was wearing a wetsuit, it was unzipped at the top and tied around his waist, leaving his chest completely bare. I felt like a baby kangaroo inside its mother’s pouch, enjoying the comforting skin-to-skin contact. I glanced over the man’s shoulder to see Sebastian and “The Creature’s” dog trailing behind us. The Goldens looked quite cozy together . . . actually, pretty adorable. They were walking right beside each other and rubbing up against one another every so often. I thought I even saw them nuzzle one another back at the beach. I guess they were fast becoming friends. 

“Yeah, you’ve definitely got a Hawaiian tattoo.” He laughed. A boyish grin took over his features. Why did he have to look so much like Gable, my favorite classic film actor? A few strands of his black hair curved down to kiss his forehead as he continued answering my question. “It’s what we call a sand burn here. A lot of bennies get them. The waves can be pretty ferocious, especially if you don’t know how to handle them. You got caught in a bomb, that’s for sure, and then the surf must have doubled up on you. You survived the washing machine, so I guess that was your initiation to the island.” 

So many words I didn’t understand, but I was just going to guess at their meaning. I wasn’t gonna ask “Indie” to explain them to me. He didn’t seem like the type of guy to want to translate anything. He was too Indiana Jones for that. 

“Quite the initiation,” I said with sarcasm. 

But he just continued to lecture me. “The ocean isn’t something you want to mess with. It needs to be respected. There’s a lot of bad things that can happen out at sea. Believe me, you were lucky.” He looked down at me seriously as he said it. Really he was just missing the fedora. His attitude was so on point. “Although it looks like you were pretty sunburned before the washing machine and the sand got to you.” 

I cast my eyes away from him, looking at the ocean which must be the “washing machine,” thinking about what he had said. Sunburns were a foregone conclusion for me. I had Lupus. I was basically allergic to the sun. Hence, one of the reasons why I had never been to the beach. I usually avoided the sun whenever possible. I leapfrogged from one shady spot to the next when I was outside on a sunny day. And time in the sun had to be “flare worthy” because the cost was steep: joint pain, rashes, extreme fatigue, dizziness, and pounding headaches, to name a few. I wouldn’t be leapfrogging anywhere after that happened. 

As much as I loved the thought of the ocean, so far in my life, I’d only admired it from afar. It was like looking at pictures in your school locker of your celebrity crush. Or at least that had been what was in most of my friend’s lockers . . . you can guess what was in mine–sunny island scenes in tropical locales. And now I had those photos scattered all over my office space. They beckoned me to suspend reality and to believe, if only for a tiny moment, that I could enjoy such a magical place. Maybe that’s why I had fallen in love with the ukulele. Although I knew there were also so many other reasons for my love of the instrument. 

Well, I was most certainly aware that between the sun and the sand burn, I looked like a lobster. I knew I had the “superpower” to instantaneously turn red from the heat. My faint Irish ancestry didn’t help with that either. Half a day in the sun and I was ready for the Cape Cod lobster bakes. Maybe I'd at least win some good prize money.

“Well, I guess I forgot to reapply sunscreen,” I replied sheepishly, not wanting to explain my health conditions to a total stranger. I looked back at the dogs, watching them . . . well . . . distracting myself was more like it. 

“Here I thought I was catching a mermaid, but I’m pretty sure all my net caught today was a lobster. Guess that’s probably for the best though, since I’ve heard mermaids can lure unsuspecting sailors to their death . . . Auê! I wish I’d known I was going lobster hunting today. I’m completely unprepared.” He cracked a smile to go along with his dry wit. I however, did not. 

It wasn’t uncommon for me to be compared to aquatic sea life. I’d once been compared to a cuttlefish at a doctor’s appointment. Apparently my blush was that quick and strong. I couldn’t control my temperature fluctuations or my reactions to the sun, but at least I provided people with a little entertainment. 

Not knowing what to say next, I simply stared at him, unblinking. Then he continued on with his “witty” words, “ I guess if your dog’s name is Sebastian then you should be called Ariel? Sorry to break it to you, but you’re definitely a Sebastian. Guess you should have chosen a different name for your dog.”

“And you’re definitely an Ursula,” I bantered back. 

“Wow, nerve hit . . . I got it.” He laughed dryly, sounding a little satisfied with himself. “Well, you should have at least dyed your hair the right color. Cinderella was the blonde one.” His smile hadn’t faded one little bit. Nor had his boyish mischievousness. And I couldn’t believe he’d been bold enough to comment on my highlights. He was deriving way too much pleasure from getting under my skin. Then he asked, “So I’m curious: How can you be so unprepared for the beach with a dog named Sebastian?” 

“I am not unprepared,” was my lame rebuttal. 

“Ok, Flounder. I honestly don’t know where to begin. Let’s see . . . a second-degree sunburn, sand burns, and clothing torn apart by the sea. So yeah, I’d say unprepared,” he said sarcastically. 

I looked at him with annoyance at his accuracy. I was also slightly amazed at how easily he seemed to be carrying me such a long distance yet still remained completely unwinded. Are surfers usually this buff? He did have that surfer vibe. Well, actually, I was just going by the wetsuit. . And he did mention a surf shop. Whatever the case, I was extremely grateful he was carrying me away from that leering crowd of bystanders. But . . . he really wasn’t my type . . . other than his Clark Gable looks. And I certainly wasn’t ever going to be his girl “Gidget.” No, I was actually pretty curvy and tall. 

But my thoughts quickly changed as I became aware of how long he had been carrying me. I thought his house was supposed to be “right off of the beach.” That’s what he had said, wasn’t it? But this didn’t seem like a short walk to me. I hoped it was just my nerves that were making it feel longer than it truly was. I was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable. I had been so grateful to have been rescued, covered up, and carried somewhere, anywhere, that I hadn’t really taken the time to think about what was happening to me. On the plus side, he did have a dog. And if someone had a dog, I usually trusted them. Okay, that might not be the best survival instinct. Okay, maybe it couldn’t even be classified as one. Ted Bundy probably had a dog. Wait a minute! Did he have a dog? This was not something I should be thinking about right now as I was clutching some guy’s protruding neck muscles. These are the thoughts you need to have before you let a random guy whisk you away from a public place. Great, I was getting “Bundied.” 

I nervously spoke, “On second thought, I think I’m going to be just fine. I’m feeling much better now.” I unlocked my arms as if I could choose to release myself back into the wild. 

Deep laughter rumbled out of his chest. “What’s up, Sebastian? Did you just now happen to think that Ursula might be taking you back to her evil lair? I should be offended, but it’s just too sad. Maybe you need to think about taking some self-defense courses.” He looked at my offended face.

 

“Ok, seriously, my grandmother should be at the bungalow. I know it’s hard to believe, but she really is a pale keiki. She’ll be able to help with both your sunburn and your beach rash. So you’re not getting boiled alive today. I promise to release you back into the ocean, right where I found you, as soon as possible. Well, maybe not the ocean . . . That’s probably the worst place for you. Seems like you better avoid it for a while. But I will release you, I promise.”

My eyebrows raised. He was pretty blunt. Weren’t “surfer guys” super chill, “feel good” people? I was starting to feel not-so-good right now. He interrupted my thoughts. “Don’t worry, you’re not my type. Lobster isn’t on my menu. I’m a pescatarian. Now, mermaid . . .” 

My eyes flared at him. “I wasn’t really worried about that. But gee, thanks.” My flaming red thighs seemed to burn hotter in offended protest and aggravated pain at each one of his words. I winced as he jostled me about. The sand really didn’t seem that uneven. Maybe he was having some fun with me. 

I couldn’t believe that this attractive man was having to carry my curvy butt down the beach. To distract myself, I looked back at our dogs. At least they seemed to be enjoying our little jaunt down the beach. They look absolutely chummy. Sebastian was being quite the traitor, especially since I wasn’t sure how I felt about this man and, by association, his dog. 

Unfortunately, “He-man” had taken notice. “What? Are the dogs doing ok? And does Sebastian realize he should follow us?” 

“Sebastian is a service dog. He’s extremely intelligent, thank you,” I responded quickly, offended by his lack of faith in Sebastian. 

“Yeah, hopefully he’s more “street smart” than his owner,” he jested back. “Well, as long as the dogs are still with us. I know Penny will be fine. She is extremely well-trained.” 

“As in Penny-wise?” I half chuckled. 

“No, I did not name my dog after some killer-clown.” He looked at me with amusement. “This is not some Misery situation either . . . If that makes you feel any better.” He laughed. 

“Well, if the ridiculously oversized shoe fits.” I laughed, and then I tried to guess again about the origin of Penny’s name. “101 Dalmatians?”

“What?” he asked indignantly. “Is there even a dog named Penny in that movie?” 

I looked at him and his clever grin. He obviously “loved” that I couldn't guess the meaning behind his dog’s name. He’d be so lucky to have his dog named after an adorable Disney film character. 

“So she’s just a good luck penny?” I queried, underwhelmed. 

“Just don’t worry about her,” he said swiftly. 

“Wow, nerve hit,” I parroted, expecting a witty rebuttal, but he didn’t say anything else. Instead, I felt him suddenly turn and cut up through the sand, moving away from the shore. We moved inland through a community of soft cream buildings. The furrowed expression on his face told me there was a fifty percent chance I was getting “Bundied.” And his shark’s tooth necklace was starting to look a little sinister to me now. 

The beach was becoming smaller and smaller, making me even more nervous. I swallowed hard. Okay, more like a seventy-five percent chance now. We began heading toward a group of bungalows that were clustered together. It was the cutest community I’d ever seen. I could just imagine neighbors yelling across to one another and asking to “borrow some coconut sugar.” The thought warmed my soul. How nice it would be to live in this serene paradise. Well . . . paradise minus the one “He-Man” fly in the ointment. But I wasn’t going to let that ruin this little fantasy for me. 

There was a woman standing on the  top story of one of the bungalow’s wooden lanais, cleaning a rug. She was striking the rug ferociously with the end of a broom. It was like witnessing a scene straight out of an old black-and-white movie. I was just waiting for Jimmy Stewart to walk out the screen door and scold her in his trademark comical manner for cleaning the rug improperly. 

The woman looked up as she saw us approaching, squinting in the sunlight and shielding her eyes with her hand. She looked to be in her mid-seventies with beautifully tanned skin and jet-black hair lightly peppered with gray. 

“Keiki! What are you doing?” she said in a warm, but scolding tone. “Ka'u moopuna,” she said, as she tsked loudly. 

“He-man” just shook his head and began briskly climbing the outdoor stairs to the top lanai while the dogs bounded up behind us. This older woman must be the midwife and grandmother he had talked about. She must have been referring to him as her grandson. I looked at him and he just raised an eyebrow. 

When we’d reached the top, he stood before the slight woman, towering over her, with me in his arms. I felt extremely awkward with the towel still wrapped around me as I clung onto her grandson. My face cringed thinking about my burned skin underneath the towel and how they might react when they saw it.  

“Oh, Keiki. I don’t think I’m going to want to hear this . . . but what happened?” She looked at me with reddened cheeks and obvious concern.  

I would have burst out laughing at her unexpected reaction except for the fact that I was too embarrassed myself. Well, I didn't need to worry about my Bundy theory, at least . . . not at this particular moment.

Chapter 3 | Locke

 

 

I couldn’t believe I had carried this woman home. This seriously was just my luck. I would be the one to find this type of “treasure.” But it wasn’t every day that a tourist washed up on shore looking like a stranded mermaid and making such a grand entrance. And as much as I had learned to stay away from women my age, I just couldn’t leave her washed up on the beach, surrounded by all those rubbernecking tourists. This woman’s pain and humiliation wasn’t something that needed to be included in their Instagram feed.  

And just like that, without another thought, I had gone to her aid, warding off the beachcombers like they were snakes in an Indiana Jones film. Thankfully, it hadn’t taken too much effort to get the malihinis to move along, especially since they’d already seen most of the “show” anyway. 

What I should have done was just carry her up higher on the beach, set her on a towel and ask her if she was okay.  Then I could have left her there to recover some of her dignity. Alone. I’m sure she was more than capable of taking care of herself. She didn’t need some grand “rescue.” Why hadn’t I done that? It would have been so simple. I was feeling really stupid. I could have at least let her walk after she collected herself. But no, instead I’d gone full Hulk and carried her back to my bungalow. Some primal caveman force had overtaken me. Now I was ready to club that caveman over the head and barricade him in the cave farthest away from me. 

Hopefully, Tutu could quickly take care of the “Little Mermaid” and she’d be on her way. One more attractive tourist I wouldn’t see again. And I’d have done my good deed for the day. Maybe for my karmic reward, Tutu would stop harassing me. She’d been way too concerned lately about my lack of a love life or more specifically my lack of a wife. Yes . . . a wife . . . not just a girlfriend. She’d moved way past that. Now, she was worried about my nonexistent wedding and my lack of a potential bride. Actually, at this point, she was concerned that maybe I wasn’t even interested in women. She’d even gone so far as to  introduce me to a man at one social gathering. I had literally spat out my drink on the poor guy who apparently had been very interested in me. And while I was flattered, that wasn’t the problem. Tutu didn’t have my preferences wrong. Well, maybe she did . . . I preferred to be alone. 

Tutu didn’t seem to understand this concept. It only caused her to push harder. I guess I got my hard-headedness from her. And being her only grandson didn’t help matters. I didn’t especially want to be the one to continue the family legacy. And I didn’t see any problems with it stopping with me.  

But when I had carried this woman up the stairs, my grandmother had beamed like she’d been given a new lease on life. She had exuded such unadulterated happiness. She’d tried to hide it by reprimanding me, but her joy couldn’t be concealed–neither could her excitement. And I’m sure “Ariel” had noticed it too. The Ariel moniker was what I’d decided to call this mystery woman for the time being in my head. And she really did remind me of that particular mermaid. But I got too much satisfaction out of calling her any other character’s name from the movie. 

I just couldn’t believe she’d managed to get both sunburned and sand-burned, too. I’d like to say I didn’t see bad burns that often, but unfortunately that would be a lie. You wouldn’t believe what tourists would do or tour companies either for that matter. Neither one seemed to have enough respect for the power of the ocean or the sun. Mother Nature was just a joke to them, but they quickly found out who got the last laugh. 

My mind quickly snapped back to the present as Tutu started busily moving around the inside of the house, asking me lots of questions as the mermaid continued to grip me even tighter. Her bright blue eyes shined worriedly. Really, she did look like an animated princess. And I probably looked like some villain shrouded in black. With that vivid image in mind, I set the mermaid gently on the sofa where Tutu had thoughtfully laid down some blankets. Now that Tutu understood this was not a “Bachelor” situation, she looked nothing short of deflated. No one was getting a rose today. I hadn’t whisked some woman away to paradise or swept them off their feet either. No, this was more like a Baywatch call.   

But to my surprise, the mermaid clung tightly to me when I tried to release her onto the blankets. It was like I was trying to release her back into the sea and she didn’t want to go. Didn’t she know what was good for her? 

As I gathered my thoughts, the dogs caught my attention. Ironically enough, our dogs seemed to be experiencing puppy love. Penny had already invited Sebastian into her doggie bed and they were happily curled up together on the living room floor. I was going to have a talk with her. You didn’t just open your heart up to a stray like that. But all I could do was silently laugh as I glanced at them, seeing their snouts nuzzling each other. Because it was obviously way too late for that talk. I think they’d already imprinted on each other, making their instant connection known. Did dogs do that? Or was that only ducklings? Yup, it was definitely puppy love. When I looked back, I caught the mermaid smiling at them too. 

I glanced down at the towel. For her sake, I wasn’t really sure if I was ready to reveal what was underneath it. So my arms continued to hold her as we stayed in this awkward limbo. I offered what I could. “Tutu can take a look and see if she can help. I’ll leave the room and let you have some privacy. I just have to find a way to extract myself.” I chuckled, trying to make her feel better about the situation. 

She shook her head repeatedly. No? Why is she saying no? But her grip made me realize she wanted me to stay. Why? How can I possibly make anything better for her or safer for her? Wow, this mermaid really wouldn’t last long at sea. She had terrible survival instincts. She’d take the first shiny lure that came her way. 

“No?” I asked and she shook her head some more. 

“Don’t go. Please stay. You’ll be honest with me if I don’t understand everything. . . I think. Distract me somehow in the meantime, please,” she said with an anxious tone to her voice.

I nodded, still stunned, but for some reason there was nowhere I’d rather be.

Chapter 4

“So . . .” I stalled for time, floundering around cluelessly. Her baby blue eyes gazed up at my face, locking onto me and trying to find some relief. Oh, she was definitely barking up the wrong tree here.

Tutu broke into my thoughts, “Keiki, you have to move now. How am I going to look at the woman with your arms still around her? And you’re going to have to go somewhere else so I can properly examine her.” 

I looked at Tutu’s furrowed, sun-kissed brow and then back at the mermaid. “Right, and that would be–” I began.

“Locke, please remove your arms now,” she instructed brusquely, and I did as I was told, untangling us like a fish  removing itself from masses of seaweed. I tried to maneuver around her as gently as possible, but “Ariel” still winced. Tutu instructed me, “Stand by her head, facing away from her, and I’ll have a look. I’ll make a tent with a towel for privacy too. Hopefully some cream and bandages will do the trick. She’ll need to watch for infection and change her bandages as often as is necessary, depending on the severity of her burns.” I looked dumbfoundedly at Tutu. “Distract her, Keiki. You can do that. Tsk tsk.” She made a disapproving sound at my lack of logical thinking and began to busy herself with her examination.

“So . . . ” I began again, trying to come up with something better to say this time as she winced again. 

Tutu apologized. “Sorry dear, but at least it’s not as bad as I expected. Your swimsuit is actually in pretty good shape–it didn’t tear. I’ll be able to remove the towel in a minute. I’m sure your sunburn is making the sand rash much more painful. Although I have to say your skin is more inflamed than I’m used to seeing. You’re also swelling quite a bit, and your body seems to be reacting more than I usually see with something like this. You’re getting a rash, too. My guess is you already had some sun poisoning–” 

“It’s my Lupus,” Mermaid said matter-of-factly, not once looking at me, only gazing ahead. I had no idea what that meant, except it sounded very similar to the Hawaiian word for wolf. And she sure didn't look like a wolf to me. No, she still looked very much like an enchanting siren of the sea. 

“Ahh, ku’uipo. I see, I see. The sun’s not good–” 

“I know,” she said hesitantly, stopping Tutu again. “I usually never go to the beach. Staying out in the sun makes me feel pretty miserable, so I try to avoid being outside in the direct sunlight anymore. But I wanted to have a beach experience at least one time, especially while I was here on this beautiful, tropical island. I’ve dreamed about taking a beach vacation for such a long time. Maybe if I had my Lupus under better control . . . But I got tired of waiting for the “right time” for my dream vacation. Plus, there was also a huge ukulele convention here that I didn’t want to miss. I just underestimated the strength of the sun and apparently the waves, too,” she finished dejectedly.    

Tutu responded thoughtfully, “I understand, ku’uipo.  We need to make sure we watch your burns carefully though. And you’re going to need to be much more cautious in the sun. It is much stronger here than most people realize. The ozone layer keeps getting thinner. I’m going to get my medicine bag and make a healing cream for your burns now.” 

The mermaid thanked her, and Tutu hurried off, rapidly talking to herself. 

I don’t know why I was scared to look at the mermaid now, but I was. “So,” I offered for a third time, sounding like the total idiot “surfer dude” cliche that I hated so much. I was a man of few words, but that made the situation worse today. My usual blunt and to the point  conversations weren’t exactly what you wanted in this type of situation. I knew I didn’t have a warm, welcoming exterior, so I was trying my best to be comforting and put her at ease. I made yet another attempt at conversation. “So, where are you staying while you’re here? I’d be happy to drive you there once Tutu is finished treating you. I don’t think you need any more surf or sun for today. Seems like some rest would be best for you this afternoon.” 

She didn’t respond; rather, she chose to gaze at our dogs. I was beginning to wonder why this Lupus thing required her to have a service dog. I had noticed that the patch on her golden’s blue vest was similar to the one on Penny’s bright red one. Penny was wearing red, even though she had clearly cast her vote for a neon pink vest in the pet store by excitedly sniffing it. But I just couldn’t bring myself to put that color on her yet. Of course, I had eventually been persuaded to buy her both the pink and the red vests, even though she had yet to wear her “pretty in pink” one. But her soulful chocolate eyes were wearing me down every day. Penny always seemed to get anything and everything she wanted. She already got way too much table food and the vet was constantly lecturing me about it. But Penny meant the world to me so I couldn’t deny her anything. Not even a pink vest. Even if she is color blind. 

Although, right now I was a tad bit annoyed with Penny since she was curled up with the mermaid’s dog, quickly becoming his “little spoon.” And what kind of name was Sebastian for a dog anyway?  I looked at “Ariel,” willing her to break eye contact with our dogs. The encouraging looks she was giving them would only make it harder to split them up when it was time for them to leave. I sure hoped to heaven Sebastian was neutered. The last thing I needed was “baby lobsters” running around–that would be trouble for sure. And if “Ariel” was their grandmother . . . Well, I could already tell that co-grandparenting with her would spell trouble . . . 

“Uh, well, that’s an interesting question,” she remarked slowly. 

My head snapped back to her. “Interesting how?” My eyes narrowed. “You’re not planning to sleep on the beach White Lotus-style, are you? You know, there are rules against that here.”  

“No, I was just waiting until my lodging became available later today. So we’ve only been living out of my rental car  this morning, thank you.” Then she looked at me skeptically. “Well, I was going to stay at a hotel, but I’ve never traveled with Sebastian before, and I hear there can be a lot of “confusion” when it comes to service dogs. Usually only small dogs are allowed in hotels, and they’re not always receptive to service dogs, especially larger ones. They’re more accustomed to toy chihuahuas that can fit in purses. You know, Bruiser-sized. Not . . .” She looked at Sebastian. “Not full-sized Beethovens.” 

I shook my head, clearing it. “Bruisers?” 

“Legally Blonde,” she said quickly, as if that should clue me in.  

“Yeah, ok. Then that’s what you should have named your dog, Mermaid.”  

She shot me a perturbed glance. “My name is Guinevere, not “Mermaid,” thank you. Guin for short and no, you can’t use that.” 

My eyebrows snapped up at her “don’t mess with me” rebuttal. I paused before venturing, “You never know if resorts are going to “accommodate” special requests, especially for service dogs, but they are required by law to do so.” 

“Yes, I know. I did do my research,” she said with the same annoyed look. “But I didn’t want to take the chance of a resort refusing him lodging or having any trouble when I arrived, so I decided to go with a different option.” 

“Ok, Mermaid. And this option would be . . . ?” She shot daggers at me, which I rather enjoyed if I’m being honest with myself. “So where did you decide to stay?” I tried again, but she didn’t say anything; instead, she raised one eyebrow at me. I laughed heartily. 

She reluctantly spoke. “I feel like you’re going to judge me. I don’t know exactly where the place is. But, when I received my convention ticket, they had included an online bulletin with the names of locals who offered to host people who would be attending the ukulele convention. I guess it’s like VRBO aloha-style.”    

I couldn’t stop laughing as she stared even harder at me. “And you were worried about me? You’re planning on staying in a complete stranger’s home for the rest of the week and I’m the stranger danger?” Her laser beam eyes were burning a hole through me now and I was thoroughly enjoying it. 

She continued to glare. “I knew you would judge me for this, so that’s why I didn’t tell you earlier. There was a nice online message board where you could talk with the hosts and get to know them, so it’s not completely random. The paper with my host's address is in the pocket of Sebastian’s vest, but I’m starting to have second thoughts about it now. Maybe I should just stay at a hotel, although I imagine they’re probably all booked by now with the convention. Perhaps you can look at the address and see if you know where it is. I was hoping I was close so I could go “check-in” this afternoon. But with my sense of direction, I’ll probably end up on the wrong island.”

She called Sebastian over and I started rummaging through his vest pocket to find the paper, thoroughly enjoying myself as I did. She continued, “You see, I’m not crazy. It’s just that this family has an emotional support dog, so I knew they would be more understanding about my service dog. And I also thought it would be a better option with my special dietary needs–that I would have more control over my food choices.” She glanced down at her arm quickly. “And I really enjoyed the online chats I had with the adorable older lady who posted the listing. We had a lot in common. She used to play the ukulele, that’s why she wanted to help support the convention. And she said she had the sweetest grandson that took care of her . . .” Her voice dropped off with a dawning realization. 

She looked at me, horrified, as I stared at the address on the piece of paper. 

“Why is my address listed on this piece of paper?” I asked in shock as I stared at Guin. “Tutu!?” I called out loudly in dismay.

“Sweet grandson?!?” the mermaid said in utter disgust, her eyebrows arched in disbelief. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a timid shadow making its way into the room.

“Yes, Keiki?” Tutu’s sweet, demure voice cut through the electrified air. Her “elderly” voice sounded so frail now that I’m sure even the mermaid could clearly tell she was laying it on thick. It was her “get out of jail free” card. She was standing in the living room doorway surrounded by her home’s beach bungalow decor, a perfect fit for this calm and serene woman. Her long, patterned floral dress matched the light blue walls perfectly. She looked like a chameleon trying to blend in with her surroundings so as to avoid getting caught.

“Do you want to explain this to me?” I handed her the piece of paper with the “reservation” on it. 

“Oh, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that,” she said innocently. 

“Talk to me about it? When exactly? Check-in time says three o’clock,” I said sternly. “It’s now almost two thirty.”  

“Well, we have thirty minutes to talk about it,” she replied nonchalantly. 

“Tutu!” 

“Oh, Locke, where is your aloha hospitality? Of course no resort is really going to want to take a dog that size, even if it is a service dog. You know that. This is Maui. They don’t expect people to bring large dogs to this island. Especially ones that aren’t celebrity teacup-size. And it’s only natural that she wants a place to stay where her larger dog would feel welcomed.” She looked disapprovingly at me. “When she contacted me, I had to say yes. Just look at those two sweet dogs together.” Tutu glanced over at them now, mirroring their pitiful eyes.

She turned to the mermaid. “I’m so sorry, dear. I didn’t recognize you from your picture. You look so different in your  . . . beach attire.” I guess that was a nice way of describing what the mermaid looked like after getting pummeled, dragged under the water, somersaulted over the sand, and finally spit out onto the shore. 

I stared at Tutu, not knowing what to do with her. And then I looked back over at the mermaid’s face, whose mouth obviously wasn’t going to close any time soon. This was just perfect. 

The mermaid responded to Tutu, “I didn’t recognize you either. Your photo was so pixelated on the site. I actually couldn’t see you very well.”

I looked at both of them, trying to think fast. “I have some friends,” I jumped in quickly. “I’ll see if they can find a place for you to stay.” 

Tutu huffed.“Keiki, we have a perfectly good place for her to stay. All the arrangements have already been made,” she hissed as if it was the end of the discussion. Her look of disappointment fell on me. 

I looked at her, feeling like a small child in kindergarten again. This was as bad as when I’d used crayons to draw a family mural on Tutu’s kitchen wall. In my defense there were a lot of murals in Hawaii, so I did think it was justified. 

“Yeah? And what room were you planning to “check” her into?” I asked sarcastically. 

“Keiki!” She looked embarrassed but also quite upset with me at the same time. “We will figure it out. We have more than one bedroom. It’s alright. We will make sure she is taken care of,” she said, eyeing me. 

Yeah, your room or mine, I thought. But her look of determination was fiercely settled on me. “Of course,” I interjected swiftly, “I’m sure we could set up a spot at the surf shack for the mermaid to stay overnight until she’s able to find an available hotel. And she can have the whole place to herself until I open the shop in the morning.” 

Tutu tsked even louder this time. “Keiki, the surf shack, really? That’s the best you can do?” Her eyes penetrated through me. I thought I had made her a pretty nice offer because there was no way she was staying here. The surf shack had once been a house, so it had a full bathroom, and my office could easily be made into a place for her and Sebastian to sleep overnight. I still couldn’t help but say Sebastian’s name sarcastically in my mind. 

Tutu’s voice broke through my thoughts as she reprimanded me. “Guin can stay here with us–as planned, Locke.”  

“Really? . . . Because I think “planned” is a pretty loose term here,” I shot back. 

Even though the bungalow was technically my house, Tutu ran things like it was hers and I was usually more than happy to let her do so. She knew how to do most things better than I could anyway. After my grandfather passed, I moved Tutu here with me since I hated the idea of her going to assisted living, especially when I had a place where she could easily stay. She needed more help now, especially since she’d had a bad fall and driving was no longer easy for her. I was happy to drive her whenever she needed to go and to provide whatever assistance she required. But I really wanted to be there for her mentally, whenever or however I could. And usually her mind was much sharper than mine–when it wasn’t working against her.

I just looked at this sweet, yet very tough woman who had nursed me back to health so many times, especially when I’d needed it the most. I could never say no to her. But I was really surprised that she’d be totally fine with a complete stranger staying with us. I mean, how much could she even know about this woman, if anything? 

I tried again to reason with Tutu. “I’m sure I can find her a perfectly fine place to stay. Much nicer than here. I’m sure she doesn’t want to–” 

“Keiki!” was all she abruptly said, as if I was embarrassing her. This was a rare request; she hardly ever made any. 

“Ok.” I nodded quickly. The mermaid had been looking between us with hesitancy. I turned to her. “Would you like to stay here?” I asked, extending a reluctant invitation. I made eye contact with her for only a moment as I said it. 

“Oh, um . . . what did you say about some of your friends–” She began to ask as Tutu came over to stand beside her. Tutu continued stirring the healing cream she had concocted in one of her iconic coconut bowls. Her mortar and pestle were stirring vigorously now. Scents from the coconut oil, vitamin e, aloe vera, lavender, chamomile, and other essential oils awoke my childhood memories. Watching my grandmother work had always been one of my favorite things to do. It calmed me. There was just something peaceful about it. A sense of home. Maybe it was because I had grown up watching her help sick people. It had always been a special treat when I was allowed to watch her healing hands do their work. But these days she wasn't able to do much of that anymore. Seeing her like this again was really comforting. It hurt me so much to see her lose parts of herself. It especially hurt knowing there was nothing I was able to do to give those missing pieces back to her. But at that moment, one of those pieces had reunited with her and it was beautiful to see. 

After a few minutes of working, Tutu put her hand on the Mermaid’s towel and asked if she could remove it since everything was covered. The mermaid nodded. I watched as Tutu started to gently apply the cream to the burns around her swimsuit. Then I winced thinking about how tender her skin must be. The burn looked so painful. And Tutu was right, it was really inflamed. Even I could see that.

I was determined to make Tutu happy so I extended another invitation to the mermaid. “Really, we both want you to have somewhere comfortable to stay, a place where Sebastian will be welcomed.” I said the dog’s name with the best smile I could manage. Although I think it probably looked more like the Joker’s grin. Nothing against the dog, he was absolutely adorable. Well, other than the fact that he was moving way too fast with Penny. I guess I was one of those protective dog dads. 

“Oh, well if the surf shack won’t be too much trouble, that would be wonderful. Plus, I can go shopping every night  I have insomnia.” She laughed and it was a melodious Disney princess laugh. I felt like I’d been transported  “under the sea.” I imagined her singing, "I've got gadgets and gizmos a-plenty . . . ” as she breezed down the surf shack’s aisles enjoying a midnight shopping spree. My eyes winced at the overzealous image being burned into my brain. And I shuddered at the fact that I actually enjoyed it being there.

“Well, I don’t know what you’ll think about surfing gizmos–” I began as my eyes traveled to where Tutu’s hands worked on her left arm. It was covered by something that looked a lot like a wetsuit sleeve wrapped around her elbow. I hadn't seen anything like that before. We certainly didn’t carry anything like that in the store. Tutu started to remove it, but the mermaid pulled away reflexively. Her face took on a protective shield.

Tutu looked at her with a gentle, soft firmness and “Ariel” relented. I watched Tutu unfurl the sleeve with a grace and gentleness that had been honed in our family for generations. My grandmother came from a long line of midwives. As her only grandchild, she had been determined to give me the tools to become one. She wasn’t going to let gender roles stop her. It’s just that I didn’t have a very nurturing personality. At least not with strangers. I had always been pretty shy, especially growing up. And it was probably my lack of a bedside manner that really put the nail in that coffin.

My eyes locked curiously onto the mermaid’s arm. Tubing poked out at the top of the elbow sleeve as more of her arm was revealed. It was peering out at me like an anticipatory answer to a question that I knew would greatly change the course of things. Tutu’s dark chocolate eyes snapped up and connected to the mermaid’s’s sorrowful blue ones as if the answer was just revealed. 

“Locke, the surf shack isn’t going to be good enough,” Tutu said sternly. 

“I’ve got a really comfy blow-up bed–”

“Locke! Hâmau!” She was asking for silence while also demanding that I stop my suggestions. Tutu’s eyes looked over at the service dogs and then back to “Ariel.” “It’s not necessary to separate the service dogs.” She spoke with a hoarseness in her voice now. Then she spoke to the mermaid, “But, it’s up to you. What would you like to do, ku’uipo?” 

“Guin,” she replied softly. 

“Guin, what would you like to do? I can take better care of you here though. And either way, I don’t think Locke ever properly introduced us. You’ll just have to excuse him. He thinks brutes are in style. He certainly has been taught better manners than he’s showing today. You can call me Tutu if you like, but my name is Kelani.” 

The mermaid laughed at my expense, which I knew I deserved, and considering the day she’d had I definitely wouldn’t begrudge her the relief. But as we waited for her response, I didn’t seem to be able to stop glancing at her tubing. I knew it was rude, but I wanted to understand, and it seemed I was the only one in the room who was lost. She kept proving to be more and more of an enigma to me. And with each new clue I got, the more she intrigued me.

 

Finally glancing away from her arm, I managed to look at Guinevere. I guess I should get used to her real name, even if I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of using it, especially if I was going to be the only one not allowed to use her nickname. I spoke with what I hoped was an encouraging tone, “Yes, Mermaid, I think it would be cruel to split up the dogs. You really are welcome to stay here. The situation just took me by surprise,” I said, as I looked at the happily snoozing dogs. Who am I to get in the way of puppy love? At least someone in this house had found some.

 

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Chapter 5

I couldn’t believe I was actually holding my breath as I waited for her response. The mermaid was taking her sweet time too. I thought we had offered her a pretty sweet deal. And our accommodations were obviously pet-friendly. Plus, our bungalow came with a “medical healer.” It didn’t seem to get much better than that for “Aloha VRBO.” 

I didn’t know anything about Lupus, but I was beginning to remember a few things about medical tubing. I’d seen Tutu check “ports” before, but that was usually for cancer, and I only remember seeing them in someone’s neck or chest. At that thought, my mind started to whirl with questions. Now I really did want the mermaid to say yes. I was afraid of what might happen to her, if she were left to her own devices. 

After a substantial amount of time, Guinevere said, “Yes, thank you. But only if you are absolutely sure.” 

“Ok?!” I said, maybe with a little too much excitement in my voice. She seemed surprised by that. I think I startled myself too. It was like my subconscious had taken over without my permission.  

“If you’re sure . . .” she said, this time with much more pause. As if my unexpected excitement was making her reconsider.  She looked up at me with those big doe eyes of hers. Ones I had tried to avoid looking into as I’d carried her here. 

There was this self-conscious look in her eyes as she continued, “It would really be nice to stay somewhere that understands about dogs like Sebe and my unique restrictions,” she said quietly. And that punched me in the gut–the feeling of not wanting to always have to explain yourself and be the “different” one hit me hard. To want to be somewhere you were understood.

But Tutu replied before I had a chance to say anything else. “Yes, we’re sure. Don’t worry about anything. We want you to have a wonderful stay here and hope you’ll enjoy your time at the ukulele convention.” Tutu was absolutely beaming. Then her expression took on a more serious tone.

 

“We need to make arrangements for this, if you haven’t already,” she said softly as she assessed Guinevere’s arm and the mermaid nodded in response. Tutu smiled back and turned to me. “Locke, would you please make us some hibiscus tea while we discuss some things?” 

I stood there a little shocked that Tutu was already kicking me out. It didn’t appear they were going to  explain anything to me, certainly not anything about the tubing in her arm. Tutu was making sure I would be kept busy preparing the tea. I had certainly had more than my fair share of experiences as Tutu’s sidekick, but this time I had an overwhelming feeling of wanting to stay in the room. But I knew Tutu’s  ploys all too well. She used to run me for tea when she didn’t want me to see or hear something. 

“Ok,” I replied, with nowhere near the enthusiasm I had expressed earlier. I turned and then pivoted back and jokingly asked,  “Do mermaids drink hibiscus tea?” 

This time there was a genuine smile from her. “Well, if there’s not a seaweed one available, they do,” she volleyed back at me. 

“Oh, I could find–” I began. 

“Locke,” Tutu said impatiently, and I hurried toward the kitchen that was starting to feel not so much like my own anymore.  

As soon as the light cream-colored, swinging shutter doors closed behind me in the tiny kitchen, I went to put the kettle on to boil, trying to distract myself from my annoying curiosity. But my mind kept latching onto the quiet muffled sounds of their voices. I heaved a sigh of exasperation as I left the kettle and leaned against the wall beside the swinging doors, trying my best to hear their conversation. I knew it was wrong, but since I hadn’t made the “best” first impression on her, I knew I wasn’t going to be welcomed into her trust circle anytime soon. I’d barely even gotten her name. 

I seriously looked like a character in an episode of The Three Stooges with my ear pressed against the doorway. This was why I needed to stay away from women. My capacity for showing interest had been reduced to this. Was I Moe, Larry or Curly? I guess I really didn’t want to know. And I was sure to get smacked on the nose by the door and rightly deserved it too. But hopefully, I would hear some of their conversation before that happened. 

I looked over at the kettle, hoping it would begin to boil so it wouldn’t be too obvious what I was doing. I brought my attention back to my meddlesome spot by the door, just in time to catch the tail end of their conversation. 

“Will you be able to drive?” Tutu asked the mermaid. “I sure wish I still could. Locke has to drive me everywhere these days. He really is a good man. Life just hasn’t been very kind to him,” Tutu continued. I sighed at the remark. The mermaid didn’t need to know anything more about me . . . I hoped Tutu hadn’t already said too much while I was busy putting on the tea kettle. 

“Oh yes. I have a rental car and I can drive. Really, please don’t worry about me. Usually I’m better at taking care of myself. I just didn’t do a good job of it today since it was my first day at the beach. And well . . . I guess I didn't do too well with the reservation either.” She let out a tiny laugh. “But my mind has been much more easily distracted lately . . .” 

“Of course, of course, mao ku’uipo.” I wondered if Mermaid had any idea Tutu had been calling her “sweetheart” this whole time. I let out a laugh. Then I silenced myself, worried they’d hear me. Tutu almost never called anyone by that name anymore. It was one of the names she’d called her patients when she’d practiced midwifery. And while it seemed to have a different connotation for the mermaid than it had had for her patients, it was still daunting to hear Tutu call her by that name. But in another way, it was a relief. Another piece restored. Another reminder of how much had been taken away from Tutu recently. How was this woman bringing so much back to her in one casual interaction? 

Tutu continued, “I completely understand. I used to be better at taking care of myself too. And I used to take care of other people who lived around here as well.” Even from this distance I could hear the sadness in her voice. And it gutted me. I felt like the unlucky fish who wasn't getting thrown back into the sea. 

The kettle started whistling, and then I heard it go silent in the other room. Apparently neither one of them wanted me to hear their conversation. Fair enough after my unwelcoming manner earlier today. I finished preparing the tea and hurried back out to Tutu and Guinevere. I’d placed monk fruit and pineapple rock candy on the tray as sweeteners. I kept the rock candy stocked at the surf shack for motion sickness and I kept it handy during boat excursions. We’d started using the excess in our tea. It was pretty addictive if you asked me. 

“So, is it all settled?” I asked casually, pretending like I wasn’t interested in the details. 

Tutu grinned, apparently seeing right through me. “Yes, Keiki. It’s all settled. If Guin needs some help driving, I told her you would be more than happy to help, even though she has insisted she will be fine. But you never know. We all need help, every now and again.” 

I swallowed, looking at Guinevere, wondering where I’d be driving. I knew it must have something to do with her tubing and condition. I wondered if either one of them was going to tell me about it now. No, I’m sure after how I’d acted, I was going to have to earn that trust. People didn’t just confer all their secrets to me like they did with Tutu. Whatever was going on, it was serious. And talking about it obviously hurt, so exposing that pain would only be for a select few. I could relate. However, I didn’t usually get the luxury of choosing. That’s why I tried so hard to disguise mine. Kind of hard to do on a tropical island, but I managed, or at least well enough if people didn’t know where to look. 

I glanced back at Guinevere. There was so much vulnerability in her expression that even her Little Mermaid mask couldn’t hide it. 

I tried to reply more gently, “Yeah, of course I can drive you. That’s the best part of being a surf shop owner. You’re expected to be unreliable and keep sporadic hours. If you aren’t a “free spirit,” people feel cheated, like you’re not the real deal. I’ll just pop over to the shop and put the closed sign on the door, or I’ll get someone to cover for me,” I remarked, hoping to hear another melodious, sea siren laugh . . . which I got. I couldn’t believe how much I liked her laughter. How much I wanted it. I kept feeling drawn to her. Maybe it was because she seemed like she needed a friend, and just like me, she was too stubborn to ask for one–to open herself up to one. And that thought melted some of the protective glacier around my heart, which was kinda ironic since I lived in a tropical place and had warm Hawaiian blood running through my veins and all that . . . But there were reasons my heart had turned arctic and I needed to remember that. 

I stood up quickly, eliciting a startled look from my grandmother. “Where are you going, Keiki?” 

“Uh, I just remembered I need to close up the shop for Dean. He’ll wonder what happened to me.” I quickly gave my  excuse. 

“Dean will be fine. You said you took the rest of the day off,” Tutu said, remembering my words quite clearly. She would only occasionally forget small things, for which I was very grateful. But now would have been a really convenient time for a memory slip. I just needed some time to clear my head and surfing was my way of doing that. 

I’d just swing by the shop first to check on my new staff member, Dean. I knew he’d be fine, but he still looked really nervous when I left him in charge of the business. Probably due to the fact that Dean couldn’t find a job that came with health insurance which was something his family desperately needed. And it seemed that an arrest at a drug bust, followed by a misdemeanor charge had something to do with it. As a result Dean had been desperate for a job to support his family and pay their overdue medical bills, but the charge seemed to follow him wherever he went. After hiring Dean, I learned that cannabis was used to help ease his wife’s pain from cancer treatments. It also allowed her to eat, gave her some quality of life, and allowed her to spend time with their children.We usually all have pretty good reasons for why we do desperate things, and Dean seemed like the type of man to have had a good reason. The type of man I was more than willing to give a second chance. And so far, I was more than glad I had.

Calling my bluff, Tutu went over and picked up our old rotary dial phone. The spiral cord wrapped around her worn finger like an old friend. Yes, we actually had one of those phone relics. I guess you could call us nostalgic. The phone had been one of Tutu’s many finds at our local area flea market. Within minutes of talking to Dean, she had her answer and was telling me to sit back down. That was my grandmother for you. 

“Dean said he is more than capable to watch the surf shack and for you to go enjoy your night, Locke,” she said pointedly, calling my bluff. “Although if you’d like to take Guin to get her things first, that would be okay too.” Oh, so that would be fine, would it? Tutu continued, “We probably need to bring her car back here. I doubt it’s a good idea to leave it in the public beach access parking lot all night.” She glanced over at the mermaid and then back to me, realizing that Guinevere wasn’t in any state to get her car right now. Then she spoke again quietly, “Better just get her things, Keiki.” 

Guinevere protested, but I finally got the car keys from her. This woman seemed even more stubborn than I was. But I’m assuming since she was relenting, the fatigue and pain from the burns had worn down her resistance. Under normal circumstances, I’m sure this endeavor would have been like getting Penny’s favorite chew toy away from her: impossible.  

“At least let me pour some tea for you and help you get situated so you can rest while I’m gone,” I said as I stared into her wild, stubborn eyes. Eyes that looked fiercer than the stormiest seas–and we’d weathered some beasts. 

“Ok, thank you.” She swallowed. She seemed wary of this new gentleness from me. I would be too. Barracudas were usually harmless until they saw something shiny. Maybe the mermaid thought she was the new shiny thing.  

As I poured her tea, I explained about the different sweeteners on the tray, trying to figure out what she might like. Then I went to get some pillows and a few more blankets for her. When I returned, I noticed that Tutu and the mermaid seemed quite content as they  peacefully sipped their tea together. It stirred something inside of me. Tutu definitely seemed to have things under control and would make sure the mermaid got some sleep. So I gently laid the blankets and pillows down beside them and took that as my cue to leave. I didn’t know what would be said while I was gone, but maybe that was the whole point. Tutu was clever that way.

Chapter 6

 

When I returned to the bungalow, I found a sleeping mermaid on our tropical palm leaf-patterned sofa. She actually looked docile. A laugh escaped me, and I hoped it wouldn’t wake her. Somehow I had a feeling she’d be even more fiery after being awakened. A sadistic part of me wanted to find out. Instead, I very carefully set her bags by the door. I’d left the dog carrier and food in my car for now. I lightly tiptoed around her, sliding past the sofa and stepping out onto the lanai where I was always sure to find Tutu. She was sitting on the wicker glider as the late afternoon sun was starting to dull, finally offering some relief from the heat. It was the first cool break in humidity for the day. 

My grandmother looked so relaxed sitting in her rocker under the grass tiki umbrella. It was a sight I always loved to see. Tutu enjoying life was infectious. You wouldn’t think she would enjoy touristy-type things like kitschy grass umbrellas and bodacious tiki huts, but those sorts of things made her smile. And it was wonderful to see. 

I came up behind her and put a hand slowly on her shoulder. She jumped at my gentle attempt to let her know I was there. It was pretty much our tradition. 

“Keiki, stop doing that. How can you walk so quietly? Especially for someone so tall.” She held her hand over her heart like I’d just stopped it. 

“Just graceful, I guess.” And she laughed at my facetious remark. I grabbed a chair and pulled it over to sit beside her. There was a tranquility in being together like this, looking out at our little community. Faintly in the distance, over the buildings, we could see the water. It was our little piece of heaven–kelani. The same as my grandmother’s name. But I believe the serenity came from Tutu. 

She glanced over at me. The tanned skin between her eyebrows furrowing in rows of concern as she asked, “Are you going to tell me what happened today? Or would you like my imagination to fill in the blanks? You know, I’m very creative.” She smiled mischievously, and I knew I wouldn’t prefer that option. She continued,  “I never expected such a grand entrance for our check-in service. Of all the women on the beach, Locke.” She laughed at me.

“Right, I guess I just somehow sensed you were up to no good . . .I mean, she was on the shore near our beach access walkway. So glad her sense of direction kicked in today.” And Tutu just shook her head at me. “So, are you gonna tell me what happened when I left now?” I volleyed right back, hoping she might take the bait. But she just looked at me, like she could see straight through me and was offended that I thought she could be fooled so easily. I knew better, but it wasn't like I had a lot of other options for finding out more about our “houseguest.” It was worth a shot. 

“Locke, you better ask her yourself. I’m not going to betray the pale keiki’s bond of trust. Just like I wouldn’t tell her certain things about you.” She looked at me with her worldly gaze, the “trump card” that always one-upped me. There was no denying it. She always beat me at the game of Rook, too. Her look served as a reminder of how much more life experience she had than me. 

I lifted my brows and then looked out onto the community surrounding us. Sometimes I forgot how much we tucked ourselves away. “How about you tell her a little bit about me, and I get to know a little more about her right now?” I playfully asked. 

“No, Keiki, I don’t think that’s how this works. But I’m glad to see you’re willing to negotiate. Only interested men barter.” Her smile was radiant. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make her quite that happy. Tutu continued, “You’ll have to be careful with this one, Keiki. In all ways. And however she reacts–if you decide to tell her about your situation–you need to remember to put her needs first, above your own.” 

I grimaced. That hardly seemed fair. The Hunchback got to hide away in his cathedral, the Creature in his cave, and the Phantom in his dungeon . . . surely I could be allowed to do the same. It’s funny, lately I’d been watching and reading things with a different perspective. I was now that person who felt deeply for flawed characters and their situations. 

I responded to Tutu’s remark, “And are you going to tell me why I need to be careful?” She just stared back at me, her solid features unmoving. Right. I sighed. “That’s what I thought.” At least it was worth a try.

She softened as her curiosity took over. “So, tell me what happened today.” 

“Oh, so you want to know about earlier today, but I get nothing in return? Is that how this works?” I bantered lightly with her. 

“Keiki, of course that’s how this works. I’m your tutu, and if you really love me . . . ” Her voice trailed off. 

“Alright, alright, save your energy. I wouldn’t want you expending it on my behalf. You knew this was always going to be the outcome.” She smiled widely at me. “Well, I took Penny to play fetch, and I was checking out the surf to see if it was going to be worth getting my board, when the mermaid washed up on shore, right in front of me.” 

“The mermaid?” she interrupted, eyebrow cocked. 

“Yeah, the mermaid,” I said matter-of-factly. “I felt a little like Major Nelson. But instead of finding a magical Jeannie, I found a distressed mermaid. And just think how much trouble Jeannie caused him.” 

“You can’t call her that, Locke,” she said firmly. “And I happen to know you love that show. You can’t hide it from me. I’m not the only one who’s enjoying TV Land with the mischievous blonde in a bottle.” 

I rolled my eyes playfully. I’d never admit to liking that show. But it was one of my favorites in the TV Land lineup that Tutu enjoyed watching on a nightly basis. “Well, Ariel is the other name option since Guinevere has made it clear we are on a formal name only basis.”

Tutu snickered at my words. “That really irritates you, doesn’t it?” she replied through her laughter. I scratched at my skin, which suddenly seemed aggravated. “I don’t think it will be long until Guin warms up to you and lets you have a few more privileges. You just have–”

“To earn them?” I parried. More laughter escaped from her. Apparently she found my annoyance comical. “Doesn’t protecting her from a crowd of rabid tourists and carrying her back to my home count for something?” I looked out, fixing my eyes on the ocean and not on Tutu. 

“No, Locke, it doesn’t. Not with this one. Not even close.” I rolled my eyes at her, and she continued, “Do you know how you must seem to someone like her? You’re like a brooding Rocky. That’s intimidating.” 

“Well, then she should know I’m not going anywhere. I’m trustworthy–” 

“I wasn't done,” Tutu interrupted me. “You’re not exactly warm and fuzzy, Keiki. And with this one, you’re going to have to learn to give a little something more in order to get to know her better. And I believe you’re going to have to be tender in the process. Think of those funny movies with “The Rock” trying to be gentle. You can do it too. I believe in you. Look how sweet you are with me. How friendly and compassionate you are with the people that are Ohana to you.” 

“That’s different. It’s you.” I scoffed. “And that’s ‘family.’”

“Well, at least we know you’re capable of being sweet and gentle. But most of all, I’m glad to see you are interested.” 

“I’m not interested,” I replied a little too quickly.

Tutu chuckled. “Ok. Well, since you’re so uninterested, it shouldn’t be a problem to be gentle and patient.” She looked at me, assessing how I handled her comment. I folded my arms as she continued. “Keiki, there’s a lot for you to learn. Why don’t you just talk to her and ask her what you want to know? How about I make a nice dinner, and then the two of you can take the dogs for a walk on the beach . . . together. A nice sunset walk. The dogs seem to get along very well, so maybe they will provide you with some inspiration.” 

She tittered. As much as I wanted, I couldn’t get the corners of my lips to fold downward. It was impossible with this woman. So I said, “Penny sure dived right in.” 

“Yeah, I think you could learn something from Penny, Locke.” 

“Penny doesn't even know if he has fleas. And I’m the one who’s going to be left patching her broken heart when they leave.” My voice rose slightly.

 

Tutu’s eyebrows raised. “Are you sure we’re talking about Penny?” I just stared at her, aggravated that she'd called me out on it. “I don’t think she’s the one you need to be worried about.” She eyed me back. “Plus, Penny has you . . . and you have me. But there is a very scared and lonely woman on your sofa, even if she doesn’t show it. One that could use a friend. And I think you could use someone who understands you too. I’m not getting any younger.” 

“You’re plenty young.” At my words, a sad smile spread across her lips. 

“Maybe . . . but parts of me are not.” And those words fractured me. She started to get up. “I’m going to make some mahi mahi and plantains. How does that sound?” 

I stopped her, placing my hand softly on her shoulder. “It sounds like that’s going to be very nice for me to make while you rest.” Now she rolled her eyes at me. 

Tutu replied, “Really, Keiki, I have lived my whole life taking care of myself. I do know how to do it. I’m not going to break.” 

“Maybe so, but I think you’ve earned the right to let someone else do it for you.” She put her hand over mine at my words. And I could feel the thinning of her skin and the increasing weakness in her hold. Small changes I had begun noticing in the last couple of years. I had always seen her as indefatigable and unbreakable. Noticing these changes chipped away at me. And they were all I could think about as I softly slipped back into the house as quietly as I had come.

Chapter 7

I was trying to be as quiet as possible as I rummaged for pans in the kitchen. Guinevere was still sound asleep on the sofa, and I wanted to let her rest for as long as possible. The sun and the events of the day seemed to have really taken it out of her. I’m sure whatever else she faced in her life was exhausting her too. 

I was pretty excited about my stealthiness when a pan suddenly clattered out of my hand. “Aiâ!” The word came out of my mouth quite loudly. I quickly rose, peering over the counter and out through the archway to see if I’d disturbed the mermaid, but I didn’t see any signs of movement from her. 

Satisfied, I went back to my business. I wasn’t a stranger to this kitchen. Tutu and I did this dance most nights. When she first moved in with me, she had insisted on doing all of the cooking, but after much discussion, she had finally relented and allowed me to take over the cooking. At first, it would have been better if she hadn’t given in since I was a truly terrible cook. As a single guy, I had only cooked fast convenience foods. My menu consisted of all the iconic and long-lived chefs–Boyardee, Campbell, and Ragu. So when Tutu decided to teach me how to cook, it had been a culinary crash course. And crash and burn, I did. Almost everything I cooked was charred and not in a good, flavorful way. That seemed to be my hidden talent in the kitchen. But Tutu had been patient and helped me along.  Now I was very grateful that I could make something other than grilled cheese that didn’t come in a can. 

Tutu had taught me to make many Hawaiian delicacies, and that had connected me to our heritage in a way I hadn’t expected. So I was finally making peace with cooking, especially since I had found audiobooks to keep me company while I worked in the kitchen. I loved underwater mysteries or classics involving the sea. Sometimes I’d put on YouTube videos of surfing techniques or even sea life documentaries on the Discovery Channel. Yes, I couldn’t seem to get enough of the ocean. But I did have a bit of a guilty pleasure . . . dog books . . . sappy ones about lovable puppies. Extra points for a book about a service dog. Although finding books with one wasn’t easy. And you could forget about finding a book with an owner like me. But my somewhat surprising audiobook preferences was just one of the ways that I was a misfit.  

Thinking about dogs, I glanced back out to check on Penny. I wanted to make sure that Sebastian was still being a “gentlemutt.” I turned to sneak another peak into the living room when I was startled to see Guinevere standing on the other side of the bar counter in the open archway. 

I reflexively put my hand to my forehead from the surprise. “Uh, I was just trying to check on the dogs,” I explained. 

“Oh, really,” she asked suspiciously. It was like she’d read my mind. Then she suddenly burst out, “The Big Bang Theory!” 

“What?” I looked at her like she was crazy.

“Penny’s name . . .” she explained. 

“Oh, no,” I replied with satisfaction. She reached for her back pocket to get her phone, and I grabbed it from her hands. She began protesting, but I responded, “No, that’s cheating. Use your brain and wit, or it doesn’t count.” I went to hand the phone back to her, but not without a few fakeouts first because they were just too tempting. She looked too cute trying to grab her phone from me. But the moment I had that thought, I quickly put her phone easily within her reach. Dangerous. This woman was trouble. We’d entered code Locke-it’s-never-going-to-happen territory. 

“So,” she asked, distracting me as I tried to get another look at our sleeping dogs. From here, it appeared that Penny was ridiculously happy and quite content to still be Sebastian’s “little spoon.” He should be the little spoon. I didn’t like this. She was a strong, independent–

The mermaid interrupted my thoughts, “So you can actually cook? I never would have pegged you as an apron-in-the-kitchen type of guy.” She eyed Tutu’s vibrant, flamingo-patterned apron that was wrapped around me. Frills and all. Another alarming surprise about me. She better get used to them. 

“Yeah, Mermaid, I can cook. Or at least you can see for yourself and let me know in about five minutes. I’m hoping this is something you can eat. Tutu suggested the fish and plantains, since they would be healthy.”  

“Yes, thank you. I just have to watch my potassium.” But she seemed rather distracted as she said it. A knavish grin overtook her expression. “Oh, so cooking is a regular event for you, and yet . . .” Her eyes continued to roam over me and my absurd apron. Tutu had found it in one of her friend’s souvenir shops. She enjoyed “shopping local” and supporting her friends, plus she absolutely loved the tourist stuff. She’d always been good humored like that. “This is the apron of choice?” she said, grinning widely and waving a hand over the ridiculous apron.

“Yeah, Mermaid, this is the apron of choice.” I lifted my arms out from my sides to show it off, and she pinched her lips together in an attempt to keep from laughing. I turned my back to her and called over my shoulder, “You should see Tutu’s.” 

The mermaid was already in the kitchen to check out my apron. Her scent surrounded me, a heady cloud of Tutu’s “lotion potion” and a faint trace of sunscreen. I inwardly growled. I was prey to her mermaid scent . . . “Siren enchantress” pheromones meant to lure weak seafaring men like me. Darn it, I shouldn’t be this susceptible. Surely, I was certainly stronger than this. 

I abruptly moved away from her and she looked at me with a surprised lift of her brow. Her quizzical expression seemed to be asking what she’d done. That tugged something loose inside of me. Gentle and patient, Locke. That’s what Tutu had suggested.  

“Um, Tutu’s apron is in the pantry.” I nodded toward the closet and her eyes lit up at my suggestion. “You don’t need to help me with dinner, but if you’d like, I can show you how to cook the plantains. Unless you’d be more comfortable sitting at the bar countertop and resting–” But I didn’t even get to finish my sentence before she started shaking her head enthusiastically at my invitation. Short bursts of laughter escaped me as she made her way to the pantry. And then I heard her laughter–the “under-the-sea music” was alive and well again. She’d obviously found Tutu’s apron designed to look like a tiki girl with 3D coconuts on the top and a neon grass skirt on the bottom.

“You’re not going to switch with me, are you?” she asked as she came out of the pantry. 

“No, Mermaid. That was half the appeal of you helping in the kitchen,” I said with the straightest face I could manage while she held the apron as far away from herself as possible. 

“Well, for five minutes I don’t think I need an apron,” she replied. 

“Oh no, I think you're a flight risk for any activity. An apron is mandatory.” She scowled at me. I responded,  “Only thinking of you.” Then I nodded at her in the most gentlemanly manner I possessed. This elicited one of the best facial expressions I’d ever received. “Well, you could have a seat at the bar. Probably better for you considering the day you’ve had.” 

The apron went on within a second flat. Having someone around who was as stubborn as myself was definitely going to come with some perks. It was going to be fun. I knew how to swipe all the elevator buttons with one stroke.  

“No way,” she said, eyeing me. “I was promised life changing plantains. That’s what I want to see, Mr. Muscle.” 

“Mr. Muscle? Is that all you’ve got?” I asked with a teasing jab and raised an eyebrow.

“I’m working on it. I’m badly burned in more ways than one–” 

I held up a hand. “No way am I giving you a pass, Mermaid. But please take your time. Maybe you can figure out the significance of Penny’s name in the meantime too.”  

Her eyes narrowed at me, but beyond her look I saw appreciation. I could tell how much it meant to her that I didn’t think she needed a pass. And underneath it all was a fire and determination in her that was kickstarting mine. One that said she wanted to prove me right. 

“Ariel” took her time and softly approached me like I was a dangerous sea creature. As if she was trying to get a closer look but being careful not to scare off the sealife. I reflexively reached out to bring her closer to the stove, but then remembered her skin was too tender to be touched. That was a good thing to remember. I shouldn’t touch her. My heart was way too tender for that. It was best not to form any kind of attachments. Her touch had already had too much of an effect on me earlier today. 

There were mixed emotions on her face as she watched my hand make its slow retreat, but she came over to me anyway. Her scent grew stronger with each step she took. I closed my eyes briefly, trying to fight it, but it was no use.  Her baby blues looked up expectantly at me. Waiting for her lesson. 

I stumbled out with, “Uh . . . So . . . Well, you want to cook the plantains last because you need to watch them closely.” I looked down at her, not really registering a word I’d just spoken. “And uh. . . They burn really easily.” My words were trailing off as I became increasingly distracted by her closeness. 

I kept staring at her eyes. There was something in them that threatened to pull me under. And her blonde hair fell seamlessly around her heart-shaped face. Because, of course, it was heart-shaped. 

“Locke?” she questioned when I just stood there, gazing at her. “They burn?” she said, trying to remind me.

“Yeah.” I cleared my throat. I looked down at the plantains so I could finish my explanation. No more getting sucked into those blue vacuums. Little riptides of doom. “I like to sprinkle a little coconut sugar on them. If you only have bananas at home, you don’t need the sugar. They will caramelize just fine on their own. Just make sure to use some coconut oil so they’re extra-smooth . . .” I prattled on, and then darn if I didn't sneak a look at her. The riptides immediately pulled me away from shore. And oddly she seemed to look a little lost herself. But maybe I was too far gone to see clearly now, lost at sea, mystic mirages confusing me.  

I felt something rub against my leg and then the mermaid toppled over onto me. The spatula dropped from my hand with a thud as I instinctively reached out to catch her as she landed softly in my arms. Now I’d really made things awkward. My eyes locked onto hers in this way-too-romantic embrace. I could hear her gulp as she stared back at me. Finally, I pulled my eyes from hers and looked down at the culprit. I found Sebastian rubbing up against her leg and licking her hand. He must have startled her when he was trying to get her attention and she lost her balance, because I sure didn’t think women were just spontaneously falling into my arms.

Guinevere seemed to have reached the same conclusion as her eyes spotted Sebastian too. She began explaining, “Sorry, he’s alerting me. I woke up feeling off today with  a bad migraine. But my medicine’s been keeping it mostly at bay until this evening. I guess it makes sense that I might have a migraine with everything that has happened today. But I can’t always predict them like he can. I’ve got to get somewhere safe . . . in case I faint. Sebastian’s usually never wrong. Sometimes the faintness will pass though. Sorry for once again forcing myself into your arms.” She laughed lightly, but I could tell she was uncomfortable about it. She really thought I didn’t want her there. 

“No, I’m the one who should be sorry. Your skin must be painful to the touch,” I said gently, because what she had just said couldn’t be further from the truth. I very much wanted her here. And that was the problem. It just wasn’t a good idea, romantically. “Ok, let’s get you to the sofa.” 

“My skin doesn't hurt too badly. My front took the brunt of it, so my arms aren't too bad.” She smiled at me and I felt my heart melting a little more. “But, um, sometimes I only get a couple of minutes as a warning before I faint, so sitting down on the floor here is best.” She looked up at me from underneath hooded eyes. And it was the first time I felt like I was able to see a little unguarded piece of her. 

My lips parted to speak again, but I was not yet ready to let her go. I had this primal instinct taking over me where she was concerned, wanting nothing more than to protect her and not knowing how best to do it. But Sebastian came back and licked her hand again, pacing beside us. 

“Right, ok,” I said, quickly cutting off all the stove eyes. I kept her in my arms as I lowered us to the floor, and she gave me a little shocked look. I guess I was supposed to let go, but I just couldn’t do it yet. Everything in my body wanted to hold on to her as I had earlier today. I continued holding her in my arms as I asked, “So what’s best? What’s safer? Holding you like this or placing your head on my leg?” I looked at her with nervousness. 

There was this stunned look on her face like she couldn’t speak, but when Sebastian licked her hand again it jolted her back to reality. She said, “Um, can I put my head on your leg?” And I nodded with what I hoped was reassurance and lowered her down to my left thigh. All the while, Sebastian kept pacing back and forth. She looked at him, then back to me. “It’s amazing to me that he can smell so well, even when he’s in the other room.  Somehow he always knows when I’m about to have an episode.” 

I was shocked too. It really was incredible what Sebastian could do. I saw him lay on her legs next. Comforting her and trying to help with her blood pressure, I suppose. Then I asked, “Is there something else I need to do for you? Elevate your legs? Get you water?” I asked this with more nervousness now. I was way out of my league here. I did occasionally help tourists who were distressed from the heat, but they usually had already fainted and I just helped to bring them around.  

“Uh, can you . . .” Her words were starting to become more fuzzy, like everything was heavier. I could tell she was becoming more disoriented, sleepier. And Sebastian was now licking her hand madly and nibbling on it too. “Those things sometimes help, but . . . Just let me come around if I . . .” And then, as if she had just drifted off to sleep, she was out. And so I just waited, doing what I thought she had asked of me. Not attempting to wake her even as Sebastian started nudging her.

And when her eyes started to flutter open after what felt like an eternity to me, I started to wonder if waking up to me would cause her alarm. I’m sure she wasn’t even going to know where she was. Maybe I should have left her in peace. But she began to roll her head around, looking for and finding Sebastian. I guess he was always ready, waiting for her to find him. But then she looked up, as she realized that her head was resting on someone’s thigh. My voice got trapped in my throat. Her hazy, exposed eyes stared up at me and then back away as they went shy. Then she looked back up to me a little more daringly. 

“Hey, Mermaid,” my voice managed in a smooth and steady tone, for which I was thankful. “You should have told me you were really Sleeping Beauty.” And then she smiled. “How are you feeling?” I realized my hands were still on her head and shoulder, and I wondered if that was okay. 

“Yeah, just a little embarrassed is all. I just need a couple of minutes. I’ll feel strange for a while after passing out. So we’ll have to awkwardly sit here for just a little while longer. I really hope I didn’t ruin dinner.” 

I couldn’t believe she was worried about dinner or the “awkwardness” of this. Most of all, I hated that she was embarrassed. “Guin, please don’t be embarrassed–you shouldn’t be at all–and dinner will be fine. What can I do to even the playing field? Because I know that saying ‘don’t be embarrassed’ does nothing.” I knew this all too well from my own experience. 

“What?” she asked, nothing but shock on her face. 

“Ok, so when I was five I had this Ariel piggy bank,” I began. 

“Locke, what?” 

“Just let me even the field, Mermaid.” She looked at me with disbelief. “And I carried it everywhere. I even slept with it. I was obsessed. The kids at school even teased me and called it ‘my girlfriend.’ Now that’s your embarrassing Locke story for the day. Although, this,”–I waved to her–“is not embarrassing. So we’re not really even, but if it helps you feel that way . . .” 

I trailed off as she reached up for my hand on her shoulder and grabbed it as a way of thanks. Her little sea siren smile rested beautifully on her face. I was so done for. I was the Thanksgiving turkey that smoked up the whole house because everyone forgot it was in the oven. And now she knew exactly how much I had loved The Little Mermaid. And not just any character of the characters, but Ariel herself.

“So you do go looking for mermaids,” she couldn’t help but reply. 

“That’s not what I said. I was only five.” But she was grinning so widely I couldn’t help but enjoy it. “Fine, I’m not going to complain about catching one. How’s that?” 

“It’s good. Really good.” Her impish expression only heightened. But then she seemed to realize where we were again. “Uh, I think I’m ok now.” 

“Are you sure? Let’s just sit you up slowly,” I suggested, but I could tell she wanted to get up and out of here as quickly as possible. My mermaid story wasn’t anywhere on par with the vulnerability of what she had just exposed to me and without any choice in the matter either. 

After a little while, she said, “I should take Sebastian out. He probably could use a potty break.” But really, I think she needed the break. She kept looking down at my hand on her arm. The one I seemed unable to remove from her. I hadn't been able to break our point of contact.

“No, I can do that,” I said, also looking down at our connection. “Let me take the dogs out. You can stay here.”

“No, that’s ok. I’m sure you need to tend to the food and finish the plantains. I don’t think I got all the instructions on how to do that.” She laughed, and my face twisted in embarrassment. “Plus, if you think you’re bad at burning things, then you obviously haven’t seen me in action. Don’t ever leave me in charge of the kitchen.” 

Then, like a cold splash of water, she was up and out of my arms, and I was watching her collect the dogs to go outside.

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It’s love at first sniff for their service dogs, but certainly not for them.

Guinevere is traveling to Hawaii to attend her dream ukulele convention with her service dog in tow. Battling Lupus, she’s always dreamed of the beach but never had an opportunity to go.

Locke is a brooding, mysterious surfer that literally picks Guin up from the shore. His dog loves the water as much as he does and neither can be parted from the sea for very long.

When Guinevere washes up on shore, the sand isn’t the only thing that rubs her the wrong way. If it wasn’t for her service dog’s attraction to the stranger’s canine companion, these two would have probably parted ways long ago. And then there’s the fact that her "VRBO" may be the missing link between them.

Guin quickly finds out that her approach to beach life is “all wrong” and that it’s going to take someone like Locke to show her the way. In return, he might let her start helping him to accept why he needs a service dog in the first place.

Is it possible for your “soulmutt” to pick your soulmate?

If you like novels with lots of banter, heartwarming scenes, lovable and relatable characters, and swoony moments, then this book is for you! Buy now to travel to Maui’s magical shores today! Get your ukulele ready :) 

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This is the third standalone novel in the International Soulmates Series.  Each book in the series is a standalone so you can read them in any order! This is a sweet romance for clean and wholesome romance readers from the author of The Paris Soulmate and The Irish Fall. Escape to the tropical island of Maui, Hawaii in this romance novel. Readers are laughing, crying, and falling in love with these characters. And hopefully, if you have a chronic illness, you will feel seen.

This novel features “Own Voice” Lupus, arthritic and chronic pain, migraines, fainting, and mental health. This disability representation is written by an author who battles several autoimmune disorders. Emotional abuse, organ transplant, Alzheimer's, and other disabilities are represented in this novel as well.

This is a clean novel. Descriptive kissing only. No cursing. Faith conversations included. Trigger warnings: mild medical episodes (including discussions of organ transplant), discussions of emotional abuse including gaslighting (very minimal discussions), and descriptions of a water related accident.

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