Seventeen

A sweatshirt collided with my shoulder, its fabric arms flapping around me like a limp octopus. “Put this on,” Kesa demanded. “It’s chilly outside.”

“Why?” I asked. “Are we going somewhere?”

“I’m going out with Emiri and Paige,” she pronounced. “And I’m taking you with me.” She paused then added under her breath, “If I leave you here unsupervised, you’ll just keep kissing people.”

I didn’t reply. I sensed annoyance in her tone.

As we trudged through the wet, dusky night, I slipped back into the comfort of being with girlfriends. I hadn’t spent much time with them lately. I’d gotten so caught up in the thrill of my romantic exploits, I hadn’t even realized how much I’d missed it. We laughed as we navigated the dark streets, carefully sidestepping the flattened forms of unfortunate giant frogs.

It didn’t seem like much, but 7-11 was a social hotspot in La’ie. But, to be fair, there wasn’t much else there. We pushed through the glass doors into the brightly lit interior and began loading up on all of our favorite culinary offerings, like Spam Musubi and California Rolls. It may have been questionable to purchase any perishable food at a 7-11, let alone something so closely related to sushi, but the risk was so deliciously, delectably worth it. Despite my recent, more elegant excursions, I was really a gas-station-sushi kinda girl.

We took our food and walked across Kamehameha Hwy to a grassy spot overlooking the beach. The rest of the group were there waiting, lounging on ancient picnic tables. While I’d been caught up in my own world, Kesa, Paige and Emiri had been spending an increasing amount of time with this group of Samoan kids. They were unfamiliar to me, both personally and culturally. As such, it took me awhile to catch onto their sense of humor, partly because they seemed to laugh at everything and partly because English only popped up sporadically. Still, I loved listening to them talk.

“Ua leva tele ona o’u le toe va’ai ia oe, bra.”

The words sounded soft and sweet. I understood a little of the Pidgin, which made frequent appearances, but Samoan was an entirely alien tongue to me. Even when the conversation slid into English, it was often to thickly accented to decipher. Following it all was a game of combining random bits of information, verbal and otherwise, in an effort to construct an intelligible whole. The results were mixed. Fortunately, every now and then Kesa or Emiri would interpret for Paige and I.

Despite being largely clueless to the conversation, I was having a blast. I loved the feeling of being set adrift in a foreign cultural setting. Something about entering previously uncharted waters set my soul on fire. All of my senses were ignited with burning curiosity. There was something about the thrill of the unknown, mixed with a complete release of control that hooked me every time.

As the night wore on, Paige disappeared with one of the Samoan boys who she had started dating. I didn’t even know she had a boyfriend. Kesa and Emiri walked back to the 7-11 for refills. I elected to wait at the table where I could watch the surf lapping at the shore. After they left one of the Samoan guys took Kesa’s place on top of the picnic table behind me and struck up a conversation. He was nice. Although he was obviously flirting, it didn’t feel forced. His name was Ta’ele, or something like that, and he seemed to be about five years older than me. It was a guess. I was always a bad judge of age.

Kesa and Emiri were taking a long time to return, but I didn’t mind. I was having fun. Ta’ele was a fountain of jokes, most of which made no sense to me, but I liked the way his laugh rumbled up from deep inside, reverberating through the tabletop behind me. He began telling a story and I relaxed into the narrative. At one point he reached forward and started casually rubbing my shoulders.

I was amazed. What was with me lately? I had never drawn the attention of the opposite sex like I was here in Hawaii. I must have begun sweating pure pheromones upon arrival.

Ta’ele’s move was pretty forward but I didn’t want to be rude. I was a guest here and social norms are not consistent across cultures, after all. Besides, he was cute and my back was still sore from yesterday’s hike with Gage … but mostly I didn’t want to be rude. There were still a few small groups of people clumped around the grassy area and the girls would be back any minute, so what was the harm? I was enjoying the attention.

He had just told me another weird joke and I was still trying to figure it out. Why was a Samoan, a Tongan and an Irishman jumping out of a burning building and plummeting to their deaths funny? While I pondered this I nodded absentmindedly along with his words. He was carrying on most of the conversation now, talking about where he was from, his job at the Standards Office at BYUH, his hobbies, his wife and two kids ….

I recoiled and found myself on the far end of the bench before I’d even fully processed the words.

“What did you just say???” I demanded.

He shrugged and scooted closer, his tone soft and placating, “Well technically I’m married, but I’m unhappily married. It’s basically over,” he reasoned.

I was incensed. “Are you kidding me?! Why are you even out here right now?”

He gestured noncommittally with his hand, “I told you. It’s basically over.” He smiled and slid closer. “And I’m glad I’m here tonight because I got to meet you.” He slid further, extending his neck, a kiss poised on his lips.

Disgusted, I jammed my fist into his fibrous chest. He didn’t seem to notice. I leaped from the table and shot back, “Married is married! I don’t care if you’re ‘happy’ or not. You’re disgusting and damn lucky you ever got a girl to marry you in the first place you dumb, sweaty loser!” (Alas, witty and biting insults rarely came to me in the heat of the moment.)

Without a backward glance, I stormed across the road and into the 7-11 where I found Kesa and Emiri chatting in line, munching away on Spam Musubi.

When I told Kesa what had occurred, she laughed until rice threatened to come out of her nose. “Well, at least now you’ll probably never get called into the Standards Office,” she crowed. “If you do, you can blackmail the guy!”

I sighed, “I guess there is a silver lining to every sleazy, morally bankrupt, predatory cloud …” I shivered, disgustedly.

“Wait, what’s the Standards Office?” Emiri interjected.

“That’s the department that enforces campus rules about moral stuff,” Kesa replied. “Like  modest clothing, church attendance, that sort of thing.”

The Standards Office had a reputation for being a massive pain in the modestly concealed derriere. Had I just stumbled upon leverage, should the need ever arise? Like a “Get Out of Hell Free” card?

Kesa snorted, cutting short my train of thought, “Frankly, I’m surprised you didn’t just make out with the guy.”

“Whoa. What’s that supposed to mean?” I parried, defiantly. “That’s horrible! I would never do something like that. He’s married! He has kids! There’s a whole special level of hell reserved for people who pull things like that. I can’t believe you would even say that!”

“Seriously?” Kesa cocked one eyebrow testily. “You can’t imagine why I wouldn’t be surprised if you had gone along with it? It surprises you? When last I counted I believe you’ve kissed three boys in the last 24 hours. You’re running around with half the island and this surprises you? You lead your so-called ‘boyfriend’ on, while you’re running around with your other so-called ‘boyfriend’ and it surprises you? You lie to everyone and it surprises you?”

I glared back at her, “Low blow, Kess. Since when is dating a handful of guys ‘running around with half the island’ anyway?”

She snorted again and took a sip of her big glug.

“And I don’t lie to everyone,” I pressed, “I omit the dating thing to Dylan to spare his feelings…”

“Ugh. I don’t want to hear it,” she shot back. “And what about Cole?”

I stammered, “Look, I don’t lie to everyone. I don’t lie to you guys, now do I?!”

“Well,” she smirked, “If that were true, it really would be surprising.”

That night, alone in my bed, I pondered what Kesa had said. Was it true? Had my moral compass really slipped so far that even my friends found me untrustworthy? What had happened to me? I had said all along that I wanted to spare Dylan’s feelings, but what about Cole? I was cheating on my boyfriend, with my other boyfriend, who I had also just cheated on twice. That’s cheating times two to the 2nd power! My immorality had slipped into math that I needed a calculator to do!

What was I doing??? I had been raised with such a strong moral code. Had I really tossed the whole thing out the window right along with my one piece swimming suit? Was it just open season now? Anything goes??? When had I built such a bad reputation for myself? Ok, I knew exactly when, but how had I not even noticed it happening? Or cared?

I thought I had been ok living two lives, but now those lives had splintered into three and four and five lives. Who knew where it would go from here. The fissures seemed unstoppable.

This is the latest installment in my story. If you haven’t yet read the previous entries, click here to start at the beginning. Then continue to read each post in numerical order.

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