Home > Heat Wave(4)

Heat Wave(4)
Author: Karina Halle

Kauai’s airport is in Lihue and it’s small. Like, way smaller than I had imagined, and dated. It looks like it was built in the 70’s and hasn’t had a single upgrade. I always assumed that a city’s airport was indicative if the city itself, which makes me think that Kauai is a little more backwoods than I thought.

And it’s muggy too, I realize as I step out into baggage claim to find my two suitcases. It’s open to the outside and a hot blanket of air settles over the carousels, nearly choking me with the humidity. On the screens above the baggage are safety videos droning on and on, warning visitors of the millions of dangers that wait on the island.

There’s also a damn chicken hanging out near the entrance.

I’m definitely not in Chicago anymore.

Eventually I find my two giant suitcases—there was no chance of me packing light for this—and I’m already sweating by the time I haul them out to the road, hoping to spot a taxi.

“Veronica?” a voice asks.

I look over to see a guy with a big smile and a goatee, holding a piece of lined paper that’s obviously been torn out of a notebook with Veronica scrawled across it in blue ink.

“Yes?” I say, frowning at him. “Are you from the hotel?”

He nods, offering me his hand. “Yup. Charlie,” he says. “Sorry the boss couldn’t make it, he’s tied up in some emergency with the pool. You know how it is.”

Actually I don’t, but I shake his hand and give him a tight smile. Truth is, part of the reason my nerves are going all crazy was because I thought Logan was picking me up and I’d have to endure an awkward car ride with him. Yes, Logan’s my new boss and I’m sure there will be plenty of awkward times to come, but for the moment I’m relieved I don’t have to face him.

Yet.

“Nice to meet you,” I say. Charlie’s easy on the eyes, I have to admit. The goatee, the spiky light brown hair, the tanned limbs and tattoos. Then I notice he’s not even wearing shoes.

His eyes follow mine and he grins broadly. “Welcome to Kauai,” he says. “No shoes, no shirt, no problem.” He tugs at his neon green Billabong tank top. “Though I wore the shirt just for you. Come on, let me help you.”

He takes one of my bags and I follow him along the road and across to the short-term parking lot. A rooster struts past the chain-link fence and I stop, quickly pulling out my phone to take a picture. Paolo and Claire are going to go nuts when I show them there’s a chicken at the airport.

I look up, still smiling at the sight, to see Charlie watching me with amusement. “You’re going to get real bored of the chickens, real fast. The rest of the world has pigeons. We have chickens.” He starts pulling the suitcase along and says over his shoulder, “At least pigeons don’t wake you up at 4 AM.”

“Why are there so many chickens?” I ask as he leads me toward a beat-up green Toyota Tacoma from the 80’s, a surfboard in the back.

“Hurricane Iniki swept through here in ninety-two, let them all loose. Here.” He grabs my other suitcase from me and swings it in the back with a grunt, shoving them under the board. He wipes his hands on his surf shorts and gestures to the passenger seat. “Hop on in.”

“Were you here for the hurricane?” I ask him as I settle in the seat, the raw leather hot against my hands as I adjust myself, stuffing coming out of the torn seams.

He starts the car, a beefy rumble from the engine. “Nah, I’ve only lived here for six years. Before that I was in Boulder, Colorado, dreaming the dream. You know?”

“And now you’re living the dream.”

“Yeah,” he says with a laugh. “This island will shake-up your soul, I’ll tell you that much.” He glances at me as he pays the parking fee to the attendant with dimes he scrounges out of a compartment on the dash. “Aren’t you here to live the dream?”

“What did Logan tell you?” I ask him,

“Shephard?” he says and the name jolts through me like a bullet. “Nothing. Our cook Hugo left a few weeks ago and it’s been a scramble to find a new one. Me and Johnny been working overtime. Not that that’s anything new.”

“You’re a cook?” I ask, surprised. I’m not sure what I thought Charlie was, maybe a surf instructor.

“Cook, errand boy, Jack of All Trades,” he says, rolling down the window as we pull onto the highway, my gaze stolen by the contrast of colors around me. The rich rusty earth juxtaposed with the the startlingly bright greens of the lush land, the ocean in the distance. “At the compound, everyone has more than one job. I wonder what yours will be.”

“The compound?”

“That’s what we call it. Once you start working at Moonwater Inn, you don’t leave. We’re like a big family.”

Family. Another word that cuts like a knife.

“Or a cult,” he adds with a chuckle. “Depending how you look at it. I’ll tell you, finding a good permanent job on the island isn’t easy. Shephard treats us well. It’s a small hotel but it’s got a good reputation, and even if we’re all stretched thin sometimes doing side jobs, he makes sure we’re still living life. Ya know? That’s why people live here. To live the life. To take that away…might as well go off-island.” He glances at me over his shades. “So how do you know him, anyway? It’s not every day that someone comes all the way from the mainland. You from Seattle?”

   
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