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If You Hate Passionate Kisses, Don’t Read Any Further! (Savage Island, Chapter Three)

November 2, 2018

Breath_Kickstarter_paragraphheaders_WIP01-1_STORY_smallThe one side of Will Tongahai’s face is aglow in firelight. The other blends entirely into the night, making him look like a handsome ghoul. His thick, long braid of hair snakes over his shoulder and down past his breast. It’s fairer than it looked at a bit of a distance. The color of raw honey, instead of the shiny black of most Niueans. But then he is half British.

“Quite a change from Sydney,” he says.

Will is tall, taller than me at any rate. My eyes look in to the hollow at his throat.

“You been to Sydney?”

He shakes his head, and the torchlight flickers for a spell over the whole of his face.

“Then how would you know this is a change from Sydney?” I ask him.

“Well,” he says. “Just a good look at you for one thing.”

Will Tongahai turns on his heel and saunters towards Vogel and Neville, his broad shoulders barely sheathed by the worn, white linen of his shirt. He wears it that way on purpose, I guarantee it, and feel sorry for the girls here who beg for his attention. Quite clear he’s only interested in himself. There he is chatting up who could be the damned enemy for all we know. The three of them hover around Mum’s drinks table, and I stride over plucking a coldie from Mum’s cooler.

“Angelie!” Aunt Kitty slaps my hand, making me give it back.

The three of them turn and Will Tongahai grins big as a moonslice.

“He got one,” I say, pointing to him.

“He’s nearly eighteen,” Mum says, Aunt Kitty standing behind her, arms all folded in a see, I told you so way.

“And I’m sixteen and will be seventeen.”

“Months from now!” Mum clarifies for everyone to hear. “Besides, he’s a young man.”

“Not old enough to join the Navy, I hear.”

I can feel the three of them staring at me and that Neville bursts out laughing – a deep, throaty laugh that’s all plush new velvet. My cheeks burn hot, because I know I shouldn’t have said it. I mean, at least Will tried to join the war, and damned near would’ve succeeded if his roommate hadn’t ratted him out.

Mum takes a deep breath and tells Aunt Kitty to go fetch a bottle of rum for Dr. Neville. So, it’s Dr. Neville, is it? She uncaps the beer Aunt Kitty practically pried out of my hands and gives it back to me. I look her right in the eye as I take a long, deep swallow of the ale, which I hate and she knows it.

“Go set an example and sit down,” she says. “It’s time to eat and everyone’s just standing around.”

I nod, heading towards a banquet flanked by long-stemmed torches with bulbous heads consumed in blue and orange flames. They’re almost as bright as city streetlights and make the dining area the one place where you can actually see where you’re stepping.

“You must be Angelie.” A Niuean girl about my age comes up carrying two jugs of fruity wine.

“That’s right,” I say. I take one jug to help her out and wince. It’s sticky and gums on to the front of my dress. “Great.”

“Sorry about that,” she says, biting down on her lip. She’s got those big eyes like they all do here. “I’m Oliana.”

“It’s ok,” I tell her. “At least it’s not red wine.”

She giggles nervously and I give her my friendliest smile. We then take the jugs to a sideboard laid with palms and try to corral some of the elders into sitting down.

Something of a feast has been thrown together in honor of our new guests. We got one of those, too, when we arrived, although this one looks a bit more…more, I have to say. I sit down at the head table – the longest one – and wait, my eyes grazing over all the varieties of roasted fish. They’re surrounded by various preparations of taro, coconut, yam and breadfruit. There’s even some smoked ham and scary-ugly platters of giant coconut crab – alien things that Pacific islanders are convinced ate Amelia Earhart after she crashed.

“That’s why there was no sign of her,” they say.

Those give me the creeps and I will not eat them, no matter how good Mum claims they are. Of course, Will Tongahai plops down next to me and picks one right up. He dislodges its abdominal sack – a thing filled with a thick, oily fluid – and goes to work slurping it down.

“It’s good,” he tells me. “Tastes like peanut butter.”

I know it’s impolite to grimace when someone’s eating, but I can’t help it. “Well, I’ve never had peanut butter.”

“Hmm,” he says. “Come to think of it, neither have I.”

Oliana hovers near Will, clearly dying to take a seat next to him. In the end she chickens out and takes the chair next to me.

Dr. Neville and Max Vogel sit directly across from us and allow me to serve them.

It’s rather quiet on our end of the table as we start to eat. Clearly the travelers are starving. The other side of the table is all chitter-chat and Albert plays his nafa in a low beat. He strums his fingers over the top of the drum, while shoveling food into his mouth with his other hand.

“You going to drink that?” Will says. I notice his beer has been empty for some time.

“I was, yes,” I say. He waits as I lift up my beer and put it to my lips. Counting to three, I chug the whole thing down and place it back on the table with a thump. Will signals a local boy and asks him to bring us two more.

“Since you like it so much,” he says.

Dr. Neville sits back and dabs his napkin at the corners of his mouth like he’s some sort of gentleman. Max Vogel, on the other hand, places his elbows on the table. His banana blonde hair is blown back by the same swift ocean breeze that makes the flames around us shudder.

“Kandi,” he says to Neville in his short, German clip. “Mr. Tongahai tells me we can set up tomorrow morning. Claims the weather should be perfect all day.”

By Mr. Tongahai, he must mean Will’s father, the plantation owner.

“What are you setting up?” I ask.

Dr. Neville removes the statue from his bag again and places it on the table.

“You see this?” He says. “My father found it in a street market in Egypt. Paid almost nothing for it.”

“Is it an Egyptian god of some sort?”

Neville smiles, his teeth as white as Chiclets. “It’s not Egyptian at all. Much older.”

“Sumerian?” Will Tongahai offers.

“Older even than that. At least that’s what he believed.”

I look the thing over, its strong thin body punctuated by an elegant pair of clawed feet that look quite at odds with the way of the head. That is all ferocity and intelligence.

“Like the essence of life itself,” Will Tongahai says, as if picking the words from my mind.

“Correct, young Will.”

“If you found it all the way in Egypt,” I say. “Then what’s it got to do with here?”

Max Vogel chimes in.

“It’s carved from a type of rock that I am convinced exists deep beneath the desert floor in certain parts of the Sahara. Such a substance would be difficult to excavate under normal circumstances and quite impossible to access in these troubled times.”

“And what, you think this substance could be found here, on Niue? We’re all the way on the other side of the world.”

“Ah, but we weren’t once,” Dr. Neville says. “Have you heard of Pangea?”

I shake my head.

“It’s a theory that holds all current land masses were once a supercontinent back before they broke apart during the Triassic and Jurassic periods. That was over two hundred million years ago. Such a continent would have placed where we are right now rather close to the origins of the substance this strange little statue is made of.”

I touch my finger lightly to the statue’s head and feel a slight shock, like when I used to touch the metal railing at our old apartment just after rubbing my feet over the rug.

“But Niue didn’t exist back then,” says Will Tongahai.

“Oh, it did,” Max Vogel says. “It was much bigger, in fact. A real land mass. As Pangea broke apart, it was submerged into the Pacific. It broke the surface again many millions of years later when the volcano on top of which you now live became extinct and this coral atoll was formed.”

Will Tongahai chugs his beer like it’s water, and I feel a sick compulsion to do the same. No, in fact, I one up him and pretty much finish mine, ending with a burp that takes me by complete surprise. Dr. Neville and Will Tongahai bust up and I can’t help but join them. Even Max Vogel allows the corners of his mouth to turn up just a little.

“So, you’re here to find more of what this statue is made of?” I ask, suppressing more burps.

“Perhaps,” Dr. Neville says. “We’re here to take geological samples anyway. Dr. Vogel is one of the top geologists in the world, and he seems to think we have a decent shot.”

He pets the head of his statue and if I didn’t know better I’d swear the thing’s been staring at me this whole time.

“May I?”

Dr. Neville hands the figure to me and I’m struck immediately by how warm it is. The heat from its core spreads from my hands into my wrists and up my arms, flooding my chest cavity like a gush of hot tea. All at once, I feel a searing pain in my face and my ribs, then my hips as if my bones have been broken by a series of heavy, wrathful blows. In the next twitch of time, the pain is gone as if it never was, and I’m left breathless.

“Are you alright?” I hear Will Tongahai say.

His words seems remote, like an echo.

Pinpoints of sweat break out all over me.

I start panting.

I can’t speak.

It’s as if my heart stopped and started again.

Everyone is looking at me.

I drop the statue on the table and rise up. Unable to manage any sensible excuses, I hurry off, tripping over the knobs of coral that pimple the way to the shore. Once there, I hobble along, arms out like airplane wings to keep balance, until I just can’t go any more. I’m breathing so hard my head is spinning. In the distance, I see the Arches of Talava – two of them anyway – the moon shining on them like a reading light. The water hisses and sputters as it hits the rocky beach just a few feet away.

“Hey,” I hear from behind me. “Hey, Angelie!”

I guess Will Tongahai knows my name.

He comes up next to me, his dark skin seeming blue in the alien glow of the island night.

“What is it?” He asks.

I glance up at his face and he’s looking at me with real concern. I feel bad that I just up and ran away like that.

“I think I had too much to drink too quickly.”

That smile of his again. “Impressive how you practically gulped the whole pint in one go. Took me some practice to get that good.”

“Well, maybe I’ve had some practice, too.”

“Hardly!” He says.

Now I want to wipe that smile off his face with the palm of my hand.

“What do you mean hardly?”

“I mean that until tonight you’d never had more than a sip of beer in your life, and that much you hated.”

He crosses his hands over his chest and tips his head to his shoulder, as if weighing me.

“You know that do you?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I know you’re a little prince on this island, and I bet a big city like London was a shock to you. So much competition.” I practically spit out that last word.

“I was in Canterbury, actually.”

“Oh, well, Canterbury then.”

“You know what else I know?” Will steps closer and I clench my fists, planting my feet on the rough skin of beach. There is no way I’m stepping back. Not one single step.

“Can’t wait to hear,” I say.

He drops his cheeky smirk and gets very serious all of a sudden. “You’ve never been kissed.”

For a moment, he and I just stare one another down.

His eyes actually pierce the darkness even though they must be the color of mahogany. But I see these ribbons of amber curling around his pupils, and crimson threads as well. Sumptuous and royal. Damn they’re beautiful. And damn him. He stands there, none at all backing down. Comfortable, immovable, like a Rodin sculpture. While I feel as wayward as a mermaid. I don’t know what makes me do it. A kind of fury, I guess. A low rumble of temper that starts like faraway thunder and grows. I veer towards him, taking his face in my hands. I press my small lips against his very plum ones, sweet and wet as if he’d just licked them. And I do it hard.

Will lets me at first. Damn bugger, I even feel him grin while I kiss him. I’m about to push him away – I swear I am – when he takes the back of my head in his palm and brings me close in a deep, deep kiss that goes even deeper as he bends me back. It’s none at all like I ever imagined being kissed. Not tender the way Humphrey Bogart kissed Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. Will’s kiss is wild. It’s like the wind Aunt Kitty is so afraid might sweep me off the tops of the arches. The kind that blows my hair this way and that, scoops the breath right out of my rib cage. Every stroke of his tongue – on my lips, the roof of my mouth – is a star burst of sensations. Right when I think I can’t take another moment, his hand slips down my neck and his hot breath drifts over my cheek as we pull apart. His eyes are incandescent, even this close, and they wander over my face like he’s known me all my life.

Yes, I think to myself. Will Tongahai has most definitely kissed before.

Savage Island first kiss

Patreon is a terrific and reasonable way to enjoy the work of your favorite artists. For as little as the price of a cup of simple diner coffee, you’ll gain access to stories like Savage Island as well as book excerpts from novels-in-progress, essays, and so much original art and content that’s been curated just for you! One-third of my Patreon goal will go directly to Camp Holiday Trails, a great summer camp that caters to children with special medical needs. My daughter camped there again this summer and had a ball!

New Love at First Write: Beauty is about so much more than a pretty face or a hot body. In great stories, we use beauty to inspire empathy, to foment passion, to find the weakness in another human being and destroy them. It is truly an awesome tool and on this LAFW we talk about how to use it and use it right.

 

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