Lea Lane has lived in between all her life.
Part Hawaiian, part Mainlander. Perpetual new girl at school. Hanging in the shadow of her actress mother’s spotlight. And now: new resident of the prominent West family’s guest cottage.
Bracing herself for the embarrassment of being her classmates’ latest charity case, Lea is surprised when she starts becoming friends with Will and Whitney West instead—or in the case of gorgeous, unattainable Will, possibly even more than friends. And despite their differences, Whitney and Lea have a lot in common: both are navigating a tangled web of relationships, past disappointments and future hopes. As things heat up with Will, and her friendship with Whitney deepens, Lea has to decide how much she's willing to change in order to fit into their world.
Lea Lane has lived in between all her life. But it isn’t until her junior year that she learns how to do it on her own terms.
|Publisher:||Penguin Young Readers Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.70(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.20(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Kaui Hart Hemmings is the author of House of Thieves, a collection of short stories, and The Descendants, a New York Times bestselling novel and Oscar-winning film for best adapted screenplay. Her most recent novel, The Possibilities, has been optioned for film by Jason Reitman. Kaui lives in Hawaii with her family.
Juniors is her first novel for young adults.
Read an Excerpt
THE PUNAHOU PEER COUNSELORS ARE TRYING TO LEAD a gym full of juniors on a “truth walk.” Our ethics classes merged, so about fifty of us are against the wall of the gym, waiting to do whatever our peers have planned so we can be on our way to fulfilling our Spiritual, Ethical, Community Responsibility requirement for our spring semester. Sheri Ho stands before us in jean shorts that barely pass dress code. She’s a senior, cute and well-liked, but not cool. I think to be cool at Punahou, you have to drink (but not too much) and hook up (but not too much). As a peer counselor who wears a platinum promise ring, she does neither. But maybe I’m wrong about what “cool” is. There are so many variations here. It’s like looking at a menu for shave ice. Countless flavors and colors; even weird-sounding things like pickled mango or green tea can be really good and popular.
My mom and I moved here in December, and I started mid-junior year, which I think is totally rare. So, two months at this place, but it may as well be my first day. I’ve adjusted to some things—the academics, how much harder it is than my last school—the offerings and choices, the campus itself, which is the size of a university. It’s the biggest private school in the US.
I’ve been playing catch-up socially too, scoping things out, getting the lay of the humid Hawaiian land. I feel like a surveyor or a pioneer, trying to know the ground I’m standing on and figure out where to stake my flag and settle. My mother grew up here, so we’ve visited a lot, but being a visitor is very different from living in Hawaii, especially when you’re going to high school.
Sheri whistles, then speaks in a loud, cheerleader-like voice.
“Okay, gang. Settle in, settle down.” Four other counselors stand by her, moving to some kind of imaginary music, but now that the group has quieted down I realize music really is playing. My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.
“Get all the way against the wall,” she yells. “I’m talking to you, Cici; you, Jim; you, Shasha—up against the wall!”
I scan my classmates, the many flavors of them, waiting to begin. I guess in some way this is like any high school in America, little sects in a big congregation—the football players, the drama kids, the ROTCs, the mushers (what skaters and stoners are called here). In Hawaii there are surfers, paddlers, water polo players. At Storey, my school in San Francisco, there were only a few surfers and other groups that were more defined and permanent, like, “we’re the sailor yacht club kids!” People here seem to venture out of their groups.
Pete Weiner (pronounced Whiner not Weener, though I’m not sure what I’d choose between the two) is standing to my right, and I can tell he’s looking at me, waiting for me to acknowledge him. He has a football-shaped head and an expression that makes him look constantly on the verge of a sneeze. He’s in my ethics class, and for some reason he’s always sharing his asides. I figure I’m sort of like a test dummy. If I laugh, great, he’ll shop his joke around. If I don’t laugh, then at least he doesn’t embarrass himself because who cares what Lea Lane thinks? Who’s Lea Lane anyhow? Random-ass transfer student. At least in Hawaii people pronounce my name right—Lea like Lei-a. Not Lee-a.
“This song is so lame,” he says. “‘Her milkshake brings all the boys to the yard’? Sounds like she has a yeast infection.”
“I don’t get it,” I say, hating that this guy feels so comfortable with me.
“Yeah, neither do I,” he says.
I kick the toe of my shoe into the glassy floor, then stop when I remember we aren’t supposed to wear black-soled shoes in the gym. I’ve been hyperalert to the rules, not wanting to draw attention to myself, which is pretty easy in a junior class of four hundred and four, and a school of almost four thousand students. It’s hard to insert yourself so late in the game. I’ve planned to lay low—Lea low—head down, graduate, move on. But these past few weeks, I don’t know, I’m lonely. I want to look around. I want to step more into the radar, get pulled over. Something, anything. In situations like this, or in chapel surrounded by so many students, I feel like if I vanished, if I melted into the floor, no one would notice I was gone. I’m getting bored being so quiet. I was quiet at my last school. Maybe I could reinvent myself, or at least remodel? Take the blank slate and mark it up.
“Okay, let’s do this!” Sheri yells, and I laugh to myself at her crazed enthusiasm. “Remember. This is a safe zone. Nothing you do or say leaves this room. There are no teachers here, no parents. This is our time to get real.”
“I want to have sex with you, Sheri!” Jim yells. “Honestly. For real!”
All of Jim’s “boys” erupt into laughter, except Mike Matson, who looks like he’s being tethered by his girlfriend, Maile Beaucage. Her name always makes me think of a flower in a handsome jail, and whenever they hold hands, he seems to look at his group of friends longingly, like they’re leaving on a booze cruise without him. Those boys are all dressed in T-shirts with surf logos, baggy shorts, caps worn low or backwards. They make the boys from my old school look like they’re dressed to clock in at Google. I want to be over there, not over here. I want them to see me laughing.
“Okay, boys,” Sheri says. “Settle down ’cause we’re about to get internally rowdy. We’re going to find out what’s inside of us.”
Our regular teacher isn’t here, since we’re about to get internally rowdy, but I wonder if Ms. Wood is hiding under the bleachers, trying to get glimpses into the real lives of teenagers. The peer counselors are giving us a sneak preview of things they do during Camp Paumalu, a four-day lovefest of trust falls and cathartic crying. I hear you do things like write a problem on a slab of wood, then punch through it karate-style while listening to “Eye of the Tiger.”
“There are no winners in this race,” Sheri says. “I’ll be asking questions, and some of you will walk, and some of you won’t. Everyone will get to the other side in the place that matters.” She thumps her chest with a closed fist.
“Now. I want you to take five steps if, within this past month, you’ve made someone feel good!”
I immediately look to the pack of guys, and they’re all smiling as if they’ve done something sexual. Poor Sheri. The land of innuendos is boundless. I’d say mostly the entire group walks—it’s a pretty open-ended question.
“Now. Boo.” Sheri makes an exaggerated sad face with a duck-lipped pout. “Walk if you’ve done something that made someone feel bad. Awesome,” she says, as the bulk of the group takes a timid stroll. “It’s okay. Own those steps. No judgment.”
I walk, only because everyone else is and I don’t want to be left behind.
“Walk if you’ve done something you’re ashamed of.”
“I just sharted,” Jim says. “I’ll take a walk.”
Everyone laughs. I can’t imagine a girl saying that, but if one did, I’m sure I’d like her. I walk, ashamed that girl can’t be me, that I can only be funny on the inside.
“Now walk if you’ve recently said something behind someone’s back,” Sheri says.
Almost everyone walks again—with a collective sensation of relief, I think. This is easy and not too deep, like a trailer for a drama. I stay where I am. I haven’t spoken behind anyone’s back recently, not because I’m above such things, but because I don’t have people to air my gripes to. Besides Danny, I don’t really socialize with anyone. I like girls from my classes, but feel like I have a kind of guest membership with them, and honestly, I like them just because they’re there. They’re the ones I’ve seen so far, but I keep looking for more. My old friends were into debate club, cross-country, and pizza parties. On this campus, I overhear girls walking to classes or at paddling practice—shut up, omg shut up. I know, right? and admit I’ve stood before my bathroom mirror, imitating not just their words, but their inflections. Shawt up, oh ma haw, shawt up. I knew, righta? and not knowing if I’m making fun of them or wanting to be them.
I guess I’m not being very honest with this exercise. While I don’t talk badly about people, I think badly about them. I take five steps.
“Walk if you’ve smoked a cigarette,” one of the other counselors says.
Ross Shetland laughs and runs his five steps. A few others follow suit, but not many. We’re a pot generation. Cigarettes are bad for you.
“Walk if you’ve lied to a friend.”
I’ve lied to friends. In second grade, I told Crystal Watanabe I had a monkey, and to every friend I had in San Francisco I said I was excited to move to Hawaii. I’m sure there have been countless fibs and exaggerations, but too harmless to remember here.
Innocent questions like these keep coming, and then we move to more difficult terrain.
“Walk if your parents are divorced,” Sheri says. She looks like she’s going to break into a sad song.
I walk, then stop myself. My dad left before I was born. My parents were never married, and my mother hardly knew him. I’ve never met him and probably never will. His name is Ray Piston aka Stranger Dad. The story I’ve been told is that he was handsome, arrogant, entitled. This part of my life has become like a fairy tale, something I know by heart and that seems like a fantasy.
My mom was taken with his swagger and young enough to overlook the rest. He was visiting from New York, where he had a job in the hotel industry. He seemingly had very little to do, but made a lot of money doing it. Before him she had been in a quiet relationship—stable, sweet, good, but after she graduated from UCLA and came home to Hawaii, they broke up. She and Ray dated that summer, exclusively on her part, and not so exclusively on his, which she found out later. He did all the things she never thought she wanted or needed—gifts, dinners, trips, jewelry—and his reaction to her getting pregnant?
“Fabulous,” he had said. “Now this is getting fun.”
And then he left when my mom was six months pregnant, and she hasn’t seen him since. What a guy.
He lives in Paris now. Done. For a long time I wanted to know him, to know my roots, but the more my mom told me, the less interested I became. At the Outrigger Canoe Club, where they hung out, he made the waitresses bring his meals over to him on the beach where he sunbathed by a canoe. Now when I think of him, I imagine a man dallying about Paris, making waitresses schlep up the Eiffel Tower to serve him croissants.
I’ve Googled him, of course, read his business profile, articles about legal battles with his properties. I’ve seen pictures of him at various charity events, posing with the same expression—like he’s about to call out across the room to a pal. He looks handsome, smart, both careful and careless. His connection to me seems unreal, like I’m looking at a celebrity. I’m not his, and he’s not mine. I kind of hate him.
“Walk if you’ve been cruel to someone you love,” Sheri says.
Everyone walks; most heads are down. Pete Weiner has a little psycho smirk on his face. Mike Matson looks contemplative. I walk too. I’ve been mean to my mom and to Lo, my best friend in San Francisco. Sometimes you’re just mean to the people you love the most. You know you’ll get a pass.
“Walk if someone you love has been cruel to you.”
I walk. My San Francisco friends left my good-bye sushi dinner after an hour so they could go to Fletcher Ronson Jr.’s party. I saw the Instagram posts the next day in Honolulu. Girls are the cruelest.
“Walk if you’ve ever felt neglected,” Sheri says in a solemn voice.
I walk into the pity party. I’ve been neglected my whole life, even though my dad never seemed real enough to be able to neglect me. Oddly, I feel more neglected by my mother, who is always there. I can’t pinpoint why I feel this way. Sometimes I interpret it not as neglect, but as too much trust in me, which I’ve come to dislike.
We moved because my mom got a part in a TV drama being shot here. No Borders, it’s called, and the pilot airs in three weeks, right after spring break. She plays a surgeon, Samantha Lovejoy, who has come with a group of doctors whose mission is to help people on a remote island. They fight, fall in love, doctor, and have lots of downtime to do montaged activities and enact overly complicated methods of revenge. My mom has a leading role, which is many steps up from her prior gigs, mainly nonrecurring parts in sitcoms and minor roles in movies—very minor—not even the best friend, but the acquaintance or the quirky secretary or a shop owner. She’s done tons of commercials, both as an actor and a voice (chicken wings, deodorant, car insurance, Quilted Northern). I know I’m lucky. She could be insecure and envious, tormented, egotistical, like so many people in her business. Instead she’s just happy for work.
Yes, I feel neglect, I feel it by looking around the room. I’m neglected by people who don’t know they’re wanted in the first place, by people who don’t know my name, who possibly never will, even though I know all of theirs—first and last. But whose fault is that? It’s my own. I’m getting closer to the middle now, to Sheri and the other counselors.
This question of neglect and the tougher ones that follow are making people look straight ahead, their faces dulling a bit. Walk if you are afraid. Walk if you think people don’t really know who you are. Walk if you love someone who doesn’t love you back. Walk if you’ve been used or humiliated. Everyone looks at Mia and Pua, two of the many girls whose Snapchat nude pictures were traded by boys who called themselves the Pokemon Trading Club. The boys were all expelled the second week I got here.
Walk if you feel that you’ll never have enough. Walk if you do things to feel good that aren’t good for you. Walk if these things make you feel worse. These questions resonate inside us, triggering our brains to remember things specific or vague, which can be harder—not having a thing to stick a pin into.
Ross and Jim aren’t making jokes after every question anymore, and the cluster of girls has been separated by their differing answers. The majority of the group is well ahead of me, which makes me feel boring. I need to steal, cheat, gossip, do drugs, text someone pictures of my boobs. Beside and behind me are the people I expect to see: Mark Lam, Mark Lum, Geoff Davenport, Sylvia Moncrief, the ballerinas, but then I see someone only a few steps ahead whose presence surprises me: Whitney. Beautiful, blessed Whitney West, daughter of a hotelier; she’s like Hawaii’s Paris Hilton. I make eye contact with her. She has never spoken to me before, even though our mothers are friends and my mom and her dad both went to Punahou.
Mom and the Wests have kept in touch, though it seems that Melanie’s fondness for my mom is proportionate to my mom’s success. A stint in a sitcom: Melanie West calls. A commercial for Crest Whitening Strips: not so much.
Now, for example, with a show set in Hawaii on the brink of its debut, Melanie is a close, close, super-close friend.
When my mom and I visited my grandparents—who passed away four and seven years ago—Melanie would have her come to dinner parties. She was Melanie’s actress friend. I was never invited (rich people seem to have a no-kids rule), and my mom would come home feeling slightly proud and slightly degraded.
“I’m kind of like a circus monkey,” she once said, having had to perform one-liners all night about the famous people she has come across in her career.
Whitney looks back and smiles at me, just slightly. I can’t tell if it’s a smile recognizing our family connection or if it’s a kind of sly grin, telling me she’s lying and she shouldn’t be so far behind. Why is she so far behind? Is she not as experienced as I’d imagine her to be? Or maybe she’s back here because nothing bad can touch her.
Her brother, Will, is a senior. He’s her male equivalent, looks-wise, yet even more large and magnetic, pristine. My first week of school, I happened to pass him, thinking that he’d know who I was because of my mom. “Hey,” I managed to say. He looked at me as though he wasn’t sure if I’d spoken or burped, and he kept on walking.
“Walk if you feel like you’re living your life to its fullest potential,” Sheri says in a soft voice.
I don’t move. Whitney doesn’t either. Of course we don’t. We’re seventeen. I hope to God this isn’t my fullest potential.
On the other side of the partition, I hear the dribbling of basketballs and feel like our little world is being intruded upon. Sheri turns the music up.
“Now,” Sheri says, “walk if you’ve ever done anything illegal.”
An easy one. Mostly everyone walks. I’m sure we’ve all had a drink, even the peer counselors.
“This week,” Sheri says. “Walk if you’ve done something illegal this week.”
It’s Tuesday. I rack my brain for something, anything. Jaywalking perhaps, not using my blinker. Other people walk, and they all happen to be good-looking, as if only beautiful people can have such bad fun. They’re looking around with smirks on their faces. What have they done? I have always known that my life was a little predictable, but for the first time, I see it as totally disappointing. Whitney walks. I’m farther behind her now. What has she done in just two days? Mike turns around and gives her a knowing look that I don’t think anyone else was supposed to see. I want to walk too. I want to seem interesting. No—I want to be interesting. This is a race, and I am far behind. And then I remember something. I guess it’s not technically illegal, but whatever—it’s against the rules. I proudly take five steps. I’m in the gym, and I’m wearing black-soled shoes.
• • •
When I get home my mom tells me something that brings me back to today’s exercise, our crossing. I think of what I had felt during the truth walk—wanting a change, wanting something, anything, wanting to belong here, to just speak up. For me, it wasn’t about getting real and confessing, it was seeing what little there was to be said.
When my mom tells me what’s about to happen I experience a rush and then a kind of crushing. I’m stunned into silence—the what, why, when, whaaaat???? of it all stuck to my dumb tongue.
My mom tells me we’re moving to 4461 Kahala Avenue. The home of Whitney West.
I IMMEDIATELY HAD TO GET ON MY BIKE AND RIDE OUT of Enchanted Lakes to clear my head. I rode through the other sections of Kailua, a town I know and love. I can’t say that I love our house, though. I ride back into our neighborhood and park my cruiser in the carport and look at our dark town house, which sits alongside a canal that I believe to be a source of diseased tilapia and staph infections. According to my mom, we will move to a three-bedroom cottage on a thirty-thousand-square-foot lot right on the ocean. White sand, palm trees, disease-free fish.
Our current neighbors are a single mom with a red-faced toddler who is always screaming and beating his chest and, on the left, Dr. Rocker, a sex therapist for paraplegics. Our new neighbors will be less visible. I’ve already looked them up. On the right: Stanton Ichinose, founder of a hospital supply company and a recent addition to the Forbes list of world billionaires. To the left: Stavros Angelopoulos, a money manager known as “the Greek,” who just purchased the home (his third) for a bargain at twenty-one million.
Moving into a new home bought with my mom’s hard-earned money would sound awesome to me, but the thought of living in Whitney’s cottage? I may as well go the cafeteria, put on a hairnet, and serve her two scoops of rice.
I walk in. My mom’s in the kitchen, packing up a box. Her phone is docked and playing music—the poor sound quality is something she doesn’t mind, but it drives me bonkers.
“You’re packing already?” I ask. “You just told me two hours ago. I went for a ride, remember? To clear my head before getting more details. Now I need to reclear!”
“You don’t need to reclear,” she says, looking at me as if I’m joking around and not being completely heartfelt. Her smile is wide and filled with nice square teeth. She has a face that’s calming. I don’t know how she isn’t some megastar. She’s beautiful in this effortless and blooming way that makes me stare sometimes as if I don’t know her at all.
“I just got inspired to organize,” she says. She flips her hair back and rolls her head from side to side.
I look around at the stained carpet and worn armchairs that were here before we moved in. The chairs are covered with our things.
“There are boxes,” I say. “I see boxes.”
“May as well get started,” she says. “The cottage is open, and we pay month-to-month here. Plus, it’s kind of hard to know you’re going somewhere but not heading there, right?” She ponders a spatula, the slightly melted plastic, and puts it aside. “This is crazy,” she says, but in a way where “crazy” means exciting and not insane. She looks at me for confirmation, but I don’t give her any, so she looks away, still smiling to herself.
I get a glass of water, wishing I had those poetry magnets to try to describe what I’m feeling with a limited choice of words. I look at the small TV as if someone on it could help me out. The redheaded woman on the screen says she’s going to stick it to cancer.
“How was school?” my mom asks. Her innocent everyday question has no place here, and how does one ever answer that question in ways other than “good” or “okay” or by shrugging?
“It was somewhat taxing,” I say. “I was nervous walking by this group of guys. They just sit in this spot, looking really bored, and I have to walk by them every day to get to biology.”
My mom keeps sorting through utensils and cookware.
“Biology was kind of fun,” I say. “We dissected a frog—I thought it would come shrink-wrapped like bacon the way they did at Storey, but Punahou doesn’t use real frogs. They use a frog app, so we dissected on our laptops.”
“Cool,” she says, though I could have said “I have herpes” and elicited the same response.
“Creative writing was creative,” I continue. “Our teacher is kind of lame. I think he wants to be like a movie teacher—you know, all irreverent and inspiring—but it just makes him look like a tool. I ate a papaya and a Dove bar and some sushi at the snack bar. And in ethical responsibility, we did an exercise that had the ironic effect of making me want to be more unethical.”
My mom sifts through a drawer. I’m always super detailed as punishment for her asking me how school was, but she keeps asking and, as far as I can tell, she listens here and there. I try to catch her tuning out.
I walk around to get air in my shirt—it’s so hot in here, and I’m sweaty from the bike ride. I can’t help but feel thrilled that we’re leaving. We’ve always known we wouldn’t stay in this condo, so we never bothered to make it our own. My mom’s been keeping an eye out for rentals in Maunawili, or something in town. I’m not sure how we could have made this our own, anyway. It seems designed for anonymity.
“I jumped off the roof of the gym into the pool,” I say. “Herpes.”
She throws some plastic spoons into the trash. “Are you swimming for PE?”
“How was your day?” I ask. “Any other news? Or just that we’re moving in with strangers.”
“They’re not strangers,” she says and runs her hand through her hair. “The Wests are longtime friends.”
It’s funny how my mom’s voice takes on a Hawaiian lilt at times. I sit on a bar stool and drum my fingers against the counter. “I’m not understanding how all this happened. Melanie just asked if you wanted to live in their cottage, and you said yes?” I’m hoping the repeated verbalization will make it seem less bizarre.
“Yes,” my mom says. “That’s what happened.” She looks like she’s holding back laughter.
“Why would she ask? How did it even come up?”
Since we got here, it seems like my mom is constantly taking calls from or going to events with Melanie. With dogs, you multiply their ages by seven to get the human equivalent. It seems like for minor celebrities, when they come to Hawaii, their celebrity also multiplies by seven. San Francisco society couldn’t care less about my mom, but here she’s on what I call the charity circuit—going to fashion shows and dinners that benefit the arts or kids with diseases. She chaired some kind of Oscar party, which even she found to be ridiculous. Dentists and lawyers came out and walked a red carpet in their finery, all styled for the grand occasion of watching the Oscars on TV.
“It just . . . came up,” my mom says. I spin on my stool, and she goes through the cabinet with the pots and pans. “She knew we wanted a new place. She was telling me to look in town, that everything was happening on her side. Then she kind of lit up and said we may as well use her cottage, because it’s just sitting there. And I guess it made sense. We’ve been wanting to get out of here, and you know her—you can’t mention anything without her texting solutions and offers, I swear.”
She places the cookie sheets on the counter.
“No, I don’t know her,” I say. “I don’t know her at all. How much is rent?”
“Do you think we’ll need all of these pots?” she asks.
I don’t care about the pots. Kahala is like the equivalent of the Presidio or Nob Hill. I remember a sixth-grade sleepover at my friend Ashley’s in the Presidio. Her house was supposedly inspired by a castle in France. Her mother told me to make myself at home. I stood on the cold marble floors, looked up at the grand staircase and the chandelier, and thought, I don’t know how to do that.
My mom tucks her hair behind her ear. “So, she won’t let me pay rent.”
“What?” I automatically think of the charity circuit.
“I know, it’s crazy,” she says off my look. “But I’ll try anyway. I offered to cook for them—”
“What? That’s ridiculous—like an employee?”
She resumes her packing, gathering kitchenware and putting it into a box, her hair falling back in front of her eyes. “No, no, not like that. Just as a friend. A friendly neighbor. You know I love cooking.”
“Is this some kind of pity party? Should I wear ripped clothes and hold out a tin cup?”
She stops packing, finally stops moving and avoiding the sight of me—my slumped shoulders and questioning face.
“It saves money and gives us a place before I decide if we can make living in Hawaii permanent. Who knows if the show will get renewed, and if it doesn’t, then we’ll be staying anyway so you can finish school.” She blows out a puff of air. “Plus, it will be fun.” She holds out her fists in a kind of cheering move. “It’s beautiful, there’s a pool, surf, it’s closer to school, closer to everything, and you know the kids, right? They’re nice kids, aren’t they? It will be a good thing. Really great.”
I don’t say anything to her or her happy little fists, but my first feeling is of anger toward her versus empathy when she said it would save money. I don’t expect a lot, but sometimes all I want is an unawareness of money matters. I feel that I know too much.
I know that this week, Times has zucchini for $1.49 a pound, which is less than the farmers’ market on Thursday. I know that this week Foodland has the cheapest cabbage, and Safeway has blueberries that are buy one get one free.
I know tuition at Punahou is expensive and renting is outrageous, and I know that my mom does pretty much everything on her own. I’ve never been denied anything. Gymnastics, ballet, tap, musical theater, piano, ukulele, a brief stint on the bass guitar, ski trips, after-school care, art, private school, car. I’ve done and still do it all, but am always aware of her working for it and working alone. Maybe this is how all kids with single parents feel.
And so I don’t say that this arrangement, especially if she cooks, makes her seem like a live-in maid, because I’m sure this has already crossed her mind. I think when people see my mom on TV, they figure we’re super wealthy. She has access, she looks the part, but she’s in—not of—a certain world.
“Just have Stranger Dad send some money,” I say.
When I asked once how she affords private school, she said he’s helped a bit with tuition when needed. She ignores my suggestion.
“Melanie’s excited. She says Whitney adores you.”
“I’ve never spoken to Whitney in my life.” I open the freezer and grab a Popsicle, which makes me feel like a little kid.
“Well, she thinks you and Whitney will really get along. It’ll be fun. I promise. And Melanie says to use the pool, come over for barbecues, dinner. She says whenever we want we can sit with the family.”
For some reason, this makes me tear up a bit, and I’m not sure why. Is it because I could sit with my mother and the family and I’m happy, or is it because I’d be allowed to sit with my mother and the family and this is tin-cup humiliating?
“We’ll have our own space though, right?” I say. “So we won’t be sitting with them anyway.” I take the wrapper off the grape Popsicle and sit back down.
She doesn’t answer me, knowing I’m getting worked up. I’m chewing my Popsicle like a rabbit.
“I’m not going,” I say, but she doesn’t stop packing, which makes my heart beat fast, like I’m fighting with someone who won’t hit back. We both know it’s a pitiful threat.
“When are we going?” I mumble.
“We can move in now,” she says. “This week. Tomorrow.”
She won’t look at me. Look at me, I want to say.
I don’t understand my anger completely. I’m angry that what we have isn’t good enough. I’m angry that I have so much and don’t have a thing.
“It will be a good change for you,” my mom says. “Something different from Enchanted Lakes.”
I know she’s implying I have nothing to lose. She knows my daily routine and knows I won’t be leaving or giving up very much. Plucking me out of what’s familiar could only be for the best. I have no attachments here. My mom’s life is the one that matters.
I look out at the canal through the living room window. Across the water is the shirtless man smoking a cigarette and rubbing his hard, round stomach. There is nothing enchanted about this lake, but I’ll miss the town, Kailua, the way I feel at ease here. It’s a place I could see myself growing into, tailoring it to fit.
I like my routines, even though they’re pretty solo—biking on the path by the marsh, the sounds of the birds and my tires on the gravel, the light shooting through the clouds and spilling over the Ko’olaus down onto the expanse of the Kawainui grass. Walking up to the Lanikai pillboxes, looking out at the windward coast and down at Waimanalo, which from that distance looks vacant and wild. Some days I walk with Danny up to the Pali Lookout, and we’re often the only ones on the trail until we get to the top and are joined by the people who come on tour buses. The wind is so strong at the top you can’t hear anything but the sound of it, and you feel you’ll be swept away. When I’m up there, I always think of my grandmother, who lived here all her life, driving to town on the old highway. I think of the battles fought in that very spot, battles to unite the island chain.
“My routines,” I say. I have a life here. Kind of.
My mom looks up and sighs. “Be grateful. You can still do everything you ever did. We’ll be half an hour away.”
Then I’ll be visiting someone else’s backyard.
“You’ll find other routines,” she says. “Whitney will show you around, I’m sure.”
“What a carrot,” I say. “She’ll show me around Kahala Mall? Or the Outrigger? Great.”
“She’s a nice girl,” my mom says. “And what a beauty.”
There’s nothing that makes me feel worse than my mom complimenting another girl: it’s less about her praising someone else than that she’s suggesting I change or try harder. Whitney, hair the color of burnt butter, golden skin that’s slightly freckled. If you described us, it would sound as though we looked alike, but the results of our similar traits are different. I feel like I don’t wear my brown hair and brown eyes and petite frame as well as she does. I straighten, throw my shoulders back.
“She could help you meet people,” my mom says. “You can’t just tag along after Danny.”
“I don’t need to meet more people,” I say. “And I don’t tag along.”
Danny’s a childhood friend, and I don’t tag along after him, no way. Do I? No. He wants me with him. He asks me to do stuff with him all the time.
“Anyway,” she says, closing a box and giving it a tap. “That’s the plan. That’s what we’re doing, so—”
“So we’ll all be friends now? I’ll meet tons of people and have tons of fun?” I’m embarrassed that my voice betrays me. It sounds hopeful and not sardonic, as I intended. That is her aspiration for me, and yes, fine, maybe it’s mine too, but her desiring it makes me feel I’m lacking something I didn’t know I needed. “Whatever,” I say and throw out my wrapper, then walk to my room where I look in the mirror and see all the things I’m missing. I stick out my purple tongue.
ONE WEEK LATER, AND WE’VE PACKED UP OUR LITTLE lives just like that. On Saturday we take our first load over in my mom’s car, going the long way through Waimanalo so we can stop by Danny’s. It would have been more efficient to have brought my car too, but I didn’t want to make the first trip alone.
The day is so clean and clear. The ocean glimmers along the coast. We get to see things here that people pay to see on their honeymoons. I automatically hear “Waimanalo Blues” in my head, a song Danny’s dad, Toby, taught me on the ukulele. He’s an attorney, but he performs sometimes at the resorts with his band.
“Do you see Danny at school?” my mom asks.
“Not that much,” I say. “Sometimes we have lunch.”
Since he’s a childhood/summer-break/family friend, it’s weird existing with him at school and in the real world. I’m seeing him in a new light and sometimes have an odd sensation of pride, as if seeing my kid all grown up. He’s like a man now, this boy. Our mothers went to Punahou together and were close a long time ago, but not so much anymore. Auntie Stephanie. She moved to Maui after the divorce from Uncle Toby. When I visited in the summers, she’d take us to the crack seed store, and Danny and I would load up on li hing mui, kakimochi, tamarind wafers, and candy wrapped in rice paper that would dissolve in our mouths. I always remember this and also the summer we were twelve and would practice kissing on each other. We both pretend this has never happened, or maybe he has truly forgotten.
“I can’t believe he’s going to Berkeley,” she says. “You’re going to miss him.”
Her smile is teasing and maddeningly infectious.
“What? Stop it.” I hold down my grin.
“So cute,” she says and looks at me like I’m heading off to prom.
“Oh my God, calm down.”
We trail a truck with a bunch of shirtless kids in back. The truck is stenciled with a sexy woman and a tribute to a dead musician. The bulk of the land in Waimanalo belongs to Hawaiian homeland, so most of the residents are Hawaiian. It is definitely not the same here as it is in Kahala, though the landscape—its vibrant colors and defiant mountains—make it so much more beautiful and complex. That ocean is the most beautiful blue, like jewels underwater.
“Does he have a girlfriend?” my mom asks.
The thought makes me a little ill. It’s like discussing a sibling or someone you don’t really want to imagine being intimate with anyone. Danny and I have similar coloring, though I’m not as Hawaiian as he is, since my mom’s only a quarter. I always imagine a nickel and a dime’s worth of blood pinging through my body like a pinball. Danny’s hapa—a bit of everything. His skin is the color of monkey pod tree bark. He has cheeks like mountain apples and brows that look almost penciled on. His body is something my mainland friends would freak out about. He’s tan and sculpted but not in a gym-fit way. He looks like he could swim across a great channel.
“Ask him yourself,” I say. I want to hear him answer no. I don’t think we’d hang out if he had a girlfriend and wonder what this says about our friendship.
We stop in front of their house, which is always cheery, the yard in bloom with tiare and puakenikeni, and Toby’s garden is loaded with vegetables.
“Look at that eggplant,” my mom says.
“Look at that eyesore,” I say.
Their next-door neighbors fly a Hawaiian flag and a sign that says DEFEND HAWAII. There’s a skeleton of a Toyota in their yard that’s been there for as long as I can remember, as well as a pop-up tent and rusted baby toys.
Danny comes out the kitchen door with my ukulele.
“Hey, Danny boy,” my mom says when he leans down and rests his arms on my windowsill. He smells like salt water and BO.
“Hi, Auntie Ali. You leaving the windward side? Town bound? Lame.”
“Moving on out,” she says.
“Hey, Little Donkey,” he says.
“Seriously, stop calling me that. Especially in public.” I take a glance at myself in the side mirror. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you look pretty good and being called an ass.
He passes my uke through the window.
“I’ll see you Thursday?” he says. “I’m still tripped out you’re moving in with Whitney West.”
“Yeah, tell me about it,” I say.
“I haven’t cooked with you in a while,” my mom says. “Bring me some of that eggplant, and we’ll Iron Chef it up.”
“Sounds good,” Danny says. He puts his hand out for our farewell shake, which is more like a slap than a grip, then he walks out to the busy road and puts his hand out to stop traffic so my mom can back out. Only Danny could stop traffic so quickly.
We wave good-bye and get back on the road.
“You guys are so cute,” my mom says.
“Stop it,” I say. I force down a smile. I’ll always be a little donkey in his eyes.
• • •
We drive in silence to Kahala, listening to music turned up loud. We have the same tastes: Gillian Welch, the Roots, Gabby and Cyril Pahinui, Graham Nash, plus random pop songs on the radio. She’s okay like that.
She turns on Hunakai, the beginning of our new neighborhood, and I pretend not to look, but I see everything. The landscaping, the mailboxes, the lack of people walking their dogs or doing their own lawns or washing their cars. Some homes are laughably hideous, gold gates with blue metal dolphin fixtures, block-long driveway entrances; they make statements I can’t quite decipher, yet they all seem to say, Look at me, but don’t come close. I don’t have an angry, simplistic distaste for people with money—I like it, want it, need it—but some people sure spend it in weird ways.
“Grandigross,” I say.
“No kidding,” she says.
We move into a nicer section. Some of the large homes sit next to old and small ones that haven’t been torn down and resurrected. While these little ones are perfectly nice, in comparison to their fellow remodels, they look neglected. I guess it’s like those shots showing the before and after, the after automatically making the before a failure.
It’s not as though I haven’t been to Kahala, even though I’m looking around like a total gaper. I surf at Diamond Head with Danny, but it’s different this time. I’m nervous, and this nervousness is tinged with excitement and undue pride, like I’m a better person for living here.
“You’re a good sport,” my mom says.
“Yeah, yeah,” I say. “I’ll live.”
She turns on Aukai, which is wide and quiet, hushed—it’s almost like no one is here. Where is everyone?
“I’m serious,” she says. “You’ve always been ready to go.” She pats my leg.
It’s true. The house in Topanga Canyon for her dystopian thriller, the apartment on Stanyan for the utopian (never released) comedy. I was happy to leave both times. Even moving here, she gave me a choice. I could finish up school while she flew back and forth, or we could move together. I chose the adventure, chose to leave the comforts of Storey, of the neighborhood, friends, and routines. I’m realizing that at some point, I should try to make a life I’m not so eager to leave.
“Tennis courts down that way,” my mom says, nodding to the left, where I see a little kid straddling a bike, zoned out and picking his nose. “They’re members of Waialae. Melanie said she could sign you up for lessons if you wanted.”
“Why would I want tennis lessons? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
My mom clears her throat. I hate when she pushes things on me or tries to guide me to something I may have done on my own. It’s annoying—like when she sees someone she knows, and before I get the words out, she tells me to say hello.
“Grandpa used to say Waialae Country Club had no haoles,” I say. “And the Outrigger has no Asians. Keeping it even, I guess.”
“That’s not true,” my mom says. “Well, maybe. Anyway, you’re welcome to use Waialae and the Outrigger.”
I put my window down and let my arm hang out and surf the breeze. “I can’t just go in there anytime,” I say. “And it’s not like I want to.”
“You could go with Whitney.”
“Why are you pushing her on me? You’re like a friend dealer.”
“I’m not pushing her,” my mom says. “Never mind. Everything I say you argue against.”
She turns the air up.
“Not everything,” I say.
“You just did it again.”
“That doesn’t count. I’m just saying, not everything.”
“You’re still doing it.”
I throw my hands up. “God!”
She puts my window back up. There’s nothing worse than fighting in a car, trapped and on display, and I hate when a good moment turns in an instant and my mood is squashed. Maybe I should take tennis lessons—right now I would love to whack a ball across a court. Whop! I love that sound.
My mom turns on Koloa and then onto Kahala Avenue, which is loud, not with traffic, but with leaf blowers and weed whackers. She turns on her blinker, and I sit up straighter, trying to get a glimpse of what we’re heading into. A long rock wall, a sleek wooden gate.
“This is it?” I ask, stating the obvious.
“This is it.” She waits for an underfed woman jogger, slick with sweat, who is looking incredibly focused and unhappy.
“Eat a chicken,” I say, then my mom makes the left into the Wests’ driveway and stops before the gate.
“Do they know we’re coming?” I ask.
“I told Melanie we’d be in and out all weekend. Who knows if we’ll see anyone.” She reaches up to a gate opener on the visor.
“Where’d you get that?”
“Melanie gave me one,” she says and points it at the gate.
“When I saw her yesterday.”
“You were working.”
She looks over at me. “Jeez, Lea, attack much? I had lunch with her yesterday. She came on set.”
“First of all, gross that she came on set. Second of all, do not say ‘attack much.’ That is so lame.”
She smiles and presses the button on the clicker again. “And here we are,” she says in her cheerleader voice.
The gate hums and opens slowly. I realize I’m holding my breath. My mom drives in at a crawl, and I look at the long driveway that extends across the lot. I can see a rectangle of glimmering ocean through the glass doors in the middle of the home.
Soaring coconut trees are scattered around the grounds. Everything is perfectly manicured. Yardmen are clipping, mowing, blowing, weeding.
“This is us over here,” my mom says. She veers off to the right, to the front edge of the lot where our new home, our cottage, sits above its own garage. The garage has a shiny wood door with black hardware.
“You must be happy,” my mom says to me, referring to the garage. I’ve always wanted a garage, an odd wish, but I like having a place to put things, and after living in San Francisco, I cherish and deeply appreciate parking spots. When I worked at American Apparel on Haight I swear I spent more money on gas trying to find parking than I actually made at the store. I shrug, hiding my happiness.
She turns off the engine outside of the garage. “It’s a stint. An adventure.” I look over at the main house, and she follows my gaze. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”
“I feel like Sabrina,” I say.
“You know—the movie,” I say.
“Oh,” she says. “That Sabrina.” She looks serene, recalling the movie. Audrey Hepburn, living in the servants’ quarters with her dad, the chauffeur for the rich family.
“Remember, she falls in love with one of the sons,” I say, reaching down for my backpack. “He treats her like shit. And the other brother treats her like shit too, but he’s more responsible and good in the end. I forget what happens. I just remember she’d watch their lavish parties from a tree.” I look at the coconut trees. Too tall and nowhere to hide.
My mom laughs. She has the widest smile—it spans her face, practically to her ears. She looks like she should be splashing in the surf for a J.Crew ad.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Lea and her mother have upped and moved to Hawaii, which is where her mother is originally from. Moving isn’t anything new for Lea, so she’s not at all bothered by this move. What does, however, bother her is that they are residing in the Cottage of the West Family, who is an extremely wealth family friend. The Wests have two children, Whitney and Will, how are both Lea’s age. Lea, Whitney, and West get into all kinds of teenage trouble and are having a blast, but Lea soon realizes that she’s not like these people, and is changing herself quite a bit in order to feel like she fits in. The characters in this story were a lot of fun. The friendships were strong, and the parent/sibling relationships were even stronger. I really enjoyed how loyal and protective they all were, even while making the normal mundane mistakes we’ve all made in the past. Nobody is perfect, and neither were these characters, which is what made it all even more realistic. There was a “villain” though that added a lot of fuel to the fire, and that was Melanie West. She wasn’t just wealthy, she was conceited, entitled, and overly willing to use whoever was in the way to get where she wanted to go… including Lea’s mother. (Trust me, you’ll love to hate this witch!) I also have to mention the setting because… HAWAII!! I haven’t come across many books taking place in Hawaii, so this was a huge bonus for me. The sights and sounds are ones I’ve only dreamed of experiencing. I’d love to visit Hawaii some day. I had heard such great things about this book, so my hopes were pretty high going in. It didn’t disappoint one bit. A solid YA contemporary that is loads of fun and also carries with it quite a few values lessons. This is one that contempt fans won’t want to miss! (Thank you to Penguin Teen and Listening Library for the review copies!)