Olly knocks on the door. “Are you snorkeling in there?”

I do eventually have to leave this bathroom, but I’m too nervous. Will Olly think all my parts are in the right place?

“Deep sea fishing actually.” My voice shakes only slightly.

“Fantastic. We’ll have sushi for—”

I pull the door open quickly, like ripping off a Band-Aid.

Olly just stops talking. His eyes travel slowly from my face to my toes and even more slowly back up again.

“You’re in a swimsuit,” he says. His eyes are on the expanse of skin between my neck and chest.

“I am.” I look up into his eyes and what I see there makes me feel like I’m not wearing any clothing at all. My heart picks up the pace and I take a deep breath to try to slow it down, but it doesn’t work.

He runs his hands along the length of my arms, slowly pulling me toward him at the same time. He touches his forehead to mine when we’re finally close enough. His eyes are blue fire.

He looks like a starving man, like he could devour me all at once.

“That swimsuit,” he begins.

“Is small,” I conclude.

Guide to
Hawaiian Reef Fish

Jump

I surprise Olly by getting into the water right away. He says I’m like a baby who runs headlong into things, not knowing enough to be afraid. Like a baby, I stick my tongue out at him and make my way, life jacket and all, further into the water.

We’re at Black Rock, so named because of the rocky cliff formed by the lava rocks that run right up to the beach and jut high into the sky. In the water, the rocks form a crescent shape that calms the waves and forms a coral reef perfect for snorkeling. Our guide at the Fun in the Sun desk says the beach is popular with cliff divers, too.

The water is cold and salty and delicious and I think maybe I was a mermaid in a former life. An astronaut mermaid architect. The flippers and life jacket keep me floating on the surface and it only takes a few minutes for me to get used to breathing through the mask. Listening to the magnified sound of my own breath is peaceful and strangely euphoric. I’m being reassured with every breath that I’m more than just alive. I’m living.

We see the humuhumunukunukuapua’a right away. Actually, we see quite a lot of them. I guess the reason they’re the Hawaiian state fish is that they’re plentiful. Most of the fish are clustered around the coral reef. I’ve never seen colors so intense, not just blue and yellow and red, but the deepest blues and brightest yellows and most vibrant reds you’ve ever seen. Away from the coral, the sun’s rays form rectangular columns of light in the water. Schools of silver fish dart in and out, acting with one mind.

Holding hands, we swim farther out and see gliding stingrays that look like giant white-bellied birds. We see two enormous sea turtles that seem to be flying instead of swimming. Intellectually I know that they won’t hurt us. But they’re so big, and so obviously belong to this water world—where I do not—that I stop moving, not wanting to attract their attention.

I could stay all day, but Olly eventually tugs me back to shore. He doesn’t want us, meaning me, to get burned by the midday sun.

Back on the beach we dry off under a shady tree. I feel Olly’s eyes on me when he thinks I’m not noticing, but we are a mutual admiration society—I’m secretly ogling him, too. He’s only wearing swim trunks, so I can finally see the lean, smooth muscles of his shoulders and chest and stomach. I want to memorize the landscape of him with my hands. I shiver and wrap my towel around my body. Olly misinterprets my shiver and steps close to me to add his towel to my shoulders. His skin smells like the ocean and something else, some indefinable thing that makes him Olly. I shock myself by wanting to touch my tongue to his chest, to taste the sun and salt on his skin. I drag my eyes away from his chest and up to his face. He avoids my eyes and wraps the towel tight around me so none of my skin is showing and then steps away from me. I get the feeling that he’s holding himself in check.

I’m sure I don’t want him to.

He looks over to the cliff where people, mostly teenagers, are leaping into the ocean. “Want to jump from a big rock?” he asks, eyes sparkling.

“I can’t swim,” I remind him.

“A little drowning never hurt anybody,” says the boy who once warned me that the sea was merciless and unforgiving.

He grabs my hand and we run toward the cliff together. Up close the rocks look like hard black sponge. They’re sharp against my feet and it takes me a while to find foot holes for each step, but eventually we make it to the top.

Olly’s eager to jump. He doesn’t even stop to admire the view.

“Together?” he asks, looking down at the sparkling water.

“Next time,” I say.

He nods. “I’ll go first. I won’t let you drown.” He jumps up and out and does a full somersault before arrowing into the water. A few seconds later he resurfaces and waves up to me. I wave back and then close my eyes to take stock of my situation, because jumping off a cliff seems like a pivotal moment where a little stock taking should be done. Strangely, though, I find I don’t really want to think too much. Like Olly, I just want to jump. I search out Olly’s face in the water and find him waiting for me. Considering what the future may hold, jumping off this cliff doesn’t seem so scary at all.

Cliff Diving: A Guide

Zach

Back at the hotel, Olly calls his friend, Zach, from our room phone. Half an hour later he’s at our door.

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