Six months on from his injuries, Bran was as physically fit as he had ever been. He could swim, surf and scuba-dive. He'd rejoined Hui's Gym, had started to play the occasional game of squash when Hui was free, had gone back to playing golf occasionally. Yet that wasn't good enough for the Coast Guard. Other people's lives could depend on his level of fitness and neither he nor the Board would take chances. Tellingly, Hui had suggested that he drop karate and take up aikido instead. There simply wasn't the mobility in his left hip anymore.
But getting his ass into gear and looking for another career was a step too far. He knew it would have to be done but the mental impetus was hard to maintain. Drifting with the tide was simpler. PTSD, his friends would mutter when they thought he wasn't listening. Only to be expected.
"Koa?" There was a crisp rap of knuckles on the bathroom door and Connie Albright's rich contralto kicked him out of the zone. He didn't know if he were relieved or resentful. "It's getting late and they'll be waiting for us. You ready to go, honey?"
"Give me a minute."
"Okay, I'll be outside."
He turned off the shower and grabbed a towel, scrubbing the worst of the water out of his hair. He dried himself off roughly, hurried to his locker in the communal restroom and dressed quickly. White boxer-briefs, white shorts, and subdued dark blue and white patterned shirt. He pushed his bare feet into sandals, tugged a comb through the tangles in his thick black hair and joined Connie on the lanai. "Ready," he said with a smile.
"About time." Connie hugged him and he returned the embrace. Then he held her at arms length.
"You're looking fine tonight," he said.
"Hey, we're celebrating. That calls for fancy threads." She stepped back and gave a model's stylized twirl, showing off her long scarlet and yellow sarong, and the matching hibiscus in her corn-row braids. The colors glowed against the burnt-coffee darkness of her skin. "The others have gone ahead, said they'd wait for us in the parking lot so we can make our triumphal entry all together." But she made no move to leave, just stood there with her hands on his forearms, gazing up at him. "Mahalo," she said quietly. "Thank you. When the Sea Life Park told me their veterinary unit was in quarantine, and we'd have to rescue and treat the Monks ourselves, I never thought we'd be able to do it. We wouldn't have done it without you – and now you've up-graded just in time to help us out again."
"I was going to anyway," Bran answered with a casual shrug, uncomfortable with her gratitude. "So it made sense to do it when we needed it."
"I'm old enough to be your mother," Connie said crisply. "So don't give me that bullshit, Brandon Makoaikekai Kaulana." It was a measure of her seriousness that she used his full name. "You've got an SUV collecting dust in your garage back home, and I'll bet good money you haven't taken it out more than a couple of times since way before your Gulf tour. You bought your other pickup when mine broke down and we needed to get that calf up to your cousin Marvin's place. Now this." Technically, Marvin Almeda was his cousin-in-law but either way he was family.
"Well, you let me keep the Nautilus in your boathouse rent-free, and I'm hoping I can do the same with the Dancer, so this is the least I –"
"Bull," she interrupted. "Shit."
"Yeah, well, it would have all been for nothing if Matt and Vin hadn't come along to lend a hand," he said, steering away from the subject. She'd known him since his childhood, so she'd be aware that it wasn't just altruism on his part, and that he didn't want to talk about it. "We could have done with Steve out there as well," he continued, remembering the newcomer among their group of friends. "There were some tricky moments and it took serious muscle to get the job done. But it'll be easier next time, when we're more familiar with the equipment."
"That's for sure." Connie let him off the hook and he breathed a sigh of relief. "Steve tried but he had an afternoon of surgery booked and he couldn't get away. Besides, Anna was the veterinary on Wai Ola duty today. But it had to help that Vin is built like a brick outhouse. Think it's why she picked him?"
"Maybe. He's an okay guy, but he's no Steve Lucas. I'd have thought she and Steve were the perfect couple."
"That's because you're a man, honey," Connie answered, and gave him another swift hug. "They are too much alike, and they're far better off as friends. How are you holding up? Anna said it was rough out there and you were limping when you came in."
"I'm fine," he said dismissively. "The leg is sound, it just aches sometimes when I make it work a little harder. That's all."
"Uh-huh. Just aches. Okay, k?ne nohea," she continued. "The Chili Truck is awaiting and so is the luau."
"Then we better go before they send out search parties," Bran said and offered her his arm. She took it with a happy smile and they walked out into the swiftly deepening tropical night to the parking lot and the pickup. Bran did not limp.