“Go,” Ahio had said. “You mother needs you. You should go.”
“I can’t return to the island!” Puaura had said. “Not without you!”
But Ahio had turned away. “You don’t belong with me. I am not Ahio Kaho. You married the wrong man.”
Puaura felt ripped apart. Had her husband lost his mind? She wanted to believe him, but his story was too bizarre to be true. He was really a merman? The god of the sea had switched him with the real Ahio, and the imposter Ahio had still married her, pretended to be the man she loved, stolen her away from her home?
“If there is any truth at all to what you are saying,” said Puaura, her voice shaking, “then you are an evil, evil man for what you have done!”
The imposter Ahio’s eyes were dull. “I know. I am very sorry for what I’ve put you through.” And to Puaura’s great shock, he presented her with papers for an annulment. “You married me under false pretenses. Now you can be free. Go back to your family.” He leaned forward and kissed her gently on the forehead, then left.
When she first set foot on the familiar shores of the islands, she wanted to weep with joy. Never had the sands glittered so golden bright. Never had the wind appeared to caress so gently the fronds of the palm trees. Never had the island birds sung such a sweet melody. She was home, home, where she could be herself again.
Mama. She could not wait to see the face of her mother, to feel her warm, soft embrace when they reunited. Her heart feeling lighter and freer than it had in a long while, Puaura rushed to the rental car agency, so that she could get to her mother’s house as quickly as possible.
She sped through the winding hills, drinking in the scenery. There were so many things she wanted to see, and many people she could not wait to visit. She would stay a couple of days with mama, then—
Something small darted in front of the car. Puaura gasped, then slammed on the brake. With a screech, the car careened off the road. There was an ear-shattering noise of crunching metal and breaking glass. Then everything went dark.
Puaura did not see the kind stranger who pulled her from the wrecked car and performed CPR. She was unaware of the rapid ride in the back of the ambulance, siren wailing.
She was not awake during the lifesaving surgery, either, or for many days afterward. As Puaura slumbered on in a deep coma, her mother, whose illness had worsened, slipped away into an eternal sleep, unaware that Puaura had even returned to the island.