“What is it?” he would ask, checking to make sure he hadn’t spilled coffee down his shirt or something.
“Nothing. It’s nothing.” She quickly shifted her gaze whenever this happened, or began to prattle on in a false, bright voice about local gossip or how big Tane was growing. Ahio tried his best to relax and match her casual tone, though he was wary of the change in her. Was she growing suspicious of him?
Their living arrangement had been working well, for the most part. Caring for Puaura, driving her to her medical appointments, keeping their home in order – those things had been easy for Ahio to do. Raising Tane was not without its challenges, due to his special needs, but now that he spent half the day at school, Ahio had more time to focus on his own needs. He spent much of that time swimming in the sea, as was his fate. But the few precious moments he had on land, he devoted to his secret project.
One day, he decided that the time had come to tell Puaura. He invited her to go for a boating trip with Tane and him. “There’s something I would like for you to see. And Tane, too,” he added, though Tane probably would not understand. The three of them piled onto Ahio’s boat, and he drove them to a small island.
“What is this place?” asked Puaura, after Ahio had lifted her from the boat and sat her in her wheelchair. The empty beach sloped uphill toward a small, run-down building with broken windowpanes. Here and there, scraps of litter and charred remains of campfires suggested that the spot had occasional visitors – perhaps partying teens or drifters.
“It doesn’t have a name yet,” said Ahio.
“Yet?” Puaura looked at him.
Ahio shrugged. “I was thinking that I’d name it later, after the remodel.”
“Do you mean to tell me that you own this place?” Puaura’s eyes were wide with shock.
He nodded. “I’ve been saving to buy it for years.” Without looking at her, he continued, “A long time ago, I was in love with a woman whose dream it was to build a resort, and to welcome visitors to these islands. Although that woman had to go away, I saved her dream for her, and made it mine.”
For a long moment, the only sounds were the ocean lapping at the shore, and Tane babbling to himself as he paddled around in the water. Then at last, Puaura spoke. “I know,” she said. She stared right at Ahio, who felt a sudden panicked, hopeful wave streak through him.
“What do you know?” his voice came out husky, uncertain.
Puaura gripped the handles of her chair. “I know your secret,” she said. “I know what Tangaroa has done.” And to Ahio’s astonishment, Puaura push against her chair and lifted herself to a standing position. Like a toddler with hands outstretched, she took a few shuffling steps toward him. She could walk! Puaura was walking again! When she was a few feet away, she wavered, but Ahio reached out and pulled her toward him.
She was out-of-breath from the effort. “Now,” she said, “your turn. Show me what I already know, Ahio.”
In a daze, Ahio helped her back to her chair. Then he walked toward the water, where Tane was still splashing around, paying no notice to the miracle that was happening. Ahio took one glance back to where Puaura was seated, watching expectantly. Then he dove into the sea and let his body transform for her.