Lani shades her eyes against the sun and squints - it's just the glare making her tear up, really - trying to keep Geek in view as long as possible. But the whale keeps on picking up speed, and she doesn't like to admit it, but at this point she's probably already seeing more a mirage of where she remembers him being than Geek, himself. Before long they'll be a blue-black dot on the horizon - and then they'll be gone, entirely, for real.
And who knows when they'll be back - the way people talk, there's always a wave to ride somewhere.
Ugh - it's always all or nothing with Geek. And she's probably making a dumb face, not that he can see to say something about it. Not when the whale's smacking her tail against the water and spouting a farewell, sending Chicken Joe aloft on the jet of steam - his joyful 'yeahhhhhhh' carrying all the way back to the crowd watching from the shore.
All the little kids cheer - and Lani thinks she can maybe make out Arnold telling one of his friends he wants to try that when he's bigger. If he can keep his head above water long enough. She shakes her head.
Next to her, Cody says, "he never gets tired of that. Too bad he never got to try riding the lava tubes." She'd bet clams to squid-sticks that he's shaking his head, too - but smiling.
She refuses to look away from the whale; she's watching until there's nothing left to see. "He did okay, anyway."
"He won - and the Pen Gu-ins didn't eat him for dinner." He's clearly picturing Joe's biggest fans, and the hero's welcome they gave him.
"And he had all the squid-sticks he could eat. At least I'm off 'bringing Z dinner' duty for a while." She's only just realized it, but that might just be the only upside to this.
And maybe there's something about the way she says it because Cody hurries to say, "uh, I can fish for myself."
/// /// ///
Lani gets right back to work as soon as the whale's out of sight. She has to: Arnold wanders into the surf, right where it's lapping at the sand, trying to watch the whale as long as he can - and of course he falls over and goes under, just like always. Her heart isn't really in scolding him, though.
"You can't go in without an adult, not until you're taller than the little waves," she says, and it's a good rule - but all it does is remind her of when the Geek had just been Z, this magical figure who swept into her life for long enough to float her around the shallows on one of his boards, and swept right back out again after - and that somehow she's the adult now.
Arnold makes a face at that, but at least he waddles up the beach, away from the water, with the rest of his tiny friends.
She looks to see if Cody has witnessed Arnold's latest brush with death, but he's vanished. Probably off to see if there's a wave to catch elsewhere. So she sits on her rock, holding her squid float, and looks out at a horizon she's never paddled out to meet - not for real.
Even if Arnold weren't still Arnold, the beaches would still need to be guarded. The surf doesn't play favorites: it'll chew you up and spit you out over even a moment of inattention, and much as Lani loves riding, well, she saw what happened to Z. And Cody's first ride at Pen Gu was a good reminder.
/// /// ///
Life goes on like that, for a while. So Lani's not expecting the first card, when it comes. She's sitting on her guard rock, clutching the rescue squid and watching a bunch of teenagers roughhouse in the shallows, when the mail gull swoops in and drops it on her head. She has to fumble to catch it before the wind snags it and whips it out to sea.
She sneaks a peek long enough to see that the picture on the front is of a penguin stood on a beach, tending a barbecue covered in grilled shrimp, while an assortment of other penguins swim in the water nearby. It's titled G'DAY FROM DOWN UNDER in bright yellow letters. She tucks it under a rock to read later.
She has teenagers playing chicken to keep an eye on for now - Joe wouldn't realise there was a game to play.
Later, once the teenagers have wandered off home, and Ed, the evening guard, has relieved her, she finally flips it over. There isn't much in the way of a message on the back, but that's no surprise - and Lani would recognize Geek's handwriting anywhere. For one, it's terrible.
The water's okay. I'm staying with some guys I met. They're feeding me right.
She can't decide whether to show it to Cody. She's pretty sure he'd want to see it, but Geek didn't address it to him. Plus he hasn't been around much lately, at least not while she's on guard duty. Which kinda makes it seem like he's avoiding her. Which, so what? She got along just fine on Pen Gu before he ever showed up. She's got friends. Not him-or-Geek friends. She does! ...who she hasn't exactly spent time with since before the whole Big Z Memorial thing. Shit.
It's about time she showed her face at a beach bonfire.
/// /// ///
She realizes, eventually, that whenever she sees Cody during the day, he always seems to be on his way to or from the part of the island that used to be Geek's hideaway. She's been staying away from the hut in the rainforest, herself. There's no need for her to visit. But...maybe Cody hasn't. Maybe he's been making sure it'll still be standing when Geek returns. If he returns.
No, when she tells herself, firmly, as she gathers her things in the guard station after her shift. He loves Pen Gu too much not to come back.
Not that there's been another postcard since the first. Which she still hasn't shown to Cody. Even though they've both been sat around nearly every beach bonfire on offer in the meantime. She doesn't really know what he's been doing, specifically, aside from not leaving, and maybe taking care of Geek's hut. She should apologize, maybe.
It's just that the longer he stays, the more sure she becomes that he's about to leave at any minute.
And the thing is that he could leave - he should leave - after making the finals and taking out Tank the way he did. He should be out there giving Chicken Joe some competition. But he isn't, so she just keeps on rescuing Arnold by day, and dancing with her shadow in the flickering firelight at night.
/// /// ///
Just when she's decided that they'll never hear a word from Geek, again, the mail gull stops by her rock with another postcard. This time, the picture is of a cartoon canary standing in front of a volcanic cone. And there's actually nobody in the water - or even lounging on the sand - so she can read it right away.
This is sure the hot spot, Geek's handwriting proclaims on the back. Havin' lots of fun.
It's not as nice as the cone at the center of their island, Lani thinks, then wonders if it has Pen Gu-ins to dance around it and take unsuspecting chickens captive. Not that they'd be Pen Gu-ins, exactly. Just their long-lost cousins. And apparently Geek is having an amazing time there, even if there aren't.
Like, she's been trying not to think it, but that havin' lots of fun cracks her right open, right there in the open where anybody could walk by and see. That's Geek code for BEST TIME EVER. She was already mad at him for going away in the first place, right away - even if she can also see, on balance, that it's good for him to have not just emerged from the woods but discovered it was possible for him to leave the island again, as well. But now he's having the best time ever, and…
...it's not here.
It's a good thing there's nobody around she's supposed to be watching, because the ocean is blurring right in front of her eyes.
/// /// ///
When she turns up at Geek's hut in the rainforest, she's maybe thinking of picking clam shells off the rubbage heap and hurling them at things. Nothing important, just things. In the general vicinity of the hut. The better to bleed off some of the anger that's been sitting, simmering in her chest, ever since the second card arrived.
Problem number one with that plan is that there isn't a rubbage heap.
Problem number two is that It turns out Cody hasn't just been checking up on Geek's place. He's been living there. And not just living, but, like, nesting almost. It definitely looks nicer than it ever has at any point in the past decade. Like Cody's really making it his own.
And he's there right then, patiently carving a *pretty* new board out of a fallen koa log.
Now that Lani thinks about it, that would explain why she hasn't seen much of him outside of bonfires. The real surprise is that she hasn't heard about it from anybody else. Has Cody really managed to keep his mouth shut this entire time?
Because people around here have their beaks in everybody else's business, doubly so when it's an outsider. And Cody's definitely not from around here - except for how, now, he maybe kind of is. Well, not in a way that most locals will accept. But Lani can see it, how here has gotten under his skin and made itself at home. She's not quite ready to become a regular visitor again - but if Cody has Geek's permission, if he's actually nesting, well, Lani can see for herself he's done a nice job of it, what he's done so far.
She wants to see where this is going, is what she's saying.
And that means talking to Cody, again. She starts with, "Hey. Looking good, there."
By the way he smiles, she can tell he knows she means it. "Think I'm getting the hang of it."
He just might be getting the hang of a bunch of things.
/// /// ///
The next postcard, when it finally arrives, is rather the worse for wear, like it's been dunked in sea water, dried haphazardly, and done it all over again. But it's still clear that the picture on the front is of a penguin drinking a humongous fruity drink under a palm tree. And the message on the back, despite the ink running, is clear, too:
wish you were here
Arnold, who had promised not to go in the water while she read it, nearly drowns again, because he is apparently an actual birdbrain who decided it was okay to ignore his promise because she was taking too long. She thumps him extra hard to make him cough up the water he swallowed. And bans him from the beach for an entire week (as though that will actually work).
Afterwards, Lani storms off to the hut and shows it to Cody. Sharing the hammock with him, after, she complains, "I wish he were here." As much of a grumpy asshole as Geek could be, he's still just about all the family she's got. And she's more than ready for the world to return it to her.
All Cody says in reply is, "Me, too." Which Lani guesses is fair enough, considering what Geek did for him - and what she knows about his family. And then he adds, "but I'm here," like she somehow could've forgotten.
If she hadn't already thought he was nesting, well, she would now, for sure.
/// /// ///
Later still, the two of them have a private dinner together on Geek's beach. There's more than their combined bodyweight in shellfish. And a nice little fire. And surprise, surprise, the coconut ukulele that Cody has apparently learned to play while she's been doing her best to not see what's been right in front of her face.
He's not bad, but not great, either. But better than she might've expected for how long he's been at it. And he's up for her singing local songs at him, in bits, over and over again, until he can poke his way through the most basic melody of them. And that's a bit like having home again, too.
She hadn't realized how much she'd missed it until just then.
But it's wonderful to have it back, it turns out - and even more wonderful when Cody asks, quiet, as they watch the sunset, "When's your next day off? Because you should come out with me, even if it's just to float in the water."
Which is about when she notices that, oh, water's only been work recently.
"Yeah," she says. "Yes. It's been a while. Too damn long."
"Way too long," Cody agrees, with all the certainty of a penguin who spends more time in the water than on land, just the way a penguin should.
In the deepening darkness, Lani can almost imagine Geek's sneaking up behind them in the dark to say, out of nowhere, something typically Geek - he's not, but his spirit's here, for sure, with them. Like they have his blessing - to do whatever they want. And boy do they have options. Geek's showed them that.