The Last Hula
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Leahi Hiyashi is destined to be a hula legend until her grandma starts to unravel before her eyes. Her grandma isn't the only person on her mind. Kai Kekoa, a new hula student, comes into Leahi's life and makes his interest in her known. As Leahi attempts to avoid his advances, she finds herself liking him back. Will Leahi allow herself to fall for Kai or will she take care of her dying grandma and ignore him? Weeks away from the big Merrie Monarch Hula Competition, Leahi finds herself struggling to face her grandma's upcoming death. Will Leahi be able to dance one final hula for her grandma, or will she give up on her dreams to spend time with her in her final days?
Chapter 1 Tutu's Eyes
The light in my tutu's eyes is fading, fading into the black void. The black void is where the dead souls go. For my tutu, I hope it's the stars. The stars live by the thousands in their black celestial blanket. When tutu dies, the world will change forever. Change is good, but not when you're a hula dancer carrying on the tradition. Traditions don't change, just the people who carry them. My tutu taught me everything I know. And before her light fades, I want to dance one last hula.
Tutu pulls on the edges of my skirt. Her hands are wrinkled from the slow decay of her tan skin. Her long grey hair is pulled back in a braid. She gasps and struggles to rise from her chair.
When she stands, her ruffled knees are slightly bent. An honor for an old hula dancer. It means years of dedication, dedication to the art of dance. Every motion of the body matters. Even her cheeks are sore from years of smiling to proud locals and shocked tourists.
Her lifestyle is her body. She wears it like a warrior, a warrior of dance. My tutu is barefoot everywhere she goes. Her feet feel the sand and the grass. They are callused. Sharpened by the lava rocks she has hiked through and practiced on.
Hula is the sign language of the body. It extends itself throughout heaven and earth.
"Leahi, come here, my dear girl."
Tutu looks at me with a proud grin. Her grin extends from island to island. The purple sunset reflects on her brown islander's eyes. I wonder all the things her eyes have seen and all the places her feet have touched.
Both my parents are dead. It's hard for tutu and me to talk about. Hard for the words to surface on my lips. It weighs down on me within the hallways of my thoughts.
I was five-years-old, I didn't know how to swim. My dad was a revered surfer. The waves parted for his victories and swallowed him in its pride. They respected each other all the same until the accident. My dad wanted to surf the largest of waves. The ocean had other plans and knocked my dad off his board.
My dad, an amazing swimmer, struggled to recover from the blow of the wave. The tiger shark below him watched as he struggled. My dad was quick, but the shark was quicker. And just like that, my dad bled out to death in the ocean before my eyes. Sharks are stupid creatures; they attack to eat. This one attacked his throat to silence him forever. And he's been silent ever since. Death always wins.
My dad's somewhere in the black void. He lives up there, twinkling down on us from the stars. If I close my eyes, I can hear his voice on the wind that travels through the palm trees. My mother is up there with him. I can't hear her voice anymore. I don't want to.
After my dad died, mom changed. She turned to beach druggies to drown out her sorrows. Her sorrows turned her into an addict with an appetite to strike me. Tutu didn't like that very much. After many court battles, lawyers, and turmoil, tutu became my guardian. Mom couldn't parent me, and she died from a heart attack six months later.
I sometimes miss my family on nights like this when the stars are dancing in all directions on the black celestial blanket.
"Leahi, you're almost in college. It's time we discuss what colleges you will apply to."
I'm not ready for a conversation in which I'll have to fill out forms and abandon tutu. College is for normal people with living parents, but it's not for me. I'm not among the privileged elite. All I know is how to care for tutu as she cares for me. I can't abandon her, no matter how much she pushes it.
I never knew parents were a privilege. Like all kids, I thought they were there to keep me safe until they got old. But life happened and swept them away with her waves. That's how it is living on an island. It's beautiful and perfect, but beauty is ever fleeting with life around it.
The ocean crashes against the island, eroding it away. But islands have found a way of fighting back. They fight with lava pouring from their volcanic mountains. Lava hardens and makes islands bigger as they extend their landmasses into the sea. Lava meets water and creates steam. It means neither has truly won the fight; they are merely respecting each other. Nature finds a way.
"No, tutu, I'm not ready to go to college. Maybe I can take classes online."
"You can do that?"
"Yes, they have universities online now. I can show you later. I have hula practice. I need to meet Aulani," I say.
"Tell her I say hi. Can you pick up some sushi on your way home? I'm not in the mood for leftovers."
Tutu loves sushi more than anyone I know. She once ate an entire tray by herself. She out ate all my guy friends. Tutu is a legend.
"Sure, I'll pick it up for you."
Aulani knocks on the door while I open it.
"Aloha, girly. Are you ready for hula practice? My knees still hurt from yesterday."
"My hips are about to fall off. My tutu's not well. I don't think she's going to be here in six months," I sigh.
"What are you going to do about college?" Aulani asks.
"I can't go in person. I might do a few online classes and find a job."
Wetness fills my eyes like the waves rising on the shore.
"I'm sorry, Leahi. You always have my family. We all love you. Come on, let's go to practice."
We arrive at hula practice in five minutes. Our hula instructor's a fierce woman named Miss Makana. She's a professional hula dancer and is preparing us for the biggest hula competition globally, the Merrie Monarch Festival.
"Leahi, are you ready to dance?"
"Yes, Miss Makana."
I get in line and smile from ear to ear. The music finds my ears like a sailor finding the stars to navigate. I bend my knees and count the rhythms in my head. We need to be perfect at the Merrie Monarch Festival. We need to be our best. I want to do my best because, at my core, I know that this hula will be the last one my tutu ever sees me perform.
Chapter 2 Lead Dancer
"Sloppy. Our routine looks like it could go through a car wash. We need to be in tip-top shape for the Merrie Monarch Festival. And that was anything but graceful. I was bored watching it. Bend your knees, people. I want to see hula dancers, not hula hoops. Get water and take five. Leahi, front and center."
Miss Makana and her speeches are anything but motivational. She means well, but sometimes I wonder if she'd be a better drill sergeant than dance instructor. She's a navy brat, which might explain a few things. She grew up in Oahu on the big naval base.
"Hi, Miss Makana, what's up?"
"I'll tell you what's up, your legs. It would help if you bent your knees. Look, you're the best student in here. But you're as stiff as a tree today; you need to bend. Is everything okay at home?"
My eyes trail off toward the large mirror in our dance studio. The other students are looking to me to carry us into
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