After a month’s absence Aaron walked into Candle Crafts Honolulu only to see a huge banner above the front counter welcoming him back. Embarrassed, he headed for the studio only to be stopped by Grace.
“Aaron, I was just going over all of the receipts from the San Diego trip, and I noticed that you didn’t give me a receipt for the cleaning supplies.”
“I know. That was a gift from Iukekini and me.”
She looked at him, carefully considering what she was going to say next. He hated talking about money and his financial status, but given that they were both laid off from the Fire Department she had to ask, “I don’t mean to butt in, but can you afford all that, considering your current employment status.
Aaron cringed. Damn. I hate talking about this shit. “Yeah, everything is fine.”
“Are you sure?”
Fuck! I don’t want to tell her about winning the Texas Lottery. She might decide to cut my hours back. I don’t know when I’m going to get called back, if ever, and I might need this job. Shit, I might even need more hours. He mentally slapped himself on the back of the head for what he just thought. Aaron, you fucking Neanderthal! It was never about the money or the hours with her. It was about providing additional services to her customers. I guess I should tell her about the lottery winnings. “Yeah, I’m sure. Back when I was in Air Force Basic Training I hit the Texas State Lottery for five thousand dollars. I still have some of it left, so that’s what I used for the cleaning stuff. I already had a Sam’s Club membership and I wanted to get one for Clark, but he has to do that because of the photo ID, so I just picked him up an application.”
“Okay, if you’re sure. I’m trusting you on this. On another topic, I talked with Clark yesterday and he said that things were going extremely well and he doesn’t see business slacking off much once the initial novelty wears off. Who knows where all of this is going to go? I do know one thing, though. Clark has said repeatedly that he wouldn’t have been able to pull this off without the support of you, Iukekini, Danny and his family. It’s so nice to see a family as supportive as his is.” Grace noticed a mixture of emotions cross Aaron’s face, pain, anger, and yes, a little bit of jealousy. She took him gently by the arm and led him into her office, gesturing him to be seated as she closed the door. Sitting on the edge of her desk, she looked him square in the eyes. “I’ve said something to upset you and I apologize. Do you want to talk about it?”
“Not really, but I will.” Aaron replied in a quiet voice. He then proceeded to tell her about his coming out and being abandoned by his family, which angered Grace to no end.
“HOW DARE THEY?” She practically shouted. Moderating the anger in her voice she continued. “You know what? They don’t deserve you, the damned bigots! If there’s one thing I absolutely cannot stand, its bigotry. I’d be proud to have you as a son.”
“The thing I totally don’t understand is my brother and sister. They both have gay friends. I can’t understand why they have a problem with me, but not with them. Guess I’ll never know.” Grace couldn’t believe the depth of pain in the normally happy-go-lucky Aaron.
“Well, you know I’m here if you ever need to talk.” She went around the desk to her computer, clicked the mouse a couple of times, typed a few keystrokes and clicked again. “I clocked you in at your scheduled start time.”
“But, I’ve been in here for the last…” he glanced at this watch “…fifteen minutes.” He protested.
“At my request. Now go have some fun in the studio.” She said, effectively dismissing him. “Oh, and before you go, please give this to Iukekini with my thanks.” She handed him a small envelope.
Aaron turned it over in his hand and looked at it curiously. “What is it?”
“It’s a five-hundred dollar gift card for helping you guys out in San Diego.”
“I told you his efforts were appreciated. Now go have fun doing one of the things you do best.”
Aaron found helping customers in the studio to be very therapeutic. Soon he forgot all about his conversation with Grace. For the first time since he began working at Candle Crafts Honolulu he was looking forward to the night being over. Early tomorrow morning he and Iukekini were meeting up with some of Iukekini’s friends for a day of sunning, surfing and waterskiing at Walmea Bay. He couldn’t wait. And what a perfect day it turned out to be. Great weather, great waves and not too crowded.
There was only one downfall: only a couple of Iukekini’s friends showed up, a fact that did not go unnoticed by Aaron. In fact, he’d been noticing since they got back the number of his friends calling or stopping by had steadily decline. He decided that now was as good a time as any to broach the subject. “Iukekini, what’s going on?”
“What do you mean, baby?”
“What’s going on with your friends? Why have they stopped calling and hanging out?”
Iukekini simply shrugged his shoulders.
“Don’t just shrug your shoulders. You know what’s going on don’t you.”
“No. Perhaps everyone is just busy.” He lied, which Aaron picked up on immediately.
“It’s me, isn’t it? I mean the fact that I’m Puerto Rican and you’re Native Hawaiian.” He stated, matter-of-factly, hitting the nail right square on the head.
Iukekini sighed deeply. “Yeah.” He simply said.
“Okay.” Aaron said in a very suspiciously docile tone of voice.
Iukekini cut him off. “Oh, no you don’t. I know that look and that tone of voice. You’re not going anywhere. If they can’t deal with you and me together then fuck them. I don’t need them! I need you, and only you.” He kissed Aaron deeply and passionately, which left them running for the car, barely remembering to gather up everything before heading home to do what the two of them did best – making love.
After that, they spent as much time at the beach doing beach-type things as possible, sometimes with Mitch and Cameron, sometimes with the few friends that didn’t give a shit about their racial differences, sometimes with both. One day at the beach Aaron was taking a break from surfing, watching Iukekini doing some pretty cool stuff on his water skis. The boat made a wide circle and Iukekini came into view. “That son of a bitch! I’m gonna kill him.” Aaron fumed as he saw Iukekini throw his arms above his head, the tow line wrapped several times around his waist. Suddenly time slowed way down as Aaron watched a bunch of drunk college kids in a speed boat cut in between the boat and Iukekini. Iukekini quickly disappeared underwater. Without realizing what he was doing, Aaron cut through the water in a desperate attempt to get to Iukekini, but already knowing he would not reach him in time. Derek, the driver of the boat towing Iukekini made the turn as quickly as he could to get to the frantically screaming Aaron.
It was too late. Iukekini had been pulled under water and directly into the powerful propellers of the speedboat, one of which cut into his chest, slicing his heart in half, killing him instantly. Aaron tread water, refusing to relinquish his grasp on the body of his beloved Iukekini, even though the shore patrol did their best to get him to let go. Finally Derek jumped into the water; physically and with a great deal of difficulty pried his strong arms open so that the medics could get to Iukekini, even though they already knew there was nothing they could do. Telling his friends to take the boat back, Derek finally managed to get Aaron and himself into the police boat and to the shore where Aaron and Iukekini’s body would be taken to Pearl Harbor Memorial. Once again the love of his life was cruelly taken from Aaron.
Ring. “Hi, Aaron. What’s up?” Cameron answered brightly.
“It’s not Aaron. It’s me, Derek. Something’s happened. Something bad. I need you and Mitch to get to the hospital as soon as you can.”
“What’s happened? What’s happened to Aaron.” Cameron screamed into the phone, alerting Mitch who was just coming in the door.
“Something’s happened to Aaron?” he inquired.
“It’s not Aaron. He’s fine. Well, as fine as can be expected. Iukekini was just killed in a waterskiing accident.” He managed to choke out.
“WHAT? We’ll be right there.” Cameron said, hanging up quickly before falling into Mitch’s arms, crying hysterically. Between sobs she managed to tell Mitch what had happened. They made short work getting to the hospital and found Derek in the emergency room waiting area, full of self-recriminations.
“Oh, God. I’m so sorry. I should have been watching more carefully. Even though he promised Aaron he’d never pull that stunt again, I should have been watching, especially when he did several three-sixties in the water. He does that all the time so I didn’t think anything of it. I should have been watching. It’s my fault he’s dead.”
Cameron was in no shape to offer any argument or comfort, but she didn’t blame Derek. She knew Iukekini. Despite his promise to the contrary, it was only a matter of time before he pulled that stunt again. It was his favorite stunt. “Where’s Aaron?”
“Getting checked out to make sure he was okay. Physically, I mean.” He amended.
“Derek, it wasn’t your fault.” Mitch held up his hand to stave off the impending argument from Derek. “It was only a matter of time before he pulled that stunt again.” He got out his cell phone, and after a quick internet search, dialed a number.
“Aloha; thank you for calling Candle Crafts Honolulu. This is Tonya speaking. How can I help you on this beautiful day?”
“Hi, this is Mitch Lewis. I’m a friend of Aaron Suarez’s. I’m calling to let you know that Aaron won’t be coming into work for a few days. A very close friend of his was just killed in a waterskiing accident.” Even though it bothered him to downplay Aaron and Iukekini’s relationship, he didn’t know if he was out at work or if they’d have a problem with him having a boyfriend. He figured he was out at work, but he wasn’t going to take any chances.
Tonya’s immediate response quickly allayed his concerns. “Please tell me it wasn’t his boyfriend Iukekini.” She asked, fearing the worst.
“I’m afraid so.” He whispered.
There was silence at the other end for a few moments before he heard sniffling. “Okay, thank you for letting us know.” She said in a very subdued voice, a long way from the cheerful greeting earlier. “I’ll let his supervisor know. Thank you for calling. Aloha.” She hung up.
Back in the waiting room, Cameron sat between Mitch and Derek, holding each of their hands. A short time later, Grace walked in, looked around and zeroed in on Mitch and Cameron, having seen them with Aaron. “You’re friends of Aaron’s right? How is he?”
“We don’t know. We’re waiting to hear.” Mitch answered quietly.
“I’m Grace from Candle Crafts Honolulu. I’m Aaron’s boss. Would you mind if I waited with you?”
“No not at all. I’m Mitch; this is my fiancé Cameron and our friend Derek.”
“I’m very pleased to meet the three of you. I’m sorry we had to meet under these circumstances.”
The three muttered similar sentiments as they settled in to wait for news. After about an hour Aaron wandered into the waiting room, looking like a zombie. Cameron was the first one to reach him and pulled him into her arms, Mitch a close second. The three of them clung to each other as the floodgates opened. Grace stood behind him and rubbed his back while Derek just stood there, not knowing what to do until he was pulled into the group hug. A passing nurse noticed what was happening and went to find Doctor Adamson. After a few minutes Grace detached herself, stepped out and made a phone call; a very hard phone call. She returned quickly just as Aaron’s cell rang. He broke the group hug with a small smile signaling his gratitude to the other three.
“Hello,” he quietly answered without looking at the caller ID.
“Aaron, Danny and I are so, so very sorry. Is there we can do? Say the word and we’ll be on the next flight out.”
Tears falling anew, Aaron told them that there was nothing anyone could do, and as much as he appreciated their offer, their new business was more important.
“Bullshit! We’ll be there as soon as we can. It’s more important for us to be there with you. Debbie can handle the store and if there’s anything she can’t, or doesn’t know how to, deal with, she can just call me. See you soon, buddy!” He hung up and made another call.
“Colonel Peretti speaking.”
“Hi, Andrea, it’s Clark.”
“Clark! What a pleasant surprise. How’s everything?”
“Not good, I’m afraid, which is why I’m calling. Do you remember me telling you about Aaron working in a candle store and got me set up doing the same thing?”
“Yeah, I was overjoyed to hear about that. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to your grand opening, but I promise you I will make it out there at one point. Is there something wrong?”
“Yes, I’m afraid there is. I just got a call from Aaron’s boss. He just watched his boyfriend Iukekini get killed in a waterskiing accident. Danny and I are heading out there just as soon as we can make flight and hotel reservations.”
“Oh my God poor Aaron. That must have been horrible. I’m going to see if I can get some leave and head out there. He needs as many friendly faces around him as possible.”
Clark slammed his fist down on his desk, making Danny jump out of his skin. “I feel so helpless. First we had to split up because of the military, and now that he’s getting his life back on track, this has to happen.” Tears were flowing freely as Danny pulled him into a hug.
“Believe me; I know that feeling all too well. I have to go. Thanks for calling. I’ll see you soon. When you see him, please give him my love, but don’t tell him I’m coming, just in case I can’t arrange it.”
“Will do Andrea. See you soon.” He hung up and made another call.
A few days later at the funeral Aaron stood at the podium looking over the assembled people. Everyone from the fire house that could be there was there. With the exception of a small handful, none of Iukekini’s friends were there. Fucking assholes; you’d think they could forget about their problems with us being together for one day and come pay their respects. Obviously they didn’t have any respect for him. He fumed. While not surprised to see Clark and Danny there, he was surprised to see Clark’s whole family in attendance and even more surprising was to see Andrea. There was also a surprising about of regular Candle Crafts Honolulu customers there to support Aaron, for which he was profoundly grateful. He opened his mouth to begin the eulogy, but nothing came out. Instead he collapsed in tears. One of the Funeral Home staff gently lifted him up and led him back to his seat while the Funeral Home Director finished the service. At the cemetery Iukekini was buried with full honors as a piper stood off to the side playing Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. One by one everyone expressed their condolences to Aaron. Having been regular customers at Nighttown Waikiki, even the owners were there.
Shortly after arriving back at his apartment there was a knock on the door. Aaron opened the door to find a bevy of food service workers bearing large trays of food, compliments of Nighttown Waikiki. They were followed into the apartment by Tony and Billy, the club owners, who both gave Aaron bone-crushing hugs. After introducing them to everyone they mingled amongst the group until they came face-to-face with Andrea.
“I helped Aaron through a very difficult time in his life when he and his first boyfriend were forced to split up while they were in the military. His boyfriend was transferred to Germany and there was no way that Aaron could go with him. I just wish I could help him now. He’s so lost. I don’t know what to do to help him. He’s such a warm, loving, caring, giving person.”
Tony thought for a minute. “I think I might be able to help. The LGBT Center has a grief counselling program. I might be able to convince him to go talk with somebody over there.”
An expression of gratitude crossed Andrea’s face. She dug around in her purse then handed Tony her business card. “Here’s my card. If you can get him to go see a counsellor, perhaps he or she can get him to sign off on a release of information and then I can discuss Aaron’s case with him or her. It would give the counsellor an insight into Aaron that they might not get otherwise. He might say no to the release, but it can’t hurt to try. It can only help.”
“Thank you, Andrea. While I didn’t know him and Iukekini well, they were regular customers at my nightclub. I care about all of my customers and will do anything in my power to help them.
“Thank you Tony. I know that he’s not working at the moment, so if there’s anything I can do to help defray the costs, let me know.”
“Their counselling services are free of charge, and if they do help him, I’ll make sure they get a generous financial donation in Iukekini’s name.”
“That would be awesome. How can you make that happen?”
Tony smiled down at her. “Andrea, I’m a multi-billionaire. Helping people, especially people in crisis is what I live for, especially people like Aaron who are willing to put their lives on the line for others. I’d hate to think that it would take something like this to happen, but maybe now Aaron will be called back to work with the Honolulu Fire Department.”
“I’m not sure that going back to work as a Firefighter would be in Aaron’s best interests, given the circumstances.”
“I definitely have to agree with you on that.” They both looked over to see Aaron sitting on the couch between Cameron and Clark’s sister Susan, both holding and rocking the devastated man.
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