HOUSE OF THE HANGING JADE
I knew I should have stayed home.
I bent my head as the wind whipped down Massachusetts Avenue, hurling snowflakes at my face, stinging my cheeks with hard, frosty pellets. The icy sidewalks were treacherous, making my walk to work precarious and slow. There were very few others brave or foolish enough to be out in this weather. I passed one man out walking his dog and silently praised him for being so devoted.
I finally arrived at the restaurant. I stamped on the snow that had piled up against the front door and slipped my key into the lock with fingers stiff and clumsy from the cold. Once inside, it only took me a second to realize that no one else was there. On a normal day, one without a blizzard, my assistant Nunzio would already have come in through the back and flipped on the kitchen lights before I arrived.
I groaned. Even Nunzio, whom I could always count on, had stayed home. I moved through the darkened dining room and turned on the lights in the kitchen. As they blinked to life, I heard a heavy knock at the front door.
Hurrying to open it, I recognized the face of Geoffrey, the restaurant's owner and my current boyfriend, bundled up in a thick scarf and hat.
"Kailani, what are you doing here?" he exclaimed, brushing snow off his boots in the vestibule.
"Someone has to be here to get things started," I answered testily.
"I don't think we can open today," Geoffrey said. "There's no way the delivery trucks can get through, and I don't think we'd have any customers even if they could."
"You mean I came all this way for nothing?" I whined.
Geoffrey smiled down at me. "Sorry. I just assumed you'd know not to come in on a day like this."
"Why did you come in, then?"
"To catch up on paperwork. Plus, snowstorms don't bother me."
"Ugh. They bother me. Well, I guess if you don't need me here, I'll head back home."
"Want me to stop by later?"
I didn't, but I nodded. Geoffrey and I hadn't been dating for long. He was already becoming a little too clingy.
He leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. "Be safe getting home. I'd call you a cab, but there isn't a single one on the streets."
"Believe me, I know."
I trudged home the same way I had come, the snow falling even harder now and blowing sideways, making it difficult for me to see.
When I finally made it to my apartment building, I clumped up the stairs in my heavy boots and stood inside my apartment, leaning against the door for several moments to catch my breath. It took me a while to peel off all my layers. I left them lying on the floor while I heated up milk on the stove for hot chocolate. As the milk warmed, I gazed at a canvas photo that hung in my front hall. It was a faraway view of the beach, taken from my parents' backyard, overlooking the black sand and the curling waves of the azure Pacific Ocean.
"We've got to go home," I said aloud to my cat, Meli, as she stepped daintily around me. This wasn't the first time I had expressed this sentiment to Meli, but this time she stopped and looked up at me. She blinked and twitched her ears.
It was the sign I needed.
I watched the snow continue to fall for several hours from the warmth and safety of my apartment. Meli and I curled up on the couch while I tried to read a book, but I couldn't concentrate. My thoughts returned again and again to palm trees and warm, caressing trade winds, to the faces of my mother and father, of my sister and her little girl.
Geoffrey eventually stopped by, bringing with him an icy blast of air as I opened the door to the hallway.
He laughed. "Looks like this storm may never end."
I invited him into the warmth of the apartment. "Take off your stuff. Want some hot chocolate?" I called over my shoulder as I walked into the kitchen.
"Sure," he answered, struggling with one of his boots.
I joined him in the living room a few minutes later. He was trying to stroke Meli's chin, but she apparently wanted none of that. Her ears flattened back and she squirmed out of his reach.
I handed him the mug of hot chocolate and sat down opposite him. "Geoffrey, I have news," I told him warily, knowing he probably wouldn't be as happy as I was.
"What is it?"
"I'm going back to Hawaii." I waited for his reaction.
"That's nice. It'll do you good to get out of this weather for a while."
He obviously wasn't getting it. "No, not for a while. I'm moving back. For good."
I was right. He was not happy. In fact, he looked stricken, his eyes wide and his mouth agape. "What do you mean, for good?" he asked, choking on his hot chocolate.
"I mean, I just can't stand it here any longer. I'm never going to get used to the weather, I miss my parents, and my niece is growing up without her auntie. It's time to go back. This is something I've been thinking about for a long time.
"I'll miss you, Geoffrey, but this is what's best for me," I added, trying to soften the blow.
He looked like he was struggling for words.
"But ... but ... what will you do?"
"I'll do the same thing I do here, Geoffrey. Sous-chefs are not unique to DC."
"Okay, but what will I do? Without you, I mean?"
I felt sorry for him. He looked crestfallen.
"Geoffrey," I said gently, "there are lots of women in Washington who are looking for someone as wonderful and kind and handsome and successful as you are. I have to do what my heart is telling me to do, and that's to go back to Hawaii."
He nodded slowly, his eyes downcast. "Is there anything I can say to keep you here?"
"I'm afraid not."
"When are you leaving?"
"I don't know. I just made the decision this morning."
He sighed and leaned back against the couch cushions, holding his mug on his lap and staring into space.
"Geoffrey? You okay?" I asked.
He set his mug on the coffee table and pushed himself up from the sofa. "I guess I should get going, then. Will you keep working at the restaurant until you leave?"
I was surprised that he wanted to leave already, but I didn't mention it.
"Of course. I'll give you plenty of time to find another fabulous sous-chef."
I watched Geoffrey as he walked down the hallway of my apartment building. His shoulders were stooped and his gait slow. He looked like a forlorn little boy. Poor Geoffrey. At the end of the hallway, right by the elevator, he turned around and made a pleading motion with his hands and walked back to me.
"Kailani, how can you just throw away all the time we've spent together?"
I was a little taken aback, but I suppose I shouldn't have been. Such dramatic statements were normal with him. "Geoffrey, we haven't really spent too much time together. We haven't been dating very long."
"But doesn't that time mean something to you?"
"Yes, of course it does. I've enjoyed getting to know you and we've had fun together. But it's time for me to go home. And I'm afraid a long-distance relationship just isn't possible. It's too far away."
"There's got to be a way, Kailani. I just can't stand the thought of losing you."
"I'm sorry, Geoffrey. I've got to go. I'll see you at work tomorrow." I closed the door gently and stood there until I heard the ding of the elevator.
I waited a few hours before calling my mother since there was a five-hour time difference between DC and Hawaii.
She and my father were both thrilled by my news, as I knew they would be. They had a million questions for me, like when I would be coming home, where I would be looking for a job, and whether I could live with them for a while.
"I don't know!" I laughed. "I'm going to start putting out some feelers right away for jobs in restaurants and resorts along the Kohala Coast. Someone must need a sous-chef. Or even a head chef. But I'll come home s0on, don't worry. I can't stand another day of this winter weather."
I hung up, promising to keep them posted about my job hunt. Suddenly, the winter seemed a little warmer.