Kara braced herself on the bamboo hut’s full-length mirror. She avoided her wide-eyed reflection but not the memories bubbling to the surface and saturating the makeshift changing room with nearing plods and the bad news they’d born. Her pulse joined them, a drumming beat in her ears, as a hand pushed the hut’s curtain of palm fronds aside.
“What’d you do to yourself?”
“Val!?” Kara spun and met the feeble smirk on her brother’s sunburnt face. When his forced grin fell, she clutched the thin strand of cowries scooped to match the neckline of her wedding dress. “Is everything alright?”
“But someone was shouting,” she squeezed the tiny shells, “it sounded like Bret.”
Val thumbed at the curtain. “I just left him at the shore.”
“But not at you.” Val sank his gaze into the sand. He nudged her carry-on bag aside, making room for the guilt Kara sensed coming. “I had some trouble last night after the rehearsal dinner.”
Kara’s heart plunged like the back of her dress. “You went back to that card game, didn’t you?”
“I went back to that card game,” Val stuffed his hands into the pockets of his Bermuda shorts, “and found a couple more.”
With a shake of her head, Kara returned to the mirror and resumed her final inspection with steadier hands. “I appreciate the confession, Val, but I’m not sure why you need to piss of Bret and scare me half to death five minutes before I march down the aisle.”
“Because.” He stammered and then pushed the rest out in a gush. “Because I had to pawn your rings to make ends meet.”
Despite the tropical heat, the skin on Kara’s bare-arms prickled. The hut swayed and the air crystallized as she caught Val’s eyes in the mirror.
He cringed and looked back at the sand.
Kara bowed her head and whispered to her painted toes. “Where are they now?”
“The Kala Moku.”
She scowled over her shoulder. “That skanky looking hole-in-the-wall?”
“Yeah.” Val raked a hand through his hair and held onto the back of his skull.
Kara’s mouth opened for the tirade he seemed steeled to face, but the bruises on Val’s bicep stalled her.
He followed her gape and lowered his arm, the short sleeve of his purple and lime-green Aloha-print shirt covering the black and blue. “It’s nothing.”
Kara shoved his sleeve, bringing the damage back into view. “It’s huge.”
“Just be glad your wedding plans didn’t involve groomsmen baring their chests.”
She scanned across his shirt’s hibiscus pattern, her imagination adding bruises to the scars she knew hid underneath, then prodded the fresh swelling on his arm. “Who did this to you?”
“Who do you think?” He tried wiggling free but Kara snagged his elbow.
“We need to call the police.”
Val waved off the idea. “I dealt with it.”
“By getting beat up and losing my rings?”
“I dealt with that too.” Val dug into his pocket and brought a band of tarnished gold out on his index finger. “Here.”
“Where did you get that? A Cracker Jack box?”
“Uncle Don actually.”
“What?” Swallowing her sarcasm, Kara cupped the ring. “This was—” She drifted from her palm to Val who nodded.
“He had Mom’s too. I gave that one to Bret once he cooled down.”
“But how did Don know?”
Val pocketed his hands again. “I realize me messing up isn’t anything new but Don didn’t bring them anticipating another of my screw-ups. He wanted them here to see their little girl getting hitched.”
Val’s face, then the ring, blurred and Kara dabbed at tears before they could streak her makeup. “Really?”
“That’s what he said.” Val tipped his chin at the ring. “Does that work for now? I mean, I’ll get the others back once I get things sorted.”
Kara squeezed the golden band and wrapped Val in a swift hug. “It’ll be fine.”
“You keep this up and your dress won’t be.”
She tittered and let him go, the ring still tight in her grasp. “Are you giving me fashion tips now?”
“What are best men for?”
“In theory, they keep everything going smoothly.”
“This isn’t smooth?”
Kara opened her hand, the ring held between them. “I suppose this is smooth by our standards.”
Nearby waves slapped the shore and a breeze crinkled palm fronds before Val spoke again.
“It’s good to have them here.”
“It is.” Kara slipped the ring onto her thumb and smacking Val in the chest. “It’s good to have you here too, you big lug.”
“I’m glad, I think.” He massaged the spot she’d hit. “So is this show still on?”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“I messed up your plans.”
“And fixed them again.”
“Uncle Don deserves the Superman cape.”
“If he’s Superman, doesn’t that make you Robin?”
Val counted her needling with an indignant glare. “If this wasn’t your wedding day I’d so noogie you right now.”
She grinned and fluffed the white skirts of her defense. “Lucky me.”
“At least someone is.” Val tipped a non-existent cap. “See you on the beach.”
“I’m right behind you.”
“With a zit.” He poked her cheek and Kara wheeled for the mirror.
The curtain rustled while she searched her face.
Nothing but freshly tanned skin appeared, and with a weighty sigh, she gave Val the last laugh.
His departing footsteps hushed away and beyond, an expectant murmur rumbled beneath the surf.
Faces Kara knew would be among them, and those who wouldn’t, joined her shaded solitude. She circled ring around her thumb, the battered gold a living reminder of love that had come before and the marker, she hoped, of lifetimes more yet to come.