States of Love: Hawaii
One is trying to heal a broken heart, the other, a broken family.
After separating from his partner of nine years, Palmer Simpson flees to the island of Oahu to pursue a carefree life of surfing. There, he meets Riku Usami, a more skilled surfer—but one with a bad attitude and a boatload of family drama. A contest between the two men leads to friendship and the possibility of something more meaningful. When a tsunami threatens the island, a friend is stranded out on the waters of the deadly Banzai Pipeline. Palmer and Riku must face the dangers of the barrel waves and the looming forces of nature in order to get their friend to safety. If they survive, they’ll have to contemplate what their future together will look like after the storm blows through.
- 1 To Be Read list
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Heat Level: 3
Romantic Content: 5
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 18-25
Tropes: Age Difference, Bad Breakup, Beach Romance, Interracial Relationship
Word Count: 40,000
Setting: Oahu, Hawaii
Languages Available: English
I STOOD at the top of the cliff, my toe hanging just a fraction over the edge of the precipice. Grains of dirt slid underneath me and fell to the water below. A gusty wind whipped around, ruffling my hair with its force. I wished I had something to hold on to, something to steady myself. The gale threatened to push me off. It was a height of thirty feet—only a bit higher than looking out a two-story window—but from this perspective the drop seemed a mile.
How had it come to this? How had I let circumstances get so far out of my control? Just a week ago, I’d been in a stable relationship, or so I thought, had a normal job, supportive family. But in one quick moment, all of that had been taken away.
Now here I was, on the edge of the cliff.
I looked down at the lick of the waves against jagged rocks along the base. The top, where I stood, jutted out at an angle past them. Hitting those slabs wasn’t a possibility.READ MORE
But with the wind factored in? Maybe that increased the risk?
“Don’t think about it, bro.”
I tore my eyes away from the drop and focused on my companion, Dill.
“You keep thinkin’, you’ll never do it. Just jump.”
He sprang like a coil, leaping over the edge with a triumphant yell. He held his board over his head as he jumped, gripping it tightly as he splashed into the water below. His head appeared, bobbing next to the board, and he gave a shake to dispel the water from his long, curly locks.
“You comin’?” he called up to me.
Even from the distance, I could see the look of lust in his eyes. Not for me, but for the waves that beckoned.
Fuck it. I pushed my fears aside. This is no different from the high dive at the pool.
With my own battle cry, I launched off the ledge, free-falling through the air. I was glad I’d started my scream before jumping or else it would have snuck out as I plummeted and likely been high-pitched and embarrassing. As it was, the bellow stuck in my chest and I just fell with my mouth open. I didn’t even have the sense to close it as I hit the water below.
After swallowing a bucket of salt water, I broke the surface. I gasped, and coughed, and spit out as much of the salty taste as I could.
“Dude,” Dill said with a chuckle. “Your board.”
Glancing behind me, I saw my board a few feet away. It had slipped from my fingers during the fall. I paddled over to it, steadying my hands along its rail, and pulled myself atop it.
“See, ’s not so bad once you’re down here,” he told me, getting situated on his board.
“Right.” I looked up to the cliff I’d just jumped from. The cliff I’d just jumped from. God! The realization of what I’d done hit me like a freight train. A week ago, jumping off anything would have seemed ludicrous. My life had been safe, uncomplicated, perfect. Yeah, right. Now here I was, at the China Walls, getting ready to try my hand at some serious swells—or so Dill claimed.
“You ready? We gotta paddle from here.”
I got onto my stomach, stretching out along my board. “Why didn’t we just paddle from the beach?”
“Dude, there is no beach. Just the cliffs.”
I gulped. My suddenly constricted throat throbbed. Just how big of a gamble had I taken?
My companion saw my less-than-happy look and shrugged. “Kinda risky, but no better way to impress the ladies watching.”
Luckily he turned his head and began to slice his arms through the water, missing the grimace on my face. I, for one, had no interest in impressing any ladies. Those suntanned guys, though…. Maybe the risk was worth it if they took notice.
The water’s chill splashed across my face as I paddled along. My wet suit—bought secondhand from a cheap shop my first day here—protected the rest of my body from the bite. Surfing in winter was about the only time you needed a wet suit in these mild waters. Technically March was winter. It was just my luck Pip and I had split during the cold season.
“All right, bro?” my surfer friend called back to me.
I realized I’d stopped moving my arms. Goddamned bastard, I cursed. Even here, he’s ruining my life.
“Yeah, I’m coming.”
We made our way out, going parallel to the cliff but far enough away a stray wave wouldn’t send us crashing into it. The muscles of my arms began to burn, though not as much as yesterday. A week of being on the water from sunup to sundown was building up my strength. In a month’s time, I’d be as buff as those gorgeous specimens up ahead waiting in the surf lineup. My skin might even pick up a bit of a tan. I’d be completely indistinguishable from everyone else. Nothing to suggest I was approaching middle age, was depressed and heartbroken, and that I hadn’t surfed in more than ten years.
I struggled to keep my labored breathing to myself the farther we paddled. I didn’t want my friend to think me lame and out of shape. While I often didn’t care what others thought of me, for him, I wanted to look cool. Not for any romantic or showing off reason. No, he was the one with a car, and having a friend who could drive would ease my travel considerably.
Plus, he had been nice and considerate of me since we met two days ago. A soul surfer just out to enjoy himself with anyone who showed an interest.
Suddenly he pulled up short, then moved into a sitting position. I mimicked him. We’d approached the swell from an angle, traveling across smoother water to reach the waves. Now we’d gotten nearly aligned with the crests, as the cliff suddenly cut toward shore. Already a group of people speckled the blue water. As we looked on, one caught the wave she sought and sped off toward land. It was hard to see what happened from this angle. All I could make out was her riding off. Then the wall of water passed, blocking my view.
These waves looked higher than what I was used to. Probably eight feet at least.
“Um, Dill,” I said hesitantly.
“I don’t know if I can surf these waves.”
I knew enough—despite my long absence from the sport—to recognize the difference in waves. So far, I’d only been down to Waikiki and its mild and small waves. Those had been familiar, similar to what I’d surfed in my youth at Huntington Beach. Like riding a bike, I was surprised at how quickly the moves came back to me. I got better with each day.
These, though, were bigger, stronger, and nearing barrel status. On top of that, you had to catch the wave right next to the cliff wall.
I couldn’t ride them. Not without killing myself.
Again he shrugged, indifferent to my plight. “You can paddle back the way we came. There’s a path up not far from where we jumped.”
While I was trying, I hadn’t reached his level of lightheartedness. The idea of attempting these waves scared me. In the surfing world, you didn’t do something you weren’t comfortable with.
“Hey, Palmer,” he said, swiveling his head to look me in the eyes. “Just sit for a while and get a feel for the waves. We got a bit of time before we can make it through the lineup, anyway. With the swells coming from this direction, every surfer in the area is here right now.”
“Yeah, okay.” Seemed like a plan at least.
I watched. The vantage wasn’t the best, but I could still make out the beauty of the catch. They all looked so graceful as they went from stomach, to knees, to feet, all in one fluid motion. Like a ballerina getting on pointe. I was pretty sure my form wasn’t nearly as beautiful. I probably looked like a walrus getting up from a reclining position.
Still, the other surfers did make me envious. If I had stuck with it, surfed continuously through adulthood, I could have been like them. Mistakes made, and some I didn’t regret, had cost me this opportunity.
Well, not again.
“I’ll do it,” I told him.
“Great, man. Just remember, go left, away from the rocks.”
Obviously. Was that the depth of his wisdom?
“Oh, look at her,” he said suddenly.
I did, spying a petite woman getting into position. I was pretty sure Dill wanted me to check out her body, but I was more interested in her board. A fish, they called it. Shorter, more difficult to steer in rough waters. My board—a bright green seven-foot-two-inch funboard—had been bought from a clearance rack in the back of a shop, so it wasn’t the best either, but at least it was long enough for balance.
She sailed out of sight on the wave.
Then I saw him, the next in the lineup. He got to his feet just as the wave began to lift him, his motions sure and perfected. The sun shone down on black hair, giving it a glossy look I could practically feel from my place thirty feet away. Skin a dark bronze, noticeable where his wet suit didn’t cover. Below the tight rubber, his body appeared to be ripped like a Spartan, muscles lean and jagged even through the protective clothing. He angled to the left and disappeared from view. And a piece of my soul shattered.
I caught Dill looking at me as I watched the surfer. “You recognize him, then?”
Dill’s usual smile was nonexistent. In fact, he glared. “Him,” he said sourly, nodding after the perfect fellow who’d just surfed off with my heart. “You know who he is?”
“No, should I?”
“It’s Riku Usami.”
“Huh?” I repeated.
“Dude,” Dill said for emphasis. “Riku Usami. He’s a legend around these parts. He was surfing Pipeline at twelve years old.”
“Twelve?” Jesus, I’d still been swimming in the kiddie pool at that age. I didn’t even graduate to surfing until I could drive. And Pipeline! That was the most hard-core surfing on Oahu. “Wow.”
“I see him a lot. He follows the swells all over the island.” The tone of voice Dill used said he wasn’t thrilled he kept running into this legendary man.
“A kindred spirit, then?”
Dill scoffed and looked affronted. “No way. That guy is about as far from me as you can get. He’s here to prove he can do it, not for the enjoyment. He’s no soul surfer.”
“A man with something to prove.” Sort of sounded like myself.
“I’m going, man. See you back at the car.” Then Dill was getting into position, paddling with the oncoming wave. He caught it, jumping to his feet with a free-spirited yell.
I smiled. I loved Dill’s outlook. As I got to know him over the past two days, I’d realized he was everything I wanted to be. If I hadn’t gone down my current path, I wondered if I would have ended up like him.
But with Dill out of the way, it meant I was next. And there was already a ton in the lineup after me. I had to go. No second thoughts, no chickening out. Just go.
Fuck, I can’t do this. I’m not ready for something like this.
I glanced over my shoulder, getting into position. I paddled, getting to my knees. They wobbled just a bit as I pushed myself up.
I’m going to wipe out. I just know I’m going to kill myself.
I steadied my feet, shoulder width apart, and balanced my body over the center of my board. I took off. The wave rushed me past the cliff, only a few feet to my right. It was breathtaking and terrifying all at once.
Focus, I scolded myself, bending my knees to angle my board against the wave. I cut across the water, going faster than I ever had in my life. The crest swelled behind me, threatening to take me down with it. I angled more, sliding even quicker along the glassy surface.
I was doing it! I actually….
I was suddenly underwater, my breath knocked from my lungs by the impact. I struggled to the surface, desperate for air. I managed to grab an intake before the next wave crashed into me, sending me back into the depths. I swam up again.
Luckily I’d made it past the break point and was able to get out to the calmer water on the side. My board had already floated in that direction too.
“Pathetic, Barney,” someone called out.
I climbed back onto my board and looked around. It was that guy Dill had pointed out. What was his name? This close, he was even more beautiful. Though right now he looked pissed, his brow drawn down and eyes narrowed balefully.
“Huh?” Seemed like I was saying that a lot today.
The man sneered. “This place is obviously above your skill level. You could have hurt yourself.”
“Could have, but didn’t.”
His lips thinned to a line. “Don’t joke about that. You’re just a stupid tourist who will likely end up dead before the week is out.”
“Lay off,” I said, suddenly feeling angry myself. Who gave this guy the right to be the surfing police? “I know how to handle myself.”
He scoffed. “Like you did just now? It was a stupid mistake, moving your foot too close to the nose. At another beach, that sort of misstep would send you into the reef and break your skull.”
Had I really fallen that badly? It had happened so fast.
“Idiots like you,” he continued into my pause, “give us all a bad name. One more person dies here and they’ll close it off to surfers. All of it taken away from us just because tourists think they can play with the big boys.”
“That’s not fair,” I said, but he had turned away from me.
I took ten deep breaths before going in that same direction. It was probably the quickest way out of here.COLLAPSE