by Michael M. Pacheco

Soft waves lapped the cream-colored beaches of Waikiki. It was a silent, scented evening Cameron knew could only be found in this part of the world. Soft violet and indigo light drenched the sky, the earth and the sea. The rhythmic to and fro of the water murmured to itself instead of roaring gustily, sounds so soft you could believe the creatures of the legends were singing inside them.

On a night like this, Cameron wondered whether he could glimpse mermaids dancing on the water’s surface. He wondered too, whether the mythological sirens with human attributes really did pounce on the souls of men and drag them down to their world forever. When he was little, his mother would tell him that somewhere in the deep blue depths, way down there, there lived a whole new civilization, people who were half fish and half human.He gazed at the sea through blurry eyes and blinked hard. He’d just left Los Cocos, a rowdy bar on the main strip of the city. Maybe the El Patron was getting to him.

Cameron preferred to stroll here and work out the stiffness in his knees, with no particular destination, squishing the sand between his toes. He hadn’t come all the way from Seattlejust to end up in a modern nightspot identical to the ones in the Emerald City.

Funny how they ended up there, thought Cameron. After his father died unexpectedly when they lived in San Diego, things were never the same. His mother saw images and ghostly apparitions of his father everywhere they went.

Then one day out of the blue, she said, “We’re moving to the Emerald City.”

“Why?” Cameron had asked. “What’s up there?”

“I’ve never been there, so I don’t really know, but I hear it’s lovely.”

Cameron knew why. She wanted a peaceful heart, but in San Diego where his father had lost his soul to a drive-by shooter, she’d never find one. She never did find what she was looking for in Seattle either.

His widowed mother had died only six months ago and Cameron’s depression had not eased. He kept reliving his mother’s last breath on her deathbed, just him and her, by themselves. He missed her warm embrace and her words of encouragement and comfort. Her soft lullabies still hummed in his head. He had no brothers, sisters or girlfriend. That’s why his friends, Thomas and Robert, had talked him into this excursion, “to pull him out of his funk” they’d said.

Just then, a pang of pain shot through his lower back. He paused, reached into his pocket and pulled out a small plastic medicine bottle. Ever since his injury at the Boeing plant, he’d resorted to popping Vicodin to take the edge off his pain. At this moment, he knew it was wrong to mix alcohol and narcotics, but what the heck, he was on vacation.

He’d walked to the southern tip of the tourist trap on the beach where the soft sand ended. To his left, was a more rugged beach, craggy rocks and large boulders standing steadfast against the endless slap of the waves. He glanced up at Diamond Head, the dead volcano.

Just then, he heard a soft voice, humming a soothing melody. The tune reminded him of a child’s lullaby.

Cameron noticed a figure in the deepening dark. He couldn’t quite discern whether it was a man or a woman but the figure was reclining on a large boulder, bathing in the moonlight. He decided he would make a friend tonight. This was his first time in Hawaii and so far, he’d only been with his Haole buddies from the United States. Where was the fun in that? Maybe this stranger was a Hawaiian native who could enlighten him on local customs and traditions.

As he came closer to the reclining figure, he realized it belonged to a shapely woman, bringing back to him memories of the actress, Bo Derek, in her sleek, one-piece swimsuit. His heart began to race.

“Excuse me? Mind if I join you?” he asked. The moment those words left his mouth, he felt stupid. Join you? What was he supposed to join her doing?

The woman was lithe with flawless tanned skin and sensuous curves in all the right places. Her short dark hair reminded him of Olympic swimmers. She pushed herself up on her elbows and turned to Cameron. Her smile was infectious.

“You want to soak up the moon’s rays, too?” she asked with a hint of a Spanish accent.

It may have been his anticipation or high expectations but Cameron thought her voice gave a suggestion of underlying passion and sensuality. “Yeah, if that’s what you’re doing. Sure, I’ll soak up some moon rays.”

The woman patted a spot next to her on the smooth boulder inviting Cameron to lie next to her. He noticed there was no beach towel underneath the woman but the boulder was moist where she had been lying, suggesting she must have been out for a swim.

As he scooted closer to this beach beauty, he realized that she had the legs of a dancer, long and muscular. If she stood upright, she’d probably be six feet tall. Cameron himself wasn’t quite that tall. He laid his body slowly onto the rock, put his hands behind his back and followed her gaze upward. Tiny lights twinkled everywhere in the dark, coruscant sky.

“Heavenly, isn’t it?” she asked.

“Yes, it is,” said Cameron. “Are you from around here? You speak perfect English.”

“I guess you could say I’m from around here. I spend so much time in this part of the world.” The tone of her voice dropped. “My parents were killed when I was young, so I’m not exactly sure where I was born.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Cameron. “Both of mine have passed too.” She looked at him and he turned to face her. “My name is Cameron.”

“I’m Lucero,” she said. “It’s Spanish for bright star.”

“That’s beautiful,” said Cameron. “My name means crooked nose.”

She giggled. “But your nose isn’t crooked!”

He grinned in return, appreciating the fact that she’d noticed his aquiline nose. “That’s true, but it’s okay because not too many people know the origin of my name.”

Lucero returned to her supine position. “Are you a tourist or do you plan on living here?”

Cameron sighed deeply. “If only I could. This place is like paradise. It reminds me of home, not where I live now, but my real home in San Diego.” He shook his head. “But me and my friends are only here for a short week and then it’s back to the grindstone. That’s what we call our regular jobs at home. How about you?” asked Cameron. “You gonna go back to somewhere away from here?”

“I like it here, too,” she said. “It does have a homey feel to it, huh?”

The Vicodin and tequila were a potent mixture and Cameron was starting to feel the earth sway. He hadn’t had dinner so there was nothing to vomit if the motion of the world continued. He decided to engage in more conversation, hoping to distract himself from the queasiness.

“Lucero, if you stayed here, what would you do for a living?”

“I don’t know, but it would probably have something to do with the sea. I love the water. I spend more time in the water than I do on land.”

He was surprised by the tone of her voice. It was as if she was singing her words to him in that same lullaby lilt that had first drawn his attention to her. He looked across at her and studied her face. It was such an attractive face, strong, with prominent cheekbones, piercing eyes and that bronze texture to her skin. Cameron decided he liked everything about this woman. He knew attractive women were numerous, but with this person, he realized there was more. Even though he had just met her, there was something indefinable about her that compelled him toward her.

She looked at him once more. “Are you all right? You look a little dazed.”

She was right. Cameron felt ready to pass out. His vision was blurrier than it had been before he met Lucero and his nausea was twice as bad. Maybe he needed to slap some water on his face to wake him up.

“Can you help me into the water?” he asked. “I’m not feeling well.”

Lucero scooted toward the end of the partially submerged boulder and took Cameron’s hand, sending a tingle throughout his body. “Come toward me, my little pretty. I will hold you. You’re safe with me.”

Cameron slipped into the tepid water of the Honolulu Harbor. The tropical warmth against his skin reminded him of his mother’s embrace. Lucero went completely underwater taking a willing Cameron with her. The lullaby started again in his ears.

He inhaled a large amount of water and expected to choke on it. He didn’t panic. Instead, the water seemed to flow right through him and out of his ears. He felt a private instability and reached out into the blur with his free hand, as if to grab hold. Then everything went calm, even his heart seemed to rest. The back pain he had felt earlier slowly dissipated from his bones. He caught his breath as the water inched up over his body and over his face.

He looked around, startled by the mythic beauty of the world around him, the rainbow colored fish, the swaying sea plants and starfish on the ocean floor. He heard a faint call – Cameron – and realized it was Lucero trying to get his attention.

She smiled at him. “Welcome home, Cameron.”

At that moment, he knew there was no place like home, and his world would never be the same again.

Michael M. Pacheco’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Bilingual Review Press (ASU), Southwestern American Literature, The Gold Man Review, Azahares Literary Magazine, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Boxfire Press, The Acentos Review, Red Ochre Press, Label Me Latina, VAO Publishing – Along the River II, St. Somewhere Journal, Emerge Literary Journal, Writer’s Bloc Literary Magazine (Texas A&M), Fiction Vortex, Valley Voices, A Literary Review, Circa Journal of Historical Fiction, Veterans Writing Project, The Story Shack, and AirplaneReading (twice).