"Her heart wept when she realized that the hardest part about loving him was the idea that his love was never meant for her."
Walking with a pronounced limp all her life has never stopped fifteen-year-old Kiva Mau from doing what she loves. While most girls her age are playing sports and perfecting their traditional Samoan dance, Kiva finds serenity in her sketchbook and volunteering at the run-down art center her extended family owns.
When seventeen-year-old Ryler Cade steps into the art center for the first time, Kiva is drawn to the angry and misguided student sent from abroad to reform his violent ways. Scarred and tattooed, an unlikely friendship is formed when the gentle Kiva shows him kindness and beauty through art.
But after a tragic accident leaves Kiva severely disfigured, she struggles to see the beauty she has been brought up to believe. Just when she thinks she’s found her place, Ryler begins to pull away, leaving her heartbroken and confused. The patriarch of the family then takes a turn for the worse and Kiva is forced to give up her dreams to help with familial obligations, until an old family secret surfaces that makes her question everything.
Immersed in the world of traditional art and culture, this is the story of self-sacrifice and discovery, of acceptance and forbearance, of overcoming adversity and finding one’s purpose. Spanning years, it is a story about an intuitive girl and a misunderstood boy and love that becomes real when tested.
The white van’s presence in the driveway made Kiva’s heart thud against her ribs, and a mysterious anticipation settled over her. Hobbling into the house, she carried out her chores with efficiency, hanging the laundry on the line and checking on Masi’s bowl while stealing curious glances at the art center.
After a long pause, she decided to enter it.
Poised along the far wall to avoid distraction, Kiva perused the students scattered around the room, heads and shoulders bent over their wood carvings, the clink and thud of the chisel and mallet competing over each other. Mau paced his time with each student evenly, making his way around, offering guidance when needed. Kiva couldn’t make out his words from where she sat, only a few low mutterings accompanied by the shake or nod of his head.
Her eyes strayed until they settled on the boy with the mysterious tattoo. Ryler. Her suspicions were correct about his work when she noticed the slab of wood with the sliced words in front of him. He hadn’t spoken a word to any of the other boys, didn’t acknowledge them, and they avoided him too, as if he’d erected an invisible wall and they were aware of it.
Her uncle had no problem stepping through it though. He was with him now, speaking in low tones and gesturing to his work. What was he saying? Kiva strained to hear, but nothing came to her over the cacophony of sounds in the room. A muscle in Ryler’s jaw ticked as he sat, head bent, listening to him. Mau remained with him for some time, talking and listening, acknowledging the need to spend more time. Finally, he gave him a tap on the shoulder and a satisfied nod before moving away.
Kiva noticed when Ryler picked up a carving knife, pausing in concentration, his face tentative and contemplative, before he met it with wood, the muscles in his broad back contorting and flexing from the grip and release of the tool. What had he decided to carve? Kiva wanted to inch her way forward to find out but kept herself firmly planted. An hour passed and still she sat riveted to her spot.
A couple sharp drops on the roof were the only warning to the torrential downpour that followed.
“Makiva!” Hana’s voice shouted from across the yard and made her jump. “It’s raining! Get the laundry!”
Kiva scrambled off the floor, the noise drawing attention, and limped as quickly as she could to the line. The knifelike raindrops hit her on the back, stinging, and soaked through her shirt. Ignoring the pricks, she rushed to unpeg each piece of clothing, throwing it in the bucket and returning for more. The rain came down harder and faster, blurring her eyesight, the sound of a thunderclap roaring in her ears. Tea towels, Mau’s shirt, Hana’s school skirt. Breathless, her quick movements had long ago uncoiled her hair, wild and swirling in the wind; the pencil slipped out, lost somewhere. She was nearing the end of the line, grappling with a sheet, when she glanced up and noticed the boys running from the center to the van, their lesson over.
Ryler appeared last through the door, his brown eyes trained on her, and descended the stairs with heavy, deliberate steps. Kiva stared wide eyed as he stepped into the rain and came toward her with unhurried, even strides. She watched as raindrops pelted his gray shirt, soaking through to his shoulders until the wet dots spread and connected.
When he was a foot away, he lifted his hand.
“You dropped this,” he said, his voice low and hoarse, as if he was just getting over a cold. He smelled of wood dust and sweat.
She glanced down at his hand and saw the pencil she used to pin up her hair. It must have fallen in the art center in her haste to get to the laundry. Reaching for it, she noticed the deep scars on his left wrist and paused. From this close they looked even worse.
“It’s not what you think,” he answered, interpreting her thoughts.
Kiva snapped her eyes to his face. His brown eyes penetrated hers, thick lashes dripping from the rain, a line formed between his eyebrows. She tried not to fidget under his gaze and glanced to the right of his face. She saw a scar near his eye, something she hadn’t noticed before.
She calmly returned her gaze to him. “And what do I think?”
Ryler took a step closer. “You think that I did this to myself on purpose.”
“Did you?” She breathed.
He shook his head. “It was from a fight. The other guy had a broken bottle and I tried to block him.”
Kiva hissed as if she had been the one cut open and bleeding. Her eyes found the scar again and her stomach plummeted at the thought of the pain it must have caused. She felt suddenly light-headed and blinked to clear the blur clouding her mind.
“Are you alright?” he asked, concern laced in his voice.
She took slow, even breaths and nodded her head.
The sound of the van’s horn blared from the drive way.
“Ryler! Hurry up, we’re going!” A superior impatiently gestured for him in the rain.
“You better go,” Kiva said hastily. “Thanks for returning this.” She took the pencil from his hand and curled her fingers around it.
Ryler remained unmoving. Why wasn’t he going? Did he want to get into trouble? He finally stepped away and turned, jogging over to the waiting van, his shirt now drenched through and stuck to his retreating back.
Sieni A.M. is a coffee addict, Instagram enthusiast, world traveler, and avid reader turned writer. She graduated as an English and History high school teacher from the University of Canterbury and is currently living in Israel with her husband and two daughters.