The Big Break(8)

By: Cara Lockwood

“Can’t do it.” Kai nearly clipped off the end of Kirk’s sentence in his haste to decline. The idea of a photographer or anyone else recording one of his recent surfing disasters filled him with white-hot embarrassment. He glanced at his fine form in the oversize photo above Kirk’s desk. He was a lifetime away from the Kai Brady of two years ago.

“Kai, this has to be done.”

“I know.” Kai eyed Kirk, who didn’t blink as he crossed his arms across his chest.

“Fine.” Kirk sighed, frustrated. “You’re going to have to talk to me sometime about what’s going on with you.”

“Nothing’s going on with me.” Nothing that can be fixed by talking about it. Kai stood, and even in that brief motion, he felt the loosening creak of his right knee. He didn’t care what the orthopedic surgeon said—those tendons and bone just hadn’t healed right. He nearly stumbled a little but righted himself in time. “Is that all, Kirk?”

“Need your signature on this,” Kirk said, sliding contracts his way. “Just a renewal for the Mountain Dew endorsement. Oh, and Todd Kolkot wants to talk to you. Says he needs to get your approval on the new fall line.”

Kai bent down and signed his name with a flourish, all the while wondering how fast Mountain Dew would have dropped him if they’d seen him surf this week. Kai turned to go.

“One more thing, Kai. Somebody from Time magazine keeps calling. They’re doing an anniversary piece on the tsunami, you know, ‘The Big Island a Year Later,’ and wanted to interview you for it.”

“No,” Kai said. He’d woken up in a cold sweat from nightmares about reporters asking him questions about how well he was surfing, how his knee was, all of which would be part of any interview, no matter how it started. Besides, he didn’t like talking about the tsunami. Not just because of his knee, but because of a whole host of other reasons, namely that people he knew had lost their lives that day.

“But it would be good for your brand. You know no publicity is...”

“I said no.”

“Okay, okay!” Kirk’s hands went up in a gesture of surrender. “I know you don’t like to do interviews about the tsunami, but at some point, you’re going to have to talk about it.”

“People died that day. I just got my leg broken. So what?” Might as well have died, though. Self-pity began to creep in again and he tried to shoo the thoughts out of his head, but they had sticky, gooey edges. No matter how hard he pushed them out, some gunky residue always remained behind.

“You’re famous. You’re a hero. You can inspire people.”

At this, Kai barked a caustic laugh. “I’m no hero.” Last night he’d been so drunk he barely remembered what had happened between him and the two tourists. He woke up in bed with a new girl nearly every weekend. He hardly knew if he was coming or going. He was the farthest thing from a hero.

“Course you are. There’s that little boy you saved.”

“I didn’t save him. We were both just lucky.”

Kirk rolled his eyes. “Fine. Then what about all those amateur surfers at Jaws? How many did you pull out of the rocks?” Kirk stared at him. Kai shrugged. “Two? Four? More than that?”

“They had no business being out there in the first place,” Kai said. “I only saved them so I could chew them out and tell them to find another hobby. Doesn’t make me heroic.”

“It doesn’t matter. It only matters if people think you are.” There was the Kirk Kai remembered, the one always looking for the angle and hardly caring about the truth. It was this side of the business, the marketing whatever sells, that just rubbed Kai the wrong way.

“Why not make that the next shirt slogan?” Kai said, a bit of bitterness creeping into his voice.

Kirk laughed. “We should, bro. We totally should.” He leaned forward, his antique wooden desk chair creaking. “By the way, that gossip columnist called again for a quote or confirmation. Said something about you and some wild escapade with two tourists. They have a picture. Looks like you.”

Kai’s stomach lurched. He didn’t want to know what picture they could’ve gotten ahold of.

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