We’re really excited to welcome today’s guest on Queer Books Unbound: Pene Henson! Pene is the author of Into the Blue and Storm Season, both out with Interlude Press.
When we asked authors to participate in our birthday celebrations, Pene suggested writing a future short for her story Into the Blue. Jude and I love that book so of course we said yes! We’re so excited to finally share this little glimpse into Tai’s and Ollie’s future. We hope you enjoy!
Ohana – a short Into the Blue future
It’s slushy out on the ocean for the first heats of Pipe Masters. The morning is patchy grey. The surf is choppy and short lived; it curls over itself and vanishes into foam.
Tai’s feet sink into the yellow sand. He narrows his eyes as Ollie takes off on a half meter wave. Ollie’s board hangs on the top rail for a moment then slides ahead of the break. Ollie steers it sweetly over the front. It’s not an exciting ride but it’s a clean 6.5. In the messy surf, that’s enough to send Ollie through to round two.
Sunlight bursts through the low cloud as Ollie paddles in, turning the water green and gold. The beach is packed. Tai meets him at the water’s edge.
“Nice work,” Tai says.
“Media tent then home?” Ollie asks as he and his board drip all over Tai.
“That’s the plan.”
Ollie shields his eyes with his free hand and looks out at the next heat. Pipe runs better in the sun so the last few heats of the day will have better surf than the slush Ollie faced. But it’s cool. Ollie’s lifetime of experience at this beach has got him through to the second round tomorrow.
It’s loud inside the tent but the light is soft. Tai stands behind the camera man and chats with some of the crew. The camera focuses on Ollie’s face as Rosy Hodge asks him a question. Ollie smiles at the ground. His hair tumbles forward, salt wet.
It’s been five years since Ollie first won Pipe and no one’s really taught him any media skills. Still, somehow he’s charmed the surfing world even as he fumbles for words and avoids the camera. It’s his own weird kind of branding.
Now and then there’s this moment of clarity. “Pipe is special,” he says and lifts his head. His eyes are the blue of a bright sky. “Pipe is home.” Tai beams back at him.
Pipe is the final event of the season, scheduled after all the ups and downs of comps in the US, Europe, Africa and Australia. Some years when the surfers descend on pipe, the world champion has already been decided. Other years the competition comes down to this week. In Ollie’s second year pro he had a chance to be crowned but lost it when Julian Wilson made it to the semis of Pipe. This year Ollie’s got another chance. He’ll win if he finishes one spot higher than the mighty Brazilian, Gabriel Medina.
The crowds are still building as Ollie and Tai head toward the back lane and eastwards to go home.
The old Blue House, the place they grew up in, has been painted cream and rented to tourists. The new Blue House, the house they share with their best friends Sunny and Hannah and Ollie’s little brother when he’s home, is further up the beach. The short walk gives them space. They can take time away from the excitement of spectators and competitors.
“Ollie!” yells a guy with a Billabong cap and a mess of tawny hair. Ollie lifts a hand. He’s accustomed to this, now. “Tai,” the guy calls. Tai waves easily.
“Do we know him?” Ollie asks.
“Yeah that’s Ben Michaels. We met him at Tressels.”
“Oh.” Ollie glances back. “He’s changed sponsors. And his hair.”
The back lane is cooler than the sand, shaded green with the palms that mottle the sunlight. Ollie’s hand brushes Tai’s as they walk.
At home the girls are splayed out on the coach watching the comp on the TV. They both had the day off work so they watched Ollie’s heat earlier, but fled home before the interminable media circus.
Hannah mutes the television and lifts her head. “Good ride, man. Who’re you up against tomorrow?”
“Looks like I’ll have Wilkinson, and whoever wins the sixth heat.”
“Wilkinson’s a tough competitor. But you’ve got this.”
“Jaime hasn’t called?” asks Ollie.
Hannah shakes her head. Tai settles on the arm of her lounge chair.
“Sorry dude,” says Sunny. “He’s probably still in class. He’ll call later.”
Ollie nods. “Okay.” He heads into the kitchen and comes out with a banana. I’m gonna grab some sleep while I can. It’ll be another early start.”
“Righto,” says Sunny. She turns back to the television as Hannah flicks it on.
Ollie hangs in the room a fraction too long. He’s blushing. “You can come in if you want,” he says to Tai.
Tai grins at him. “I’ll grab a sandwich, then I’ll be with you.”
Tai watches one of the heats on the big screen tv. It’s twenty minutes before he heads to Ollie’s room at the back of the house.
Ollie had first choice of rooms. Tai’s is bigger and looks out to the folded green mountains that stretch up behind the town. Sunny and Hannah both have rooms at the front of the house. They look out on the Pacific. Jaime’s at art school in New York, but his room is big enough to fit a huge wardrobe of clothes and all his art gear.
Ollie chose this room. It’s quiet. With the blinds open on two sides, the huge palm tree and the flowering plumeria shade the walls and turn everything green.
Ollie rolls over as Tai opens the door. In the dappled light his eyes are steady green. As Tai lies down he keeps a space between him and Ollie’s sleep soft body. Ollie traces a hand over Tai’s chest before wrapping his fingers around Tai’s arm.
“Love you,” Ollie says with his eyes closed. He leans in to kiss Tai’s shoulder.
Tai smiles at the ceiling and closes his eyes. He’s tired. They were both up at three, Ollie to stretch his muscles and get to know the surf, Tai mostly to check the boards were ready.
They’re woken by banging on Ollie’s door.
Tai sits up, disoriented.
Ollie’s face is thunder. “What the hell?”
“Anyone naked in there?” Impossibly, Jaime’s voice comes through the door.
“Oh my god come in!” Ollie calls.
Jaime barrels in, all tall and filled out and dressed in something pink and yellow. There’s a second’s pause then he flings himself onto the bed between them.
“Ow, my arm,” says Ollie as they all hug at once.
“You’re supposed to be in New York,” says Tai.
“Yeah my fairy godmother at G-III let me come for a week. I promised her inspiration; island color is very in you know.”
Ollie’s laughing as he says, “You asshole, I can’t believe you didn’t let us know.”
“We could have got you at the airport,” says Tai.
“No need, I got an Uber. And here I am.”
“And here you are.” Ollie’s beam could light a room.
It doesn’t really change the evening, having Jaime there. They show him the things they’ve changed, the new ways they’ve decorated Hannah’s room, but other than that they pretty much do the same things they’d have done anyway. The blue house feels complete.
“I like this coffee table,” Jaime says of their new purchase. “And the wall art’s not bad.” The art’s all his of course.
At dinner they sit on the couches in the living room and all talk over one another. Miraculously Hannah’s cooked Jaime’s favourite, Samoan style chop suey and taro. Of course, Sunny and Hannah were in on Jaime’s secret arrival. There are apparently multiple stories of subterfuge that need to be told alongside stories of New York and print design and Ollie’s travels and Tai’s surfboard company and Hannah’s shrimp truck tour business. But under the talk Sunny is quiet. Over and over, Tai catches her staring blankly at the window.
“Hey Sun,” Tai says as Ollie and Jaime come back from clearing the table. “Something up?”
She shakes her head. “I don’t think- Nah.”
Jaime wraps an arm around her shoulders. “Sunny. I haven’t completely forgotten you. You’re never like this. Either it’s something tiny, and you should tell us, or it’s something big and you should definitely tell us.”
Sunny scrunches her face. “I reckon it can wait until after the finals.”
Ollie is still. Then he runs a hand through his hair. “Dude. What could possibly stress me out more than you not telling us what’s up?”
Sunny sighs as she looks around the room at each of them. She leans back into the soft couch but she doesn’t look relaxed. “I kinda…I’ve thought about it and I’ve decided we should have a baby.”
“Whoa,” says Ollie. “I’m out.” He stands.
“Wait, Ol,” says Sunny.
“We could do this,” she says. “We could bring up a kid in the blue house.” Her dark eyes are serious under her silver and green hair. She’s always been stubborn, their Sunny. “Think about it. A kid with Hannah’s joy and Ollie’s nerve and Tai’s good heart-“
“And your brains and my impeccable taste,” says Jaime.
“More likely the kid’ll be short-tempered like me and annoying like you,” says Ollie.
Tai holds up a hand and Ollie looks at him for a long moment. He takes a breath. “Sorry, Sun,” he says. “I just… go on.”
Sunny says, “I’ve been thinking about it. I love our life, we’re the luckiest people in the whole world, and I’d hate to ruin it but whether we do it this year or in another few years- this could be amazing. We’ve got the room. We’re young and healthy. The kid would have four parents, five if Hannah meets her perfect girl or guy. They’d have the planet’s best uncle.”
Jaime bows his head, acknowledging. He would be a great uncle.
“What do you think, Tai?” asks Hannah. Tai wonders if she knew about this before tonight.
“I’m not sure,” says Tai. He tries to pin down his thoughts.
Beside him, Ollie’s eyes shift to the door like he wants to escape. Perhaps this conversation could have waited until after the finals. But then, Ollie often looks like that, when they’re holding hands or when they bump into someone they know unexpectedly.
“It’s not like I want to have sex with either of you,” Sunny goes on. “There are other ways.”
“God,” mutters Ollie.
Jaime covers his eyes.
“At least consider it,” says Sunny.
“Deal,” says Tai. “Of course.”
“Okay,” says Ollie.
They don’t talk about it again. They watch some quiet Japanese decorating show – Ollie next to his brother and leaning against Tai’s right arm, Hannah’s big brown feet in Tai’s lap. When they go to bed, Tai goes to his own room. He loves sharing a bed with Ollie but they both get more sleep this way.
They’re up before dawn. Tai meets Ollie out front where the lawn slopes down to the sand and out to the huge expanse of the Pacific. Ollie’s watching the dark water. He twists his head to kiss Tai.
Pipe is turning. It’ll be a good day out on the ocean.
“I’ve got the 6 foot 8 and the 6 foot 10,” says Tai. “Want me to wax those?”
They stand together. “Looks good out there,” Tai says.
Tai tangles his fingers in Ollie’s. “Hey. Don’t worry too much about Sunny’s plans. We’ve got time to think about it.”
“A kid, Tai. A baby.” Ollie’s tone is difficult to parse.
A wave pounds the shore, white tendrils of foam racing up the beach at the water line. Tai strains to hear Ollie’s voice.
“I’m- I can see it though. That’s the problem.”
Tai turns to watch Ollie’s profile. His heart is full of this man, this family, this future. “Yeah. Me too.”
Tai Talagi and Ollie Birkstrom have been inseparable since they met as kids, surfing the North Shore of Oahu. Now they live with their best friends and Ollie’s kid brother in a pulled-together family, all of them piled into a run-down beach house. They share cooking, bills, and the saltwater running in their veins. They might have no money, they might argue, they might be in dead end jobs, but they live in Hawaii so it’s always summer. There’s always time for one last wave.
Tai’s spent years shutting down any feelings for Ollie. They’re friends. Their family depends on them. But with Ollie off on his first world tour, with Ollie’s dreams of a pro surfing career finally within reach, their steady world shifts. Is it worth risking their friendship, their family, their dreams for a chance at something terrifying and beautiful and altogether new?
Pene Henson has gone from British boarding schools to New York City law firms. She now lives in Sydney, Australia, where she is an intellectual property lawyer and published poet who is deeply immersed in the local LGBTQIA community. She spends her spare time watching sports and gazing at the ocean with her wife and two unexpectedly exceptional sons. She received the Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Romance for her first novel, Into the Blue (Interlude Press, 2016) about surfers growing up on the North Shore of Oahu. Storm Season, about two women trapped in a remote Australian cabin, was published in 2017. She had a short story about WNBA players going home for Christmas in If The Fates Allow (Interlude Press, 2017) an anthology of queer holiday stories.