CHAPTER FOUR

The spectacled Father Jesus Baza Duenas stands at the altar preaching his sermon in Chamorro to a full congregation of men, women, and children. The Taitague family is among them in St. Joseph's Catholic Church early in the morning, as evidenced by Roman's falling head as he begins to nod off. Feeling its descent, he jerks it back up. It goes down once more despite his efforts.
Alejo lowers his own head and to whisper in his little brother's ear, "If you can't stay awake, you can't go out with the nets."
Roman shakes the sleep away.
"Did you hear me?" Alejo asks.
"Yes," Roman answers. "I heard you."
Together, the two boys rise with the rest of the congregation for a hymn.

Hours later, Alejo is knee deep in shoals off the coast of the island. Gentle waves brush against his skin as he firmly grasps the edging of the enormous net with Roman to his right and his father to his left. A dozen others are divided between their flanks, including his uncle, Jesus Aguon - husband to his father's sister.
"How's John?" Roman asks his uncle.
"Oh, he's doing great! He's on the Arizona in Honolulu."
"Is that a battleship?"
"It is."
"Cool!" Roman responds enthusiastically.
"Don't get too excited," Alejo tells him. "He wrote me, too. He's a mess hall attendant."
"What does that mean?"
"It means he's in the kitchen. Cleaning."
Roman stops beaming. "He didn't write me a letter." He says under his breath.
"Not much else for a brown man in a white man's military, boy," Jesus explains.
"On the bright side," Vicente observes pulling in the net, "He's not so far as he was."
Jesus smiles at the thought as he does the same. "We will certainly have a feast for tomorrow!"
"And another day of church," Roman whines.
"You're lucky your mother doesn't drag you every day like your grandmother used to do to your nina and your dad."
Roman looks at his father in astonishment. "You had to go every day?"
"Every single day," Vicente says. "But she'd keep the old ways, too," he adds with a wink.

On shore, at the home of the Crisostomo family, the women are preparing dishes for the next day's festivities - a real feast of the freshest the land and the ocean have to offer. Clara Crisostomo sits cross-legged on the grass near the outdoor kitchen of her family's house, plucking feathers from the lifeless body of a chicken. Seated across from her in the shade of the same towering palm tree, is her cousin Frances Cruz.
"The boys are going to the pools tonight," Frances tells Clara. "I think we should, too."
“And if we get caught?" Clara postulates, perhaps a little too loudly as Frances raises finger to her pursed lips, motioning for Clara to keep her voice down.
"We're not going to get caught," Frances assures her. "We just have to leave when our parents fall asleep and be back before the sun rises."
"Are we just going to walk there?"
Frances sighs, annoyed by the suggestion. "Me? Walk from Sumay? No. Michael said he'd borrow a car And you live right here in Inarajan anyway."
Michael is Frances' white American boyfriend serving in the Marine Corps. He met him when she was in Agana with her parents a few months ago and wandered off with Isabel on their own. Michael and his friend, Timothy, who is practically his shadow, were on their way to the movie house and invited her along. Frances' temporary disappearance did result in her house arrest for weeks but since then, the two have been unmistakably smitten.
"Does your mama give you any sort of grief for seeing him?" Clara asks.
"She makes jokes occasionally but I don't think she could ever really reprimand me for it. It's not as if both of her sisters married someone from the same culture. Besides, I'm too young to be worrying about that sort of thing. And having too much fun."
As the two girls chat, their cousin Isabel arrives with her brother, Kenzo, and her mother - their respective mothers' sister. Holding a large basket of vegetables with one hand, Isabel uses the other to wave heartily at them. Clara and Frances return her wave with feathers clinging to their palms, sending Isabel into a fit of laughter. Isabel hands the basket to her mother and hurries to join them. Her rear practically bounces off the ground with how quickly she seats herself.
"Hey," she says excitedly as she pulls some stray hairs away from her face and weaves them back into her bun. "Did you tell her, Fran?"
"I just did," Frances replies. "It doesn't sound like she wants to go."
"You have to come with us!" Isabel insists to Clara who doesn't divert her attention from the chicken in her lap but only shakes her head in refusal.
"Alejo's going to go," Frances shares.
"Really?" Clara asks.
"Yes, really," Frances confirms. "And you'll get to see him without a shirt. Maybe even without pants."
Clara's face turns red with embarrassment. Isabel and Frances can't help but laugh. "Maybe you should have told her that first," Isabel teases.
Their audible joy attracts Alejo who's arrived with the other men to present their bounty. Alejo pays his respects to each of the older women then, hands tucked into the pockets of his still rolled up khaki pants, he walks towards them with a smile, "Hafa adai."
"Hafa, Alejo," Clara says in reply. "Looks like you a good day at the water."
He looks over his shoulder back at the men across the yard who have started scaling and filleting the fish. "Yeah, the sea was kind to us today." Alejo combs his hair back with his fingers and clears his throat. "You look beautiful."
Clara blushes more scarlet than before.
"Shameless flirt," Isabel calls him.
"Oh! You wound me," Alejo declares with one hand over his heart. "I'm only calling them as I see them."
"Alejo!" Roman shouts across the distance. "Come help us with the fish!"
"Coming," he answers before directing another smile at Clara, biting his bottom lip ever so slightly, and turning to join his brother and the other young men, the sound of Isabel and Frances giggling behind him as he walks away.
On the other side of the property, Kenzo holds out knife in his left hand for Alejo to take and his right hand to greet him - both of which Alejo accepts.
"Hafa, Ken."
"Hafa. Sorry I couldn't come earlier," Kenzo apologizes. "I had to help my dad with the store."
"Not to worry," Alejo assures him. "We had plenty of hands. There's always next time." Alejo puts down the knife and rolls up the sleeves on his button-up shirt a fold further before he gets started.
"It was really hot anyway," Roman says announcing the obvious, his face scrunched as he coaxes a small scaling knife along the side of a fish before him. "The sun bounces off the water like a mirror."
"This is Guam, Roman. It's always hot here," Kenzo states, getting a good grip on the fish before him and raising his knife. "Even in December." Kenzo brings his knife down hard and slices through the head of the sea creature with ease.