Before she could make any further protests, Christopher and Denise pulled Astrid quickly onto the bus. The vehicle made a single stop at a gate guarded by military police and then it was out onto the Queen Liliuokalani Freeway. From there it was a remarkably short trip across the island to Kailua. Less than an hour after arriving in Hawaii, Astrid and the others stepped off the bus in front of the palatial beachfront property owned by Maxxim Industries.
The estate had been created years before when Mrs. Maxxim had purchased seven properties and combined them. The original houses, which had been in bad repair, had been removed and five lovely multi-level modern homes had been built, interspersed with gardens and common areas.
“Where’s the swimming pool?” asked Denise as soon as she stepped out of the bus.
“We’re a hundred yards away from the most beautiful beach in the world,” said her brother, “and you want a swimming pool?”
“I don’t swim in the ocean with Astrid anymore.”
“There are three swimming pools,” said Astrid. “You can swim in all three of them.”
“After we get settled,” interjected Mr. Brown. “Do you know where we’re staying, Astrid?”
“Hold on,” replied the girl inventor, pulling out her tablet and flipping her fingers across the screen. “My mom gave me the arrangements. You and Denise are staying at Orchid House, and Dennis too of course. The Harrises are at Plumeria House. The Diazes are at Antherium House. And Toby and Mr. Bundersmith are at Chrysanthemum House.”
“What about me?” asked Austin.
“Oh, um… you’re with Toby and his dad. And I’ll be at Gardenia House.”
Carrying their luggage with them, the travelers from Maxxim City split up and headed in small groups toward each of the assigned houses. Astrid all alone, walked down the sidewalk and up the steps to the front door of Gardenia House, pulling her suitcase along on its wheels. It was a medium-sized home, far smaller than the Maxxim Mansion, but quite striking. A central portion rose up into two stories plus a loft, while wings on either side were a single level. The gently sloping roof and the coral façade fit perfectly with the tropical plants that filled carefully arranged flowerbeds all around the perimeter. The front door accepted Astrid’s thumbprint and she stepped inside.
Walking through the foyer and into the kitchen, Astrid opened the refrigerator to find an apple, which she washed in the sink before taking a bite. The interior of the house was beautifully furnished and spotlessly kept; not surprising since it was used only a few weeks a year. Opening the patio door, the fourteen year-old breathed in the floral scent that floated on the gentle breeze. She could hear the ocean waves crashing against the nearby beach with an irregular rhythm.
Astrid sat down in one of the heavy wooden patio chairs as the breeze whipped up slightly around her. It was pleasantly warm and neither the small cloud that moved over her head, nor the scattered drops that fell from it detracted the feeling that the entire island was giving her one big hug. She finished her apple and walked back inside, dropping the core in the recycle bin before taking her suitcase to the bedroom she had used when she had stayed in the house the previous summer. She had just started unpacking when she received a text.
“Already at the pool,” said Denise’s text, pointing at her name.
“How’s the water?” typed Astrid.
“Not in water. Laying out… duh.”
Astrid texted back. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
She had barely finished typing when another text arrived, this one from Valerie.
“We’re here! See you in an hour.”
Astrid sat her phone, her tablet, and her MX-360 on the nightstand and then quickly unpacked her suitcase, placing her clothes in the dresser drawers. The exception was her pink and yellow swimsuit. It wasn’t so much that she wanted to lay out by the pool, she told herself, so much as she needed to keep an eye on Denise to see that she properly protected her skin. Decked out in her bikini and her matching flip-flops, she skipped out the bedroom door and into the hallway to come face to face with two strange men.