The awkwardness of Doc Hata and Mary’s first moments of intimacy indicates that Doc Hata still finds it difficult to take direct action. Just as Mary initiated their first meeting, she also consistently initiated their early moments of intimacy. Instead of waiting for the nursery truck to arrive, she led Doc Hata down a trail toward a secret bower of sorts. She kissed him along the way, and once they reached the secluded bower, she kissed him again and tried to initiate sex. Throughout most of these events, Doc Hata followed Mary’s lead, and, to her surprise, he even met her first kiss with equal passion. Yet Doc Hata stopped short of consummating their relationship, putting a sudden halt to their intimacy and failing to address the ensuing awkwardness that came between them for the rest of the day. The fact that Doc Hata once again failed to act suggests that he hadn’t changed much since he knew K, which makes it painfully ironic for him when Liv calls him “a carpe diem sort of guy.” Never one to seize the day, Doc Hata continues to regret his inability to act when it matters.
Doc Hata stopped himself before having sex with Mary because the feeling of arousal reminded him too strongly of his sexual experiences with K. In Chapter 14, Doc Hata recalled how he had mistaken his lust for K for love. His failure to understand that sexual arousal drove the warm feelings he had for K ultimately resulted in her gruesome death, an event that has haunted him throughout his life. In his account of his day with Mary, Doc Hata notes that the desire he felt for Mary resembled feelings of arousal that he “had wished never again to know.” In other words, the memory of his attraction to K became mingled with his present attraction to Mary, and he chose to run away from the pain of the experience. Although it is understandable that Doc Hata would remain traumatized by his experience with K, the episode with Mary also contains a painful irony. The tragedy of his relationship with K largely stemmed from his attempt to bury his own sexuality. The fact that Doc Hata continued to repress his sexuality with Mary several decades later shows how little Doc Hata has changed or learned.
Ever since his smoke inhalation incident, Liv and Renny have come to see Doc Hata as a surrogate father figure. The reader has had hints of this transformation throughout the novel. Not only did Liv save Doc Hata’s life by dragging him out of the smoky house, she also showed special care when repairing the damage to his living room and arranging to have meals delivered to his house every day. As for Renny, he has periodically visited Doc Hata to talk about life and help out around the house. Although all three characters have grown closer over the course of the book, the scene at the beach clearly demonstrates how much both Liv and Renny look up to Doc Hata and seek out his opinions. Neither Liv’s nor Renny’s parents are still alive, and Liv tells Doc Hata that they consider him their “private elder.” When they break the news that they plan to get married and ask Doc Hata for his blessing, they show that their appreciation of his presence in their lives is more than just symbolic. They treat him like a surrogate father figure, which both surprises Doc Hata and feels somehow redemptive to him.
At the conclusion of the chapter, Doc Hata finally takes direct and decisive action, saving not one but two lives. Just prior to the harrowing events in which Tommy almost drowns and Renny suffers a heart attack, Doc Hata encouraged Liv and Renny not to waste any time before getting married. He makes this recommendation because he has always failed to act decisively in his own life. For the first time in the book, he verbalizes this understanding rather than just thinking it to himself. He tells Liv and Renny: “There are those who would gladly give up all they have gained in the world to have relented just once when it mattered.” Though phrased like a general adage, Doc Hata here refers directly to his own experience. Shortly after he gives Liv and Renny this hard-earned wisdom, an emergency situation arises in which Doc Hata has an opportunity to prove that he can do more than live a life of gestures. He runs directly into the water, and the fact that he doesn’t hesitate when he realizes that both Tommy and Renny are in danger of dying allows him to save both of their lives.