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Mari was bone-tired but grinning from ear to ear when she walked into Joe’s. Of all the things she’d missed about Sakina, Joe’s food ranked in the top five. Nothing beat a crab dinner after a full day of tours. “I see Charlie’s Angels have finally gotten back together,” Loretta remarked with a smile from the hostess station.

“Don’t let Rylee hear you lumping her in with us,” Mari teased giving the older woman a hug.

“It’s good to have you back, girly. I hear Joe’s been cooking up something good for you.”

“Knowing him, it’ll take me straight to food heaven. I can’t wait.”

She glanced to the left to see Rylee and Julia were already seated at their usual table and both already had plates in front of them.

“You’re smiling. Why are you smiling?” Rylee demanded as she approached. “Todd should’ve put your butt to work today. You were supposed to come in dragging yourself.”

“Believe me, I worked.” She pulled out her chair and sank into it. “I took the dive tour while he sat up on the boat. I led the hiking tour up Devil’s Mountain of all places. The only reason I’m smiling is because I missed the heck out of all of it. It felt great. I probably won’t move tomorrow though. I got lazy at school. Sound fair?”

“You’re the only person I know who can make all that work look like a breeze,” Rylee sighed.

“I’ve been doing it since I was like five. It better look easy.”

Julia laughed. “Are you sure it wasn’t three?”

“It might’ve been four and a half. I see you guys got started without me.”

“Loreta insisted. Even I know better than to say no to Loretta.” Julia popped a piece of fish in her mouth with no shame.

“Can’t argue with that.”

“We’re glad to know you haven’t forgotten the island basics,” Rylee agreed nodding.

“Not even back a few days and you’re messing with a basic truth,” Julia muttered with a grin.

Mari turned in her seat to follow Julia’s eyes and saw Joe himself coming down the aisle with a plate in his hand. He never left the kitchen. Ever. A wide grin split her face as she abandoned her seat to give him a hug.

“I rank special treatment? Finally!”

“You and that mouth. You sit down with this plate and you get some meat back on those bones of yours, you hear?”

“Loud and clear,” she returned immediately. In reality she probably hadn’t lost more than a couple of pounds but she’d let them fuss. Pulling back from the hug, she took the plate. “This is a great start,” she said already picking up a piece of the coconut shrimp she was always weak for.

Joe shook his head but she saw the smile he tried to hide as he ruffled her hair and headed back to the kitchen

Silence descended over the table as Mari started in on the food.

“Joe really outdid himself,” she said around a mouth full of grilled fish steak even as she reached for some fries.

Rylee watched in fascination. “Gosh, your metabolism has to be like…I don’t even know. I was kind of hoping you’d lose that whole eat-everything-and-still-be-skinny thing.”

“Because you’re so obese yourself. Besides, I just worked off three times my weight in calories. Anyway, what do you guys think about Tyler Ross?” Mari asked tossing a fry into her mouth.

Julia frowned and lowered her fork. “He watches when no one’s paying attention; sees too much. I get a funny vibe from him.”

Rylee rolled her eyes. “Jules just doesn’t like that she’s met someone as observant as she is. I’ve talked to him. He’s a nice guy, pretty laidback. He seems like fun. Why are you asking, Mari? Got a date?”

Mari glared and swirled a second fry in ketchup. “It’s not a date. He just wants me to show him some of my not advertised trails.”

“Is he paying?” Julia challenged around a mouthful of fish.

“It’s more of a casual thing.”

“So it’s a date.” Rylee beamed.

“Rylee, it’s hiking.”

“With just the two of you. Alone. And it’s you. Hiking is one of your top five favorite things. That spells date. Tell her, Jules.”

“I agree with Rylee on this one. It’s the second time you’ve asked about him. You sure about this?”

“What do you mean?” Rylee demanded waving her fork around. “Of course she’s sure. He’s cute. I say hike a trail or two with him. If he turns out to be a creeper or obnoxious you could always just let him get lost out there.”

Mari laughed. “That’s not a half bad plan. I might have to use that.”

Rylee sat back with a grin. “Good. And you’ll of course share all the details over dinner when you get back.”

“When you’re telling us what’s going on with you and Todd?”

A violent blush stole over Rylee’s cheeks and she suddenly became very engrossed with her plate. “Nothing’s going on.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t catch the truth over that mumble of a lie,” Julia teased.

“Nothing. Is. Going. On. It’s Todd. He’s a pain in the butt.”

“He’s an attractive pain in the butt,” Julia pointed out.

“We are so not having this discussion right now.”

“Oh, later then?” Mari asked laughing when Rylee glared at both of them. “I was just trying to clarify.”

“Clarify the date you’re going on with Tyler Ross.”

“We already clarified that it isn’t one. Keep up.”

“You always did seem to have trouble keeping up,” Julia drawled. “Like after we let Hazel’s dogs out and got caught because you couldn’t get over the gate fast enough.”

Mari slapped a hand over her mouth, trying to hold in the laughter and lemonade.

“Hey! It’s not my fault I wasn’t an experienced troublemaker. And you didn’t give me any warning!”

“And when Mari kicked that ball in Janey’s window and both of us were down the street before you even started running?”

“I was sore from ballet! I didn’t even want to play that day! What about that time the two of you got caught swimming on Delgaro’s private beach? Who fast talked us out of that one?”

“Yeah, the only thing fast about you.”

The night went on much like that recanting various misadventures until their food disappeared and Joe’s began to empty out. It was a few hours later when they finally trickled out themselves.

Mari’s stomach was full and the grin on her face near permanent. The three of them stayed in constant contact while Mari was away at school but nothing beat being home to physically spend time with them.

She pulled her phone from her pocket, tapping it against the palm of her hand as she walked down the street. She was just getting back into the rhythm of things. She planned on loading herself up with tours to help with business. She wasn’t going to have much free time. Starting anything up with Tyler didn’t make sense yet she found herself making the call before she could change her mind.

“Tyler? It’s Mari. How does three sound?”

 

<< Chapter 4 || Chapter 6 >>

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