The moon illuminated the quiet path Mari and Reese strolled along. Friends talked them into watching the outdoor movie starting soon. Granted, it didn’t take much convincing. Reese was always invited to something as the islanders extended their friendship. Mari never let him turn down an offer.
“You know, I’m not sure Sakina is going to let you go when it’s time. You might be more popular than me now.”
“I wasn’t the one who got invited tonight.”
He muttered something under his breath she knew he didn’t mean. It made her giggle. She couldn’t say what she expected when she learned he was staying with her. She enjoyed his company. He often made her laugh. The way he fit in with her friends made it even easier to have him around.
She was distracted from her thoughts when she saw the woman standing at a cart a few feet ahead. Her giggle morphed into a broad grin.
“Oh! Felicia is still open!”
Reese rolled his eyes. “Let me guess. You need one to watch the movie.”
“Well, duh. Hurry, go grab us slushies before she starts closing down.”
“You go ahead, I’ll be right here.” She stopped at the edge of a storefront. “I want to keep an eye out for the others.”
He hesitated. “Stay where I can see you.”
With thumbs up, she repeated, “Right here.”
He jogged to the stand.
“Cherry and grape mixed!” she called after him.
He shook his head, but he lifted a hand in acknowledgment. Laughing to herself, she stepped back toward the side of the building and craned her neck in search of her friends. They would give her a hard time if they showed up late with slushies, but it would be worth it.
Her heart shot into her throat when an arm snagged around her waist as a hand covered her mouth. Someone dragged her back behind the cover of the building. She dug her fingernails into his wrist, clawing at the skin. He kept dragging her backward. She bit the hand at her mouth and violently jerked to break free. Her chest grew tight when his arm still didn’t loosen. She tried to drop her weight in a desperate attempt to slow him down.
Someone darted to her side, but she couldn’t get past the fear flooding her to make them out. She kept trying to rip free from the man’s grasp. He grunted. Suddenly she was thrust forward. She collided with someone before she lost her footing and sank to her knees. Quick footsteps thundered behind her. Scrambling unsteadily to her feet, she tried to run. The edge of the building was in sight when someone grabbed hold of her arm. She swung around, leading with her fist. It was caught in a firm grip.
“Mari. Mari! It’s Reese. I’ve got you. He’s gone.”
It took a moment for his voice to penetrate. She collapsed into his arms, gasping for breath. Tremors racked her body. Reese’s hands stroked over her arms in brisk motion.
“I’m fine. I’m fine.”
She repeated the words to make them true while she fought for calm she didn’t feel. She was with Reese. Nothing happened to her. She was fine.
“Look at me.” The command in his tone couldn’t be ignored even in her panicked state. She pulled back just enough to lock onto his warm brown eyes. “I have you. He’s gone. You’re safe.”
“I’m safe. You have me.”
“That’s right. Just breathe.”
She nodded like a bobble head. Reese’s steady focus calmed her and gradually her breathing evened out.
She buried her face in his chest. His arms closed around her. Warmth enveloped her, bringing with it the feeling of safety. She was safe. He wouldn’t let anything happen to her. He just proved it.
“Mari? Reese? Is everything alright?” Felicia called.
“She’s good,” Reese called over his shoulder. He didn’t move from behind the shelter of the building. “It was just a robbery attempt,” he told Mari quietly.
She swallowed hard and nodded her understanding. They both knew it was more than that. He didn’t fight her when she pulled free to rub her hands over her face. He stayed close to her side as they walked back in sight.
“She’s okay,” Reese assured Felicia who was jogging toward them. “It looks like someone tried to rob her.”
Felicia sucked her teeth in annoyance. “That happens around here sometimes, during tourist season especially. Are you okay, Mari?”
Mari cleared her throat. “I’m fine. It shook me a bit. I know better. I should have been paying attention, but I was thinking about that slushy.”
“The one Reese dropped when he shot over here. Goodness, I’ve never seen anyone move so fast.” Felicia smiled up at Reese. “Thank you for taking care of our girl. Let me get you both slushies.”
She bustled back to her cart before Reese could say a word.
“Mari? What’s going on?” Leilani called as she and the others approached them from farther up the street.
“Someone tried to rob her,” Reese answered for her.
“I wasn’t paying attention. Reese scared him off. I’m fine.”
“What?” Leilani asked.
“Just now?” Julia added.
“Where did he go?” Keon demanded already angling away from them.
“Who was he? What did he look like?”
“It was probably that guy Leo said was hanging around his shop.”
“I didn’t get a good look.”
“Or that one near Laney’s!”
“Guys-” Mari tried to interject.
“Which way did he go?”
“Somebody call Garrett!”
Mari groaned at mention of the island’s sheriff. “Guys! Guys! Hey!” she yelled over them. “I’m fine. The only real problem was Reese dropping my slushy, but Felicia’s bringing me another one. So, again, I’m fine. And I was looking forward to seeing this movie. So, if everybody could just move along, that would be great.”
She beamed at Felicia and held out her hands eagerly when she approached with the drinks. “You’re a queen. Thank you.”
Julia rolled her eyes, but in spite of her concern for Mari, Leilani couldn’t muffle her giggle.
“See,” Mari said after a long sip. “Perfectly fine. Now let’s calm down and go enjoy the movie.”
Mari started walking. Slowly the group began moving down the sidewalk with her. Reese relaxed in step beside her. She let the conversation and Reese’s nearness blunt the edge of fear she could still taste. She was safe now and they had a movie to watch. She would deal with the rest later.