My sister was planning to leave again. It wouldn’t be for very long this time. I knew because she asked to go for a run with me. A small chunk of time for us to connect before business took her off the island. If the trip would be longer than four days, she would have asked me to block out the entire night. Then we’d crawl into her bed like teenagers having a sleepover and watch whatever was playing on Hallmark. I swear Ashlyn’s television was stuck on that channel.
“I’ll wait for you outside,” I shouted up the condo stairs, running shoes in hand.
“Be right there,” she called in reply.
That was fifteen minutes ago. So while I waited . . . and waited, I loosened up. A few gentle squats and quad stretches. Then I balanced on my left leg, right leg straight out behind me parallel to the ground, arms stretched forward. Warrior 3 pose. To maintain balance, I locked my focus on the creamy-white and bluish-purple orchid planted next to the sidewalk. Our gardening-crazy neighbor told me it was called a “Blue Fairy.” All I knew was that it was pretty and smelled good.
I was in the middle of doing warrior pose on the other side when the door opened.
“Finally,” I groaned. “I could’ve done two miles by now.”
Ashlyn, looking gorgeous as always, pulled the door shut behind her, took one step toward me, then went back inside, returning two seconds later.
“Forgot my water bottle.” She went back in again and came out with a baseball cap. “Gotta be careful about the sun. Don’t want wrinkles.” She patted her cheeks with the tips of her fingers.
I pulled my short hair into a stubby ponytail and added a headband to keep the wisps in place. “You remembered sunscreen?”
“What did I just say about the sun?”
My concern was skin cancer, not wrinkles.
“Where are we going?” Ashlyn asked, pulling her left foot up, heel to her butt for a count of two. Then the right foot. And that was the extent of her warmup.
“Down to Kahului Bay. We’ll take Kuikahi Drive to Maui Lani Parkway then to Kamehameha Avenue.”
Her jaw went slack. “How far is that?”
“Seven miles.” She didn’t have to say a word for me to hear her complaint. A fourteen-mile round trip was too much. “That’s two miles less than I usually do. You can make it. I’ll go slow.”
She swatted my shoulder with the back of her hand. “Brat. All right, let’s do this.”
We took a right out of the driveway, crossed the street, and jogged on the sidewalk. Mrs. Ly, the gardening-crazy neighbor, was on her front porch tending to one of three massive hanging baskets. She waved with both hands and smiled with her whole face.
“Good morning, Kittredge girls.”
“Good morning, Mrs. Ly,” we answered in unison.
Ash and I had lived on Maui for fifteen years, half my life, and I still didn’t know the names of more than a handful of plants. The Blue Fairy orchid being one, thanks to Mrs. Ly. I should let her give me a lesson sometime. We could take a stroll around the neighborhood, and she could share her knowledge. My mind instantly scanned my jam-packed schedule for an empty hour where I could squeeze in a walk. There wasn’t one. Not until the schoolyear concluded in about six weeks.
Speaking of schedules, Ashlyn had already put me behind by ten minutes today. After the first mile, I was good and loose and had to stop myself from increasing to my normal speed. Along with shortening the route, running at Ashlyn’s pace was okay today too. We were enjoying sister time.
At an intersection, we jogged in place and waited for a car to turn. I looked left and noticed a couple standing by a car a few yards down the street. They were young, high schoolers or possibly college students. The girl had her back to the Corolla. He stood in front of her with his arms on either side of her shoulders. He leaned in, talking close to her face. If I’d looked away at that moment, I would have dismissed the scene as a boyfriend and girlfriend having an intimate discussion. But a blink before I did, the girl turned away from him and looked directly at us. Her eyes went wide, and her back straightened. The boy turned, too, and gave me a grin that made my skin crawl.
“Hang on,” I told Ashlyn.
It took two seconds for Ash to know what was coming. “Oh, Gemi. Leave it alone.”
“That girl’s in trouble.”
“Then we’ll call the police.”
Too late. By the time Ashlyn had pulled her cell phone out of the pocket on the thigh of her capris, I was halfway to the Corolla. Besides, the cops wouldn’t handle this right.
“Is there a problem?” I demanded, eyes fixed on the girl. Her mouth opened slightly, revealing a quivering lower lip.
The boy laughed when he saw my clenched fists. “Nothing that concerns you, lady.”
“I wasn’t talking to you.” I softened my gaze on the girl in short canary-yellow shorts and a black floral tank top. With long slightly wavy dark-brown hair, tanned skin, and narrow brown eyes, she looked like an islander, not a tourist. Two more steps forward brought the bruise forming on the girl’s right cheekbone into vivid view. “What’s your name, sweetie?”
“Nichole. He’s Ty.”
I couldn’t care less what his name was. “Do you need help, Nichole?”
She lifted her chin a minuscule amount, seeming a bit braver now with backup nearby. Good. “I told him last night that I don’t want to see him anymore.”
“She don’t mean that.” Ty’s tone wasn’t that of a broken-hearted beau. He wasn’t trying to win back the girl he liked. His posture—looming over her, trapping her inside the cage of his arms—was pure aggression.
My breathing became shallow. My heart rate increased. Anger slithered slowly through my body starting at my toes. I knew, only too well, what that stance meant.
“Gemi.” Ashlyn came up behind me. “The police are on the way. Let it go.”
Giving the smallest of nods to indicate I’d heard her, I suggested, “Nichole, why don’t you come over by us?”
She tried to dip away, but in a flash, Ty hooked an arm around her waist, causing her to cry out in pain or fear.
“Oh, crap,” Ashlyn muttered behind me. “Gemi, don’t—”
Too late. I lunged forward and wedged my outstretched arms between them. Slamming my forearm hard into Ty’s Adam’s apple, I pressed gently on Nichole’s back, guiding her away from him. As he stepped back, coughing from the blow, I grabbed his arm, pulled it straight behind him, and pressed my forearm against his outer elbow. With enough pressure there, I could break his arm. Instead, in the next blink I swept his leg with mine and dropped him to the ground on his belly. Then I jumped on top of him, pressed my knee into the middle of his upper back, and pulled his left arm up behind him. All of that took two seconds. Maybe three.
“Nichole, I’m Gemi Kittredge. That’s my sister, Ashlyn. Go stand by her now, okay?”
Without a word, the girl darted over next to Ash who put a protective arm around her.
“Let me go, haole,” Ty cried out. “You gonna break my arm.”
“I could, but I won’t,” I assured as though talking to a small child. I pulled his arm back as far as I could and applied a little more pressure to his elbow. In this position, it wouldn’t take much more than an ill-timed sneeze to hyperextend it. “If I wanted to break your arm, it would already be broken. If I want to mess up your shoulder, I can do that too. That could lead to surgery. Extensive physical therapy for sure. So how about you lie still and be quiet?” A little more pressure with my knee silenced his grumbling. I asked Nichole, “Did he hurt you?”
A look of stunned amazement had spread over her face. Ty wasn’t going anywhere, yet still, she stuttered an unconvincing, “N-no.”
“That bruise on your cheek tells me someone did.”
“I, um, I ran into—”
“Don’t tell me you ran into a door. Or a wall. Or that you fell. Or that you did anything to cause that.” I inhaled deeply, trying to control my still hot anger. “Did he do that?”
Nichole’s hand went to her cheek, and she gave the smallest of nods.
It took all my self-control to not snap Ty’s arm. Fortunately for him, sixteen years of martial arts and MMA training had given me a tremendous amount of self-control. Physically, at least.
Ashlyn leaned close and whispered something to Nichole. Whatever it was, it helped the girl relax. Nichole’s shoulders dropped, and she lifted her chin even higher. Good job, Ash.
“He attacked me two nights ago.”
As I unconsciously increased the pressure on Ty’s elbow, he whined, “Damn, lady. Ease off.”
“He raped you?” I clarified.
“He tried to force himself on me, yes.” Nichole’s jaw set, and she leveled a steely gaze on this piece of gutter trash. “My friend pulled him off me before he could do anything.”
I kept my voice as comforting as my hold on Ty was painful. “Sweetie, he did do something. He put his hands on you when you hadn’t given him permission to.”
The chirp of a squad car’s siren cut our discussion short. Rotten timing. I had plenty of other things I wanted to say to her. An officer with his head shaved almost bald got out of the car and stood by his open door.
“I’m Officer Akana. I got a call that there was a physical assault in progress.” His dark eyebrows lifted in surprise at the scene before him. “I was told a male was attacking a female.”
Ashlyn, smiling big at the uniformed man, explained what had happened. As she spoke, his brows lowered and furrowed in further confusion.
“He’s at least twice her size,” Akana noted. “You’re telling me she pulled him off the victim and has been holding him there for—”
“Almost five minutes now,” I called. “I can stay here for another five if you want, but he’ll for sure need therapy for his elbow and shoulder if I do.”
The officer looked to Nichole for confirmation of Ashlyn’s report. She agreed it happened the way Ash said.
“I’ll need to get a statement from you,” Officer Akana told her as he placed Ty in the back of his squad.
“Can we do that here?” Nichole asked.
A few faces had appeared in windows of nearby houses, but the street was quiet otherwise.
“Let’s get out of the middle of the road.” He led her to the sidewalk. “I can take your statement here, but you might need to come into the station later.”
My adrenaline level decreased, making my previously warm muscles tighten. I swayed side to side, trying to keep my legs a little loose, while Nichole explained what happened. Once she was done, he asked for my version of events which, of course, matched Ashlyn’s.
“How did you . . .” Officer Akana once again eyed me in proportion to Ty.
“I’m an MMA fighter.”
“Don’t downplay it,” Ashlyn scolded. “She’s the number one female fighter on the island. Number one in the state for her weight class.”
My sister could be such a mom sometimes. She went on to brag about my near perfect record and invited him to come watch my fight this weekend.
He blushed, embarrassed by her obvious flirting, but seemed impressed. “Sounds like this young lady was lucky you two came along when you did. Although we don’t like to encourage vigilantism.”
I gave him a tight smile and held my right foot behind me in a partial standing bow pose. My legs were itching to get back to the run.
“It wasn’t vigilantism, Officer Akana,” I insisted. “I’d call it Good Samaritanism. I was simply helping a woman in need the best way I know how.”
He held my gaze, letting me know with a tilt of his head that I was skirting the line between the two. After noting our contact information, he dismissed Ash and me.
Before we left, I went over to Nichole. “If you want to learn to protect yourself, I teach women’s self-defense at No Mercy.”
Nichole nodded. “That gym west of Kahului College. I know where it is.”
“Tuesday nights at seven and Saturday mornings at nine. Come anytime for a free lesson and see what you think.”
Nichole thanked me with a quick hug and promised to stop for a lesson.
After we’d run a few blocks, Ashlyn stated, “You’d think I’d be used to that by now.”
“Used to what?” My legs wanted to go faster now, to burn off the rest of the anger still coursing through me, but I held back, letting my sister set the pace.
“You have no idea what you look like from a bystander’s point of view. Honestly, Gemi, you’re scary. You had that guy on the ground before I even realized you’d moved.”
I smiled. Glad I could still impress her. “When do you leave?”
“Where are you going this time?”
She chewed her bottom lip as though thinking. “Osaka.” She tilted her head to the side. “I think.” Tilt the other way. “No, Honolulu.”
My sister could be so scattered. She worked for an independent human resources firm that focused on team building. Whatever that meant. Something about in-house workshops and off-site retreats to build camaraderie between co-workers. She regularly jetted off to faraway locales. Many times, it was Japan. Other times Singapore or Taiwan. A few months ago, she was in China for ten days. That was unusual. Normally, she was only gone for long weekends.
“How long will this trip be?”
“Two days.” Ashlyn squealed her response. “Well, two days of conference. I’ll be back on the third day.”
“I’ll hardly know you’re gone. And you still wanted to go for a run?”
“We haven’t seen much of each other lately.” She sounded out of breath, so I slowed a little.
“Today is Wednesday. That means you’ll be back in time for the fight on Saturday night.”
“No way will I miss it. It’s the biggest fight of your career.”
That was what she said every time she left before a fight. She’d only made it back for about half of them. And every fight was big to me. I hadn’t lost in ten years and had only lost twice in the twelve years I’d been fighting. My first loss was my first fight. I was inexperienced and terrified. The second came four fights later. I’d worked my ass off, won three in a row, and got cocky. This weekend I was defending my 14-and-2 bantamweight MMA championship title. A win would give me twelve in a row. A nice even dozen.
“I know you don’t like coming—”
“That’s not true,” Ashlyn insisted. “I don’t like watching you get hit.”
“Which is why I try to not let that happen very often.”
We ran another two blocks before Ashlyn said, “Hang on. My phone’s buzzing.” I jogged in place, checking my heart rate on my smartwatch, while Ashlyn pulled her phone out of the pocket on her aqua-blue leopard-print capris again. “Dang it.”
I knew what was coming. She forgot an appointment. How could my sister hold such a high-level, detailed position with her company and still be so flighty?
“Jeannie is coming to pick me up in an hour.” She wiggled her fingers and then tapped a reply. “Getting our nails done.”
“Your nails?” I squinted at her hands. Except for two tiny chips, her nails were perfect. “I thought this was a work trip.”
Ashlyn finished replying to Jeannie’s text and slid the phone back into her pocket. “It is a work trip.”
I smirked. “Must be a guy you’re anxious to see there if you’re so worried about your nails.”
“No,” she insisted, but the rosy tint coloring her cheeks told me differently. “I have to go shower. We went, what, almost five miles. That’s good, right?”
“Five? Ha! We went not quite two.”
Ashlyn looked southwest toward home and seemed to be calculating the distance. Then she shrugged. “So I’ll get in not quite four miles total. Better than nothing.”
I stopped jogging in place long enough to give her a hug.
“Good job with Nichole.” She gave me an extra squeeze before letting go. “Who knows what you saved her from. Even though you’re scary, I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks. I’m just grateful we were there.” She turned toward home, and I added, “Choose a pink shade. One the color of your cheeks a second ago. I was right, wasn’t I? There is a guy.”
Ashlyn pointed a nearly perfect coral-tipped finger at me. “Behave. Enjoy your run. Good luck on your test. I’ll see you tonight.”
My test. I was ready, but a little more studying never hurt. Fortunately, class wasn’t until eleven. Plenty of time to finish my fourteen miles. Since Ashlyn had turned back, I could even add a couple more.
When I finally reached the beach of Kahului Bay, I paused long enough to take my shoes off. I loved running on the beach but hated getting sand in my shoes. With maybe half a mile to go before it was time to turn back and start the return trip home, I saw feet poking out of the foliage about twenty yards away. Probably a homeless person who had slept by the cluster of shrubs—heliotropes, I believed—for the night. There were hundreds of homeless people on Maui, so it was a reasonable assumption.
Except there were also birds. Three of them.
No one would still be sleeping with birds on them like that. Passed out instead of sleeping? There were plenty of alcoholics and drug addicts on the island too. Except, as I got closer and saw the white, pink, and teal running shoes, a sick feeling filled me. They were the exact kind my friend wore.
That was a coincidence. Plenty of people had those shoes. Besides, she lived in Kihei, ten miles from here.
When I was fifteen feet away, the birds—mynahs?—flew off, and small crabs skittered away from the woman. “Hello? Ma’am, are you okay?”
At ten feet, I saw the woman’s face and gasped in horror. I wouldn’t be getting a response. Ever.