Alissa and I went for a run the next morning. The constant carbs were detrimental to the jeans we packed, and we decided to finally do something about it. Alissa was a good companion: friendly enough and not too nosy. When we stopped my the Duomo for tea at the American coffee shop, I was drenched in sweat and embarrassed to be around so many attractive Italians with their Gucci handbags and Prada shoes.
Tea in my hand, laughing at something Alissa said, I didn’t notice a figure step in front of me.
With one of the guys we saw outside our apartment.
Alissa stopped in her tracks. I dropped my tea, heart thudding from the irresistible attraction and intrigue I felt for Fred, but terrified all the same. Fred hit on American women; he knew exactly how to talk to me to make me fall for him. He knew how to make me forget what they did.
I glanced around. The Italian guards in berets did their rounds, walking slowly about the plaza. They paid us only the briefest attention.
“Hi, Fred,” I said.
“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” He smiled. He put a hand on the small of my back and started walking, giving me no choice but to follow his steps. Slowly, his friend did the same to Alissa. We locked eyes, glanced at the guards.
“What are you guys up to?”
“Nothing anyone needs to ever find out about.”
“I see.” I tried to get more from him. “Nothing illegal though, I’m sure?”
I moved closer to the Duomo, where the guards and most civilians were. Surely he couldn’t kill us in front of all of them?
I felt Fred’s hand on my back, felt his breath on my neck. I bit my lip so hard it hurt; I had to stop visions of our kiss from coming back. I longed to turn around and steal another, but I fought the idiotic urge and inched closer to the nearest guard.
The guard locked eyes and smiled at me. They never smiled. Like, ever—I was pretty sure that their guard training involved always looking angry. That fact that Fred let me get so close warned me:
“Impossible, you’re in on this too? Is no one safe?” I exclaimed.
“Hmm?” he asked, paying full attention to me now.
Fred yanked on my arm. I fell back into him and reached towards the guard. “Please, help us. These men are trying to hurt us.”
Fred’s laugh vibrated my body. “Hurt? Oh, my dear. That’s a little dramatic. I just wanted to take you somewhere to eat.”
“Leave Alissa out of this, then!”
“Who is Alissa?” the guard asked. I thanked God he spoke English.
I whipped around.
Alissa was gone.
I glanced through the plaza, looking for her electric yellow running tank. “There!” I turned to the guard. “Please, please help me. That man is taking my friend.”
With a sharp kick behind me, while Fred was distracted with the guard, I broke free and chased after them.
Two weeks later, Fred and his group were convicted of murder. Apparently there’d been multiple that year and they found 15 more linked to them. Italy called Alissa and I heroes. I called myself a naïve study abroad student.
To take my mind off of things, I went to Scotland for a week. I found myself in Edinburgh. I stopped crying in the shower. I started living.