It was raining. One of those hard steady rains that soaks you to the bone. The man stood patiently on the sidewalk among the other parents and guardians waiting to pick up their children. He wore jeans and a t-shirt with a waterproof hoodie and carried a medium sized black umbrella, for all the help it did. The wind was strong, spraying him sideways with drops of cold water. The mechanical ding of the afternoon bell could be heard over the loud speakers, announcing the end of the school day at Beachside Elementary. Classroom doors swung open and a mass of children raced into the hallways each headed toward some unknown destination. The man looked around, surfing through the crowd for an open opportunity. That one, he thought, spying a red-headed girl whose back was facing him. He started in that direction, when she suddenly turned and ran toward a woman calling her name. He swiftly turned around. Realizing he was now too close to the inside of the school, he backed off and changed his direction, toward the opposite side where the playground and sports complex sat. A few stragglers were running between the open gates, trying to dodge the rain as it fell, but none of them held his attention. Ignoring them, he made his way further into the back of the school, and that’s when he saw her. A lone girl. Maybe nine or ten, standing with her bike held up against a small concrete building, perhaps the bathroom for the open concession stand. She looked like she was trying to escape the weather by standing under what little rim the building offered, but it wasn’t doing much good. She was drenched and shaking, and didn’t seem to be going anywhere. She was perfection and he had to have her.
He joined her, offering up the umbrella as a conversation starter. “Here,” he said. “This may help some.”
She looked up at him, big green eyes red-rimmed and scared. “Aww, sweety. What’s wrong? Why are you out here all alone?”
She pointed to her bike. “The front wheel is flat. I don’t want to leave the bike here or my mom will get mad if someone steals it.”
“You hold this,” he handed her the umbrella. “And I’ll take a look at it.” He bent down, rain pounding on his back and took hold of the tire. When he stood back up, he nodded. “Yep. It looks like you have a piece of glass bottle stuck in it. It’s letting all the air out.”
Her face scrunched up and she started to cry again. “I can give you a ride if you need me to take you somewhere.”
She didn’t know how to respond. Her mother always told her never to talk to strangers, but it was wet and cold and he seemed really nice.
“I don’t know,” she said, unsure of what to do.
“It’s okay. I was just here waiting to pick up my brother, Josh, from little league.”
“Josh?” the girl, asked, recognition filling her face. “Joshua Loman?”
“Yeah,” the man said, going along with it. “But I wouldn’t want to go with a stranger, either. You’re a smart girl.” He turned around, as if he was going to leave when a flash of lightning hit the sky and seconds later thunder came booming down around them.
Her eyes widened and she called after him. “Wait!” She had made her decision. “I guess if your Josh’s brother, you can’t be all bad.”
He smiled. “Come on. Let’s get your bike into the truck and I’ll give you a lift. If you were riding your bike you can’t be very far from here?”
“Just a couple of blocks over,” she admitted. “I always go straight home after school so my mother doesn’t worry.” She was much more relaxed now, thinking he was the nice big brother of her friend from school, and they almost ran to escape the rain, her holding the umbrella as he swiftly pushed the bike by its handles.
They scurried back out into the parking lot where there were still a few people roaming about, everyone seemingly too preoccupied with their own doings to notice a little blond girl voluntarily getting into a big black F-250. He hurtled the small bike into the bed and clicked the unlock button on the key remote. She pulled herself up into the seat and pulled the door closed. As it clicked shut, she turned to put on her seatbelt. Her mom always taught her safety first. Before she knew what was happening, the man forced a sweet smelling cloth over her nose and mouth. She jerked her head back and forth, but that only made him press down harder. A woozy sensation washed over her as her hearing started to fade out and within seconds she was unconscious.