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A Helping Hand

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Mariano walked to the market with a skip in his step. He’d been helping Julieta in the kitchen today as part of the Madrigal family’s new “Take Breaks and Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help” initiative. Julieta was experimenting with how involved she had to be in the baking process for her food to heal. Augstin made an excellent guinea pig for the final taste test but no one else in the family knew how to cook well enough to help with the rest. Mariano, who’s mother insisted he be able to take care of himself, was her helper until someone else had learned enough to be more of a help than a hindrance.


The good news was that they were making progress on figuring out how much work Julieta really needed to do on her own. The bad news was, they were running out of ingredients. Mariano was sent out to get more corn flour while Julieta collected the rest of what they needed from Isabela’s garden. 


It was a beautiful day and the scenery reflected that, with many birds and butterflies overhead and just as many people in the market below. Mariano hummed a soft tune and enjoyed the sun on his face as he walked along the path. Encanto truly was a beautiful place to live. Before he started courting Dolores, it was the main muse of his poetry. Come to think of it, he hadn’t written a poem in a while. Maybe he should write one to commemorate this beautiful day….


He got lost in his thoughts (though thankfully not in his steps) and by the time he got to the market, he’d completely forgotten what he was there to buy. On the bright side, he had the perfect starting line for his poem, which he quickly stepped into an alley to write in his little pocket journal before he forgot that too. 


He tried to think of what Julieta sent him for. He was sure it was some kind of flour. But there were multiple kinds. Wheat. Corn. Some fancy processed stuff that a trader brought. Which one did Julieta want? You would think he would remember since he probably used it around 100 times in the last couple of days but nope. 


He supposed he could go back and ask but he didn’t want to make a bad impression on his future in-law by coming back from the market empty handed. Maybe he could ask his beloved? He wouldn’t technically have to go back for her to hear him. Then again, he was in the middle of a marketplace; she might not hear him. And then how would she get the answer back to him?! 


A heavily embroidered blue skirt caught his eye and his mood lifted when he saw Mirabel. Surely she would know what her mother used in her kitchen!


He started walking over to her. His joy at finding a solution to his problem dropped into confusion when he saw the tension in her shoulders. Was the tradesman giving her a hard time on the fabrics she was trying to buy? It wouldn’t be the first time, which is part of why she usually had Luisa with her. Her older sister must’ve been busy with something else around town today and Mariano should really know what it was but that wasn’t important at the moment because he’s pretty sure he knew why Mirabel looked so uncomfortable and it had everything to do with the clearly unwelcome hand on her arm. 


“Sir, I’m just trying to buy these. I have the money, I don’t need your help.” She tried to move away but the stranger’s grip was too strong.


“Okay, sweetheart. Let me just carry them for you. There’s no need for a pretty girl like you to do heavy lifting,” he leered, trying to pull her closer.


“Hi, Mirabel!” Mariano knocked the stranger’s arm away and stood between them, his back facing the stranger. “How are you? I wasn’t expecting to see you here today. Beautiful weather, isn’t it?”


Mirabel relaxed a bit with a friendly face involved and she graced him with a small smile. “Yeah, I’m good. I just bought these new fabrics; Mama, Tia Pepa, and Tio Bruno are having a joint birthday party this year and I wanted to make them all something.”


“That sounds great!” Mariano could still feel that bastard standing behind him so he switched gears. “Do you need me to help you carry them home? I’m on my way back anyway.”


Mirabel beamed. “That would be-”


“Hey, I was gonna help her,” the idiot growled, coming around Mariano’s back to stand next to Mirable again, placing his hand on her shoulder. “So why don’t you mind your own business?”


Mariano was a nice man. He was a Mama’s Boy at heart and he rarely ever got into trouble growing up. He was not violent and often chose to take it as a compliment when he was called “soft”. He was always taught that any boy could throw a punch but only a man knew when to hold back. On the rare occasions when he felt the urge to get violent, he was usually able to tamp that down with a few deep breaths. 


But today? Right here? Right now? In this moment? Mariano saw red. He grabbed the stranger by his collar and slammed up against the wall. “Maybe you need to be the one to mind your own business,” he growled. His fist connected with the bastard’s face before he really had a chance to think about it. He didn’t feel too bad about it if he was honest. “Apologize, now” he said sternly, pointing his head toward Mirabel.


The man looked like he wanted to make a smart comment but thought better of it when he saw the threat in Mariano’s face. “...’M sorry,” he muttered, not looking at either of them.


Mariano let him drop and watched him run away before he turned his attention back to Mirabel. “Are you okay? Did he hurt you?” he asked gently.


Mirabel shook her head. “No, I’m fine. He was just being a creep.” She needlessly adjusted her glasses and hugged herself. “Thanks. For getting rid of him, I mean. I was getting a little freaked out.”


Mariano relaxed a bit. “Don’t worry about it. Do you want to go home now? I can carry your fabric for you,” he offered. She nodded and loaded his arms with everything she’d bought. On the way back, she talked about the different birthday present ideas she had for the original Madrigal triplets and he listened with rapt attention. 


“Mirabel!” Julieta came running out of Casita as they approached. “Mira, are you alright? Dolores heard everything….”


“I’m fine,” she assured her mother. “Mariano was there.”


Julieta smiled and kissed her cheek. “Good. Now go on inside and calm your pap down before he and Felix go on a manhunt. I don’t think Luisa can hold them back for much longer.” She turned to Mariano and hugged. “Thank you for looking after mi mariposa,” she whispered.


Mariano hugged her back as best as he was able with all the fabric in his arms. “It was nothing,” he insisted. “I’m ust glad I was there. I’m sorry I didn’t get your…ingredient.”


She waved away the concern. “It’s fine. We’ve been working all morning anyway and I’m sure you’d rather spend some time with tu novia. Drop all that off in Mirabel’s room and go find Dolores. I’ll cover for you.” She winked and walked back inside.


Well. He had his orders.