“Thanks a lot… Mohammad...”
“You’re welcome, ma’am… Have a blessed day and a Happy Thanksgiving!”
The angry customer gave him a cursed and confused look as she walked out of the store.
“I think you made a friend, Raymond.” Quipped Alan.
“I’m not even Middle Eastern! I’m Cherokee!”
“What was she so mad about?”
“That I didn’t have 23 $1 bills to give her for change.”
“Wow… People are weird this time of year man. Don’t worry about it.”
Raymond watched the lady as she got in her car from the window. She looked back in at Raymond and he squinted his eyes at her, glaring as she drove off.
23-year-old Raymond didn’t mind working the holiday but never enjoyed dealing with the public. As the stations lowest and youngest attendant, he had to work alongside his manager this Thanksgiving.
“I should have directed her over to you.”
“Hey relax… I’ve only been here a year and a half more than you. You handled it well.”
The two continued to re-stock the shelves of the idle gas station in West Texas. The good thing about working the holidays were the long bouts of downtime in-between customers since most people were at family events.
Every so often there would be a car that pulled in, just for gas; or a quick cigarette/beer buy. Those were their favorites. The smokers were relaxed and friendly.
At 7:00pm, Alan walked out from the back and closed the office door.
“See you tomorrow, Alan. Have a good night.”
“You too, keep your head up. Nancy will be here to relieve you in a couple of hours.”
“Got it, BOSS…”
Alan shot him a look.
Raymond just smiled.
Another hour had passed and there were two gas buys and a smoker that had stopped in. Raymond was wandering around the store and having just finished mopping, was putting away the supplies.
An older pick-up truck pulled in and the driver began fueling. The passenger got out and went in the shop. As he was walking around the aisles, Raymond came back out and went behind the counter.
The passenger grabbed a few bags of chips and a candy bar, placed them on the counter and asked for a carton of Marlboro reds. Raymond grabbed the cigarettes and began ringing everything up. As he finished, the passenger grabbed the items and started to walk out.
“Hey man! You gotta pay for that!
The passenger turned around and started yelling at Raymond. He began walking towards the rear of the counter, cursing, and waving his arms.
The driver saw the commotion and ran over.
Thinking he was going to help, Raymond waited for the driver to grab his buddy.
Instead, the driver opened the door and pulled out a gun screaming for the money in the register. He raised the gun at Raymond with his finger on the trigger. As he moved quickly inside, he didn’t see the “Wet Floor” sign by the door.
He angrily walked in, slipped, and fell; his feet flew high in the air. Then he came crashing down on his head. With the jostle, the revolver in his hand fired a round into the chest of the passenger.
The passenger dropped the merchandise and held his chest as he fell back.
Raymond had long since ducked behind the counter and waited a few seconds after the silence erupted. He looked at his Chuck Taylor sneakers while he squatted down. He could only hear his heartbeat and a gurgling noise.
Slowly, he looked over the counter and at the two men on the floor. His hands shook as he reached down and waved in front of the passenger’s face.
Raymond lightly kicked his leg and the passenger let out a final breath as well as a spurt of blood. He hopped back and looked over at the driver. Blood was pooling from behind his head.
He remembered the movies and tv shows he watched and kicked the gun away from the driver, just in case.
In his high state of stress, he walked outside for air. He looked at the city lights in the distance, twinkling. The crackling of the fluorescent lights above the pumps drowned out the nighttime silence.
He breathed in the cool night-time air…
“Deep breaths…” He told himself.
His hands twitched as he brought them up to his head to pull back his long hair.
Bang… rattle… thud…
Raymond looked at the pick-up truck.
The driver-side door was still open so he assumed a West Texas animal had made its way inside.
Raymond walked around the truck, staying away but tried to figure out where the sound came from. He noticed the noise was coming from the bed of the truck.
The camper shell windows were blacked out.
He turned on the camera light on his phone.
He slowly opened the rear window…
The camper window flew up and out as he fell backward from the movement.
He looked at the truck in horror. There were a pair of bare feet in jeans, duck taped around the ankles hanging over the tailgate.
Raymond called out, “Hey!... Don’t kick again, I’m going over.”
Raymond pulled open the window and peered in from the side. He followed the legs in and saw a blonde girl, around his age with tape on her mouth and her hands behind her back. She was trying to talk but could only mumble.
He pushed her feet back in, pulled down the tailgate and cut off the tape.
She jumped out, hugged him, and immediately began to cry…
“Thank you! Oh my God! Thank you! Ohhhh!”
“It’s okay… You’re okay, you’re safe.”
“Where am I?” She asked.
“Where are you from?”
“That’s 300 miles away! What happened to you?!”
Through tears, she stated, “I was going back into my apartment from the store, last night. I was getting stuff for Thanksgiving dinner. When I went in, someone hit me. When I woke up, I was in the back of the pick-up and was blindfolded. I was so scared! When we drove in here, I wiggled the blindfold off. I heard the gunshot and tried to make a break for it, that’s when I kicked you… I’m so sorry, by the way!”
“It’s okay. I’m okay. Let’s get the cops down here.”
“Thank you, Raymond.”
Raymond called the police. The regular Thanksgiving holiday domestic violence calls had been slow this year, so they were there in 5 minutes.
The police looked at the crime scene. “Well hot-damn, son! You’re some kind of hero! What’s your name miss?”
“Congressman Carter’s daughter?”
Raymond looked at Leigh.
“They’ve been looking for you the last 24 hours. News had gone out all over the nation.” The officer looked at Raymond. “Yup, some kind of hero.”
A few days later, Raymond woke up to a knock on the door. He opened it and saw a fleet of news vans and reporters hurdled around his apartment door. CNN, NBC, and all local affiliates wanted an interview with the man that saved the official’s daughter.
He shut the door and locked it. Still half-asleep, he leaned against the door, blinking, and pulling focus in his vision. He rubbed his eyes and moved to his phone. 63 missed calls, 35 voicemails, 114 text messages and 21 emails all came in the last 12 hours.
He read and listened to a few. Word had spread of the incident Thanksgiving night and he tried to figure out what the big deal was. He didn’t even really do anything.
His front door opened.
“Back up! Back up! You vultures!!”
His brother, Paul, fought off reporters as he made his way in.
“Raymond! You’re famous bro! If you ever wanted to be sponsored by anyone, now’s the time to ask.”
“I didn’t do anything!”
“That’s not what they’re saying!” Paul said, as he nodded towards the door, unwrapping a breakfast burrito.
“I got you breakfast, you’re gonna need it for all those interviews and responses.”
“The people want to know you, who you are, what you did; this is your 15 minutes of fame! Enjoy it! It’s all over Twitter baby bro!”
Raymond fell on the couch and slumped down. He just wanted his normal life and to be left alone. He thought, “This is awful.” He went to his bedroom and opened the small wooden box on his nightstand. He pulled out some paper and a baggie of weed.
“What are you doing?!” Paul yelled, munching on his burrito.
“I need to relax, leave me alone!”
“You can’t be high today! It’s not good for your status!”
“I work at a gas station; I don’t have a status.”
“You do now.”
“Arrggghhhh!” Raymond laid down and buried his head in his bed. He knew Paul was right. He was going to have to eventually go out and talk to reporters today.
Raymond and Paul walked out of the apartment and made their way to Paul’s car through the swarm of reporters, answering random questions with one word answers along the way.
They sped off, heading away from the circus. Then, Raymond got a call from an unknown number.
“Where is the 214-area code from?” He asked Paul.
“Fort Worth… Oh my God! Fort Worth! That’s where Leigh lives! Answer it, answer it!”
Raymond answered, “Hello?”
Paul watched his brother’s reactions, anxiously.
“Oh, it was no problem. I really didn’t-”
“Well, I appreciate that but-”
“Would it be much trouble if my brother came?”
“I appreciate you sir.”
Raymond stared out of the window, silently.
Paul looked at the road…
Then at Raymond…
At the road…
Back at Raymond…
“What?!” He yelled.
“The congressman is sending a plane for us in 3 hours. We’re supposed to meet at Reese Airfield to go have dinner and spend the night with the Carter’s in Fort Worth.”
“Yee-haw! Saddle up! Err… should I say, Chip-Chip-Cheerio mate!”
“I don’t think that’s how it goes…”
They stopped at their mother’s house for clothes. They each had old suits there that still fit. Their mother wished them luck and in a couple of hours, they were headed to the airfield.
A stewardess escorted them up the stairs of the plane. Paul was enamored and Raymond had to settle him down repeatedly.
They were offered champagne and an assorted spread of meats, fruits, and other exotic items. They had never seen half of the contents on the spread. They were treated better than any other time in their lives. They were served-on instead of having to-serve.
When they arrived in Fort Worth, a red carpet was awaiting them on the runway. Beyond the carpet was a convoy of three black Land Rovers. They walked down unsure. The congressman and Leigh hopped out of one of the vehicles.
“Gentlemen! Welcome to the great city of Fort Worth! Have either of you ever been here?” Asked the congressman.
The brothers shook their heads.
“Well, what a treat! We have a small event at the house today then The Stockyards tomorrow morning. A good ol’ East Texas time!”
“Don’t mind my dad.” Leigh said, “He loves Texas.”
They walked to the second vehicle and got in. They enjoyed the green landscape of the East Texas terrain. After a 20-minute trip, they pulled into the Congressman’s ranch. The house was at the center of a 187-acre ranchland.
They spent the evening eating, talking, and celebrating. Raymond and Paul had never experienced the selection and variety of food that was there. They smoked cigars and drank fine whiskey.
Raymond felt grateful but undeserving of the praise he was getting.
The Congressman pulled Raymond aside and talked to him.
“Raymond, I wanted to let you know how grateful we are about how you saved Leigh. We were so worried that day. Her mother couldn’t eat or sleep. Leigh said you felt like you didn’t do anything, but trust me, you’ve done a lot. So, thank you.”
At the end of the evening, they were driven to the Four Seasons resort and told they would be picked up at 10am, after breakfast.
Paul was beside himself and enjoying every minute of their situation.
Raymond, still feeling uneasy, told Paul what had happened that night.
Paul saw the look on Raymond’s face and listened intently, feeling his brother’s emotions, then spoke.
“I get it. This is a lot, especially for people like us. You’ve always had a big heart, that’s why you feel like you’re stealing. You still did something good. But life is a roller coaster, brother. Peaks and valleys. Sometimes, there’s high highs and low lows. Keep pushing through the lows and enjoy the highs.”
Paul stuck his arms out to the side and spun around. “Look where we are! We’ve never even seen the outside of a place like this. You say you didn’t do anything but, look at what you did do. You cared for someone that was hurt without asking for anything in return. This is the universe or our ancestors or whatever you wanna call it, returning it back to you.”
He put his hand on Raymond’s shoulder. “Part of being a good person is learning to accept the gifts you are given by people who want to show gratitude. They’re not giving you a million dollars, they’re sharing you the feeling they had when they learned their daughter was alive and well and that you had something to do with it. How you say, ‘thank you’ is enjoying what they’re doing for you.”
“Now me, I really don’t deserve it,” Paul continued. “But I take it as payment for being your big brother.”