My day started with a steaming cup of herbal tea and my to-do list that I was going to conquer. I came to the store for a few things I needed off of my list, but I never thought that my day would end like this. I never thought that today would be my last. I could hear my heart beating in my ears, I held my breath hoping it would slow my heart rate down. Can they hear my heart racing? The pounding in my head was overpowering, I couldn’t hear myself think. I scanned the room to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. To make sure that everybody was still alive. They took our cell phones as soon as they had us on the ground. I tried to protest, but before I could even utter a word, my face was plastered against the cold tile floor. My cheekbone ricochet off the floor and the pain washed over me for a split second, but then the shock kicked in and numbed every sensation in my body
I was able to lift my chin just enough to look towards the glass doors that led outside. The night sky lit up the parking lot, teasing me with the sight of my car in the distance. “How long had we been tied up? Why hasn’t anybody come for us?” I thought.
We were lying face down, side by side in front of one of the register lanes. They had tied our hands behind our backs with some rope and gagged us with old musty washcloths that tasted like copper. I could tell right away that these people were amateurs; the man that took my phone out of my pocket earlier was stumbling over his words and had tremoring hands. There were a few of them, four to be exact. They were having a screaming match in the adjacent room, but they were keeping an eye on us the whole time. I could tell they weren’t prepared for what they had gotten themselves into.
I was desperately trying to take my mind off everything that was going on, so I focused my energy on trying to eavesdrop on the conversation that was happening a few feet away. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. I needed to slow down the pounding in my ears if I was going to hear anything that they were saying. Inhale, exhale.
“...and you didn’t think to bring the gun?!” the bald one spat through clenched teeth.
“ You said we were going to take the money and ditch! Nobody said anything about shooting these people!” the younger man yelled as he pointed to us.
As he pointed toward us he stopped and stared at me straight in the eyes. Shit. I was focusing so hard on listening that I didn’t even realize how obvious I was being. The bald one followed his gaze and glared at me with his cold eyes. Shit. Shit. Shit. My heart was pounding more than it had been before, my eyes stung with pain from the tears that were flooding in them. I looked up at the ceiling and prayed to God that they would let it slide. I closed my eyes and felt the tears rolling down my cheeks. It was the first time I had cried since this whole ordeal started, and I couldn’t make them stop. Before I knew it, I felt someone yanking on my arm and dragging me to a standing position.
“You enjoy the show?” The man whispered in my ear. “ ‘cause that was nothing compared to what’s about to happen.”
I stood there motionless, I was paralyzed with fear. My eyes were still closed, the darkness of my eyelids was my only safe haven. He was gripping my arm so tightly that I thought it was going to pop at any moment. The men that were arguing in the other room were now completely silent.
“I’m on my feet….I could make a run for it if I can get him to let up on my arm.” I thought to myself. “They don’t even have a gun, I can do this.”
I thought about my surroundings and what I could potentially use as a weapon.
“The registers have dividing sticks, which could work with a hard enough blow in the right area… but there’s also the bottles of cleaner that would work. A few sprays to the eye and the second he let’s go of me to rub his eyes, I can make my run for it! Even if I only get to another room, that will give me more time and resources to come up with a plan! I could go to the utility closet and-”
In the midst of my scheming I hadn’t realized that the pressure on my arm was no longer there. I guess he had a change of heart? I couldn’t hear anybody talking, nobody was even breathing loud enough for me to hear. The only noise I could make out were cars in the far distance. I opened my eyes and saw that everything and everyone were in the same places they had been before. My three coworkers still face down on the dirty tile, still gagged, but thankfully - still alive.
It was like I had forgotten how to breathe, my chest felt like someone had squeezed all the air out of it.
“Breathe Brian!” She quietly said as she gripped my chin in her cold hands. “We are going to get through this, but you need to talk to me about what you’re thinking.” She loosened her grip on me as I took a deep breath.
Tell her what I'm thinking? I’m thinking that our lives are fucked! I looked deep into her eyes to try to gauge how she was feeling. Her eyes showed no tell tale signs of what she wanted to do.
“Hell, maybe she doesn’t want this baby either.” I wondered.
“I.… I really think I want to keep it,” She stuttered. “I love you and I know you’ll make an amazing daddy.”
“I just need to process this, okay?” I cautiously told her as I held her hands. They were so small, and fragile compared to mine. I never realized that until now, I had never stopped to just take in all her perfections. The waves in her golden hair were dancing in the wind, her nose had this little beauty mark just above her nostril. She looked at me with this perplexed look on her face, and god damn it - it was the cutest thing she’s ever done. I remember the stories my mother would tell me about raising a baby on her own. They all started off with hardships, tears, stress, and fear. In the end though, she wouldn’t have traded anything in the world for me. She made it through homelessness, abusive relationships, and shady jobs. If she was able to survive through all of that, I could raise a baby with the woman I love. We can do this.
“I agree,” I said as I took a deep breath. “Let’s have ourselves a baby.” I pulled her into my arms. “I will figure this out, I promise.” I reassured her. She let out the sweetest sigh, like a weight had been lifted off of her shoulders.
The walk home was quiet because we had so much going on in our heads. I had just gotten to a good place in my life. If someone had asked me five years ago if I ever wanted kids, I would have laughed. The thought of a child used to scare me because I couldn’t even take care of myself. To be fair, none of my exes were capable of mothering anything except their drug money. Kayla was different though, and she made me realize that there is so much more to life. She has dreams and she has been setting and achieving goals for herself these last few months. I made a promise to her that I was going to help her on her journey to become a singer. But, if her new dream is to have a baby - then that’s what we're going to do.
I collapsed on my bed as soon as I got home, laying there trying to figure out a plan. The ceiling fan had been spinning in a continuous loop, much like my mind. Today marked three years of my sobriety and yet all I could think about was how good a hit would feel right about now. I could almost feel the sweet sensation rushing through my veins, taking away all my stress and fears. I traced the scars on my arms, remembering the person I used to be. I did not want to become that man again. I was cruel and selfish to everybody around me - except my dealers.
I paid my dealers a good chunk of money back in the day. If the going rate is what it used to be, this kid will have a college tuition paid for before he even turns eighteen. I sprung out of bed and called a few people until I found who I was looking for.
“I need money.” I said sharply - even though I was terrified of the man. “What do you need sold?”
“Oh, so you need something?” The deep voice chuckled. “I don’t mess around with drugs no more, but I could use a hand tonight. In exchange for your help, you’d get a cut of the money.” He offered.
My mind started churning instantly, I was not expecting a damn job offer tonight. I closed my eyes and saw her face as I dropped her off home tonight. She was so happy we would be keeping the baby, all I want for the rest of my life is to see that girl happy.
“Where do you want me to meet you?” I asked as my heart rate slowly started to increase. The realization of what I was about to do had just kicked in.
“25th and Broad. Be there in 45 minutes.” He instructed and then hung up.
Why the hell does he want to meet at a supermarket?
The walls felt like they were closing in on me as each second went by. I looked down at the pale, bloody faces that were only a few inches from my feet. I wanted so badly to help them, but the only plan that came to mind was to save myself. I could feel the presence of the man nearby because the air was so tense and the sound of breathing had quieted, which meant everyone was holding their breath for what was about to happen next. I heard footsteps approaching but I kept my head hung low. He circled around me slowly, stopping abruptly right behind me.
“ What’s your name?” He asked me as he ran his skinny finger along my spine. I shuddered at his touch as I pulled myself together to speak.
“Sammy.” I spit it out so fast I wasn’t even sure if he heard what I said. I closed my eyes and looked up at the ceiling silently praying for him to just leave me alone. Suddenly I felt a hand grab my ponytail and yanked me down to the floor. My lower spine collided with the polished concrete floor, sending a pain up and down my back. I cried out in pain just as my head whacked the floor and to my sheer disappointment, I was still conscious.
“When you address me, you will speak in complete sentences. You understand?” He yelled down to me, sending goosebumps throughout my body. “Now, what is your name?” He asked again in a sing song tone, a demented smile plastered on his face.
“My name is Sammy, and yours?”
He looked at me quizzically, not expecting me to strike up a conversation. I came to the realization that if I do get out of here alive, I’m going to need all the information I can get on this man. I felt somewhat in control now, so I picked myself up to a sitting position. I did my best to mask how much pain I was in while doing so. I propped myself up against the register terminal and looked right up at him waiting for my answer.
“Z?” I questioned. “What is that short for?”
He started pacing the floor and made his way over to the front of the counter, he scanned the front area and locked eyes with Heather. She was laying maybe 2 feet from me, along with a few other employees. They all lifted their heads up by this point to watch what was about to take place.
“It’s getting a little boring in here, wouldn’t you agree Sammy?” He asked rhetorically.
During the split second that I had to process his question, I saw his steel toed boot collide with Heather’s face. She screamed out in agony as her nose turned into a faucet of blood. Her mouth was still stuffed with the wash cloth and she was choking on the blood that seeped through.
“Take it out of her mouth!” I screamed. “She can’t breathe!” I was mentally debating if I should run over to her, but he might hurt her more out of spite. Z looked at me and mocked my words as a child would, then he nodded his head to one of his men as he nonchalantly walked back into the other room.
There was so much blood, the stench of it was enough to make me sick to my stomach. This girl was lying face down in a pool of her blood, gagging on the remnants that got into her mouth.
“Take it out of her mouth!” The girl screamed. She was fierce, which I think Z likes about her. Hell, maybe that’s the one thing keeping her and her friends alive right now. I gotta agree with her though, please let me take this fucking rag out of her mouth before I vomit.
Z looked over at me and nodded for me to remove it. Thank god.
I knelt down and ripped it out of her mouth, her blood splattered on both of us. The girl started sobbing and grabbed the rag off the floor and held it to her nose. I wiped the blood from my hands onto my pants as I started to walk away.
“What the fuck is wrong with you people,” I turned around to see the feisty girl whispering through her teeth. “Why are you even still here?”
“Listen, you think I wanna be here?” I spat at her. “I didn’t sign up for all this bullshit. I was here to get the money and to ditch, but Z is making a whole goddamn production out of it.” I didn’t want Z to get suspicious, so I walked back into the room to see what the plan was. The girl watched me leave, I could feel her eyes staring a hole into my back.
“...we need to get out of here before their families call the cops and report them missing” Murphy angrily whispered, the vein on his forehead popping out ever so slightly. “The store closed an hour ago!”
“ I agree,” the shorter man stated. “Sorry boss, but i’m not going to jail on my first robbery.” He said in a calm manner, but the sweat pooling on his neck said otherwise.
“Nice of you to join us,” Z said without looking at me. “Having some fun with the girls?”
“No. In case you didn’t notice there was a lot of blood that I had to deal with.” I snapped. “When the hell are we getting out of here?”
“Ah come on fellas, isn’t this fun!? We need to make our mark, what fun is it to just take money and leave?” Z boasted. “We gotta make it into the books!”
None of us were amused by his theatrics.