Drama Fiction Sad

I crash through the door, the bell hanging from the handle jingling wildly. I’m breathing heavily, chest aching with more than the need to draw a good lungful of air. There are only a couple of people in the small diner at this hour of the night: the late-shift cook behind the counter, a couple of teenagers in a corner booth.

And… her.

“Something wrong, buddy?” the cook asks me, an annoyed expression on his face.

I shake my head, a dismissal of his question and his very existence. At that moment, nothing has any meaning except her.

She’s sitting at a table not five feet from the door, perched on the red, fake-leather banquette, looking like she’s either ready to spring to her feet or stay there as long as she has to. She’s in uniform, just got off her patrol shift, her dark blue jacket with its police patches still damp from the rain. When she sees me, her face lights up, revealing that she wasn’t sure I’d actually show up. Her eyes, red-rimmed and glistening, tell me that she’s been crying.

It’s all exactly like I knew it would be.

I rush over to her, footsteps pounding on the grimy floor. “What are you doing here?” I ask, even though I already know the answer.

“Waiting for you,” she replies, her voice husky and rough. “Didn’t you get my text?”

“Didn’t you get mine?” I say, leaning over, resting my hands on the battered, stained Formica of the tabletop. “I told you not to meet me here.”

A truculent gleam enters her eyes, a stubborn set to her features alters the lines of her face from sorrow to something like anger. “I had to. I knew this was the only place you’d be.”

I shake my head again, angrily. “You shouldn’t be here. You need to leave. Now.”

Now she shakes her head. “No. Not until you explain it to me. Not until you tell me why you have to be here… and I shouldn’t.”

Impatience and fear fill me, making my heart race, my skin flush like I have a fever. “Listen, we don’t have time. I…” Words fail me. I can’t explain it to her. Can’t make her understand. And it wouldn’t matter if I could.

You see, I’m about to die.

I don’t remember when I first realized it, when I first understood that the moment I was seeing, that came to me in sudden flashes, blindingly clear yet frustratingly vague, was the moment of my death. Sure, by the time I was a teenager, I’d puzzled it out. Knowing the exact time of your death… it does things to you. In some ways, it’s liberating; in others, it’s more confining than the worst prison ever built.

Especially when you know it isn’t going to be some dramatic, momentous death. I’m not going to change people’s lives or make the world a better place. Not going to go out in a heroic sacrifice or a blaze of glory. In—I check my phone—just over five minutes, I’m going to be shot to death by a drug-addled criminal, trying to hold up a late-night diner for enough money to score another fix.

Oh, don’t think I didn’t try to change it, to resist fate. For the longest time, I wouldn’t even go into a diner, a restaurant, a fast-food joint. But when the visions kept coming, unaltered and unaffected by my decisions, I got… reckless. Started seeking out situations similar to my premonition, seeing if I could force it or something. When that didn’t work, I got really crazy. I took up hobbies like sky diving and bungie jumping and stunt biking. Before long I’d joined the military; when that didn’t get me killed, I embarked on a career as a SWAT officer in the most dangerous precinct in the country.

None of it has made the slightest difference.

I still had that vision; still knew when, where, and how I’d meet my pointless end.

So, I don’t believe I can change my fate.

But maybe I can change hers.

“Look, we’ll talk about this later,” I lie, easily, with an air practiced on more than a few therapists and psychiatrists. “But you need to get out of here now.”

Again, she shakes her head, settling herself more firmly in her seat. “No. It’s something about this place, isn’t it? More than that it’s where we met. You come here almost every day, but you don’t want me with you. Why? The food is awful, the service is terrible; what is it about this particular diner?”

I want to tell her, want to explain, to let her in and make her understand. But how do you tell the person you love that you’re about to die, and nothing anyone can do will change that?

Meeting her was both the most wonderful and most terrifying experience of my life. Not because I don’t love her; from the moment I first spoke to her, all I wanted was to spend the rest of my life with her. No, it was what happened when I first met her that scared me.

It was the first thing that had ever changed about my visions. When I met her, right here in this diner, my future altered, just enough to make me fear it all over again. Now, instead of me dying here tonight, shot dead in a robbery gone wrong, we both die, both get gunned down. We die together.

And I can’t let that happen.

If I can’t change my fate, I have to believe—desperately, maybe hopelessly—that I can change hers. Because she changed things once, maybe they can be changed again.

“Will you please just sit down and talk to me?” She’s staring up at me, a pleading in her shining eyes. “Is there someone else? Have you been meeting someone? Is that why you don’t want me around when you come here? Please, just tell me what you’ve been hiding all this time.”

I meet her beseeching gaze, and know that I can’t tell her the truth. If I do, and she somehow doesn’t think I’m just plain crazy, she’ll want to help. She won’t go, won’t leave me to die alone. But her words give me an idea, one I wouldn’t even consider in any other situation.

“That’s right,” I say, lying again, though the words tear at my heart. “There is someone else. So, we’re over. I’m ending it.”

She blinks, a stunned look coming over her face. “What?”

“It’s just not working out. I… I don’t love you anymore. I don’t want to be with you.” Oh, the hurt in her eyes, the pain I’m causing her. I just wish the moment I know is coming could have come earlier. Like before I ever laid eyes on her. We both would have been so much better off if we’d never met.

“I can’t believe this,” she says, her voice little more than a murmur. “You’re just… ending it? Everything we have? Like this?”

I shrug, putting on a forced air of nonchalance. “You wanted to know. So… now you know. Just go. Get out of here. Leave me alone.”

She stands so abruptly that I take a quick step back. I can see her slapping me, sucker punching me. Maybe even pulling out her gun and shooting me. But all she does is take a deep breath, staring straight ahead, like she can’t even look at me anymore. Then she walks past me, leaning away to avoid even the most incidental contact. Her shoes click against the greasy tiles, the slightest unsteadiness in the cadence.

Right at the door, she pauses. I see one eye as she half-turns to look over her shoulder at me. “I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you,” she says, like she’s forcing the words out through a wall of hurt. “Now I wish we’d never met.”

Then she’s gone, out the door, out of the diner. Out of the rest of my life. The door swings closed with a faint jingle of the bell tied to the handle.

I let out a breath and let myself sink into the cracked upholstery of the banquette. Slowly, I lower my head into my hands. That’s it. I’ve done it. I’ve changed one thing. I’ve saved her. She’s gone, and I’m alone… for the last few moments of my life.

The door to the diner flies open, the bell clanging wildly. A figure storms in, clad in filthy clothes, matted hair and beard framing a gaunt, sunken-eyed face. A thin arm, covered in tattoos and needle tracks, ends in a trembling hand holding a large handgun.

“Nobody move!” he yells, brandishing his weapon at the cook, who shies back, hands held high. “Money! All the money! Now!”

“Okay, okay!” the cook says, eyes wide in terror. “Just take it easy!”

Yes, I could sit here and do nothing. That would be changing fate, wouldn’t it? But I’ve already accepted my fate. I know I die here, and nothing will change that. I might as well play along with the script I’ve known my whole life. Besides, after what I’ve just done, death seems like a mercy. To finally have it all end will actually be a relief.

My hand slips under my jacket, to the holstered pistol in my belt. I’m already moving, pushing myself to my feet. I know I don’t have a chance. The guy is barely ten feet from me, gun at the ready. He can’t miss seeing me, seeing what I’m trying to do. As I come out of the banquette, I meet his gaze. He’s a burned-out addict in the last stages of self-destruction, but he’s got enough left in him for this.

My gun clears the holster, coming up, everything seeming to move in slow motion, but it’s still an eternity away from where it’ll do me any good.

I look into his eyes, and know that my time has come.

The bell jangles again, the door opening… and she strides back into the diner. Maybe she had one last thing she wanted to say to me, maybe she’d felt she really did have to hit me, maybe she decided that I was lying and wanted to confront me all over again. I guess it doesn’t matter. She’s here now, and I suddenly realize I haven’t changed a thing after all.

She sees the robber at the same time he sees her. His eyes widen as he takes in the uniform, her hand going for her gun. His arm swings around…

The report of the shot is so loud. Deafening. Even so, I swear I still here the sound of it striking her flesh.

But now my gun is clear. Three rapid shots take the junkie center mass, sending him staggering back against the counter. He sags, knees giving way, and flops to the floor. He doesn’t move again.

For an instant, I can’t move either. Somehow, I’m still alive. And he’s dead. I’m not going to die here anymore; this isn’t my time now. It’s all changed.

Except one thing.

I hurl myself toward her, where she lies. I can already see a spreading pool of red. At that close range, even a bullet-proof vest isn’t enough. I drop to my knees beside her and check the wound, pressing my hand against the bloody hole torn in her.

It’s already too late.

She looks up at me, staring into my eyes. A hand slips into mine, clutches tightly. There’s nothing I can do.

I was supposed to die. Right here, right now.

She saved me. She kept my vision, my premonition, the one constant in my life, from coming true. She changed everything.

And I wish so much that she hadn’t.

All I wanted was to spend the rest of my life with her. And I can’t. I have a future now… but it’s one I’ll have to face without her.

Her lips move, gasping out words, even as her breath fails and her eyes fix. I lean closer to hear the last thing she’ll ever say.

“I just… wanted to spend… the rest of my life…”

February 23, 2024 15:24

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