Chad gently rolled the car to a stop just as the song was ending. He parked the car and looked her in the eye, though it wasn't the same as other times their eyes had met. His eyes had a hint of rage in them.
"Let's go." He said, as he reached over to her for his backpack. He pulled out two guns from the glove box and handed her one, which she quickly put in her hoodie pocket. She nodded and stepped out of the car, careful to keep her mannerisms like he'd taught her. She tilted her head as she scanned the area, partially because it's what he had told her to do, and mostly because she was terrified.
She tried to bring herself back into the mood the music had brought on. They walked for two or three blocks with no issues. Though every sound made Jessie's heart race and made her want to jump, she had to hold back. She couldn't afford to seem jittery or out of place. She wanted to reach out and grab Chad's arm, have him protect her and wrap her up in his warmth, but she couldn't.
Her mind raced as they neared the unwelcoming building and she prayed it would be empty. She followed Chad around the side of the building, careful to keep her head down in case of security cameras. In the alley, they each put latex gloves on. Chad grabbed a paint can from his bag and threw it into a window, shattering it. He kicked around it until it was clear enough to climb through, though they both had so many layers on it wouldn't have mattered. Jessie wondered if that had anything to do with the reason taggers wore such clothes.
As they climbed inside, she half expected him to take her hand and help her through the window but he didn't. The room had cement floors, with boards scattered about and a few boards on the windows. It appeared to be abandoned. "Check it out." Chad said as he kicked a stepstool over. Even the tone of his voice sounded different when he spoke. He motioned to the wall, which was already painted.
Jessie's heart sank. She'd hoped the wall would be empty because she didn't want to mess with another gang's territory. She didn't know what any of the symbols or words on the wall meant, but she did remember Chad saying that gang member tags weren't usually as detailed as a freelancer's and it made her sick to know she would likely be painting over a gang members' tags.
Following his lead, she reached into her bag and pulled out a can of red paint. As she shook it, she made her way over to the wall and crossed out the tags with shaking hands. She pulled the bandana over her mouth and started painting the moniker she'd been assigned. She'd practiced it a million times and was grateful her mind wasn't freezing up on her.
As soon as she was finished, she shoved the last can of paint back into her bag. Once they were both finished, they headed down a dark hallway. She looked ahead into a room that was dimly lit by the moonlight coming in from a small window. This room had sheets sprawled over a few things and also had a board-ridden floor. There was a staircase to the left and an exterior exit on the right. Jessie's hands trembled as she pulled the lighter from her bag. They had planned on using gasoline on the floors to get the fire going, but decided there were enough flammable things in the room that they wouldn't need it.
Chad motioned to her to keep her bandana over her face as he set one of the sheets ablaze. Again she followed his lead, wadding up a sheet under a wooden chair and lighting it on fire. He motioned towards the room from whence they had come and as they headed down the hallway, Jess was startled when she heard someone over by the window they had come through. The voices were young, likely teenagers. Her heart throbbed as she looked to Chad for guidance. He nodded his head toward the room on fire. She took a step back, but he grabbed her arm, motioning toward the fire. Jess took a deep breath and they ran towards the exit they had seen in the other room. The fire had spread more quickly than she had anticipated and there was barely a path to run through.
She could hear the voices in the room behind her yelling angrily about the broken window. She listened closely as she moved more quickly and could hear their voices growing with anger as they cursed and thrashed things around when they evidently saw what she and Chad had done.
Even with all the layers she was wearing, she could feel the heat of the fire as she passed and had to hold in a cough so she wouldn't be discovered. Chad went ahead of her and she followed closely behind. Her hand wrapped tightly around the gun in her pocket and she hoped she wouldn't have to use it.
She could feel the distress in her heart like tiny knives slicing through it, when she heard them point out that the paint was still wet. She bolted toward the door and ran down the street, next to Chad. It was then that she heard the door slam behind them and realized the people inside would soon follow. Before she could even realize her prediction, she heard it.
Three loud popping sounds as a trigger was pulled. She could hear them cursing and screaming as she ran for her life, though she was already a block ahead of them.
"Your gun!" Chad yelled. Jessie couldn't believe she had to do more than run at a time like this and she fumbled through her pocket trying to grasp it as she ran to take cover behind a building. She kept running and fired the gun around the corner without looking, though she intentionally aimed it away from them. She couldn't handle a murder on top of everything else she had done. She breathed heavily as she sprinted, though she had no lack of energy. The adrenaline rushed through her as she saw the building near Chad's car. As she ran, she momentarily turned her head to look behind her and that's when she saw him, gun in hand, pointed right at her.
He was a little more than two blocks away. She heard two pops of the gun and suddenly felt herself being thrown backward, right before she would have reached the car concealed on the other side of the building. She fell to the concrete and landed on her right shoulder. Her stomach throbbed and her whole chest felt the impact. She couldn't move. She couldn't even think and she grabbed her side. Before she knew what was happening, Chad scooped her up and put her in the backseat of the car, then they raced off in the opposite direction. Jessie screamed and reached for her side as the car whipped around every corner. Her whole torso throbbed and she couldn't catch her breath.
Finally, Chad parked the car in an alleyway and climbed into the backseat with her. He pulled a knife from his pocket and cut her hoodie open. He carefully unzipped the vest and let out a dramatic sigh of relief.
"Jess," he said with teary eyes as he wrapped his hand behind her head. "It didn't go through. It didn't penetrate. It's just a big welt."
Jessie barely managed to feel relieved because it didn't change the amount of pain she was in. Chad leaned over her, tears rolling from his eyes as he sniffled and pulled her into him and hugged her.
"You're gonna be ok." He kept repeating.