"Ruby, I don't think I have ever said anything to you without having to repeat it," I teased. It was true, though. Ruby had a habit of not listening to anything the first time around. It would be an annoying trait in most people, but with Ruby we all just thought it was hilarious.
My fingers were unconsciously tapping the steering wheel to the beat of the music as I sped out of the parking lot. I loved driving fast, even though it had ended with me back in driving school. That stunk, but I didn't worry about stuff like that. I didn't worry about much of anything, to be honest.
I glanced in the rearview mirror at Emma. She was looking out the window silently, the only one in the car wearing her seatbelt. I heard Marri call me a jerk for something or other. I grinned at her and said something snappy back, but my attention was still on Emma. She had started working with us a couple months ago. At first, she had sat by herself quietly during breaks, reading whatever book she happened to bring in on that day (it seemed like she was reading a different one every day) and keeping to herself. While we worked, she seemed to put her full attention and effort into whatever she did. She really seemed to care about everything she did, but she didn't do it with any sort of arrogance or pride. I got the feeling she didn't keep to herself because she was shy, but rather she just enjoyed it. I remembered for the first couple weeks I would ask her to sit with us and she always would reply "nah, I'd rather not" with a good-natured grin and then sit by herself and open up a book. The way Emma was made it impossible to be offended.
Eventually, the three of us had ended up moving to her table instead. I wasn't sure when or how that happened, but it did. There was just something about her that was hard to resist. She had a great sense of humor and I had never seen her in a bad mood. There was something else, too, that I couldn't quite put my finger on. She never swore, something I had noticed within days of her arrival, which was something I was not used to. My friends and I could cuss with the best of them, but when I was around her, I didn't want to. Strange.
Before I knew it, we were at BK's. I parked the Jeep and we piled out. I knew from first hand experience that it was much quicker to go inside and order than to go to drive-through.
I held open the door for the girls, and then rushed ahead of them to beat them in line. Ruby yelled "Damon!" and Marri had a couple choice expletives, but they were all laughing. Emma elbowed me playfully in the side and tried to push me over so she could get in front, but I was hungry and there was no way I was moving, so I just laughed at her.
I wished the man in front of me would hurry up. We only had a few minutes to order and get our food before heading back in order to punch in on time. On a closer look I saw that he looked impatient himself. Service must be slow today. Wonderful.
Finally, the worker sauntered to the cash register, looking at the man expectantly. I noticed something change in her expression just a moment before the man turned swiftly to face us. There was a gun with a silencer in his hand, raised over his head. I saw the resigned look in his eyes.
"Get down!! Everyone, on your knees, hands behind your head! NOW!"
We did as he commanded. I felt adrenaline start to course through my veins, mixed with both fear and excitement. I had lived in the city my whole life and I had never seen a hold-up before. I knew people rarely got hurt in petty robberies like this, and it would be an awesome story to tell my friends later.
I took in the expressions on my friends' faces. Emma looked frightened, but was holding herself together. Marri was pale and trembling a little; she looked like she might be sick. Ruby was crying silently in fear. I guess I was the only one who wasn't that worried.
I watched as the man turned away from us, facing the shaking cashier. "Empty the registers. All of them! Then go to the manager's office and get all of the money envelopes from there and bring them here. You have two minutes."
The guy was pretty big, probably around my height and weight, but I felt sure I was stronger. I didn't hit up the gym every day and play football in high school for nothing. The only real issue was the gun.
I was vaguely aware of the girl handing the cash from the registers over to the man and saying something to him, but I was too busy trying to figure out how to be the hero to really pay attention. Then he started screaming at her.
"Liar!! I used to work in one of these dumps; the money isn't counted until the end of the day! Now GO GET IT!" The poor girl was terrified, but she had the sense to run to the back. "ONE MINUTE!!" He shouted after her.
Perfect, I thought to myself. I launched myself at the man's back, wrapping one arm around his chest holding him as I reached for the gun. I had definitely caught him off-guard; he jerked forward, hitting the counter and pulling the trigger in reaction. I heard the bullet hit something but didn't bother looking for what. I needed all of my attention focused on the crook.
That was my first mistake.
Suddenly I felt my worn-out sneakers slip on something and I went down hard. Fortunately I was able to keep my grip on the man, bringing him down with me. The floor was slick with spilled soda, and within moments the two of us were soaked with it. I struggled with him, wrapping my hand around his wrist. At this point he was just flailing around. It was pretty obvious he wasn't a fighter, but the slippery ground made it difficult to gain an advantage. I let go of his torso and reached around to use both hands to try and wrestle the gun away.
That was my second mistake.
Because I was no longer holding him down, the man was able to get onto his knees. I was still on my back, desperately holding onto his wrist. In another attempt to loosen his grip on the gun, I twisted his arm behind his back, bending his wrist unnaturally. I heard him grunt in pain and he tried to wrench his arm away, pulling the trigger again in the process. I heard Emma cry out in pain, and both of us froze.
I dropped his arm and turned to face Emma, fearing what I would see. There was a dark stain slowly spreading over her left shoulder. Her face was pale as she stared at the man who shot her. Almost in slow motion, I watched in horror as Emma landed on her back in the soft-drink puddle beneath her. Already the yellow-green of the soda was turning red with her blood.
Seeing this seemed to wake me up, and I rushed over to her side, looking down into her ashen face. I felt so helpless. "Emma? Emma? You're fine, you're okay." I turned to Ruby, who was as frozen as I was moments before. "Ruby. Call 911 now." She nodded mutely and hurriedly pulled out her cell phone. I turned my attention back to Emma. Marri was on her other side now, her head in her lap. She had lost a lot of blood. So much blood…
I pressed both my palms against the wound, trying in vain to stem the flow of. I knew it was useless. The paramedics would never get here in time to save her. This was all my fault. I knew the crook wasn't going to hurt anyone if we cooperated. Why did I have to play the hero? It probably was only a few hundred dollars. I didn't think I would ever forgive myself.
Emma was struggling weakly against my hands. I relented, and watched in misery as Marri helped prop Emma's head up. I took hold of one of her hands instead in an attempt to comfort her. "Emma, please don't…"
But she didn't hear me. I couldn't figure out her expression. She no longer looked like she was hurting. She didn't look angry or sad or anything. She looked…kind. She was looking at her murderer with kindness. I saw her smile at the man, and I felt sick inside. She spoke in a soft, gentle whisper, but I could hear her perfectly.
"It's okay…I forgive you."
Her hand went limp in mine. My world collapsed. How is this possible? He killed her! She's dead…it's my fault she's gone. I shouldn't have been so…how could this…she forgave him?
I heard sirens approaching. All I could do was gaze at Emma's peaceful face.
I had always known there was something different about her. Something special. I had never quite figured it out, but I knew I envied whatever it was. Now that she was gone, I knew I would do everything in my power to find what made her so different, because I knew whatever it was, I needed it too.