I’d never seen him in our small town of Rim Vista. He turned his blue and black motorcycle into the movie theater parking lot behind the silver Cadillac my husband Jared used for ferrying high-dollar real estate clients around Arizona.
The motorcyclist’s blue riding clothes matched his sleek Yamaha. The snug fit of his clothes suggested a lean and muscled young man. He paused by the sidewalk, at the front of the lane where we parked, and turned the reflective shield of his helmet toward us. He pulled a paper from his jacket pocket. Looked down, then in our direction. Stuffed the object into his saddlebag.
Jared pulled my attention away from Motorcycle Guy when he slid a box with flowery wrapping from under his seat. “Happy thirtieth anniversary, Rita.” He flashed his special smile that melted my heart, as it had the first time I saw it in high school. Maybe whatever had been bothering Jared for the past six months was over, and life could return to normal.
My excitement plummeted when I tore open the package and an ugly purse fell to the floor, cherry tooled leather with a vintage Wild West aura. I warned myself not to ruin what had otherwise been a fun day and attempted a bright and cheerful tone. “Kind of an Annie Oakley look.” I nestled into his shoulder, rubbed his cheek, and breathed in his scent. “Thank you. I will always cherish it because you gave it to me.”
“That’s what you used to say to the kids when they made you crafts at school.” His firm grip on my shoulders almost hurt as he pushed me away.
“And I’ve kept and treasured those things.” I hoped my smile would recover the lighthearted mood we had maintained all day.
“Hid them is more like it.” He opened his door, told me to put his present in the trunk, and stomped away.
Motorcycle Guy was still idling his bike at the front of our lane in the parking lot. Jared walked around him, toward the box office. Motorcycle Guy watched me open and shut the trunk, then moved forward and blocked my path to the sidewalk. Only for a moment. Long enough for a shudder to roll through me. Between that young man acting strange and Jared losing his temper again, I no longer wanted to see the movie.
Through a wall of windows in the lobby, while Jared bought snacks and exchanged enthusiastic greetings with neighbors, clients, and strangers, I watched Motorcycle Guy park his ride, stow his helmet, and buy his ticket. He was about six feet tall, with a shaved head and face. Handsome, in a twenty-something Will Smith way. He nodded a quick greeting when he entered the lobby, then looked away. Maybe I’d misjudged him. Maybe he was just waiting for his date to arrive.
Jared handed me popcorn and a soda, mumbled something as he left me behind, and headed for theater four. I hurried to catch up but paused when Motorcycle Guy approached the door in front of me. He had removed his jacket and draped it over his left hand. I noted a slight quiver in his right hand when he reached for the theater door, held it open, and nodded for me to enter ahead of him. I slid past, smelled pleasant cologne, and glimpsed a red smudge on his right hairless arm.
Slumped in a seat three rows down, Jared stuffed popcorn into his mouth, as he stared forward. I squeezed past his long legs and used my tote to save seats for our friends, Gail and Fletcher Upton. If they were true to character, they wouldn’t show until after the movie started.
Motorcycle Guy sat in the seat behind Jared. Attempting a discrete look back, I watched his right hand tremble as he laid it over the jacket in his left hand. He stared forward in an obvious effort to slow his breathing. I remembered that he had looked at a paper in the parking lot, and wondered if he was waiting for a blind date to show up. I dismissed the idea when I realized he would have waited in the lobby. His demeanor was beginning to rattle me.
“What’s wrong?” Jared glowered at me. “That kid not wearing suitable designer attire?”
I tsked, shook my head with an exaggerated sigh, silenced my cell phone, and took a final glimpse at the jittery young man sitting behind us.
Minutes later; theater full, lights down, previews playing, Motorcycle Guy stood in the aisle next to Jared, glaring down at him. Both hands were now under his jacket.
“Can I help you?” The rudeness in Jared’s voice made me cringe. For the thousandth time, I wondered what had gotten into him lately.
“Baa baa.” Sarcasm coated Motorcycle Guy’s strange words. He dropped his jacket to reveal a gun in his right hand.
The muzzle flared. My eardrums felt as if they shattered. Popcorn, blood, flesh, Jared’s brains pelleted my numb face. Jared slumped against me, then toppled forward. I tried to catch him but slipped on the gore that covered us. We fell to the floor.
Motorcycle Guy shouted something about Allah and disappeared.
Curled under my seat, I covered my ears with my hands. I squeezed my eyes to shut out the image of my husband’s body. Much of his head gone. Jared no longer inside. A crypt of aloneness encased me. My scream spewed grief, fear, and a dozen other emotions that I was too panic-stricken to identify.
More shots. Muffled wails. Jared’s combat experience in the first Gulf War had always made me feel secure, untouchable. He couldn’t protect me this time. I pulled my knees to my chest as I touched Jared’s hand, and prayed that I would be with him in heaven.
A distant man’s voice shouted, “Hey, scumbag.” Another shot rang out, different than the others. Then everything was quiet … except for muted sobs and a sharp, rhythmic ringing in my ears, created by the shot that had taken Jared from me forever.
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Copyright © 2016 by Karen Randau
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the author.
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