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SHOOTER by Kristin LaFollette

I was walking next to Maureen at a slower pace than usual. She was always walking slowly, mostly because she was usually talking too much. I was actually surprised to hear from her when she had called me the day before. It had been months since I’d heard from her. I knew it was because of the incident, but if I was truly being honest, I wasn’t sorry for what I’d done. Maureen had always been a subpar friend, even if we did claim to be “best friends.” Every time I had a crisis situation going on in my life, she would still find something about herself that was more important to talk about instead. She drove me crazy most of the time, but I had agreed to meet up with her in an attempt to clear the air about the whole Ryan situation. Over lunch, she hadn’t even mentioned it once, which was good, I thought. I didn’t want her to see my less-than-genuine apology if it came to that. Plus, I didn’t want to have to tell her that Ryan and I were still seeing each other.

“So, how’s your job going?” Maureen asked as we walked into the coffee shop around the corner from the deli where we had eaten lunch.

If there was one thing I hated talking about, it was my job. I was home for the summer between my junior and senior year of college and had landed an internship at a small magazine in town. I thought it was going to be prestigious and give me great experience to take back to my writing program at school, but all I did was follow the editor around and do his paperwork for him. The truth was that I was embarrassed about how belittling the job was, so I always felt the urge to lie every time someone asked me how it was going.

“It’s fine,” I said, standing in line with Maureen behind a couple of young girls in halter tops. “I think I’m getting a lot of experience.”

“Have you written anything lately?” she asked, staring at the menu behind the counter as if she didn’t always order the same thing when we came in.

This was another question I hated to be asked, but I was always getting asked it anyway. I had really slacked off on my writing that summer, mostly due to the fact that I was spending so much time with Ryan. But I couldn’t tell Maureen that. I was starting to question why I had agreed to meet up with Maureen in the first place. Ryan was all for us meeting up and talking; he said Maureen had a right to know about us, but I felt differently about the whole situation. I would have rather ignored Maureen for the rest of eternity than tell her the truth. I hated conflict.

“I’ve been working on some short fiction for a compilation I’m putting together,” I lied. “I’m hoping to have it finished by the time I go back to school.”

She looked skeptical. If there was one thing Maureen knew about me, it was that I loved to talk about my writing in detail. When I didn’t, she had to know something was wrong.

We ordered our drinks and waited for them at the end of the counter. Maureen was playing with a curl of her blonde hair, something that was a very annoying habit of hers. It made her look stupid. I was trying to think of something to say when she spoke up again.

“Chrissy, I just want you to know that the whole situation with Ryan is in the past. I’m over it and have moved on. Things don’t have to be awkward between us.”

I should have felt relieved, but I felt suddenly nauseated instead. I felt a strange pain deep in my organs somewhere. She was willing to move on from the whole thing, but she didn’t know the whole truth. Ryan was actually waiting for me a couple streets over in the parking lot of a bookstore we often went to together. We were meeting up after my outing with Maureen. I knew he would want to know how lunch went, and I would have to tell him that I didn’t tell her the truth.

“Great,” I said. “That’s what I was hoping you would say.”

I didn’t know what else to say. I felt like a coward, especially because I wasn’t quite sure how Ryan and I would continue our relationship without her finding out at some point in time. I just didn’t want to start an argument with her, especially in the middle of the coffee shop.

We left the coffee shop, walking slowly again while Maureen examined her paper coffee cup in an effort to avoid the silence between us.

“Don’t you have anything you want to apologize for?” Maureen finally asked.

Here was the moment I had been hoping to avoid the whole time. I kept looking down at my feet as we walked, unsure of what to say. My first instinct was to lie.

Before I could say anything, I noticed a one-hundred dollar bill lying in the grass next to the sidewalk. I stopped walking. Maureen took a couple more steps and turned around. She saw the money, too.

For a moment we just looked at each other. I turned back and the money was still in the same spot it had been. I looked a little closer and it looked as if the bill was stuck to the ground with a sewing pin.

“Aren’t you going to pick it up?” Maureen said as I stared at the bill.

“It’s pinned down, like someone put it there,” I said. “Like it’s a joke or something. Like some prank.”

As I was contemplating whether or not to pick it up, I glanced up at the high-rise apartment building in front of us. About five stories up, I saw a man standing in the window. The window was open and the white drapes were fluttering around him in the breeze. He had a gun propped up on the windowsill and was looking down at me through the scope.

I pointed up at the window and screamed.

“Run, he’s got a gun!”

There were many people lining the street and sidewalks, and they all looked up at the window. Everyone started to run at the same time, a stampede of wild animals.

I took off running with my head down and as I heard the gun go off. I didn’t know what kind of gun it was, but it kept going off. I had my back to the shooter as I ran. I kept expecting to feel a sharp pain and then a hot stream of blood down my back. I ran as fast as I could to try to clear the street and get around the corner. I didn’t turn around, but I heard people screaming as I ran. I thought of Ryan, sitting in the driver’s seat of his car in front of Barnwell’s Books on Main Street, waiting for me to jump in with my coffee in hand and tell him all about how Maureen had given us her blessing. Could he hear the gunfire?

I finally made it to the end of the street and ran around the corner, dropping to my knees as soon as I did. I couldn’t catch my breath. I didn’t realize until I had stopped running that I had managed to lose my purse in the process of getting away from the shooter. I didn’t dare look around the corner to see how many people were down or if the police had arrived. Or to find Maureen. It was like I was deaf. I couldn’t hear anything but my own breathing.

My feet hurt from running. I looked down and saw that my skin was raw and red from the straps on my sandals. I took them off and left them on the sidewalk. I needed to find Ryan. I started jogging to put more space between myself and the guy with the gun. As I neared the street where I knew Ryan would be waiting, I saw the Barnwell’s Books sign in the distance. Underneath the sign was Ryan’s blue car. He had the windows down with his music playing, as if nothing in the world had changed. As if people weren’t dying on the street nearby.

I sprinted to his car and pulled the passenger side door open, nearly diving in and slamming it behind me.

“Chrissy?” he said, reaching forward and turning down the volume. “What’s wrong?”

My hair was stuck to my forehead with sweat and I wiped at it with the back of my hand. I was sweating everywhere. My hearing was coming back to me and I heard police sirens in the distance.

“Didn’t you hear it?” I nearly screamed at him. “Couldn’t you hear the gun?”

“What are you talking about, Chrissy?” he said, his expression changing from curious to something between concerned and angry. “Where’s Maureen?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “There was a guy standing in a window with a gun. He started shooting. How could you not hear it?”

We sat there for a couple minutes in silence, not saying anything. Ryan had his hand on my back, my sweaty heat radiating to his palm. My skin stuck to the leather seat of his car.

Finally, Ryan said, “I’m getting out. I’m going to find Maureen.”

I slowly opened the door of the car, putting my raw feet on the hot concrete one at a time. I had been so worried about not letting Maureen know about Ryan and me, and now all I wanted to do was find her and tell her. Maybe out of guilt. Maybe because I didn’t want to feel like a coward.

We walked back toward the street in silence. I heard ambulance and police sirens echoing off of the buildings around us. As we rounded the corner to the street where the shooter was, I saw a figure in a blue dress standing in the distance. Her blonde curls bounced as she talked with a police officer. She was crying.

“Maureen!” Ryan yelled as he took off running.

I hugged my arms around myself.

Maureen turned around and ran to Ryan. They hugged each other as Maureen spotted me over Ryan’s shoulder.

“Chrissy?” she said. “Chrissy, I had no idea where you went. I thought he got you, the shooter.”

I walked up and hugged Maureen. Her sweaty hair clung to my neck.

“Ryan, what are you doing here?” Maureen said, wiping tears from her pale cheeks.

Ryan glanced over at me. I kicked a cigarette butt around on the ground with my bare left foot. For a moment, we were all silent.

“We never stopped seeing each other, Maureen,” I said, looking down at my feet.

Maureen looked at Ryan. She was still crying. Behind her, dozens of policemen and emergency workers were ushering people out of the street and onto the sidewalk. I saw one man lying on the pavement, writhing around and grabbing at his leg. Another woman lay face down in the middle of the street.

Maureen reached up and slapped me across the face. I didn’t move or say anything, I just looked down at my red feet again.

“Chrissy, I told you my brother was off limits! How can you be my best friend and go around with my little brother behind my back? Don’t you have any boundaries? Any morals?”

Ryan stepped in between us and grabbed his sister by the shoulders. He was talking to her but I wasn’t listening. My ears started ringing and I feared the deafness would return. I turned and looked up the street again. Off in the distance, I could still see that one-hundred dollar bill stuck to the ground, the sun reflecting off the tiny piece of metal pinning it down.

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