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I only saw the snow that flew through the cones of light provided by the street lamps lining the empty road we walked on at 1:30am. I can feel your pulse quicken on my palm from your wrist each time I move my thumb over the backside of your hand. At 1:32am the snow had fallen so fast I was afraid the cement was about to crack under the pressure; opening the earth under our feet and causing us to fall towards the core. Had I known that was exactly what we were about to do, I never would have gone on the walk in the first place. 1:39am and we’re standing at the edge of a chipped sidewalk outside of the gas station with a lit up sign missing the “a” because the bulbs had burst. The loud silence of melting snow and clouds of breath in front of our faces from nervous exhales emphasized the race of your pulse I felt on the tips of my fingers wrapped around your hand and wrist. You were never afraid of losing. You were never afraid of being afraid. You made it your job to find any kind of rush. I watched you for 2 years, using a search for exhilaration as an escape. I watched your eyes fog every time I felt your pulse quicken, and you were clouded further away from reality.
1:43am: 4 minutes after arriving outside the station, and the only sign of life from you was a few blinks. At 1:47am I was tired of waiting: tracing the cracks of the tree we were hidden behind with my nails covered in chipped red nail polish. You took so long I could still, 10 years later, describe the 3 cars parked outside at each filling station. But as soon as doubt starting clouding my thoughts you took your first 3 steps. On the fourth your arm locked and, still attached to my hand, you whipped my body into motion. You threw on your hood and checked your pockets as I watched my shoelaces and made sure they were tied to make for an easy escape. 1:49am and I put my hand out to grab the rusty handle and pull open the door but was interrupted as you grabbed my shoulder and twisted me into your arms. You tried to kiss me, but I knew that was a goodbye which was something I couldn’t believe: I still can’t. A good luck and a kiss in between my eyebrows was the last time I’d ever be alone with you.
1:50am. I rushed through the doors that rang a bell above to make my entrance known. I glared at the floor to avoid eye contact with the woman behind the desk. I brushed past the chips and candy isle and landed in the back corner of the store, in between the hot dog heater and those scented trees you hang from the rearview mirror of a car.
It was less than a minute after me that you made your way through the same two doors with the rusty handles and bell above the entrance: 1:51am. You took long strides towards the fridge of energy drinks and beer. With the bottom half hidden behind the rows of shelves between us, I watched the top half of your body lift and lower everytime you pushed off the ground to take a step. You told me not to be obvious, to act like I didn’t know you, but I couldn’t shake the feeling I was about to lose you: I had to watch. Soon your face peaked out from behind your hood and your blue eyes told me to stop, so mine snapped down to the potato chips I had grabbed off the shelf in front of me.
You looked scared. You got to the fridge at 1:52am and you were still there at 1:54. Every second that went by brought your chest out quarter of an inch more with every inhale you took. The inner corners of each of your thick eyebrows were pointed down towards your chin and a line formed at the top of your nose where your skin creased. As I took a step towards you to tell you we could leave, you swiped a drink out of the fridge without looking and shuffled to the cash register.
Your hand was still in your left pocket. Why hadn’t I noticed it earlier. Your hand was in your left pocket but your hand wasn’t the only thing in there. The woman behind the counter was smiling at you, but you had a gun in your hand hidden behind your left leg. Your light wash blue jeans made the black exterior of the gun pop as it rested next to your thigh.
Your right hand motioned for me to start a distraction. 1:56am and I was frozen. My legs were numb and I couldn’t even wiggle my fingers. I could barely move my eyes off of the gun in your hand to look up and see you staring at me. The bag of potato chips was now on the floor and my hands were shaking so hard I thought my red nail polish would splinter off. The news on the TV above the door was muffled in my ears and my sight blurred as a starred at the ground and watched the tears crowd my eyesight.
1:58am and I bring my neck up to see you. The gun wasn’t by your thigh anymore. Your right arm was stretched over the counter, plucking and dropping green bills out of the register and into a dirty white backpack while your left aimed the handgun at the checkout woman’s forehead. I couldn’t hear what you said, but I saw you screaming.
She was wearing a red collared t-shirt. I could see her sweating through it. Her wrinkled hands filled with cheap silver rings and white, almond shaped nails covered her heart as she propped herself against the wall behind her. The one as far away from you as possible.
Just like the gun, why hadn’t I noticed. Why didn’t I notice the cop car that had pulled in to a filling station outside 2 minutes earlier. Leaving bills still scattered on the counter and floor, you ran to me and grabbed my arm with the same hand that held the gun. I was stuck in quicksand. My feet wouldn’t leave the ground, so the force of your pull brought me to the floor. I still couldn’t hear you, but, at 2:00am, I felt your heavy breathe on my face as you screamed at me from above.
You left me behind, and as I watched you take off out the door, slinging the dirty backpack over your back and clicking the gun into gear, my senses rushed back and I felt my wet cheeks and heard the wheezes and cries from the woman behind the counter. I clawed at shelves and pulled on the ground to bring myself closer to you. Screaming for you, crying for you, reaching for you.
At 2:01am I heard the gunshots from outside the gas station with the broken sign and the two doors with the rusty handles. My heart was about to tear through my chest as I hung on shelves to get myself in an upright position. I tuned into the news on the TV above the two doors as I hung my trembling body on a rack of magazines at the end of the isle of chips. I smelt the burn of the cigarette that the woman behind the counter was smoking with a wet face. The weatherman told us the snow was only getting heavier and we should stay inside. We should have listened to him. I thought about the 31 minutes before. The cones of light and the heavy snow on the concrete. I wished we had turned around.
I never saw your body. When the cop came through the doors at 2:01am, with his trembling hands clicking his gun into his belt, I said I didn’t know you. And now, me ten years older and you dead, I don’t think I was lying.