“Must be that time of the year again,” the cashier said beaming a smile so wide it could be seen from space.
Robert couldn’t help but stare at her amazingly white teeth as he handed her the clothes and added, “Yeah, they grow up so fast.”
Robert looked down into Terra’s beautiful blue eyes and couldn’t help but see her mother’s staring back at him. It’d been 6 and half years since the accident that stole his wife. His accident…
“Oh c’mon, it’ll be fun! Remember last year when you accidently spilled your drink into my boss’s lap? That was hilarious!” Jess said with that gorgeous smile that always seemed to make him melt inside.
“Yeah, real fun,” Robert scoffed as he exited the bathroom of their beautiful two story home located directly 10 miles north of Park City, Utah. Robert could not have been happier. Recently he was promoted to regional director of shipping and manufacturing, just one step below his good friend and owner John Murkoff, at West Coast Steel. Jess wanted them to attend the annual Christmas banquet Jess’s magazine publishing company held every year. Things were going equally well for Jess as one of the lead editors for three different magazines published, printed, and sent all over the west coast of the United States.
“Why do you like these stupid little banquets anyway?” Robert grumbled.
“Because they’re fun!And besides, how many times do you and I get to go out together alone anymore?Sometimes I like to get all dressed up and go out with my man,” Jess made her way across the room to plant a warm gentle kiss on Robert’s lips.
“Well what about Terra?” Robert asked seemingly unaffected by the kiss.
Jess nervously shifted her weight in front of the dresser mirror, as she made sure her long brown hair fell perfectly into place. After a long pause, Jess responded, “I know just who to call,” Jess punched in a few buttons on her cell phone and left the room. After about a 5 minute hiatus, Jess reentered the room with that stunning smile on her face.
“All taken care of!” She beamed.
“What do you mean ‘All taken care of’?” Robert asked intriguingly.
“Well, my friend Ashley from work said her daughter was looking for some babysitter work. Ssssoooo I hooked her up,” smirking widely from ear to ear, she waited for Robert’s reaction.Robert knew he had been beaten. He couldn’t hold his smile back any longer.
“Alright I’ll go,” he resigned to his fate. “But I’m not sitting next to your boss,” he said smiling right back at Jess and letting out a small snicker. Jess began jumping up and down cheering joyfully. After Jess took a moment to calm down, they shared a long, warm, steamy kiss that seemed to last forever. Jess slowly released her lips from his and looked deep into his eyes.
“I love you,” she whispered.
Robert seemed to get lost in her majestic blue eyes, “I love you too. More than you will ever know.”
“Sir, that’ll be $132.87,” the cashier stated cheerfully.
Robert snapped back into reality and handed her a fistful of cash. As the lady returned his change and began placing all the new clothes into an enormous plastic bag, a loud boom sounded from the front of the store. The front display windows exploded throwing shards of glass bouncing down rows of neatly folded blue jeans and racks of t shirts. Within a split second, the entire store broke out into chaos. People were running and screaming in all directions. Everything began to spin, but Robert immediately snatched up Terra under his right arm and ran straight to the back of the store. He reached a heavy single door and ripped it open to reveal a small janitor’s supply closet and set Terra carefully down inside. Terra had tears rolling down both her cheeks, apparently she had been crying the whole time, and Robert just hadn’t noticed when he was running to protect the family he had left. If he lost his only daughter, Robert would lose every shred of sanity in the aftermath. Robert held Terra close to him in an attempt to comfort her. More loud bangs rang from behind the door leading to the store.
“Listen to me very carefully Terra, there are still people in the store and I’m going to go help them. Can you stay here and be very, very quiet and be a big girl for daddy?”
Terra took a few deep breaths, nodded, and hugged her father, “I love you Daddy.”
Robert turned and slowly slipped out the closet door.About half way out Robert stopped, looked back at Terra and whispered, “I love you too. More than you will ever know.”
“Thanks again for coming on such a short notice.My husband is very stubborn about going out to business dinners,” Jess hurriedly explained as she rummaged through her purse at the front door.
“No, really it’s fine. I happen to have a nephew that’s only 3, and I just love playing with him for my uncle,” the babysitter replied.
Robert came down the stairs in a blue full suit and matching navy and silver spiraled tie. He couldn’t help but look Jess up and down when he approached. Jess was wearing an astonishing dark green dress with a very nice formal button down black coat and matching green scarf draped carefully around her neck.
“Ready to go?” Jess anxiously asked.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Robert said still pretending he didn’t want to go.
“Let me check Terra one last time,” Jess said as she dashed off into another room. Robert followed to avoid an awkward silence with the babysitter, who he had never met before today.
Terra lay quietly in her crib as Robert and Jess approached to check on her before they left.
Jess picked her up in her arms and gently kissed her on the cheek. Robert leaned in and softly kissed the top of Terra’s head, then kissed Jess ever so passionately.
“Mommy and daddy have to go now, but we’ll be back home soon sweetie,” Jess said while placing Terra back into the crib.
Robert and Jess made their way outside into the freezing December snow and wind.
Robert could see nearly the entire store, even though he was huddled behind a long row of t shirts. Tiny shards of glass lie at his feet and get larger closer to the front window. All the aisles appeared to be empty, already swept up and down by the thieves for any possible hostages. Three men with black clothing and ski masks were scrambling around the front of the store, each armed with what appeared to be highly powered automatic rifles. What were they doing here? There can’t be THAT much money in the register? The men were lining up hostages on their knees, execution style, in the broken front display window. They were smart. They were using the hostages as human shields from the police officers which were now buzzing back and forth in front of the broken windows. His heart was pounding so loud he could hear every thud resounding in his temples. Afraid to even breathe heavily, Robert spotted a fourth assailant shouting and violently waving a black gripped pistol in the poor cashier’s face. The same cashier he and Terra were checking out with just moments before. Something needed to be done…
Robert and Jess made their way through the cold night to pile into their 4 door family sedan. The car’s engine quickly started, despite the weather.
Jess, shivering through her nice coat, managed to squeak out, “It is TOO cold out there.”
Robert only nodded in approval and cranked up the heat. Robert, equally as cold, held his hand over one of the heat vents as they happily drove down the driveway and turned onto a highway towards the magazine publisher’s headquarters. The snow began to fall even harder from the pitch black sky.
“Even the weather channel missed this one,” Robert said with a sigh, turning his hand over to warm the backside.
Jess detected the nervousness in his voice and reassured him, “It’ll be fine Robert, just a flurry and it’ll pass. Besides, if the weather channel didn’t even detect it on radar then just how bad can it be?”
After driving about 5 miles, the snow was nearly blinding now. Robert smiled and replied, “Can’t be any worse than this dinner we’re headed to,” he then looked down to finally turn down the blaring heat emitting from the car’s vents.
Just as Robert turned his head, he saw a flash of something darting across the highway.
“DEER!” Jess screamed.
Robert had little time to react and slammed on the sedan’s breaks and jerked the wheel to the right toward the highway shoulder away from the deer. The car slid out of control on the poor road conditions. The vehicle grinded hard against the steel rail before coming to a complete stop. Confused and disoriented, Robert looked over at Jess to receive much of the same disoriented look from her.
Experiencing much pain from bouncing his head off the steering wheel during the impact, Robert managed to mumble out, “Are you ok?”
“Yeah, I think so. Oh my God, Robert you’re bleeding,” she reached over to touch the blood that began to run down Robert’s forehead.
Blinding white high beams appeared in the rear view mirror. The grill of a semi-truck was the last thing Robert saw before the truck plowed into the back of the car at full speed. A loud metal crunching noise accompanied the impact, shattering the back window, sending them through the guard rail. Down the steep hill, the car rolled over several times breaking all small trees that lay in its path before finally coming to a rest.
Pain shot through Robert’s body like an electric pulse. Peering through the blood covering his eyelids Robert inspected his hands to find them also covered in blood. The car had landed right side up and left Robert with an airbag in his face and a body full of pain. He extended his right arm toward Jess. He felt in his hand nothing but Jess’s green scarf.
“Jess!” Robert bellowed out in pain as he tried his door handle with his left hand, his right hand still clenching the green scarf. Pain shot through Robert’s fingers but he couldn’t work the door handle open.
“JESS!” Robert cried out through the excruciating pain. He then lifted himself out of the blown out driver side window and plopped to the cold winter ground and sat upright against the car. Blood began to gush out of Robert’s open forehead wound above his right eye. About 15 yards up the hill, Robert could just see a figure lying in a patch of deep red snow. Moaning and grunting the whole time, Robert staggered to his feet and began stumbling towards the figure. His pace quickened as he realized the figure lying in the snow was Jess.
“WHERE IS HE!?” the criminal shouted as he pushed the tip of his pistol barrel to the cashier’s forehead.
“I don’t know who you’re talking about,” she sobbed back at him.
“Don’t play fucking games with me!” the man angrily shouted.
Robert’s mind was running a million miles a second. He couldn’t decide what to do, if he could do anything at all. Robert momentarily debated retreating back to the closet to be with Terra, but immediately wrote off the idea to avoid the criminals’ attention which was directed towards the hostages in the front.
The criminal continued his interrogation, “Listen bitch, I watched him walk in with a little girl and he never came out. SO WHERE IS HE?”
Robert’s mind raced. Could he be talking about me? What could he possibly want to do with me? Then Robert was struck with fear as the cashier, still crying and shaking, raised her hand and pointed towards the back of the store, directly at him.
With the pistol still directed at the cashier, the man in the ski mask turned his head and locked eyes with Robert. He then pulled the trigger sending a bullet through the cashier’s forehead, “Thanks, bitch.”
Jess’s beautiful green dress was hardly recognizable from the blood slowly seeping out from somewhere hidden underneath Jess’s coat. Jess was still conscious but struggling to breathe, just taking small quick breaths at a time when Robert dropped to his knees beside her in the freezing snow. Robert carefully lifted Jess onto his lap.
“Oh my God Jess, don’t try to move you’re going to be alright.You’re going to be alright,” Robert was having a hard time catching his own breath.
“Li…listen Robert,” Jess was shaking uncontrollable and bleeding heavily from a deep wound on her side from being thrown from the vehicle during the accident.
Robert was struggling to keep from passing out from losing so much blood. “Just hold on baby.Somebody’s coming to help, ok?”
“No…no…Robert, listen,” she said closing her eyes and shaking her head back and forth. “I’m so...sor...sorry Robert.I just, just want…wanted to have a good time.”
“I know I know baby. It’s alright you’re going to be alright. It’s not that bad. Somebody’s on their way. You’re going to be alright.”
Jess’s tiny breaths were slowly fading away.
“Stay with me Jess! Don’t you dare-” Robert could feel his own blood now really began to trickle down his chin and begin to drip down onto his torn up blue suit. Firmly holding Jess in his arms Robert still had the green scarf clenched in his fist. Tears began welling up in Robert’s eyes.
Jess stared up at him with her beautiful blue eyes as her shivering and tiny gasps of air momentarily subsided. “Take ca…care of Terra.”
“Ssshhh, don’t say that.Stay with me baby. I love you,” Robert began to feel very dizzy and disoriented.
Jess’s eyes closed for a moment before flickering back open, and then closed again. Her voice had left her as she managed to muster enough strength to whisper “I love you too…more than…you’ll ever know…”
Jess had died in Robert’s arms.Robert began to sob heavily holding Jess’s body close to his before losing consciousness.
Robert stepped out into the aisle as the robber approached him. Panic was shooting through his mind, “I don’t know what you want from me but whatever it is you can have it. Money is not a problem,” Robert said reaching for his wallet.
The criminal suddenly raised his gun, “Hey, hey, hey, keep your hands where I can see them…Robert.” He then removed his mask revealing a man with shaggy blond hair, brown eyes, and nicely tanned facial features.
Robert quickly dropped his hands to his sides, but he was sure he had never seen the man before in his life and began to think this was all a huge misunderstanding. But then how did this man know his name?
“You don’t recognize me do you Robert?” The man said as he sneered at him with a sadistic grin. “Doesn’t surprise me, nobody ever remembers me. The freak! The man that never was. That should have been MY promotion! MINE!”
Frankly, Robert still had no clue who this man was, “Ok, I’m sorry about whatever happened to you, but we can work something out. We can make a deal. Trust me, I have a lot of money and we can just make all of this go away right now,” he said.
“That’s what’s wrong with you people, Robert. You just think you can throw money at any problem and just walk right over everyone else, am I right?” The man still had the pistol aimed at the center of his chest. His outstretched arm began to shake a little from adrenaline or possibly nervousness. Robert couldn’t tell.
The man continued, “Remember about 6 years ago when John Murkoff promoted you to regional director of shipping and manufacturing at West Coast Steel? That promotion should’ve been MINE! I slaved under that damn pig for years and was way more qualified for the job than your pathetic ass. Remember yet Robert? But you two were best buds, weren’t you? So what happened Robert? Oh, that’s right how could I forget? He promoted your dumb ass instead of me! Now you’re going to pay for it Robert! You have no idea what I’ve been through! REMEMBER YET?” His eyes were shooting flames of anger and danced crazily in his head.
Then it all came back to him like a bad dream. The man’s name was Gilbert Frost, office 235 of the shipping management floor. Robert remembered Gilbert was in that same office from the day John Murkoff had opened West Coast Steel, “Gilbert Frost…” Robert mumbled out more to himself than directed at Gilbert.
Gilbert’s voice angrily rang throughout the store, “Ding! Ding! Ding! Yep, that’s right it’s good ol’ Gil. Isn’t that what everybody used to call me? Good ol’ Gil? Well guess what Robert? I hope you had fun at the top while I leaked through the cracks and crumbled down to NOTHING! Sorry Robert, but now you gotta die!”
“Daddy! No!”Terra had ventured out of the closet and was standing behind and to the left of Gilbert at the corner of the aisle.
Gilbert quickly peeked over his shoulder, somewhat startled to see Terra and then fixed his stare right back to Robert. “Cute kid, too bad she has to see me do this,” Gilbert pulled the trigger twice sending two bullets into Robert’s chest, knocking Robert on his back onto the cold tiles of the store floor. Blood began to seep from the two holes that ripped through Robert’s flesh.
Terra ran over to her fallen father and dropped to his side, “Daddy…?”
Robert was dead.
Gilbert stood over both of them now and trained his pistol on Terra. Terra looked up at Gilbert through her tear filledeyes. Momentarily stunned by her blue eyes, Gilbert lowered his pistol to his side.
Just then three silenced shots fired from a police sniper outside struck Gilbert in the back spraying blood all over Terra. Gilbert looked down at the three exit holes in his chest, he touched his body and looked at the blood on his hand in disbelief. Slowly, Gilbert crumpled to the floor dead.