The shotgun blast broke the window and the four masked bandits all rushed inside.
Terrence, then Sam with the shotgun, followed by our hero S.J., then Mason, with another shotgun.
They wanted to look like bad sonsabitches, and all have shotguns, but there was really no reason for all that, so it was decided that only the guard, and the intimidator, would be the ones with that luxury.
“Alright, sir, empty the cash register,” said Terrence. “You really don’t want any trouble.” He tossed a backpack at the store owners face, and watched it drop on the counter. The store owner just stared at it. “Well, go on.”
Sam was standing beside Terrence, pointing his shotgun at the store owner. He pumped it and shot it at the ceiling. S.J was running through the aisles dumping things into another backpack: bags of chips, chocolates, candy, drinks. There weren’t many worthwhile things to steal, besides food, at convenience stores, he was mostly just picking things up for later. He might as well take advantage of the situation he currently found himself in. Mason was standing by the door, cradling his shotgun, watching the road to see if anyone was coming.
“Hurry up, will ya?” The store owner was in the process of emptying the cash register. Not fast enough for Terrence. “The quicker you do this the quicker we’re out of here and your nightmare ends.” The store owner finished at the same pace. “Thank you.” Terrence turned to leave. Sam followed close behind but bumped into Terrence when he suddenly stopped to address the store owner one more time. “Think about the claim.”
“He’s right,” said Sam.
The store owner stared at them both. “Get the fuck out of here already!”
“Don’t mind if we do.” Terrence actually made his way to the exit this time.
S.J was already out there and Mason was in his car with the engine started; he couldn’t believe it when he saw all three of them walking, as if they didn’t just rob a convenience store. Mason honked.
That made them move with a bit more haste.
“Young nigga win, win, win,” projected S.J when he got inside the car. “How can I lose?”
Sam asked Mason, “What’s the rush?” Then he told S.J he couldn’t say that word.
“We’re 10 seconds behind schedule.” Mason sped out of the parking lot.
“Yes, I can. You can’t say it.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right.”
“Relax,” said Terrence. “We’ve completed the mission.”
“It’s not like anyone’s expecting you,” echoed Sam.
The time at this exact moment was 4:09am. The month was September. The day was Tuesday. As you might’ve noticed, the squad just robbed a convenience store at gun point. They planned it for 2 weeks, going back and forth between which store, where, what car to drive, or whether they’d even do it or not, but what pushed them over the edge was learning that if a store is robbed, the store owner can call their insurance company and get money from it. All they had to do was not kill him. Simple enough. They weren’t murderers, just excessively bored. They figured they did the store owner a favor, then imagined all the things they’d do with a wad of insurance money.
In the end they agreed to use Mason’s car. I’d say, though, that Mason more acquiesced than agreed. That was the main reason why all he had to do was stand guard, they felt like that was a simple role, didn’t have to talk or touch anything, just call out if there was trouble on the way. Mason noted that he’d get equal time if they were caught.
He was currently driving them back to Terrence’s house; the place where the night began. Terrence lived with his Mom and older sister. He was the man of the house and felt he had to do what he had to, in order to support his mother who has supported him for 21 years. His sister was very intelligent and was working really hard to get out of her situation by becoming a lawyer. She was guaranteed to be successful because of how hard she worked, and Terrence admired her for it; little did she know she influenced Terrence’s criminal ways. Terrence worked hard at what he did, his plans were to stay with his mom and support her. He figured he’d finish school, get a job that paid decent and just live in the basement; when his sister moves out there’d be more than enough space for two people in one house. He also didn’t have any ideas about leaving the city.
Seeing as Terrence already lived in the basement it only made sense for them to meet there to discuss their highly sensitive plans. From plans to make moves on girls, to plots to go play four vs four basketball at the park, and especially schemes to rob a convenience store. Tonight was their first time doing that, they just wanted some cash before school started next Tuesday.
Mason drove into Terrence’s driveway and kept the car running. Terrence gave Mason a fist bump and said see you tomorrow. Sam, and S.J did the same then they got out of Mason’s car and watched him reverse out and drive down the road till he was out of sight. All the while giving him sarcastic waves goodbye.
“What’s with the rose?” asked Sam.
“It’s for Christine,” said S.J.
Terrence was smirking like a sonuvabitch. “Salvatoré, my friend… Are you going there now?”
“Don’t ever call me that again,” said S.J for the 90th time in the history of their friendship.
They were still standing in the early morning breeze in front of Terrence’s garage.
“I forgot,” smiled Terrence. “S.J, my friend, are you going there now?”
“She’s ignoring my texts, but she’s awake.”
“It’s fuckin almost five in the morning, for godsake,” said Sam.
“Why would she be awake?”
“She knows I’m coming over.”
“Will she let you in?”
“Only you could screw up something perfect; something God sent directly into your lap.”
S.J was looking at his shoes, shaking his head. “Well, I won’t fix it by standing here with you bastards.” He made moves to leave. “Later.”
“Wait!” Cried Terrence. S.J turned around. “What else do you have left in your bag?”
S.J rolled his eyes but checked. “Bags of chips, chocolates, and drinks.”
“Let me have another bag, I’m starving.”
S.J grabbed a bag and tossed it to Terrence. Sam didn’t want anything, all of a sudden he was practically asleep, but he had a short walk home. Terrence opened the bag and said thanks. S.J tried to leave once again.
“Wait!” Cried Terrence. S.J turned around. “Good luck, pal.”
“I won’t open the bag of cash till we’re all together later.”
S.J nodded his head. Sam also left with S.J, but he declined a ride home, deciding to walk.
S.J sat in his car and watched Terrence go inside his house through the side entrance. That way led to the basement, his mom and sister wouldn’t hear a thing. S.J then looked at the rear-view mirror and watched Sam walk till the early morning darkness swallowed him up.
S.J was the most sensitive out of his friends, he was the type of friend who, even though had major relationship issues going on at the present, waited to make sure his friends were safe, before going to deal with it.
Speak of the devil, it was time to deal with it: S.J put his car in drive and made his way to Christine’s. He left the radio on instead of plugging in his cord because he became anxious as hell and wasn’t thinking about the goddam music. All the stations on the radio that had potential to play good songs played terrible songs most of the time so, earlier, while on the way to Terrence’s, Sam spun the dial and they left the radio at whatever station it landed on. Right now it sounded like Mozart was playing in the background, S.J had no clue, it was drowned out by his thoughts.
All he did was – well, he did create a huge scene, and make a terrible first impression, causing him to lose any respect he might’ve gained from word of mouth, but all he did was – you know what, I’ll start from the beginning:
Around four months ago it was May, S.J was walking with Terrence through the clustered maze like corridors of the college. They were having a conversation about the last day of classes, which happened to be that very day. S.J was excited, saying this summer he’ll be on top, going to all the parties, talking to any girl. You’d think that was typical of him, but he hadn’t ever really announced anything like that, so one would think he was at least going to try; Terrence was thinking that, too, about S.J, so he was giving him even more confidence to do what he was saying. The way they were talking, you wouldn’t think anything could’ve thrown them off, but S.J looked thrice at a girl who walked by them and when he tried to continue, Terrence could tell he was in his head. S.J stopped trying to hide it, he wanted to know who that girl was, and luckily Terrence knew; he told him she was in one of his classes and that her name was Christine.
That evening, the squad was hanging out in the basement, all gathered around S.J, looking at what he was doing on his laptop. I’m sure you can guess, he was looking at Christine’s social media profile, and he just added her as a friend.
Later that night, he was lying down in bed trying not to think about Christine; he didn’t want to get too attached and creep her out, but Terrence, Sam, and Mason were in his corner, giving him lectures he’s heard before but wasn’t ready to execute. He was trying hard now to execute it. Then he received a notification on his phone saying that Christine accepted his friend request. He told himself it doesn’t even matter. Boy, was he trying to be cool. He cleared the notification and just like that the game was on.
He messaged her two days later, and they talked for a while, he got to know her a little after texting back and forth for a bit. Then Terrence told him it was time to take her out, he said don’t be pushy, remember you’re just friends, keep getting to know her. S.J was like a sponge.
S.J and Christine hung out a lot during the summer; first around once every week and a half or so, then once a week on the same day every week, then every three days, then every day. By then it was August. S.J wasn’t trying to be cool anymore, to him he was cool, he had confidence, he looked good, you could tell by how the boy walked that he was a changed man. He kept it cool, took it slow, didn’t get attached and now one would dare to say Christine liked S.J more than he liked her. That wasn’t true, though, deep down S.J was falling in love; a clear sign of that was S.J telling Christine his full name and saying that only she can call him that, but he preferred S.J. Even during times of flirty banter, she never called him by his full name. If anything, they liked each other equally.
Terrence shed a single, genuine tear; he was so proud.
About two weeks before school was supposed to start, so two weeks ago, Christine was at S.J’s house for the first time and they were talking about school, going into third year. Then S.J told her that his parents liked her, and he was happy she was there, he was getting all sappy, and all his feelings poured out at once. Christine couldn’t stop smiling. She kissed him, and they kept on kissing. S.J’s heart was racing, but so was Christine’s, they gradually undressed, still kissing, and that’s the story of S.J executing a plan to perfection.
This is the story of how he messed everything up: S.J hadn’t met Christine’s parents yet, she wanted to wait for a special occasion. Her parent’s 15th anniversary was coming up and she felt like that was the perfect time. By the time it came around, (the main story takes place Tuesday, the anniversary was Sunday) S.J and Christine had been getting intimate for two weeks, and newly confident, cool guy S.J had Christine in the palm of his hand. That afternoon he was in the basement at Terrence’s with Sam and Mason and he was acting like he wasn’t nervous about meeting her parents. He was nervous, though. They had a bottle of whiskey and S.J was taking some shots to destroy his nerves. Imagine it as pre-drinking before going to a club. Before he left, Terrence slapped a bar of Xanax in his hand and told him just in case. S.J said it’s okay but Terrence said keep it just in case. S.J slid it in his pocket and surfed towards the taxi.
The closer he got to Christine’s house the more nervous he got causing his awareness, and therefore his judgement levels to take a hit. He took the entire bar 5 minutes from Christine’s house, and when he got there, gave the taxi driver a nice $5 tip, jumped out and landed in a black hole.
We rejoin S.J still on his way to Christine’s house.
“Pick up, pick up, pick up.”
Then the voicemail came on. He called again.
“Pick up, pick up, pick up.”
It was just after 5 in the morning, the sky was getting brighter by the minute, birds were flying around, people were waiting for the bus, S.J was hoping he could get inside, talk to Christine, and leave before her parents woke up.
The phone stopped ringing, it sounded like she answered.
S.J didn’t think about what he was going to say. “Christine? Are you there, Christine? Please, talk to me, I’m sorry. If you’d listen to me, you’d know my side of the story instead of just assuming the worst. But you have a right to. I’m five minutes away, I’m driving right now, please let me in and we can talk. You know me, Christine; You know that wasn’t me.” He stopped to breathe. “Christine, I lov—”
“How far are you now?”
“Oh, Christine, thank God, I thought something happened to you.”
“Shut up, Salvatoré.”
“I’m sorry, I’m just turning onto your street right now.”
“The door will be open, come to my room, make sure you’re quiet. I swear to God, Salvatoré.” She hung up.
S.J inhaled deeply and let out the longest exasperated sigh you ever heard.
He parked his car at the far end of the cul-de-sac, grabbed the rose, got out and tiptoed from the street all the way to the front door. He opened it cautiously as ever, got inside and closed the door, cautiously as ever, he even thought about just leaving it open. As he continued to tiptoe through the house to Christine’s room, he thought thank God it was a relatively new house so the floorboards didn’t creak. Her parents slept upstairs but Christine’s room was on the main floor. He saw her lamp on from the crack underneath her door. He walked up to it and turned the knob.
He smiled. “Hey.” He stood there with the rose, looking at her, admiring her beauty and all the features he loved about her while she completely ignored him. But he was inside, she let him in, so he knew the executioner was getting closer but he wasn’t dead yet, like he thought he was. But he knew better than to take anything for granted.
“I’m sorry, Christine. You don’t have to look at me, I understand. I’ll just talk, I guess.” He really didn’t want to start because he was afraid of making things worse. Then he realized that wasn’t possible. “I took you for granted. I didn’t think all that would happen, but I thought if anything happened, it wasn’t going to be as bad as what happened. I worked so hard to get to our night together, I suppressed my feelings for you for so long, you don’t understand, I liked you from the first day I saw you walk by me and Terrence and the more I talked to you the more I fell in love. You know I was always a reserved guy, but being successful with you gave me all the confidence in the world; a girl like you dating me? I thought I was untouchable.” Still holding the rose, he sat by her feet at the foot of the bed but he didn’t touch her. She was lying on her back, staring at the ceiling. “But the day of your parents anniversary I fell back into my nervous ways because I wanted to make a good impression… because I love you, and I was going to ask your dad if I had his permission to ask you to marry me.”
“Shut the fuck up, Salvatoré.” She still didn’t look at him so she didn’t see S.J smiling like a madman.
“I knew that’d get your attention.” He continued: “I do love you, though, and I did want to make a good impression and one day I really want to ask your dads permission to ask you to marry me, but I was nervous that day and I was in Terrence’s basement with the boys and we were drinking. I was fine. But when I left he gave me a bar of Xanax, and he told me to keep it just in case I couldn’t handle my nerves. I tried it before, and I was fine, but I forgot I was drinking whiskey and when I got to your house I had more drinks. Then I blacked out. I don’t even want to know what I did. But I’m in love with you, Christine, and I know you love me, too.”
“You can’t tell me that I love you when you came to my parent’s anniversary after pre-drinking, off Xanax, as if you were going to the club. Stuff like that can change a person’s opinion of you in no time, especially your girlfriends.”
“You’re right. Tell me what to do please. Please.”
“There’s nothing you can do, Salvatoré.” She still didn’t look at him.
“Your parents probably hate me, but think about it, I can only go up from here.”
“My parents are embarrassed more than anything.”
“I’ll go up and tell them I’m sorry right now, I swear I will.”
“No you wont.”
“No I wont.”
S.J continued to gaze at Christine.
“You know that’s not me, Christine, that’ll never happen again. I won’t drink again, let alone take drugs. I won’t even smoke weed.”
“Go home, my parents will be awake soon.”
“Alright, but will you call me. Do you forgive me? Please.”
“Go home, Salvatoré, you bastard.”
Before he did as he was told, he placed the rose on the nightstand beside her bed.
Later that day S.J was lying in his bed trying not to think about Christine, he was trying to tell himself that she’s just a girl, he got her, he can get another. He knew he was only being a fool, he meant everything he said to her hours ago, he was checking his phone every five seconds looking for a text or any sign of her. Then his phone vibrated. He checked it at the speed of light.
“Goddammit!” S.J was shaken up, it was only Terrence texting him, saying to come over. He forgot he robbed a convenience store, also only hours ago. They had to tally up the money. S.J texted him back saying he’d be there in an hour.
An hour later S.J was in Terrence’s basement with Sam and Mason. Now that they were all there he could tell them about last night.
“Can’t we count the money and listen to the story?” Insisted Sam.
“No, we’re going to give our boy our undivided attention,” said Terrence.
S.J proceeded to relay the story to the boys, exactly as it happened, he even told them the joke about him wanting her dads permission to ask her to marry him. They agreed that was pretty smooth after he said that got her talking.
In the end they said that there’s nothing more to do, it’s in God’s hands now, Mason said God as in Christine. Sam said at least he had sex with her; he got her, he can get another and not have to wait 4 months again. Terrence said let’s count the money.
He got up and left their chilling space in the basement and came back with the backpack from last night. He unzipped it and turned it upside down. A whole lotta change fell and rattled along the table, along with a good amount of bills. Terrence counted it and was down to the last few coins.
“25, 50, 75, a dollar. Dollar 25, dollar 50, dollar 60… There, altogether we got away with a whopping 512.60.”
“I mean, it’s not like we robbed a bank, that’s pretty good.”
“I’m happy with it.”
S.J was brooding, he wasn’t even listening to them. He noticed the cash on the table and gave it a smile, but he didn’t care. He looked outside into Terrence’s backyard and saw a couple of squirrels scurrying around. He imaged it was him and Christine being free together like it was in the not so distant past. He kept thinking please, please, please, call me, Christine. I’m not a bad person, I don’t deserve this.
Terrence slid S.J’s share of the money over to him. Naturally he picked it up and put it in his wallet.
He drove home in disgust at himself. He hated himself more than ever. He was cursing his own name, saying he might as well be dead. He slumped out of his car, and sluggishly walked to the front door with his head down.
“Hey, sweetie, is everything alright?”
“No, mom, everything is all wrong.” He knew how he sounded.
“Sit down and talk to me.”
His mom took a seat at the island in the kitchen.
“I ruined everything with Christine. I made a stupid mistake and that’s that. It’s my fault, I know, but we had such good thing.”
“Christine isn’t going to be the only girl you love, S.J., trust me.”
“They always say that, but it really makes no difference in how I feel.”
“I get it, but don’t worry. I’m making dinner, it’ll be ready by the time your father gets home. Go take a nap.”
S.J stood up. His mom hugged him and let him leave.
He continued to look depressed walking to his room, it was really a sad sight to see. You had to feel bad for him because at the end of the day, even though he should’ve known better, the worst case scenario was the last thing he wanted to happen. He showed regular human emotions but went about it the wrong way. He would’ve done anything to take back what he did, but seeing as it was impossible to pick up spilt milk, he decided he’d take this as a learning opportunity and cope with his anxiousness and nervousness in a more productive way. He raised his head and tried to be confident heading back to his room, thinking next time he won’t be nervous when he has to meet a girl’s parents, he was going back to his confident, cool guy ways. Now that he tasted what it was like to have a girl love him and want to do anything for him and with him, he knew he could do it again, and get a full course meal; girls from anywhere, of any background.
S.J was giving himself an interior pep talk, and was ready to be a new man again.
Notwithstanding all that, when he entered his room he broke down into tears when he saw Christine sitting on his bed, holding the rose.