My father was masterful at being a terrible human being. When his abuse wasn’t physical, he liked to stab with verbal knives—and most of the time, he chose my mother’s anxiety to exploit. He liked to create stressful situations, like last-minute dinner plans or springing an unpaid bill on my mother, just to watch her flounder. So he could laugh at her.
I learned early that weaknesses were better hidden.
And this situation I find myself in now counts as a weakness.
If I told Ryan I can’t pay rent this month because my mother needs money for her anti-anxiety medication, he wouldn’t make me pay. But if I allowed him to let me slide, I would owe him. Owing people money gives them a weapon to use against you, right?
I look out the window of my rental car at the convenience store I’ve been casing for the last week or so. The shift change will take place in approximately eight minutes and the cash register will be unlocked and placed briefly on the counter, leaving none of the extra time they’d need to unlock the drawer and possibly call the police or hit a panic button. They’ll drop it into my bag and I’ll be gone in seconds, leaving with the cash take for the last twelve hours.
My pulse is in a frenzy now, my conscience shouting at me to pull the plug on my idea, but I can’t. I’ve exhausted all my options. Worked extra shifts, tried to take out a loan. My mother’s insurance only covers some of the cost, and unemployed as she is, she can’t afford the remaining cost. I do this for her without question, for all the times she hid me away and bore the brunt of my father’s wrath alone. I can’t turn my back on her.
One little robbery and I’ll be back in the clear.
Blowing out a nervous breath, I go over the precautions I’ve taken. I’ve smudged the license place number. My hair is pulled up in a bun and I’ll be stuffing it inside a full ski mask. I’m four miles from my apartment in a neighborhood I don’t frequent…
Ryan’s smile dances through my mind and there’s a fluttering in my belly.
I have to move out. These new feelings are too risky.
I’ve never been aroused like this before, not by anyone and especially my best friend. He’s supposed to be safe, dependable, unobtrusive Ryan. Not the kind of guy who feeds me bites of pancake and speaks to me in shiver-inducing whispers.
Speaking of shivers, a hot one winds up my spine now.
When did Ryan become so…commanding?
When did I become the kind of girl who likes that?
Okay. At this rate, I’ll be robbing a convenience store with wet underwear.
My watch beeps and I press the button to silence it. Go time, sweetheart.
With blood pounding in my ears, I pull the ski mask down over my face, don my coat and place the gun inside one of the deep pockets. The gun is unloaded. I’ve checked it several times to be sure, as if bullets might suddenly appear in the chamber. Normally, I abhor guns and make Ryan lock his police issue weapon in a safe every night, but I want to appear threatening enough to make the shop owners move fast, without being an actual threat.
Making sure there are no passersby or cars coming, I climb out of the car and cross the street, giving myself a mental pep talk as I go. It’ll be over in thirty seconds. Thirty seconds and you’ll be able to pay your half of the rent, leaving Ryan in the dark and your mother’s medications filled for the next year. You can do this.
I push through the glass door and raise the gun, scanning the small store for other customers. One. There’s one. A big man with his back turned, holding a giant bouquet of red Valentine’s Day roses. Shit.
No choice but to keep going.
With one hand, I point the unloaded weapon at the two men behind the register. With the other, I remove the black garbage bag from my pocket and toss it onto the counter beside the cash box. “Put the cash box in the bag and get down on the ground.”
If they notice my voice is shaking, they very politely do as they’re told without mentioning the embarrassing wobble to my pitch. Okay. Okay, this is going well. One man holds the bag open while the other throws in the cash box and hands it over. I wind the loose end of the garbage bag around my left fist, keeping the gun level in my right and I back toward the door. Everything seems to be according to plan, but there are goosebumps climbing the back of my neck. Why are the store employees not even protesting? They seem so calm.