April counted the change into his hand – it was shaking. He pocketed the money, then leaned his backside against the smudged glass door, pushing it open, his gloves held against his side with his elbow, all while fumbling out and lighting the Marlboro.
Outside, he stepped into the yellow ring of the streetlight and April could see last summer. It pushed up from her throat and squeezed out of her eyes. That guy, Titus, standing in that same light one minute, the next lying just outside it oozing onto the pavement. April had turned the deadbolt seconds before, on instinct, but they shot out the windows anyway, while she was dialing, while her hands shook. She’d left the drawer open and slid on her stomach to the storeroom, deadbolted that, and whimpered into her cell phone until she felt the red and blue swirls of light circling under the door and the siren of protection that had come too late.
His name had been Titus and he was dead and she’d been the last to see him alive, except for whoever drove by and shot him. He hadn’t seemed anything but normal late-night skanky and when April turned the deadbolt and saw the little flashes and heard the peppery pops and jumped down in the nick of time, she suddenly realized that she’d known all along.
This other guy stood in the same yellow ring, smoking. The fog muddied April’s view and made the asphalt swirl purple black at his feet, covering his shoes and reaching to his ankles. He turned and watched April watching him and raised one eyebrow. April had seconds, she knew. When he saw her reaching for the deadbolt, he pressed his lips tight and dropped the butt, glowing, fluttering like a star to the bruisy mist. In the yellow ring he crammed his freed hand into his pocket and April gasped and lunged, rolled and squealed, all with one steady eye on him as he groped into that pocket, dug down, and yanked out the gun.
April pressed the speed dial button and covered her head, her eyes, and heard a blast – no pops – but a loud hurtful blast and was ready to feel the rain of glass and to hear the pounding shoes and yells and she rolled toward the storeroom and shook hard and long, the little phone boxing her ear.
But, no glass and so quiet and when the operator came on, April was incoherent and whispering. The voice told her to take a look, to report about what she saw and then April understood it all, before she pulled up to a crouch, before she ventured to look into the awful yellow.
A slumped man lying just outside the ring of light, his life pouring out dark, and the asphalt soaking it up, thirsty, like roots.
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