Chips or candy? The fluorescent lights of a convenience store flickered tauntingly above where I was standing as I mulled over what I wanted for dinner. Candy would look too suspicious. Chips, however, looks like I’m asking for the bare minimum. How sad. I wasn’t the kind of person who stole things; my mother didn’t raise me to be that way. Instead, I played the poor orphan who just needed a little sustenance to get by for the night. It wasn’t too much of a lie. The only money I had was the pity money people gave me. And I was hungry, all the time. The orphan thing was up in the air, but still.
I raised a hand to my chin in mock thought, and stayed for a moment until the constant flickering from the ceiling drove me insane. I snatched a bag of salt and vinegar chips and began to walk toward the catch register, craning my neck to look for someone who looked like a sucker. My speech pieced itself together like a puzzle in my head. Excuse me, sir/ma’am. I hate to bother you, but would it be at all possible for you to assist me in paying for—
The jingling of bells as the doors opened cut me off. Excited, I stood on my toes to peek ahead of the aisles and see my possible target, but I was greeted with a man with a dark hood covering the top half of his face, his hands stuffed into his pockets. His mouth was stretched into a tight grimace and his beard around it was, to put it nicely, unruly. I could see food stains on the shirt underneath his hoodie that wasn’t zipped all the way up. My gaze quickly diverted and I fell back to my normal height. He needs as much help as I do, I decided.
I completed my journey to the front counter and, since it was late and there were no other customers in sight except for Beard Boy, I settled for trying to work my charms on the girl working the register. She was young and obviously new, because her shirt was barely wrinkled and her name tag that read MALLORY in adorable cursive letters wasn’t crooked at all. This could be easy.
“Hi! Can I help you—“ started Mallory’s cheery, sing-song voice. I began to walk up to the counter as she spoke, but we were both cut off by Beard Boy, who had barely been in the store long enough to find anything to purchase. I saw Margot’s face screw up in confusion, but it was quickly replaced by a smile that was slightly more plastic than the one she had given me.
“I,” said Beard Boy as he fumbled around in his pockets. Mallory waited for him to finish patiently. “Would like to make a withdrawal.”
The confused look returned to the cashier, but my heart dropped into my stomach. I had seen this happen before, I never learned my lesson, and it never really ended well for me. Both Mallory and I watched in horror as Beard Boy finally found what he was looking for in his pockets and produced a small pistol, aiming it at the poor girl.
Mallory was frozen. I wasn’t.
I quickly set the chips on the floor and moved slowly to the other side of the counter, trying to look as annoyed as possible. “I could’ve clocked in two minutes later,” I grumbled supposedly to myself, but loud enough so the both of them could hear. Beard Boy quickly snapped his head toward me, and I held my hands up. “It’s Mallory’s first day here. I’ll get you all the money in the register if you just let her go.”
“No,” replied the gruff voice, gripping the pistol so tight his knuckles whitened. I could tell he was as scared as the cashier was. “None of you leave until I’ve left. And none of you better call the police or I’ll—“
“Fine, fine, we get it, dude. Just take it easy on her, okay?”
“You’re talking awfully smart to a guy with a gun pointed at your face.”
I opened my mouth, poised to say something smart once again, but decided against it. No matter how unimportant you may be, no one has to die today. Instead I turned to the poor cashier, who had started to shake. “It’s okay, Mallory. Just move over and I’ll get him the money.” I tried the most comforting voice I had and laid a hand on the trembling girl’s shoulder. She nodded, gratefulness swimming in her eyes, and stepped to the side.
Luckily, I had operated a few cash registers in my lifetime. (Or whatever you call it.) This one was a little tricker—it was newer than some of the other ones I’d used, but everything was still pretty straightforward and simple. I felt four eyes on me as I swiftly navigated the buttons and opened the register. Mallory, finally able to move and think a little, moved next to me very slowly and pretended to help me count the money while she pressed a small button underneath the counter. I took all of the bills and began to hand the stack over to Beard Boy, who had started to shake a little and moved his finger to the trigger.
He moved back, ready to bolt, and stepped on my bag of salt and vinegar chips. Startled, he jumped. BOOM.
I had shoved Mallory out of the way, something white hot was searing through my chest, and suddenly I was on the floor. I raised my hand to chest and could feel blood, my blood, gushing out of my body. Mallory dropped to the ground next to me, tears leaking out of her eyes. I knew Beard Boy hadn’t meant to shoot me. He didn’t want to shoot anyone. I heard the jingling of the doors and knew he had fled. Mallory put both hands to my chest and pressed hard to try and stop the bleeding, but I knew it wasn’t going to work.
Mallory seemed to know that it wasn’t going to work, either. “Thank you so much,” said her once cheery voice, every word seeming to break. “You saved my life.”
I stared into her chocolate-brown eyes and smiled a little as white began to creep its way into my vision. “You have freckles,” I replied.
She let out a surprised laugh and instinctively touched a hand to her cheeks, smearing a small amount of my blood on them. Quickly, she moved her hands back to my chest. “I don’t like them.”
“I do,” I said, but it was more of a gurgle. My mouth was filling with hot metallic liquid. Of course, I thought. My blood is everywhere else right now, why not my mouth, too? I used all of the strength I had left to say, “I’ve always wanted. . .freckles. Eat those. . .chips for me.”
Everything went white when Mallory started heaving huge sobs and I could hear faint police sirens. I felt like I was falling once again, and then it stopped and everything was black. Dead.
But it was okay. I would wake up again.