One Nice Afternoon
"Oh, no," Tom groaned, seeing Deb's eyes light up at the familiar-looking pink display window . "I can't handle this. You're on your own, dear."
"What's the matter, hun? Scared of a little women's underwear?"
"Not scared, just uncomfortable. It's the way those clerks look at you, like I'm crashing some stranger's party."
"You could help me pick something out for… later," Deb smirked.
Tom smiled and kissed her forehead. "As it turns out, I love surprises."
"Fine," Deb huffed in mock anger. "I'll just go alone, then. See you in a bit?"
"Yeah, sure, I'll be around. Call my cell when you're done."
"Sure thing. See ya, hun."
Tom headed into the bookstore first and flipped through the best sellers on the front rack. When that grew dull, he headed over to the Brookstone to take a look at some needlessly complicated grilling tools and lay down on the Tempur-Pedic mattress. Around the time he was picking up a pretzel with nacho cheese sauce, he started to wonder how long Deb was going to be looking at bras, anyway.
He was in the process of tucking the little white paper bag into his teeth to pull out his cell phone and call when the first shot was fired. At first, it sounded like firecrackers, but then he heard the shouting and saw the men and the guns. There were two groups of them, shouting and running around, hiding behind the white ceramic planters and tipped-over tables in the food court. One of them tried to move from behind a table to behind the counter of the Orange Julius: he fell down about halfway there, clutching his leg, then his head exploded in a spray of red and grey that splattered across the white tile floor.
Tom realized then that he was huddled behind one of the big white planters, his cell phone clutched in his hand in a white-knuckle grip. He'd lost his pretzel at some point: he could see the little brown twist of bread smeared across the tiled floor, little yellow footprints leading away where someone had stomped on his small plastic cup of cheese sauce while running away from the gunfight.
It was surreal. Things like this were supposed to happen in downtown Detroit or South Central Los Angeles, not in a Westfield Shopping Center in the Midwestern suburbs. There was a lot of shouting (mostly involving the word "motherfucker,") then there was a big boom, and a lot of smoke, and the shooting stopped.
Tom saw a big black man in a brown leather jacket, holding a small gun: it looked like a toy in his big meaty fist. Some men in grey uniforms ran up, then, and the man in the brown leather jacket slowly put down his gun and lay down on the ground with his hands on his head. Tom didn't wait to see what happened next: the moment the cops got the guy, he ran down the escalator and started running towards the Victoria's Secret, shouting Debra's name.
She met him outside, and they fell into each other's arms, holding each other tight, as if they would never let go.
"I felt so useless," Tom confessed that night, after the cops and the reporters and the much-needed shower. "All that was going on… and all I could think of was to hide."
"What could you do?" Deb asked. She was curled up in his arms and was resting her head on his chest.
"I don't know," Tom admitted. "But I felt like I should have done something."
Deb kissed him, and he kissed her back, and then they took each others' clothes off and let things go from there.
Two weeks later, Deb announced she'd missed her period.
Sixteen years later, they told their horribly embarassed daughter why her full name was Jennifer Victoria Firefight Nathan.
Seeing his daughter groan in horror as her younger brother made snarky comments and her boyfriend look on in jaw-dropped awe, Tom thought back to that afternoon in the shopping mall, and laughed. It was funny, he thought, how things tend to work out in the end.