Matthew Hoch's character witnesses an altercation, and - having let himself down by being timid in the past - this time he is determined to be act boldly.
My mind couldn't get out of my friend John's kitchen where Molly and I had found ourselves alone during one of his monthly dinner parties. She looked at me and smiled. She stood waiting in anticipation. I could tell she was waiting for me to act, to jump out of my skin and take a chance. She had thrown at me all the subtle and not-so-subtle flirty cues a person could to let one know she was interested, and now it was my move. I swayed nervously. I looked at her, my heart beating out of control. And I said nothing. The words that died in my mouth remained trapped in my head.
After thirty-four years, I started to get nervous this was becoming cyclical.
SMACK! There was a loud noise that sounded like someone getting hit. It ripped me from my regret and brought me back to reality. An eerie silence fell over the fast-food establishment. I turned toward the street and saw a Target security guard crash to the ground. He was an older man, maybe late sixties, with a 'U' of white hair on the back of his otherwise bald head. An imposing figure dressed in black with a blue backpack slung over his shoulders was running south down the busy street.
"He punched him! He just punched him!" an onlooker yelled.
"He must've stolen something! Someone should stop him!" another onlooker screamed.
The security guard looked at me from the ground with the same expression of defeat that my face had worn on too many occasions. My eyes remained transfixed on his. His pain seemed like mine all of sudden. I cast a forlorn look at the Target down the street where the conflict must have started. I looked to my left and saw the figure running away. And just like that, I was up and running after the culprit.
As I got to the intersection, the walk sign changed to the orange hand, which disabled my pursuit momentarily. Jason Bourne wouldn't stop at a crosswalk, I thought to myself. After momentary hesitation, I ran across the street, dodging honking cars. With each step, I thought about that security guard. Each stride filled me with more tenacity and outrage.
The blue backpack was in range! I saw the figure leisurely walking a few feet ahead of me; he must've thought he was in the clear. I didn't know what I would do if I managed to catch up to him. At six-foot, I was a more imposing foe than an older man, but I was still on the frail side. I was glad I had started to incorporate pushups into my morning routine.
"Hey! You! With the backpack!" I shouted. The figure stopped. It slowly turned around to look at who was calling for it. He had inkjet-black hair that was short and purposefully messy. It rested above an angry, pale white face with eyes that shot through me. I felt pins and needles massage my arms, but my anger squelched my fear. "Yeah, you!" I said again, inching closer.
The man tilted his head to look at me like a confused dog. I was gradually closing in. Pedestrians on the street gave us furtive glances and then picked up their pace. The man was standing perfectly still, staring at me. As quick as a blink, he turned and ran.
I ran after him. My feet splashed through puddles that lingered on the sidewalk from an early morning rain. The thumping of our strides echoed like thunder over the otherwise quiet street. He took a sharp left and turned off the main street down a side one. I cut the corner and followed. My arms were pumping fast, and I impressed myself with my speed. I dodged sticks, broken cement, and sidewalks that had been lifted from the roots of trees with ease. I had to catch him.
He ran up an unsuspecting house's driveway toward a fence that enclosed their backyard. He hopped over with ease. I paused for a moment when I got to the brown wooden fence and looked around. My breathing was getting winded and I could feel my lungs expanding with each inhale. With a clenched jaw and determination, I placed my hands on top of the fence, leaned back, and threw myself over. When he saw me land on the other side, he grunted in frustration.
"Hey! What are you doing?" a lady screamed at us from inside the house as we ran across her lawn.
We were lawn hopping now. Like a sprinter clearing hurdles, I hopped each new obstacle with an increasing ease. My hands were scraped from the various kinds of fences, but I didn't stop. The sound of police sirens could be heard in the distance. The cops were in pursuit, too.
He turned down a driveway after our fourth lawn, ran to the street, and quickly turned right. When I made it to the street, he was gone. I scanned the area looking for any sign of the fleeing man. My eyes landed on a blue Escalade parked a little farther up the street on the other side. A black shoe was creeping out by the back right tire. My mouth hung ajar, and my eyes darted around as I thought about my next course of action.
Pretending to be confused, I ran up the middle of the street, so I was closer to the Escalade. When I got to the car, I stopped, put my hands on my knees, and exhaled in mock frustration. "Damn it. I must've lost him," I said. I turned around and started to head back.
When I was parallel with the front of the car, I abruptly ran behind it, startling the man. I lunged for him. He tried to run. My arms wrapped around him in an aggressive embrace as I tackled him.
He elbowed me in the face from the ground. It stung. I hadn't ever been hit in the face before. I lowered my mouth to stretch my facial skin, hoping to ease the sting. He tried to land a follow up punch, but I blocked it with my forearm. A knife was now in his right hand. I grabbed his wrist with both my hands and banged his right hand against the car until it released the knife. The Escalade's alarm system began screaming for help. The knife scraped the pavement of the street as it broke free. I turned back and slugged the guy right across the face. I winced, not realizing how much punching someone would hurt. Grabbing his hands and pinning them down on the street I said, "Don't move. Don't think about it."
His dark eyebrows furrowed. I could see his mind concocting an escape plan. The sound of police sirens were getting closer. "Over here!" I yelled.
A cop car came to a halt next to the Escalade. Two officers got out. I released the culprit's arms and handed him over to the police. He was cuffed and taken into the back of the police cruiser. One of the officers opened his blue backpack to examine the stolen goods. Inside there were a few GPS devices and a handful of gold earrings taken from Target. The cop placed a hand on my shoulder. "Thank you, sir. That was incredibly brave of you," he told me. I couldn't help but smile.
A smattering of applause startled me. I looked around to see the homeowners had come outside to see what was going on and were now cheering my victory. I nodded politely in recognition.
My eyes thought the endorphins my body was releasing were playing tricks on me when I saw Molly run up to me. I was standing inches apart from the girl I thought I had let slip away. The warmth radiating from her green eyes made everything else around me disappear. "I heard a commotion and saw people rush over. And here you are, in the middle of it all," she said, her hand lightly pinching the cotton of my t-shirt over my chest. "That was so brave, what you did." Her lips pressed against each other and released as her eyes traced my face.
I smiled. "I just had to do something," I told her. This time I recognized her anticipation and leaned in for a kiss without hesitation. Our lips met. I had imagined this kiss in my head a thousand times, but it surpassed anything I could have dreamed up. The onlookers applauded.
The applause dissolved into silence, interrupted by the occasional chatter or passing car. The taste of Molly's cherry lip gloss changed to that of a breaded chicken sandwich. I finished chewing my bite and swallowed. I felt the metal from the table press into my elbows as I rested them on it. A crowd had gathered to help the security guard. He thanked them and shook their hands. I never left my seat.
Once the guard was helped up, he went back to Target, and everything went back to how it was before. Customers ordered, families laughed, and I finished the last of my waffle fries while scrolling through Facebook on my phone, examining the various posts my friends had made throughout the day. My thumb's scroll brought me to a post from Molly. She had uploaded a picture of her arm-in-arm with a pleasant enough looking guy. I locked my phone, set it back on the table, and finished my fries. And just like that, just like it always would, life went on easily around me.