It kept replaying over and over and over in my head. It was like a CD when you scraped it a bit at the bottom. It just, it was just as painful. His hand in mine, the bullet causing blood to run down his chest. My hands were trembling and his were becoming more and more cold.
“You’ll forget this,” he said in his last breath. FOR-GET THIS. What did he mean? Forget us? Forget him? Forget what happened? None of them were possible.
I bumped into someone and caused her to drop her keys. “Sorry,” I mumbled. She grabbed them and gave me snarky look as she trotted off. Yeah, I hate myself, too.
As I passed the park where he and I had said we would take our children, I saw a pair of cops drinking coffee looking off into the distance. I felt a sudden urge to puke, or yell at them. Not in that exact order.
I don’t know why I blamed the cops. Well, the cops and myself. The therapist kept telling me not to blame myself, so I stuck with the cops. I just, I couldn’t forget it… the call. The cool, calm, collected operator on the line asking me stupid questions while people were getting shot. People were yelling all around me while I hid behind a clothing rack trying to urge the police to GET THERE. And Aaron, he was just being him, watching out for people. Helping a person that had been shot nearby. Every few seconds, I’d look for him to make sure he was okay.
“Finally!” I heard Solomon yell as I approached him. “Took you long enough.”
I tried to contort my face into something that could be considered a smile. Didn’t work. “Sorry.”
His bleached eyebrows shot up. “Dear, you look like a mess.” He wrapped his arms around me and tugged hard.
I hated pity.
I pulled out of the embrace and brushed strands of hair out of my face. “So, what was it you wanted to give me?”
He gave me a half-smile that reminded me a bit of Aaron’s. Brothers after all. He searched in his pocket for something and pulled out a small box. One of those boxes.
I took a step back. “Are you telling me you’re proposing to Jack?”
His blue eyes widened, “NO! No way we’re anywhere close to that yet… This is yours.”
My heart stopped. Like the moment I heard the gunman near to where I was on the phone. He grabbed my arm and yanked me out of behind the rack. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
I couldn’t think. The gun was resting on my cheek and I could feel my face burning. “I-I…”
Suddenly there was a huge noise coming from where Aaron had been. I could make out a few words. “We’re a Westwood mall, the gunman is about 6’1, Caucasian…” It was Aaron yelling out the man’s appearance.
He pushed me to the ground with all of his force, but I crawled to where Aaron stood with a phone to his ear. His eyes found mine before the gunman shot, he mouthed the words I love you. And before it even happened I knew I was yelling.
“How is this mine? I’ve never seen this before.” I buried my hands in my pockets. It was a terrifying object the one he held in his hands.
He looked down at the ground and sighed. “Aaron gave it to me, to keep safe. He knew how nosy you were. He knew you’d find it.”
I shook my head and my eyes stung. “Why are you doing this?”
He looked at it intently and shrugged. “I somehow know he would have wanted you to have it. To keep it, or sell it to pay for bills. This isn’t mine.”
My breaths became short, I couldn’t even move. “He was going to propose.” I said it, I didn’t ask it. It was clear.
Before I stood up, the gunman had shot himself as well. I just stumbled my way to him with tears clouding my vision. All I could see were red stains across his new blue t-shirt. His skin had become pale. “I love you,” I repeated over and over. “Please, don’t leave me.”
“You have to take this” Solomon said insistently. “He would want that. You know he would.”
My dry lips suddenly spoke, “I’m not sure what he wanted anymore.”
Solomon’s eyebrows pulled together in concern. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. He told me to ‘forget this’. What does that mean?” The words came out of my mouth before I could think them through. I had never told anyone what he said.
He seemed unsurprised by the words. “He wanted you to move on.”
“And how is this helping at all?” I asked pointing at the box he held in his hand.
He stood there, in silence, for a while. He was contemplating the answer. “I guess, to move on, you need to face the pain and the sadness head on. Face it, but not let it consume you.” He looked me over and I knew he meant I had let it consume me.
I looked at the box in his hand. And it was painful.
“You need to face it and forgive.”
I looked up at him and suddenly appreciated him more than ever. He held out the box for me to grab the way Aaron held out his hand for me to grab. “Promise me…” he said as I grabbed it. And well, you know how he ended that sentence.
As Solomon let go of the box and I held it on my own I promised, “I’ll never forget you.”