Point is… they are back in solid friendship territory; the past year is now just a memory for them that hopefully won’t be something to linger on.

Tonight is also important because Benjamin and I are stepping into his former social circle as a “couple”. The invitation was for Benjamin and me to come to Brandon and Colleen’s house for a backyard barbeque. It’s just going to be the four of us. Their kids are off to spend the weekend with Colleen’s parents. The barbecue is going to be casual, but I want a pretty summer dress to wear.

I want to look pretty for Benjamin so he’s proud to have me as his date. After I get my new dress, I’ll have enough time to run home, get showered and put together, then drive into Vegas to meet Benjamin at his apartment. He offered to come get me, but we’re staying at his place tonight so Jorie and I can go baby shopping tomorrow in Vegas and it’s silly for him to come all this way just to get me.

I pull up to the pharmacy, which is a small, independently owned business. It’s in this cool outdoor shopping center that has eclectic stores like one that sells nothing but flavored olive oils and spices, or another that does high-priced juiced drinks. My parents and I always try to patron locally owned businesses, as my dad is a small business owner himself. He owns a home security system franchise.

MyRx is one of the corner shops, and it’s owned by a young woman named Nicki Palino. She runs the place all by herself without a single employee to help. Of course, her hours are limited and she doesn’t open until ten thirty, but she more than makes up for it by the extra customer service she provides. A trip in to see Nicki usually ends up a half-hour affair as she’s just so fun to talk to.

When I open the glass door, a small chime goes off. I find it funny she has a doorbell as her shop isn’t more than thirty-feet-by-thirty-feet in total. A long counter sits immediately to the right of the door, and the perimeter space behind it is lined with shelves holding the prescription medications she fills.

To the left is a small table with three chairs customers can sit in while they wait, along with a long-shelfed wall that holds over the counter medications.

Nicki’s standing at a worktable behind the counter counting out tablets, and she raises her head with a smile on her face.

“Hey, Elena,” she chirps in greeting. “I already got your mom’s prescription filled.”

That’s the main reason I love coming here. I never have to wait. She’s always so on top of things.

“Let me just finish this count,” she says, returning to her task while I poke around a small lazy Susan display on the counter that holds a variety of essential oils.

I hear the door open, the chiming bell go off, and I turn to look over my shoulder at the next customer coming in.

Instead, I find the barrel of a gun pointed right at my face. Just beyond that, a masked man stands there.

“Back the fuck up,” he orders, and I scramble to do as he says. He waves the gun toward the pass-through counter. “Get back there with her.”

The man corrals me behind the counter with Nicki, and I start to walk straight toward her. Her eyes are wide with fear, and her skin has gone about five shades paler than her normal.

“Uh-uh,” the man mutters, then grabs the collar of my shirt to yank me into him. “You stay near me.”

“Just give him the money,” I instruct Nicki in a calm voice. “It’ll be okay.”

The man lets out a hysterically high-pitched laugh, and Nicki just shakes her head as she murmurs. “He doesn’t want money.”

I go numb with true fear now, because if he doesn’t want money, he must want Nicki and me. I consider striking out because I’ve always been taught to fight.

Instead, I’m dragged closer to Nicki by the gunman as he waves his gun at the shelves lined with medications. “You know the deal… all your oxy and percs. Adderall. Vicodin. And don’t fucking leave anything behind.”

What the fuck? He wants drugs?

And then it hits me… the street value has got to be way more valuable than just the cash from her register.

Nicki slowly reaches for a plastic bag, and the man screams. “Hurry, you dumb fucking bitch. I ain’t got all day.”

The man’s arm goes around my neck to hold me closer, and I can feel his entire body vibrating. I wonder if he’s just hyped up on adrenaline or if he needs some of those drugs himself.

Nicki moves faster, scrambling to one of the shelves. She starts tossing boxes into the bag.

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