| Tyler laid flat on his back with his bare toes dug into the mossy green grass. His arms were bent behind his head and he watched Zaney write scrupulously in her leather bound journal. Her auburn hair caught the sun on an angle and his eyes trailed down her freckled shoulder to her pale arm and then to her long, tapered fingers. The heat made him lethargic and he felt sleep tug at his consciousness.
“Ugh!” Zaney sighed, throwing down her journal in defeat.
“Finished?” Tyler asked. Zaney turned to look at him, a scowl on her face. When her eyes met his, her sour mood almost persisted until she caught him in the full brilliance of her smile.
“I don’t mean to get so frustrated,” she began, linking hands with him, “But I feel that my words have a way of forcing me to write and then when I get so far, they leave me, and I want them so bad.”
Tyler leaned up to capture her pink lips with his. He pulled away and cupped her cheek soothingly, “I love you.”
“That’s not going to make the words come back!” Zaney giggled. “But I love you, too.”
“Read to me,” Tyler encouraged while sitting up fully and putting an arm around her shoulder. Zaney hesitated before picking up her journal.
“You sure? I haven’t got anything all that great-“
“Yes,” he reassured firmly. She flipped through the pages until she stopped on one that had heavy marks crossing out several words on the surface.
“’Mommy! We want to see the sharks, and the penguins!’” Zaney began to read. As her voice lilted out, his mind wondered. His eyes took in the dilapidated house that sat in front of them. The shutters were broken and the white of the stucco was yellowing in age and grime. Treacherous wooden porch steps led from the door to the yard they now occupied. A tiny peach tree decorated the side of the house and swollen fruit bulged from its branches.
How long would this place be safe for them?
“Tyler!” Zaney admonished, “You’re not listening!”
“Sorry, babe, but it’s the one about the zoo. There weren’t any sharks or penguins.”
“You read it while I was sleeping!” she accused, her warm brown eyes fixing him with a disapproving stare. He raised his hands in defense.
“You hardly ever tell me one of your stories! And for the record, it was a beautiful one.”
“I don’t tell you because it’s private!” she scolded and would have continued, but a loud banging noise shook the front of the house. They reacted simultaneously. Tyler grabbed the roughened pack that had been lying next to them. His hand came out steadily holding a handgun. Zaney threw her journal in the pack and jumped to her feet ready to run.
“Police!” someone yelled from inside the building. There were sounds of many feet stomping.
Zaney grabbed Tyler’s shirtsleeve and they ran together to the thicket of trees bordering the property.
“Stop!” someone ordered, but the couple pressed on. Tyler gauged that there would be enough covering to keep going without getting hit with a bullet when they decided to fire at them. Brambles scraped at their faces and hands. Their feet carried them swiftly over fallen sticks and leaves. Somewhere in the panicked fleeing, their hands connected and Tyler went faster as he dragged Zaney along behind him.
“Faster Zaney, just until we get to the car,” he huffed. He could hear footsteps behind him crunching on gnarled branches and rocks. Their pursuers were getting too close. Tyler’s breathing became labored and his heart beat hard in his chest from exertion and terror of finally being caught. Zaney kept slowing down and gasping for breath. Soon, he heard the sound of the gun being fired. Tyler ignored it.
Then Zaney gasped and stopped completely. He was jerked back and he was turned to face her. Their bodies collided against each other. Zaney was not in a shape he expected her to be in. A fatal wound graced her midsection and blood spilled onto the pink pheasant shirt she had been wearing.
“Oh, God,” she breathed, crumpling into his arms “I’ve been shot.”
“Shit, you’re bleeding too much,” he cursed, his hands were shaking as he moved frantically to cut a cloth to cover the wound and apply pressure.
“Drop your weapon!” the cop that had caught up with them order. It was an instant that Tyler remembered having the weapon in his hand. His decision was automatic. He shot at the policeman with precision and skill, killing him with one bullet to the head.
“Oh God, I think I’m dying.”
Tyler wrapped his lover in his arms. His body was in shock, his arms heavy with numbness. “No, no, no. You can’t die. We need to go see the sharks and the penguins and make all our dreams come true.”
“Don’t you get it, Tyler?” Zaney choked, a dribble of blood spilling from her lips, “There’s never any penguins and sharks to see. Life is always one big zoo trip of disappointment.”
“Zaney, Zaney,” Tyler chanted, rocking her body back and forth. He felt a conviction that if he said her name fast enough and over and over again, the badness would go away.
“Stand up and put your hands behind your head!” came a yell from close behind him, “You’re under arrest for aiding and abetting a multiple homicide offender.”
Tyler felt the moment Zaney’s chest didn’t rise. He felt like there was never going to be a dawn again. His fingers brushed the edges of the angelic face that laid still in death. Was the trip to the zoo what turned Zaney into a monster? Was that when she decided to murder?
Her last words floated through his mind. “There are never any penguins and sharks to see. Life is always one big zoo trip of disappointment.”