Twenty minutes later, they were sitting in a grassy field on the edge of a thick f o rested area that, Lindsey said, belonged to Hollis but would soon belong to Marcus. The field, overgrown with wildflowers and the occasional tre sapling, was nonetheless fenced in by an interw
eaving series of chopped logs.
“Why is there a fence?”
“Used to be we had a horse named Hobbit that grazed here, but then he died. ”
“He was your horse?”
“Yup. Well, Hollis’s, too. Hollis got him from my father as a wedding present, and then when I was born—six months later—Hollis gave him to me. He was the gentlest horse, Hobbit. I could ride him from the time I was three. ”
“So are your parents divorced?”
“No, not officially. But you know what they say about Gutshot: the population never goes up and never goes down, because every time a woman gets pregnant, a man leaves town. ” Colin laughed. “He left when I was one. He calls a couple times a year, but Hollis never makes me talk to him. I don’t know the guy, and I don’t really care to. How ’bout you?”
“My parents are still married. I have to call them at the same time every night—in thirty minutes, actually. They’re overprotective, I guess, but normal. We’re really boring. ”
“You’re not boring. You’ve got to stop saying that, or people will start believing you. Now, about the gun. ” Lindsey jumped up and ran back across the field and hurdled the fence. Colin followed her at a more sustainable pace. He did not, as a rule, believe in running. “Pop the trunk,” Lindsey shouted.
Colin unlocked the trunk and found a long, double-barreled shotgun with a stained wooden handle. Lindsey picked up the gun, handed it to Colin, and said, “Point it at the sky. ” She grabbed a square paper box, and then they marched back, over the fence and across the field.
Looking like an expert, Lindsey cracked open the gun, pulled two cylindrical shells from the paper box, and inserted them. “When this shit is loaded, you don’t point it at me, hear?” She snapped the gun shut, held it up to her shoulder, and then carefully handed it over to Colin.
She moved behind him and helped him hold the gun against his shoulder. He could feel her breasts against his shoulder blades, her feet by his feet, her stomach against his back. “Tuck it tight against your shoulder,” she said, and he did. “The safety’s here,” she said, reaching up and guiding his hand to a steel switch on the side of the gun. He’d never held a gun before. It felt simultaneously exciting and deeply wrong.
“Now when you shoot it,” she said, her breath against the nape of his neck, “you don’t pull the trigger. You just reach in there and you squeeze it. Just squeeze it softly. I’m going to take a step back and then you just squeeze, okay?”
“What should I aim at?”
“You couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn, so just aim straight ahead. ” Colin felt the absence of Lindsey on his back, and then he—ever so softly—squeezed the trigger.
The blast hit his ears at the same moment it hit his right shoulder, and the force of the gun caused his arm to pull up and his legs to fall out from under him and he found himself sitting on his ass in a field of wildflowers with the gun pointing to the sky. “Well,” he said. “That was fun. ”
Lindsey was laughing. “See, that’s why we’re here, so you don’t fall on your ass in front of Colin and Chase and everybody. You’ve got to learn to prepare for that kick. ”
And so over the course of the next hour, Colin shot the holy living hell out of the oak trees before him, pausing only to reload the gun and call his parents. He shot forty-four shells into the forest, and then, when his right arm was numb and he felt like he’d been punched repeatedly in the shoulder by a champion boxer, he said, “Why don’t you try?” Lindsey shook her head and sat down on the grass. Colin followed her down.
“Oh, I don’t shoot guns. I’m terrified of them,” she said.
“Are you shitting me?”
“No. Plus that’s a ten-gauge. I wouldn’t shoot a ten-gauge for a thousand dollars. They kick like a goddamned mule. ”
“Then why did—”
“Like I said, I don’t want you to look like a pussy. ”
Colin wanted to continue the conversation but didn’t quite know how, so he lay back and rubbed his sore shoulder. On the whole, Gutshot had been physically unkind to him: a puffy scar above his eye, forty-four distinct shoulder bruises, and of course a still-painful gaping hole in his gut. And yet, somehow, he liked the place.
He noticed that she was lying next to him, her arms crossed beneath her head. She kicked at his shin playfully to get his attention. “What?” he asked.
“I was thinking about this girl you love so much,” she said. “And this place I love so much. And how that happens. How you can just fall into it. This land Hollis is selling, the thing about it is—well, I’m partly mad because I don’t want there to be some bullshit McMansion subdivision up there, but also partly because my secret hideout is up there. ”
“My secret hideout. My super, incredibly top secret location that no one on earth knows about. ” Lindsey paused and turned her head away from the starstruck sky and toward Colin. “You wanna see it?”
The End (of the Middle)