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One Shot at Love - Chapter 1

Prologue
 



The man with sandy blond hair and chiseled features leaned against the rotting wood fence and watched with pride and a little awe. His hair danced in the wind as the impending storm grew. He’d walked to the overgrown field to tell Maribel to come inside but had been caught by her poetry in motion. Her small body held the shotgun with ease and each shot hit its mark when the clay discs spun in the air only to disintegrate in a cloud of dust as the tiny markswoman held steady.
Pop pop pop. Not a single miss. She was a natural. A shooting virtuoso. Not many would describe a markswoman as a child prodigy, but that was exactly what Maribel was.


Every day she began to look more like her mother, and the beautiful agony of it all created tiny slivers in his heart. She was a constant reminder of all he’d lost and all he’d gained in that one fateful moment.

He was twenty-five at the time. He hadn’t known the first thing about taking care of a squiggly helpless infant, but somehow, they’d muddled through together with the support of his mother, and then she’d left him all alone to finish the job. He’d done the best he could.

It would have been better to have a boy. The town folk gave him disapproving looks at the way he was raising his little girl. They begrudgingly admitted that it was clear he adored her and she him, but taking a girl hunting at age five elicited frowns and shaking heads. Where he went, so did she, and so began her fascination with shotguns.


“That steady aim of yours is gonna make you famous someday,” Ray shouted above the wind to his daughter.

“I’m gonna be like Annie Oakley.” Maribel set her shotgun next to her side and posed, grinning as she showed Ray the gap in her teeth.

“Come on in. Storm’s fixin’ to blow you off your feet. You can practice again tomorrow. Okay?”

“All right, Papa. Will you shoot with me tomorrow?”

“We’ll see. I got a lot to do around the farm and can’t be wasting my time having my little girl keep showing me up as the better shooter.” Ray smiled and waved his hand.

Maribel picked up her shotgun and scrambled after her father. She let the screen door to the old white farmhouse slam, barely managing to remain standing as the strong wind pushed against her small body. She started helping her father by setting the table, looked over her shoulder and asked, “Pa, how am I gonna be famous if they don’t have the Wild West show anymore?”

“The Olympics, Maribel, you’re gonna be in the Olympics someday, and you’re gonna bring home the Gold for the US.”

“They got skeet shooters in the Olympics, Pa?”

“Yup, and double trap, too. They’re allowing women to compete again. Boneheads stopped letting women in the games in ’96, but it’s back now. Thank God too many people raised a ruckus. Tomorrow I’ll teach ya how to change your style. No more holding the shotgun against your shoulder. Ya gotta learn to start from your hip ’cause that’s the way they do it now. You can’t move your shotgun until the clay is released.”

“Oh Pa, I can’t wait to learn a new way of shootin’. It was getting boring, ya know?”

Ray chuckled and patted his daughter’s head. No matter how much she started looking like her mother, he wouldn’t let the pain creep in again. She was and would always be his pride and joy.
 



Chapter One
 



The skinny kid with greasy black hair skulked into the grade school wearing his heavy trench coat. He was a walking billboard for what he was about to do. Stupid school officials. How they don’t realize the terror I’m about to rain on their papier mâché projects is a fucking miracle. Bright cardboard cutouts peppered the pastel-colored walls, a contrast to his dark colored clothing.

 

In the stillness of the morning he was cat burglar quiet. The absence of sound would not last forever because soon their screams would fill every pocket of air.

 

He thought he was telegraphing his intentions with every menacing step he made into the bright hallway. They could have stopped him. They should have ended the madness, but they didn’t because nobody had ever targeted a grade school. He was the first. That made him feel powerful. If he made it through this first test, the first chapter of his manifesto, he would progress to the next stage. He had a list and knew where to go first. The high school wasn’t that far away. It was entirely possible to hit both targets before the inevitable conclusion.

The feelings bubbled to the surface hot and dangerous like lava. Excitement. Anticipation. Shoving aside the dark coat, his hands gripped the solid handle of the two automatic weapons. Fingers molded to the grips and power surged from deep inside. He began sending his message loud and clear, he was not a nobody, he existed. Look at me now, Mother, my fifteen minutes of fame should make you proud, you’ll be the talk of the town.

He emptied both guns into the screaming children and desperate teachers attempting to pull them into the safety of locked classrooms. His head cocked to the side. The sirens sounded far away, and he lamented briefly that he wouldn’t complete his plan. All the bullets were discharged, and he contemplated reloading, but the sirens were close now. Walking slowly down the hall, he surveyed his masterpiece. The blood created interesting patterns. He could almost hear the thud of his heartbeat, slow and steady over the increasing awareness of the police sirens that he knew were mere feet away on the other side of the door he was walking toward. With each step closer to the outside he heard the dull clomp of his boots on the floor. He pushed open the door and grinned as he squinted at the sunshine above.

It didn’t matter it was over in a matter of minutes, and the death toll was worthy of recognition. He pulled the handgun from the front of his pants and stuck the barrel into his mouth. He would rather take matters into his own hands. Suicide by police was not in the cards for him. His last thought before he pulled the trigger was, when I die, I’ll know that I must have existed.

 

Aretha Franklin’s rich vocals blared through the speakers in Blair’s practical Ford Fiesta. She’d wanted to buy a Prius, but that was out of her range.

Blair was singing along to the CD, no Bluetooth for her. She knew that most of her friends preferred a different style of music, Katie Perry or Beyoncé, or some such other pop music, but she didn’t care because Aretha was the queen in her mind, and the new music did not hold a candle to the classics. She’d never bend to the pressure to fit in. She liked what she liked. To hell with other people’s judgments on what was hip and what was not.

Her phone didn’t connect to the car in any way, but when she heard the buzz, she couldn’t help herself and glanced at the text message from her mom of all people.


Don’t turn on the news, come home.

Like a moth to a flame, Blair pushed the button on the radio to switch her to an FM station. She needed to hear the news, because the hairs at the back of her neck suddenly stood up like rigid soldiers. Blair knew life would never be the same again and it wasn’t.

Through the tinny speaker she heard a male voice report on breaking news: “A shooting at Cedarbrook Elementary—”

Screech.

Blair slammed on her brakes, pulled to the side of the road and called her mother’s cell phone. She angrily punched the button on the radio.

“Blair?” her mother’s anguished voice answered.

Blair was already crying before she managed to push out the words. “Trina? Please tell me that she’s okay,” Blair pleaded.

The silence on the other end of the small cell phone was deafening. “Come home,” her mother said.

She pushed the button to end the call and sat in the car with her head in her hands, sobbing for ten minutes before pulling herself together enough to be the shoulder her mother needed. Her little sister was the light in both their lives after her father had abandoned them for the second time. This might be the final straw that would break her mother’s back. Mothers are not supposed to outlive their children. That’s the rule. How dare someone break it? The world hardly made sense to her before this happened. Now it was just one, big, fucked up mess. If she believed in God, she would curse him right now, but she didn’t even have that in her favor. Who would be the recipient of her anger now?

 


Maribel hopped out of her truck and was heading to the feed store when a microphone was shoved in her face. She glowered at the prissy blonde woman smiling at her with a fake-expectant expression plastered on her face. That’s what it looked like, a plaster casing, all rigid and void of depth or color.

“Maribel, what is your opinion on the school shooting? You’ve talked about the gun regulations in California and how hard it was for you to prepare adequately for the Olympics when you had to complete a background check every time you bought ammo, but don’t you think they’re needed? Especially now. Is that why you moved back to Washington? Because the laws here are so lax?”

Maribel blinked. Why had she needed to spout off a few months ago when that reporter had interviewed her? Now she was the poster child for the NRA, again. She’d literally been that for them when she’d first started out. Her pa had explained how sponsorships worked. Recently, she’d started distancing herself. Although she was still a card-carrying member and believed in her Second Amendment rights, that didn’t mean she wanted to get in the middle of the controversy.

“Um…I don’t know your name, but did you guys ever interview Michael Phelps every time someone drowned and ask him about pool safety regulations?” Maribel ground out.


The walking Barbie stared at her for a second, a small frown appearing on her face before recovering and pushing on.

“I suppose you haven’t heard, or you wouldn’t be so cavalier with your response. Twenty children under the age of nine died today, Ms. Sanders. Do you still believe we should stop looking for ways to reduce this senseless violence? Is a gun-toting Olympian the kind of role model you believe we should be trotting out for little girls to follow?”

Maribel’s eyes opened wide, and she barely managed to control her emotions. “Have you no decency? Preying on those families and their grief for your next sensational story.” Maribel pushed the mic away from her face, brushed away a tear and turned back around to fold her tall body into her truck. She rolled down her window.

“Don’t bother to follow me or this gun-toting Olympian might exercise her rights to shoot anyone who has the balls to trespass, and my nine gold medals prove that I don’t miss whatever I set my sights on.”

The Barbie Doll’s mouth flew open, but she took a step back and watched as Maribel spit gravel leaving the parking lot. Maribel couldn’t ever remember her anger getting the best of her. Somehow what that reporter said had touched a raw nerve, and her very long, slow, fuse sparked to life. She’d felt that same anger after the hundredth time a reporter had asked her the same question about her support for the NRA. Lately she’d been second-guessing her views, and the lingering questions reporters kept tossing her way was getting to her. First, she’d popped off at the reporter a few months back, and now she’d angrily responded to this woman who had the humanity of a shark.

 


Maribel was too rattled to make the long trek home to her lonely ranch. Ever since her father had died, she felt more than a little lost. Thank God for Sandy, her friend and for a brief time, her lover. She needed to see a friendly face. When she approached the door to the coffee shop Sandy owned, her shaky hand pulled open the door.

Sandy was carrying a new batch of cinnamon rolls to put inside the glass case. As soon as her eyes met Maribel’s, she directed the young clerk to finish filling the case.

“You look like you just saw a ghost. Sit,” Sandy directed. “I’ll get you a cup of tea and take a short break. I wish you didn’t live all the way out in bum-fuck Egypt. How am I supposed to make sure you’re doing fine all by your lonesome if I only see you when you come in for tea?”

Maribel shoved her hands in her pockets and shuffled over to an empty seat by the fireplace. “Thanks,” she whispered.

Sandy set a cup and cinnamon roll on the table in front of Maribel. “What happened?”

“Same old, same old. A reporter stuck a mic in my face and asked about the latest school shooting like I’m personally to blame for the tragedy.”

“You’re a hermit and an easy mark. Shrug the viper off. Better yet, get yourself a girlfriend and join the human race.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“Yes, it is. You’ve had plenty of opportunities. Women flirt with you all the time. Start paying attention. Ask one out for a change. You’ve been alone licking your wounds for long enough. Having someone special in your life isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you.”

“Fine. I’ll take that under advisement and start paying attention. I’m not too proud to admit that a solo life on the ranch sucks. Ever since Pa died, it’s like I’ve lost my passion for life. I don’t even enjoy skeet shooting anymore. Maybe finding someone with passion is the ticket to getting my own back.”

“Good, now eat your cinnamon roll, and promise me that you’ll give me all the details when you take that enormous step to put yourself out there again.”

“Who else am I going to call for advice? Thanks, Sandy. Too bad we didn’t work out.”

“I’m allergic to miles and miles of open space and chicken shit.”

 

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