Broken Pasts
Author:C.M. Stunich

chapter 15

Nathaniel took me to an indoor/outdoor shooting range on the edge of town with a big black sign labeled simply, Tate's. The parking lot was nearly empty, not surprising considering it was Monday, but it didn't make me feel any less nervous.

“I've never even fired a gun before,” I told Nathaniel as he pulled into a front space and shut off the engine. He glanced over at me and smiled, one hand on the keys in the ignition, the other on the wheel.

“A woman as intelligent as you should have no problem picking it up,” he said as his smile shifted from friendly to dirty. “You just hold it in your hands and squeeze.” Nathaniel winked at me and opened up his door, stepping out onto the pavement before I could respond. That nasty bastard, I thought as I followed him out, gun case in one hand, purse in the other. As my heels hit the pavement, I realized that I might be a tad overdressed. There was a woman getting out of a massive Ford pickup next to us, her brown hair tucked into a hat, a T-shirt and jeans on her lithe body. Meanwhile, there I was in a pale blue dress with polka dots and a pair of nude pumps on my feet. The woman smiled at me, but it wasn't nice. More like a You are so out of your element kind of a smile.

I watched as her eyes shifted up and over my shoulder, found Nathaniel and widened, just a bit.

“Are you okay?” he asked me as he came around the front of the car and paused on my left side.

“I look like a 50's housewife,” I whispered as I watched jeans-girl pull a long, black bag out of her truck. She was catching little glances over her shoulder, eyeing Nathaniel with an undisguised bit of interest. I forced myself to keep my hackles down and out for the count. Can't be jealous of someone that doesn't belong to you, Theresa.

I turned to Nathaniel and watched his gaze sweep me from head to toe and back again. He didn't look disappointed. In fact, when his eyes found my face again, they were sparkling.

“As long as you're not getting the urge to ask, How was your day, dear? then I think you're okay.” I smiled and lifted my gun case.

“Oh, hell no,” I told him. “More like, tell me how to load this fucking thing.”

“I'll show you everything,” Nathaniel told me as he held out his hand. “Don't worry about that.” I hesitated for just a moment, found jeans-girl's eyes watching us inquisitively, and took it.

Nathaniel's skin was warm against mine, sending little spurts of electricity up my arm and goose bumps springing up all across my skin. He made me feel ten years younger and a thousand worries lighter. Why, I don't know. I didn't believe in love at first sight, but the first moment I'd laid eyes on Nathaniel, I had sensed that there was something about him, and it was getting harder and harder to ignore.

We checked in at the counter inside, grabbed a few pairs of earmuffs, some ammunition, and headed out the opposite door into the sunshine.

The shooting range was directly off one of the major highways and from the outside, it appeared to be just like any other industrial shop this side of town. Tall, brick walls and a massive cement parking lot. To say the least, it wasn't very aesthetically pleasing. But the back was different. There was a massive expanse of green lawn bordered on two sides by hulking stone walls decorated from end to end in wildlife murals. Across from us, at the end of the range, was a wooded thicket, probably the last bastion of nature in this entire area. It was impossible to tell from the highway how beautiful it was back here.

“Damn,” I said as Nathaniel guided me to a shady, covered area with a series of small tables. “This is a little island of paradise. How did you find it?” Nathaniel set the gun case down and handed me a pair of pink earmuffs. I looked down at them and then at the pair in his other hand. “Nuh-uh,” I said as I reached out and grabbed the hunter green pair. “I don't do baby pink.” Nathaniel paused for a moment and then laughed. He just tossed his head back and let it out, raucous and loud, real. There was someone beyond that perfect suit and manicured hair. Nathaniel Sutherland was a man I could relate to. I bet he even did the whole beer and burgers thing. When we were done here, I was going to ask him out to lunch. He'd taken me to breakfast, so it was the least I could do.

“Alright,” he told me as he took the pink muffs and hooked them around his neck. “I'll take the baby pink. It compliments my skin anyway.” We grinned at each other while he opened the gun case and pulled the pistol out of the foam insert. “Cedric and I took our first gun courses here,” he said as he pressed a button on the side of the gun and … something … popped out of the bottom. “I actually saw a billboard ad on the way home from Gillian's funeral, and I just wanted to blow off some steam. It changed my life.” Nathaniel paused and looked around as if he was seeing the place for the first time. “I never really noticed before, but you're right. It is beautiful.” He looked me right in the eyes when he said it, and I had to glance away to regain my composure. The man was a compulsive flirt.

“So, Nathaniel Sutherland,” I said as I he set the gun down on the table. “Are you going to change my life today?”

“I sure hope so, Theresa McMaster,” he said and we watched each other for a moment before turning our attentions almost unanimously to the weapon. It was easier to focus on that then it was to look into one another's eyes and know that there was something there. My heart was already pumping and I couldn't stop thinking about his interest in me and my interest in him and, oh God, it was all so messed up that I didn't even know if I could put into words what I was feeling. A gorgeous man was interested in my damaged goods, a man that knew about Glen and Gary. Maybe he didn't know about the other stuff, the miscarriage and the botched surgery, but he knew the rest and he wasn't running for the hills.

“So what's this?” I asked as I pointed at the black rectangle on the table. “My gun knowledge is limited to made-for-TV movies and paperback thrillers.” Nathaniel lifted it up and turned it over so I could examine it.

“This is a magazine,” he said with a little grin. “Don't ever call it a clip.”

“Why?” I asked as he opened the box of ammunition and removed several rounds.

“Because the gun police will show up and take away your right to bear arms,” he said with a wink. I smiled and watched as he took a single round and inserted it into the magazine. “Since you don't have a concealed handgun license, you can't carry the gun loaded, not even in the case to and from the gun range, so you're going to have to know where your gun is, where your ammo is and how to load it quick, just in case.” I sighed, feeling just a bit of the magic in the moment slip away. This was fun and all and probably a useful skill to have, but the whole reason I was there was to learn how to shoot and wound/kill a man I had once thought I loved because he couldn't get me out of his mind. It was a bit hard to keep the romance in the air when I thought of it like that.

Or it was until Nathaniel took my hand and wrapped it around the magazine. And he didn't let go. He got close to me, so close that the toes of my heels bumped against the soles of his black loafers. His skin was unbelievably warm, and it wasn't from the sun, because despite the golden glow of the morning, it was actually pretty chilly outside. It was just him, just his skin, his own, personal heat. I tried not to sigh in bliss and swallowed as I kept my gaze trained on the bullet in his fingers.

“What you need to do is grab a round and use your fingers to push it down and back. Like this.” Nathaniel pressed a round into my hand and folded his fingers gently around me, positioning my hand in a way that was anything but professional. “You need to guide it with your fingers,” he whispered, leaning forward, letting his breath brush against my ear and send shivers down my spine. “Press it inside and – ” I stepped back suddenly, taking the magazine with me.

“Okay, okay,” I said, embarrassed that my voice sounded breathy and far away. “I think I've got it.” Nathaniel smiled, but he didn't apologize, not this time. Maybe our interaction at the club had loosed a few screws in his professional demeanor? I had no idea, but I did notice that my hands were shaking as I stepped forward and loaded a few more rounds into the magazine. The air was tense but not uncomfortable. It was … electric. I noticed jeans-girl watching us from across the range and tried not to cringe when she fired her gun, filling the air with the harsh staccato sound of gunfire. She looked pissed.

I guess I would, too, I thought as I glanced up at Nathaniel's face. If I knew I didn't have a chance with this guy. Look at him. He can't stop staring at you.

“Now what?” I asked and my voice sounded quiet in the brief space between jeans-girl's shots.

“You insert it into the bottom.”

“Whoa there,” I said as I nearly dropped the magazine. “Moving a little fast there, don't you think?”

“You didn't let me finish,” Nathaniel said as he reached out and touched his fingers under my chin. I raised my gaze to his and suddenly there were tears there. I don't know why, they just sprung up unwanted and uncalled for. “I was going to say into the bottom of the gun.”

“Sure you were,” I said as Nathaniel tilted his head to the side and smiled at me. It wasn't a dirty, nasty smile this time (though I did like those quite a bit more than I'd admitted to myself), it was a gentle, understanding smile. He didn't ask why I was crying which I appreciated, just reached out, took the gun, and came around behind me.

“Just follow my motions,” Nathaniel said as he helped me push the magazine into the grip of the pistol. Then he used his hands to guide mine, wrapping them around the gun and positioning my fingers before stepping back and grabbing the earmuffs. He slipped them over my head, running his fingers through my hair and down the back of my neck. I kept my watery gaze on the target and my arms straight out in front of me. “Now,” he continued as he took up a position on my right side. “Just focus on everything that's bothering you, everything that's been eating away at you, holding you back. Picture it there and pull the trigger.” I gave him a nervous laugh and ignored the tears that were rolling down my cheeks. It wasn't that I was sad, that wasn't it. It was just that something about Nathaniel pulled my feelings out of me. I wanted to tell him everything. I wanted to tell him how I woke up four days after my twenty-first birthday, young and afraid, drenched in blood with my unborn child dying inside of me. How they rushed me into the hospital, cut me open, took out my baby and my ovaries and left me barren and alone. I wanted to tell him how happy I was when I met Rhea for the first time, when I found out that she could be mine forever. How Glen broke my heart in two when he left me for Winnie, left me alone and hurting, took our house and my car and didn't care what happened to me. I wanted to scream about Gary, say how excited I was to meet him, how certain I was that I'd never be alone again, talk about how he threatened to kill me. Twice.

Instead, I pulled the trigger, felt the recoil and the power in my arms and laughed. And then I fired again. And again. And again. Until the magazine was empty and I was gasping for breath, hunching over the table with the gun resting before me and Nathaniel standing beside me smiling. I looked up at him, through the fall of my hair and my pink earmuffs.

“You were right,” I said as I stood up straight, stepped forward and wrapped my arms around his neck. “That was pretty fucking life changing.”

And then I kissed him, long and hard and fierce.

I kissed Nathaniel Sutherland, and I didn't care who was watching.

Maybe if I'd known that Gary was, I'd have thought a bit differently?