10 Months Before Impact Day
Despite my reservations, I was practically bubbling with excitement by the time I arrived at the front gate of Rachel’s school the next day. Unlike me, she attended the local public school, one which did not have the most stellar reputation. I’d never actually been there, but I’d heard about it more than once, usually from news stories about delinquent kids.
As I leaned against the stone wall, arms folded across my chest, and watched the students leave for the day. I definitely got the impression that the reputation wasn’t unearned. Half the kids looked like they would stab you for looking at them the wrong way, and the other half looked like recreational drug use was just another class that they took. I got more than a few dirty looks, standing there in my private school uniform, but I did my best to ignore them. I wasn’t intimidated, I just didn’t want to deal with the attention.
I saw Rachel before she saw me, weaving in and out of the crowd of students, hair tied up in a ponytail, schoolbag slung over one shoulder. She caught sight of me and beamed, heading straight for me.
As she burst out of the stream of students, I couldn’t help staring at her. It was the first time I’d seen her in her uniform, and, embarrassing as it was, I had to admit it was having an effect on me. The short, pleated skirt, the slightly too small shirt, the loose tie, the knee-high socks…
Snap out of it, Charlie, I scolded myself. What kind of a pervert finds a school uniform attractive, anyway? I mean, we were the same age, but still, it felt wrong.
“Hey,” I said, trying to act like everything was completely normal, and my brain wasn’t doing backflips.
“Oh. Um, hey,” she said, a little awkwardly. She seemed distracted, and I wondered if I should have met her somewhere less obvious.
“No, I just… haven’t seen you in your school uniform before,” she said, biting her lip cutely again. I could feel my cheeks getting hot.
“Pervert,” I said, as if I wasn’t every bit as guilty of it as she was.
“No seriously, I think I understand the fetish now,” she said, and my face was threatening to overheat.
“You know people are staring, right?” I pointed out. We had drawn a small crowd, though I wasn’t entirely sure why. Was it my uniform? Were we flirting too obviously?
“Well, let’s go somewhere nobody can see us, then,” she said, with a wicked smile on her face.
She grabbed my hand, and dragged me away from the school, tugging me around a corner. As soon as we were out of sight, she pressed her hands against the wall on either side of my head, trapping me.
“You’re unusually bold today,” I said, still blushing as fiercely as ever, and very deliberately not meeting her gaze.
I felt her fingers beneath my chin, as she gently guided my face back towards hers. Then she planted her lips on mine, kissing me enthusiastically.
“I’m not an idiot. There are going to be consequences for today,” she said, when she pulled away, her own face a little red. “I just want to make the most of it.”
She took me by the hand again, weaving her fingers through mine, and led me further away from her school. We walked, hand in hand, until we reached a bus stop. An older, straight couple waiting there gave us a funny look, and we moved away from each other a little.
“So, where are we going?” I asked, when the bus arrived, and she shepherded me on board.
“To a gun range, obviously,” she replied, sliding along the seat to sit as close to me as was physically possible. She rested her backpack on her lap, and partially on mine, and I felt her grab my hand underneath it. I squeezed it tightly.
“Under eighteens are allowed with adult supervision,” she said confidently. “I called up and asked. Trust me, it’ll be fine.”
“Hey, that credit was for calling me,” I objected jokingly.
“I traded the time I could have spent calling you for time we can spend together in person,” she said, sticking her tongue out again.
“At a shooting range. You’re a true romantic,” I teased.
“We’re a dying breed,” she said, laughing.
We had to walk for a bit from the bus stop, but it was a fairly sparsely populated area, so we took advantage of the quiet to walk hand in hand again. Just feeling the warmth of her hand in mine made my heart beat a little faster, while at the same time soothing me. I never wanted to let go of her.
When we arrived at the shooting range, Rachel went up to the person behind the counter, beamed at him, introduced herself, and less than a minute later, the two of us were walking down an empty corridor, holding a pistol and a box of bullets. She led me into a large room with concrete walls, and several targets scattered about. I was disappointed that none of them were human-shaped.
“This doesn’t exactly feel like adult supervision,” I said as she closed the door behind us.
“I told you it would be fine.”
“So how do you know how to shoot, anyway?” I asked.
“I came here a few times with one of my mum’s old boyfriends,” she explained casually.
“As you do.”
“Alright, so here’s the thing you need to remember,” she said, passing the pistol to me, taking care not to point it at either of us. She took my fingers and placed them in all the right places, then continued. “Guns like this aren’t nearly as accurate as they are in video games. You’re going to want to be fairly close, and you just need to hit centre mass. Physics will take care of the rest.”
She gestured to the nearest target, and guided my arms and legs into the appropriate position, talking me through a few more basics as she did. Then she slid a pair of earmuffs over my ears, and did the same for herself. Satisfied with my pose, she stepped away, giving me ample room. I had been hoping for a romantic grip from behind, but that didn’t actually seem very practical once I had the gun in my hand.
I held the position Rachel had instructed, made sure the safety of the pistol wasn’t on, focussed on the target, and pulled the trigger. The gun let out a deafening bang, even through the earmuffs, and recoiled fiercely in my hand. I missed the target entirely, taken completely by surprise by the force of the weapon in my hand.
I straightened up and tried again, more prepared for the shot the second time around. I braced the appropriate parts of my body, and pulled the trigger again, and actually managed to hit the target. Well, the edge of it, anyway. Still, I gave a little cheer, and looked back over at Rachel, who gave an encouraging grin.
We spent a couple of hours doing that. Whenever I finished a clip, we took our earmuffs off, and she talked me through what I was doing right, and what I wasn’t. She made me reload the pistol every time, pushing me to do it faster and faster, and after going through several boxes of bullets, I found I could hit the target fairly consistently. My arms were also very sore, and I had a bit of a headache.
Rachel handed the gun and earmuffs back, and we walked out with our arms linked, which earned us a warm smile from the guy behind the counter. We walked back to the bus stop, and realised we were going to have to wait a little while. We sat down together, and Rachel rested her head on my shoulder.
“That was surprisingly fun,” I told her, my own head resting gently against hers.
“Right? You’ll probably still want to practice, but I think you’re off to a good start,” she encouraged me, and I could feel her warm smile even without seeing her face.
“So long as I don’t get caught with the guns,” I mused.
“Charlie, at this point you have a whole arsenal on you when you go out. The guns aren’t going to make that big of a difference,” she laughed.
“I need to think of a plan in case I do get arrested,” I realised, suddenly serious. I hadn’t even considered the possibility before then.
“My suggestion would be, don’t,” Rachel offered, unhelpfully.
“Not one of your more standout tips, but I’ll take it under advisement,” I told her dryly. In response, she twisted her neck until her face was pointing towards mine, and kissed me again. I immediately turned bright red. “What was that for?”
“Because I wanted to,” she said simply, snuggling back into my shoulder.
“Oh. Okay then,” I said, trying to quieten the butterflies in my stomach.
Rachel sighed loudly, stretching her legs out. I did my best not to stare, and but failed spectacularly. She punched my thigh gently.
“I don’t want to go home,” she said softly.
“I don’t want you to go home either, but the later you leave it, the worse it’ll be,” I told her, wishing I could have just asked her to run away with me. It was a stupid idea that wouldn’t ever work, but it was all I wanted in that moment.
All of a sudden, she pulled away from me, leaving her hand on my leg. I blushed as she looked up at me, a pleading look on her face.
“Hey, will you come home with me?” she asked. She looked so desperate, not to mention irresistibly adorable, it took all of my strength not to give in to her then and there.
“I don’t think I’ll have much luck sneaking past your mum tonight,” I said, trying to be the pragmatic one for once. “She’s going to be on the warpath.”
“Yeah, I know. That’s why I want you there,” Rachel said, surprising me. Suddenly, I realised what she was actually asking.
“Oh. Are you sure?” I asked, trying to play out the scenario in my head.
“Do you think it’s a bad idea?” she asked in response, and I realised just how unsure she was. She was scared. I’d never seen her scared before.
“I don’t know,” I said honestly. “You know your mum better than I do. But if you want me there, I will definitely be there for you.”
“Thank you,” she said, wrapping her arms around me. I tried not to think about the feeling of her chest pressing into mine.
“I can’t promise I won’t punch her, though,” I added quietly.
“Alright, alright,” I said. “Boss fight time. Let’s do this.”
Next Week: We Are Not A Family