I held out our money for the tender and nodded my thanks. The salty breeze at the off-shore gun range lifted my spirits. I breathed in and allowed myself to get pumped up for one of my favorite past times. I used to come here with dad all the time, and the good memories were nice for a change. No morbid graves to mark, no police to hide from, no memories of the family I’d lost; just me, my gun, and the sound of the ocean.
“When did you learn to wield a gun?”
“Four! Isn’t that child endangerment? Forcing a child to learn guns?”
“More dangerous to not know.”
He carried the heavy tackle box full of various bullets, all caliber and points we’d ever need, and I carried our picnic basket, loaded with numerous snacks and lunch.
Mike’s clear, crystal eyes saw to my soul, here at the turquoise ocean, his eyes pierced me even more. I smiled at the memory of his reaction to me asking him to get his swimming trunks this morning before we left.
His smirk caught me off guard, “What?”
“Well, we almost seem like normal teenagers.”
I huffed, “I can’t even remember normal.”
“I’ll let you use mom’s revolver again.” I knew once I said it he’d give me that look, he wanted my dad’s Glock, and there was no way he’d get that. After looking at his eyes and losing my breath for a second at the intensity of them, I caved. “Alright! How about we look for you one and I let you practice with both today.”
That smirk again. It alarmed me, but calmed me at the same time the way Mike made me feel. Secure but insecure, happy but scared. Calm, nervous. Shy, bold.
“You never answered my question the other day.” He held open the door for me as we entered the range.
“How did you get to Florida when the genocide started?”
Good feelings gone. I felt the smile I didn’t know I had on my face slip off, and a lump grew in my throat, “What does it matter?”
“Seriously, Sara? There is a ban on flights. All flights. And those pictures were from ground zero, they were fresh. You were there, weren’t you? When it hit?”
My fingers itched to wrap around the handle of my gun, to squeeze the trigger.
“The whole world was told it was a terrorist attack, and you tell me it’s an inside job. No media outlet showed those photos. And yet, here’s Sara with Polaroids. What happened?”
The heaviness in my heart pulled me back to those vivid moments. Instinctively, I swatted Mike’s hand as he reached toward my face. His eyes didn’t waver as he reached back up to me and wiped a tear off my cheek.
“Sara, you don’t have to-”
“I walked to the Global Embassy after school sometimes when I didn’t have a ride. No one knew I was there. I would sneak in through dad’s back door.” I loaded bullets for the both of us and handed him the revolver. “I overheard someone talking about the weapons they were acquiring for the trip they planned with dad. It worried me, because I knew my dad was strongly against illegal gun activity, the black market, and the opinion some had to weaponize the Global Embassy.”
“Did you tell him?”
I showed Mike how to point the gun, stand and pull the trigger, also how to hold it when he’s not aiming at a target. “No. I begged him to let me go.”
“Did he let you?”
“No.” I emptied my magazine into the paper down the range, and I watched Mike do the same. “Next time, see the target, set the sights, then shoot. If you focus on the target, you lose your sights.” After several rounds, we cleaned up and went out to the docks for lunch.
Mike unwrapped our sandwiches as I let the breeze play with my hair. “So, if he didn’t let you go, how’d you get there?”
“I booked a flight behind his back. I wanted to warn him, but he was constantly surrounded by security. When I showed up in his hotel room, he was furious! He asked what was I thinking, and when I began to tell him what I’d heard, the bombs went off. I was too late. Through all the rubble and the ringing in my ears, I heard the emergency siren. We went down there together, that’s when I took the pictures. They whisked us back home, and that’s when it began.”
“When the genocide began?”
“When the lies began. When I heard what the media was sharing, I was so confused.” I made air quotes, “Terrorists.” I shook my head and ate, though I was blind to the taste. “It wasn’t long until the genocide reached here.”
“When did you start marking the mass grave sites?”
“I didn’t start in Florida, they took us away too quick, but I started when it hit home. My home.” My chin did the annoying quiver thing, and I put down my sandwich.
“I’m so sorry you had to see that, Sara.”
I could almost feel the burden on my shoulders slip onto his a little. So much for the breeze and ocean pulling my cares away, to my surprise, Mike was doing it better. I pulled in a deep breath and rose, “Let’s go. We have to get that journal back.”
Mike stood and stretched, but instead of helping me gather the trash, he grabbed my wrist and pulled me toward the water. For a short, simple moment, we were two people, playing in the ocean.