Ten Years Ago:
Lexi Peterson found the bullet in a box of her dead father’s things.
There had been a stack of magazines—Fish and Stream, Outdoor Life, Guns and Ammo, a canteen, some gun oil, papers, an old pair of binoculars—and that bullet. It was weird; shiny and smooth, same color as the heart pendant Dad had gotten her for her ninth birthday, just last year.
Outside, Chewy was barking his head off. From where she was sitting in the middle of the daylight basement floor, Lexi looked through the two windows set high in the east wall to the sky outside. It was almost full dark.
Just then Chewy’s barking was overpowered by the sound of Tina yelling “shut up!” as loud as she could from the kitchen window.
Tina was Lexi’s stepmom. Her real mom Felicia was in Poughkeepsie, half a world away. Her and Dad had gotten a divorce three years ago. There had been a lot of yelling and a ton of bad things were said by both mom and dad about each other. Mom did have some “challenges” that she was working through, like taking too many pills, even though they were prescribed by a doctor. And she drank. A lot. Either way, because of those things Dad ended up with full custody…
The farm they lived on belonged to her great uncle and aunt, Benji and Ruth. They were old, but a whole bunch of years ago they had a daughter of their own. She grew up and went to college so Lexi got to stay in her room. Dad got to stay in what used to be Ruth’s craft room.
No matter what mom had said about him, Lexi thought her dad was… or, had been, the greatest: back when she was really little and couldn’t stop crying because she lost her stuffed bunny, he told her it was okay… then he pretended to find it, even though she knew that he had gone out and bought a new one. He watched musicals on the kids’ channel with her even though she was pretty sure he hated them. When she wanted to quit gymnastics because she totally sucked on the balance beam, he told her she could do it, that he believed in her, but he said the most important thing was for her to believe in herself. And when she still couldn’t get the beam right he told her it was okay, that if she kept trying she would get it but no matter what he loved her. She was his little Bug-a-Lug.
He was a good dad. The best dad. The two of them were a team; he had always said so. And now he was gone. They were the Dynamic Duo, and he was gone. She would never see him again; never hear his voice unless it was from a recording; never wrap her arms around him…
Okay, no more crying. If she started, she wouldn’t stop. Just like at the funeral. She wiped her nose on her sleeve and took a few deep, shaky breaths. Then she frowned, tilting her head to one side, listening.
Chewy had stopped barking.
Maybe Tina had gotten him in. Tina was okay. Lexi was actually starting to get used to her. But now that dad was… gone, she might end up going back to her real Mom. Benji and Ruth wanted Lexi to stay, along with Tina. That was why Benji and Ruth were gone— off to the city to talk to people in suits, and talk to mom, who had someone in a suit working for her (supposedly she had stopped drinking and taking pills), everybody deciding what would happen… and all Lexi could do was wait. Waiting was hard. But what was worse was not being in control of anything. Everything was happening to her. Her life had shattered like a glass house, coming down around her in pieces and there was nothing she could do but watch and wait. It wasn’t fair! It wasn’t fair…
It wasn’t fair.
“Lexi!” a voice yelled. Lexi looked up to see Tina’s shadow on the wall where the stairs turned. “Dinner in ten minutes! I’m gonna set the table and get Chewy in.”
“Kay,” she called back. The shadow disappeared. Time to put the box back where the others, the ones she had already gone through, were stacked, along the wall opposite the windows. But she didn’t want to rush: closing this box felt a little bit like… closing out her dad.
Lexi looked back down at the bullet, held between her thumb and first finger. It was pretty, even though she knew how dangerous it was. Dad had taught her about guns. His job had been dangerous too. He was a marshal. He traveled all over the U.S. to catch bad guys. He didn’t talk about his job much, except the month before he died. He had said that he was going after a whole family of bad people. Then he went away for a week, and when he came back he said he got ’em. The whole family, got ’em all. That night he snuggled with her extra tight while they watched TV. He had seemed sad. And the next night, when she was watching a scary movie on the cable channel, he came in and turned it off, right in the middle. When she asked why, dad had said “because the real world’s scary enough.”
A week after that they got the news. He had gone back out again and something terrible had happened. They wouldn’t say how he died, only that it was “in the line of duty.”
Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry…
She wiped her eyes, dropped the bullet back in the box and stood up. Her knees were sore from sitting cross-legged so long. As she stretched, Lexi looked out the windows. The moon was outside now, peeking up from the bottom of the window to her left. It was full, and it looked huge. She went and stood on the small wooden bench against the wall, staring out at that bright, big moon. It made her feel small. Lexi was wondering why the full moon always looked so ginormous just as it was coming up when she was startled by a long, loud scream.