The Fighter

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Chapter 5: Ready, Aim... Sparks Fly!

“The first thing to remember when using a firearm,” Drew was saying, “is that it should always be pointed at the desired target. Never, ever point it at someone as a joke. Not even when it’s unloaded. Firearms are an extremely dangerous weapon, and should only be used when absolutely needed. Use of a firearm should never be abused.”

I was expecting to be actually using a gun at this point, but that clearly wasn’t in Drew’s plans. Josh and Carson both had experience in firearms recreationally, so they were half-goofing off in the back of the room we were in; we were inside the lodge on the shooting range. Unfortunately, I got roped into actually paying attention to the lesson about the safety of firearms.

“Second rule,” Drew continued, “a gun should always be unloaded when not in use. In our case, it should be unloaded until we head out into the field. Got it?”

“Yes,” I mumbled, stifling a yawn and hearing Josh and Carson agree as well. Wasn’t this stuff common sense?
Drew paced in front of me, his hands clasped behind his back, while I sat at a desk like I was back in high school. “Good. The third thing you should know is that you should never rely on your firearm’s ‘safety’ mode,” he said, using air quotations to exaggerate his point. “A firearm is not reliable enough to assume that the safety mode will work. Therefore, never have your finger on the trigger unless or until you intend to shoot. And never fire with the safety mode on, or if the switch is between ‘safety’ and ‘fire’.”

I was so bored listening to this. Though Drew didn’t believe it, I knew all about gun safety. I may not have used a gun before, but I certainly knew the rules. I knew how to disarm someone with a gun, too. At my own expense, I zoned out Drew’s voice and tried to think of something more entertaining. I thought of my mother; one of my favorite memories with her.

I was only five years old, before everything bad had started. Before I ever met him. It was just my mom and I, in our small house in Arizona. It was early summer, so it was dry and hot outside. I loved the heat, and so did my mom.

We were outside in our yard, where the grass that my mother tended to so carefully was.

We had a surprisingly lush front lawn, and I loved to lie in the grass beside her, staring up at the sky. Today was clear, with no clouds, and I was running through our sprinkler, the cool water welcome to my hot skin.

“Dee!” My mother called from inside the house. I stepped out of the way of the sprinkler and looked at the front door, left open except for the screen door. She pushed it open, holding two tall glasses of ice cold lemonade. Her ashy blonde hair was pinned up, and she was wearing overalls despite the heat.

I skipped over to her and eagerly took one of the glasses from her, gulping down the sweet yet sour beverage. “Mommy, you make the best nemolade,” I said. I could never say the word right, and my mother absolutely loved it, even though she attempted many times to fix it.

She plopped down in a dry area of the grass, and I sat down next to her. “Do you know what my favorite color is, Dee?”

I shook my head, hanging on to her every word.

“Yellow. It reminds me of you,” she told me, her light brown eyes sparkling, the sun reflected in them. I was mesmerized.

I frowned. “But Mommy, I’m not yellow,” I said.

She laughed, and it was beautiful. “I know, sweetheart. But yellow is the color of the sun, and you are my sunshine, Madelyn. You are my happy little girl, and you shine so bright. Don’t let anyone take that shine away. Okay?” She said, her questions more of a finalized statement.

I nodded, grinning up at her. She was my whole world. “Yes, Mommy.” I set my cup down and crawled into her lap. She held me tightly and the smell of her bosom and the scents of summer made me close my eyes in bliss…

The memory faded away, but I felt at peace. I felt a small smile shaping my lips and I sighed contentedly, only to be rudely forced out of my happy place by Drew.

“Madelyn, are you listening to me?” Drew demanded, standing over me like a disappointed teacher.

I rolled my eyes, my smile melting but my good mood staying firmly in place. “Yes, give me the damn written test and I guarantee you I’ll pass it.”

He looked at me skeptically but opened the folder he had picked up while I was daydreaming. He removed a packet, setting it down on my desk, along with a pencil. He glanced up at the clock on the back wall. “You have thirty minutes to complete the exam. You may begin.” He moved passed me to hand the boys packets too.

I almost scoffed, but decided to hold my tongue. I didn’t need thirty minutes to complete this… I flipped through the pages, seeing there were thirty questions on it. They weren’t asking what gun safety rules were, but identifying safety rules in situations, rules that were broken, and how to fix the behavior. I nearly swore under my breath but worked through it as quickly as possible.

I waiting impatiently as Drew graded Josh and Carson’s exams, telling them their scores quietly and then sending them to wait outside. Finally, it was my turn.

“Only missed three,” Drew said as he graded mine. I rubbed my temples from the stress of getting done seconds before my time was up.

“So I passed?” I asked, sitting on the edge of the large desk he was now occupying.

His blue-grey eyes flicked to my legs and traveled up until he met my gaze. He blinked a few times and then seemed to snap out of whatever thought had crossed his mind. “Sorry, yes, you passed. Ready to learn how to actually handle a gun?”

I nodded and stood up. I watched as he filed my exam into his briefcase, then set a small black case on the desk. He opened it and removed a gun, slowly turning to face me. His grey gaze was tentative and slightly unfocused.

“This gun will be the one you will be using. You will get an identical one issued to you after you pass,” he explained, then removed his gun from the holster attached to his belt. “See, this one is issued to me.”

I rolled my eyes. “Okay, got it.”

Drew scowled. “You better be ready.” He turned and started toward the door, and I began to feel a bit nervous about all of this. What if I made it through the training only to fail at the end?

I shook my head and exhaled sharply. Positive. I needed to think positive.

As I followed Drew outside into the warm early-summer air, I heard shots being fired around the corner, where the shooting lanes were. We stopped momentarily so Drew could hand me a pair of ear protectors and goggles.

“Where are Josh and Carson?” I questioned as we kept walking.

Drew paused mid-step and looked over his shoulder. “I sent them to the shooting range. They have enough experience to be out here.”

Hmm… I immediately felt suspicious about this statement, but brushed it off.

We continued walking. As we rounded the corner, I could see that each lane was separated by tall wooden walls, and then a waist-height wall spanned the length of it. Drew led me over to one of the stalls, several lanes away from Josh and Carson. I put the ear protectors around my neck and my goggles over my eyes, watching as Drew did the same. I awaited further instruction. Then, he slid a gun until my hand, and I clutched it gently in both of my small hands.

“You ready?” He asked in a soft voice, his brow furrowing slightly as he scrutinized my face. “You’ve done a lot today. If you’re too tired, we can work on something else.”

I cocked my head to the side, smiling. My body was sore, but not sore enough that I couldn’t shoot a gun. “You’ve got a soft spot. Cute,” I responded. At his glare, I laughed and then said, “Yes, I’m ready.”

Drew gestured at Josh and Carson, indicating they should continue their practice, then stepped behind me. “I’m going to have to adjust your posture, okay? Don’t… don’t get any ideas about what I’m doing. Just a warning,” he whispered in my ear, barely audible over the noise of the gunshots. He was now close enough that I could feel his breath on my ear, feel the warmth of his skin against my back. I fought the urge to shudder.

“Okay,” I said, because I wasn’t nervous about him touching me… for once.

“Stand with your feet apart,” he instructed. I did as he said. “A little bit more.” He gently nudged my feet out with his. I glanced down, smiling slightly at how much bigger his feet were than mine. “Make sure your hips are forward.” He placed his hands on my hips and turned them slightly until they were centered.

“What’s next?” I wondered, trying to ignore the flush creeping into my neck and cheeks and the fact that my body was undeniably reacting to the closeness of his.

“This.” Drew reached up and grasped the ear protectors, sliding them over my ears, his fingertips brushing my neck ever so slightly. “And now…” his voice tapered off as his arms reached around me, shaping my hands around the gun and aiming it forward. “Now you have to be focused. Every shot should be deliberate.”

It was a little harder to hear him now with the ear protectors, but I could hear the softness of his voice and feel his heart racing against my back. I rolled my shoulders back, straightening as I tried to focus. In doing so, I pushed my hips back.

Drew groaned and his grip on my hands tightened. “Focus on shooting right now. Not on me.”

I bit my lip and turned my face to the right, just a tad, and seductively said, “What makes you think I’m focusing on you?” Drew’s lips parted, his eyes flashing with an unnamed emotion, and he pressed his cheek into mine.

Tearing myself out of the strange hormones that momentarily possessed me, I faced forward, aiming slightly below the center of the target to account for the kick. I took a deep breath and pulled the trigger.

The noise immediately sent me spiraling…

Mommy and him were in another fight. I was curled up in the corner beside the TV, wishing I could melt into the walls and not hear the screaming anymore.

“I told you to stop using or to get out of this house!” My mouther shouted.

He got up in her face, waving a small handgun around wildly. “Kick me out and I’ll kill myself. You know I can’t live without you, Natalie.”

My mother slapped him. “Don’t try to guilt trip me. You put me and Dee in danger when you use, you bastard!”

“Damn it, Natalie,” he snarled. Suddenly there was a gunshot, and I whimpered, covering my face. I feared my mother had been shot, but when I dared to peek, I saw that it was on the floor next to her feet. “That was a warning shot in case you try to kick me out again.”

“Madelyn? Madelyn, come on, snap out of it!” Drew declared, his arms now wrapped tightly around me, holding me on my feet as the rest of the horrible flashback faded away.

For a brief second, I allowed myself the pleasure of leaning back in Drew’s arms, the surprisingly comforting smell of him surrounding me. I breathed in that smell - the faint smell of metal, the barely sweet smell of dark chocolate, and the rich scent of sandalwood - before I pulled away to see that Josh and Carson had joined us and were looking at me in concern.

“I’m fine,” I panted, feeling a bead of sweat trickle down my spine as I straightened. “I’m really okay. Just, um, just a…” My voice trailed off. What could I tell them? Surely not the truth, no, never in a million years. “It just freaked me out a little. I’ve never shot a gun before.”

Josh whistled. “Well for someone who’s never shot a gun before…”

“Damn, Madelyn, you’re making up for the fighting earlier,” Carson said, eyebrows raised.

I frowned and turned to look at the target that they were fixated on. I gaped at what I saw.

It was a bullseye.

“What the…” I started, looking at Drew. “Did you do that?”

Drew smirked at me. “No, that was all you.”

I glanced back at the target. “You mean—”

“Yes, I mean you did that by yourself. Looks like you’re a natural,” he said, placing his hands on my shoulders.

I sighed. “One less thing to worry about.”

He leaned in close to my ear. “I guess that means you really don’t want me touching you since you got it down right away.”

I gulped, those odd hormones flooding in again so unfamiliarly. But I kinda liked it, a little voice in the back of my mind said.

I opened the door to my apartment, thankful for the welcoming smell it brought. I kicked off my shoes and locked the door behind me. I flicked on the hallway light as I made my way to my bedroom. I couldn’t wait to take off my dress clothes, since I had changed back into them after our training. By the time I made it to my room, my clothes were almost completely off.

After getting completely ready for bed, and making sure all my doors and windows were locked, I climbed gratefully into my bed, my sore muscles protesting every movement.

Jeez, when was the last time I was this sore?

I collapsed onto my back, plugging my phone in. Right as I set it down, it buzzed from a text.

Joan: Are we still on for tonight? Or do you need to reschedule again?

Me: Raincheck? Maybe Friday?

Joan: As long as you’re still willing to talk, ok :)

I settled deep into my blankets, my mind immediately wandering to blue-grey eyes and brown curls. I tried to block those thoughts.

No. No, no, no.

I closed my eyes, sleep already pulling at me, when my phone blared again, this time from a phone call, startling me back to complete consciousness.

“Hello?” I grunted.

“I wanted to apologize for today,” Drew’s voice said quietly. “It was unprofessional of me.”

I groaned. “I don’t want to talk about this right now, Drew. I’m tired. Can we talk tomorrow?”

“No, we won’t get a chance to,” he replied. “I just wanted to let you know I’m sorry and it won’t happen again.”

For some unknown reason, my heart dropped and my mouth went dry. “Oh. Well, thanks for letting me know.”

“Yeah…” he said, silence lingering in the air. “Anyway, get some good rest and I’ll see you tomorrow morning. Seven in the morning.”

And then he hung up.

I scoffed and dropped my phone on the bed next to me, curling up once again to go to sleep. I was pouting, I know, and it was completely ridiculous.

Because for some strange reason, my body reacted to Drew. It had never happened to me, and it was peculiar, but it felt good. These hormones I was feeling… I had never thought I would experience them.

I kinda liked it.

And I kinda wanted more of it.

Six forty-five in the morning and my doorbell was ringing, over and over. And over. And over. It was like a bad dream, except that it was reality. A bad reality that wasn’t much better… not at all.

I clambered out of bed, rubbing my throbbing temple and stretching my extremely sore muscles. I extended my arms up to stretch my back and yawned, walking over to my bedroom door. As I opened it, I realized suddenly that I was surprisingly well-resting. I twisted my lips, wondering when the last time I felt this refreshed was as I opened my front door. I just stepped aside to let Drew in, then turned and went into the bathroom, letting him let himself in. Not a word from neither him nor I.

Was it just me, or was there more tension, and not the awkward angry tension, between us than before? Was it just me, or did I see him rake his eyes over me as I opened the door?

I quickly showered. As I stepped out, I noticed my long blonde hair was drying in slight waves. I cursed, knowing that sometime within the next few weeks I would have to go get my straight perm done again.

Ten minutes later, I was dressed and ready to go. A glance at the clock told me it was only 7:10 am.

“Ready, blondie?” Drew asked, completely monotone, as opposed to his usual playful tone. He leaned against the wall in the hallway, looking at his fingernails as if this were totally normal behavior.

I motioned toward the door. “Lead the way, boss,” I replied, overly sweetly. If he wanted to play this little “professional” thing, fine. I would play along. But I sure as hell wouldn’t be the one to give in first.

“Got any bruises from your ass-whooping?” Josh wondered as we all gathered in the training area.

I continued to stretch, wincing from the discomfort, but I shook my head. “Actually, no. I have a feeling I’ll get a lot of them in the field though,” I joked. “I appreciate you guys not giving me any. People might start questioning my badassness if I constantly have bruises.”

Josh chuckled and Drew scowled. “Enough chit-chat,” he snapped. “Josh, Carson, go work together since you two have the technique down. I’ll stay with Madelyn so she can stay focused.”

Josh, Carson, and I all exchanged confused glances. What was going on? I watched, sadly, as Josh and Carson went to a different combat room, while I was left with a questionably moody Drew.

“Everything alright with you?” I asked as I followed Drew into the training room we used yesterday.

Drew rolled his eyes. “You need to focus, Madelyn. If we keep going at this rate, you’ll never make it past training. And then my time will be wasted.”

I tried to ignore the twinge of hurt that his words gave me, but was more confused than ever. Somewhere along the way I had chosen to try to let these people in, despite how much I dreaded and feared it. I gave it a shot because I felt like it would turn my life around. Even though I’d known Drew for a very short period of time, and Josh and Carson for even less.

“What rate?” I demanded, getting angry now. “I’ve been doing this all of one day. You’ve hardly given me a chance.”

Drew halted and turned to face me. “Hardly given you a chance? Are you kidding me, Madelyn? After how hard I pushed for you to be here—”

“Exactly,” I interrupted. “For someone who was so persistent to have me here, I and probably several others would expect more than this shitty attitude that you seem to be in today. Have a bad day, that’s fine. But don’t take it out on me,” I hissed, then turned and stomped out of the room, leaving a speechless Drew fuming behind me.

I wasn’t sure what was going on with him. Surely it couldn’t have been from our little “moment” yesterday, right? It was hardly anything. Besides, those steely eyes were far too mesmerizing to be troubled by some nobody like me.

I shook those thoughts out of my head in annoyance and stormed into Josh and Carson’s training room. They stopped and glanced at me in question. I needed to fight to take my temper out on something. Just like I would do when I went to the gym. I needed that release desperately.

“Carson, let’s fight,” I said. He nodded, and I took the first swing.

I applied everything I had been taught yesterday. I stayed focused, I moved swiftly, with agility, and yet Carson still beat me, pinning me down. Even Josh beat me, who was much stronger than I expected for his lanky self. I finally forfeited to catch my breath.

“I just don’t understand,” I exclaimed, panting as I pulled myself to my feet. “Why am I still losing at this?”

“Because you’re trying to take your anger out,” Drew said from the shadows.

How long had he been standing there?

It was evident none of us had seen or heard him enter the room. We all looked at him expectantly.

“If you let fighting get too personal, you’re more likely to lose your focus and therefore lose your fight. You can’t let it be so personal, Madelyn. You’ll lose sight of your mission.”

“Speaking from personal experience?” Josh joked.

I could tell that Drew was, indeed, speaking from personal experience. I didn’t have the heart to make fun of him. Instead, I simply asked, “Are you feeling better?”

He smirked, turning his cool gaze to me, making my insides squirm and do cartwheels. “Are you?”

I cocked an eyebrow. “Answering a question with a question again, I see.”

“Evading my questions again, as always, Miss Carver. Ready to actually train?”

I was simply satisfied with him being back to his normal self, so I abandoned my hopeless fights with Josh and Carson and once again followed Drew.

“I’m sorry about earlier,” Drew said as we took a lunch break. My sandwich never tasted so good. I was so hungry after the physicality of the training, but could tell I was making small improvements. Not bad for two days, right?

I shrugged. “It’s whatever.”

“No, it’s not. You were right. I shouldn’t take it out on you, or anyone for that matter. You’re not the only one with a temper,” he admitted with chagrin.

I tilted my head as I looked at him, scrutinizing his behavior. “You got in an argument with someone last night, didn’t you?”

Drew smiled, his pouty lips tilting up and revealing his dimples. “You’re going to be a great asset to the FBI, Madelyn. Or do you prefer ‘Dee’?”

I nearly choked. “Where did you hear that nickname?”

He raised a should in a shrug as he bit into an apple. “I overheard your friend call you that.”

We didn’t say anything for a few minutes, just ate our lunches. I finally decided to break the silence out of pure curiosity.

“Who did you argue with?”

Drew exhaled sharply. “You don’t let anything go, do you?” He paused before responding. “I was arguing with this girl I started seeing a few weeks ago.”

A small bit of disappointment coursed my veins. I shouldn’t be surprised. Suddenly all I wanted was to reach forward across the table and run my fingers through his curls. “What was it about?”

“Me spending too much time at my job and not enough time with her.”

I snickered. “And you guys have only been together a few weeks?”

He rolled his eyes and nodded. “Stupid, I know. I think she’s uncomfortable with me spending time with another woman,” he conceded, glancing at me coyly.

Hm… I’m a topic of conversation then.

I shoved his shoulder. “Tell her not to worry. I’m only interested in being co-workers and possibly friends,” I said, even though part of me knew that wasn’t entirely true. A brief look of longing flashed in his eyes before it was gone, leaving me to question whether it was there at all.

But, after yesterday, I was convinced that I definitely saw it.

I inwardly grinned. Game on.

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