Gunshot

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This was a writing exercise done by myself and Ericka Skirpan. The Alexa sections are done by yours truly while the Rosemary sections are done by Ericka. Enjoy!

Late afternoon light slanted through the clear windows, filling the lavish room with a warm glow. Threadbare rugs carpeted the floor, embroidered with swirling patterns of leaves and vines. Cracked leather couches and sofas provided opportune places to lounge, new pillows barely disguising the worn material. Pictures hung along the walls and a few toys lay strewn across the ground: metal trains, a few marbles, a china doll.

Alexa tried not to fidget as she stood near the wall of the large room, her eyes directed forward as she was taught to do. Back straight. Shoulders back. Feet apart. Hands behind your waist. Don’t slouch. Don’t smile. Don’t speak. Don’t cry. In front of her, a boy and two girls chatted with one another, ignoring her completely. Necklaces sparkled at the girls’ throats. Cufflinks flashed at the boy’s wrists. It was a sharp contrast to her own clothing, black and dour as always. Not that I want to look like them, anyway. Their voices rose and fell, mingling with one another as the boy placed a hand on the older girl’s arm—a gentle touch that showed he cared.  Or at least that’s what he wants her to think. The younger girl was clutching a pillow, her dark eyes glazed as she stared at something that they couldn’t see.

Alexa wasn’t quite sure what she was doing there. It wasn’t as if she could be much use, and the other servants were far better trained than she was.  But James had asked her to be there—told her to be there. And she always did what James told her to do.

Her eyes flickered toward the metal case on the ground next to her. She knew what was inside it—guessed what he wanted to do with it. But she could only imagine what the others’ reactions would be.

A voice suddenly brought her back to attention, commanding and loud, “Rook, bring me the case.”

Alexa shifted her gaze to look at the boy who had spoken—James. His blue eyes stared out at her from a face framed by reddish hair. Sharp cheekbones angled toward a mouth pressed into a thin line. He might have been handsome if he ever looked anything other than petulant. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t.

Alexa’s eyes shifted away from him and toward the metal case resting beside her. Thin lines ran across its surface, burnished clasps holding it closed. She picked it up, her small hands barely fitting around the smooth handle. Wordlessly, she walked over. After all, she had a part to play.

James smirked, teeth glinting for a moment as he turned away from her and to the two girls next to him, “I think you’ll enjoy seeing what’s inside. It was a birthday present from my father.” He reached over, resting a hand on the older girl’s arm, “You’re more than welcome to have a go with it yourself, if you like.”

The older girl smiled in return. She was pretty—but then, all Purebloods were with their perfect hair and clothes. Dark curls framed a pale face with bright blue eyes that lit up as she spoke, “What is it, James? Oh, do tell.”

He shook his head, eyes flickering to look toward Alexa again, “You’ll see.”

Alexa moved forward, setting the case down next to James. She kneeled, carefully flicking open the clasps with a snapping noise before lifting the lid. She saw the children’s faces light up—or at least two of them. The youngest girl seemed to be more intent on staring at the ceiling rather than the contents of the case. Alexa lifted the metal container again to display to the others.

The older girl breathed in slightly, eyes widening, “Is that…?”

James nodded, a grin spreading across his face, “Yes. It’s my first gun.”

Alexa had to admit the weapon was beautiful. The metal gleamed faintly in the dim light, engravings standing out to show swirling designs and a stylized crown. There were gold inlays on the handle, patterned for a firmer grip. It was a gun fit for a king—or at least a prince.

This isn’t going to be pretty.

__

Can he use it?

The eldest in the room tried not to let the moment of shock and fear betray itself on her features. Clearly, the younger boy was happy – outright proud of his birthday gift. It would do no good to seem dismayed—not to the boy she wished to please more than anyone in the world.

“They’re… very dangerous, aren’t they, James? Your father must trust you very much to give you something like that…” Rosemary carefully selected her words, being ever cautious to only say the nicest things. After all, if she had nothing nice to say then she might as well not say anything at all. She even pushed a smile onto her lips in fascination of it all. But she kept her blue-green eyes cast downward, her worry hidden behind carefully darkened lashes.

“Of course. I’m a man now. All men own guns. I’ve used them on the shooting range plenty of times before.” There didn’t seem a shred of doubt in James’ young, proud voice, still on the edge of cracking here and there. “Want to see me shoot it?” The boy’s hand darted for the box, quickly reaching for the gun. His fingertips shook in excitement, all too eager to show off his prized possession.

Rosemary’s teal eyes snapped up to the little blonde girl who held the box out. Her more protective instincts kicked in quickly. She didn’t get through years of managing half a dozen siblings without knowing how to avert disaster before it happened, “Rook, don’t you think it’s better we take this outside? Close the box so we can carry it safely!”

But Rook wasn’t hers to command. Rook was his. Just like the gun was his. Happy pride turned to sharp temper in the blink of an eye as James’ hand smacked the box down onto the floor and out of Rook’s hands before she could close it. The tall girl jumped a bit at the sharp sound, bracing for some horrid accident to come.

James’ eyes narrowed, his voice showing no hint of the affection that was there before, “I can shoot it wherever I like. I know how to be safe, Rosemary.”

The noise had finally gained the attention of the youngest, Elizabeth. Her widely dark eyes stared at the others, jerked from whatever dream world she had been involved in. A bright, guileless smile suddenly bloomed across her face, “Shoot it, James. I want to see!” Now that her attention had been gained, it would not be lost until she’d gotten what she wanted. There wasn’t much difference between James and Elizabeth at the end of the day.

Rosemary exchanged a single look with Rook, trepidation in her eyes which she quickly hid away beneath a beaming, pink lipped smile. She scooped herself up off the floor in a spill of ruffled white skirts and pearls. “Of course, James, you’re right. You know where best to handle it, you always know what is best. Will you show me? The safest, best way to shoot! Teach me, please? I don’t know anything about the bloody things and you’re so well practiced…” She beamed at him, her husband-to-be, the heir of the King family: handsome, young and petulant. She gave him the most adoring smile she knew how. He was smart, strong, and rich. He was everything she wanted. Why couldn’t she just enjoy it?

Yet somehow already, she knew something was deeply wrong…

__

Don’t make a sound.

That’s what she’d learned over the past two years. There was no point in protesting, no point in arguing. You were liable to make things worse if you kicked up a fuss. Instead, it was better to fade into the shadows—better for him not to notice you. Be one of the walls. Be a piece of furniture.

Just don’t let him notice you.

Alexa knelt down next to the case that James had knocked out of her hands. She deftly replaced the bullets that had fallen free from their slots, not making eye contact with the red-haired boy or the two dark-haired girls next to him. She then silently stood and took a step back, planning to take her position back by the doorway. Unfortunately, his voice stopped her.

“Rook, load the gun.”

Alexa jerked back toward the three other children. James was watching her expectantly, his arms folded in front of his chest. The older girl—Rosemary—was staring at her with wide eyes. Her pale hands twisted in front of her as she played with a string of pearls, “I…know that you can shoot it anywhere, James. But truly, shouldn’t we go outside? I’d love to see the shooting range.”

That’s not going to work. She already tried that tactic.

James turned to look at the girl, his brow creasing faintly before it smoothed once more, “The one thing that you should know about handling a gun is that you can do it safely anywhere. You just have to know how. Besides…” James paused for a moment, a smirk turning the corners of his mouth upward, “How am I supposed to learn to defend you if we only practice on the shooting range? Rook, load the gun.”

Alexa hid a grimace as she knelt down again. Her fingers fumbled with the bullets as she carefully placed first one, then two, then three inside the chamber of the gun. With a snap, she closed it. Her fingers slid over the handle of the weapon and for a moment, she wondered what it would be like to shoot it—what it would be like to pull the trigger.

“The gun, Rook.”

Alexa stood and handed the weapon over to James, making sure that the safety was still on. She glanced to the other girls; Elizabeth was practically bubbling with excitement, her hands grasping one another as she beamed at James. Rosemary looked more worried, a faint frown creasing her porcelain face.

“Now go stand by the wall.”

Alexa turned, the hairs on the back of her neck standing on end as every instinct she had told her not to show her back. She slowly walked toward the wall before leaning against it, facing the other children once more. She knew what he expected.

Rosemary’s voice suddenly spoke up, trembling slightly as Alexa tried to remain as still as possible, “James, what are you going to do exactly?” She took a step forward—as if almost involuntarily.

She should remain where she is.

James flashed a smile at Rosemary as he aimed the gun toward Alexa. There was the faint clicking noise as he disengaged the safety and then sighted down the barrel, “Second lesson, Rosemary. A gun is only as good as the man who wields it. In the right hands, it can be safe—it can’t harm anyone you don’t want it to.”

Rosemary’s brow creased further as she took another step toward James, “Please, James. This isn’t…”

The gun went off.

__

There are moments in a child’s life where they decisively grow up. They age years within seconds. The first time a child falls out of love is one of those moments. The moment the gun went off, Rosemary Banks no longer loved James King.

She couldn’t hold back a brief yelp of surprise and the tight flinch of her body in response to the loudest sound she’d ever heard. She held her eyes tightly shut though she could not remember closing them – she didn’t want to see the blonde girl’s blood everywhere against the wall and on the floor. If she didn’t open her eyes, maybe it wouldn’t be real. The boy she loved would not have shot the childhood companion she’d never known anywhere but at his side. He wouldn’t be showing off the ability to kill her like some prized possession.

“James… that wasn’t… necessary.” She breathed out sickly, no admiration in her voice for the moment –nothing but disgust and confusion. Instinctively, her arm reached out to gather the young Elizabeth against her side, trying to guide the young, laughing girl away from the sight.

“I told you I was a good shot. I had to prove it. Look, you can barely see the hole in the wall!” James crowed proudly, still not even looking at his bride-to-be but across the room to the small hole exactly two inches above Alexa’s head in the cracked wall behind her. He set the safety back on the gun, just as he was taught, and lowered it to his side.

“The wall?” Rosemary whispered. Her eyes fluttered back open and stared over the grisly scene to find… nothing. No blood. No death. She vaguely realized she should have known the truth when she didn’t hear a body hitting the floor or a cry of pain, but her ears still rang from the shot and everything seemed distant and surreal. Elizabeth shrugged out of her arms and applauded happily for her brother, kissing his cheek loyally and muttering something in congratulations.

Rosemary stared at Alexa numbly across the gorgeous hall for several long heartbeats. She searched that young, thin face for any acknowledgment of fear over what had happened. Nothing. The girl seemed half dead, more a part of the wood work and furniture than an actual living, breathing child across from her. Had she even flinched?

“Rook, I am glad you are uninjured. I should have never doubted.” She finally corrected herself, plastering a fresh smile back on her face as she turned back to James.

All of Rosemary looked adoringly at the thirteen-year-old boy, just as she had done a hundred times before. Her smile, her expression, all of her—except her eyes. All admiration had fled from them.

Perhaps this wasn’t the happily ever after it was supposed to be…

___

Be still as a stone. Silent as the grave.

Alexa remained in her position, her ears still ringing from the blast of gunshot. It had been close this time—very close. He was obviously getting better.

James stood across from her, the gun still in his hand. The swirling patterns across the metal seemed to twist and turn in the candlelight, reflecting warped shapes.  Alexa could see the interior of the barrel—the inside blackened from the heat of the bullet. Her eyes shifted toward the others. The older girl had said something—something about being glad that she was all right. Bluish eyes had stared at her worriedly, pink lips turned into a frown. But she had already turned away, too busy with James and Elizabeth.

Slowly, very slowly, Alexa moved herself away from the wall. She brushed blonde hair away from her eyes before folding her thin arms in front of her chest. The other children were chatting to each other, conversation drifting toward her as she edged herself back toward the doorway. It didn’t concern her, though; it was just more praise and admiration for James—something that he was used to.

Something he will never hear from me.

They were too busy to notice if she left. Elizabeth was busy hugging James and he was ruffling her hair as any proper older brother should. Rosemary was merely listening as James explained the ins and outs of firing a gun. Time to go.

Alexa quickly edged herself around the doorway and into the hall, the conversation behind her fading to a dull murmur. Plush carpet trailed down the wooden floor. Tarnished sconces held candles intermittently along the cracked walls. Alexa began to walk, her feet leading her across the well-known floor.

She hadn’t been worried—her heart wasn’t even pounding in her chest. There was no rush of adrenaline, no feel of fear. She knew that there was no reason to be afraid of the gun—of the bullet. There was no reason to doubt James and his abilities—no. James was effective, deadly and true.

And that’s what they should really be afraid of.

__

She barely noticed the shadow with blonde hair leaving the room. Just like any proper servant, the girl was inconsequential. It had been foolish to even get her stomach in knots over it all, but Rosemary couldn’t manage to shake the disquiet that wrapped around her heart.

She glanced in the direction of the empty wall where the girl had once been. It was like she’d never come into the room at all, never stared at her with wide, green eyes as a gun was leveled at her head. Only the small bullet hole left any evidence that she was ever there.

Rosemary kept the smile forced across her mouth. After all, she was there to make James happy. She should be happy. That was how the world worked. There was no reason to feel badly about a servant.

She watched James as he popped the barrel out of the gun to show her to reload it. He was so happy, his hands so sure. He would make a good head of the family some day. He would protect her children well. He’d only hurt those who hurt them…wouldn’t he?

Rosemary felt something twist in her gut. She had to do something—show him that she supported him. She suddenly leaned over and kissed his cheek, catching him off guard, trying to remember that familiar flutter in her chest every time he touched her or looked in her direction. It would come back, surely. She’d had it so many years.

James glanced toward her, his blue eyes hardening slightly as he arched one of his eyebrows, “Rosemary. You have to be careful around guns! You can’t distract me.” His voice sounded stern, but his smile couldn’t entirely be hidden.

Rosemary lowered her own eyes, glancing down at her folded hands, “I’m sorry.”

His lips surprised her. They were suddenly on hers, hard and boyish, mouth shoved to mouth. The dangerous weapon and his sister were forgotten. Rosemary didn’t fight it. She couldn’t. She didn’t kiss back, though. Kisses were what people did when they loved each other. Just like in the books. Like her mother and father. Like what she dreamed of doing to James King every night.

If she just closed her eyes, she could pretend she wasn’t there—pretend she was somewhere else. If she just closed her eyes, she could pretend that James King was still someone she loved.

__

It’s the blast of a gunshot, the sound that reverberates in our minds. At first, it’s a shock—a ringing that goes on and on. What people don’t tell you is that over time you get used to it. The sharp crack is no longer there—we all become deaf to it in the end.

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