The first time I shot a gun, I went to Taco Bell. I did not shoot the gun in Taco Bell, or in the parking lot, or anywhere near it. But I did go to Taco Bell after shooting a gun.

“You did good,” he said. 

“The first one hurt my hands too much,” I replied, unwrapping a Cool Ranch taco. My hands still smelled faintly of fireworks, despite all my efforts to scrub them fresh in the bathroom. “Fireworks” sounded better than “antimony, barium, lead, and death.”

“Sorry about that,” he said. “The kickback is worse on smaller guns.”

“But the other gun was better. It didn’t hurt, at least.”

It was a trade, gunshots for Taco Bell. My boyfriend was the kind of guy who dressed up as Woody from Toy Story for Halloween five years in a row, stubbornly wearing the same brown hat until it would not stay perched on his head. He told me about it with a shrug and admitted that he didn’t like trying on new clothes, not even fun ones.

My costumes were all tiaras and fairy wings until I learned how to make my own out of craft materials. Then I was a milk carton, a hotdog, a gumball machine. For the last one, I wore a plastic fishbowl over my head and filled it with colored plastic balls. My mother spent days convincing me to cut a hole in the front, even though it “didn’t look like the real thing.” Her addition, admittedly, made it easier to add the fake gumballs and lessened my chances of suffocation.

“You hate Taco Bell,” I said. It had taken him five minutes to figure out his order, an eternity in fast food time.

He picked absently at nachos. “But you don’t. And I mean it, that you did well today. Hit more than you missed at 15 yards.”

“Glad to know I can kill a target that doesn’t move when I’m calm and not running for my life.”

When he outgrew trick-or-treating, it was all leather boots, Clint Eastwood movies, Johnny Cash, and cowboy action shooting—which I didn’t even know was a thing until we met. I had no interest in guns, ropes, or cows that were still alive, but he got me hot pink ear protection and promised me food after.

“That wasn’t the point of today. It’s sport, not self-defense.” 

“Like that retiree who did trick shots when he noticed us looking?”

“Yeah, like that.” He ate a chip fully loaded with beans and fire sauce, looking thoughtful. “Unless you want a self-defense lesson?”

I wrinkled my nose and started on my second taco. The fireworks smell was fading, replaced with the tang of mild sauce. “Nah. I like my targets to be purely imaginary.”

“What did you imagine you were shooting at?”

“Scary clowns,” I said without hesitation. “Which are about as likely to hurt me as you are to get into a shootout at high noon.”

“Don’t knock my high noon fantasy! I can pretend, too.”

“I’m not knocking anything. Just because it’s pretend doesn’t make it bad.”

“So it wasn’t all terrible?” he asked with a smile. 

“I did like the sound it made when I hit the target. A cute little ting. Like my own video game sound effects. Made it easy to forget that I literally held the power of life and death in my hands.”

He stared at me for a long time. I wondered if he cared that I was gracelessly shoving the back half of my taco in my mouth. There was no beautiful way to eat a taco, especially one that left your hands covered in blue and red Cool Ranch fairy dust. Miraculously, I did not blush.

“You hate shooting,” he said. “Or the idea of it.”

“But you don’t.”

He smiled. We ate in silence, me in rapture and him resigned, until—

“These Cinnabon Delights are frickin’ amazing. I had no idea!”

“And you wonder why I love coming here.” 

We laughed, and it tasted like fried cinnamon, no hint of fireworks.

Meredith Faulkner is a graduate of Loyola New Orleans living in North Carolina. Her work has also appeared in tenderness lit, Nightingale and Sparrow, Tiny Molecules, and Kissing Dynamite.

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