A few times every summer my family would travel down to visit the Petersheims who had a twenty-three-year-old son who I greatly admired, but who I wouldn't allow near my heart because of our six and a half age gap. Needless to say, it didn't work. This is the second snapshot of my husband, Randy, and my unusual beginning.
The land was as ruggedly beautiful as the mountainous terrain looming over it. With every breath of wind, the untamed grasses swept back and forth, in and out like the waves of the sea. The sun played peek-a-boo behind clouds that tumbled across a robin’s egg-blue sky. I found it impossible to do anything besides just stand there, completely mesmerized by the undulating beauty like a country girl cooped up in the city for far too long. I realized, then, how deeply I’d missed the all-encompassing acreage we’d carelessly lived on for eight of my seventeen years. Even though we still lived in the country, five acres bordered by Miss Odessa and Mr. Charmain’s dilapidated bungalow and Highway 67 couldn’t substitute for Springcreek’s 365 of rolling hills and freshwater rivers. Soon, though, my reverie was broken as Randy and my older brother Joshua came to stand beside me with black paint smeared across their cheekbones; nine mm pistols jammed into the pockets of their baggy camo pants, and Ruger Mini-14 and .22 rifles crisscrossing their bare shoulders. They looked like extras from Oliver Stone’s Platoon or marauding militia members, but they were simply planning to use the property’s mildewed hay bales for target practice. Regardless of the weaponry tucked into every crevice of Randy and Joshua’s clothing, I was not entrusted with anything from a tomahawk to a toothpick. Joshua was solely to blame for this segregating behavior; for, like the evening preceding it, he didn’t seem to want me there at all.
Following the overgrown GI Joes as they wove through a tangle of grasses and trees, I heaved a sigh more to puff up my sweaty bangs than from frustration and swerved into place behind them. Randy must’ve heard my exhalation for he, much to my brother’s annoyance, ambled back. “You doing all right?” he asked, shifting the gun strap on his shoulder.
I wrenched my gaze away from his bare skin and replied, “Yep. But I didn’t know I’d sighed up for Sunday afternoon boot camp.”
“Oh, didn’t you? Sorry. Thought Josh would’ve told ya.”
“Told me what?”
He grinned, and the slash of paint on his cheekbones crinkled. “This is the world-renowned Petersheim Boot Camp--P.B.C. for short.”
“That’s funny, never heard of it.”
“’Cause it’s top secret. Only the very special get to take part.”
“Am I still counted among the ranks, then?”
He reached out and touched my arm so quickly I thought it was more to flick off a fly than to offer reassurance. “You betcha,” he said and winked.
We hiked for another fifteen minutes until the flap of gray road couldn’t be seen and we were flush with the back of the property. GI Petersheim then unrolled a sheaf of long white paper covered with a man-sized target. Joshua tacked two papers to two hay bales, and Randy tacked another paper to a third. “This one’s for you,” he called to me over his shoulder. Randy made me put in a pair of yellowed earplugs -- which I hoped was their natural color and not an accumulation of ear wax -- and the boys began blasting the targets while I sat in the grass, searching my legs for the red specks of chiggers. Finally, when my skin felt shrunken by sun, Randy said, “You ready?”
Unless you counted the time I decided to become Annie Oakley rather than Anne of Green Gables and “borrowed” Joshua’s BB-gun for the day, I’d never touched a weapon. I was a little nervous of its reactionary kick, for Father had horrified my childhood with stories of knocked out teeth and eyeballs to induce a fear of guns I innately felt. But Randy promised me those stories were just exaggeration. As the tangerine sun seeped upon us, he stepped closer and gently positioned the Ruger Mini-14 against my shoulder. I held the barrel in my hands and squinted one eye to see the bull’s eye better.
“Got it?” Randy asked. I glanced over at him: all tussled brown hair and bare-chested brawniness.
“Uh-huh,” I muttered nonsensically. I shook my head and focused on the position of my hands rather than on his proximity. I peered through the scope’s site, lined up the crosshairs, and pulled the trigger. The donkey kick I’d been expecting was more like something a bunny’s feet would do.
Randy ran up to the bale and searched the paper for the bullet’s puncture. “Wow, Miss Miller,” he yelled (due to my earplugs). “For a first-timer, you sure know how to hit a target.”
I smiled with pleasure as he trotted over and stood in front of me again. The sun’s swirling rays combined with the contrast of his cheekbone’s black paint transformed his hazel eyes into a vibrant, shimmering green.
“Thanks for the compliment,” I said, tugging out my earplugs.
“You’re very welcome.”
My brother, leaning against a hay bale with his arms folded, cleared his throat.
Randy and I looked over and saw Joshua’s face, set in the scowling expression of a disapproving schoolmarm. I felt my own face flush. I knew Joshua, to punish me for monopolizing his friend’s time, would tell our parents I’d been throwing myself at a twenty-three-year-old man. And although part of the reason I’d come to Winchester was to investigate the enigma of Randy, I truly wasn’t flaunting myself before him like a sultrily dressed, undercover detective to accomplish this. For where I’d struck the bull’s eye literally, the person beside me was attempting it in the figurative form. Maybe it was my Nancy Drew skills simmering to the surface, or the first strands of my womanly intuition weaving into place, but somehow I knew GI Petersheim’s next target was the core of my commitment-skittish heart.