WE WERE JUST KIDS
Joshua Bozeman remembered his first gun like it was yesterday.
It was Christmas 2004 and Joshua was just eight years old. Tucked underneath the tree was an assortment of gifts for him and his then five year old sister Paige. He had received socks and the ugliest holiday sweater he had ever seen which was still crammed away in the darkness of his closet from grandma. School supplies that went untouched from his aunt in Denver, and even an Xbox gaming console from Santa himself. None of those gifts compared to the one his dad kept hidden behind the Christmas tree. It was a small but heavy package inconspicuously wrapped in brown paper instead of the festive holiday wrapping like the other presents.
"Go on, open it!" dad had urged him, more excitement on his face then Joshua could ever remember seeing. He tore open the packaging, flipped open the unmarked cardboard, and stared awe struck at the gun nestled inside.
It was a stubby little thing, coal gray with a pearl handle. He lifted it out of the box and felt the cold, dead weight of it in his tiny hands. It was a little heavy at first but he would never forget the pressure of that weight and all the fun that was sure to come. Dad beamed down at him with unabashed pride.
Mom didn't seem to be as thrilled.
"Don't you think he's still a little too young?" she asked.
Dad waved her off dismissively. "Heck no! I had my first gun when I was younger then him."
Mom scoffed. "Now you know times were much different back then."
"Which is why we're going to teach our son how to defend himself today so that when some nutcase decides to shoot up the next school tomorrow he won't be a sitting duck." Dad stood in front of Joshua and spread his arms. "C'mon, give me your best pose!"
Joshua hunched his back, aimed the gun at hip level and barred his teeth in a menacing scowl. Dad laughed so hard tears stung at his eyes.
"Looks like you need some practice son!"
"Daddy I want a gun too! Paige pouted.
Joshua turned his scowl and gun to his little sister and shouted, "bang bang!" she fell to the floor in a melodramatic heap, her tiny giggles as soft as bells. Even mom got a good laugh out of that.
That day dad and Joshua strung up leftover Christmas ornaments on the tree in the backyard and practiced shooting targets. While Joshua didn't hit a single target he had had more fun than he could ever remember shooting his first gun.
"Now remember son this isn't a toy, think of it more like a tool." dad told him. "There's gonna be a lot of kids out there with guns, some of them bad, and the only way to stop a bad kid with a gun is a good kid with a gun."
Dad rustled Joshua's hair. "Atta boy! Now let's work a little more on that aim."
It's funny how much things can change in ten years. Candy and ice cream become 40's and blunts, casual bike rides through the park changed to drunken joyrides down State Highway 82, and a freshed faced young kid named Joshua Bozeman grew up into a hard nosed teenager who only answered to the much less affectionate Boze, but the one thing that remained constant in him had always been his dad's words, because he had already seen way too many of the bad kids.
It was the first day of the new school year for Bainesville High and all the students were going to be packing heat. The majority of Boze's senior class had received their guns at the beginning of summer from their parents in order to familiarize themselves with safetty features and just to get used to the weight. That cold, dead weight. Some of his buddies carried some top of the line firepower. His friend Gabe sported a sweet PSG1 sniper rifle complete with a night vision scope and his childhood friend Julian had this wicked Skorpion vz.61 sub machinegun imported straight from Czechoslovakia, laser sight, extended mags, the works.
All Boze could afford over the summer was a second hand Heckler and Koch 9mm pistol with a broken trigger guard. Not that he actually minded the cheapness of the piece as Boze had always favored practicality over flashiness. To him the purpose of a gun was simple: to defend yourself, your property, and your loved ones, not to pimp it out like it was some goddamn cell phone.
After breakfast Boze sat at the kitchen table and cleaned his disassembled gun with a rag while mom did the dishes. He had took the gun apart probably a hundred times by now but was still fascinated by the minute precision of its inner workings, how each small part constructed seamlessly into a whole. Well, minus the shoddy trigger guard.
Boze was still tinkering with his gun when his sister Paige bounced into the kitchen, her hot pink colored 12 gauge shotgun slung across her back along with her bookbag and glittered from her blonde head to her sparkling toes, all ready for her freshmen year at Bainesville. During the summer she had begged dad to buy her a "shotty", as she so eloquently described it. She only wanted it because she thought it would be sooo cool to tell other kids to suck her boomstick and call her "12 Gauge Paige"
What a fucking dork. But she was his kid sister and he loved her.
"Open wide!" she said, waving the barrel of her shotty precariously close to Boze's face.
"Save it for the "Thot Shot" competition princess, I'm sure you'll come in first place." he said, waving her off.
"You sound hella jealous, don't be mad because mine is bigger than yours!"
"Yeah I'm sure you know all about handling big pieces. Two cocks and your ready to blow right?"
"Alright you two," mom chided from the sink. Even after all these years she was still uneasy about them having guns, no matter how many times dad had instilled in them the importance if safety and responsibility. Boze himself showed the utmost proficiency when dealing with multiple firearm types and excelled at the firing range. Paige once shattered her nose when the recoil from her .357 Magnum kicked back and smashed her in the face at the firing range. She probably batted her eyes and sweet talked the attendant into giving her the thing in the first place and now all she had to show fot it was a slight crock in her little buttoned nose.
Despite that they were both legally able to open carry in school thanks to the Columbine Act passed in 2000 in an effort to stop the mass copycat shootings known as "Spreeking," in which an armed assailant would shoot up a public place and try to beat the "high score." Real sick shit.
The car horn blared from outside. It was dad ready to take them to school. Boze stuffed his gun in his bag while mom bickered about last minute safety rules.
"Don't go around showing your guns off, they're not toys. And always make sure you have the safeties on!"
"Yes mom." they said in unison.
Boze and Paige headed to the street where dad waited in his beat up station wagon. Boze climbed into the front seat while Paige struggled to get in the car, the shotgun was almost as big as she was. Mom peered out the window, a grim look on her face. Boze gave her a reassuring thumbs up as the car pulled off. Jesus, what is this? The first day of kindergarten?
"Hey, I see you got a paint job," dad said to Paige as he drove. "It looks...fabulous."
Paige beamed. "I wanted it to match my fingernails."
"That's nice sweetheart but if you're gonna play dress up with your gun at least make sure the safety is on."
She almost blushed as bright as her gun. "Sorry daddy."
"And you, where's your gun?" he nudged Boze.
"In my bag where it belongs."
"Hard to get the drop on someone when you have to shuffle through your gym clothes just to reach it.
"Dad, it's the first day of school, I don't think I'm gonna be getting the drop on anyone."
"You never know son." dad chuckled darkly. "I ever tell you kids about the guy I killed in '79?"
The question was so sudden that Boze was taken aback for a moment. He had heard plenty of stories from dad before, most of them about how he almost fought on the very first Ultimate Fighting Championship card in Denver but was sidelined indefinitely due to a charlie horse. He had bever told them anything this heavy though.
"No way!" Paige said. "You killed a dude?"
"Well, it's not something I'm particularily proud of, shit happens as they say. It was the summer of '79 and me and my buddies were cruising around in my Mustang getting high and drinking rum straight, don't tell your mother any of this by the way."
"You bet," Boze said, enrapt.
"Anyway we were out doing our thing when all of a sudden this Firebird pulls up next to us at a red light full of these punk Mick motherfuckers, I mean you can almost smell the potatoes and Guiness on them. Anyway they're mugging us and jerring like a bunch of Leprechauns. The leader of them, this slimy prick named O'Flanagan, leans out the drivers seat and challenges me to a street race, but he doesn't want to race for pride or bragging rights, no sir, he wanted to race for keeps."
"Pink slips?" Boze asked.
"Bingo. Now me being the hotblooded young man I was how could I turn him down? So we drove down to Colfax Avenue and started at the longest straightaway, We rev our engines at this red light and I'm just dying to leav this punk in the dust and what do you know, the little cocksucker takes off before me! So I put the pedal to the metal and I'm after him in a heartbeat. Boy you should've seen me, I was like Steve McQueen in that sucker, the engine was roaring, all that horsepower-"
"Alright dad we get it!" Paige groaned.
"Wha- anyway I shoot past him like a bullet, completely smoked him! We pull over and me and my friends are laughing and deciding which one of us gets to drive the Firebird first. The Micks pull up all sour faced and I meet O'Flanagan face to face, he looks me right in the eyes and say, "I'll kill you before I give up my ride son of a bitch!" So the bastard reaches into his coat pocket but luckily I was faster, shot him right in the face. Me and my buddies book it and they're screaming and shooting after us but we were gone like the wind. We never got caught none of my friends ever snitched. Believe me O'Flanagan was no great loss to society, he probably would've ended up dead sooner rather than later but even today I still see his face right before the bullet smashed through his skull and I think to myself damn...that could've been me. I guess the point of all this is if you're gonna carry a gun you better make sure you're ready to use it. Never know when someone might get the drop on you."
"Wow," Paige breathed. "That's badass."
Yeah, badass indeed.
They arrived at Bainesville High a quarter past eight. The school had one of those huge marquee looking signs near the front entrance emblazoned with the school mascot, a whimsical sabretooth tiger holding a Winchester rifle and a heartwarming greeting: HOME OF THE SABRES! GUNS ARE WELCOME ON PREMISES. PLEASE KEEP ALL FIREARMS HOLSTERED UNLESS NEED ARISES. IN SUCH CASE, JUDICIOUS MARKSMENSHIP IS GREATLY APPRECIATED!
Dad pulled up near the schools entrance and let them out. Paige shambled out of the backseat, shotgun in tow but before Boze could get out dad placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Oh yeah son, before I forget." he reached underneath his seat and brandished fourth a leather gun holster. "This is for you. No son of mine is gonna be caught dead with some two bit pea shooter. Here, take it!"
Boze took the weapon and removed it from its holster. It was a sleek silver and black M1911A1 pistol with a high polished finish. It looked fairly unremarkable at first glance but as Boze turned it over in his hands he was able to get a feel of the expert craftsmenship, everything from the reinforced slide to the enlarged iron sights was meticulously customized for brutal effiency.
It was a damn fine gun.
"Wow dad, thanks. This is actually pretty awesome."
"I knew you'd like it. Belonged to my old man when he was in 'Nam. Couldn't tell you how many Charlies he killed with it but he kept that gun cleaned and polished for damn near forty years after the war. I expect you to do the same."
Boze strapped the holster securely around his waist and said, "Yes sir!"
"Atta boy! I'm counting on you Josh, look after your sister but more importantly take care of that gun!"
"Hey!" Paige protested.
"I'm just kidding sweetheart. You kids have a great day, try not to kill anyone yet!" And with that dad pulled off from the parking lot down the road.
It's Lord of The Flies time now. Boze thought as he and his sister entered Bainesville High
Although there was a palpable tension that wafted through the navy blue and stark grey halls of Bainesville, the first week of classes passed by is a daze of excitement. Everyone was showing off their guns at lunchtime and a lot of kids even asked Boze to take pictures with them sporting his M1911A1. For a freshy, even Paige was getting more attention than the older girls thanks to her hot pink shotty and she began wearing pocketed shells across her breast bandolier style. She thought it made her look fashionable yet dangerous.
Boze thought she looked fucking retarded.
Everyone in the senior class openly carried except for this creepy kid named Vincent Bennett. Vincent was a fat, neck bearded loner originally from Boston who wore an oversized black trenchcoat and would ask all of the better looking girls if they believed in God. Weird little fucker, but as long as he stayed away from Paige there wouldn't be any problems.
All of the teachers carried tactical sawed off shotguns with breeching rounds instead of the standard buckshot, "effective for crowd dispersal" they said. Boze's fifth period American History teacher, a rotund, balding man named Mr. Chow would use his sawed off as a pointer whenever he would drone on and on about his curent lectures. Boze sat in class, bored out of his goddamned mind and trying his best to stay awake. He stared around the room at the other lethargic faces. There was one face in particular that caught his eye, a calm, pretty face of a girl he did not recognize. She had a cute haircut, bob style dyed purple with a lock that nearly covered the left side of her face. Her gaze drifted from the teacher and she locked eyes with Boze, she had the most piercing grey eyes. Boze flashed her a sheepish grin, took out his gun and stuck the end of it in his mouth in mock desperation.
Stupid shit, but at least he had bought a smile to her face and that was all that mattered because she had a very lovely smile.
After school Boze and some of the other students met up at the abandoned community pool behind the schools gymnasium where they drank beers and passed a blunt around. The local skater kids had transformed the empty pool into a bitchin' half pipe and the sounds of grinding wheels and rap music blared into the early evening air.
Boze took another hit of the blunt, let the smoke rush to his head, and the sky seemed brighter, the grass greener, such a chill and perfect day. The only thing that could make this day better is if she was here, Boze thought dreamily. The higher he got, the more he couldn't stop thinking about her and when the blunt, a little more than a roach now, came back to him he calmly refused, his thoughts blissfully clouded by cotton colored hair and warm, steel grey eyes.
After finishing the beers Boze and the crew lined up the empty cans for target practice. As they took turns potshotting the defenseless cans Boze knew his old man would lose his shit if he knew his son was handling a firearm under the influence but he also knew that he would be proud of his expert marksmenship and form so in a way it all balanced out.
Next up to the shooting range was this lanky kid named Bryce who brandished a second hand 9mm. He must have been either too stoned or just stupid enough to have his safety off because when he tried to draw his gun the damn thing went off in his pocket, tearing a hole straight through his right foot.
The grinding wheels stopped, the music turned off, and the chill day was shattered by Bryce's bloodcurdling scream. Boze rushed to his side and immediately wished he hadn't as there was a lot of blood, the sharp scent of it naseuating.
"Oh God it hurts, it hurts!" Bryce whimpered, his face a ghastly mask of pain.
"Hold still dude you're gonna be ok!" Boze tried to reassure himself more than Bryce. He attempted to take off the poor kids bloody shoe but was met with resistence and so much blood, the foot glistening with it.
"Someone call 911!"
"Are you fucking serious they'll take our guns!"
Panic began to set in and Boze had never felt so helpless, the weight of the situation almost overwhelming, threatening to break him. Through the sharp odor of blood came the soft fragrance of lilacs, there was flash of movement and suddenly she was at his side, concern etched onto her delicate features.
"Hold him down while I get his shoe off!" she ordered Boze. For a moment he couldn't move, unable to tear his gaze from her, she was so calm, cool and collected in the face of peril, they all looked like pussies in comparison -
"-Come on man!" she snapped.
"R-right." Boze held down Bryce's leg as she worked the shoe off, exposing the once white sock and the gaping, ragged bullet hole. She slipped the sock off with a delicate, nurse like precision and Boze could only watch and admire her unbreakable poise, as his own stomach lurched and roiled with an oily dread.
"Anybody have a rag, bandana, anything? Also some alcohol to stop infection." one of the skater kids gave her a faded skull bandana while his friend handed her a flask of vodka, real strong shit. She took Bryce by the hand and her tone became tender, almost motherly. "This is going to sting sweetie but I promise it'll be over quick, ok?"
"O-okay..." Bryce whimpered.
She twisted the top of the flask off, held it above Bryce's foot, and let a little stream of vodka flow down into his wound. He screamed louder than when he had shot himself, his body contorting from the pain but Boze held him as still as he could while the purple haired angel staunched the wound with the bandana.
"You're luck it went right through," she said matter-of-factly. "You'll definitely still need to go to the hospital though, chalk it up to an irresponsible accident, right?" she tossed them a sideways glance.
"Right! C'mon guys help him to the pick up!"
The guys hefted Bryce up with all the tenderness of them lugging a sofa and carried him towards the school parking lot. Purp used the rest of the vodka to rinse her bloodstained hands, her violet fingernails glistening under the sun. As quickly as the ordeal had begun it was over, and she had handled the situation with such care, such control, that Boze was even more fascinated by her than when they had first locked eyes in fifth period American History.
"That was...incredible." he breathed.
"Yeah, well it was also incredibly stupid for you guys to mix drugs, alcohol and guns, what were you all thinking?"
"Hey, that alcohol saved Bryce's foot! Seriously, thank you, we don't know what we would've done if you hadn't showed up."
"You can thank me later, I'm on my way home, studying and all that fun stuff."
"Well, you think I can walk you home? Give us a chance to talk, get to know each other."
All of the tension from the past several minutes seeemed to sluice from her body and she smiled that priceless smile, a slight blush tinting her cheeks. "I guess, but are you sure you don't want ot go see the nurse, you look a little pale."
While Bryce's misfire had unnerved him like no other, the oily dread in his stomach was now a tumbling of butterflies, a warm and inviting feeling.
"Nah I'm good. Besides, if I faint I think I'll be in much better hands with you than that crab Ms. Oslo. I'm Josh Bozeman by the way, my friends call me Boze."
"Cassandra," she said, still smiling. "My friends call me Cassie."
"Alright Ms. Cassie, how 'bout we get outta here?"
They left the bloody shoe and sock behind and crossed the soccer field towards the main street. As they walked they began to chat, or rather she talked and Boze listened. She had a very pleasant voice, her words flowing like a gentle stream against rocks. Her family had moved to Bainesville from Boulder just this past summer after her little brother had committed suicide with their fathers .357 magnum. After that horrible night she had been vehemenently opposed to guns and was probably the only student in school who didn't carry. Real heavy shit, but ever since then she decided that she would use her experience to help others, which was why she jumped to Bryce's rescue when she heard his screams. After graduation she planned on getting her CNA license and eventually attend nursing school.
She wasn't like the other girls at Bainesville. She was smart, resourceful, with a good head on her shoulders and most of all she had a good idea of what she wanted out of life. She was a girl Boze hoped his own sister could look up to and not the fake plastic bimbos on TV.
She was also a girl he hoped to call his own.
Cassie even made American History class more tolerable as her daily debates with Mr. Chow were more interesting than the actual lessons. Boze could care less about history but Cassie seemed to have a sincere understanding of the policies that helped shape America. Plus it was always fun to watch their teacher get all host under the collar because a student knew her shit better than he did. Today's debate had been a riveting back and fourth duel on the merits of the Columbine Act and how it led to the rapid militarization of society.
"Gun crime across the country has decreased since the passing of the Act," Mr. Chow said pointedly. "President Harris might be wrong about a lot of issues but renewing that Act isn't one of them!"
Cassie had more to say but Mr. Chow raised his sawed off to cut her off and accidently squeezed off a round. Luckily for us the blast went over our heads, tearing through the plaster at the back of the and muffling our hearing for the rest of the day. After that Cassie and Mr. Chow didn't debate anymore as his careless act proved that not everyone was responsible with a gun.
By the time November rolled around the guns at Bainesville had become more accecerorized than cellphones and Ipods. Paige had got suspended for a week after she dropped her shotty in the girls bathroom stall and blew off the side of the toilet, nearly flooding the freshmen hallway. There were also several gang related shootings from rival highscools that kept the students of Bainesville on edge well into Winter break.
The first half of the school year went by in a daze and as they settled into the new year Boze found himself wondering what he was going to do once he graduated. Being that he was young, white, and a hothead who knew how to work his way around a gun the only two careers he seemed destined for was either military or police, but since he loathed giving or taking orders, he knew fuck all what he wanted out of life.
He met Cassie in the school library one bitterly cold Febuary afternoon. They sat on the second floor and stared out the window toward a winter wonderland, the thick snowflakes lazily tumbling from a pale sky, covering Bainesville in a near white out. In the soccer field below Vincent Bennett was busy making a snowman. He would build the thing up to completion, carrot nose and all, only to blow it to pieces with some rinky dink ass rifle his mom or whoever probably gave him for Christmas. When he was done he would repeat the ritual of building, take aim, and fire.
"Jesus what a fucking loser," Boze scoffed.
Cassie giggled, a soft breeze through wind chimes. "He's gotta be over 21, he's always buying beer for the freshmen." she said.
Boze shook his head. "He's good for something I guess, he can't be a super senior forever though."
"And just what are you going to do once you graduate?" Cassie asked.
Boze shrugged. "My uncle can get me in at HomeMart, I hear they finally have benefits."
"That's all you want to do with your life?"
"For now at least."
"I'm going to college in Denver this fall, you should totally come with me." she slipped her hand into Boze's and they held each other for a long time as the snow drifted outside.
A few days after the start of Spring Boze sat with his family around the dinner table. President Harris was on television talking about what he hoped to accomplish during his second term.
"This guy knows the score." dad said in between mouthfuls of spaghetti.
Before Boze could stop himself he said, "he's a narrow minded racist."
Dad looked at him increduously. "Racist? He's done more for black people since Johnson! What, just because he helped us stand up to the Mexicans for stealing all our jobs that makes him racist? What kind of Socialist crap are they teaching you kids?"
"He probably heard it from his girlfriend Cassie." Paige sniggered.
Dad raised an eyebrow. "Cassie huh? Look son I don't care how hot you think this girl is don't go falling for no hippie propaganda."
Boze met his gaze. "And maybe you shouldn't fall for that FOX News propaganda. Cassie is one of the smartest girls in that place."
Dad was about to say something else before mom interrupted, "please you two, not at the dinner table."
Boze excused himself from the table. "I'll be in my room."
"Gonna go sext Cassie?" Paige teased.
Exactly. Sometimes it seemed as if Cassie was the only one who truly cared about him and his well being, and as the school year breezed towards the start of summer Boze found himself seriously contemplating her offer to go to Denver, to leave behind all the bullshit of the past and start a new future in the Mile High City.
One warm day in May Boze and Cassie chilled together during 6th period lunch. The cafeteria was filled with the buzzing of excited chatter but the two of them were rapted with one another, laughing at some shared joke, confiding secrets in each other. No one noticed Vincent Bennett idly pacing the aisles of the cafeteria, decked out in a black trench coat and sunglasses. No one noticed him reach under his coat and brandished an AK47, but everyone stopped and focused upon him when he screamed at the top of his lungs, his voice thick with all the rage and anguish he could muster.
"SCHOOLS OUT BITCHES!"
At once the buzzing stopped. A palpable shock momentarilry gripped the lunchroom and then from pockets and purses, knapsacks and backpacks, guns, guns, and more guns were pulled fourth and aimed at Vincent. Boze was reaching for his own M1 when he felt Cassie's hand on his wrist, her dazzling grey eyes swimming with concern. A flash of pink amidst the sea of guns caught Boze's attention.
"Drop the gun asshole!" Paige shouted, her shotty pointed at Vincent.
Vincent turned to her. "Tell me slut; do YOU believe in God?" he raised the AK.
The gun was in his hand before Cassie could react but Paige was faster. She fired, the snap from the shotguns recoil shattering her little crooked buttoned nose. The shot missed Vincent entirely and slammed into this scrawny sophomore kid, sending him flying back in a cloud of blood. Vincent swept his assault rifle back and fourth in a lethal spray before a barrage of bullets brought him down. One of Vincent's rounds tore a hole through Bryce's throat and his aim went wild and sent a slug straight through Cody Westcott's head. One of Cody's main thots, a big breasted light skinned chick named Charmaine Davis, screamed and leveled her gun at the dying Bryce before she was shot in the face by one of Bryce's friends, who was then gunned down by one of Charmaine's friends and all Boze could do was watch in a numb stupor as his classmates, his friends, kids, just fucking kids, were struck down like bloody marionettes whose cords had been cut.
When the last bullet had been fired and the last shell casing expended there was a new buzzing in the cafeteria at Bainesville High, the pervasive ringing of the post carnage intermingled with the screams of the wounded and dying. Smoke clung to the air, and like a stranger in a strange land Boze stared at the bloodbath. He felt a hand slip into his own and Cassie was at his side, the same look of shocked disbelief he knew he wore on his own face. From a distance the crescendo of police sirens apporached closer, closer, and Boze found himself first shaking, then the tears fell freely, uninhibited by cynicsm or pride or any other macho bullshit. He collapsed into Cassie's arms and for a long time they just held each other.
"Oh baby, baby don't ever let me go..." Boze sobbed.
She tenderly brushed the back of his head and through the stench of blood and cordite and evacuated bowels he breathed in the warm scent of lilacs that bought him back to the day they first met, a day that felt like forever ago now, where they were just kids and not survivors.
It was too much too soon man, too much too soon.