Gale was fifteen, and in typical teenage fashion, it took seven alarms, three bouts of shouting from his mother, and a housefire to get him out of bed.
At four fifteen sharp, the alarm went off in Gale's ear - a cacophony of squealing guitars and pounding drums that he silenced instantly, almost before he'd opened his eyes. He was alert, sharp, and wasted no time rolling out of bed and pulling his shoes on. He'd been planning this for ages, and knew that if he dawdled or wasted time humming and hawing about it, he'd lose his nerve. Gale wasn't going to let that happen.
At four twenty on the nose, he was rifling through his sock drawer, looking for the ace in the hole he'd purchased at school days before. Gale found it, turned it over in his hands. It felt heavier, more clumsy. He'd expected that. That enigmatic object seemed to change shape, weight, form, and function every time he held it. He put it in the pocket of his too-big bomber jacket and sat down at the edge of the bed, jittering, anxious, anticipating.
At four fifty-five, he heard the gravel churn under the wheels of an SUV. The engine shut down, the door closed with a dull thunk. Gale listened as boots stomped across the front porch. The front door opened, slammed. It shook the house. Heavy footsteps in the downstairs hall.
Gale slipped out of his bedroom, moving steadily down the corridor. He crept downstairs, skipping the third one which was prone to creaking. He reached into his pocket.
He paused at the bottom of the stairs, listening. Muffled though it was, it was unmistakable - talking. Bitching. Quick, biting words, slurred though they were. It wasn't loud - it never was at first - but Gale's ears were attuned to it. His grip tightened in his pocket, and he kept walking.
The door to his parents' room was slightly ajar. Gale could see the shadowy figure looming over the bed, gesticulating wildly. The words were louder now. Gale couldn't make sense of them. He didn't even try. All he could hear was the blood rushing in his ears, his heart beating against his ribcage like a prisoner demanding to be let free.
His mother made a meek sound from her spot in the bed, an attempt at retort, some feeble self-defense that fell on deaf ears.
Then came the yelling.
Gale nudged the door open a little wider with his shoulder, only able to see the man bellowing, banging his fist on the bedside table. His back was turned to Gale. He was so wound up, he didn't hear the door open. He raised a fist - Gale raised his gun.
Not today. Not ever again.