Cody stood still in the forest, never looking away from Fiona while she paced back and forth, mushing the muddy leaves into the melting snow.
“You are going to keep it, right?”
“I mean, you want to, right?”
“Jesus, shut up Cody.”
She couldn’t look at him. Cody warmed his hands in the front pockets of his flannel hunting coat. He tried to be stoic, but the chill made his breath stall out in short puffs of steam, and Fiona could see that he was nervous.
“So I don’t know why we shouldn’t. We know what your mom is going to do if she finds out.”
“I know, Cody. God. It’s just hard, you know?”
Her Pentecostal mother, Margot, already forbid contact with Cody. Margot was the reason Fiona wore her hair in braid. She’d gotten carried away with a boy two years ago when she was only 15. Her mother saw her ruffled hair, and hit her with a rolling pin across her cheek. In a moment of rage, she swung her by her hair until her head slammed against the kitchen wall.
Cody stepped over slowly, and put his hands on her hips. “I love you, you know.”
“I love you too. I just don’t know why my mom can’t be normal.”
“We didn’t do anything wrong. Everybody’s gonna have opinions and whatnot, because we’re supposed to feel like we’ve done something bad, but I don’t care. I’m going to be 18 when it happens. You’ll be 18 like a month later, right?”
“Have you told your parents yet?”
“Not yet. Not until we do this. If you still want to do this, that is.”
“I don’t want to get into trouble.”
“Just get her into the brush. Not out in the open. We’ll say it’s an accident.”
Fiona stood in the snow and looked out to the barn that her great grandfather built. An old Chevrolet mural had faded. The black car sank the white background, red paint from underneath began to bleed through after old paint chips flaked off and were blown away.
“Does it have to be today?”
“Doesn’t have to be ever. Just raise your hand if you want me to take the shot. I promise you I won’t do nothing if you change your mind.”
She nodded without saying a word.
Cody snapped his fingers in front of her face to get her attention.
“Stay with me. I really need for you to be here with me right now.”
She nodded. Her eyes began to water, her mouth creased downward and she began to shake. He held her face and tried to kiss her, the way he always did when she started to panic, but Fiona pulled her head to the side and buried her face into his coat.
“Why does she have to be evil?”
“My mom loves you.”
“I love your mom.”
“And my dad. My whole family is stupid about you.”
She pulled away and dried her tears. She dabbed, careful not to rub them, so that her eyes wouldn’t get as red as her cheeks.
“Is she going to feel anything?”
“I don’t know. Do you want her to?”
“I’ll say that it was an accident. Just stay behind, then run over after it’s done.”
“I can’t run over and look at her after that.”
“Fiona, you’ve gotta. Just this once, to get the story straight.”
She took another deep breath.
“We’ll be fine. No jail, no running away. She’ll be gone. My folks’ll take us in. There’s no way they won’t with a baby. You’ll get a degree. We’ll get a place of our own in a bit, but you’ll want my parents around when we have the kid.”
“Are you that good of a shot?”
“I’m pretty good. I can do it.”
Fiona looked around, while she made her decision.
“Get her out of the house. If you raise your hand I’ll take the shot. If not…”
“If not, she sticks around and finds out. And my life is over.”
“Yeah. That’s what I figure.”
Fiona looked down at her watch.
“Shit. I’ve gotta go.”
She kissed Cody, and pushed her whole body into his. They warmed each other up one last time. And then she pulled back and took off running across the field, back to the house. Cody slowly lifted himself into the deer stand, and rested his rifle on his lap. He put a few drops of doe urine on the front and back of his boots and waited.
It was a few minutes to dusk, and he wondered how long he could stay out and hope he got his story straight. She’d tell her mother that she’d seen some pervert watching her from the woods. Her mother would run out with a gun to scare away the pervert, and Cody, would say he thought she was a deer, in her brown jacket. He didn’t know if he wanted to go through with the plan, himself, but he wasn’t in a position to back out now. Not if Fiona still wanted it done.
And then heard her. Margot was in the light brown jacket, yelling at her daughter for losing her winter coat and telling her she didn’t see anybody. Cody looked for Fiona, but still couldn’t find her through the trees. He didn’t know what to do with the rifle in his lap, until finally, against the red and orange leaf backdrop, he could see her ginger braids.
“Where are you, you flipping devil?”
Margot’s voice snapped through the space between the smaller birch trees. Cody realized that she could very well have been looking for him. Margot’s small hands gripped the shotgun in front of her eyes, and Cody wondered if she knew about his deer stand. He crouched as low as he could from his perched vantage point, stealing a glimpse of the pale woman with pink blotches of skin on her rigid cheekbones and nose.
Fiona waited at the edge of the brush. She was crying. It was too far for Cody to see her tears, but he recognized the way she’d look to the ground and pretended to smile. For a second he thought that she gave him the signal, as her hand rose, but she was only scratching her nose. He turned the safety on and aimed his gun toward Fiona, so that he could see her face through the scope. Her mouth was red and her bottom lip was swelling. He couldn’t tell if her eyes were red from the tears or if her mother had hit her again.
He wasn’t going to pull the trigger until she said so. He wasn’t going to be a murderer. He wondered if she would ever make up her mind. Margot was already becoming frustrated. She’d stopped walking around and was just standing still, scanning the ground for signs of movement. It wouldn’t be long before she turned around and walked back to hit Fiona for wasting her time. God help her if she ever found out about that baby.
Fiona wouldn’t look at him. She slumped her head toward the ground, and he watched as the back of her shoulders lurched up and down while she tried to control her sobbing. Then she looked at him, with tears running down her face, and raised her hand, and plugged her ears, waiting for the sound of the shot.