Inhale, Exhale, and Squeeze by Daron Shrode


The icy air blew past her ears in a steady roar, hissing like the fuzz of a radio frequency when you’ve driven out of range but you’ve still got the volume cranked. Her eyes shifted their focus off of the sights of her firearm long enough to notice his lips moving. The words were swept away by the wind, but it was just as well.

“Shut up, liar,” she whispered.

She hadn’t been able to hear him at first that night at the club, either. The thumping bass was hypnotic, the dim lights intoxicating. Looking back, it was probably by design. All part of the plan. She needed to be close to hear those words, needed to lean over his shoulder, where her thoughts were more focused on naming the cologne he was wearing than what he might be putting in her drink.

She had wanted to be close that night. The allure of new experiences and stolen kisses whispered lies of comfort from the loneliness of being far from home, far from trusted friends. His half-grin had seemed charming at the time. The dimple lingering where his lips met on the right carried a harmless awkwardness. Laugh lines at the outer edges of his dark, honey-brown eyes promised something more than a passing happiness. But as she saw the same grin now—smug as ever, the worthless fucker—it had the taste of a cheap-ass drink that left her head aching. One part sugar and two parts self-loathing.

When she had revealed the revolver, she had hoped he would beg. Drop down to his knees, lifting hands clasped in a desperate prayer that she would have a change of heart. Hoping in vain she would decide to be his savior, rather than an avenging angel.

Not a fucking chance.

The scene hadn’t played out like she expected—just one in a string of sharply disappointing scenes from the film of her life. When she confronted him in the parking lot outside his apartment, he hadn’t even seemed surprised. Instead, he lifted eyebrows in amusement and smiled, stopping shy of openly laughing in her face. That expression remained locked in place the entire drive out to the industrial park off the freeway. Even as she directed him up the stairs, he kept his hands buried in the pockets of his bomber jacket like he was out for a pleasant stroll through the brisk air of a chilly winter afternoon. Her desperate demand for him to empty his pockets was met with a chuckle, and the grand reveal of a pack of gum, a torn movie stub, and two dollars.

His relaxed confidence was unnerving, but not disarming. The weight of her father’s revolver in her hands reassured her. She was in control. Her body threatened to peel away her grip with a shiver as she remembered the way he had held her down in the end; she needed to be in control of this. After what this bastard had done, there could be no turning back.

Now she stood opposite her prey, on a roof with nothing but the endless swirling frost to witness this final confrontation. He pulled his hands out of his pockets now, and her eyes narrowed.

“Don’t you fucking move.” If the wind stole away her words as well, she knew he would still understand the fury burning behind her eyes. He would understand the rage clenching her teeth into a steely gate where heat escaped in short puffs of smoke.

His thumbs hooked into the pockets of his jeans and his shoulders rose and fell in a subtle sigh. Grin tattooed on his lips, practically chiseled into his face as the expression tightened. Her anxiety threatened her with panic as an inner voice suggested he was simply biding his time. The voice grew stronger when he began to slowly move towards her. He casually kicked at the snow collecting on the roof with each step, boots crunching as they packed the snow down into the gravel beneath. As he grew closer, she began to see danger brewing behind those eyes. The lids were wider apart, the laugh lines long gone. His gaze was fixed on hers, never breaking contact.

He had denied her the satisfaction of groveling at gunpoint. But she would be damned if she gave him the power back now.

Bastard. You think you’re invincible. You think I’m just gonna crumble, like I did that night you spiked my drink, you worthless waste of flesh.

The mixture of tears and icy air stung her eyes, but as he came closer she began to draw strength from his arrogance. Her shame and self-loathing gave way to a sort of righteous anger that radiated from within her chest. There was no remorse in his gaze. God—he had probably done this before she wandered into the club that night. He would probably do it again.

No. No, he would not.

The gun had been a graduation gift from her father, handed over before she went to college in the big city. The shooting lessons had felt unnecessary, and she remembered feeling embarrassed and stifled by an overprotective dad. Guilt ate away at her the last few nights for not taking it seriously. For not taking the gun with her that night.

But now, as this beast lunged for her in a desperate attempt to secure his freedom, as she held the front sight between the valley of metal just above the hammer, she thought back to how he had patiently, lovingly coaxed her through the process.

Her father had taught her a few things, too. As the words echoed in her memory, she could hear the gentle smile in his voice.

Inhale. Then exhale and squeeze.

And just like that, it’s done.