Olivia, Striking Back - Danielle Norman


Ten years ago…

“All right, Olivia. You’re up,” called out a brawny paintball player as he looked up from the clipboard and narrowed his eyes. “You sure this is the sport for you, honey?”

His lips curved into a smirk that made Olivia’s stomach squirm with annoyance. She stiffened her posture and stared him down.

“Why wouldn’t it be?” she asked coolly.

“I don’t know.” The guy laughed. “It just seems like maybe you’d be better off in cheer practice or some kind of campus bake sale. Didn’t peg you for the shooting competition type of person.”

She had no clue why people always followed up something condescending with a laugh. It reminded her of the kind of people who would preface something rude with a claim that they weren’t trying to be rude. It was patronizing.

Olivia grasped the paintball gun tightly.

“I’m ready,” she said and jutted her out chin defiantly. No matter what any member of the male species assumed about her, Olivia could handle a sidearm.

Ignoring the way the condescending guy watched her with a smirk on his face, she rolled her shoulders a few times and then approached the first target.

Shooting a paintball gun was nothing compared to the first gun she’d ever held. On her sixteenth birthday, Olivia’s father took her to the shooting range, despite her mother’s protests. Olivia could still hear her mother’s voice claiming that shooting wasn’t a ladylike activity. Of course, as always, it only took one sideways glance from her father to mute her mother’s protests. Olivia’s father had a violent streak. Though he was friendly enough in public, he was a force to be reckoned with behind closed doors. In the house, she and her mother walked on eggshells because anything could send him into a blind rage. Over time, they learned to anticipate what her father needed before he needed to ask. It was easier to bend over backward to meet his needs than it was to deal with the consequences of another temper tantrum.

Despite her father’s many flaws, the day he took her to the gun range was the greatest gift he ever gave her. He taught her how to shoot that day and was more patient than she’d ever seen him before. Shooting became the only thing that they had in common with each other. At least, Olivia hoped it was the only thing.

Facing the paintball target at the end of the range, Olivia inhaled slowly and focused all of her energy on it. She let out a long exhale, squeezed the trigger, and hit the target with ease. Dead center.

Olivia lowered the gun, a triumphant smile on her face.

“What were you saying about baking and cheerleading?” she asked the superior guy next to her, blinking with mock innocence.

“Whatever,” he replied with an eye roll. “Beginner’s luck.”

Olivia pursed her lips, but she didn’t allow herself to get irked by his attitude. She knew what she was capable of, and he would know soon enough, too.

He escorted her to the next target a few yards away.

“No pressure, sweetheart,” he sneered. It was a shame because had he not been such a pompous idiot, the guy would have been reasonably attractive. “We all get ahead of ourselves. Just focus and try not to let your womanly wiles work you into a nervous frenzy. The rest of the targets won’t be as easy as the first one.”

Olivia could hardly believe his audacity. Who the hell walked around actually saying things like this to strangers? Still, she was nowhere close to being worked into a womanly frenzy, so she merely fixed him with a glare. Not noticing her visible disdain, he gestured to the long line of targets ahead of them, the farthest being a hundred foot shot. Sure, the targets would be difficult—maybe even impossible—for the average shooter, but Olivia’s confidence remained strong.

“I’ll be fine,” Olivia said to him. “But thank you ever so much for the concern.” Of course, her sarcasm was lost on the jackass. He probably assumed that she was genuinely thankful for his words.

As she stood in position, Olivia went through the motions that she’d practice time and time again. At this point, it was like breathing. Despite her petite frame and soft features, she felt natural with a gun in her hands. The next target shook slightly as another splatter of paint burst against the center of it.

As they walked to the next target, the guy had nothing to offer but a wordless humph.

“No advice this time?” Olivia asked lightly.

He didn’t