In the years since, Clayton had grown innured to the peculiar sensations that accompanied the extinguishing of a life. He took pride in his (vastly improved) marksmanship and pleasure in providing meat for his family. He’d taken up bow hunting in his eighth-grade year, and had come to prefer its unique challenges to the now too-easy rifle. He competed in tournaments all over the western United States, sometimes traveling twelve hours to 3-D shoots where he’d aim at foam decoys in the brush, kill zones demarcated with concentric circles that added up to different point values. The only time his father had come to his school, it had been to argue passionately in favor of Clayton’s continual absences to attend these competitions. His excellence was undeniable, and his father prevailed. He won so many trophies, occassionally even bringing home cash prizes, that Clayton senior ignored the dust collecting on Clayton’s dirt bike and, one day, quietly sold it to a classmate of Clayton’s whose father owned the local tavern.
More difficult to ignore was Clayton’s conspicous disinterest in girls. By his junior year in high school, when most of his peers were bringing girls home to supper and sneaking down to the river to grope, fuck and, in more than one unfortunate instance, impregnate them, Clayton was interested only in hunting, competing in tournaments, and riding his horse. Clayton was a good looking boy, on the short side of average, like his father, but solidly built, with a broad, pleasant face, a strong, straight, regal nose and the thick black hair and dark complexion of his mother’s side, who were rumored to have Indian blood.
His looks, his consummate skill as a hunter and his gentle, easy humor made him a favorite of the girls at school. They were forever begging him to help them improve their marksmanship, halter-break their yearlings, or fix a broken compound bow. He always agreed to help, but these lessons never amounted to much; the girls would rapidly lose interest in whatever he was trying to teach them once it was clear that the hand gently guiding their shooting arm was unanimated by lust, and would never stray to their cheek to brush away a strand of hair, or to their waist to pull them closer to his strong, warm body.
It made his father nervous that Clayton wasn’t preoccupied, as he’d been at his age, with “chasing tail”, and more nervous still that he seemed to actively resist the advances of the girls in town, mousy, dull ones and pretty ones alike. But he rationalized it to himself, and to his buddies when they gave him shit for it (which was often), by saying that Clayton was smart, didn’t want to get tied down early like his daddy and the numerous others who knocked up girls in their teens and early twenties, and were stuck providing for families while they were still kids themselves, giving up the freedom to go hunting and fishing whenever they wanted, to blow their whole paycheck at the bar without disapproval, to come and go as they pleased and do and say what they liked.
This made a lot of sense, but no one really believed that anyone could be that smart and rational. Everyone knew that once you had kids and got married your life was over, but still, seemingly, no one could keep himself from the ardent pursuit of that prize more coveted and compelling than any majestic buck or bright-plumed pheasant: the romantic attentions of a lady.