Starring Role by JJ Courtney

Lela's ex Zack left his Colt .25 Automatic in her underwear drawer, and now she associates it strongly with him; by JJ Courtney.

Image generated with OpenAI
Lela hadn't held a gun for the first twenty-one years of her life. That was despite the fact at age twenty, she technically owned one. Ok, it wasn't hers officially, but how else do you describe something that lives in your underwear draw?

When she'd pointed out that her technical ownership didn't correspond with any official paperwork (or even a license), Zack had laughed.

"The cops are hardly gonna raid your house any time soon, are they?" he'd told her. "Besides, it's registered to me. You can just say I left it here one time."

And he was right; no one ever found out about its existence, the police didn't randomly come knocking, and it did make her feel safer in the wake of a spate of break-ins only a block away - especially in summer months when her windows were open and her parents were out of town (as they often were).

But she never actually picked it up in that first year. Never even touched it. She opened the draw once when she heard a noise outside, and that was the closest she got.

Now, Lela manhandled it all the time. Posed in the mirror with it. Imagined using it to get what she wanted. Imagined she was Angelina Jolie in Wanted. Or, in a worse mood, Vincent Cassel in La Haine. It was strange - that little Colt carried so much emotion with it now. It was like a MacGuffin for her mind; a tool that could invoke instant nostalgia.

And yet while craving the memories it conjured, she also sought retribution, in some ways, against the instigator - the very man who'd given her both the memories and the weapon to go with them.

Sighing as she checked the chamber for a round of ammunition, Lela placed the gun on the dressing table and covered it with a discarded pair of jeans from the floor. Then she reluctantly returned to the flat iron - her hair was already inch perfect - before seconds later her Huawei buzzed.

Unlocking the screen, she saw a message from Casey. Hey girl. You getting ready for the big night?

The perfect pre-amble from the faithful best friend.

Lela replied: That started about an hour ago lol

Casey: Give me the details

Lela: 8:30 at Bar3

Casey: Yawn. His suggestion I bet? Nothing changes

Lela: It's not that bad in there!

In reality, it was one of Lela's favorite places. Cheap drinks, good music, and quiet enough on a normal weeknight evening to get a seat and reminisce of drunken memories spent in that very venue.

Casey: Hmmm. What's he said so far?

Lela: All the clichés x 10. He misses me. We were good together. Things could be different this time

Casey: Let me guess - he's not met a girl like you since?

Lela: That one hasn't come up yet!

Casey: Give it time hun. You swallowing it all I take it?

Lela. I'd say I'm more sipping slowly

Casey: Haha. Well watch out, clichés that potent can get you wasted in a heartbeat

Lela: And who doesn't enjoy getting wasted?

Casey replied with a crying with laughter emoji, and Lela moved on to re-assessing her choice of shoes (heels just seemed too much and flats weren't an option either, so small heeled boots were probably the solution - shit, that would mean she might have to change from her dress).

The thing was, college fucked up relationships. At least that's what Lela blamed it on. Fine, she mostly enjoyed the drama and the gossip and being part of something bigger - pleasures you feverishly crave when you grow up on soap operas and teen movies. But the flip side was temptation and interference, mainly on Zack's side (she'd never strayed so far as even a dodgy DM).

The Huawei pinged - Casey again.

Seriously Lela, be careful, ok?

Lela: I will hun

Casey: And don't do anything stupid. Love ya

Lela responded with a red heart emoji, and a moment later, a message from Zack popped up. Nothing special - he just asked if she was still set. She told him she was, and right at that moment, Take Me Home by Cash Cash wafted from the speaker, apparently the next song in her Spotify shuffle.

And there was a wave of excitement over the potential return of that feeling. Perhaps the actual feeling itself in a small dose - a definite buzz and a full-body tingling which raised the hairs on the back of her neck - although it was momentary, and Lela couldn't be sure. How could she explain it? She wanted to. Felt like if she could rationalize it to herself, she could better comprehend it.

An example (and an incident she remembered due to this very song pulsating from the radio at the time): her and Zack went to an Italian in town. After, they walked across the parking lot to his car and it was warm, and they were walking in that non-linear way - you know? The sort of walk you do when you're so happy at being in sync you neglect the most direct route. Or because one of you has had a few wines, whatever.

"Wanna drive?" he said, holding out his keys.

Lela played along, fully aware Zack wouldn't ever trust her behind the wheel of his Mustang in a million years (and besides, Lela couldn't drive stick).

"Why not. What does the third pedal do again?"

He laughed. "I think it's the loud pedal."

She pushed him away flirtatiously, and once they climbed in the car and tore off down the street, she stood up and poked her head out the sunroof, shouting something excitable and incomprehensible - screaming along to the music as the background buzzed by and the engine roared. She'd never done anything like it before, but she'd recalled a similar stunt from Sarah Michelle Gellar in I Know What You Did Last Summer, and felt it was the type of thing sexy girls did if they were having fun.

Zack pulled her in for a kiss after she tucked herself back inside at the next set of lights.

"You're crazy, you know that? And I love it."

That's when the rush hit. A sensation that had been building since they strolled across that lot. She didn't think it was love, because love had to be more complex. She didn't think it was lust either. Both were perhaps an ingredient, sure. Yet it was more... happiness. Excitement. Contentedness. Meaning, in a social sense.

She could almost perceive things from the point of view of an audience; herself as a purposeful protagonist. It's as though she could envisage the beams of the headlights bouncing into the lens as they drove along, the smooth cuts to different camera angles to bring attention to her and Zack, emphasizing the emotion. It was as though she really mattered.

But for some reason, those moments, that special feeling - they only ever seemed to surface in the presence of one of two conditions, two prompts that triggered the proper sense of occasion. One of those conditions was when she was with Zack. And the other? When she was prancing around with her Colt .25 Automatic.

She'd tried to recreate them. Dated other guys, had another boyfriend. Even held another gun down at a local range - gone so far as to fire it. But it just wasn't the same. They were just boys. The gun was just a gun. None of it pieced together and none if it had a back-story. No, she'd spent enough time searching and craving to know where the intensity was - the location where she could dig with optimism. She'd been thorough, and she was ready.

"You were in my head."

He looked good. As she remembered only... in slightly better shape than before. Like a slimmer, more rugged version of Chris Pratt.

"What? When?"

"The whole time. The whole two years."

It'd had been two years and four months. Lela was hardly going to correct him though - not when he was coming out with gold like this. It was almost as if he'd read her pre-prepared script.

Still, she had to play it cool.

"What about last year, when you were with her?"

Too much? Perhaps. There was knocking the ball of conversation back and forth, and then there was volleying it right into his fucking face.

He gazed at his drink. "Don't be like that."

"Like what?"

"All... bitter. I didn't cheat on you - I didn't screw you over. We weren't together anymore, and I was trying to move on."

Lela surveyed the surrounding tables; the couples and groups of friends that would surely be taking more interest in Lela and Zack's conversation than vice versa. Because their chat would be relationship-defining. Juicy. A re-opening of past wounds, with purpose and promise. An exploration of the blurred lines between anger, passion and desire.

"And what about the time you did fucking cheat? Seems you've got a short memory."

Even mentioning it sparked a certain rage that Lela had to stifle before it boiled over - this wasn't the chosen setting for that.

He shook his head. "Bringing that up again, huh?"

"Again? This is the first time I've mentioned it in a year."

"Only 'cos we haven't spoken in a year."

Lela laughed at his attempt at deflection. "You haven't answered the question."

"I didn't realize there was one."

"Yes you did. I asked what your excuse was for the other time."

"Jeez Lela, really?" He scratched his forehead, peering upwards as if the ceiling might feed him the answers. "You can't keep going over things you've forgiven someone for."

Lela laughed louder this time. "Can't I? Who fucking said so?"

He tried to interject - she didn't let him.

"Plus who said I ever forgave you? And it's not like I'm dragging it up for no reason, is it? I'd argue it's pretty fucking relevant."

"Hardly. In life, you have to move on from the past to reap rewards."

Lela feigned sticking her fingers down her throat and made a gagging noise. "Where the fuck did you get that from? A fortune cookie?"

A smirk started to invade Zack's face, and before Lela knew it, the two of them were giggling. She'd hit the sweet spot - she could tell. From the way he glanced around, slightly self-conscious, she knew her exaggerated reaction had prompted the correct mix of embarrassment and endearment.

"You know, I've never met a girl like you since."


"Come on Lela," he replied, still smirking, "how could any other girl compete?"

"Then why'd you leave in the first place?" she snapped; a reflex.

"I didn't leave. We broke up. You were saying we couldn't carry on, remember?"

"I was hurting."

The right phrase? Should she have gone with 'my heart was literally breaking'? No, that would've probably been too much. Regardless of its truth, no one would believe it.

"I know, I know. I get it."

He swilled his drink, sighing.

Lela turned to her right and saw a new couple enter into shot: a guy with tattoos and his date - a tiny brunette in a dress even tinier, fake tan and skinny legs and long hair spilling out from every angle. Sort of a Mila Kunis look, combined with an eating disorder.

"So what's changed?" she quickly asked Zack, trying to command his gaze, keen for him not to see this girl. Once she was seated she'd be out of his eyeline, but until then, Lela needed to keep his focus. She didn't want his attention wandering elsewhere.

"Not that much," he replied, which surprised Lela, "and that's why I'm here."

"I don't follow," she said, and thankfully the inadequately dressed distraction sat down out of view from Zack. Wait, what if she got up to go to the restrooms? She'd walk directly past. Fuck.

"Well we were good at college, right? We were really good. So if not much has changed, we should be able to carry on. Only this time, we haven't got college getting in the way, and we haven't got constant reminders of... you know who... holding us back."

Lela laughed cynically, as if it was outrageous of Zack to bring it up unless she was grilling him on it.

It was true though - college was a small world, and every night out carried the risk of running into that horrible slut who'd ruined it all. Ran the risk of encountering people who knew, people who talked. And Lela loved having the spotlight on them, just not for those wrong reasons, casting the wrong perceptions. She didn't want to play the supporting role - the weak, pitied and dejected partner.

He looked awkward. Cleared his throat. "What do you think?"

Ha, was he expecting an answer now? There hadn't been nearly enough dialogue. She'd have to push him further. Not too far, mind.

"I think... it's complicated."

"What is this - a Facebook status update?" He gulped down some beer. "Things are as complicated as you make them."

It was a sloppy comment, to be fair. He was right.

"Ok," she replied, "answer me this: how can I be sure you won't repeat the same mistakes again?"

"Just me, huh?"

"What does that mean?"

"I realize I fucked up. I can't take 100 percent of the blame though."

Hmm, she'd like to claim the contrary. He was the scumbag here. The absolute piece of shit who... no... calm down... calm down. Not yet.

Lela sighed. "What is it I'm supposed to do?"

He shrugged. "Trust me?"

"That's rich!"

"It's true," he said, "it's the only way to make it work really, isn't it?"

It was funny - while Lela had considered all the potential outcomes of the evening, she genuinely hadn't contemplated the idea of trusting Zack. She'd presumed instead that a re-start of the relationship (if he made it through the night fully intact) would involve a regular stalking of his social media and the occasional hacking of his cellphone when he was asleep, full-on Die Hard 4.0 style. She'd even planned how she might ascertain his pin, in case it had changed. Read up on how to uncover if he was using a second device.

"And that's what you want?" Lela replied. "For us to work?"

She was fishing. Plain as day.

"I want it bad," he said, grinning. "You know it too."

She allowed her mouth to curl ever so slightly into a smile before forcing it back to a pout. She had to keep him working, after all. Had to confirm it was genuine. Had to get more compliments and statements of commitment and declarations of intent. Because what else could she do?

They drank more. Reminisced. Tried to find the balance between blatant misrepresentation and painfully boring regurgitation of events which did little to entertain or evoke emotion. They flirted. The tan brunette walked past to go to the restroom at one point, and it delayed things. Lela could see Zack's eyeballs twitching, his stare waning, and she was positive he got at least a small glance in. That fucking brunette - couldn't she find clothes that fit? Luckily she was a bit-part extra; practically a cardboard cutout.

Anyway, they soon returned to themselves. Returned to the primary plot point. And she tried to maintain the whole time that she was in need of persuasion, in need of reassurance, in need of a sales pitch to carry through with her intentions. She knew, though. Not even especially deep down, she knew.

Of all the places they had to walk past after leaving Bar3, it had to be the gun shop, and of all the objects to be in the window, it had to be pocket-sized pistols.

Of course, Lela knew that by telling Zack to park in the quieter parking lot, the one by Norris Street, they'd probably pass there. And she knew, from visiting the other week, about what was on offer in the window. Then there was the fact that she stopped to adjust her dress the moment they passed, holding them there. But why let faux-fate get in the way of a sensational exchange?

"Hey - do you still have that Colt I gave you?" he said, right on time, smiling at her mischievously. "I always worried you threw it away and someone would get murdered with it."

Lela tried to contain her grin. "Don't worry, nobody you don't know will be killing with it anytime soon."

"That mean you still have it, or not?"

Lela shrugged, trying to be sexy and cute and romantic in a single, overly-blinked expression. Then she leaned in to his ear, preparing to deliver her pre-rehearsed line.

"Why don't you come back to mine and find out?"

He laughed. "You're crazy, you know that? And I love it."

He pulled her in for a kiss, and once Lela had finished with superficial clothing adjustments, they began holding hands.

U & I by Galantis was playing as they strolled - in that sort of non-linear way. She could definitely hear it. The camera panned away, slowly rotating around them, and that feeling arrived in smooth, hard waves.

Fuck, it was good. And who knew how strong it would hit later with a double prompt? Two Chekhov's guns and a fantastic back-story; expectation exacerbated by so much history and build-up.

She'd only point it at him to start with. Spike his adrenaline a touch. Make him appreciate what he'd done and what could be to come. After that, who knew? She'd see where things took her.

And either way, it would make for an incredible scene.


  1. Excellent job of getting inside Lela’s head. Well-developed and believable characters and a cliffhanger ending. Nicely done.
    — David Henson

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words David! Glad you enjoyed it

  2. I started thinking about Chekhov's gun about half way through. One of the more valuable things I've learned about writing. My takeaway is that I'm ever so glad I'm old when it comes to relationships. Don't need the drama. Does he get shot?

    1. I like to believe that a story only exists inside the reader's own mind, and is personal to them - so in that sense, whether or not he gets shot is technically up to you!

  3. Lela’s sexuality is dysfunctional - she seems to have a fetish called hoplophilia - i.e. “firearms kink”. The origin is a bit unclear, though I suspect she may confuse strong emotions - e.g. terror and fear for passion and love. Also any Freudian would note the obvious correlation of a gun and a penis…
    The story also circles around issues of betrayal, forgiveness, and reconciliation vs. retribution in breaches within a monogamous relationship.

    I couldn’t help thinking of Chekov’s gun too. I was entertained to find that per Dr. Wikipedia, “Writing in 1999, Donald Rayfield noted that in Chekhov's play The Cherry Orchard, contrary to Chekhov's own advice, there are two loaded firearms that are not fired.” - though in fairness to the master Chekov - “The unfired rifles tie into the play's theme of lacking or incomplete action.” Also the article notes that - another master - Hemingway - thought the whole idea was stupid - so there’s that too…

    Fun story!

    1. Thanks for the comment Adam - some intelligent, well-thought out points too! I find Chekov's gun an interesting concept (hence its inclusion) but have also wondered if it's an important rule to follow. After all, one person's irrelevant prop or reference is another person's easter egg.

  4. I don’t know how old JJ Courtney is, but I don’t know any of the music or films that JJ alludes to. But that’s merely a reflection of myself. I do have Google, however, so I was able to access the tunes and see what they added to the story; I’m none the wiser, alas. Am I out of line in suggesting that Lela is neurotic, borderline over the edge? That’s basically what I got out of JJ’s clever examination of her MC’s thought processes. I enjoyed this story; thanks, JJ.

    1. Glad you liked it Bill! And no I do not think you're out of line!

      The music was picked partly due to the lyrics and partly due to the 'theme' - songs that are fun yet also romantic and arguably emotional. The film references were more than anything to demonstrate Lela's obsession with stories, charismatic characters and the idea of herself being relevant (something the title also alludes to). La Haine I picked as it's the best scene I know of personally that includes posing with a gun - I'd highly recommend the film if you haven't seen it.