$400!!?? $400 for seagulls? All she had wanted to do was experiment with taxidermy. The thought of spending the rest of her life as a mortician's assistant was, well, mortifying. In high school she'd planned on it . But there she was in Anglers with a 400-dollar fine for killing winged rats. How was I to know they weren't snow geese fumed Brandi silently, handing over her driver's license. A DNR officer was on the way to issue the fine and probably confiscate her hunting license. She'd been so proud too. Nobody thought that she, a city girl, would be able to nail those geese alone. Nail them she did, but geese they were not. She scanned the store, trying to look nonchalant rather than humiliated. Within the display case rested rows of knives, boxes of ammo, expensive reels, and several types of wicked looking broadheads. She refused to meet the eyes of the smirking kid behind the counter, preferring the glassy gaze of the mounted buck's head on the wall above him. In concession to the holiday season someone had fitted it with a spongy red nose. Past the display of neon umbrella rigs, stainless steel forged hooks, a rack of mismatched spring and summer camouflage clothing on clearance, and the wall displaying the shellacked former Maryland state record rockfish, she glimpsed a man in the brown military-like DNR uniform. He looked vaguely familiar… Oh God! Not Eric! Technically, she hadn't cheated on him in high school. She just neglected to tell him that they were no longer a couple before Eric walked in on her kissing his brother. Well, maybe more than kissing… "It's been a while, Brandi." "Yes." "I… I got over it." "I'm sorry, Eric." "Ahem. Anyway. The minimum fine is uh, forty dollars per bird, and, uh, you have ten dead gulls there." He stared down at the grimy gray floor. "I'll," he hesitated, shuffling his boot-clad feet, "I'll forget about it if you let me take you out to dinner. It can, uh, be my Christmas present to you." He was just as nervous and awkward as he'd been when he'd asked her out years ago. She thought it quite possible that he'd dated no one since. She smiled at him. His eyes widened and a dopey grin split his face. What a pathetic loser, thought Brandi, I wonder if his brother is still in town.
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