Precious little comes out perfect the first go around; except for babies and sometimes not even then. When you spend your life with too many mistakes and too many I'm sorry speeches, the first time is never perfect. Sometimes it doesn't even make sense.
Kind of like chasing a rainbow.
Fox Thomas was not a rainbow chasing man by any standards. He served in the Army and gave time to his country. When that time was up, so was the life he'd known since graduating high school. He had nothing to show for it; he'd gotten his college degree through the generosity of the American Government, but that proved as useless to him as his combat training.
He was twenty-six by the time he went back home.
Moving back in with his mother had not been his idea. He never thought that this was where he'd be at by the time he was heading for thirty, but there he was. No Army, no more college, no job, no life. No choice.
He'd had to go back home.
When he finally did go back, life hadn't much changed in the sleepy little community he grew up in. The houses looked the same, the people looked the same. There were a few new faces, but it was mostly the ones he remembered still there, living along the same stretch of one lane road.
Fox unloaded his car and, with the help of his younger brothers, carried his meager belongings inside.
"You can have your old room back, Fox." His mother jerked her head toward the hallway without looking up at him. One son in prison and the rest without jobs or places to live had left a mark on his mother. He could see the strain -- a strange whiteness -- around her mouth and eyes like the wrinkles she now sported. It made him sad, but there was nothing he could do to change the fact that his only older brother was a drug dealer. He couldn't change Rafe no matter how hard he tried.
So in the end, he didn't bother to try. It was just another rainbow, and Fox didn't chase rainbows. To him, there was never any pot of gold at the end, never anything good to come out of chasing it. Whatever was there wasn't for him, so it didn't matter.
"Thanks for doing this Mom," he said when he came back from his childhood bedroom.
"Had to, didn't I?" she said. "I love you, even if I think you're a dumb-ass. You should have never left the Army."
"Don't you Mom me, Fox. You're a military man. Now what are you going to do?" She finally looked up from the television and poked a cigarette between her lips as she spoke. "You going to just sit around all day, waiting for the next good thing? Soon you'll be drinking and into drugs, just like your brother."
"Mom, I'm not Rafe. No matter what I do, I'll never be like him. I'd rather eat shit for nutrition than be like him."
"Well, it's a damn good thing." His mother flipped her ashes in an ashtray with a flounce and sat back without another word, her hollow, emotionless eyes locked on the television.
Fox shrugged and walked outside. He grinned when his gaze crossed his old basketball goal and he started shooting a few random hoops.
A woman approached, but she didn't seem interested in him. She walked past, carrying with her the soft scent of orange blossoms, very much caught up in her own thoughts.
She wasn't a bad looking chick from the back, now that he thought about it. He threw the basketball at the weather-grayed net and pondered after her receding form. A vague sense of familiarity caught hold of him and tugged as he watched her walk. It was in the gentle sway of her hips; not sassy or sexy or purposeful, but a natural gait that drew a man's eyes, and not even to her ass... it was enough just to watch all of her walk.
That sexy, non-sexy walk.
He let his eyes wander long over the woman as she walked away from him. Not much further she could go; the road led absolutely no where and if she was going visiting, he'd see where she went. Out of sheer curiosity, of course.
She walked to the split in the road, turned around and came back. This time, as she drew near, he could see her smiling. Her nose was too wide, her face too rounded, but her lips curved into a beautiful, natural pout that made him ache to just kiss her senseless. She wasn't pretty by normal standards, but she was one damn appealing woman. Her dark brown eyes captured his and the darker than brown mess frizzling around her head matched her awkward beauty perfectly. Just like it always had.
"Hi Fox. Didn't recognize me, did you?"
"Not at first, but you haven't changed, really. You've just gotten bigger and you don't look like a teenage girl anymore. Now you look like..." he trailed off when he spotted the slim gold band on her finger.
"A woman?" she ventured.
"You look great," she said after a minute. She nodded and looked him over, slow in her appraisal.
Her gaze didn't feel sexual to him, but he had to admit to himself that he wished it was. He and Emma had never been close, had never even been friends, but he'd noticed her secretly. He'd watched her and though he was never more than casually interested before, something about the way she was put together now made his mind scream bedroom. But her expression held only bland interest and that was maybe what grated at him.
"So, you're married now, huh? That's exciting." Fox shifted and tossed another lazy ball at the basketball hoop. Emma's eyes followed the half-hearted attempt and she laughed.
"If you want to call it that. Marriage is a load of bullshit if you ask me."
Fox shrugged. "I guess that depends on you then, doesn't it?" He caught the ball and tossed it again, grinning in satisfaction at the delicate swish of nothing but net. "Are you happy?" he asked.
"Then why stay married?" He waited while Emma handed him the basketball and watched him make a few more throws. When she didn't answer, he changed tactics. "So, who did you marry? Anyone I know?"
"Yeah. Percy Wilson, the same guy I was with when you left."
"Really?" Fox set the ball down and looked to see if she was joking. By her expression, she wasn't. "Why'd you marry him?"
"I just did. No reason, really. We had some kids so, we got married."
"I knew you had one together before I left, but I didn't think you'd actually marry that prick." He shook his head. "How many did y'all have altogether?"
"A boy and a girl." Emma glanced at Fox and sighed. "Why pretend to give a shit? No one else does, and neither do you. I got to go."
Fox watched her hurry away, toward her own home somewhere down the road. Maybe still at her mother's, but he couldn't be sure.
He went inside and tried to watch T.V. but every brunette was Emma, every pair of dark brown eyes were hers. Every smile was hers. In a ten-minute conversation, he'd gotten a bug.
And he knew how to fix it.
"Mom? Can I borrow your car?" he called through the house.
"What's wrong with yours, goddammit!" came the answer.
"This is Fox, Mom, not Gerry."
"Oh, then go ahead. Keys are on the board!"
Fox grabbed the keys off the board (funny name for the hook his father had hung on the wall by the door years before his death, but that's what they'd always called it) and walked out to his mother's beat-up Oldsmobile. He was amazed that the damn thing would run at all, but it did.
He started down the road and passed by Emma as she turned into her own drive-way. He stopped and put down his window.
She glanced back and her lips rolled with an uncharacteristically smart-assed comment. "Miss me already?"
"You know how desperate us military guys are."
"Gee, thanks a lot, Master of the ego boost from Hell."
"You're so welcome." Fox leaned back in the seat and waited a beat. "So, what are up to today?"
"Getting ready to cook dinner." She glanced at the house, then back to him. "Percy's inside if you want to talk to him."
"Why would I?"
"He's friends with your brother Mark."
"I'm not Mark, am I?" Fox twisted slightly in his seat so he could see the house. "You're afraid of him? Percy?"
"What?" Her face took on a falsely incredulous look that even a two-year-old could see through. "I'm not afraid of Percy at all. He's always good to me."
"But you're unhappy," Fox said.
"Shh!" Emma glanced at the house again, as if Percy could hear despite the walls and running engine of the car. "He'll hear you."
"What does it matter? You're not afraid of him. Let him hear."
"Yeah, but still." Emma glanced back at the house and shuddered; and just like that, Fox knew.
"I guess. I'll see you later, Em." He rolled up his window and drove on as Emma scrambled into her yard. His mind stayed on her as she fell further and further behind him.
She was scared of that asshole. No matter what she said, or how she acted, she was fucking afraid of her own husband and Fox thought that was a shit deal. His mind went numb as he drove and finally went off on a tangent of its own.
He remembered back when they were kids, when Emma was a scrawny, brainy girl of ten and he himself was a boy of the same age. He would tease her constantly about her frizzy, unmanageable hair, but she never teased back. He remembered the one time she came close and all she did was whisper softly enough for only him to hear.
"Do I really need to let everyone know that all of your underwear has Batman somewhere on them?" she had said.
He'd stopped teasing her after that. Emma had always been the one who liked to wander off by herself and when they were younger and it was summertime, she'd do so early in the mornings. And she always seemed to pass by his house when he was running out after the paper for his mom and dad. He'd get out of bed and go outside without getting dressed, so during the summer, he went out in his underwear.
It was the one and only secret he and Emma had. She'd seen him in his underwear before anyone else, besides his family, and she'd only ever mentioned it that one time.
As far as he knew, she'd never said a word to anyone.
Emma went inside her house, trying so hard to be quiet. Percy lay sleeping on the couch, as usual, and she headed for the kitchen to start supper.
She hummed softly as she diced onions and potatoes, a small and girlish grin playing over her full, shapely lips. She dared not even consider the thoughts running through her mind...
...but there wasn't a thing wrong with letting her mind wander...
As adorable now as he had been years before...
The one guy who'd never tried to sleep with her, but she remembered his hot, watchful stares. Oh God, how he'd looked at her. The same way he looked at her earlier that day. It made her warm all over.
With his coppery-carrot top hair and freckles that only he could wear right. With his slim, but still sexy frame, wiry and muscled despite his skinny-boy looks.
Fox Thomas. Fox... Fox...
She knew she should stop, that she couldn't even begin to entertain such thoughts, but...
Percy woke to the inviting smell of onions sautéing and his mouth watered. But something was wrong. Emma was home, cooking his supper like the good wife that she was, but something wasn't right. He could feel it, sense it. Emma's mind was somewhere else. Somewhere it shouldn't be.
That was the benefit of being a special guy. Of having a little something extra. He could always tell when something was afoot.
Part One of Four