Three hours and fifteen shots of tequila later, Fox didn't care about anything anymore. When a saucy little brunette stuck her tongue in his ear with the whisper, 'Let's go back to my place', he went easily enough. He had an itch that nothing would scratch but forgetting.
Just a random girl with brown hair, dark -- almost black -- eyes and a shy smile. But under the better, harsher lights of her apartment living room, her hair was a little too red, her eyes not dark enough brown and her smile was no longer shy, but calculating and coy.
"What's the matter, baby?" she whispered as she dropped her shirt and shorts on the floor and climbed, naked, on his lap. "You seem distracted. Not what you want?" Her naked sex ground against him, but his own usually eager member refused to respond. There was no getting hard for this girl. This slut, he corrected himself.
Fox was suddenly overpowered by her cheap, heavily applied perfume. His gag reflex kicked in and he shoved the woman to the floor. He shot out of the chair, jerked his jeans up over his hips and fled without saying a word.
It wasn't what he wanted at all.
Once outside, beside his mother's car, he vomited up every shot from that night and his dinner too. Maybe even his lunch. When he sat down in the driver's seat, he was trembling.
The reflection he spied in the rear-view mirror made him sick in his soul. He was drunk, yeah, but that didn't bother him. What he saw in the mirror was a man who'd gone on a drunk to find a cure for something and that is what bothered him. Drinking wasn't a cure for shit, and Fox knew it.
He took his time on the ride home to avoid any unwanted attention from the local police force. Once past their jurisdiction, he headed for home as fast as his mom's car would take him.
But he couldn't keep himself from slowing down as he went past Emma's house.
* * *
I smell trouble tonight, ol' friend, the voice said to Percy that same night while Emma showered, singing loudly as she always did. Maybe not big trouble, but it could be. Eventually.
Percy had first heard the voice after his and Emma's first big argument -- when she went to stay at her mother's -- more than four years before. He'd thought his marriage was done for good, that he'd lost Emma forever, after only two years of marriage ... five together as a couple. He had left to go out drinking one night, drown his sorrows in a bottle bigger than the moon. And when he passed Emma's mother's house, a strange car caught his eye. A hot, shaking rage had washed over him, boiling his blood. And the voice spoke its first words to him.
That's a man's car if I ever saw one, ol' boy.
Percy had jerked in surprise, his gaze flew wildly around his backseat for the stranger who'd spoken to him. And there had been no one. Just crazy thoughts, right? Percy asked himself. But still, his foot had eased on the gas pedal and, as he studied the vehicle parked in his mother-in-law's driveway, he had to admit to himself that it was indeed a man's car.
Inside Percy, jealousy had reared its ugly head and roared. That is a man's car. Got to be. No woman would leave her automobile spattered with mud like that, Percy had thought. A soft chuckling had sounded around him and again, that voice had spoken.
So, what should we do about it?
At first he'd resisted, then had gotten scared; afraid that he was losing his mind. But the voice was right, so spot on every time it spoke. It had cajoled him, wooed him and eventually, Percy had seen the beauty of its words and had opened his heart to it. He thought of it as his conscience.
And now, years after their first encounter and all the others that had followed, it spoke again.
Ol' boy, you've got trouble coming. The voice that spoke inside of Percy purred, delighting at the thought.
"What kind of trouble?" Percy asked it.
A planted seed. Just a thought in two minds. But now is the time to be watchful. She --
Why Emma, of course. It may come to nothing, after all she's not so stupid as we once thought. But we will watch her and the fox.
Oh yes. A cunning, sly little fox. Hiding out in the bushes. Waiting for the opportunity to steal into the roost and play chase with your hen.
That old rage, the ugly beast inside Percy that slept until needed, rumbled. And again, the voice whispered.
But, he hasn't tried. Not yet.
* * *
The next evening, Fox made it a point to be outside when Emma went for her walk. If he knew anything about her at all, he knew she was a creature of habit and that she would be walking at around the same time she had the evening before.
She didn't stop until she was on her way back down. Fox met her at the road.
"What are you into?" he asked.
"Walking," she said, her tone bland and unfeeling. "It helps me think."
"Do you walk all over?"
"No, just along this stretch where all the houses are. I don't like to go the other way because there aren't any houses after mine."
"Maybe a little bit." Emma nodded and looked at his hands. "No basketball today?"
"Nah, not today."
"So why are you outside?"
"I was waiting for you," Fox said.
Emma just looked at him, her face expressionless. "Why in hell would you wait for me?"
Fox shrugged and kicked his toe in the dirt and gravel alongside the road. "I guess I wanted to see you. I mean, we grew up together."
She looked at him as if he'd handed her a severed head. "You're kidding, right?"
"We coexisted in the same neighborhood. That does not mean, in any way, that we grew up together."
"I haven't been able to stop thinking about you since I saw you yesterday."
Emma shrugged and walked on, heading for home. "Not my problem. See you around."
But he didn't. Fox didn't see her for another month and when he did, she refused to talk to him. He rolled up beside her house as she and Percy carried in some shopping bags. Emma continued on her trek without even a 'Hello'.
Percy, however, dropped the bags in his hands back into the trunk and went to the car to talk to Fox. "What's up, big man?" he said.
"Nothing much, Percy. How're you?"
"Good, good. Emma's doin' all the work and I get to jaw at someone else besides her." Percy smiled at his slender wife's form as she hurried away with another fistful of bag handles in each hand. "A beautiful girl, if she'd try. She's too damn particular. Too smart for her own good too. Goddamn, she drives me up a wall. Good fuckin', though."
"Yeah?" Fox gripped the steering wheel tight, trying to keep himself grounded, keep his head straight. "Got to hate a smart woman though, huh, Percy?"
"I don't mind so much if they're smart enough to know their place, but Emma ain't. She's just smart enough to make me want to throttle her puny ass."
"I didn't do anything," Emma said from behind the trunk of their vehicle. Fox smiled at her, but she turned away without returning the smile.
"I know you didn't, dummy." Percy stepped over to her and gave her a good, hard smack on the bottom. Not a loving, teasing slap either, but a good enough thump that made her yelp in pain. "Get in the house."
"All right." Emma turned around and started away, but Percy stopped her.
"Take the rest of the fucking bags with you, lazy ass."
"All right." She turned back around and grabbed the last ten or twelve bags and took them inside without argument.
Percy turned back. "She's trained up so good," he said in admiration -- not of his wife -- but apparently of his own accomplishment in breaking her. "So, you back in town for good, Fox?"
By then, Fox was seething. "Yeah." His teeth tried to grind on the word. "Out of the Army and didn't have nowhere else. So I'm back here."
"You vets get the bum deal."
"I'm not a vet. Never went to war, not really. I was in the desert for six months earlier this year before the discharge, but no action."
"Nothing wrong with an easy gold star," Percy said, his tone amiable and greasy.
Fox hung his head low enough for the steering wheel to press his nose flat. This ass-hole was pushing it. He just didn't know what Fox could do to him if he wanted. He could kill him straight out, with no remorse, and be doing the whole world a favor.
No. Really he'd be doing Emma a favor.
Her hero, no less.
"Y'all need anything from the store?" Fox asked without lifting his head from its resting place. He knew that if he looked up then and saw the smug, smirking but still friendly gaze of Percy Wilson, he might just let go of his humanity and do what it was he wanted to do. What the American government had trained him to do.
Kill, Kill, Kill!
"Nah, we just got back from there. Didn't you see all them bags Emma took in?" Percy said with a derisive, nasty sounding chortle.
Fox thought about it for a beat. "I didn't notice. It's just Emma, you know?" He lifted his head and revved the engine up. "I'm going after some smokes for Mom. I'll see you later, man."
"Be good and if not, be good at it." Percy guffawed like the big, country-hick that he was and went inside as Fox drove away like a bat out of hell.
Percy stopped at the door, head cocked to the side, listening to Emma hum softly to herself.
Inside his head, the voice spoke three enraging words.
It takes root.
Days pass quickly in the country. One day blends into the next with little to no variation and time seems pointless. With nothing to look forward to, nothing new or exciting just over the horizon, Fox grew listless and depression set in. Winter came and melted into spring, then into the next summer without much change in the sleepy little back-hollow stretch of Den's Prairie Road. He was still just as jobless as before and still living with his mother.
Nothing to look forward to at all.
June had settled in nicely without any outdoor activity from him. He woke up one morning and ate breakfast. He decided to go outside for a while, see if maybe the sun could lift his spirits out of the blue funk he'd sunken into. Without thinking, he started up an old dirt path where he and the others had played as kids.
The woods smelled the same, fresh dirt and growth everywhere. The orange trees were in full bloom and he could smell that sweet scent stronger than anything else.
It made him think, yet again, about Emma.
All through the previous months, she'd haunted him as surely as any ghost could. It had gotten to the point of borderline obsession. Every time he passed her house, he slowed down, craning his neck for just a glimpse of frizzy, brown hair. But he never saw her throughout that whole time and it worried him.
But not enough for him to ask about her when he saw Percy out and about.
He wandered the woods for three hours before heading back home. As soon as he walked in the door, his brother Mark asked him to go up the road a stretch with him for a party.
"You don't want to go solitaire, man?" Fox asked. "I'm not much in the mood for partying."
"You haven't been much in the mood for nothing lately. You need to get out, have a few beers. Loosen up a little." Mark shoved at his older brother's shoulder and flicked him a wicked grin. "Might even get ya some strange while we're at it. God knows there's enough stiff socks in the laundry."
Fox grinned. "Not my fault you can't change socks more often."
"That's not what I meant and you know it."
"I know, butt-face. Where's this party at?"
"Up on the hill." Mark pointed back toward the left fork in the road, up a mountain side that held only one home.
"Hell, let's go then. We can walk if we get too drunk."
"Or just pass out on Reggie's floor." Mark laughed and followed Fox out the door and into the car.
Fox was drunk and well on his way to stumbling when Percy showed up. The big, loud four-wheel drive truck rumbled as he killed the engine and hopped out. He didn't bother to wait for his passenger, just headed straight for the backyard where the beer keg waited.
Fox was inside the house with a few other people from the neighborhood: Reggie and his oldest boy, John, and Fox's childhood best friend, Fred Nealy.
Percy's passenger finally ventured out of the cab and Fox's stomach did a long, lazy turn.
She didn't even glance at the house, just moseyed right on past it until Fox called out to her, "Hey Emmy-Bee!"
She stopped and whirled around, eyes wide. The astonishment and what seemed to be genuine pleasure at hearing her old nick-name bled out of her face as she saw Fox. She looked him in the eyes and blushed.
"C'mere," he said.
She shook her head and started to follow her husband.
"Come here," Fox insisted.
Emma cast a quick glance at Percy, already tossing aside his first empty beer by then, and mounted the porch steps. "What do you want, Fox?"
He couldn't help but look her over again. At that very moment, his mind found her collarbone, a rare exposure for Emma, to be the most delicious looking thing he'd laid eyes on yet. He wanted to put his lips there, taste her skin to see if she tasted as sweet as she always smelled.
"Do you taste like honey, Emmy-Bee? I want to find out. You know that."
"Huh?" Emma crossed the threshold and was in the house, peering strangely at him. "I didn't hear you."
"I said you know what I want. I think we both want it."
"What? A puppy? A kitten? A million fucking dollars? What the hell are you on?" She glanced at him, then at the others in the room watching the exchange. Her face reddened and she dropped her gaze to the floor. "What do you want, Fox?" she asked again.
"Just a kiss." The mixture of beer and a little bit of that herb Reggie had earlier made Fox feel like a super-hero. He could do anything; he was invincible. "Will you kiss me, Emmy-Bee?"
"No." Emma backed away, her face devoid of all traces of flush. Now she was white, too white. Large, purplish-gray shadows crept beneath her eyelids and onto her cheek-bones. Her dark eyes were wide and her mouth formed a little circle of surprise and disbelief. "You're just drunk. By the morning, I'd just look as bad as I did yesterday, and the day before and all the days that came before that. Beer makes a beauty queen out of even the homeliest of girls."
Fox pushed closer and snaked an arm around her waist, trapping her there with him. "You are anything but plain. You have the most interesting face I've ever seen. Always have had."
"Yeah? Well, I guess that's your loss then. Slow and steady can't win this race. This one is over and has been since I was seventeen years old." Emma pushed away from him and Fox could see tears of bitterness clinging to her lower eyelids; shimmering, liquid pain. Anguish too big and too complex for Emma to keep in, too big and complex for Fox to understand. He let her go.
She turned and fled the house. She didn't look at him again until she and Percy were leaving. Fox followed them to their truck and was standing there talking to Percy about nothing when an urge to touch her hit him. He stopped, mid-sentence and looked over at her. She stood at the passenger door, waiting meekly to be let inside the vehicle. Of course, Percy wouldn't unlock the thing and let her in until he was ready to get in himself.
Percy is a bastard and she deserves better, Fox thought.
He knew she deserved better than what she had, on all counts. He didn't understand why he wanted better for her. Didn't know why he gave a shit. He was attracted to her, but it was more than that.
"Fox? You wanna say somethin'?" Percy said. "You got somethin' to say to my wife? Or did your eyes get stuck?"
Fox glanced at the other man, did a double take. "What the fuck," he murmured.
Percy's face rippled below the skin, twisting and shimmering out of focus. Fox blinked and shook his head. It had to be the alcohol. Surely Percy wasn't really growing in front of him? His already massive arms bulked and widened, his chest thickened. Fox shook his head and closed his eyes, counted to three, re-opened them.
Fox glanced back at Emma. Her gaze locked momentarily on his and hiding behind those wild eyes and frightened tears, he saw a cold, hopeless dismay. "Nah, man," he said. "I just wanted to ask if she knows anyone single round about. I've been away a long time." Fox grinned and tried to look bashful. He stuck his hands in his pockets and looked at Emma. "Do you? I've been overseas and came straight home after being discharged. Kinda lonely, you know."
She shook her head, again averting her eyes, refusing to looking straight at him. And he knew. She felt the same way about him as he did her.
Percy snorted. "You askin' the wrong one. Em here's too shy to talk to anyone other than her momma and sister. Dunno why she don't wanna go out more, but she don't."
"I don't like people," she said, but she spoke to Percy, not to Fox. "So I stay home."
Percy actually looked proud ... and back to normal. "Right where you belong, huh, Sugar?"
"Thata girl. C'mon, get in the truck." He pushed the button on his keyring to unlock the doors. "Now, Fox, if you're lookin' to date, I know a couple real good girls that are single. They got some baggage, y'know. A couple kids. But good women, every one. They'll stay at home and keep your house clean and supper cooked on time. And a blowjob in the morning, to boot. They're all good trained women."
"Yeah. These girls' mamas raised 'em right. Taught 'em how to keep a man happy. Cause when a man's happy, the home's happy." Percy clapped Fox on the back and slid behind the wheel of his monster machine. "I'll hook you up, don't worry."
As Fox watched the truck drive away, his hands clenched into fists. He would get Emma away from the monster she'd married. He would. Fox had found his rainbow.
And his rainbow was tainted black.
* * *
Emma sat on her porch swing the next evening, watching her children play and chase bubbles out in the yard. But her mind wasn't on bubbles or even the bright, shining eyes of her two beloved babies.
Instead, she thought of a thin, but strong man. She thought of his lips, so close to her ear.
Do you taste like honey, Emmy-Bee?
Her face grew warm, her breath caught.
Will you kiss me, Emmy-Bee?
Could she? Could she, just once? Just to see what it felt like with someone else. Anyone else besides Percy. Percy of the temper, Percy of the wicked.
Don't go there Emma. You'll wake it up.
But what was it? She didn't understand what her husband had become, but she knew what he would do if she dared cross him. She knew what damage he could inflict.
Her hand raised to rub at her arm and a low whimper escaped her. Did she dare to even try to leave? She knew she couldn't live like this for much longer. But could she get away?
Would anyone want her if she did?
No, Emma. Be honest. You don't want just anyone.
"No," she said softly. "I want Fox."
Part Two of Four