Today Tomorrow and Always by Tessa Bailey

Chapter 1

A man didn’t need much in life.

Tucker patted the cigar in the pocket of his plaid shirt to make sure it was still there. Draped a loose hand over the steering wheel and reveled in the knowledge he didn’t have to wake up for anything but eggs and bacon tomorrow morning.

Yes, ma’am. All a man needed was Saturday night, a six-pack and the rumble of engines. Technically, he was late to his destination, but schedules didn’t run tight in Buckhannon, especially on the weekends, so he didn’t spare a worry. Stress wasn’t a word in Tucker’s vocabulary.

He drove down lamp-lit Main Street, tipping his hat to his old middle school geometry teacher who was bringing her grandkids out for ice cream, a customer Tucker knew from the auto repair shop where he worked during the day. He liked to call that his straight job, but the Saturday night drag races? Now that’s where he made his fancy cigar money.

A couple of high school kids ran through the crosswalk, stopped when they noticed Tucker waiting at the stop light and jogged back. They used their fingers to make antennae and whistled the X-Files theme song, before taking off laughing.

Tucker laughed, too, despite the way his skin turned clammy.

When the light turned green, his foot landed on the gas with a little too much force and he sped off the small but busy main strip, heading for the edge of town. It wasn’t long before the familiar potholes of the back road were bouncing him around on the seat of his Impala. Distant river wind danced in through the driver’s window and lifted the hair on his neck, the bright moon illuminating the flat fields on all sides.

He turned up the music and tried to shake off those kids from the crosswalk, along with his guilt. The latter made him want to turn around and go back home, apologize to his father for their argument. Kids having a laugh at his expense wasn’t anything new, but a fight with mild-mannered Carl wasn’t typical. It would have to be tomorrow’s problem, though.

Forcibly, Tucker cleared his mind. He’d been running the Saturday night drag races long enough that people had made their jokes about his father and moved on. At the very least, he wouldn’t have to deal with any of that shit tonight.

A movement out in the field to his left whipped his head around.

Was that a…person? Standing so still on the edge of the moonlight?

He braked a little and peered into the night. Where’d the sucker go?

Ignoring the finger of uneasiness dragging up the back of his neck, Tucker chuckled and continued on his way. Probably just some kids making out. More power to them. God only knew he’d take the chance to do the same if he had the option.

Fat chance. Tucker was king of the friend zone. The slightly overweight guy who made everyone laugh, then sort of melted into the background with his beer when everyone else paired off. And he was fine with that. Just fine.

Didn’t really have a choice but to be fine, seeing as how he lived in a small town where everyone knew one another’s business. There weren’t a lot of girls signing up to mix their gene pool with the son of the local UFO enthusiast—and he couldn’t blame them.

Still…what would it be like to have his own piece of property? To share it with someone else and make some babies to give it life and love? Sit back on the porch rocker and watch them run around with sparklers in the front yard on the Fourth of July? He could see that moving image, plain as day. It was the kind of scene he’d grown up with until everything changed at age sixteen. It hurt to admit to himself how much he wanted that feeling of home back. Home was stuffing too much food into his belly at dinner, laughing at silly things until tears blurred his vision, going to bed knowing everyone would be right where he left them in the morning.

Maybe he’d never have that.

Maybe he’d never had stability to begin with. The fabric of his family had been so fragile, but the fraying seams had been invisible, along with his mother’s unhappiness.

Hell, if there was a way to stop wanting that sense of home, he would.

Tucker turned up the music a little higher and took the hairpin turn, tires squealing, toward the stretch of abandoned road where they held drag races every Saturday night. The races had started back when he was in high school, fresh from getting his driver’s license. Tucker and a couple of buddies, looking for an adrenaline rush that was elusive in small town West Virginia, had started the races as a way to pass the time.

He wasn’t money-minded. Not now and not in high school. As long as he had pizza money, life was fuckin’ grand, but when his first car—cobbled together with parts from the scrap yard—had needed repairs, he’d seen his newfound freedom compromised. Needing some cashola fast, he’d started taking bets on the drag races. That’s when people really started showing up. Not only from Buckhannon, but elsewhere, looking to double their own pizza money and meet chicks. It was a well-known fact that girls loved idiot risk-takers and right there, on the edge of Tucker’s hometown, was where they congregated.