[chapter ten]

(The following Sunday night)

"Man, I'm ready to go home. Take me home, Fi." Junior moaned as he put on his hat. The race was over - the #8 had placed 20th - and Junior was exhausted from the high temperatures and chasing a loose racecar all day. Fiona smiled and patted his shoulder kindly.

"I'll get you there. You can sleep on the way. Good driving, J, even if the car never came to you." Fiona commiserated. "Let's go - and try to avoid the crowds of women."

"Pit lizards still lurking?" Junior asked.

"Always." Fiona smiled. The uneasy truce of their night stranded in St. Louis had broken the following day. Junior had stormed into Fiona's office and slammed the door. In a rush, he said that nothing between them had changed, and that he would be damned if he lost his favorite publicist just because they fell asleep. Fiona had laughed at his outburst, and things were back to normal between them. Though they still tiptoed around each other on certain issues - Shannon, Junior's love life or lack thereof, and St. Louis - they were back on solid ground. Much to the relief of both Junior and Fiona. Neither had realized how much they had come to rely on and appreciate the other.

"Hrm." Junior grunted. "Just get me home, Fi."

(Mooresville, later that night)

"Man, we hauled ass. We're here a lot earlier than I thought." Junior said, extricating himself from the car. Fiona grabbed her bags and threw them into the trunk of her car.

"Just in time. Looks like it's going to storm, big time." Fiona said, glancing at the sky.

"I'm going home, I'm going to veg, and I'm not going to the garage tomorrow until I wake up." Junior announced. "Got that, everybody?"

Tony Jr laughed. "Alright, we'll give you the morning off. Sleep tight." He and the other members of the Brew Crew drifted away. Fiona threw her purse into her car and turned to face Junior.

"Take the morning off, and I'll see you tomorrow afternoon." Fiona said.

"Sounds good. You get some rest too. You look beat." Junior said sympathetically.

"Promised Shannon we'd have dinner and maybe catch a movie if I got home at a reasonable hour." Fiona said. "Since we're so early, maybe he'll make it a double feature."

Junior laughed. "Well, try to stay awake. I'll see you tomorrow." With a squeeze of her shoulder, he climbed into his own car.

Fiona made the drive home in just a few minutes - her thoughts still at the track, and on the piles of paperwork on her office desk. She hoped Shannon would be in a good mood…nothing was worse than going home to a hostile environment. She made a quick call to Maggie to let her know she was home safely, then pulled into the driveway of their home. Fiona dashed to the front door as the raindrops began to fall, and managed to throw herself in through the front door, bags and all.

A few downstairs lights were on, but Shannon was no where to be seen. Fiona dropped her keys in a bowl by the door and headed to the bedroom to put her things away when she heard a noise. More than a noise.

Closing her eyes briefly, she crept down the hall to the bedroom she shared with Shannon. The door was open, and her eyes flew to the bed.

Shannon. And some blond. Having sex. In their bed.

Fiona uttered a cry and fled back down the hall. She could vaguely hear Shannon's voice behind her, screaming for her to stop, to come back. But she grabbed her keys and dashed back out into the storm. Soaked before taking two steps, she ran for her car, threw it in reverse and squealed the tires out of the driveway. As she peeled away, she could see Shannon's silhouette in the doorway, the blond behind him, wrapped in Fi's favorite sheets.

***

Junior sighed as he flopped onto the couch and flipped on ESPN. He really was tired, but too cagey to sleep just yet. That always happened - he was physically exhausted after a race, but too pumped up to really sleep.

Idly flipping channels, Junior muted the TV when he thought he heard an engine in his driveway. He stood quietly and stealthily crept towards the door - expecting either the Posse to come bursting in, or Tony Jr to want to drink a few Buds. He jumped as someone knocked on the door - his buddies never knocked. Straightening, Junior walked to the door and threw it open.

Before him stood Fiona, soaked to the skin and shaking.

Wordlessly, he grabbed her hand and pulled her inside, out of the deluge outside. She shivered from the air conditioning, and he silently motioned for her to 'wait here' with his hands. He sprinted to his closet and yanked out a pair of sweat pants and a sweat shirt. Running back down the hall, he handed them to Fiona gently.

The keys slipped from her cold grasp and clattered to the floor, and she took them with a nod. Her eyes brimmed with tears, and Junior's heart broke. He didn't know what had happened, but he knew he would kill whoever or whatever had made her cry.

"You…" Junior cleared his throat as his voice broke slightly. "You can change through there."

"Thanks." Fiona whispered.

Junior paced the floor as she changed, silently pondering what had happened. She was fine when he had left her a while before - maybe someone had died, or was sick. Maybe she had gotten some bad news…

Maybe he should make coffee. Or tea. Women liked tea in a crisis.

Before he could decide a course of action, Fiona emerged from the bathroom, looking rumpled and small in his oversized clothes. He gently grasped her hand and led her to the couch in the center of his family room. "What happened, Fi? Are you okay?" He asked tenderly.

Fiona shook her head slowly. "No. I'm not really okay."

Junior watched as a tear slid down her cheek silently. He wanted nothing more than to brush it away - to brush her hurt away.

"She couldn't have been more than 19. He was fucking some 19 year old blond. In our bed. When I got home. In my house." Fiona said faintly. "I don't even know who she is."

Junior shut his eyes tightly, his hands balling into fists reflexively.

"The funny thing is that I'm not upset about Shannon. I'm upset about the fact it was in my house. He couldn't even take her to a seedy motel like any other guy would. And I'm upset that she's so young. But I should have known - Shannon's been slipping away. Now I know why." Fiona continued. "The only thing I could think of as I was running out of the house was you."

"Why?" Junior managed to choke.

"All I could think is that I had to see you. And that…" Fiona stopped.

"What, Fi?" Junior prodded.

"That I had caused Shannon to cheat on me with her." Fiona said.

"How would you do that?" Junior asked.

"Because he could see my real feelings." Fiona said softly. "My feelings for you." Junior stared into her eyes, disbelievingly. "I've been falling for you since I met you. Damn it." Fiona swallowed. "And Shannon must have known. And now you know, and there's no taking it back."

"Do you want to?" Junior asked, taking a deep breath and saying a silent prayer. "Do you want to take it back?"

"No." Fiona whispered.

Junior closed the distance between them in moments, and his lips pressed against hers…tentatively, gently. When she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him closer, he moaned inwardly and kissed her deeply. She returned the kiss ardently, and after a few minutes, gently tugged at his shirt. He lifted his arms up and she peeled off his shirt, then kissed him tenderly on the hollow of his neck. She straightened, and he looked into her eyes, his hands on his shoulders.

"Fi…" Junior breathed. "I can't keep going if…are you sure about this?" Fiona nodded her head. "Really sure? I mean, there is nothing on earth I want to do more, but…you're upset. Are you sure?"

"I'm really sure." She whispered. Without another word, he took her hand and stood up. Walking slowly, her hand in his, they went to his bedroom.

chapter eleven