Nicky’s family was a mess of jumbled cardboard puzzle pieces, all edges bent to fit into one another and create the most fucked up puzzle.
But it was a puzzle, despite what those puzzle makers must think. Because Nicky Hemmick did not give up, thank you very much.
Nicky’s family was not related by blood- well excluding the two boys he had left his life behind for- but it was still a family. And the family had learned to put aside their differences for one trip where they tried their hardest not to want to rip one another's throats out.
It was their annual Fox reunion. For one week the foxes would rent out a hotel floor and eat, drink, and reminisce over their college years. Their spouses and significant others now had joined in on the tradition because everyone seemed to have someone that complimented them. Nicky, in all honesty, thought it made each of the foxes easier to get along with when they had their counterpart there to calm their erratic behavior. Each fox was far from perfect but with someone there to mellow them out, things seemed to go a lot better. For the week, they’d toast to another year of being alive and thank their own entities for their many years ahead of them. Despite the protests from the less enthusiastic bunch, they all came. Whether it was the significant others or the secret wish to be together again, Nicky didn’t know, but he was thankful to sit around with the retired foxes.
The foxes sat around an abandoned pool, bottles of alcohol being passed around and dumped into cheap plastic cups found in their hotel rooms. In the moment, Dan and Matt had suggested they go for a swim. The pool closed at eleven and it was near one am but jumping a fence was a minor set of rules to break after the years of escaping mobs, serial killers, and trying to survive every day.
Nicky sat with Erik, his legs draped across his husbands (a new title after their marriage only three months earlier) and watching as Matt tossed Dan into the water. He guarded his face from the splash and laughter bubbled from his chest.
Nicky had spent a lot of his college trying to force smiles again. He tried to feel happy when he was trying to be as flexible as he could. He had spread himself thin as he tried to be the best guardian for the twins, the best boyfriend for Erik, and survive through college. But now, when he smiled, it was genuine. His laugh was real. He realized that while he struggled for so many years to make things perfect, he had grown so much as a person. He knew that these trials made him better.
Nicky looked around him. He saw happiness. Maybe it wasn’t in everyone’s faces since some of the foxes had yet to learn how to smile but it was in their body language. Andrew and Neil were pressed together speaking quietly; Dan, Matt, Renee and Allison were laughing and splashing one another; Kevin and Thea shared a bottle of unmarked alcohol; Katelyn and Aaron were just resting against each other in comfortable silence. Nicky smiled to himself, pushing his face against Erik’s until he got the hint and pressed a kiss to his forehead.
Nicky pulled out his phone and snapped a few pictures. He made sure that nobody caught his phone camera pointed at them, he really wanted to avoid having to fish his new phone out of the pool if Andrew caught him, but he wanted some candid shots to remember tonight. He always came home from their get togethers with more photos than anyone wanted to remember. Nicky set his phone down. Erik leaned close to his ear.
“Thoughts?” Erik asked, German accent twinging his words ever so slightly.
Nicky had learned to associate that accent with home. He knew that being home meant being with Erik. Erik had always welcomed him back with open arms. He knew that no matter what they had each other and that was enough, even when his family was back in America. He knew that Erik, since he finished up high school, was always waiting for him to come back.
“I missed this.” Nicky whispered, afraid if anyone else heard his confession that this would all disappear. “I missed my little family.”
Erik nodded and threaded his fingers into Nicky’s hair, now cut short and slowly losing its style after the long day. Erik pressed a kiss to his temple and held him close, lightly stroking his fingers through his hair.
“They will always be here.” Erik said it like a promise, which made Nicky nod.
They would always be here because through it all, the foxes would always be there to welcome anyone from their little makeshift family home.
A fox was a fox, no matter where they were. The Palmetto State foxes had tethered each and every teammate to one another in one unbreakable bond.
Maybe Nicky’s family was a little broken and didn’t quite fit together perfectly, but it was still a family. They weren’t all bonded by blood, but they were bonded in their own ways.
When Matt stood on the edge of the pool at the shallow end and raised his plastic cup, the rest of the foxes joined in.
“To another year of survival.” He announced, smiling big as if it was just one big joke.
“Another year of survival.” Was chorused throughout before they all chugged their drinks.
The next morning, Nicky woke up draped across Andrew and Neil’s couch with Matt across his lap, the girls laying across the floor with Erik, and Andrew and Neil asleep in the bed. He assumed Katelyn and Aaron had been sober enough last night to drag themselves back to their room. Nicky shook his head and slowly started to wake people up. He gathered Erik after watching the girls leave with Matt and slipped out the door, ignoring the threats from a bleary-eyed Andrew and Neil. He fell back onto his bed with Erik and let out a gentle sigh.
Yeah. He had come to love this jumbled mess of mismatched pieces.