Some folks are born, silver spoon in hand. Lord, don’t they help themselves, oh. It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no senator’s son, no.
The first time they met he was a naïve petty officer who had never seen combat. His brother, who had just made Lieutenant, stood next to him. Elsa had teased them that they were chosen for the photograph because they looked so good in dress uniform. Killian was just cocky enough to know she was probably right, and he hated it. As for Emma, her blond hair was pushed back with a turquoise headband, slightly teased and sprayed like current style dictated. Her sheath dress was a swirl of psychedelic colors and her knee-high leather boots were a bright and shiny white. He could tell by the fake smile plastered on her face that she didn’t want to be there. Neither did he, truth be told. He didn’t want to be a prop in her politician father’s photo-op. He certainly didn’t want to fake charm to a senator’s spoiled daughter, either.
He looked her up and down, unable to deny what a stunning figure she cut in her outfit. She could easily have been an actress or a model. But the slight roll of her eyes irritated him. She was nothing but a spoiled princess being dragged around by her rich and influential daddy. Her mother scowled at her and gave her a subtle jab to the ribs. Killian tried not the laugh, keeping his own mask in place. The serious, intense look of a US Naval Officer.
Senator Nolan posed shaking their hands, then with his arms around them. He seemed like a genuine, caring man, and Liam chatted with him amiably. But didn’t these politicians use their charms to earn votes? Killian had a hard time believing it was genuine.
They gave the family a tour of the base, camera clicking away. Killian’s blood pressure intensified every time he heard the blonde girl’s bored sighs. Right before the Nolans boarded their private plane, the photographer asked for pictures of the Nolan women shaking hands with Lt. and Officer Jones. Liam went first, smiling politely as the camera flashed. Killian was polite as well. To Mrs. Nolan, that is. When he reached for Emma’s hand, however, the rogue in him took over.
Instead of merely shaking Emma Nolan’s hand, he brought it to his lips and kissed it, then winked at her audaciously. She scowled at him and yanked her hand away.
Yet he did note the pink in her cheeks, and he swiped his tongue over his bottom lip at the sight. She narrowed her eyes further and crossed her arms over her chest. Her cheeks however, had now deepened to a delightful shade of red. Served the snooty Daddy’s girl right.
Some folks are born made to wave the flag, ooh, they’re red, white, and blue, and when the band plays, “Hail to the Chief,” ooh, they point the canon at you, Lord. It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no millionaire’s son.
The second time he saw her, he was more bitter and completely broken. Then again, so was she. Gone were the teased hair and go-go boots. In there place was a long, golden waterfall of tangled curls and a billowing hippy dress. Her face was hardened, yet a spark still lit her eyes. How they got her to come, he wasn’t sure, but the light in those jade eyes flashed with intensity as she handed her father each purple heart. Her gaze flickered to the blunted wrist at the end of his left arm, but then quickly rose to meet his eyes. He expected pity, maybe even compassion, but not the look of understanding. Did she recognize him?
“Thank you for your service to your country,” her father said as he pinned the purple heart to the chest of his dress uniform.
They had warned them that the first family likely wouldn’t mingle at the reception, so he was shocked when she was suddenly there at his elbow.
“We met you before, at the base in Norfolk.”
He blinked, not expecting her to remember.
“Um, yes, yes you did.”
“You had a brother.” She was fidgeting, grasping the fabric of her dress in her fist.
She took one tiny step forward. “What happened to him?”
He swallowed, the plate he held in his one remaining hand trembling slightly. “He didn’t come home, I’m afraid.”
“Neither did Graham,” she whispered. He suddenly realized where he had seen that look in her eyes before: in Elsa’s when Liam’s body came home in a flag-draped coffin.
They both had reasons for the loss of innocence in their eyes, the hardness in the set of their jaws. A lost brother, a lost fiancé. It was a common tale. Frantic, desperate sex for just one night was a common tale lately, too. People broken by this war – this conflict that is – trying to fill the empty spaces with something to feel. But he was a nobody with nothing. No family, no direction, no future. He didn’t even have a left hand anymore, for God’s sake. And she was the president’s daughter. The God-damn secret service probably knew they fucked.
The president’s daughter! What the hell had he been thinking? She was gone the next morning, of course. He had expected that. What he hadn’t expected was the note.
Sorry I left. It’s complicated. - Emma
Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord, and when you ask them, “How much should we give?”, ooh, they only answer “More! More! More!” It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no military son.
The next time he saw her, he was glad five years had gone by. Glad because three of those five he had drowned himself in rum. It could have been worse. He could have been tripping on acid like so many other vets. Could have ended up homeless.
Thank God for Admiral Nemo. He’d come to the squalid apartment he was sharing with Scarlet and Jefferson. Scarlet, who had a worse habit with whiskey than he did with rum. Jefferson, who unfortunately had fallen down the rabbit hole with harder vices. Nemo had practically pried a bottle of rum out of Killian’s hand and dragged him out of there. A year of AA meetings and physical therapy on his arm, and Killian was working alongside Nemo in the private sector. Ships could carry more than troops and weapons, after all.
The day she dropped back into his life, she was dressed professionally, in one of those dresses that looked like a trench coat, and her boots weren’t quite so tall or quite so shiny. Her hair was a bit shorter, the curls softer. Her mouth fell open a little when he walked out of his office, her face turning a shade paler. He smiled at her kindly, gently, trying to assure her that she needn’t be embarrassed. She wasn’t the first grieving woman to tumble into bed with a broken sailor, and she certainly wouldn’t be the last.
Emma had a camera around her neck; she was the photographer Nemo had hired for their new company brochures. Their conversation was brief, polite, and Killian couldn’t help the feeling of loss that washed over him as she began to walk away. Then she paused.
“Killian,” she said, turning around with a smirk on her face, “you look good.”
All he could do was stand there like a complete idiot with a goofy smile on his face.
She found him later, when she was done taking pictures, and he managed to ask her for coffee. Her face went slightly pale again, her eyes going a bit wide, but she said yes. This time, it was her hand that shook as she grasped a mug of hot chocolate. The more he tried to engage her in small talk, the more nervous she seemed.
Finally, he sighed into his own mug of black coffee. “Look, Emma, I think I read this wrong. I was happy to see you again, and was foolish enough I suppose to think fate caused our paths to cross again. But you’re clearly nervous, and I don’t wish to push -”
“No,” she cut him off, “it’s not that.” She took a deep breath, then blurted out, “I had a baby five years ago . . . It’s yours.”
She may as well have punched him in the gut. She babbled on about how she tried to find him, but he’d left the military, so there wasn’t really a way to contact him. Her mother had mentioned pulling some strings with the FBI, but she didn’t want to invade his privacy.
“I hate everything my parents stand for,” she barreled on, “so no way was I letting Big Brother hunt you down.”
She bit her lip as she searched his eyes, and he had a flash of memory. Emma beneath him, long blonde hair splayed out on the pillow, moaning and biting on that full lower lip of hers as she came. He shook his head to clear it.
“Aren’t you going to say something?” she whispered.
“I’ve thought about that night a hundred times.” Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to say. It was probably completely out of context. He held his breath thinking he’d put his foot in his mouth until a smile slowly spread across her face.
“So have I.”
Some folks inherit star-spangled eyes. It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate son.
He met Henry for the first time on Emma’s front lawn. He was riding a bicycle on the grass, with no training wheels. He kept falling over into the grass, then jumping right back on again. An elderly woman sat on Emma’s front porch swing, watching over him. The babysitter said her goodbyes, and Emma pulled Killian down on the porch steps to meet his son.
They didn’t tell Henry that night who Killian was. They didn’t tell him the next day either when they took Henry to the beach to look for shells. They didn’t tell him the month after when Killian made them pancakes after staying the night. No moment ever seemed right, until the day the three of them sat on a blanket at the park having a picnic lunch. Killian knew if he was going to use the ring in his pocket, he better let his son in on the truth.
His son. His son and Emma’s.
He still had nightmares sometimes; of men cut down all around him, the muddy marshes turning red with their blood. He still could never forget Liam dying in his arms, choking on blood. So much blood. His dreams were often red with it.
Yet Emma was there when he woke in a cold sweat, and he knew in the deepest part of him that she always would be. His son rested against his chest when he was tired, his brown hair wet with sweat, his limbs loose as jello. Despite the death Killian had seen and been a part of, this innocent child slept peacefully in his arms.
Emma’s tender smile and Henry’s wide and trusting eyes made him hope again, made him believe again. That maybe, just maybe, he was the most fortunate man in the world.