Still no warnings to be seen. Except the usual. You know, I don't own them (a gal can dream though), not making any money blahblah.
Brian walked into the garage just as Mia finished up the last decal. Hands deep in his pockets, elbows locked. Shoulders stiff, chin tucked. Watching us with hooded eyes. Everything about him screams at me, dark and murky. Leon chucks the keys and he catches them on reflex. Not even a flinch of surprise. I click the laptop shut and wonder what’s got his britches in a twist today. Nothing a good long drive won’t fix.
“Time to take it for a spin and tweak the chip, buster,” motioning him toward the driver side. “Fire it up.”
He doesn’t even crack a grin, just slides into the racing seat and turns it over, revs the engine. Jesse’s moan of delight makes one corner of his mouth crawl up a fraction.
Maybe there’s hope for him yet. Good thing, too. Because I never was one for finesse.
Brain’s grip massages the steering wheel as he eases out of the garage doors and turns onto the street. “Coast highway?”
I pull my shades off the front of my tank and slip them on my face. “Let ‘er run, bro. Know a place up north a ways. They have good shrimp.”
He’s quiet for a few blocks, and I fire the laptop back up to make sure it’s tapping into the gauges. Jesse loves this shit. Me, I don’t know much more than how to interpret the program’s readouts and mod the chip settings. Gimme good old carbureted Detroit muscle any day.
“Feels tight,” as he takes the turn toward the 101.
“Well, yeah. Virgin parts, Snowman.” I flash him a grin. He glances at me. Then jams it into fourth and mashes the pedal. Weaves over into the far left lane and lets it run a little. I grapple for the hand grip and slap the laptop shut, “you trying to impress me?”
“Thought I’d already done that.” His voice is flat, movements purely mechanical. Head shifting minimally as he checks the mirrors every few seconds.
For a few miles, the only sounds are the wind whipping in through the open roof and the rise and fall of the purring engine. Damned peaceful. Even if I’m in the passenger seat. No way he’s tricking me into taking delivery until I’m damn well good and ready to.
When he breaks the silence, his words feel distant. Emotionally remote. Doesn’t take but a heartbeat for me to figure out why.
“My father, he was an Airborne Ranger, Special Forces. Did black ops stuff; Panama, Bosnia, Somalia and Iraq back ten years ago before we were there the first time. Probably a dozen other places that nobody will ever hear so much as a whisper about, too. Always gone, never knew where he was, never heard from him. Sometimes it was just a couple weeks. Most times it was longer. Months, years.”
Another mile passes in silence. The Supra purrs along in fifth gear. Brian edges over and slides through the Coast Highway interchange smooth as a lizard through the desert.
“When he finally came back, really came back… My parents used to fight a lot. Mom knew it was PTSD and all, but that didn’t make it any easier to deal with when things got broken, thrown around. When the trajectories started getting closer to her than random walls or furniture, she left.”
Brian’s profile is all I can see. Screw the Pacific Ocean.
“Just … didn’t come home after her shift at the Logistics Base one evening. When he realized she wasn’t going to show up, dad went out after her. Don’t really know what happened. Never got up the nerve to ask.”
Another mile of asphalt whips by beneath the tires.
“I’ve always wondered what might have happened, you know? If I’d tried to stop him from driving off with a couple fifths of Jack in his system. I was seventeen at the time. I could have told him I’d go find her for him, right? But the man was six and a half feet of killing machine. Could take you out with his left thumb and the amount of pressure past tap dead center that it takes to start a car.”
The longer he talks, the faster he gets. Like the Supra, picking up speed. He’s on a roll now, doesn’t seem to want any kind of feedback from me. Just needs to get it out. Blow the carbon out of his motor. I can sympathize with that. So I watch him watch the road, eyes invisible behind his wrap-around Ray Bans, knuckles gradually whitening on the steering wheel.
“He had a ‘Cuda. Four-twenty-six Hemi, the seventies model. Big Red, he called it. Wrapped it around a tree that night, but not before slamming into an oncoming car and killing a family of four. Mom ended up in traction for six months. Dad’s still in a coma. She won’t pull the plug. He’s in a full-care VA facility. Sometimes I think she just wants him to wake up so she can kill him with her own hands.”
Well. That would be why he never has more than a single beer when he’s around.
Brian downshifts for the stoplight up ahead. His knuckles graze my thigh. Look like snowcapped Sierra Mountains. I reach out, palm hovering above the back of his hand. Tension pours off him, steam from an overheating engine. When he downshifts again, my hand settles against his. Can feel the tremors running through his entire body in that one point of contact.
Makes the hairs on my arms stand up.
He chews his lower lip, turns to look at me as he shifts into neutral and glides to a stop.
“Buster learned how to double-clutch, yeah?” I try to keep my voice light. Don’t think I succeed all that well. Throat feels raw. Eyes itch.
The corner of his mouth twitches. “I’m getting there. Got a good teacher.”
Black Ferrari eases up in the lane next to us at the red light. Revs its engine. Brian’s hand tenses on the gearshift beneath mine. Feel him jiggle the stick, lean forward to look past me.
“How much is a car like that?” Ballsy little fuck, I swear to God. Makes me want to laugh, but I manage not to. Glad I’m wearing shades though.
Rich yuppie and his Barbie doll trophy girlfriend. How typical.
I look over at the cocky Snowman and raise a brow. The afternoon sunlight hits his face just right, highlighting his cheekbone. For a brief moment I can see his eyes. Dark, hooded, haunted. Still, I think my blonde is better looking than Ferrari-boy’s. By a long shot. The corner of my mouth twitches up a little.
“Smoke ‘em.” Not a doubt in my mind he can. And he needs it. I can see it in his face, feel it in his hand.
He stares down at the gearshift. “What’s this, my handicap?” His lips curl into a faint smile. Weak, pathetic thing – more muscle cramp than humor.
“You could call it that.”
“I could call it lots of things.”
“Don’t think you can beat him driving with one hand?”
“Didn’t say that.”
“Didn’t have to.” Just as I start to lift my hand, he flexes his long fingers and weaves them in between mine. Sends heat shooting through my body like a jolt of electricity.
“Don’t.” The sound of his voice startles me, but when I look up at his face there’s nothing to see. Nothing but concentration and intensity as he focuses on the stoplight.
I manage to grab the hand grip just as the light changes. It’s difficult to describe what it’s like to feel someone’s grip on a gearshift. Strange. Almost… intimate, in a way. Brian’s driving is exhilarating all on its own. That single point of contact, so simple and complex. Takes a lot to keep my arm loose and let him move. I’m not a passenger anymore. He’s… sharing it with me.
Unusually generous with himself today. Which makes my hackles stand up even more.
Still, I have to shift in my seat a bit. Between that zing of something that settled in my gut, and Brian weaving into oncoming traffic to beat the Ferrari… my baggy cargo pants are getting a little tight. He’s so focused on the road. Palms that steering wheel with such accuracy. Like he’s been driving this Supra for years; like it’s an extension of his body. I doubt he notices my reaction, even with his knuckles warm and dry against my palm.
My awareness of him is unsettling. Definitely not new, but more intense than before. Like someone telling you something and you know it’s important even though you don’t know why. And you don’t know what to do with the information.
Urgent message, but the ink is smudged and unreadable.
I point out Netty’s not long after he leaves the Ferrari and its Barbie in the dust. He eases into a parking space between a flock of Harleys and a beat-up Volkswagen Bus obviously headed toward the next high tide. Slides the gearshift into neutral, braces his foot on the break. Doesn’t make a move, otherwise. Staring straight out the windshield. At nothing.
“Think you burned all the carbon out?”
I grunt and push the door open. I’m hungry for shrimp. And I really need a fucking Corona. Not used to being… sensitive… with anyone. Letty, she doesn’t want to be treated that way, not by anyone. And Mia? Well, she couldn’t beat her way around a bush with a Louisville Slugger.
Not sure why I turn around and brace my forearm on the edge of the roof. Lean down and stare at Brian until he looks up at me.
“It’s easy to tell yourself there’s nothing you could have done to make it not happen. Not so easy to believe it.” That’s all I have to say on that subject. Really. It takes time, and that’s not something you can steal or buy to make it go faster. “Shrimp, remember? Come on, I’m hungry. Some of us were working all morning finishing your bitch.”
Finally he cracks half a smile and kills the engine. “My bitch?”
I push the door shut. “Hell yeah, I haven’t taken delivery yet.”
He crams his hands deep in his front pockets and stares up at the sky, leaning back against the driver-side door. “You like owning me, don’t you?”
“Damn straight, Snowman. Not a boring moment yet.”
He pushes off the car and trails after me. “Well, that’s something. I aim to please.” Every word dripping sarcasm like a stack of pancakes running a waterfall of syrup.
I slide into one side of a booth and slide my shades off. Make an effort not to glare at him, “you gonna tell me what the problem is?” I ask as gently as I can, try to feel him out. I’ve never poked around the jagged remains of a broken glass before. But that’s what this reminds me of.
He just shakes his head and sits quietly while the waitress takes my order, grins, and does something Letty calls ‘making eyes’.
“I know something’s buggin’ ya, Bri.”
“Look, I have my good days and my bad days just like anybody else.” Snaps at me. Clearly saying ‘let it be, leave me alone’ no matter the words I hear. “Please, Dom,” looking up at me through his long eyelashes, eyes hooded. And goes back to staring at his napkin, plotting its tortured demise with his long fingers. Ripping the paper to shreds.
Despite his mood, the silence between us doesn’t feel strained. It drags out until our drinks arrive, my Corona and his unsweetened iced tea. With lemon. Not that he needs more ‘tart’ today or anything. I don’t even glance at the waitress, “thanks,” keep watching Brian. Kid reminds me of a graphic novel. Expressive, exaggerated almost. Don’t do anything by halves. Picks a mood and mashes the pedal to the floor ‘til the tach redlines.
Lotsa wear and tear on your parts, doing that. What happened to his cool?
He tries to get up in my grill from the opposite side of the table. That long torso of his, he almost succeeds. It’s a struggle to keep my gaze on his face and focus on what he’s saying. But unlike some people, Brian being testy doesn’t tweak my temper. A surprising realization, too, because that’s never happened before. Even when Letty starts with me, I can get hot under the collar. Think she does it deliberately most of the time.
This is different. I want to grab that finger he’s poking around and flatten his hand on the table beneath mine. Just to feel his heat against the maze of calluses on my palm. Words. He’s still talking. Pay attention, Dom.
Brian wants in. Shit. Those blue eyes are boring into me. Can’t tell him no, even if I wanted to. Why didn’t I see this coming? Got a quick mind in that head of his. Notices things.
“Let’s see how you do after Race Wars, then we’ll talk.” I keep my voice low and watch him study me with hooded eyes. Not sure if that’s good enough for him. Bringing in a new driver at this point would be dangerous. Even one as good as he is. Waiting is safer. Because after Race Wars? There won’t be any more. But I’m thinking he’d be nice to have around. Whether on a Mexican beach watching the tide come in or playing psychic tool delivery system in my garage. Wherever it is. Wherever I am.