It doesn’t rain much in the desert.
Back in Barstow the families would crowd the windows to watch the drops fall – sliding down the windows, and turning the world outside shades of grey. The lawns would green up, and Brian could remember his father standing in the driveway, in the days after the rain, admiring it.
Everyone stayed inside, to watch the skies open and the heavens empty – punishing the parched ground with windswept sheets and torrents of water, but Brian would run out, grab his bike and find Rome.
Brian loved rain – the sound of it, the feel. Storms were even better; lightning charging the air, making his skin tighten and raising the hair on his arms.
He remembers loving the way the water slicked the rims of his bike tires and made the brakes squeal and slip. He could build up speed and skid to a precarious stop, seeing how long it would take. He and Rome would make games of it – heading down to the school yard and building up a speed, driving directly at the brick wall of the school and waiting as long as they could to hit the brakes, not knowing how long it would take them to stop.
They hit the wall and bounced off more times than Brian could count, rolling on the blacktop with the resilience of pre-adolescence – ignoring the throb of rashed palms and gashed calfs, in the days when scabbed knees were still a badge of honor.
When they had crashed their fill, or one of them had damaged their bike too much to carry on, they would wheel themselves off the asphalt to lie in the slick grass, letting the rain bathe and cool their little hurts and taking in the rare, earthy smell of the luxury that was mud in the desert. A couple of adrenaline junkies coming down from the high.
But he’s a pretty long way from Barstow now. And from Rome.
The first time it rains in Echo Park, Brian hears Vince’s sneering commentary from across the living room.
“Check out the buster, runnin’ to the window just like the cute little puppy-dawg he is. What, they don’t got rain in Arizona?”
“No, they don’t, genius. That’s why they call it Ari-zona.”
Brian turns away from the window to shoot an appreciative grin over his shoulder at Letty for her comeback, but she doesn’t take her eyes off the screen. She’s in first position on the second hardest track in Gran Turismo and won’t be distracted – even by Dom sitting next to her on the sofa with an arm draped over her shoulders.
Dom’s approving smirk, and Vince’s responding scowl are satisfaction enough for Brian anyway.
He stays right where he is, watching the light of the streetlamps shimmering against the black of the pavement and glittering in the drops that chase each other down the glass.
“Buster,” comes a low rasp in his ear, followed by a jangle of keys and Brian tries not to jump in surprise and give away his reaction to the deep, shiver-tones of that voice. Obviously Dom has grown bored with Letty’s game. “C'mon rookie, it’s time for a driving lesson.”
As usual, Brian hasn’t the slightest clue what Dom has in mind, but he follows like the faithful puppy Vince accuses him of being.
Dom doesn’t explain until they are both sitting in the RX-7, shaking the drops of water off their skin and clothing, that a good driver knows his car. Knows her inside and out, how she handles in any and all conditions.
With days left until Race Wars, he explains, tonight is the perfect time for Brian to get on even more intimate terms with the Supra.
They head over to DT’s to pick up the car, and then Brian follows Dom’s taillights from behind the swish of his wipers to a stretch of deserted highway. Just when he thinks Dom might be fucking with him – driving them in a big, slow, circle and heading back home or some shit – Brian sees the RX-7 pull to the shoulder. He draws up alongside.
Dom’s window is down so Brian does likewise.
“Time trial,” Dom rumbles, voice carrying over the perfect tune on the Mazda’s engine. “I’m heading up exactly a quarter mile and pump my brake lights at ya. One, two, three – ready, set, go. Yeah?”
“Yeah.” Brian nods.
“On three I’m dropping the flag. You drop the hammer.”
Brian breathes deep and visualizes the line, while Dom pulls ahead.
On the drop, Brian smokes ‘em and the tires spin against the slick pavement until the water evaporates enough to get traction. He curses, it was at least half a second.
He tells himself to let it go, focuses on his shifts. He ignores the speedometer and stares ahead, into the dark and the blinding rain battering the windshield like bullets. The hard, staccato splatter sound is deafening and the wipers are useless.
Brian catches the flash of Dom’s profile watching his stopwatch through rain-streaked glass, as he flies past the line and then slams the brakes, fishtailing wildly to a stop and panting with exhilaration.
“Ten-six,” Dom says, as he rolls the RX-7 up alongside the Supra.
“Ten-six? Ten point six seconds?” To come in under 11 in this shit, and with that start, makes Brian’s stomach flip over. They are practically guaranteed to make 10 at Race Wars. He can feel his cheeks hurt, he’s smiling so wide.
Brian whoops and hits the gas. It is only seconds before Dom is behind him and gaining fast.
Dom has always been better than Brian at driving in a straight line, but Brian can corner and drift, and he has the advantage of knowing where they’re going. He reaches the school a good three seconds before Dom does, pulling the handbrake and powersliding into the parking lot. It gives him just enough time to move the middle of the lot and do a near-perfect donut.
10.6 seconds. His nerves are still ringing with it; heart pumping and blood singing in his ears. Brian gets out of the car.
He can see Dom behind the wheel of the Madza, idling beside the Supra. Their drive has given Dom the same look Brian has seen him wear when he races – not wild and amped up the way Brian gets, but a smouldering, focused calm.
Brian tears his eyes away from the gravity of that gaze, turns his face up to meet the rain as it comes down – cold, pelting splashes that wake his skin and feed the currents of tense energy running through him.
He’s restless. He bounces on his toes a couple of times in his thoroughly-soaked Chucks.
“Crazy-ass white boy.”
Brian looks over his shoulder and is so surprised to see Dom standing there with him in the rain, shirt rapidly soaking through, that he cackles like he really is nuts. His insanity must be contagious.
He looks at Dom and he can’t help it, he lets out another whoop and takes off running for the half-court next to the parking lot.
Brian has never been great at basketball but this is a school-height net and he can make the jump, hanging from the hoop and swinging like a monkey for a few seconds before dropping to his feet and jogging back over to where Dom is still standing next to the cars.
“Ten-six,” Brian pants, when he gets close enough to be heard. “We are going to dominate at Race Wars.”
Dom’s mouth turns up at the corner and it’s just the kind of encouragement Brian probably doesn’t need.
“Dominate!” he repeats. “Dom-in-ate, Dom.”
Dom laughs then; a low, reluctant chuckle, and Brian knows he’s acting the fool, but once you start you really just gotta go with it. He leans in close, so they’re nose to nose, and repeats himself again.
“Dom-in-ate, Dom-in-ic,” he says, making a little chant out of it and starting a little victory dance like Rome would do.
Dom settles his hips against the door of the RX-7, letting the rain soak through his clothes and watching the show. Brian’s never been much of a dancer, so he sticks with the cabbage patch and then jumps around a few more times.
When he leans in to repeat his little chant to Dom again, Dom moves so fast Brian doesn’t quite see how it happens. Dom snakes out one powerful arm, grabs Brian by the belt and yanks so he topples forward, knees moving between Dom’s thighs and Dom’s hips coming flush up against Brian’s own.
Brian’s still breathing pretty hard but his breath catches anyway. He’s suddenly very aware of the fact that he’s soaked to the skin, and his clothes are clinging to him everywhere. He’s also aware that with their hips pressed together like this, Dom can probably feel the somewhat embarrassing side effect Brian sometimes gets with an adrenaline rush. In fact, Brian’s pretty certain Dom can feel it, because right now he can feel that Dom gets the same effect.
He’s afraid to move, afraid to shift is weight even, like any friction will make the situation immediately worse.
There is a moment, when Dom reaches up and puts a hand on his neck, and Brian isn’t quite sure what’s happening. His skin is soaked, slick everywhere, and Dom’s thumb slides over the hinge of his jaw, under his earlobe, brushes the short hairs on the back of his neck and makes them stand on end. Brian has heard of this happening before – guys going native. Getting under cover and then falling for their mark. But that can’t be what’s happening here. For starters, the mark is usually a gorgeous female.
There’s a small rivulet of clear water running from the smooth surface of Dom’s shorn scalp, down over his forehead, cheek, and over the curve of his lip.
The hand at his neck pulls until their foreheads touch. The cool water on their skin warms between their combined heat.
“Congratulations, Bri,” Dom’s voice is a low purr. “You’re ready.”
The moment passes, and Dom releases Brian with a crooked grin. “Time to head back.”
...Just a couple of adrenaline junkies. Coming down from the high.
Dom climbs back into to the RX-7 to make his way back home. Back to Letty, who will take one look at him, drenched to the skin, and drag Dom up the stairs to get him out of his wet clothes.
Brian could follow. He could find Mia and hope that she finds the whole wet puppy thing endearing and not just hopelessly childish and kind of pathetic. But instead, he will make his own way home and pull the Supra into the back lot of the Racer’s Edge for the night.
He will lie on Brian Spilner’s cot, hands wandering paths over his own, rain-chilled flesh, bringing the warmth back and thinking of Dom standing in the downpour, laughing at him. He will tell himself the molten-brown eyes and smooth, honey-latte skin he keeps company with in his dreams that night are Mia’s.
But – just like his father standing in the driveway, unable to resist the beauty of the way the rain brings the life and the green back to the grass of Barstow – Brian will find himself back here, days after the rain has gone.
Lying on his lonely, narrow cot and praying for rain.