For all Letty’s good natured teasing – and the occasional more caustic barbs that slip out in times of stress they both pretend for the sake of their friendship to forget – Mia has always known exactly how lucky she is. Of all her friends and family, her soulmark is the simplest and easiest to understand. It’s right there on her inner arm, just above her elbow, has been there her whole life as a talisman for the future and something to rely on, just like in the greatest of the old stories, the ones her mom would read her when she put her to bed, fingertips absently stroking over the mark on her own arm in between turning the pages.
It’s small, and black, and nestles in the curve of her elbow perfectly, subtle enough that she can wear her sheerest tops without worrying about over curious bystanders leaning in to gawk at it, but definitely, indelibly, there. Brian in a man’s quick, impatient scrawl. It isn’t beautiful, exactly, it doesn’t promise flowers or poetry or great romance – just the opposite, it seems more the mark of someone who’s always in a hurry, the way the curves of the B don’t meet the upright, and the dot of the i has flown to nestle almost over the a instead – but it doesn’t promise comic (or tragic) misunderstandings or difficulties in interpretation either. Compared to her school friends and their recipes for gingerbread, or exotic skylines, or in one poor girl’s case a math problem, it’s a concrete promise of a husband and children, a home. Just like her parents, with their proudly matching Nick and Maria in exactly the same place. When Brian, whoever he is, walks into her life, she’s going to know him immediately, and one good look at his inner arm will prove it.
Dom by contrast… Dom doesn’t like to talk about his mark. And it’s easy enough for him to hide. It isn’t on his arm, the odd one out in their little family, or anywhere on his back or shoulders or chest, and by the time she was born he was old enough that he didn’t wander round in a sufficient state of undress for her to see anywhere else. Letty must know what it is, of course, but she respects his privacy far too much to ever talk about it with anyone else, and Mia respects them both too much to ever ask. The fact that Letty stalks round in singlets with the Acapulco on her shoulder unflinchingly displayed to the world, and Dom will wrap his arm around her, fingers glancing over it as though it doesn’t exist, never lingering, and smile in a way that doesn’t really reach his eyes when she makes jokes about some pendejo tourist and how she has no intention of ever going back to Mexico, makes it pretty clear it doesn’t say Leticia. If Dom has ever confided in anyone else about it, it would have been their dad, and that topic of conversation is even more firmly closed.
The day that Brian finally appears is just an ordinary day, nothing at first to mark it as special. She has no classes on a Tuesday so she works a full day at the store instead of her usual half, and she’s got the place to herself, the others are all at the garage instead of hanging around underfoot, so she might actually get some study done post lunch rush. She’s already cleaned the grill and the fryer and put away all the dishes, and she’s in no mood to get them out again when a stranger, obviously an out-of-towner, not one of their little crowd of regulars, waltzes in mid-afternoon.
“Kitchen’s closed,” she says, more tersely than she really should, as he sits down at the counter.
“That’s cool,” he says, smiling at her, and it’s the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen, the way he smiles with his whole face and what almost seems to be his body too, turning towards her like a flower to the sun. “I’ll just have a coke, it’s hot as heck outside.”
“I could make you a sandwich,” she says, unable to help herself, and desperately praying he’ll ask for ham or chicken.
“That’s great,” he says, and the smile, if anything, brightens. “Thank you. I’ll have the tuna.”
Dom usually makes the tuna; he doesn’t like it any more than she does, but he has a damn good eye for proportions and can mix the mayo and the onion and the celery perfectly without having to taste it. They’re all out though, so this guy’s going to have to take his chances. She opens a can and dumps the contents into a bowl, along with a couple of spoons of mayo. When she starts stirring she realises she should have drained the oil, so for want of any better idea she slams a saucer on top and tries to separate it over the sink.
The guy starts laughing. She wants to be mad, but it’s a great sound, and something about it puts her at ease.
“Toretto’s Tuna,” she says instead, embracing her failure, “World Famous in Echo Park.”
“So I’ve heard,” he says, playing along. “It’s what I came for.” He takes a sip of his coke. “I’m Brian, by the way. Brian Spilner. I’ve just started working at Harry’s and he said I should come down here for lunch.”
She tunes out the rest of his explanation, letting the sound of his voice wash over her while she puts together the rest of his sandwich without really looking. He’s gorgeous, clear golden skin and crystal blue eyes and dimples, and wind tossed blond hair that looks like the sun bleached it rather than an hour in a salon.
“I’m Mia,” she finally manages as the silence starts to stretch. “Mia Toretto.”
“Well, it’s great to meet you, Mia,” he says, then eyes the proffered sandwich dubiously. “Do you think you could cut the crusts off that? Please?”
She tears her eyes away from him to look at Frankenstein’s lunch plate. It’s a disaster, crooked slices of bread with chunks of celery and onion she didn’t bother to dice properly sticking out every which way. Trimming it really isn’t going to help, but she does her best.
He eats every bite.
Brian comes in every day after that, regular as clockwork, and he always orders the tuna. Mia tries a couple of variations, and she hopes it’s getting better – it surely can’t be getting worse – but he claims to like it just the same every time. They talk a little about Arizona, where he’s from, but he shies away from any mention of his family, other than to acknowledge that he once had parents but has lost touch with both of them. If it’s a test when she mentions her own it’s one he passes with flying colours, genuinely captivated when she tells him how her dad’s parents opened the store, Italian immigrants who built up a business and bought a home, and passed on both to their only son, who initially had no interest whatsoever, with his dream of being a race car driver, and had to be threatened with disinheritance to get him to lift a broom until the day the prettiest girl in the world walked into the store and asked in halting English if they had any cubanela peppers.
He seems to find Dom fascinating too, which is less surprising given Dom’s genius at pulling everyone who even passes his way into orbit, but it seems a more genuine interest in him as Mia’s brother, rather than the feigned interest in Mia that so many wannabe racers have demonstrated in the past to get in good with Dom, whether it’s a discount on parts and mods, or an entry to the racing scene they’re looking for. Brian’s just as interested when she talks about her Honda and the work she and Letty have been doing on it as he is when she talks about the garage their dad built and which Dom has turned into one of the top precision auto shops in the city.
The only minor cloud on the horizon is the fact that Brian’s habitual t-shirts make it plain there’s nothing on his arm, no sign of a mark whether at his elbow or his wrist. It could be anywhere though, Dom’s living proof of that, and just because her parents’ were in the same place doesn’t mean her own has to match her soulmate’s perfectly. He’s everything she wants in every other way, and when neither Vince’s jealousy nor Dom’s surliness can put a dent in his mood or his attentiveness she feels comfortable flirting back with him more obviously. The first time he comes for dinner at the house he comes inside and keeps her company while she makes the salads rather than hovering round Dom at the grill the way the rest of the guys always do, and when he stays in the kitchen after to dry the mountain of dishes she’s just washed, rather than go watch the movie, she decides she doesn’t need to see his mark to know for sure he’s the one.
By the time they have their first official date it feels like she’s known him forever. They chat about the guys, about the team, but it feels right, the natural reaction of a man who wants to be a part of their family. And he does, that much is obvious. The contrast between his rootlessness and her own firm grounding couldn’t be more stark. He confides in her in turn about his best friend growing up, and how they fell out over something stupid and haven’t spoken in years, and she gets to feel like the wise, grown up one for once when she tells him to give this Roman a call, he’ll feel better for it. When he comes right out and says that being friends with Dom is a bonus, but it was her that pulled him in, like she’s got gravity of her own when she’s always felt like the moon to Dom’s sun, it’s everything she’s been waiting her whole life to hear.
She drives him home to Harry’s, taking the opportunity to show off a little of her own skill behind the wheel. As she fishtails across three lanes and sets a dozen other drivers’ horns to blaring furiously he looks a mix between terrified and impressed, but he never once reaches for the grab bar. His eyes flicker between the windshield and the back window, but they always come back to her. They don’t speak as she pulls around to the back of the store and parks the Acura next to his truck rather than dropping him on the street the way she usually does. He takes her hand and leads her through the darkened store to his bedroom, and there’s something so charmingly ridiculous about it, a grown man camping out in a closet in the back of an auto shop, that it banishes her fears. He’s more experienced than her of course, much more so, but he’s gentle, and sweet, and when he strokes his thumb over his name on her arm, and whispers in her ear that he loves her, she absolutely believes him.
It’s only when they wake up in the morning and begin the awkward process of untangling their limbs and the rumpled covers that she realises what she’d half noticed in the night – he hasn’t got a mark anywhere on him. She doesn’t get a chance to ask though; he’s lurching into his clothes and mumbling apologies about having to meet someone, even as her cellphone rings, Dom demanding to know where she is and why she isn’t at home. They kiss goodbye in the parking lot and get in their separate cars, head off in opposite directions, and she tells herself not to worry, there’ll be an explanation.
The next time they’re alone together is at Race Wars. For a moment she thinks he’s going to comfort her after her fight with Dom, but even as she’s reaching for him he’s asking about Dom, where he’s gone, what he’s doing. She barely has a chance to feel the pain of that though, as he says the words that ruin everything.
“I’m a cop, Mia. Ever since the first time I met you I’ve been undercover.”
She gets in the car with him, because Dom is still her brother, and she tells him Dom’s number, and watches as he calls it in for a trace. He saves Vince, and she numbly thinks it’s good she doesn’t have to hate him, and she wonders why her mother never told her that marks could lie just as surely as golden tongued boys.
It’s easy, after that, to leave him standing in the desert. She gets in the car with her brother, and they drive away.