Los Angeles, September, Monday 7:16AM
“Mateo, let’s go, papa! You’re killing me! At this very moment, you’re killing mamí !” Letty stood at the front door with her son’s backpack in her hands and her eyes toward the heavens.
“ Papí never rushes me, mom! He understands I’m a complex man who needs a little extra time to get ready.”
“Yeah, that’s probably why papí is always late, too.”
He grabbed his backpack as he rushed by her and headed out to her car.
Letty thought she’d known true love, but when she gave birth and held Mateo in her arms for the first time, she realized she’d never known love like that before. He gave her hell throughout her pregnancy; morning sickness that lasted all nine months, the worst backaches, horrible cramping that had terrified her. He kicked almost nonstop and all she craved was arroz con pollo .
Now, she had an eleven-year-old smartass who loved anything that had to do with soccer and his favorite meal? Arroz con pollo , but only when tía Mia made it.
As they pulled up to his elementary school, Letty turned to her son.
“ Papí ’s picking you up from soccer practice today, cool?”
He nodded once. “Cool.”
“You’ll hang out with him and tío Jesse at the garage.”
“You won’t be at work, too?”
“I have a doctor’s appointment, but I’ll be there right after.”
Mateo put his hand out and Letty put hers in it, shaking it and then completing a series of complex moves that made up their secret handshake. They ended with a fist bump that exploded.
“Bye mom.” He started to exit the car before turning back. “Oh, don’t forget back to school night is this Friday.”
“You wrote it on every calendar in the house and added it to my phone. I don’t think I’ll forget.” She told him.
He grinned, and looked just like his father. “Cool.”
Mateo finally left the car and Letty watched him until the doors to the school closed behind him.
“Hey Jesse.” Letty walked into the shop, keys in hand, pushing her sunglasses onto the top of her bed.
“Where’s the kid?”
“In the office doing his homework. When did math become so complicated?”
Letty laughed. “You have no idea. When we were young, one plus one was always equal to two. Now they have to create a tree and do all types of shit.”
“I thought math was where I was strongest, but now I’m reconsidering.”
She patted him on the back. “It’s not you, it’s the math.”
The brunette walked further into the shop, lightly kicking Leon’s leg. He rolled from under the car and smiled at her.
“You’re lucky it’s you. Otherwise, I’d be kicking ass and taking names.”
“Yeah, make it sound good.”
From where she stood, she could see into the office. Mateo sat at the desk where Dom normally handled the bills. His head was bent and he was deep in thought. One hand on his forehead and his pencil scribbling away.
“Yo, Cristiano Ronaldo!” Letty called out to him. He turned to look over his shoulder, cheesing when he saw his mom.
“Hey, come on. Focus, you only have one more.” She heard. Walking closer to the office, she saw Dom, leaning against the desk to Mateo’s right. When she was in sight, Dom looked up at her. He didn’t speak before he turned back to his son.
“Last one. Always finish as strong as you start.”
Dom was a good dad; she could never complain about that. But he was an asshole and he’d been a shit husband.
Mateo focused on his last problem and when he finished, Dom checked it over and smiled. He felt out his fist and Mateo bumped it with his own.
“Good job. I’m proud of you.” Dom placed Mateo’s homework in his folder and put the folder into his backpack. “Get your gym bag, your mother’s waiting.”
Mateo did as he was told.
“Your son needs his sides shaved again.”
“I’m taking him to the barbershop on Saturday.” Dom told her without looking at her.
“It needs to be early. It’s our last shore weekend.”
He finally looked at her. “I know, Letty.”
“Mateo, run your bag and put it in the trunk. Make sure tío Jesse or Leon watches you.” She handed him her keys and they both watched as he headed out of the office.
When he was out of earshot, Letty turned to her ex-husband.
“What’s up your ass, Toretto? Besides the stick that’s normally there.”
“I’m the one with the stick up my ass?” Dom pointed to himself before he rethought this conversation. “You know what? We’re not doing this.”
“Doing what? I’m just asking what’s wrong.”
“Do you really care?”
“I asked, didn’t I?”
Dom crossed his arms and Letty put her hands on her hips. “The shop isn’t doing too well.”
“It’ll pick up. You always worry and it always gets better.”
He shook his head once. “I don’t know. This is different.”
“Don’t do that.” She told him. “You always think things are worse than they are. You did it with us and now you’re doing it with the shop.”
“How long have you been holding on to that one?” He asked.
Ignoring his question, Letty her hands into the pockets of her jean shorts. “Tony used to say if you think it and say it, you manifest it. Think positive, and put it out there in the Universe.”
“Think positive, huh?” He mused aloud. “Remember I used to say that when we were trying to get pregnant?”
“Yeah.” She pulled her sunglasses from her head and put them back over her eyes. “I remember.”
“Mom! Can we get pretzels and water ice for dessert?”
Letty looked at Dom. “Did he have dinner?”
“With something green that’s not gummy?”
“Mia made him chicken, potatoes and asparagus.”
“Yeah, kid!” She called back.
Dom pulled a wad of cash from his front pocket and peeled off a few big bills, holding them out to Letty.
“No, don’t worry about it. You got dinner. I can handle dessert.” She turned to leave and he said her name. It was soft, not the way he usually said it.
“For dessert?” She teased. “Sure.”
“Not for dessert.”
She gave him a wink and left.
Dom sat at his desk exactly where his son had been less than ten minutes ago. He loved Mateo and he loved Letty. But he was scared shitless. His marriage to Letty had failed, his business was failing and the only thing he had left that was flourishing was his son. Just like Tony had done right by Dom, Dom was determined to do right by Mateo.
And he and Letty made it clear that if they couldn’t give him a two-parent household, they would make sure that it would be stable and Mateo would never see them fighting. Which they did… often.
But moments like tonight, when they could put aside their differences to support one another, it reminded Dom of the good days. Back when he and Letty were happy and nothing could stop them.
She was supposed to be his ride or die. But things changed. He changed. Letty did as well.
And now their happily ever after was gone.
Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic School, Friday, 6:00PM
“Jesus, I always get the worst flashbacks when I walk in here.” Letty commented.
“That’s probably because you were a badass.” Dom replied.
“Watch your mouth. This is practically a church.”
“No, it’s just a school.”
“With a chapel, and nuns who spank you with rulers.”
“Hey, now that sounds like good role-play.”
“I’m a man. Sue me.”
“I think this is it.” Letty stopped in front of a classroom. A colorful sign boasted, “ Welcome to Room 306: Miss Neves’ Sixth Grade Class ”.
They entered the room, and found a few other parents were already there at the desks their children had decorated. They looked around and Letty immediately spotted a colored soccer ball on bright green poster board that read “Mateo”.
“Guess which one is your son’s desk.” Letty said, gesturing with her chin. Dom grinned.
“Couldn’t be the one with the soccer ball, could it?”
They sat at his desk and Letty ran a finger across it. So, this is where he sat most days. She had to assume that it was closer to the back of the class because his teacher sat them alphabetically. Suddenly, the school bell rang.
Dom and Letty looked up to see a Latina standing in front of the class in a floral sundress and heels.
“Whoa.” Dom uttered.
Oh, for the love of Pete!
“Close your mouth before you catch flies.” Letty told him, rolling her eyes.
“I’m Elena Neves and I will be teaching your brilliant sixth graders this year.” She was saying. “I’m very big on participation from my students and I’ll expect nothing less from the parents.”
Dom barely heard anything she was saying because he too busy trying to figure out how he could go back to the sixth grade.
They listened to her talk about the curriculum and what was expected of herself as well as the students. It was all pretty standard.
Except it wasn’t.
Dom couldn’t keep his eyes off of the honey blonde. Her green eyes glanced his way every once in awhile and lingered a bit longer than Letty liked. When she’d finished her spiel and invited the parents to look around the classroom at their children’s artwork, Dom took the opportunity to speak with her.
“Miss Neves, hi, I’m Dom Toretto.”
“Mateo’s dad, yes?”
“Yes!” Dom said a little too enthusiastically, so he repeated himself with a little more finesse. “Yes.”
“Mateo is an amazing kid. Sometimes, I forget he’s only eleven.”
Don laughed. “My mom always says he’s an old soul. He’s been on this earth here before.”
“I can definitely see that.” She giggled. “Does he have that much energy at home?”
“So much.” Dom pretended to be exhausted. “His mom and I try to keep him active so he wears himself out.”
An unreadable expression flashed across Elena’s face.
“Is your wife here as well?”
“Ex-wife. And yes.” They strolled across the classroom to where Letty was standing.
The brunette turned from her son’s “What I Did The Summer” picture to look at her ex-husband.
“This is Elena. Elena, this is Mateo’s mom, Letty.”
“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Toretto.”
“Ortiz, actually.” She shook Elena’s proffered hand. She looked Elena up and down. “Some things we can’t take back, thankfully our names aren’t one of them.”
Elena simply smiled politely. “I absolutely adore Mateo.”
Letty appreciated the kind words. Mateo was her pride and joy. “Thanks. I think I’ll keep him.”
“Miss Neves.” A voice from the opposite side of the room called.
“Excuse me. It was nice to meet you, Dom.” She placed a hand on his forearm. Letty’s eyes drifted down to witness the gesture. Her brows went up.
“And you too, Ms. Ortiz.” Elena added as an afterthought before hurrying to meet another parent.
“What?” He asked. She rolled her eyes and turned back to Mateo’s work:
This summer I went to our family’s beach house that my Poppy Tony left to us. It was our first year going without him. I miss him so much. My mom and dad said that he was there in spirit and in every wave in the ocean. That made me happy. I got to play soccer on the beach with my big cousin Jack. He’s not very good, but that’s okay because I love him. I love my uncles too. Uncle Rome is the funniest. He taught me how to pull pranks on my Uncle Brian and Uncle Tej and they pretended to be mad but they were laughing. I like when we go to the beach house. Everyone is happy when we do. Even my mom and dad.
Letty felt herself about to tear up. Her throat tightened and she couldn’t take it. She kissed her fingertips and pressed it against his paper before she made a hasty exit from the classroom.
Out in the parking lot, Dom caught up to her, jogging toward her car.
“Letty, wait!” He wrapped his hand around the corner of her car door, effectively stopping her from closing it. “What was that about?”
Her nose was red and Dom knew that only meant one thing. But she hated to show him weakness. Always had, and that was part of their problems.
“Let go of the door.”
“Not until you tell me what’s wrong.”
“Did you even read your son’s summer essay?”
Dom lips parted, but Letty cut him off. “Of course you didn’t because you were too busy with your nose up his teacher’s ass. You eyes never could stop wandering. Even when we were married.”
Dom knew that was bullshit. He’d always been faithful. But Letty couldn’t let the past go. She still held him accountable for things that he did when he was in his twenties.
“Well then maybe it’s a good thing we’re divorced!”
She actually looked hurt by that. And a hurt Letty was an angry Letty. “Wow. Still an asshole.”
Letty gripped the handle of her car door and yanked it away from his hand, slamming it shut. The engine turned over and he moved his foot just in time for her to speed off.
He dragged a hand down his face.
“Great. Just great.”
They never could get more than two steps forward without being pushed ten steps back.