Across the street from Toretto's, there’s a kid sitting on the hood of a beat-up Honda civic with both hands cupped over his ears.
Dominic sees him through the open-air window in the market first, from where he’s hanging behind the counter looking over the billing for the month. Letty’s leaning against him, flipping through last year’s January issue of Road and Track. She’s still catching up from her missing months and refuses to let Dom help her with her memories unless expressly asked. It’s such a Letty thing to demand that he can’t even try to fight her on it. Don’t try to tell me what I know until I know it, she’d said, and then she’d kissed him extra hard right after she’d said it, no tenderness and all teeth, and he was so stupid in love with her his chest still ached with it. He hasn’t said a word about it since.
A girl is making her way around from the passenger side of the Honda on the street, using both hands to pull her tangled hair up into a bright yellow scrunchy that Dom’s pretty sure he remembers seeing Mia wear back in high school. She’s sweet looking, all freckled with her sunshine hair and long legs—sticking out like a sore thumb on a street filling rapidly with Latino locals now that the church on 14th was letting out.
Dom can’t see the boy’s face from this angle, but the line of his back is too tense and sharp from where he slumps, exhausted, against the girl’s chest when she gets close enough, forehead touching her sternum soft as a prayer. She starts running a hand through his hair and whispers something, and his hands drop from his head like cut strings. He nods without looking up, a jolted movement, and the girl moves to cover both her palms over his ears like earmuffs as she leans in again, swaying like an aborted dance, new grass in the breeze. Dom watches as her head tilts to the side, turning towards the sun coming up behind the shop, eyes shut tight as she pulls the boy close. Her hands aren’t shaking, but Dom feels like they should be.
And the expression on her face—childlike and ancient all at once—and Dom can’t help but think its familiar.
He doesn’t know how long he’s been watching them hold each other up, still swaying slightly, when Letty punches his arm to get his attention. He winces, because regardless of how much she loves him, its Letty, who’s never pulled a punch in her life.
“Hey, Dom—c’mon, you even listening to me?”
Dom glances back down at her to see her pointing at the page on the left, the layout of a V8 printed in glorious technicolor schematics in front of his face. “Yeah,” he lies, distracted, but Letty’s already turning to follow his gaze.
The girl hasn’t moved, but the boy has sunken farther into her embrace, and the look on her face is tight as she watches him. Letty’s dark eyes narrow, and she doesn’t say anything for a long minute.
“Dom.” She says his name like a warning that he willfully ignores.
“They look like they’re on the run to you?” he says when she looks back up at him.
She twists her mouth, shrugs. “Look a little young for it.”
He raises a brow dubiously and glances down at her. “When has that ever mattered?”
She snorts and turns back to watch the two figures curled on the hood of their car. They still haven’t moved an inch. The boy looks like he’s shivering. Dom feels something in his gut hurt just to watch.
Letty nudges his arm again, where its crossed over his broad chest. “You know, we still have that extra cot in the garage. And the couch, too.”
Dom grunts, noncommittal, and Letty rolls her eyes. “Don’t pretend you’re not thinking about it, Dom.”
“Depends on what they’re running from. Don’t need any more heat,” he throws back halfheartedly, one last ditch effort to pretend she doesn’t know his goddamn ticket better than anyone else alive. She cackles, and pats his arm, and Dom resigns himself to the fact that he loves her so goddamn much that he’ll have to deal with her shit forever.
“Yeah?” Letty pushes off the counter and kisses his cheek, “and when has that ever mattered?”
Baby’s CD battery gave up the ghost somewhere outside of L.A., which made sense considering she’d bought the thing for 5 bucks at a Shell station somewhere in the desert after his last childhood MP3 player fizzled out, so by the time they’d rolled into the city his migraines were so bad he wasn’t even able to hold the steering wheel straight.
“Baby?” Debra ran a hand through Baby’s hair again, the soft strands finally grown out from the close-cropped head she’d seen through the glass in Chino. They’d made it somewhere into downtown L.A., maybe Echo Park district, she thought, glancing around under her lashes. They were parked across the street from a garage, Torretto’s emblazoned on the front in faded black lettering. It had a few signs plastered in the windows in Spanish, and thankfully she’d kept up with it after high school, but her brother was always better at it.
Her brother was always better at everything—except, well.
When she’d sent him the postcard last year, it was right after the verdict had been announced. She’d been standing outside the courthouse with Joe in his wheelchair, her prettiest blue dress and matching cardigan soaked through with nervous sweat. The verdict still rang through her head, echoing louder and louder like the hum in Baby’s ears—maximum 10 years, with the possibility of parole after the first. Somewhere in the courthouse parking lot, Joe had left the duffle bag of cash in the trunk of her car and made big eyes at her when she vehemently declined, signing slowly through her protests, for when he comes back to you.
She’d tried to make him take it back, futilely, and when that didn’t work, she tried to make the argument that they should just get rid of it, burn it, something, but part of her knew that she couldn’t afford to let it go. She wasn’t just a baby-faced waitress from Barstow anymore—Debora O’Conner was an accomplice. Baby was a convicted felon, a million-dollar heist taking bank robber nonetheless, but he’d flipped easy on his scary old boss’s operation just to stay out of Lompoc. No matter what happened, no matter what the judge said, no matter when Baby came back to her—they had nowhere left to go from here but gone.
Joe had taken her hand in his and patted it gently, reassuring. Good girl, he’d signed, then, a bit sorrowful, too good.
Debora laughed at that. “If you say so,” she said, enunciating. As the care home van pulled up in front of them, she leaned down to kiss the dark, leathery skin of his cheek, and so she felt the smile that pulled across his face before she saw it.
Her chest hurt. How cruel did life truly need to be, Debora thought, bitter, that it gave her so many beautiful things to love and yet it only ever showed her how to lose them.
Where will you take him, Joe asked, as they waited for the wheelchair attendant to make his way to their spot near the steps. She squeezed his hand, once, before pulling away to sign back clumsily.
She feels Baby’s shoulder’s tensing up hard before she hears the man walking up behind them. Debora’s back is to the street, so when she turns her head, she’s surprised for a moment that someone so large could be so quiet, before she recognizes his face from the reports she read online.
The man looks exactly like the kind of man she should be afraid of, no question, but the longer she looks at him, the less concern she has. Maybe that’s stupid, Debbie thinks, but Mama always did say she couldn’t never get less stupid with age. Debora’s fine with being called dumb. She’s never needed to be all that smart to do her job anyway. Besides, if a dumb blonde is what someone thinks they want, all it does is make her job that much easier. Making people happy? Making people trust her? Why, that’s the easiest job in the world for sweet little Debbie O’Conner.
“Morning,” she says, smiling her best bright how can I help you, mister! smile, and doesn’t take her hands away from their position over Baby’s ears. He’s trembling, just barely, and stares hard at the man without saying nothing. Debora runs her nails through the soft hair behind his neck again, soothes some of the shakes.
The man comes to a stop a few feet away and crosses his distractingly huge arms over his even more distractingly huge chest. Jesus, she thinks, hoping she’s right in that he’s kinder than he looks. She doesn’t wanna turn away from Baby right now, not with him like this.
The man raises a dark brow at her greeting, glances once at Baby, and nods. “You kids lost?” His voice is deep, but not unfriendly. Debora keeps smiling just in case.
“Not really. Just looking for a friend, you might know him?” Debora tries to remember which ID he was using last, but can’t quite remember. His postcard was only signed by “B” and then this address, because he loves to make her life harder than it needs to be. “Goes by Spilner?”
Dominic Toretto, because that’s who he is, who he has to be, raises his brows ever higher, and narrows his eyes. “Not sure I know any Spilner’s in the area,” he rumbles, very obviously lying. She doesn’t know if he realizes how bad he is at it, or if this is just another game they’re supposed to play first, or if he really just thinks she’s that dumb. Men can be so silly sometimes. “You sure that’s who you’re looking for?”
She blinks, widens her eyes earnestly. “Oh, well, I’m sure I couldn’t be positive, sir, but you might know him as an O’ Conner, or an O’Brien?”
“Your friend’s got a lot of names, huh.” Toretto tilts his head at her, and starts to take a step closer when Baby jerks upright in an attempt to stand before she pushes his shoulders back down. Toretto stops, uncrossing his arms and lifting both hands up, the universal no trouble sign.
“You know, sometimes my head gets a little jumbled after a long trip,” she says, not really bothering with the lie anymore. If Brian would’ve just left her a number— Debora sighs, keeping one hand on Baby’s shoulder, happy he’s still letting her talk for them even though he’s tighter than an old bow-string. They need food, water, gas, and sleep, but they still have to get through this bullshit first. “And to be quite honest, I can’t really be bothered to know what he calls himself anymore, mister. But I’d really like to talk with him about that, if you happen to know where he might be.”
Toretto is watching Baby from where he’s glaring at him from his spot on the hood. She twists her body around, one hand still on Baby’s shoulder, the other reaching back to grab the postcard from her back pocket. It’s been folded several times, and the writing on the back is almost illegible, but the address is still there in faded blue ink, Brian’s handwriting just as shitty as it was back in school. She hands it to him. Toretto glances down, frowns, and looks up at her again, evaluating.
“Yeah, you know,” he says slowly, still assessing, ”I think I might have a pretty good idea.”
His voice is quiet, but the look in his eyes is about as subtle as a gun to the head. And she would know now, wouldn’t she.