The red car trailed behind Dom back to the outskirts of Lakeside. There was the radio but Vince didn’t use it and neither did he; what would they say to each other? It had been hard enough face to face and Dom knew that if he asked any of the hard questions that he wanted to ask, that he should ask, that he would push Vince away. More than anything, he didn’t want that to happen, so he said nothing.
Up ahead, sodium lights lit up the gas station in large stark circles and Dom smiled as he pulled over the hose that rang the bell inside. Beside him, Vince pulled up at the next pump in a replay of earlier in the evening when he and Brian had met up with Eddie.
Quietly, they both got out to top off their tanks, standing in awkward silence broken only by the ticking over of the pump meter. Vince looked back at him once before he went in to pay; he had looked like he had wanted to say something. Another thing that had changed; there was a time not that long ago when Dom wouldn’t have taken any shit off anyone but as he rested back against the side of the Chevy, he realized that he would have taken anything, no matter what it was, just to talk to his old friend again and have it be like it was.
Vince hadn’t looked like he was in a rush to pull out of the station once he got back so he stopped, leaning against the roof of the red car as Dom started talking. Shutting off the pump gave Dom something to do with his hands for which he was grateful. “We have dinner around five or so, if you’re interested.”
Vince looked as tired and strung out as Dom felt, leaning across the roof. There was a time when Dom thought nothing of hugging Vince, it was as natural as breathing. Now they shook hands and felt strange. It cut, but they both tried. “Yeah,” Vince mumbled, nodding as he got behind the wheel. “See you around, bro.”
Dom watched until Vince was gone and then walked into the station to pay. Before he got back into his car, he dropped a quarter into the pay phone outside the door, dialing Amber’s number by heart; he just needed to hear her voice. Something.
By the third ring Dom had started to fidget with the phone cord, and pace in the tiny arc of space it allowed him. Hanging up, he dialed again even though he knew that there was no way he had forgotten her number but not daring to venture into why that wasn’t possible. Nine rings, ten; Dom’s nerves danced with violent electricity as he wondered how far away he was from her, how fast he could get back.
He dropped the next quarter on the ground and plugged another into the slot without thought, calling Mia at home, who picked up nearly immediately. “Mia…”
“She’s here,” Mia got out, hearing the distress in Dom’s voice and wanting to put him at ease.
“Oh, thank fuck. Sorry.” The apology was out just as quickly; he didn’t really like to swear around Mia although he admitted that he didn’t do the best job of keeping that promise. “Is she okay?” he didn’t bother to hide how his voice softened when he asked; Mia would hear it anyway, there was nothing he could keep from her.
“She’s asleep down the hall. Hollabird came back out after you left and I didn’t think it would be a good idea to stay.”
With an audible exhale, he leaned against the wall, eyes closed, his nerves not exactly settling. That the Sheriff had paid a visit, when he wasn’t there to protect Amber if he had to, was something he hadn’t liked the sound of but he would get into that later, when he got home; he was pretty sure that Mia wouldn’t tell him anyway, not while he was on the road. While there wasn’t a single damned thing he could do.
Mia rustled around and he knew that she was in the front room by the phone, probably curled up in the chair. That she had always waited for him to come home at night came back to him; some things never changed. “Thanks, sis. I should be back home sometime around dawn. You want me to come out there instead?”
“Brian called me just before you did. There wasn’t a whole lot that he could do once Letty was taken in. I heard about Eddie.” Mia had a hard time getting her head around that but Dom didn’t have any easy answers for her; he couldn’t explain it either. “Anyway, he’s not staying out there so he might catch up with you on the way back. Just meet up with us at the diner. We can have breakfast together.”
There were lots of questions that Dom had about Brian as well but that too would have to wait. Mia sounded tired; without Brian at home, he wondered how she slept and didn’t want to add to her weariness by drilling her with a bunch of questions she likely couldn’t answer anyway. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah, we’re okay. Just been a hell of a long day, you know?”
Dom grinned at hearing Mia say nearly the same thing Amber had said once before. “Is she..?”
“She’s okay too. She’s a lot stronger than she looks, she’ll be okay. I think so anyway,” she said with conviction. Mia believed in people, it was one of the things that she did.
Dom nodded silently on the other side of the line, rubbing his palm over his scalp. Realizing that he had asked twice if Amber was okay. “Yeah,” he looked back at the Chevy, taking in a deep breath of cold desert night air. He would need coffee if he was going to drive all night; he was exhausted too. “With any luck, this is the last of it.”
“I hope so too,” Mia didn’t sound quite so convinced at that and Dom’s gut clenched again, but he knew better than to ask.
“You’re going to sleep after this, right?” It was hard for him not to sound like her big brother but it made him smile more often the older Mia got. She could take care of herself but he couldn’t help it; it was an old habit, comfortable.
Mia snorted on the other side of the phone. Dom often used to come in at night and pick her up, carrying her up to her bedroom. There were times when she only pretended to be asleep but they were both too old by far for Dom to tuck her in.
“Yeah. I think it’s going to be a long day tomorrow. Be safe, Dom.”
With his eyes closed, Dom listened to his sister utter the small blessing that she always offered when he was far from home, when he was on the road. She worried about him, would always worry about him. It was supposed to be the other way around but never was, never had been; she had always worried about him. More than anything he wanted to be back, as soon as possible. But he had to make it back in one piece. “I’ll be home a little later then. I’ll still be there for breakfast though, so if that sneaky fucker Brian steals all the bacon…”
On the other side of the line, Mia dissolved into laughter which had Dom grinning once more, feeling lighter than he had in days. “I’ll hide some. Love you, Dom.”
Another deep breath and he hung up the phone, relief hitting deep at the sound of his little sister’s voice, at her laughter, at knowing Amber was safe. The station attendant looked up from the magazine he was reading when Dom opened the door again, his eyes wary. It was late at night so Dom didn’t blame him, just held his hands up in mock surrender, the universal signal that whatever needed to be okay was okay, and walked over to a bank of coffee pots. Two large cups, one for now, one for later. It would taste like battery acid cold but it would keep him awake.
Even hot it tasted like shit but the caffeine kicked him hard in the gut, something he knew he would pay for later. No matter, if it kept him awake. He had always liked driving at night; it didn’t matter where.
When he was younger, it was adrenaline fuel and warm summer night air, the only traffic those you raced with. Or ran from if the cops showed up. Out in the desert it was another story. No one to race against. No one for miles. If he wanted, he could slam the accelerator to the floor and race until his engine burned out, until his car flipped into a burning wreck in the desert night. No one would ever know.
He didn’t drive slow, there was a part of him that couldn’t, but there wasn’t the need to prove anything anymore, and the one thing that would have him race was safe. Still, the desert night flew by, cat’s eyes counting out the miles. On either side the landscape dissolved into silhouette once out of the reach of the sweep of his headlights.
Occasionally he caught the eyes of some animal out in the scrubland. Coyotes. Only a coyote would be brave enough or stupid enough to look up when everything else would hide from the sound. He thought of Vince and pushed it back, he couldn’t make Vince be anything. Wouldn’t even if he could, and wanting it didn’t change it.
No radio, even if he could pick up a signal out here in the middle of nowhere so he drove in silence, with only the sound of the engine and the road beneath as it flew past. It would be easy to drop a disc player into the dash but Dom wondered if Amber would listen to it, or if she liked the quiet too. A move out into the middle of nowhere. She would like it quiet.
Twin beams crept up from behind. Still fuzzy and indistinct, they were a long way off, coming up fast. Knowing that Brian would catch up to him at some point, Dom didn’t worry about it, but he watched in the rear view mirror and smiled when he caught a flash of blue. Brian must have stepped all over it on the way out from El Centro to catch up with him so soon. He looked back and caught that hundred watt grin in the rear view mirror. They both keyed the radio at the same time but said nothing, the sound an acknowledgment in itself.
Light was that strange otherworldly green of the twilight just before dawn. The world stood still, silent, before the first breath, and then all at once there was birdsong, right outside the window. The window wasn’t where it was supposed to be and Amber looked around the room, puzzled, before realization set in.
“I’m always waking up in that guy’s bed.”
She was in Dom’s bed. Again. That he had likely never spent a single night here, proved out by all the boxes in the room as it slowly became a storage space, didn’t change the simple fact that once more she was in Dom’s bed. It struck her as funny and she flopped back against the cool pillow, chuckling under her breath.
“You up?” Mia whispered on the other side of the door, cracking the door open a little.
“Yeah, just in here laughing like a loony to myself. Come on in.” Amber pulled the blankets around her as she sat up. Mia was already dressed and crept quietly across the floor, sitting on the edge of the bed, shooting Amber a quizzical look.
“Dom’s bed.” There was no way to explain. Just saying it had Amber laughing again, muffling the sound behind her hand.
“Must be fate.” It was out before Mia could pull it back so she sucked in a breath and stood up at the end of the bed. “The guys called last night after you’d gone to bed. They should be back in time for breakfast, so I was hoping we could get there a little early; I don’t think they’ve had anything other than road food since yesterday morning. They’ll be hungry.”
Tossing the blanket off, Amber stretched and got out of bed, coming up short to look at Mia. “Road food?”
Snorting, Mia looked back over her shoulder, shaking her head at Amber until she stopped folding up the blanket. “Road food is anything a guy can get in a gas station.” Amber wrinkled her nose, not knowing what good could come of that. “They’ll show up with queasy stomachs, running on sugar and bad coffee. I don’t know how the heck they do it, they’re not exactly kids anymore. All that stuff would kill me, I think.”
On that, they both agreed. While Amber had slept, Mia had dealt with her two sleepy children and called the sitter, who now read a book, curled up on the couch in the front room. Amber smiled and waved as she pulled her shoes on, before following Mia out into the car.
Amber grinned as she looked out her window at Yuma flying past. Apparently Dom wasn’t the only Toretto that liked to drive fast. Quiet until they had zipped past whatever meager amount of traffic existed so early in the morning, Amber asked without taking her eyes from the desert. “You said they called. Is everything okay?”
Mia smiled quietly at how much Amber sounded like Dom when he had called earlier. “Brian went with Eddie to El Centro. That’s where they’re holding Letty and two of the other drivers until tomorrow, when they’ll be taken to Phoenix, I guess. They stopped the truck right before it hit the Mexican border. It’s probably just as well, too. Bri said there was enough there to supply a small army, who knows what would have been done with it.”
Amber shuddered, knowing that the guilt was not hers but unable to help the reaction entirely. Biting back the automatic apology. It wasn’t her fault; none of it was her fault. It was Alan’s fault and nothing she could have done could change what he was or what he had done. It wasn’t her fault and had never been her fault, ever.
“Did they catch him?” There was no need to say who she referred to.
“Brian wouldn’t say, maybe he didn’t know,” she mused, muttering as she drove. It wasn’t just speed that Dom and Mia had in common; they both thought well when they drove, letting everything fall into order as the road spilled out. “Jim spotted him crossing the border into Mexico with the private detective on his tail the whole way.”
Looking out the window as they pulled into the driveway in front of the diner, Amber let out a sigh. Mexico. It was so close, just a stone’s throw across the border, but there was something to be said just in knowing that Alan was in another country. Whether it made her feel safer she wasn’t sure of; safe was a strange state of being.
Here was safe, with Dom and Mia was safe. Her small weathered grey house in the desert was safe and Alan, all that Alan had done over a lifetime, couldn’t change that. Suffused with calm, Amber leaned back into the seat and smiled. “Maybe it’s finally over.”
“There’s still the Sheriff…” Mia shut off the engine and turned towards Amber.
“Yes,” Amber nodded; she accepted the truth of it, but it didn’t fall on her, didn’t crush her. Janet Arlington was dead, and had been for a long time. Which didn’t mean that it didn’t matter, but with the man that murdered her gone, with so much time passed, it lessened the horror. Events had taken on a sort of inevitability that Amber was not only powerless to stop but that she was unwilling to struggle against. There was no need to fight anymore, there was nothing to fight against. There was only here.
“Yes,” she repeated. “Yes, there is. My husband, my ex-husband, murdered a woman named Janet Arlington before he ever knew me.” It had the feel of a confession, a revelation, something that she had had kept hidden even from her innermost self. That she had known nothing about it didn’t change the weight, the import, of the words. Once divulged, the crushing weight was less. Not removed, just less. “It wasn’t my fault.”
The certainty of what she said had Mia reach across the space between the seats and pull Amber into a fierce hug, feeling her eyes tear up instantly. “No, it’s not your fault.”
“No,” Amber whispered again, agreeing with Mia completely. “Thanks. I’ve waited a long time to say that,” her strength wavered near the end even as her smile widened. Mia let her go reluctantly, keeping a hand on her arm as she watched for signs that Amber wasn’t all right at all. “Let me run inside for a few minutes and clean up, and then I’ll help with breakfast.”
Smiling was infectious and Mia grinned back, squeezing Amber’s arm one last time before she opened her door. “Okay, I’ll get you to start with bacon. Lots of bacon.” Amber didn’t understand why Mia was laughing as hard as she was but it didn’t matter.
The smile never left as Amber padded silently through her house, grabbing a towel and making for the bathroom. A quick shower, making sure that she kept her hair somewhat dry; there wasn’t time to do anything with it. A change of clothes and then she was back in the bathroom, staring into her reflection.
Not much time. She still looked pale, a little tired, but then again, it was early in the morning. Amber had to go back into her bedroom to find her makeup, and then she was back in the bathroom. It had been a while since she had bothered. Her last day of work, to put a date on it. She didn’t wear much, just a bit of lipstick and mascara but there was no denying that she did it for Dom. That felt good too.
Mia noticed, just smiled but said nothing and hefted out a box of bacon, handing it to Amber, who had a small tray set up on the counter.
“You weren’t kidding, were you?” Amber snorted and put away her small tray, reaching under the oven for a larger one, carefully laying out enough bacon to feed a small army. “They’re not going to eat all this, are they?” she asked with mock horror.
“Probably more. It’s going to look like we got hit with a tornado when they’re through,” Mia laughed as she started to put together potatoes for hash. With Dom, Mia had come to expect his appetite. The same with the other mechanics; it frequently left her amazed how much they could put away. Even Brian surprised her. When she had been pregnant, it used to make her teary and emotional that Brian could eat everything and never gain an ounce while Mia blew up just looking at food.
Taking a last look at the tray of bacon in the oven, Amber turned to look at Mia and laughed. “I still have a hard time picturing that. I’ll make lots of toast.”
“Make sure you grab a plate of something before you bring it out to the guys, that’s all I’m saying.” Mia seasoned the potatoes, turned them and took a look at the clock on the wall before walking out front to set up all the coffee makers. Other customers would be coming in for breakfast as well, although she was hoping that Dom and Brian would be back before she opened the doors; it would be nice to sit with only them for a while. She missed Brian, always did when he was away. And Dom will have missed Amber, Mia knew. That it went both ways went without saying.
At the sound of tires biting into gravel outside, Mia looked up from what she was doing, looking out the big front windows and breaking into a grin at the sight of Dom and Brian pulling up close to the front door.
“They’re back!” Mia shouted through the door into the kitchen before trotting out to the front door, opening it for them. As one, Dom and Brian got out of their cars, stretching and making groaning noises as they worked the sore spots out; apparently they hadn’t stopped for breaks on the way back, or they hadn’t made good use of them anyway. “Hungry?” she offered, stepping out of the way, holding the door open.
“Hell yeah.” Dom was through the door first, leaning in to hug Mia, moving out of the way as Brian made a bee line for his wife. “Damn, that smells good! Is it ready yet?”
With her arms around Brian’s neck, Mia watched her brother as he looked around the diner; she knew who he was looking for. Asking about breakfast, but looking for Amber. He’s a goner. Kissing Brian, Mia slipped her hand in his, and they both trailed after Dom, standing in the doorway to watch.
Dom didn’t stop; the moment that he saw Amber standing against the counter, twisting a rag nervously in her hands, she was the only thing he could see. The only thing in the world. His heart swelled, ached; it had felt like forever since he had touched her. He couldn’t understand why he felt that way; it had only been a day, a little more than a day.
He strode across the kitchen, not slowing, and Amber backed against the counter, looking a little nervous. Unable to drop the rag that she was mangling, she only stopped backing up when she ran into the counter. She wasn’t running, wouldn’t run, but Dom looked so intense that it should have been frightening, but wasn’t. She froze, and waited, her heart slamming hard in her chest.
Dom slowed only when he stood right in front of her, when he was close enough to touch her. The last step was tentative, gentle, as he stepped into her space, his hips pressing against hers. He leaned in, his hands coming up to thread into her hair, his thumbs tilting her face to look up at him.
Without wasting another breath, he kissed her. Not a soft kiss. Not gentle. He moaned against the skin of her lips, her surprised inhale opening her to him, his tongue plundering her mouth. Up on her toes, Amber dropped the rag on the floor without thought, her hands mimicking his, coming up to cup his face. Lost, she kissed him back as fiercely, with as much need, as he kissed her.
Coming up for air, Dom reluctantly broke the kiss, letting his lips trail over her cheek until they settled at her ear. “Missed you,” he whispered against her flushed skin, gathering her in his arms and squeezing her tightly.
Dizzy, Amber closed her eyes. No one had ever said that they missed her, definitely not the way that Dom said it. He missed her, and he meant it, the passionate kiss and the way he held her now proved that out. She didn’t know what to say, and ran through several variations in her head but could think of nothing to say that could equal Dom’s simple words. Instead, she reached up and kissed the stubble of his cheek, holding him a little tighter.
They stayed like that for a couple of minutes, not kissing, not talking, just holding. It felt like forever before he picked her up and turned so that he was pressed against the counter, realizing that they had an audience. Unable to keep the grin off his face, he smiled back at Mia, still holding Amber close.
“Go, out, go sit outside, I’ll bring you something. Out!” Mia shooed Dom and Amber away from the counter and back towards the door. Brian grabbed a pair of oven mitts and pulled the tray of bacon out of the oven before it burned.
“Don’t let him eat all that, sis!” Dom barked back at Brian. “I want some of that bacon!”
Covering her mouth with her hand, Amber stole a look back at Mia before Dom managed to steer her out of the kitchen. Mia rolled her eyes, first at Dom for saying it, and then at Brian, who already had a strip of sizzling hot bacon in his mouth, blowing out in huffs and fanning his face with the oven mitt.
“I’m pretty sure he won’t be able to eat a whole tray of bacon!”
“I don’t know where the hell he puts it either, just watch him,” Dom shouted across the diner. Instead of going outside, he had led Amber back out into the main dining area, to the back booth where they had all eaten dinner once before. Amber stopped to grab some cups and a pot of coffee, leaving them on the end of the table.
Amber didn’t need to ask where Dom wanted to sit; he hadn’t taken his hands off her, not once, and he pressed her forward until she sat in the booth, moving towards the window. He came in right beside her, hands tangling in her hair as he kissed her again. She felt deliriously exposed, pressed back by Dom against the red leather seat of the booth. The rough stubble of his face scratched at her chin but she was past caring, her heart racing as he managed to blot out the rest of the world just by being next to her.
Dom couldn’t stop touching her but eventually settled for pulling her close, his arm slung over her shoulder, keeping her against his side. As he was closest, he poured them both coffee and rumbled in gratitude as it hit his gut.
“The Sheriff came to see me last night after you left. I think we need to talk,” Amber said quietly as she rested against his side.
Resting his nose in her hair, Dom looked out the window, wishing the world outside would just leave him alone for a day. But it hadn’t left Amber alone. “You okay?”
“I think so. Yeah, I think so. I was pretty freaked out yesterday. Better now.” As Dom stroked over her side and she drank her coffee, Amber ran down what had happened the day before.
Dom put his coffee cup down as gently as he was able and turned to gather her up in both arms again, holding her tight. It could have been her. Brightman had come out to kill her that night; she could have been gone. Crushed to his chest, Amber turned her head to the side, listening to the wild pounding of his heart as he held her.
“He’ll never touch you again, no one will ever touch you like that, ever,” he growled, barely in control of the anger he felt. She could have been gone.
Swallowing several times, she fought with her emotions; Dom overwhelmed her, his presence so solid, so focused upon her. It passed as easily as it came and she sighed against his chest, murmuring against the warmth. “Thank you.” It came out with a mushed sound and Dom let up a little; he was squeezing her pretty hard.
Mia coughed softly as she carried laden plates to the table. Brian was behind her with more food, another strip of bacon hanging out of his mouth as he put plates down.
“Better say grace now,” Dom growled, already reaching for the plate of bacon and piling it up on his plate.
Brian reached in and snatched a few more strips, although Mia didn’t get how he could possibly eat any more; in the kitchen before they had come out he had eaten at least four or five. “Grace. Good, let’s eat, I’m starved.”
Across the table, Mia and Amber shared a look, part amused, part amazed, watching the two men wolf food. Toast was pushed to the edges of the plate as they devoured bacon and eggs, wiping up egg yolk with potatoes. The two women nibbled quietly, smiling down at their plates. Conversation was unlikely until they were done.
The bells over the door tinkled as four people came into the diner; they were regulars and automatically took a seat near the window, waving at the back table as they did so. Automatically, Mia got up, and Amber fidgeted beside Dom but he wouldn’t move. Instead, Brian hopped out of the booth beside Mia. “We’ve got it, later.”
“I really should go help,” Amber got out quietly, as another table came in. Brian had a short apron on as he came out of the kitchen again, this time carrying a pot of coffee and several mugs in his hand. To Amber’s amazement, he had another strip of bacon in his mouth.
“Fucker,” Dom muttered, smirking. He took Amber’s hand in his, and then dropped the keys to the Chevy in her hand. “Take me for a drive.”
Copyright © May 2008 xxxevilgrinxxx