Amber stepped away from the fence, feeling awkward, nervous. She would have run her hands through her hair, fidgeting with it, if the hand that she usually did that with wasn’t covered in some indefinable something from the garage next door. It would be rude to wipe her hands off after touching him and, while Amber might be a lot of things, rude wasn’t one of them.
Hearing every click of her heels in her ears, feeling every pebble under her soles, she walked back across her carport. She felt watched the entire way but wouldn’t turn around because she didn’t really know what she would do if he was watching her. Would she run into the house? “Probably”.
Neatly stepping around the back of the car, she reached in through the open window and grabbed her tequila and bag of cookies, looking back at the garage over the roof of her car. Dom hadn’t gone back into the garage yet; he just leaned against the side of one of the garage’s open doors. Not in any sort of a rush to go anywhere.
Briefly she thought about rolling up her car window, maybe locking up, but it seemed a little silly out here. Standing in the carport, she ran that around in her head for a bit. There was no one out here. No one. Except for the kind of scary mechanic next door, and whoever might visit the diner when it cooled down.
A life in the city couldn’t be wiped away that easily though, and Amber tucked the bottle of booze under her arm, and held the bag of cookies in her teeth as she locked up the car. She still felt pretty silly after doing it.
Quiet had returned next door. Even Dom had disappeared back into the shaded cavern of the garage and she was alone. It scared and elated her; she wasn’t sure in what measure. Completely alone, for maybe the first time in her life, or at least in a very long time. Smiling, she walked back down the packed earth path at the side of her new home, heels clicking woodenly on her stairs, every step a deeper note.
Her house was cooler, when she got inside, closing the wide wooden door behind her; locking it. So cool that her sweat slick skin broke out in a rash of goosebumps. She had wondered how she would sleep in the heat; if she would need fans or to have air conditioning installed. It didn’t look as though that would be necessary, although she had set aside some funds for it, just in case.
“I guess that’s money for me, then…Oh great, Amber. You’ve been here exactly half a day, and already you’re talking to yourself.”
Boxes littered what would be her front room and, selecting one at random, she left her bottle of tequila and bag of cookies there, while she explored the rest of her new house. She had never been here before today, knowing that if she saw the house, or spent too long deliberating the purchase, that she would back out. Go with something safe and familiar.
The windows were large, and Amber guessed that the realtor had come by before she had arrived, to open them all. She guessed that’s why it was so cool. Gauzy curtains that may have been white at some point, but were now the same sand color as everything else, floated lazily in the breeze that had kicked up as evening fell. It was quiet and calm and Amber watched as the bottom edge ruffled across the floor, leaving motes of dust in their wake.
She shook her head, pulling herself out of her scattered thoughts, and decided to find the bathroom at least, so that she could wash her hands. Her heels clicked against the weathered hardwood floors and the noise grated on her nerves. It was a noise that didn’t belong here and she toed them off, kicking them alongside a box labeled ‘bedroom’. The movers hadn’t moved any of the boxes into the rooms where they belonged, just left them in the middle of her living room.
As her bed wasn’t in the front room, Amber guessed that they had at least moved that into the bedroom. For which she was grateful. The last thing that she wanted to have to do was wrestle with a mattress; that always sounded like a lot more fun than it really was. They had, however, left her chest of drawers out in the hallway; she assumed that it led into the bedroom.
Amber followed the hallway, taking a quick look at her kitchen. The smile was quick and unexpected; she had a window over her sink. That was something that she had never had before. In the apartment that she had shared with her husband, the window was saved for overlooking the ‘nook’. Not that her husband would ever eat in something called a nook, but that’s where it was.
The hardwood floor was worn in a faint shallow dip in front of the sink, and Amber could imagine at least two, maybe three generations of women washing dishes in that sink. No dishwasher here. It didn’t overlook much of a yard, just more of the same hard scrub that made up her front yard.
Daydreaming. Amber couldn’t believe that she was daydreaming about washing dishes. But why not? To her, it was a strange thing, a new thing.
The bathroom was right beside her bedroom, which was a good thing to remember. Having several bathrooms in a house was an unthinkable luxury at the time the house was built.
“Hell, just having one bathroom was probably considered a luxury.” Amber huffed; she was doing it again, talking to herself.
The water started as a brown spray, making a loud shaking noise that made her cry out and jump back, very nearly losing her footing. After a couple of seconds though, it cleared up, and she washed the goop off her hands that the big mechanic had left.
She knew that was unkind. There wasn’t a lot of stuff on her hands, but it was hard to wash off. It’s not as if she gave him any time to wash his hands before she stuck her hand out either.
She had to wash them several times, but eventually her hands were clean again. Of course, now the rest of her felt sticky. Amber gave the deep claw-foot tub a hungry glance but the idea of that brown water, at least at first, made her grit her teeth. Tomorrow she would try that, but not today.
She washed her face and her neck, splashing cold water against her nape and wetting her hands, running them through her hair. It was amazing what feeling clean could do; her skin was pink, all traces of her makeup washed off. She felt fresh and clean, so much so that she rolled her eyes a little at the clichéd nature of it, but it was a new start, after all.
A few steps down the hall to her bedroom and her long day brightened immensely; her bed was in a perfect place and she hadn’t had to say a thing to the movers. It made forgiving the strewn boxes and broken dishes that much easier.
It was a simple room; white lath and plaster like the rest of the house, so many layers of paint that all the corners were just slightly rounded. A big window through which she could see her carport to the left and the so-called fence between her house and the side of the garage.
She assumed it was some sort of an office, but it was a lot closer to her house than she felt all that comfortable with. Still, there were curtains that hung in the window and, although they were the same gauzy material as those in the rest of the house, it did offer some privacy.
“Who are you trying to kid, Amber? If someone wanted to peek in my windows, there’s not an awful lot I can do about it.” Once the habit was started, it was hard to break. She was talking to herself, and it didn’t look like that would end any time soon. She had always had these conversations in her head; where her sarcastic nature could come out worry free. Now that she was out here, surrounded by the big nothing, she said aloud what had only run through her head before.
“I’ve gone crazy already.”
The boxes with her clothes were back in the living room, so Amber made a trip back out there, opening a couple of boxes until she found her pajama bottoms and a tank top. She quickly got changed in the bathroom and headed back into the living room where she had left her bottle of tequila and bag of cookies. She could imagine her mother’s disapproval at her dinner of cookies and tequila right out of the bottle. It just made that first pull all the sweeter.
There was a battered sofa inside, a leftover from the last tenants. Like everything else, it was faded and worn, and looked like it might have been out on the porch at some point. She supposed that she could move some of the boxes out of the way, but she didn’t really want to sit alone in her house and drink.
It was cooler outside, as she sat on the top step of her porch and looked across the road, into the desert. Night fell fast in the desert and it took the heat with it. That was another thing that she hadn’t expected; in the city, it never really seemed to cool down. It never got quiet either. Or really dark.
There were no street lights out here, no flashing signs, and no headlights from passing cars. It was completely and utterly quiet and, when the last of the sun disappeared beneath the horizon, it would be completely dark. Not much light came from either the diner or the garage; without other lights to add to the brightness, a single house’s light just didn’t add up to that much.
Amber took another pull of her tequila, and chased it with a few Oreos. That was a mix that she knew she would pay for the next day but at the moment it was heaven. Hangover be damned.
“Chocolate and tequila, who knew?” Now she was doing it outside the house too. At least she spoke pretty quietly, so she wasn’t too worried about what her neighbours might think. The one neighbor that she had, anyway.
It was another half an hour before the coyotes began to yelp and yip, making her squeal in fear, scrambling back up onto the porch.
“They never come closer than the road.”
Her neighbor was walking out of the back of the diner, carrying a plate of something indefinable to a picnic table in the back, between the diner and the garage. He stopped and looked back over his shoulder, the remark casual, and then sat at the table, to attack his plate.
“Oh…” Feeling a little foolish, Amber sat back on the top step. She had held onto the bottle of tequila furiously, but kicked Oreos all over the steps in her mad scramble. What that said about her, she wasn’t sure; a psychiatrist would probably have a field day with it. Or it could simply be that eating a cookie off the ground was easier than trying to drink spilled tequila.
“Thanks!” she shouted across the distance, tempering it a little, when she realized just how far sound carried out here, with nothing else to drown it out.
The shouted conversation felt a little ridiculous to her, despite her case of nerves. It’s not like there was all that much space between them.
She held up the bottle of tequila, an offering; she wasn’t really sure what she would do if he accepted. There were no glasses and, after the offer was made, she wondered how smart it was to offer booze to a guy she didn’t know, while she sat out here in skimpy pajamas. In her isolated house in the middle of nowhere. There was a horror movie in there somewhere.
She needn’t have worried. Dom looked up, his expression hardened. And distrustful? Realizing that she was still holding the bottle up, she dropped her arm. Offer rescinded due to unfavorable response. “That went well.”
He must have heard her muttered words, and the hard expression flickered to something more akin to amusement. And then he jammed the last bite of whatever it was he was eating into his mouth. Turning smoothly back to the diner, where he disappeared up the back steps.
“Great, now he thinks you’re nuts too.”
Crazy lady drinking on the porch of her tin roof shack out in the middle of nowhere. Picking up scattered cookies off her stairs and eating them, she figured that nuts was probably a pretty good assessment.
Dom didn’t know what to think of her. She hadn’t asked anything about cars, about the garage, or about racing. She hadn’t come on to him, hadn’t even flirted. She had even seemed nervous when she shook his hand over the fence.
And she drove such a shitty little car, not anything fit for racing, which is what the others had driven in a bid to catch his attention.
He wondered briefly if they had sent a rookie this time. Surely not. Still, there was something so amateurish about the whole thing, and he wondered if someone else was handling his file now and had opted for a different approach.
He also wondered if the years of paranoia had finally taken a toll. It was a hard way to live, always looking for the hidden motives, but there was no way he would ever go back. The first time he was in prison he was a kid, after he had beaten the man responsible for his dad’s death with a wrench, leaving him nearly a vegetable. And that was bad enough.
He was a few months shy of his fortieth birthday and all the tough talk couldn’t cover the fact that not only did he never want to see the inside of a prison again; he was just getting too old to survive it.
Once should have been enough. He said he wouldn’t go back then either. Of course he had. When Brian had let him go, that hadn’t been the end of it, not by a long shot. There was no ride into the sunset at the end of that encounter.
They threw everything they had at him, eventually getting him on a raft of charges, just hoping to make any of it stick. The king of the street racers, and what had stuck? Taxes. They had nailed him with tax evasion, amongst other things.
Someone had talked, although he could never really nail it down. Maybe he just didn’t want to; in case it hit too close to home. He had been pretty angry at first. That was an understatement; he would have killed whoever he thought it was at the time, when he was again locked in a cell in Lompoc. The one place that he swore he would never return.
Even then, it hadn’t ended. While in prison, the pressure continued, as agents tried to get him to roll on the rest of his team. They scanned his mail and his visitors. Not that there were many. Imprisoned, he dropped off the face of the earth. Nothing like hitting rock bottom to find out who your friends really were, and what he learned from that surprised him most of all.
When the agents started in on him, it was all about the team. Even from prison, they considered him a ringleader. That wasn’t surprising given his previous position. At first he had said nothing, but the agent’s claims grew more and more outrageous and finally, he had just stated it as it really was. His ‘team’ hadn’t come to see him at all. None of them. No one had visited. No one had written. Dom wasn’t a ringleader of anything, because his ‘team’ wasn’t his team anymore.
He felt hollow once he had said it, but it was the absolute truth. Once it was out there he couldn’t stop thinking about it, and he remembered his first stint in Lompoc. No one came to see him then either.
Except for Mia of course. Mia came to see him, and wrote to him; that was a given, it wasn’t something he even questioned. His little sister was the one person in this world that he absolutely knew that he could depend on, that would never turn her back on him. She had been there for him both times, even though he had let her down.
The rest surprised him.
Brian had written to him a couple of times, his letters tucked in with Mia’s. That had twisted his guts up a little and, if he hadn’t have been sitting in that damned cell, he would have pounded Brian to a fine paste. With nothing but time to think about it, he first stewed in anger, and then grew to accept Brian as Mia’s. His sister was in love with Brian, and Brian treated her well. Things could be a lot worse. Brian had stayed, and Mia was out there alone. That was his fault, and giving her grief because Brian stayed with her wasn’t right.
Brian had even visited once. Afterwards, the agents had come back and grilled him for hours about their friendship and Dom had very nearly lost his cool. It was the thought of what would happen, of being locked up forever, never seeing Mia again, that had cooled his anger.
Vince had called once; he was pretty smashed at the time. Dom remembered hearing Letty in the background, but not so far in the background that he could tell himself that she was across the room or even in another room.
What surprised him was that he wasn’t really surprised at all. And that he didn’t really care. At the end of the drunken phone call, he could hear Letty making the same sorts of demands that she had once made of him, not caring who heard.
She had never cared before, anyway. It was another one of those things that he had a lot of time to think of when he was in prison. Letty had tried to come back to him after he had gotten out but he had sent her packing. He wasn’t interested in her anymore; he thought he had loved her, at one point in his life he really thought he had. In hindsight, he didn’t have any idea how he could have believed that.
It wasn’t until he had been locked up, with nothing but his own thoughts, that he had really taken the time to think about that. His life had been so full of everything; like the racing, it all happened so fast. There was no time to really sit and think about what was happening at the time. When he was forced to stop, he found that he really didn’t like the view.
That she hadn’t even called, or written, or visited, had sealed the deal.
So he had opted to be a model prisoner instead and got out on parole when his time was up. He was never entirely sure whether that was his own doing, or whether the agents that had handled him had done it, in order to see if they could get at the rest of what was left of the team through him. And he didn’t really care either.
Mia had gotten married to Brian and had one child while he was in prison, and then she had gotten pregnant with her second. Dom would have begged before the parole board if he had to, and if he was honest with himself, he wasn’t far off. He didn’t care. Pride was gone, all the bragging and boasting was gone. He wanted to see his sister, to see her babies and even to see Brian. He needed his family. The rest he left aside. He had stood beside Brian when Mia gave birth to her second daughter and knew that he would never go back. Ever.
After Dom opened the garage, the agents came sniffing around again. They had pushed pretty hard but Dom had stayed clean. He wouldn’t touch racecars. And he couldn’t race. If he did, he would go back to prison.
There had been quite a few attempts. At first, it was the sort of ham-fisted efforts, like with Brian. That had worked pretty well for them the first time, so he couldn’t really blame them for that. Kids had come by trying to get him to fix up their cars for races. He sent them packing too.
Dom had gotten rid of a few ‘mechanics’ that had come all the way out into the middle of nowhere to work with him. At least until he realized that they wouldn’t stop coming. It was just easier to let the agents keep a mechanic in his shop. Maybe after a while it would be pretty obvious that Dominic Toretto, king of the street racers, wasn’t in the game any more. That, and it was fun to have them do all the jobs that he hated to do.
They had sent women to hit on him. Oddly enough, that was the worst. Maybe because he liked them, or at least liked the attention. Then they would start to ask about cars and racing, some more subtly than others, but they had all asked. It left him feeling empty.
Dom dropped his plate off in the diner, cleaning up after himself, before he headed back to converted office beside the garage, where he lived now. He took a last look at Amber, as she sat on the steps of her porch.
She didn’t look anything at all like the other women. She was plain. Not ugly, just plain. Nice eyes though, and her smile was real. It had been a while since he had seen a sincere smile on a woman other than his sister.
He wouldn’t have recognized the feeling, because he tried to fill it with anything else, anyone else, that was willing. But he was lonely. It wasn’t something he could afford.
Turning away, he walked back to his tiny home. Mia had called it ‘cozy’, and then immediately offered him a room with her and Brian. Dom didn’t want to be anywhere else. He didn’t want to be reminded of what he was missing.
First thing in the morning, he was going to investigate his new neighbor.
Alan Brightman paced back and forth in his home office, everything bathed in a red haze of anger. The scent of whiskey sharp in the room after he had thrown the glass against the wall, the shattered glass not nearly enough destruction for him.
Reaching out, he swept his arm across his desk, flinging papers, the whiskey bottle, and his computer onto the floor with a crash. He lost control momentarily and his world went black while he raged. Blood dripped from his knuckles and he shook with fury when he came back to himself.
It had been a while since he had lost control like that; it was an indulgence he couldn’t afford. People talked; they always talked.
Quickly, he straightened out his office. The police would show up and, from personal experience, he knew that he would have just over five minutes to pull himself together and concoct a story. A business deal gone wrong, a computer that wouldn’t cooperate, lost files, the stress of a divorce. As long as they didn’t send a female police officer, he could pull it off.
The court had refused to tell him where his wife had gone. But he would find out.
Copyright © July 2007 xxxevilgrinxxx