PLEASE NOTE: There are spoilers for Perfect Collision in this teaser.
In physics, Center of Gravity is, among other things, used in the uniform gravity field to describe an object’s response to external forces and torques.
In the military, it’s a concept developed by Carl von Clausewits in his work ‘On War.’ United States Department of Defense defines it as ‘the source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action, or will to act.’
I opened my eyes, and it was so terribly hard. I didn’t know where I was, and for a second I panicked. Then I felt the pain surging through my entire body, and I forgot completely about the panic. I could hardly move without feeling as if I was torn to pieces. Carefully looking down, I saw my left leg propped up in a cast. It seemed to cover the entire leg, from my ankle to my upper thigh. I lifted my hands and saw the drip needles.
That’s when my hearing slowly came back, and I heard the machines’ rhythmic beeping. The next thing I noticed was a man’s voice.
“Miss Dob… Dobror… Miss Anna, can you hear me?”
No surprise there. People were never able to pronounce my last name—Dobronravov. I couldn’t answer him, though. I tried, but my mouth was too dry, and then I felt sleepy again. It was impossible for me to keep my eyes open. After a few attempts to stop it, I gave up and closed my eyes.
“Anna, love, can you hear me?”
This time I couldn’t open my eyes at all; it was impossible. It finally set on nodding while trying to find some saliva in my mouth. I knew this voice, and I wanted to do what she asked, since it was my aunt, Irina.
“Zvezda, you need to open your eyes, honey,” she continued. “Please open your eyes for me.”
I managed, and even through the blur, I could see her smile. I knew her smile so well; I’d seen it at pretty much every important moment throughout my life. She leaned forward, holding a straw in front of me. Trusting it was water I opened my mouth to accept it.
“Careful, Anna. Not too much.”
“My leg?” I asked as soon as my tongue seemed to be able to form words again. It was more of a slur, but she understood.
“Anna, I’m so sorry.” She shook her head, and I saw the tears in her eyes.
I didn’t need to hear anymore. It was pretty obvious. I could clearly remember the cast covering it, so it was at least broken, probably more, but I had no memory of how I’d ended up here—what had happened. But my leg was broken, and in combination with Irina’s tears I knew what it meant. I would never dance again. I laid my head back down and fell asleep feeling the tears running down the sides of my face.
Both my parents and my aunt Irina started and ended their careers as dancer at the ballet in Phoenix. It had been the base for the American side of the family since the mid twentieth century. I grew up in a small town just outside Phoenix, in the very same apartment as both my aunt and my dad had grown up. My parents wanted me to have somewhat of a normal life, so I was in a regular school until I was fourteen.
When I was twelve, my parents moved to Spain to work as choreographers. At first they wanted to take me with them, but having already been promised that I’d be allowed to apply to the School of American Ballet when I was fourteen, I refused and instead stayed behind and lived with Irina for the last two years. It didn’t matter much; the four of us had always lived together, and I was as close to her as I was to my parents. More importantly, she was my main trainer. I went to regular ballet schools of course, but my morning and evening training was with her. Then, at fourteen, I applied and was accepted at the School of American Ballet, and consequently moved to New York.
Irina stayed behind to become the ballet mistress at the Phoenix Ballet, and for school holidays I went to stay with her.
At eighteen, I joined the corps de ballet at the New York City Ballet; it was a dream come true. I was a soloist at twenty and already at twenty-two a principal dancer. I had it in my blood, and I’d danced for as long as I could remember.
But it was all over now. I knew it. There was absolutely no question about it, and no matter how long I’d danced, or how much I would train from this day on, I wouldn’t dance again. It had been months since I’d woken up that first time, and nothing anyone had said since had made me think anything but that my leg was ruined forever.
I watched as the doctors started to remove the cast. They had warned me about what I’d see, but once it was all gone, both Irina and I took a deep breath. My leg had not just been broken, it had pretty much been crushed and there had been damage to my hip as well, which had caused injuries to both my femoral and sciatic nerve.
In short: I should count myself lucky if I would ever be able to walk properly again, and not even that was very likely.
But no warnings had prepared me for what I saw. There were scars all over it—like a street map of angry red lines covering it from my mid calf to my hip, and I grabbed Irina’s hand while trying to hold my tears back.
I still couldn’t remember the accident, and according to the doctors it was quite possible I never would. I would actually prefer it if I never did, since it didn’t seem like a memory worth preserving.
I’d been hit by a cab. I’d been in a hurry since I’d missed my bus, and I’d missed my bus because I’d forgotten to turn off the coffee machine and run back inside to do it.
I’d managed to catch the second bus, but when I ran around it to cross the street as I got off, I hadn’t paid attention and had been hit by a cab at full speed. If I’d simply left the coffee machine on, or had gone off at the back of the bus and rounded it with full view of the street to my left—which is what one is supposed to do—I would’ve been fine. And instead of looking at the mess formerly known as my leg, I would be at rehearsals for Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments.
I’d always known being a dancer was something that would end somewhere in my late thirties, or early forties if I was lucky. It had never been a long-term solution, but I had always figured I would still be able to do some dancing, at least work with dancing—maybe teaching. Judging by the state of my leg, that wasn’t going to happen. Ever. Like they’d said, I should count myself lucky if I could ever walk properly. I would, most likely, limp my way through the rest of my life.
Later that night, I was back in the bed with a new soft cast covering my leg. It felt just as good; I didn’t want to see it. Irina was sitting next to me, just like she’d done from the very beginning. She stroked the hair out of my face.
“I called your parents. They’ll be here in a few weeks.”
They were busy with their work, I knew, and I understood. She seemed scared I wouldn’t, so she continued,
“They want to be here, you know that, but they’re in the middle of training for the new—”
“Irina, it’s okay, I understand. Shouldn’t you be in the middle of training for the next performance?”
“In two weeks.” Irina took a deep breath. “How do you feel about Greenville?”
That’s where I grew up. In what was now Irina’s apartment in Greenville. It had been in the family since the forties; at times it had been empty, but had been owned by the Dobronravovs since the building was built. Mom and Dad had moved there when I was born, and Irina came to stay with us when I was three.
“Feels like a good place for a break,” I finally said.
Not like I had much of a choice, and it didn’t really matter to me. At the moment, I wasn’t even capable of going to the bathroom by myself. Irina had room for me, my old room, and it was private. As private as a room in someone else’s apartment could be.
“The town has changed since you left.”
“Yeah. Sure it has,” I chuckled. “You know, I used to come back for most holidays—as in just last Christmas. And unless it’s been a remarkable change in just a few months, it’s just as it was when I was fourteen.”
She gave my forehead a kiss. “Remember what your dream was when you were a kid and spent hours training in our practice room?”
“To be a principal dancer in the New York City Ballet,” I mumbled.
“And no matter what happens, you reached one of your life goals. People grow to be eighty without doing that or even working for it the way you did. Never forget that, Zvezda.”
We didn’t speak much Russian, just words here and there. Like my nickname, zvezda, which meant star. ‘Tetya’ was aunt, and on occasion some swearwords sneaked in, too. Mom had always spoken Russian with me, though, since she was born there, so I knew it fairly well. At least a lot better than Dad and Irina did.
“You’ll be fine, my love. You life hasn’t ended, and you have a new interesting future ahead of you.”
The first year after moving back to Greenville was a lot about adapting and learning basic things again. I cried a lot, but slowly my new situation became manageable.
At the end of that first year, I walked into a tattoo parlor in Phoenix. It had been recommended to me by my physical therapist, Brett, who’d said that no matter which one of the artists I ended up with, I’d be in good hands. I was met by a heavily tattooed and pierced woman somewhere in her forties.
“Hi,” I said, and I was nervous. I had no idea how these things worked. “I have a vague idea for a tattoo, and I’d like to talk to someone about it.”
“What kind of a tattoo is it?”
“Well, that’s what I need some help with. It should have something to do with dancing, maybe ballet shoes, or… I’m not sure.”
This was probably stupid. I should’ve had a finished picture, but I just wasn’t sure. The research I’d done made me believe it was better if the artist told me what was possible and what wasn’t. Since I didn’t know much about tattoos, I figured it was for the best.
I turned and for the first time noticed the other person behind the counter—a young girl with purple hair. I had no idea who she was, and she must’ve noticed my confusion.
“I’m Violet Baxter… or it was Warren, you used to—”
“Of course! Sorry, I didn’t recognize you.”
Violet was Lisa’s baby sister. Lisa and I had been friends through school. Mainly since I had my dancing and didn’t have time for anything outside school, and Lisa’s best friends were two brothers she knew through the biker club her dad was in. The Baxter boys, as my parents used to call them with a huff, were infamous in school, and the younger one was the same age as Lisa and me.
Lisa hadn’t shared any classes with him, so she’d hung with me at school a lot. She quite often helped me with my homework, since she was smart, and I didn’t care much about it.
I smiled at Violet. “You grew up.”
Violet had always been a quiet little sister who hung around and… drew. Was she a tattoo artist? I quickly did the math in my head. She couldn’t be more than twenty-one.
“You work here?” I asked.
“Yes,” she answered, and I noticed her looking at my cane.
My parents had bought it for me when it had become evident that I was most likely going to need one for the rest of my life, or at least for a really long time. It was beautiful; black with a silver handle and engraved flowers in an Art Nouveau style—Russian, of course.
“As a tattoo artist?” I asked, and she nodded. “Since when?”
“Since I was sixteen,” she smiled. “I loved drawing and this is a way to make living art.”
“This might sound rude, but are you any good?”
It was half a joke, since she still seemed very young, but if she were an artist, it would be a comfort to have someone I knew doing the tattoo. Also, I had let Violet watch me practice a couple of times. She’d said she wanted to try to draw dancing. She couldn’t have been more than twelve, but the drawings had been beautiful.
“Yes,” she answered.
“Don’t let her fool you,” the pierced woman said with a laugh. “She’s not good. She’s extremely good. Wins prizes all the time. If she can schedule you in, you’re a lucky woman and in very good hands.”
I noticed Violet looking at my cane again, and I figured she was uncomfortable with asking about it, but that turned out to not be the case.
“Dad told me you were in an accident. I think your aunt mentioned it to him when they met.”
“Yes,” I tried to smile. “I’m sort of stuck with this, but I’m fully healed. This is as good as it gets.”
“Okay. It’s just that, we don’t ink unless…”
“I know,” I said. “I did some research.”
“And it’s not a good way to cover scars,” she said looking rather uncomfortable. “At least not scars that new. They need to have healed a few years and preferably faded.”
“I know, and frankly you’d have to tattoo most of the leg, but I want it on my good leg.”
“I’m so sorry about the accident. I can’t imagine…” She gave me a weak smile. “It must be as if I lost my hands.”
It hit me that she probably understood better than most, and that’s when I decided I really wanted her to do it for me.
“Thank you. If you think you could squeeze me in, I’d love to have you do it. I’ll be in the area for a while, so there’s no hurry.”
“If you come to the back we can see what we can come up with, and if you like it we’ll make an appointment. I need to know what you want so I know how much time we need.”
When she came walking around the counter, I almost fell over. She was pregnant! I had no idea how I’d missed it to begin with, but she had a visible bulge on her belly and the rest of her body was quite skinny, so she had to be pregnant. I did the math again. And yes, she was twenty-one, I was sure.
“You’re pregnant?” I finally managed to say. “I’m sorry, I was just surprised.”
“It’s okay. I’m pretty used to people being surprised about me being young when I do things,” she mumbled. “I’m married.”
“I didn’t… I didn’t mean to judge you. I was just… I mainly remember you as that very young and,” I almost said ‘shy’ but swallowed it. “And you must’ve been twelve or thirteen the last time I saw you.” I smiled. “Congratulations, how far along are you?”
“Seventeen weeks,” she said and gave me a smile back. “And thank you.”
I realized what else she’d said. That she was married, and she’d introduced herself as Violet Baxter. “You’re married to one of the Baxter brothers?”
“Yes. Mac,” she said with a smile. “Not Mitch.”
She probably knew why I’d asked, and I laughed. As I remembered it, Mac had been a calm and pretty nice guy despite his reputation. Mitch, on the other hand, he’d been known as the guy who got around, to put it mildly.
I followed her to the back room, and thirty minutes later I was amazed. Violet was really good at this. I’d given her some vague descriptions of dancing, movement, and in black—and she came up with something really beautiful that looked like the outline of a dancer in movement. Even if I never knew much about them, I had always liked tattoos, but it was not a smart thing when you were a dancer. Irina had come up with the idea of me doing things I couldn’t or wouldn’t do while I was a dancer, so a tattoo was on the list.
Having big breakfasts was already a part of my daily routine. That was something I hadn’t done since I was a kid. I had some other goals, things I wanted to be able to do that I hadn’t before.
Then there were the things from my old life that I’d like to be able to revisit, like going to see a ballet, but I was not even close to ready for that yet. I’d accidentally heard the music to Swan Lake just two weeks earlier and fell apart. I wanted this tattoo as a symbol for something I had been, that I was proud of, but that was now a finished chapter in my life.
Violet booked me an appointment two weeks later. She admitted she’d squeezed me in on what would’ve been her day off, so I was really grateful. I wanted the ink on my leg, my good one, and she promised to make sure we’d be in private. If I had to drop my pants, I wanted to make sure no one was around to see my bad leg.
As I was about to leave I turned around to Violet again.
“If Lisa’s ever in town, think you could ask her to call me?”
“Sure. She’s coming down next week, and she’s going to stay for a while. I’ll give her your number.”
I hadn’t seen Lisa in years. I went back to Greenville for holidays the first years, and we met up. Then she went to college, I tended to stay in New York more and more, phone calls became more rare, and letters fewer and further between to eventually stop. It wasn’t a big thing. No huge falling out; we just lost track. Irina used to give me updates, and I was sure that she had some reports on how I was doing from her dad.
As I remembered it, Lisa was one of those who always managed to pick me up from my bad moods, and she’d always been a lot of fun. She was also pretty much the only close friend I’d had who wasn’t a dancer; I wanted to stay away from the dancers.
You’re a Shitty Wingman
It was a slow Wednesday, and Mitch was lying on the couch at the clubhouse. He looked around and noticed Mac coming towards him.
“Finding anyone?” Mac asked as he dropped down into an armchair.
“Nope. Think I’ll head over to The Booty Bank. Heard there was a new girl working tonight.”
The Booty Bank was the strip club owned by the Marauders. Almost all of their sweetbutts worked there, and most of the girls working there were sweetbutts. It used to be how the club laundered their money until they came up with a better system for it. They’d still kept the clubs, though.
Sisco, Mac and the others had been released about eighteen months earlier, and Mitch had been worried that he’d be pushed back to not doing much for the club again, but Sisco’d told him to keep helping. Sisco was good with finances, but didn’t know much about computers, so Mitch was handling that part of the finances. He’d also taken a bigger part in helping Mech with the intel. He liked it, and he especially liked feeling trusted with those things.
There were other reasons he was glad for having done it, too. Learning how to work the finances had meant traveling around to different clubs to talk to the other treasurers. He’d noticed that the feel of the different charters varied a lot. Some were about family, others were more about partying, and some were basically a bunch of bitter, slightly too violent, ex-military guys. Or as he used to described them, ‘A club full of Bulls.’ Bull was their Sergeant at Arms, and he was a violent and pretty bitter man. Quite funny, though, and with a lot more humor than most thought. It was just well hidden between his growls and threatening looks.
After visiting all those other clubs, Mitch had realized that the Greenville club was by far his favorite. Not only because it had his dad as the president and his blood brother as member—even if that surely helped—but also because he liked the family feel and focus they had. To add to that, it had a few singles who all loved to go to the strip club and hang out at the clubhouse at night.
The incident with Hump had given him a new view of the club as a whole, though. It was one thing hearing the stories, and Mac had told him quite a lot about his time in Emporia, but it had made him see things differently to experience it. Not in a bad way, just differently, and it had made him love his own club, and the feelings it gave him, even more. This was his family, and he would stand by them no matter what.
Violet, his brother’s twenty-one-year-old, pregnant, tattooing wife, came through the door and smiled when she saw them. It had taken Mac less than a year to marry her once he got out, and he’d knocked her up as soon as she’d agreed.
“You two make me wanna vomit,” he mumbled to Mac.
“You’re just jealous,” Mac said without taking his eyes off Vi, sporting the same ridiculous smile as she had.
“Insanely,” he agreed.
He was. His brother had hooked up with Vi when she was just barely eighteen, and since then she’d been the only girl he ever looked at twice. It wasn’t that Mitch wanted Vi, he just wanted to fall that madly in love with someone, or just to be as sure about something as Mac had been about Vi. He hadn’t been close, though, and he had to admit he probably wasn’t gonna find that kind of woman among the sweetbutts.
When Mac stood up and greeted Vi with a kiss while stroking her belly, Mitch laughed, “Oh come on! Now you’re just rubbing it in!”
Neither of them even looked at him.
“I’m telling you, Vi,” he continued, “you totally picked the wrong brother.”
“No, I didn’t.” She turned towards him, still smiling. “Besides, Dad would’ve killed you if you tried what he did.”
“True,” he agreed with another laugh. Bear, her dad, would’ve torn him apart. He was a very protective dad, and Mitch was still surprised he’d taken it so cool with Mac. “Give me a kiss before you two leave, at least.”
She leaned over and kissed his cheek. He caressed her face and gave her one back, and then whispered in her ear, “Take care of him. He’s still totally gone for you.”
Mitch liked Vi, loved her even. She was a really sweet girl and had always been. He loved teasing his brother about her, although it wasn’t as much fun anymore since twenty-one wasn’t just barely legal. Although, twenty-one-year-old, pregnant wife still had a nice ring to it.
While Mac was doing time, her career as a tattoo artist had taken off, and she’d asked Mitch to help her with her finances. At the price of free ink when he wanted it, he’d agreed, and he was still doing it. It wasn’t that hard, and she was grateful—a good trade. It also meant he had some premium quality ink.
“Hey!” Mac protested and pulled Vi from him. “Get your own girl!”
Vi put her arms around Mac’s neck. “And you call me greedy.”
“Heard Lisa’s in town, is she coming by?” Mitch asked her.
“Yeah,” Vi nodded. “Tomorrow.”
“Get out of here and have some sex,” Mitch grumbled and waved at them when they left.
“Take care of her!” Bear yelled after the two of them. He was very much panicking about Vi being pregnant and probably would’ve preferred to wrap her up in bubble wrap in a locked, padded room until the kid was born.
Mitch emptied his beer, and then he got up to walk around the corner to The Booty Bank. He continued past the hang-arounds who were working as guards that night and inside into the familiar blinking lights. He found Sisco, their latest patch Tommy, and a hang-around called Wrench in a corner and sat down next to them.
“Where’s the new girl?”
“In the back with Bull,” Tommy smiled.
Bull was always quick to get to the girls, and obviously he’d heard about the new girl and had been there to get first dibs. Autumn––Mitch knew it wasn’t her real name, and he preferred to not know––came over, and he pulled her closer and told her to come and find him once her shift was over.
She did, and he brought her back to the clubhouse and his room there.
When he woke up the next morning, Autumn was gone. Not much of a surprise; she’d been there before and knew the drill. He walked out to the bar and noticed Lisa at a table—with short hair! She’d always had long, blonde hair, and now it was really short. He could only remember that having happened once before.
“What the fuck happened to your hair, girl?” he yelled.
“Mitch! Get over here and give me a hug,” she yelled back as she stood up.
“Hey, doc,” he said and put his arms around her. “Let me look at you. Why short?”
“Long story,” she smiled. “Still breaking girls’ hearts?”
“Nah,” he kissed her cheek. “I try to get around to make sure they all get a taste. It’s my brother who’s making them devastated, all family man, you know.”
“Okay,” she turned around. “Don’t know if you remember her, but this is my friend Anna Dobronravov. We were friends in high school before she ran off to be a prima ballerina in New York.”
“Sure I do,” he said and smiled at the brown-haired, blue-eyed, pretty girl who looked as Russian as her last name sounded. He didn’t remember her at all. From what he could see of her sitting at the table, she had a ballet body—fine limbed and minimal tits. He took the hand she was holding out. “Mitch.”
She was a ballet dancer for sure. Just the way she held out her hand looked like a dance move; flowing and with straight back and long neck. He immediately imagined her in five different positions that would take full advantage of how flexible she most likely was, and he gave her a big smile.
“Jesus, Mitch,” Lisa mumbled. “You really don’t waste any time.”
“Just go and get some coffee and leave us alone,” she mumbled. “And a breath mint!” she yelled after him as he walked away.
He was gonna go and get some coffee, and then sit down at the bar and keep coming up with fuck positions fit for a ballet dancer. Seemed like a good way to spend the time while trying to get rid of the hangover.
He’d been there for around ten minutes when Mac and Vi came in. Vi went over to the table with the girls, and Mac sat down next to him.
“Do you remember her?” he asked and nodded towards Anna.
“Sort of,” Mac said. “Lisa and her were in the same class. Think she brought her here a couple of times. Only half remember her since Vi talked about her last week. She’s gonna do some ink on her.”
“Married or boyfriend?”
“I have no idea.”
He turned and looked at Mac. “You’re a really shitty wingman, bro.”
“Like you care,” Mac laughed. “You’ve never used me as a wingman anyway.”
“No, because you’re a shitty one.”
That’s when the girls stood up, and Anna took a cane he’d missed hanging on the table and started to limp out.
“How the fuck can she be a dancer in New York if she can’t walk?” he asked Mac.
“She’s not a dancer anymore. Was in some accident a while back. She lives here in Greenville now.”
“Fuck. That rules out like ten of the positions I was gonna try.”
“Jesus, Mitch! You’re really an ass sometimes.”
“I’m not. I’m sorry about the accident thing, too.” He thought about it. “Gotta suck, she must’ve trained her entire life.”
“Nice to see you still have half a heart left,” Mac said with a chuckle. “Besides, she’s probably still pretty flexible and kind of pretty.”
“Yup. Think Lisa’ll introduce me?”
“Don’t think she’s one of the friends Lisa would ‘introduce’ you to.”
It had happened now and then that Lisa ‘introduced’ him to her friends. She’d never told him exactly what she said to them about him, but some of his best fuck buddies over the years had been her friends. Or rather, girls she knew. Her really close friends, what few she’d had, she’d told him to stay the fuck away from. He had a feeling he’d been her go-to guy when someone needed to get laid. She’d even called him a non-charge gigolo on more than one occasion, but if they were willing, hot, and horny—who was he to turn them down?
He actually preferred fuck buddies to one-night stands. He thought it was easier if the girl he was with knew what he liked, and the other way around. It was better, as long as they didn’t expect anything else, because it could get complicated if they did, but he generally got out of that, too.
“No, she’s probably not,” he agreed. Anna hadn’t seemed like one of the girls Lisa would ‘introduce’ him to. “Guess they’re good friends?”
“Think so. At least old friends.”
He decided it was best to leave the subject. “How are Vi and the squid?”
“Good. She’s going up to Seattle for some convention this weekend.”
“You going with her?”
“No. They’re boring as hell.”
Vi went on conventions now and then and always came home with some prize and an offer to do guest work at renowned studio or two. Mac had followed her to few of them when she’d been away for longer periods. Mitch had no idea what the plan was once the kid was born, but he figured they had a plan. They always did; they were always overthinking stuff.
“Hey, wanna come over, smoke some pot, watch movies, and celebrate my birthday just the two of us while she’s away?” Mac asked.
“Absolutely,” Mitch smiled. “I’ll bring cookies.”
Mac was having his birthday the week after, and they always celebrated themselves a few days before. It was tradition. They smoked weed and talked about everything. Not just when it was almost Mac’s birthday, but whenever they had a chance. It had started when they were both still in their teens, and they still did it as often as possible.
It was during one of those weed sessions that the then twenty-four-year-old Mac had fessed up that he had a thing for Vi, a fellow member’s seventeen-year-old daughter.
And later, that they were seeing each other in secret while she was doing some art on his wall; how he was madly in love with the shy, purpled-haired girl.
He’d told Mitch about all of it, every step of the way; when he knew he loved her, that he’d asked her to marry him and have his ink, and just three months earlier that she was pregnant. It was basically during the weed-sessions they caught up on each other’s lives. Mitch just rarely had much going on worth mentioning.
“Hey, when are you finding out what sex the kid is?”
“I’ll tell you on our session.” He gave Mitch a knowing smile. He fucking knew it. Mac had promised to tell him and now he was holding out on him!
“Yup, and she’s made me swear that you and Lisa will be the only ones who’ll know, so you better shut up about it.”
“Cross my half heart.” When Mac started to walk away, he grabbed him. “Come on! You gonna make me wait until then?”
Mac embraced him in a tight hug. “It’s a boy,” he whispered in his ear. “And you better shut up about it.”
“You know I will.” He watched his older brother walk off, but halfway to the door he turned around.
“And she says you can be the godfather if you swear on your patch you won’t use the kid to pick up women.”
“I would never do that!”
“Sure you would,” Mac laughed. “I know you, little brother.”
“I swear on my patch and my bike!”
“She’ll be relieved to hear that.”
He watched his brother leave with a big smile on his face. He might not be actively looking for a girl like the one his brother had, but he was living family life vicariously through Mac. He loved to hear about it all, and he was so fucking thrilled about the baby it was pathetic.
A few later, Mitch was outside the clubhouse. The birthday weed-session with Mac had turned into a drinking session as well. They’d toasted the unborn boy with whiskey. They’d also called Vi and given a half crying, incoherent speech to the Squid. She wasn’t too happy about that and had told them to drink water and get their drunken asses to bed.
He had a splitting headache and was resting on one of the picnic tables on the lot when he heard someone in high heels walking towards him.
“Gotta ask you something,” Lisa said.
He’d figured it was a sweetbutt and was a bit surprised when he heard her voice. He opened one eye to look at her.
“Unless it’s a life and death thing, think it can wait? My brain isn’t really with me today.”
“Yeah, Vi said you two called while pissdrunk yesterday,” she said, and he was pretty sure she was giving him an evil smile. “Are you still banging anyone willing?”
“Why? You offering?” he smirked. He knew she wasn’t, he just loved teasing her. Lisa was hot as hell, but she was like a sister to him. They were the same age and had been hanging out since they were around six, so it really would be like fucking a sister. “Cuz I’ve told you, like a million times, it would be so cute if the two brothers married the two sisters. Our moms would die of happiness.”
“Oh, yeah, you stud, fuck me right now.”
“I don’t think I can.”
“I know.” That was definitely an evil smile. “But really, if she’s even remotely attractive, is that enough? I mean, are you still like when you were eighteen when it comes to that?”
“Pretty much,” he shrugged. “As long as I think she’s hot, that’s fine. Why are you asking?”
“Just worrying. I’m practically your house doctor, and I figured I should feign an interest.” She leaned her elbows on the table next to him. “How are things?”
“Besides the hangover, just peachy.” He closed his eyes again. “And you?”
“Good. Thinking about doing some research here in Phoenix.”
“Really? Miss ‘LA is the best place on the planet’ is thinking about coming back to ol’ Arizona?”
“Yup. I’ve been offer a spot at a project, and it’s a good opportunity and what I want to work with. And I’d like to be closer to Vi when she has the kid.”
Vi and Lisa hadn’t been all that close when they were younger, but they were getting there now, especially the last few years. Vi was working on a flower garden on Lisa’s back, and even if he’d never been allowed to see the entire thing, it looked pretty fucking awesome.
But Mitch didn’t think Vi having a baby was the only reason Lisa’d come home.
“So you coming here wouldn’t have anything to do with you cutting off all your hair. Seem to remember that the last time you did that was when that asshole dumped you.”
“That’s not it, not all of it, at least.” She swallowed. “Can I keep that talk in the bank?”
“Yeah.” He stroked his hand over her hair. “It’s kinda cute.”
“Thanks,” she smiled. “We’re gonna be the godparents, you know. Need to be close when you’re a godparent.”
“At least I’ll kind of have a kid with you then,” he chuckled. “I’m guessing that’s as close as I’ll get.”
“It is. Don’t pretend you’re sorry about it. You know we’d kill each other in a matter of months.”
“We would,” he agreed. “Probably in a matter of hours. It would also be a bit pervy.”
“Hey, your friend, by the way, how is she?”
“Anna? Think she’s okay. Surprisingly okay, actually. I mean… she’s sad about it. Her entire family is all about ballet. Her dream was to become a principal dancer at the New York City Ballet. She used to talk about it when we were kids. Remember Mom saying that it probably wouldn’t happen, that you’d have to be crazy talented and lucky to get there.”
“Your mom is such a positive woman.”
Mel, his dad’s Old Lady, had been friends with Ella, Lisa and Vi’s mom. Once Bear and Ella got divorced, things the rest of them hadn’t known, or had only suspected, started to seep out. They’d seen that Ella didn’t get along with Vi, but it turned out she’d been mean to her, and Lisa still felt bad about that. She’d been her mom’s favorite, and she’d never defended Vi while they’d both lived at home. That was one of the things Mitch knew that the two of them needed to get over, and probably a good reason for Lisa to try to stay close for a while.
“Not really,” Lisa agreed. She still got along with Ella, who also lived in LA, but she wasn’t as quick to defend her anymore. “It’s really the best of the best, but she made it.”
“Yeah. She was a principal dancer for years, and then she got hit by a cab trying to get to the ballet in time for a practice.”
“Man, that’s gotta suck.”
“So that cane, is she gonna be able to walk without it?”
“Probably not. They don’t know. My guess would be not. There’s a lot of nerve damage and a lot of nerves that were severed close to the spine. They don’t usually grow out when it’s so far for them to grow, and I don’t know if they managed to stitch them up. That doesn’t always work, but even if they did, I don’t think she’ll ever be fully healed.” It was always funny to Mitch to hear Lisa get into doc-mode. “But I think the fact that she’s so extremely disciplined by nature helps, especially with the physical therapy. Being on a rigid training program is pretty much her natural state.”
“I bet.” He didn’t know much about ballet dancers, but he knew they had to train like maniacs, all the fucking time, so PT was probably nothing to a girl like her. “Poor chick.”
“Are you really feeling sorry, or are you just planning on how you could turn it into a pity fuck?”
“A little of both,” he admitted with a smile, mostly to himself. “But really, I do feel sorry for her. Bet she’s a pretty stable person though, disciplined and all that, she’ll be fine.”
“Think so. Seems to have the right attitude.”
“Does she speak Russian?”
“No idea. Why?”
In fact, he had a thing for any other language. Especially if it was their mother language because it was a special sense of achievement when you managed to fuck a girl so properly she forgot English and started to yell in a foreign language.
“You’re really a dawg. I bet that’s why you never got a road name. ‘Dawg’ was already taken.”
“Could be.” He looked up and noticed Lisa had a big smile. “So no prince charming around the corner for you then?”
“No,” she shrugged. “Isn’t it annoying? With Vi and Mac, I mean.”
“She was eighteen, for chrissake, you don’t meet the love of you life when you’re eighteen!”
“I’m with you.”
“Her first boyfriend, and he’s…. so fucking nice!”
“They’re so… fucking…”
“…Perfect.” Mitch agreed. They looked at each other and started to laugh. “Jealous?”
“A little. And here they are.”
Mitch turned his head and saw Mac and Vi coming towards them, so apparently Vi was home from the convention. She sat down on the bench next to her sister, shaking her head at him.
“I leave my Old Man with you for a weekend, and he’s a wreck.”
“Hey! I’m the impressionable baby brother, don’t blame me!” He turned to the side and put his hand on her bump. “How’s the squid?”
“Fine. It’s awesome being pregnant, no one gets upset when I say I need a break, they run and get me anything I want. Think I’m gonna try to stay pregnant for as much as possible the coming years.”
“Move over,” Mac muttered and lay down on the table next to him. “This is almost as bad as my bachelor party hangover.”
Mitch laughed. That had been one of the best parties he’d ever been to. Admittedly his memory of the later hours of that night were a bit hazy, but he knew he’d had a good time. He also knew he’d pulled a ‘Dawg’ and had brought two girls with him to his room at the end of the night. He’d said it was to take the bullet for Mac, since he couldn’t fuck a stripper that night.
As much as he teased his brother for keeping it in his pants, he’d be the first one having a go at him in the ring if he found out he’d been cheating on Vi. Then he’d hand him over to Bear.
Mitch and Mac were on the table, and Vi and Lisa on the benches. It was at times like this he really wished he did have the hots for Lisa, because they made a great foursome. Wasn’t gonna happen, though. Lisa was high maintenance; he could sniff out one of those girls out in a second, and Mitch was not the kind of guy who could deal with a high maintenance girl.