"Darry! Yo, Darry!"
I didn't slow down when I heard someone call my name, I just looked over to where Juke and the guys were sprawled on the benches by the park swings, bikes propped against some trees. I waved and kept going. I was making good time, but I was only a little more than halfway home and I didn't want to lose pace.
I heard bikes and looked back, thinking that maybe it was the guys. It wasn't. These guys looked older, probably fifteen, since they looked like money but none of them were driving.
They were all Asian.
One thing about this neighbourhood, kids tended to stick together along ethnic lines. I hadn't had any trouble with the Asian kids at school or anything, mostly because they kept to themselves, although Nick was cool and I partnered okay with Livvie Soong in science. But I'm sure I would have noticed these guys around school. They would've stood out, what with the look and the attitude. They had to go to another school then - my guess, a private one. Everything about them screamed money.
I tried to reason with the fear. It wasn't fair to be scared because they were Asian. But after a second I decided that I'd probably be scared if they were black or Hispanic or white, just because they were there and something about them set them apart from the other kids.
And they did scare me. There were three of them. They were all on these sleek black bikes and wearing jeans and black tees and for some reason I was sure they were following me. I looked back, and they were a lot closer.
I changed my mind about leaving the park, instead doubling back to where the swings were, hoping it'd just look like I'd meant to do a lap around instead of heading straight through. I chose to go through the playground, figuring that they'd choose to stay on the paths.
There they were, Juke and the other kids, although their backs were to me. I put on a little more speed, and when I was close enough, I took a deep breath.
"Hey guys, waiting long?"
They turned around, and I prayed they weren't going to blow my cover.
As I got closer, though, I could see how Juke was looking behind me, and I knew he'd figured it out. "No prob," he said, casually, making some room on his bench as though he'd been expecting me.
I grabbed a seat and made a big show of rooting around in my bag for a bottle of water and then taking a long drink. When I was done and wiping my mouth, though, I looked up to see one of the guys on the bikes about ten feet away and watching me. Openly.
When he spoke, though, it was to Nick. "Hey, Nick. Who's your friend?"
For some reason that bugged me. "I can speak for myself," I said. "Name's Darry Conrad." Thankfully, my voice came out sounding calm. I didn't sound scared at all.
"Toretto's kid." He didn't have any real accent, just the local one, but he spoke real smooth, arrogant. And he knew more about me than I knew about him. I could feel the familiar heat of anger rushing to my cheeks.
"More or less. And you are?"
Suddenly all the warmth was gone, and I felt cold. Freezing cold.
"So, Darien O. Conrad. You going into the family business?"
I shrugged, unable to say anything because my mouth was so damn dry. He knew my name. Why did he know my name? What else did he know about me? I completely forgot that there was anyone else around; all I could see and hear was the guy in front of me.
He continued as if I'd answered yes. "You're new here and everything, so I thought I'd let you know how things are around here. West of the park here is Tran territory, and Torettos would be smart to keep away. Understand?"
West of here. I looked toward the sunset, and realised that my running routes took me pretty close to that line. I was just lucky I'd never gone over, I guessed.
I looked back to see him studying me. I felt embarrassed, like I was naked or something, though I dressed pretty conservatively compared to most kids around here. Today I was wearing jeans and a tank top over a tee, runners and a ponytail, so I guessed that it was the way he was looking at me that was getting to me. I'm sure I just looked young and stupid as always. And young and stupid as I was, I got angry again.
Somehow I managed to keep my cool. "That a threat or a friendly warning?"
He smiled then, slowly, for no reason that I could see. It changed his whole face, and made him look like a whole different person. I was still trying to understand what'd happened when he pulled up his bike and put foot to pedal. "Whatever works for you, Darien. See you around," he said, and it sounded like a promise. I watched as he took off on his bike, his two friends falling in behind him.
What the hell was that? And why did he do that? Call me by that name? I just couldn't figure the guy out. Now that it was over, I was starting to feel kind of shaky and panicky. Not that I'd ever show it, of course.
I turned around, remembering Juke and the others. They were watching me carefully, like I was some kind of freak or something.
"Hey, guys, sorry about that. I didn't know what they wanted and -"
"Nah, you were smart not to take 'em on by yourself," Juke interrupted, and something about the way he said that reminded me of Dom. "I think you handled him just right."
I smiled. "Thanks."
"What was that?" Nick demanded all of a sudden. He didn't sound nearly as relaxed as Juke. "You have something going with the Trans or something? Why would Vic talk to you?"
I looked at him. How did he know Victor Tran?
"You heard him," I said, slowly. "Torettos and Trans don't get along. No big deal."
"It is a big deal," he argued, "if he makes it a big deal Darien." His expression told me that it was become a much bigger deal than he wanted. And the last word was almost a challenge.
My back felt like something cold slithered down it. "Are you related to the Trans? How does Victor know you?"
He hesitated. "My older sister dated his older brother before he died."
I thought I'd faint when he said that. Oh god! Would this guy haunt me for the rest of my life? For the first time, I wished I'd never come here.
Victor was Johnny's brother. My brother had killed his brother, who'd killed Jesse, and my family had gotten killed for it. And he knew who I was. Wait, no, he knew me as Darien Conrad. No way he'd make the connection with Darria O'Connor. Hell, he probably didn't even know who Brian O'Connor was, let alone Darria O'Connor.
It wasn't much comfort.
I shook it off, though. "Um, I should get going. Thanks for backing me up, and you know, sorry about - whatever that was."
Juke and Heck grinned like it was no big deal, Mike nodded understandingly and Nick shrugged. That wasn't so bad. Maybe if nothing else went wrong, we'd still be friends. I kinda hoped so.
The ringing of a phone made me jump. I pulled out mine and checked the screen. "Hey Dom."
"Where the hell are you?"
I swallowed. He sounded really angry. Looking up, I saw that the guys were still watching me, so I walked off a bit, trying to get a little privacy.
"Uh, I'm at the - at the park."
I winced. That didn't come out sounding good at all. I sounded like I was gonna cry or something. The little hitching breath thing just did not convey 'cool and collected' at all.
He didn't answer right away. Inwardly, I swore at myself. Why was I so fucking easy to read? I wasn't surprised at his next words. "Something happen, kid?"
It was the way he said it that got to me. Like it mattered if something did happen to me. It made me want to cry for real. I didn't, of course. But I wouldn't lie either. "Kinda."
"Where are you in the park?"
"By the swings."
My only answer was a dial tone.
I hung up and stared at nothing.
I turned around. "Hey, Juke."
I nodded. "He's coming to pick me up."
"Wait on that side of the swings," he suggested. "There's a parking lot there. Probably where he's comin' in."
He kept walking beside me. "Can I wait with you?"
I looked at him and grinned knowingly, remembering what Ayla told me. "You just wanna see what he's driving."
For a second he looked kind of hurt, which confused me, but then he smiled back. "You got me."
We took the two swings nearest the parking lot. Heck, Mike and Nick were on their bikes, weaving lazy figure eights around the benches. We watched them in quiet for a little while.
"What happened to your parents?"
I looked at Juke. I wasn't expecting that. "They died."
"Yeah, but how?"
"Shot." I could barely get that one word out. They were shot, all right, but it was so much more than that
I hesitated. It wasn't that far off, actually. "Yeah. Home invasion gone wrong."
He nodded and pointed. I looked to see a car coming towards us. Even from here I could tell who it was.
Standing up, I grabbed my pack. Juke stood up too.
The car screeched to a stop. When the dust cleared a bit, Dom was standing on the other side. And did he look pissed. "Kid."
I nodded and started walking over. I hesitated by the passenger door, because he still hadn't gotten in. "That's Juke. He helped me out."
He looked down at Juke who, to do him credit, didn't panic. "Hi, Mr. Toretto. I'm Joshua Luke Santos."
Dom seemed to think this over. "Any relation to Louie Santos?"
I looked startled. Louie? He had a garage and a small parts store, although the cars he worked on weren't in Dom's league. I'd met him before. I don't know why I never put it together.
"Uncle," Juke said.
Dom nodded. "You okay to get home?" He was abrupt but not mean.
Juke nodded. "I got my bike."
"See you around, Juke."
Juke nodded and stepped back, waiting until Dom was getting in the car to smile at me. "See ya' in school."
"See ya'," I echoed, and got in.
I barely got my seatbelt on before we were going. At the edge of the park, I noticed that Dom turned east.
Out of nowhere, I started shivering. I hugged my arms around myself and rubbed them.
"Yeah, Dom?" I rolled my eyes. I sounded like a fucking little kid. I tried again. "Yeah?" That was better.
"You gonna tell me what happened?"
I didn't answer right away, but I knew he wouldn't let it go. "I met Victor Tran today."
When he didn't say anything I peeked over. His jaw was clenched so hard I could see veins bulging, and his knuckles looked pale against the wheel.
"And?" He practically barked it out.
He must've seen it, because he made a visible effort to relax. "Just tell me what happened, kid."
"He and his friends kinda scared me a little, so I hung out with Juke until they left."
"What about Victor?"
"He just warned me about not going west of the park. He wasn't too bad, actually," I said, thinking about it.
"So why'd you freak? You you know who he is?"
"Johnny Tran's little brother? Yeah, I found out just before you called."
He nodded, understanding now.
"Do you think I should be worried about the Trans?"
He thought about that. "No. But stay out of their way. And remember who you are now."
I nodded. "Not a problem."
We drove home in silence.