Brad’s nose was a little bent. It’s really the only way to tell him apart from his twin Jason, my other younger brother. I’d say the broken nose had been my fault but that suggests it was an accident and it wasn’t. The only thing which kept Jason from meeting the same fate was the head start he got while I punched Brad silly on the floor beside the overturned sofa.
He hated it through high school but now the extra dash of dangerous got him the lion’s share of the female fans who came by for signings. And he signed whatever they were willing to uncover. My matching sky blue Team Richards outfit sized more for a six year old than a twenty-two year old woman brought in the male fans and today it caught the attention of the boys’ biggest racing rival, Crotus.
Brad’s chin was propped on Jason’s shoulder, his arm around his stomach imitating Crotus’ hold on me. His real name was Derek but at the track he went by Crotus. He thought it made him sound tough and scary but really it was unfortunate because it sounded a lot like-
“Scrotums,” Jason said. “How ‘bout you let go of my sister and I’ll ask her not to hurt you.”
The boys were relaxed, almost happy for the diversion since we’d finally gotten the last of the Fan Day fans from the track side tent. They were both six-six, strong and blonde like our mother and their father who died in Mom’s arms two months before they were born. Derek Walker smelled worse than usual and held something sharp to my back.
“Yeah, Crotchless,” Brad added. “You know she’s spoken for.”
Derek snorted over my shoulder. “A mated female her age should have fading stretch marks by now. What’s the matter with the doctor? Doesn’t he know where it goes?”
God he was old fashioned. His whole stinky side of the family was.
“Julian’s not a doctor,” I grumbled as I grabbed Derek’s hand and tried to pull it off. And even though Julian was my mate he hadn’t been my boyfriend since I ran out on him two years earlier. Derek’s grip tightened and I grimaced as whatever he held on my back dug in. Brad and Jason couldn’t see. They thought it was funny. Not this time.
“Par-a-med-dick... whatever. Come on Mimi,” he whispered. “Got a business proposal and your brothers won’t hear me out. Just you and me: a little walk, a little talk.”
I gave Brad and Jason a double wink with the eye Derek couldn’t see. “Sorry boys,” I told them. “The big kids have to do something.”
Jason connected the sensum under his nose with Brad’s causing Brad’s nose to wrinkle. Neat trick of theirs. Readers in the family used the little organ for all sorts of things. Usually for knowing where other nearby family members were but Brad and Jason could actually talk to each other with theirs like built in walkie-talkies. Mom could tell which part of the family a person came from (among other things) and like her I found any part of Derek’s family to have a distinctly bad smell; like shit and rotten lemons. Dad could only read the paper and he needed to change his glasses to do it.
Brad let go of Jason and stood beside him.
“Sure, Mimi,” Jason said easily. “Don’t forget it’s your turn to cook.”
Brad nodded; licking his lips like my cooking was something a sane person would look forward to. I was certain they knew something was going on. I never went anywhere alone with Derek and the double wink signalled to go along with me. Derek relaxed and his hand fumbled behind me as the sharp object went away.
“I’m all yours, Derek,” I said.
“Mm,” he mumbled in my ear as he turned us from my tent and hustled me down the makeshift road lined on either side by more fold up tents and brightly coloured trailers. “You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to hear you say that.”
“So what is it?” I asked.
“We’ll talk when they stop following.” As I turned my head to see Derek looking back over his shoulder the sun caught a couple of early greys near his ear. The boys were far enough away I could sense they were somewhere behind me but my range sucked anywhere but up close and I couldn’t tell if they’d even left the tent. At the end of the road Derek took us across the track itself and down through the two lane concourse under the stands which led to the parking lot. There he stopped and held my arm firm.
“So? What the fuck is up with the knife Derek?”
“Uh,” he hesitated and showed me his bank card. Pathetic. All the big manly talk he’d ever given me and now he had me alone he was clamming up. “Well, um, this new promoter see?”
“I don’t see Derek.” I crossed my arms and stared up at him. Family was tall. At five ten I was on the short side. So was Derek at six two but I still had to look up at him.
“They want, well, three racers,” he went on failing miserably at making eye contact. Big, stinky liar. “Me of course ‘cause my record is damn near perfect.” Like I said, liar.
“And?” I knew what he was getting at and it amounted to a great big pile of nothing.
“They want your brothers too,” then he took a step toward me and slipped his arm around my waist holding me tight. “We’d be team mates... you and me...”
As his last word trailed off in my ear the roar of a loud gas powered car seemed to fill the space around us. Brakes squealed and the two passenger side doors opened letting out two older men and the worst other side of the family smell I’d ever experienced. Front door grabbed Derek by the throat with one hand pushing him away from me as rear door got me around the waist.
Front door’s right clobbered Derek square in the centre of his shocked expression knocking him flat as rear door pulled me into the back seat. The pavement noisily tore up the tires as front door piled in on top of us and the acceleration nearly took off his legs with the closing door. I’d grown up having three way fights with my brothers and got my arms and legs going hard making myself uncomfortable to be on top of as I tried to nail every soft spot the two men had.
When I got my head up high enough to look out the rear window I saw Brad tackle Derek as Jason ran after the car. Derek shook Brad off and took to his feet hot on Jason’s heels sharing his look of horror.
“Don’t move,” a voice rumbled and pain filled every bone in my body in the second it took me to comply. Control the family called it. Mom called it ‘the charm.’ I called it being figuratively fucked. Resistance was agony. Something sharp stung my arm like a bee within minutes filling my mouth with cotton and wrapping my ears in something soft and cozy. Complying felt so good. As the hands on me relaxed I made a half hearted attempt to take a swing and swore as I felt like my bones were breaking. They let me slump to the floor where I lay watching the sky in the windows until they tossed a blanket over me and I passed out.
Passed out on the floor of a car. Now is as good a time as any for the family one-oh-one and the best place to start is with my father, Paul Richards. He’s become family patriarch this time around. Surprise Dad, you’re in charge. His father used to be but they didn’t find him the past couple of times so the men who used to follow him follow Dad.
By this time around I mean just that. My father’s line attached in his chest lets him pull his memories along from one life to the next. He won’t talk about the past ones. Most men don’t, but the bond he shares with the other family men like him is just as strong as his bond in this life with his biological family.
The women in my family are different; considered sisters of the men they are mated for lives with a man in the family who becomes bound to her. He tries to find her every time and protects and pursues her with the ultimate instinctive goal of fathering a son with her. A man who will join the family and what red blooded male doesn’t want to make his mark on his line, genetic or otherwise? Unfortunately (or fortunately for population control) most of who a man is comes from his upbringing in his current life, same for her, so they don’t always get along. Even if they’re not much more than acquaintances he does as much as he can to make sure she’s safe and happy. My Mom Anna knows where the women come from but she’s not saying.
The women’s lines are weak, not like the men’s. They might dream about their past lives and their lines are enough to give their mates a son but otherwise they happily go through their normal lives completely unaware of the comings and goings of their line family. Except for my Mom and me. She acquired her strong line in a moment of impulsiveness and I was born with mine. Never been a girl born in to the family until me blessed with a man’s recycled immortality. Great deal, I fit right in. Not.
So in the grand scheme of the family I’m considered a child like Julian my mate, Brad and Jason. My biological parents are the same as my line parents. Dad’s a grown-up. His biological and line parents are different. The struggle for a grown-up is to balance the memories of the past with the experiences of the present.
The day I broke Brad’s nose was the day my line set. He’d been taunting me with just that. “Your line’s gonna set soon Mimi ‘cause your so damn irritable.” He and Jason had been going on like that for days. Mom and Dad figured it would happen with the onset of puberty like a son and sure enough once Mom was done dealing with the blood incident on Brad’s face she had to get me through my own blood incident in the bathroom. Then an hour later the loosely attached child’s line in my chest started to move as it tried to find permanent attachment.
Dad tore home lights and sirens (deputy sheriff) and after a few minutes of fussing with his hand in the air over my chest proclaimed it set. If it hadn’t set properly I’d remember for a few lives but then I’d be just a regular girl after that. What the family sees as the real death. Given what a freak of nature I’m considered by everyone but my immediate family that’s right up there with the blissful ignorance of a man’s mate as a desirable alternative life style.
I remembered bright light then being dropped on another floor. This one didn’t bounce me around like the car had and the engine was too high pitched. They were flying me somewhere and I heard swearing as I threw up on the utility carpet covering the metal floor.
I didn’t know the man who questioned me while I lay on the floor of the plane. He didn’t smell at all and he was younger than me but the old farts who’d kidnapped me spoke to him with deference. I tried to remember all their smells. If I could recall them clearly in my sensum under my nose Mom could read me there and maybe know who they were. If I made it home. There were a lot of questions about Julian. I remembered the questions upset me but the control they were using gave me no choice but to answer.
After the kid was gone the smelly ones came back. The shot they’d given me had mostly worn off but I was still sick as hell from it. They let me sit and gave me a bottle of water. Through the open door in the side of the small plane I could tell I was in a warehouse. Hanger more precisely and the sun was up outside the windows.
“What the fuck,” one muttered from outside. “Got what he wants. I don’t want the damn abomination around here any more.”
“I hear ya,” the other voice said.
That’s great. Being the only female like me in the family other than Mom who had a clue about the family was isolating. Dad, Julian and Uncle Ray understood me and of course Mom, Brad and Jason. Dad’s men he’d known for lives and lives steered clear. It was part of the reason I’d dumped Julian. Even though I felt my mated connection to him in my chest with my line we’d both found other people. Julian and I had been matched as each others mates before birth. All the other men in the family had to prove themselves worthy of a mate. Julian was saddled with the abomination from day one. Breaking up with him after being lovers since before we could legally drive was as much a self pity punishment for being what I was as it was sparing him the stigma with the other men of being mated to me.
“Yeah, what the fuck?” I called out from the floor of the small plane. Whatever they gave me was already making the questioning hard to recall and had effectively turned off the filter between my brain and my mouth.
“Damn bitch,” the abomination caller muttered then he stuck his head in. “Shut up. If I have to come in there you’ll be wearing my ring up your nose.”
“Try it mother fucker,” I spat and as I pushed myself up to go after him my brain screamed to sit down and take his advice. Apparently my belligerent asshole switch was stuck at on. The plane bucked underneath me even though we were in the hanger and I held on tight to the seats. Everything tilted as I went over just glimpsing the shiny gold thing leading a hard fist to my face.