There were two reasons Mia noticed him the first time he came around: he was new, and he had good manners. Sure he was cute, but you got a lot of cute guys near the beaches. Usually, the only people who came around were locals or family. Sometimes they got someone who was just passing through. He seemed to fit the bill. The smile was what made him stand out. Smiling like he meant it, not like it was scripted or like he wanted something. The manners were a bonus: sincere when he thanked her, tipped well, and ate everything on his plate. He surprised her so much, she didn't realize till after that it was the tuna sandwich he ordered.
It surprises her, the next time he comes in. It's quiet and empty during midday, a few days after he last came. He orders the tuna again. She tries to dissuade him, but he insists. Still polite, and still cute. They make small talk this time. It turns out he's new to the area, and planning to stick around.
Fifth time he comes in (always during the quiet time between breakfast and lunch) she finally asks how the hell he can stand the awful tuna sandwiches.
"They actually make me kind of nostalgic for MREs."
"Meals Ready to Eat. I was army, up until two years back."
She can't quite picture him as military, and says as much. He laughs, and pulls a military ID from his wallet. It's him: looking even younger, but more serious with a shaved head. Seeing the birthdate, she realizes he's barely 25.
"Brian O'Conner, huh? Nice to meet you then. I'm Mia Torretto."
"What made you leave? The army I mean." He has come in so often, she has stopped counting at this point. Maybe that's what gives her the confidence to ask such a personal question? He answers though.
"I got a little too close to an explosion. Lost most of my hearing." He must see her confusion, because he tilts his head so she can see the hearing aid in his ear. "I can't wear them too long though. Headaches. My lip-reading is okay and I'm getting pretty good at sign language."
Mia isn't sure how to respond to that, in a way that won't be condescending or awkward. Brian saves her though, and changes the topic.
"So, what is it you're studying all the time? I don't think I've seen you without a textbook in all the times I've come in." She smiles at him, in thanks for the easy out, and launches into a monologue about medicine and college.
During a visit not long after that, she asks him what he does.
"It's kind of complicated. I sort of work for my old CO, but I also sort of work for her brother." He looks amused, "Like, if you ask Cat, I'm her driver or personal assistant or something. If you ask her brother, I'm her body guard or secretary. It depends on how they feel that day."
"How did that happen?" Mia is really curious now. She always has loved a good story.
"I've been serving under Cat since I got out of boot camp. She looked after me. You got any siblings?"
"An older brother, but all his friends make it feel like more than that."
"I don't. No biological family at all, really." Mia has to cut off a wave of pity. "But, I think Cat might be like an older sister. Would call me 'Kid' and nag me to eat. Still does, actually." He's smiling again. Mia has found she likes that smile. "After we were discharged, I didn't really have any plans so she kind of shanghaied me into working for her brother with his company." Mia doubts it was unwilling. Brian doesn't seem the type to be forced into anything. "Now I basically do what I used to do as her XO. Second in command," he clarifies, seeing her confusion. "I organize the details, so she can take care of the big picture."
"So, why have you never brought her by?" Mia is curious, and honestly a bit lonely. Her family is great, but she feels like a little kid that Dom's friends humor. That's part of why she likes Brian so much. He's her friend first, not one of Dom's.
"Carter's – her brother's – company is based in Florida. Cat is going to oversee the possibility of branching out over here. I'm here early to get a feel for things, and set things up if it looks good." His smile widens, "When she comes, in a couple weeks, I'd like to introduce you! Between you and me, she could use more female friends that don't find her intimidating."
It's a bad day, when she realizes she's crushing on him. He comes in, and there are lines around his eyes from pain instead of smiles. She makes him a tuna sandwich, and asks him if he'd like any Advil. He hesitates, but agrees. So, she brings him some with a glass of water.
"I'm sorry for being rude, but I'm going to have to take out my hearing aids." Brian seems miserable, and so, so young.
"You are not being rude! You are in pain, do what you have to." She worries. He is sweet and kind and does not deserve pain. She takes a sheet out of her notebook and starts to write.
'Is there anything I can do?' Because he had mentioned lip-reading took concentration.
"No, thank you." He's picking at the food slowly and tries to smile at her. All she can think is that she wishes she could make him smile for real and never stop. She picks up the pen again.
'Would you teach me sign language?'
This time, the smile is real.
A few days later, he comes in smiling even brighter than usual. Orders the tuna, as usual. She asks Brian, in careful, stilted signs, what made him so excited.
"I had a really good morning. Cat said the expansion is a go, so she'll be coming in a couple weeks. I got to talk to my friend Rome today. He's doing okay." He reads her face as easily as he always does. "We grew up together. Used to get into so much trouble." Then he continues, "I also got to visit with this couple who looked after me, a bit, when I was in high school."
"Looked after you?" She immediately regrets asking, remembering his comment about having no biological family.
"The Tanners let me stay with them, whenever Rome's family couldn't." Brian looks open, vulnerable, and the slightest bit defiant. "My mother didn't take it well, when she learned I bat for the home team."
Mia doesn't allow herself a moment of disappointment. Mentally she boxes up her crush. If enough time goes by, it will fade. It was a crush, not even puppy-love. "Her loss." She states, fiercely, because it is truth. Brian is a good best friend, and she refuses to lose that because she wanted a boyfriend.
The smile she gets in return is blinding.