Down the Road
The door swung open and Trowa stood at the threshold shaking his head. "So that's what a lying son of a bitch looks like."
Heero opened his eyes and scowled. "Is that what he said?"
"Yeah, to me and about half the restaurant." Trowa stepped into the office and looked at the disarray, reaching down for the tape dispenser. "Want to tell me what happened?"
The dispenser was set on the desk. "You ruined my night with Quatre. He's on his way back to farm country U.S.A. with that boyfriend of yours."
Heero gathered the remaining supplies from the floor, setting each in its place on the desk and then stood, facing his friend. "There is one thing you can be happy about."
"You were right. He wanted money."
Trowa's eyes widened. "That's not something I wanted to be right about. What will you do?"
"Work," Heero said as he walked to the door. "I've got a restaurant to run."
"But it's your night off."
Heero looked over his shoulder. "This is all I have. I'll put what's left of my heart into it."
He stepped into the hall, feeling his chest tighten. He was a mess, his insides raging from the tangle of emotions that threatened to overtake him. How could he make this ache stop? He should be glad this incident had happened just days into the relationship, but he knew it was too late. He had lost his heart to Duo.
+ + +
The pickup truck came to a stop in front of the music shop on Main Street. It was half past nine, and the street was empty and quiet. Duo was not sure how they had gotten here, even though he had done the driving.
The drive home had been relatively quiet. That is once Duo made it clear that he was in no mood to discuss Heero Yuy. Quatre had tried to soothe him, tried to get him to talk about what had happened at the restaurant, but Duo would have no part of it. It helped to stay angry, because he knew the moment he stopped being angry he would fall into the abyss. He had never hurt like this.
"Are you sure you don't want to spend the night? I feel like I haven't been any help to you."
Duo looked at his friend in the glow of the street light, taking in Quatre's shimmering, sorrowful eyes. He knew it hurt his friend to not open up to him, but Duo was having a difficult time sorting this out.
"You ever wonder why we never got together?"
Quatre blinked. "What made you think of that?"
"The way you're looking at me."
"I'm not asking you to stay over for sex!"
"Well, it's probably good that you're not. You're like a brother to me." Duo was feeling lonely, maybe even wanting some physical comfort, but he knew Quatre was not offering himself. The teasing was Duo's way of taking the edge off this rotten night. "How much do you think I could get for a blow job?"
Quatre put his hands over his lap. "Duo…"
"I don't want to blow you," he sighed. "I need $1,500 by five o'clock tomorrow, and I've tried everything except sucking dick."
"You're not serious."
"No? What do you say to twenty bucks? Let's see…" He calculated the total on his fingers. "Damn, that's 75 blow jobs. I don't think that many truckers stop at Pete's in a day."
"Duo, stop it. Why do you need so much money?"
"I told you, Q. I'm behind on the mortgage."
"Better than that… $3,000 behind."
Quatre's mouth dropped open.
"Yep, that's what I said."
"What will you do?"
"Start sucking, I guess. You think I could get twice as much?"
"If I had the money I'd give it to you."
"Thanks buddy, but I'm not asking friends for money. That's bad karma."
"What about the art commission?"
There it was—the million dollar question. Duo supposed it was time to share something of that ugly confrontation. "Heero lied to me. He said the owner of the restaurant would be interested in my art. Turns out he's the owner."
"He owns Sushi Bob's?"
"Why didn't he tell you before?"
"I don't know." Duo shook his head and stared out the windshield. His eyes glazed over as he remembered the moment he realized Heero had deceived him. "He's just a liar, I guess."
"But it wasn't a lie… unless he told you someone else owned it."
Duo's fists clenched. "Are you defending him? I'm the one who got burned!"
"I believe you, but I don't have much to go on here. You haven't said more than three sentences all night."
Duo lowered his head, hating the fact that Quatre was right. "He baited me, Q. He knew I needed the money and when I reached for the check he pulled it away and told me to get out. The bastard used me."
"How the hell do I know? Maybe that's how he gets his kicks. I don't want to talk about it anymore. My head feels like it's in a vise and I want to go home."
Quatre nodded and then reached out to caress Duo's hand. "But don't you love each other?"
"No one said anything about love except you. You're hopeless."
The criticism hit its target. Quatre looked wounded as he pulled his hand away.
"God, Quatre. I'm sorry. You're the last person I should be mad at. Come here." He opened his arms and Quatre leaned across the bench seat. They hugged tightly and Duo felt his hard resolve beginning to crack. He did not want to cry in front of his friend, so he forced a grin and pulled away.
"Promise you'll call me in the morning?" Quatre asked.
"Yeah, I think I can manage that."
Quatre gave him a quick kiss to the cheek and then exited the truck. Duo waited to drive away until his friend was inside, and the light in his second floor apartment came on. In ten minutes he was pulling into his gravel drive. Home at last.
Inside the house, Duo grabbed a beer out of the refrigerator and went into the living room. All that remained was a lamp and a few valueless knick-knacks that Whippletree Antiques had not bothered to take. He looked at the empty room and frowned, and then slumped against the wall until he hit the floor.
Shit, how had it come to this? Had the gods conspired against him? Or maybe the Maxwells had a curse on them? Too bad he did not have more of his mother's or his aunt's patience. In his book, those women were saints, not only putting up with his antics, but easily brushing off criticism from the town busy-bodies. He had friends in town, Quatre topped that list, next came Marcus who owned the music shop, Steffie who ran the clothes boutique, Jerry the antiques dealer, and the regulars at the diner. But then there was Joe Wilke and his cronies—the so-called movers and shakers of little Union Grove. Of all the people Duo could piss-off why did he have to choose the bank president, mayor and members of the city council? Yep, Duo was in good with the average folk, but the supposed important people had been out to get him for years. As far as they were concerned, the paint job on his barn was only the tip of the iceberg of his offenses.
All of this had become abundantly clear after Aunt Emmy's death. As the weeks passed, comments reached his ears, and Duo slowly realized that Emmy had buffered him from the world of small town pettiness. She had tempered the criticism about her wild, non-conformist nephew, and had kept the worst remarks to herself. Once she was gone, the vultures began to circle--or at least that was how he saw it.
He stared at the empty room, tears in his eyes. He could still see Emmy's beloved, crazy collection of furniture. How she had loved this room and entertaining her friends here.
"Sorry, Emmy," he said, taking a long swig of beer, and wiping his eyes. "It shouldn't have come to this. Maybe if I'd been more of a diplomat like you and Ma…"
God, he hated feeling sorry for himself. He was a trailblazer, strutting with his head held high as he walked Main Street, defying the naysayers who would put him down. But his world was a wreck right now, and he supposed he deserved to shed a tear or two… and a few especially for Heero. Just thinking of Heero made Duo's stomach tighten. He had let Heero in, not just into this house, but past all the barriers around his heart and mind. How had he gotten that so wrong? Had he let his desire override his warning system? Had he been so desperate to connect with someone that he had set aside the rules and let Heero walk right in like he owned this house and everyone in it?
"Love," he said with a derisive snort.
Quatre had talked of love, filling Duo's head with the prospect of happy times ahead. It was easy getting caught in the fantasy when his friend lived and breathed that world. But as it turned out that was all his relationship with Heero had been—a fantasy. They had shared a beautiful night together and that was it. To hope that Heero nursed feelings for him, other than lust, was a mistake. And any feelings Duo had for Heero had to stop now, this instant. Reality was about to make a major assault on his life and he had to keep his wits about him.
"Fuck that," Duo said, throwing his beer hard across the room and smashing it against the wall. The glass shards scattered for yards and the foaming liquid ran down the wall, soaking into the carpet. "Asshole Wilke can clean that up."
He pushed himself up from the floor and headed to the kitchen. There, he rummaged in one of the cupboards until he found a bottle of gin. Gin and tonic with a twist of lime was Emmy's favorite summertime drink. Tonight Duo would do his best to get drunk on the white spirit. He went outside, bottle in hand, taking a gulp as he went. The moon was bright and he did not need any other light to find his way to the barn. He stood there staring at his work and wondering what would become of it. When the bank sold the farm he was sure the barn would be painted over immediately. It was a shame.
"I'll give 'em something to paint over," he said, going inside the barn and pulling out gallons of paint and brushes. He would do his best to finish his masterpiece in one night—before they took his giant canvas away.
+ + +
Heero set aside another stack of invoices and made a notation to schedule a meeting with his accountant. With the plans to open a third restaurant in full swing he had plenty to keep his mind occupied. But it was not quite working that way.
He stretched his arms. It felt like he had been here all night and would have if Trowa had not eventually talked him into going home and getting away from the restaurant for a few hours. God, he had been a mess last night, wrestling with the hurt, and oddly with guilt and grief, too. He had sat on his condo's balcony starring at the city most of the night and nursing a bottle of sake. The alcohol had soothed him, but only temporarily, and now he had to deal with a pounding headache.
Sometime around six o'clock this morning he had made his way back to the restaurant. He hoped work would keep his mind off Duo, but sitting in the room where they had last spoken only served to remind him. The money was only part of what had gone wrong. Heero was tired, and for the first time in his career doubted success was all it was cracked up to be. With his position as the owner of a very successful business came a great deal of responsibility. People came to him with their problems, all day long a steady stream of employees, customers and vendors wanted one thing or another from him, but never wanted just him.
Then Duo had come along. Bright Duo who did not know Heero or his restaurant. He was the first to want Heero and nothing more, or so it had seemed. But just like the old adage said, money changes everything, and it had certainly changed Duo. But what did it matter that Duo wanted the money? A few thousand dollars was nothing to Heero. He could have given Duo that and more and gone on with the relationship. Or could he?
I wanted him to be different, Heero thought. It was a stupid expectation, but he equated Duo with the beautiful art on that barn and the way it made him feel-- the way Duo made him feel-- and Heero wanted that.
His eyes lifted from the desk, settling on the sketch pad that was sitting on the chair across from him. Duo had left it behind in his haste, but to Heero it was as though Duo had left part of himself behind. All night Heero fought the urge to look, to dive into Duo's world once more and become tangled in the curls and colors and vivid mind that created such things. He longed to return to that place.
So why put it off? What would it hurt to look? They were only sketches. What power could they possibly hold? And so, he pushed back from the desk, rising from the chair, and walked over to the tablet. He stared at its plainness, at the unremarkable exterior, but he knew better than to stop his assessment there. He picked up the cold pad, ignoring the feeling of trespass, and flipped the cover open. The first page held sketches of wildflowers, and as Heero studied them he remembered seeing abstract variations of them on the barn. He turned the page… more sketches, this time of vines entwined around tree branches. And another page filled with hard angles reminiscent of architectural features on an old building.
Heero found himself greedily turning the pages, taking it all in, marveling at the range of subjects until he came to a page with distinctly human shapes. He stopped, frozen by the image of a resting form—obviously male. Who had inspired this? With some jealousy he went to the next page and his breath caught. There was no mistaking the artist's model. It was Heero in profile, and next to it how he must have looked that morning in the kitchen just before they had made love… on the chair.
A tingle rippled through Heero's body. This was how Duo saw him. This was how Duo drew him. It was beautiful. The artist had seen something in Heero, something worthy to explore with paper and graphite, and had drawn him from memory. Why would Duo take the time to draw him if he only cared about the money?
"I threw this away over $1,500?"
"What's that?" Trowa asked as he stepped into the room.
Heero turned slowly. "How did you get in?"
"One of the waiters… You'll be opening soon. Since you're not answering your business or cell phone I thought I'd come down here--"
"What do you want?"
"Nice to see you, too. With a mood like that you must have a hangover… Hey, what's that?"
"Duo's sketch book."
"No." Heero moved to the desk, sitting on the corner and gently laying the sketches next to him. Maybe the hangover was part of his problem, but seeing those sketches had set him even more off balance. "Do you think I was right not to give him the money? Maybe he doesn't understand how business is done."
"Or maybe he needed the 1,500 bucks. Quatre called me last night and said something about Duo owing a bank a lot of money. Looks like you were right about him being after your money."
Heero's brow furrowed. It looked like that on the surface, but it felt like he was missing a piece of the puzzle. "He didn't know about the money."
"He saw your car---"
"It doesn't matter. Duo never asked me for money." He had thought about it all night, picking at the nagging feeling that he was missing something in this equation, and now it was starting to make sense, starting to click into place. "I was the one who suggested the commission. It was my idea. If he thought I had money he never let on that he was in trouble and needed it."
"Sounds like you're letting your dick do your thinking---"
Rage spiked in Heero like a kettle bursting with steam. He sprang from the desk, slamming Trowa against the wall and pinning him by the shoulders.
"You've lost it," Trowa said, gritting his teeth and shoving Heero back with equal force.
Heero regained his balance quickly and stared at his friend. "You're right. I let the best thing that ever happened to me get away."
"Then you really are in love with him?"
"Are you sure? I'd hate to see you get hurt."
"It's a little late for that."
Trowa crossed his arms over his chest and looked at his friend, seeming to consider the situation. "Love, huh? Then there's only one thing you can do."
"Deal with it."
"That's your advice?"
"That's enough to keep you busy for awhile."
Heero was at a loss. He was used to Trowa's specific, often cutting advice, but this was way too open ended. It left him floundering for direction.
"Are you sure there's nothing more you want to tell me?"
Trowa smiled and reached over to pat Heero's arm. "You've been following the beat of a different drum ever since you met Duo. Maybe you should think about that." And with those words, Trowa spun on his heel and left the room.
Heero stared after his friend, but only for a moment. His eyes fell to the sketch book once again, and his fingers glided over its cover. The intimate, beautiful drawings Duo had made of him evoked the tenderness and depth of connection they had shared in their lovemaking. Or so Heero hoped. If he listened to his inner drummer, as Trowa suggested, then that drummer was telling him to march, to head into battle and do whatever it took to put things right.
He leaned over his desk and opened the top drawer, taking out a blue post-it note with Duo's number written on it. With a deep breath he reached for the phone and dialed the number. He let the phone ring 20 times, but there was no answer.
"Damn it," he said in frustration. He set the phone down and considered his options. The restaurant was about to open, but he did not care. He had something more important to do.
He would apologize to Duo in person.