"People are strange when you're a stranger." ĖThe Doors, People Are Strange
Duo Maxwell was just a little bit crazy. Or so many people said. It was that long braid he always wore. The way his feet barely seemed to touch down when he walked along Main Street. It was the way he would pause and stare into space while waiting for the single light to change at the center of town. The way he smiled when he thought no one else was around. But most of all it was that your average person didnít know a thing about Duo Maxwell.
He stood on the emerald green lawn and stared at his creation. His eyes were half closed against the strong noonday sun, and one paint-spattered hand was raised to shield against it. The sunlight bounced off the coat of white paint on the eaves of the old house, making it appear as if it had a halo. Duo grinned at the effect and admired his handiwork.
The back porch had been sanded down, the windows covered, and all the furniture moved off to one side of the lawn. Now the carved beams and old planking were painted a fine enameled black, reflecting the sun and sea hazily within their depths. A bucket of paint stood beside the steps leading down to the lawn. Several rollers and brushes lying next to it, drying fast in the sun.
The house faced the bay a high white fence surrounding the sloping backyard. Strong wooden beams and brick making up most of its exterior faÁade. Rose bushes and lilacs ran along the sides of the house and ivy crawled over the roof. The wide back porch was sheltered by the oak trees on either side of it, a footpath leading from the back steps all the way down to stained dock resting low over the waters of the bay.
Duo wiped his brow and let the breeze off the ocean cool him down. It had turned out not too bad he mused. It made the porch look like a hole in a cloud, storms hiding just behind it. He shook his head at the image and smiled. He had to get ready for work and his brother would be home anytime now. Duo hoped he wouldnít mind this exotic paint job as much as heíd minded the last one.
He grinned at the memory. He hadnít known there was a city ordinance against painting your house differently than your neighbors. But then most people around the small town of Retrind didnít paint the front of their houses with pinstripes of black and white either. After that little escapade, and several monthsí worth of planning down the drain, Duo had carefully studied up on exactly what was allowed in the small town.
Three weeks spent down at City Hall, and too much vending machine food later; Duo had concluded that not a great deal had been left out of the rules and regulations. But loopholes were a specialty of the stubborn young man, and he had eventually found one that would let him do something to the old house.
Normally there would have been nothing strange about the house. It had light blue paint, and white trim like most of the small houses up and down the street. The screen door needed to be repaired; the windows needed to be replaced.
After studying what could be done in the town, Duo had realized that as long as none of his neighbors could see it, and it wasnít visible from the street, he could paint whatever he desired. Easier said than done.
The front of the house was visible to all. The back porch however, only had the occasional fisherman or seagull staring at it. Duo finished dipping his brushes in the turpentine and rinsed them with the hose. He straightened and turned to admire the porch again. The breeze ruffled his long sun streaked bangs and blew his shirt away from his body, sending cool air racing along his spine. He sighed and carried the paint soaked rollers to the garbage can beside the house, then went back to make sure everything was cleaned up.
The brushes lay glistening on the lawn, the paint bucket stood at the foot of the freshly painted stairs. Small spatters of paint littered the grass around the edges of the porch, but nothing else appeared to have been affected.
"Itís not as bad as the pinstripes were. But are you sure itís legal?" Duo turned and grinned up at his brother. Milliard Peacecraft was actually Duoís cousin on his motherís side. After being orphaned at the age of seven Duo had gone to live with the only relatives he had left. Sasha Peacecraft hadnít been thrilled with the idea of having to raise another child. But after her widowed, sister Helen had died in a car accident, sheíd had no choice but raise the small, solemn boy that wound up under her care and guardianship. Itíd taken many years before Duo had gotten over the deaths of his parents, Milliard having been the one to take him under wing and coax the boy into life again after the fateful accident. Duo had grown up idolizing his cousin, eventually coming to think of the older boy more as a brother then anything.
Duo narrowed amethyst eyes at his brother and wondered if he was serious or teasing. It was hard to tell sometimes. The tall blond man had an often-odd sense of humor, and delighted in teasing his younger cousin.
"I carefully checked all the laws this damned town has. I asked Mr. Mac down at the store what he thought, and then I went and asked the Hindles next-door and the Garks across the street. All of them said that they thought it would be ok. So yes itís legal enough, and doesnít it look great?" He broke off and smiled at the shiny black porch.
"Wonderful. Just one question?" Milliard grinned at Duo and then turned and headed back into the house his voice trailing behind him. "What are you going to tell Rel?"
"Shit." Of all the things Duo had considered while he bought the paint, sanded the porch, and planned, he had never once thought of what his sister would say. Relena Peacecraft was as unlike her brother and cousin as she could be. After their parents had divorced, she had stayed to live with their father, while Milliard had chosen to live with their mother. Upon their fatherís untimely death, Relena had moved into the boarding school owned by grandmother Peacecraft, a stern old woman with a very firm idea of how proper young girls were raised. Three years later Relena graduated and moved to America. A studious, quiet young lady, with a stern upbringing and a shy smile. Duo had been the one to bring an interest into her life after so many years of being forced into a rigid set of code. His innocence, delight in life, and wide violet eyes coaxing Relena into being one of his biggest supporters and admirers.
And now Rel was on her way home from the University for the weekend, sure to arrive at any time, and the back porch was a black hole. Duo shook his head and went around the side of the house, grabbing the brushes and paint bucket on his way. Well, maybe she wouldnít notice it. A smile etched his heart shaped face at the thought. And pigs could do a jig. Relena never missed a trick and he knew it.
Duo opened the shed, and put the brushes on nails that had been hammered inside for just that purpose. He grabbed the cover for the paint bucket, banging the lid down hard so it wouldnít leak, and headed towards the front porch. The back needed to dry for a while before anything could be moved onto it, but Duo had plans for the old wooden furniture and didnít mind the wait.
The screen door slammed as he entered the foyer and took off his paint encrusted shoes. At least Rel couldnít bitch at him for messing up the inside of the house, he reasoned as he threw the shoes beside the door. Heading towards the bathroom for a shower, he detoured to the kitchen and watched his brother for a moment. Milliard was in the process of making lunch, his long blond hair pulled back and hidden under a chefs hat with the phrase ĎDonít touch the cook.í printed on the back of it. He turned to face the door and gestured towards the countertop as Duo came in.
"Hey! You made lunch? What a fabulous guy." Duo snagged a sandwich from the counter and began wolfing it down while trying to take off one sock with his toes. "Any idea when Relís getting here? I promised Mr. Mac Iíd take over for John today, poor guy has the flu." Duo succeeded in sliding off both socks without using his hands, then sat at the kitchen table shoving the socks under his chair with one foot.
"She shouldnít be here until later this evening, at least thatís what she said when she called yesterday. When do you think youíll be home from work?"
"Aw, Mr. Mac figured it would be just a few hours. Itís dead right now so he doesnít need much help. Find out if you got that commission yet?" Milliard had gone into a partnership with his long time friend Treize recently, both men deciding years ago that they had a mutual interest in the same field. The result was a growing business and a solid friendship, and now they were becoming well known as men with new ideas and bright futures.
"Treize arrived at the hotel yesterday and has yet to meet with the committee. But weíll get accepted. Weíre the best in the industry after all." Milliard smiled at his brother and began putting away the sandwich fixings and cleaning up the counter. "Have you met the new neighbors yet?"
"No, the one house around us I didnít ask about the porch. Hope they donít mind whoever they are. So, have you met them yet?" Duo finished his sandwich and went to the sink to wash his hands, staring out the window at the trees lining the other side of the fence.
"One of them, apparently itís a family of three. But the boy I met informed me that most of the time his parents would be traveling, and heíd be the only one there throughout the year. He also mentioned his parents are diplomats, and that heíll be staying here and commuting to and from the college in Harperville." Milliard gave Duo a significant look, which the longhaired boy did his best to ignore.
"I told you Mil, I donít want to go until I know why Iím going. I need to have a reason to be there. I canít just go and study, not knowing what I want to do with my life." Duo picked up his socks and headed for the door. "Iím going to go take a shower and go to work. Thanks for the lunch bro, I owe you."
"Anytime Duo. And donít worry kid, I understand about the college thing, and you know mom said you could take a year to decide. Oh, one more thing," He suddenly grinned at his cousin and arched one platinum eyebrow, "When did you dye your hair black?"
"What?" Duo turned around and looked at his braid, then groaned as he realized it looked like it had been dipped in the paint bucket, several times. "This is going to take forever to get out. Can you call Mr. Mac for me and tell him Iím running a bit late?" He sighed and began marching resolutely towards the bathroom.
"Sure thing, donít forget to scrap those clothes, Relena will pitch a fit if you leave them in the hamper you know."
"Yeah, yeah." Duo waved a hand behind him and turned to go upstairs.
Work was the usual affair of cleaning shelves and waiting on the few customers that came in and needed help. Mr. Mac bustled about, taking stock and keeping an eye on the front. His gaze fell on Duo occasionally, but never for very long. The boy had an excellent work sense, and never did a job halfway. Much to the delight of the aging Mr. Mac, who on no account had ever had a helper so keen to work and do the job right.
"Howíd the paint work out Duo? Any of the neighbors complain yet?" Duo stood near the counter rearranging a display of tools, his black pants and clean white t-shirt matching the short black apron around his waist. He turned to look at the old man and smiled. "No oneís complained yet, though I donít know how the new neighbors will feel. Havenít met them yet." He shrugged and pulled at the tip of his braid. "You donít think theyíll mind do you? They can see part of our backyard, but I donít think our porch is visible to them unless they stand down near their dock."
"Ah, it should be ok lad. Donít fret." The bells on the door chimed and Mr. Mac waved Duo off to go wait on the customer. The old man smiled at the retreating back of the boy, and then went to help a woman who was staring helplessly at shelf full of screws.
Duo paused at the door and stared at the boy whoíd entered. He was nearly the same height as Duo and had strangely exotic features. Duo got the impression of wind tousled hair and high cheekbones before the boy turned to face him fully.
"May I help you?" Duo asked, putting on his most winning smile. The boy glanced at him quickly before fixing his eyes beyond Duoís left shoulder and glaring. Duo turned around and looked behind himself. No one was there. A low, slightly accented voice startled him and he turned back to look at the boy again.
"Where do you keep your warning signs?" The strange boy was still staring beyond Duoís shoulder, though his eyes flickered briefly to watch Duoís face.
"Warning signs? What kind do you need?" Duo cocked his head to one side and gave a lopsided grin. "Got a big dog maybe?" His eyes lit up as the other boy nodded. "What kind?"
"A Doberman. Where are the signs again?" Realizing that the boy wasnít going to volunteer any more information, Duo led him back through the store towards the section that held the various warning signs. Gesturing at the rack of neatly organized signs, he pointed out the dog warnings. "If you need anymore help just yell. My nameís Duo." The other boy nodded and turned to look at the signs, dismissing Duo without further acknowledgment.
Cold guy, but nice eyes, Duo thought as he turned and headed towards the front.
Mr. Mac was ringing up a woman with six boxes of nails and a single hammer. "Now just make sure you be careful with that hammer, and Iím sure everything will be fine." The frazzled woman smiled at the old man and took her change, grabbing up her bag and waving as she left the store. "Thanks Mr. Mac, I hope your right."
"I donít think itís going to get much busier Duo. You can go home now if you want. Is your sister coming up this weekend?" Mr. Macís face crinkled up in a smile as he asked after Relena, his eyes twinkling.
"Yeah, Milliard said she might not like the porch." Duo stuck his hands in his pockets and shuffled his feet for a moment then looked at his boss. "You think sheíll like it?"
"Duo, of course she will. She likes everything you do."
"She didnít like it when I painted her car."
"You painted it without asking her Duo, and you painted it pink."
"Itís her favorite color. I thought sheíd like that."
Mr. Mac laughed and patted the boyís shoulder. "You knew it would drive her crazy. Donít think you can fool me young man. Now go take off your apron and head home. Youíve got the weekend off, so make the most of it. And tell Relena I asked after her."
"No problem Mr. Mac. Oh, thereís still a customer in back, quiet guy. Heís looking through the warning signs." Duo started untying his apron as he headed towards the back. He passed the other boy on his way, noticing that he held not one, but four signs. Duo shook his head and entered the wide swinging doors that led to the storage area. He hung his apron on one of the pegs behind the doors and grabbed his backpack, then clocked out and checked his card. Overtime meant more money, and more money meant new supplies for his plans for the rest of the porch. He smiled to himself and swung through the doors again. Waving a final goodbye to Mr. Mac, he held the front door for the dark haired boy. The strange boy glared at him and then stalked out.
Duo shrugged and began walking towards home, his backpack banging against his spine as he jumped over a few puddles left over from the last rain. His thoughts turned to his further plans for the house. As long as Relena didnít mind the porch, he reasoned, he could get away with almost anything. He thrust his hands into his pockets and let his legs stretch into a longer stride. Duo was startled when he heard that strangely accented voice again, this time from beside him.
"Thank you for your help."
Surprised, Duo turned and smiled at the boy from the hardware store. "Hey, glad I could be of service." He stood there for a moment waiting for something further, but the boy once again seemed to dismiss him, glaring across the street. Duo frowned slightly then shrugged, and turning, began to walk along the cracked sidewalk again. The other boy stayed next to him and began walking as well.
They walked along together quietly for a few minutes. Duo mulling over his painting ideas and wondering why the boy was walking with him but not talking. Finally as they reached his street Duo stopped and faced the silent boy. "You know my name. Whatís yours?"
Duo noticed again that the boy had the most amazing deep blue eyes. They look just the sky when it storms at night he thought, briefly wondering if he could make that color into paint and maybe do the back porch furniture in it. Then he grimaced at his own thoughts and was brought back to reality as the boy finally answered.
"Heero Yuy." He held out his hand and Duo shook it. "I just moved in next to this weird house down the street. Someone painted the back porch black and I can see it when I turn to look at our house from the dock. I didnít know such things were allowed here." He gave Duo a quizzical look.
Duo felt his heart sink as he realized what Heero was talking about. And most importantly whose house the boy was referring to. This was going to be interesting to explain he decided, very interesting.