by D.C. Logan
Duo stripped the paper cover from his straw and pinched up its length with alternating fingers in a 'she loves me, she loves me not' pattern until he remembered that he didn't have anyone that he loved any longer, and he tossed the wrapper aside in disgust. It bothered him to see it sitting on the table in front of him, so he reached out and crushed it into a ball to further appease his sense of justice.
A quiet chuckle his only comment, Trowa pulled the neighboring chair to the side and made himself comfortable. He looked over Duo's handiwork before asking, "Whatever did it do to offend you?"
"Just reminded me of something." Duo tossed the wad of paper into the unused ashtray and buried it under the resident discarded coffee creamers for good measure.
Trowa, who knew full well what Duo was remembering, decided that steering the conversation in a new direction might be the more prudent course of action. "What's on special today?"
"'As Good As Sex' and hazelnut coffee, or a nice import Keemun if you prefer tea."
"'As Good As Sex'?"
Duo grimaced, he didn't want to think about sex or the lack thereof in his life at the moment, but Trowa apparently had no such limitations. "Chocolate French toast with sliced strawberries and whipped cream dusted with sugar and cinnamon." Duo looked at Trowa's lean torso and then up to his face, which held a considering expression. "You'll work it off quickly enough." He glanced back at the paper wrapper and shrugged. "Don't worry, I'll get over her...sooner or later anyway." He gave a disgusted look at Trowa. "I should just swear off women entirely."
"Well..." Trowa met his eyes with a glint of humor hiding behind them, "There's always men you know. They're, um, quite different."
"Yeah, I know... I've explored that option occasionally, and I've decided that I'm giving up on the whole lot. I'm just going to set up my store and get my life in order and live a nice, simple, planned-out life you know?" His look darkened, "Yeah, I'm just going to live my life alone and entirely under _my_ control instead of risking my hopes on another person again."
It wasn't just his hopes that had broken under the strain, but Trowa refrained from dredging up the topic again and twisted it to humor instead, "And what, have a serious relationship with your right hand?"
"Yeah, and date my left. I don't see you hanging out with anyone either. Course it's harder for you since you only like one flavor, or... is it just getting harder?" Duo snickered into his orange juice.
Trowa looked down at his lap before carefully dressing it with a napkin and turning back to the list of breakfast possibilities. "Well, I wouldn't mind finding somebody. And hey, if you get bored, you can always move back to the neighborhood so we could hang together again--of course I'd miss our regular breakfast sessions."
Duo ignored him and picked up the conversation where he'd dropped it, "So where are you working today?"
"Same as yesterday. They're expecting the concrete work to take another week or two--depends on the weather."
Duo looked up, only mildly interested, "That's on campus right? Over by the grad school dorms?"
Trowa nodded, but didn't shift his attention from the paper menu.
"You'll have to keep an eye open for a tasty college student then..."
Trowa hadn't thought about Duo's suggestion all morning. It was late in summer, early in the school year, and hot as hell outside. Since the construction crew was working on the campus proper, they had to follow dress code, and Trowa couldn't take off his shirt even though he dearly wanted to.
It was boring work, completely routine, and he hated the sense that he'd been relegated to the status of non-human. Hell, it wasn't all that long ago that he and Duo had been living on campus and taking classes in the same buildings as the students who were ignoring him; but that was years ago, before he'd lost his scholarship and with it his hopes of graduation. Now he was cracking concrete and pouring new walks for the next generations of students to walk down.
Boring and predictable as it might be, it paid his rent and kept him in decent shape. The rent was important now that he had his own place. He'd thought briefly about asking Duo if he wanted to share an apartment again, now that his plans with the publicly unnamable female were toast, but Trowa had grown to enjoy his privacy. It wasn't that Duo didn't make a decent roommate, but...
He sat back on the steps leading out of the quad, munching on the sandwich he'd ordered at breakfast and keeping as close to the shadows as he could--enjoying the coolness of the granite steps and casually watching the activity around him. He had a good view of the graduate cafeteria and its outdoor seating. Kids, that's all they were.
Yeah, he was looking for someone new, but he wasn't into cradle robbing, even someone slightly older than him might be cool, say early thirties maybe. It was tough living a straight work life and having a gay social life though, especially when working construction. He was good looking, fit, could hold more than one thought in his head at a time, and was gainfully employed. What more could anyone want? Unfortunately, the only people who seemed interested were of the female persuasion, and he'd received both careful looks from coeds and hoots of encouragement from his co-workers most of that morning. He didn't discourage it though; it made for great cover. No one would suspect where his desires lay, except for Duo, who he'd been best friends with since freshmen orientation ten years earlier.
Just for the hell of it, his attention drifted over the small assortment of students gathered around the outdoor furniture, cataloging and doing some mild fantasizing. The guy over on the right was interesting and moved well, looked confident. Yeah, he'd do him. A blue polo shirt and khaki trousers over towards the middle looked fuckable as well. Yeah sweetheart, wanna come over to Trowa's place for milk and cookies later? Okay, now he was getting cynical again. He looked down at his sandwich and pulled a wandering bit of lettuce aside before scanning the patio some more.
A clatter drew his attention to a group of three young men sitting closer to the building. One of them stood abruptly, shifting his cafeteria tray and spilling the rest of its contents to the ground. The two people sitting with him started laughing in a darkly nasty way that made Trowa's skin itch. The man standing next to the table looked a few years older than his lunch company, and moved to leave before one of the seated men reached out and snagged him back into their circle. It wasn't a polite move, and Trowa kept a cautious eye on that particular table, curious about what had flustered the third man so. From this distance, he appeared to be a slim blond, very blond, and given what tuition cost here (which Trowa regretfully knew very well), and the cut of his clothes, this man had money, lots of it. Most of the students in the graduate school did. Slick and useless, the entire lot of them. Still, they usually stuck together like pigeon shit to a sidewalk (another thing Trowa had some experience with), which made the altercation all that more curious. Too bad the guy wasn't older; Trowa liked blonds. They were easier to find in the dark after all. He watched the student pointedly pick up the tray a second time and leave his circle of laughing classmates.
Interesting. Trowa looked at the watch clipped to his belt and looked skyward, realizing that it was past time for him to get back on the timeclock. He glanced back at the blond who was now making his way across the quad, and chalked him up to nothing more than a brief notice and a possible wish before crumpling the remains of his sandwich into the bag it had come in and getting back to work.
He felt vaguely unsettled the rest of the afternoon, but chalked it up to Duo's uncharacteristic gloom that morning. When he got home, he pitched his keys at the dish by the television and missed by six inches, which pretty much set the mood for the rest of the night. Though he thought about getting takeout from the Chinese place a few blocks over or having a pizza delivered, but he waited too long and debated too much and wound up eating a meal scavenged from the assorted leftovers and partial meals left in his fridge and freezer instead. He was out of plastic wrap and the only clean fork in the house was the one inverted and bent just far enough for him to use as a doorstop. The dishtowel he improvised as a potholder shifted at a critical moments and he burned the tip of his finger. After some creative cursing, he returned to the living room and sat on the sofa with the towel-wrapped bowl balanced across his lap, reached over for the remote, turned on the TV, and settled back to watch the rest of the world leading their successful plastic lives. Just another day in his life. He thought back to his lunch-time musings that day. Other than varying his fantasies, his days didn't seem to vary all that much lately.
A disturbance in the coffee shop the next morning caught his attention and he held a hand up to Duo for silence. Duo stilled immediately and raised himself in his chair for a better look. Four men were leaving a round table in the back of the cafe; it was the fifth man that held Trowa's attention. It was his blond from the lunch patio yesterday, and it looked like he was getting stiffed for the bill for his classmates, as they were already passing the threshold and on their way onto the sidewalk and away. They jostled each other in a familiar fashion and snickered disdainfully as they left.
The remaining man, who in Trowa's opinion didn't suffer in the least from closer observation, sat wearily down and drew out his wallet to carefully count bills against the rather significant tab his 'friends' had totaled. He left a sizable tip on top of the check and moved to the door with a frustrated weariness that told Trowa that this wasn't the first time he'd fallen into this trap. Trowa looked back at Duo who was slowly shaking his head. There was something poignantly sad about the way the man seemed to take his treatment for granted.
"That guy needs a better class of friends."
Trowa nodded in agreement before turning his attention back to his meal.
It was two weeks before Trowa saw the blond again. He hadn't been consciously looking for the man, but he was striking enough to stand out in any crowd. After watching him for a while, Trowa finally decided what it was about the man that he found odd; even though he was obviously rich and cultured, he seemed so, well, innocent was the only word that came to mind. He was so willing to let his classmates exploit him, so obvious in his desire to belong to a circle of acquaintances--no matter how poorly they treated him. That lack of self consciousness spoke of years in a controlled environment, it was a wonder his parents had let him out of their sight. Trowa had seen the same circumstances wander though Cambridge any number of times, but not usually in someone of his years. Teens often, but this man must be running into his mid to late twenties. He was headed for either trouble or disappointment, and Trowa dropped a wish into the air that he might survive whatever he encountered intact.
Trowa revised his assessment to 'trouble' when he saw the man next. He and Duo were celebrating the first three months of Daydreams--his bookstore, his dream--at the new Thai restaurant a few blocks over from both his store and Trowa's small apartment. The fish was well presented and seasoned, and they were both headed contentedly into the dessert course by the time Trowa noticed the couple in the far corner. Couple was a loose term, but appropriate. The same blond he'd been tripping over for the better part of two months was shyly conversing with an older man, a man who was smoothly courting and coming on to his dinner partner.
Well, _that_ was certainly a surprise. He would never have targeted this man as gay, or even bi--not even close. Of course, given how susceptible he'd proven himself so far, he might just be heading towards more than he was planning on that evening, and Trowa subtlety but intentionally slowed his consumption. Duo noticed and called him on it.
He nodded to the corner, "That your stray?" he asked quietly.
"Mmmm, just curious."
"That's the guy from the coffee shop isn't it? The one with the exploitive company?"
"Yes, that's him."
"You keeping an eye on him?" Duo looked over at the couple and studied the blond and his date. "I don't think much of the man he's with."
"Me either." He paused to consider, "I think I'll hang out here for a while." Trowa tipped his coffee cup at the waiter, who obediently wandered off in search of a refill.
Duo gave the guy in the corner an entirely different sort of look; evaluating him carefully as the man pushed yet another drink at his younger dining partner. "You got this one?"
"Yeah, my turn to play do-gooder."
Duo nodded. "I'll settle the tab on my way out then. Give me a ring tomorrow and let me know how it went okay?" He looked closely at Trowa and then back at the attractive blond again. "He deserves better than that... creature. You sure you don't want back up?"
"Yeah, I'm sure. Thanks for dinner."
There was no response. When Duo looked back at his friend from the doorway of the restaurant, Trowa was already immersed in his new role. He was so adept at changing from one persona into the next that it was disturbing. It had taken Duo months to realize that Trowa was completely ignorant of the sheer talent he possessed. It frightened most people, if not the talent for it, then for the mercurial ease with which he slipped from one role to the next. Few realized it for what it was--a rare talent for becoming one with his part and assuming roles with one hundred percent saturation within seconds. If he'd had any interest in working on stage or in the government, he would have been faultless. He would have made a helluva cop.
Duo recognized this one as Casual Observer with a hint of Menacing Protector. He wondered briefly how the striking blond had managed to capture Trowa's attention, and felt a brief touch of regret for anyone who pissed him off tonight. Only foolish things got between Trowa and what he was interested in. And Trowa was interested in that blond man from the cafe... interesting.