Teenage Dirtbag Sequel
By the time I find the address scribbled on the worn piece of paper, it's past six o'clock. The parking lot of the large, unadorned structure is empty. It took me two different buses to get into the right area and then I wandered around the same five wrong blocks for a while, and now it's too late. I knew I should have just gotten a cab. My stomach reminds me that I haven't eaten since an early breakfast, but I decide to go knock on the door before giving up.
There's a buzzer by what looks to be the non-automobile entrance but I just stare at it before pressing it. A flash of clarity tells me I'm off my rocker. I'm here to offer a job to someone I haven't seen in five years, a high school classmate of mine. Will he remember me? Will I recognize him? Will he even want to talk to me? We weren't even that close. What we had couldn't really be described as friendship… Ok, it started out with me bullying him but something about him won me over and I haven't been able to forget him all these years.
I swallow my momentary common sense and push the bell. There is no response but I hear something and lean closer to the door. Music. Someone is inside. I can't see anything through the small window in the door, so I go around the corner in search of a real window. I cup my hands to the glass to cut the glare and peer in. The window looks into what is most likely a break room, but through the open door I see a car with the hood open. A man leans into it. There is a flash of his elbow and a long, chestnut rope of hair swings onto his back as he continues working. So much for not recognizing him. Excitement prickles through me. Well, if it isn't my lucky day.
I go back to the door and try the knob instinctively. It opens. I am one lucky son of a bitch today. I enter and shut the door behind me. The music is fairly loud but he should have heard the buzzer. I figure he's probably absorbed in what he's doing. I find him still bent over the engine, hair trailing down his back. It's longer now, reaching his waist. I feel like some kind of freakish stalker, but all I can do is watch for a moment. I've come 1,000 miles to find him and now I don't know what to say.
He straightens slightly and leans his hands on the frame of the car, studying something inside.
"Duo Maxwell?" I say, trying my best not to startle him.
He backs out and whirls around, end of the braid thumping dully against the grill of the car. I wonder if his look of shock is because he recognizes me or because he thought he was alone. His blue eyes are frozen comically wide and I almost chuckle. He's exactly the way I remember him.
"Heero?" he stammers.
"You remember," I say, my voice undoubtedly conveying how pleased that makes me.
He stares still, blinking rapidly. "Oh my god, how have you been?" he asks as he picks up a rag. He wipes his hands vigorously, not taking his eyes off me.
"Good," I say with a nod. I know I should give him a better answer, but the words get caught in my throat. He launches on anyway, asking about what I've been doing. He interrupts himself to fetch us a couple of sodas. He tosses me one and grins at me. I lean on the car and smile back as he continues his interrogation until I direct the conversation more towards my point. "I wanted to offer you a job."
He just stares at me, so I blunder on. "I've been recruited for a project with NASA and -"
"NASA?!" he sputters. Why does everyone do that? This would be why I usually avoid the mention of it.
"Um yes, well, it's just an internship," I continue self-consciously, "but I need a partner and I was wondering if I could interest you in the position. We'll be working on engine coolant systems. You know, fluid dynamics, kinetics…" I yammer on about the project, unable to judge his reaction.
"Wait, you want me to come work at NASA?" he questions. I confirm. He balks.
"Look Duo, I know this is a complete surprise," I say, taking a step back for both our sakes. "I'm starving, let's get some dinner and talk about it. My treat."
He quickly agrees and I wait for him to clean up and change out of his grease smeared teeshirt before we go out. I let him choose where we go since he knows Columbus better than I do. We walk and chat idly on the way. I like that I feel comfortable with him immediately. It doesn't surprise me, I just forgot how it felt.
He asks question after question, it almost makes my head spin but I answer them all. I remember that about him very clearly. I suppose that's how he learns what he wants to know, especially with me, because it's not like I'm a big talker.
"So, tell me about what you did after high school," he says, leading me across an intersection.
I shrug. "Nothing important, drove out to California, worked a couple of stupid jobs. It sucked, really. Wasn't at all what I'd been wanting. I made a little money, but otherwise it was a waste of time."
"No, it wasn't," he offers, "not if it taught you something. Did it?"
"Did I learn from it?" I wonder out loud. "Yeah, I guess I did learn something. I learned I wanted more than that. I think by the time my uncle died I had figured out I needed to go to college."
He grins at me, "Then it wasn't a waste of time."
Guess not. Hn.
The longer I spend with him, the more I realize that my initial impression was wrong. He's not the boy I remember, he's grown into, well, a man. He's almost as big as I am. I don't know why I'm surprised, we're 23 years old. I guess I just always pictured him as the lanky, scrawny kid he was five years ago. It's a change I'm just going to have to get used to.
Not that it's bad. In fact, it isn't – at all. For some reason, I can't stop looking at him, like it's going to take a little while to fully take him in. Even with the long hair, he could never be mistaken for a girl now. He's grown about four inches taller, and gained near twenty-five pounds I'd guess. All muscle from the looks of it. He's still narrow, but his chest and shoulders broadened significantly, his legs muscled out, and his jaw squared up.
"So, did you ever come back home?" he asks. "When I found out your uncle died, I kept thinking I should go over and see you, but I never got around to it. I wish I had."
"Yeah, I was there for a while, just to take care of the arrangements and sell the house."
He frowns and looks glum.
"It's ok that you didn't come to see me," I tell him, "I mean it's not like I was banging down your door either." Uh, that sounded kind of bad. Shit. "What I mean is, everything has to happen of its own accord."
He quirks a dubious eyebrow at me. "You believe in predestination?"
"No, that isn't what I meant," I frown, "What I was really trying to say was, it's useless to wish to change things, because look, here we are going to dinner without having seen each other that summer."
He chuckles. "Yeah, here we are. How did you find me anyway?"
"Your aunt still lives in your old house. I went there and asked for you."
"You did? I think I see what you mean now."
"Yes, she told me your address, and we talked for a little while," I tell him.
He smiles, "She's a cool lady, isn't she? I miss her."
"Yes, she was very nice to me. She even remembered me."
"She didn't show you any pictures of me, did she?" he asks, suddenly suspicious.
"Yes," I nod, "all the embarrassing ones." It was quite a show, the camera loves Duo. And he was a devious little nudist until about age five.
"Oh no, the naked ones?" he groans.
"Yes," I can't help but smile a little. He blushes an attractive shade of pink.
"God, the woman should not have been allowed to own a camera!" he rants.
"I liked the ones where you have no teeth," I tell him. He was cute as kids go, always had scruffy chestnut hair hanging in his huge blue eyes, and a big grin on his face. Nothing stopped him from smiling, not even a big space where his front teeth should have been.
"I can't believe she did that!" he groans again, "Man, every time I brought someone one home from college she'd break out the photo albums! She just loves to embarrass me!"
I grunt in agreement. Sometimes I wonder what my mother would have been like. I have seen a few baby pictures of myself, there were some in Jay's house that I kept. My grandfather didn't use the camera often. There's one where I'm smiling, but usually I looked sullen, hiding behind my dark hair. I get older and just look angrier. Nothing a loving parent would want to show.
"So, what was school like?" his question interrupts my thoughts just in time. Shit. I hate it when I think about sentimental bullshit like that.
"Tough," I answer. There are some serious problems with vocabulary today.
He laughs. "'Tough' from the guy who corrected my chemistry homework while drunk and my calculus while stoned!"
"Oh, I did that?" I ask self-consciously. I barely remember it.
"Yeah," he nods, then grins, "Only assignments I ever got 100% on!"
"I'm sorry, Duo, I didn't mean to show off – " I try to apologize.
"Heero, stop it," he interrupts me with a wave of his hand, "I asked you to."
I nod quietly. It used to bug me so much when anyone would discover that I was smarter than I pretended. It was odd that I would just out right correct him. I don't know what made me talk to him that day. Maybe he looked like he'd be fun to intimidate, or maybe I was feeling good from the weed and a little more talkative than usual. I don't know, but I'm damn glad I did.
Suddenly, he laughs loudly. "CWI: Chemistry while under the influence!" He points a playful finger at me and says in a mock-serious voice, "Friends don't let friends drink and do homework!"
I chuckle at this. But then I realize it really isn't that funny. He did stop me from driving drunk once. God, why was I such an idiot?
"So, stop thinking self-deprecating thoughts and tell me about school," he prompts me. It's almost like he read my mind. I am determined to give him a real answer for once.
"It was very good for me, I think I learn more when challenged. And it was something I wanted to do. It was my decision; I wanted to be there. I think that was part of my problem in high school, I didn't want to be there." I falter at the end, remembering that he knows about my wrists.
He nods thoughtfully. "Makes sense," he agrees. It's good that he knows, I decide. He understands just how much I didn't want to be there.
"So, what made you change your mind about school? You said you met some of your uncle's partners?" he asks after a moment.
"It's stupid and complicated," I warn him.
"You've got five blocks, Yuy," he answers as we stop at a 'don't walk' sign.
"It was at Jay's funeral," I recall, "I met several of his colleagues, these four crazy old guys, just like Jay. They knew my mother too. Jay was her brother, she was a physicist like him. These old scientist guys told me more about her than anyone else had ever bothered to. The grandfather I lived with was my father's father, and I guess the two halves of my family never got along, so he didn't tell me much about my mother. All I knew was that she died giving birth to me, and then my father ditched me not long after that. Apparently, Jay had been trying to get me from my grandfather for a while. He thought Jen's boy was going to waste or something, you know, not living up to his potential, or whatever," I say with the barest tint of bitterness.
"Anyway, these guys practically begged me to go to school. After hearing about my mother, I couldn't say no. But you know," I let myself ponder, "a year before then, I wouldn't have been ready to hear it, you know? I would have just told them to fuck off. That is what I mean when I say everything must happen on its own terms."
He nods thoughtfully.
"I'll probably go back for grad school in a couple years," I say, "but I was offered this internship, so I thought I'd take it."
He leads me to a small deli. I have to stand back and read the menu board on the wall, but he goes right up to the counter. For a moment, my eyes linger on the flash of skin exposed on his back when pulls his long-sleeved shirt over his head. I raise my eyes to the menu just before he looks back to check on me. I finally pick something and we find a corner table. My pastrami on Itlaian and his turkey club arrive, and I go over all the specifics of the job.
What I don't tell him is that I'm treading on thin ice coming here. I was the top pick for the internship and the board decided to allow me some say in the selection of the candidate to fill the other position. One thing that hasn't changed about me is that I can't work with just anybody. I thought of Duo almost right away. I used to think about him now and then during school. No matter where I was, or what I was doing, his memory stayed with me. Granted, sometimes way in the back of my mind, but certain things would bring it out. Especially when someone couldn't understand my design or follow my line of thought. A voice in my head would say, "Duo would get it, Duo would understand."
Given the board's reaction to my adamant claims that I knew the perfect candidate, I get the feeling they weren't used to such obstinance. They only begrudgingly agreed to let me come here and I certainly didn't tell them I hadn't talked to this person in five years. He doesn't need to know that my reputation is at stake here, and hangs precariously from his performance in a job he technically is not qualified for. And that's if I can convince him to say yes.
He listens closely to all the details. I appreciate that he's taking this so seriously. When I finish, he asks tons of questions. He seems very interested in the job, just like I was hoping, but he doesn't give me a yes.
"What's the pay like?" he asks. I tell him about the stipend. "Geez," he laughs, "does that have anything to do with NASA's new budget?"
"Florida is expensive to live in," I remind him.
"Heero, I'll be honest with you," he says after a moment, "I'm really flattered that you thought of me for the job, and it sounds great, but I just don't think I'm qualified. I mean, you and everyone you work with probably has a better education than me. I just don't have your level of training. You really should find someone more fit for the job."
"Duo, I never forgot how quickly you understood my designs. Even at MIT, you could have understood better than some of the other students. Besides, you design yourself, don't you? This will be a good opportunity to reach your full potential."
He doesn't look convinced; he's just kind of staring at his plate.
"Let me give you that chance, Duo," I continue.
"I just don't want you to hire me and then later decide that I was right," he says, brows furrowed.
"I'm sure that what you don't know yet, you'll pick up very quickly," I try to reassure him. His cobalt eyes flicker up at me, and I see that he looks even less convinced. I wonder what I said wrong.
"And… I want to work with you, Duo," I shift in my seat wondering how to explain this, "I haven't changed that much in five years, you're still one of the only people I've ever felt comfortable around. I feel like you get it, Duo, you get… me. And why do you think I came over to your house those times? I wanted your opinion! You said it yourself: even then I was capable of things that you couldn't have done. But your thoughts were important to me because you saw things differently than I did; you came up with things I would never have thought of. Now, I have an important project, and I'm asking for your help again."
He looks at me like he can't believe I just said so much, and really I can't believe it either. I shift and look away. I'm still not very good at expressing my feelings. But then again, I've told him things I've never told anyone else. I can't deny that part of the reason I'm here is that I wanted to see him again. I've dated and learned to be more social over the years, but I still don't have that many close friends. I want to try again at friendship with him.
Friendship is why I came here, but the more I'm around him, the more I can't deny that I'd like to try for more than friendship. It's a thrilling feeling to be able to look at him and understand my feelings. I'm becoming overwhelmingly attracted to him. I've grown a lot and I think I'm ready to acknowledge this feeling. I've always felt there was something between us, some spark or tension. I remember waking up next to him the morning after prom, both of us on the floor in our underwear. That was not supposed to be where I woke up. Looking around at the mess of the room and our clothes strewn about, my first thought was 'Oh my god did we…?' I remembered everything quickly, and of course we'd just gotten stoned and played video games, but just the fact that such a thought had even crossed my mind… It was enough to make me grab my things and get the hell out. I was definitely not ready to feel those feelings.
I never went back to his house after that, even though there were times I wanted to. Like when I broke up with Relena. I didn't usually feel like talking to anyone about my personal problems, but that time I really did, just to ask someone I trusted 'Am I doing the right thing?' And I did trust him. I rarely saw him in school those last two weeks, but when I did it felt… I don't know, good? Yeah, like there was someone at that school I didn't hate and actually enjoyed seeing.
Whatever was between us, I'm pretty sure he felt it too, but I don't know that for certain. I know this will take time, and I'm willing to wait and work for it. But who knows, maybe he's changed more than I can tell right now. Maybe there never was anything there, and never will be. I'd be disappointed, but I'd settle for friends if that's all he wants.
I'm constantly going back and forth. The truth of the matter is I barely even know him anymore. It could end up that I don't like him as much as I've been remembering. He may have changed or picked up some irritating habits. I'm not even sure he likes men! Besides, even if we do try to start something, we'll have to take it pretty slow.
"Can you give me a little time to think it over?" he asks of the job.
"Of course," I agree, "A few days?" He seems satisfied by that. "They'll want you to have a preliminary interview. It's nothinig to worry about, but you'll have to come down to the Center."
He just nods.
"I think I can get them to fly you down if that's a problem."
Things are kind of quiet for a few minutes after that. This is not what I wanted it to be like. I expected him to jump at the opportunity. A cascade of doubt washes over me. Suddenly I begin to think none of this is going to work out. He isn't going to want the job. I'll go to Florida and he'll stay here and I'll never see him again. Or he'll take the job and we won't get along after all, or he'll be unhappy with it.
When I look up again, he's leaning back in his chair, giving me a playfull look.
"You still have a tee-shirt of mine if I recall correctly," he says, folding his arms over his chest.
I blink at him. My mind searches. Way back in my mind, a black teeshirt materializes. The one he left out for me the morning I had that awful hangover. I feel a smile creep onto my face. "You're right," I say, "I never did give that back. Actually, I kept it. I think I wore it until it was completely threadbare."
"Mm, yes it did look good on you," he nods. I'm not sure quite how to take that, but I feel my heart jump.
"Well," I counter, equally esoteric, "It probably wouldn't fit you now anyway." He blushes very slightly. He probably hates it, but I find it very attractive, like a preview of what he will look like during sex – WOULD look like. What he would look like, I correct myself. Where the hell did that come from?
He laughs. "God, you don't drink like that anymore, do you?" he says, still laughing.
It's my turn to feel a little embarrassed. "No," I tell him. "I stopped that. The weed too for the most part. So, do you, uh, keep up with any high school friends?" I ask hesitantly, trying to contribute to the conversation a little more.
"Yeah, a few," he answers, and tells me about some people I only vaguely remember. I feel better this way, with him talking to me. I like hearing him talk, I feel like it's something that's been missing from my life. He mentions a couple who is still together and then laughs. "Have you talked to Relena since high school?" he asks.
"No," I answer, an ironic smile quirking my lips. It is funny that I am here thinking about 'more than friendship' with a guy who used to have a crush on my girlfriend. That's kind of how we met in the first place.
"I hear she's getting into politics," he tells me.
"Oh? Not surprising," I answer.
"Yeah, foreign policy or international relations or something."
"Hn, she'll be good at that," I nod, "She is a good person, I would trust her with important decisions."
He moves on and we talk about something else from high school. I like how it feels as we talk, like I'm a normal person. I like how he looks at me, and how I feel so engaged. It also makes me feel good that our friendship meant something to him too. I don't even know if 'friendship' is a good term, it was such a miniscule relationship if anything. That's how it would look to anyone else, but it was important to me. At the time, it was all I was really capable of. He obviously understands that. I can't even describe how that makes me feel. I'm ready now. I'm ready for him.
Before I know it, we've talked for an hour. "I'm sorry, Duo," I apologize, "I'd better get going, I still have to find a place to stay. Do you have any suggestions?" I hope I don't offend him. Really, I'd rather spend more time with him. Maybe I can find a place and then we can meet somewhere for drinks or something.
"Hmmmm… a good place to stay…" he thinks. He purses his lips and taps his temple. I can tell he thinks something is funny.
"My place!" he exclaims.
"Oh, no, Duo, really, I don't want to be a bother –" I start, but he interrupts me.
"Don't be ridiculous, Heero!" he snorts at me, "I want you to stay at my place!"
I try a few more protests, but he waves me off. "Yuy, you owe me a tee-shirt. You have to do what I say."
This logic makes absolutely no sense, but I'll take it. I really would like to stay at his house. It makes me a little nervous, but I agree.