I was relieved to find Cynthia in the kitchen on Tuesday morning and I smiled at her, immediately understanding from the look she gave me in return that she knew what had happened. That something had happened, at the very least.
She got a mug out from the cupboard and filled it with coffee, adding a little milk to it before setting it down on the table in front of me. I nodded my thanks and smiled at her again before bringing the cup to my lips with both hands and blowing slightly at the steaming liquid inside before taking a sip.
Everything had felt off since Sunday morning and this tiny respite from it was most welcomed.
The house had been unusually quiet with both Cynthia and Duo gone, and the reason for the latter not being present was something I couldn't seem to stop thinking about. It appeared that my parents were still absorbing things as well, and being around them was uncomfortable; even more so than before.
I looked up, watching Cynthia as she stood at the sink rinsing off dishes and bending to put them into the dishwasher. I appreciated her silence so far this morning and it didn't come as any surprise to me that she accepted mine in return. In all the years she had been with us, I had never seen Cynthia pry, though there were times I was certain she had wanted to. She had no way of knowing I wanted this to be one of those moments.
"Did you have a good weekend?" I asked, swallowing hard and hoping my attempt at drawing her into a conversation didn't sound as lame to her as it sounded to my own ears.
She turned off the water and turned toward me, reaching to dry her hands on the bright orange dishtowel that was draped over the counter in front of the sink.
"I did," she replied with a smile and a nod, "It's always nice to have three days in a row off."
I could see the slight crease in the bridge of her nose and noted how her eyebrows were taught with concern as she looked at me.
"He's gone," I told her, though I was certain she already knew at least that much. It agitated me to say it.
She glanced toward the table and down at my hands, causing me to do the same. I hadn't realized I had drawn them both into tight fists. I took a deep breath, relaxing back into the chair and exhaling, allowing a small amount of the tension I was feeling to dissipate.
"His father didn't take it very well," I said, figuring that she would know what I was talking about.
She nodded and pulled the chair directly across the table from me out and sat down. "Is it something you want to talk about, Heero?"
It was, though I hesitated before nodding.
. . . . . . .
Although I had initially done so out of boredom, I ended up spending a lot of time the past three days on my RPG. My solemn mood had proved to be beneficial in working through some of the crucial moments of the game that I had to backtrack and make adjustments to. I tried not to take my frustrations out of the characters, but some of the changes I made ended up rendering certain parts of the game a little more angsty than I had originally intended.
The list of artwork that I kept beside my computer was growing steadily and I wondered how long it would be before Duo would have a chance to work on it. He had managed to dwindle it down significantly the last time we had worked up here in my room, but I had added just as many, if not more since then.
I had not thought it would be beneficial to see things drawn out the way he had, but once I had incorporated his drawings into the game, I had been surprisingly inspired by the visualizations. It gave me more of a connection to the characters having faces to go with the names and I found myself wanting to add more back story for them. I hoped it wasn't steering the game too far off the course I had planned for it, but I decided that I could always take it out later if I thought that any of it was detrimental to the plotline.
It was difficult for me not to feel especially kindred to Pilot 01, but looking up at the monitor and seeing my own image there made it nearly impossible. The same held true for Pilot 02.
I thought back to when Duo and I first sat down and talked about the game and how he'd volunteered to draw some images for me to incorporate into it. I immediately agreed, liking the idea of seeing something more than the crude stick figures I had hastily added to it.
That he'd made Pilots 01 and 02 resemble us was something it had taken me a while to get used to, but once I had, it had definitely affected how I thought about the characters and had ended up enhancing the storyline.
I opened GIMP and pulled up the directory that held all the pictures Duo had drawn for the RPG so far. There were a lot of them, more than I recalled there being. I scrolled down the list, clicking on the one file that I kept in the directory, even though Duo hadn't drawn it with the intention of including it in the game. It was the one he'd drawn of Pilot 02 taking Pilot 01 from behind.
The file opened and I chuckled out loud. I hadn't seen the drawing since the day we'd scanned it in and I had been much too embarrassed back then to look too closely at it.
Duo seemed to have taken more care in drawing this image than any of the others, I noted; including in it much more detail and realism. I liked the way he looked behind me; liked the way my body arched in reaction to his. The splayed fingers of both his hands gripped tightly at my hips, either holding me still or urging me to move. I couldn't say which. The sheet beneath us was bunched and crushed in the fist of my right hand and I couldn't help but wonder if that had actually happened, or if it was something that Duo just added. I didn't underestimate Duo's uncanny talent for recalling such details.
I leaned forward to peer at the screen more carefully, studying the expression on Pilot 01's face and wondered how close to reality it was. The idea of it was enough to make my cheeks flush and I recalled that my reaction to seeing it the first time had been much the same.
It was a bold action on his part, I thought, drawing something so... perverted, so soon after we'd done the act. Duo had been overly amused at the time and couldn't help but smile thinking how much he still seemed to enjoy getting a reaction out of me. The reactions were different now; having reached another level in our relationship, but Duo was still capable of doing things I couldn't anticipate.
I don't think it entered either of our minds back then that things between us were going to evolve to where they had.
I was finding it impossible, as well, to work on the game without thinking about Duo. Not only was Pilot 02 the spitting image of him, but Duo had unwittingly become a sounding board for me. He had eventually started giving me his own impressions, and I, in turn bounced things off him before making any actual changes. I had no doubts that the difference in the way we saw things had ended up drastically improving the game.
I continued working, pleased with the outcome of my labor for the day. I turned to face the clock, surprised to find that I had worked right through lunch and that it was nearly dinner time.
I hit save before pushing back from my desk and extended my legs out in front of me. I raised my arms above my head and clasped my two hands, rotating my shoulders and giving them a much needed stretch. I could feel a slight stiffness in my neck and I tilted my head from side to side, moaning as the motions eased the better part of it away.
Looking up at the screen, I watched the progress of the save.
I hadn't meant to direct my anger at any one character in particular, but it probably wasn't a coincidence that I ended up having Pilot 02 get captured and subsequently tortured by the enemy. It was a partial redemption on my part having Pilot 01 rescue him when he clearly should not have. I toyed around with that scene a bit, purposely leaving it as ambiguous as possible.
I was sure that Duo would understand why I had done it.
. . . . . . .
Changing into my swim trunks, I grabbed the towel I used the night before from my dresser and headed downstairs and out to the pool. I had not gone swimming at all on Sunday, but had ventured out on Monday evening for my usual routine. It wasn't strictly that being out there reminded me of Duo and everything that had happened, though that was clearly on my mind.
I missed Duo.
I had signed onto AIM while I was working on my game and had left it running nearly all day in the hopes that he would come on line. He hadn't though, nor had he replied to the email I sent him on Tuesday night.
Draping my towel over the back of the chair closest to the deep end of the pool, I toed off my sneakers and climbed up onto the diving board. The water was a bright crystalline blue and calm, without even the smallest ripple in its surface. I made a mental note to turn the filters on once I finished my swim and walked toward the end of the board, bouncing slightly before arching my body up off of it and diving into the water.
After swimming my standard ten laps, I decided to keep going this morning since I was feeling up to the task. I could feel the adrenaline pumping through me and I surprised myself by doing another four laps before coming up a little winded and blindly groping for the ladder once I'd surfaced.
I pulled myself up and out of the pool, and sat on the concrete edge, leaving my legs dangling in the water while I caught my breath.
The lack of contact with Duo was bothering me. Despite the fact he told me he was planning to wait for things to cool down a little before calling me, I had been expecting him to. Three days seemed adequate enough time for whatever it was he thought was going to happen and I decided that if I did not hear from him by this afternoon, that I was going to call him tonight.
Although I had asked myself the question many times over, I was still without an answer: what *had* Duo expected to happen? Did he think his father was going change his mind about making him leave? I didn't think that was even a remote possibility after what I had witnessed on Saturday night, nor did I think there was any chance of Duo convincing him otherwise, even as persuasive as I knew he could be.
. . . . . . .
Duo did not answer his cell when I called on Wednesday night and I tried again on Thursday morning with the same result. It wasn't until he didn't pick up on Thursday night that I decided to leave a message. I knew that he didn't always carry his phone with him, but he would see the missed calls eventually, even if he didn't check his voicemail.
When my cell rang on early Friday evening, I was relatively certain it was him. I excused myself from the dinner table without making direct eye contact with either my parents or Cynthia and stepped out the kitchen door and into the rear yard.
There were a lot of things I wanted to say to Duo and although I'd had plenty of time to prepare for his call and could have rehearsed something, I had not and I was at a loss for what to say first.
"Yes," I told him, feeling somewhat guilty about the lengthy pause. "What's going on?" I asked, not planning to ask him that right out, but not regretting I had.
"It's a long story," he said, exhaling loudly.
"I have plenty of time," I told him, walking toward the stone path that lead out to the pool area.
"Everything okay there? I mean, with your folks and all."
I nodded, aware that he could not see me, but feeling the need to confirm it to myself as well. "Pretty much what I expected," I told him, "Your father..." I started, shaking my head, unable to find the words I wanted to finish the sentence.
Duo laughed on the other end of the line and I could hear the bitterness in it. "You have no idea," he said tersely.
"Has he calmed down any?"
I wanted to ask him if he'd had any idea of how things were going to turn out and if he did, why he had even bothered... and why hadn't he warned me.
"I fucked up, Heero," he said, "Big time."
I wanted to tell him that he hadn't, but I could not bring myself to.
"School starts in a little over a month," I reminded him. "At least you won't have to deal with it as much then."
"I moved back in."
"To your parent's house?" I asked, though I had no doubt that was what he had meant. "What about your apartment in the city?"
"It's up for sale. Like I said before, Heero," he continued, "long story."
I couldn't think of anything to say, too busy trying to digest everything Duo was telling me. There were a million questions I wanted to ask him.
"Listen, I gotta go. Gina leaves for class in five minutes and she needs her phone back. I'll call again over the weekend, k?"
"Okay," I said, trying to think of what else I could hastily add before he disconnected, but I never got the chance.
Closing and pocketing my phone, I continued toward the rear of the yard instead of turning around and going back into the house to finish dinner.
I had waited five days to speak with Duo and I was more confused now than I had been before his call. I sighed and pulled one of the chairs out from beneath the table and sat, stretching my legs out in front of me as I ran the fingers of my right hand through my bangs.
Rather than attempting to figure out what was going on, I relied on the way Duo had responded to my questions. He seemed to be handling everything okay, which I guessed was the most important thing; not that I expected otherwise. His call had raised more questions than it had answered. I was very much looking forward to speaking with him at length next time and was glad that I was only going to have to wait another day or two.
. . . . . . .
I had offered to take care of the pool for the duration of the summer now that Duo was no longer here to do it. My parents seemed surprised that I made the suggestion, and did not hesitate to accept. I wished there had been something more to it, but I was merely looking for things to fill up my day. I had decided to continue Duo's routine of checking the chemicals and skimming the pool first thing in the morning and vacuuming it when necessary. I checked back once the heat of the day had passed, testing the water again and invariably having to add more chlorine tablets to the skimmers.
It rarely took me more than two hours a day to keep the pool maintained, but it was two hours less a day I had to find something to keep myself occupied.
As much as I loved working on my game, there were only so many hours a day I allowed myself to devote to it. It would have been easy most days, to lock myself in my bedroom and spend all of my waking hours on it, though it was likely I would have regretted it. In a few months, I would be working and it seemed a shame to waste the spare time I had now, knowing that once I was busy with work, I would probably end up wishing I had done something more with it.
There was no denying that I was acutely aware of Duo's absence, though, when I stopped to think about it, we really didn't spend all that much time together. There were days when we worked for hours on the RPG, and of course movie night on Monday, but not much aside from that; at least nothing on a regular basis.
We did see each other at mealtime and during my morning and evening swims as well, but those were things I still did even without him being here. I was feeling decidedly restless, while I had felt an easy contentment before.
Even if Duo hadn't left so unexpectedly last week, he would have been leaving at the end of August to go back to school. It didn't make me feel any better thinking about it in those terms. I needed to make a list of everything I had to do with regard to my move during the upcoming months, anyway. It was just that I would be doing it sooner rather than later.
I blocked out the second week of September on my calendar in red, deciding that it was a good one to make the necessary trip out to California to look for an apartment, though not choosing it for any particular reason. I needed to get online and do some research beforehand, so that I would have as little legwork as possible to do when I got there. I had driven around the area when I had gone for my interview and had more or less decided on where I planned to concentrate my search. San Francisco itself was way too expensive for me to live in and I preferred keeping my commute under forty five minutes. The logistics had all but dictated the areas I was limited to.
Deciding that now was as good a time as any to begin the task, I booted my laptop and did a quick Google search. I found a handful of sites that had apartment listings in the area and made a folder for the move in my bookmarks and added them to it.
Several of the agencies had virtual tours of the available apartments and I spent about an hour looking at the ones that interested me. Most of the listings were one bedrooms and while that was technically all I needed, I found them to be on the small side. I liked the idea of having the extra space; I had grown accustomed to it. My apartment in Princeton was enormous in comparison. I checked further, finding that the square footage of a two bedroom was more what I was looking for. The rent was a little steeper than I had originally intended to pay, but I thought the additional expense would be worthwhile.
I emailed a handful of the realtors whose websites I had visited, giving them a brief description of what I was looking for. I made sure to mention that while I wasn't looking to occupy the space until December, I would be willing to sign the lease earlier if they found something exceptional.
Going through my old emails, I found the name of the hotel I had stayed at when I'd gone on my interview. I booked a single room for 6 nights, making sure I had to option to cancel part of my stay if I found some of the nights unnecessary. I purchased my airline tickets and made rental car arrangements as well, then printed out my e-tickets and both reservation confirmations.
Once that task was done, I shut down my laptop and got up to retrieve a manila folder from my drawer. I tucked the papers inside of it and set it on the desk next to my computer. The move suddenly felt very concrete seeing the physical evidence of it sitting there in front of me.
I was going to miss Duo and I wondered how his current situation at home was going to effect things. I imagined that even with school, he would have been able to take a weekend off every month or so to visit, but that didn't seem likely now. Perhaps it hadn't been an option before, but we had never gotten around to discussing it. The holidays were coming up shortly after my move as well, and I had not thought I would be returning home for them, but it was something I was definitely going to have to consider now.
The changes were still months off. My job didn't start until January and even though I was going to make the actual move in early December, four months was a long time having little planned to fill it.
I searched online for possible short-term employment in the area but found the options were very limited. I could not see myself behind the counter of a fast food restaurant or working in retail no matter my level of boredom. I wasn't keen on accepting a position in my field either, knowing that I would be leaving it after only 4 months and I didn't think that being honest with an employer about how long I planned to stay would get me very far.
. . . . . . .
When Duo's call came on Sunday afternoon, I was ready.
I had thought about all the things I hadn't said the last time he called and had wanted to. There were more questions than anything and I hoped we would be able to talk for considerably longer than we had on Friday.
"This a good time?"
"Yes," I told him, getting up to close the door to my room and sitting down on my bed. I wondered if he would have been surprised if I had admitted that I couldn't think of anything else I would rather be doing.
"I figured you might be out at the pool."
I shook my head; I might have been if I had not been expecting his call. "I was working on the game."
"Making any progress?" he asked.
"A lot," I told him. "I seem to have an overabundance of spare time."
"Same here," he said, "I'm practically bored out of my fucking mind."
I laughed, taking off my socks and sneakers before shifting to lie down on my bed. "Not drawing?"
"I am, Heero, but there's only so much of that you can do. You know?"
I nodded, feeling the same way about my game. "I haven't seen you on AIM," I said, realizing only after I'd said it, that Duo probably wouldn't understand the seemingly sudden change in conversation. "I have a list a mile long of drawings I could use for the game." The contact with him as well as the feeling of collaborating again would have been most welcome.
"My internet access is kinda limited," he admitted, sighing before going on to explain, "He's got some kind of program that's locked me out of most places."
"Not exactly, but something similar, I guess."
"If you can manage to figure out what it is, I can probably find a way around it."
Duo laughed and assured me that he would look into it.
"Gina's been good about letting me use her phone, but she's not here much during the week. Besides, I don't want her to get in trouble for it."
Although he had not come right out and said so, I'd made the assumption when he'd not called me back, or mentioned the message I left him, that his cell phone had been taken away. I couldn't quite understand how his father thought that breaking contact between us was going to change anything. The logic shouldn't have surprised me considering what I knew of the man.
"I'm glad she's okay with it," I said, assuming she wouldn't have let him use her phone otherwise. I was pleased that he had at least one ally.
"I have registration on the 15th," he said, "of August. You willing to come into the city?"
"That's over a month away," I said, immediately regretting that I had not answered his question first. "I'll be there," I assured him. I was still trying to wrap my head around the possibility that he was suggesting that we wouldn't be seeing one another for another six weeks.
"I'm trying to keep a low profile here, Heero. I don't want to give my father any more ammunition."
I wasn't sure exactly what he meant by that, but I had to trust that he had a good grasp of the situation. I certainly had no idea of what was happening. "See if you can figure out how he locked you out of the web." I said, hoping that he would understand that I was willing to settle for even minimal contact with him.
"I will, Heero," he said. "You really think you can hack whatever it is?"
"I'm sure I can," I told him. If I couldn't do it personally, I would find someone who could.
. . . . . . .
Duo and I talked about a lot of things, though I hadn't gotten around to asking him everything I had intended to. I enjoyed just talking to him casually as if nothing had happened. We weren't used having to extended conversations on the phone, but by the end of the nearly 45 minute call, I was feeling better about the separation than I had since he left. Not good, just better.
Duo was an easy person to get along with, though I hadn't always felt that way. We understood one another more now than we had last year. We had gotten along really well the past several months, not that we hadn't before, but I felt completely at ease in Duo's company. I attributed it partly due to the fact that I had purposely attempted to be more outgoing. Duo had made me acutely aware of how inept I was at being social, though it wasn't as if I hadn't already known.
I couldn't say for certain what would have happened if Cynthia hadn't intervened that night and all but strong armed me into going to Duo's gathering. I smiled as I thought about it now, but I had been angry with her at the time. I had no way of knowing back then what it would lead to, and I was sure that Cynthia hadn't either. She saw Duo as a potential friend and had encouraged me from the day he arrived. It was possible that things between us might have developed into something even without her push; I liked to think they would have.
The talk I had with Cynthia after Duo had left had been a long one and the conversation went way beyond what I think either of us thought it would. Initially, I had difficulty voicing what I wanted to tell her. She remained silent as I talked, letting me work through my thoughts and nodding slightly as I spoke to let me know she was listening.
There wasn't much she could say and I honestly wasn't expecting anything from her. I suspected she knew it would feel good to get things off my chest, though our talk didn't end there.
Cynthia brought up my new job, letting me know how surprised she was that I planned to accept it, though I already knew she had been by her reaction to the announcement. She thought it had been rather impulsive of me, but I was quick to reassure her that I had given the situation a great deal of thought and that I had spoken with Duo about it before coming to any decision. She appeared to be relieved and although she hadn't come right out and said so, I got the impression that she thought something had happened with Duo and me. I took a moment to reassure us both that everything was okay between us.
Or at least as okay as it could be given the current circumstances.