Giving Just a Little
It was the whining moan of a cold engine that drew his attention to the window; it was the jerking scrape-scrape that pulled him up from his chair. From his second story view, Heero watched as the man ran the hard plastic ice-scraper over a heavily frosted windshield. White moisture flew; the man rounded the car, clearing each pane. Heero could hear the muttered curses and wondered what the man was late for - work? An appointment? Or was he always disgruntled in the hours before daylight on a cold winter morning?
Heero stood at the window, watching, though in reality it had taken the young man only a couple of minutes to scrape enough frost away before he was satisfied. The driver's side door opened, the scraper tossed to the front passenger floorboard, and the young man climbed inside, putting the car into gear almost before the door was closed again. The car pulled out of the car park and onto the main complex road; a wheel spun in a small pool of water and Heero frowned. He should have planned better, was his only thought, however.
The man wasn't unknown to him - not by name, surely, but by sight. Heero's eyes lifted from the distant spot the car (and its driver) had disappeared, to the apartment across the way. The man had moved in toward the end of summer, before Labor Day when the pool closed. A large U-Haul, with lots of boxes, a few sticks of furniture, a half-dozen guys
and even a woman or two, laughed and talked and danced their way around one another, carrying boxes, sharing the heavy loads from the parking lot up the stairs and into the two-bedroom, two bath efficiency.
There had been a party of sorts two weeks later. One that spilled out of the small living room and onto the wood deck, large enough to house a couple of lawn chairs and cheap resin table. That was the night Heero suspected his new neighbor shared more tendencies than late night swims just before pool closing. That was the night he watched as one by one, the party-goers left, good-byes bouncing off his building, until there was only him and one other. Heero's neighbor had acted (and sounded) inebriated, his blond
- male -
friend less so. A kiss was shared, the blond nearly pulled off balance with the vigor, but Heero's neighbor was pushed back inside his apartment with a laugh and a wave. The blond dashed down the steps, whistling, and started a car Heero didn't doubt would have cost nearly a year's earnings.
Heero remembered seeing the blond one other time, but that was when he lingered at the pool after an early morning swim over the weekend. The blond was his guest once more, and the two were dressed in shocking briefs and rubbed tanning oil into browned skin with touches not often displayed in public, despite the "Adult Only" complex policy.
On weekend mornings, Heero's neighbor would step out on the deck, in shorts or some odd sort of lounge wear. And if wasn't freezing, he would stand at the rail shirtless, and drink coffee or tea or something hot and steaming from a white ceramic mug. Heero would stand at his window and watch, drinking his own coffee or tea. It was, in a sense, their time. Heero would wonder what the man thought about, if he thought of anything. Inclement didn't deter, but shortened that shared time.
The phone extension behind Heero rang, and he moved away from the window and back to his desk. His mind shifted from neighbor watch to work, and so began his day.
Roughly an hour before predicted sunrise, Heero was already standing at his office window, watching the car park below. His coffee cup was nearly empty by the time his neighbor's door opened, and the man stepped through the door, one arm stuffed into a coat sleeve and a laptop case shuffled from one shoulder to the next even as he juggled shutting the door and triggering the deadbolt. Heero smiled into his coffee, almost willing to add a curse on the man's behalf.
The night had been damp, and the frost was again heavy over car windows, glazing painted surfaces and - again - delaying his departure. The car groaned to life, the high-pitched squeal of a belt too cold over metal pulleys cut off abruptly, and the scrape-scrape-scrape began. Heero watched, his toes curling in their socks imagining the cold biting glove-less fingers and stealing inside a buttoned up coat.
It had been years since he had done more than start his vehicle by remote, and even if he had to leave in a rush, the rented garage kept the windows clear. He sipped at his cup, and wondered just how long the braid was. Three feet? More? How long it took to wash, and brush, and why would a man want his hair to be that length?
There had been the time when his neighbor stood on the deck, his hair loose with the wind picking it up and blowing it about. In that light, it appeared almost red; by the yellow lights in predawn, his hair looked the black of a dark brown. Heero's eyes dropped back to the figure as he shoved himself into the car. Heero turned from his window before the car left his sight, and went to his desk; the day was about to start.
Heero was at his window the next morning, though he hadn't time to pour his coffee before his neighbor came rushing from his apartment, juggling case and coat and travel mug. His movement was hurried, distracted with its single-minded purpose. Heero smiled when his neighbor arrived at his car and froze. From his view, he couldn't see the man's face, but could imagine the surprise. There it was, the rapid glances from one car to the next and back to his own. All windows but his were layered in frost with just that hint of ice to make it hard to remove.
Heero's neighbor unlocked his car, dropped his case inside and set his travel mug on the roof. He touched fingers to the carefully cleared windows, as clean as if on a showroom. Another slow look around, and he sat in the driver's seat. The car started, and the cold squeal was still there. The car was put into reverse, and Heero started, reaching a hand toward the window only to drop it instead.
The travel mug fell over backwards, dropping to the ground as the car left the lot, and disappeared around the slight bend in the complex road.
It wasn't a decision the next morning to pour his own brand of coffee into the - now - clean mug, to leave it with a note on top his neighbor's car roof. Clearing the windows took less than five minutes of his time - ten if he counted getting dressed for outside including boots. Heero was at his window, watching, waiting. There was an unpleasant knot in his gut, and he almost forced himself to move away, to start his work early. But, he had to see.
His neighbor was early, earlier than most mornings. Not so rushed, Heero saw him lock his door, his coat already on and buttoned, his hands in gloves. His neighbor stood at the deck rail for a moment, and scanned Heero's apartment building. Heero took a step back, though he knew he couldn't be seen. His windows were specially tinted, blocking the sun and making the glass opaque to those on the wrong side. His neighbor was walking down the stairs, his pace almost casual and Heero almost missed the comic rush.
As though he was expecting it, the man's fingers ghosted over clean windows, and a single quick glance confirmed his windows were the only ones not iced over. He shifted his case, and reached up for his travel mug lost the day before; the note his plucked off with his other hand. Heero's lips mouthed the words he'd penned not an hour before and the knot tightened.
Heero sucked in a breath; the car door opened, and the case tossed inside, travel mug still in his neighbor's hand. As though he had all the time in the world that morning, Heero's neighbor turned, his glance took in the front of Heero's building. He leaned on the car, his forearm on the roof and one foot on the jam. Heero's breath caught, and the travel mug was raised to lips and his mouth opened. Coffee was swallowed, Heero could taste its flavor where he stood, his throat mimicked the motion and as the mug was lowered, he gave himself a little shake.
The smile was wide and friendly and clear; the mug was raised in ‘well-done' fashion. But time hadn't stopped, and the man climbed inside his car, travel mug still clutched in hand, started the protesting engine, and shut the door as if it were any other day of the week.
Heero stood for a long time at the window, letting his phone ring, letting his emails go unanswered. His day started before most people woke (or went to bed for the night), and his night ended before Adult Swim began. But today, this morning Heero let the world wake around him. Work could wait. And the knot eased away.
Promptly at five-thirty, Heero opened his front door, dressed in coat and gloves, hat and scarf. He set his mug of coffee on the stair post, picked up the other just inside the apartment, and closed the door. He didn't look out to the car park, but watched his steps and the steam rise from both cups. It wasn't until he reached ground level and began walking over the cheap asphalt that he looked up. The hard knot fluttered, but his steps didn't falter.
Leaning his butt against the driver's side door, Heero's neighbor waited, his car cleared and running. Heero offered a slight smile, and held out the second mug when he was close enough.
The mug was raised in salute. "Thanks, man. This is some excellent coffee." And Heero was surprised at how deep and strong his voice was.
But, he nodded and took a deep breath, the air cold and stinging in his mouth and throat. "Heero Yuy," he pushed out, and sipped his coffee.
"Duo," Heero's neighbor said, his eyes smiling as wide as his mouth. "Duo Maxwell."
Snow fell, and the wind blew the flakes in whirling eddies, pelting Heero's cheeks, his neighbor's car. "Nice morning," he said, and raised his coffee. Around the mug's rim, he saw that same wide, friendly smile of the day before; the knot's flutter keen.
"It's a beautiful morning," Heero's neighbor said.
And so began their first morning together.