Howard once told me there’d come a time when something would click and everything would be right with the world. Howard was always saying shit like that, and I generally brushed it off as the old man’s version of wisdom. Early one Saturday afternoon on the cusp of summer, it happened, and I knew what Howard meant - juiced or not.
The open garage door offered partial shade as I sat huddled over a short piece of tarp, the remnants of the carburetor from my car laid out on it. It had been an unusually hot summer’s beginning and the cement drive was slowly roasting my ass. I’d decided to tear apart the carb for something to do - a job to distract my thinking; Heero had been paged into work and we would miss our weekly trek to the market place.
So deep had been my concentration, I didn’t hear my neighbor call out, nor was I aware of his approach until he crouched down next to me. With a friendly grin, he picked up one of the parts and a solvent soaked rag and set to work. I watched him for a moment, his hands sure and quick working his piece over with skill and knowledge. A bit of my resentment for the loss of the day dwindled away, and a slow easy smile replaced the scowl.
It hadn’t always been this way, this companionable friendship of sorts between my immediate neighbor and I. Bill had been an older man, up in his late thirties or maybe even his forties. I didn’t know, and didn’t really care. Like all my friends, he just was. It’d taken a near tragedy for his acceptance of a teenage, gay ex-terrorist as a neighbor; an experience neither of us dwelled on or wished to repeat. But until that had happened, I was a pariah to him.
During the time between the Eve Wars, I’d been a space courier, running my own little ship from colony to Earth, space station to cruiser class ships. The shuttle had been sort of a gift from Howard. Course he never did say where or how he’d picked it up, and I wasn’t asking at the time. Ferrying letters and small cargo wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it was a job perfect for the time. It gave me plenty of opportunities to see first hand sites where I might want to live.
After the wars, when everyone seemed to drift in their own directions, I did what I’d dreamed of for most my life - I found a home. The moment I walked the neighborhood, and saw this house, I knew. It was in poor shape; on the market for nearly two years, the yard was a mess, the upkeep had been minimal both inside and out. But it came cheap, the sale of the shuttle nearly buying it outright, and I wasn't afraid of hard work.
In the first couple of weeks, my game plan was to clean up and fix outside appearances and major needs. I found as I worked outside, the more neighbors I met and as I met my neighbors, the more I worked outside. I hadn't been wrong in my impression of the place - friendly in old fashion concept ways. All those who lived on my block I knew by sight, and a handful of those I knew enough to trade pleasantries and jokes when we'd bump into each other at the market. My next door neighbor had been the only exception.
I'm not sure what drove his animosity in those early weeks. It could have been his teenage daughter's interest in me that sparked the initial distrust; my affable assurances to him by stating my lifestyle preference didn't help. Heero's moving in with me raised the feelings up a few notches. Bill had never been overtly discourteous but in this tight-knit community, when a neighbor doesn't offer a greeting, a snub has been committed. For the most part, I chose to ignore his behavior. Well, at least I tried; Heero succeeded.
Since our days were filled with fixing the house, exercising at night became a routine that started within days of Heero's arrival. For the most part, we ran. I knew Heero ran in the morning as well, but I was content to limit my physical conditioning; after all, I didn't have a war to win any longer. It had become a time for us to get to know each other and to share more than work; it gave me a warm feeling of doing something enjoyed with my closest friend.
Three months after I'd bought the place, five weeks since Heero'd moved in, we'd been out running. The warm late spring night we’d saved a life; or so Amy and her father would lay claim. The girl had lied to her folks, and had gone out with an older boy, seeking the wrong sort of attention. When she tried to back out of what he wanted, he refused physically. Her panicked stifled cries caught our attention. While I carried her bruised and battered body back to her family, Heero took out the garbage.
Looking up from the intake value assembly in my hands, I had noticed old Mr. Riley making his way up the drive. He’d given a friendly wave as I jumped up to pull down a lawn chair for him. Back a few feet in the garage, I’d set up the oscillating fan behind his chair, and went inside to get a can of his favorite brand of beer we kept on hand just for him. Riley had dropped into the seat, and leaned his cane against his knee by the time I’d returned with the beverages. He’d started talking to Bill about the weather, and reciting every record-breaking temperature he knew. Handing Bill a beer, I covered the laugh I couldn’t help at his covert wink.
Old man Riley lived two doors up, on the other side of Bill. I’d met him my second day living in the neighborhood; he’d nearly clipped the top of my hair off. Of course it hadn’t really been his fault, and I hadn’t lost any hair, but it had been a close call. I’d started on one of my walks around the neighborhood, to get the layout of the place, when a ball sped by me, over my neighbor’s lawn and straight into the bushes. A young girl had been playing with her puppy, and had kicked the ball a little too hard. I offered to get it for her, and crawled into the hedge reaching for the colorful object. Mr. Riley had been clipping the hedge on his side and didn’t realize I’d been mucking around. Losing your balance isn’t always a good thing, but in that case, it was.
As the months passed, Old man Riley became a frequent visitor, offering advice and telling tales on life from when he was our age. In exchange, Heero and I took over some of the more arduous tasks around his house. No one would have to worry about unexpected haircuts at his hands.
Another call from the end of the drive, and Jim and his son were walking up. Within a few minutes, four of us were bent over the engine compartment of my car, going over its finer points. Jim’s son had his own souped-up power car, and we spend several minutes talking about what he had left to do to get it where he wanted it to be. My baby wasn’t going to be as modified, but it was going to take a long time rebuilding the engine and refurbishing its interior.
Jim and Bill had taken down another couple of lawn chairs, setting them up in the shade of the garage. I leaned against the fender and watched them engage the older man in a familiar line of discussion. Jim’s son ran to their house to bring back the latest copy of an auto magazine that held shots of a car like mine. As he sprinted across the street, I’d tried to remember if I acted as he did when I was his age. Since it’d only been a year ago, I should have known.
The father and son lived catty-corner to us. Jim I’d met at the market during my first week, and found out he worked for county electric. In the middle of the frozen foods section, we’d held a thirty-minute conversation about how the power system worked for the area. His son I’d met a couple nights later as he staggered out of the bar off the main highway. The kid’d just about passed out, in no shape to drive. I’d been at the all night gas station when I spotted him and insisted on giving him a ride home.
An hour had passed, and I was back on the concrete with Jim’s son sitting on the other side of the tarp. We had looked through his magazine and compared the model version with my car before picking up the carb parts to clean. Jim and Bill were under the hood again with Bill regaling us with a story from his youth about his first car and a girl that he used to date. Old man Riley snoozed noisily with his chin dropped to his chest.
A car door shut and pulled at my attention. Heero was home.
Since the driveway was now full, he had to park on the street. His face was unreadable as he looked from one group of neighbors to the next. He met my gaze, one expressive brow raised. I shrugged and gave a half grin. I’d figured his guess would have been as good as mine. Jim spotted him and called him over with talk of the job. Though they were in different departments, the two worked for the same company and had a lot in common through that venue.
I think it might have been hearing Mr. Riley chuckle, or maybe it’d been the bemused look on Heero’s face as he handed out another round of beer and soda. Whatever it was, something had clicked and I got it.
These were our friends; a part of our lives and each one of them voluntarily sought us out for our company. It wasn’t only the bigger deeds that made up our neighborhood, or even the lending of a hand when needed; it was also the knowing when it wasn’t needed and being there anyway.