Stages of Love: Next Round
It was a Friday night, and I was about to be the last of the little study group left at the bar. The group, more of a hold-over from our undergrad years, met every other Friday afternoon and found its way to the local bar for a few beers, talk and sometimes a bit of flirting.
Sylvia had just left for home to her husband and kids, and I sat there wondering if I should order something to eat, or scrounge a peanut butter and jelly at the apartment. After five years in the same place, I didnít even have a plant waiting for me any more. Chuckling, I lifted my beer bottle, and froze.
Halfway to the bar, not even a two dozen feet from where I sat. And he looked good. The beer grew warm in my mouth, and I swallowed, setting the bottle down. The pair of blue eyes I knew almost as well as my own locked onto me.
Duo had crossed the floor in seconds, and stopped in front of my booth. His eyes hadnít left mine; his lips lifted in a lopsided grin.
"Of all the gin joints in all the towns of all the world, you walk into mine," I drawled, offering a half smile of my own.
He only laughed, and shook his head. "Your Bogie still sucks."
"Have a seat," I told him, gesturing to the vacant bench opposite me, "unless youíve got other plans?" Just because he hadnít entered with anyone, didnít mean he wasnít meeting someone.
"No plans." He slid in across from me as the waitress appeared and took our order. When she left, he sat sideways, back to the wall and pulled a foot up on the seat. "How long you been here?"
I stopped picking at my beer label, and looked up at him. "Still not wasting time," I stalled. How long had it been? Five, six years? Weíd only been kids the last time Iíd seen him. "Awhile." I looked away. "Long enough."
"Going to school all this time?"
I nodded. "And you?"
"Nah, left school coupla years ago." He grinned. "Just got here this afternoon."
Our beers arrived, and he fought me for the tab. "Next round," I told him, almost sure there wouldnít be another one, but hoped thereíd be others, if not tonight... we had been kids then; we no longer were, now.
"What-" I had to clear my throat. "What are you doing here?"
"Looking for you."
Time froze, if only for a moment. I was smiling as I lifted my beer. It seemed only right. He had been to one to hide from me - then.
It had started as an experiment of sorts - someone had mentioned A-typical bathroom graffiti in psych class, and discussion ensued. Permission was granted and the Wall was created within two weeks. Wall of Love, it'd been called. A public place people can go to express themselves, their thoughts, experiences and ideas of love.
Showing it to Duo had been an impulse; he had wanted to see the school where I'd spent so much time. 'Get the feel of you', he'd said with a smile. After walking the grounds, pointing out various buildings, introducing him to my mentor, I deliberately skipped some of the more prominent buildings to pull him into the nondescript one tucked almost out of the way.
Duo laughed at first, accusing me of finding a private locale to do things having nothing to do with academia. His spill of words was pulled up short when he saw it, and after shooting a glance at me, he moved forward and began to read. I stood back to watch him. The words written there, I'd nearly memorized, scanning new additions when I had the time.
I left a man who wanted to marry me for a woman I love but can't have. It's worth it.
I watched as his lips moved, silently reading contributions; I watched as his fingers brushed the air over a photo, traced a sketch.
I fell for the enemy.
For several minutes, he was silent. He hadn't reached the end, but one entry he stopped at and turned to me. "You..." he said, eyes flicking back to the Wall, "you wrote this one?"
I didn't have to read it to know what was written under his finger. "I love a boy who left me without saying goodbye, before I could tell him," I quoted softly, watching.
Duo stared at me for a moment and ducked his head. His hand fell from the Wall and he took a step toward me, stopped and shoved the reaching hand into his pocket. Not looking at me, he turned back to the Wall and snatched a pen from its holder. "I don't go to this college, but I guess it shouldn't matter if I've something to say, hey?" He was already writing, and I only watched as his braid swung from the movement.
He was finished, and stepped back, capping the pen and reading what he wrote. Duo cast a glance my way and offered a half grin; he looked away again, moved down the Wall to read other entries, to give me room.
I love a boy who I could love forever, if I weren't too afraid.
I touched his contribution, the ink smeared with the sudden sweat on my fingertip. Turning my head, I saw him watching me from the corner of his eye. I gave him a small nod and the stiffness eased from his body.
We were kids then, and maybe we still were. At least in some things.
When he opened the door, I thought he was going to shut it immediately. His eyebrows were nearly a single line and his eyes as dark as Iíd ever seen them. Saying he was mad would be an understatement. But, he only turned his back to me and reentered his apartment.
I paused in shutting the door, still feeling the burn of muscle, burn in my lungs from the run; my place to his might be just under five miles, but I wasnít fifteen any more, and Iíd left running conditioning behind a long time ago.
"I was in the studio until seven this morning," I started to explain, hands still on the door, "thought I could catch a nap before movie time."
"Youíre still fucking two hours late, Yuy! No way weíre making it on time and Iím not missing the first half!"
Duo was shouting and I turned to find him not even a step away from me. The clock on the wall over his shoulder pointed out as fact - I was late. But. My excuse was more than valid. He knew my plans, my hectic schedule.
"And you were six years late." Calm and forgiving feelings were deserting me. "And I missed years of what could have been more."
"Itís not the same and you know it!" He slammed a palm to the door, his thumb grazing my cheek; I didnít even blink.
He was doing it again and I almost fell for it. In a rush, I let go of my anger and hooked my fingers in his beltloops and pulled him against me. The kiss took him by surprise and I think it took him more than a moment to remember how to kiss me back. But he did. It was our first since the one shared the last morning Iíd seen him when we were kids.
His hands were at my shoulders, digging painfully deep and he broke away, breathing hard with eyes closed. I held him then, my cheek pressed to his, a hand on his back making general soothing motions. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio...
"Are you ready to tell me whatís going on now?"
Duo exhaled, breath heated and ticklish in my ear. "They didnít pick up my contract."
I couldnít help tightening my grip. Not again.
In the early morning, about an hour before dawn, it began to rain. Not heavily, but enough to wet down the streets, wash a layer of dust from buildings and windows and cars. Looking out the bedroom window, I could almost see the individual drops illuminated in the streetlight below.
It was his smell that alerted me first, before fingers coasted over my hair and barely rested on my shoulder. It was the warmth that pulled me closer, letting me unwrap arms from legs and lean into him. The scent of our sex clung heavy to his skin, and I pushed my nose to his belly, curled my arms around his waist; I wasnít planning to let go.
His hands were on my back, and he stood bowed over me. "Youíre cold," he said, and I shook my head.
"Iím fine." He twitched slightly and I knew my words had tickled. With lips warmed from his just-up-from-bed heat, I pressed kisses in haphazard randomness wherever they landed. His touch along my spine spoke of a familiarity we hadnít shared; I shuddered, ending my game to rest a cheek on his skin.
"The time before, when you left..." I felt him shift and tightened my hold. "My ability to function steadily declined for weeks." His hands had stilled on my back. "I always thought you would return." I wouldnít tell him more; he would have known what his actions caused. "When you leave again, Iíll be leaving with you." Under my ear, the rhythmic thrum sped, caught and sped again; his fingers spasmed and relaxed.
"And what about school?" His words vibrated through his body, in my hair, in my ear.
I was shaking my head. "Itís not important."
"You canít give up..."
And I was pulling back, breaking our cocoon of warmth, reaching for him, bringing him closer to cover his mouth with mine. Our lips parted and I finished his sentence, "you."
He stroked a hand through my hair, threading its strands between his fingers, watching me. "I had to." His lips barely moved. "I was afraid, and then..." his eyes closed "I thought it too late to come back, that you wouldnít want to see me again."
I said nothing for it could have been that I wouldnít have wanted to a couple of years ago, even if I had still wanted him. Instead I held him, listened to his heart beat, and waited.
"My service contract has almost two years left," he was saying. "If the analysis company had picked up the option, I could have rode it out here." I nodded. He had said that the first night. "Unless something else comes up in the next week, Iíll be sent out TDY - twelve months minimum."
Another year without him. My arms tightened again and I fought the rising panic. He would come back this time.
It was a Tuesday night, and what was left of the little study group from college was holding a reunion of sorts. I was debating on leaving - I had a morning class to teach and one more beer would leave me not in the frame of mind to be my best. Knowing an email from Duo might be waiting, an email letting me know just where and when to collect him, wasnít pushing my decision at all. Thirteen months and twenty-three days apart, with roughly sixteen days more to go before our waiting would come to an end.
Sylvia was relaying a story on her latest forays of motherhood, and I shared a look with the only other single man at our table. My beer bottle hid the smile forming, and the jukebox music suddenly changed mid-refrain. The new song was illusively familiar, and I canted my head around, leaning back in my chair. The tavern owner was grinning at me, a rag in his hand polishing the glass dome and running neon lights. His eyes flicked to the left and I turned in that direction.
A dozen steps away, a skittish smile and he looked good. The sound of my chair falling over reached me as some distant echo. I couldnít control the tremor in my hands as I touched his face. He drew closer, his smile firmed and his arms were around me.
"So, Professor Yuy," his voice was oddly strangled, "interested in helping me prove the song wrong?"
I listened to the music for a moment longer. "That depends," I croaked. "You plan on leaving me standing on the air strip while you fly away again?"
His head was shaking and he was laughing even as he was saying, "not on your life. Never again, Yuy."
"Good," I whispered, and his mouth was on mine, lips sliding together and eyes closing. And there was only that old, melancholy song, and Duo and me. Time was ours now. "Your proof?" I mumbled kissing the side of his mouth.
Duo made an amused sound, and pushed back against my chest. "Unless youíre interested in giving a floor show, I think we might want to find a safer harbor."
A note in the song held and I nodded, grabbed his hand in one of mine and slapped a handful of credits on the table with the other, making a hasty farewell. And we were heading for the door. Just as it closed behind us, I pulled Duo to the side, tugged him close - thirteen months was too long.
"Play it again, Sam."
His laugh broke the kiss before it started. "Man, Heero, we have really got to work on your Bogie."
I shrugged and kissed him anyway. As the song said, fundamental things apply.