Solitude in White
At the end of the row I stopped to lean on my hoe, and wiped my brow. I looked over what I'd been working on all morning and felt a pleasing sense of satisfaction. Having never grown anything before, and regularly killing houseplants, I'd always avoided taking care of living things until this past spring. And now, I tended near half an acre of vegetables and fruits.
My four rows of corns were tall, healthy and straight with their tassels browned, hinting at the ripening corn inside. The peas and snap beans climbed wildly up their threaded trellises, already having provided many meals worth of nourishment. The carrots, tomatoes, beets, melons, squash, lettuce and radishes grew in abandon, thick and rich in color and taste.
I looked up to the late August sky, wishing for clouds, wishing for a little rain to end the oppressive humidity and heat. Wiping my brow again, I walked back to the wooden split rail fence separating the barn's open yard from the garden. A bottle of water I'd previously frozen melted nicely, leaving me with a cool drink. I'd swallowed nearly half of the water when I spotted him.
A young cottontail rabbit crouched half hidden amongst the melon and squash leaves, using their cover to stay out of the sun. He was nibbling on my lettuce. From where I stood, the distance between him and I was far enough he couldn't see or smell me; I watched as he shifted to reach another leaf. His covert boldness led me to think of Duo, and I snorted softly at how indignant the man would have been to hear that analogy.
As if he knew I was thinking of him, I heard a string of curses from across the yard where he was currently working in the barn. The rabbit paused and raised his head to listen just as I was. No words could be distinguished, but over the past few months I'd gotten used to hearing the man's muttered cussing and mild rants. His car, that Dodge Challenger he'd wrecked over the winter, had taken up residence in the recently refurbished barn, and every few days a new part or specialized tool would arrive by UPS or Parcel Post in Duo's pursuit to repair its damage.
Instead of having the car shipped back to North Carolina, Duo had it brought to the barn where it sat until the temperatures were warm enough to tolerate without a parka. He had traveled to his home several times returning with tools, parts catalogs, and more personal items to store in the second bedroom. I smiled at that; we'd been lovers for a couple of months, and always slept together now. But, we both agreed he needed a place to keep his things, and a place he could go to be on his own.
We'd talked a few times about him going home to begin racing again. If he started soon, he'd have a chance to qualify for next year's big races. He says he needed more time, but I've seen him out on the speedway and the fair grounds: racing against the locals, talking shop, lending a hand in fixing the cars. The world of motor oil, the smell of high-octane fuel, the burning rubber of tires and the roar of powerful engines belonged to Duo. He was stagnating on this farm.
Duo's friend, Quatre, had made more than a few trips up, usually staying for two or three days. The brilliant young man seemed to find peace and rest here. After the first awkward visit, the man and I came to terms with the tragedy we shared and the guilt that haunted us differently. He knew I harbored no ill will for him and had never believed he was negligent in not ensuring enough security was available for that fateful outing. Though he would wish it otherwise, he respected my need for privacy and stopped seeking to honor me publicly for my actions.
Another rabbit had joined the first, and after sniffing noses, it moved on beyond its companion. The second cottontail had a penchant for carrot toppings rather than lettuce leaf. Since I'd watered the night before, the ground still held the moisture, and under the broad melon leaves, it should have been several degrees cooler. Contemplating the wandering rabbit's actions, I couldn't help but think it was reckless to its danger. Was the taste of carrot greens worth leaving hiding, feeling the heat of the sun and the risk of getting caught?
Faintly, I felt a cold touch echo from my long ago solitude. My quest for isolation and reclusion had ended one frigid night of winter, and though there are times the need to be alone drives me, forcing me to find a quiet, secluded place, the thought of returning to who I had been never crosses my mind. My heart is warm now, content. I smiled a little as the wandering brown rabbit hopped farther out into the open, reaching for the tops of the carrot greens.
Wufei had flown out for a short visit nearly a month ago. Though we spoke on the phone and exchanged emails on nearly a daily basis, he told me he had to make a personal appearance if only to meet the man who was crazy enough to endure me for longer than a week. I will admit, I did worry my two best friends wouldn't care for each other. I should have known better; Duo was charm personified, and Wufei saw what I did in him.
As it turned out, his visit wasn't just to check up on me or to meet Duo. He wanted me to come back to work. Once upon a time Wufei had been the closest to being my partner as you could get in the Secret Service. If I were to return to Washington, I would report to him as my boss. I had told him I'd think about it, but dismissed it from my mind as soon as his rental disappeared down the drive. When I first sought out the solitude of the farm, I had always known the day would come when he would want me back. Though I'd never return to personal protection, I had begun thinking about working again.
My Internet search last week showed openings for agents in the Raleigh branch of the FBI.
"Hey, Farmer Yuy!" Duo called out from the barn's doorway. Both rabbits froze where they were, but sensing no immediate danger, they went back to their meal. I felt his presence as he leaned against the other side of the fence, one hand snaking over my shoulder to snatch my water bottle. I'd forgotten I was holding it. I turned my head to watch as he drank deeply, finishing off the last of the water. Grinning at me, he asked quietly, "What's got your attention so completely?"
I smiled in return and pointed out the cottontails with my chin. "Rabbits."
His look was incredulous. "They're going to destroy your garden."
Not hardly, I'd thought. "These two will only eat a little."
"Until they tell their friends about a pushover farmer with lots of great eats," he laughed.
"Let them. I'll grow more." I returned my gaze back to the cottontails, but divided my attention between them and Duo.
We watched the rabbits for a moment more in silence. Duo leaned forward bringing his head to his hand to wipe his brow, and with his movement his braid swung over the fence, landing with a soft thump against my chest. I picked up its end and held it up to look at the green ribbon tying it off before tossing it back at him, smiling at his grin.
"Oh yeah, I spoke to Quatre this morning." At my nod, he continued. "Seems like he's found a place, off Spring Hollow Road?"
I thought for a moment, placing the spot. "Up highway fourteen about a mile and a half. Probably the Warner farm." I gave him a significant look. "It's the other side of Barton's fields."
"Ah!" Duo exclaimed and laughed loudly, startling the rabbits into a run. "I think Quatre's had his eye on something other than a new hangout."
With Duo's exuberance and tendency for pranks and jokes, I didn't envy Quatre's position. I rocked my shoulder into his arm. "Go easy on him. He needs your support more than ever, you know."
Barely touching my arm, he said, "Oh I will. I have some idea of what he's giving up." He smiled softly, his eyes held a special light he rarely shows. "And I have some idea of what he's gaining."
To say I was speechless would be an accurate statement. His little proclamation had been the closest he'd come to admitting what his emotions for me were. I hadn't even come that far, and the most I could do was stare at him in astonishment.
He was leaning over the fence with his elbows on the top rail, his shoulder brushing against mine. His right cheek was smudged with dust blended with dried grease as though he'd scratched an itch there. Without leaning closer, his smell teased me. The mixture all his own of sweat, dust, grease, and motor oil with the hint of his shampoo wafting throughout. The bangs of his hair were slick and matted, and I noticed he had his shirt off, one end partly tucked into his jeans' back pocket. His bare chest shone with a fine sheen of perspiration, muted with an even finer layer of dust.
I licked my lips.
Duo caught my movement and smirked. Reaching out a finger, he caught a rolling drop of sweat from the back of my neck and rubbed at it. "We need a pool," he announced almost absently.
The touch of his finger caused me to shiver reflexively. "Why?"
"To swim, to cool down, and to wash off this sweat." He had caught another drop making its way along the side of my face.
Turning quickly, I placed my hands on the top rail, and shoved off the ground with my feet, launching myself cleanly over the fence to land on the other side.
"Show off," Duo muttered with a grin.
I grinned back and began walking toward the house. "A pool would significantly lower the water table," I told him over my shoulder.
Trotting after me, he merely grunted. "Well then, can we go to Iowa some time next week?"
That stopped me. "Iowa? What's in Iowa?"
"Corn," he answered guilelessly.
Making a rude noise, I scowled at him. "Duo, there's corn here too. What's so special about Iowa corn?"
"‘Cause the Field of Dreams corn is only in Iowa," he stated with a nod.
For a moment I wondered if he'd been working out in the heat too long. "I didn't know you were a baseball fan."
"I'm not, but I am a Costner fan, and woo-ie! The chance to sit where his butt sat! Yeah, I'd make the trip to Iowa!" He was grinning at me, a teasing light in his eyes. There were times I wondered if that crash had rattled something loose.
Not responding to his off sense of humor, I continued towards the house.
"Hey Heero, where are we going?" Duo asked, stepping over the re-seeded brown spot on the lawn.
"The house," I answered.
"Ah, okay then." He peered over at me, wiping at his brow. "How ‘bout we dig a lake and I have the water imported?"
I had to laugh. "I don't think so, Duo. Wufei would kill us if we dug up the yard."
"Well, how are we suppose to cool down and get rid of this sweat?" he asked sounding petulant.
"That's what a shower is for," I answered coolly, watching him from the corner of my eyes. He'd brightened considerably.
We were almost to the back door when he spoke again. "You know, we really should buy this place from Wufei. There's a lot of things I could to do fix it up, like get a better generator, and remodel the barn - turn it into a real working garage. And the house, well there're a lot of things we can do with the house to make it better. More comfortable to live in."
I smiled softly and reached for his hand as I held open the door. "No, I don't think we'll be buying this place."
Duo looked from our interlocked fingers to my face, his expression puzzled. "Why? I thought you liked it here?"
Pulling him inside, I brushed a kiss on his lips before I answered, "Because I have a feeling we won't be living here long."
Special note: The love of Duo's life, his "Deathscythe" is the 1970 Dodge Challenger as pictured here: 1970 Challenger Since I'm not the car enthusiast it might appear from this story, the car idea and his profession came from my friend Alba and her husband, Hans. Alba is a car enthusiast, and found the perfect car for Duo in this story._________________~ * ~ Nothing witty here ~ * ~