How the Other Half Lives + Part 3Quatre has been standing in the doorway to the lounge for two minutes forty-three seconds. He appears to be rooted to the spot. If he extended both his arms to the side, I would suggest utilising him as some kind of new age coat stand. He makes a gargling noise in his throat as he stares at the wall ahead of him.
"It's one of my pictures," he says. He sounds breathless. I nod in reply: I need to get past him to go to the kitchen. I don't see that his statement requires any clarification.
"You've got one of my pictures on display. On your wall."
Quatre is making a new conversational style out of stating the obvious.
"I know," I say, rather curtly. "The ... sitter put it up when he was here. I haven't had time to take it down."
"You said my art made you nauseous," says Quatre. He looks a little disorientated. No -- stunned is perhaps the word. "You said the mix of colours and shape was like a particularly messy and aggressive migraine. You said I wasn't to take it personally, but that if I were looking for your professional opinion, you'd rather cut off your left arm and let the blood spatter across your clean ironing than have to face any of my work on a daily basis --"
"All right, I think you've made your rather tortuous point." I nudge past him a little brusquely. "I was obviously in a bad mood then. I'm sure you'd be the first to agree that any man can occasionally change his mind." He's muttering something behind me about how only a lunatic would consider Heero Yuy to be any man, but I may be mistaken. "Do you want tea, soda, or just to stand there gawping until the Holidays?"
He follows me into the kitchen, still clutching his jacket. He looks around, puzzled, waving it aimlessly from one hand.
"Just drop it on the chair," I say. "You can hang it up in the hall when we've had our supper." When I look back at him, he's got that startled rabbit look again. I suspect that it's another expression he practises regularly. "What's the matter now?"
"I should have hung my jacket up already," he says. He stares at me. "On the third hook from the left. Over the umbrella. You always insist on that exact placement. Now you say just drop it on the chair." He glances around the kitchen and his eyes widen further. "There's all sorts of food in here, Heero, that I've never seen grace your counter before. Since when have you bought fresh ingredients? Since when have you owned a food processor?" He peers at me now, and there's a smile creeping across his face. "Who are you, and what have you done with my borderline obsessive friend Heero Yuy?"
"Don't be ridiculous," I snap. "I just thought I'd invite you around for supper and cook it myself. He left a particularly interesting recipe last weekend --"
Too late to bite back the careless words. Quatre pounces, as he is so fond of doing. "He? He? Do you mean this mysterious apartment sitter?"
"Not mysterious, for God's sake. Don't be melodramatic --"
"Have you met him, then?"
I purse my lips. "No. Not exactly. We keep missing each other -- we both seem to be away a lot. He ... leaves me notes." I recall the bold, scrawling script, the signature of smiley faces -- all on creased scraps of paper that I might have previously thrown out as rubbish. The first note had astonished me ... since then, I'd come to look out for them, albeit rather warily.
The gleam in Quatre's eyes is relentless. I'm disturbed to feel a blush on my cheeks, and so I busy myself with the mixed salad to try to distract us both. "Do you know, when he first visited, he had the effrontery to bring some personal items into my kitchen. I never managed to contact him to demand they be removed. Dammit, Quatre, he cooked while he was here! How outrageous is that?"
"Appalling ..." my friend murmurs agreement, but I can tell his heart's not in it. He sits at the kitchen table in front of a brand new pasta bowl, his head resting on his hand, giving the impression of hanging on my every word. He looks like he's struggling not to grin.
"So," I continue, measuring the exact proportions of oil and vinegar as appropriate for the dressing, "I decided to use them as they were obviously intended. Since then, he's left a couple of other recipes, and the necessary ingredients each time."
"But you don't cook," Quatre stated, softly. "It makes mess -- you never have the time for it. It's a waste of energy, apparently. Food is nothing but a mandatory refuelling."
I shrug. The pasta is almost at the correct consistency and I silently count the remaining seconds to completion, balancing the fork and colander comfortably between my hands, assessing the distance to carry the pan to the sink for draining. My nose wrinkles with instinctive pleasure as I smell the tang of pesto in the bubbling sauce.
"I'm quoting you, Heero Yuy," Quatre says. His tone is gentle. "Or at least, the Heero Yuy of yesteryear. Personally, I'm very pleased to see some colour brightening up the place, and the smell of home-cooked food is very welcoming. And a new ... friendship ... is also very exciting."
"Exciting?" I look at a small drop of spilled water on the floor and I know I should mop it up quickly before it stains. Of course, before I started cooking for myself, the issue rarely arose. "As I remember, you considered it your mission to socialise me, to bring me out of my shell. To have me mix with the rest of the human race." I smile, wryly. "I'm quoting you, now, Quatre Winner."
He laughs, and holds his plate up to be filled. "Those are two of your virtues, Heero: your wit and your honesty," he says. "They're very attractive. I suspect that other people will also admire them, when you give them the chance."
"Don't labour the point." I can hear myself growling. I pour some good red wine into Quatre's glass, and he looks down at it.
He gives a strange snort. Then he holds up the glass, pointing to it, shaking with laughter and perilously close to spilling his drink. "I left my heart in San Francisco, it says! Let me guess - your sitter left this behind on one of his visits, as well!"
"I'm in the lounge!" I call out because I can hear Wufei's key in the lock, dropping in on his way home from work. I'm engrossed in reading a rather interesting magazine review of a fashionable city restaurant. Considering I spent three weeks there last season in my best trouble-shooting role, it's rather disappointing to find that they still can't manage to serve up a good menu without over-cooking the shellfish or getting caught with beetle droppings in the side salad.
There's a muffled curse from the hallway, and the thump of a well-built body hitting the wall. Wufei has to be one of the clumsiest guys I know. He lurches into the lounge, waving his jacket at me. "Where the hell's the case in the hallway gone?"
"And a good evening to you, too, friend," I say, dryly. "It's gone. I unpacked the stuff inside and now it's cleared away. I thought I'd help you out -- I reckoned you'd fallen over it once too often."
"I expected it to be there," he says, his expression bemused. "I make allowances for it when I come into the apartment. But today there was nothing there --"
" -- and so you fell, regardless," I sigh. "I'll get you a drink."
I get up to go to the kitchen, but he's blocking the doorway. He's staring. I wonder for a minute if he's suffered concussion of some kind, tripping over a non-existent obstacle.
"Duo, what's that?"
"No, sorry," I say, slowly. "I'm going to need more of a clue than that."
"You've got a couch!" He glares at it like it's an alien object just been beamed down onto the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. I mean, I like the style, obviously, but I didn't think it was that striking. "You've bought a couch!"
I nod. I didn't find it under a gooseberry bush, did I?
"And the walls ..." He turns his head slowly from side to side, like one of those nodding dog toys. "I mean, the colour is great. It's very ... tasteful."
"Autumn umber, it's called." I'm trying to sound careless, but it comes out more like defensive. "Of course, I may still keep the crimson flock wallpaper in the hall."
Wufei nods sagely, oblivious to my teasing. He peers back at me, as if looking for evidence of spots from some fatal disease, then his face grimaces with compassion. Guess that means, in his mind, I've already been diagnosed. "It's an astonishing change, Duo. But excellent progress. I never thought you'd get yourself together like this."
I shrug. "No big deal. I just thought it was time to settle in a bit. A bit of painting and decorating -- a bit of clearing up. You may also have been right about needing some more furniture. On his last visit, he left a recent copy of 'Antique Design Monthly', and it gave me a few ideas ..."
"He?" Wufei spins round as I pass him on the way out of the lounge. "You mean the apartment sitter? You've met him?" He seems to have sprung back into life, he's on my heels as I walk through the apartment, trying to catch my eye. He keeps dodging to avoid cases, boxes and shoe heaps, then realising they're just not there any more. It's quite amusing to see him confused like this.
"No," I say, with exaggerated patience. "We're way too busy, both of us. He ... leaves me notes." We've both reached the kitchen and when I go to turn on the kettle, I can't help glancing towards some papers piled haphazardly by the cooker. Thick, expensive paper with careful script, full of excessive politeness, but also evidence of firm opinions. Made me laugh out loud the first time ... then made me think again.
"So, Duo, are you exchanging housekeeping hints with him now?"
I'm slow to turn around because I just don't need Wufei's smirk right now. "Don't be ridiculous. The guy's got some weird ideas about tidiness, and I draw the line at colour coding my herb pots. But he's actually suggested a few very sensible things, like the new storage arrangements in the laundry room and the recycling of my different types of household waste ..."
A muted snigger from behind me alerts me to Wufei's lack of enthusiasm for such significant changes in my life.
"As far as I remember," I say, slowly, and with a chilly tone that gives out a clear warning, should he choose to listen, "you've given me plenty of grief in the past about my slovenly apartment, and my lack of healthy male pursuits. You've made it your mission to hound me, demanding I expand my horizons beyond work and sleep. So now when I venture into something new --"
"Someone new," he murmurs, but I ignore him.
" -- so now I'm doing that," I continue," and you're still not satisfied, scorning my attempts to bring some order into my life, debasing every innocent comment of mine with your lewd and cynical attitude --"
"Oh for God's sake," Wufei sighs. "I surrender, OK? I didn't mean to offend you." He peers at me, trying to see if I'm serious. Our friendship thrives on this banter, and inspires this backchat between us. But that's no reason not to catch him off-balance now and then. "I'm really pleased for you, Duo, if you're happy with it. I guess I've just got used to teasing and nagging you, and you taking not a blind bit of notice of me, treating it all like a joke yourself. But I never think of you as a joke -- and I'm pretty sure that anyone worth a second look from you is going to think the same as well."
I'm afraid that I'm blushing at this unexpectedly flattering reference, so I scowl instead. I pass him a mug of herbal tea, and when he looks around aimlessly for a spoon to stir it, I reach immediately to the appropriate drawer and pass him one. Such unusual efficiency makes his eyes widen again, but he's still looking apologetic. And then I grin at him.
He breathes more easily, and smiles back at me over the rim of his mug. "Is that a new shirt?"
I sit down opposite him. "Nah. Just one I found in the back of the wardrobe I never wore before. It happens."
"It used to," he says, quietly. "Maybe now you'll be colour coordinating your clothes, too."
"Colour coordinating my ass," I say, cheerfully. Like I'm going to stop being me ...
"He may have colour swatches for you to examine for that," smirks Wufei.
"You may like to feel the print of my knuckles on your sarcastic jaw," I snap back.
"Just being supportive," he protests.
I wonder how long it'd take me to restore all the boxes and cases along Wufei's path back out of the apartment.
With any luck he might break a supportive ankle.
[part 2] [part 4] [back to FancyFigures' fic]