see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer
Up in Blue + Part 3
I Guess This Is Growing Up
you want me again, look for me under your boot soles.
Like Solomon itself, the Solomon City Zoo had the atmosphere of the day
after a party like a thousand people had just gone home, and you just
missed them. The litter from the party was swept into the zoo's dark corners,
the animals appeared tired, and if you wanted to carry the party metaphor
father, as if they had all had one too many to drink the night before.
Solomon was a city past its prime, and in the zoo, it showed.
Quatre, who had dressed for his first day on the job in a khaki pants
and a polo shirt, was already feeling decidedly overdressed as he followed
his new boss, Dr. Johansson (who was conveniently clad in jeans and an
old t-shirt), around the premises. He had already been slapped in the
face with a briar while slogging through the black bear habitat, and his
loafers were covered in what would turn out to be a permanent layer of
After viewing the zoo's operations, Quatre had come to one conclusion.
They hadn't hired him because his knowledge and passion had outshined
all the other candidates. The Solomon City Zoo had experienced massive
budget cuts. They just couldn't afford anyone with more education and
experience. That figured. Quatre Winner always got the short end of the
Still, being up close and personal with the animals, measuring their food
out, even getting to pet the docile ones, Quatre was in his personal heaven.
And they haven't even gotten to the big cats yet.
The small Solomon City Zoo had four lions and a Bengal tiger, and though
their habitats couldn't have been more different, the zoo's designers
had decided to group them together in one corner of the zoo lot. When
Dr. Johansson let Quatre into the outer courtyard of the tiger's rainforest
habitat, the first thing he noticed was a delicious rear end bent over
a bin in the corner. The gate creaked, and the owner of said rear end
stood up, to reveal a face half covered by messy brown hair. Even in the
dark though, Quatre could have told you that this guy was gorgeous.
"Trowa, this is Quatre, the new assistant. Quatre, this is Trowa, my right
hand man and a big cat expert in his own right. In fact, he's working
on his doctoral thesis on the Tsavo lions." Quatre was instantly intrigued.
The Tsavo lions were the maneless man-eaters who had been the subject
of the film The Ghost and the Darkness. Dr. Johansson continued in the
lecturing tone Quatre was already becoming accustomed too. "He's got some
interesting theories, Quatre, you ought to ask him about them." Turning
to Trowa, he continued, "Quatre here is especially interested in the big
cats as well, Trowa. I'm sure you two will have a lot to talk about.""I
hope you're right," Quatre thought hopefully. Aloud, he said "The Tsavo
lions, that was a fascinating story. You'll have to tell me what you're
writing about." Trowa merely nodded and took off his baseball cap, smoothing
his hair off of his sweaty forehead. He had green eyes. Quatre was trying
not to ogle, but really, he couldn't help but notice. Trowa had opened
his mouth to say something, but just then the radio on his belt crackled.
"Cathy's on Line 2, Trowa,"
came the operator's voice.
[part 4] [back to Singles
l - z]
"I need to take that," he explained. "Nice to meet you, Quatre. If you
guys will excuse me." And Trowa was gone, along with Quatre's fantasy
about picking out china patterns. Cathy. Of course he was straight. All
the hot ones were straight.
"A man of few words, that Trowa," Dr. Johansson explained. "But he sure
knows his stuff. You'd do well to spend as much time with him as
"Oh don't worry..." Quatre muttered.
When most people visit the hospital, they have something in their hands.
Usually flowers, or a stuffed animal, maybe balloons or some forbidden
sweet treat. When someone enters the hospital with nothing but his hands
in his pockets, it usually indicates a frequent visitor. Someone who has
endured too many nurse changes, too many midnight calls, too many bedside
Quatre's hands were empty when he entered the Hope Gardens Perpetual
Care Home. "Perpetual care" was a nice way of phrasing it. The fact was,
the patient he was here to visit would never be coming out again outside
of a body bag.
Quatre always felt shabby as soon as he passed through Hope Gardens'
fence in his beat up '91 Honda. On the outskirts of Solomon, the
combination nursing home and assisted living center had been built out
of a converted Georgian mansion. From the outside, the enormous brick
house looked as if it could hold all of Solomon's elderly and infirm
and then some. A nine-foot brick fence with a wrought iron gate kept the
idly curious out, and hid the splendid gardens within. One flower bed
at Hope Gardens was the size of the backyard of the duplex where Quatre
had grown up.
The huge double doors at the front entrance had been fitted with motion
sensors in order to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers. Quatre smiled
and waited as a white-clad orderly wheeled an old woman with dyed red
hair out the front door. He recognized the woman. One of the nurses had
once confided that she was Vesta Solomon Worth, one of the Solomon's.
The ones the city was named after.
"You forgot to bring my umbrella," he heard the old woman say imperiously.
"Mrs. Worth, you didn't ask for your umbrella," the orderly replied
Quatre didn't wait to see how this minor drama played out. He stepped
inside and wondered for the hundredth time whether the place was soundproofed.
He was careful not to let the door bang shut behind him in the sepulchral
silence. Crossing Hope Garden's threshold was like entering a mausoleum.
Not a bad analogy really. No matter how tasteful the décor, Quatre could
never manage to forget how many of the patients here hovered close to
death. The personal care home's lobby was done up more like a sitting
room than a waiting room. A window, complete with cushioned window seat
dominated the right side of the room. Overstuffed armchairs and wooden-legged
couches surrounded an antique table. A vase of flowers had been placed
in the very center of the round table. Without fail, they were always
fresh. The first few times Quatre had had to fill out paperwork here,
he had checked. He had read the plaque on the table once, too. It was
from two centuries ago and probably cost more than everything Quatre owned
combined. He had never seen a spot of dust on the table. Apparently elves
appeared magically out of the dark wood paneling and cleaned the place
up after a dusty person such as himself entered the room. He bet he could
come in at any time, day or night, and the place would be spotless and
A woman in a lavender business suit sat behind a round counter in the
center of the room. Quatre knew her name was Lillian. Lillian knew his
name was Quatre Winner. But no matter how many times Quatre came to visit,
she still asked who he was here to see and then requested identification.
He had tried greeting her using her given name a few times, but she had
merely looked at him like he had carrots stuck up his nose. Today, he
dutifully presented his ID and signed in.
Quatre knocked lightly on the door to room 2-6. He didn't expect
an answer and he didn't get one.
He opened the door and peeked in. Even in sleep his mother's muscles
moved involuntarily. One of Catherine Mason's arms writhed against
the pillows, and her face twitched in what might be a smile. The sight
of a smile on that wasted face might have been beautiful to Quatre, if
the disease that had betrayed her body and muddled her mind wasn't
forcing her mouth muscles to create that eerie expression over, and over,
and over again.
A chest of drawers in one corner of the room held over a dozen framed
photographs pictures of him and his three sisters, of his step-father
Frank and of his grandparents and aunts and uncles. The nurses sat a different
picture by his mother's bed every day. Today's picture showed
Catherine and Frank on their honeymoon. They had stayed at a cabin on
Lake Timberland. Quatre and his older sister Iria had stayed with their
grandmother, in that last summer before she died.
Frank had been substantially older than his mother, but back then, hell,
even now, there weren't that many men willing to take in a single
twenty-three year old mother of two. Iria had been seven and Quatre had
been five when they married. His younger sisters, Delilah, named after
their grandmother, and Violet, whom everyone called Scout, had come along
a few years later.
Frank had died in an accident the year Quatre was seventeen. He had been
trying to put just a few more miles under the tires of the eighteen wheel
truck he drove for a living. Time was money, and Quatre was approaching
college age. It could have been much worse. Frank could have had the heart
attack behind the wheel while driving in rush hour traffic instead of
speeding through the foggy Ohio River Valley at 4am. He died just the
same. And his mother's Huntington's Disease, which she had been
managing to hide from her children, flared with a vengeance under the
stress of her husband's death.
Their mother had deteriorated rapidly. Within the year, she was bedridden.
Within three years, they could no longer take care of her at home. They
had no choice but to put her in Solomon's public, income-assisted
nursing home. The squat gray building in downtown Solomon smelled like
urine, sweat and death and was about as inviting as tomb. That year had
been hell on Quatre. They had endured substandard care for their mother
until the summer he turned twenty-two. Then, miraculously, his mother
qualified for some government program that allowed her to move to Hope
Gardens. Quatre and Iria had worried at first that some mistake had been
made and that, at any time, they would suddenly have to pay off Hope Gardens'
enormous bill. But the bill never came and through the years they grew
used to visiting their mother at the converted estate.
Instead of college, Iria worked two jobs to care for Quatre, Delilah and
Scout. Quatre managed a few semesters of community college before falling
into the same rut. Delilah was married now, at nineteen. Sixteen year
old Scout still lived with Iria. She was still in high school and she
had a baby due in the fall. Iria herself had the eyes of an old woman
at age twenty-eight. No, maybe they hadn't done that great without
a parent's guidance. But they'd survived.
There was one consolation. In 1993, scientists had come up with a genetic
test to determine whether relatives of Huntington's patients had
the gene. Though there had been a 50/50 chance, Quatre and his three sisters
had been spared. The disease would die with their mother. And the disease
would die soon.
Quatre watched as his mother's face seemed to smooth and her eyes
opened. Somehow, she managed to become more beautiful as she wasted away.
Her skin grew paler, her blue eyes more luminous. When she looked at him,
he barely noticed the twitching and writhing muscles that had become one
of the hallmarks of her disease.
"Frank?" she said feebly.
Quatre held one of her slim hands in his. "It's Quatre, mama."
She was beginning to forget him now. On his last two visits she had mistaken
her only son for her dead husband. He knew he couldn't blame her
for the havoc the disease had wreaked on her mind, but it still hurt.
Nonetheless, she squeezed his hand and he squeezed back. Catherine dropped
off to sleep again soon after. According to the nurses, she barely awoke
at all anymore. The resident doctor gave her months, maybe a year. When
the eerie twitching smiles began again, Quatre slipped his hand out of
his mother's and crept silently out the door.
Duo sidled up to Wufei, who was in his usual position at the bar at Tangle.
The braided man's eyes were dilated wide as saucers, and the implications
weren't lost on the Chinese man.
"What you up to, Wu?" Duo took a seat beside his friend, and then spun
around once on the barstool, ending up with his head provocatively thrown
back and cocked to one side, looking up at Wufei. The Chinese man couldn't
deny that the come-hither look in those violet bedroom eyes was a tempting
sight. Very tempting. But unlike nearly everyone else in the room, Wufei
had developed immunity to Duo's charms.
"Waiting for Quatre. Not that you'd care," he couldn't stop
himself from adding.
Duo put a hand to his heart and replied mockingly, "Now 'Fei, that
hurts me very deeply. You know Quatre has been my bestest friend
since we were twelve years old. Why would you say such mean things?" A
sly grin crept over Duo's face, his dilated eyes widened. "Could
it be that you're jealous because Quatre loves me best?"
Wufei would have knocked that smug look off of Duo's face, if it
weren't for the fact that Duo had about five inches and five hundred
trips to the gym over him. Besides, Duo was high. He probably wouldn't
even remember what he had said in the morning. The Chinese man contented
himself with glaring at his adversary. And over his shoulder, there was
Quatre. Before he could help himself, Wufei blushed. Maybe Duo's
words had been a little more on the mark than he was willing to admit.
Quatre's attention, though, was fixed firmly on Duo. He was taking
the drink out of Duo's hand.
The blonde man sighed. "You don't need any more of that, it looks
like you've had enough already. He straightened the crooked collar
on Duo's shirt before noticing his other friend. "Oh hi, Wufei. Duo,
do you want me to drive you home?" Wufei managed a belated wave after
Quatre had already turned his attention back to his best friend.
Duo had been uncommonly docile during Quatre's fussing. "Oh no, I
think the party's just getting started. Me and Wufei here were just
talking about you."
Quatre shot a glance at Wufei. "Oh really?"
"I was telling him how we've been friends for fourteen years. Isn't
"Well yeah," Quatre said, a bit perplexed. "Wufei knows that. Everybody
knows we've been best friends since junior high."
"I wanted to tell him how we became such good friends."
Quatre sat down on a bar stool beside Duo and said patiently, "Wufei,
Duo and I became friends during Senora Noventa's Spanish class. She
kept partnering us up to do these awful skits about colors, and pets and
crap like that. We both hated it." Quatre flashed a smile at Wufei. "And
that's the spectacular history behind the Duo and Quatre Show. Happy,
Duo?" His friend's color didn't look all that great and he was
ready to give him a ride home. But Duo, dilated eyes sparkling mischievously
now, had other ideas. He threw one arm around Quatre, pulling him close.
"I meant we should tell him about the first time I kissed you."
It didn't escape Wufei's notice that Quatre seemed to freeze
"I... Why should we tell him about that? There isn't much to tell really,
Wufei. It was in the boy's locker room at school. Pretty stupid place
for a first kiss if you ask me."
"I didn't think it was stupid." Duo's voice had taken on a husky
timbre. Wufei watched as Quatre, still nestled in the crook of Duo's
arm, unnecessarily smoothed a strand of hair behind his ear.
"It wasn't long after I transferred to McKinley Junior High. We had
gym class together and for some reason this guy, Jerry Barnes, had it
out for Cat. Actually, Jerry Barnes wanted you Cat."
"Oh, he did not." But there was no vehemence behind the denial. Apparently
they had been over this a thousand times.
Duo ignored him, attention fixed on Wufei. "Well, that day, to prove his
love for Quatre, Jerry Barnes shoved him into a locker. I was in the shower,
I didn't see it happen. Sorry, Cat," he said softly, turning and
resting his forehead against his friend's. For a moment, the old
Duo was there behind those wide, dilated pupils.
"It's ok," Quatre said rather hoarsely. Hilde had come up to them
behind the bar and was listening now, too. Wufei watched as Quatre attempted
to sink into the floor. The Chinese man wanted to leave, get up and say
"to hell with it." But Duo's voice was like a snake charmer's,
and he couldn't seem to tear himself away.
"I came out of the shower and everybody else had left. The last bell had
rang, you know? Outside the doors you could hear everybody going to their
buses. Quatre was sitting there on one of those red mesh benches holding
his mouth. I made him take his hand away and..." Duo looked sideways, into
memory. "There was a line of blood down his chin. It was so red against
his pale skin..."
Quatre interrupted. "Duo, you're not looking so good. Drink your
water. Better yet, let's get you home."
Duo ignored him, dilated eyes still firmly fixed on Wufei's, as if
daring him to look away. "I licked my finger and wiped the blood off his
chin. Then I couldn't help myself, I wanted to touch his lips and
the curve of his cheek and his eyebrows. He was so... young, sitting there
with a few drops of blood still on his mouth. I just wanted to..." Duo stopped.
Whether he realized what he was saying or just could not articulate his
feelings they would never know. "So I kissed him. And he loved it."
A saucy leer took the place of Duo's formerly dreamy expression.
Wufei and Hilde both glanced at Quatre, who was now intently focused on
something on the other end of the barroom.
"We were making out like two wild animals. He loved it so much he ended
up pushing me into a locker. I swear I saw stars for a minute. But that
was when our gym coach came in and told us to break it up. And I almost
got in trouble for the blood on Quatre's lip!" Duo laughed, more
like an Ecstasy-induced giggle. Wufei managed to tear his gaze away from
Duo now long enough to watch Quatre as the blonde looked hard at the floor.
The Chinese man felt a small twinge of satisfaction when Quatre twisted
so that Duo's arm was no longer around his shoulder.
But Duo didn't even appear to notice. "There he is!" He pointed to
a boy who looked about eighteen and had artfully placed glitter body paint
where his shirt should have been. "I thought he'd left." He planted
a quick kiss on Quatre's cheek. "Don't wait up."
Quatre put a finger to his lips. Tonight Duo had put one of his most treasured
memories, one of the most intimate moments of his life on display in a
bar. He couldn't count how many times he had dreamed about that day,
about that kiss. About Duo's hand slipping inside the waist band
of his sweatpants. About the faint taste of salt and blood. Quatre could
taste it even now... He felt a hand on his shoulder.
"He's an asshole," Wufei said.
"He was high, he didn't know what he was saying," Hilde said at the
"Why do you always cover for him?" Wufei snapped. "I don't know why
you put up with his shit, Cat."
Wufei looked like he had been stung. "Fine, Quatre," he said tightly.
"I'm... I'm through for tonight. Good night, Hilde. Good night,
Quatre," he said with stiff formality.
"Wait! I'm going too," Quatre decided. "I'll walk out with you,
ok, Wu?" He was very proud of himself when he managed to cross Tangle's
threshold without once looking back at Duo.