- Title: Leaves
- Author: Lykotheia
- Pairing(s): 85, GojyoxBanri
- Rating: R
- Summary or description: Hakkai leaves, and Gojyo has to cope.
- Disclaimer: These characters are the property of Kazyua Minekura, not mine.

- Warnings- Language, sexual situations.

 

A train whistled in the distance as I ducked out of the grocery and onto the smoggy street. The downtown was historically filthy; there had been a Green Atmosphere Act passed two years ago, but I swear citizens of the city's historical society had it overturned. People with money didn't shop here, which meant it was pretty much packed twenty-four seven by ninety-five percent of Durangee's population.

I've lived here all of my life, and, ironically, always within the same twenty blocks that make up the ghetto. I've moved around a lot, but always within the same maze of dilapidated buildings and crumbling concrete. I remind myself of a leaf in a gutter: never still, but never really going anywhere either. There had been a brief time in life when I had thought differently of myself.

That was seven months ago, when I'd actually moved up a notch in life. I'd been renting a house instead of an apartment, and it had been clean too. That wasn't my doing—it was Hakkai's. We'll get to that part.

 The place was small, one bedroom, one bath, with yellow brick on the outside and black shutters, all present. But it was mine. Ours, I guess. It was the first time I'd ever really lived in a home; even as a kid my shelter had been just a house, and sometimes not even that. Mom moved me and my brother around to dodge rent, and I can't count the times we'd ended up sleeping in a laundry mat or under a bridge. It had been nice to have a steady place to go back to, and even nicer than it usually smelled like lemon cleaner and kitchen herbs, warm in the winter and pleasantly cool in the summer, though we hadn't had AC. If shingles fell off, they were quickly replaced; if paint peeled, it was freshened. Even though I was doing half the repairs myself, it still felt like a magic house.

Hakkai, my roommate, friend, lover—I'm not even sure what else—moved in with me for almost a full year before flying the coup. We were good together, but I guess he didn't think the same. The guy was amazing; he could cook and clean, and never complained or came home drunk. I can't say the same for myself. But if it happened, he'd be there in the morning with some sweet-smelling concoction that would either knock me out or get me on my feet again in a few hours. It depended on what he needed done. I never minded.

He didn't bitch at me about my odd hours—sometimes he kept them too—and was a real sharp at cards. Never could beat him. You couldn't outdrink him either, though looking at the guy, you'd never believe it. He's an inch shorter than I am, jet hair, always cut short, but loose around the sides of his face. He has a real pretty face, too, and the brightest—scariest—eyes you've ever seen. He's not built like me, but still strong in his own way, though more of the slender sort. His hands—fuck, he had magic hands; they could always get me to do anything he wanted—were long-fingered like the eight-armed gods in Eastern art. (Isn't that supposed to represent wisdom?) Smooth on the outside and rough at the palm; he always liked to press them up against my face or my chest when we kissed, and I usually made a game of drawing them lower.

I'd been living seven months without him—it was kinda hard not to count—and there's not a day goes by that I don't think about him. Like I said, we were good together. I thought we were good together, anyways. He used to say I grounded him, that he wasn't the sort that could live alone, and I thought he'd finally found a home. With me.

But that sounds stupidly sentimental doesn't it? I'd gotten into a rut. I like ruts. I was comfortable with him, and dumb enough to let myself show it, fall for him a little. It wasn't just the food, the clean clothes, the sex (and the sex was good, believe me). It was having him there, knowing that it no longer had to be anybody, but somebody. When he left, he really left. Didn't even say goodbye. There was a civilly-worded note on the kitchen table, and all of his stuff was gone. I hadn't realized how his few meager belongings had really made the place feel like a home until they weren't there anymore; then it became more of a hole in the wall. And I buried myself in it with a hibernation's store of alcohol for two months. No one saw me; I hardly ever went out for food, and I dropped too much weight. It took a month of bumming from neighbors and standing in the sunshine to return me to a state of health, and that was when I sucked it up and got a job.

I'd always been good at working with my hands—hence profitable poker turnouts—so I signed on with a Mr. Burlington, woodworker and asshole extraordinaire. The pay was good, and I'd dealt with worse in life, so I endured. After he saw I wasn't going to run off with one of his daughters—ugh, and who would, exactly?—he took a shine to me and stopped throwing tools when he got into a bad mood. Since then I've made a decent living, but I still rent an apartment. No need for the roominess of a house.

There was a box I'd recovered from our place, below the kitchen, something he must have forgotten. It was simple, wooden, and filled with note cards, all made out in his neat hand with recipes, all alphabetized. I put them away.

After that, I'd started to get some feeling back into my extremities, so to speak; the numbness of his exodus was wearing off by month three, and I was beginning to warm up to people again. For a long time, I'd thought that the worst part about it was not knowing where he went, or whom he was with. By February that year I learned that I was dead wrong.

Burlington's name was well known, and even the ritzy folks bought from him. It was on one such errand uptown that I saw him. Nearly dropped the damned piano. It was snowing lightly, and he had a green scarf wrapped about his neck; his trench coat caught the wind and snapped out behind him to reveal decent clothing—nice clothing—and I noticed he wasn't wearing glasses. My first thought was pretty simple, more of a mental grunt from the blow my gut was dealt than anything, and then I saw her. She was petite, dark-haired, pretty in an unconventional sense, I guess. I would say cute. Freckles dotted her face, and I couldn't make out the color of her eyes because she turned to him so quickly, laughing. His arm slipped about her shoulder, and he led her through the low door to a pub on the other side of the street. He hadn't seen me in my dark mover's clothing, red hair bunched up under my hat. I'm still not sure how I managed to deliver the piano—I can't remember any other part of the trip. Just seeing him. With her. He hadn't gone far at all, just like me, he was stuck in this town. But he'd had the sense to move up—far up, by the looks of it. He was living on the ritzy side of town, and dating a girl dressed like a flapper in pearls. I couldn't stand to think on it, but my mind threw unwarranted images of the scene before my eyes whether I was sleeping or not, and I had little control over it. He'd been here all this time!  Knowing, I'd decided, was definitely worse than not.

That was almost four months ago, and I've seen them a handful of times since, though I always do my best to weasel out of deliveries to the upper-east side. Burlington either hasn't noticed, or doesn't care. Mine's not exactly the face he wants representing his business, I'm sure.

Hiking down to thirty second street—no one who doesn't want to get robbed takes cabs—I spotted Golden Arch apartments. No, it's not the basement of a McDonalds; you give it too much credit. It's a worn down building that's been cited for at least half a dozen violations, but still manages to stay open. The front is grey brick, chipped and peeling just about everywhere, and old yellow and tan awnings flap torn from the lower windows.

Hoisting plastic bags up over my shoulder, I nudge open the door and take myself up to the second floor, which is a terrace. Only the efficiency apartments are roofed—everything else here and above is open, like a sort of flower-less, fountain-less courtyard. And everything, everything, is grey.

This was where Banri lived, an old acquaintance that doesn't really fit into any conventional category. He's not my friend, but he's a little too close to be an enemy. I never could remember which bloody room was his, of the four, so I hollered.

"Banri! Open up asshole!"

A heavyset man in red suspenders hung halfway out his window and jerked his thumb to the door directly behind me, slamming the panes shut so harshly that they shuddered, and one fell out. I heard him cursing as I pushed through the faulty lock on the door.

"Banri?"

"Gojyo?" He looked surprised, leaping up from where he'd been sitting on a thick futon to slap me on the back and utter characteristic obscenities. "Where you been?"

"Working." I shoved the plastic bags at him, "Here."

"What's this?" Peering through them, he looked surprised. I'd picked up food—as close to real food as he was getting—at the grocery. Instant anything I could find, soups, ramen, packaged meals, and a few fresh vegetables, though I suspected they would go unused.

"Think you can add this to your diet of beer and crack?" I smirked, and he rolled his eyes, slapping my back as he drifted through an empty hall to the small kitchenette. Only a dull wooden table sat in the corner, without chairs. In the other small room sat the futon, an empty television stand that must be serving as a desk, and a pizza box.

"So how's it going." Banri knew about Hakkai. How could he not? He had been the first to find out we were more than roommates, walking in on us while I was halfway home with 'Kai on the kitchen table. The damn idiot didn't know how to knock. Hakkai had never liked him.

"It's going." I said with a shrug, looking about purposefully. "Got a job yet?"

"No." Banri admitted, shrugging. "Picking up enough with poker, odd-jobs, you know."

Odd jobs that didn't count as "work" meant stealing. I used to participate in the same underground labor force in the earlier days, which was how we met. We'd saved each other's lives one too many times to be enemies.

"There's one at the factory. It's where Burlington gets his tools. Full-time. I could check on it for you." I knew the answer before he gave it, a bashful no thanks, and an assurance that something would come along. I shrugged.

"I should've stopped by to see you," Banri said by way of apology, and I shrugged again. "I guess you heard."

"Heard what?" I had helped myself to one of his beers—flat, but still good.

"About him. Y'know. Hakkai." Banri was tentative in discussing him, and with good reason. He and I both knew that it was because of Banri that Hakkai left. Not directly, of course; I should rephrase. It was because of what I did to save his ass that Hakkai left.

"What about him?"

"That he's gettin' married. That Greenledge girl, you know."

I blinked stupidly at him. "Married?" For all I had known, they already were, when I first saw them together. But it was just as easy to pretend that they weren't. His words hit like a physical blow, and I sat the beer down shakily, feeling the remnants of it gurgle unpleasantly in my stomach, threatening to surge right back up.

"I'm sorry. I thought you'd 'a heard."

"I didn't." I felt his hand on my shoulder, squeezing gently, a familiar, friendly gesture. Oh yeah, there was that link between us too.

"I'm sorry."

So am I. "Thanks."

"No, man, you don't know how sorry."

"I think I do, Banri." I rose unsteadily, hands stuffed into the pockets of cargo pants up to the wrists. "I'm going."

"Hey, no." He caught me by the elbow, swinging me around, and pressed me into the wall just beside the door, hands on my shoulders, and then hovering at his sides. "You should crash here." He looked grossly uncomfortable, "Y'know. Shouldn't be alone like that."

It was an attempt at tender that fell flat, and we were both grateful. He wasn't into guys, and as a rule, I wasn't into him, though on occasion we both drifted that way. "I just thought that's why you came by." He said stupidly.

"I came by to make sure you weren't reduced to eating cardboard and ants, idiot. Looks like I came just in time."

"Hell yeah," Banri grinned, relieved, and took a few steps back. "How about some of that ramen, then?"

I assented, and he drew out another six pack from the back of the fridge, popping them. Fresh. We ate well; it was nothing like homemade, but the best either of us ever got. The beers, and half a bottle of vodka, were finished off by midnight. We were on the futon and somewhere a little past tipsy; Banri had drawn out his television from the closet and plugged it in. Although logically I understood it was only to prevent theft, three beers and God knows how many glasses of vodka made the situation seem absolutely absurd. I couldn't stop laughing as he fumbled with the cords and cursed me for not helping.

"Lazy."

"Uncoordinated," I said carefully, flopping back on the cool sheets that smelled surprisingly fresh. "Been doin' laundry?"

"Of course. An' it helps that I ain't slept there in a long time," Banri added nonchalantly, kicking the television once in the side until the picture cleared, then sinking into the end of the sofa.

After half an hour, the power went out.

"Dammit. That happens all the fucking time. 'S th'only reason the rent is so low," Banri grumbled, and I had to ask what he was paying.

"One fifty."

"No kidding?" Even my tiny shoebox was twice that in a month. But my power never went out. "Do you not have running water?"

"Usually I do." Banri said it so seriously that we both erupted into laughter, and that was when I registered that I was perhaps a little drunker than tipsy. I'd stayed away from alcohol a long time after my hibernation, so my tolerance was down. Banri's was always down; it had nothing to do with practice, or he'd be invincible.

We both wheezed and caught our breaths, glancing at the blank screen of the television with a few stray chuckles, and then Banri said, "Hey."

I looked at him, grin fading gradually.

"You look real good Sha."

I shrugged and gave my best I-know-but-I'm-modest expression. "Well. Ya know."

"Yeah."

I slouched back in the sofa and let him move over me, fumbling with my belt and cursing at his clumsiness. We tangled up and rutted in a way Hakkai would call, in his tactful way, inelegant. I was lonely, and it was easier not to think about Hakkai if I had someone—I was back to anyone—panting at my throat and gripping my dick. We fooled around until the power flickered on, and then off again. In the distance I heard the steady buzz of street sweeper, and despite the alcohol, the exhaustion, and the sex, I was still clear-headed enough to think about him.

 

I awoke early the next morning, aware of my location only when I had to shove Banri off of my numbed legs. The mattress was chilled; he never kept it warm the way Hakkai did. I glanced up at the grey light filtering through a cobweb-smothered window and noticed a dried autumn red leaf, fraying around the edges but surprisingly bright for the season, caught in the muck and trembling with the wind. I grunted and heaved myself up, sore and plagued by a hangover. Banri didn't wake as I left; he wasn't the sort who would want me to stay for breakfast.

Walking home in the smears of dawn, I passed the street that would have once led to our house. I tried not to look at it and stuffed my hands further into my pockets, head down as I hurried home. The smudges of dark homes, brown lawns and slush-filled gutters passed by quickly, and I realized I had begun jogging at some point, which was hell on my head, which felt full of red-hot pokers right about then. My key stuck in the lock, and I had to rattle and swear and it for a good five minutes before it gave in under the influence of my shoulder.

My place was freezing, and I couldn't figure out what had happened to the heat. Jacking up the thermostat hopelessly, I flopped face first onto the bed and reminded myself it was Sunday, and to sleep. This time I was restless, jerking awake with fragmented images from dreams caught behind my eyes like the leaf in the web. Hakkai. Hakkai and her. I wasn't naïve enough to demand why me or rail at the injustice of the world; it was more a question of logic. Hakkai had always been such a logical man, and well-schooled, polite, always polite. That he would pack and leave a kindly worded note in the middle of the night, and then run off with a woman didn't make sense. Deeper down, I was still in a state of disbelief that he could be with another so suddenly. How had his heart healed so quickly when mine hadn't even started to beat again?

They misery likes company, and that's a boldface lie. I avoided everyone, and even dodged delivery trips when I could, afraid that I would have to go uptown or worse, to her house. Or was it their house now? The notion filled me with scathing jealousy, and I man who had never considered himself possessive by nature.

Although I shunned company, I still asked around, stabbing relentlessly at the open wound, never giving it time to heal. Throughout the day I would make general inquiries of customers; everyone knew the Greenledge family; they were wealthy, and the head of the household was mayor. Sometimes I got shrugs, but mostly I received an earful of gossip; the most productive carriers were well-dressed old women with nothing better to do than spend their husband's money and talk. I listened.

"Oh yes, the girl; her name is Katherine, and she's a doll. This young man she's been courting is such a gentleman too. She's quite taken with him. I think they'll make a marvelous couple. Apparently he just finished law school; even Raymond Greenledge has taken a shine to him, and you must know how impossible it is to worm one's way into his good graces."

I shrugged by way of comment, and she prattled on. Inevitably the topic of conversation changed to high society, which led to clothing, which led to the new pair of earrings her husband had bought for her in honor of their forty-fourth anniversary. All this while her car was being loaded by some of Burlington's laziest workers. I was in charge of wringing money out of her for the bedroom set and matching settee.

The woman's hand was on the door, almost out, when she paused and turned around. I winced internally. "You know that young man—what was his name?—was looking to set up practice down here. Can you believe it?"

"Hakkai."

"Beg your pardon?"

"Hakkai. That's his name."

"Oh. Do you know him?"

"I used to."

She nodded curtly and thanked me, and told me to thank the master craftsman himself. I promised to do that, thinking of Mr. Burlington's relief at his own absence when he found out who had come to pick up his most expensive order of the month.

A month drifted by and spring began to poke through; sludge dissolved, baring pitted streets and dead yards and missing shingles. The fierce, scraping cold abated, leaving in its wake a light chill that required only a jacket. I stopped wearing gloves to work by April, and by the end of that month I'd been promoted to what Mr. Burlington, in his old-fashioned mindset, called journeyman. I was assisting him with varnish, basic carving details, and of course hauling lumber. The pay increase was nice too, and I was finally able to afford an armchair for the bare corner of the apartment dedicated to television.

I didn't check up on Banri again, though there were a few nights when I was sorely tempted, suddenly fraught with the eager desire for company, anyone's company, to drown out the hum of the city's noisy silence. By May I began to ache.

It wasn't just physical, but emotional. There was a gap I just couldn't fill; I had never had need to before. It made me begin to wonder if this was how all break ups were, or if there was something exceptionally wrong with me. Hakkai'd gotten over it. Hakkai was getting married. I tried not to think about that.

I didn't see Banri, but I thought about him. I wondered what might have happened had I not gone to pull his ass out from under the guns all those nights ago. Maybe Hakkai would still be there. God, that sounds pathetic doesn't it? Well, I guess it would. My situation was pretty pathetic in itself.

I tried not to go over those last days in my mind over and over again, but the inevitable happened; I couldn't keep myself busy every moment of every day, and thoughts intervened. Was there some warning sign, something that would have been glaringly obvious to the master of subtlety that flew right over my head? He was upset with my associating with Barni; he must have known the guy was a thief. But he never asked me to stop, and I never technically joined in. Hakkai had never yelled about it either. So where then, was my first strike? Maybe he simply grew sick of me.

I think I might have made friends at work, but they found me taciturn and introverted, not the usual words I would use to describe myself. But admittedly things had changed.

I didn't see him, and that made things a little easier; Mr. Burlington never asked me to take furniture uptown, as if somehow he knew. I got better at not thinking, but on occasion a stray sentiment would seep in. But as the aching grew less, it was almost tolerable.

In early June, I passed by the park in the center of town to find a gazebo strewn with flowers and several workers scraping leaves and dead grass from the flower beds into neat little piles. There were at least two hundred painted fold-out chairs, one hundred on either side with a wide path down the center. I must have been staring, because one of the workers paused to look up and grin toothily at me, one more gawker for the Cho-Greenledge wedding. It couldn't be anyone else's.

"Hey."

I nodded to him.

"Biggest wedding I've ever seen." He said conversationally. "Great for business in town. Mr. Greenledge has just about everyone employed, doin' somethin'."

I nodded again and said something suitable, watching the remnants of the cold seasons that had lodged in the nooks of trees being swept up and hauled out to the curb. I shuddered despite the warming winter and walked on.

Later that day I was unloading raw timber from the back of the truck, working a solo shift since Jimmy had called in sick and Tony was never on time. The rattling wood made a lot of noise, but I sensed Mr. Burlington over my shoulder, hovering in the doorway, and winced. Not an uptown delivery, was my only thought as I struggled with a particularly heavy bundle; it was a job for two men, and I got a handful of splinters for my effort. Rising, I turned expectantly only to find an empty door.

In the main room, a well-dressed older man was waiting before the counter, immaculate nails gleaming in the dull light. Maybe I noticed them because mine were cracked and dirty with varnish. He said he had come in to pick up a custom made bedroom suite, all polished walnut and made in the French provincial style. It had been our most expensive order all year, so I loaded it up and sent Timmy, our only driver, out on his way. I knew who it was for already, a stately wedding gift. Would they be sleeping there, in that bed I helped sand and polish and varnish? It took every ounce of control and pride that I had left not to let the bed slip off the truck and crash onto the pavement.

 

The next day, I read his wedding announcement in the paper.

I wasn't as sick as I thought I was going to be. I even managed to read the entire article before slamming the roll of print down and telling Mr. Burlington I was taking a sick day. He didn't look too surprised, and I heard him shuffle behind the counter to peer at the paper I had left behind. I would guess by his sigh that he thought I'd been after the girl. I could have killed her.

Late that night there was a knock, and I knew who it was before I opened the door.

"Not now Banri."

"Gojyo." He looked pained, eyes pinched at the corners. I recognized withdrawal signs, but was surprised to feel his hand on my shoulder, then fall down numbly to his side. "Man I'm sorry." He had a six pack clutched in one hand, and I was sorely tempted to drink myself into oblivion. But a part of me resisted, reminding myself that the pain would poke through, as though the alcohol were only a thin gauze over splinters.

I flushed, shaking it off. "It's fine, Banri."

"It ain't. It ain't right."

No, I agreed silently, maybe not. But he looked happy with her, even though they hadn't printed a photo, I knew their wedding must have been gorgeous. And he would have been smiling in just that way, a light crease appearing at the corner of his mouth, crinkles so faint that they couldn't be seen without shadow at the corners of his eyes. I could remember kissing them.

Banri didn't want to leave. I made him, and felt myself collapse just as the door shut, shuddering. It was too much; the thought of them together, on that bed I'd hauled into the truck, made me sick to my stomach. I moved to collapse atop the sofa and lay there for I don't know how long; at some point it started to rain, and I slipped in and out of consciousness, listening to the windows tremble at the force of the wind.

Eventually there was a knock at the door. I groaned, and a clap of thunder jerked me onto my feet. Banri was an idiot, if he was waiting out in this weather. The knock sounded again, and I tugged on the only lamp in the room, casting an eerie glow across the floor in ripple-like patterns that grew dimmer as they reached the sofa.

I opened the door and peered out into the silver-streaked night; the rain slapping concrete was deafening. He was soaked to the skin, hair matted in streaks against the sides of his face, his nape; clothing clung to his slender shoulders and the lean muscle of his thighs, and I thought he was shivering just a little. But it wasn't Banri.

"Hakkai." I'm still not certain if I said it aloud, or only meant to.

"Gojyo." His voice sounded like shattering glass in a lower pitch; it made me want to shield myself. My mind kept screaming to let him in, touch him, tell him how glad I was that he'd come back, and that made me angry. Why couldn't I slam the door in his face, tell him to get the fuck out of here, this wasn't his home anymore? I was somewhere in between, and just stood there stupidly in the doorway, letting rain lash my face and his back and dampen the wood floors.

            He opened his mouth, and I expected some eloquent speech that would twist around my righteous anger and put me in the wrong, excusing Hakkai's flight and emphasizing his logical nature over my emotional one. What I got was dumbfounding, and too simplistic, almost too guttural, to have come from him.

            "Gojyo, I've made such a mistake," he breathed, and suddenly I wasn't sure if the water running down his face was from rain or tears; his eyes were large, the irises slashed by the dark lines of his lashes.

            "Yeah," I said.

            He looked as though he were trying to say a thousand things at once; I could read the confusion behind his eyes as he sorted through it, indicating he hadn't given it much thought before coming. Or maybe he gave it too much. What came out was the most heart-wrenching sound I'd ever heard; it was more sob than speech.

            "Gojyo I'm sorry."

            I stepped back and he moved forward, and suddenly my arms were around him, pinning him close to my body and shivering at the cold as our mouths locked, breathing heat and ice and sorrow and sex into one another until I could taste salt between us and it was raining inside.

            The door slammed shut, and I undressed him, taking him into the small bedroom and warming him. He shivered for a long time; how not, if he had walked all this way? Drawing the covers up over us, I kissed him in all the familiar places, hearing his breath hitch and his body tense in pleasure. Rain water and sweat pooled at the small of his throat and belly and the musky scent of arousal overpowered it. Something unhinged in me, and it was the closest to angry sex I've ever come. I know I hurt him a little, the first time, pressing too hard, too fast, but I was still a little too wounded to stop. He didn't ask me to.

            We barely gave one another space to breathe; the second time the bed stayed still, and Hakkai bent almost double, cheek against mine and grunting with each thrust, letting out this wispy sigh every time I hit the tight little bundle of nerves that made his cock jump between us. He came first, and I pressed on until sated, when I finally realized the bed was too small for both of us.

            We lay touching, his chest pressed close to mine, forehead resting on my collar bone as he found his breath and let his afterglow evaporate in the silvery air between us.

            "You're married." My voice sounded brittle, and I cursed the air of a wounded spouse I had taken on.

            "What?" Hakkai looked up at me as a blush of confusion overtook the flush of pleasure.

            I was angry that he would lie to me—how stupid did he think I was? 

            "You're married." I repeated, my voice a little rougher, catching in my throat as a flush rose in my skin. Hakkai sat up halfway, and the part of me I'd tried to muffle kept thinking of how perfect he looked right there, hair messed and eyes wide in my bed.

            "I'm not." He protested weakly, still confused. "I never…"

            "Hakkai give it up. I read it in the paper this morning, all the details. Everything but a photo."

            He continued to look baffled, and I had never known him to lie. "But Gojyo I'm not. I left. I haven't gone back since I told her." He looked desperate for me to believe him. Rising, I brought the paper in from the box on the porch, a copy I hadn't opened, though I'd read the article at work. It was damp around the edges, but fully legible. Hakkai's hands clenched about the edges as he scanned the announcements page and found his name, and hers. I had just begun to wonder what his explanation could possible be when he started laughing, really laughing, and let me read the description of the wedding again, and all the details that had never taken place.

 

            "So you 'eard about that huh?" My boss inquired. "Th'mayor's pretty pissed off about his daughter getting jilted. But hey, good news for you huh?"

            I nodded, and he misunderstood my reasoning again. I let him.

            "What a prick though, sort of serves him right don't it?" He wiped his face with the back of his sleeve, smearing donut along the already stained cuff. "Putting the announcement in ahead of time like that. Too damn sure of himself. Always has been. Well I didn't vote for him."

            Hakkai brought me lunch that day, and Mr. Burlington repeated the same story to him, clueless that he was the jilter. Hakkai, true to his nature, nodded and smiled and made some appropriate remark. Before he left I thought he looked ready to kiss me, but must have thought better of it in front of the guys. I corrected his mistake—don't I always?—and tugged him up against me like it was our anniversary, skimming the ridge of his lip with my tongue before I pulled away.

            "Glad to have you back, you know," I said softly. He smiled.

We didn't move back into our old place, though my shoebox apartment had to go. There was hardly room for one. The new apartment, bigger, cleaner, was still downtown, but we painted the walls and filled it with furniture. Hakkai's recipe box made a reappearance and the little kitchen never failed to smell of spices and warm oil. The bed was a double, much more comfortable, and I found myself thinking one night that it was really too big.

            "Riley Elementary hired me yesterday." Hakkai was changing the sheets, putting some four hundred thread count covers over it that we would end up kicking to the floor anyway.

            "No kidding? That's great 'Kai." I was making myself useful by finishing off the last of the beer from the fridge and making sure he didn't forget to tuck in any of the corners. "Didn't even know you applied."

            "I start next week. Then I can cover the next month's rent. To make up," he said simply, drawing the duvet—why the hell do we need a duvet?—up to the edge of the pillows.

            "Nah. I wouldn't worry about it." I'd cover all the rent so long as he'd stay, but he insisted, and I gave in with a shrug.

            Life went on. Pretty happily too, I'd say. There was a tension, a chink between us that had never existed before, and I sensed it would take a lot of time to wear it down so that it didn't occasionally cause twinges of pain. Hakkai still felt guilty, and I was still sore. But ironically, in my case the weapon that caused the wound and the balm were one in the same; I would recover. It was Hakkai and his self-deprecating nature that I sometimes worried about.

            Our anniversary, the original one, rolled around before I was ready, though I'd managed to stow a gift away under the bed in the past few days. I woke to the smell of breakfast, not an unusual phenomena, and honeysuckle. Hakkai had cracked the window in the bedroom, where he'd planted the blossoms in the box I'd attached to the sill a month ago in anticipation of spring. Spring had long since arrived, and it was practically summer, though still balmy. Everything was a shimmering, iridescent green. The grass had revived, and trees were bursting with fresh foliage. At work that meant patio furniture and porch swings, and at home, barbeques and late night trips to the park.

            "Gojyo are you up?" Hakkai's voice floated in from the kitchen down the hall. He must have heard me moving.

            "Yeah babe," I called back, tugging a clean pair of jeans from the dresser. It was easy to feel clean, to be comfortable, with someone taking care of you. At first I had thought it was Hakkai's guilty conscience surfacing in a myriad of ways, but then I remembered it was, rather, his nature. He seemed happiest caring for others, and actually had the audacity to look deprived if I offered to make dinner. (That may or may not have to do with my culinary skills.) We'd settled into a way of life that was comfortable; my work hours were longer outside of the home, and his longer inside, though both of our routines overlapped.

We never spoke about why he left. Some people might say that's unhealthy, but I think we both already knew, and dredging up the past, opening old wounds, wouldn't have benefited either of us. He left because I was careless and he was selfish, but neither of us made that mistake again. And time did in fact sooth his wounds, many I think that were self-inflicted. My own were sometimes dormant, shoved away when I couldn't deal with them and drawn out only when Hakkai was there to soothe the ache. It was a long process of revival, but nothing dramatic.

"Breakfast is ready when you are."

"Oh I'm ready," I slipped into a shirt and shoes, knowing better than to come to the table half-dressed.

 Reaching for the doorknob, a spark of red amongst all that green outdoors caught my eye. A crumbling leaf, the hardly last of winter's attack, was barely clinging to its branch; the wind caught it and sent it plummeting down, down to the first story where it caught in a bird bath. There was a notch of green, a fresh shoot, standing in its place.

_____________
Go to || Home