Every new beginning prompts a return.
Jeanette Winterson, "Lighthousekeeping".
They could have taken the car but they preferred the train; they like the slow and capricious rhythm and how they can afford that slowness now, in peacetime.
Roy has an open book on his lap and from time to time he lets his hand wander from the pages to Hawkeye's leg and arm, the inside of her elbow. She looks out the window and Roy can see whenever she smiles through the reflection. She always takes the window seat. This freedom between them, it is still being tested, years of coded language and even more inscrutable body language unravelling layer by layer.
`I like trains,´ he says, looking up from the book and into her hair.
They had only known each other for a couple of months.
It had taken Roy a month of begging and offering menial tasks – chopping wood, refuelling the generator, getting books from libraries all over the country – to convince her father to take him in as a pupil. She had been on the periphery of all this and Roy saw her only from the corner of his eyes.
Today he was putting on his coat at the same time she was opening the door to leave.
`Are you going out?´
`I have to go shopping in the village.´
He frowned: `It's raining. Your coat is too thin.´
Riza looked down at her clothes, suddenly self-conscious.
`I have to do the shopping,´ she shrugged.
Roy got the keys out of his right pocket.
`I have to pick up some books for your father, I'll give you a ride.´
Riza hesitated. She lifted one foot then the other. She was wearing white socks. She was always wearing white socks in those days. She trusted Roy. Her father's keys in Roy's hand meant her father trusted him too. She had seen him come and go through the house. Roy often had dinner with them. Riza could count with the fingers in her hands the time she had spoken spoken with him in more than general lines, in more than politeness and about the weather.
She nodded slightly, and followed him into the shed next to the house.
Her father's car was under a plastic sheet. Roy pulled one corner and Riza held the other. Roy had driven it once or twice before so it didn't smell completely locked.
Riza sat on the passenger seat carefully. She couldn't remember the last time her father drove her anywhere.
`How long since you've last been here?´
`You know exactly how long,´ Hawkeye throws back at him. He was there.
It's kind of a handicap, sometimes, all the shared history, all the shorthand they use to communicate. Most of the time it's comforting, exhilarating and easy, but sometimes it gets in the way of this transition, this beginning, this new page on the book.
They have counter-measures for that, though. Like now, because it's a cold enough day. Roy hurries a bit ahead of her on the street and then waits for her and then stops her and buries his hands in the pockets of Hawkeye's winter coat, mutters some excuse like ah, it's cold today and since he doesn't need to pack gloves anymore...
`Yes,´ he comments. `I know how long.´
`You don't know everything about me,´ she defies.
They walk side by side now, up the main street, cobblers and dry cleaners, the old newsagent still standing, with the sun-faded sign promising to stay open until 5 in the afternoon, but Roy keeps one hand inside Hawkeye's pocket anyway.
`Like...´ She thinks about it. `Like how you were the first boy I was alone with, in my life.´
Roy laughs. He gives her coat a little tug from inside and pulls her to him, she almost loses the balance but they are still walking, pressed very close one to the other.
`I knew that,´ he says brightly.
They walked in semi-silence as she went with him to buy the books, and they walked in semi-silence as he went with her to buy groceries. The silence was awkward but not displeasing. He carried all the bags back to the car.
`It's early. We can have a coffee if you want. Do you like coffee? I don't know if-´
`Yes you like coffee or yes you want one now?´
Riza nodded hastily. `Both.´
He grabs her hand and drags her across the road to the little cafe, like a teenager. Only he was never like this with her, as a teenager.
`Do you think they still have that carrot cake?´ Roy wonders, wishfully, as they sit down in the booth by the window. The little town goes by through the glass, mothers and their children, workers on their coffee break, suited men with their hats and coats. Ordinary life. Roy likes that.
He prided himself in being a pretty sensitive boy and he wouldn't draw attention to it but he knew, from the little he had seen of Riza these past months, that she was a lonely, closed girl. She was polite and nice to him always and from the way she looked at things and the way she understood what was said immediately Roy suspected she was smart too.
She screwed her face into a frown studying the menu in the cafe and when she noticed Roy looking at her, she blushed.
He ordered black coffee but with three sugars, and she white but no sugar. They shared a slice of carrot cake with two spoons.
`You don't go to school?´ He asked. `Sorry, I just noticed you around the house at some hours that-´
`Left it last spring. My father said they could no longer teach me anything valuable. But I'm studying, he gives me lessons at home.´
`Then you have nothing to worry about, your father is a great teacher.´
`Yes, he is.´
`But don't you get lonely? Sorry. I talk too much! I'm sticking my nose. It's a flaw, I'm working on it.´
`No, it's alright, I-´
She looked as if she were going to answer the question but then her shoulders fell almost imperceptibly and went quiet. Roy knew not to insist.
`How do you like your coffee?´
`It's very good.´
She looked down at her cup, an intense glance as if she were trying to calculate if she was right or not, saying it was good.
`Sometimes...´ She starts.
`Yes,´ he gave her a nod in encouragement.
`Sometimes I wish I went out more often. I'm very happy living with father but I just- You know.´
`Don't tell dad.´
`Of course.´ Roy finished his coffee with one last gulp. `Well, you could always do this.´
`Your father keeps me very busy, I'm afraid. A severe teacher.´ It made Riza smile in understanding. `But when he sends me here to run some errand... you could come. And I could help you with the groceries. Sometime.´
`We could even have coffee again here.´
She stirred the last bit of coffee in her cup, clink clink clink, a happy sound. She hid a shy grin behind her hand.
`I'd like that,´ she said.
Maybe it's because they had such serious beginnings, maybe because they never got to be boy and girl together, and soon there was war and purpose between them, maybe because they became Mustang and Hawkeye too soon, they are trying to make up for it now. They want to become sillier, goofier, more youthful. They feel how they feel and years of trust can't make what they feel any less acute. They have been out of their military uniforms for three months now and they are still devising new ways of shedding old skin. The new and old habits entwine – that they smell of each other every day is not new, what is new is that they do so because they share a bed now. This is not a fragile thing but it is uncharted so they indulge in childish rituals, like trying out each other's names as if they were exotic food. Names so familiar that had become invisible.
`Riza,´ he says with a solemn expression.
She answers him with equal seriousness.
They examine the other's face for a moment, then Roy leans back in his seat and relaxes.
`Still sounds weird. And I miss the way you called me Sir. It was... mmm, enticing.´
`I might still call you Sir sometimes.´
`On special occasions.´
`And in exchange of appropriate retribution, of course.´
They both attack the slices of carrot cake on the table, spoons meeting and mock-fighting.
`I see this tree from my window,´ she said.
He narrowed his eyes and yes, there it was, his teacher's house over the curve of a hill.
`Are you not interested in alchemy like your father?´ Roy asked out of the blue.
Maybe he had been meaning to ask, for a while. They amount of things they didn't know about each other, the barriers of shyness and politeness, it was like the ocean water, unmeasurable.
She shook her head. It was rather harsh and Roy felt he had upset her.
`Not one bit,´ she declared.
To make light of the moment Roy run his hands through his hair and chuckled.
`You must think your father and I are crazy.´
`You must think I'm a big dork,´ he said and laughed riotously at himself
She joined in the laughter, but he noticed the peculiar way she was looking at him. He had never felt anyone look at him quite like that – like she was considering him, holding off a verdict on him. Roy realized, in that moment, that he actually cared about her opinion. And not just as his teacher's daughter.
`Why are you looking at me like that?´
`I just... Never thought that my father would take a student. If you don't mind me saying, er...´
`Please, don't call me mister, you'll make me feel old. Roy.´
`It's stopped raining.´
He looked at the sky – he had stopped raining for a while now. They had been too engrossed in their walk to notice.
`I'm glad it rained, though, before,´ she told him, almost boldly.
`I know what you mean.´
They were walking back to the car, the daylight beginning to fade.
`I don't think you are a dork,´ Riza said.
Roy grinned, That's good he went on muttering.
She could always see this tree from her window. It's still here and it looks the same, except now she looks at it closer, not from the window of her teenage room but walking up that slight slope of lemon-grass and with Roy brushing his fingers against her shoulder-blades and the curve of her elbow as they stroll.
`I remember it bigger,´ she says.
`Well, you were shorter then,´ Roy teases her, placing his hand on the top her head for a moment.
She goes quiet and Roy wonders what she is thinking, the thousand memories that must be running towards her. Him as well.
He takes her hand and holds it for a little while, walking with her around the tree and watching the hills surrounding the village, not saying anything, squeezing her fingers.
`Do you want to go to the grave?´ He asks, softly.
Hawkeye shakes her head, `I don't need to.´
He nods; he knows what she means. Instinctively he understands. She doesn't want to make this trip about visiting her father's grave. And neither does he. This trip is about them. About history, yes, a bit, but about beginnings too. Mainly about beginnings.
Roy leans against the trunk of the tree. He makes a worried sound.
`I was thinking...´
She walks to him and stands by his side, back to the tree, shoulders touching. It's a kind of tradition, this one too, shoulder to shoulder and looking out to the future together. The shadow of a bark and its leaves falls across her wrist and Roy feels heat on his cheeks.
`It makes me nervous,´ he confesses. `Wondering what my old teacher would think about me dating his daughter.?´
`Dating? Is that what we are doing here?´
`What? No, of course not.´
`Are you- Are you asking-?´
`Because I would-´
And he would. Whatever, really. He would try to describe, define, set in stone the relationship, if she wants him to. He has half a mind to get on one knee and propose, even, right here, right now.
But then Hawkeye breaks into a smile – one of those terrible, terrifying, knowing smiles.
`Ah, okay,´ he crosses his arms. `Very funny.´
That's only when she sees him so crossed and pouting that she does break into actual laughter, the kind of laughter that makes her body shake. Roy can't really be mad at that, at that face she is making, so he smiles back at her in the end.
`You are going to be the death of me.´
She grins, `I should hope so, sir.´
They drove back to her father's house was in silence, as well. But a shifted kind of silence, different. She still shrunk a bit in his presence, shoulders in tension, and Roy guessed that was the couple of years in difference of age, teenagers felt the difference more acutely and Riza had lived a sheltered life, after all. She acted like Roy was the first boy she had been alone with. If they still knew each other in ten, fifteen years, it wouldn't be a difference at all. Roy wondered, surprising himself, if they'd know each other, in ten, fifteen years time. He wondered what kind of people they'd become.
When they got to the house, they went their separate ways. He went upstairs to put the books in the studio and Riza went to leave the groceries in the kitchen. He helped her out of her too-thin coat and they stood in the hallway for a moment, smiling awkwardly and not knowing if they should say "good night", "good bye" or what.
`Thank you,´ she said simply.
Roy shook his head.
`No, thank you, for keeping me company.´
He gave her a grateful smile and run upstairs, two steps at a time, wondering if he had made her blush again or if she had got used to him already.
He closes his eyes and burrows his face against her shoulder, waiting for the last-call whistling to end and the train to depart.
`You are not going to read your book, then?´ Hawkeye shifts in her seat, shrugging him off gently.
Roy does not give up, takes a new position and rests his head on her shoulder again.
`Nah, you read it. You might like it.´
She fishes inside his coat and finds the volume.
`What's it about?´
`It's a love story, of course.´
Hawkeye sighs: `You are a dork. You know that.´
Roy doesn't reply. The train leaves and soon the rhythm of the rails lulls him into sleep. He drifts in and out for a while. Finally wakes up when the daylight is fading and falls, orange and familiar, against the window. He catches Hawkeye reading the book, despite her protests. She hasn't noticed that he is awake so he takes the chance to watch her, catch her unguarded. He steals glances at her as if they were strangers.
`Riza,´ he mutters, rolls the name on his tongue.
Hawkeye looks at him over the shoulder.
`Roy?´ She sounds skeptical.
`Still sounds weird.´
`You don't need to worry.´
He stirs, sitting up to level with her.
Now she smiles.
`You'll have plenty of time to get used to it.´
Roy smirks, he slumps down in his seat, comfortable, and once more his head upon her shoulder, eyes closed, drawing a satisfied breath.
`I'd like that,´ he says.
They've only known each other for years.