It’s a shock the first time you see him. Sure, you’d heard of him – who hadn’t heard of the Fullmetal Alchemist? It wasn’t that long ago that his name was on everybody’s lips, for doing all that stuff to help people around Central City. But the first time you see him, he’s not dressed in that long red coat, and his hair is down, and he’s wearing just a pair of cotton shorts and a t-shirt, sprawled out on the grass of your neighbor’s courtyard. At first glance, you think he’s a girl and wonder, because you’ve never actually seen your neighbor (Mom and Dad had talked over dinner a few weeks ago, you think you remember, about someone buying the old Kuntz place next door). But the girl snorts loudly and opens her eyes, smacks her lips and rakes up her shirt, revealing a stomach that you know girls don’t have. (At least none of the girls you’ve ever met.) And then there’s all that metal, which you hadn’t really noticed – he was lying in the shade of that big tree and when he moves, the light hits the automail just right and nearly blinds you. When you finally get your sight back, you’re disappointed that he’s…gone.
You realize your jaw is slack and you close it with a snap but that doesn’t do anything about the weird feeling in your stomach nor the way your heart is hammering. Your mouth is dry and your palms feel sweaty. And you think, ‘No way is my neighbor the Fullmetal Alchemist.’ But maybe it’s true.
Asking Mom and Dad questions about your new neighbor just isn’t going to happen but that doesn’t mean you don’t know where you can go to get your answers. The library is a good bet, and you find in the stacks of newspapers from a few months back articles and pictures of the Fullmetal Alchemist, Edward Elric. You’re very careful to only steal a few at a time and never in succession. You hide the scraps of paper in a dull history book – your parents would blow their lids if you put them on the wall – the edges neatly trimmed and, while the articles can be folded, you make sure never to crease Edward’s face.
You keep an eye on the courtyard, too, because Edward (Ed, you call him privately, when you’re alone in your room with the door locked so your parents don’t walk in and you’d be called on to explain just what you’re doing) isn’t always there. He comes and goes, reminding you of that old tomcat of Mrs. Hildershank’s. You’ve done your checking and he’s not the one who bought the house; his name isn’t on it anywhere, but you don’t recognize the name that is on the house, either. Not that it matters; maybe Edward (Ed) doesn’t want it to get out where he lives. You can imagine how many teenage girls would be pounding on his door, trying to get inside. You don’t want to be like that, though, so you keep your neighbor’s secret. Besides, who’d believe you, anyway? It would sound like a story you’d make up – “My neighbor is the Fullmetal Alchemist.” No, better to keep it quiet. Besides, that meant you didn’t have to deal with anyone else looking out your window with you.
You try to think of things that might interest Ed, if you ever get a chance to meet him. Alchemy, you discover, is a difficult subject and you’ve never been all that good at science. It’s disappointing that the thing that might get you Ed’s attention is something you’re terrible at. You stare at your face in the mirror, praying that acne doesn’t break out the same time Ed’s back in the courtyard. You wonder what he might think of you. Would he shake your hand? Would he smile at you? (At night, you dream he touches you like you touch yourself, in your bed, under the sheets late at night, muffling your groans in your pillow, moaning his name.)
Once, you caught sight of him in the courtyard with another boy and it felt like your heart would wrench out of your chest. You left half-moon marks on the insides of your palms from clutching your fists so tight. But the other boy, while obviously affectionate with Ed, ruffling his hair and cuffing him on the shoulder, didn’t seem to like Ed that way. (A part of you wonders why not but you push beyond that quickly.)
One day, while walking home from school, you see a bunch of trucks in front of your neighbor’s house. Curiosity draws you closer, makes you dawdle out on the street. A worker sees you and grins, saying something about the party this coming weekend. You watch out your window as the courtyard is tamed back a little, strings of lanterns running through the trees. You’re lucky enough to catch Ed outside, doing alchemy – and it’s like magic, the way those blue lights flicker up out of his hands. He tames the wildest of the wisteria, and the boy you’d seen earlier comes outside to help. You hadn’t realized he was an alchemist, too, but it makes sense. Ed probably knows all the alchemists in the military. Together, they finish the garden, making it even more beautiful – well, okay, some of Ed’s…creations…were a little weird or even scary. It’s different and unusual, though, and you wish you could have Ed explain some of the things he’s done. You imagine his arm around your waist as he leads you through the garden and feel those tingles in your stomach and down between your legs. (Oh, Ed.)
The night of the party, you manage to slip away from your parents as soon as you can do so without making them suspicious. They’re interested in what’s going on next door, too; maybe a little upset that none of the neighbors would be invited but you think that your parents are too dull to attract Ed’s attention, anyway. (You’ll never be like them.) Cars had been pulling up to the house all day; laughter ringing out from the courtyard. You see some women – you’ve never seen women there before – standing in the center of the garden, taking in all of Ed’s creations. You wish you could be down there to defend him – you can tell that they’re laughing. The men come out, probably looking for the women; a man in a wheelchair; another the biggest man you’ve ever seen. A dark-haired man who takes the hand of one of the blondes. That boy you’d seen before, who puts his arm around the other blonde. Ed comes out of the house, a little girl sitting on his shoulders, hanging on to his hair and giggling loud enough you can hear her all the way up to your room. You feel cold all of a sudden – that can’t be his kid, right? – but Ed hands her off to that older woman with the short hair. A couple of other people come into the courtyard, enough that you can’t really keep track of them; they keep moving around. That other boy’s hair shines almost like Ed’s but he keeps his short and Ed’s is in a long ponytail. (It must be soft. You run your fingers through your own hair, wondering.)
Finally you see Ed, talking to the black haired man. The black haired man lays his hands on Ed’s shoulders; leans in close. Your heart pounds as Ed shakes his head, pulling away from the man, showing an awful lot of teeth. Relieved, you watch as the black haired man shakes his head, too, waving Ed off, as if he’s giving up. Ed goes to the boy you recognize and the boy grabs Ed’s arm, pulling him a little away from the party. You can just see them through the wisteria branches, the boy waving his arms, Ed…well Ed’s a little short; you can’t quite see him. Ed leaves the shelter of the branches with the other boy following him. He calls out to the milling crowd, their attention focusing on him as he stands in the center of the garden. You can just see his grin and the way his cheeks are flushed. He speaks and the group laughs and nods. The black haired man’s smile is all too knowing and you wonder at it, then Ed reaches out and plucks the blond girl from the group.
His smile is broader now, and his blush seems to have climbed into his hair. The girl is blushing, too, but everyone’s cheering and applauding and you hear, clearer than you ever wanted to, “Kiss her!” from the black haired man.
And Ed does.
The next morning, your Mom wonders at the bits of newspaper shredded in the trash but you don’t say anything, just keep eating your breakfast while your heart feels like it’s been ripped up just like those pieces of paper.