And the wonderful beta is Eliza's, as usual. I have to say I love her beta, she's great.
I'm back home, it's late and Toby's car's not here; I rush inside, run up the stairs and grab the phone to call his office but Holly's voice stops me half-way...
"Dad's gone to the cemetery. Mom's grave."
Relief and exasperation.
"Oh, yeah, the anniversary of your mother's death, I forgot. 15 years."
I sigh, glance down at Holly.
"You can say it," she taunts.
"Yeah. Well I'll keep it to myself, if you don't mind; she probably had something good after all, she gave birth to wonderful kids; except Gary, of course; too much of her in him, I guess."
She walks up the stairs, smiling to me.
"Tell me the truth, Keller, is what Harry claims true? That you follow Dad there and just throw the flowers into a garbage can?"
I try to look offended. "Of course not, how could I be that insensitive?" I grace her with my own kind of nice smile "I just put them on another grave, there's a little girl there who died the same year, I don't ever see any flower on her grave; she deserves them much more than Gen."
She stares at me, shakes her head. "Sounds pretty foolish to me." "Foolish? What was foolish was killing herself and leaving the three of you behind. And your father." "But her death set you free, didn't it?" Even the smartest girl in the world can't always be smart enough.
"Drop it, Holly, you don't know shit about what happened then." She must hear something in my voice, a warning; she gives me a quizzical look. "Sorry to intrude. She was my mother, after all, I have the right to know." "Yeah? Then ask your father, young lady, not me." And she shuts up.
Later at night, Toby sits on the edge of the bed.
"It's true, then, what I heard?"
"What the fuck did you hear?"
"You just... throw away the flowers from Gen's grave." I sigh, shift in the bed to face him and groan. "Bullshit. Who told you that?" "Anonymous call on my cell phone."
Doesn't deserve more than a growl, I'd say, and close my eyes. "Bitch didn't deserve you, doesn't deserve the flowers." Toby bends over me and snorts.
"You're crazy, Keller, it's been a long time since then!" "Yeah? Well I still have nightmares about her coming back, you know, so ... You don't need to go there, Toby."
He sighs, snakes under the blankets against me, spoons his body around mine, holding me tight.
"She was my wife, Keller, however fucked up our wedding was," he says in a serious voice, his lips against my shoulder, breathing hot against me "Please stop doing this."
"Ok, then promise something; I want us to be buried together, I can't face eternity without you." "I have a better idea, Keller, let's not die, OK?"
And all I can do is smile, because I know he's strong enough to survive me but I'm not strong enough to survive him; if he dies before I do... Christ I don't want to think about it, I feel panic creep inside me and throw my arms around him, tight, he probably feels the fear and kisses me softly. "Let's not die, Chris, not just now, let's not think about it." "Yeah, let's fuck!"
We'd been lovers for months, hiding, cheating, pretending, when it happened.
"She's dead," he said.
Jesus, 2 am and Toby was standing at the door of my apartment, shaking, rumpled suit, dirty hair, unshaven cheeks, so pale he could've been dead, his eyes blurry with horror, his voice almost a whisper and I had to strain to hear him. I pulled him inside, he sagged against me.
"Who's dead? Come on Toby, what are you talking about?"
He frowned, seemed to realise where he stood and who I was.
"Gen. Gen's dead."
"Gen? What the fuck are you talking about?"
An impatient look and he lost it, shouting, "She's dead! What the fuck don't you understand? Gen's dead, she ... I..." God, I was almost relieved to see him angry, at least he looked alive.
"Okay, okay, sit down, Toby."
"No, I can't stay, I have to go home; I wanted to tell you that I wouldn't be able to come here anymore."
WHAT? I frowned, he rested a hand on my shoulder, trying to smile. "At least for a while."
I forced him to sit down on the sofa and held him there, an arm around him to anchor him.
"Toby, tell me what happened."
I brushed my hand against his cheek, the ghost of a caress, trying to soothe him, trying to make the nightmare go away.
"I... I found her, I'd come back home around noon, I'd forgotten something and she was lying on the bed, I thought she was asleep, then I saw the boxes on the floor. She'd swallowed 60 sleeping pills and she was fucking dead, you know, cold," his voice was shaking; I could barely understand him, "and I couldn't find a pulse... It was too late, they couldn't resuscitate her, she was dead. My wife is dead."
I closed my eyes, trying to wrap my mind around the news. Suicide. Shit, I would've preferred an accident or something; suicide was gonna be the hell of a burden for Toby to carry.
"Did she explain?"
"She left a note to say she couldn't go on like that, that I was constantly cheating on her; she knew about us, she explained I'd disappointed her badly, let her down."
"She did it because you cheated on her?" "Yeah, why, don't you think it's a good reason?"
No, fuck no!
"Listen, Toby, she abandoned three young kids just because you were having an affair with someone else, so I wonder who's letting who down here and I'm not sure it's you!"
He shook his head and buried his head into his hands, shattered and I pulled him closer, cursing Genevieve Beecher; I should've killed the cunt when she'd come to the garage, a week ago, probably drunk, to insult me, slap me, yelling that I had no right to go near Toby, that she'd kill me, until Johnny kindly walked her back to her car. I'd wished to hell that she died that night; for a second I'd even thought of killing her to stop her from ruining my life and Toby's life, ruining our love; and now she was dead and Toby wouldn't look me in the eyes.
"Look at me, Toby," I said softly, drying his cheeks with my thumb; he obeyed, lost.
"It's not your fault, Toby, it's not, listen, do you think that I never cheated on my exes? Yeah, I did, and they didn't commit suicide, you know; they kicked my sorry ass out, that's all; nobody sane acts this way, abandoning a whole family, she must've been really crazy, or depressed, it's not about you and what she wrote... it's just a very bad excuse, some stupid shit to make you suffer, make you pay."
He didn't answer and all I could do was hold him against me, soothing him, offering him... what? What did I have to offer, exactly? I was scared shitless, scared that Gen's death would take Toby away from me; I'd thought if she disappeared we'd be free and I could have him all to myself but the bitch had managed to overpower me. How crazy was that?
Toby's words brought me back to reality.
"I have to go," he said, "I just wanted to tell you; calling you wasn't enough... I needed to see you, touch you, make sure you were real."
He leaned against me for a second then rose and made it to the door.
"I'll drive you back," I said, "you're not driving, Christ, you're literally falling apart."
He didn't protest, just waited for me, watched me dress and gave me the keys of his car; we made our way down to the parking lot and I didn't want to let go, kept him against me in the elevator, led him to the car. We didn't speak during the trip, Toby kept his eyes fixed on some invisible point but the grip of his fingers on my knee was almost painful. When he walked out I stayed there watching him disappear inside; later I saw the light in what I knew was his bedroom and the shutters went down, but still I didn't leave yet. And I came back the day after, and the day after that, every fucking day of the week, parked my car in front of his house to let him know I was here, just in case he needed me, but he didn't show up.
After that he slipped between my fingers like sand, hopelessly drifting away like a ship drawn by some invisible current and whatever I could say or do changed nothing; I managed to talk to him again after the funeral in a bar near the cemetery, long after everybody was gone. I'd noticed how he'd stood apart from the rest of his family, his youngest son in his arms and I'd seen a tall grey haired woman push him away bluntly when he'd tried to help her up from the place where she was sitting, probably Gen's mother; I knew they all blamed him, blamed us for the cunt's death.
I talked to him but he wasn't even listening, just holding my hand, clutching to it like a drowning man and still I wanted to believe that what we had together would overcome the pain, the guilt, that it wasn't our fault, that Gen's suicide didn't sentence our love to death and he kept looking at me with a desperate expression; as if he was trying to imprint into his memory everything he saw before leaving and my heart was bleeding but I couldn't react, I was petrified by a terrible sense of dread.
I let him leave; let his hand slide off mine, let him leave without trying to touch him further, without trying to steal a kiss or a caress, just let him leave and vanish in the mist of the afternoon.
After he'd left I went to the fresh grave, crossing the mowed grass and stood there for a minute, looking at the stone with the words Toby had wanted there.
"Fuck you, fucking bitch," I muttered, kicking away the expensive sprays of flowers until there was nothing left of them and walked away.
The weeks went by and I couldn't even meet him; from what I knew, Gen's parents had been told our little secret and Toby's family knew about us and disapproved; the Beecher closing ranks around the prodigal son to keep him safe, keep him away from me.
I tried to forget him, move on, find someone else; I tried to believe it couldn't work, that we were too different and I failed; every time I tried to fuck someone else I still could see Toby, hear his voice, feel his silky hair, and no one compared to him.
Sometimes I felt like driving to his place, shake him and tell him, "Come on, we're free, she's dead, why don't we just make love?" Sometimes I even started the car and then I rested my forehead on the driving wheel and remained like that, knowing it was useless, he wouldn't even listen, he would beg me to wait, wait for the situation to calm down, for the ghost of his fucking wife to leave the house, his kids to recover, himself to overcome his grief and then he'd forget me, find another woman, so I gave up, called a friend and got drunk or high, any of the stupid things I used to do before him.
One evening like any other, I started the car but this time I drove to his house. I waited long enough to make sure the children were in bed, walked up the alley and pushed the door; he hadn't even locked it. The hall was dark, but I saw a light coming from the kitchen and Toby was there, crouched on a chair, unshaven, so lean I thought he was ill, half naked, his too long hair dirty, his hands shaking. He hadn't been back to work for the whole month and now I knew why; on the table in front of him was a half empty bottle of vodka. I watched him throw his head back and drink, his throat moving, his neck strained, then run his hand over his lips and sigh; I was about to step into the kitchen when I saw something move inside the shadows of the hall, a white little silhouette; I heard a sob.
"Hey," I said, "You're Holly, aren't you?"
Her hands clenched on the banister, she was ready to run away, scared. I knew nothing about children, but I guessed I looked too big and frightening, and poor kid, she'd had enough, she looked stranded, her blond hair tied in a thick braid, her eyes haunted and sad; I crouched down in front of her and spoke as softly as I could.
"I'm your father's friend. I came to help him; I'm going to take him to his room and stay with him until he feels better, OK?"
She stepped back, wary.
"Mom is dead. I miss her. Daddy... daddy doesn't seem to care about us anymore." I sighed; I knew Toby, I knew what his children meant to him.
"Look, honey, it's because he misses your mom too, and he's very sad and he doesn't know how to overcome that. I'll help him. Go to bed, now, Holly." She nodded and walked up the stairs, turning to me a last time before disappearing inside; I sighed and went back to the kitchen.
Toby had heard me, probably, he was standing in front of me, swaying, his fists clenched, his eyes dark and troubled. "Get away from me," he yelled, "it's all your fault, she'd be alive if I'd not met you."
I didn't feel like arguing with a drunken man, so I just nodded.
"Yeah, sure, buddy, c'mon now, I'll tuck you into bed, OK?"
I'd expected a fight but he followed me to the stairs, leaning on me and walked up until his legs gave way beneath him -God, he reeked of booze and sweat; I had to carry him to his bedroom, smiling at Holly who was watching us through the half-opened door, and undress him. He fell onto the bed and in a minute he was out of it, so I sat down on a chair at the foot of the bed and waited.
He woke up before dawn, moaning in pain. I brought him some water and aspirin, led him to the bathroom and started the water, he got rid of his clothes without a look at me and when it was over he half dried his hair and wrapped a towel around his hips. We stood there, awkward, avoiding each other's eyes; finally he padded to the bed and sat down.
"How do you feel?"
"Like hell. I feel like hell. I'm sorry, how long have you been here?" "5 or 6 hours. You were drinking yourself out in the kitchen, I took you to bed."
He nodded, not looking at me, ashamed.
"You can go now, someone's going to come and take care of the kids. I'll be fine." "Sure and tonight you'll be back on the booze; how long has it been since you took up drinking again?" "Please, don't lecture me, I'm not in the mood."
I sat beside him, not touching him; he looked worn and old and lost...
"They said if I didn't stop they'd put me into a hospital," he confessed in a strained whisper, his head bowed, his hands between his thighs like a caught out child.
"Who said that?"
"My father, my mother. You know, they're right, I don't think I can go on like this for very long."
I watched a tentative dawn pour a dirty light into the room.
"When I arrived yesterday, your daughter was watching you from the hall."
He began to cry. Jesus, I sure loved him because there was nothing I loathed more than seeing people cry, it was just the right thing to make me run away, no love could stand such a disgrace and now there I was, hugging a grown man like a child, running my fingers across his hair, whispering words of comfort in his ear until I felt him calm down.
"I'll stay, I don't give a damn about what you or anyone says, I'll stay until you feel better, you need someone by your side, not just someone to take care of the kids, someone who cares for you, and you'll stop drinking even if I have to tie you up to the bed for that."
He looked up at me. "I'm not very attractive, I suppose... I don't understand why you still want to be with me."
"Hey, you're rich. I love rich guys, they're easy."
He didn't laugh but didn't push me away either, leaned against me.
"I'm sorry, I know it's not your fault. I just needed someone to blame for her death, blaming myself wasn't enough."
"Blame her, then. Look I won't pretend I'm sorry she's dead but I understand how you feel, I understand the pain. But what we had together, it meant something, still does. Now, it's time for us to begin something new; you have to believe, Toby, we can do it."
He was sitting on the bed, the towel had slipped from his slim hips, his pale skin was glowing in the shy morning light and suddenly I felt hungry for him, held out a hand, pulled him to me, kissed him, feeling him wet and cool against my overheated skin as he kissed me back before whispering against my mouth, "I don't want to be happy."
"You won't, I'll make your life a mess if that's what you want."
He sighed and I kissed him again, deeper, pushing him onto the bed, pinning him to the mattress.
"I don't deserve it, I killed her."
"Yeah, you're a bad guy, you'll be punished."
And I kissed him everywhere, his skin warming up under my breath.
"You should lock the door," he said.
Well, maybe that was lacking the expected enthusiasm but I was resolved to be patient and I walked to the door, locked it and got rid of my clothes before taking him in my arms, kissing his cheeks, his eyes, his neck, biting softly, making him sigh.
"Don't you see, Toby," I said, "were free, she's gone, we're together now, there's nothing standing on our way anymore, we can love each other without hiding."
He started, opened his mouth and I invaded it with my tongue, kissing him like crazy; but he didn't move, closed his eyes, shivering, silent but when I reached his cock, he moaned, "Chris!"
"I'm not sure... I'm not sure I can do anything, I've been taking lots of shit lately."
I froze. "Lots of shit, like?"
"Ah, pills, you know, and alcohol," he blushed, "not sure I can get it up; not sure I really feel something."
I backed up. Run away, Keller, it's getting out of hand, just run away, the guy's too much trouble, you'll get lost.
"OK, it doesn't matter," I said instead, "I'll just hold you. Love you, you know, it's not just about sex."
I held him, stroking his back, kissing him; he was half asleep but after a while, he began to react, kissing me back, his hands moving on me tentatively and against my hip I felt his cock grow; well maybe that wasn't really lust but he looked interested.
"Lie back," I said.
He did, slowly, yawning, stretching like a cat. I watched him for a while and resumed my kissing, taking his half-hard cock in my mouth; looked like Prozac, Xanax and all the drugs were losing their effect, after all, and when I took him deeper into my throat he moaned and arched and came, half choking me.
"Sorry, I'm sorry, I couldn't hold back," he whispered. "Yeah, like it matters, come on, are you joking, I'm not looking for some kind of achievement here."
Then I rose and went to the bathroom, retrieved some lotion. No condoms, I didn't think he'd been fucking anyone lately and I was safe, so it was worth it.
"On your side, Toby, close your eyes, and let go."
It wasn't about preparing him, I wasn't even sure I could loosen him enough to fuck him, it's not just a question of stretching, sometimes, a guy can be just too tense to give in and I didn't want to tear him up, not even hurt him, didn't want him to feel pain; what I wanted was to please him. He took a finger with a sigh and then two, arching his back to make it easier; I fucked him slowly, whispering sweet nothings into his ear; how beautiful and soft and sexy and mine, all mine, he was, how hard I was for him, could he feel how hard I was, I asked, pushing my cock against his hip, dreading to be pushed away; but he just laughed softly and pushed back and if he wanted it sweet and funny I could do it but the third finger took him off guard and he bucked wildly against my hand.
"Please, Chris, please, fuck me."
Heaven was like this, I was sure, and I pushed my cock inside softly but now Toby wanted it, and he didn't intend to wait, he impaled himself on me, thrusting back.
"C'mon, Toby, I missed you so much!"
When I began moving inside him he arched his body, taking me in deeper, meeting my thrusts, turning his head to kiss me.
"Oh God it's so good when it's you," he said in a whisper, "I can't believe it," and he moaned because I'd thrust into him hard and fast, my cock brushing along his prostate, then pulling away completely, listening to his angry growl.
"You said you didn't deserve it, remember," I said.
We felt lazy, didn't want to rush it so we spent some time like this, holding back, touching, kissing, tasting each other, desire exuding from every pore, flooding him, his desire flooding me until I entered him again in one swift motion, thrusting slowly as he moved against me, his muscles clenching around my cock, trying to force me into orgasm but I held back and thrust again, harder, making him sob, then froze; I didn't want this to end, it had been too long, 8 long and lonely weeks spent doubting, sleepless nights spent mourning, and when I thrust again, it was as slow as I could manage, wanting him to feel what I felt, the delightful need I had of him and he probably understood, picked up the same slow hypnotising rhythm and it was like floating on a calm see, feeling the heat, feeling pleasure curl up in our bellies, crawl up the small of our backs, burning us like a flame as I gave in to it, thrusting harder, listening to Toby's wordless soft noises, until the big golden sun finally exploded inside us both and we came; I couldn't remember ever coming that hard. After that we dozed off in the morning light holding each other until a tentative voice called, "Daddy?"
Fuck, what time was it? I grabbed a pair of jeans, put it on, glanced at my watch -9 and it was Sunday, then pulled the blanket on Toby's body and walked to the door where Holly stood, watching me. "I'd like breakfast but Dad doesn't want me to use the microwave oven."
OK, Keller, first you don't run away when he's crying, now you're making up a breakfast for two children, a little girl around 6 and a baby boy near two; you're hooked.
Yeah, I'd told him I loved him, I'd chased him around, but saying it and fucking living it were two very different things, I thought, pouring milk into a glass, hearing a soft chuckle from the door and turning to see Toby there, smiling at me.
"Hey, you're doing fine," he said "Thank you." The kids were in his arms seconds later but his eyes didn't leave mine and all I could read there was, "stay." So I stayed and later we went to the park.
"Take a few days off!" We were sitting together on a bench, eating sandwiches while the kids were playing with balls -I don't think I'd ever played that much before, certainly not with kids. "No, work keeps me anchored, if I don't work I just spend the day... brooding." "I could keep you anchored much better than work does," I said, my voice catching in my throat, my fingers brushing along his jaw.
He looked at me and put down the sandwich with a trembling hand.
"If I stay with you tomorrow, you won't have to spend the day brooding, won't have to work, won't have to drink to keep yourself anchored."
"Yeah, you're the hell of a savior, sorry I didn't notice," he said dryly, and I knew he was afraid, hell, I knew the feeling, I was too, but it would take much more than that to push me away, I could be very patient and stubborn when I put my mind to it.
"Are you ashamed of me? Afraid for your kids? Scared that your family could see me, anxious of what they'll say?"
Ah, he looked puzzled now, wiped his hands on his jeans, licked his lips, looking so hot I couldn't help landing a soft kiss on his parted lips.
"No! No and.... Well yes, maybe you're not very popular among my family."
"I'm shocked, Beecher," I said, watching his tantalizing mouth "Your kids seem to like me, though."
"You'd stay?" He asked sounding just a bit skeptical.
"Because I need you? Because you think it would help?"
I sighed; OK, now was the right moment, the best I'd ever have, probably.
"Because I want to be with you, share things with you."
Indecisive look, tentative smile.
"Already told you that, but yeah, guess I do."
When Holly and Harry got tired we walked back and sat them down in front of the TV then went to the kitchen to prepare something to eat, waffles, pancakes, and as soon as the door was closed I took Toby in my arms and kissed him, pushed him until his back was against the table and kissed him again, his hands on the nape of my neck urging me to deepen the kiss, his tongue battling with mine, sparkles sizzling down my spine as I began to rub against him.
"You won't like it, you know... Family life can be pretty boring," he whispered against my mouth, "you won't be able to fuck me as much as you'd like." "As much as you'd like, Toby. I'll wait, just kiss me again."
"Are you going to stay with us?" Holly asked me one evening, three weeks later as I was tucking her into bed. I pulled the blanket over her shoulders and looked down at her.
"I don't know, Holly. Depends on a lot of things."
"I like you."
"Yeah? I don't cook that good, I don't read stories, I'm not very patient. I suck at puzzles." "You're not meant to say those words, are you?" she said with a frown, "and you're good at playing ball."
Later, when she was asleep, I stepped down. Run away, Keller, run away before you're trapped in a life that isn't yours, a place that isn't yours, with a family that isn't yours, love can't make you that blind, can it? You're still able to hear the voices outside claiming you, calling you to come back, ride through the night again, fuck whoever you want, quit your job- that's your life. Waiting home like a good boy that your man comes back from work isn't your life.
A door slammed, I heard hurried footsteps in the stairs and I knew it was Toby.
"Sorry, I'm late I had a last case ..."
"I was about to leave," I said.
"Oh," he said, dropping his coat, his bag, everything, before coming to me, "leave? Why?" "Why do you want me, Toby? As a mother for your kids? It's nearly 9, how come you're always home that late?" "I work a lot."
"Yeah? Well you'd better change your ways, because I'm not gonna take it much longer; as much as I like your kids I'm not their father."
He sat on the bed beside me and rested his forehead against my shoulder. "Tracy's supposed to take care of them." "Tracy's supposed to take care of them 'til 8, Toby and it's you they need, much more than your clients do."
And I need you to take care of me too, in this house which remains alien to me, to comfort me, make me believe I'm making the right choice.
Of course I didn't tell him that, using the kids as a pretext was easier, but Toby was smart enough to read between the lines, hear behind the words and he began to make amend in the way he knew would soften me, his lips on my skin, his tongue licking my arms, his teeth biting, testing the water and then, when he was sure he wouldn't be pushed away, he slid down between my thighs, rubbed his face against my groin and began to undress me until my cock was free and bouncing, begging for attention, begging for Toby's lips to close around it, just around the crown, warm mouth on sensitive skin, swallowing me carefully while I whispered words of encouragements, ruffling his hair, stroking it, my fingers locked on the nape of his neck as he sucked me, licked me until I was on the verge of exploding, forcing me to pull back and seize him by the shoulders, throw him upon the bed, undressing him, teasing him, and there was no relief until I was buried inside him, so deep, deeper than I could've thought possible, feeling him whimper and moan, laughing in his ear.
"You're needy, Toby."
And thrusting, loving how tight and hot he was, loving the way his fingers grasped the sheets, the mattress, to anchor his body through the ride I was giving him, and the little noises he made. I pulled out suddenly, "8 and not a minute later, Toby." "I can't, Chris please... Please come back, take me, I need you so much, I spent the whole day thinking of you."
I grabbed his hips and pulled him against me, rubbing my cock against his ass, resisting the desire to thrust inside and finish it.
"Do as you like, it, but if you don't come home sooner, I'll leave."
He surrendered quickly enough, sighing, trying to force me inside.
"OK, OK, I'll be home earlier, I swear." "Good boy," I said, spooning my body around his and entering him slowly until he nearly cried with need and then I thrust hard, his arms giving way beneath him until he was resting on his elbows, his mouth on his wrists, biting the skin and before I ended it I laid my hands on his shoulders to flatten him on the bed and push deeper, and deeper and deeper...
"OhgodohgodohgodKellercan'twait, pleasepleaseplease," he crooned in an endless litany and I threw my head back like a wolf, I would've howled in triumph if the kids hadn't been asleep next door, so I just bit my lips hard and thrust a last time as hard and deep as I could, locking my fingers around his cock, exploding inside him when he came between my fingers; Oh Christ how could I ever have considered leaving, I thought, collapsing on top of him, half numb and dead and crazy with pleasure.
"I love you, Chris, don't leave, please," he said, his words smothered by the blanket. "Keep your promise and I'll stay."
He didn't answer, I could feel his hot breath against my skin, his hand on my chest and a leg above my thighs, trapping me, his hair tickling my neck as I pulled him closer, eyes wide open in the darkness.
Four days later I had a visit.
"How much to leave my son alone?"
I'd seen him enter the garage, heavy, determined, his sulky frame trapped in an elegant suit, face puffed up, dark rings under his eyes; seen him walk up to me as a bull ready for the fight. Harrison Beecher; I knew why he was here and I was stunned; how dared they come here while I was working as if my job wasn't really any thing important -to them, it wasn't, I guess. Gen, Toby's father, same kind, spoiled with money.
"Let's go out," I said and when we were in the little yard behind the garage I wiped my hands, turned to him, staring hard.
"How much do you want? I know you don't do it out of love, I know it's all about the money, I know a lot about you, Mr Keller."
Not half what you need to, old man; I was so angry I could've hit him but he was Toby's father and I didn't want to get into this kind of trouble.
"If you think I'm fucking your son for money, you don't know me at all," I said, "I love Toby, Toby loves me and we live together; period. There's nothing you can do about that."
His look wandered over me as if I was some disgusting piece of shit, but I continued.
"First time I walked into the house a month ago I found Holly standing at the door of the kitchen and your son was drinking himself to death because he felt guilty about his wife's suicide..."
"Toby doesn't drink!"
"Of course he does! If you don't know it, you don't know him more than you know me." We glared at each other.
"You, miserable slug..." He began, his hands clenching into fists. "Get out of here, Mr Beecher, if you want to talk to me, come home." "My son's house isn't your home, it will never be! I won't stand the situation any longer!"
He talked about Genevieve who'd been some kind of angel, told me I was a demon meant to ruin Toby's life, told me I had nothing to do with his son, told me our affair had killed Gen, that I was responsible for that; I reminded him that my affair with his son was consensual, and that not every woman commits suicide because her husband cheats on her; asked him if he'd ever cheated on his own wife, saw him blush in anger and... embarrassment.
"It's a completely different situation, don't you even dare compare..." "Why? Because I'm a man? Because I'm an uneducated slug, is that it?" "Toby deserves so much more than what you give him!" "Useless discussion. Please get out of here," I said, and when I saw him about to protest, I raised my voice and pointed to the door. "Get out! I've got work to do."
But I'd been hurt, his words had been a poison; that evening I was harsh and angry, Holly looked at me suspiciously and later I took a long walk in the neighbourhood, wanting to avoid Toby as long as possible; but when I came back, he was waiting for me.
"Spill it. What's wrong?"
He was sitting on the bed, still wearing his pants, his tie discarded by his side, his white shirt opened giving me a peek at his naked chest and softly muscled shoulders.
"Nothing's wrong," I said.
"Don't bullshit me, Keller, I know better, something happened, just tell me, I can take it."
I crawled up the bed, sat in front of him, my legs crossed, realizing how tired he looked, and thin, and probably he'd braced himself, waiting for my words to put an end to our story.
I wanted to say, it's useless, it can't work, I'd better go back to my apartment, leave you alone, my life's not here, I'll bring you nothing but pain and disappointment, you're strong enough now, you don't need me anymore; but my throat was tight and I was unable to talk so I just shook my head, keeping my eyes down, hearing him shift to come closer, his hand on my cheek forcing me to raise my head and look at him; I saw sad eyes and a trembling smile, I saw tears hesitating on the edge of his eyelash while his fingers stroked my jaw, I couldn't stand it anymore, I took his hand in mine and brought it to my lips, kissed it.
"Chris," he said, "tell me, do you want to leave? I know you don't feel home here, that what I ask from you is not what you wanted... Kids, this house, a committed relationship, Christ, sometimes I feel like I'm trapping you here, like I'm taking something away from you!"
I kept his fingers in mine, and pushed him back on the bed, taking him in my arms, burying my face into the crook of his neck, feeling his fingers caress my hair softly, his lips soothing me as if I were a sorrowful kid, cradling me in his embrace as we kissed, deep and slow kisses, breathtaking and noisy; there was nothing else I needed and we fell asleep like that, still dressed, the light burning by the bed, Toby's files discarded over the bed, hugging each other tight all through the night.
When I woke up, someone had pulled the blankets over me, turned off the light, pulled down the blinds and a look at my watch told me it was much later than was acceptable, I'd be late at work. Then I realized it was Sunday, heard the kids laugh downstairs, the door opened, Toby padded to the bed and sat there.
"Hey, sleeping beauty, how do you feel?" "I don't know; wrecked, maybe. Why did you let me sleep so long?" "You're beautiful when you sleep and you needed it, obviously."
Fingers trailed along my jaw. "Don't shave, I like it," he said.
"Is that an order?"
"Sure it is."
"Yeah? And who the fuck do you think you are to give me orders?" "A man who just chewed his father out about you, maybe?"
"How did you know?"
"I called him this morning and he told me about you, told me he was worried; I remembered how you looked yesterday; I know my father, he still thinks he runs the whole family. You know, he arranged my meeting with Gen, she wasn't that crazy about me and neither was I but everybody wanted this marriage so we surrendered; and my father was so happy and proud. Anyway I knew he'd try to intimidate you; he's good at that. But not as good as I am since I got something to protect."
I dragged him to me, pulled up his shirt, rubbed my jaw against his belly, his stomach, his nipples, hard stubble against soft skin, making him moan; pulled the shirt over his head to rest my face on his shoulder, listening to his ragged breath.
"He came to the garage yesterday."
"I know, he told me."
I raised my eyes to look at him.
"What else? What did he tell you? And what did you tell him?"
His eyes were cold suddenly, and hard, his voice tight. "Oh you don't wanna know, Keller, believe me, you don't wanna know how harsh I can be when it comes to you; I can be very frightening."
I believed him, I knew that the educated cat I lived with had claws and fangs, he could scratch and bite to death, I'd seen this look and heard this voice before, in court, when I'd been there to see him pleading; a cold, smart, witty killer licking his lips, smelling blood, moving for the kill with such obvious pleasure I'd felt unsettled; and I wasn't sure I'd liked it; but if it was about me, then, it was different.
"Maybe he's right, maybe I'm not good for you and the kids. I've done time." "I know. Lardner. Chris, you were a child."
Yeah, well, maybe you don't know all of it.
"And later, I did things I'm not very proud of, not so long before you," I added.
And that was one hell of an understatement, right? Even if I didn't really care about it, I was pretty sure Toby would, if he knew; Christ, he'd kick my sorry ass out.
"I guess you did," he said very seriously, "but it's over. Whatever it was, you won't do it again, I'll stop you from that just like you stop me from drinking."
I sighed, pulled him closer. "It's not exactly the same as, say, drinking; it's much worse."
He looked at me, tilting his head on the side, trying to read my soul, frowning, concerned. Stubborn. "I know I'm safe with you, I'm sure the kids are. It's enough for me, whatever you've done in the past, I don't care. You are different now."
We kept silent for a while, looking each other in the eye, blue on blue, his soul and mine melting together.
"OK, but think about it, how are you gonna manage, I don't know... Thanksgiving? Christmas?" "If they don't invite you, I just won't go. As simple as that."
"You'd break up with your family, just for me?"
"Yes. The only family I want from now on is the one we build together; you, me, and the kids; think you're up to it?"
I didn't know, I'd never had anything like it before, no one had ever loved me that way, not even my wives, and I wasn't sure I deserved it, but with Toby's gaze holding mine, I thought I could give it try.
"Yeah, of course I'm up to it, what, think I'm gonna freak out?"
I'm not sure he believed me but he smiled a feral hungry smile and I was about to drag him under me and undress him when a little voice at the door said, "Daddy, Chris? Harry just threw up his breakfast."
"Oh Jesus, I hate this," Toby said, rising.
"Yeah. Actually, you know, I might have second thoughts about the whole family thing!"
"Don't you dare, Keller, don't you even think of daring."
His fingers against my jaw, stroking, his hot breath, I brushed his lips with my cheek, grazing the soft skin and he hissed.
I couldn't step back now, I had to make this place my place, this family my family, those kids, well... my kids? Mark my territory, that was the thing I needed, find the right opportunity and settle down for good.
Two weeks later, on a Monday morning during breakfast I heard Holly say, "Grace just got a nice little cat, I wish I had one, Dad, may I have one?"
"Of course you can, honey, we'll go find you one tonight, OK?"
Our eyes met, he had the grace to blush, I raised an eyebrow. "A cat?" I said coolly "A real one, with claws and teeth? It's what you want?"
She nodded and glanced at her father for support, but I frowned to him.
"Well, Holly I think that your father and I should talk about it and we'll see, OK?" I said, rising, "Come on now, time to go."
"What was that?" Toby asked when I came back.
"What was what?"
"This attempt at authority?"
"She wants a cat, I think we should discuss it, that's all. Not just say 'of course honey', like you usually do."
"Why? What's the problem with a cat?"
Oh Jesus, he was so dense, sometimes.
"Don't you like cats?" he insisted.
"She has to learn that she can't get everything she wants just by snapping her fingers."
Toby's lips tightened. "What does that mean? Are you telling me I'm spoiling her?"
"Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. And what I'm saying too is that if you want me here you could take my advice from time to time," I said, "make this whole family stuff real."
Cold blue eyes caught mine, held them for a second, trying to guess how determined I was and if it was worth fighting; then he sighed.
"I'm spoiling her?"
"You think I don't take your advice often enough?" "Yeah."
He sighed. "I might have second thoughts about what I said two weeks ago." "I don't think so; I'm very difficult to kick out."
He shrugged, leaned forward, his elbows resting on his thighs.
"Sometimes she looks so sad, she was talking to her mother, the other day, she was alone in her bedroom, she was crying, said she missed her; I don't have the heart to disappoint her. Besides, a cat is a living thing, she could love it, you know, I think she needs something that would really be her, something to love."
I dragged my chair closer.
"Yeah, but remember, it can sometimes become sick, and die, she'll worry, she'll be sad, she'll cry; it's not like having a doll or something."
He lowered his eyes, thoughtful. "What do you think," he asked.
"Let's tell her that and see how she reacts, then if she still wants that, I'll find her a cat."
"Yeah, I know places; I'll find her a kitten."
Holly still wanted a cat, of course, and the day after I called a friend who worked for the local ASPCA who told me they'd just found 5 kittens abandoned in a garden. I chose the smallest one, lean and terrified and when Holly came back from school, dropped it in front of her on the kitchen table and said, "it's a girl"; she frowned; this skinny striped miserable thing wasn't quite what she'd been dreaming of and I felt Toby's reproachful gaze drill holes in my skull; but she didn't dare to say anything, carefully wrapped the animal in her arms and flew to her room.
"That is the ugliest thing I ever saw," Toby said quietly. "Yeah, the others were more beautiful; they will be adopted easily, but this one, who would want it?"
Like me, Toby, just like me, and he caught my pleading eyes, saw something there and smiled.
"OK, let's hope it'll be fine."
"The vet said it would be."
He shook his head, sighed.
"Next time let me choose, OK?"
"Oh, come on, it needs some food, some cleaning and it'll be beautiful, she'll love it."
I was right; the cat didn't become that beautiful, actually, but she purred like crazy on Holly's knees and Holly looked after her like a mother after a kid. When she died, 7 years ago, Holly buried her in a corner in the garden and cried for hours; never wanted another after that.
A year went by, not bliss, because I was so hard to deal with, and Toby was so hard to deal with too, so stubborn, so fucking smart and dumb at the same time, sometimes loving and sweet and suddenly so cold, looking so vulnerable and in fact so tough, a gentle lover, but sometimes a feral fighter.
And we fought a lot. Over the booze, over my job, over the money, over Gary, yeah, mainly over Gary when he came to live with us and left after three months, running away to his grandparents' while Toby and the cops were looking for him everywhere. Gen's parents' blackmail, Toby's fight, Toby's defeat written on his face when he came back.
"They'll keep him," he said, throwing his damp coat on a chair before collapsing on the couch.
"Because I told them so. Keep him and leave us alone."
He combed his fingers across his hair, his voice was hard but he looked devastated.
"They threatened to use their contacts to take Holly and Harry away from us too."
I felt my heart stop.
"Because of me."
"Because of us, Keller; because I killed their daughter, that's what they say, that's what they've been teaching Gary for years; he hates me, hates you, hates everything about the Beecher family."
I crouched in front of him, my hands on his thighs.
"No. I fought already and it was useless, I'll lose more than I'll win. Lose you, lose the kids, and Gary will hate me, whatever I do. God. I lost him."
He didn't cry, just sat there, desperate and I didn't know what to do.
"They said I could see him as much as I wanted." "Toby, legally, you're his father, of course you can see him..."
He didn't listen. "Choose the school, choose everything, take him on holidays. But he won't live with us. That's all."
"It's about Gary, isn't it?" Holly asked me in the afternoon, while Toby was working in his office uupstairs.
"He won't come back."
"No," I said "I'm sorry."
"But you'll stay, won't you? You won't leave us? We love you, Chris."
Oh fuck, I didn't need this, or maybe I needed it too much.
"Hey, baby, did I ever say I'd leave?"
"Granny said if you left, Gary would come back."
I froze, felt my heart sink.
"I told her you wouldn't leave, we were happy with you, you were fine." "Thank you." I tried to hold back the tears I felt dangerously close and smiled to her.
Such had been the deal, then. "Make this man leave and Gary will be back." I walked out, trying to breathe, trying to understand why Toby hadn't taken the deal, it would've been so easy, I would've accepted it, maybe we could have continued to meet like before.
"But I'm a stubborn son of a bitch when I want to, no way anyone's going to tell me what I have to do, rule my world, give me orders, tell me who I have the permission to love," he explained later as we were lying side by side in the bed.
"Even if it means losing your son in the process?" "I'd lose Gary anyway. If you leave, he will come back and then what? It's me he hates, and I don't know how I can change that. I'll take my chances, hope that maybe, time will help him to see things differently. That's all."
I draw him to me. "I love you, Toby, but I'd leave if it meant..." "No. I talked with Gary a lot, with Gen's parents a lot, Gary and I talked to a shrink for hours and hours and my decision's made."
He raised uncertain eyes on me and said, "I'll have to leave you and spend some weekends with Gary, once a month at least, maybe more."
Fuck, I hated the idea of Toby spending time with Gary and Gen's parents but what could I say?
"It's fine, it's just what you should do. You did great, don't worry, he'll come back to you someday, I'm sure about that."
"Fucking liar! You don't believe a single word of that!"
"No, that's fine. Just... Don't let them take you away from me, OK?"
"No one can do that, Keller. No one, never."
"Good. I love you."
I wrapped him in my arms and kissed his hair, heard him sigh in contentment, and smiled. The danger was gone for a while, we were safe; but I'd stay vigilant, I knew they'd try to steal him from me. So I hugged him tighter and he whispered against my ear, "Let me fuck you?"
Yeah, life was wonderful, I thought as I let go of the fear, let go of the anger, let him fuck it all away. Life was wonderful and when he came inside me, I caught a glimpse of heaven.