by Riley Cannon
The ad caught his eye almost by chance.
Granted a second chance at parole, as Toby had walked free of Oz he had vowed to not fuck it up again. And -- so far, so good. No rounds of cocktail parties this time, not many indulgences at all. The funny thing was he didn't really miss most of that anyway. One harmless pastime had become browsing through the classified section of the paper, the car ads in particular. Christ knew when the State in all its wisdom would be convinced he could be trusted behind the wheel of an automobile again, but it seemed safe enough to peruse those ads and daydream about the car he would purchase one day.
Would it be the sensible 4-door Volvo sedan there, or the gas-guzzling Range Rover? Maybe the electric blue Porsche Cabrolet someone was letting go for a song? He could really see himself at the wheel of the cherry red, classic Corvette Stingray, top down and tearing down the highway ... for about five minutes.
Then he saw the Kawasaki. 1995 model, going for $5,000 or best offer; the brief rundown of features ringing a bell and taking him far away from the wealthy comfort of the family home and back to a dark cell, a narrow bunk in one pocket of paradise smack in the middle of hell. Hard bodies pressed together, arms and legs tangled up, hot and wet with sweat and come - and Chris whispering sweet nothings in his ear all about his old bike, his Kawasaki that he missed so bad. The sexy bastard had made it sound hotter than a letter to Penthouse, turning him on with describing how powerful the machine had felt, throbbing between his legs. He'd fucked Keller so hard that time they had both thought the bunk was going to break.
And he was almost used to the mix of grief and longing, of remembered love and desire that kicked him in the gut when those memories crept back.
He waited for the feelings to pass and take the fascination with the Kawasaki with it. No luck on the latter, though. He kept picking up the paper to look at it again throughout the day. When the next day's paper was delivered, and the one after that, he turned to the classifieds before anything else to see if the ad was still running.
On the fourth day he called the number listed.
"I don't know." Toby stretched his arm along the open window of the big, shiny SUV. "Maybe I'll just sit on it and go vroom vroom."
His brother shot him a sideways glance, not sure how to take that, and Toby honestly felt bad about it. For the sake of everyone, sometimes he really wished he could go back to that good old, predictable Toby, meek and mild as a cup of warm milk. He would try harder to achieve that if he didn't truly believe it might destroy him. He didn't expect anyone else to understand that.
Angus just shook his head and made a left turn, going slow as they checked addresses.
It wasn't a bad neighborhood. Working class, a few rough edges showing where a vacant lot was overrun with weeds, or the windows of an abandoned and ramshackle house were boarded over, its For Sale sign weathered and worn by several seasons of neglect. The SUV bumped over a couple of potholes that would never be tolerated in Bryant Park's smooth-paved streets, but that just added to the lived in feeling of the place. Most of the houses looked well cared for, the paint fresh and the lawns raked and tidy, kid's bikes propped against front porches. Three boys and a girl were shooting hoops in the driveway across the street as Angus parked the SUV at the curb of the house they were looking for.
"Sure this is the place?"
Toby checked the sticky note where he'd scribbled it down, nodded. "Yeah," he said, and opened the door. "You can wait here if you want."
Angus shrugged, cracked open his door and climbed out. "I'll stretch my legs."
And keep an eye on big brother, just in case. Not that Toby could blame anyone for not trusting him. His track record so far didn't exactly inspire a mountain of faith.
This house, a split-level ranch, had a shabbier air than most of its neighbors. Butter yellow paint job faded, the sidewalk up to the front door cracked in a couple of spots, weeds poking through. A pair of cherry trees grew off to one side, meant to shade a grouping of lawn furniture - chairs and a glass-topped table; one of the trees looked dead, its trunk covered with hardened globs of amber sap. The furniture had been left out too long; the cushions were faded, torn, the glass top cracked down the center, everything covered with bird shit.
Once upon a time someone had cared about the place, though. Someone had planted a garden and cared for it. Someone had hung out wind chimes and birdfeeders and put a swing on the porch. Little things, but you could tell there had been an intent to keep the place spruced up and homey.
The owner must have heard them drive up because a man came around the corner of the house, wiping his hands on a rag, and called out, "One a you the guy called about the bike?" His worn jeans and white t-shirt, snug over some middle-aged spread, looked like they had been standing in for the rag for quite a while.
Toby raised his hand in greeting. "That would be me," he said, taking off his sunglasses and reaching out to shake the man's hand, not minding the grease the guy hadn't quite wiped off.
Still able to be fastidious, Angus nodded a greeting at the man.
"Come around back," the man said, leading them along a flagstone path, past a flowerbed where a few hardy blooms - orange poppies, some irises -- still held their own. "Bike's in the garage. Name's Phil," he added, pausing to tell a scruffy mutt to stay where it was, sprawled across the top of the back porch steps. It lifted its shaggy gray head to check out Toby and Angus and then, detecting no need for alarm, went back to its nap. Dog and master suited each other, and supported the idea that people took after their dogs.
"You do a lot of riding?" Phil said as he led them into the garage and tugged on an overhead chain, flooding the place with light.
"Ah, thinking about taking it up," Toby hedged, and didn't need to look at his brother to see Angus roll his eyes.
"Well, this baby might be too much for you to handle, but it's your neck," Phil said as he hauled a tarp off the bike.
"Jesus," Toby murmured, taken aback by the sleek, powerful beauty of the machine, black and chrome, polished to a showroom gleam. The picture in the paper hadn't done it justice.
"Yeah," Phil nodded, "have to admit she's a beauty. `Bout the only good thing I can say about the sonofabitch who owned her, he had a good eye for bikes and cars."
"So ... you're not the owner?"
"Well," Phil scratched at the gray stubble on his chin, "I'm what you'd call the de facto owner. My wife's first husband left it to her to take care of, and it came on to me when she passed away about a year ago."
"Oh, I'm ... sorry."
"Yeah, hadn't been married that long when we found out she had cancer. Looked like she was going to make it for a while, but then the sonofabitching thing came back. Went fast after that, about the only blessing." Phil sighed, looking off through one of the grimy windows for a long moment before he could tuck those memories away. "Anyway, there was some hellacious medical bills, so I've been trying to make a little cash clearing out some odds-`n'-ends. Got no use for this, that's for sure."
Toby nodded, circling the bike, reaching out to run his fingers over the seat, the leather soft and warm. "And you're sure the original owner won't have any objections to you selling it?"
"If he does he'll have to give me a call from the great beyond. Dumb bastard got himself killed in prison a couple years ago. Bonnie, that was my wife, she cried her eyes out for a week, which didn't do her any good either. Always had a soft spot for the sonofabitch, though - even married him twice." Phil shook his head, still floored by the idea.
That was nothing to what Toby was experiencing.
"Uh, wh--" Toby cleared his throat, "what was his name?"
"Keller, Christopher Keller." The way he said it, Phil didn't even think much of the name.
Beside him, Toby heard Angus mutter, "Oh Christ, I don't believe this."
Toby wasn't sure he did either, and yet ... He studied the bike with a fresh appreciation, and would have sworn he could feel Chris there, sense him in the danger and power of the seductive machine. For a second he could even see him straddling the bike, tugging off his helmet to flash him a cocky - sexy -- megawatt smile, like he was telling him, yes, he wanted Toby to have this.
As Phil rattled off the features - liquid cooling, suspension, 1470 cc 4-stroke engine - Toby caressed the bike, wanting it almost as bad as he had once ached for its owner. "I'll take it," he said, not even needing to think about it ... not caring that Angus was looking at him like he had to be out of his mind. Because, fuck, like that would be a newsflash anyway.
The business was done quickly, Toby parting with the cash without one twinge of regret, and Phil handing over the keys like he was glad to be rid of them.
Hands tight on the steering wheel, Angus shook his head. "What's the point of stating the obvious?"
Angus's snort was laden with sarcastic disbelief. "Fine. You are fucked up beyond belief."
"Yeah, so," Toby shrugged, looking out the window at the streets and the traffic, all the world going on about its business on this spring afternoon, "what else is new?" He could hardly put up much of an argument, after all.
"Dad would be alive today if you hadn't made him work on your boyfriend's case," Angus went on, surprising Toby with the bitter resentment in his voice, with the accusation.
Even hearing that, even knowing it was probably deserved, Toby snapped back, "I didn't make Dad do anything."
"Yeah, right." Angus shook his head again, knuckles white. "When's it end, Toby? When do you let it go?"
Toby looked at his brother then, resentment starting to bubble away. "Let what go? My sordid past, my time in Oz? Or maybe I'm supposed to forget I used to like taking it up the ass?" he ground out, the vein in his forehead throbbing.
"Angus, get it through your head: I'm not that Toby anymore. You don't like it, go fuck yourself." This wasn't what he wanted; the last thing he needed was to alienate his brother. But he was so goddamn tired of pretending Oz - and Chris - never happened. "Angus..." He sighed, shook his head as they pulled into the drive of the house, everything perfectly manicured and tidy. "The one good thing that happened to me in that place was loving Chris Keller, being loved by him. It was fucked up but," he bit his lip, looking away, out across the perfect lawn, "but it was love. I know you don't get that, nobody ever did except us." He looked around again, wishing he knew how to make his brother understand. "I don't even have a picture of him, Angus - don't begrudge me this one thing to remember him by."
Angus shrugged, opened his door. "Do whatever you want to."
Like always - but that part was left unspoken.
A corner of his mouth quirked with a sad smile as he slung a leg over it, settled into the saddle, hands curled around the grips. "Are you here?" he whispered, yearning for Chris to step out of the shadows. He'd give anything for that, to watch him swagger over, smile warm and sexy and just for Toby as he climbed on behind him and held on tight as they tore down the open highway, free of all the prison walls.