"Chris Keller didn't have any kid. He always said so." "Yeah? My mother seemed to think otherwise."
I bet she did. We're face to face in the garage, Saturday morning.
"Anyway he died. Last year, with my dad. Car crash. Maybe... Maybe it was some kind of suicide. My dad was dying with cancer. Chris... couldn't stand it."
Same bright intense quizzical look, trying to make the best of what I just said. "I see. I'm sorry." "I am too."
We both keep your hands in our pockets. Not very friendly. He doesn't take his eyes away from my face, I feel uncomfortable suddenly, it's like he's reading my mind. Chris Keller used to do that.
"You loved him," it's not a question, rather a statement, "as a father, I mean." In my mind, a nasty memory... I loved him as a father... This time I can't push the memory away.
It's very late, the middle of the night. I'm sitting in the living room, watching some sports on TV... I don't live here anymore but I happen to come back... More often since Dad's ill, because I'm so afraid to lose him. I turn my head to see Chris sitting in front on the sofa, on the edge of the chair, leaning over the frail silhouette struggling for life under the blanket. My father, emaciated, his hair gone with the chemo... Dying. He's dying, what's the point of denying it? But Chris's still there sitting, lost in contemplation, his fingers brushing lightly along my father's jaw and cheek and nose and lips, memorizing each and single detail before it's too late.
... I sigh and he turns to watch me...
"He won't make it, will he?" I ask faintly. We never spoke of that before. "Fucking docs keep telling he's got 6 months left," he answers in a low voice, "but I won't let him suffer like that much longer. No way." "Chris? What... what do you mean, what are you gonna do?"
I get up and come to him, crouch in front of him, watch him and try to read his dark blue eyes.
"Just what I said, OK? Don't worry."
As to show how much Chris is right my father moans painfully in his sleep and I watch Chris' face fall, Chris who never cries, never complains, never fails his lover. Always there like a rock, unyielding and I know that's why my father's still struggling, why he's not giving up, not yet, but this noise he just made? It sounds suspiciously like a plea for release and suddenly I feel sick, thinking of what life will be when Dad's dead and how Chris is gonna make it -not gonna make it, in my opinion- I feel like a kid again and I need him to rescue me, comfort me, so I crouch on the floor at his feet, rest my forehead against the rough fabric of his jeans, feel his fingers snake absently in my hair as if I was a cat or something, stroking me, making me shiver and in the depths of my heart I know what I'm doing; I'm frozen and burning as the soft caress goes on and I know I should get up and run, only I can't. I'm petrified there under those hands and I can't move. I want to but I can't.
" Chris," I manage to whisper, my eyes closed, "it's so unfair. I still need him so much." "Yeah, I know. Do you think I don't? He's the only reason why I'm alive."
There's so much pain in his voice I think he could cry, I think I could cry too. This is the ultimate punishment for his past crimes, I think crazily: not being able to save my father is the only sentence Chris can't face; he would probably deal much better with his own death. Still stroking my hair he watches me and says dreamily, "Jesus fucking Christ, you look like him more and more every day, boy..." his voice slightly shaking, his eyes roaming over me, a strange smile playing on his lips. I raise my head to watch him and suddenly I can't take it anymore, I throw myself into his arms and they close around me, holding me against his chest, my face in his neck. "No!" he says in a deep low voice, "Fuck, Harry, don't!" but he doesn't push me away, squeezes me tight instead and I hear his breath catch and there's no other place I want to be now but there, securely held by this man who's been a father to me and so much more, and I don't want to move.
After a while, our eyes lock, but I can't read his expression, his eyes are as dark as the darkest blue night, I can't say what he's feeling, and what I do next, God forgive me, I can't believe it. Taking his head in my hands and kissing him, crushing my lips against his, just to know how it feels to clutch at someone that strong and comforting, understand what my father feels, make Chris know I care, whatever the reason, but still... kissing him like a lover.
He doesn't resist first, maybe he's too stunned and I begin kissing him deeply, forcing him to respond, pressing against him, feeling his body stiffen, his hands bruising my shoulders, refusing to remember that my own father is lying there asleep, wanting to forget all about illness and death and fear; but soon enough he pulls himself together again, pushes me away with a fierce growl and I stumble, fall down on the floor. We're both stunned and breathless; for a second I think he will hit me, but what hits me instead is a deep sense of shame and desolation, I feel like I could die instantly, just there, and I can feel my face burn, tears running down my cheeks.
"Don't... Don't ever do that again, Harry! It doesn't help." "I'm sorry!" I answer hastily, standing up, "I don't know what happened... I'm sorry, Chris. I didn't mean...I don't..."
He glares at me, shutting me up, disgust and pain written on his face, and turns his back on me.
"I know," he says in a defeated voice, "I know you didn't mean it. Sometimes it's just too hard to go on. Every fucking time I watch you, I see him and, it's so goddam painful," he doesn't look at me, keeps his voice low and I understand that his anger isn't directed against me, " I'm the one who should apologize, Harry. I'm the one who should be sorry. I'm the one who fucked up, here." I hear him sigh. "You'd better go back to your room, it's too late to go home. Leave us now. C'mon, get the fuck out of here!" Something in his voice stops me from arguing, but at the door, I turn to watch him. My father didn't wake up, thank god; I don't know what I would've done then. I think he's too dazed with medication to hear anything... Chris seems to have forgotten all about me now, he's sitting on that chair again, whispering words I can't hear, his whole body shaking, his head in his hands, and I just run up the stairs to my old room, crushed with shame and self-loathing, collapse on the bed and cry until I fall asleep.
The day after when I wake up, Chris is in the kitchen and my father's awake, looking a little bit better, he even jokes with me but I feel so embarrassed it's difficult to smile. Everything seems... normal, Chris acts with me as if nothing had happened and I would like to think maybe it was just a dream but of course I know it wasn't and I realize that it's just Chris letting go of anything which isn't his Toby, refusing to let anyone who's not Toby interfere between them, erasing any memory which could distract him from the man sitting here on the sofa, and whose loving eyes and smile are all that's left of his lover... I just grab my jacket and leave.
When I reach the door, I hear Chris' voice call me, " See ya tomorrow at the garage, Harry. Maybe I'll be late" and when I turn to him I see he's smiling tentatively. Affectionately, although I'm not sure he really sees me, so I just nod. I want to say something to comfort him, tell him it was an error, I didn't want what happened tomorrow, that it was just crazy Harry taking over again, but I think he knows about that so I smile to him and walk away. I know I won't be back for a while. They don't need me. I need them but they don't need me or anybody.
"You loved him like a father," the guy repeats, pulling me out of my dream. "Yeah. He raised me. And my sister," I shrug, and add, "Christ. You look like him a lot." "I've been told so," he says and gives me a lazy Keller smile. I want him to leave. I want him to stay. I want Chris and my father back, I wanna hear them talk and laugh and yell at each other like before.
"So...the trip was useless," he still says, but doesn't move, doesn't look really disappointed. "He didn't know he had a son," I repeat, not knowing what to say, not yet sure he's who he is. "Yeah. My mother... It was a one night stand." he sighs and as he's about to leave but as he walks through the door, I call him back. "Hey...Stay with us for a while. We could talk." He turns, nods and smiles again, obviously relieved. "Thank you. That would be great."