by Riley Cannon
Title: Hi, Society
Author: Riley Cannon
Subject: B/K, extreme AU; rated PG-13
Feedback: Yes; on list or private
Disclaimer: Tom Fontana and HBO own them; I'm only taking them out for for romance and hijinks. ;)
Warnings: Romance and cute kids.
Beta'd by Mav, who also supplied the name of the tenor and the lunch spot, and who has also been of tremendous support in my getting this saga all the way back on its feet. Any remaining goofs are entirely my own.
But I'm dedicating the chapter to Grace; she knows why. :)
Summary: Well, I did that with the recap post yesterday, so picking up exactly where it all left off...
"So ... Guess I'll see you later," Chris said, making no move to get out as the Packard pulled up at The Tattler building.
"I guess you will," Toby said, giving no sign that he was anxious for Chris to be on his way.
Chris gave a small laugh and shook his head as he looked away, out the window. All around them the city went on as usual, traffic passing by in the street and pedestrians on the sidewalk, the nonstop symphony of voices and machinery, someone leaning heavily on a car horn -- and yet it felt as if he and Toby were all alone right here in the middle of Manhattan. Would it always be like this? Pragmatism, the kind of cold hard reality he had learned was the only way to make it through life, pragmatism said no, this couldn't last; it was too fragile and ephemeral to hold onto for very long. But -he closed his eyes and sighed as he felt Toby's fingers brush the nape of his neck -- he was more than willing to be proved entirely wrong about that.
"I want to kiss you," Toby confessed after a moment, his voice as quiet and intimate as if a hundred people weren't passing by.
"Me, too." Chris turned back to look at him, longing to taste his mouth one more time - wishing they could be completely alone with nothing else claiming their attention except how good it was to touch each other. He sighed and shook his head at himself, and looked back into Toby's smiling eyes filled with understanding of that desire, wanting the same thing. If that wasn't quite as satisfying as another kiss, it was enough to keep him going in the meantime.
"I'll call," Toby promised, and Chris believed him.
He nodded, reached for the door handle. "I'll look forward to it." And, Christ, how long had it been since he'd said that and really meant it? "Queens isn't too far off the beaten track," he slowly ventured, watching Toby's face to see what he thought of that, of a rendezvous in Jackson Heights.
If appearances were anything to go by, that idea held considerable appeal. "No, I hear there's a bridge all the way over there."
"Yep." Chris smiled, another idea occurring to him. "Or there's this place here in town, just right for clandestine meetings," he said, voice dropped lower.
"You know this from personal experience?" Toby said, like he enjoyed the idea.
"Just a little," Chris admitted.
"As intriguing as that sounds," and Toby reached down to grasp one of his hands, rubbing a thumb back and forth over the knuckles, "I really would like to see where you live."
Feeling that touch all the way down to his toes, Chris looked back at him and nodded. "And I want to show you," he said, surprising himself again. Since his divorce from Kitty, the house hadn't been more than a place to hang his hat. He would really love to find out if showing it to Toby would make it feel like a home again. Some hunch told him to go ahead and put all his money on that, in fact; he wouldn't be disappointed.
He turned his hand, catching hold of Toby's fingers, stroking them. "You sure you can get away?"
"Count on it," Toby said, making another vow of it.
He nodded, pulled in a deep breath, and with reluctance weighing him down reached for the door handle again. "I don't want you to go," he said, regretting the admission for the split second between its leaving his lips and when Toby's hand squeezed the nape of his neck.
"I don't want to go, Chris. I'll come back," he said as Chris looked back at him.
And he believed that promise, too, one hundred percent. "I'll be waiting," he said, finally climbing out of the car.
"I'll be here."
He nodded, closing the door, leaning in the window for one more look at him. "This is nuts," he said on another deep sigh.
Toby winked at him. "Best nuts I've felt in a long time," he returned, a suggestive tone in his voice and expression that pulled a short bark of laughter from Chris.
"Me, too," he said, still smiling. "Love you."
"Love you, too," Toby said, a more solemn look in his face.
With another nod, Chris stepped back on the sidewalk and watched the Packard pull away from the curb and ease back into the flow of traffic. He stayed there, watching until the car made a turn and disappeared from his line of sight, and then turned and headed on into the building, not even annoyed when the kid running the operator asked what was he grinning about today.
"'Cause God's in His heaven and all's right with the world," Chris said as he leaned against the back of the elevator as they started up.
"That a fact, Mr. Keller?"
"That is a fact, Kenny," he told him, meaning every word.
He flashed it her way as he sat down at his desk, tipping his hat back on his head and tilting his chair so he could put his feet up. "Hey."
"Hey, yourself. I guess the interview went well," she said and watched his smile dim just a bit as a puzzled look crept into his eyes.
"With William Giles," she prompted, and bit back a smile as comprehension flared in his eyes, quickly followed by chagrin.
"Oh, yeah," he settled the chair down and rummaged in his pockets, pulling out his notebook and flipping through the pages. "Yeah, it, uh, it went well, got a lot of good stuff," he said, pushing his hat back even further as he scratched his head and pretended to be engrossed in his notes. "He, umm, he said to give him a call whenever you're ready to go over and take some pictures," he added after a moment, evidently having deciphered one of his scribbles.
Refraining from rolling her eyes with exasperation since she knew he really did mean well, Mary Pete just said, "That sounds fine, Chris. You'll have to tell me what you'd like me to try and capture, though."
He nodded, clearly struggling not to break into another wide grin. "It was a good morning."
And apparently an even better early afternoon, she thought, smiling to herself as she gathered up her purse. Her smile turned to a worried look, though, as she remembered the last time she had seen him this happy about anything. In fact she could pinpoint the time exactly: three days before Christmas, 1936, riding high on the excitement of the baby he and Kitty were expecting in the new year, and the satisfaction of having just sold two short stories. If that success hadn't entirely mitigated the frustration he felt at working for a glossy gossip magazine, Mary Pete had gotten the impression it had gone a long way toward boosting his spirits. She hadn't even known him very well at the time but it had been good to see him cheerful for once instead of forever grumping around about something. It still hurt to think of just how quickly he had come crashing back to earth, Kitty stopping by to see him, and in one instant's careless remark putting the light out on his joy.
A washing machine - that's what Chris' stories had meant to Kitty; no sharing his excitement and pleasure in getting published, only seeing the payment he'd received as the means to buy a washing machine she'd had her eye on. And that hadn't even been the most painful thing. No, what Mary Pete had seen that long ago afternoon, what she never wanted to see in his eyes again, was Chris shoving all his feelings down somewhere deep inside and keeping a charming smile on his face while he agreed with Kitty that yes, that was all his writing meant: money enough for a washing machine. If Kitty had looked in his eyes, the way Mary Pete had, she would have seen a sad and quiet hurt there.
Mary Pete didn't know if Kitty ever had seen that look. She knew she never wanted to see it again, though, and prayed he wasn't setting himself for another huge disappointment.
He was looking at her now, curious as ever. "You okay?"
"I'm fine, thank you," she assured him with a smile. "Your Aunt Marie needs to do some more shopping." And while she was praying for Chris' hopes and dream to come true, she might slip in a little something about this playacting of theirs to go off without a hitch.
"Hey," he tagged along to the elevator, "you know what we gotta do?
"No, what do we have to do?" she said as the doors closed and the operator started them down to the lobby.
"Figure out the nuts-and-bolts of this cockamamie charade we gotta put on, that's what," he said, lounging back against the car, arms folded over his chest and looking grumpy now. He gave her a hard, long look, slowly nodding to himself. "I got an aunt Theresa you could almost pass for," he said as they reached the lobby.
"Your mother's sister?"
"One of," he said, holding the door for her and then scanning the street for a cab. "She ran away to join the opera when she was a kid, married, got left a rich widow, and went home to grow grapes."
"Well," Mary Pete got in the cab, "hop in and tell me all about her then."
He nodded, climbing in after her. "Okay, first thing you gotta know," he said after she told the taxi driver to head for Macy's and they pulled out into the mid-afternoon traffic, "is if my mom was the sainted virgin of the girls, Aunt Theresa was what you'd call the exact opposite."
She gave him a sideways glance, shaking her head. "Somehow I never imagined anyone in your family was ever a nun."
"Yeah, well, nobody'd ever take you for one, either - and that's a compliment."
"Well thank you very much. For your information, though, I once thought about joining a convent."
He turned to give her another long and disbelieving look. "Well, you'd have been my kind of nun if you had," he said with another smile.
And no doubt that was a compliment as well. "Thank you." She sat back, shooting him a doubtful look after a moment as the cab idled in traffic. "She ran away to join the opera?"
"Yep," Chris stretched out comfortably on the seat, always reminding her of a big cat with the way he could occupy any space with ease. "It was a big old scandal according to what my mom told me. She said Grandpa Mario wouldn't speak Theresa's name for years afterward, and only let up when she came back to show him his grandkids. He was a real softie when it came to his grandkids," he added, a reminiscent look in his eyes as if he was speaking from personal experience.
"You got to know him?"
"A little bit. Met Aunt Theresa anyway, and all the other aunts and uncles and cousins twice removed." He said it with a selfdeprecating tone that Mary Pete didn't buy for a minute.
"Where did the opera come in?"
"Via Salvatore Tamburo, a tenor with a theatrical troupe just passing through town one summer. Grandpa Mario told her not to have anything to do with him, but since that only makes forbidden fruit look sweeter, next thing anyone knew the pair of them had run off together..." Chris said, settling back even more comfortably as he launched into the story, effortlessly weaving the words together so that Mary Pete's imagination began to form a vivid image of his aunt.
That vitality made her suspect some dramatic license was being invoked as the tale wound on, but she could hardly fault him for that when his easy way with words gave him so much pleasure. Although his talent for making the outrageous sound perfectly plausible made her grateful that he had found a constructive outlet for his talents. Far better a gifted spinner of tall tales than a prince among snakeoil salesmen.
*The sun's hot on my skin, no sound except for the steady pounding of the ocean against the shore -- and the footsteps coming closer, soft as a whisper through the sand. I hear his breath then, labored by the long walk down from the cottage.
I take off my cheaters and look at him, look at the gun in his hand, and I smile and wonder what happens next.*
"You're not the only one," Toby muttered to himself, turning the page to make sure that really was the end before thumbing back through the story. He'd had a hunch all along that Thomas was being too trusting of Quentin, and yet he still wasn't sure if that trust had been entirely misplaced. After all, why leave it open-ended like that, like a modern day ~Lady or the Tiger?~ if the reader wasn't supposed to be as uncertain as Thomas about what happened next? He sighed and put the magazine down on his desk, glad he would have an opportunity to ask the author just what he'd had in mind with the story because something told him the explanation would be as just as fascinating.
Although discussing literature probably would not be their highest priority tonight.
He thought about that some more, anticipating the evening with a sizzle of excitement he hadn't felt in a long time. Chair tipped back, feet up on the desk, he was picturing Chris resting back against that tree in the park, Toby's to touch ... to have and to hold ... and remembering how good it had felt to feel that powerful body yielding to him; even better, letting himself surrender to Chris, knowing he couldn't be in safer hands. Eyes closed, he took it further, saw them falling back in the grass, could swear he felt the heat of Chris' hands touching him, those beautiful long fingers stroking his skin and stripping him bare -
"Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!"
His chair smacked down on the hardwood floor, jarring him back to reality as his kids rushed through the door and swarmed for him, their grandpa and Patricia right behind.
"Sorry," Harrison said, not looking terribly apologetic. "Abercrombie said you were back from lunch and they had to see you."
"Well that works out great then," Toby said, extricating a stapler from Harry's little hands, "because I have to see them, too." He caught them all up in a big giggling hug, planted a kiss on each shiny forehead, and then set them back. "So what have you been doing?"
"Well," Holly climbed on his lap while Gary perched on the edge of the big desk, helping Harry get up there, too, "Mommy took us shopping for clothes, and that man was going to come with us but Mommy told him no, he wouldn't enjoy it, and he said all right, but then he said maybe his boys should come with us and have Mommy pick them out some new clothes, but Mommy didn't act like she wanted to do that, either. So they didn't come with us, either."
Toby nodded, scoring Genevieve some points for that at least. Still, he reminded her, "They are going to be your stepbrothers so you should probably try and make friends with them."
Holly gave him a pretty clear I don't think so look, however, and continued recounting their day's adventures, which were capped with lunch at the Empire Diner, where Patricia had picked them up. "And then we came here to see you and Grandpa," she finished. "Where were you?"
"I was taking care of some important matters."
"Are you sleepy?"
"No, I'm not sleepy. Why?"
"It looked like you were taking a nap when we came in."
Well, that was a relief; a few seconds more and everyone might have barged in something a bit embarrassing. "I was resting my eyes."
"You should probably get a nap," his father said, picking up Harry who was in danger of slipping off the desk. "You're going to have a long evening."
Well, yes, he hoped so, but how did his dad know? "I am?"
"Can't have a party without the guest of honor in attendance," Harrison said, smiling at him proudly.
Eyes lit up with excitement, Holly said, "What kind of party?" Little face scrunched up, she thought about it, counting off events on her fingers. "It's nobody's birthday," she said, sharing an uncertain look with her brothers, also pondering the matter.
"Your father won an important case in court yesterday," Harrison told her, "and we're going to celebrate that tonight." He gave Toby a firm look then. "I've already made reservations for us all at the Emerald Room."
"I don't need a party, Dad," he said, not wanting to disappoint him and yet also eager to stick with his earlier plans.
Holly gave him a look that begged to differ. "Everybody needs a party," she said in a tone that brooked no argument. "What's the Emerald Room?"
"It's a nightclub."
"That means you can't go," Gary told her.
Breathing out a tiny huff of air, she narrowed her eyes stubbornly at him. "Can too."
Solemn, but with mischief in his eyes, Gary said, "Nope. You're too young."
"I am not."
She looked to her father for confirmation and support on this point, and Toby sighed and shook his head slightly, looking over at his father for help.
"Well," Harrison looked thoughtful, "I suppose special arrangements might be made, under the circumstances. What do you think, Patricia?"
"Since it is a special occasion," Patricia looked like she was enjoying this too much, "I suppose it would be all right if they stayed up past their bedtimes this once."
Even Harry looked intrigued by that prospect.
Toby huffed, feeling ganged up on. "We can't take them to a nightclub, Dad."
"Of course we can, son. I'll just have a word with that Ryan O'Reily fellow. Oh," Harrison paused as he picked up the telephone, "Toby, why don't you call your friend Chris and invite him to join us, and his aunt?"
Visions of being carted off to the pokey for bringing his kids to a nightclub vanished in an instant. "You wouldn't mind?"
"Of course not. Your friends are always welcome, son," Harrison said, just as if he wasn't harboring any suspicions about his son and this particular friend and what they had been up to in the kitchen last night.
"I...guess that would be all right."
"It's settled then," Harrison said, and asked the operator to get him the Emerald Room.
"What's this I hear about a party for Tobias?" Katherine McClain said brightly, as she barged into the office.
Toby would have sworn even Harry rolled his eyes in exasperation.
"I think so," she called back to him from the kitchen. "The important thing will be keeping our stories straight. I expect everyone will be far more interested in the bride and groom and her ex-husband to pay much attention to us."
Christ knew that ex-husband was the only thing on Chris' mind, and he checked his watch again, wondering if there was time enough to pick up a few things for tonight and get the place straightened up before Toby showed up. Not that Toby would care if it looked like a fucking pigsty - but Chris did. He wanted his home to make a good impression, too.
"Okay then," he got up from the comfortable armchair and reached for his hat, starting for the door as she came back from the kitchen, "I'll hit the road then and see you - I guess tomorrow, right?"
"I guess." She gave him a kindly tolerant look, a hint of amusement in her dark eyes. "I suppose you have to see another man about another dog?" she said just as her phone rang.
"Yeah, something like that," he said, settling his hat on his head and starting for the door - only to stop in his tracks as she held out the receiver to him and said:
"Someone wants to speak with you."
He took the receiver from her gingerly and put it to his ear. "Hello?"
"Hey," Toby said. "You're a hard man to track down."
"Ah, yeah, sorry about that, I..." He glared at Mary Pete, standing there listening. He cleared his throat. "Weren't you gonna make some tea?"
She smiled and shook her head but gracefully withdrew to the kitchen.
He let out a deep breath and raised the receiver again. "So how'd you find me?"
"Called your boss, he suggested I might find you at Mrs. Reimondo's. So - do you have any plans for tonight?"
"Ah, no, my schedule's clear."
"Well that's good to hear. And do you have a tuxedo?"
Chris blinked, scowling down the phone line. "Why do I need a monkey suit?"
"Because there's been a slight change in plans."
~~to be continued in Chapter Five~~