by Riley Cannon
Lazily stroking Chris' side and wishing they could stay like this, Toby aimed a baleful look at the clock. Not in the least intimidated, however, it ticked steadily on with no regard at all for the momentous events that had occurred these last couple of days. Events that, in his opinion, warranted at least a commemorative plaque, and possibly a sculpture re-enacting one of the more memorable incidents.
"What're you smiling about?" Chris said, watching him.
"Mmm," Toby looked into his face, adoring the contentment he could see there, the trust so clear in Chris' eyes, "I don't know - it might have something to do with spending most of the weekend in bed with the other most fuckable being God ever made."
Accepting that as only his due, Chris wove his fingers through Toby's hair and brought his face closer. "Think He broke the mold after us?" he said, between slow, nibbling kisses.
"Damn right He did." Toby rubbed his hands along Chris' back, loving the strength and the warmth of him.
"You bet your ass we are." Toby ran a hand over that particular feature, cupping the back of Chris' head with the other and keeping him still so he could deepen the kiss. Drawing back from that, an idea forming in his head, he said, "I could probably get Gen to keep the kids 'til this evening, or--"
Chris smiled at him, touched his face. "No. You can't break promises to your kids, not even for me."
Well, that was sweet of him, but... "It's only brunch. They wouldn't mind."
"Yeah they would. There's no `only' anything for kids." Chris seemed very sure of that, and Toby watched him, wondering if he was thinking of how his parents had told him they wouldonly be going away for a little while.
He nodded, sitting up. "All right, guess we should both be moving our asses then," he said, slipping off the bed and bringing Chris with him.
Walking across the room under Chris' scrutiny was no hardship at all - and he took it as his due when, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, Chris slipped up behind and kissed the back of his neck and ran a hand over his hip. Toby still wasn't sure he could maintain this level of awareness out in the real world, when Chris wasn't around to reinforce it, but he was sure going to work on it.
"Do you like the way you look?" Chris murmured against his ear, running a hand up Toby's chest, palm flattening over a nipple before gliding back down along his hip, kneading a buttock.
He looked at himself - at them - in the glass, and nodded. "Yeah, I like it a lot." He angled his head around to meet Chris' mouth. "You know what else I like?"
"Umm," Chris nuzzled his shoulder, "tell me."
"You - me - wet and lathered up in a hot, steamy shower."
"Baby, I'm lathered up just thinking about it."
And if there was something cockeyed about how that made him laugh and feel warm at the same time, Toby wasn't going to waste any time analyzing it. No, he felt much more inclined to seize the moment. Suiting action to thought, he caught his lover's hand and tugged him over to the combination tub-and-shower, turning on the water and stepping under its stream as it warmed up. Encouraging Chris to join him there and pulling the curtain shut, Toby reached for the bar of soap, rubbing it over Chris' chest and working up the lather. He set the bar aside and used his hands to work the soap over him, washing away the remnants of their loving. The tangible remnants - his body would be a long time forgetting the rest of it, the enormity of this man's passion. All he had to do was wrap himself around Chris, kiss his mouth, and remember exactly how it felt to have Chris sheathed deep inside him.
He let Chris set him back a step, let him work up a soapy foam and wash him in turn - let him, and reveled in every caress. He couldn't remember the last time anyone had given him a bath but was pretty sure it hadn't been anything like this. Toby stretched and arched into Chris' touch, feeling a delicious jolt in his stomach at the erotic tenderness as Chris turned him around and washed his back, worked soap into his hair.
Despite the steamy, wet warmth surrounding them, he shivered as his lover's mouth ghosted along the back of his neck. Wanting in on that, Toby turned around and framed his face, kissing him long and slow and deep before urging Chris to turn. He washed Chris' back, dropping soft kisses along the nape of his neck before he lathered up the short, dark hair, rinsing it and burying his face there for a moment to breathe in the wet, clean scent of him.
"God," he breathed against Chris' neck, "you smell good."
A laugh rumbled up from the broad chest and Chris turned to face him, cupping his hands around the back of Toby's head. "I'll be sure and stock up on Lifebouy then."
"You do that," Toby said, both of them knowing it didn't have a damn thing to do with the soap.
"The water's getting cold," Chris said a couple moments later as they stood there, holding each other, kissing under its spray.
Toby sighed, stealing one more long kiss, before conceding to reality. Knowing that reality would soon be modified to encompass a lot more moments like this helped - a little. That day couldn't come fast enough for him, of course, but then delayed gratification always had been a problem for him. Small wonder Santa Claus had always waited until the very last minute to put his presents under the tree at Christmas. And if he let himself dwell on that image - Chris, wearing nothing but a strategic red bow and waiting for him under the tree - they were never going to get out of here.
"What?" Chris gave him a puzzled look as they stepped out of the shower and shut off the water.
Toby reached for a towel and began drying him, taking his time about that, and just smiled mysteriously. "Just thinking about what I want for Christmas."
The dubious look deepened and Chris shook his head. "It's the middle of July and you're thinking about Christmas?"
"It's never too soon," Toby told him, gently drying his hair and kissing his mouth again, thinking about them in their own place by Christmas, liking that picture a lot. He had a really good feeling Chris would like it a lot, too.
And sure enough, Toby squinted across the hood of the Packard at him, saying, "That's swell but I've got it under control." To prove his point, he jacked up the front end, setting about removing the flat tire with impressive efficiency.
Chris just smiled and leaned against the phone pole, watching him. Besides, if a flat tire meant he had Toby all to himself for an extra few minutes that could hardly rate as an unwelcome development. Doubly so when, apparently growing warm from the exercise, Toby took a break and peeled out of his sweater just as if he stripped down in public all the time. He didn't even look around to make sure he had anyone's attention, and Chris' smile deepened at that.
He didn't much care for anyone else taking in the view, however. That girl out walking her dog, for instance, and pausing to admire the scenery - he tipped down his sunglasses and gave her a hard look as she drew up to them. She hesitated a moment, then gave the leash a hard tug and hurried on her way. Chris watched until she and the dog vanished around a corner before looking back at what was his alone to ogle.
Not that he could blame anyone for wanting a piece of that action. You'd have to be blind, or dead, not to want to appreciate every line of that hard, lean body. Especially when Toby was moved to put on a bit of a show, stretching, face tipped up to the sun. Chris bit his lip, wanting to lick up that trickle of sweat running down Toby's neck.
And there was nothing casual and innocent in the look Toby threw him then. The blond fuck knew exactly what he was doing, and that tickled Chris almost as much as it did Toby. All the same, it might do him good to get a lesson about the dangers of playing with fire.
He was thinking about that as Toby pulled the sweater back on and stowed everything away in the trunk. Slipping back into the passenger seat, he turned in the seat and gave Toby a thoughtful look as they resumed their journey.
Casting him a slightly worried sideways look, Toby said, "What?" as they pulled up at a stop sign.
Chris shook his head. "Nothing." He slouched down a bit, watching the traffic go by on the cross street -- and just happening to reach over and lay his hand on Toby's thigh.
The blue eyes cut another suspicious look at him, but he just smiled sweetly -- cupping Toby's crotch just as the Packard started forward again. Grinning as the car shot a bit abruptly across the intersection, he moved his hand, relenting for now. They did have a fairly long drive ahead of them, after all.
Unconcerned and unrepentant, Chris flashed him a cocky grin, winked at him and said, "I'll look forward to it." Clearly pleased with himself, he got out of the car, leaning in the window to suggestively drawl, "So - you comin' there, Beech?"
Toby figured it was a good thing he really loved the smug bastard, otherwise he might want to smack him right about now. Well, it was a useful reminder for him that whatever seductive powers he might possess they paled next to the magic Chris could weave. He'd barely even done anything, just a judicious touch here or there, a perfectly pitched comment whispered in his ear, and Toby would have been ready to dive into the backseat right on the Queensboro Bridge.
"The least you could do is be ashamed of yourself," Toby said, getting out of the car.
"Yeah, I'm real sorry I got ya all worked up there," Chris said, not an ounce of sincerity in his voice.
Toby laughed, falling into step beside him as they crossed the street. He supposed there were far more aggravating ways to get pestered, and planning his revenge might be a lot of fun - for both of them. "I might retaliate with no warning."
"I'm counting on it. But you won't be doing anything in the next few minutes."
That much was true enough, and Toby sighed as he looked across the expanse of paving stones to the big fountain spraying water into the air. The other part of his life was waiting over there - Genevieve, with a cluster of shopping bags, and the kids over in the playground, everybody in their Sunday best. The life that could have been, perhaps, but the regrets he felt about its failure didn't cut him so deeply anymore. He had the life he wanted now, or close to it. What stopped things from being perfect was the difference he already sensed as they walked along, a loss of some of that wonderful intimacy he and Chris had enjoyed all this glorious weekend. A very minute shift, granted, but Toby knew he wouldn't have noticed any change at all if that sense of connection to Chris hadn't been so strong before.
He glanced at Chris, sad to see he felt it, too. It was in the slight distance between them, where before Chris would have been sidling up against him like a cat wanting attention. And it was in the rueful quirk of his lips as he caught Toby watching him. "It's okay," Chris said, slipping off his sunglasses and tucking them away in a pocket.
Maybe - but Toby couldn't miss the wistful glimmer in those deep blue eyes. "I hate this," he murmured, and knew Chris knew he meant the unreasonable restrictions imposed on them by the world at large. Would the world really stop spinning on its axis if he and Chris touched, if they embraced and kissed right out here in front of everyone? Well ... maybe. Probably. He couldn't deny a strong impulse to test it out, however. Not to mention he rather liked the idea of them stopping traffic.
On the other hand, he would never hear the end of it from Genevieve - or Chris, for that matter - if he gave into that sudden urge. Still...
"You're not gonna do something nuts, are you?" Chris said, eyeing him warily.
"Do I look like I'm going to do something nuts?"
"Hmph." Toby put his hands in his pockets and took a step back. "It's not fair."
Chris still had a cautious look to him, searching his face. "You've been saying it wouldn't matter."
"I'm not saying anything different now." God, he wished he could touch him, just hold him and kiss him for a moment. "You're not going to be my guilty secret, Chris. Not now or ever." He did touch him then, grasping his elbow for a moment.
"It doesn't matter if the rest of the world knows, Toby."
"Fuck the rest of the world?"
"Yep." Chris moved ever so slightly closer then, looking into his eyes. "It's nobody's business but ours, Toby - and we don't have anything to prove."
No, they didn't, at least not to the rest of the world. Toby smiled, nodding after another moment. "I shall be the soul of discretion," he vowed, not really appreciating the dubious snort of laughter that elicited.
"Yeah? Hey," Chris tipped his head back, a hand shading his eyes as he looked skyward, "did you see that pig go flying by?"
"Oh very funny," Toby grumbled, trying not to laugh. "You're a regular Bob Hope." He couldn't be too grumpy, though, not when Chris' smile rivaled the brightness of the sun, dimples cutting into his cheeks and his eyes sparkling with laughter. And it only brought Toby a tiny pang of guilt now, remembering the baffled hurt he'd seen in those eyes once, the pain he had put there. Never again, he reaffirmed that silent vow, no doubt in his mind that he would keep faithful to that one, at least.
Chris was watching him curiously again, as if trying to read his mind. "Toby...?"
"Nothing." He shook his head, giving him a reassuring smile. "I just wish we could always stay in our little world," he said, suspecting that really did make him sound nuts.
It didn't look like Chris thought so, however. "Me, too." Head cocked just a bit, giving him another of those looks, the kind that made Toby feel like he was every birthday and Christmas present this man had ever hoped for all rolled into one. "It's always there, Toby, whenever we want to find it."
Yes, it would be. Whatever the demands life made on them - kids, work, all of the responsibilities that went with forging a life together - their world would always be there. He could see it every time he looked in Chris' eyes.
He nodded after another moment, looking around the park again and noticing Genevieve had spotted them and was shooting them a look loaded with curiosity. Oh boy. She was hardly oblivious to what was going on between himself and Chris, but still, they hadn't actually sat down and had a heart-to-heart talk about it, either. Even from this distance Toby could tell she was adding two and two and coming up with a sum that intrigued her.
"You gonna park your butt and play some chess, boy?" one geezer demanded out of the blue as they passed by the chess tables, giving him and Chris a belligerent look.
"Not right now," Toby said, having been down this path before and walked away doubting his proficiency at chess and with his wallet lightened by twenty bucks.
"Come on, sit yourself down and play one game, won't be any skin off your nose."
"No, thank you," Toby said, more firmly.
"How about your friend, then? He looks like someone doesn't mind a challenge."
"I know a hustle when I hear one," Chris said, looking amused.
"I'll bet you do," the geezer said, taking no offense. "Used to have that table over there, didn't you?" he went on, pointing. "Sure, I remember you. Said you were doing it to put yourself through college."
"You've got me confused with someone else," Chris said, very politely, clearly aware he had Toby's undivided attention.
"No, sir," the geezer was adamant. "I never forget a face. Always asking us questions about who we were and why we did this. Nosiest youngster I ever met."
"I'm sure it was someone else," Chris said, grasping Toby's arm and tugging to get him away.
"So...?" Toby said once they were out of earshot.
"So - nothing."
"Uh-huh." He shot him a laughing look. "C'mon, cough it up."
With a deep sigh, Chris kicked at a ball that had rolled towards them, watching as a Scottish terrier took off after it. "I was doing research for an article, a human interest piece. That's all."
"And you didn't actually take people's money?" Toby pressed as they walked along, not encouraged by the prolonged silence. "Chris..."
Another sigh. "I won it fair and square. They would have known something was up if I'd refused my winnings." He shrugged. "I wanted to catch them being natural, not putting on a show for Chris Keller, Boy Reporter," he added on a wry note.
Toby laughed then, shaking his head. "Well thank God you never wanted to get the inside scoop on the Ziegfeld Girls."
Chris shot him a sly look, laughter dancing in his eyes again. "You're sure about that, Beech?"
"I'm not even going to try and imagine that."
Chris shrugged again and walked on, whistling a couple of bars of 'A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody.'
"You...had to be there," Toby said, and Genevieve suspected that was likely true in all sorts of ways.
She checked on the children to make sure they weren't really trying to get that Scottie dog away from a little red-haired girl - and even if they were, the redhead looked sturdy enough to hold her own against them. "Is that a new sweater, Toby?" she said, looking back at him and giving him a more thorough inspection. The faded dungarees and brown leather jacket were something different as well, the fit not quite as impeccable as usual. If she was any judge, though, she had a feeling everything would fit Mr. Keller like a glove.
"Ah," Toby shrugged, looking just a bit self-conscious, "no, it's...just something I borrowed." He shot Mr. Keller a quick glance, looking far more pleased with himself than embarrassed.
"Well it suits you," she said, catching him by surprise. That wasn't why she'd said it, though. He did look good. Relaxed and happy, bubbling with mischief and excitement. And it wasn't quite true that she had never seen him like that. She hadn't appreciated that playfulness when it might have made all the difference, however, and she felt the pang of that regret digging just a bit deeper.
If this side of Toby wasn't completely unfamiliar to her, it had been a long time since Genevieve had seen him this at ease and content. Lately she had thought the children were the only ones who could still bring out that sense of fun in him. Evidently - and her dark eyes cut a speculative look at his friend - Tobias had found someone else to play with. And she wasn't entirely sure how she felt about that.
"Thanks," Toby said, giving her a doubtful look, as if suspecting some double meaning in her words. "So where's the Rolls?" he said, sitting down beside her.
She smiled, rather enjoying the possibility of keeping him on his toes for a chance. "I sent it back." That had felt pretty good, too.
Mr. Keller gave her a thoughtful look at that as he sat down beside Toby, saying, "Lot of gals might've kept something like that."
Genevieve's mouth twitched with a smile, both at his faint air of disapproval and his clear intention of sticking close to Toby. She had her doubts about her ex needing anyone to look out for him, he had a streak of resilience that went a mile deep, but there was something sweet about it all the same. "I suppose they would, Mr. Keller. This gal wants to set a better example for her daughter, though." She was only starting to realize just how much she meant that.
"Yeah?" Mr. Keller's manner was still on the frosty side. "Left it kinda late in the day, didn't you?"
"Perhaps," she conceded. "But better late than never, wouldn't you say?" She thinned her lips out to keep from smiling as she noted Toby giving them both an anxious look.
His attempt to change the subject was fairly blatant. "This all yours or the kids'?" he said, nudging a shopping bag with his toe.
"Both," Genevieve said, waiting for the inevitable lecture about spoiling them - only this time she had something to use in retaliation.
"You don't need to buy them things all the time. They have everything they need."
She gave him a long look, as serious and severe as she could make it. "Really? Only what they need, you never get them anything extravagant?"
Toby was giving her a more deeply suspicious look, as though sensing he might be walking right into something. "I try not to, yes."
"Hmm," Genevieve pursed her lips thoughtfully, "so you didn't tell Holly she could have a pony?"
Looking sheepish, Toby said, "No."
"Umm hmm. But you didn't absolutely tell her she couldn't have one?"
The sheepish look deepened. "Not in so many words, no. I assume she knows it's a moot point."
"Tobias," she tried not to be too exasperated with him, "eight-year-olds don't know what 'moot' means." She glanced at Mr. Keller in time to catch him smiling as if he was enjoying the exchange. There was something wistful in his expression, too, as though he was the one feeling excluded now. Genevieve was startled to find that didn't give her any sense of satisfaction. So much so that she smiled over at him and said, "He's not very good at saying no to the children, especially Holly."
"Yeah, I've noticed that," Mr. Keller replied, returning a mostly neutral look. She felt he might be de-frosting a every so slightly.
Looking huffy, Toby said, "I tell them no all the time."
About to challenge that, Genevieve was surprised when Mr. Keller beat her to it, saying, "Yeah? Name the last time."
Sniffing this time, Toby folded his arms over his chest, looking back and forth at them with an air of being picked on. "Thursday morning - they started in about wanting a dog like Fala again, and I told them no."
"Yeah," Mr. Keller drawled out, looking over at the playground, "I can see that really sank in with them."
Following his gaze, Genevieve rolled her eyes and sighed, catching sight of her little brood. They were all clustered around the Scottish terrier, petting him, Holly shooting looks at the little redhead girl like she'd just better not try and take the Scottie away. Genevieve gave Toby a genuinely hard look then. "Well?"
With another huff, Toby stood up, calling over, "Hey! Get over here!" Adding, "Leave the dog!" as Gary made to pick it up and bring it along as they raced over.
Whatever charms the poor Scottie possessed, it clearly couldn't hold a candle to the prospect of swarming around their father. Relinquishing the dog to the little redhead, the trio surrounded Toby, clamoring for his attention as if he had been away from them for weeks and not just a couple of days. Genevieve tried not to envy that, but it was hard. Being a first-hand witness to the mutual adoration society between the children and their father diluted that pain just a bit.
They dove into the shopping bags, wanting to show Toby their latest treasures, and chattering all the while about everything that had happened since he'd last seen them. It always amazed her that he could follow each thread of conversation, and Genevieve looked over to see how Mr. Keller was taking it all. There was a look of regret in his eyes for a moment, something sad touching his faint smile that piqued her curiosity about him. Given he was evidently what her mother had always delicately referred to as a confirmed bachelor, Genevieve would have expected him to view the children with anything from alarm to hostility. Instead, Mr. Keller looked curious and amused, and far more tolerant than she would have expected as, having become truly aware of his presence now, the children turned their attention to him.
Genevieve watched very attentively as first Harry and then Gary showed him their toys. Mr. Keller very seriously examined first Harry's fire engine, following very closely as Harry demonstrated how it worked: rolling it on the ground and setting off its lights and beeping the horn, and then the toy motorcycle Gary showed him. It seemed Mr. Keller rode a real motorcycle and Gary wanted his expert opinion on the performance of the little bike. Holly was watching this interaction as well, and Genevieve exchanged a knowing look with Toby as, having made up her mind she wanted in on this, Holly approached Mr. Keller and sat down beside him, holding out her new doll.
"Is your Mr. Keller a connoisseur of dolls?" she whispered to her ex-husband.
Hands stuffed in his pockets as he looked on, Toby shrugged and said, "It wouldn't surprise me."
Mr. Keller was asking if the doll had a name and Holly frowned, thinking that over as she examined the doll - a Spanish senorita in a red, ruffled silk dress, black lace shawl and matching mantilla covering her hair, one hand flaring out a fan.
"Not yet," Holly said, giving him a curious, serious look. "What would you name her?"
Leaning in, Gary said, "Mommy told us she's supposed to be a flamingo dancer."
That earned a cross look from Holly who huffily informed him, "Flamenco dancer. Flamingos are those pink birds at the zoo."
Not convinced, Gary looked to Mr. Keller for confirmation.
Mr. Keller nodded and said, "Yep, flamingos are the birds."
"It's funny how they're pink," Gary said, racing the motorcycle against Harry's fire engine.
"It's because of what they eat," Chris said, earning a trio of fascinated looks.
"How come?" Harry said, tiny face scrunched up as he thought about it.
"Well," Mr. Keller evidently took this inquiry just as seriously, leaning in a bit towards them, "did you ever eat too many carrots?" All three golden heads shook in unison. "Well if you ever did, your skin'd turn orange from it. That's what happens to the flamingos."
That earned him a trio of skeptical, thoughtful looks, and Genevieve whispered to Toby, "So much for ever getting them to eat their vegetables now."
Toby only smiled, looking tickled.
Holly wanted to get back to her doll, saying, "Did you ever see a flamenco dance?"
"Umm hmm, lots of times when I was in Spain," Mr. Keller said. He looked the doll over again, telling her, "She looks like a girl I knew there, her name was Rosario."
"Did she flamenco dance?"
"Were you in love with her?"
About to reprimand her daughter for asking something so personal, Genevieve instead listened with nearly as much interest as Toby as Mr. Keller smiled and said, "A little bit."
Holly gave him an even more serious look then, asking, "Were you married to Kitty then?"
With a look of wry resignation, Mr. Keller said, "I was, yes."
"Oh. Is that how come you got divorced?"
Genevieve glanced at Toby, wondering if one of them ought to step in and apologize for Holly being so forward. She could tell he was finding these revelations terribly riveting, however, and couldn't deny her own curiosity was increasing with every word.
Mr. Keller just smiled at Holly, scratching the side of his face as he told her, "No, not because of Rosario."
"Oh." Holly considered that, taking the doll from him and looking her over. "What does Rosario mean?"
"A beautiful rose."
Thinking it over some more, Holly nodded. "That might do," she said, her manner implying she would at least give the suggestion all due consideration before making her final decision.
Taking it all in, Genevieve tilted her head towards Toby, whispering, "I take it she approves of him?"
Toby shrugged. "She invited him to a tea party."
Genevieve raised her eyebrows, impressed. She had only received a few invitations to those occasions, and had witnessed her daughter imperiously snubbing Miss McClain in particular, when Katherine had been trying to worm her way into the family. It was moments like that when Genevieve caught a rather frightening glimpse of Victoria in her daughter. Very like the one that showed in Toby every so often, actually, although he likely would not appreciate the comparison.
"Toby," she took his arm and drew him over to the little group, "why don't you take the children for a walk and explain why it isn't very practical to keep a pony on Fifth Avenue. Mr. Keller and I will just sit here and get better acquainted."
She had to fight to keep her expression utterly composed as the pair of them exchanged a worried look, Mr. Keller giving Toby a reassuring nod after a moment. Toby nodded back, still looking concerned, but he gathered the children together and headed back over to the playground. Genevieve watched them, smiling as Toby tried to keep them from chasing after the little Scottie again.
"They adored Clarence," she said, turning to her husband's new friend. "He was Toby's Bull terrier. He got him the year before he started law school. He was a funny little thing - Clarence, that is," she added with a wry smile, "and the children adored him. He had to be put to sleep a couple of years ago and they've been pestering Toby ever since for another pet."
Mr. Keller nodded, giving her another neutral look. "It's good for kids to have a pet."
"Yes, I think so. But I think Toby's been reluctant to get attached like that again." She looked directly at him. "It appears he might be getting over that."
Mr. Keller stretched his legs out, arms folded loosely over his chest. "You think so?"
"Mr. Keller--" she began, pausing to ask, "May I call you Chris? Please call me Gen." It was rather ridiculous to be formal, under the circumstances.
He shrugged. "Sure."
"Chris, I wasn't born yesterday. I may not know precisely what's going on with you and my husband--"
She took a breath, nodded. "Yes. You're right, of course. My only claim on Toby now is through the children. That's an important connection, though, Chris, and I hope you appreciate that."
He sat up straighter, giving her a suspicious look. "Meaning...?"
"Meaning," she looked down at her purse, fiddling with the clasp, "their well-being is the most important thing to me. If you're going to be a part of their lives, I think I have a right to know something about you."
"Well," she paused, thinking that over, realizing she had at least a thousand questions, "let's start with the simplest thing. Who's Kitty?"
While Chris couldn't say this was an entirely new experience for him, it was the first time he'd had a wife grilling him. If she were any other gal he'd just turn up the charm and see if he could get her eating out of his hand. Running his gaze over her sitting there, all prim and proper, he bet he could do it, too, easy. Chris looked over at the playground right then, at Toby pushing Holly on the swing while the boys clambered over the monkey bars, and put that idea right out of his head. Either he was going to take this completely seriously, or...he was going to lose Toby. Choices didn't come any easier, did they?
He sat up straight and gave Genevieve a considering look. In her shoes he'd have a few questions all right, and there was no faulting her being concerned over what kind of influence he might be on the kids. After all, he wasn't too sure of that himself. "Kitty's my ex - Catherine Keller. She works as a secretary for a private eye named McManus. Toby knows her."
"I see. And how long were you married?"
"Six years," he said, watching that surprise her.
"So," she smoothed a white-gloved hand over an imaginary wrinkle in her light gray skirt, broaching what she clearly believed was a delicate subject, "was it an arrangement for...companionship?"
Chris smiled, getting an idea of how her mind was running. "No, ma'am, it wasn't for companionship. Keeping each other company's something we never really got down."
Genevieve gave him a thoughtful look, turning that over. "Forgive me, Chris, I...just assumed..."
"Yeah, I can see where you would." He smiled again, wanting to put her at ease - and himself, come to that. Awkward didn't begin to cover this, but maybe it would get better from here on in. For one thing, if her idea was to kick up trouble and warn him off, he didn't think she'd be sitting here trying to make conversation. "Our marriage was as real as yours and Toby's." Probably more so, but he let that remain unsaid.
She nodded, fiddling with the clasp of her handbag now. "I suppose Toby's told you all about that?" she said, trying to sound like it didn't matter much to her.
Chris' mouth quirked with a tiny smile as he decided to go easy on her. "He's covered the pertinent points."
She looked up at him, skeptical, a little bit rueful. "Yes, that sounds like him." Frowning, her shoulders lifted an infinitesimal fraction. "We may have been badly matched, Chris, but we tried to do our best by the children. My mother-in-law," her mouth took a more bitter twist then, "stipulated the terms of the divorce for me, but even without Victoria's insistence Toby and I would never have dragged the children through some public spectacle."
He nodded, getting the point pretty clearly. "I respect that. Look, Gen," he leaned in closer, looking at her dead on, "if you're worried about gossip, what your high society friends are going to whisper behind our backs--"
"Believe it or not, Chris, I really don't give a damn about that," she said, meeting his gaze, a lot of honesty showing in her own eyes. "I did, once - and look where it got me," she added with a touch of self-deprecation. "Forgive me, but I've gotten the impression you're something of a shady character, Chris." A flash of amusement in her eyes softened that. "That's my chief concern."
He blinked, sitting back and giving her a reassessing look, wondering what she might have heard. It shouldn't be a surprise that Vern might have dropped a few choice bombshells, but Chris couldn't deny it took him just a bit unawares to have her come right out with something like that. "What makes you say that?" he said, eyeing her warily now.
"Oh, I don't know," she cocked her head a bit, still with that faintly humorous air, "perhaps you pretending to be Toby's long lost best friend."
"Ah," he gave her a rueful look now, "you know about that, huh?"
"I figured it out."
He sighed, looking at his hands clasped between his knees. "That's a... long story."
"They usually are when Toby's involved," she remarked, meeting his eyes again, her own smiling.
"Yeah, I guess you'd know, huh?" Chris sat up again, shrugging. "Mary Pete and I were just supposed to get exclusive coverage of your wedding to Schillinger. Things just," his brows drew together in a frown, "got what you'd call complicated."
"Yes, that happens a lot, too, when Toby's around." Genevieve gave him another interested look. "I believe you were acquainted with Vernon?"
"Yeah, you could call it that."
"No, ma'am." He hesitated a moment, then, "Look, whatever Vern might've told you about me--"
"Before I believe any scrap of gossip, Chris, I try to consider the source," she said, giving him a no nonsense look that let him know she held her former fianc's views in dubious regard. She nodded after another moment, no trace of regret in her manner. "Mary Pete - that's Mrs. Reimondo?" she went on, nodding with him. "And she's not really your aunt?"
"No. Look, Gen," he didn't begrudge her curiosity and all, but he felt they were just dancing around the real point here, "we can sit here and you can grill me all day, but what it comes down to is: Do you trust Toby's judgment?" He looked at her very seriously then, seeing her acknowledge that.
"His judgment - yes," she said, no hesitation. "He can be awfully soft-hearted when he cares about someone, though."
"Yeah, he can. I'm planning on taking really good care of that for him."
She watched his face, nodding after a moment. "I believe you are, Chris," she said, standing up. "Don't be too obvious about it, though," she added, with something close to a wink.
He smiled back at her, starting to think this might all work out after all. She wasn't quite what he had expected, namely a cold and humorless bitch, but he'd keep his fingers crossed all the same, just to be on the safe side.
They stood there, looking over at the playground just in time to see Harry start to tumble from the monkey bars, Toby catching him just in time. Appearing to find her father remiss in not delivering the boys a lecture over their carelessness, Holly slipped off the swing and faced them, little hands planted on her hips as she took them to task.
"I can't think who she reminds me of," Genevieve remarked, deadpan.
"No," Chris returned just as straight-faced, "me, neither."
Trading something close to a conspiratorial smile with him, Genevieve started gathering up the shopping bags, accepting his help. They walked over to join the little group just as the boys were rolling their eyes and pointedly ignoring their sister, as evidenced by their return to the monkey bars.
"Everything okay?" Toby said, giving him and Genevieve an anxious look.
"Uh-huh." Chris set down the bags he was carrying and caught Gary as his grip on a bar started to slip, steadying the boy until he'd gotten readjusted. "You okay there?"
"Yes, thank you."
"Everything's fine, Toby," Genevieve was saying, giving Chris another thoughtful look that seemed to hold a tinge of approval. "Why don't we go put the children's things in your car?" she suggested, giving Chris another look. "You won't mind watching the children for a moment?"
"Nah, no problem." Well - he caught Holly giving him a faintly ominous look that made him temper his optimism just a bit - how hard could it be?
He watched Toby and Genevieve walk off, then looked around and down at a tug on his pant leg. "Yeah?" he said to Harry.
"Go slide?" the littlest Beecher said, pointing a grubby little hand.
Trying to recall if he'd had the magical ability to get dirty without hardly trying at that age, Chris nodded. "Sure, don't see why not." He looked at Holly, anticipating a list of reasons to be offered, with footnotes, as to why this would be ill advised.
Instead she simply pointed out, "You'd better fix his shoes first."
Obeying with a smile, Chris knelt and tied the laces up snug again, following along and keeping close as Harry climbed up the little ladder. Accomplishing this feat with no trouble, Harry followed up by whizzing down the slide with gleeful laughter. This attracted Gary's attention, and the older boy promptly dropped from the monkey bars to join in. And sure enough, in about thirty seconds Holly was off the swing and over there, too, lower lip pooching out stubbornly as Gary informed her:
"You can't slide, everyone'll see your underpants."
"No they won't," Holly countered, looking to Chris for back up.
He shrugged. "It could happen," he told her, watching as she weighed the attractions of the slide versus the possibility of showing her underpants. He couldn't say he was surprised at her decision, and he bit back a smile as she proceeded to climb up the ladder, one hand keeping her dress tucked around her legs as she got up there and shot on down.
Giving Gary a firm, `So there,' look that dared him to dispute she had proved her point, Holly was content to leave the boys to the slide as she went back to the swing. "You can push me," she told Chris.
"Yes, ma'am," he said, smiling and getting the feeling no one was ever going to get away with pushing her too much.
"How come you haven't been around more?" she said, swaying back and forth. "Daddy said you've been working a lot." Her tone implied this was not a completely acceptable excuse.
"Yeah, there's been a lot to do," Chris said, looking over at Toby standing by the Packard now with Genevieve. He hadn't really believed it when Toby'd said the kids had been asking about him, and he wasn't quite prepared to find out it might be true. "I wanted to see your dad, all of you," he told her. And he guessed it was about time he admitted the kids really were part of the package. He'd tried not to get too attached to them - with about as much success as he'd had in resisting their father. Smiling, he pushed her again, saying, "You must have had lots to do since coming back."
"Daddy took us to the zoo," she said.
"Yeah? You see the flamingos there?"
She nodded. "And the monkeys and tigers and bears," she said as the boys, tiring of the slide, came over.
"I like the snakes," Gary said, "and the lizards."
"They're icky," Holly said.
Harry nodded, apparently in accord with her on this.
"You got scared of the birds," Gary informed his sister.
Harry nodded again, confirming Gary's version of events this time.
Smiling, Chris said, "How `bout you, Harry? What's your favorite animal at the zoo?"
"Giraffes," Holly corrected.
"They don't look real," Gary said.
"Yeah? I saw one in Africa looked real enough," Chris said, wondering if he should have thought twice before mentioning that because now he really had their undivided attention.
Trying to follow their bombardment of questions while casting a look over at Toby, hoping to be rescued as they clustered around him, Chris gave them the best Reader's Digest version of his trip to Africa that he could come up with on the spot. The trouble was, the more he told them about seeing the Pyramids and mummies, and crocodiles and lions and giraffes, the more, "Whys, how comes, and what abouts?" he got from them in return.
"Did you shoot anything?" Gary wanted to know, looking a shade disappointed when Chris told him no, only with a camera.
"Actually I saw most of it from the air, anyway," he added, doing another mental `uh-oh,' as the trio of wide blue eyes fixed on him just that much more closely.
"You flew in a plane?" Holly said.
"Uh, yeah, this gal out there offered to give me a ride."
"Who was she?" Holly was giving him a suspicious look now.
"Her name was Millicent."
Eyes narrowing, Holly pursued this. "Were you in love with her, too?"
Thinking of Millie, old enough to be his grandmother, he was able to reassure her, "No, we were just friends."
He tried not to smile, glancing at Harry who was tugging at his sleeve. "What?"
Looking concerned, Harry asked, "Scared?"
"To fly?" He shook his head. "It was fun." At least after about the first five minutes.
"We went to England and France a couple years ago," Gary said. "But that was on a boat. Holly was seasick all the time."
"No I wasn't."
Attempting to stave this off, Chris said, "I got sick the first time I was on a boat." That got him a look from Holly that indicated she might consider that support as mitigating his flagrant dalliances with strange women around the world.
"Was it when you were little?" she said.
"Nope, I was all grown up."
"Do you get sick now?"
"Not seasick," he said, casting another look over at Toby and sighing. It was the novelty of having someone new to pester, he supposed. Once they got the idea he was going to be around a lot that was bound to wear off and the questioning would let up.
Although - he looked around at their bright, inquisitive little faces - maybe he wouldn't start holding his breath just yet.
Toby glanced back over at Chris and the kids, grinning at his lover's slightly harried look as the kids hemmed him in, clearly fascinated with whatever he was telling them. That was something he could easily understand. "No, he's fine. He's been in combat." Three small children had to pale in comparison to the trauma of being a wartime correspondent. Then again...
"Does he have children with Kitty?"
"Ah," Toby looked at her, remembering the sadness that would touch Chris' eyes whenever that came up, "no, they didn't have any." It wasn't his place to elaborate on that, especially when it still hurt Chris to talk about his unborn child.
Changing the subject somewhat, he said, "So...?"
"So... He's not what I expected."
Toby shrugged. "I know."
She gave him a long, searching look, her own eyes filled with a lot of doubts and questions still. He appreciated that she was really trying to understand, though. Even knowing he was romantically involved with another woman might have been difficult for her to come to terms with.
And as if she had been thinking along similar lines, she gave him a wry smile, saying, "I suppose I should be flattered that you couldn't find another woman to replace me."
"Gen..." He reached out to touch her arm. "No one's replacing you."
Her smile taking a more bitter turn for a second as she looked past him to the children, she said, "No? It feels like a popularity contest." She sighed. "But then it always did."
Toby gave her a sad little smile, saying, "It doesn't have to be that way, it never did. You're their mother, Gen, nothing's going to change that. They're always going to need you."
"We'll see." She could have sounded more optimistic, but Toby supposed her inclination to harsh doses of reality of late was an important step along the way to fixing the things she thought were wrong with her. "I do want you to be happy, Toby. I don't resent that."
Head cocked a bit, he gave her gentle look, nudging, "You sure about that?"
With a self-deprecating air, she gave a small shrug. "Maybe a little." She sighed, shook her head. "It's not as if I'd be much use to him even if some tall, dark, handsome stranger came along to sweep me off my feet."
Toby winced at the bitterness that underscored her words again, wishing he knew how to help her. "There are things you can do about that. Maybe getting swept off your feet would give you that incentive."
"Love conquers all, Toby?" she said, teasing him, but with a look in her eyes that said she might like to believe that.
"I don't know about that, but," he looked over at Chris, "it can give you a good kick in the pants to straighten up."
Genevieve gave him a surprisingly fond look. "I suppose if I tried to make a fuss you would pull out all the stops to flatten me like a pancake?"
He replied with perfect amiability, "You bet your ass, sweetheart."
She laughed then, shaking her head again. "He asked me if I trust your judgment."
"And... I think I do."
"Well that's something." And he supposed it was too soon to expect a ringing endorsement. It was a lot to get used to; that Gen was even willing to give that a try was pretty remarkable. "Thank you," he said, looking at her and feeling another of those pangs of regret, wondering why they couldn't have understood each other like this before. The pang was a good deal less profound than it used to be, though, and he didn't have to look far to find the reason for that.
She smiled, nodding. "Did you straighten the pony thing out?"
"Ah," he shrugged, "more or less."
"I'm sure she understands the inherent impracticalities of the situation."
"Oh, yes, I'm sure she does," Genevieve said, a note of dry amusement in her voice. She checked her dainty wristwatch then, a Christmas gift from him from a few years ago, and said, "I'd better be going. I have a lot of packing to do."
Toby nodded, waving at Chris to bring the kids over - trying not to laugh at the pronounced look of relief on Chris' face. "You're sure you want to do this?"
She nodded, visibly squaring her shoulders. "I have to. The sooner I tell them all to go to hell, face to face, the sooner I can get on with my life."
He smiled, squeezing her hand. "You should have done that years ago."
She arched an eyebrow at him. "Even if Victoria would have had a conniption?"
He shrugged. "A few conniptions might have done her a world of good."
"Who's having a conniption?" Chris said as he and the children reached them, giving Toby a searching look.
Quickly soothing the tiny flash of anxiety in those blue eyes, Toby said, "Certain members of Gen's family, as soon as she gets to California." At Chris' puzzled look, he added, "I'll explain later." Preferably when little ears weren't around to soak up every word. Someday they would need to understand that their mother's side of the family was mostly composed of free loaders - but not right now.
He stopped a taxi for her while she said goodbye to the kids, trying not to be exasperated as they got promises to bring them all back something from California. Waving her off, he sighed and looked around at the rest of his family, smiling as his eyes met Chris'. "Up for more?"
If Chris' reply, "Yeah," carried an excess of trepidation, at least he wasn't trying to make a break for it.
Toby laughed, grasping his elbow for a moment. "I told you they missed you."
He shrugged, looking a bit shy of that, but nodded after a moment. "Guess they come by their curiosity naturally."
Toby gave him a mock grumpy look. "Are you implying something?"
Returning an amused, innocent look, Chris said, "Nah, of course not. We know you don't have a pesky bone in your body."
"Hmph. Well," he smiled, looking at the kids, "are you hungry?" At their nods he opened the back door, saying, "Patsy's Pancake Palace all right with everybody?"
"Do we have to go there?" Holly said, a whiny tone accompanying the tiny huff she made.
"We always go there," Gary chimed in.
"We always go there because you like it," Toby said patiently. "Now get in the car."
"But it's for babies," Holly said.
"Babies." Harry confirmed his opinion with a nod of his head.
Refraining from asking if they would prefer the "21" club, Toby was about to lay down the law when Chris squatted down, meeting them at eye level. "I know a place right down the street that's pretty nice," he said, looking at them very seriously. "You'll have to be very grown up, though. Can you do that?"
They shared a long look between them, nodding eagerly.
"And this place would be?" Toby said as Chris stood up again.
Looking a bit uncertain, Chris said, "Caff Reggio, down there," he pointed along the street. "That okay?" He shot Toby a quick, worried look, as if thinking he might have overstepped some imaginary boundary.
"It's fine," Toby said, giving him warm smile to back it up. "You promise to be good?" he said, looking back at the kids.
They nodded again, anxious for this latest adventure.
"All right," he smiled, taking Harry's hand as they started across the street, "let's go."
Chris shrugged, holding out a chair for Holly. "They'll survive." He watched Harry getting situated, a phone book giving him a boost. "You okay there?"
Taking a moment to think it over, Harry replied with a nod conveying utter aplomb with things and leaned into the table, watching as menus were handed around to everyone - except him. He gave the collegeaged waiter, crisp and serious in his vest and bow tie, a look of affronted dismay at this oversight, clearly expecting something to be done about it. The young man hesitated an instant before forking over a menu at a small nod from Toby. Satisfied, Harry sat back and looked it over with a great deal of interest, apparently not minding in the least that he couldn't actually read it. Gary was soon leaning in for a whispered consultation that took care of that and involved frequent turning of pages and pointing out relevant items.
Holly meanwhile had her face scrunched up with thought as she gave the menu a thorough examination. "What's a pro...pro-ski-ooo-toto?" she asked, a profoundly dubious note underscoring her voice.
Baffled, Chris craned his neck to see what she was looking at, and - valiantly trying not to smile - carefully corrected her, "Prosciutto." At her doubtful look, he sounded it out for her, "Pro-shoe-toe."
"Toe." She frowned over that, looking at the menu again. "They could spell it better."
"Yes," Toby said, eyes sparkling as he watched Chris struggling not to laugh, "darn those Italians."
That really didn't help and Chris took a drink of water, shaking his head at him.
"So what it is?"
"It's just a kind of ham," Chris told her.
"Oh." She nodded, perusing some more.
Toby looked at the boys, their blond heads bent together over the menus. "How about you two, anything look good?"
With no hesitation, Gary declared, "Ice cream."
Harry nodded with enthusiastic concurrence. "Ice ceam!"
"Umm umm." Toby shook his head. "You can't have just ice cream."
Evidently prepared for this, Gary said, "What about waffles?" Harry appeared to have no problems with endorsing this as well.
Holly sighed dramatically. "You always have waffles or pancakes or scrambled eggs. You could have had waffles at Patsy's Pancakes."
"We like waffles and pancakes and scrambled eggs," Gary returned.
"We went to France and all you ever had was waffles and pancakes and scrambled eggs."
Gary sniffed. "We didn't spend the whole trip throwing up, either." Having scored a good one, he sat back as Holly did a slow burn.
"That's enough," Toby said, gently admonishing his oldest son. With a thoughtful look at Holly, he said, "I don't know, it's hard to choose, everything looks good. Chris, what would you recommend?"
Chris looked the menu over, thinking about what might be exotic enough for Holly without being too much. "The bruschetta's always good." He looked at Holly. "Do you like tomatoes?"
"No," Toby said, "she hates--"
Holly cut him off. "I like tomatoes."
Toby gave her a look. "You do?"
Toby looked at Chris, shrugging.
"What is it exactly?" Holly said.
"It's just toasted Italian bread, with tomatoes and cheese and garlic."
Thinking it over, she looked through the menu some more. Striving to sound like she was only pointing out a matter of etiquette, she said, "You're supposed to have something like an omelet for brunch."
"An omelet would be good," Chris said, seeing how torn she was between wanting to try something different and yet not risk more teasing from Gary if it didn't agree with her.
"You don't want the brew...brew--"
She nodded. "You don't want that?"
"Well," Chris thought it over, "maybe we could try them both?"
Giving it some consideration, she said, "That might be all right." Curious, she said, "How come you can speak Italian?"
"Well, my mother came from Italy, for one thing."
"Oh. What was her name?"
"Francesca," he said, smiling at Toby appearing to have all his attention focused on the menu, as if he couldn't possibly be interested in eavesdropping.
"Was she beautiful?"
"How come she came to America?"
"Because she wanted to be with my father, and this is where he was." Chris could practically see Toby's ears perking up.
Looking like she thought this might be her idea of a good story, too, Holly said, "Was she running away from her family?"
He shook his head. "She came to live with one of her brothers - that's my uncle. He and my father were friends."
She thought that over, frowning a bit. "It would be a better story if she had to run away to marry him."
Chris nodded. "I suppose it might."
Stepping in, Toby said, "Everything can't be like a story in a book."
"Hmph," was all Holly had to say about that as she set her menu down. Her manner implied she might see about correcting that state of affairs when she grew up. "What was your father's name?"
"Was he handsome?"
"Umm, I think so."
She gave him a long, thoughtful look as if studying his features. He could practically hear her thinking she bet that's where he got his nose. If so, however, she confined herself to asking, "How come he was in Italy?"
"He was taking pictures for a magazine."
"Did he take a picture of Francesca?"
"Yep, just as she was coming out of church."
Holly looked like she thought this sounded good. "Did they fall in love right then?"
Chris smiled, looking over at Toby. "They always said they did." His smile turned fond and wistful. "I never used to believe that."
Toby smiled back, saying, "You should always believe stories like that." Looking at the kids he went on, "So -- everyone ready to order?" Putting down his menu and signaling the waiter to come back, he looked at Chris again, adding, "I bet you even come around to believing in happy endings."
Chris knew he wouldn't be at all surprised.
Remembering his own tendency to gawk back in the day, and how it had always stung a bit when Gerry grew exasperated with that, Chris did his best to field all the questions from the kids - what was that and what did it do and how come? They were especially intrigued by all the people they saw settled in with books and newspapers, some of them scribbling away in notebooks as they ate and drank their espresso.
"What's that man doing?" Gary asked, indicating another elderly gentleman a couple of tables away, gazing out the window at the street, then jotting something down in a notebook every couple of minutes.
"He's a poet," Chris said. "He's probably capturing inspiration."
"How do you do that?"
"You..." Chris hesitated, looking at the curious little faces - and one not so little - wondering if they could really be interested in that, and shrugged. "You just watch people, what they're doing, and it makes you think of what you're trying to write about, little details you might put in somewhere. And you," he shrugged again, glad to see the waiter coming over with their food, "write it down so you don't lose the idea."
"Do you come here and do that?" Holly said.
"Can't you just make stuff up?" Gary said.
"The news has to be true," Toby pointed out.
Mouth quirking with a smile, Chris amended that, "For the most part anyway."
"You write made up stories, though." Holly looked at him for confirmation of that, taking a dainty bite of apple from the salad.
"Sometimes, yes. You need to find that little spark of inspiration just as much for true stories, though," Chris said, looking for a way to hand the conversation off to their father for a while. "It's like what your father does when he tries a case," he went on, aiming a pointed look at his lover. "How he has to find a particular angle that makes the jury sympathetic to his client."
"Well, I don't know about that," Toby started, his impish smile warring with a look of understanding in his eyes, "but sometimes Grandpa and I have to deal with someone who makes our job a little more difficult than it needs to be, and we have to find a way to make everyone happy." He took a bite of the pasta he'd ordered, a thoughtful look coming into his eyes. "As a matter of fact, right now we're dealing with this lady who wants to leave all her money to her pets, and that's giving us some headaches."
"Doesn't she have any kids?" Gary said.
"Yes, but she prefers her pets."
"That's not very nice," Holly said. Even Harry appeared to think this sounded loony.
"Well, you haven't met her kids," Toby said, smiling, "but no, it's not quite right." And as they ate - the boys deciding to sample a little bit of everything after all -- he held their interest with the story of this eccentric old lady with more money than common sense, living on Fifth Avenue with her menagerie of pets.
"We live on Fifth Avenue," Holly said thoughtfully, taking a bite of her omelet and eyeing Chris' bruschetta.
"That's right," Toby said.
"Does she keep the animals right there?" Holly chanced a bite of the bruschetta and finding it agreeable, made room on her plate for more as Chris split it with her.
"Even the monkeys?" Gary said.
"And garaffes?" Harry added.
"No giraffes, but yes, even the monkeys."
Face screwed up as if spotting a flaw, Holly said, "How come we've never seen them?"
"Well, she keeps them all indoors."
"All the time?"
"All the time."
While Gary looked like he was trying to figure out the logistics of how that was possible, and Harry was contemplating what it would be like to have your very own zoo, that same thought appeared to be striking Holly as something less than entirely desirable.
"Where do they go to the bathroom?"
"Right there," Toby said, just as if every word was absolutely true.
Even Harry looked like he found that a highly suspect set-up.
Toby went on to explain how this had all started when this lady was just a little girl and wanted every animal she ever saw, and no one ever told her no. As he listened to the story, finding it increasingly implausible, it suddenly dawned on Chris that there was a method to his lover's whimsy.
"Guess I'm not the only who can spin a story," Chris said as they left the caf and started back towards the park.
Toby returned a perfectly innocent look as they strolled along. "I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about."
"Uh-huh. So, where exactly does Mrs. Everhardt-Bradley live?"
Toby sniffed. "Are you asking me to violate attorney-client confidentiality?"
"Nah, `course not," Chris said, laughing and drawing looks from the kids as if they suspected they might be missing something.
"Well, at least Genevieve can't say I didn't try now."
"They might not even want a dog anymore," Chris said as they reached the park.
Toby sighed as the kids, spotting a large, chocolate colored poodle over by the fountain, went chasing after it. "Yeah, you think?"
"So..." Chris looked at him. "Gen's going out of town?"
"For how long?"
"Umm, not sure. A couple of weeks at least."
"Maybe more," Toby ruthlessly pressed it home, touching his arm lightly.
"Fuck." He sighed. "Your dad can't look after the kids?"
"Well, he can, yes, but he does occasionally have plans of his own."
Giving him a thoughtful look, Chris said, "And if I happened to be living somewhere a lot closer to Fifth Avenue than Jackson Heights, how would that change things?"
"Well, we could have a rendezvous--"
"And an assignation."
"And assignations," he smiled, "on a much more regular basis."
"Daily?" Chris whispered, standing close enough for Toby to feel the puff of air.
He sighed, needing every ounce of self-restraint not to wrap himself around the provocative bastard and give everyone a show. "Hourly, even," he whispered back. His one consolation, as he looked into Chris' eyes, was knowing the other man was fighting the same struggle to keep from pouncing then and there.
"I don't know about that, but..." Chris sighed again. "Let me think about it?"
"Oh, yes, I want you to think about it, Keller. I want you think long and hard about everything."
"You can count on it, Beecher." Using the excuse of straightening his jacket collar, Chris' fingers brushed along Toby's neck for an instant. "You know I want to, right?" he said, giving him a really serious, intent look. "It's just..."
"Kind of scary?"
"Yeah," Chris breathed it out with some relief, as if admitting it helped.
Toby nodded. "I know. I'm scared, too. But you know what worries me most?" he said, squeezing Chris' shoulder.
"Never taking the chance at all?" Chris nodded, not hiding his concerns or how much he longed to do this. "We can take it in steps, right?"
"However many you need."
Watching his face, Chris nodded again. With a deep breath, he stepped back a bit as if knowing they were far too close to casting all discretion to the wind.
Toby sighed, hoping Chris wouldn't need too many steps, though. "That could be us," he said, watching a couple in their sixties or seventies coming out of one of the houses across the street -- #7, in fact. At Chris' skeptical look, he added, "Well, in thirty or forty years." As he watched the couple walk along hand in hand, the woman giving her husband a look of fond exasperation that bespoke a couple who had been in harmony with each other for a very long time, Toby found himself desperately wanting that for himself and Chris, right down to the house.
"We could live here," he said after another moment, watching the couple disappear around a corner.
Chris shot him a curious look now. "It's not exactly a mansion on Fifth Avenue."
With a huff, Toby said, "I don't need a mansion on Fifth Avenue. How about you?"
Skirting around that, Chris said, "What about the kids?"
"With a park right at their doorstep and Grandpa only half an hour away? They'd love it." Warming to the idea, he said, "Can you picture it? Us sitting on the stoop over there in the summer," he pointed out #7, having made up his mind that was the one and just never mind the absence of any For Sale sign, "and watching the kids playing over here."
"Yeah," Chris said, slowly, like he was putting the picture together with meticulous attention to detail, "I can."
Toby moved in just a little closer, whispering, "And do you like that picture?"
Chris sighed, nodded. "Yeah, I do."
Chris flashed that bright smile. "Yeah, a lot. There's just one problem, though: I don't see anything up for sale."
"Not right now, maybe," Toby was sticking to his guns and dismissing that as a meaningless detail. "You know what, though?"
"What?" Chris said, indulging him.
"I bet that charming couple are discussing the pros and cons of sticking out another winter here in the city when they could be somewhere toasty and warm, like Florida."
"You do, huh?"
"Umm hmm. They've probably had a lifetime's worth of trudging through snow and shoveling snow. I'll bet the house is up for sale before the first autumn leaves fall."
Chris sighed, nodding. "Maybe."
"So you wouldn't absolutely hate that?"
"Umm," Chris gave him a fond, thoughtful look, "I wouldn't absolutely hate it, no."
Toby was ready to bet he could make him love it - one step at a time.
Giving him a suspicious look, Chris said, "We should probably be going."
And as much as Toby wanted to dispute that, he really couldn't come up with any way of postponing that. "Yeah, I guess we should. Hey, come on," Toby called to the kids, waving them over. "It's time to go."
Obviously reluctant to relinquish the poodle to its owner, they responded more briskly when Toby, fists planted on his hips, called them more firmly. "Get over here now." Failing to see what Chris was smiling about, Toby opened the back seat of the Packard, ushering the kids inside.
"Why can't we have a puppy?" Gary said as they got settled in. "A puppy's not like a pony."
"I know a puppy's not like a pony," Toby said, "but a puppy isn't just a toy, either. You have to do more than just play with him."
"We were nice to Clarence."
"Yes, you were. Clarence was already all grown up, though. With a puppy, you three will have to teach him all sorts of things. He'll be your responsibility." He watched them thinking it over, suspecting he hadn't said anything to change their minds.
"What kind of puppy could we get?" Holly said.
Smiling, Toby told her, "Why don't we think it over? Grandpa has some books you can look at to find out all about the different kinds of puppies. Then you can make your best case on why we should get one in particular." That ought to keep them occupied for the rest of the summer.
They looked at each other, reaching some silent agreement, Gary saying, "Okay," and the other two nodding their concurrence.
As Toby shut the door and walked around to the driver's side, he caught Chris grinning. "What?"
"What if they make a case for an Irish Wolfhound?"
Toby sniffed. "I will declare a mistrial and send them back to try again." With Chris in the car, he pulled out of the parking space, saying, "Any errands you need to run?"
"Ah, yeah, but it can wait `til later."
Not if Toby had anything to say about it. "For instance?"
Chris shrugged. "I need to stop at a grocery store and pick up a few things."
"Yes, your cupboards were getting bare. So - where do you shop?"
Casting him a look like he'd been caught a bit off guard, Chris said, "Nowhere in particular. Like I said, it can wait."
"Nope, I won't have it on my conscience that you're in that big, empty house with nothing to eat but soda crackers."
From the backseat, Holly inquired, "How come you don't have anything but soda crackers?"
And Toby couldn't quite restrain his chuckle as Chris rolled his eyes and sighed.
Chris looked over in the backseat where Holly and the boys were peering out the window at his house. "Yes." To judge by the rapt expressions of awe on their faces they might have been looking at all Seven Wonders of the World, with a carnival thrown in. He shook his head, shooting a rueful look at Toby. "What's the big deal?" he whispered as the kids scrambled out of the car and dashed up the walkway to his door.
"I'm afraid it's your curse to be an endless source of fascination for us," Toby said, also getting out and going around to the trunk. "This is a rare opportunity to observe you in your habitat."
"Uh-huh. So I guess you were studying my mating habits this weekend, huh?"
"Yes," Toby handed him a bag of groceries, perfectly solemnfaced. "Of course I feel a prolonged study will prove even more enlightening."
"I'm sure you do." Grinning, Chris let him take the other bag and headed for the door. The kids were taking in everything - trees, shrubbery, brick faade - with a great deal more interest than seemed warranted, but at least the place passed inspection if he was reading Holly's expression right. Suddenly he was very glad, however, that he and Toby had taken a few minutes to straighten the place up a bit before leaving this morning. They hadn't bothered with the bedroom much, but there was no reason the kids would need to go up there, right?
"Where's your motorcycle?" Gary asked as Chris unlocked the door and let them inside.
"Out back in the garage," he said, heading for the kitchen.
"Can I see it?"
"In a minute," Toby said. "Let's help Chris put this stuff away first."
And although Chris was fairly certain he could manage stowing away his groceries just fine by himself, he didn't have the heart to discourage the kids when they appeared to regard this as some kind of treat. He stood back and watched with Toby as they went to work, impressed by their enthusiasm as well as their ingenuity at getting to all the hard to reach spots. If he really wanted to ever keep them out of something he would have to remember not only to put it on the highest shelf possible, and preferably in something that locked. Although he wouldn't bet on that deterring their father, he thought, casting a look at Toby standing beside him and looking tickled about something.
Frowning as he watched Holly extracted a jar of peanut butter from one sack, he shook his head, muttering, "Why do I have peanut butter?"
Overhearing, Holly gave him a dubious look as she stood on one of the kitchen chairs and opened a pantry door. "Don't you like peanut butter? I've never heard of anybody who didn't like peanut butter."
Sensing this might be a make or break issue, Chris replied with caution, "I didn't say I didn't like it, it's just...not something I would ordinarily buy for myself."
She sniffed. "Well do you only buy stuff you like to eat? What if people come over? What do you do if they get hungry and you don't have anything but soda crackers and," she peered into the depths of his stark pantry, "olives to feed them?"
He gave her a hard look. "People know to eat first."
She looked right back. "Well that's not very polite." She stretched up and put the peanut butter away along with a jar of grape jelly. "Anyway just keep this here, all right? We get hungry sometimes and we can't always eat first."
"Guess she told you," Toby whispered beside him.
Chris tried that hard, no nonsense look on him in response, and with about the same result.
Toby checked his watch as they followed along. "Mmm, half past two o'clock - give it another six hours and they'll be ready to conk out." Spotting Miss Howell standing over at the fence and watching them, he aimed a cheery wave her way and looked pleased with himself when she glowered back and moved away. Promptly forgetting her, he turned to give Chris a worried, searching look. "Too much for you?"
Chris opened his garage door and turned on the light, shaking his head at the expressions of awe as his bike and assorted odds-`n'-ends were revealed. The kids surrounded his Indian right off the bat, the boys in particular regarding it like some holy relic. "It's a lot, yeah, but...I'll get the hang of it," he said, looking back at Toby. "I want to get the hang of it," he admitted more softly, letting Toby see the truth of that in his eyes. "And," he shrugged, "they'll calm down once they get used to me being around, right?"
"Mmm," Toby smiled with mischief in his eyes, "they will, yes."
Chris smiled, nodding. "You want to try it out?" he said to Gary, wheeling the bike out.
"Can we go for a ride?" Gary shot a hopeful look at his father.
At Toby's doubtful expression, Chris lifted the boy up on the seat, saying, "How about you just get the feel of the bike now?" He pushed the motorcycle along as Gary gripped the handlebars and made vroom vroom sounds, the other two waiting their turn. Although he'd put money on Holly not deigning to go vroom.
With perfect eight-year-old innocence, Holly said, "Don't you want a ride?"
"He's already had one," Chris said, doing a fair imitation of perfect innocence.
"Was it fun?" Holly said.
Toby cleared his throat, aiming a look at Chris that promised retribution for this as well. "There were features of interest, yes." He looked forward to exploring those features even more in the future, in fact, and it gave him something of a rush to see the awareness of that in his partner's eyes.
Back inside, and with the kids once more unable to contain their curiosity, Toby could see a lot of other things in Chris' eyes that gave him cause for confidence. Given children were a decided novelty for him, it would have been perfectly understandable for Chris to grow exasperated and impatient with not only the non-stop quizzing but also the three pairs of little hands reaching for everything in sight. Instead - while deftly rescuing an old vase from Harry's inquisitive possession and keeping an eye on Gary as the older boy fiddled with the radio - what came across most was that the fascination was mutual. Toby was chagrined to realize he hadn't really expected that.
There was certainly much for optimism if he was reading the signs right -- although he might just keep his fingers mentally crossed for a while yet. One prized book used as drawing paper always had the potential to set things back a bit, after all.
He watched Holly examining the contents of a bookshelf and reaching for a beautiful, decorative box, half-tempted to suggest she might want to peek in that bottom drawer of the desk instead. Restraining himself, he moved in for a look as she opened the box and began taking out several pieces of beautiful, antique-looking jewelry. "Honey, I think you should put that back," he said, casting an apologetic look at Chris.
Joining them, Chris shook his head. "It's okay." He smiled at Holly, squatting down beside her. "Those belonged to my mother," he said, reaching for a large amethyst brooch set in gold. "She wore this one all the time. I think purple was her favorite color," he added a bit absently, a faraway look in his eyes as he examined the old pin.
"Purple's pretty," Holly agreed. She examined a pair of dangling garnet earrings, holding them up to her own little ears as she examined her reflection in the mirrored lid of the box. "How come you have these things?"
Watching her try various pieces, an opal ring too big even for her thumb and one that matched the amethyst brooch, Chris smiled again. "She left them for me. She..." he paused for a moment, a barely perceptible break in his voice going right through Toby. "She wanted me to give them to my daughter," he went on, clearing his throat and casting a quick look at Toby.
Toby reached over, patting his back. "They're beautiful pieces."
Chris gave him a grateful look as Holly took out a locket and opened it, contemplating the sepia-toned photograph inside. "Those are my parents." Chris pointed at the young couple fashionably dressed in the costumes of another era, the resemblance making his identification unnecessary. Toby leaned in closer for a better look, seeing so much of Chris in both of them. "And that's me," Chris added, indicating the small boy sitting on the woman's lap.
Holly gave him a sideways glance, face scrunched up as she looked back at the boy in the photograph. "How old were you?"
"Umm, about Harry's age."
She looked some more, making comparisons to the real thing. "You look like her."
"Yeah," he smiled, "her eyes were blue like mine."
Glancing at her father, she said, "Mine are like my daddy's."
"Yeah, I can see that." He gently took the locket from her, examining it thoughtfully. "She gave this to me the last time I saw her, so I would always remember them."
Looking sad, Holly asked, "How come she died?"
"She was sick."
"Oh. The doctor's couldn't make her better?"
He shook his head, gaze still fixed on the photograph. "No."
Reaching to take her father's hand, she said, "And does the locket help you remember them?"
Toby smiled at her, giving her little hand a gentle squeeze. Maybe it would be safe to uncross his fingers now.
"The rent would be twice as much then," Chris told her, aiming a meaningful look at her dwindling supply of ready cash.
With a sniff, she gave him a skeptical look as though pondering if he truly grasped the object of the game. "Grandma said you should buy property whenever you can, and always make the most of it so you'll have something for a rainy day."
"Yeah, Karl Marx wrote a book about people like that."
Giving her head a shake at this display of business naivet, she sorted out her money and properties, clearly having her priorities straight and with no interest whatever in the wisdom of `Das Kapital.'
Toby laughed again and put the dice on Marvin Gardens. "I'll be right back," he said, getting up from the couch and going over to the stairs. "Gary! Hurry it up, your turn's coming up."
"Harry's getting into stuff," Gary called back down, appearing at the top of the steps with his little brother in tow.
"What kind of stuff?" Toby was pretty sure he and Chris had taken care of anything not suited for small eyes when the kids had needed to use the bathroom.
In answer, Harry held up a snow-white teddy bear with a blue bow tie around his neck. "Found him," Harry declared, clutching the bear to his chest when Gary made a grab for it.
"Found him where?" Toby said as the boys came on down.
"In that empty room with the dresser," Gary said, reaching for the bear again and getting a kick in the shin this time. "Oww! Hey--!"
"Harry, that's enough. Go on," Toby said to Gary, "I'll take care of this." As the older boy went back to the game, Chris and Holly casting curious look over at them, Toby knelt down and said, "Can I see the bear?"
Giving him an uncertain look, little mouth pooched out, Harry reluctantly surrendered the fuzzy toy.
"Thank you." He stood up as Chris came over. "I'm sorry," he said, holding out the bear, knowing the memories that had to be attached to the harmless toy. "He probably just saw a toy and figured it should belong to someone."
Accepting the bear and looking down at Harry's sad little face, Chris surprised him again. Kneeling down, he held the bear out to Harry, saying, "Well, I guess he's right. Did you hear Joe calling from that drawer?"
Thinking that over, Harry nodded after a moment.
"He must have wanted you to find him, then." Chris put the bear back in his arms. "It's not good for bears to be all cooped up like that."
Harry shook his head in agreement with this and put his free arm around Chris' neck in a small thank you hug. Looking startled, touched, and shy by turns Chris returned the hug. Eyes a miniscule bit brighter, he cast Toby a look that clearly said he wasn't quite sure what to do. Wishing he had a camera handy to capture the moment, and yet knowing he would never forget it, Toby nodded, rubbing his back lightly and falling in love with him for about the thousandth time.
"You're sure it's all right?" he said as Harry went back to his place on the couch, keeping a firm grip on his new bear even as he looked over the Monopoly game spread across the coffee table.
Chris cleared his throat. "Yeah. I think Joe's in good hands." He shrugged then, adding, "And it's time."
Toby searched his eyes, nodding after a moment. "Well I think you've made a friend for life," he said as they sat down on the couch with Harry between them and ready to resume helping his father with the banking duties.
"Can't have too many of those," Chris said as Harry settled the bear beside him. "You think Joe likes Monopoly?"
Tilting his head down to the bear's as if listening, Harry nodded again.
"Yeah," Chris smiled, "I've heard it's big with bears."
Holly was looking over, frowning. "Joe?"
"Yeah," Chris said, "Joe."
"What kind of name is that for a bear?"
Chris gave her a firm look. "Something wrong with the name Joe?" He looked at Harry. "He looks like a Joe, right?"
Harry considered this, giving a nod after a moment.
"Well I've never heard of a bear named Joe," Holly said with an air of authority.
"Yeah, now you have."
The look she gave Chris implied she might just have to think about that, and Toby chuckled as he picked up the dice and rolled. He only had to move his top hat along to the Short Line railroad, after all - the only one he didn't own - and he happily paid Chris $25, knowing a perfect day like this was beyond price. If he could have planned it, this was exactly what he would have wanted: the rain pattering against the windows, and all of them cozy and warm in here. This was the way it was supposed to be, and if he was any judge at all something told him he wasn't the only one feeling the truth of that now.
"Carnage right and left?" Chris said, smiling as Holly began negotiations to take over Toby's railroads.
Gary nodded, "Uh-huh." Opening the comic and making room for Harry to squeeze in beside him, he said, "You like comic books?"
"I read the funny papers."
"Flash Gordon's good," Chris allowed, wondering if it was time for another inquisition.
Thoughtful, Gary nodded. "I looked at Mars through a telescope once."
"Yeah - it's better in the comics and movies."
Chris nodded. "Lots of things are like that."
In agreement with this, Gary spread out the comic book so Chris could look at it, too, both of them reading it out loud for Harry. "You think someone could really jump over the Empire State Building?" Gary asked, examining the colored panels carefully.
"Well," Chris shrugged, "maybe if you really were from Krypton."
"Where do you think Krypton would be?"
Considering the question just as seriously as it was posed, Chris said, "I don't know. A long way's from here."
"I don't know," Gary turned another page for Harry, "I think Batman's better."
"Yeah? Who's he?" Chris said, and listened to Gary telling him all about Bruce Wayne, millionaire playboy who secretly fought crime as the Caped Crusader in Gotham City, as he watched the Monopoly game enter its final stages. And he had to say the outcome wasn't looking good for Toby.
If this wasn't quite the way he had expected this weekend to finish up, he certainly was not inclined to lodge any kind of complaint. True, spending another day entirely alone with Toby would have been his first preference, but this wasn't bad. He could get very used to it - and there was no mistaking Toby was well aware of that now. So what the hell was he afraid of? He looked at Toby sitting crosslegged on a chair cushion, face scrunched up as he tried to figure out how to pay Holly $2,000 for landing on Boardwalk when he only had $127 left, and knew this was how he wanted it to be for the rest of his life. He could count on this, he could trust it; it wouldn't slip from his grasp.
Trying not to laugh as Toby turned over his last remaining properties - Baltic and the Electric Company - Chris glanced over at the telephone, wondering if he still had the number of the realtor who'd sold him the house. It was definitely time for some changes. It had been for a long time, he'd just needed the right inspiration.
That inspiration was getting up from the floor and replacing the cushion on one of the chairs before coming to sit beside him. "Grandma would be proud of her," he said as they watched Holly sort out all her cash and properties.
Chris had a hunch dad was, too. "It's stopped raining."
"I noticed." Toby gave him that look again, the one that always made Chris feel like he was coming home after being gone for such a long and lonely time. "Guess you want us out of your hair, huh?"
"Well, there is that sock drawer," Chris said, wondering if Toby saw the same thing in his eyes.
"Yeah, you don't want to let that go too long." He sighed then, looking very reluctant to move. "We'll do this again, soon."
"Count on it."
And funnily enough Chris knew he would.
Gary and Harry shook their heads, while Holly took a moment to check her coat pockets before nodding. "No."
Toby closed the driver's side door then, looking across the top of the car at him. "Now you mention it," he said, giving him a teasing smile, "I think I forgot something. Wait here, all right?" he told the kids, closing the door and coming around to tug at Chris' arm. "You better come help me find it."
"What did you forget?" Chris said, going back inside with him - and promptly found himself pressed against the closed door, Toby's mouth taking possession of his.
"That." Toby murmured the word against his ear, nuzzling there. "And this," he went on, brushing his lips over his ear, flicking his tongue against the ridges.
"Yeah," Chris knew he sounded breathless and didn't care, "you wouldn't want to leave without that." His hands went around Toby's waist, holding him.
"Damn right I wouldn't." Toby kissed his mouth again, one hand curved around the nape of his neck and the other kneading his shoulder.
Opening his mouth to more of Toby's tongue, Chris slid his hands under the sweater to run his hands along that perfect back. "I don't want you to go," he confessed when Toby eased back. Hands skimming down the front of the sweater now, he met those sky blue eyes, hiding nothing. "I don't want this weekend to be over."
"It never will be." Toby hooked both hands around the back of his head, looking at him very seriously. "Never."
Chris nodded, feeling the absolute truth of that. Clearing his throat, he said, "You should probably be heading for home."
Still looking serious, Toby said, "It won't be home anymore until you're there."
He nodded again, feeling his eyes stinging and went in for one more kiss, hands curving along Toby's face, kissing him as if it might be the last time. No, kissing him like it was the first time. It always felt like the first time.
Toby looked at him, panting for air and smiling at him. "Think that'll hold you for a while?"
Fingers trailing along Toby's cheek, Chris nodded. "A very little while."
Toby nodded, kissed him again, and reached for the door. "Call me later?"
"Okay." Chris walked back to the car with him, missing him already. Missing all of them, he realized as he looked at the three little faces looking back at him.
And standing in that rain-slicked street, watching as they drove off may not have been the hardest thing he had ever done - but it was close.
"Well that's good to know," Harrison said, getting him settled comfortably.
Toby tucked the bear in his arms, giving Harry a pat on the back. "Come on, you too," he said, waving Gary and Holly over. "Everybody up to bed."
"But it's hardly even dark out," Holly said, taking her sweet time getting up the stairs.
"It's dark enough," Toby said more firmly, not about to start letting daylight saving's time be used against him. He had already cut them some slack by letting them come back downstairs after having their baths and changing into their pajamas. They had been so excited after visiting with Chris, though, that he'd known they still needed some time to wind down before bed. "And you've all had a long day."
"Yes," Harrison remarked, catching hold of Joe as the bear began to slip from Harry's grasp, "I'll have to remember to take a jaunt out to the wilds of Queens one day. It sounds exciting as a trip to the Amazon."
Toby smiled, expecting they would all be hearing about the wonders of Jackson Heights for quite some time yet. "Actually, I was thinking we might all go back out there for the World's Fair," he said, tossing the idea out there as casually as could be.
"Yes, I've been reading about it," Harrison said as they went along the hall to the boy's room. "Perhaps we could make a family outing of it," he added, setting Harry down on his bed.
"With Mr. Chris, too?" Gary said, reluctantly sitting down on his own bed and trying to stifle an enormous yawn.
"Well of course," Harrison said, delivering Toby another surprise for the day.
Getting Gary under the covers and tucked in, Toby cast his father a thoughtful look. "That would be all right with you?"
"Didn't you think it would be?" his father said, giving him a droll look as he got Harry settled in bed, clutching the bear close.
And Toby didn't know why that support kept hitting him as a surprise. Although - he kissed Gary good night and glanced at a small photograph of Victoria on the bookshelf - he could take a fairly good guess. He felt Harrison patting his shoulder and sighed, smiling at him. "Thank you."
"You don't have to thank me for that, son."
Maybe not - but he wasn't about to start taking it for granted, either.
"Wha's a whirl fair?" Harry mumbled sleepily, managing to crack one eye open just a bit.
"Tell you in the morning," Toby said, kissing his forehead and smoothing down his hair. "Go to sleep now."
"'Night," Gary got out on another yawn, about thirty seconds behind Harry in conking out.
Good nights taken care of, Harrison and Toby closed the door and crossed the hall to Holly's room, finding her sitting at her vanity table, brush in hand. After she and her grandpa had said good night, Toby picked up the brush and ran it through her hair a few more times as she opened her little ballerina music box to contemplate her few pieces of prized jewelry.
"This is like the one Mr. Chris' mommy gave him, isn't it?" she said after a bit, holding up a ring Victoria had given her.
"Just about," he said, guessing the pieces were about the same age, although this stone was a ruby.
She tried it on, frowning at its still being too big for her fingers, and put it away in favor of looking over a gold filigree locket Toby had given her last Christmas. She opened it to regard the tiny photograph inside, of her father holding her when she was just a baby. "Do you think he misses his mommy and daddy?"
Smiling, Toby put the brush down. "I imagine so."
Nodding, she put the locket back and closed the music box, going over to take off her slippers and lay her robe across the bench at the foot of her bed before climbing under the covers. "He's not so bad," she said as Toby tucked the covers up and sat down beside her.
"Yeah? You won't mind if he's around a lot?"
Head tilted a bit, she thought that over, finally allowing, "That might be all right. He's not like Miss McClain."
No, he definitely was not, although Toby was a bit startled that Holly would even make the connection. "How do you mean?"
"Well," she folded her hands on the cover, looking very serious, "he wouldn't buy me a Shirley Temple dress, would he?"
Biting back a smile, remembering all too well her not very subtle disdain for that offering from Katherine, he said, "No, no I think you can count on that." Curious to see how her mind was working, and what she might start dropping hints about as her birthday drew closer, he asked, "What do you think he might get you for a present?"
She had to give that some thought, finally saying, "Something from faraway."
He smiled, guessing he had better let Chris know to look much further afield than Woolworth's. "Something exotic and mysterious?"
Because Chris seemed very exotic and mysterious to her? Well, he could certainly sympathize with that, although the mystery was almost solved now. "So you had a good time over there today?"
She nodded, smiling. "He knows lots of stories."
A lot of them were even true. "And you don't think he'd ever get boring and stuff?"
"I don't think so," she said, her tone implying he'd just better keep the witty anecdotes coming, though. "Is he your best friend now?"
"Something like that, yes." Toby faced her, looking at her seriously now, having an idea of what she was thinking. "I like him a lot--"
"Because," he paused, considering how to put it, "because he makes me feel good."
"Didn't you feel good when he wasn't around?" she asked, looking a bit worried.
He sighed, touching her hair, wondering how to explain it to her. Start with the simplest thing, he guessed, and handle it step by step as she and the boys got curious about other things. "Yes. You know I love you and the boys--"
"And Grandpa and Uncle Angus."
"And Grandpa and Uncle Angus, nothing's ever going to change that." He looked at her very seriously then. "You and your brothers are always going to be the most important thing in my life. You're my girl -- you know that, right?"
A big smile lighting up her face, she nodded.
"But," he stroked a lock of her long golden hair back from her cheek, "I do get lonely sometimes."
"Since Mommy went away?"
"And you're not lonely when Mr. Chris is around?" She looked down at her blanket, fiddling with a loose thread. "Because he's more fun than we are?" she asked quietly.
"No," he hugged her close and kissed her cheek. "He's fun in a, a different way, a grown up way." Since it was never wise to tell an eight-year-old she wasn't grown up enough, however, he hastened to add, "You don't want your brothers and I clomping around when you're playing with your friends, right?"
Thinking about that, she shook her head. "Not all the time."
"No," he nodded, smiling at her. "Sometimes it's good to be with someone your own age, right?"
"I guess." If she was a bit grudging in her allowance of that at least she wasn't fretting that she and her brothers weren't sufficiently entertaining.
Just in case, though, he leaned in and whispered, "You know what's best of all, though?"
"What?" she said, smiling.
"When you and Gary and Harry and Chris are all with me, like today."
She nodded again, satisfied with that, and settled against her pillows. "Maybe we should invite him to our house?"
"You think so?"
"Umm hmm." She was starting to sound sleepy now, getting more comfortable. "He probably gets lonesome, too."
Remembering the journal passages he'd read, Toby didn't have any doubts about that. "He probably does." He tucked the covers up a little more. "Do you want to ask him over or shall I?"
Little face scrunched up, she said, "Maybe you should."
"Okay. I'll tell him the next time I see him."
"When," she had to pause and try to cover a yawn, "when will that be?"
"Pretty soon, I think." Like tomorrow, because another week like this last one was unthinkable. "Sweet dreams, love you," he whispered, kissing her goodnight as she gave up and closed her eyes.
"'Night, love you," she murmured, hands tucked under her cheek.
He watched her drift off, then smiled and shut off the light, quietly letting himself out of the room. Checking on the boys to make sure they were settled in, he looked at his watch - nine o'clock on the dot, much too early to start expecting a phone call from Chris - and decided to go back downstairs and do some work. Although he wasn't sure precisely how much he would actually get accomplished given his thoughts kept drifting away to Jackson Heights, wondering what Chris might be doing right now. Maybe he was writing about this day in his journal? That was one entry Toby wouldn't need to read since there wasn't a doubt in his mind that Chris had enjoyed being besieged with Beechers.
He smiled, pulling files from his brief case and spreading them across his desk, betting Chris had taken out the novel again. Toby could picture him right down to the fan whirring in the background and the look of concentration of his face as he sat at that beat-up old typewriter, fingers poised over the keys. His shoulders would probably be hunched up, making his back ache; he'd rub the back of his neck and stretch, trying to relieve that, but it wouldn't be enough, it wouldn't be as good as having his lover there to come up behind him and massage that ache away. With a frustrated sigh Toby opened a folder, wanting so badly to be there to rub his back. Hell, he wanted to be there just to sit quietly and watch him write. Or to simply lay beside him late at night and watch him sleep, knowing he felt loved and needed and content.
Folding his arms on the desk, Toby lowered his head and sighed again, just plain aching to be with Chris. This was going to drive him insane and it didn't help one iota to know it was just as difficult for Chris.
What would be so bad about Chris moving in here anyway? There was all kinds of room and it wouldn't be that tough of an adjustment for everything. It wouldn't be a long-term arrangement, either. Just until they could find a better solution, just until that house in the Village came on the market. It didn't even have to be that house, even though Toby was increasingly fixated on it. And sure, there would be some gossip if Chris moved in here for a while, but so what?
He sat up, taking out some documents and feeling fairly certain Chris would ably supply him with an answer for that one. Something to do with how ready Toby had been to believe the worst of him, that Chris was little more than a gigolo living off his wealthy lovers. He'd left himself without a leg to stand on where this matter was concerned, it was Chris' call all the way.
As he sorted through papers, looking for a deposition, he had to admit there was a certain intrinsic appeal in the idea. Barring school, he had never lived anywhere that didn't belong to his parents, and he did like the idea of finally having a home of his own - no, a home with his family. Having to wait indefinitely for that to come about ... yeah, that might drive him nuts, but it would be worth it. Patience was alledged to be a virtue; perhaps it was time he made himself acquainted with the concept.
Frequent rendezvous with Chris would, however, be absolutely essential to this process. Something told him that sort of thing would not be difficult to arrange.
As he put everything away, he thought about that, the renewed confidence he was feeling all of a sudden. That's what he had to distill into words, what it was like to believe in yourself again, to see a world full of possibilities after such a long time of the world narrowing down to one bleak and gray path. He might need to go pick up a new thesaurus, however, since the one he had didn't have nearly enough words to lay that all out.
With everything put away again, he put the cover on his typewriter and went over to slump down on the couch, feet propped on the coffee table. It seemed like a lot of effort to go all the way upstairs just to fall into bed when he could stretch out here and catch forty winks just as well. If there were someone waiting for him in that bed, well, that would be a whole other story. He sat there, head resting against the back of the couch, listening to how quiet and still the house was now, and thinking of how good it would be to have a certain someone waiting in bed for him.
He did want that, kids included. He even wanted the house in the Village. The only thing holding him back from letting Toby know he would love that house in Washington Square was that he wouldn't put it past him to go around there and try to talk the current owners into vacating the premises. Chris chuckled to himself at the thought, knowing who he'd put his money on in that situation.
It would be good to get out of this house, though, get back to the city - maybe take a room at the Chelsea like before, until he and Toby could find a place to share. The more he thought about that, the better it looked. And tomorrow might not be too soon at all to set it all in motion. After all, Toby had said he would be very willing to come meet him some seedy hotel, hadn't he?
Chris smiled in anticipation of that and sat up, guessing he could stand one more night alone in this place. There were some good memories permeating it now, after all. Very good memories indeed, he considered as he spotted something gleaming on the rug under the coffee table and stretched over to pick up a gold cuff link. Not one of his, but it could very well be Toby's. They hadn't exactly undressed with a great deal of care Friday night. It was actually a wonder a few more stray bits and pieces weren't scattered around.
Taking the cuff link with him as he turned off the lights and climbed the stairs, he set it down on the nightstand, near the telephone, thinking some more as he looked at the clock. He kept thinking all the while he peeled out of his clothes in front of the mirror, remembering Toby standing right there, moonlight bathing his skin as he'd watched Chris make love to him. All Chris had to do was close his eyes to remember the taste of Toby's hot skin and the feel of his body - silky skin and hard muscle coming to life under his hands and lips. He could feel Toby shuddering against him even now, eyes wide and locked on that mirror, utterly mesmerized by how beautiful they looked together.
Chris shook his head, trying to clear that memory out for just a bit. Small wonder there used to be superstitions about mirrors capturing your soul. This one undoubtedly had some magical property, no question about it, and he ran his fingers over the polished cherry wood knowing it would be coming with them wherever they wound up.
He looked at the telephone again, still pondering as he stretched out naked on the bed and buried his face in the pillows to see if Toby's scent lingered there. It did, and he filled his lungs with it, knowing it would not be enough. The only thing that ever would be enough was Toby here beside him, in his bed and in his arms - forever.
In lieu of that, however, there were a few ways to find some relief from this aching need for him, and he sat up to draw the phone over and dial.
They were, and he went along to his bedroom, looking at his watch and betting he could make good time out to Queens at this time of night. Of course he would have to make a mad dash back here before dawn, and chances were good the one thing he would not be getting in Queens was a good night's sleep, so... Damn. This virtuous patience wasn't nearly as easy as it looked.
He was just pulling his sweater off -- Chris' sweater - when the phone rang. Heartbeat speeding up in anticipation, telling himself it was just as likely to be Abercrombie calling to remind him of the conference with the Faraday-Phelps' tomorrow, he hurried over to pick it up. "Hello?"
He smiled and sat down on the bed. It definitely was not Abercrombie. "Hey." Toby scooted back against the pillows and headboard, having a premonition he might want to make himself comfortable here. "What's up?"
"Ah," Chris spoke in his ear, "nothing much, just found this cuff link and thought it might be yours. You missing one?"
Hmph. "No, I am not missing a cuff link." Toby drew one leg up. "Does it have a monogram?"
"Ah, yeah," Chris said, and it was a good thing Toby could hear the smile in his voice, "looks like a...yeah, looks a G and an M. Huh, how 'bout that?"
"Hmm, well, maybe you should call him up."
"I don't know, it's the middle of the night in London."
"Yeah? So you're stuck with me?"
"Looks that way, yeah."
Toby smiled. "So was that all? You just called about the cuff link?"
"Yeah. Well," there was a pause, "there might've been something else."
"Oh, I don't know. I was just standing here looking at this mirror, and it got me thinking."
Licking his lips, Toby sat up a little straighter. "Where are you? In the bedroom?"
"Uh-huh. You in the bedroom?"
"Yes." Not the right bedroom, but he wasn't going to waste any time dwelling on that, especially since Chris' next words were:
"And are you naked?"
Toby scrambled off the bed, pulling the sweater all the way off and stripping off the jeans, tossing socks and boxers after them - and taking a moment to lock the door - before snatching the receiver up again. "I am now," he said, knowing he sounded out of breath and not minding the soft laughter that burst against his ear. "Are you?"
"Ahhh, that's one of those rhetorical questions, right?" Chris said, sounding playful.
Of course, what was he thinking? Getting comfortable again, he said, "So these thoughts you were having - they had something to do with you and me naked?"
"Naked in front of a mirror," Chris elaborated, the sultry tone in his voice all Toby needed for that memory to come flooding back. "You got a mirror there?"
He looked over at the full-length mirror over in a corner, edged with metal in an art deco design. If it was more modern looking than the one in Chris' bedroom, the glass was just as shiny. "Yeah, I do."
"You standing in front of it?"
He got up, carrying the phone with him, the cord stretching just far enough. "Yes."
"What do you see?"
He swallowed, looking at his reflection and trying to find what Chris had shown him, feeling surprised at how easy that was to do. "I see myself," he said and closed his eyes for a moment, calling up the memory more fully and wishing he would see Chris standing behind him when he looked in the glass again.
"Do you like what you see?"
He opened his eyes, seeing himself and imagining he could see a shadow of Chris hovering there. "Yeah. Yeah, I do."
"Touch yourself," Chris purred against his ear and for a moment Toby would have sworn he felt the other man standing right there with him.
Biting his lower lip, fighting down the self-consciousness that wanted to flare up, Toby put his hand up to his throat, stroking along there and over his collarbones as he remembered the way Chris would linger there, nibbling him with kisses, teasing with little darts of his tongue. "Okay," he breathed into the phone.
"What are you touching?"
"Ah, uhm, my throat..."
"Touch your nipples."
He swallowed again, watching his fingers rub over that flesh, imagining it was Chris touching him. Closing his eyes again, he remembered the feel of his lover's mouth sucking him, licking him there, and he groaned, shuddering with the memory.
"Does it feel good?"
He smiled, shaking his head. "You know it does."
"Are you thinking of me touching you?"
He sighed. "You know I am." And two could play this game, right? "Are you in front of the mirror right now?" he asked, smiling as he heard movement.
"What do you see?"
A long pause then, and finally a quiet sigh that almost broke his heart. "Me, alone."
"No, Chris, never. Never again," he vowed. Free hand running down over his belly, he said, "Chris, close your eyes, feel me touching you. I'm stroking your belly now - can you feel it?"
Toby smiled, hoping he could make it good for him. "I'm standing behind you," he said, dropping his voice to an even more intimate register, "and I'm kissing the back of your neck while I touch you. I'm nuzzling your throat and we're both looking in the mirror, watching me fingering your nipples." Jesus, he wanted to be doing this for real. "You like that?"
"Yeah. Go on," Chris urged, breathing hard already.
"I'm kissing your shoulder now, stroking a hand down your back - I love your back and shoulders, Chris, they're so strong, so sexy."
"You like anything else?" There was the teensiest suggestion of a smug note in Chris' voice, as if he knew exactly where Toby was going with this.
"Yes, I do," Toby said, not minding if he was transparent in this regard. "I'm stroking your hips now and squeezing your ass. I'm pressing against you," he closed his eyes, remembering exactly how it felt to be pressed against him, "my cock's rubbing against your beautiful, sexy ass." The tiny gasp in his ear let gave him an idea this might be going over well. "I'm already hard," and that was no figment of his imagination, "and I've barely started touching you."
A deep sigh on the other end, then, "You and me both, baby."
Toby echoed the sigh and fired up his imagination. "I'm still pressed against you, I'm kissing your throat and licking that spot right under your ear," the one that always made Chris groan deep in his throat. God, he loved that sound, he loved being the one who made it happen. "I'm stroking your belly again, I'm going lower, the hairs tickle my fingers. It so good. You know what feels better?"
Chris swallowed, breathed, "What?"
"When my hand goes around your big, hard cock. God," he closed his eyes again, memory flooding him, "it feels so good when I touch you like that, Chris."
"It feels pretty good from my side, too."
He swallowed again, looking back in the mirror and watching his hand stroking along his cock, finding it so easy to pretend it was Chris touching him. "I'm stroking your cock, Chris. Do you feel it, baby, the way my hand is moving up and down, squeezing? My thumb's circling the head...you're already leaking," oh boy, "and I'm stroking back and forth over the slit, spreading that wetness as I stroke you." He shuddered, his own breath coming harder now. The soft moans filling his ear only added fuel to the wonderful conflagration.
"What do you want, baby? Do you want my mouth on you?"
A harder, deeper gasp. "Oh, Christ, yeah."
Licking his lips, Toby said, "I'm moving in front of you now, I'm kissing your lips. You open your mouth to me, wanting my tongue--"
"Oh, Jesus, Toby, yes."
"I'm kissing all the way down your body and you're watching in the mirror as I take your cock in my mouth."
"Oh, fuck, fuck...Toby..." Chris sounded like he'd been running a sprint, his breath so harsh, so rapid.
"Watch me, baby," Toby gasped, in no better shape, ready to come any second, "watch me take you in my mouth and suck you. Can you feel that, feel my tongue licking you? Can you see yourself sliding between my lips, my tongue moving over you?"
"Yeah...yeah...oh, fucking Christ, Toby...make me come, Toby, baby, make me come..."
"You're coming, Chris, I'm sucking you so good, so hard, and I'm squeezing your ass, and you're coming in my mouth, I can taste you, I can feel you spilling against my lips, my tongue..." Oh god oh god oh god. Toby could feel it, taste it; he could hear Chris coming, hear his labored breaths and gasps of pleasure, and that was all it took to finish him, his orgasm tearing through him and bursting over his fingers.
Feeling dazed, legs trembling, he stumbled back over to the bed, sprawling out. "Yeah?" He sounded out of breath, he sounded as dazzled as he felt.
"That was..." Chris paused to suck in air. "Christ, Toby, that was..."
He managed to smile, nodding. "Yeah, it was." Oh boy, was it.
After another pause, Chris said, "Wanna bet there's a telephone operator somewhere feeling really good right about now?"
Toby laughed, managing to sit up and rest back against the pillows. "As long as you feel good, that's the important thing. Are you?"
"Yeah, good's...one way to put it," Chris said, a wryly amused note in his voice. "We have to do that for real, soon."
"Very soon. Do you have something in mind?"
Sounding a bit mysterious, Chris, "Could be. You'll be the first to know."
"That's good." He sighed, still missing him. "I wish I could be there right now."
"I wish you could be, too. We'll figure it out, Toby."
"Damn straight," Toby told him, loving the laugh that provoked. "I love you," he said, hearing the tiniest gasp on the other end, as if it still surprised Chris every time he heard that.
"I love you, Toby."
He nodded to himself, never doubting it for a moment, feeling the same burst of wonderful surprise and knowing this was something else he would never take for granted.
With another sigh, he stretched out more comfortably, saying, "So what've you been doing?"
A fond chuckle in his voice, Chris said, "Not much. Did a little writing."
"Yeah? The novel?"
"Are you going to be mysterious about it forever?"
Another soft laugh. "Could be."
Hmph. "You're going to make me stand in line and buy a copy, aren't you?"
"Ah, see, you've found me out," Chris teased back.
Yes, he had - and it was the best discovery of his life. He had a really good feeling that it was entirely mutual, too.
Taking off his glasses, Toby pinched the bridge of his nose, longing for a nice juicy murder trial. He looked across the conference table, meeting his father's eyes and seeing a similar feeling there. Hiding his smile in a folder, he looked around as his secretary came up and beside him. "What is it, Lois?"
"You have an urgent telephone call, sir," she whispered back.
"Excuse me," he said, looking at his father again. "I better take this."
Harrison nodded. "Go ahead. Excitement like this has to be taken in small doses," he said, gaze firmly fixed on the documents in hand.
Toby shot him a warning look all the same and quickly let himself out of the conference room and headed for his office. "Hello?" he said, picking up the phone and expecting it to be Patricia Ross telling him one of the kids had a scraped knee.
Instead, a far more masculine voice rumbled against his ear, "Chelsea Hotel, room six, half an hour."
He looked at his watch, noting it was long past time to break for lunch. "Yeah? And what might I find there?"
"Well," Chris drew it out seductively, "there's me naked, for one thing."
Yes, as incentives went, that was a good one. All the same, he didn't want anyone thinking he was easy. "And what else?"
"You need an inducement?"
"Do you have one?" Toby said, resting his hip against the desk.
"How do you feel about a blowjob?"
And as incentives went -- that was better. "Thirty minutes?" he said and tugged at his suddenly too-tight collar.
"Twenty, if you step on it."
Toby could practically guarantee that. "Room six?"
"I'll be there."
"I'll be waiting."
He licked his lips. "Naked?"
"As the day I was born."
Chris chuckled, said, "See ya," and hung up.
Toby sighed, betting this wasn't good for his blood pressure. On the other hand, he would die happy. "Lois," he went to the door, "will you rearrange my schedule, please? I'm going to have to step out for a while." Leaving her to that, he hurried back to the conference room and went around to his father's chair.
"Everything all right?" Harrison said, lowering his glasses to look at him.
"Yes. There's just something I need to go take care of. Do you mind?"
"No, I think I can manage," his father said with easy confidence. "It's about time we took a lunch break anyway."
"Thanks," Toby said, going around to gather up his papers and stuff them back in his brief case.
"You're welcome." Harrison was back to studying some documents, casually saying, "And why don't you ask Chris to come over to the house for dinner this evening?" just as Toby was going out the door.
He paused there, looking back at his father bent so studiously over the legal documents. Confining himself to a surprised huff, and deciding he could worry about his transparency some other time, he hurried on out, only pausing to hand Lois his brief case before taking the elevator down to the lobby. His luck holding, he got a taxi right off the bat. Settling back in the seat, he told the driver, "Chelsea Hotel - and step on it."
"Yeah?" The door cracked open to reveal Chris standing there, not even half as naked as he'd promised. He was only barefoot, with his shirttails hanging out and the buttons undone halfway. "Yeah, looks like what I ordered," he growled, one hand slipping around the back of Toby's neck to haul him in for a kiss. "You're early," he whispered, leaving Toby's mouth for a moment to nuzzle at his temple.
"I made good time." Toby turned his head for another kiss, stroking his hands along Chris' shoulders and down his chest, reaching for the rest of those buttons. "And you're not naked," he added with a pout of disappointment.
Chris laughed softly against his throat, opening Toby's collar and tugging his tie loose. "You wanna get me naked, baby?"
"Oh, yes, I do," Toby purred back, slipping his hand inside Chris' shirt and caressing him as they kissed some more.
They didn't stop kissing and touching even as Chris maneuvered them on into the room and shut the door behind them. When they did stop, it was only to press their foreheads together as they wrapped their arms around each other, holding tight.
"Missed you," Chris murmured, kissing the side of his mouth.
Toby looked at him seriously and nodded. "Me too." He cupped his hand along the side of Chris' face and pulled him close for another kiss. Heaving a deep, happy sigh, he burrowed back into Chris' arms and rested his head on one of those strong shoulders he loved. "When did you get here?" he asked after a few moments like that, noting the bed turned down and waiting -- noting the open suitcase over on a dresser that had seen better days, Chris' typewriter and a satchel over on an equally distressed desk.
"Just a little bit ago."
"And are you just passing through?" Toby said, giving him a playful look that faded quickly at the look of serious tenderness on Chris' face.
Touching his cheek, Chris shook his head. "No, I'm gonna stick around a while." He kissed Toby's mouth again, breathing his own happy sigh as he held Toby close. There was a very wicked note in his voice, however, as he whispered in Toby's ear, "So didn't I say something about a blowjob?"
"Yeah," Toby said slowly as Chris stepped back, "I seem to remember a mention of that."
"Thought you would." Chris brushed his lips along Toby's ear, down along his cheek to take possession of his mouth once more.
Hands curved around Chris' head, Toby reveled in the warm and wet, deep kisses. Not that he was inclined to raise any objections when his lover's mouth slipped down to kiss along his throat.
"Gotta get rid of this," Chris said, voice as sultry as the afternoon heat as he tossed Toby's coat over a chair, following up with his necktie.
They certainly did, and Toby shivered in spite of the heat at Chris unfastened his shirt and pushed it down his arms, reaching for his pant's zipper and tugging it down. "I was going to get you naked," he murmured in a half-hearted protest.
Chris shot him a smile, kissing his lips again. "Let's take turns, huh?" he said, hands rubbing over Toby's shoulders, fingers skimming along his collarbones. "I love you here." He whispered it, tracing along those bones once more.
"Yeah?" Toby looked at him, laughing and holding him around the waist. "You love my bones? What else?"
"Everything," Chris murmured against his lips. "Here," he kissed an eyebrow, his chin, "and here," Chris' lips brushed over his left nipple, "and this," he slipped to his knees, pushing clothes out of the way and pressing his open mouth to a hipbone. His tongue tracing the crease, he nuzzled into Toby's pubic hair, breathing in the scent of him. "And here," his tongue took a lazy swipe at Toby's cock. "God, Toby," his hands gripped Toby's hips, fingers digging into the flesh, "I love you here."
Toby's breath caught in a gasp as Chris took him in his mouth, sucking him hard, sucking him deep. "Oh Christ..." His own hands roaming over Chris' head, he pulled at the short, dark hair as his lover's soft tongue licked at him. The mirror was good, no question, but - he watched Chris' tongue flicking around the head of his cock, Chris' hand grasping him and sliding up and down the length of him - this was incredibly better.
He reached behind him with one hand, needing to brace himself against the dresser as Chris fondled his balls and stroked between his legs. He gripped the edge hard enough to make his hand ache as he watched Chris suck him, watched that dark head bobbing up and down, tongue working at him all the while. "...Chris... Oh Jesus..."
He blinked, trying to clear his head, nothing but mind-blowing sensation rushing through him still. "Wh-what? Why ... why'd you stop?" He gave him a bewildered look as Chris stood up again, arousal searing every nerve-ending.
"'Cause you're gonna fuck me," Chris told him, kissing his lips.
"Oh, yes," Chris caught his hands and drew him over to the bed, "you are."
Oh, fuck yes he was. As Chris made to finish taking his own clothes off, Toby reached out to stop him. "Huh-uh," he whispered against his partner's ear. "My job."
Clearly having no problem with that, Chris held his arms out to his sides. "Be my guest," he said, that swaggering confidence showing even though he was standing still.
Toby smiled, loving him like that so much it hurt sometimes. He reached for Chris' hands, threading their fingers together as he went in for a kiss, then another, tongue darting along the seam of his lips before filling his mouth. Letting go of his hands, Toby reached around to stroke all along his back and over his ass, still kissing his mouth, grabbing his ass and pulling him closer.
Chris rubbed against him like a cat, wanting more, sprawling back on the white sheets as Toby got him stripped. "You now," he commanded, scooting up against the pillows and headboard, one knee raised as he blatantly displayed himself.
Having no problem with that order, Toby let shirt drop, and his pants, all the while aware of Chris' steady scrutiny, feeling that erotic gaze following his every move - downright ogling him and relishing what he saw. And Toby couldn't be sure if that wasn't the best thing of all, that there wasn't a doubt in his mind he deserved someone looking at him that way now.
Buoyed by that knowledge, he thought there might have been the tiniest bounce in his step as he approached the bed and sat down. "On your belly," he said, making it clear this was not negotiable.
If the cocky grin that flashed across his face, one eyebrow quirking appreciatively upward was anything to go by, there weren't likely to be any grievances filed.
Toby watched him roll over, stretching out comfortably, head pillowed on his arms. "That's better," he murmured, scooting up beside him and running a hand all along his back and over the rich curve of each buttock. Leaning over him, he retraced the path with his mouth, planting kisses across his shoulder blades and flicking the tip of his tongue down over the ridge of his spine. He felt Chris push up against him and pressed him back against the sheets. "Hmm umm," he murmured, nuzzling the swell of that ass, "just hold your horses."
Kneading Chris' ass, his tongue slipped along that crease, circling the anus, licking him there, getting harder just from his very loud, vocal response. "Like that, huh?" he said, laughing.
"Fuck me," Chris groaned. "Toby - I need you inside me."
Oh Christ. "Do you have any--"
"In the drawer. Hurry."
He stretched over Chris, pulling the nightstand drawer open and finding the tube of lubricant immediately. "This come with the room?" he said, stretching out along Chris' back and nuzzling the nape of his neck.
"Came with me. Toby--"
"Shh. Roll over," he said, moving back for a moment and then settling between Chris' knees and looking at him, seeing that hungry need in Chris' eyes.
"Now - Toby, fuck me now," Chris pleaded, reaching for him.
Toby nodded, going to him and brushing a kiss over his lips, the corner of his mouth, hands stroking along his chest and belly. He lowered his head to lap at one nipple, suck the other, and glide his hand along the length of his lover's hard cock before bending to suck it into his mouth, licking all around the crown as Chris watched him. "Toby."
Swirling his tongue over the tip one more time, Toby nodded. "Yes." He licked a path along the inside of Chris' thigh, up to his knee, pushing his legs up more. He spreading the lube generously, opening him more, guiding his cock inside. "That what you want?" he groaned, working himself all the way inside, loving the heat, the tightness, the way his lover moved with him as if Toby could never be far enough inside.
"Yes," Chris gasped it out, hands running along Toby's shoulders, over his back. "Yes. Oh, Jesus... You feel so good, so fucking good," he murmured, trembling with the pleasure, the satisfaction of being loved like this. He cried out again as Toby worked a hand between their bellies and wrapped it around his cock, pumping him in time to each thrust and stroke as Toby moved inside him.
Mouth open, gasping more with each harder, deeper thrust, slick with sweat, Toby lowered his head to kiss Chris' mouth, still so damn hungry for him. He kissed his mouth and face, tasting salt, he kissed his throat and sucked him there, wanting to mark him. "Good," he breathed against his ear, driving into him again, "you feel so goddamn good, Chris. Gonna make you come, baby, gonna make you come." He vowed it over and over, fucking him, feeling Chris' hands moving over him, tasting his mouth and his sweat, and shuddering as his hips pumped, coming inside him, their cries mingling ever as Chris' cock pulsed between their bodies and come mixed with their sweat.
"Oh Christ." Chris gasped the words out, still breathless, reaching for Toby's head and keeping him there when Toby would have moved off him. "Stay," he whispered, fingers threaded through his hair, kissing his mouth again, slow and deep, tasting him "Just stay," he murmured between kisses. "Feels good."
Yes, it did. It felt incredibly - Toby dragged his mouth along Chris' cheek, nuzzling into his neck and breathing the musky scent of him deep - fucking good. He was very content to stay there, sprawled over Chris, the fan whirring and cooling their bodies as they kissed and touched and watched each other. And when Chris was finally ready to let him slip free, Toby didn't go far. Laying beside him, Toby continued to hold him close, fairly certain this was the best lunch break he had ever taken.
Resting against the pillows, the clean sheets soft against his naked skin, Chris shrugged. "Why?"
"Because if you're free, Dad and Holly would like you to come to dinner tonight." Toby lowered his head to kiss the butterfly before sliding up over him again. "How about it?"
Chris looked up into his face, feeling a trifle dubious. "They do, huh?" He ran his hands along Toby's collarbones. "You put `em up to it?"
Toby sniffed. "Nope. People do actually have brilliant ideas that have nothing whatever to do with me." He arched his back in response to Chris' touch. "So...?" he said, rolling over to stretch out beside him.
"What kind of dinner are we talkin' about? I gotta wear a monkey suit?"
"No, you don't gotta wear a monkey suit. It's just the family - our family."
Chris watched his face while he said that, liking that he could tell it made Toby happy to say it. And hell, it didn't exactly make him miserable to hear it, right? "Yeah," he said, frowning thoughtfully, "I guess I could squeeze it in."
"If you're sure it wouldn't be a huge imposition?"
"Nah, I can manage." Smiling, he reached over, stroking a stray lock of hair back from Toby's forehead. "Should I bring anything?"
"Just yourself." Toby smiled back and settled against the pillows, a thoughtful look on his face as he looked around the room. "So are you all settled in here, or what?"
"Getting ready to be settled in," Chris said, stretching out on his back. "The house is up for sale anyway. I just have to find a place to store everything until..." He paused for a moment, realizing what he was about to say, amazed at how natural if felt to say it. "Until we find a place," he finished, shooting Toby a quick, happy look.
His own face lighting up, Toby nodded. "I like the sound of that."
Yes, it wasn't bad at all.
"And," Toby went on, "I think we can find a solution to your storage problem."
"Yeah. There's this house on Fifth Avenue, loads of room in the attic and basement."
"What kind of rates does this place charge?"
"Hmm," Toby leaned over him again, "I think something in the way of providing personal services would be acceptable."
Chris pulled him in for a kiss. "Like mowing the grass, polishing the silver?"
"Mmm," Toby pulled him in for a deeper kiss, "I'm thinking more along the lines of fucking the first born son on a regular basis."
Chris sighed and ran a hand down his back, squeezing his ass. "That does sound worth looking into."
"You'll keep it in mind?"
"Count on it."
Toby settled down beside him again, head pillowed on his chest. "Do you realize this will be the first time you've been to the house since the first time?"
He did and stroked Toby's hair, having very fond memories of that late night visit. "We never did drink that coffee, did we?"
"I'll make sure there's a fresh pot tonight."
Chris laughed, pressing a kiss to the top of his head. "You got a plaque up there to commemorate the event?"
"No, but now you mention it," Toby moved his head and kissed Chris' chest, "it was certainly a moment worthy of immortalizing."
It would be, Chris suspected, the first of many. "So, no special occasion tonight?" he said, wanting to be sure.
"Not tonight, no."
Chris gave him a curious look. "One coming up?"
"A few - Holly's birthday, for instance."
"How soon? End of the month?"
"End of a month, yeah - October 31."
Chris scooted back to look at him, discovering a perfectly serious look on his face. "This is the middle of July, Toby."
"Yeah, and your point would be? You have met Holly, right? Short blonde kid, has opinions about everything?"
"Yeah," Chris said slowly, wondering what he'd been thinking, "rings a bell." He sighed and sat up, propping his back against the headboard. "Her birthday's on Halloween?"
"Yep. She thinks it is extremely accommodating of the rest of the world to have an annual holiday in her honor, especially one where she gets to dress up in a special costume every year."
"Don't even think about shopping for her at Woolworth's, by the way."
"No - try the corner of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue."
Chris looked at him, unable to tell if he was kidding or not. "Tiffany's? For an eight-year-old?"
"Again - you have met her? And whatever you do, don't go near the Shirley Temple stuff."
It was Chris' turn to fix him with a skeptical look. "What kind of moron would get that kid anything Shirley Temple?" He sighed, starting to get an idea of why Toby was planning the event more than three months in advance. "What would she like?"
"I don't know, but it better be damned interesting."
"I'll give it some thought."
"You do that." Toby looked up at him as Chris leaned over him. "Thinking anything in particular now?"
"Ummm, one or two things, maybe," Chris said, linking their hands and pressing them into the mattress as he came in closer for a kiss. "You know, unless you're in a hurry to get back," he added, brushing his lips along Toby's jaw. Betting he wasn't in a rush of any kind, Chris settled over him, kissing his mouth, stroking his body, wanting to recapture a taste of their weekend, wanting to make that weekend last the rest of their lives.