A young man about 30 dressed in casual clothes, long hair tied with a black ribbon, leather jacket and fancy shoes, came up to Chris in the waiting room of the airport, confident and smug.
"You're Christopher Keller, aren't you?"
"Oh, am I?" Chris said, looking bored.
"You're Christopher Keller. I'm Giovanni Aspetto, I'm a journalist, I work for a music magazine..."
"Yeah? I'm so happy for you."
The guy smiled, patient. "May I offer you a drink?"
"May I fuck you?"
Chris' dark gaze caught stunned brown eyes and didn't let go; he rose slowly and took a step forward, forcing the other man to step back.
"Because it's the only thing I can think of right now."
The journalist wore a wedding ring; Chris laughed at his horrified expression and sat back.
"Get the fuck away from me; I don't talk to your kind anymore."
That happened much too often, Chris thought; Bonnie had received hundreds of letters, and e-mails asking what was going on, and would the Maestro play again, and where was he, and was that true that he'd hit a journalist who'd asked the wrong question; he knew that a lot of people were considering him as finished, but even after 6 months of wandering, he didn't feel like taking back his old life, not yet. He kept practicing as often as possible; without a daily work, those hands he'd been so proud of would lose their skill; the thought scared him sometimes. But after all, what the fuck? What did he bring to people, anyway? He had enough money to live a long life without worrying, why bother with work and a period of his life that was over?
He arrived at the Gritti Palace in Venice at nightfall. The old palazzo was shrouded in a cold mist, the halos of the torches in front of the entry shivering in the wind, ghostly lights surrounding him, the blurry shadow of a town; he stood there for a moment, enthralled by the sight and when he walked into the marble hall, it was like entering heaven, soft golden lights, comfortable couches, white and brown marbled floor, Bach playing softly.
His room was ready, he felt tired, so he asked for dinner there and spent some time at the window; snow had been falling all day, lazy flakes landing on his hands, dissolving in the dark water of the canal below; he stood there for a moment trying to make out the massive shape of the basilica less than a mile in front of him, but night and fog were now concealing everything; so he went back to bed.
Early in the morning he walked north to the Ghetto, walking up the narrow streets between the old buildings that had sheltered the Jewish community for centuries, losing himself in the maze of lanes still asleep under a thin blanket of sparkling snow, marvelling at the sight of such beauty, whistling his favourite melodies -Bach's Goldberg variations sounded appropriate, he thought, crossing a little bridge; that would be the next thing he'd play -if he ever played again. He walked further north until he reached the end of the peninsula, cheap modern houses, and cargos cruising in front of him -the unseen side of Venice, no tourists there, just kids playing ball and the wind blowing, snow swirling around him; he loved it, loved the snow and the shadowed streets sun seldom reached; he walked back, unhurried in spite of the cold, reached the palazzo around twelve, starving, had a quick lunch and went to his room, leaned against the window again to fill his mind with the sight of the city.
Still water reflected the ceaseless dance of clouds above, but a vaporetto came roaring, stopped some yards further, the gloomy water now troubled and choppy, small waves dancing along the terrace; he watched the busy people, students, clerks, tourists, walking out of the boat. One of the men wore a long black overcoat, Chris noticed curled wet blond hair, and something in the way he walked reminded him of Toby. Mmmmm, yes, Toby. Same hair, same stride, same strange charm; and suddenly the idea of calling Toby, for no real reason, just hear his voice, dragged him away from where he was standing to the phone beside the bed.
"Chris? Where the fuck are you?"
"Venice. Did I wake you up?"
"No. No, I was just... Venice? Wow! How's the weather?" "Cold. A lot of snow."
An easy silence filled with Toby's quiet breathing.
"Are you coming back soon?"
"Probably next week, I'll be in NY, will you join me there?" "I don't know, I work a lot but yes, I'll try. Where in Venice are you staying?" "At the Gritti's"
"Oh. Tired of one night stands?"
"Not really; it's just good to have some time alone." "I see. Listen, call me back when you're here, OK?"
Venice in winter; the choice was surprising, Toby thought after hanging up, and unexpected. What can a lonely man do in Venice?
It was the first question he asked when they met again.
"I wanted to see the Fenice, you know, it's been reduced to ashes some years ago; I'm so glad that they plan to reopen it next year; it was like some pilgrimage to me; I'd dream to play there, there are some places like that, some magic places where any musician would want to play before dying. And I walked a lot, the fog, the snow, the deserted streets; and San Marco square, nearly empty; it was wonderful. I met a Venetian Countess who invited me to play on an old piano she'd inherited from her grand father and the legend says that Stravinsky had played on it; wonderful sound, she lived alone in one of those half-crumbling palaces on a canal, had her own boat, it was... Am I boring you?"
They were sitting face to face in the restaurant of the Rihga Royal Hotel in New York, surrounded by bunches made of white wild and precious flowers, mirrors on the walls, isolated in a quiet corner, soft music playing, delicious food.
"No, you're not," Toby said, smiling, "Where else have you been?" "Roma, Venice, and before that Istanbul, London, Paris, Barcelona; La Paz, Mexico, Cairo..." "A very eclectic choice."
Chris looked down, smiling wistfully; he was dressed in black as usual; he'd grown a short dark beard; his eyes were clear and shining as sapphire; he looked younger. Happier?
"When I was a kid," he said, "I wanted to travel a lot, and I'd chosen the places where I wanted to go; seen beautiful pictures, heard about it on TV or just loved the sound of the name. I never had time to realize my dreams before."
In his mind Toby pictured a lonely dark haired, blue eyed boy, dreaming of exotic places, exotic names and tenderness overwhelmed him; he held out his hand, cupped Chris' cheek, the soft dark beard tickling his skin and Chris turned his head to kiss the warm palm, feeling it tremble against his lips, warm fingertips brushing along his jaw.
"I don't think I can wait until dessert," Toby said. "We don't have to; we'll ask to be served in my room. Come on, let's go."
They kissed in the elevator, a long devouring kiss, Chris' fingers locked behind Toby's neck, and stumbled together into the room.
The suite was huge, a living room separated from the bedroom by French glassed doors, thick beige carpet, huge windows half hidden behind heavy dark curtains, mahogany desk and the bed, covered with a grey quilt.
They fell down on it, lips still sealed, hands busy undressing each other, until they were naked, flooded with raw desire and Chris bit Toby's mouth hard, his throat, his neck, his shoulders until the other man was writhing in delight under his body.
"I go first," Chris said, licking Toby's cock, his teeth grazing along it, spreading the trembling thighs wide and licking further down until he'd reached his goal, until Toby was so ready he could've come there and then under those maddening caresses, until Chris thrust hard once and stilled, buried deep inside Toby, purring.
It was a long fuck, long and hard and merciless, Chris' new grown beard grazing Toby's skin, sending helpless shivers down his spine, Toby roaring as he came.
"Fuck, it's good."
They devoured the rest of their meal, brought in the room on a wheel cart by a young waitress and Toby wondered if Chris would try to drag her into their games but he just smiled, his gaze roaming over the girl's slim frame and coming back to Toby, hungry.
They showered; long hot shower, Chris licking the water on Toby's skin, Toby teasing the hardening cock with his soapy hand; landed on the couch and fucked again, ate some more, drank coffee.
"A shame we don't have any stuff," Chris said. "Or a drink," Toby added, his eyes closed. "No way, Toby, I don't want you to fall asleep on me like last time."
They opened the bed and snaked between fresh linen sheets, stretched out side by side. Toby turned over to lie on his side and kissed the offered spot above Chris' collarbone, tasting salt and Chris' warm skin.
"I'm going to marry Katherine McClain." "What? What the fuck do you..."
Toby sighed, leaned back, closing his eyes, heard Chris shift, his shadow hanging over him.
"Do you love her? I'd missed that part."
"I think I do."
"Wow! This does sound fucking passionate. Why do you marry her? To feel a little less lonely? Give a mother to your kids?" "They already have one."
"Come on, stop bullshitting me," Chris said, a twinge of anger in his voice, "what is this all about?"
Toby opened his eyes and looked at the face near his own, the beard that made Chris look... different, the piercing blue eyes, the hard mouth; and inside a shrewd mind that made him feel more naked than he already was.
"Maybe it's about loneliness."
"It doesn't work, Toby; believe me it doesn't."
An arm snaked around his shoulders and he was dragged closer, Chris' mouth against his ear.
"We are born alone, all of us; we live alone and die alone; all we can hope for is to find someone along the way who'll walk part of the way with us, a mate, a friend, sometimes both; but nothing lasts; and from what I know the only good reason to get married is love. Nothing else. And you don't love her."
"How do you know?"
"You wouldn't be there."
"Oh, that's it, then. Fucking you suffices to prove that I don't love her. Tell me, were you true to your wives, Mr Right?" "As long as I was married, I was. Then it was over." "I can't believe it; I was never true to Gen, not even in the beginning." "Then you didn't love her."
Toby knew that, had been knowing that from the beginning but had closed his mind and heart to the disturbing truth; and he'd known that giving up his ambitions because, as his father said, he wasn't tough enough to work among the sharks was a mistake; and now of course it was too late; but he didn't want to think about that now.
They dozed off for a while and then Chris wanted to play piano, couldn't wait; Toby saw something else than sheer whim in the darkened gaze; he saw anguish, and something unknown that demanded a release as urgent as sex, so he called the desk and explained that Mr Keller was sleepless and wished to play; would they be able to satisfy his request? They were of course, although it was past midnight, and the two men, dishevelled and barely dressed were guided by a very dignified clerk to a salon, with dark green velvet seats and a carpet thicker than the bedroom's one, and a piano, not the upright Steinway of Toby's cellar, something much more sophisticated which sight lit a smile on Chris' face. Toby thanked the clerk, gave him a generous tip and waited until he was gone to close the door. Chris sat down on the leathered stool in front of the piano and stayed still for a moment.
Toby chose a chair near enough, silent, watching; and Chris began to play, cascades of notes released by his dancing fingers from their black shining prison fluttering about the room, then fading away, replaced by others.
Strange how playing piano seemed to be such an effort, hard muscles tensing Chris' skin, his face haunted and dark whereas the music sounded light and easy.
"You can talk to me," Chris said after a while, choosing a slower piece, glancing at Toby.
"Don't you think it's time to find a new record company and start working again?"
"I am working; this is work to me."
"Yes, I know. But don't you miss doing this for a larger audience?"
Chris smiled briefly and the music changed, the sound deepened, the mood turned to something more intense, more tragic. "I am selfish; I don't need any audience." "I don't like the idea of wasting such a gift; if you died, there would be nothing left of what I'm listening."
Virtuosity again, easy and mocking; then the soul simmering so near Toby could've cried.
"I won't die," Chris said, and chuckled. "That's what you think, uh? Think you wasted your own talents? Blame your dad and your wife for that?" Toby suppressed words of annoyance, shrugged. "I used to; now I mainly blame myself." "Blaming yourself is useless, you'd better try to follow your own advice and stop giving me any; time to take back this life you've been dreaming of, baby."
Toby smiled; the way Chris called him baby had something mocking and distant he liked.
"Yeah? And how?"
"Don't marry the bitch. You showed me a picture once, she's a tidy psycho rigid bitch; believe me, I had a lot of those; she'll try to change you, turn you into someone better, someone who's not you; that's what they all do; bitches always want the perfect man, drive you crazy..."
Strange, Toby thought, the contrast between the harsh words and the music that went on flowing, wistful and heartrending; and when he began to play the Chopin's nocturne he'd played for Lea Winsley on TV 6 months ago, Toby's throat tightened and tears dwelled in his eyes - and Chris sensed his emotion even without looking at him; he continued with a stern and beautiful interpretation of Bach, something Toby couldn't identify; but when the music stopped he didn't move, frozen and Chris laughed.
"Come on!" he said, and rose, grabbed Toby's arm, fingers bruising the flesh, dragging him out of the room and up into the stairs, pushing him in a dark corner near a locked door at the end of a corridor.
"I can't have enough of you," he said, pressing Toby flat against the wall, biting the nape of his neck, his cock grinding against Toby's ass, his naked chest pressed against Toby's back, his hands snaking underneath the rumpled shirt, stroking, grazing, lower, yanking the pants down impatiently, roaring against his ear, "come on, come on, take it off, I wanna be inside you."
And the mere sound of his voice lit a blazing fire in Toby's groin.
Breathless, he turned his head to look at Chris, hard gaze, tight mouth, something merciless that should've frightened him; then two slick fingers penetrated him hard, pushing him against the wall, his mouth open against the silky wallpaper -already moaning.
"You little bitch, you like it," Chris growled and grabbing Toby's hips pulled him closer and entered him; same single hard thrust that made little painful delightful stars explode behind Toby's eyelids.
"Oh Jesus," he said, barely a whisper, but Chris chuckled, grabbed a handful of messy hair and began thrusting, hard, his breath more and more laboured sounding like thunder in the total silence of the place; thrusting so deep that Toby sobbed; the pain, the pleasure, the desire, mixing to send him higher and higher, aware of being claimed and possessed in the most primal way until he couldn't help and threw his head back, the nape of his neck hitting Chris' shoulder, and moaned loud, trying to get some air, some room to breathe, some relief, angry all of a sudden, and it was his turn to demand, "come on, come on, now, I can't wait, please, please, please," and in his ear a cold laugh; "you can take more, I know you can, wait for me, wait, wait wait," their voices entangled like a choral, soft and low, ceaselessly encouraging, teasing, soothing until it was impossible for any of them to hold back and Chris pushed hard, a last time, his hand wrapped against Toby's cock; pulling Toby back when he felt him coming, semen spurting out against the wall, down on the floor, Chris laughing as he came inside Toby, hard.
Next thing Toby remembered was being trailed along the corridor and pushed to the bed; they fell asleep still wet and exhausted; sleep overcame them and dawn creeping through the heavy dark curtains just drew a sigh from Chris who wrapped Toby in his arms tighter, caught in a warm and drowsy feeling.
Toby moved in the embrace and sighed.
"That was good."
"Yeah. I like sex with you."
Chris closed his eyes, smiling, his hand searching for Toby's cock, nimble fingers locking around it while Toby buried his face closer into Chris' neck; Chris thumb teasing the slit, Toby's sleepy body arching against his own, offered.
"Don't tempt me; I'm not ready to go again; not yet," he said. "I wonder what they thought of the mess me made in the corridor." "I guess they're used to that kind of things." "What if they have video tapes there?"
Chris laughed, "Aw, guess they'll have a good time, then, come on, it was too dark to see much. Does that bother you? Would it bother you if someone learnt about us? The sex?"
Toby frowned, tried to think about it, and gave up, unwilling to dwell on the subject, uncomfortable, suddenly.
"I guess your little woman wouldn't like that; I guess she doesn't get off with men or women in five-star hotels."
"And what do you intend to tell her when you're married, about smelling of me all over, and going to places where you got nothing to do? Or does that mean..."
The swift fingers deserted his cock, snaked lower, teased the slick opening.
"Does that mean we're done? Are we done, baby?"
Toby moaned when the fingers invaded him, he was sore and tired but it was... He didn't know how it was, he just wanted it to last more and more, and he thrust back against them, just to feel the delicious feeling again and again, listening to Chris' voice.
"I guess I got my answer."
He wanted Toby to fuck him, hard, but Toby didn't agree; there was something about Chris that asked for a lot of consideration; fucking him was like manipulating some precious object or maybe some very dangerous animal and any inconsiderate move was likely to cause a devastating reaction, so he was sweet and slow and mindful and Chris purred like a cat and came all over the sheets, shaking like a leaf, but always silent, holding back the words that often burst out from a lover's lips, but let Toby wrap him in a comforting embrace.
"Are you sure you like it," he asked, "you look frightened when I fuck you."
But Chris' eyes were closed; he was asleep and Toby didn't feel like waking him up.
When Toby was dressing, ready to leave, later in the afternoon, Chris held out a big brown envelop, and said, "For you."
"What is it?"
"Oh, stuff. Bank accounts, things like that; wherever I go, I'm not sure I can keep an eye on all that; would you do that for me, please? Call me from times to time to tell me if I'd better choose lowly hotels rather than the Gritti, you know, and if I have to come back to work and make some money?"
Toby felt anger simmering, and bitterness; would he learn someday?
"It's always like that, isn't it? You fuck me silly for two days and then... You don't have to do that to get what you want from me, you know, asking is enough; you can skip the fucking part, I know I'm not the hottest guy in the world."
He caught the expression on Chris' face, disarray, shyness maybe; he was looking uncomfortable and sorry.
"It's not about that, fuck you and your paranoid mind! The truth is that I trust you, and your skills; I'll pay you for the job."
"I meant to tell you yesterday during dinner but it didn't go quite like I'd planned."
Half-naked in the middle of a hotel room, rumpled sheets and clothes discarded on the floor wasn't the best situation to make a scene, Toby thought; he could still smell Chris on his fingers, feel his warmth inside him, and he was too old, too tired, suddenly, for a fight.
"I think everything's in it; I'm not very good at that, you know, money, legal stuff; I will hire you as my attorney if you want to; it doesn't matter to me; I just wanna make sure my life's in trustful hands."
Toby nodded. They showered together, silent.
"I'm not trying to buy you; you are hot, Toby, and I'd have sex with you anyway," Chris said roughly as they were kissing good-bye in their room "Do you believe me?" "Yeah. No. I don't know, I don't really care; I like sex with you too, let's drop it." They kissed again, crushed against each other, insatiable endless kiss; Toby broke it first and stepped back.
"Where will you go, now?" he asked, a little breathless.
"I don't know. Maybe back to Italy, maybe not. I'd love a trip to Africa, see a real lion; it's an old dream; when I was a little kid, we had a picture of a big lion in the common room at the orphanage; I often dreamed of it."
"Don't get hurt, or anything."
Later they were standing face to face outside the hotel in the freezing cold, waiting for the taxi that would take Toby back to the airport.
"I wrote my phone number inside the envelope. Please, call me from time to time," Chris said.
Then the taxi was there; time to part.
"See ya, Toby."
"Yeah. Take care."
He was gone before the cab left; Toby rested his head against the leather seat and sighed. Then he pulled out his cell phone and called Katherine Mc Clain.