"She called you?"
Chris' voice, indecipherable.
"To tell you she was pregnant?"
They were sitting on the bed in Toby's hotel room -naked. Chris sighed and came closer, wrapping his fingers around Toby's penis, barely moving, teasing, and Toby's breath caught in his throat.
"Must've been a shock, uh?"
Toby's hand on Chris' hand, trying to stop him, but Chris slapped the hand away.
"Of course I knew. What'd'ya think? She's still my fucking wife, Toby." "Jesus."
Chris laughed, gave him a hard push and Toby fell back to the bed on the soft grey quilt and stayed like that, Chris straddling him, rubbing his cock against Toby's cock, his voice deceptively soft.
"Shit happens. You fuck a woman, no safe sex, and boom, she gets pregnant. You should know, Toby, you got kids; I thought only blushing virgins still believed first time doesn't count. Did you believe that, baby?"
No, of course not; he'd been blind and deaf and mute to everything that wasn't pleasure, not giving a damn about anything at the moment; possessed by the animal desire of fucking the woman, he'd let his brain shut up.
"Like every good male in the universe, Toby; that's what we all do."
The fingers tightened their grasp on Toby's warm flesh and stroked.
"Look at yourself, you're so ready... You wouldn't let anything come in your way, right now, would you?"
Toby moaned and threw his head back, Chris eyes riveted on him, a hard smile on his lips.
"This is how the human race survives."
"You know, I'm sure that's what happened to my mother. Think about it, Toby, she was a little girl of 14 and a man wanted her; I saw pictures the cops took when they found her, so small, so fucking frail, long blond dirty hair and her dead brown eyes fixing the ceiling of that sordid place. There's been a man, Toby, just like you, just like me, just wanted to come, just wanted some release; didn't give a damn about her being still a kid, maybe she was his sister, who knows... His daughter, his neighbour's little girl, whatever, he fucked her and she fell pregnant; didn't dare speak, didn't dare show and died there."
Toby reached out blindly, hearing the pain in Chris' voice; and desire vanished as he pulled him close, a hand behind the strong neck, his cheek against Chris' wet cheek, holding him tight, their naked bodies entangled in a parody of fucking.
A minute maybe then Chris pulled away, sat on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands and Toby didn't know what to do.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"Shut the fuck up; I know you're sorry, I don't need to hear it. Sometimes, you know, being a man makes me want to puke."
"I wouldn't fuck a 14 years old girl, Chris, I wouldn't do such a thing, and wouldn't even lay a finger on such a young girl. And you wouldn't do it either." "I know that. Sometimes I wish I knew who was the bastard who did that; find out and kill him with my bare hands, slash him to pieces; a slow painful death until he begs me to let him live; but I wouldn't."
Toby came near him and threw an arm around Chris's shoulders.
"I asked the police, made some researches, but there's nothing about her; no ID, nothing but this paper in her hand with the name Keller, and no Keller had ever lost a daughter, or a sister, or a niece; it's exactly as if she'd come out from nowhere. Sometimes I wish so hard I knew... I'd give ten years of my life just to know who she was and what happened."
He shivered and Toby pulled a blanket over them to keep them warm.
"I play for her; I hope if she's somewhere and hears me, she's proud of me."
They stayed silent for a long while, Chris heartbeat slowly coming back to normal.
"What else did Susan tell you?" He asked after a while. "Nothing. She'd keep the child, she didn't need me; or you, or anyone, she planned to raise the kid by herself." "Jesus!"
"Don't expect me to take care of a kid, OK? I don't want to hear about a baby or anything."
"Will you divorce her?"
"Would you marry her, if I did?"
"If you don't divorce her, the kid will be yours, legally." "Yeah, I know that."
"I don't wanna talk about it; don't wanna hear about it anymore; when I married her, she knew, now she changed her mind, used you, used me..." "I don't think she used anyone, Chris; I think it just happened."
Bright blue eyes rested on his face for a moment. "You're so nice, uh? Always look on the bright side, don'tcha?" "It's just life, Chris; you don't have to stay with her if you don't want it. She's not in for the money, Chris, she won't stick to you." "I don't know. Maybe."
Then Chris fell silent and Toby didn't dare say anything; it was so unexpected, so stunning that he didn't want to dwell on the subject as they lay side by side for a while, watching the night stretch the shadows inside the room until darkness had swallowed everything.
"The FBI thinks I killed a guy."
"They didn't arrest you, though."
"No; they didn't find the body; but if they do..." "Then we'll see; hey, I'm a lawyer, a vicious one, I can do criminal law like anyone else if I have to."
"Yeah, I don't doubt that."
Toby snorted and combed his fingers through the cropped hair.
"I won't go back to prison, Toby, what I lived there... never more; I'd rather die."
In the darkness, Chris' voice sounded determined and cold.
"No, you don't know," Chris said before going on, "I thought I'd leave the States and settle down somewhere else, far enough. It would make things more difficult for them, wouldn't it?" "Give it a rest, Chris, no one's after you at the moment; can't you just enjoy what you've got?" "Yeah, just like you do, uh?"
"Yeah, just like I do."
They fell asleep on that and when Toby woke up, Chris was kissing him, hot biting kisses everywhere, his hand on Toby's cock again, stroking.
"Let's go back to the beginning," he said.
Toby moaned, arched his back, urging him to stroke harder. "Come on!"
"Do you want me Toby? Are you hot enough?" "Fuck me, come on!"
"Wait, wait... You know," Chris said against his ear, soft dreamy voice, "I think McKenzie's hot for you, really is; maybe we should call him."
He was teasing, the tip of his cock nudging Toby's ass, Toby's cock hard and wet and ready Chris smiled, leaned forward and said "I could call him, you'd go down to your knees, I'd tie your hands behind your back and he'd thrust his big cock in your mouth, fucking your throat, gagging you; meanwhile..."
Toby let out a trembling moan and tried to push back -Chris bit his shoulder, held him still.
"Meanwhile I'd shove my dick deep up your ass the way you like it so you'd have to take us both... Would you like it? Does that make you hot? Jesus, I can so picture that; McKenzie would love that; we could do that in his office, you know..."
He didn't wait for an answer and pushed his cock forward, one single merciless thrust that caught Toby completely off guard -and he came, helpless, impaled on Chris' body, skilful fingers just holding his pulsing cock.
"Guess I got my answer," Chris said, and then it only took a few thrusts to bring him off too. He collapsed on Toby's body, crushing him under his weight, breathless; unable to move and they dozed off for a while.
Night was fading when Chris woke up, stretched, disentangled his body from Toby's, got up and ran a tired hand across his hair, still yawning.
"I have to go," he said; and Toby didn't try to hold him back; let him go and fell asleep again in the dim light of dawn .
Back to his own hotel, Chris showered and put on clean clothes, drank a coffee and sat in front of the window, watching dawn turn into a cold cloudy day.
From the depths of his mind, an idea was slowly rising. He had to find a home; he was tired of hotel rooms, and the further from here, the safer. Soon he'd go back to Italy, he felt better there, the old building surrounded by olive trees and cypresses was a haven like no other place had ever been, the closest thing to a home he'd ever had. And he loved the house, the thick stone walls that had been protecting life for four centuries gave him an illusion of eternity; the quiet rooms, the garden divided between light and shade had become a familiar shelter and he longed to be back.
But he was still in New-York in the middle of November when the first copies of the record were sent to journalists, TV and radio channels and soon he was overwhelmed with hundreds of calls, invited everywhere, asked for interviews, exhibitions.
Toby was back home with his kids, dealing with Chris on the phone, submitting him every proposition -after a whole week of fastidious work, he managed to finalize a planning allowing Chris to return to Italy before Christmas. A quick learner like Toby didn't need to be told twice which journalists Chris would never talk to, which shows he'd never attend, and where he'd never go and he was able to answer for himself, still talking to Chris about it to make sure he'd done the right choice.
"Lea Winsley wants you on her show again."
"We talked about that already; no fucking way; the bitch asks too many questions."
"What are you afraid of?"
Liar. Chris was afraid, Toby could here it in his voice; hear the cold smile that said "don't go there."
"I'll talk to her; she'll understand, stay on a purely musical ground." "Bullshit; she can't do that; if she wants to attract a large audience, she has to dig out some shit, question the families who raised me, the hacks in prison, find something about that Daniel guy..." "Did it ever occur to you that people were more interested in the music you're playing than anything else, that you make them feel good." "Don't give me that shit, Toby. A man who plays piano, even very well, and even a hot guy, it's not enough. I know what they want, Toby, they want blood. They want the blood my mother and I were covered with when I was born, and she was dying; they want the blood they pretend to smell on my hands, they want a unhappy childhood in an orphanage and the story of a child prodigy who broke loose and ran away, killed a man in a fight, spent 3 years in a 10 foot cell with a man who was twice his age and who traded his protection for sex; a guy who married four times and couldn't keep any wife; a man who's keeping his sex life hidden. That's what they want."
Toby stretched his legs, crossed his arms; Chris had never gone so far in confidence.
"You don't have to give them anything; you can keep it all private."
"Yeah, I played this game often enough," Chris said with a disenchanted laugh, "right, long enough, but I'm 40, Toby and I'm tired. I'm a great pianist, I'd love to be a composer, some day, later; I don't want to be anything else, don't wanna be a freak. I won't go to the bitch's show. Find me something where it's only about music."
That's not my job, Toby thought, throwing a file across the room in exasperation, watching the sheets of paper land with random grace all over the floor; that's not my fucking job, I'm a lawyer, I don't know anything about Chris' world; I've got no idea of the right people to ask. "Who am I supposed to suck to have Chris on prime time in a music-only show?" he asked sotto voce, half smiling. Shit, it's so not my job.
"I warned you," his grand mother told him one day he'd taken the kids to her place for the afternoon, "this kind of man has no other love than their art. On the long haul you have nothing to hope for."
He sighed and she went on.
"Of course it can be fun for a while. You know, Toby, I knew just by the look you gave him as he was walking away that day in the hall of the theater; knew that we'd lost you." "You didn't lose me. Jesus, why does it always have to be that dramatic?" "Well that's what your family thinks, actually; apart from your kids you don't seem to be seeing a lot of people around here; your parents, your brother, even old friends... Remember, family is all you've got left when the dream is gone." "Why should it go?"
Cordelia Beecher laughed and shook her head.
"Really, Tobias, you're such a child sometimes; it's in the nature of the dreams to vanish; that's why it's useless to cling to them." "What are we supposed to cling to?"
She pointed at the kids playing in the garden with her dog, laughing happily in the sunshine.
"They are what matters."
He kept his look on them long enough, pinched his lips and said carefully.
"I'm not sure it's enough. I'm not sure of anything anymore." "If you had to choose, who would you favour?" "You know, people always want you to choose; the more impossible the choice, the better. I don't want to choose; I don't have to, Gary and Holly have a mother, and they have me; I care about them, a lot, you know that, don't you?"
She nodded with a thoughtful smile.
"But if loving them means giving up all the other sides of my life, then... I'm not ready to do that. When they're grown up, I don't want to be left with only regrets."
Like you, he thought, but didn't say it.
He spent a whole week with his children, took them to the zoo, the movies, played cards and chess with Gary, Holly watching above his shoulder, frowning in concentration, trying to understand the game; he played piano with her, and read them dozens of bed stories. Then he took them back to Gen's place and 24 hours later he was in New York, in Chris' arms, Chris' life, Chris' bed, Chris growling after him, shaking him, kissing him, fighting him; fucking each other silly.
He stuck with Chris through the whole month, back home once only for a week-end with his kids. He followed Chris to every show, generally late at night, to the studios of radio stations or TV sets where Chris was asked to play and talk about his favourite subject, music and more music. He accompanied him there, walked by his side in the cold, sat in the same taxi, stood behind the scenes, watching him, listening to him, catching furtive exasperated glances and smiling back, hidden but present, and every time Chris sat behind the piano and began to play, his heart clenched and he closed his eyes for a second, waiting for the wave to take him away from reality, to this realm where Chris was king, enthralled, captive, from the very first note to the fading echo of the last concord and the enchantment was so strong that he had to shake it off like a spell. He could recognize Chris' emotions in the tone of his voice and the way he smiled, the cooler the worse, sitting back, legs and arms crossed, a wary cold grin twitching the right corner of his mouth; music was the only moment when he let go of the instinctive cautiousness. And sex of course; even kissing in a dark corridor was sheer passion.
One night Toby felt sick and told Chris he wouldn't go with him; Chris just sat down and said he wouldn't go either; and there was nothing Toby could say to make him change his mind, so Toby finally gave in and accompanied him, nauseated, cold and feverish; Chris barely thanked him but kept him locked in a tight embrace all night long; and when it came to Chris, Toby knew that actions spoke louder than words, which didn't come easy to him.
On the last night though, two days before Toby left, as he was standing behind the stage during Lea "bitch" Winsley's TV show -Toby had finally talked Chris into coming, soothing him as a touchy stallion until he was calm enough to sit down and answer politely, his dark gaze never leaving the woman, he saw someone in the audience he'd already noticed, a week ago, a tall slim hard man, hard blue gaze, older than Chris but oddly similar, his look never leaving Chris's face. Toby watched him for a while before bringing his attention back to Chris, and then the man was gone; but at the end of the show, Toby nearly bumped into him as he was walking down the stairs to rejoin Chris, and cold blue eyes caught his, a freezing smile stretching thin lips.
"So," the man said, "You're Chris Keller's new boyfriend?"
"And you would be?"
"Agent Taylor, FBI. You should be careful, Mr Beecher, Keller's fancies don't last long; you could be his next victim."
Toby held the blue gaze and didn't let go, his mouth a thin hard line, his voice like ice.
"If you don't have anything against him, and you obviously don't, you'd better leave him alone, or I would have to believe you're somewhat harassing him, which would be a reason to sue you."
The man's laugh was as cold as his eyes.
"I can see that Keller chose a smart one, this time. Let me warn you, Mr Beecher, this man is a ferocious killer; he'll keep you as long as he thinks you're useful; then he'll throw you away; and maybe your family won't even have a corpse to bury."
He was long gone when Chris found Toby in the hall of the building, livid.
"Do you feel OK?"
"Yes; yes, I'm allright. A bit tired, I guess."
Chris' look said "you're lying," loud and clear, but he didn't voice it, just shrugged. "Thank God we're done; what about going home and spending a cosy evening together?"
They went to Chris' room, talked about the show that had gone off smoothly and Toby closed his eyes, relieved and lay on the bed.
"I bought the house," Chris said suddenly; "I thought, if there's gonna be a kid, Susan will have to find a nice place to spend the holidays; and I love it anyway." "In spite of what happened?"
Chris looked him deep in the eyes and nodded. "In spite of that yes; I guess it was some... Emotional accident. I guess maybe we're all to blame, the three of us."
Toby nodded too, swallowed hard; he was about to say something but Chris stopped him, pressing a finger against his lips.
"Wait, I'm not done; let me talk, OK, it's hard enough like that. I thought too that it would be fine to have some place I could share with you. I'm tired of hotel rooms, even luxurious ones. So, you could fly to Italy from time to time, with your kids, if you wish... and..."
Toby stood completely still, stunned and numb, trying to process the words echoing in his head; it took him some times to realize that Chris was waiting, and notice the worried look on his face.
"I... I don't know what to say."
"Yeah? First time for everything, uh?"
"Are you sure you want that? I mean me in your life?"
He saw Chris frown and added "even if it's... just a couple of weeks now and then?" "Yes; I've been thinking about it a lot; when you're by my side, I feel better, I feel... safer, more peaceful. And I share much more with you than with anyone else."
Yeah, allright, Toby thought, maybe that wasn't exactly a declaration of love, but he was not a virgin novice and Chris Keller wasn't Mr Right; and it meant something, it did, even if it took him completely off guard, even if he began to understand that there would maybe never just be Chris and him alone.
"I'd love that," he said; and that was all because Chris pounced, kissing every single inch of exposed skin, tearing off Toby's clothes, muttering crazy words, rubbing his scratchy cheek against Toby's stubble; "Jesus, how I love that; you can't imaging how much I want you," Chris muttered between those feverish kisses, "I don't know what it is about you..."
Toby shut him up, pushed him back and whispered, "I want to fuck you."
Chris roared and laughed.
"Come on, baby, do me, do me now."
Susan arrived 2 days later, just when Toby was about to leave; they met at the airport, had lunch together, exchanged a few words, hugged each other -carefully- Toby trying to process the idea that the baby growing in Susan's womb was his and failing; every time he thought about it, it was Chris' baby, and he didn't want to think why he kept thinking so.
"I'll raise him alone."
"Her," Toby said, "it might be a girl." "Doesn't matter, I'll raise the baby alone; Chris doesn't want to be a father in the traditional sense of the word and you... Have kids already. This one's mine, is that OK?"
Toby felt somewhat relieved. He didn't love Susan, Susan didn't love him; obviously, she'd taken the situation in hands; he was fine with that. He nodded, saw Chris walk up to them, his eyes dark, worried maybe that Toby would want to claim the baby; or more probably worried that someone else took his place in Toby's life.
"Time to go, Toby," he said.
They walked side by side to the gate n10, and just there Chris put down the suitcase, pulled Toby to him and kissed him, hard and deep, keeping his cheek against Toby's cheek after that; blissful moment of admission.
"You shouldn't do that... Journalists..."
A second kiss shut him up.
"No one cares, I'm not well-known enough for that. Come back soon. Call me, we have a lot of work to do."
"Yeah, you'd better," Chris said, and left, went back to Susan who waved Toby good bye. He watched them walk away together, not knowing very well how he felt about that.
He slept in the plane; woke up tired and a bit lost, retrieved his suitcase and was about to take a cab when he saw his father walk up to him, and froze. Something was wrong; Harrison Beecher's face was livid and his eyes circled with black; he looked like shit.
"Toby... Something happened; I don't know how to tell you..."
Chris. Please, let him be okay. Not Chris.
"Just say it, then."
"There has been an accident. Gen's dead and Harry... He's in a coma."
And before he had to sit down and let the searing pain tear him apart, some hidden part of Toby's mind registered something. Chris was fine.
Then he broke down and cried.