Many, many thanks to Velvet-Laura-Autiger for her wonderful feedback -I needed it.
Toby had to sit down. Of all the unexpected events, this one was the most stunning ... Shit. Shit, he'd never thought that could happen and he realized suddenly how stupid he'd been; as if he'd not heard enough warnings from Chris' lips.
"So," he said, "you're in love."
Happy laugh far away; his throat tightened. "Yeah. You can't mistake it for anything else." "I'm... Happy for you. When is the wedding scheduled?"
The laugh turned to something more embarrassed but still happy... "It's done, already; you know, we couldn't wait so we took the first flight to Los Angeles and got married three weeks ago; aw, Toby you should see her, she's... She's the best thing that ever happened to me."
Insensitive bastard, Toby thought.
"Oh, well, I..." What the hell was he supposed to say? I wish I'd never met you, I wish I'd never believed you, I wish I'd been more careful, I wish you'd both burn in hell, I wish you're never able to use those wonderful hands of yours again?
"I wish you both a lot of happiness," he said.
"I think I'm gonna pick my life back up from where I left off; find a new record company, play again, work again; now I got a goal again, everything has a new meaning; maybe we'll have kids..." "Find a new record company? That's going to be a tough one, the way we fucked the last one over will make the others wary."
Chris was back to professional mode; Toby could guess a frown, hear a sigh. "Yeah, I know that. I thought maybe... Listen, we should talk about that; what about taking up an extra job?"
Here we are, Toby thought, and this time, no fucking me senseless to drag me in.
"Extra job? Like?"
"Like being my agent."
Toby sat down.
"Your agent? You're joking, right?"
"Listen, you didn't sound that enthusiastic about your job last time we met." "Oh? I don't remember having any coherent conversation back then," Toby said.
Chris laughed; he was obviously floating on his own little happy cloud; nothing would reach him.
"Right; but anyway... what I have to offer is much more pleasant and much more ... adventurous? You need adventure, don't you? And it's a part time job, you don't have to leave Daddy's practice; meet new people;"
There was a slight calculated pause.
"We can be together a lot."
Don't you fucking dare!
"We've never been together, Chris," Toby said, his voice hard, "so let's stay on a professional ground, drop the rest -it was good for me; I hope it was good for you."
Strange, Toby thought, how a long professional training makes you able to play your part while you're wiping tears off you face. "Tell me what you want."
He listened to a different Chris Keller, a smart, determined and wise man who knew exactly what he wanted and how; he'd had time, Toby thought, to make it up, all of it, during 8 months or wandering -or 7 of wandering and one month of sheer passion with that woman -whoever she was.
He didn't agree, not at once; said he didn't have much time, that his own wedding with Katherine McClain was approaching and that Chris would have to wait for a month at least. Chris didn't say anything about Toby's wedding; he intended to spend a whole month at least enjoying holidays with his wife, take her to Venice, Rome. They agreed on a professional appointment in the office of the Beecher practice in New-York, a month later at noon; and Toby hung up, his hand shaking.
So... It was love, this pain, this piercing pain that made breathing difficult, that crushed his breast, that pulled him down to the floor until he was curled up against the wall, limp body racked with sobs; pain and fear, fear that the pain would never stop and as he went through all the people and things that filled his life -his kids, his job, his friends, Katherine, he felt nothing but sickness and pain.
What was the use of being so smart and witty and sharp if it didn't make him able to acknowledge his own feelings soon enough to run away? He was supposed to fuck with other people's mind and he'd been played by someone tougher, stronger, smarter; that one hadn't been to Harvard, hadn't needed to; talented hands, piercing blue eyes, a devastating smile, and sex as a weapon and a shield had been enough.
He didn't go to work, got drunk instead, and when he surfaced again the pain was still there, nestled in the depths of his body, in his heart, his belly, his mind aching with it. He felt stupid and worthless, and grief was washing over him in restless waves; panic threatened to overwhelm him. Uncaring of the hour, he called Neill and Neill came and sat on the couch in front of Toby, dressed in his classy pearl grey suit, caressing his trimmed beard, dark eyes fixed on Toby's devastated silhouette.
"So you fucked a guy; just tell me it wasn't the kind of stupid unprotected sex you used to practice long ago."
It was; Toby buried his face in his hands.
"OK, so, that's why you called Katherine Mc Clain and told her that you needed time, that your divorce had left scars that were difficult to heal and all this psychological bullshit?"
"How do you know?"
"What do you think? She's my friend too, and she too needed a sympathetic ear; wanted to hear some comforting words, just like you, my friend. Except she got it, and you won't."
Toby spread his arms wide.
"Because I don't like the way you behave; I don't like the way you kick everything and everyone away and throw yourself head first in a disaster. You betrayed Katherine exactly like you betrayed Gen; they meant nothing to you as soon as you'd found someone more exciting. So don't come complaining now that you're left alone because my dear, you deserve it."
In the long silence that followed, Toby could hear his own loud breathing and his own blood rushing through his ears, pulsing in his brain; Neill left without a single word.
A week later Toby read a magazine in the waiting room of his office; Chris Keller and his new wife's picture in it like a knife plunging straight into his heart. They looked happy, Chris' bright delighted smile spoke volumes; Toby barely noticed the woman, she was about his age, a little slim short brown-haired ordinary person, he thought. He didn't want to dwell on that, didn't want her face to wake him up at night and the sight of such a genuine happiness to haunt him; he put the magazine back down and went to his desk to work.
In the end he called Katherine and told her he'd made up his mind and he wanted to marry her. He hoped he sounded enthusiastic enough, probably did. She began talking about all that was left to do; he understood that she would go for something traditional and expensive, and it pleased him; he wanted to bury Chris Keller's memory under a lot of ribbons, false laughs, gold, satin and velvet, and after that take back his old reasonable life. He would've married her immediatly but now it was Katherine's turn to ask for a delay in order to organize the perfect ceremony and it looked like he wouldn't be done with that before the beginning of July.
"I think that a honeymoon in Venice... We deserve some romantic time together, don't we?"
He said no, not Venice, anywhere but there; he couldn't stand the mere idea of that. She looked disappointed, but didn't fight on that. They'd go somewhere else; Toby guessed she was excited at the idea of going through dozens of travel catalogues to find the right destination.
Weeks went by; he drowned himself in alcohol and work but the hours between dawn and sunset still seemed to stretch endlessly, leaving him in a state of numb boredom at best, dark depression at worst; he didn't even think anymore, just clenched to life like a wounded animal. He couldn't believe it was just about love. Love couldn't cause so much pain, there had to be something else, something deeper inside that had been awakened by Chris' betrayal. What betrayal? No promise had ever been made, and the situation had been clear from the very beginning; just sex, and business; no love. But how do you resist love when you don't even feel it gripping your heart, not until it's too late?
Finally it was the middle of May and he knew he wouldn't make it to the appointment with Chris Keller -the day he should've gone to New York, he got drunk and locked himself inside the house.
Chris waited for three hours, three fucking hours sitting on a leather couch in an impersonal office; fed with coffee and whatever he wanted. The secretary looked more and more uncomfortable as time went by. She'd tried to call Toby but got no answer, and now Chris was beginning to worry. He went through magazines, read a very harsh report about the private concert he'd given to celebrate his wedding; the genius was gone from his music, the journalist said, and although Chris knew it was the truth, he'd been bad, he felt angry, couldn't take it any longer, rose, grabbed his jacket and left without a word, cold rage overwhelming the initial concern.
In the taxi that took him to the airport, he closed his eyes and tried to find some peace of mind. He'd believed, this time. He'd believed that this wedding was the perfect one and Susan the perfect woman, would make him feel what he wanted to feel -peace and security. He'd trusted her on that; she was pretty, sexy, inventive, smart, educated; she loved sex. She was like a candy it would take a whole life to savour.
He'd been right, mostly; Susan was great; she knew nothing about the music he played, but was eager to learn; she listened to him faithfully, her hands crossed between her knees, frowning in concentration. She had moderate opinions about people and things, didn't get angry easily. She didn't want any kids, which was fine to him and there was nothing she liked more than a good walk in the country that made her cheeks red and her eyes shining, her laugh bouncing in the air; she was a talented painter and would have a career of her own; she was also vulnerable and tender...
Perfect. And still something was missing. He loved her; he knew he did; but...
He spent a long time at the airport, hesitating; and finally the flight he boarded wasn't the one that would've taken him back home. In the plane he let his frustration grow, kept his gaze on the clouds outside, his jaw clenched so hard he could feel the pain. Later he rented a car and drove to Toby's house.
Toby heard the noise, something pounding on his door dragged him out of his drunken stupor and he managed to sway downstairs, swearing, fighting a relentless headache; hands trembling as he opened the door, leaned against the wooden pane and saw Chris' strong frame standing in the misty light of dawn, bloodshot eyes matching his own, unshaven like him, tight lips, hard gaze -upset.
"Why didn't you come?" Chris said, his voice strained, oozing anger. "Because I didn't want to. Why don't you ask your wife to do the job, why do you need me?" "She's my wife, not my fucking secretary!"
All the strength Toby had left, all the pain he felt exploded in the blow; his fist crashed against Chris' face and blood spurted from a hurt nose and a cut lip with surprising strength, running down Chris' chin, his sweater, his shirt. It took him a moment to realize and he hit back, hard; pushed a stumbling Toby inside the house and closed the door.
"You motherfucker! you fucking let me down!"
They faced each other for a moment, panting, both bloody, scruffy, their hands clenched in fists, like bulls ready to fight. Toby stepped back first, looking for some way out until he was trapped; Chris grabbed his wrists and slammed them hard against the wall above Toby's head.
"You let me down," he said.
"Listen I think we should..."
"You-let-me-fucking-down, didn't keep the appointment we'd made. Just fucking tell me why!"
Toby closed his eyes and let his throbbing head fall down -as any good predator would, Chris understood the meaning of the gesture and the painful grip on Toby's wrist loosened.
Their breathing calmed down. They went to the kitchen, washed their faces silently, wiping away the blood and the anger. Chris looked exhausted suddenly.
"Listen," Toby said, "you get some sleep and then we talk that through."
A wary look roamed over his face.
"Yeah? Will you talk about it?"
"Yes. Come on now; I have a room..."
"I can sleep upstairs, in the attic."
He woke up in the morning, later, looked around, lost. He saw Toby sitting on a chair, near the bed; half naked, hair wet; he'd showered, smelled of soap and Cologne. Chris held out a hand and touched cool shivering skin, the room was cold, rain pouring outside, a strong wind swirling around. What kind of a fucking weather was that for the first day of June?
"Come on, come in here with me!" he said, throwing back the covers. Toby hesitated and finally moved, slipped between the sheets, surrounded by Chris' smell, hot skin against his own, warm breath against his neck, the feather light touch of long fingers along his face. He heard a satisfied sigh and shifted, looking for the right position.
"In one of those families where I lived as a kid there was a cat; he decided he liked me; he used to do the same thing. Except you're bigger."
Just before falling asleep Toby stretched against Chris, yawning, and a memory surfaced from long ago; the way he used to sneak into his parents' bed in the middle of the night and sleep there, buried in the warmth and smell of their familiar bodies, leaning against his father's heavy bulk, his strength comforting the shy little boy he was at the time, wondering if he'd ever be that strong, that impressive, sure he wouldn't. The same sensation so many years later as he pressed his body against another one.
They slept through the day nestled against each other and Chris woke up first, lips swollen, nose aching, his heart beating slow against Toby's chest, his arms around the other man's waist. He stretched and Toby shifted, opened his eyes and looked around.
"Jesus fucking Christ... What time is it?" "Don't know. End of the afternoon, I guess; d'ya have to go somewhere?" "No; I don't have the kids this week."
Merciless, Chris' hand slid down, brushed against Toby's cock.
"Wanna get laid, baby?"
"Please, don't play this game."
Chris turned over and rose, looming over Toby, his thumb brushing against the soft skin of his lips, forcing them open and entering the wet mouth.
"Do you think it's a game? Do you know how I felt when you didn't show up, yesterday? Do you fucking know how I felt?"
The thumb withdrew and Chris' lips crushed the wet mouth, hard and demanding kiss.
"You bastard," he said, barely letting go to get his breath back "you'd better have a very good reason."
"Or I'm gonna fuck you silly until you beg me to stop."
The thumb brushed against Toby's lips again, slid up his jaw, his cheek, and they kissed again.
"What about being true to your wife?"
"I'm true. I love Susan like crazy, she's my personal sunshine."
Toby closed his eyes, holding back the tears.
"Yeah? And what does that make me? "
"That makes you my sparkling evening star."
He was so near, Toby had to turn his head on the side to escape his warm, his heady scent.
"I don't think I can do that."
"Why? Because you're gonna marry your bitch? What's that, Toby? A pissing contest? I get married so you get married too? Or did you fall in love, finally?"
He was pushed back, hard, and Toby rose, angry, ready for another fight.
"You fucking don't dare talk to me that way or..."
Two arms pulled him back, warm mouth kissing away the anger. "Hey come on, come on, it's OK, I didn't mean to insult you; what I mean is, if you marry her, when am I gonna see you?"
Sheer astonishment left Toby speechless; he looked Chris deep in the eyes looking for a clue.
"You're asking me... You're asking me not to marry Katherine because it would bother you? Because I wouldn't be as available as I've been until now? Is that it?"
Chris didn't answer, graced him with a secretive smile that said, "I know you."
Go to hell, Toby thought, you don't know the half of it; but the hand on his cheek was caressing and the whisper so soft and soothing.
They fucked, ravenous, Toby asking for more, and more, please, give me more, and sobbing in pleasure, his head thrown back against the pillow, his throat offered to Chris' teeth, his body shaken by Chris' merciless thrusts, strong hands pushing his thighs back to give Chris a better access, allow him to thrust deeper, change the angle, make Toby yell in surprise; bringing him on the very edge of pleasure, and Toby begging, "keep me there, keep me there, please..." before the fall, before he sank and drowned himself in ecstasy, his fingers bruising Chris' arms hard, pushing himself back against the hard cock, sure to be sore for days, wanting to be, and finally lying limp and boneless under Chris' weight, Chris' roar echoing in his ears and his own laugh... Jesus, that was good.
He was so lost he didn't hear the door open, but Chris did, turned his head to watch and growled.
"Wanna join us?"
Toby heard a soft cry of surprise and dismay, felt his body freeze in horror; the door slammed, footsteps echoed down the stairs for a while; Chris gave Toby a crooked smile; "Guess that was your Katherine?"
After that Toby spent the evening curled up on the bed, trying to process what had just happened -Jesus how was he going to get out of this shit, what was he going to tell her?- until Chris got up to sit in front of the piano.
"Did someone play lately? It's not the same score." "What? Oh, er... Yes, I'm teaching Holly; she said she wanted to learn so I thought I could teach her; I'd like her to learn something from me, not only from Gen; the kids are with her most of the time so..." "Does she like it? Holly? Learning's boring." "I stop when she gets bored; but Gen tells me she practices everyday, half an hour without complaining. She's only 7 anyway."
Chris gaze was fixed on Toby's mouth.
"I'm sure you're a very patient and very good teacher, Toby; I'm sure I would've loved you to teach me." That earned him a tired smile.
Chris played, randomly as usual, Bach, some Mozart, a very beautiful Fugue from Cesar Franck and... Debussy, maybe? Music flooded the room; Toby barely caring at first until something changed. He heard something new in the way Chris played, something urgent and naked and powerful, but still balanced and smart and it was something Toby hadn't heard for a very long time. Probably Chris had played that way during the memorable concert at the end of the masterclass, but Toby wasn't there.
"Jesus, I don't think I ever heard anything that beautiful," he said.
"Yeah?" Chris stopped playing. "The guy who writes for the New York Times said I'd fucking lost my genius, that the music sounded empty."
He turned to Toby, he was staring.
"You didn't lose anything, Chris, I know enough to be sure about that." Chris smiled, a narrow secret smile that barely reached his eyes. "Maybe I'll have to fuck you before every show," he said "maybe it's because of you. Maybe you inspire me."
The blue gaze raked over Toby.
"Will you work with me, Toby?"
Fuck. Fuck it all, he wanted to.
"Yes, I will; for a while at least."
Chris nodded, gave Toby the same strange smile. Three hours later he was gone, just moments before dawn.
And the hardest part was yet to come, Toby thought; he had to confront Katherine. He was in his office at 8:30, anxious and sleepless; she was waiting for him, cold as marble. If she'd cried, it was over now; she'd always been tough that way, keeping all the vulnerability deep inside. She stared at him with obvious disgust, waiting for him to talk first and he didn't find anything to say.
"Listen, I'm genuinely sorry, I didn't intend..."
She raised a manicured commanding hand, cutting him short. He'd forgotten how impressive she could be when she was angry, and even her sexy grey suit and high heel shoes didn't make her the slightest bit more human.
"Please don't, Toby. I should've listened to Gen long ago but I thought she was talking out of jealousy. I should've listened to Neill, but I didn't trust him; you looked like the perfect man to me, nice and caring. After what I saw yesterday... I don't know who was that man with you but..."
Relief flooded Toby; at least he wouldn't have to protect Chris against any indiscretion.
"I don't know who he was, but I saw enough. It is over, we're done; I've been lenient enough, gullible enough... I'll let you tell your father about it; and please don't pretend anything but the truth, you lied enough, to all of us. And I hope you won't mind if I keep my job here..."
He did mind, but he kept silent. His father had just hired Katherine, she was a very good lawyer, they needed her.
"Maybe it's better this way," she said after a while, but he knew she lied. He could tell by her slightly trembling voice. She couldn't feel relieved, she had been betrayed too much. He remembered Chris' words before he left.
"Be careful... 'Hell hath no fury...' You know, that kind of stuff." "Not her, she's not that kind of woman."
But now, watching Katherine, her raised chin, her loathing gaze, he wondered if Chris hadn't been right, maybe the worst part was still to come. After she'd left he spent a long time motionless, trying to figure out his own life now; but it was impossible so he went back to work. He'd think about that later, after Chris' call -he guessed he'd spend a the next days waiting for Chris' call. And how pathetic was that?
Then, the phone rang.