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Beta: Fantastically, encouragingly and speedily beta-ed by Dorilon. Thanks!
Copyright: Edgar C. Gambodge, Elizabeth Lightbody and Martha Grosbeak are mine. Sadly so are Father Michael and Gruner.
Warning: In my Oz universe, many of the events from the last two episodes of Season Six are fictitious.
Settling the Bill: Bonnie Pays a Call (14/17)
"So how is he?" asked Toby reluctantly.
He and Bonnie, Chris's favorite ex, were sitting at opposite sides of a small window in the corner of the visiting room. Holding the `phone to her ear with one plump and dainty hand, Bonnie spread her other hand on the grimy counter top and examined her manicure. Toby noticed she had long peach-colored artificial nails. They matched her lipstick.
"Let's put it this way," said Bonnie, "he doesn't leave the apartment, except to go to therapy. He's got some workout equipment stashed in one of the rooms and he says he's studying. But I don't think he's doing much other than moping. He doesn't even go out for meals. He just orders in."
"Everyone in the city orders in," Toby pointed out.
"He doesn't answer the `phone and the TV's always on," Bonnie fielded. "He's definitely depressed again."
"Maybe that's just a natural reaction to being released. Not having any boundaries or routines anymore. Takes one a while to find one's feet," Toby said knowingly. "Anyway he's seeing this Elizabeth woman."
Reading Chris's letter and listening to him open up to Elizabeth in a way he'd never done with Toby, Toby felt a little jealous of Elizabeth, although he hardly admitted his jealousy to himself. Elizabeth with Chris's full attention on her. Even Sister Pete had been surprised at how much Chris had opened up to Elizabeth.
"Elizabeth is his shrink, for goodness sake," snapped Bonnie, "not his girlfriend. So he has told you about her. Did he tell you what they've been discussing?"
"The abuse?" said Toby uncomfortably.
Chris's latest letter and the audiotapes had left him not knowing what to think.
"It's probably another scam," he told Bonnie defensively.
Bonnie gave him a hard look.
"I've known Chris a lot longer than you have," she said at last, "and I know what it must have cost him to tell you about that stuff. He still blames himself for it."
So Chris had discussed it at length with Bonnie. But not him.
"He's using it to make me pity him,' Toby retorted, feeling scaly for saying so.
He couldn't shake that "Death Row" feeling about Chris's correspondence or those last few episodes with Chris before he left Oz.
"He wouldn't do that!" said Bonnie angrily.
"He's capable of anything," said Toby with conviction.
"Toby - " began Bonnie.
"Tobias," said Toby on reflex.
"You don't look like a `Tobias'," Bonnie told him, "not with that beard."
Toby slumped against the back of his chair.
"Okay, okay," he said, "say what you've come to say."
"Chris needs you," Bonnie said.
Toby started rubbing his `phone-free hand through his hair.
"He's very fragile right now and he needs your support."
"How am I supposed to help him from in here?" Toby asked. "Especially when I'm back here because of him?"
"You're back here because of you," Bonnie retorted. "All you had to do was `phone me and check his story. Plus, you knew what he was asking would be breaking your parole. You're a lawyer, for chrissakes."
They glared at each other through the glass for a moment. Toby was wondering how Chris did it, getting people to feel sorry for him and overlooking the heinous things he did. Bonnie was thinking who knows what. It was impossible to tell from her expression. Of course, Toby couldn't discount that Bonnie might be telling the truth about Chris. He just didn't want to get taken again and he also thought that Chris should not escape unscathed from Oz, after setting him up and keeping him away from his long-postponed life and his family.
"Why would I help him?" asked Toby eventually, realizing he wasn't going to outstare Bonnie.
"Because you love him," she said, "and he loves you."
"What about you?" Toby demanded. "Or Kitty or Angie?"
"Kitty and Angie have their own lives. I'm married to someone else who already thinks I spend too much time with my ex as it is and I'm pregnant. Not that you'd be able to tell. I'm gonna lose this weight after the baby's born, I swear."
"When are you due?" asked Toby.
"Four months," Bonnie told him. "My first. I want to have at least two."
"Kids are great,' said Toby softly.
"Chris told me about your kids," Bonnie said more sympathetically, "all of them."
Toby didn't want to talk about Gary just then. Or what had happened with Chris at that time. But he guessed Bonnie knew, even though she didn't seem to blame him.
"I was involved with somebody else too, before I got sent back to Oz," said Toby after a pause. "Of course she's not interested in me now."
"Wasn't she your daughter's school teacher?" asked Bonnie. "Is that allowed? It shouldn't be."
"She was sweet and...nice," Toby said miserably. And she was unconnected with Oz.
"You hadn't known her long. You went on a few dates. You and Chris have shared much more than that. That's gotta count for something."
"Tell me something, Bonnie," Toby interrupted her, "doesn't it bother you that your ex-husband is in love with a man?"
"Personally," said Bonnie, shifting the receiver to her other ear and fiddling with her dangly gold earring, "when we first met, I thought he was gay and was just being friendly. Gaydar. I'm never wrong. I met him one night when he came into the ICU where I was doing nightshift. Some type of accident with his bike. We started out as friends. Our relationship didn't work out because...For a lot of reasons, I guess. Let's just say I eventually realized he was at least bi. He never cheated on me, or on the other gals. When he's with you, he's with you. But I always thought he'd be happier with a guy. And he has been with you, for the most part, despite everything. You've been good for him. He's the most stable he's been in years."
Toby quailed at the thought when he remembered Chris in the Prop Room.
"How do you expect me to save him?" was all he said.
"I don't." Bonnie replied. "He doesn't need that. He's a big boy. He can do it himself. He needs you to love him. To give him something to come back for."
"If you thought he was gay and your marriage was so crappy," asked Toby, changing the subject, "why did you marry him again?"
"I married him the second time out of pity. He was a mess. Drinking too much. Living too hard. He was outta control. I agreed to remarry him if he got himself sorted out. But that didn't last long because he kept the wrong company. And I pushed him too hard to go to therapy and then he went off the rails completely. I think he actually hit that grocery store as a way of indirectly committing suicide. Pull a gun on a store owner in that part of town and you're bound to get shot. A few weeks before the hit, he kept telling me he had taken out an insurance policy on his life. But his survival instinct must've kicked in and he fired on reflex when the store owner drew his gun. `Course he was also doing a lot of drugs. Reason I left the second time. I don't handle substance abuse real well."
Bonnie noticed Toby's surprise.
"What?" she demanded. "You think he left me? I left him both times. Just like Kitty and Angie. Second time we hitched up I thought because we were both almost ten years older and more mature, it'd work out. But I couldn't do it. And I can't do it now. Pick up the pieces again. I'm not proud of bailing out `cos I love him despite our differences. And I'm doing what I can do to help him. I want him to be happy, but I'll settle for alright."
"It's reactive depression - he'll get over it," said Toby, feeling put upon.
"There's more to it. Do you know about the anxiety attacks?" Bonnie asked him. "Didn't think so. He'd never mention that. Apparently he's been having them since Cedar Junction."
She clearly had a number of weapons in her arsenal.
"I've seen so little of him since then," Toby admitted guiltily. "He wrote me from Death Row, but he never said anything about anxiety attacks."
Or anything else, for that matter, other than how much he missed Toby. Never what it was like being there or whether he felt scared. It took Hell to force that admission out of him.
"He didn't say anything to me either," said Bonnie with grim satisfaction at Toby's response, "but I kinda guessed `cos I know the signs. I wanted him to go into therapy when we were married, especially when I found out about the abuse, but he didn't want to and I guess the sessions are taking their toll on him now. I tried to get him out of the apartment a bit a little while back, but he just crumbled."
"What do you mean?" Toby demanded, feeling his own anxiety flare up at the thought of Chris crumbling completely this time.
"At first he just got real tense and then, when I tried to make him go sit in the park a bit and take in some sun, he got the shakes and started hyperventilating and I had to take him home. Then he told me how he'd started having these panic attacks in Cedar Junction and that he'd also seen a shrink there for a while. He's on medication for it now, but he needs more than pills. He needs people around him who care."
"He's seeing a lot of my family," said Toby, "so I guess he is getting out more than you realize."
"He's only doing it to be close to you," Bonnie had an answer as always.
"Okay, okay, I'll speak to him on the `phone," Toby conceded at last. "But I can't promise how things will go after I'm out of here."
If that ever happens, he thought pessimistically to himself.
"Why?" Bonnie inquired. "You think you're too good for him?"
"I'm just a bit reluctant to introduce my children to Chris. I mean a lot of shit has come to light about what he was really doing before Oz and I just don't want my family mixed up with that sort of..."
"You'd rather he were a serial killer than a hood?"
"I'm not exactly the World's best father," Toby said, "but I'm trying not screw things up more than I already have. You don't understand. Yet."
Bonnie stared at him for a moment. Toby wondered if this was a trick she'd learned from Chris or if he learned it from her or if, maybe, it was one of the commonalities that drew them together in the first place.
"There is one other thing," said Bonnie.
Toby's heart sank. What now? Would Visiting Day never end?
"Chris told me about the grandparents adopting your kids."
"Does he tell you everything?" asked Toby angrily.
"Pretty much," said Bonnie, pursing her lips.
Toby had felt like a bad father for longer than he could remember. Even before Oz. His guilt over what his drinking and workaholism were doing to his kids had made him drink more. After Kathy Rockwell and his prison sentence, Toby had thought he'd hit barrel-bottom in the fatherhood stakes. The fact that his own father had stood by him so unstintingly through all of this had only made his guilt worse. And then there was Gary.
After Gary, Toby decided his surviving children would be better off without him. So when his parents-in-law offered to adopt Harry formally after Toby broke his parole, he agreed to let them. It was just a matter of sorting out the paperwork and choosing the best time to move Harry to San Diego permanently. His in-laws had taken Harry for extended holidays for years to take the strain off the Beechers when he was a baby and to keep him safe after Holly and Gary were kidnapped.
Toby was also discussing formalizing Holly's adoption with his mother. Everyone had decided that it would be less disruptive for Holly if she stayed with Grandma Beecher, who had been a second mother to her since Gen's death. He hadn't told Chris. Guess Mother must have. Bonnie clearly didn't approve and Toby felt guilty. Guilt often made him feel angry and so he felt angry about it too.
"You shouldn't give up on your kids," said Bonnie. "Chris thinks so too..."
"Neither you nor Chris has a right to tell me what to do with my kids," Toby told her.
"That's the problem with you, Toby," said Bonnie. "You give up on folk."
"That's enough," said Toby, trying not to see his behavior in terms of Bonnie's verdict. "This conversation is over."
"Wait. You think I don't understand what you've been through in Oz and here?" demanded Bonnie.
"You haven't a fucking clue," Toby told her, preparing to hang up the `phone.
"You're right," she said. "I don't. Chris is the only one outside who can understand what you've been through. No one else will. You can't go back to what you had before - it's gone. You gotta move on, pal."
Toby was still spluttering as she hung up on him.
Toby was placing a call to Chris. He'd waited a long time for his turn. Like in Oz, the `phones in Lardner always seemed extra busy just after Visiting Day was over. Prisoners trying to rejoin the living. They jostled each other, hustled each other along. Everybody wanted his turn and timed the other inmates' calls jealously. Fights erupted constantly in the lines. The hacks were growing testy. But, for some reason, Toby was left to place his call unmolested. He suspected O'Reily had a hand in that.
Chris sounded as if he'd just woken up, although it was only three in the afternoon. Toby had wanted to take Chris to task about discussing his kids with Bonnie, but couldn't remember all of a sudden why that seemed so important. And he kept imagining Chris's wounded-puppy eyes against the backdrop of a too-quiet apartment.
"Are you okay?" asked Toby on reflex.
"Yeah. You?" said Chris predictably.
"Yeah," said Toby floundering.
He fed another quarter into the slot while he wondered what to say.
"Bonnie came to see me today," he said at last, rather lamely.
"Yeah, she told me you were looking okay."
Toby could tell nothing from Chris's tone. Smooth as always. In control.
"So Mother told you about the kids?" Toby was surprised at how conversational he sounded.
He didn't have the strength or inclination to get worked up about it. He knew he'd done right in having Holly and Harry's grandparents adopt them. He'd taken years to make up his mind. But Chris thought differently.
"Don't let your kids go, Toby. Think it through. Think how they'll understand it. Their father throwing them away."
Toby should have felt angry or at least irate. Instead he felt tired and defeated. Also kind of numb. He fed quarters.
"I don't trust myself or my judgment any more, Chris. They need a stable home with grown-ups who can be parents to them."
He thought he sounded fine, if a little flat, but clearly Chris heard otherwise.
"Baby, don't. I'll make it okay."
"Christ. I'm sorry, Toby. I'll do what I can. You daughter's a great little girl - she needs her daddy."
"Then get me out of here, Chris, so I can be with her."
Toby was impressed with himself. He'd managed an entire conversation with Chris without yelling or feeling confused or conflicted for the first time since...well, since he himself had been paroled, to be honest. Things had begun to deteriorate between him and Chris once he'd got out of Oz and was rebuilding his life outside. Coming back to Oz to visit Chris had quickly become a duty, made oppressive by Toby's unwillingness to return there in any capacity. And then he'd felt guilty about his reluctance.
He now saw for the first time that he had also not wanted to say "goodbye" to Chris the times he visited him in Oz. That had made him feel scrambled too. He recognized with a pang that same reluctance to say "goodbye" now, as the conversation ran down. He leaned his forehead against the shiny, yellowed enamel-painted wall and tried to shut out the discordant noises around him.
"Chris, don't hang up, wait, okay? Wait - I've got something I need to say, okay? I...I'm sorry, Chris. Those tapes...I should have called you, but I didn't know what to say..."
The silence on the other end of the `phone was almost palpable, but Chris did not disconnect.
"Chris, are you there? It's okay, Chris. I wish you'd told me sooner though, `cos now I understand..."
A slight snort on the other side? Toby quickly tossed in more quarters and twisted the cord around his left hand.
"I mean, I don't know what it was like, but I know what you're like better now and I just wanted to say that it has changed the way I think about you..."
There was a far-away intake of breath and Toby hurried on:
"In a good way, I mean. I respect you more now that I know where you're coming from and...Chris, are you there?"
He sounded wound up and defensive. And distinctly anxious, Toby thought.
"Do you want...I mean, you can tell me...is there anything you want to tell me about what happened? `Cos you can, you know. It's okay. But you don't have to..."
Chris was silent. Toby knew suddenly that Chris was clenching his jaw muscles on the other end of the line.
"What that man did to you was wrong, Chris, and I'm sorry..."
"Yeah, I know."
Silence fell between them again. A thinking silence. It lasted a while. Toby spoke first.
"Chris, you're going to be okay. I won't run out on you. I wanted my old life back, but I know now that it's gone. It's been tough. I didn't realize how much changed while I was in Oz and I've got to make a new life. I want you to be part of that, okay? I love you and I'm sorry I hurt you..."
"You don't gotta say that, Toby."
"I want to, Chris. I mean it and I should've said it long ago. You deserved better, Chris."
"You too, Toby...Toby?"
"I'm here, Chris."
So Toby stayed on the line, feeding quarters into the slot, not talking much and Chris, on the other side, barely talking at all.
At last Toby had to say, "I'm down to my last three quarters. Do you want to call me back?"
"I'd rather come and see you, Toby," said Chris. "I'm missing you. I wish I was with you now."
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