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This story is written for the Remix III (http://remix.illuminatedtext.com/index.php) and as such bares a passing resemblance to "Chrysalis" by Mandy (http://www.livejournal.com/users/geneticallydead/95825.html).
The Story is an Abstraction
Being in an office again is daunting. It throws him upside down and side to side for the first few days. Panic sets in regularly. It lasts from the moment the receptionist says a chirpy, "Good morning, Tobias," to the moment he picks up the first file in his in-tray. Each day he thinks about turning around and going home. Each day he makes it through to five o'clock one file at a time.
His office is a small, makeshift space at the back of the building. It once housed archives and hence has a repository feel to it. There are no windows and between the two filing cabinets and his desk there is just enough room to walk in and sit down.
His boss is a friend of his father's, kind enough to hire him, smart enough to leave him alone and let him get on with his job. His supervisor is an ass and Toby is dimly aware he's been hired to make sure the ass doesn't make a bigger ass out of himself. Toby wonders how the ass got the job, whether he was someone else's son in trouble.
He fixes contracts - revises, re-assesses, re-writes. He starts from the beginning; edits out the flaws and the generalisations and adds his own explanations, clauses and appendices until the entire document is transformed into a new contract bearing little relation to the original. He writes bullet point briefing notes for the ass to follow. Legalese for nursery school. All those hours in front of Miss Sally and he's learnt a thing or two about communicating with simpler minds. When he's done, his supervisor presents the contract to the client and takes credit.
His boss says he understands Toby's contribution to their successes but allowing a former inmate of a maximum security prison to counsel their best clients is a risk he's not prepared to take. He says, "You understand," and Toby thinks that not only does he understand but he doesn't care. He lives a quiet life now, demands less of life.
He tells himself he could take his boss and his supervisor in a fight. It's an odd comfort. He knows things, has seen things they'll never see. Every man has an animal inside and civilisation can fall away without warning. The knowledge is a crutch, a survival mechanism.
He's aware that he's distant. So on Fridays he joins the rest of his firm for drinks at the bar across the street. He drinks coke - tomato juice if he's not sleeping.
The ass says, "It must be hard being a teetotaller when everyone around you is drinking."
Toby looks at him in disbelief. "Piece of fucking cake," he says.
The secretaries flirt with the lawyers but they flirt with him too because he's distant and mysterious and for some reason that's a turn on. Maybe they like the fact that he's polite, says "please" before asking them to do his copying. Maybe they like him because his ass is tight when he bends over to help them lift boxes or because his arms barely conceal the muscle he's worked on all those years in Oz. Maybe that's what women are into now.
He didn't understand women before he went into Oz. He understands them less now.
He goes home early. Barely stays out past eight. He goes home to his one bedroom apartment with peeling wallpaper and bad plumbing. He watches television, rhythmically flips through the channels like it's the beat he craves and not the visuals. He smokes cigarettes occasionally, goes through phases of smoking two or three at night and then giving up for weeks, loathe to encourage another addiction.
He's smoking when he hears the news about Judge Mathers. Something about being disbarred, showing bias in judgments. He misses the particulars but it's no doubt one of the greatest hits: Blacks, Hispanics, Single Mothers, Jews, Homosexuals.
He thinks the name is familiar. Possibly one of his father's friends or a lecturer from Harvard. He knew judges who harboured the potential for perversion. All those cigars and cognac and private men's' clubs and they'd develop an overstated sense of their importance, thinking they had a right to play the justice game their way.
Then again, no one knew the personalities of the bench better than the residents of Em City. Someone probably had a beef with Mathers. Someone with good chances for a re-trial now.
He stubs the cigarette out. Thinks about lighting another. Instead he takes the packet into the kitchen and shuts it away in a drawer.
He handles his demons the same way he handles the files on his desk. One demon at a time.
His cell plays the theme from M.A.S.H. It jolts him back to the present, back to the reality of a grey morning outside and the knowledge that he's been up all night. He checks the display on his cell - "Amelia".
He answers. "What?"
"Charming," she says. "This is your wake up call."
"Good. You have a book signing today."
He rubs his forehead with the heel of his palm. "Shit. What time?"
"9.30. Don't be late."
"Will you be there?"
"Sorry honey - got a meeting across town. I'm sending Larry."
"Good luck." The line goes dead.
He scratches the stubble on his chin and checks the clock above the bookshelf. Just over an hour to shave, shower and shit. Plenty of time. Prison taught him to be swift and efficient in his ministrations. He hasn't gotten used to the luxury of baths yet. He doesn't know how to languish in his grooming.
He gets ready in time. Arrives at the bookstore ten minutes early. Larry meets him in front of a display featuring rows of his book.
"Good to see you," he says, shaking Toby's hand. He looks him up and down. "You look - austere."
Toby dresses in dark colours. Like he's in mourning. It's a habit he can't get out of. He looks around, notices a small crowd gathering around them, keeping a respectful distance. Book lovers are not known to be rabid fans. Still, a milling crowd sets him on edge, reminds him of a prison mob.
He'd take some comfort from the two security guards hovering on the perimeters of the crowds but uniforms will always be COs to him, too ready for a fight, too eager to be brutal. Amelia suggested security and he reluctantly agreed. Toby's former life invites the dangerous sort.
"I'll need some water," he says to Larry.
"Coming right up." Larry takes one of the store clerks aside. The store clerk nods and disappears, quickly returning with a pitcher of water and a glass.
Larry claps his hands together and says, "Right - let's get this show on the road."
The store manager gives a short introduction and Toby mumbles words of thanks. The rest is routine: "Who shall I make it out to?" and "Thanks for coming."
He doesn't know what he expected of life on the outside but he never expected an endless line of people wanting his autograph. He's used to people needing him, fearing him. Adulation is something else.
A girl in the line tells him her name is, "Courtney" and he signs as he has done countless times in the last six months: "To Courtney, best wishes, Toby."
"I heard you on the radio," she says as he writes. "I thought it was interesting - the way you called your characters 'composites' of people you met in jail."
"Yeah," he says, not looking up. "It's safer. I don't want anyone to come after me because they didn't like the way I wrote them."
"Chris too? I mean, he seems so real..."
He looks up. She is chewing her lip, looking at him expectantly. Out of every character in the book, they want Chris to be real.
"A composite," Toby says. "Just like the others."
She smiles weakly, takes her book and says, "thank you," as she leaves.
A young man approaches the desk. Toby eyes are drawn to his Mickey Mouse t-shirt and blue, 'John Lennon' glasses.
"Who should I make it out to?" Toby asks.
"Owen," the young man says. He smiles widely. Toby notices off-white caps on Owen's front teeth and wonders how he got them, whether they ended up in someone's fist. "It's a real pleasure, Sir," Owen says.
"Uh - thanks." His celebrity status still sits uneasily with him. He writes, "Nice to meet you, Owen" in the book and wonders why he changed his routine this time.
"I really enjoyed your book," Owen says. "I've heard you're writing a sequel?"
"Yeah," Toby says. "Due for release in November next year."
"Great." Owen takes his book, looks at the inscription and smiles. "Actually, I'm writing my doctoral thesis on masculinity and criminality - I was wondering if you'd be willing to be interviewed as part of my research."
Toby looks over at Larry who is engrossed in conversation with the store manager, not watching Toby at all.
"You should call my publisher," Toby says.
"I have," Owen says. "I left messages. No one got back to me."
Toby looks at Larry again, and then he holds out his hand. "Can I have that back again?"
Owen hands the book over. Toby writes his mobile number underneath the inscription. "Call me later today," Toby says. "I'm usually writing in the afternoon. I could use the break."
Owen looks at the number and grins. "I will," he says. "Thanks."
He is gone before Toby can say, "Don't mention it."
He dates one of the secretaries. She asks him out, makes it sound casual and unthreatening. "It's too early to go home," she says. "Want to go for coffee?"
He says, "yes," because it really is too early to go home and home is full of empty spaces and dark corners. A tiny apartment with an all-in-one kitchen and living room and it's too much space for him.
He doesn't fuck her, doesn't even kiss her. It's been years since he's had sex with a woman and he's not sure he wants it any more. He went into prison a married man and came questioning his sexuality. It isn't right. But it isn't wrong either.
When Jo asks him for coffee again he says, "yes."
They go to a diner of his choosing where the coffee comes in one size and one variety and no one knows what "decaf" means. They sit in a booth with torn vinyl on the edges. Jo frowns at the cigarette burn in the middle of their table but says nothing.
"I like this place," he says. "It's comfortable."
"I guess it is." She smiles, unsure. Her discomfort begins to fade. "It's kind of homey."
His home life was never like this. Genevieve would never have kept damaged furniture.
It's too difficult to explain, so he tells Jo the paella is good and wonders how long he can keep his past from coming up in conversation. If he'd thought about it, he'd have realised dating would make it difficult to keep his prison past buried. If he'd thought about it, he might have decided dating wasn't for him after all and that this pointless attempt at being normal would have the effect of making him feel even more abnormal than usual.
Jo says, "So how did you end up as a paralegal?"
He shrugs and tells the same story every other paralegal tells. "Couldn't afford to stay in law school. You?"
"Couldn't afford to go to law school. My father got me a job in a local practice. Years of experience got me this job."
"Did you want to go to law school?"
She looks at him and frowns, like it's a stupid question. "Of course I did."
Privilege is a terrible thing to waste. The Jos of the world must hate him. "It's not too late," he says.
"Yeah," she says, and she looks out the window at the traffic.
The waitress approaches and they order. He doesn't talk about his career any more and Jo doesn't ask.
Toby arrives at the caf first. He takes a seat in a booth, idly peruses the menu. Owen arrives two minutes later, flushed and excited. He unpacks his bag, places a hand held tape recorder on the table and hands Toby papers.
"You need to sign these," Owen says, "This one is for copyright purposes, and this one is a confidentiality agreement - which is about protecting me as well as you. Not that I think you're going to trade my research notes with MIT..."
Toby waves a hand. "It's okay. I used to be a lawyer."
Owen falls into the seat opposite, lets out a breath. "Of course."
Toby signs while a waiter takes their order: green tea for Toby, coffee for Owen.
Toby hands the papers back to Owen. "So what am I supposed to talk about?"
"Anything," Owen says. "Talk about prison, your book, being an author. This is an open dialogue - I want it to take a natural direction."
"Can I ask you a question?"
Toby thinks about the way Owen scopes the room before sitting down, the way he walks so you can see the muscles underneath his t-shirt moving in time with his stride. It's his body language. It's the chip in his teeth. "Why did you choose this topic?"
Owen smiles, slyly, like he's been caught out. "I did four years."
"Armed robbery." He leans a little closer, rests his hands on the table. "I was seventeen. Completed my GED and college diploma in prison."
"Is that where you...?" Toby taps his teeth.
"Yeah. But you should have seen the other guy."
Toby remembers teenagers in Oz. All attitude and bravado. If a gang didn't claim them they were fucked literally and figuratively. Toby wonders how old Owen is now. He looks anywhere from twenty-five to thirty-five.
Toby sips his tea. "You got out okay."
"Better than okay. I got a free education and a scholarship when I got out."
"Anyone fuck you in the ass?"
Owen pauses with his coffee half way to his mouth. Toby instantly regrets his bluntness. It's a prison habit. He thought Owen would understand.
Owen replaces his coffee on the table. "Yeah," he says.
"I'm sorry," Toby says.
Owen looks away. Looks at the woman behind the counter as she changes coffee pots. When he turns back, he smiles. "Well - it's over now. That's the point isn't it? We got through."
"I guess so." It's never over. Every time Toby puts words on the page, writes his pain into flowing prose, he knows it's never going to be over.
"Tell me something about your book," Owen says. "Something you haven't told anyone else."
"This is part of your research?"
He thinks of Chris first, everything he didn't say about Chris in the first book, everything he's trying to say in the second. He thinks about the truth.
"The first draft was biographical," he says. "I decided to fictionalise after discussions with my lawyer - and my parents."
Owen looks unimpressed. Clearly he expected something more revealing. "Do you still have a copy?"
"Can I read it?"
"Okay." He adjusts his seated position. "Then tell me about the character of Chris - how did you come up with him?"
"I based him on people I knew - in prison and out." It's a standard answer. He's been saying it for months.
"But you had a lover."
"So you revised the person but not the feeling?"
Toby rubs his chin, thoughtfully. "I guess so."
"Must have been hard to recreate your lover imperfectly."
All recreation is imperfect. He learned that after his first book. "I couldn't write him any other way."
The first time he cruises the strip for rent boys he tells himself it's just out of curiosity, a vague investigation into where his sexuality might have taken him.
The second time he convinces himself it's about spectacle, watching sex on display in such an indefinable fashion - so much like Oz. He parks a block away and watches them come and go: feathers and leather, boys and men, buff and waif-like. It's an enticing parade, but there's nothing here he wants.
Still, he comes back for the third time, parks in the usual spot, and watches the show go by once more. He notices a man in a tight grey t-shirt, jeans ripped at the knee. He looks thirty-something, with dark hair cut short but not military short. He has his hands in his pockets, and he smokes a cigarette, resting his ass against the wall, one leg bent at the knee. He wasn't there before and Toby wonders if he's working or just in the wrong place.
One of the waif-like boys approaches the man in the grey t-shirt and strikes up a conversation. The man in the grey t-shirt gives the boy a cigarette and lights it for him. They talk with familiarity, like they know each other.
Before he can give it more thought, Toby gets out of the car and walks toward the strip. He gets approached by two queens and a man in leather with a shaved head before he catches the eye of the man in the grey t-shirt. The man in the grey t-shirt smiles, his mouth twisting into a wicked grin. He nods at Toby.
He doesn't look like Chris - different chin, longer and thicker hair, slightly shorter - but his manner recalls the way Chris would lounge against the wall of their pod when he was in the mood to get them into trouble. There's something in his eyes that is reminiscent of the way Chris would look at Toby, like he could swallow him whole.
The man in the grey t-shirt says, "How you doing?" as Toby approaches him. He inclines his head to the side, indicating Toby should follow him around the corner.
They talk money and location. Toby's in a hurry so they find a shielded corner of the alley where the man in the grey t-shit can give Toby a discreet blow-job.
When it's done the man in the grey t-shirt stands and rearranges Toby's pants. It would have been enough if Toby hadn't been so desperate. Toby grabs him by the fabric of his t-shirt and pulls him closer so he can whisper, "Fuck me," in a voice he barely remembers.
The man in the grey t-shirt grins. "It'll cost you extra."
Toby says, "Just do it."
The man in the grey t-shirt pins him against the wall, presses Toby's face against the rough worn edges of the brick. Toby drops his jeans around his hips and the man in the grey t-shirt fucks him from behind. It's not comfortable, and his muscles are out of practice, but it's the first time he's felt anything since getting out of Oz, the first time he's been fucked in the ass as a free man and it could cut him into pieces and he wouldn't want it to stop.
It takes him two weeks to return. Two weeks of self recrimination and indecision. Two weeks of staring at his reflection in the mirror, looking for signs in the shadows across his face.
When he returns the man in the grey t-shirt is nowhere to be seen. He chooses a younger man instead. A man with sandy blonde hair and a Japanese Samurai tattooed on his thin shoulder. The man is different but the sex is the same. Rough and raw. More pain than pleasure.
But it feels good. Like being alive. Like being a man.
Owen interviews him for a third time in Owen's apartment. It's not so different from Toby's: same plumbing, same single bedroom, same view over a parking lot. The difference lie's in Owen sense of style. A collection of eight vinyl record covers are mounted and displayed in groups of four on the walls. Batik curtains are draped all the way to the floor and a hat and coat stand is painted red and white to look like a barber shop pole. The apartment has a feeling of life, something that Toby hasn't achieved despite six figure royalties from his first novel.
He sits on a purple plush couch while Owen makes tea.
"Nice place," Toby says, when Owen rejoins him.
"My stepfather's," Owen says. "I could never afford it."
"Did he do the decorating?"
"No," Owen places a mug of tea on each side of the coffee table and sits in the armchair opposite the couch. "That's my doing."
"I was never so decorative in grad school."
"You were never an ex-con in grad school."
"You learnt interior design in jail?"
"No." Owen grins. "But I learnt how to be resourceful."
Toby sips his tea. A year ago, Amelia bought him two prints as a house-warming gift - a Cezanne and a Braque. They're still the only patches of colour on his walls.
Style was never his forte. "What are we talking about today?" Toby says.
Owen leans forward and presses a button on the tape recorder. "I want to ask the hard questions today."
"You know you can tell me to stop recording whenever you want."
"Let's do it," Toby says. He smiles nervously. Owen smiles back, showing off his capped teeth. Not for the first time, Toby notices Owen's bright blues eyes, wide and intense. His smile is reassuring and honest.
"You referred to one of the groups in Oz as being 'the gays' - but you and your lover weren't part of that group. Why was that?"
"It's complicated," Toby says.
"I have time."
"I'm not sure I have words."
"Then let me." Owen sips his tea, replaces the mug on the table. "You're not gay because you acknowledge that on the outside you'd be fucking women not men. It's the situation that determines your sexuality - not your preference."
Toby shifts in his seat. He's not fucking women. He's not fucking anyone. "You make it sound so simple." Like he could choose. Like it's all just a matter of choice.
Owen catches his eyes. "But it's not, is it?"
Sometimes, he watches the boy at the drycleaners - young, fit and with a permanent shadow on his chin. And sometimes he watches Amelia's assistant - older and with long, dark hair cut geometric style. He wonders if that's how it's done. Which one does it for you?
Sometimes he watches Owen.
"I thought it would be." When he was released he thought he'd return to normal. Eventually. And he thought he was naive when he went in.
"The second book is set on the outside - do you decide in the book?"
"The book..." In the book Toby has Chris. And Chris isn't a decision, he's a compulsion. He shakes his head. "I guess not."
Owen shrugs. "Who really decides? What happens, happens."
It occurs to Toby that Owen is flirting with him. He is reminded of something he read in prison -something about desire and attraction and the way ancient Egyptians would put belladonna in their eyes to cause their pupils to dilate. Dilated pupils suggest sexual availability, an inviting open-eyed honesty that is difficult to resist. Owen eyes are wide, and his manner is disarming.
Toby's been out of practice for a long time but Oz taught him to be suggestive. "What happens for you?" he says. "When it happens?"
Owen rises, joins Toby on the couch and kisses him, one hand on his shoulder. It's gentle. Not long and not deep.
When he breaks away Owen says, "Something like that."
It's been too long for Toby. He pushes Owen back against the couch, places his knees either side of Owen's and kisses him again. Harder this time, hand against the back of Owen's head, the other hand under his t-shirt, finding his navel, his rib cage, a nipple.
Toby bites Owen's neck, roughly pushes the neck of Owen's t-shirt aside and trails his tongue along Owen's collar bone.
Owen's head tilts back over the top of the couch. His breath is ragged and he moans when Toby pinches his nipple.
"Wait," Owen says.
Toby doesn't stop. He's waited long enough.
Owen catches Toby's wrist, grasps it tight. Toby meets Owen's eyes.
"We have all the time in the world," Owen says. He kisses Toby again, still gentle but more exploratory, like he's memorising the feel of Toby's mouth on his. He still holds Toby's wrist but his grip is loose.
Owen undresses Toby slowly and carefully, runs light fingers over the parts of Toby's body where the skin stretches tight over muscle, echoes of years spent honing his body to fight for survival. They lay side by side on the couch, Owen lifting Toby's leg around his hip so they fit into the confined space. He turns Toby onto his back, lifts both of Toby's legs by the knees, and pulls Toby's ass against his pelvis.
Owen has lube. Toby remembers spitting into his palm, mixing it with the semen leaking from the tip of his cock. Lube is a luxury. A symbol of then versus now.
Owen enters Toby slowly so that the burn is gradual and exquisite. He makes love to Toby in a lazy back and forth, each sensation drawn out and seemingly endless.
Toby's closes his eyes, arches his back and draws Owen in. He grips the plush of the couch with both fists and lets the feeling wash over him.
He wakes in the night, feeling a presence in the room. He keeps a knife under a magazine on the bedside table, reaches for it only to find it's not there. He flicks the switch on the lamp instead and is faced with Chris, sitting on the end of his bed, eyeing the sharp edge of a knife.
"You weren't going to use this on me, were you?" Chris says.
"How...?" Scenarios flash through Toby's minds, Chris escaping, killing a CO in the process, Chris on the run, police across the state searching for him, his face on the cover of the morning paper.
They'd come to Toby first. Chris knows this. Not on the run then.
Chris turns the knife over, watching the light bounce off the blade. "Where'd you get this, anyway?" he says. "You buy this off some crack dealer on the street?"
Chris's sentence was reversed. It's the only possible answer. The thought triggers a memory.
"Hallelujah." Chris grins. "Crazy motherfucking homophobe - apparently the DA tried to get my previous arrests into evidence. The jury never heard it but the judge..." He holds up a finger, taps the air. "Well - I don't have to tell you how it works."
"So you're free?" Toby cautiously shifts his legs over the side of the bed. No sudden movements. Speak slowly and calmly.
Fight or flight. Chris could go either way.
"Yeah," Chris leans forward onto his hands and crawls up the bed toward Toby. "How about that, huh?"
"Where will you..." He swallows. Chris is almost on top of him. "Where are you going to stay?"
Chris grabs Toby by the shoulders and in one swift move has Toby pinned to the mattress, a knee either side of his rib cage. "Right here," he says.
"Get the fuck off me," Toby says.
"You got a phone, Toby?" Chris shuffles down Toby's body until he's sitting on Toby's groin. He grinds himself against Toby's crotch, one long slow movement upwards.
Toby tries to breathe. "What?"
"It's been a year since you called -so I'm thinking, maybe Toby hasn't got a phone?" Another grind. Back and forwards this time.
"You tried to fuck my parole!"
Chris grinds again, bends forward so he's breathing against Toby's ear.
"Aw come on, baby, you're not going to hold that against me, are you?" He lets one of Toby's arms go, reaches into Toby's boxers and strokes him. Toby's hard already. Has been since he saw Chris perched like an angel on the end of his bed. Chris falls in and out of Toby's favour but his cock remains loyal.
"Fuck you, asshole." Toby reaches for the waist-band of Chris's jeans. Turns out his hands know which side they're on as well.
"Yeah, baby," Chris says, all teeth and hot breath. "Fuck me."
Chris pushes Toby's legs apart with his knees, fingers his now boxers free ass. Chris produces lube from his pocket and Toby doesn't ask when he bought it or why it looks like it's already been used.
"Look what I bought you, baby," Chris says. He slides lubed fingers into Toby's ass. "Nothing but the best."
Toby tenses, his hips bucking off the mattress toward Chris's groin. He hisses between clenched teeth. "Just shut up and fuck me already."
Chris pushes his jeans and boxers down just low enough to get his cock free. Toby's hand is already there pulling Chris toward him.
They're going to fuck. The feeling will be indescribable, like exploding into heaven, all white light and angels singing.
Chris kisses Toby, a hungry and brutal kiss. He pulls back just as he pushes his cock into Toby, biting down on his lip with the effort. "You fucking left me there," he says as he builds pace. "You fucking bitch."
Toby pulls his knees towards him, welcomes Chris in deeper. "You tried to fuck my parole, you fuck!"
Chris puts his hand across Toby's mouth. "Shut up, okay. Just shut the fuck up."
Toby's breath is short and he makes a slight whistling noise as he breathes through his nose. It sounds panicked. Chris builds his pace, grunting with each movement. His hand is hot and sweaty over Toby's face.
Toby spent the first six months of his release thinking of his enemies in Oz and how they might come after him. And then Chris tried to screw with Toby's parole and he wondered if his anticipated assassination might not be ordered by Chris.
Chris rotting away in prison, spending his endless days wondering if their relationship amounted to anything now that he's alone. Has to make a guy pissed.
Chris makes a fist around Toby's cock, jerks him off in time to Chris's thrusts. He comes and Toby isn't far behind, his own come raining on his stomach - hot, wet and familiar.
Chris rolls onto his back beside Toby, finally freeing Toby's face. "Did you think I was going to waste you?" he says.
Yes. "Fuck you."
Chris laughs. "You're an ungrateful bitch, you know that? I bet you haven't been fucked like that since Oz."
Toby's too tired to be angry, too relieved, too scared, too conflicted. He swings his legs over the side of the bed and gets to his feet.
"Where are you going?" Chris says.
"I'm taking a shower," Toby says.
"I'm coming with you," Chris says.
They fuck again in the shower. Chris asks Toby if he missed him and Toby says, "yes," without hesitation.
It's a lot like being in love.
Owen postpones the third interview in favour of a date. He says, "You need a real date."
Toby thinks of dinner and movies and places he went with his ex-wife when they were courting. He proposed in a restaurant. An intimate setting with Spanish fare, light music and an extensive wine list. It took him three glasses to work up the courage.
He doesn't feel the same about restaurants any more. The food is too rich and the waiters are overly attentive. And wine is out of the question.
Owen takes him to a student art auction, insists Toby buy some art that isn't mass produced.
Toby bids on and wins a panel set that features dark blue backgrounds with white streaks like waterfalls. He tells Owen he doesn't like intensity on his walls and Owen laughs loudly causing patrons to turn and stare.
Afterwards, they take a cab to Toby's apartment, carrying the panels wrapped in plastic sheeting. Owen takes down the cubist prints and contemplates the empty walls left behind. The paint is stark white - almost grey in the dull lighting. Toby remembers the prints always looked lost in such a vast, empty space.
"Maybe you need a mural," Owen says.
Toby places the prints against the back of the couch. "Or an interior decorator."
Owen looks around the apartment. "Where do you write?"
"Over there." Toby nods toward a desk against the wall. It's small and covered in paper and books.
"No, no - that's all wrong," Owen says. "You need a larger desk. And it needs to be here." He points to the corner by the window.
Toby shrugs. "It works for me."
Owen walks over to the desk, picks up paper and reads. "This is it, isn't it?"
"Some of it. There are several drafts." He nods toward the paper in Owen's hand. "That's one of them."
"It's not finished?"
"I'm still working on the final chapter," Toby says. "But it's mostly finished."
"Can I read it?"
It takes Toby by surprise. "Uh..." He picks up random pieces of paper from the desk. "You don't want to read these..."
Owen steps away. "I'm sorry - it you'd rather I didn't..."
"I want you to read it," Toby says, honestly. "It's just - I have to change the ending."
Owen shrugs and hands over the page he is holding. He takes a seat on the couch. "What's wrong with the ending?"
Toby contemplates the papers in his hands. A story is an abstraction. He wanted something tangible, something he could hold on to.
Instead he has these words on paper. Meaningless and surreal. The truth has an ending. The story seems to stretch on forever. "I don't know how it ends."
Owen looks thoughtful. Eventually he says, "Well I guess there's room for a sequel."
Toby sits on the couch beside him, runs a hand along Owen's arm. He leans his forehead against Owen's shoulder. "Don't make me talk about the book tonight," he says.
Owen strokes Toby's hair. "Okay," he says. "Okay."
Two days later Toby arrives on Owen's doorstep with a manuscript wrapped in a blue ribbon.
"I finished," Toby says.
He cancels his plans for dinner with Jo telling her, "something has come up." When she tries to reschedule he asks her if he can get back to her.
He spends the next two days wondering what he'll say when he sees her. It becomes academic when she corners him in his office and says, "Are you gay?"
He wants to speak but the words won't come. He stares open-mouthed. Eventually he manages to say, "why do you ask?"
"I called your apartment. A man answered," Jo says. "But it's more than that. You don't seem interested - not in me, not in any of the girls here."
"I'm not gay." He says it automatically, like it's rehearsed. He wishes he could take it back. He thinks it would be nice to tell someone who he is. Whoever he is.
"Then maybe it's just me," she says.
"No," he says. He gets to his feet, comes toward her from behind the desk. "No, that's not it at all."
"It's okay. I get it." She turns around and leaves. He doesn't go after her.
Back at his apartment Chris is watching basketball, drinking beer. He's wearing his own jeans and one of Toby's "Harvard Law" t-shirts. He says, "Your girlfriend called."
"What did you tell her?"
"Don't worry." Chris smirks. "Your dirty little secret is safe with me."
It's a lie. Nothing is safe with Chris.
Toby undresses, hangs up his suit and changes into jeans and a t-shirt. He joins Chris on the couch. "She thinks I'm gay."
Chris bristles visibly. He picks up the remote, begins flipping channels. "Stupid bitch. What the fuck does she know."
Toby pretends he doesn't notice. "We need to buy you clothes," he says.
Chris looks down at his t-shirt. "You don't think it suits me?"
"You should have your own clothes."
Chris takes a swig of his beer. "Sure. What-the-fuck-ever. Let's go shopping."
They shop at a men's clothing store on the other side of town from Toby's office. The clerk smiles at them knowingly, like they're in some kind of club.
Chris tries on jeans, shirts and jackets at Toby's behest. "Tell the faggot to stop staring at me," he tells Toby.
"Ignore him," Toby says.
Chris glares at the clerk. Toby gathers the clothes that fit and asks Chris to choose so they can get the hell out of there. Chris settles on a long sleeve t-shirt and a pair of jeans.
Outside Chris takes a quick look in the bag and smiles. "I can't remember the last time I owned a new pair of jeans," he says.
"Didn't you ever rob a department store?"
Chris laughs. "Too many fucking cameras."
It's no joke. Chris's working life is sparse and infrequent. And so many ex-cons return to what they know. "What will you do now?" Toby asks. "Now that you're out."
"I don't know," Chris says. "Maybe I'll get a job." He smiles and Toby's knows neither of them believe it.
Toby puts a hand on his shoulder, stops him in place. "You can't go back, Chris."
"I'll look after you."
"I don't need looking after."
Toby wipes his hand across his face. "Fuck, Chris, just let me do this, okay?"
Chris doesn't say answer. He holds up the bag, smiles, pats it twice and starts moving again.
Toby wonders if they were always meant to be temporary.
Back at Toby's apartment, they're barely inside the door when Chris dives for him, tackles him to the floor, Toby landing face down with Chris on top of him.
Chris wrests Toby free of his jacket and t-shirt, slips his hand under Toby's stomach so he can go to work on Toby's jeans. He rubs the heel of his hand against Toby's crotch, finding Toby's erection already at full alert.
"You get this before or after we got inside?" he says against Toby's ear.
Toby laughs. "You think it's all about you, don't you?" he says, and then he bucks upward, throws Chris off him and onto the floor. Before Chris can react, Toby is on top of him, sitting on his chest. "My turn," Toby says.
Chris fights him, tries to grab Toby's wrists as he fumbles with Chris's belt. Fucking Chris is always a fight, always about being on top or being held down. Never give it up easy no matter how much you want it.
Toby's overcomes Chris's resistance, manages to get Chris naked and his legs apart. They fuck, Chris still moving against him, meeting each thrust he makes with a thrust of his own.
Toby stops. Holds still.
And then he starts moving again. He thrusts hard, gritting his teeth. "Don't leave me. You'd better not fucking leave me."
"Never." Thrust. "Fucking." Thrust. "Leave me."
Saying it doesn't make it true but every word is a prayer, a plea to destiny to intervene because he's so bound to this man that the world without him is a lie.
Toby pulls Chris toward him, kisses him open mouthed and hungry as he comes. With Chris's hands in his hair and Chris's body wet against his own he needs nothing more.
"That's not how it ended." Owen takes the last page of the manuscript and places it face down on the stack next to him.
Toby brings coffee in two mugs, sits on the sofa next to Owen. "You don't like it?"
"I do. I like it a lot. But it didn't end like that."
"It's your experience." Owen takes his mug in both hands, blows across the top. "It's not correct down to the very last detail, but it's still your life on those pages."
"I don't know what you mean."
"Even if you remodelled, revised, reinvented - you wrote a love story and it was true. You just gave it a happy ending."
"I gave it a plausible ending," Toby says. "There was never going to be a happy ending." Toby contemplates his coffee. There are many truths but only one reality. Existentialists and quantum theorists alike couldn't convince him of an alternative.
"They ended up together," Owen says. "Your fans will be happy."
"What did you expect?"
Owen throws up his hands. "I don't know," he says. "I just wanted to know what happened - to you."
Toby places the coffee on the table in front of the sofa. "Wait here," he says.
He goes into the bedroom, searches amongst the boxes of magazines and letters in his closet and finds a second manuscript underneath a photo album. He returns to the living room, offers it to Owen carefully, as if it's a relic. "Read this," Toby says.
Owen looks at the cover page. "What is it?"
"I told you the first draft was autobiographical. This is it."
Owen stares at the manuscript with something akin to reverence. He lifts the cover and begins reading.
"What are you doing?" Toby says.
Owen looks up at Toby, like he's suddenly remembered he's there. "Is that okay?"
Owen has an enviable ability to become absorbed in whatever he's doing, even as Toby resents the time Owen doesn't spend with him. It's useless to fight it. "Sure," Toby says.
Toby takes his coffee and sits at the table, browses the newspaper. He tells himself that he too could learn this habit of Owen's. He has all the time in the world.
Owen reads into the night. Toby wakes after a dream to find Owen's profile still silouhetted by the lamp light.
"Are you going to sleep?" Toby says.
"I have..." Owen flips to the last page. "Forty-two pages to go."
Toby tries to make out Owen's features in the half-light. "I dreamed about you," he says.
"I wrote a book about you. You hated it."
"I find that hard to believe."
"You didn't like the ending."
Owen laughs. "Go back to sleep"
Toby rolls on to his side, his back toward Owen. He focuses on pleasant memories, tries to hold on to them as sleep swallows him again.
He's barely closed his eyes when he feels a hand on his shoulder, a gentle shake. "Toby?"
He opens his eyes. It's still dark.
"Toby, I've finished."
He rolls back toward Owen. Owen is still seated up in bed, the manuscript on his lap.
"And?" Toby says.
Owen reaches for Toby's hand, runs his thumb across the palm. "I'm sorry," he says.
He extracts himself from Owen's grasp, pulls himself into a seated position. "That bad, huh?"
"That's not what I meant."
"I know." It's the end. It didn't turn out right.
"You were hard on yourself."
It was never going to be a best-seller. Everyone wants a happy ending. "That's how it happened."
"You said you killed him."
"You wanted the truth."
"Christ, Toby." Owen reaches over to the bedside table, takes a cigarette and lights it, raising his knees up so can leans his elbows on them. He gestures toward the manuscript. "If this is supposed to be your confession then I'm acquitting you here and now."
He pleaded self defence and the jury agreed. Like the formerly upstanding, corporate lawyer gone wrong could overpower the big bad career criminal. Not even the parole board held him responsible.
Not that it matters. Chris is dead. And Toby is trying to resurrect him in paperback, trying to write them a life they could have had if God hadn't had it in for them from the start.
"That's how it ends," Toby says.
Owen puts his cigarette out in the ashtray by the bed. He takes Toby's face in both hands and kisses him. He tastes overpoweringly like smoke and it reminds Toby of everyone he ever kissed in jail, like coming home.
Owen is not inclined to destruction. Owen fought for Chris's truth to be told, even if it was just to him. Toby wonders if this is his salvation.
Owen breaks the kiss, brushes his lips against Toby's ear.
"No, it's not," he says.
Remixing "Chrysalis" was a daunting task. I really like this story. I think it might even be my favourite of geneticallydead's. However, I was a bit limited in my choices. Mandy made one of her Oz stories a "safe story" and the other two involved events that happened in Season 6 - which I haven't seen.
So choices were limited - "Chrysalis" also seems to refer to events that happened in season 5 or 6 but I thought I could work with it. I knew Chris came back to Oz but I didn't know how - hence, I was at a loss trying to explain how Chris could have TWO life sentences reversed. So I figured I would pretend the second life sentence never happened and made very vague references to the situation in Oz when Toby got out. Make of it what you will.
But it was all good because it worked out to be a VERY different story and I kind of enjoyed it in the end. I didn't think for a minute I could rewrite Mandy's scenes so I changed events somewhat and wrote a scene based on a throw-away line (Rentboys? Hello?).
The working name for the OC was "Owen" and I always intended to change it. But you know how it is, you get so used to it you can't see any other name working. I saw him as looking something like Bradley Cooper and being more than a little like Will from Alias. Yeah - Beecher/ Will Tippin - mmmmm... ;) I just wanted someone very open and straight forward - someone warm. Poor Toby - he deserves as much.
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