APOLOGIES

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- chapter 4 -

I’m working upstairs in Toby’s office. I left work early for obvious reasons and now I’m doing some boring paperwork –it’s the only thing Harry doesn’t want to work on, he hates it. So do I and I’m about to take a break, go downstairs see if Toby’s back from work when the door opens... footsteps, strong hands on my shoulders and Toby’s voice in my ear.

"It's been 20 years today since we first met, Chris.”

Fuck. I hoped he would’ve forgotten. It would’ve make the whole thing easier.

"Yeah? So what? 20 fucking years and you think you can enter my office without knocking first?"

He snorts, leans against my back, his chin on my skull, his arms around my shoulders. "Actually, it’s my office, Keller,” but he doesn’t push it, his mind is on something else completely. “Anyway... I thought maybe we could have a little… celebration."

I put down my pen, push away the cheque book. "A celebration," I repeat blankly.

"Yeah. Well just us and the kids and Angus. Bonnie? Angie?"

I give a noncommittal groan. "You'd like that? Really?"

"Yes."

"Ok, got it. What do you want? A ring?"

"C'mon, what's wrong with that, Keller? Got a problem with the fact that we've been together for so long?"

"I've got a problem with the fact that I'm 56, Beecher ,” I turn to watch him and sigh, “Look, is it really necessary? I mean, I know a lot of other ways to celebrate, you know. I could buy some stuff and…"

He laughs, a real amused laugh and I love to hear him laugh, I hope I will hear him laugh for at least 20 more years.

"Fuck, let me finish. I could buy some stuff and fuck you all night long."

"Keller. Don't! We know it's not just about sex."

"Of course it is. What else could it possibly be about? My moral standards? My stunning IQ?"

I've taken him aback, he circles me, sits on the edge of the desk and watches me thoughtfully.

"You're hopeless."

"Yeah. I’m gonna show you. Strip," I say, and he frowns incredulously. "What?"

"I said 'strip'. Now. I wanna celebrate our 20 years of sheer passion."

He shakes his head incredulously but does as he’s told, locks the door, takes his clothes off while I’m looking for lube, and when he's naked I push him onto the desk and just fuck him hard and long enough, until he squeals with pleasure, biting my arm, drawing blood in a frenzy of pleasure. It takes us some time to recover and just when I finally help him to his feet I hear a car drive up the alley.

"Ah, must be Bonnie and her man. Did I tell you, Toby, it's our anniversary, today, it's been 20 years since that first time in Fred’s house," Toby looks amazed suddenly, his eyes wide in disbelief and I can't help grinning like an idiot, "so I decided I'd throw a little party. Just us, the kids, my exes, Angus and his…"

I can’t finish, Toby pounces on me and shoves me against the wall. "I'm gonna kill you, Keller," he growls, half-smiling already.

"Yeah, I can see the headlines now, 'Tragic anniversary…'"

He laughs and lets go of me.

"I think we should go down,” I say, “everything should be ready now, come on. I was supposed to keep you away from the living room for a while."

He’s about to say something smart but I don’t want to spoil the moment so I throw an arm around his shoulders, “Come on, let’s go!” and we walk down the stairs together.

Hours later, everybody's gone, the party's over, Toby's asleep in my arms. Thank God it’s over, and if I’m lucky it’ll be at least 10 years from now until I have to go through that again.

I don't give a damn about any fucking anniversary, I don't like celebrating anything, don’t wanna push our luck, guess I’m a bit superstitious about our love but Toby… Toby needs to make sure that this thing between us is real, that it's love, despite the ghosts and the failures, and I know I'm often hard on him, I've been hard on him since the beginning mostly because I've always been so afraid of losing him so if a party can make him laugh and smile and look at me the way he did tonight and kiss me the way he did and make love to me the way he did, if dancing some stupid old fashioned dance under the moonlight in the cold winter night helps… That's OK with me. I can do it.

My arm aches, Toby’s sleeping on me but I don’t wanna move, don’t wanna wake him up. I can hear some noise downstairs, probably Holly and Harry cleaning up and I know I won’t get any sleep tonight, so I lie back, close my eyes and let the memories flow.

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I was 36 when I first met Tobias Beecher and I can’t remember how many men I’d fucked before him. I craved sex with men sometimes, always had, I craved it when girls didn't give me what I wanted, when I felt so fucking angry against a woman who'd let me down, angry against all the bitches in the world, actually, who always wanted me to behave, be nice, buy flowers for birthdays, not come home late, and get a good job, and... fuck that, fuck them all! To wash away the anger and the pain I needed guys. But as a kid I'd heard very nasty things about that, from my father's mouth, my friends' mouths, terrible words I didn't quite understand at the time, and I knew I didn't want to be like that, didn't want them to despise me. Even after so long, 20 years with Toby, I can still hear their voices sometimes and I'm not sure I’ll ever overcome that. Maybe that’s why I got married three times, after all, to shut the voices up, make sure I wasn't different, that my old man would’ve had no reason to hate me, despise me –no other reasons that those he already had.

So fucking this fine-looking unknown straight guy in the basement of a house during a party and then stealing this beautiful bike had been really perfect. A perfect night and after that I didn't expect to see the guy again.

But he came to me. God knows how he'd found out where I worked, because he didn't even know my name, but one afternoon he was standing in front of me.

"I want you to bring Fred's bike back. I'll pay for it if you want me to,” he said grimly.

I put down the spanner, rested my hands on the hood of the car I was fixing to look at the man standing in front of me, his well-tailored suit, his tidy look.

"Yeah? What makes you think I've got it, huh?"

"You were about to steal it when I saw you. You told me interesting things about that bike. Look, I know you stole it, don't try to lie to me."

Arrogant bastard! I stared at him, his upturned nose, his boyish face, his expressive mouth and a clear blue gaze, let my eyes take as much of him as the strict suit allowed me to, remembering what was hidden, the softness of his skin taut over sharp muscles.

"What's your name?" I asked.

"My name? Why do you want to know?"

I smiled to him, cocked my head on the side.

"I want to, that's all. What's your name?"

He looked unsure, suddenly and I thought maybe the arrogance was only a façade. Finally he said, " Beecher . Tobias Beecher."

"Tobias? I'll make it Toby," I answered.

"Make it what you want, I want the bike."

I raised a reproving eyebrow. "It doesn't work that way, Mr Beecher. There's something you're supposed to ask, first."

He frowned, obviously lost… "My name?" I whispered obligingly, listening to his exasperated sigh.

"OK. What's your name?" he asked.

"Christopher Keller. Make it Chris," I held out my hand cheerfully, "pleased to meet you, Toby."

"OK," he said, a bit annoyed, after shaking my hand, "so what about the bike?"

"Yeah, about the bike. What do you want?"

"Look, Fred told me he would go to the police and press charges…"

"But he doesn't know who stole it, and he won't, Toby. You wouldn't tell him, would you?" I asked in a light voice, still smiling.

He kept looking at me with wide eyes, glancing around nervously as I circled the car to come nearer.

"Would you?" I asked, touching his hand with mine, feeling it tremble slightly as I stroked it, not taking my eyes off his face.

"No," he whispered.

"Good," I said, letting my fingers snake up under his shirt, running my thumb across the smooth inner skin of his pulsing wrist, feeling the life there, "so they won't know. I think I'll keep it. It's a nice bike."

Raising my eyes I caught a look of the empty office upstairs and realized we were alone. It was going to be much more fun than I expected, after all.

"But you didn't come for the bike."

He frowned, looking surprised, watching me, searching for an honest answer to my question but I didn't give him time to think.

"You came for more," I whispered, leaning over him, taking his chin in my fingers, noticing his long lashes and the silkiness of his hair, the way he kept his lips parted, "you want more."

No, the office wouldn't do, I thought as I breathed against his mouth, I needed a more intimate place for my nice uptown boy, and maybe it was worth waiting a bit more; make things better still. Anticipation is half the pleasure after all, we all know that. Anticipation, control, power…

"I'll make you a deal," I began, "You let me fuck you again and I'll bring the bike back to your friend."

He glared at me. "This is blackmail," he said with a strange dry laughter, half a snort, "and I'm not gay, anyway."

Aw, that was a nice one! There he stood, looking shocked, the man I'd fucked in a basement on a lousy mattress, and I didn't remember him putting up any fight.

"You looked gay enough to me, last week," I said and watched him blush in embarrassment.

"I was stoned. And drunk."

"Were you? So that's all it takes? You get stoned and drunk and you let anyone fuck you? Even a man you don't know, a man you think is gonna steal a bike in front of you? Just some coke and a few drinks? I can give you that if it's all it takes," I kept my voice low but I wanted every word to sting. He wouldn't answer, wouldn't look at me and I continued, "or is it that drug and booze give you a convenient excuse to be what you really are? So you're not responsible? Is that it, Toby?"

He stiffened under my touch, his fists clenching and unclenching, desire and disgust, hunger and shame, arousal and anger tearing him apart.

"Why is this bike so important to you? Tell me."

"It's half mine. We bought it together but officially it's his. See, it's a little complicated."

It didn't look very complicated to me, actually. When you've spent years conning people, you have a good instinct for such thing. "The little woman doesn't want you to ride a bike? Thinks you’re a big man, now? Or Daddy's too afraid he could lose his son? Both maybe?"

"Well, not quite. Gen - Gen's my wife- Gen doesn't know about the bike. It's… it's kind of private."

The way he was looking at me, his expression so honest, his eyes wide open, begging me to understand… Aw, I couldn't resist. I took his face in my hands and kissed him, sweet and slow, tracing his lips with my tongue, exploring his mouth, feeling him shiver and sag against me in amazement, his hands coming to rest tentatively on my shoulders as he kissed me back, until I felt his knees buckle and circled his waist with my arms, pulling him closer…

"OK, just tell me where you want me to take it back," I whispered, "and I'll let you go."

"No more fucking?" he asked, frowning, "just like that?"

"Yeah Toby, just like that."

Jesus fucking Christ, disappointment was written all over his face and he sighed unconsciously.

"Just park it where you found it the other day."

I nodded and let go of him, smiling as he straightened his hair, took a step back.

"I'll go then," he said and I nodded. He'd reached the door when I called him back.

"Toby… Maybe the bike's not the right thing to do; maybe you need something else to make you feel good."

He stood there for a second, frozen, his back to me, and walked away without a word.

Then what? The next month was a mess. I had a fight with my boss and lost my fucking job then Bonnie found a new boyfriend so I had to move out. We'd been divorced for 5 months now but she'd let me stay at her place because I had nowhere else to go, and Bonnie had always been soft on me, she was a nice woman, really. Then that little weasel came along and Bonnie told me I had to move, which meant finding another job in another lousy garage and starting to live alone –I hated to live alone, I got bored and began to think, then I ended up doing weird things.

Men aren't made for living alone, my old man used to say, and he was right on that at least. Suddenly I took a good look at my sorry life. No wife, no kids, no family, no job, no money, just an empty useless life. I didn't like feeling this way, didn't want to so I spent a lot of time in bars, drinking, cruising, fucking but that didn't work so well either. Maybe 36 is just too old for this particular kind of life, after all.

I called my old friend Ronnie but he'd left for California 3 weeks before –far enough to let the cops forget about him. I thought of going back to ponzis and cons –I'd been pretty good at that before Bonnie, but gave up. Bonnie would hate that, and even if I wasn't married to her anymore I didn't want to lose what was left of her affection and since she was paying the rent for my apartment I felt like I owed her something. Besides I didn't want to take the risk of being arrested, didn't want the cops to find out about some things I'd done a month or so ago, things that still freaked me out. Nobody knew about the guys and I'd done a good job of covering my tracks, but it was worth staying on the straight and narrow now, no more trials, no more prisons.

I thought of hustling, I'd done that, years ago, and it was a good way to make money, but I was too old for that too. Not too old to find men or women, it was still easy, I was still hot enough, but too old to put up with their shit any longer, playing slave boy, trailing after them like the good guy I wasn't. Maybe I needed to keep some pride, too. So I sat alone in my apartment, desperately looking for a way out when I remembered Tobias Beecher.

I'd kept my promise more than a month ago, leaving the bike in front of his friend's house, hadn't tried to see him again. But he'd sent me a message on my cell phone to thank me and I realized I could call him back. Anything would feel better than staying like this, trapped in this emptiness that had become my life.

"Hey, I brought the bike back, I deserve a reward, I was good," I told him on the phone.

There was a short silence, I could hear children screaming behind him, he was probably home and I felt a twinge of something that felt a lot like jealousy. Why couldn't I have this, well maybe not the kids, I didn't want any kids but a nice wife, a nice job, a nice house and no trouble?

"You deserve it," he said after a moment, "what about tomorrow? Lunch? I’ll buy."

I stiffened. "Who the fuck do you think I am, some rent boy? We'll share," I growled, "your company’s the only reward I want."

Do you believe it? I could feel him blush, and he snorted again, a noise I had begun to find quite hot, before whispering, "OK, just my company and I'll tell you something: you'd be the first one to call it a reward, Mr Keller."

"Chris.”

He sighed. "Chris."

I hung up. He'd told me the place and the time and tomorrow felt very far away, suddenly.

We had lunch together and then went for a walk through the city, shivering under the cold winter sun. He wanted to buy some toys for his kids, asked if I could help him choosing them. I didn't know anything about toys, but two hours in the biggest store I'd ever seen showed me all I'd missed, and choosing dolls, teddy bears and other stuff was fun, Toby was cheerful, he didn't mind being seen in my company, he seemed to enjoy it, listened to my advice carefully and I felt more than a little dazed. I hadn't even kissed him again; I didn't want to, I wanted this to last some more, just get some pleasure from his company, hang out with him, make him laugh –he looked so hot when he laughed, I loved that.

Of course, fucking him was still the ultimate goal, but I could wait. I'd wait because afterwards, there wouldn't be anything left, I would feel sick and angry with him, wouldn't even be able to bear the simple sight of him –that's how it always was. When we parted, late that afternoon, he looked like a kid after his first party, his eyes were shining like sapphires and he hugged me. On my way home I kept wondering what I’d done to make him that happy, imagining that maybe his life wasn't so nice, after all, if he took so much pleasure in such things.

He called me a week later and I listened to him with growing exasperation.

"A job? You found me a fucking job?"

I heard a sigh and Toby's quiet voice spoke again. "No, I didn't find you a job, Chris. It's just that I brought my car to the garage this morning and Johnny –he's the boss- Johnny told me he had too much work and it I asked him why he didn't hire someone, because he keeps ranting about it all the time. He answered that a good mechanic wasn't so easy to find. That's all. I didn't even mention you."

I kept silent, half angry, half tempted. "You don’t have to do this, Toby."

"I'd do this for any friend. You'd do this for any friend. Don't be so touchy!" he laughed, "I'm sure you'd do great. You could take care of my car."

"Only your car? I could take care of you, Toby," I whispered, and heard a sharp intake of breath, "where are you? I don't hear your kids."

"I'm in my office," he answered in a tentative voice.

"Oh, so you have the same navy suit? Like last week?"

He laughed softly, "No. No, this one's black."

"Blue shirt?"

"Yes and before you ask, blue tie."

I closed my eyes, picturing him, wondering if I'd go on. I'd go on, playing was fun.

"Boxers?"

"Chris!" he sounded amazed, "I'm not sure…"

"OK, OK, just joking," too soon, it's still too soon, "look, I'll take a chance on the job, but you don't get to do that again, all right?"

First time I entered Johnny's garage it smelled of oil and gasoline and a radio was playing some lousy music, but I saw some exciting cars parked there, and 3 guys working, talking, joking; I knew the atmosphere, it had been mine for 2 years now. I asked for the boss, one of the men pointed wordlessly at the office upstairs. Johnny was about 55, looked tired and nervous. We talked for a while, he showed me a car, asked me to fix it, and I did, fast and well. The wage was too low but it would do for a while, allow me to pay the rent and get rid of Bonnie's guardianship. Of course she was the first one to learn about the job and sounded relieved.

"Try not to piss off your boss before the end of the first month."

"Yeah. And try to keep your boyfriend more than two weeks, don't fight with him over stupid things, OK? Although I'm sure he doesn't deserve you."

She laughed. "I'll try. Good luck. Keep in touch, OK? And take care of you. No stupid things, no college boys…"

"I'm done with that. Don't worry."

I loved women; I loved their sense of caring, their kindness, their obsession to make us better. I still do, even now, and Bonnie is one of the best, so I promised I'd take her to a restaurant as soon as I could, and she laughed again. I could tell that she didn't believe me, but I didn't care because frankly I had someone else in mind.

"Dinner," I'd told him, "and I’ll buy." He'd hesitated, argued and eventually agreed. I'd chosen an Italian restaurant, I knew the man who ran the place, he owed me for some business and I knew the dinner would be for free. That night we spent a lot of time talking, actually he talked a lot, cautiously first, and then more boldly; about his wife, he didn't sound too enthusiastic about her; about his kids, he seemed to adore them; about his job, he was a good lawyer, obviously. I watched him drink and stopped him after a while because I didn't want him drunk.

"Do you drink a lot?" I asked, looking concerned. He blushed, there was probably something there, I wasn't the first one to approach the problem.

"No!" he answered, looking annoyed, "no, I mean not every day, not regularly. I don't need it, I just drink with friends or when I feel uncomfortable, or when I need some… extra courage."

I didn't say anything, just watched him realize what he'd just said. "Shit," he whispered, "I talk too much."

There was no need to make him feel worse, I just smiled. "I like listening to you."

"Yeah, well… I'm not saying anything that interesting so… What? What do you want, exactly?"

"I think the question is what do *you* want? There's not a lot I can give you. Beside the obvious, of course."

He looked stunned. "The obvious? What do you mean?"

"The sex… After all, you let me fuck you in this basement, didn't you?"

He gave me a wary look. "You intend to talk about that every time we meet, don't you?"

"I have very nice memories of that basement, actually."

He lowered his eyes, caught in the fascinating sight of his lasagnas and after a moment, I brushed his hand with my fingers. "Was it just because you were drunk? And stoned? Nothing else?"

He shook his head, "I don't know."

"Did you like it?"

"You know I did."

"Yeah, I know. So why not give it another try? I'll stop whenever you ask," I promised, although I knew he wouldn't ask, I couldn't remember anyone asking me to stop, the only words I'd ever heard was "more" or "don't stop!" and he would do the same.

"I… I don't know. I have to think about it."

I didn't want him to think, I'd waited too long already so as soon as we walked out in the chilly winter air, I kissed him. Long enough to steal his breath, sweetly enough to make a difference with the first time, holding him against me, my fingers in his hair, an arm around his waist like they do in movies, romantic stuff and all.

"Now, tell me," I asked, my mouth against his ear, "tell me, do you like it?"

He rested his cheek against my jaw, nodded, I felt the scrape of stubble and he moaned.

"Let's do it again," I said, taking his mouth again, feeling his body moving against mine, his tongue battling with mine, his fingers on my neck, until I had to stop him, until he was ready…

"Hey, hey, hey… Let's take this somewhere else, OK?" I said, "My place. We'll take your car but I'll drive."

We didn't talk much, didn't touch each other during the trip, God, we were so aroused we could've fucked right there, and when I stopped the car we rushed out like teenagers. As usual the elevator didn't work, we had to take the stairs and we kissed again in front of my door as I struggled to find my keys without letting go of him and I pushed him inside, shoved him against the door, pressed my body against his, rubbing my crotch against his.

"Drug and booze, huh?" I growled, "You bastard, you need this. You do."

His eyes were cloudy, unfocused as he began to undress me bluntly… Geez, not again! I closed my fingers around his wrists to keep him still, slammed his hands against the door above his head.

"Listen to me, Toby… We're ain't gonna do it that way again. We'll go slow. I want you to enjoy it."

"I enjoyed it last time. Just fuck me, you motherfucker," he growled.

OK. That would be fun, real fun. "I'll fuck you. I will, I swear. But you won't tear my clothes off and you'll calm down. OK? This is not a fight, I want you to stay lucid so you won't blame it on me or the wine, or anything. Just you. You do it because you want it."

He closed his eyes and nodded slowly. I felt like I was holding down some wild cat, and adrenalin rushed through my whole body like a burning fire; I knew the sensation, I wanted it again and maybe I'd found a new enjoyable way to get it without hurting or harming anybody, and I had to rein in my desire to just throw him on the floor and fuck him senseless.

I led him gently to the bed across the empty room, and pushed him onto it, kissing him again and again as we got rid of our clothes, kissing his whole pale body, his silky hair, his eyes, his lips, the palm of his hands, being kissed back in return, same kisses, same places; Toby was learning fast and well and soon we were so aroused we could've come like teenagers, just rubbing against each other's body but I held back, asked him what he wanted, asked him if he wanted me inside him and he nodded again, his eyes clear and shining again like a summer sky and I took my time, retrieved lube and condoms, prepared him until he writhed under me like a fish out of the water, moaning, threatening to kill me if I didn't take him but still I wanted it slow, I wanted it to last, I wanted him to tremble with desire just like I was trembling, I wanted him to beg for release just like my own body did and when I was sheathed deep inside him, I begin to thrust slowly, very slowly, feeling his body arch under me, trying to take me deeper, urging me to go faster, and I didn't, it was not what he needed, he needed to learn, he needed to feel every new sensation, to know how much he wanted it, loved it, needed it.

When I couldn't hold back anymore I began to thrust faster, purposely brushing along his prostate, his cock rubbing against my stomach, eyes locked with his and after a while he couldn't resist any longer and came, his tight muscles locked tight around my cock, dragging me into pleasure, holding each other tight, moaning our pleasure in each other's ear, hearts pounding. Jesus fucking Christ, I thought, that was just perfect, just what I needed and when I opened my eyes, he was watching me and the only thing I could read there was delight so I said nothing and we fell asleep on that.

He left me before dawn, had to go back to his place with a believable lie for his wife, slip back into his everyday life, he told me, looking sad, and I nodded. I didn't expect anything else and it had been months since I'd woken up with someone else in my bed. He kissed me again, laughing in my neck, brushing my face with his fingers, biting my earlobe and I growled, "Hey, Toby you'd better leave right now 'cause I could feel like fucking you again," rubbing my hard cock against him.

"I really have to go," he sighed and got up, dressing hastily and walking towards the door, but I caught him before he reached it, threw him to the floor, pinned him there…

"You don't tease me like that and get away with it, you motherfucker," I panted against his mouth. He didn’t look afraid or even surprised, just laughed and tried to escape as if it was a game and inside me I felt the hunger grow, felt my mind give in, felt something dark and dangerous simmering near, so near… He stopped moving suddenly, closed his eyes and went quiet under my body. I don't know what I would've done if he'd kept on fighting me, but he didn't, just gave me this open and serious look and said, "You know, it's not like I was going very far… I can come back if you want me to."

His words startled me, damped down my anger or whatever was slowly rising inside me, tamed me and I let go of him.

"Whenever you want, Toby. Come back whenever you want," I whispered, not believing what I was saying, but freeing him.

Smart move, Christopher Keller, I thought later as I lied on my bed, half asleep, slowly stroking my body, trying to recapture the sensations; wasn't it supposed to be one of those one-night stands you're so good at? How could you be so stupid, is it all it takes, a pair of sky-blue eyes and a nice smile?

I sighed as my hand rested on my dick, my fingers grazing my skin like his had only hours ago… The phone woke me up much later; I heard a rough voice, a name, Johnny, and words. Garage, job… Today at noon and I said OK, I'll be there.

After that my life changed. I mean I was still the same Chris Keller, still haunted bars and dubious places, seeking pleasure and oblivion in anonymous arms, noisy music, and sometimes drugs but I had a job again, which kept me going during the day and I had Toby, or so it seemed.

We met once a week, more or less; one hour or the whole night, depending on what kind of lies he'd built for his wife, I knew he did lie, and lied well, I kept that in mind for later, maybe he would lie to me as well- we met at my place or anywhere that seemed convenient.

In the beginning he trailed behind me wherever I went, sometimes it was fun, sometimes I wanted to get rid of him and sometimes I did, kicking him out of my life for a day or a week, until he came back. He always did, like the good addict he already was, yeah, that was easy and so satisfying.

I fucked him in back rooms, night clubs, anywhere I felt like it and I thought someday he'd say, "stop", but he didn't. Sometimes we just spent the evening or however long we could have together in my empty apartment and fucked. I fucked him first and sometimes let him fuck me, relaxed under his touch, let go of who I was, let him… take me. That was really new, I'd never let anyone fuck me before, I was a top at heart, I was so sure of that, but Toby… I don't know what it was about him that made me feel this way. I was laying on the bed, and he would touch me, caress me, using the skills I'd shown him, careful not to hurt me and I felt like a wild animal, I knew I could pounce and hurt if he made the wrong move but the fact is that he didn't. He was so focused on my pleasure that he nearly forgot his, working his mouth, his hand and his cock on me, around me, inside me and I felt like purring; I couldn't have enough, so when we were finished I dragged him to me, both of us naked and sweaty, pushed him on his back and kissed him until he began moaning, until he was hard again. I knew what he wanted, knew what he liked, snaked a finger inside him, then two, searching for the right spot to caress, feeling him arch under me, my thumb stroking the underside of his cock, my other hand wrapped around his shaft and the tip of his cock in my mouth, and I was sucking it and licking it until Toby was making those incoherent noises in his throat, until I felt him shake from head to toes, his body convulsing. When he came, in my mouth I tasted him, musky, salty and we collapsed together on the bed. I couldn't get enough of him.

But when he was gone I began pacing, wondering again. What the fuck did he want? He had a good job, a nice wife, fine kids, a beautiful house, money, what the fuck did he want from me except sex? What more could I possibly give him? Was it about some wicked thrill, was it about danger or forbidden fruit, was he just bored?

I couldn't stop my mind from wondering and the more I thought about it, the less I understood, so one night I finally asked him and he frowned, hesitated and said softly, "I think I love you," and I was so stunned that I didn't answer.

We were sitting at a table in a gay bar, and I pretended having trouble hearing him, so I took him to the dance floor, wrapped my arms asked straight in his ear,

"What?"

"I love you, I love being with you, I love every fucking minute I spend with you, don’t you see?" he answered, and I heard him perfectly.

I felt panic surge; I could remember my ex-wives, other lovers telling me that before, but the illusion had never lasted that long, 6 months… Shit, what had I gotten myself into?

"Stop selling yourself short," I heard him say, "you deserve much better than what you have, Chris," he continued as we moved to the music, locked in each other's embrace.

I pushed him away, walked back to the table. I could barely breathe, my chest was crushed and I knew this madness had to stop and stop now, before it was too fucking late. He followed me, cautious.

"I don't love you, Toby. I don't… You're fine, you're hot, the sex is great but I don't love you. We can't go on like this," I said, shaking him, my heart racing, sweat running down my spine… Panic, sheer panic attack and I ran out of the bar to find some fresh air, breathe again. I heard his footsteps behind me, heard his voice saying, "Chris," and cut him short, walking briskly towards the car across the parking lot.

"You don't know who I am, or what I've done, what I did before I met you, how could you love me, you don't even know me? I'll go to hell, Toby, when I die, I'll go to hell for the things I've done."

Suddenly he grabbed my wrist, forcing me to turn and face him, rested his hands on my shoulders, pushed me against the car, running his thumb across my jaw, soothing me like I was some kid. I threw my head back, unable to breathe, noticed a full moon, shivered in the icy winter night, saw the lights of the city tremble around us.

"I'll take you home, Toby," I said, "and after that, I don't want to see you again. OK? Never again."

He looked skeptical. "I frightened you," he whispered, "when I said I loved you I frightened you. Shit. Don't do that to us, it worked just fine!"

Those two words… Big mistake, Toby… They made something snap inside me.

"Just fine?" I growled, "How can you say that? You cheat on your wife, lie to her, spend all your free time with me in these places. Is that 'fine' to you?" He took a step back, looking worried.

"Every time we're together, I get a glimpse of what I could have and then every time you leave me you take it away. A night of bliss each and every week, is it what you call 'fine'? This is not a life, Toby, not a life for you, maybe not even a life for me, or anyone!" I was spitting every word in his face, "You think you make me happy? Who do you think I am? An animal, a fucking dog you just let behind when you go back to your everyday life? Is that what you call "just fine"? You know what "just fine" means to me? It means having a life like yours, a fucking ordinary life, a family and a nice home, someone waiting for me when I come back from work, week-ends in bed with somebody or walking across the park… That is "just fine" to me. What you have is fine. What I have is," I blinked back a tear of rage or something else, "what I have is just shit, just nothing. I want more. I know I can't have it so I'd rather have nothing. Do you hear me?" I was shaking him, pushing him away, he stumbled, eyes wide and I knew the moment had come for the death-blow...

"We're done, Toby, this… this relationship, whatever you thought it was, it is over, finished. Go back to your fucking fine life and leave me alone."

It took him seconds to react, then he gave me a strange look and asked angrily, "Tell me, Chris, which part of what you said is the truth? Which part should I believe?" I recognized the lawyer's mind behind the words, I knew he was going to argue and I was so not in the mood for that.

"Are you giving me this "all or nothing" shit just to get rid of me, because it's a kind way to tell me you don't give a damn about me, or," I braced myself. Fuck, never screw smart guys, I thought as he continued "or," he said, eyes shining, lips twitched in a mocking smile, "do you love me and you're too proud or too afraid to admit it? Huh? What's the truth, Keller? Are you freaking out?"

I took a deep breath and gave him my worst smile, fighting hard not to knock him down right there.

" Believe what you wanna believe, Toby, I don't care. I'm done with you anyway."

I got inside the car, slammed the door, "And find another garage for your car, I'm done with that too."

I left as fast as I could, tyres screaming against the concrete and drove away, to another bar where I fucked a girl in the toilets and got drunk before falling asleep inside the car. That morning, I was late to work and then I didn't hear about Tobias Beecher for a while, which was great.

But after a week, it wasn't so great, I felt lonely again, and I missed him like hell, missed his laugh and his voice and his strong arms around me, and our fights on the floor of my apartment and the sex and every fucking detail I remembered about him, I missed him and hated him 'cause he had all that I wanted, all that I could never have for myself, I hated him for that and at the same time I wanted him so badly I sometimes had to jerk off in the toilets of the garage just thinking of him, cursing the day I'd met the guy.

Guess I wasn't the only one to ache, because after a while he tried again. Called me on the phone, leaving messages on my cell phone, writing me notes I didn't read, showing up at the garage or the apartment, seeking me out in bars, Christ, he couldn't leave me alone. So I returned his letters, changed my phone numbers, kicked his ass out of my apartment, insulted him, nearly hit him, wanting to hurt him, discourage him, disgust him and eventually I thought he had given up. It didn't make me feel happy. But relieved? Sure.

Maybe I wouldn't have ever seen him again, after all, but fate is persistent. I was standing in front of the courthouse several months later waiting for Bonnie. She’d called in the morning, I was half-stoned, she’d said she wanted me to sign some papers, I didn't really know what it was about. Anyway she was late, and I was about to leave; after all she had a man, she didn't need me anymore and fuck I was going to waste some more time waiting for her in the middle of this huge hall where I felt like a stranger in an unknown world among important men dressed in fancy suits.

I turned to leave and nearly bumped into a man standing in front of me. I raised a hand to steady him, my eyes caught blue eyes and my breath stopped for a second.

"Toby? What the hell… What happened?"

Jesus fucking Christ, what had happened to him? He was so lean I could feel his bones between my fingers; he looked weary and lost and rested his weight on a cane. A beard partly hid his face, making him look much older.

"What the hell happened to you?"

He gave me an almost shy smile. "I… I went through some bad stuff. I'm OK now."

My blood was slowly coming back to my head, my brain working again.

"Bad stuff? What kind of bad stuff?" I asked, nearly shaking him.

"I had… I was hurt in a car crash, spent some weeks in hospital," he said, showing me the cane, "but I'm OK now. Really."

He spoke slowly, his eyes not leaving my face. "You look good," he said lightly, "Still working at the garage?"

"Yeah. Why didn't you tell me? Fuck, Toby, why didn't you come to me?" I asked.

"Ah, you'd made it quite clear that it was over. I didn't want you to believe that I was trying to influence you," he began and with a sigh he added, "and I didn't want you to see me so… miserable. Three months ago I looked like a living dead."

I couldn't take my eyes off him.

"I can't believe that you shut me out like that, Toby," I whispered, touching his face with tentative fingers. He didn't try to back off, closed his eyes for a second. His beard was soft against my fingers.

"Shut you out?" he snorted, "Chris, you let me down, you kicked my ass out your apartment, changed your phone number… What the fuck was I supposed to do?"

Of course he was right, but I felt hurt all the same.

"C'mon, I'll take you to my place, we can have a drink…" He stopped me, shaking his head.

"No, no. Gen's going to pick me here in 5 minutes."

Shit. "OK, let's sit down then, 5 minutes is enough time to tell me what happened."

There was a wooden bench in a corner of the hall; we sat there side by side. His thigh was touching mine, hot under the fabric of his suit and I was drinking in the sight of him, Christ, I could've lost him; I'd let him disappear, I'd pushed him away and he'd been hurt… I clenched my fists in frustration.

"What happened, Toby?" I asked, looking at his hands crossed on his laps, covering them with mine, feeling them tremble slightly.

"I was drunk, the car skidded on the road, it was raining. I ended in a wall, I was out for a week. Both legs broken and a concussion. But it wasn't that bad, I was lucky, doctors said I could've died."

"How long ago?"

"Nearly 4 months. I was going home. It was my fault. Chris, I was drunk, I could've killed someone," he explained in a shaky voice, "It was the third time… They took away my driving license, I had to stop working for a while… Shit, I made such a mess of everything."

He'd finished and he rose as a young woman walked toward us, tidy look, brown hair, beige suit… Pretty. I'd seen a photo of Gen once, taken after the wedding during their honeymoon, nestled against her young husband, both of them smiling. There seemed to be nothing left of that young loving girl and when she talked to him her voice was cold and exasperated.

"I've been looking for you everywhere, Tobias… Why are you hiding there?"

Before Toby could answer I'd gotten up and she took one step back, looking scared.

"Who… Who are you?"

"Your husband's friend, I'd say. Mrs Beecher, I suppose?" I outstretched my hand, she put her little hand in mine –I noticed the hesitation and the sideway glance to her husband, "Christopher Keller."

"Tobias told me about you, Mr Keller."

Toby was pale and avoided her look. Something else had happened, but the hell if I knew what.

"We lost contact some months ago."

"Really? Lost contact?" She said coldly, raising an eyebrow, glaring at me. What the hell was going on there, I wondered, slightly worried.

"Then," she added "I guess you won't mind if I tell you that my husband doesn't need your… friendship."

Huh-huh. She knew. I couldn't even imagine how, but the bitch knew about us.

"Your husband's old enough to speak for himself, don't you think?"

Toby looked at me, his eyes imploring me. "It's OK, Chris. I have to go. This is… ancient history, anyway. It was nice to see you again."

He smiled and took his wife's hand. I hated her for the look she gave him because there was no love there, I saw this, just some strong sense of possession and Toby was looking so ashamed and tired. They left together, I watched them until I couldn’t see them anymore. I noticed how brisk her step was, I noticed that Toby limped slightly beside her and that she kept looking straight ahead. I hated her for making him feel bad.

I spent the whole night thinking about Toby. Fantasizing about Toby. I’d been so sure it was over, that I had -well maybe not forgotten but at least overcome the pain and the memories. But who was I fooling, I could feel my whole body ache just remembering our little talk, his face, his hands in mine, his look, his eyes. Before dawn I called his cell phone, hoping he hadn't changed the number. I intended to leave a message, but he answered.

"Toby," I said, and I couldn’t find anything else to say, but I guess he thought I wanted some explanations.

"Yeah. I'm sorry. I… talked about you once. We had a fight, Gen and I, after the accident and I was still very unbalanced, I told her I'd found someone else. A man. Didn't even mention a name but I think she guessed when she saw you. You looked too concerned to be just a friend, and she knows them all anyway."

"This fight you two had… Was it about me?"

"No. She thought I was having an affair with a girl in the office, a secretary."

"Was it true?"

"Yeah, actually it was," he said matter-of-factly, "I don't know how Gen and I ended up like that. Gen yelled at me, telling me that I made her feel worthless and abandoned, I told her that I had to go elsewhere to get what she wasn't giving me. Sex, among other things. Affection, kindness. She kept saying that I would've fucked any available girl anyway, no matter how kind she was and that's when I told her about us."

I'd listened carefully. So he'd been cheating on her after me, and probably before… I didn’t like that, it didn’t fit my idea of Toby, but I had other priorities so I just let it go.

"Leave her, Toby, she doesn’t deserve you," I said.

"No. No, we've managed to build something new between us and there are the kids. I can’t leave her."

"Something new? Toby she talks to you like you're some kind of criminal! That's not love! You can't build anything on that!"

“Yeah? Guess you know a lot about love, don’t you?”

“Maybe not. But I know what I saw this afternoon, and that wasn’t love.”

“Fuck you, Chris! Fuck you!” he snarled back.

I knew talking further about it was useless, he wasn't ready to hear me, he needed time and that’s what I would give him. Time. And what Gen didn’t give him.

"What are you wearing, Toby?" I asked, afraid he would hung up.

"What? Oh Christ, Chris, not again!" he snorted, half annoyed, half amused, “We’re through, remember?”

"C'mon, tell me!"

"OK. Jeans and a turtleneck. Both black," he said, resignedly.

"Boxers?"

"No underwear. I grabbed what I could, Gen was asleep, I didn't want to wake her up."

I closed my eyes, reclining on the bed, trying to imagine him like that. With this beard. Christ, I was hard already.

"Where are you?"

"In the leaving room on the couch. I couldn't sleep. Want to know the colour of the couch?"

"Dark green. You told me once."

"Oh! I didn't remember that."

"Well I did. What are you doing?"

"Reading. Do you want the title of the book, too?"

"Sure! Tell me, Toby!" Anything to keep him talking.

He sighed, I heard him shift. "It's called ‘Nils Holgersson's wonderful journey through Sweden’"

"Yeah? And what is it about?"

"It's the story of a good-for-nothing boy who's changed into some…"

I cut him short, "I love you, Toby," I said in a breath, as fast as I could, "I really do, it's just… I'm lousy at relationships."

There was a dreadful silence and I heard him sigh. "Yeah? That's something we have in common, then." He didn't say anything more but I could hear his voice shaking.

"Do you believe me?"

"What? That you love me? Maybe. And then what?"

"Give me another chance!"

"You think you deserve it?" he asked incredulously, "You treated me like shit, Chris, why should I forgive you? Why should I come back to you? How can I be sure it's not a game you're playing? Maybe you're just bored and looking for some fun!"

"Toby, I've missed you every single fucking day. I've been thinking of you at home, at work…"

"Tell me you've been living like a monk! No sex?"

I couldn't say that, I didn't want to lie, he wouldn't believe me. "I've fucked every single woman or man I could find but they were just holes where I could stick my dick. You're different. It's not just about sex, you know that. Come on, what do you want me to tell you? You were right the last time, I was lying. I was freaking out. I've never been in love like this before. You've got to believe me, Toby, for Chrissake!"

There was a very long silence, stretching between us, and I was clutching the phone so tight my fingers hurt, feeling stupid and desperate. Christ, he had to take me back, he had to, it was the only thing I could think about.

"Please, Toby! You know you still want me. You know you love me."

"Chris, you're such a self confident bastard, sometimes! Trying to get back at me like that!”

"Last time we met you told me I was selling myself short."

"You have a very good memory."

"Yeah, it can help sometimes. Please, Toby!"

Five days later we were facing each other in my apartment. He'd shaved, he looked younger, but so lean and still so weak, watching me cautiously, not too sure what he was supposed to do. I'd closed the door on him and there he stood, watching me through his lashes. Gauging me, probably, and I felt clumsy and embarrassed. I took a step forward, then another, coming close enough to smell him. He lowered his head like a college girl on a first date.

"Hey, Toby, it's only me!" I said softly.

"I know. But I'm not sure, not sure I'm doing the right thing. I shouldn't be here, Chris, I spent so much time trying to fix things with Gen and my family… Trying to forget you."

I laid a finger on his lips, came closer still, and his hands brushed against my shoulders, eventually landing there like frightened birds, tentative and soft. I closed my eyes under the touch, not daring to move. He kept his head low, I didn't know what to do or say.

"Look at me, Toby!"

He raised his eyes and we kept silent until I cupped the back of his head with my hand, brushed his mouth with my lips and Toby gave in to the sensation, pressing his own lips against mine. I parted them with my tongue, he was warm, he smelled good, tasted good, I kissed him deeply, slowly, circling his waist with my arm, pulling him closer, and his hands locked behind my neck, his thumbs on my jaw, smoothing my skin. We kissed for what seemed like hours, and it felt like the very first time, the very first kiss, I lost myself in the unknown sensation of kissing someone for the pure pleasure of the kiss, no ulterior motives, no obvious purpose, just a kiss to taste and enjoy Toby. After that he buried his face in the crook of my neck, his hand clutching my shoulder and asked, "And now what? Where do we go from there?"

And fuck if I knew. But I took him to my bedroom and we made love there. I’d never felt anything like that before and when dawn came I was sure I’d do anything to keep him. Anything.

tbc...

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