Motionless, he sat there. Staring at his book. Actually, through his book. "Alice in Wonderland" the title beamed. He didn't really like the story, but he had taken to reading fantasies lately. Anything to get him out of here.
The pod was awfully quiet since Mondo's not-so-mysterious death. That murder reeked of Keller and/or O'Reily.
Oz. Em City. Interesting how two names from one of his favorite films now filled him with such dread and despair. At length, he adjusted himself on his top bunk, cracked open the book, and began to read. Poor Alice. He had always felt that the book was like one huge acid trip, and this read was no different. Poor Alice, tumbling down her hole.
Hole. Darkness. Hole. The Hole.
He thought of Said, resting silently -— or could he be praying even there -— in the Hole. The whole prison was talking about the final struggle between him and Adebisi. The aftermath? Said went a little crazy, not surprisingly. Everyone else in Oz has gone a little crazy at one time or another, not the least of them Beecher. So, it's only natural that the Imam of the Muslims — the purveyor of nonviolence and truth — had gone a little cuckoo since swearing to Allah his allegiance to Adebisi then subsequently killing him. Beecher worried about him. Because he liked him a lot. Most of the people in Oz had been "situationally" nice to him, but not Said. They had grown to understand each other, and they cared for each other a lot. Sounded something like him and Keller. Well, without all of the sex and the mind games bullshit.
Needless to say, perhaps, but Beecher was through with sex, at least for the time being. He'd been fucked up the ass more times than he cared to admit. Was there such a thing as permanently sore? Did he ever really adjust to liking this act? Or did he just care too much for Chris to deny him? Hard to say. His head was a foggy mass of thoughts, confusions.
Beecher went back to visiting Sister Pete, talking about things. Trying to work through the muddy mess his life had become. She had helped him think more clearly about situations and feelings, but so had Said.
He thought again of poor Said, down in the Hole. Beecher said a little prayer for him. To God, to Allah, to any universal entity which might be listening.
Two thuds on his pod door. A quick glance revealed that it was Keller. He threw open the door in his typically rough manner. "Hey Beecher."
Beecher didn't look up. "What do you want?"
"I, um, I asked McManus to move me back in here. To give it another chance." Keller glared at Beecher, his beautiful sandy blond hair, strong chin and thin but defined frame. "To give us another chance, Toby."
Beecher sneered and gave a snorting chuckle.
"What? Don't you believe I mean it?"
"Oh, I do. It's just that I don't want to give it another go, if that's okay with you."
"Right. You're gonna' tell me that you haven't been thinking about me. `Bout us. You been with all those other guys, and you were thinking of me the whole time."
"Actually, I usually just thought of how much my ass hurts. My God, my ass hurts. I can't believe how much my ass hurts."
"Come on, Beecher. I still think this—"
"What? That this can work?" Beecher had to choke back an upsetting sigh. "Wha-, no, why? Why this sudden need to make up with me? You were ready to let Adebisi kill me just a couple of weeks ago. You didn't lift a fucking finger to help me."
"I didn't help you? O'Reily and me had a plan. We saw it through. You were never really in danger."
Beecher felt his forehead, where that awful bruise was fading. "Yeah, no harm done."
"No," Beecher interrupted, his voice growing louder. "Do we make sense, Chris? Do we? Where the fuck did we hope this would go?"
"You love me, Beecher. You know it."
"Yeah, I did love you. Whatever the fuck that means."
An awkward silence ensued. It lasted a few minutes. Keller stamped his feet nervously on the cold concrete floor. Beecher pretended to read his book, but he really couldn't stop thinking. A month ago, he would have given anything for Keller to forgive him, to feel his strong and gentle grip. To lie with him as they had so many times. To fill each other up. But not now. No, not now.
"Is this about those other guys?" Keller's voice boomed, breaking the silence.
Beecher again gave a short, muted chuckle. "What, the dead guys? That might have something to do with it." His tone was sarcastic and scowling.
"Beecher, that was before you."
"Chris, think about it. You fucked those men and then killed them. Killed them because they were homosexual and you didn't want to be." Beecher sat back against the cold, sterile wall, letting his words sink in. "They were before me? Keller, they were me. And now they're dead. I mean, have you ever really thought about what you did to them?"
Keller nodded. A look of sadness covered his face like a shroud. He knew it was hopeless. Beecher was beyond the make-up stage. He turned to leave the pod but stopped himself. "Toby, I've always hated myself. You know that? Some people hate themselves and hurt themselves. I hate myself and hurt others. Which is worse? I don't know. I'm not gonna' feed you some bullshit story `bout me being a changed man or anything, but I have never felt better with anyone than when I'm with you. What we have — or had — is better than anything I've ever had. Homosexual, bisexual, what-the-fuck-ever." Beecher didn't reply; he just looked at his former lover. For a moment, he thought he could forgive him. But reality bitch-slapped him. There was simply too much hurt in his heart for it. The sadness and guilt between them was almost tangible.
"And I haven't felt loved — I mean real love — in a long time. If ever." The door closed quietly behind Keller as he stepped out of the pod.
The blade made sharp scraping sounds, barely audible except in the silence of his pod. Beecher brought the Gillette "Mach 3" up to his left cheek and pulled down, shearing away the five o'clock shadow that he had sported for several days. Suddenly, he dropped the blade in the basin. It plopped in the pool of water. He looked at himself in the mirror.
Really looked at himself.
Said was back in Em City. He looked rested -- and amazingly composed -— as he walked through those tremendous front gates. He smiled as Arif and the other Muslims gathered to greet him. Then he smiled as he noticed Beecher, still so clean and innocent looking, not at all like some of the other creeps in here. Said sat with the Muslims, and he spent some time with them, catching up on the previous weeks.
Beecher just sat and watched the old friends, and the reunion brought some joy to his heart. He even smiled in spite of himself.
Said excused himself and approached Beecher. They embraced each other as they had done several times, when Said advised Beecher in the ways of Allah, forgiveness and truth, and comforted him when his children were abducted. It wasn't a sexual embrace. No. This embrace was one of true friendship, of mutual respect and of love -— brotherly love.
"How are you, Beecher?" Said asked with warmth.
"I'm alright. More importantly, how are you?"
"I am well." They embraced again. It felt so good to hug someone without the pretense of something else, Beecher thought.
"I was so worried about you."
"And I you." Said was still smiling. It struck Beecher odd that someone was excited about coming back to Em City, but he understood the emotion. He had spent his share of time in the Hole.
"Things are pretty dull around here since you left. I've been reading more and more, just keeping to myself."
"Come. Let's talk."
They went to Beecher's pod for privacy. Beecher plopped down on the top bunk, and Said seated himself right next to him. They talked. About God, about life, about Oz, about love. And attraction. And betrayal. It was just like old times.
Beecher could tell that Keller was watching them as they spoke. He could feel his former lover's eyes on him, from somewhere. A few quick glances revealed that he watched them from his second floor pod. But Beecher was too enveloped in conversation with Said to care much.
Said didn't mention his struggle with Adebisi through all this, and Beecher didn't want to press him or upset him. He simply let it be. Besides, he figured Said had done all the praying he needed to in terms of that unfortunate death.
"I saw myself this morning, as I was shaving," Beecher said, staring at his delicate hands. He rubbed his hands together as though he were washing them, washing something away.
"I saw myself — for the first time in a long time. Do you know what I mean?" Said nodded, then gestured for him to continue. "I just looked at myself, dumbfounded. I had all these new wrinkles, new lines across my face. I'm not the man I was. I'm not sure if I'm a better man."
"Do you feel better?"
"I don't know. I killed Kathy Rockwell. But my self-hatred is pretty much subdued, you know? I try not to torture myself about that. All I can do is go on with my life and hope I make better choices in the future. But—." Beecher stopped himself. He felt tears well up. He hadn't cried since the kidnappings, the murder. Said took his hand with an assured and gentle grasp. "Beecher, have you talked to Keller?"
He nodded. "A little."
"Have you really forgiven him for all that he's done to you? Honestly?"
"I thought I had, but there's always something else with him."
"Beecher, you need to release this anger and despair over Keller."
"I know, I know. I just can't help thinking about those men. Those three men he killed. They were homosexual. Keller's homosexual. He's a sociopath, a manipulative liar, and—."
"And you love him," Said interjected.
Again, Beecher nodded weakly. "So what does that make me? Homosexual? Lonely? Fucked-up? Weak?"
"I think it makes you human." Said's eyes looked pained; he empathized with Beecher's pain. "Beecher, I've thought about a lot about things over the past few weeks, and I've come to a few decisions. One is that there are no definite conclusions, only lessons and truths. Another decision I've come to is that love is love. Good love, bad love, brotherly love, marital love, parental love — whatever." Said bowed his head, sighed, and then turned back to face Beecher. "See, I'm constantly at odds with myself. My life, my faith, my desires. It doesn't have to be that way. I see now that love is love, and that should never be forgotten, taken for granted, or thrown away. No matter what the circumstances."
"Even after all this pain we've caused each other." Tears slowly streaked Beecher's face.
"Especially after all the pain you've caused each other." Said stood and turned to face Beecher. He took his hand again. He cupped Beecher's head in his right hand and eased the tortured man's face forward. He planted a gentle, affirming kiss on Beecher's forehead. He couldn't explain why he did it. The bruise from Adebisi and his crew's interrogation was still there, though very faint. "Talk to him." Kareem made his way to the door. "And Beecher — you are a better man. You are a stronger man. I know it." He left the pod, and rejoined his followers in the Em City commons.
Chris was jarred by the knocks at his pod door. The thick glass rattled uneasily. He had been resting his eyes — at least, that's what he would tell the person standing there. In reality, he had been crying. Not sobbing like Toby often did, but shedding some tears. He hadn't cried in years. It was a relief, but not something he wanted anyone to see.
He looked up, and Toby was there, fidgeting a little. Chris gestured for him to come inside. Behind Toby he could see that O'Reily was watching them from his adjacent pod. Cyril was behind him, toying around with some object.
"Hey." Beecher caught sight of Chris' red, puffy eyes. "You alright?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," Keller replied, rubbing his hands over his face. "Just tired as fuck."
"I've been talking with Said again."
"I need to say a few things."
"Before you do, Toby, let me say something. I think I've got a way to show you that I really do care."
"I'm going to whack Vern."
"Yeah, I will personally shank his Nazi ass — fuck him up real good. Will that prove my loyalty to you?"
Beecher was awestruck. He shouldn't have been, but he was. He remained silent for a few moments, then spoke: "Why is it that every time you want to show your affections for me, someone else has to be hurt or killed? What kind of love is that?"
His words had pierced Keller. They stared at each other in silence. The minutes felt like hours.
"Maybe it's the only kind of love I ever knew." With that, Keller pushed his way past Beecher and walked out of the pod.
"Wait, Chris," Beecher said, grabbing the door before it slammed. But it was too late. Keller was outside, working his way down to the common area below. Beecher choked back more tears and walked outside.
It pissed him off, this ridiculous chase. What was this cycle? Each time they were angry, it was always him who had come running after Keller. Sure, Keller had offered his apologies a few times, but had he ever really pursued Beecher to win him back?
He grabbed Keller by the arm, and turned him around. "Please wait, Chris."
Keller glared at him. "Why does this look familiar, Toby?"
"That time you pushed me away, right before you broke my arms and legs."
"Chris, I came to you because I am trying my best to put all this shit behind us."
"You think you and me got a chance to work this out?"
Beecher looked at his feet, then directly into Keller's cobalt eyes. They were two shiny beacons under the harsh Em City lights. "I honestly don't know. I'm willing to try again. And there are worse things than having you as a podmate." The two managed to smile at each other. How long had it been? Ages it seemed.
"So what do you and Said talk about all the time?" Keller asked. He began to make the bottom bunk up to his liking. He creased the sheet and fluffed his flat heavy pillow. "All kinds of things." "Like what?" "You know, life, God, love, attraction, betrayal, truth." "All the best that Oz has to offer," Keller joked. "Yeah." "How are you, you know, with everything? Your kids, your life?" Beecher grinned. "Is this Keller I'm talking to? You sound so different." "Shit, you know I'm not that good at this stuff, Beecher." Beecher shook his head, "No, no. I like it, Chris. I really do. Um… I don't know. I guess I'm alright. There's only so much guilt and self-loathing a person can carry. Then they need to do something about it, you know? Said and Sister Pete have been helping me see things clearly again." "I know you don't have a reason to believe me, but I am sorry. For everything. I just—." Chris' voice was somber. His eyes shone a dull blue in the poor light of the pod. The two stared at each other for moment. "I know. I'm sorry I ever thought you could have had my son killed. I was just in a fucked-up place, you know? I was hysterical; I didn't know who to believe, or what the hell I was doing." The podmates nodded to each other in agreement and forgiveness. They shared another smile. "How long's it been since we kissed?" Keller asked. He ran his fingers down Beecher's freshly-shaven cheek. The action made the hairs on the lawyer's neck stand at attention. For Keller, something else was standing at attention. Beecher smiled nervously. "I don't think that's a good idea." "Why?" "Because if I kiss you once, I won't be able to stop." "Is that such a bad thing?" "Too soon." Again, they smiled. Chris understood. -------------------------- "Hello, Christopher. Please come in." Sister Pete's voice was confident and professional, as it usually was. "So, you made an appointment with me. You're cellmates with Tobias again, so I hope this isn't another scheme of yours." Her skeptical tone. "No schemes, Sister." She judged his answer. "Alright. What can I do for you?" "I had to see you." "Why?" "You relax me. I feel — better — when I'm around you. Or at least like I'm not as big a piece of shit as I usually think I am." Sister Pete shook her head violently. "You're not a piece of shit, Christopher." He nodded, but remained unconvinced as usual. "Was there something in particular you wanted to talk about today?" Keller gave another defeated nod of his head. He was ashamed to look her in the eyes. "Sister, I know I've put you and Beecher through a lot. It's just, I've got these demons. They're with me, all day long." "Demons?" "Yeah, demons. Ghosts, past failures, all this shit crammed inside my head. Sometimes I think my heart could just explode I get so screwed- up. I've made so many mistakes." Keller seemed lost in thought. "Do you think my mistakes can be corrected? Can my past be mended?" "If you are truly sorry, and you repent, of course you can mend your past." "Sister, do you honestly believe that people can change?" Keller asked, staring straight at her now. She still admired his piercing blue eyes, his firm physique. Keller carried himself with pride and confidence, but it was all a façade. "I do, yes. I think people can witness things, have certain experiences, and never be the same again." "Well, what about a complete personality change? Can a criminal change his ways? Can a bad apple like me ever make things right?" "Part of making things right is admitting to yourself who you really are. You know, looking in the mirror and liking what you see. Part of changing is accepting yourself, your past, and trying to move beyond it. Doing better in the future." A single tear followed the curves of Keller's face until plodding on his T-shirt. "Sister, I need to tell you something. And it's more difficult than you can possibly imagine." "I'm listening, Christopher. Go ahead." Her reassuring tone. A few minutes passed. "Sister, I'm… I'm a fag." -------------------------- "Hey, where ya' been?" Beecher asked, a genuine smile spread across his face. He had such a beautiful, sculptured face, Keller thought. Soft expressive eyebrows; gentle, loving eyes; and those whisper thin, kissable lips. He honestly loved this man. For the first time, his feelings felt larger than life, larger than death, and larger than both of them did. He was in love. "I went to see Sister Pete." "Oh, how is Pete?" "She's fine." Chris fell silent. His face was serene on the surface, but Beecher could tell he was deep in thought. "Everything okay? You look upset." "Nah, I'm alright. I just had a good talk with her." "Okay. You wanna' get in some gym time? I thought you might teach me some more wrestling moves." Beecher gave him a sly wink. "You don't wanna' know what we talked about?" Beecher shrugged his shoulders. "Some things are personal. If you want to tell me, I'm here." -------------------------- After some sweating time in the gym, Keller and Beecher went for supper. They sat and ate together, and they laughed a little bit about their workout time. Said looked on from his seat with the Muslims as the two lovers spoke. They both looked relaxed, more assured. He felt relief in his heart that they were getting along. Beecher wanted Keller. That was all there was to it. He hated to be so easy. Keller had moved back in only a few days ago, but he ached for the man. What did this mean? Was he finally able to forgive him? Or was love blinding him just as before? No. A few more days might tell. He couldn't give in that easily. That night, they lay in their respective bunks — Keller on the bottom, Beecher on top (strangely enough). Beecher longed to ask him what he and Sister Pete talked about, but he wasn't sure how Keller would take it. He was so guarded about his feelings. Like saying "I love you". Even when they had argued those days ago, Keller only said that "you love me," and nothing else. In fact, not since that time in the computer room those months and months ago had he spoken those all-encompassing three words. Beecher wanted to hear those words again. He missed them, more than the sex.
"Part of this talk I had with Pete was, well, she… um… she is trying to get me to open up and shit."
Beecher wasn't sure where this was headed. "Uh-huh," he said.
"Well, and—." A silence ensued. Keller could not find the words. "Fuck."
Beecher could hear his breathing below. He wondered what Keller could be thinking. He threw the covers off his body, and jumped down below. His feet made a soft smacking sound as he hit the smooth concrete floor. He adjusted his boxer shorts, then knelt beside Chris, who had turned on his side. "What is it?"
"Why are you attracted to me?" Keller asked with an apprehensive grin.
Beecher let out a breathy chuckle; he wasn't expecting that question.
"Seriously. Why me? There are tons of guys in here. Why do you love me?" He said it again: you love me. Where was the reciprocation in this relationship, Beecher thought.
"Geez, I don't know. Let me think." Beecher rubbed his chin, thinking. "Well, you can be very supportive at times. You're handsome. I told you before, you have this insecure and self- deprecating side that you try so hard to hide. Not very well, I might add. I love you for any number of reasons. Mostly, I guess, I love you for the sides of yourself you don't often show more than for the sides that you do."
Keller nodded. He seemed so serious.
"What is it?" Beecher asked.
"You want to say something, and I'm not going to let it go until you do."
"I just… I love you. I love you very much."
Beecher couldn't help but smile. The biggest shit-eating smile he could muster.
More silence. Beecher took Keller's hand in his own; he massaged over the man's roughed knuckles and short, clean fingernails. The massage stirred Keller's desires, but now was not the time.
Keller reached up with his free hand, and ran his fingers back through Beecher's soft hair. It was slightly tousled, but he liked to feel it. He tousled it some more, playfully.
Beecher enjoyed this playfulness. He turned his face toward Keller's arm as he stroked his hair lovingly. He planted a couple of soft, plodding kisses along Keller's forearm. The hairs on his forearm tickled him and aroused him. His neck hairs stood up again.
Keller then withdrew his hand from Beecher's massaging, and placed both his hands on his lover's soft face. His five o'clock shadow felt a little like sandpaper on his palms, but it made his body tingle and his longing increase. Keller brought the man's face to his, and they shared a warm, passionate kiss. Beecher even let him slip his tongue in. The kiss made the forgiveness official, for both of them. Their two heads turned, and their two tongues writhed and intertwined — a snake-like dance. That taste; they missed each other's tastes.
Beecher came up for air. He glanced at the burgeoning erections both of them sported and drew back suddenly, surprising them both. "Sorry, sorry." He shook his head no and waved his hands, as if these gestures meant something in the darkness. "I just can't yet."
They stared at each other for a few tense moments. Both their dicks stood tall and proud. The word yet reverberated in Keller's head. The possibility is still there, he thought.
With a tremendous sigh, Beecher climbed back in his bunk. He adjusted his boxers, tented with his affections, and his cock soon relaxed. He took a couple of deep breaths, trying to take in what just went on.
You're a slut, Beecher. He could hear Said's words from weeks ago, as if they had just been uttered to him. It was a funny thing, guilt. At first, he felt guilty for fucking a man, falling in love with a man. Now he felt guilty for loving Keller, for returning to him. For wanting him more than ever.
"Beecher?" Keller half-whispered.
"I have a question."
"Are you queer?"
"They are fucking again; I know it." Glynn hissed as he said these words.
"What makes you think that?" McManus replied.
"Are you joking me? They've been fucking off and on for over a year, at least."
"Beecher told me that he just wanted to set things straight with Keller, that's all."
"Well, so what if they are? What the fuck difference does it make?"
"What difference? You lay down these fucking rules for Em City, then you bend and break them constantly. What kind of message does that send the prisoners here, not just in Em City but all over Oz? It's alright to fuck people up the ass, just as long as you call it love?"
"Leo, this has nothing to do with Beecher, Keller, butt fucking — none of that."
"Yeah, this is about you losing control over Em City while Querns was here. Now you're feeling so goddamn guilty that you're up my ass about the smallest things."
"Is that so?"
McManus nodded feverishly. "Yeah, I think that's just it."
"Alright, just calm down now," Sister Pete chimed in finally. "We all need to calm down, right now." She glared at both of them. "Okay?" McManus and Glynn both leaned back in their seats, still fuming. "That's better. We're here to talk about more important things, like the FBI's investigation into the murder of those three homosexuals a few years back. Chris Keller is still their prime suspect for the murders."
"So what?" Glynn scowled.
"So, both Beecher and Keller are my patients and I am concerned about what this will do to them."
"Sister, let's not forget that Keller is a sociopath and a killer," Glynn said.
"And Beecher's a former lawyer who made one huge mistake. But here he is living in this Hell. And he is still in love with Keller, the first man in his life, to my knowledge. And Beecher is up for parole in a few months. These are important events, all of them, and I just wanted you both to be aware of them."
McManus nodded. "I see. So what should I do?"
Sister Pete took a deep breath. "I think we should just watch them, be aware of their relationship and how that goes these next few weeks."
Keller massaged his erection through his boxers. It felt good, jerking his tool while clothed. He was trying to be quiet, and not move around too much, but Beecher knew exactly what he was doing. On the cheap bed frame, you can feel anything. The slightest of motions. Keller's breath deepened as he finished himself. It made Beecher want to drop down there and join him, but he wouldn't. He couldn't. His bunkmate soon settled down, and finally fell asleep. Keller snored lightly. But Beecher was restless. That question: Are you queer? It ran through his mind over and over again. He had avoided the question tactfully, but he had to ask himself the question. He himself could not avoid the question.
Beecher's whole body jerked, startled. He had experienced one of those "falling" dreams. You know, the ones where you just keep falling and falling, and nothing stops you. He sat up, eyes closed, and wiped the fresh sweat from his forehead. He had read somewhere that certain people die from those dreams. Is it truly possible to die from dreams, he thought.
"Morning beautiful," Keller said. Beecher jerked again. The voice had interrupted his thoughts.
"Hey." He turned to face the bottom bunker, and opened his eyes. Keller was disheveled, messy clothes and night hair. But fuck if he didn't look sexy as hell.
"Count!" one of the COs boomed from outside. The locks on the pod doors made their trademark hissing sound, and the prisoners stepped out into the commons for headcount.
"Let's go. Almost breakfast time," Keller said. He touched his roommate's leg lovingly. He fingered the soft blond curls on Beecher's right leg, and moved his hand over the full length of his thigh, especially the inner thigh where the hairs flourished and gathered to meet at his cock.
"Count, Loverboys!" a CO yelled from outside. The hack banged on the door violently. "Get the fuck out here and fall in line."
"Oh, hello, Tobias," Sister Pete said. She smiled unabashedly. She was quite beautiful for an older lady.
"Hi Sister Pete."
"Did we have an appointment today?"
"No, I'm sorry. I should have made one, but I just needed to talk."
"Of course. Please come in, have a seat. I don't have a meeting for awhile." She closed her door, and took her seat behind the desk.
"I guess you know Keller and I are sharing a pod again."
"And that I still love him, with all my heart."
Again, she nodded.
"And that we've consummated our feelings numerous times."
"Yes, I could've guessed."
"Well, I guess you could say that we've consummated and desecrated our feelings for each other." Beecher giggled nervously.
Pete smiled, but the smile held sympathy.
"This relationship has always disturbed me deep down."
"Well, at first it was because I loved a man. That I wanted a man, physically and mentally. With my upbringing, and my old life, I always believed homosexual acts to be abhorrent and wrong. But now—." He paused in thought.
"Tobias, do you enjoy sex with men?"
The lawyer looked at her. "I enjoy sex with Keller."
Pete seemed to accept this answer. "And now you don't feel guilty for having homosexual feelings?"
"No," he replied. Beecher's voice shook. Sister Pete thought it was sweet how adolescent his voice sounded. "I honestly don't. Now I doubt my feelings for my wife, for all the women I've dated. I'm sure I've loved women, but with men. Well, relationships are just different with men."
"Toby, is this your first relationship with another man?"
"Of course!" He felt wounded by the question. Somehow.
"Okay, okay. I was just asking."
Beecher grabbed a Bic pen from her desk and began fidgeting with it. "Actually, now that I think about it, there was this one time."
"Yes?" she asked, urging him on with her hand gestures.
"My God, it's been too many years. I barely remembered it." He paused, collected his thoughts, then went on: "I was a freshman or sophomore at Harvard. There was this kid, Michael Weinberg. We were roommates. He was very funny; we always had a good time together, drinking and carrying on. One night, toward the end of the semester, we're hanging out in the room together drinking some horrible liquor, and he gets kind of friendly with me — I don't know if he thought I was into him or what — but he tried to jack me off. Oh, sorry, Sister Pete. Didn't mean to get too graphic there."
"It's alright. I've heard the term before." A smile beamed from her face.
"Well, he ended up embarrassing us both." Beecher giggled lightly. That same adolescent tone to his voice. "I was too drunk to go through with it, and so was he. We never talked about that night, just pretended like it didn't exist. I never saw him again after that semester. I wonder what happened to him."
"Did you question your sexuality at the time?"
"No, because I had Genevieve, you know? I just wrote it off as some slip-up, a misunderstanding. I'd heard of gays, of course, but I'd never met one."
"Just because he made a pass at you doesn't mean he was gay, either."
"Yeah, I know. I guess we all did some awkward things when we were younger."
"Oh sure. Some things are all about finding out." Pete bit her lower lip, then pressed forward. "So, why do you feel guilty about this relationship?"
"Now I feel guilty for loving Keller himself, and for what it has allowed us — or caused us — to do to each other."
"Tobias, you are not solely responsible for this relationship. It takes two to tango, you know."
"Yes, I know." They sat in silence a few moments. "You know, as a lawyer, I used to get so stressed out. Sometimes it felt like the weight of the world all rested on me." Beecher snickered. "Pretty egotistical, huh?"
"I think we all feel that way sometimes."
"I just keep thinking about these labels, you know? Gay, straight, bisexual. I mean, aren't we all bisexual in some ways? Wouldn't anyone enjoy sex with both genders, if you get passed all the exterior bullshit?"
Pete just stared at him. She understood the thought, but she gave no sign of it.
"And I loved my wife… love my wife. I never would have had this type of relationship on the outside."
"In all honesty, you don't know, though, do you?"
Beecher shook his head. "No, I don't." He rubbed his eyes.
"How are you sleeping?"
"Had a rough night. Jesus, it's just… all these damn questions." Beecher fell silent again, in thought. "Sister, do you think that I'm gay?"
"I'm not the one to answer that."
"Yeah, but I'm asking what you think, not an expert opinion. I mean, your church is particularly vocal about its disagreements with homosexuality."
"Yes, well my church and I don't necessarily agree on everything."
"You don't think it's wrong?"
"Wrong?" Sister Pete couldn't help but smile. "I think…" — she tried to choose her words carefully — "I think if two adults are in love, they owe it to themselves to try." Was that what she wanted to convey to him? Perhaps.
Beecher nodded; he seemed satisfied with her answer. "But people do all kinds of things in the name of love."
Beecher stood at the sink. He splashed his face with water. He felt a hand reach around his waist and touch his stomach. The hand was gentle, soothing… Keller.
Keller rested his chin on Beecher's shoulder, then turned and kissed him on the cheek, just beside his ear. The man's warm breath enticed him. "You know, I enjoy your company, Toby."
"Yeah, me too."
"Nah. I was just thinking."
Keller shot him an impatient look. "You know, you think a lot. You're always examining, looking for the meaning behind everything. Sometimes, Toby, things just are."
"I don't believe that."
"But it's true for certain people."
"Maybe. It might be the lawyer in me, but I just know there are always underlying factors. To everything."
The room went dead silent except for the ambient noise of prisoners cavorting outside their pod. Keller removed his hands and collapsed on his bed. "So, what are you thinking about now?" He folded his hands across his stomach.
"Lots of things. You know I have a parole hearing in a few months."
"I feel pretty good about my chances for getting out."
"I'm sure they're going to let you out."
"I hope. It's just—."
"Just what?" Keller's voice was rushed, like he couldn't say the words fast enough. "Listen to me: you're better than these fucks, Toby. You shouldn't be in this shithole. You should be happy that you're getting out, going back to the outside. Moving on with your life."
"Yeah, the prospect of going free is exciting — and frightening."
"Chris, I love you. You love me. I might get out in months, whereas you've got 50 fucking years in here. Where does that leave us — this thing we have?"
"Love is fleeting."
"No it's not."
"Yes, Toby. Fuck. When you get like this, I just want to scream."
"When I get like what?"
"You've been in Em City for almost four years. You've been fucked up the ass, had a tattoo burned into your ass, been shanked in the side, had your legs and arms broken, and had your kids kidnapped, one of `em killed. I'm surprised you haven't killed me. Don't worry about me." Keller looked Beecher straight in the eyes. "Toby, I'm begging you: when you walk out those doors, get on with your life. Fucking forget about me." Tears tried to come to his eyes, but he caught hold of his emotions.
Beecher turned to him, his soft eyes welling with tears. "I don't want to forget about you. I won't forget about you."
"What the fuck? What is so special about me?"
"You mentioned some of the awful shit that's happened to me. And, yes, you were involved in one of those things. But you were also the bright spot about Oz to me. Through all this shit I've been through, our love has been a strength to me. To know that I can love in this awful place, despite all I've been through, that's a result of us."
"Toby, you're wrong. The strength has been inside you. The whole time."
Beecher admired Keller's gesture. His blue eyes beamed; he was serious. Always the strong one, wasn't he? Keller would never give up.
"I know what you're saying," Beecher continued, "but my time in this place has made me a different person. I don't know if that person is better or worse, but—."
"Jesus Christ," Keller boomed. He stood suddenly and stormed out of the pod.
Beecher rubbed his eyes, smearing his tears across his face. His head ached. His cock ached.
Keller pushed his way through the small circle of prisoners playing outside his pod. He was visibly shaken, but not crying. No emotion, he kept telling himself. Especially in Oz. He had told himself that so often he began to believe it long ago. He had to find somewhere to sit, somewhere to relax. Some quiet corner… Said. Keller spied a quiet corner of the commons. Said was seated and reading some book, probably The Koran or something. This should be interesting, he thought.
Keller sat down with Said. His manner was gruff, as usual.
They sat and stared at each other for a few minutes. Said was questioning Keller's presence at his table, and Keller was sizing up Said's physique. He was an imposing presence, radiating confidence and a cool asexuality. What it must be like to have him, Keller thought. Said slid a bookmarker inside his read, and closed it quietly.
"Something wrong?" Said asked.
"Keller, don't treat me like an idiot. I know you don't like me at all. You may even hate me. Why are you sitting here?"
"I don't hate you."
"Well, that's a load off," Said replied harshly.
The odd couple shared another stare. Keller thought again what it must be like to fuck this man.
"You care about Beecher?" Keller asked.
Said looked more patient now, as if the mention of Beecher's name were a release in the conversation. "Yes."
"Did ya' fuck him?"
"I don't fuck."
"Yeah, that's right. Homosexual acts are, what, what is it you Muslims say?"
"An abomination before Allah."
"Yeah, that's it." Keller licked the air with his tongue. "Well, I fucked him. He fucked me. Over, under, around. Whatever holes we could find, we fucked."
Said glared at him, growing impatient again: "Is there a point to all this?"
"When Toby first came to you for help, I thought you were just there to split us up."
"You did a wonderful job of that on your own, Keller."
"Yeah, I know I'm no saint. But you. You got into his head, told him things about sexuality, about lust and love."
They shared another stare, like two lions about to quarrel over the fate of the pride. "Beecher still has a lot of feelings for me," Keller said finally.
"Yes, I know this." Said said nothing else. Did Keller want to hear something else? He was through with this conversation.
"You know, the sex is great. I've done my share of men, but Toby… he's just… he just fucks like a madman. Oh, and he cums. He cums like a volcano."
"Keller, I'm losing my patience with this." Arif and the other Muslims moved toward the table, protective of their Imam, but Said gestured for them to keep their distance.
Keller bit his upper lip, nervous suddenly. "You wanna' know what this is all about? What I'm really trying to say?"
Said nodded, more interested.
A single tear worked its way down Keller's cheek; he swiped it away just as quickly. "I'm afraid of losing that fuck."
continued in Part 2