"What the fuck was the name of that street?"
Chris gazed blearily at the passing signs that were whizzing by so fast it made his head swim, made his stomach.....weak
"Ooohhhh. Shake it off, man."
Chris squeezed his eyes closed and tried hard to regain some stability. He opened his eyes, a bit more lucid than before and cast a furtive glance around. Nothing looked familiar. A sense of despair settled over him; he was lost. Hopelessly, helplessly, irreversibly lost.
"Fuck! Gotta stop. Shit. Come out lookin' for a piece of pussy and get lost. How stupid are you Chris? Prob'ly a fake address anyway."
Chris shook his head derisively.
"Oh, yeah.. Yer a work of art, Keller. Sheit, like a girl like that would give you the right one anyway. Prob'ly her best friend's house or some shit."
Chris snorted and ran down the mental list of some of the more ignorant things he had done. After a few moments, he had to concede, this was by far one of the dumbest moves yet.
"Nothin' more ‘n a practical joke and it got yer dumb ass out here and lost. Serves you right you dumb fuck."
Wooziness threatening to overcome him, Chris pulled off the side of the road at the first house he came to with a porch light on.
"Prob'ly gonna be a mistake. They won't even answer the door and if they do, they'll call the cops."
He glanced down at the leather jacket and faded blue jeans he wore. Add one navy blue skin tight wifebeater.
"Yeah, they'll call the cops. Aww, hell, don't hurt to try."
Chris heaved a sardonic snort as he almost fell off his bike.
"Goddamn it to fuckin' hell anyway."
He stumbled up the walkway toward the stairs and managed to make it up without falling. His footing was somewhat precarious as he reached up to knock on the door.
"Man, I feel like shit. This hangover ‘s gonna be a beaut."
Chris wasn't prepared when the door swung open to reveal the most beautiful, angelic face he'd ever seen in his life. Short dirty blond hair streaked heavily with gold and the clearest, brightest blue eyes, more beautiful than any cloudless summer sky.
"Yeeeoooowwww! Shot to the groin!"
Chris closed his eyes and smiled at the thought. When he opened his mouth to speak, his voice sounded strange to his own ears.
"‘Scuse me, but I'm lost. Could you...."
Chris felt his equilibrium slip as he pitched forward into the arms of the angel.
"Who is it, Tobias?"
"I don't know, Father. Could you come here, please?"
Harrison couldn't see what his son was doing until he was right up on him as the door blocked his view.
"Tobias.... What the--? Who is that?"
Tobias almost burst out laughing at the incredulous look on his father's face. He must have been quite shocked to see him standing there holding some leather clad biker in his arms.
"He stopped to ask for directions and, ah, fainted. Will you help me get him to my room?"
"Are you out of your mind? Look at him, Tobias! He's probably a criminal! No!"
"Father, he was just lost. All people who wear leather are not criminals. Please, he's heavy. Help me get him to my room."
"Mildred! Come here and talk to your son!"
Tobias watched helplessly as his mother hurried toward him from the family room. The moments it took her to get there felt like hours as he felt his resolve wavering. She stopped short when she saw him standing there holding the 6' man who easily weighed two hundred plus pounds, that is, if the burning in his arms was anything to go by.
"Mother, I answered the door and there he was asking for directions. He was lost."
Tobias could hear the pleading, plaintive note in his voice. The note that always got him what he wanted.
"He fainted before I could even respond. I asked Father to help me carry him to my room but he refused. What am I supposed to do? Leave him in the street? On the curb?"
Tobias finished his summation feeling proud of himself. Surely she couldn't reject such and honest plea.
"Well, we could call the police."
"What!? That's not how this is supposed to work, Mother. Come on, help me out here."
Tobias couldn't bring himself to voice his thoughts, instead, he chose another line of attack. Reason. Reasoning always works.
"No! He didn't do anything wrong!"
Tobias felt his grip slipping and his tone grew more urgent.
"Mother, please. He's heavy. May I please take him to my room?"
He heard his father clear his throat and braced himself for the worst.
"Tobias, this is still my house. As long as you live here--"
He shot his father a quelling look of hostility as he felt his blood start to boil.
"Fine. I'll move out in the morning."
Full of determination and stubborn pride, he pulled the big man across they foyer backwards, to struggle up the stairs to his room. His body aching and muscles screaming in protest, he had to pause to rest halfway up.
Breaths coming in gasps, Tobias murmurs to himself.
"God, this guy weighs a ton."
Tobias started going over the encounter in his mind.
"Did I really just tell my parents I was moving out?"
A groan escaped his lips.
"Good job, idiot. Now where are you going to live?"
One step at a time Tobias tugged his heavy burden up the stairs.
"Did we always have this many stairs? Christ almighty!"
More plaguing that the thought of where he was going to live, the thought of how was he going to live popped into his mind.
"I've got the money Grandfather left me, but that's about it. Wonder if I could get the rest of the money *before* I finish law school."
That thought rejected, he shook his head sadly.
Tobias thought for a moment about how his father had been treating him differently as of late.
"Could that have anything to do with the fact that *you* didn't get his money, Father?"
Tobias let his mind drift for a moment.
"Could that really be why he was being such a dick? Well, shit. He's got plenty money of his own and I'm just getting started. I need all the help I can get!"
Tobias felt himself start to falter just a few feet from his bedroom.
"Christ, almighty. Please help me make it just a bit further."
Tobias felt a rush of adrenaline sweep through him, just enough to get him into the room and onto the bed. He looked up toward the ceiling and mouthed his "thank you's."
Strength exhausted, Tobias allowed himself to take a deep cleansing breath and relax. He glanced down at the form of the unconscious man and thought of how peaceful he looked lying there.
Tobias smirked to himself at the thought of how the biker would react to being called innocent.
"Probably pound you one."
He glanced around his room trying to remember what he was doing before he answered the door.
"Oh, yeah. Shower. You were going to take a shower and crash."
Tobias grabbed a clean change of underwear and headed into his bathroom to prepare for bed.
It was so dark it had to be late. Really late. He shifted, trying to get comfortable.
His hand touched something soft and warm.
"Oh yeah. Must have found her!"
"Baby, you sleepin'?"
Chris smiled to himself .
"Musta worn her out, partner."
He reached over and pulled her closer, cradling her head to his chest. He felt her, soft, warm and inviting, curl up closer to him.
"Aww... now this, this is, Heaven."
Chris fingered her hair and marveled at the silk he held in his hands.
"Hair's shorter ‘en I ‘member it bein' but I don't give a fuck. Smells soooo good."
Burying his face in her hair, Chris inhaled deeply, filling himself with the essence of her. He caressed her cheek and tipped her head up to meet her mouth and her lips parted voluntarily in response. White-hot, inviting. Chris deepened the kiss until he began to feel the first stirring of passion.
"Urrrgggghhhhhhh... Hard again."
Even though she kissed him back, tongue for tongue, thrust for thrust, nip for nip, he couldn't manage to pull her out of her sleep.
"Jesus, Chris! What'd you do to her, man?"
He chuckled softly and kissed her a few more times. She was so intoxicating that he had a hard time pulling himself away. Chris suddenly felt his own drain and promised himself that it wasn't over.
Tobias stirred, moving closer to the delicious warmth.
He curled closer, wanting to be enveloped. His mind was blissfully numb – for a few moments anyway. Memory rushed back to him sending him bolt upright in bed. Tobias whirled around to stare at the newly wakened man by his side to see him staring back at him looking every bit as confused as he felt.
"Well, join the club, Buddy."
Chris shook his head trying to clear the fog.
"A guy? You went home wit a fuckin' guy? Thought –."
His reaction had startled Tobias into forgetting that he was sitting in the bed with a half naked man. So he actually voiced his question.
Chris sat up and stared at him open mouthed for a few minutes before he found his voice.
"Who are you?"
"Tobias, Tobias Beecher."
"Well, Toby, I'm Chris Keller. Nice to meetcha."
Tobias extended his hand to shake the one that Chris had offered him. He would have giggled at the absurdity of the situation if he hadn't remembered that he had told his father that he would move out today.
Chris saw the look that edged into his eyes, saw the emotion that played across his face. He wasn't sure if Toby was regretting what they had done last night or if he was worried his parents would find out so he ventured to find out.
"You all right?"
Tobias heaved a sigh.
"I stood up to my father last night for the first time in my whole life, then told him I would move out today."
Tobias looked at him and gave him a wan smile.
For once in his life, Chris was speechless.
"He's gettin' kicked out over me! Holy shit! Calm down. Think. Aww, fuck. He's gettin' tossed out ‘cause a' me, least I could do is put ‘im up."
"Come stay wit me."
Tobias looked at him to gage the sincerity.
"I, uh, don't have much money, but I could probably manage half of the bills."
Chris smiled at him engagingly.
"Well, if you turn up short, I'll cover it. I got a good job. Work as a bouncer at Dino's. ‘S dangerous work, but it pays good, so I don't complain."
Tobias had to smile at that.
He wasn't completely sure why he trusted this guy, or if he even did. Completely, at any rate. He had an honest smile and the vibe he gave off didn't set off any warning bells in his head; besides, he thought he was a pretty good judge of character.
"Need help packin'?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah."
"Got a car?"
"Ummm. No, but I can use Mother's. Father is already at work, so she won't have any reason not to let me use it."
Toby slid down to the end of the bed to pick up his clothes to dress while Chris stared at his back for a moment.
"I can't believe he actually calls his parents Mother and Father ‘stead of Mom and Dad. Now that's different."
Chris hopped up out of the bed and started to make it when Toby's voice stilled his hands.
"You don't have to do that. Mrs. Dennison will get it."
Chris stood there with his mouth gaping open for a moment, absolutely floored.
"Oh. Well, I'm almost done. ‘Sides, it's the least I can do, bein' a guest ‘n all. Sure don't do it at home."
He finished quickly, dressed and turned to look at his new room mate.
"God, but he's pretty. Got good taste even when yer stone cold drunk there, guy."
"What can I do?"
"Finish putting these clothes in this bag and I'll go get some more. I think we have some boxes in the garage for the books."
He nodded at the full wall of books over to their left. Chris eyed the Lazarus bag reluctantly, then shifted his gaze to the mini-library that he was referring to.
"I think we're gonna need to get a bigger place."
Tobias smiled and quipped, "As long as the two of us can afford it, I'm game."
"I know I won't be able to find this place again, so lets get the car loaded up and go make the arrangements for a bigger place. Once we get things straightened out, we can come back and get the rest a' yer stuff."
Tobias nodded his head and left to retrieve more packing materials. Tobias chastised himself as he descended the stairs from his room to go in search of his mother.
"You must be insane. Moving in with this guy and you don't know him from Adam." He shook his head in disbelief. "Well, God watches over fools and small children."
Tobias smiled as he heard himself voice the words aloud. He knew he wasn't a child but he did fit the rest of the profile most of the time. He rounded the corner into the family room where he found his mother staring blankly at the television.
"Mother, may I use your car?"
She picked up the keys from the coffee table and gave them to him without preamble. Odd. He had expected her to say something, anything. She just sat there, her face impassive. He mulled it over for a few moments then turned to head to the garage.
"She must have forgotten that I was planning to move out or she wouldn't have been as forthcoming with the keys. Hmmm. Wonder why she didn't even meet my eyes? Shit, maybe she did remember."
A few minutes later Tobias was on his way back up the stairs with the few boxes he had found in the garage and a box of trash bags. The boxes he would save for his law journals, the rest would go easily enough into the bags. He knew it would make for a rough haul, but he just wanted to be done and as soon as possible. Considering that his mother drove a very small sedan, it was going to be hard enough without having to come back another day.
Two hours later they were ready to make the first run. Chris looked around the room one last time before they headed out and judged that they still had three more trips from the looks of all the bags and boxes that were still littered around the room.
"Jesus, Toby. You got a ton of shit, man."
Standing next to his bike, Chris hated to mention it, but he had to know.
"Before we get goin', how much can you afford to pitch in every month?"
"I only get $500 a week until I graduate. After I get out of school I will be able to afford to pay more."
Chris cast him a sideways glance.
"He gets $500 a week to go to school, free money? And I gotta bust my hump at some shit hole for sixty hours a week to make just a little more than that? Ain't life a bitch?"
He glanced at the man standing next to him.
"He's beautiful, intelligent, innocent and has money. Hell, I couldn't have asked for a better wife."
He put one hand over his mouth to hide the smile that twitched at the corner of his lips as he shifted his thoughts to contemplated where to go to look for a place.
"With a little over a grand a week between us, hell, we'll be able to afford one of the nice places down by the pier easy. Wouldn't that be a dream come true? Yeah, one of ‘em at least."
He glanced at Toby. He was such an innocent. Could he be ready to go out into the world without running home as soon as things got tough? Chris thought for a moment about his own lack of success in sharing his life with someone else.
"Whatcha think about that one, Chris? Think you can make this last? You damn well better try."
He returned his thoughts to the issue at hand. Making it happen.
"We'll need to cruise by your bank and get some cash."
"All right. How much?"
"How much you got?"
"About five thousand right now."
"Five grand! Fuck! Never seen that much fuckin' money in my life and here he is sayin' it like he's embarrassed that's all he has."
"Well, I think we would be safe to take out a thousand. I'll give you my half after we get moved in."
Tobias nodded at him and got in the car and Chris followed him out of the driveway.
"You fuckin' idiot. Why didn't you ask him for more money? He would have given it to you and you know it. First months rent is only going to be a grand. True enough, the utilities would be on and the nicer places never asked for a deposit, but still. Coulda got yerself some extra spendin' money. Dumb fuck!"
Chris kept turning the thoughts over in his mind to the point that he almost missed the fact that Toby was pulling off the road.
"Shit! Pay attention, asshole! If you lose him, man, you've lost everythin'."
Chris pulled up beside the overloaded car to park and watched as the shaggy blond head emerged.
"He looks so cute with bed head."
Tobias was waiting for him to park before he spoke.
"I'll be right out."
"Yeah, sure you will. Let me kick back here ‘n take a nap. Takes twenty minutes to get a check for $500 cashed, ‘n yer goin' after a grand? You'll be there awhile, my friend."
Chris had just leaned back against the bar on the back of his bike trying to get comfortable when Toby's words broke through his thoughts.
"Jeeze, that was fast."
"Yeah, Howard saw me come in and helped me himself."
"The president of the bank."
Tobias smiled at the incredulous look that crossed his face. Obviously he wasn't use to such personal service. Chris seemed transfixed so Tobias tried to verbally nudge him into motion.
"Now it's your turn to lead the way."
"K. Oh, yeah. Need the money, Sport."
Chris held out his hand. More to test the level of trust than out of necessity and he handed it over without hesitation. Chris smiled inwardly.
"Well, you either really turned him out or he's the most gullible fuck on the planet."
Chris pocketed the money and led the way out, his mind already on the pier. He thought of how he used to sit there, for hours sometimes, and just think. Thought of how he loved to look out at the water and watch the moonlight play across it as the waves rolled in. Peaceful, serene, and beautiful.
"Yeah, it sure can calm a body. Sit there and just, relax."
The serenity of the place was nice, true, but he also knew that it doubled as his favorite place to drown his sorrows. It never stopped amazing him that it was a miracle that he hadn't fallen in and drowned yet, given that he was almost always three sheets to the wind every time he went out there.
Chris pulled to a stop outside the office of the apartment building and waited for Toby to park before he dismounted and was halfway to the door before he turned around to see that he was still sitting in the car. He inclined his head and waited for him. When he didn't get out, Chris made an impatient motion with his hand and said, "Come on."
He waited as Toby locked the car up and caught up to him.
"We're in this together, Pal. You need to be with me so they know there's two of us. Oh yeah, one or two?"
"One or two what?"
Tobias flushed crimson.
Chris flashed him a devastating smile.
"Can't blame a guy for trying."
Chris winked at him and realized immediately that it had been a mistake as his discomfort became visible.
"Sorry. I was only joking."
Tobias smiled weakly.
"It's all right."
Tobias dismissed it with a wave of his hand.
Chris dropped his hand to the small of his back and guided him into the office as natural as could be. Tobias didn't even notice the possessiveness of it.
"This is gonna be cake. Just gotta play it cool. He's obviously uptight about what people think of him. That much ‘s clear from the two bedrooms thing."
Chris allowed himself a small smile.
"Shit, if I got anything to say about it, he'll never see the inside of his room."
Chris stepped up to open the door to the office to allow Tobias to enter. He never was one to miss a chance to make a statement.
"Turning into a gentleman, Chris? What would yer ex-girlfriends think a' that?"
He knew full well that they would have been outraged by the knowledge. After all, he hadn't done the first thing for either one of them.
"Well, in all fairness, he is prettier."
Chris strode up to the clerk and dropped his hands on the counter for effect.
"We're interested in one of your two bedrooms."
The man silently regarded them briefly.
"Two, you say?"
The man flipped through a book for a few minutes then asked, "Which floor did you want?"
"Ground floor please."
"Toby, those cost more."
"I know. I'll pay the difference."
"That will be $1500 a month. No deposit. The utilities are on, but need to be put into your name. There are no pets."
A quick glimpse at Chris, then he continued.
"No parties and no drugs."
"We got the $1000 and I can get the other $500. Can he start unloading while I go get it?"
The guy looked at Chris and almost said no. He could see it. Then he seemed to think better of it.
"Yeah, go ahead. I'll give you the key when you give me the money."
Chris almost leaned over and kissed Toby but decided against it. Instead, he caressed him with his eyes as he said, "I'll be right back."
Chris chuckled to himself as he walked out the front door of the office.
"The old man would have had a stroke on the spot and Toby woulda prob'ly wet his pants. Not a good way to get things started."
Chris was still smiling when he pulled back into the parking lot as he replayed the exchange with Johnny in his mind. He hadn't believed him when he showed up asking for his pay a day early with that story about the new room mate, a rich kid at that.
"Well, buddy-boy, you got $100 left to last you all week. Stayin' off the drugs and alcohol should help some. Can't do that shit around Toby anyway. He wouldn't understand."
Chris thought about that last statement a little bit more. For some reason, it spiked a protective instinct in him.
"Wouldn't want Toby to understand. His innocense, yeah. That's it. Gotta keep the innocense."
Chris stopped to pay the man then set about helping Toby unload the rest of the stuff from the car.
"Christ almighty, but he got a bunch of shit."
An hour later they pull back up at his parent's place then proceed to refill the car to overflowing. Chris had decided to take his bike to leave as much open space as possible in the car to cut down on the number of trips, but it didn't seem to help much.
As they mounted the steps, Chris twisted slightly to check Toby out when an excruciating pain shot through him burning a trail of fire from the valley between his shoulder blades all they way down to the tip of his spine.
"Somewhere in the middle a' all that bendin' you musta pulled somethin', my friend."
Chris bit back the yelp of pain that he felt surging to his lips.
"Shit, yer gonna have to ask Toby for a back rub before you got to go to work tonight and the way you been behavin' he'll prob'ly say no. Afraid you'll jump him or somethin'."
The thought of spending ten hours of dealing with hot headed drunken customers made him ill. He knew that he couldn't afford to be off his game, could be deadly in his profession.
"The slightest distraction could wind you up in traction."
He smiled at the reminder he'd been given time and again when he'd showed up to work with a hangover.
"Well, havin' somethin' this pretty to come home to might just change my ways."
Chris felt his lips twist into a smile despite the pain in his back. He knew Toby would have been offended by his referring to him as pretty. He could just tell.
"He'd get all huffy and pissed. Yeah, he'd even be cute when he was pissed."
Chris smiled wickedly. He would find out soon enough for sure.
"What are you smiling about?"
Chris looked up to meet Toby's eyes. His face was streaked with sweat and flushed from his exertions. He looked like he had just had some mad sex.
"Well, he would definitely gonna see THAT soon enough."
"That wasn't a nothin' kind of smile," Toby said, placing the same drawl on the word he'd used.
"I'll tell you about it later."
They finished up the third trip with one more to go and Chris could feel himself dragging.
"Shit, at this rate, I might not even make it to work tonight. Gonna need one hell of a back rub, Baby."
Chris winced in pain as he dismounted from his bike. This time the pain was so horrendous that he was unable to suppress the moan that came out in a rush of breath. He glanced over to see if Toby had heard him. Safely assured that he hadn't, Chris turned to stare up at Toby's parents house. He felt a different kind of pain twist his insides.
"They must hate me."
Chris could feel his mothers cold stare follow every move he made. They would have to learn to deal with him if they were ever going to be welcome in their home.
"Our home. Hmm. Soundin' like a married man already. Toby *is* gonna be a good influence on me."
He waited for Toby to get out of the car and followed him back in to repeat the process one last time.
After what seemed like hours of back breaking trips from the house to the car, Chris sat the last box in passenger's seat next to Toby when a white-hot spasm of pain shot down his back and dropped him to his knees.
A hint of panic laced his words as Tobias asked, "You all right?"
"My back. I almost broke it once. Awww, Tobe, it hurts real bad."
Toby got out of the car and walked around to Chris. He helped him get to his feet then turned to pull the last box out of the seat and crammed it into the back best he could.
"You ride back with me so you can rest while I unload the car. I have to take the car back anyway."
He kept talking as he helped Chris lower himself into the seat.
"We'll both have to take your bike back."
"I can help. I just need some time to get control of the pain."
Toby got in and closed the door.
"I don't want you to risk hurting yourself permanently over my school books. You will rest while I unload the last of this stuff."
Tobias gave him the look his grandpa used to give him when the topic of discussion was closed, so Chris sat back in the seat and closed his eyes with a smile curving his lips.
"Anything you say, Baby."
Tobias felt the blush start somewhere down deep inside and crawl up his neck to spread across his face. It didn't offend as much as it had earlier. Strange that. It was clear to him that this was part of his personality so he probably shouldn't take it personally.
"Hell, he would probably flirt with a snake if it had a pulse."
Tobias sighed inwardly. He'd give anything to be like him. Tall, dark, handsome – all the things women loved in a man. He felt that life had been cruel to him in the looks department. His myopia forced him to wear glasses and he was, therefore, labeled as a nerd regardless of how he dressed or who he hung out with. Tobias pushed the troubling thoughts aside and cast a furtive glance at the big man sitting next to him.
"You asleep, Chris?"
He paused briefly, then repeated himself.
"He must be completely out of it. Ah, well. Just have to finish out the rest of the ride in silence."
He allowed his mind to drift off to more pleasant thoughts to occupy him during the trip. He thought about his first time at camp, when he rode a horse for the first time. That had been one of the greatest joys in his life up to this point. Feeling free, unencumbered by life's little stresses. The trees, the lake and the animals, the remoteness of it all.
"Yeah, those were some pretty good times. Maybe someday when there's time, maybe I can go and spend some time. Find some peace."
His mind wrapped up in pleasant memories, the trip was over almost as soon as it began. Tobias stared out the window of the car to look at the place he would be calling home.
"Home. It's going to take some getting used to."
Tobias glanced over at Chris to find that he was still sleeping soundly. A genuine smile of affection warmed his face.
"I hope this arrangement works out, Friend. I don't really want to go back home. Would have to put up with way to much shit from Father."
Tobias thought of how his father had driven him all throughout high school to do the best, to be the best and he shuddered involuntarily. It would be the same in college. He just knew it.
He glanced over at Chris. "You came along just in time. Think you just might have saved my life. Well, my sanity anyway."
Heart thumping wildly, at the brink of exhaustion, Tobias sat down in the middle of the floor almost an hour later. There was a burning sensation between his shoulder blades that flamed all the way down the center of his back.
"Man, if I feel this bad, Chris must be in agony."
He heaved a sigh, grateful that it was almost over.
"Come on Tobias, you can do this. There's not that much left in the car, three more boxes at most. "
He rocked up onto his feet and strode out to finish carrying in the boxes. He had to hurry if he was going to get back before his father got home. He had no desire to see him. At least, not for a while yet.
Tobias dropped the last box just inside the door, locked up and headed back out to the car. It was a half hour drive to his parents house, so he allowed his mind to travel. He stated a mental list of things they would need to get. Furniture, dishes, toiletries, you name it, they didn't have it. Almost as an afterthought, Tobias stopped by the bank before he drove the rest of the way back. He got out another thousand dollars.
"I hope this is enough. How much could it possibly cost to get a few necessities?"
He pulled up outside his parents house and glanced around.
"No sign of Father yet. Good."
Tobias left Chris in the car while he sprinted up to give his mother the keys back. He hugged her, kissed her and told her he loved her.
"I'll call you as soon as we get a phone turned on."
"Take care of yourself, Tobias."
"I will, Mother."
He turned and left before he let his emotions get the best of him, nothing could be changed now. He felt the tears niggling at him as he remembered the way his father dismissed people, or just outright berated them to their face. It shamed him endlessly to see his father behave so poorly. He could only be grateful that Chris had been unconscious and was unable to hear his biting remarks.
Tobias walked up to the passenger side of the car and pulled open the door.
The sound of the door swinging open jarred Chris out of the haze that he had drifted into. He forced himself to focus.
"Oh yeah. That's right. New roomie, new place, happy day!"
"Yeah. Come on, we're back. I want to get out of here before Father gets home."
Chris struggled to his feet then wobbled over to the bike on unsteady legs, his eyes glassy from pain.
"You know how to ride a bike?"
"A bicycle maybe, but not a motorcycle. Never even been on one before."
Chris smiled at him warmly.
"Well, today's the day. Hop on, Sweetie."
He swung one of his long legs over the bike and climbed on and glanced around to see Tobias staring at him.
Tobias could still feel the blush sting his cheeks as climbed on behind him and wrapped his arms around Chris' solid waist. He felt Chris stiffen, then relax.
"Man, this is going to be a long trip back."
Chris pulled out of the driveway and headed back toward the pier.
"Gonna have to take Toby out to see it on my night off. He prob'ly won't think much of it, but–."
Chris wanted to share it anyway because it was something special to him. He was so wrapped up in the current path his thoughts were taking that he was unprepared for the spasm of pain that shot through his body and almost made him swerve off the road.
"*Shit.* Get your shit together, man! You can't fuckin' wreck with Toby on here! And no helmet! Shitshitshitshit!"
Chris glanced around to check his progress to measure how far till the next exit that would take him to the motorcycle shop.
"First star on the right and straight on til' morning."
Chris smiled at his joke. He shook his head and tried to fight down the rising weakness the pain was causing.
"Man, you *got* to get yer shit together or you'll end up splatterin' Toby all over the fuckin' freeway. It's not that much farther to the shop."
He saw the sign before the exit came into view. Chris' relief was almost overwhelming.
Chris reached back and gently ran his hand along the outside of Toby's thigh, an unconscious act that came as natural as his next breath. A light reassuring touch to calm his nerves, yet the gesture was not lost on Tobias as he tightened the grip of his legs and arms in response.
They pulled to a stop in front of the shop and Chris was already thinking about where to find the helmets and mentally calculating how much money he would have left afterward.
"Even if you get one of the cheapest ones, you'll still be broke."
Chris dismounted and gazed at Toby.
"It'll be worth it to protect you, Baby."
"I'll be back in a minute. Wait here."
He missed Toby's gaze narrow at his retreating shoulders.
"Getting kind of bossy there, Roomie. Guess we're going to have to discuss some ground rules."
Chris milled around in the corner where the helmets were located trying to find a reasonably priced one that didn't look ridiculous. It seemed that the only choices he had were upwards in the price of two hundred dollars.
"*Figures.* Gotta get one though. For Toby."
"Need any help, Chris?"
Chris turned to meet the gaze of his friend and favorite shop owner, Little Antony.
"Uh... yeah. Antony, could you do me a favor?"
"Let me owe you half the cost of this helmet. I got a friend riding wit me and I'm so tired I'm afraid I'm gonna wipe out wit him on the bike."
"Wanna just owe me for two? I been beggin' you for the longest to get one."
Chris smiled at his friend.
"Nah, but I do appreciate the offer. I had a hundred left after we paid rent. I won't be able to get the rest to you till next Friday."
"As much time and money as you spend in here, I think I can see my way clear to wait on the whole price. You'll need some spendin' money to eat on my friend."
He clapped Chris on the back and walked him out toward his bike.
"It's gonna be $235 with tax. Get it to me when you can."
He finished before they reached Toby.
"Antony, meet my friend Toby. Toby, Antony."
They shook hands then Chris handed him the helmet.
"Put it on."
"Yeah, we're going to have to talk."
Tobias bit back the words that crowded his mind, unwilling to embarrass him in front of his friend, but promising himself that it wasn't over. He stared at Chris for a moment longer, then donned the helmet while Chris slid on in front of him.
Chris started the bike and waited for Toby to wrap his arms around him before he would even so much as move it, and when he didn't, Chris reached around and patted his leg to get his attention. He felt Toby jerk his leg away from his touch.
"What the fuck was that about? Whatever it was, we'll get into it when we get home."
Chris turned the bike off, turned around in the seat, picked up one of Toby's arms and pulled it around his waist to avoid shouting to be heard over the engine and the helmet. Toby quickly followed suit with his other arm and Chris started the bike again and rolled out.
"Man, what's up wit this fuckin' attitude he throwin' off? What's he got to be pissed about? I ain't even done nothin' yet. Shit, if he get's this bent outta shape about nothin', what's it gonna be when I do somethin' to deserve it?"
Chris pulled up in front of the apartment and slid off before Toby could even get his helmet off and stalked up to the front door and let himself in.
"Whatever's eatin' you, I ain't in the mood to hear it."
Before he even made it halfway across the room another spasm of pain hit almost dropping him to his knees once again, but he managed to right himself and keep walking. He had no desire to square off with Toby.
"Better put it off till you can at least defend yerself."
Chris carried himself into the bedroom that was going to be his, the empty one.
‘Wonder if May-bel still has those beds she offered me awhile back?"
Chris eyed the floor skeptically then glanced at his watch.
He was already a half hour late to work. He passed Toby on his way in as he was leaving. He looked like he had something that he really wanted to say to him.
"Fuck him. It'll keep."
Chris hopped on the bike and backed out. He saw Toby running after him more than he heard what he was saying so he switched the bike off to listen.
"‘...ait. Chris, wait! Where you going?"
"You can't go to work in the condition you're in!"
"Gotta make my half of the rent."
Chris smiled at him hoping that he didn't notice him cringe from the pain that wracked his body.
"I'll be home round 3 or so. If you're still awake –."
He left the sentence unfinished, hoping he would fill in the blank with the right words. Then supplied,
"I'll see you then."
He started the bike and pulled out before he could respond. Tobias watched helplessly as he drove away.
"Please, dear God, don't let him wreck. Bring him home in one peace."
Toby felt his emotions start to close off his throat as thoughts of what might happen if Chris didn't come home battered his senses, ripping an agonized groan from his throat.
"What would happen if Chris didn't come home? I'd be royally fucked, that's what. Parents wouldn't even help out this time."
He walked back inside to start the long process of going through his boxes and putting stuff away while struggling to keep his turbulent emotions under control.
"Should keep you busy for awhile, Tobias."
"Chris, mah boy, yer late."
"Sorry, Johnny. I lost track a' time. My new room mate's got more shit ‘n all of us put together. By the time I got back home wit the last trip, I was already a half hour late."
"It's okay, Kid, I'm just bustin' your balls. We're not busy yet, so yer cool."
Chris nodded, grateful for the slack. "May-bel here?"
"Yeah, she's in the back."
Chris headed off toward the store room in search of Mabel.
"May-bel, you in here, darlin'?"
Mabel smiled at the intentional mispronunciation of her name. "Chris! Hey sweet-boy! I'm back here."
Chris followed her voice to find her behind a shelf of liquor smoking a joint.
"You want some?"
"Nah, I'm already beat. If I smoke that, I'll be curled up in front of the place sleepin' ‘stead of checkin' ID's. I was just wonderin' if you still had those beds?"
"Lord, yes. I put them in the basement because I couldn't bring myself to throw them away. You need one?"
"Actually, I need ‘em both. I just got a new place and a new room mate."
"Need any other furniture?"
"Please. Anythin' you got that you don't need."
"Give me the address. I'll have Tim take it over so you can have a bed when you get home tonight. Oh, I almost forgot. Tim was going to bring home a new bed for us. Want one queen sized one and a twin, or both twins?"
"He's gonna get canned he keeps helpin' himself."
"Yeah, I know. I told him as much. He don't care."
"Yeah, the big one would be great. Tell him to put the big one in Toby's room. Here's our address."
He tore off a piece of the box next to him and wrote it down. He handed it to her, then leaned in and kissed her cheek.
"If y'all got anything else ya wanna get rid of, hook us up."
"Sure thing, Baby-doll."
Tobias was in the kitchen when he heard the knock on the door, trying his best to get a drink of water without a glass.
"Got to go shopping tomorrow."
Tobias hurried to open the door expecting to see Chris and was incredibly disappointed when he opened the door to reveal a rather huge man standing there looking at him intently.
"Can I help you?"
"I'm a friend of Chris'. He asked me to bring a few things over."
"Oh, all right."
Tobias turned to walk away when the guy's voice stopped him.
"You gonna help or what?"
"You want me to help you bring in Chris' things?"
"Well, asshole, he spent his whole day helping you. But I'm tired!"
His mental whining was interrupted by the man echoing his thoughts.
"He spent the whole damn day helpin' you, so get your skinny ass out here and help."
Tobias, slightly abashed, followed him to a truck that was overloaded with furniture. Beds, dressers, and what looked like a love seat.
"Maybe things are going to work out after all. Chris just took care of a major obstacle."
Once they started carrying the furniture in, the big guy loosened up enough to start telling him some stories about Chris' drunken escapades. Tobias listened intently, trying to gain some insight on his new found friend.
They had almost finished. The two beds and a love seat remained. Tim hopped into the back of the truck and walked out the mattress for the big bed.
"This thing is heavy."
"Yeah, but it's yers so shut up ‘n carry it already."
Disbelief evident in his tone.
"Chris told you to give me the big one?"
Stunned silence held his thoughts from escaping. He had to have a good heart to put tobias' needs in front of his own.
"That's got to be a good sign, right?"
Tobias flopped in the love seat as soon as they set it down and leaned back to close his eyes to rest a minute.
"Well, Kid, I gotta get goin'. Nice meetin' you. I'm sure Chris will drag you over to our place for a picnic sooner or later so I'll see ya then."
He turned to close the door behind him.
"Could I possibly get you to do me a favor?"
"I need a lift to a store. I could give you some gas money if you would take me."
"Sure. Let's go."
Tobias spent the next two hours shopping for household items.
"It'll be nice for Chris to come home and find a real home. After all he's done for you, it's the least you can do."
Once they had finished and were in the truck headed back, Tim cocked an eyebrow at him.
"You wanna go by and see where Chris works?"
Without really understanding why, he knew that he wanted to see him again, wanted to make sure he was all right. Fifteen minutes later they were pulling up outside a biker bar.
"Christ alive! What kind of people am I going to be exposing myself to?"
Chris' type, came his answer.
"Starting to sound like your dad there, Bud."
Chris was so out of it he didn't even see Toby approach until he was standing right next to him talking.
"Hey, how you feeling?"
Judging from the start he had just given him, he must have been half asleep.
"Toby! Man, are you a sight. I'm so damn tired."
His face twisted in pain and exhaustion. Tobias felt the urge to reach out to him, but for the sake of his image, suppressed it.
"We got the furniture unloaded and I begged Tim to take me to the store; it was pretty pathetic really."
Tobias smiled at him, hoping it would catch and stick. Chris could devastate with one of his smiles. It didn't work. Against his better judgement, Tobias reached out and touched his shoulder allowing it to linger, for just a moment.
"You sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, I'll be fine. Just keep the bed warm for me, Honey."
Chris smiled at his joke, and to his amusement, Toby blushed again. His smile faded at the edge in Toby's words.
"You keep saying things like that and people are going to start believing you."
"It wouldn't bother you if people thought we were ‘together'?"
"No. Shouldn't bother you either."
He watched Toby shift uncomfortably under the weight of his gaze for a few moments before Chris quietly asked Tim to take him home. He watched Toby walk away with a mixture of joy and pain.
"Bittersweet, yeah, that's the word for it. Evidently he regrets what had happened ‘n don't like bein' reminded about it."
Chris suddenly felt a lot older than his twenty years.
"*Fuck.* Well, I ain't gonna beg. Fuck that. He don't want a relationship, fine. Just don't let me catch him bringin' anyone, male or female, into our home."
Continued in Chapter 4