Toy Boxes

He keeps a box under his bed, shoved back so it can't easily be seen. He isn't really worried about it being noticed -- anyone who makes it this far into his bedroom has other things on their minds. Except possibly Maria, his cleaning lady, and she's an old Italian woman who worries more about how much Tony is eating and whether he gets enough sleep and when is he going to stop being so silly and just ask him out, already.

She's taken over nagging duties from Tony's grandmother; he suspects that Nonna sent Maria a message half an hour after she died, telling her to keep an eye on her wayward boy because he hadn't enough sense to come in out of the rain. It isn't true, of course, but Tony likes the attention and likes knowing that someone cares enough to chide him.

And if she's looked inside that box, well, she's a grown woman and she's had seven children of her own and she knows things. She'd understand, and if she said a word about it, it would only be to tease him.

Then she'd ask how Gibbs was doing, and if Tony wants her to make some pasta for him to reheat and invite him over to dinner.

It worries Tony a little that she approved so much. He worries more about the times she would casually mention her grandson and maybe Tony would like to meet him? Not because she wants Tony to settle down with an accountant from Boston, but because tricking him into turning down her invitations always gives her an opening to ask why he didn't just ask already. Such things as regulations and supervisory roles mean nothing -- she became a secretary, herself, a century ago, just to marry the boss. Then she starts listing all the places it was legal and accepted and who cares what anyone thinks, it's none of their business.

But all of Tony's objections and hesitations fade against her cheerful determination, and sometimes Tony finds himself thinking that maybe he could just ask.

Then he remembers this box, and he remembers exactly why, and once in a very great while he crouches down and pulls it out from under the bed and stares. He brushes his fingers against the wood, smooth and bright from polish that has never worn off. He doesn't handle the box often enough.

It always takes him awhile to open the box. Fear and denial and a dozen other things forcing his hands away from the latch, until he can't wait any longer. Then he'll snap it open and he'll look inside, and sometimes he takes the items out. Sometimes he leaves them where they are.

A small car, red paint chipped from the side. A plastic kazoo, which has never been played. A long piece of cord, which once was a yo-yo string. The yo-yo is long gone, and he no longer remembers exactly where or when or how. A sheaf of papers which he never unfolds, and a photo of two boys in swim trunks, holding aloft a massive -- for them -- fish they have caught.

Tony stares at the photo the longest, toys left forgotten in their treasure chest. He feels his heart pound and he looks at the boys' smiles. It was a summer of long days at the lake, swimming and fishing and laughter and smiles. Quick, confused kisses and hands reaching, confident whispers that "I'll show you how to do it."

Tony remembers how madly in love he was, as much as a boy of thirteen can be. He can still remember the rush he felt when fingers touched him for the first time, there. He remembers sneaking into the woods, and giggling over breakfast at jokes they didn't share.

And he remembers being shaken awake in his bed, his father screaming over him, and the blur that followed. He has a scar on his back, long and thin, but it is nothing compared to the gravestone he refuses to visit of a friend who drowned one summer.

He can't tell Maria that he has never kissed a man, despite the fact she knows very well that he likes to look. He can't tell him why the thought of being in love makes him feel like the water is closing over his head, hands on his shoulders, holding him down.

After he puts the toy box away, it is days before he can manage even a fake smile. Which makes it easier to avoid falling into those eyes and saying things he cannot dream.