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The Circle

Chapter 21

Jeff: A Fort Knight Gone

two weeks ago

Two weeks ago, the morning after the Circle sleepover at the twins' house, the twins showed off their laserdisc player again. I was biased against the new technology as the release of many movies onto VHS had been delayed so that the movie would have sometimes months of exclusive release on only laserdisc. I knew all about their superior image and sound, and I thought it was very cool, but I still didn't like the fact that so many good movies had been delayed so long because they were only put out on laserdiscs. It didn't help that my folks were completely resistant to purchasing one, being perfectly happy with the VHS player we had. And at least we could record things.

I envied them for one of the very few times that I really envied them for the projection system with the four-speaker Harmon-Kardon sound system. Music and movies sounded better than anything I had ever heard before.

That morning, as Jeff still slept, and after the twins and I had returned from our first time in a threesome, they revealed a surprise; Alien - on laserdisc. I immediately lit a joint and bowed to the twins. As the ship broke free from the tug and dropped into the atmosphere, making the first loud sounds of the movie so far, Jeff was woken by the room-shaking bass. I pulled out another joint and lit it, not thinking that it he partook that it would be Jeff's first ever wake-n-bake; he did. It was a completely different movie in forty-two inches of projected glory and eight-hundred watts of four speaker quadraphonic stereo surround.

The twins showed great pride in having not watched it until they could do so with me. I felt very pleased momentarily, until a thought occurred to me.

"You just waited until I got you high, is all!"

Ryan tisked, very much like Jeff, surprising me.

 I knew people got habits from the people around them, but I didn't like that someone else was doing one of Jeff's things. I consciously quashed the thought, deciding it only meant that Ryan thought Jeff was cool, too.

"No! But we sure wanted to get high to see it when we thought about it, yeah. But we know it's your favorite movie, and we bought it to see and show it to you on the system. Kind of like a birthday thing, ya know? We thought about being high to watch it, but later, yeah. Honest, though," Ryan assured me, very convincingly.

I didn't care. We watched Alien, and it was just as good, better in ways, than it had been in the movies. We screamed and yelled, without anyone else ruining it for us. It was better in that the screams, alarms, all the sounds were incredibly clear and strong. On laserdisc we could stop the action and take long, adoring looks at many scenes once we had watched it through once, using the nearly flawless pause function. I had paused my own VHS copy of Alien many times, but the tapes had nothing approaching the clarity and stability of the image the laserdisc gave in still frame. For the first time I really saw the alien and many of the visuals clearly, soaking in the seemingly secret images.

When it was close to the time Jon was supposed to pick up Jeff and I, I offered to give the twins a joint, in thanks for the movie, but Brent refused.

"Nah. Man, we both smoke it with you because it is kinda fun, but we don't smoke it other times. At all. Just Circle meetings, or like today. Makes us feel like laying around, ya know? And we're playing ball later. And just us we'd take a whole day to smoke a whole joint!"

"Yeah. But we can smoke it later or tomorrow, stupid!" Ryan said, taking the joint and shaking his head.

Brent turned red, seemed to have something to say, but bit his tongue. 

"Stupid," Jeff agreed, slipping into his coat.

Brent started to say something again, and again bit it back. Ryan smiled subtly as he noticed. I knew there was something going on, just not a clue as to what.

But, wait. That's like the most Jeff's said so far today. Probably so stoned from. . . .oh shit! I missed his first time wake and bake! Crap! No, wait. No I didn't! I was there, even was why! I just didn't realize it then, dumb ass! Cool! So a wake and bake makes Jeff get quiet. Interesting. Like Eric and Roger - they crash for hours.

The four of us made our way downstairs to the front doors and waited for Jon to pull up. Twenty minutes later we heard his unmistakable, very distant honk, and we realized that he didn't know that he could come to the front doors. He had assumed, as always, that he should pick us up secretly at the back. This wasn't a normal pickup that the twins' parents knew about, they weren't home again, but Jon didn't know that.

The intercom buzzed and the fat maid's voice said, "Sirs, your friends' ride is present at the rear."

The four of us shared a two-second long, grinning, "We're idiots!" moment, then collectively ran through the house, stumbling, arms akimbo, mumbling too loudly for effect.

Jon probably thought we had smoked some bad pot, seeing the four of us running out of the door like Monty Python upper-class twits deep in competition. He never asked though, being a bit pissed he had to spend some of his Saturday ferrying us around when he could be running around with his girlfriend.

Once home, Mom had heard from Tom's mom about taking him shopping for clothes, so my mom decided I needed to do so as well, Jeff or no Jeff along for the excursion, and she was ready to go right away. Jeff's mom wouldn't be home for him to call for a ride for another almost two hours, even if he didn't want to stay over for the night, so he shrugged and he and I plodded along behind my mom to the car and the mall.

Even before we got into the car, I knew it was going to be a bad trip; the buzz from the twins' place was fraying quickly. Not only that, but we were going to be in public together. A huge buzz fading and leaving us strung out, and we were going to be in public together.

I had realized I was falling for him, and being with him in public was becoming uncomfortable. I worried about being around him at the mall. The thought seemed impossible. When he laughed or grinned, I wanted to put an arm around him and snuggle. If we drifted apart a bit and I caught sight of him from a distance, I involuntarily stopped to stare until I saw movement and remembered others were around, and I would feel incredibly guilty, exposed, and humiliated. I would chastise myself for thinking such thoughts about my friend. I would berate myself for being so gay.

Being out with him in public had started feeling strange once I had started thinking of Jeff along the same lines I had felt for Toby. Often we would be in public before I suddenly felt 'advertised' as I tried to describe it to myself. At first things were fine, but then the thoughts came, of being with him, of what I felt for him, then it was uncomfortable. Months after Toby's death, I began to feel vulnerable and exposed when I was out in public with Jeff.

Once we had driven in silence to the mall, mom allowed me my own taste in clothes, but she insisted on a few items of her own choosing - for special occasions, she insisted. Tan polyester slacks, black socks, several button-down dress shirts in different colors, and a tie. She also made me pick up socks and, of course, underwear. Jeff was very understanding, and quiet, and I was glad he wasn't teasing during the whole affair. The shoe store was next, where I replaced my old tennies with new identical ones and was forced to find dress shoes that fit with room to grow.

Soon I was as uncomfortable as I had ever felt. The faded buzz left me with the usual paranoia and sleepy moodiness, and being with Jeff meant that the paranoia from being with him in public and being found out more than doubled the horror. I knew that Jeff wasn't himself, either. I watched every move I made and every place my eyes landed and every word I said. I looked at things around, but I kept my eyes off Jeff. I kept those thoughts about him as being sexy and wanting to do things with him as silent as I could. I tried to walk straighter, look butcher, just seem a real manly guy.

As we passed Spencer's Gifts, I tried to get Jeff's attention to share a laugh. I wished we were at the mall alone so that we could go in and have a look around and a few laughs together. He missed my attempts, still walking with his head down, and not wanting to make any display or any possible sign of anything, I didn't try harder. The last thing I wanted was someone pointing at me yelling, "Look at the faggot!" as we walked along behind my mom, trying to look as if we weren't with her.

"Sorry, man. I didn't know she'd wanna go shopping, ya know?"

He mumbled a "Mmmm," and nothing more, still walking with his head down.

I felt bad, thinking he was having a bad time being stoned, wake-n-baked in fact, and for the first time at that, and having to burn his buzz out shopping for clothes for me. And with my mom.

He must be so bored and horrified! I thought. Fuck! Maybe some way to cheer him up? But prob'ly best if I just let him snooze along and get it over. Find something fun to do at home as soon as we get there. Or let him pass out, like some guys after a wake and bake. That could make some fine eye candy, him asleep, stoned to zone on my bed, or floor.

Fuck! There I am again! Right back to thinking like that about him, and when we're in public!

The rest of the time at the mall and the entire ride home I kept trying to think of something funny, or at least entertaining to talk about. The few things I did try to discuss, Jeff seemed to brush off.

"You feeling okay?" I finally asked, beginning to think that he was actually sick.

"Yeah. Just tired is all," he assured me, still not looking at me.

"You seem pissed, or something."


He was certainly not feeling very good, or happy, that was obvious. I had never seen Jeff not at least talkative, let alone seemingly silent. I felt sure it was his first wake and bake, and was the kind to zone out completely and only want to sleep. I was angry at myself for ruining our day together by getting him stoned right after waking up.

The disaster that was the shopping trip over, I felt relieved the moment we got home. I had learned that I couldn't be comfortable with Jeff, or myself, when I was in public with him anymore, and I felt like a heel. The entire trip I was glad he wasn't teasing me, but he was so quiet anyway. At home, without prying eyes around, I found I could feel secure. I felt the same for Jeff, but at home it was just my secret again.

Tom was certain that Jeff was interested in me. I trusted Tom, and I knew Tom was very good at reading people. He had all but said it. I couldn't agree, and never saw any such signs in Jeff myself. As much as I hoped it, wished it, prayed for it, I never believed Jeff was gay. Nor bisexual, I was sure. He was too stubborn to do anything with me, too shy when he so rarely did, and never brought up any topic along the lines on his own. I would have given anything for Jeff to be gay, but I didn't believe it.

Once home, I put away the new clothes as Jeff turned through the television stations. I rolled another joint, hoping that a fresh buzz would revive Jeff, or at least improve his mood. With nothing on tee-vee, we settled in on the Atari. We smoked the joint and took turns on various games. I tried not to think of Jeff as anything more than a friend.

I believed in Tom, and I wanted him to be right. But how could he be? If Jeff was gay, he wouldn't have left after each of the three times we had jacked off together. As far as I could work out, he was curious, and had experimented, maybe even liked it a bit, but it wasn't what he wanted. He obviously wasn't cool about it, not after.

But I wanted him to be. I wanted to believe he was, he was just shy. I convinced myself that all he needed was that little push just a little further. He let me jack him off the first time, then went home right away the next morning. We jacked off together the second time, and he let me do him for a while, but he went home early again the next morning. Then we had actually jacked each other off, all the way, and he had slept in another room. Each time, for days after, we hardly talked, avoided each other, and it was horrible.

How could he be gay?

But he had to be. I had to take the chance. I wanted him to be. I needed him to be.

My guts began churning as I considered what to do. I could only think of one thing. Talking about it was impossible, so the only way I could find out was with some kind of action. Only one thing came to mind. The last time I had done that, it had meant the end of a friendship, the end of my public life, the end of everything. I had moved, and that had been the only saving grace.

I considered how different the situations were. Jeff wasn't trying to get me to prove I was gay so that he and his friends could hate me and expose me - nothing like what had happened before. Jeff and I had actually touched each other, unlike what had happened before. I had helped Jeff jack off, he'd done the same to me. We had a history. This was nothing like what had happened before.  He had slept in the other room last time, downstairs the time before. It would go differently if I kissed Jeff. Nothing like what had happened before.

I was older, too. I knew more. It would go differently this time. It had to.

I screwed up the courage, worked up my will, forced myself to take action. I thought how wonderful it would be when I did it, and he smiled, and he did it too, and we found out we both wanted each other. It would be awesome! Nothing like before.

I snuggled up close to him, our hips and shoulders touching. It was much closer than normal for any situation. I knew that sitting that close to him made me horny, I hoped that it would make him horny too.

I laid my right hand palm-down on his left thigh. His body heat was obvious, and I hoped that it was at least partly horniness. I gently pushed my fingertips down, massaging almost. I was afraid to look at his reaction, instead pretending to be focused on his game play. I held my breath as he didn't throw my hand away, and he didn't scream, "Faggot!" at me.

I turned and saw him looking at me, his eyebrows raised and his lips slightly parted. He was gorgeous, as always, and my breath stopped. Our faces were less than a foot apart. The game was forgotten by the both of us.

I leaned forward, focused on his lips. They seemed to grow larger than my house, larger than our school, larger than a mountain range. Red, moist, lush, soft.

My lips touched his. I closed my eyes. I felt as if I were licking a live electrical wire. A thrill ran through me like I hadn't felt in months. I pulled back, hesitantly, because I wanted that kiss to go on forever, but I was dying to see his reaction, and hoping that he followed, continued it, took it further.

I opened my eyes. His lips were still slightly parted, his eyes were wide, his face was white. He didn't look anything like I hoped.

He tossed down his controller and said breathlessly, "I can't. I can't do this. I gotta go. I'll get a ride home from Jon. I gotta go."

I was stunned. He didn't look at me. My guts wrenched as he stood up, grabbed his coat, and left my room. I wanted to say something, anything, but nothing would come to my mind. All I could think was that I had just fucked everything up; I had just proven to Jeff that I was a raging faggot that he couldn't trust. As I listened to his footsteps going down the stairs, my breath caught with each attempt to breathe. I never so much as tried to breathe normally, I was too stunned and upset to consider it.

Why did I have to do that? How could I be so stupid! And why do I feel like this for him! What is it with me? Why can't I just have a friend I don't want to fuck?! But why do I have to feel like this for Jeff?

And I did it again! Not exactly the same as what happened before, but nothing like I wanted to happen. This is just as bad. As before Toby, even. It wasn't as good as what happened with Toby, but not as bad as what happened with Trey. Not as good as what happened when I kissed Tom first time. So now I've kissed three guys. And he left. Worse than ever before, he ran away.

I threw myself up on my bed and started crying. The thrills of just seconds ago became cold dread and heavy fear. The sweats now were greasy and cold. Deep down in my gut a leaden weight pressed itself painfully into my bowels.

I deserve it if it comes out! I don't deserve friends if I just scare them away! Again! Why do I like boys? It's all coming undone! Tom already knows I'm gay, Jeff has no doubts now. They'll be laughing at me on the ride to school! Everyone will know by the end of the day! And this time I'm not moving and I can't get away! No!

I worried that Tom was home and would come running over. I knew that Jeff would never again want to talk to me or come to any more Circle meetings. I dreaded seeing Tom and having to explain my disgusting actions to him. I was certain that even the other Circle guys wouldn't put up with what I had done to Jeff.

I must have fallen asleep crying, as the next thing I remembered was dad calling that dinner was ready. I ate dinner in silence, shaking my head to my parent's questions regarding my health. The phone rang shortly after dinner, and Tom asked if I was doing anything, if he could come over a while. I said I was bored, doing nothing, and didn't feel like doing anything. He said he understood and would see me tomorrow.

I spent the night worried that Tom knew more than he let on. He had said nothing about Jeff getting a ride home, so I prayed that he hadn't gotten home until after Jeff had left. I knew without doubt that Tom would have come over right away and grilled me if he had known Jeff had left my house like he had. If Tom had been home when Jeff went over there, then Jeff had not let on that anything had happened, I was certain.

Or so I reassured myself again and again as I tried to sleep. Saturday Night Live held no laughs for me that night.


Sunday morning I opened my eyes and lay there in bed, on top of the covers and still dressed, listening for anything that would have woken me. It was still dawn, the sky outside pink and purple. I remembered the horror of yesterday, what I had done to Jeff. I rolled over and tried to fall asleep again, but I was too miserable and worried.

 I should've never scooted over like that! Let alone put my hand on his leg! And I even squeezed! Then I fucking kiss him! FUCK! He's religious! His mom's a deacon or something at their church. She believes all that strict, vengeful, Catholic God stuff, and all that sin stuff, and my being gay would mean he shouldn't be my friend. Then I go and make passes at him and snuggle up to him! How bad did I scare him? I'm a fucking idiot who deserves nobody!

The bulk of my thoughts throughout the day were directed at how I had nearly raped Jeff. Secondly, I berated myself for being such a raging homosexual and not being able to not try to fuck everybody around me. Thirdly, I worried about what the other Circle guys would think. The several thousand - seemingly - other things were all on hold.

I spent Sunday moping, thinking, and sleeping. I avoided Tom by saying I didn't feel well when he called. He usually just came over instead of calling first, but I didn't notice the difference at the time; I was far too miserable over ruining things with Jeff and knowing that I would be even more uncomfortable around him in public. I knew I had pushed too far with him, and I knew it had been way too far.

I never thought of food until the folks insisted I come down for dinner. They asked the usual questions about the usual stuff, and I pretended it was just another boring Sunday. Dad suggested we go to get my license on the Tuesday after my upcoming birthday, if the weather didn't get bad again. I nodded and agreed, knowing I wasn't as excited about it as I should be, and not caring to fake it.

That evening was spent the same as the morning; thoughts of the moment that I had gone too far with Jeff and he had walked out of my life repeating endlessly, prompting fears of discovery followed by repugnance.

By bed I had devised a plan that would relieve me of the burden of being with them on the bus, not only on Monday to avoid them after what had happened, but for however long, so that I wouldn't be worried about how it felt to be around Jeff.

I'll ride my bike to school! At least until I get a car, I decided. On Monday I'll ride to school. That way I won't have to see Jeff, and I won't ever have to feel like that on the bus with him again. And I'll avoid them both in the cafeteria by going to class early. That way I can keep Tom from seeing how I acted around Jeff, too. And I can avoid Tom and what Jeff told him! And I won't put either of them in danger! It's perfect!

In the morning I'll have to make sure the doors are all locked after mom and dad leave, so Tom can't get in, then not answer when he knocks when I don't show to go to the bus stop. It's going to be fucking cold, but I rode before when I missed the bus in winter. It's not bad, and not real far, and better than dealing with all my faggot stuff with Jeff and Tom on the bus tomorrow!

I was given a break from my maudlin thoughts when it was time for the new show the guys were all talking about. I got up and turned on the tee-vee and turned to channel five. The guys all ranted about The A-Team, saying it was the best new show. They described it as a good action show with lots of action, a Dukes of Hazzard with guns and real action. Since Sunday nights had nothing better on at the same time, I did. I wasn't impressed. I liked the van, so much like Tim's, but little else about the show. I knew what was going to happen before it did, I hated the fact that everybody was shooting, and despite people in clear view, no one was so much as hit, let alone hurt or killed. The cutesy sayings made me roll my eyes in disgust. I did find Murdock kind of cute, even though I knew Face was supposed to be the attractive one.

As soon as it was over I set my alarm, knowing I could leave almost an hour later on bike and make it on time, I still set it early, for just after my parents would have left. I wasn't tired, and knew I wasn't going to sleep much. To keep myself from thinking on Jeff and what I had done, I checked over all my homework and then read a few chapters of The Hobbit before my usual Sunday late-night lineup started. Joint in hand, laying in bed, the British comedies gave me a break from my miserable existence for a while. Doctor Who began, and I was lost to all things for an hour and a half. I barely stayed awake for Dave Allen at Large after that, and drifted off to sleep before it ended.


Monday, after my parents got their rides, I ran downstairs and made sure the house was locked up. I checked the alarm and waited, trying to doze, but those thoughts not letting me. I heard Tom knocking and ignored it. A minute later the phone rang, and I let it. I stayed away from the window, denying the urge to see if Tom walked to the bus stop or not. I tried to sleep, or at least not think.

The alarm went off and I started the day feeling like a sneaky lowlife on top of being a raging faggot.

The ride to school wasn't bad. The extremely long Doctor Who scarf wrapped around my head and face several times, leaving only a gap for my glasses. I had warm gloves and thick jeans. The trip was dangerous, no doubt, and I could easily end up flattened before I got to the school. My mind was distracted from the cold anyway, by the continuing thoughts of Jeff and my horrible homosexuality, and my efforts not to think about it. One thought that kept coming back was how easy it would be to turn hard left, into traffic, and have it all end.

Only Toby kept me from making that turn into the heavy traffic passing just inches away from me at forty-five miles an hour.

I was riding up to school, not knowing how much time I had before class started, when I saw the busses. A sudden thought hit me like I had ridden directly into one of the building's massive walls. I stopped by the road, afraid to ride further, afraid they would be waiting for me to find out why I had missed the bus. For the first time, I considered that they would have ridden the bus, and the whole time talking about why I had missed it. 

And they'll be waiting! Why didn't I think of this? What the fuck?

I rode as fast as I could to the bike rack on the opposite side of the school from where our bus arrived and locked my bike. I ran inside, avoiding the direction of the cafeteria, and ran straight to my first class. I stayed away from my locker, but did peek down that hall; Tom was standing by my locker, hands in pockets, leaning with his back against it. I was nearly fifty minutes early to my first class, but not alone; several others were there already. I wondered if they were always that early, or if they too had an emergency change in their morning schedule.

I guess I'll find out if they're here everyday, like I'm going to be, I thought as I took my seat. Tom and Jeff are going to figure things out if they ain't already. Jeff asked where I was when Tom got on the bus, and Tom said he ain't seen me since Saturday at the twins' place, and then he'll say something about Jeff staying the night at my house. Jeff'll say how he didn't and it'll all fall apart!

I felt like crying, right there in class, as those fearful thoughts raced through me. I had no idea what the class was covering once it started, and I didn't care, either. My mind was only able to process the horror my life was becoming. I went from class to class, slipping quickly from hall to hall, taking a route that I knew from their class schedules they wouldn't. I told everyone that talked to me that I felt like shit and didn't want to talk to anyone, and kept to myself if not spoken to. My last class took far too long to start, then was over far too quickly. I had an empty last period, and since I had ridden my bike, I left early.

I rushed out to my bike and went straight home. I knew Tom would be about two hours behind me, and I could be alone at home for that time, at least. I planned on not answering the door or the phone. I rode like a demon the entire way home, as if Jeff's well armed mom was crusading behind me on a war charger. The only thought on my mind the entire ride, repeating like a mantra, was; I can do this everyday.

Once upstairs in my room, I fell down onto bed in tears. I feared that Jeff had told, or would tell his mom, who would come with her holy rollers and try to exorcise the demon from me. I worried that police would come knocking, asking to talk to my parents about taking me to jail for attempted rape. I thought of what Tom could already know, and what he could have found out riding the bus with Jeff. I hoped that Jeff didn't even go to school.

As the time ticked by, I grew more and more distressed, and I let myself. I heard running feet coming up the stairs. I suddenly had an image of Jeff returning to apologize and throw himself into my arms, kissing me and begging me fuck him. Then I feared that Jeff's dad had returned and Jeff had told him what I had tried do, and now he was rushing up the stairs to beat me to a pulp. Then Jeff's mom with her church group carrying torches and bibles, come to exorcise the evil from her son's life. Then burglars with guns flashed through my head. I didn't know what or who to expect, but I didn't expect to see Tom running up my stairs as I reached my door.

It was far too early for him to be home. I worried how bad Jeff had made it sound that Tom would leave school early. I suddenly felt dirty and ashamed. I slammed my door and twisted the lock violently, wondering how he got in.

I forgot to fucking lock the door!

"Alex! What the fuck, man!"

I heard him finish the stairs and then hit against the opposite side of the door.

"Alex! Come on man! What the fuck?"

I didn't answer back, I had nothing to say.

"Come on, Alex! Where were you today? What's goin' on? You sick or something?"

I don't understand. Why would Tom ask that? Didn't Jeff tell him how I had tried to rape him?

"Don't be an asshole and let me in!"

I knew that I couldn't hide from him forever, or from what I had done to Jeff. I knew that Tom wasn't going to leave, either. He would stay in the house, then complain to my parents that something was wrong, and the three of them would be too much to hold off. I shook my head in disgust at my lack of foresight.

"Fine," I said softly as I stepped back from the door.

I flipped the lock and the door flew open. Tom having the knob firmly in his grip prevented it from slamming into the wall. I shivered as I turned away from the doorway and Tom. I was sweating and prickly all over, and I didn't know why; it wasn't from cold, that was for sure, and not from heat, either. I grimaced to myself, trying to hold back the desire to cry. I sat at my desk, pretending to prepare to do homework. Tom pulled up the other chair and sat down near me.

"Okay. So what the fuck, man? What's going on? You feeling okay or what?"

Right to the chase, as always.

Okay, fine, then. Right to the chase, Tom, I thought angrily.

"D-d-id," I cleared my throat and took several steadying breaths without bothering to pretend to ready for homework or hide the breathing exercise. "Did you see, talk to, J-jeff, t-today?"

"Yeah. He was on the bus. We wondered where you were."

"I rode my bike."

"So, like, what the fuck for, eh?"

"So, like, J-jeff was okay?" I asked, unable to look at Tom.

"Yeah, sure, I guess. Why? What's the big deal?"

"Why d-do you think there's a big deal for anyway?" I challenged him, still maintaining my intent examination of my desktop.

"Duh! Because you skip the bus, and I'm thinking you're skipping a day alone, no biggie, right? So you don't answer the door then you don't answer the phone and I'm thinking something bad happened and you went somewhere with your folks or something! So I hear at school you're there, so I wait for you at lunch and you don't show. Then I find out you really are at school but like hiding. So I see you riding off after your last class like your ass was on fire! On the bus home I find out Jeff didn't even stay over here Saturday, and he's starts acting weird. And for icing on your Twinkie, how's about why you're Tillisin'? Anything other that should make me think something's up or what? You ain't gonna say you just got up late are ya? I gotta slap ya if ya fuckin' do, man!"

"N-no. I didn't get up late. I biked it is all."


"I didn't want to ride the b-bus, okay?"


"I don't know!"

"Alex, come on. What's the big deal?"

I stood up quickly and looked down at Tom, my face turning red.

"J-j-just, f-f-fucking, forget it!"

I slammed open one of the books already on my desk and pretended I had homework to do.

"Just go home! I'll see ya after school tom-m-morrow," I said, never looking up from the book I opened and pretended to read.

Tom left quietly.

"Thanks, bud, love ya," I whispered after he left.

I held back as long as I could, but the wrenching worries and the fears won out. I was able to have dry eyes by the time my parents called that dinner was ready. I managed to act normally through dinner and cleaning up afterward.

I did no homework, only smoked joint after joint in silence until I fell asleep.


I was gliding down the driveway the next morning, riding my bike to school again, as I planned to do for as long as I had to. As I passed the corner of the house I saw Tom on the sidewalk out front, also on his bike. When he saw me he pedaled toward me with a wide smile, one I was too surprised to return. We met at the street, neither one of us saying anything for a long while as we sat rocking our bikes in the bitingly cold air.

"Well, we goin' or not?" Tom finally asked.

I felt awkward and embarrassed at first, but as I stood there my emotions changed to warm gratitude.

"You don't have to ride with me, you know," I said quietly.

"No, I don't," Tom replied, still smiling.

I was afraid to say more, worried my voice would give me away. Hidden behind the ridiculously long scarf wrapped multiple times around my head with only my glasses visible, my eyes grew moist and I was forced to blink the tears away.

To prevent betraying my state by brushing at them or talking, I kicked off and started down the street. We rode to school in complete silence.

"See ya after school? Or you gonna ride right home after your last class?"

"I'll see ya," I answered, locking my bike.

I snuck as quickly as possible from class to class. I spoke if spoken to, but otherwise stuck to myself. During lunch I went back to the library to do homework again. I spent my last period in the library, too, completing all the homework due the next day.

All day, every person who passed seemed to be holding back jokes about the fag. Every glance at me or in my direction was hiding their thoughts that I was a raging homo. The guys I considered friends were waiting for the right time to abandon me, to put space between themselves and the queer.

After school, Tom met me at our bikes and we rode home under a weak, cold winter sun.

I intended to ride in silence again, as we had that morning.

"He wants to know what's going on. He was kinda pissed I missed the bus. I told him I rode with you. Sorry."

"S'okay, I guess."

"What about the Circle on Friday?"

"I don't think he'll come."


I had no answer for him. At least none I wanted to give him.

"Dude, what the fuck's goin' on?"

"What's it matter?"

"'Cause I'm bikin' to school! That's why!"

"You don't have to. I didn't fucking ask you to!"

I knew Tom didn't deserve my yelling at him, and I gave him an apologetic look from behind my scarf. He rolled his eyes a bit, letting me know there was no insult taken.

"Just tell me why I'm riding to school. And home."

"Dude, no way."

"What's the big deal? I'll ask Jeff then."

His tone of voice proved it was a threat, not idle bluff.

"Don't! Fucking don't even. Just leave me and him settle it. Okay? Please?"

He sighed and shook his head.

"What do I tell him? In school? Ya know?"

"What's he say? And stuff?"

"He asked about you, but I wasn't supposed to say anything."

"What do you mean he asked about me but you ain't supposed to say?"

"He wanted to know why you missed the bus yesterday and today and if I saw you since and if you were sick or something."

"What'd you say?"

"That you wouldn't tell me."


"What happened?" Tom repeated.

"I... nothing."

Tom looked disbelieving.

"I'll find out, ya know."

I did. I knew he would. I argued with myself about telling Tom what I had done to Jeff. I was worried that he would hate me, but only for less than a single second. I was closer to Tom than I had been to anyone before in my life. I was sure that Tom wouldn't act like my last best friend. Tom wouldn't try to expose me if he found out I was gay. He had already found that out, and he was still my best friend.

I knew my only choice was to tell Tom. I didn't want to yell it across the space between us, so as we passed the narrow alley before the roads got busy, I turned into it and stopped. Tom waited silently, obviously knowing what I was doing.

I never looked up from the handlebars of my bike as I slid it front to back between my thighs. I was breathing rapidly, sweating under the heavy clothing and scarf, shaking. I tried a thousand different ways to tell him. There was only one way.

"When he was over Saturday night, before you got back home, I..." My stomach turned over and felt as if I could pass out. I was nearly panting. "I kissed him."

"Out of nowhere?"

I nodded.

"You just..."

I nodded again, still afraid to meet the eyes of my best friend. I felt like a rapist confessing to the police. I expected Tom to ride away in disgust at any second.

"Didn't say anything? Just, kissed him?" Tom asked incredulously.

"I, put my hand on his leg. Then, leaned over and... did it. That's all, okay? He freaked, jumped up, got his coat and left. He said he can't."

I sat down on the bicycle seat, unable to continue standing up on my wobbly legs. I was still panting and sweating.



We were silent for a moment.

"You still... wanna know me?"

He was close enough that I didn't have any time to duck his swing. His hand struck me solidly on the back of my head. He shook his head at me behind his ski mask.

"We better keep riding so we don't freeze," he said as he kicked off.

My breathing slowed, and I tried not to have to wipe my eyes.

We rode a while before we spoke again.

"So, like, you ain't talked to him since?"


"Want me to-"

"Fuck no! You so much as say a single word to him about it and I'll fucking kill you!"

I didn't know where the anger came from, and I felt awful for barking at him like that after he had just shown me so much consideration and acceptance.

"Sorry, Tom. But, like, don't, okay?"

"Okay. Don't worry."

"Let's just forget it."

"How? You gonna ride the bus tomorrow?"


He sighed.

"Going to ride it ever again?"



"Yeah, maybe."

"You will."


We rode in silence the rest of the way.

When we arrived at our houses, Tom asked to come over. I made him promise to not talk or ask about Jeff, and it would be okay. He crossed his arms in consternation, but agreed. Upstairs, with a coke each, we smoked a joint, talking about things we would forget about shortly, simply making awkward conversation. We both felt it between us, and we both knew the other did too.

Eventually we got into talking Dungeons and Dragons, and the new books due out on my birthday in two weeks.

"I should have the money by then, so maybe we can be playing the new version in a little while after," I said.

"Sure. I should have the bucks for the Player's Manual, and the guys can get the Monster Manual Two and the other stuff each. Fuck, the twins should just payroll the whole thing! They got the money!"

"I know! Tell me about it!"

"So how we gonna change stuff for the game to intro Jeff to dee'n'dee? Now there's a Fort Knight missing. I can't play both in the game."

"Yeah," I said sadly, knowing the pun was totally lost on Tom. "I'll have to change it, then. Make it for one knight."

"One knight sent from the fort? That'd be stupid. Just send a few soldiers then."

"One Fort Knight is a potent foe," I reasoned.

"And a dozen soldiers played as a group would be funner. Since it's alone."

"Yeah, maybe. But I'll have to take out the things for just the Fort Knights. Make it regular stuff that regular soldiers can handle then."

"Alex, this is fucked up. You been working on that game to intro Jeff to Dungeons and Dragons forever. And you can't ride your bike all winter! "

"I thought we agreed not to talk about Jeff?"

"We ain't. This is about freezing all my little Tommies to death before they get a chance!"

After laughing, surprisingly, I replied, "Then don't ride with me."

"You don't want kids? I mean, well, that was stupid."

"No, I might. I mean, I haven't really thought about it, but I might. But I doubt riding to school in winter will stop that."

"Okay. But you know it's stupid, right?"

"Tom, I don't even want to think about facing Jeff. Come on! Think about it! He probably thinks I tried to rape him!"

"He don't! He didn't act like that at all! He seemed more, I don't know, like, worried about you."

Tom had an excellent record of reading people, until Jeff. He was capable of seeing things about people that others missed. Tom had claimed that Jeff was interested in me, and was probably at least a little gay, and would like it if I showed interest or made a move. But I knew how Jeff had left, and I knew why. That meant that Tom was wrong about Jeff.

"I freaked him out! Totally! Okay?"

"He sure wasn't actin' like you freaked him out! And he asked if you were okay and stuff. And he said it wasn't my business and to butt out when I asked if you guys fought Saturday."

"Good idea," I said softly, more than loudly enough for Tom to hear.

"I can't! My best friend who lives next door and my friend from school that rides the bus with me are fighting. I mean, yeah, it's not like your fighting over something stupid, but that just makes it worse!"

"Then you see how fucked up this is!"

"Sure! And there's gotta be a way I can do something about it."

I sighed loudly and threw my hands into the air in exasperation. I leaned further back in the chair and turned in circles on it, kicking myself around with my feet.

"You want to do something about it?"

"You fucking bet!" Tom answered quickly.

"Let me and Jeff work it out."

"Hah! Like that'll happen this school year!"

"If it don't, it don't," I said as I stopped spinning, facing Tom. "I can't imagine he wants a fucking thing to do with me right now, can you?"

Tom was caught short with that question. He sat blank-faced for a moment.

"Fine. I'll watch and see. I'll ride with you a couple days a week, okay?"

"Cool. I get my license in a couple weeks, then maybe get a car," I shrugged.

"Uh, yeah, maybe."



"You said that weird."


"Oh fucking never mind!"

"Damn, you're pissy! Quit being such a drama queen, will ya, ya fag?"

I laughed and shook my head. Again I was glad of having Tom as a friend, and especially as my best friend.

I lost most of that joy, though, when I remembered that I had to face Jeff, on the bus or elsewhere, at some point. Not just over what I had tried to do to him, not just about our friendship, or how badly I wanted to keep it, I had to confront him about my being gay, and even worse, about my falling in love with him. I could see no hope of that, though, with things the way they were; and I saw no way out of the situation. Ever.

Friday Night: The Circle Convenes


Fortnight = British/UK term for two weeks.
Fort Knight = A fighter sub-class in early hybrid editions of D&D. A beginning player character in the employ of a keep or fort lord, sent forth to do battle with some hazard to the lands or populace as a convenient gaming plot device. Standardized weapons and armors made it easy to roll character after character during random adventures with less than the regular, advanced party of adventurers. When one went particularly well, a decent PC of some levels was ready for more serious adventuring in the main Circle campaign on Friday nights.