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The Circle

Chapter 23

Friday Night: Understandings

I heard Tom shout, "He's just got that toga on!"

Judging by the noise, he was followed by all of the others in a rush to the door. Tom pulled the door open and I jumped onto him, wrapping my arms and legs around him.

"My brave savior! My knight in white linen! You came to save me!"

My weight and the surprise sent Tom backwards into the rest of the guys and back into the basement. I jumped off him, laughing and pointing at all of them.

"Close the door! It's fucking cold out there!" I laughed.

Tom started snickering first, followed by Jeff, then the rest suddenly joining in.

"What? You thought I was really upset?" I asked with all possible innocence, one finger at my lips and wearing a pouting expression as close to Benny Hill's as I could. I even dug one toe into the floor, like the times at the beach when he had been embarrassed, or had torn off some curvy beachgoers top or bottoms 'by accident'.

"You fucker!" Tom said as he punched my shoulder. "I thought we went too far!"

"And you deserve it! Fuck! You guys did go too far! That was all private, and I was so angry! But, you guys never told each other before, and since we all knew, and, well, now they aren't secrets. Which I guess is okay. I mean, I liked that they were secret, but, it was okay after Tim really got started." I was walking back to the couch, explaining as I went. "I mean, at first, it was so embarrassing. But Tim only said what happened without, saying exactly what happened. You all did. So you guys kinda all know what happened, but, like, just sorta only what happened. And then I knew I had to get you fuckers all back and I knew what I'd do. So I got real mad easy with Todd over there and the hour long banana fuck-fest."

"Hey! It wasn't that much different!" Todd said, trying to defend himself.

"The fuck it wasn't!" I said, stressing 'fuck' in such a way as to elicit several more laughs.

Todd gave up on any defense as he took his seat again along with everyone else. I noticed that Ryan was again leaning against Eric in the big recliner, and that no one bigger ordered them out of it.

Once they had all expressed their appreciation for the gag, Jon opened another beer and asked that they all raise theirs to toast.

"To Alex. The Circle master and a great buddy! Happy birthday and many more, bud!"

"Happy Birthday!" was chorused in response.

"To the Circle!" I toasted immediately.

"To the Circle," roared in return.

"Too bad Alex don't get points for-"

"Shut the fuck up!" Jon said quickly, chopping off Eric. He went on just as quickly with, "How about that tape, Jeff?"

His evil grin, which flicked my way briefly, was all the warning I needed. Jeff's startled jump and growing conspiratorial grin were redundantly warning. I took notice and went into defensive mode immediately.

"Now what the fuck you guys up to?" was the obvious and heartfelt thought at that moment.

"Jeff?" Jon prompted.

Jeff turned what all of the rest of us tended to call Jeff Blush Red.

"Umm," he offered, wiping his palms on his toga, swallowing, and finally looking up at me. "Uhh, so, it's nothin' really. Just, I, uh, this time I borrowed a tape I saw laying around on your desk. I, uh, listened to the ones you lent me, and thought I'd give this one a listen and bring some of the other ones back. Right?"

He was still capable of signaling ships at night with his blush, so I knew it was more than a simple tape that was coming. So I was thinking until I considered a certain missing tape I had made. While he talked he had walked to where his coat lay near the door with all the others. He dug his out, pulled a tape from a pocket, then turned toward Tim and the stereo.

I made to stand, but Jon and Tim both stood as well, and were far closer to Jeff; and the tape. I sat with a soft, "Shit."

I joined Jeff in being able to keep ships off the reefs in even the blackest nights. I put my head into my hands, elbows resting on knees.

How fucking perfectly typical. It has to be.

"So, I get home, and instead of some great rock, I find, or, uh, I hear . . ."

I waited for Jeff to say it. He paused for so long I looked up. He was still radiating brightly, smiling, and apologizing with his eyes. I rolled mine.

Tim pushed the play button.

"What the hell is that?" Eric asked first.

"Is that... "

"Kaycee and the Sunshine Band?"

"Oh my gawd!"


"I could forgive the country, but... "

"What?" I demanded furiously. "Freebird is mellower than this!"

"Freebird is Skynrd!"

"No shit!"

"Not even right to try that!"

"It's just Kaycee!"

"No, it's not," Tim said loudly. "I'll bet."

He forwarded the tape.

"Wild Cherry?"

"That's not that bad."

"Yeah, it's pretty good."

More forwarding.

"What the hell is this?"

"No way."

"Oh, wait, uh, I know this one I think!"

"It's Kaycee again," I offered.

"Got all their songs on this tape?"

"No. Just what gets played on radio."


"Hey, some disco isn't too bad."

"This is catchy. I heard it before. I can like it," Todd said, standing and trying to dance like Eric had been demonstrating earlier with fifties and sixties rock and roll; it wasn't working.

Eric stood, said, "No, to something with this beat you use these kinds of steps," then proceeded to dance very well to "That's The Way I Like It." It wasn't long before almost everyone was trying.

After more Kaycee and a few more disco or dance songs I liked, the side of the tape ended.

"Shit, Eric, I know I saw you going into the gym on dance club meeting days, didn't I?"

He shrugged and grinned and took a long drink of his beer.

"Eric's been taking dance for as long as we've known him," Brent said with a wide grin.

"You ass!" Eric yelled at him good-naturedly.

"Explains that," most of us declared.

"You got anything you wanna tell us?" Tom hinted.

"I just like dance!"

"Maybe we should take away one of his marks for embarrassing Alex for him being embarrassed?" Todd asked.

"Nah, no such rule," Jon said loudly, gaining everyone's attention with the words. "Everyone gets one more mark for their stories, and Jeff gets another for the tape, and another for that joke. That means there is no way anyone can catch up with Jeff. I say we declare him the winner." Jon paused as almost unanimous replies were offered. "And that Jeff go ahead and punish the loser."

Jon was grinning at me as he spoke, his eyes remaining locked on my face as I grew more worried at that stare. I glanced at Jeff's button, quickly counting the marks, then looked at all the others, who to the last one were holding their buttons out for me to see; all of them, directly at me, I noticed. They weren't holding them to Jon to tally, as game master, but were displaying them in my direction. And Jeff's. And all of them were trying their best not to laugh.

I started. I Gasped. I looked down at my own, few, meager points. I saw Jeff's enormous tally count again. I felt my eyes become slits.

"I couldn't have won, no big surprise, and that was so not fair! I never had any chance, but you guys been throwing points at-"

Their laughter broke and I finally understood.

"Oh, you fuckers!" I exclaimed, blushing and putting my face in my hands. "So, not, fair! I got so, set, up!"

"And how does the winner wish to punish the loser?" Jon asked, unable to hide his laughter.

"He's my slave," Jeff said.

"Term?" Jon asked.

"Life," Eric offered to laughter.

"His next birthday," Ryan tried.

"Until the next meeting of the Circle," Todd said.

"Workable," Jon said thoughtfully. "One week is on the table, what's the vote?"

"Come on!" I pleaded.

"Loser cannot vote, nor the winner," Jon explained unnecessarily.

"I knew that was a bad rule," I pouted.

The vote was unanimous, and Jon stated, "One week slavery to Jeff for the loss," the matter decided and binding.

With a groan, I shook my head and looked to my new master. I would have to do everything Jeff asked of me for a week.

It could be a good thing, I thought, hoped. But these guys rigging it like that! Fuckers! But, hmmmm, Jeff's grin sure has some rather lewd thoughts behind it. I wish they could mean what I'd like them to . . . don't go there! FRIENDS!

"This might be a bitch," I said, trying not to sound too enthusiastic, looking at his laughing face and feeling that tingle he caused. "Jeff, I'm sorry if my really liking you makes you feel uncomfortable or anything. I just wanted you to know. Okay? Especially before you moved."

"Man, Al, just don't worry about it. Okay? When we talk alone later, we can talk about that stuff. Okay? This is your party, man! Forget that stuff and lets have some fun! That don't have to be the only thing you think about. Forget about it for now!"

He was obviously drunk, and stoned, and having a good time. So was everyone else. I wanted to join them. I smiled, toasted his wisdom, and did so.

Forget about it? Yeah, right! Wish I could forget about how cute you are when we're together somewhere. Wish I could just not think about how much I like your laugh, and your smile, and your voice. I wish I could be around you around other people like I am with these guys. But they know, so it's...

Completely different! The guys fucking know! They known for a while! They've known and it ain't mattered a shit! Mom and dad! Tom. Jeff. All the guys! They all know. Did know. And I have the best time with them. Other people don't have a clue! When we're with other people I can look at Jeff, because I'm talking to him! He's there with me, I'm with him, like a shit load of other guys are there with their friends. And girls. It's nothing. Two friends going someplace or walking around. Big deal. And couples. And probably some gay ones! The ones the guys used to make fun of...

Used to make fun of! They stopped! They stopped even pointing them out, or making sneaky comments, or so much as seemingly notice them! They stopped because they knew about me. And they thought that they knew about me and Tom. Fuck! And those gay couples, the ones you really thought were two gay guys, nobody ever jumped them. Not in places like the mall, or stores, or places I go. The forest preserves, true. And I know that, known that. And I still got into Tim Miller's van. No. MY fucking van!

I can forget about it! When I go someplace and Jeff is there too, or it's just us, I can go anywhere and just be two friends walking! I can look at him because we're talking and walking together. I can laugh because of something funny. I can push him and stuff. Friends do!

Everything changed again. If it was the pot, the beer, the emotions, the realization, or a combination of several or all, everything was suddenly different. No, everything was all the same, the guys were all the same, I was different.

This wasn't where I just was, I thought. Here, here in this place, I can walk around anywhere with Jeff, feeling like I could hug and kiss him at any second, and nobody would know, or could read my mind. Only if I did something gay that people saw, if I grabbed his ass, or kissed him, or hugged him like I want to, only then can someone suspect. Here, I can save the thoughts, keep them private.

Here, I can think what I want and those thoughts are my very own.

Don't do faggy things. Talk. Laugh. Joke. Push each other and act like he needs a punch up the chops.

I grinned to myself, and was asked what I was thinking.

"Just thinking, Jeff," I said smoothly, smiling, offering a toast.

He nodded and toasted with me, the others joining by habit or coincidence.

"Tell him, Jeff," Todd said solemnly from across the room.

His demand to his older brother changed the entire feeling of the basement. We were all suddenly silent and expectant.

Jeff glared at his little brother, daring him to say another word. Todd relented. Whatever it was would have to wait, unless...

"What?" I asked, looking back and forth between Todd and Jeff.

Everyone noticed. Jeff grimaced. He withdrew into himself and sat back into the couch, crossing his arms and wearing his angry face.

"No, Todd. When I want to, like we agreed. Got it !" he warned his little brother.

Todd sighed, rolled his eyes, and challenged, "You're an asshole, bro. If you don't say it I will."

"Fucking don't, Todd!"

"Now or you'll chicken out and you know it!" Todd replied angrily.

Jeff blew his breath out, setting his longish bangs dancing. I sighed in adoration, as usual, as he said, "There's this other thing I wanna tell you guys. I, since I was moving, probably right at the end of school, I, I want you all to know. Especially you, Alex."

Jeff paused to seemingly keep his beer down with swallows of more.

"I'm, like, I, sorta . . . I like, I, more than sorta," he gave up finally, sighing and slapping his forehead. Suddenly he went on with, "I'm, I mean, I like, I, just, uh, geeze... "

"What up?" I asked gently, putting my hand on his back and shoulder. "Can't be as bad to say as I've done tonight, man."

He cleared his throat and then finished his beer. Todd had returned with a freshly opened one before Jeff put the empty down. Jeff gave Todd a look that I couldn't read, and judging by Todd's small grin and go-get-'em nod, I knew Todd knew that what Jeff was going to say was indeed hard. I patted his back and only he and I existed. He had done so for me so recently, right there, and I was happy to give it back.

After several healthy swallows, Jeff shrugged into saying, "There's a reason I was alone on the bus that first day freshman year. We moved here after junior high. I ain't had a lot of friends, 'cause we move too much, but when I figured out I liked guys, I just sorta didn't bother to make any anymore friends."

I was certain that I hadn't reacted even as I heard the other guys beginning to shout things. I was sure I was perfectly stationary. Nothing was moving anywhere on me; lungs, heart, eyelids, even my tongue and lips were paralyzed. My hand rested motionless on his back.

"Don't say anything. Anybody. Why do you think I went along with what we did?"

A confusing babble of voices overwhelmed Jeff. They threw questions at him far to fast for anyone to hear, let alone answer. My own mind raced with confused questions all on it's own, and so was far too busy to be concerned with the ones raining down on Jeff. Jeff, though, had to, and in an attempt to control the situation he threw his hands up and yelled, "Just shut up!"

After that, he turned his attention back to the floor between his feet. "Let me finish first. When Tom came over that day, on the bus, and asked me to come meet his buddy, I was kinda, like, worried. I was still scared because of what happened in the morning, like he was going to pick on me or something. But I did. Go over with Tom. And you guys were so nice. And then we got to be friends so fast. The next week it seemed like we always knew each other. Like you said, Al."

My hand on his back gave proof as his muscles shivered under it that he wasn't playing a prank. He looked at me then, his beautiful, bright blue eyes rimmed by red, wetness shining on his cheeks. I felt my heart crack. I actually choked at the sight. I wished that I could blink so the obvious tear rolling down my right cheek could be joined by the ones blurring my left eye, all so that I could see his beautiful face that much clearer.

"When you jumped at me like that, I, I . . ." He sighed and looked back at the floor, hiding his face again. "There was this guy at my old school. I liked him, you know. Liked him. I told, told him. He jumped at me like that. I told him on the bus like a goofus. He jumped at me like that and told me to stay away from him. He, he didn't tell. I don't think. Nobody ever said anything about he did, or like he did. Nobody ever came chasing me, yelling faggot at me anyway."

He laughed nervously, and I heard some of the others do so, too. Not me, I felt nothing like I had ever felt before. My entire body seemed to be constricting around my chest and throat.

"I was so worried you'd think that! I never . . . I only slipped! I felt like crap!"

Cool, I work again! And I didn't suffocate! And now I can blink and see! And wipe my face on the damned toga!

"Tom said he knew that. That was why he come over and asked me to come meet you. To prove you wasn't an asshole or anything."

Something clicked; several pieces had just been put together, and they suddenly fit into the overall image, revealing a bit more of it. I turned to Tom with a scowl. He reacted by slightly raising an eyebrow, then he raised it further as I slowly began speaking.

"That day. When I slipped and almost fell on Jeff. That day on the bus. You knew. You knew right then, didn't you?"

Tom didn't move a hair. His fine, dark eyebrow did slowly return to its accustomed place, but that was the only movement until he spoke. His dark eyes were emotionless.

"When we sat down, after that, when you tripped, and I saw your face, I fucking knew. I already kinda knew you was gay even. But when you looked like that, I knew you was, and you, I knew you liked the new guy."

"So, when we get on the bus for home after school, and it looked like he wasn't gonna make it, and I ask if you seen him... "

He shrugged.

"If he hadn't told me the wrong room, I'd'a never been late gettin' to the bus," Jeff explained.

"Wait? If he what?"

"Tom said the signup was in one-fourteen at four, but it was in one-sixty. Oh, and it closed at four. If I didn't go to the wrong room, then have to explain and beg to still sign up late, I wouldn't a been late to the bus."

Another piece fell into place.

"So, you told him the wrong room and time so that... " I hinted.

"So I'd see what you'd do when he came out," Tom answered curtly, finishing his beer.

"Oh my gawd he was so sneaky even freshman year!" Eric stated in amazement.

I wasn't surprised, and judging by Jon's reaction, a knowing grin and nod, he wasn't either.

"We are so gonna have a chat, Tom," I promised. "I love you, bud," I said next, laughing and nearly crying as well.

"He's gotta be watched, close," Brent said, making us all laugh, including Tom.

"He's tricky. I figured out why he rode the bus when you didn't the first time he did though. He's not very good lying at all," Jeff said, grinning despite his still very wet cheeks. "But I gotta finish or I'll chicken out, so lemme finish. Al, that day you told the kids to shut up when I tripped getting off? That was so cool. Even the seniors didn't start anything about it, sorta let you have it."

"Beer!" Tom said at Brent, who checked his watch, grimaced and got up, asking if anyone else wanted one. Several affirmative answers were shouted out. He plodded toward the refrigerator like a dying man up the side of a tall, desert dune.

"A couple weeks ago, when we stayed later after the Circle meeting at the twins'? Well, I know you think I was asleep, but I wasn't. Not all the way."

The twins grinned at each other in shocked surprise. I was able to not react, much.

"And I heard you guys talking and stuff, so then I just got all pissed I guess. Jealous, too. You were doing it with everybody it seemed like, but me. Then you tried and I couldn't, uh, well. I thought I could, but I kept thinking of stuff, and I, couldn't. So I left. I'm sor-"

He stopped the apology before finishing it, remembering that I had insisted he never apologize for it.

"When you stopped riding the bus, I thought Tom knew why when he rode his bike the next day. And after! When he got on, like, Thursday, I thought I was about to die! Then he sits down right in front of me, not looking mad, but more like he was embarrassed too. He didn't say anything, but I knew he knew then. And we started talking like nothing was different. And I just wanted to ask if you were okay and stuff. I so wanted to call you. But I didn't know what to say. Or how to start. And, it was too hard. So, after a couple days, I figured that was just how it was going to be."

Jeff sniffed and then wiped his nose with the toga over his forearm.

"I hated it. It's the longest two weeks ever!" I declared, moving my hand to his shoulder.

"So does this mean you're riding the bus Monday, finally? And I can save my little Tommies for future generations?"

General laughter rose and I nodded.

I exhaled loudly and said, "Yeah. I'm back on the bus, Tom. I told you earlier. And I feel so stupid about it."

"I'm glad. Tom'll leave me alone about it now," Jeff said with a sigh.

"Leave you alone about it?" I asked. "I thought you said you guys didn't talk about it? And especially on the bus, Tom said!"

"We had to plan the party. He called me all the time, and we always ended up saying, ya know, uh, this or that, sometimes, is all. Yeah. He told me how you wouldn't talk about it and was being stubborn, that I had to call you and clear the air, and all he knew was you really liked me a lot."

"He told me you didn't want to talk about it! I should call you ! And he kept saying he thought . . ." I spun to Tom.

"I just wanted you two to stop fighting so I could ride the warm bus!"

"He just wanted you guys to stop fighting. He did the right thing, arguing with you both!" Jon demanded, startling everyone. "He kept bugging me about it over and over! I'm fucking glad that's over, too!"

"You talked to Jon about it? Who else? Aunt Patty? And that reminds me-"

"Alex, let it go."

Jeff had spoken it, using a tone and the very words so familiar to me, but not from him.

"Drop it. Tom tried to help. He did the right thing. I think he's a great friend and you should just drop it."

I was surprised enough that I had nothing to rebut with.

"Jeff's right," Tim said.

More nods and agreements.

"Fine. Sorry, Tom. You just wanted to help. But you said you wouldn't talk to him about it."

"I didn't. Not about that. But I did talk to him about talking to you. And about you. He asked a lot a questions."

"Like what?" I asked, swinging to look back at Jeff.

I caught Jeff shaking his head at Tom.

After grimacing, showing his braces in doing so, he inhaled and said, "I was just asking about stuff."

"That was when you got Tom to tell you about Toby, wasn't it?" yet another puzzle piece falling into place.

Jeff nodded, saying, "I was curious. I thought you and... Tom were... "

"Great. That's gonna haunt me the rest of my life! Everyone's gonna remember the big boyfriend dilemma!"

Giggles and snickers all around.

"Now the rest of it, Jeff," Todd said, nodding at his brother.

Jeff sighed and flipped the bird at his little brother without looking up.

"Okays. Look'it, guys. I'm gay. Okay? I was going to say so at the party so you guys could not talk to me until I moved if you wanted to. So you could not deal with the fag. But when we was planning the party, it got where we was going to see if we could get Al to come out and shit."

I gasped loudly, only getting shrugs from the guys.

"So, I figured if you guys knew he was gay, and thought I knew, and it was all okay, and you guys liked him so much, I figured, if I told you guys, that I was too, that it wouldn't matter, and we'd still be friends, too. So, then my saying I'm gay too after we got Al to admit it, seemed better, but like I was only saying because he did. Like I was, I don't know, trying to fake it or, something. And then Todd starts up bothering me about telling you guys we might be able to stay here, that we might not have to move-"

"What?" echoed at him from every direction, but I felt that my own was the loudest; he did turn to face me at any rate, so I went on with, "You can stay here?"

He never looked up as he said, "I don't wanna get any hopes up. If it does, I don't know. But, I might, well, it's possible we might not move. If it matters, to anybody."

"Matters? If you can stay!?"

"Mom maybe don't want to move again. She was talking to dad on the phone couple days ago. We kinda listened in. She said she has friends here and we're happy here. Dad must have said he'd think about it or something, 'cause mom said thanks for at least thinking about it.

"So, uh, we might not move. Don't know. Didn't want to say anything unless we knew. It'd be like teasing, and I'd get all hopeful and shit, and then if we moved it'd suck even more."

"Jeff. You're such an knob!" Todd said angrily. "If we push her, like I said to, we won't be moving. This is the first place we stayed any real time, and we got friends and stuff. And mom too. And you know we can make her stay here!" Todd said, looking at his brother very angrily.

Jeff shrugged and rolled his eyes.

"Don't you want to stay?" was asked by several.

"Yeah. 'Course! But what if we don't? It'll just suck more! And we asked before and didn't do no good."

"Jeff, you gotta try! I don't want you to move! Nobody does! Do we?" I asked.

The sudden possibility of a gay Jeff, one who would be staying, was overwhelming. The feelings in my chest that the idea inspired I could only call my heart taking to flight. My question was answered immediately by everyone present. Jeff remained deep in the couch with crossed arms, seemingly pouting.

"What?" I asked, surprised at his reaction.

Jeff slowly shook his head from side to side.

"Done this before," he said, looking nearly angry. "Last time. We thought we could get her to stay. Tired of fucking moving."

"That was different. She didn't say it!" Todd argued with a red face.

"You really think she won't move again? From a crappy apartment?" Jeff asked of his brother.

"We can find a better one around if we look! You know that. Mom'd be looking for a house if we stayed. You know that too! There are better, cheaper apartments, too, for now!"

"Right now it don't matter, so fucking forget it!" Jeff yelled. "We got to the end of school and it's only the end of January. So forget it for now!"

"But it'll rock if you stay!" Eric offered.

"Yeah. And it's worth it to try, ain't it?" Ryan asked.

"At least try to stay!" Brent ordered.

"Come on, Jeff. Think about you and Alex if nothing else. You gotta try," Jon suggested.

All the boys were nodding, smiling, urging Jeff on.

Him and me? Us? They'd know, of course. Us! Me and Jeff!

My heart's wings now beat the thin air of the mountains' highest reaches.

"Look! I want to stay! I really do. Even more, now," he said, glancing at me, making my heart aim for orbit. "We've asked before and it didn't happen. What's so different this time?"

"Jeff! Come on! Like mom said, remember, she has friends here! And we stayed here a long time compared to before. And she likes her job. And the people she works with. And we have friends like never before. Lots of 'em. And she always says how we can go to Alex's or the guys anytime now. She ever said that before? We can stay here if we tell her, serious like, that we wanna stay here."

"If I do, and we don't stay, I'm gonna heap a world of hurt on you, Todd!"

Todd shrugged, obviously not worried about the possibility as he leaned forward, his eyes narrowing, "If you don't try, I'm gonna make you so miserable! I got friends and stuff here I want to stay for. It's not all about you, asshole."

Todd's almost always smiling face wore nothing like the mirth or good-natured plotting that was so familiar on it. Todd was as intently serious as I had ever seen him. I thought in that moment that he was going to be one incredibly adorable man, but his brother would always outshine him.

"When did you get to be such a hard-ass?" Jeff asked suspiciously.

"Right, fucking, now. I'm serious. You don't start working mom over about staying here, she's gonna find out so much shit. And it won't be me who tells her. I'll let something slip to Bax. You know she'll hear it next day. Maybe how you smoked grass? Or swear the Lord's name? Or like boys?"

"Oh you fucking wouldn't!" Jeff asked after tisking loudly.

Todd shrugged, sat back a bit, said, "Prob'ly not. But I've got plenty of ammo, don't I?

Jeff blushed, obviously shocked. He said nothing to the questions the boys threw at him as Todd smirked evilly, suddenly on the sideline.

"You are such a fuck-wad!" Jeff declared.

"What's a brother for? And I'm so serious."

More urgings came from everyone present. I patted my hand on Jeff's shoulder, squeezing it gently after. I mouthed a single word at him.

"It better work or I'll make your fucking life miserable!"

"Yes!" I said loudly enough to be heard over the other guys.

"Why don't you all start working her?" Tim asked. When mostly blank looks were turned his way, he elaborated with, "Bunch a rookies! When you call over there and their mom answers, just mention how, like, say something like I can't believe you guys are moving, and sound just a bit sad, not too much. And, ah shit, you're all too obvious!"

He looked at Jon questioningly. Jon nodded at him in return.

"We pulled something like this before. And it worked. I think we can do it again," Tim said. "Jon and I will call you guys sometimes, say what we think'll work. Just play along you two, okay?"

Jeff and Todd agreed, and Jon and Tim elaborated on their intents. It was decided that this was a Circle affair, and a plan was woven. Jon and Tim would call the next couple of days, asking for Jeff. Jeff and Todd wouldn't answer the phone when possible, but were told not to overdo it. Jon and Tim would drop lines to their mom each time. Jon would continue after Tim left, and had coached the others on a few things to call and say as well.

"What if it don't work?" Jeff asked again.

"Oh, my, gawd! What's the deal with that? Why you so afraid to try?" I asked, frustrated at his defiance.

"Because it means I can hope for it, and if it don't, it's so gonna suck!"

"But at least try! I mean, if you try and it don't matter, at least you tried. If you don't try, it won't matter for sure!"

"That sounds familiar," Tom said in a deadpan manner.

I turned and looked at him, knowing exactly what he meant.

"We were stupid. I was anyway. I should have listened to you, Tom. You were right about the bus. And about talking to him. You're right about a lot of stuff. I should'a listened to ya, huh?"

Tom sat up and met my gaze before he nodded, then said, "You should have for sure. It would have saved me a lot of cold fucking mornings."

"I know. And about other stuff, too. Tom said you were probably gay, Jeff. And again at the party on Tuesday. I thought he was screwy. Well, he is, but he was right, too. And a lot more stuff. I think Tom is, like, psychic or something sometimes."

"Sometimes?" Tom asked, bouncing his eyebrows as the guys agreed with my opinion.

"So what other fucking secrets are you guys hiding from me? Seems it's pretty fucking easy to do!"

Laughter answered, but nothing else.

"I need that beer now," I said, reaching for it and taking a long drink.

"I got one," Ryan said, blushing. "I wanted to say so a long time now."

"You seriously gonna?" Brent asked, looking totally surprised.

"Yeah. Why not tell 'em I like guys, too?"

A round of gasps greeted the statement.

"Too!" he emphasiezed. "As in like, both. At least, uh, I don't see why you gotta choose only to like girls or like guys,  ya know what I mean?"

He shrugged and shook his head.

"Three of us?" Jon asked, obviously surprised.

"Two and a half, technically," I said to laughter.

"You're serious?" Jeff asked, his mouth open even after speaking, his disbelieving smirk being used so often a thrill for me.

I noticed again that Ryan was sitting with Eric, and that they were in close contact quite often.

"So. I guess Eric's gonna be over at the twins' a lot now, and Brent's not even gonna know it," I hinted.

Jon and Tom laughed immediately, obviously thinking the same thing. The others didn't catch on at first. Both Eric and Ryan were blushing very darkly, and subtly moving away from each other.

"Oh, shit! No way!" Todd asked, shocked.

"I'm not!" Eric protested.

"Neither am I" Tom said slowly.

We all knew exactly what he meant: Neither am I, but me and Alex did, he's the gay one, not me.

"Oh, shit!" Todd repeated.

I noticed that Brent had just had an idea, or figured something out, and was about to say something but caught himself and retreated, holding it silently. I was sorely tempted to point it out, and hopefully hear some juicy details, but I suddenly didn't want to expose Eric and Ryan any more than they wanted it exposed. I then began feeling guilty for having done as much as I already had to point them out. I felt a wave of commiseration for them.

"Guys! Guys. Don't. It's like... " I hesitated, looking at Tom. I knew the guys would know what I meant without further words as well. "Like Jeff said in the van. It's nobody's business but the ones who's business it is."

"Agreed," echoed back, most loudly from Tom, Eric, and Ryan.

"Alex is a fag magnet," Tom then declared flatly.

I shot my head around to look at him, smiling at the old joke that once was such a sore point.

"You are and you know it. And there's a couple more, too. I'll tell ya some time."

I narrowed my already squinted eyes. He'd again been proven nearly one-hundred percent right after Jeff's admission earlier.

"This is a night for the books," Jon said, taking a deep drink.

"Don't even tell me you are, too!" Todd said disbelievingly.

Jon did a double-take, laughed, replied, "No! I just meant, Christ. No, I'm not!"

"Whew! I got worried there for a sec!" I said, sitting back on the couch.

"Why? Why would it worry you if I was?" Jon asked.

"That would be too much! I mean, four of us?"

"Why would that be such a shock?" Tom asked, swirling his beer as he watched it. "I'm not kidding about you being a fag magnet. You know it. Look! Jeff, and you were so attracted to him right off! Toby. Ryan, too!"

"But still," I continued to argue, "That's just three! Not that big a deal. Three out of...  seven?"

"Almost half," Tom pointed out with a snicker.

 "Just a bit over the odds," I insisted. "One in ten-"

"-guys are either gay or bi," I was echoed by everyone in unison before we all laughed together.

Saturday Morning: Partings