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The Circle

Chapter 4

Tuesday Afternoon: An Early Birthday Surprise or Two

It had been like real lovers, again, and it had been wonderful for us both. Our first summer together, Toby had guided me, directed me. A year later, we guided and directed each other as equals, asking only what we wanted of each other, and knowing all the other was capable of; and doing so without words. It wasn't the first time that we had made love so intently, so consciously. It was the first time we had ever paid so much attention to the emotions and feelings, sharing those with each other in both vocal and non-vocal ways as well. In more than one way, Toby and I had gotten as close as two people could be capable of. We spent hours not so much trying to finish, but simply enjoying the time it took to do so; and enjoying each other as well.

Recalling those times and those things as I rode home behind Tom, I knew that I needed such closeness again. I knew that Tom would not be a source of that kind of contact. Nor Jeff, no matter how much I wished it. I wasn't interested in any of the other Circle members in such a way. There was no one at school that was as attractive as Jeff. Certainly no one who made me think of anything more than having sex with them.

I was trying once again to figure out if anyone else really inspired that kind of thing in me. I knew Tom inspired a lot of things in me, but nothing of the same intensity or deepness that Toby had done. Tom made me feel as accepted and loved as I thought possible.

Jeff is attractive and such the problem I was scared he'd be! I know what he means to me is more like it'd been with Toby. Jeff makes my heart thump harder, my thoughts scramble. There's more with Jeff than Tom, but Jeff is a more distant possibility. An impossibility, proved two weeks ago. Jeff is so attractive and interesting, and impossible. The unreachable goal. Is that what I like about him? Am I attracted to guys I can't have? Like Toby? But I didn't ever know that I couldn't have Toby. Sure I did! He could only be for a summer at most. Even then not reliably. The hopes and dreams of the days when we had our own cars and could come and go as we pleased are dust.

I'm not interested in just sex with Jeff, I realized. I want what I had with Toby with Jeff. More than what even Tom is willing to give. It's all too complicated! There's I'm not interested in just sex with Jeff, I realized. I want what I had with Toby with Jeff. More than what even Tom is willing to give. It's all too complicated! There's too many puzzle pieces to go, even though there's a lot of 'em in place. Tom always proves he has some hidden pieces. He shows me a few of other people, too. But Jeff threw even Tom for a trick. How could Tom even think Jeff is gay? Or, wouldn't mind if I, shit, like, what? Another mystery.

Like Tom himself. He likes to fuck me sometimes, and he loves head from me, and we jack each other all the time, but he likes chicks. He'll let me finger him back there, but won't let me top him. And he rarely sucks me.

Jeff hardly paid any attention to the chicks, but he was so religious, there was no way that means he's gay. All we'd done was jack each other off a very few times. Not to even mention he runs away every time after we do anything. Complicated!

One thing that wasn't a mystery though, was what I found myself looking at as I rode toward home behind Tom.

Tom's ass! I know we aren't a match, and aren't lovers, but what we got, I like. Too bad we didn't start earlier, though. But you were so shy about anything sexy, why? I still don't understand that. If you had just been the same as the rest of us, we would have been at this for longer! And how long will we keep at it? I know you want to stop, and it isn't the same thing for both of us. For me it' s great, for you it leaves that desire for chicks just as strong, maybe even stronger. Every time we do it, you talk about chicks way too much after. And you mean it all. And thinking about being gay makes you uncomfortable. And you won't let me in your back door except with a finger.

Even though I know Helen isn't the right kind of girl for you, I want you two to hook up. Get some from her and move on, don't get all caught up in her. She's gonna be a bitch and you should be able to see that. And now that you aren't the fat kid anymore, you can get Helen to go out with you. Maybe.

Most of his life, Tom had been heavy, almost just plain fat. He never rode his bike much, except to close destinations. After he turned fourteen, though, Tom started riding his bike with me around town more. He even started using his older brother's weight sets. It wasn't long before the chubby one of the group had slimmed down. He started his puberty growth just before that summer, growing hair and filling out all over. He never did grow much in height, ending up about five foot and four inches after his sixteenth birthday. His former, flabby one-hundred and twenty pounds became his much slimmer one-hundred and thirty pounds on his taller frame, and it wasn't soft. He was slim but not muscular, and on the short side. His straight black hair was always in that perpetual Moe Howard bowl-cut; that never changed. His hair was too fine and straight to do anything else with, anyway; I loved that. Tom had gone from my slightly chubby best friend, to a cute, attractive one. The summer that Tom changed so much, Eric and Jeff had become members of The Circle, but Tom and I were, as always, still the best of the friends.

Two years, that was so long ago, I thought, as we rounded the last corner and headed down our street. It was lined with tall, old trees and broken only by a few driveways spaced very far apart. The roofs of a few homes were visible behind their isolating walls of greenery, but most were completely invisible, the driveway disappearing around a curve or guesthouse. Every one had a gateway of some sort, ranging from two short pillars without any gates or fences, to a pair of stone pillars with a single sliding gate, to large, ornate stone or brick archways with a pair of swinging gates complete with an intercom/security panel and camera.

Built before the first world war, between a stretch of old highway and the last of the forest preserves, these homes had multiple acres of lawn and trees, and neighbors who's homes were out of view. A very few of the homes had been destroyed one way or another in the nearly one hundred years since they were built, and most of those lots turned into two, three, four, or even more separate lots, forming small groups of middle-class homes among the offended older estates.

These newly re-developed areas were where my friends and I lived: Where the lessers lived.

These new patches offered a house on side streets lined with old oaks and elms, with driveways to private garages; luxuries in the dense sprawl of Chicago's near-west side. These homes were still expensive, but affordable for those with good enough incomes. The only problem was for the kids; none of the neighboring kids were welcoming to the less rich ones - the lessers.

Of the families in these houses, only a few had kids, fewer had kids in the high school. Only two of them would even talk to those in my circle of averageness. Both of them became a part of The Circle and were even more unwelcomed among the rich kids for doing so. Brent and Ryan never seemed to regret it, though.

My mind wandered back to the wonder of my birthday as we negotiated the slick, freshly snow-covered sidewalks toward our houses. I considered the fact that someday soon I could be driving down that street, Tom in the passenger seat, music blaring, in warm comfort.

Sixteen! I'm going to go get my license next week! I might not be able to get a car, yet, or for a long time, but that's okay. I never expected a car in the city, anyway. Here, the house has a garage, and I could get a car, but it'd be hard for my parents to swing.

I was a realist, even then, after all.

But what a great day! Sixteen! And I got a lot to be glad for: Tom, my circle of friends, my parents, a great house. I lost Jeff, and that could have been great just having him as a friend, but I blew it. And I'd been lucky enough to have Toby's love, even as brief as it had been. No girlfriend, but I didn't want one anyway.

Of course, I had to play like I did in front of everyone. Tom was in on the secret, and being around him meant there was one person I didn't have to worry about saying the wrong thing in front of. Over the last two years I would indicate a good-looking guy and wink at Tom, who knew what I meant. It was another level of secrecy between us, another tie together. Tom still watched the chicks, and still pointed them out, even when it was just the two of us. I knew what a good-looking girl was, and could admire the beauty as well, it was just that I really didn't care. I just wasn't interested in thinking thoughts about them. Best of all, Tom was fine with it. Not only fine, but from time to time, Tom would point out some good looking guy and wink at me in conspiracy. Often, Tom got my taste right. Mostly, I just preferred Tom.

By the time we turned into my driveway, there was more than six inches of fresh snow on the ground since morning, and the sky looked like dropping more. As I turned up the driveway, I clipped something in the snow with my front tire, flipping it up and out. At first it was just a mostly square lump of black, but as I looked closer, I could tell it was a wallet. A bi-fold, just like Tom's. I stopped and picked it up, and looking inside quickly after shaking the snow from it, I saw that it was Tom's.

How interesting, I thought. He didn't just drop it, either. It's frozen stiff. It was covered by snow, too, and I wasn't in Tom's tracks when I hit it, either. And only two bucks. He spent seventeen and something in change on something since yesterday. This should provide some fun later, I snickered to myself, tucking the wallet into my coat pocket.

Tom was kicking the stand down on his bike at the side door as I rolled to a stop next to him. That was when I noticed something else strange; there were tire tracks in the snow in the driveway, barely being covered by the new snow; but the ruts were obvious.

Dad must have been home, or mom, I figured. But there's something strange about the tracks, something I'm not getting.

As I stopped my bike next to Tom and leaned it in its accustomed place, I saw that the snow was well-trampled by many tracks going and coming from the side door, and obviously to a vehicle that was no longer there. A vehicle that had sat there long enough to leak oil and coolant, and a couple drips of something else further away, close to the rear. All that beside melt a patch as big as my head and turn it black and brown. And it went into the garage. Can't tell if it came out. With wide tires, I suddenly realized. Too wide for dad's car or his carpool friends, and not the usual car mom got her carpool in. They were wide, like truck tires, and far apart, but looked like car tires.

Something is fishy around here, I thought. But what, and did it have to do with the party? What if a surprise party was waiting inside? It would fit the curious actions of everyone, some of the odd behaviors lately, and explain the tire tracks and the footprints, maybe. But Tom's wallet? Did he drop it meeting me to ride to school this morning? No, he didn't come up the drive, he met me at the sidewalk, like usual. Hmmm.

Tom could tell I was suspicious. He grinned, put both hands up in front of himself, and then said, "Sherlock."

"I know something is fishy, dude," as I fondled his wallet in my pocket. "There're tracks in the driveway, footprints to the door," I almost mentioned his wallet by the driveway, but instead finished with, "and you kept me at the bookstore until your watch told you it was time."

"So?" he replied, all innocence and unconcern; save for his blush, which could not just be from the cold ride home.

"Surprise party, inside, right now?" I asked, nodding toward the house over his shoulder.

"It would be a surprise to me," Tom offered with an exaggerated shrug and a bored expression locked onto his face.

After opening the screen door, I reached out and tried the door. Locked. I had my key ready anyway and unlocked the door, swinging it open without stepping in. I paused, listening, before taking a single step inside. I paused again, now blocking the doorway, until Tom stepped up and shoved me on both shoulders from behind, forcing me to stumble inside.

"Get over yourself," Tom said very loudly, smiling. "Ain't nobody here, man!"

After a tentative inspection of the living room, dining room. and kitchen, I shrugged, grabbed two bottles of ginger ale from the fridge, and said, looking at the clock, "We got a few minutes, what'd'ya wanna do?"

"We ain't got time for nothing really fun," Tom smiled, bouncing one eyebrow. "How about some Atari and your new book until they get here?" he asked as he opened the bottles with his opener on his key chain.

It was agreed, and upstairs I flipped on the stereo. It was still on the country station from last night, which was now playing the old Marty Robbin's classic, "A White Sport Coat and Pink Carnation." I liked the song, but Tom was only dutifully putting up with my country music as he rolled his eyes and said, "Fine." to my grin at him.

I spent a few minutes flipping through the new DM's Guide on the foot of my bed in front of the television. Tom played Pole Position on Atari, the present he was going to give me again in front of my parents later, and as usual we sat next to each other, touching from shoulders to knees. I was examining the new book in close detail, when not glancing down at Tom's lap.

It wasn't long before we heard dad call out, "Well, feeling any older?"

"NO!" I yelled back.

"Come on down here, guys!"

His timing was perfect. "Billie Jean" had just come on the radio, and the two of us looked at each other, groaning.

"Can you believe that crap is number one?" Tom complained as he stopped the game and put it back in its box for me to open in surprise later. "Got any ideas or anything yet for the next game?"

I closed the new Dungeon Master's Guide and placed it carefully on the center of my desk, then gladly shut off the radio.

"Yup! You have no idea! There are these great new treasure and random encounter tables! You guys are gonna freak how fast random encounters could go now!"

"Cool! And are you going to ride the bus again or what?"

"Oh man! Are you gonna bug me about that now? I'll ride it when I ride it, if I ride it again, okay?"

"Yeah, yeah, blah, blah. I still don't see why you don't ride, really. People can't read your mind, you know."

"Look who's talking! Mister, I-know-Jeff's-gay! If he was, he wouldn't'a. . . "

I stopped, not caring to rehash the events again.

"Two weeks, man. Two weeks freezing your ass off. And my little Tommies. When we could be on the nice, warm, bus!"

"Yeah, but I get to sleep almost a hour later, don't I," I threw at him with a sneer.

"That does rock!" he admitted with a laugh, bumping my shoulder and side with his own as we headed downstairs.

In the kitchen, dad was putting things into the refrigerator.

"You guys got any homework?"


"Good. While I get things ready in here, why don't you get the plates out and set the big table for everyone?"

We had the table set before mom arrived home with a few more supplies.

"So, how was school today?" she asked as we put plastic forks next to the blue plastic plates on the table.

At least the plates weren't cartoons or goofy birthday ones, I thanked mom silently.

"Nothing special," I answered.

"Wasn't today the day those books came out you've been hinting at for months?" she asked.

"Yeah, sure was. And I wasn't hinting, much, just saying. Uh, you didn't get me any, did you?"

"Why would I tell you?" She smiled back.

Dad snickered from the kitchen.

"Well, I, sorta got one today," I told her. "I should be able to get all the ones I want by summer, easy. So, you didn't get any of 'em?"

"Quit reaching for crumbs," she admonished with a smile.

Tom cracked-up, and said, "Hey, not that you weren't obvious, or anything," by way of apology.

"Dad! Mom and Tom are taking sides against me in here!"

"And what side am I on, son?" he asked, entering with a huge, rectangular cake.

The color of the icing revealed that it was my favorite; cream cheese. He placed it proudly in the center of the large table. That was when I saw that it was decorated with a mounted knight facing off against a red dragon.

"It's amazing!" I gawked.

I had seen that kind of thing before, in expensive bakery windows, airbrushed with sugar-based edible paints onto thin, edible rice paper. Sure, it was neat, but until someone had gone through the effort and expense to have it done for me, I hadn't realized how cool it was.

"Like it?" both parents asked.

"Wow! That is too cool to cut up!" Tom said before I could think of what to say.

"Yeah, I agree! Awesome! The guys are gonna freak when they see it!"

"Glad you like it. And after paying for it, I hate to see it cut!" dad said with mock sadness.

A sudden flare of light, a click, and a sharp, high-pitched whine told everyone that mom had the Polaroid out.

"I got that face on film!" she laughed, taking another as I began to protest.

"MOM! I'm not ready! I look like a slob from the ride home!" I shouted, obviously to no avail as she took another shot.

We shared a few laughs there in the dining room, about me trying the trumpet last year at school, about Tom's accident with the lawn mower last fall, and other meaningless chatter. It was a nice time, a small party while waiting for the guys to show up for the big party, when it all went south.

"Before the rest of the gang gets here, we wanted to talk to just the two of you," dad said in a serious tone, smashing the mood of the moment.

We were at the long living room table, Tom and I along one side, dad at the end. and mom put down her camera and came to stand behind me, her hands pushing me gently down into the chair.

Yeah. So that got my guts tumbling.

Tom and I knew something dead serious was being breeched. Our smiles flattened.

"Well, you're mom and I are not stupid, and we've raised you from birth, so we like to think we know you pretty well, son. We, well, we think we know about, the two of you, and, we wanted you to know, we don't think, well, it matters."

Both of us were shocked, but afraid to show it, trying to play it off. Furious blushes, energetic fidgeting, and averted eyes told the adults about all they needed to know, and I knew that even then. When I looked at Tom, he was staring at me open mouthed and turning pale. I worried that my stomach might try to throw up my lunch, or what was left of it. My armpits felt like hot coals were tucked into them, and I felt the sweat running there as well as down my forehead suddenly.

"Son, we thought at first, it was just exploring, but, the exploring stage was over a while back, don't you think?" After a long pause wrapped in total silence, he went on, "You're mom and I are alright if, if you decide, that girls aren't the right thing for you."

"DAD!" I yelled. "This is embarrassing! And why today?!?"

I was tearing up. 

There had been a few times that we had been nearly caught, or that caused me to worry that they might figure it out, but the idea, the hope, that they didn't have a clue had always been utmost. I wanted to tell them, or let them know, but the fear of their unknown reaction was far stronger than my ability to be open with them.

The few times I had seriously considered talking to them about it, not even admitting it, just talking about it, had knotted up my guts so tightly that it became hard to even breathe. My mind would whirl in dizzy circles, my thoughts scrambling, my emotions seemingly being spun in a blender.

Images of having to find somewhere else to live when my folks kicked me out of the house whirled in my mind's eye. Horror and fear were all I could feel when even thinking of that topic and my parents.

Mom squeezed my shoulders comfortingly and said, "Son, don't be mad, or scared, or you Tom! It's not like we aren't sure of this."

Dad leaned across the corner of the table to put his hand on my shoulder. I was in tears. My shoulders shook and I let out deep, wet sobs that I had no control or influence over whatsoever, and had no idea were coming. The tears seemed to instantly find their way into my nose, and it started running. I wiped at my eyes and nose, brushing away the wetness with one hand as I put my glasses on the table with the other, then used them both to cover my face. I almost collapsed onto the table in shock and sudden, unexpected fear and horror.

I had had no idea that they had even known, or suspected, and never could have expected that they would bring it up, especially not right then, and yet further, not with Tom sitting right next to me! I was horrified. Mortified. Absolutely terrified. Humiliated. Ruined.

"Alex, we love you, and we don't care," mom said, hugging me from behind. "We were surprised at first, but we have some gay friends at work, or from school, we've always been rather liberal on the topic, anyway," she said, wrapping her arms tightly around me.

"But. . . I. . . didn't. . . want. . . to be. . . gay!" I stammered out between racking sobs.

I didn't even know what I had meant, but I knew I meant it.

"That doesn't matter, though, does it? And it wouldn't, either. You are, and so what? If you prefer guys to gals, we can deal with not having grandkids. Just don't be surprised if we have another kid on the odd chance the second one might turn out straight and give us some," dad said, almost totally seriously, but trying to make me laugh.

It was the tone that he used, more than the words, though they, too, may have worked without the obvious inflections that broke the dam. My sobs turned into short hiccups, more of relief than sadness.

They know, and they accept it! And they love me anyway! And they don't care! Won't care!

My emotions soared back to dizzying heights from that period in the deep valley of fright and near despair. My smile swelled and I stood up to hug my mother. Dad joined us. Tom wiped his eyes behind his glasses, and his movement caught everyone's attention. Mom gestured to him to join our hug.

"Nah, you keep your mushy stuff over there," he said, laughing through his wet eyes. "But," he started to add, apparently not knowing exactly what to say, "I ain't, well, we aren't, like, that way," he stammered. "We, okay, we mess around. That's it! We aren't, like boyfriend and boyfriend. I just, I wanted, you know, to say that."

"We aren't," I verified through sniffles. "I am. I'm gay."

Saying that suddenly, not even knowing I was going to say it, sent my stomach to my feet for a moment. But it felt good to say it, too. So damned good!

"But Tom just plays around. I told him, and he told me how he feels about it. We won't be getting married anytime soon!"

"Period, I think," Tom added, laughing some more.

"Yeah, Tom likes the chicks," I said, teasingly, like a grade-schooler in the playground. "I like him, more, like that way, but he's told me he's not, gay, or stuff."

"You really, like me, that much, that way?" Tom asked, now loosing his pallor and blushing brightly.

"Yeah. I told you I like you, a lot, and, well, I should've said, I have more feelings for you. I do love you, Tom." I shook then, more than before, and differently. "I don't know if it's real love, or what, but I, do, care for you, a lot more than almost anyone else," I managed to confess in front of him and my parents.

"Man, we gotta get you a boyfriend, or something, and soon!" Tom said, smiling and laughing.

"Okay. Sorry, Tom, we didn't mean to assume anything. It was just so obvious what you two were up to, for so long now, we just figured . . . sorry," dad finished.

"'Sokay, it must have looked like it," Tom said.

"How did we tip you off?" I asked.

"Don't ask! Let's just say, you can't hide everything, even if you are smart-asses!" dad answered, brushing a hand under his eyes.

"It's not like we arrived full grown in the world. We had to grow up, and were kids, too, you know. And we weren't all fields of clover and wide-eyed innocents either," mom said, sharing a smile with dad while wiping her own damp eyes.

"You want to know the strangest thing about this?" dad offered.

 "I guess so . . . " I nodded, not sure if I really did or not.

"Well, last night, you're mom and I were talking, about what we would say today, and working up the words and how to go about it. We wanted to do it and get it over before any of your friends came over. Tom had already volunteered to be here today to help set up, so we knew he would be here, as if we would doubt that anyway. But, we realized, well, I know this will embarrass you both more, but, well, we realized that we don't have any problem, knowing, knowing that the two of you are, being close, in the house-"

"DAD!" I blurted out, cutting him off before he said anything more embarrassing.

"Oh, my, gawd, and I thought being this embarrassed would kill a guy," Tom mumbled, slapping his forehead into his upraised palms as his elbows rested on the table.

Mom squeezed me one more time, then pushed me back to brush my hair out of my face. She kissed my forehead before walking around the table to stand next to dad.

"It isn't any easier for us!" dad said. "I haven't had to do something this hard for years! And I haven't been this nervous since high school. But we wanted to say this, and before your friends came by. We were worried it might ruin the night, but that was a very small worry, we know you guys, and that risk was small enough we ignored it. And I'm glad we did. Now, though, we need to put those party faces back on, your buddies will be here in less than an hour, you know!"

"Yeah, and now I have to wash my face, or try to come up with a reason for the red eyes," I added, my glasses in one hand.

"Just tell your buds that you smoked one before we got home," dad offered as he stood and walked into the kitchen with mom.

"Yeah, that would work, and . . . What?" I suddenly asked, freezing in mid motion of replacing my glasses on my face.

"You heard your father, we know about your grass, too. At first we were going to put our foot down, but we figured we'd let you experiment a bit. When you kept smoking it just on weekends, and hardly even touched it schooldays, we started worrying less. After a while, we figured you had it under your control, and we stopped worrying about it. Your grades stayed good and we never got any calls from school, and you were fine at home. Just keep it that way! Understand me? Oh, and your dad will replace what he borrowed some time. We couldn't resist one night when you were out," she said as she passed on her way into the kitchen.

Tom and I sat in silence; shocked, stunned, surprised silence for about ten seconds before we started talking over each other in a rush.

"Man, my parents would have killed me, or sent me to military school, for doing either!" Tom exclaimed as I babbled, "Jeepin' freakin' Christmas! They know everything! And, oh, my gawd, they smoked some of my grass!"

"Oh, man, you gonna to tell anybody tonight?" Tom asked excitedly.

"What? Dude! What? Which? That my parents know I'm. . ." Tom actually coaxed me to say it, making pulling gestures with both hands, grinning and nodding. ". . . gay? Or that my parents smoked some of my grass? Or that my folks know we mess around? Or just tell them we're secretly gay with each other? Which one you think they'll believe more?" I asked, a mischievous grin spreading across my face.

"Man, don't even! I meant about your parents and your pot!" Tom said with an awed face.

"No way. Not even. Just forget it. They never said that, any of it, clear?" I ordered, holding my hand out for the official swear pledge.

"And that brings us to something I wanted to tell you. The old guy, at the bookstore, when he offered me that job for the Dungeons and Dragons books, mentioned, we, well, we stand close, smile and look like we're . . ." I sighed and said before Tom gestured again, ". . . gay together, sometimes."

"Yeah, look, about that, man, that's a reason I wanna stop, ya know, doing it. I don't want to get that reputation, you know? I mean, I'm going to have be fighting assholes who pick on your ass as it is," Tom said, sniffling a bit.

"Don't worry, I ain't gonna tell anyone about me. Or, you. I don't want the problems. But if mom and dad and you and the old guy can tell, who else?" I asked, the smile gone and feeling worried. "The guys?"

I was suddenly mortified again.

"Oh, shit, Tom! You don't think the guys . . ."

His face changed to a worried, oh shit, kind of expression before he smiled and shook his head.

"Naw, man, don't bug it. If they figured it out already, they don't care. If they figure it out later, they won't care. I didn't, did I?"

"You didn't. But . . ."

I didn't want to say his name, and I hoped Tom wouldn't make me say it. But Tom knew me so well.

"Jeff'll be here. He ain't said so, but he will. I bet. If not, shit, man, if not, tell ya what. You both say don't talk about it, but fuck it. I'll make you both talk to me. And you both know I will. So it'll get over sooner or later. But, man, don't fuckin' bug it! If he don't show up tonight, ya know what? If he don't, I'll be your bitch."

He nodded, once, firmly. With a very serious face. The clincher was his hand waiting for the swear pledge. I was more than shocked, I was stunned. I'd asked Tom for that more than a few times, but he had made it clear that he wasn't interested in it that way, that he didn't like it, and he really didn't want to. After a moment, I was actually repelled by the thought.

He'd let me fuck him for a bet? Not because I'd love to, but a stupid bet over Jeff coming or not tonight?

That piece clicked into place, and I saw the image clearly; Tom knew that Jeff was coming. One way another, and in a way he couldn't tell me about, he knew it. He was certain in his safety in the bet. He knew he'd win, and he knew he'd not have to make good on it.

"And if he does show?" I inquired, moving only lips while narrowing my eyes.

He glanced around a bit as he thought, his eyes absently roaming the room. When his eyebrow bounced and his eyes returned to me, he had his proposition.

"You so sure he won't show?" he asked first.

Without opening my eyes or moving a muscle not used to speak, I said, "Not so sure now, but, yeah. I'll take your bet, if your prop is cool."

"I propose, that if Jeff doesn't show, I'm your bitch. Once. If Jeff shows, you tell him how you really feel. About him."

Holy fucking shit! Duh . . .

I know that the sound, "Duh," rarely occurs in speech, and even more rarely in thought, but it does. I've done it. I did it then. For long moments, that sound actually hung between my mind and absolute nothing.


"Wha?" I returned, wondering if I should slap him or ask him if he was serious. "Are y-y-you serious?"

"Woah. A stutter. That bad, huh?"

His serious expression told me that he had just learned so.

"If, Jeff shows up, I'll . . . sometime, kinda soon, tell hm. Okay?"

I was looking only at the tabletop. I could see his reflection on the polished surface, but only the colors. I could tell he wasn't moving. I glanced up and saw that he was waiting for a swear. I sighed, and shaking a bit, I swore.

"Okay. Yeah. Uh . . .Anyway, okay, look, we start working on acting all butch and shit in front of people, okay?"

"Okay," Tom said, seeming a bit worried. "Not like I have to act."

"What? Yeah, don't like, pour it on, though okay? In fact, don't actually do anything, ya know? Just, we don't stand close, we don't joke at each other about it, and we don't think about it. Don't let on about it at all, okay?"

"Yeah, we just watch how close we stand and we don't do no inside jokes in public. I won't have a problem. You, I bet, screw up right away!" Tom teased.

Laughing, I replied, "Maybe, maybe not, but remind me if I do, okay? I'll remind you if I see anything, okay?"

"Cool. I still can't believe your parents just pulled that!"

"That was, uh, sure, surprising," I admitted. "I had no idea they even had a clue! What do you think tipped 'em off?"

I sighed so deeply that I shook, the breath vibrating out of me. I felt so strangely. I was scared, but not really. I felt worried, but I didn't know of what. But mostly I felt relieved!

"Oh, I don't know, cum and Vaseline on your sheets when I slept over, cum on the carpet when I sleep over, cum on the -"

"Okay, okay!" I interjected. "I get it. And I don't doubt we got a little loud from time to time, too."

"Yeah, we did for sure. We just hoped and prayed they never heard, and I bet they did!"

"And they almost caught us a dozen times, at least!" I said excitedly. "It's like no wonder!"

"No shit!" Tom sighed. "Don't forget the night we fell asleep naked watching M.A.S.H. and woke up with the tee-vee off and the door closed!"

"Fuck! Don't remind me! It's, no fucking wonder, I guess."

"Look, I got to get changed and stuff. Be back in a few, 'kay?"

I watched him head out the kitchen door, then I went upstairs to get ready and think for a few minutes before they all started arriving.

Jeff might be coming! No way. Not after I tried to rape him almost! Fuck. He's not coming. I ain't seen him in two weeks. He ain't been to the Circle meetings. He ain't called me. Nothing. I pushed too much and he can't stand me now. He knows I'm a fag and he don't want anything to do with me anymore. Tom's wrong about him, again. He's not interested, and he's not coming to see the raging homo.

The longer he stays gone the guys are gonna start asking questions. Tom got in contact with Jeff in school before, plenty of times. So far Jeff explained it to them as no ride and other things he had to do on Friday nights. Tom claims that he hadn't asked, since I asked him not to. The twins missed the meeting last week, but they know by know Jeff had too. They're all gonna start wondering why. And talking to each other. And figuring things out. Shit!

What the hell am I gonna to do? Why is it so complicated? Why can't I just tell 'em I'm gay? Do I really think they'll hate me? Them? The Circle guys? Come on! But, what if they do? Even just one. What if they just thought it was all normal stuff between normal guys, like I kept saying all the time, then when they find out I was gay the whole time, they freak out about it? Shit!

Not even to mention that if I can't have Tom or Jeff, and I don't really want any of the other Circle guys like that, then what do I fucking do?

Toby's Leaving