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A two-part sequel to The Circle in 33 chapters and 300,000 words.
Boot One, Squaring The Circle - and- Book Two, A Circular Musical Interlude
Alex, Tom, Jeff, and the whole Circle gang return as Alex lives, loves, looses, and learns.
Book One - Squaring The Circle: Paradise Theater
Alex recuperates and returns to school: A school that now knows that he is gay, and that he had "almost" died in a fire. His very best friend is acting strangely, and keeping secrets from him for the first time. His other best friend is now his lover, but it doesn't fit either of them well. His circle of friends is rapidly shrinking, and even his favorite teacher now treats him differently.
Everything was different.
Occasional, bizarre dreams about his first love confuse and puzzle him, but they're pleasant and desirable compared to the nightmares that plague him nightly.
Stress at school from now being known as gay, stress from sleepless night after sleepless night, stress and pain caused by the loss of the Circle and his closest friends, stress from the difficult, complicated situation between himself and Jeff, stress from the impending mid-terms that he is far from ready for, stress as former friends turn against and mock him, still recovering from nearly joining Toby in the afterlife, and pain and loss as his best friend grows distant, all pile onto him. How much could he possibly withstand?
Book Two - A Circular Musical Interlude: Kilroy Was Here
Nothing is easy or clear, and when things continue to pile onto Alex's shoulders, it seems as if the universe itself hates him.
Stressed by more things than he can keep in his mind at any one time, Alex tries to bear it and live.
His best friend is becoming a stranger, his other best friend and now boyfriend can't handle the situation, his other friends from the Circle now run away from him at school, surprising acquaintances now vie for his time and lead him into a strange, new circle of friends and back into a hobby he had given up: a hobby that raises a ghost from the past only recently laid to rest.
The nightmares continue, and even worsen. The week of mid-terms arrives and Alex finds himself barely keeping up with current lessons, let alone ready for the exams. More distractions take up what little free time he has, and others, like Kevin and the gang, and David, expect him to do something Alex was sure he could never do.
Stressed beyond anything he had ever considered possible, torn apart from the familiar support of his former friends and the Circle, moving in a strange circle of new friends, he is stunned to come face to face with an even older ghost than Toby - one that brings back dark memories he had intentionally forgotten.
Torn between fighting to hold onto what he has, or dropping it all and reaching out for something new, Alex is stuck in the lonely, confusing, empty middle.
How much more can he handle? Not one mote more, he's sure.
But the universe isn't done with him yet.
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I was grinning, standing over the old, blue footlocker next to the head of my bed. I had kept it locked and its contents secret for years. When one of the guys would be over, or during a meeting of The Circle at my house, if one of them innocently sat on it, I would cringe inside. I wasn't worried that they would damage it - it was made of wood with brass edges and corners - but it was their proximity to things I considered such secrets that made me uncomfortable. But now, most of those secrets had been shared with my closest friends, and I no longer wanted to keep any secrets from them.
They'd told me during my sixteenth birthday party that they all knew. That had been, I'd thought, my biggest secret.
Jeff had told us all that he was, as well, and that he liked me. He was terrified that his Catholic mother would find out, and knowing that he couldn't hide us from her, he had prevented there being any us. I had come to accept myself as gay, to some extent - and to have a few encounters with friends over the past two years, including what I had considered a real relationship with Toby - but Jeff was completely new to the entirely messy situation of being gay.
It had been difficult, and taken quite some time, but I had managed to convince Jeff that he had to at least tell his mother about himself. Then I had gotten her to accept him. Then we had told her about us, and had gotten her to accept that, as well. All of this was with the help of Toby, in one way or another, even though he had died months previously.
Then Jeff and I had had that weekend together before I made myself completely public during the Charlie Derek episode. I hadn't known it at the time, but, by outing myself as gay, I had put a massive new roadblock into Jeff's path toward being comfortable with our relationship and himself.
Then I had died in the van fire, and had been resuscitated by Tom. Then those horrible days of recuperation in the hospital, filled with nightmares of agony, suffocation, fear. and fire.
I'd finally gotten home from the hospital two days ago, just in time for the Friday night Circle meeting, and because Toby's parents were coming for the weekend.
It had been a momentous Circle meeting, indeed.
Then yesterday, the six of us had spent the entire day doing some of the funnest nothing ever. Everyone else gone by six last night, leaving Jeff and I alone until this afternoon.
Oh glorious night! Weeks apart, and weeks of abstinence. Burned, short of breath, prone to coughing, stiff and weak, but oh, so willing. And Jeff so gentle and careful.
Jeff and I had spent the morning alone together, until Tom came over after noon, then the three of us had spent the rest of the day about as normally as was normal for us: smoking pot, listening to music, and playing video games.
Earlier this evening we had met with Toby's parents. After hearing how close I had come to joining their son in the great hereafter, they had come to give me his letters and to share a few other things. They had learned of us only after Toby had killed himself. He had left them a letter explaining our relationship, and why he had taken his own life rather than grow so weak that he would have to be bathed and fed in the coming months before his imminent death. It had been one of the most emotionally charged and powerfully moving times of my life.
Once home from Toby's aunt's house - just an hour ago - I had shared the box of pictures and letters which Toby had never sent. My parents, Jeff, his little brother Todd, and Tom all sat around me at the table as I passed the items around. My parents then went to bed, leaving the four of us alone until Jeff's and Todd's mom came to pick them up. The three of them had school the next day, while I was excused for the week and had been told to expect to return next week. Jeff and I had talked, expressing our feelings for each other in front of his little brother and Tom. We had kissed in front of someone else for the first time.
From the first sight of him on the bus, on the first day of my freshman year, I'd felt such strong emotions for Jeff.
After Tom and I had boarded the strange bus, and while we were still walking down the aisle looking for a seat, I had stumbled as it began moving. I had nearly fallen onto someone sitting alone, and had grabbed the seat-back to stop my fall, startling him. When he spun his head around in surprise, I couldn't take my eyes off of the vision before me: his blond hair had whipped around, settling almost instantly back into place like an angelic halo; his bright blue eyes had shimmered as they met my own; his red, lush lips had glistened and my heart had stopped. Having yet to meet Toby, I had felt my first stirrings of love and of appreciative lust. Tom, being Tom, had seen, and formulated, and plotted, and planned. On the bus ride home, Tom had gotten Jeff to come sit with us. The three of us instantly became friends.
Over two years later, and after a relationship with someone else, those emotions were just as strong, though we both had changed. Jeff had been so much smaller than I at first, and shyer. I'd fallen for him at first glance, and while getting to know him, I fell further for his sense of humor and fun, the goofy grins that displayed his braces, his shyness, and his mannerisms as well.
While Toby had been so utterly perfect, and Tom was very attractive - at least to me - Jeff was stunning. Like Tom, Jeff was seventeen, a year older than I. Larger than I now, and continuing to get larger. His blond hair, pale lashes and brows, and almost impossibly blue eyes were all perfectly matched to his Nordic facial features and body type. His slightly large, dark red lips were always moist and tempting. Whenever he tisked through those braced teeth, my heart missed a beat.
While others came and went as sexual experiments, Jeff remained a tough nut to crack. While not a devout Catholic, his mother was nearly so. Not until I was nearly sixteen, and he was just past his seventeenth birthday, would he relent. And then, each of those three times, he would leave and go home in the night, and we wouldn't talk to each other for a few days. I would feel that I had pushed him away and had destroyed my best friendship. In time, however, we would talk to each other again, and return to our friendship.
But, finally, we passed that point, and revealed ourselves to each other, and moved into a different relationship with each other. Finally, we were together.
As Jeff and I had reconnected after my stay in the hospital, I had hoped for a completeness and wholeness that I had only known with Toby. Until Toby, I had never even known it existed. Although I had enjoyed many wonderful feelings with Jeff over the weekend, that completeness had been noticeably absent. I had finally gotten together with the guy I had fallen for, even before Toby, and we had shared our first weekend together as more than just friends, yet something was missing.
I'd been relieved to be home from the hospital. I'd felt safe again at home and had hoped the terrible dreams of suffocation and fire would stop, but had been horrified to find that they had followed me home. I was still worried when my breathing acted up, but had grown used to the morning coughing fits and the thick discharges they caused. I was still scared during those fits, always aware of how fragile the human respiratory system was, and how awful it was when it didn't work properly. I had yet to grow used to my new, slightly lower and much rougher voice, and still wondered if it was done changing. The burns on my right side and my back were healing, but still painful and tender beneath their bandages. Those numerous small burns on my shins from the dripping, burning plastics of the dashboard were mostly healed, but still ached deeply. The area at my left temple where I had been struck by the unknown object thrown by the snow-blower, and that had struck the door pillar in the van during the fire, and where later the surgery had repaired the damaged blood vessels, was now only a dull, constant ache and persistent itch.
I was happy to be home again with my family, with my friends, overjoyed at Jeff staying overnight and intensely pleased with the sex. I'd noticed the changes in Jeff's body and personality, how he had seemed to have grown - in all ways. Jeff and I had spoken at great length about the awkwardness of two longtime friends becoming more, and I felt that we had reached a point beyond that concern. I also felt that we had come to a compromise on our differing feelings concerning our group of friends knowing about our relationship. While I was comfortable with their knowledge of it, Jeff was not, and was, in fact, mortified of it. I had hoped it was the difference between my already having had dealt with my own sexuality, and Jeff's relatively new arrival at that point, and that in time, he would catch up to me. Other differences interposed between us, too. While I was now openly known to be gay at school, he was not. While I wished to shout our relationship from the mountaintops, he wished it to remain secret. But despite the troubles and our differing expectations and experience, Jeff and I were enjoying deep feelings of affection for each other.
Those wonderful feelings shared with Jeff, those thoughts of Toby and his family, and being back home with family and friends, caused me to smile as I stood over the blue footlocker as Tom bounded up the stairs to my room. For a second I worried about it and its contents, and for that second, I felt embarrassed to be seen standing over it, but Tom knew of all the embarrassing secrets it held. He was my best friend, my confidant, my conscience, my knight in white linen.
Over the years, Tom and I had grown into the closest of friends. He had never had many friends, and no close ones before we had met. Because of that, and the closeness we had shared even before we had reached puberty and experimented with sex, he had grown quite fond of me. By the time he had saved my life during the van fire in my garage, he was certain that he was in love with me. He had kept that well hidden, at least from me; however, Jeff and others had come to the conclusion that Tom and I were boyfriends.
I did indeed love Tom, but as my closest friend. The sex with Tom had been nothing like the sex with everyone else had been: with Tom I had always had to remember not to let my emotions get involved, and take it further than Tom would be comfortable with, while with everyone else, there was no such emotional aspect - they were simply fun and experimental episodes. Sex with Tom was also very different from sex with Toby, as well as what Jeff and I had so recently begun to experience, as the emotional component was allowed, even expected with them. I had long ago accepted that, with Tom, there could never be anything like what I had with Toby or Jeff: he had never led me to think there could be, and I loved him all the more for that, and for his acceptance of me.
I also loved him for his appearance. Tom's black, straight hair, narrow eyebrows, dark lashes, and black eyes behind his gold-rimmed glasses contrasted nicely against his pale, Irish complexion. His pale red lips were slightly thin, and his mouth narrow. Barely seventeen and smallish for his age, he was shorter than I. He had been rather heavy until the previous summer, when he had started using his older brother's weight set and watching what he ate. Now he was trim, no longer soft. I knew that if he kept it up as he was, he would soon show muscles from his efforts. He would be thinner than I, had I not lost considerable weight during my convalescence.
He has a real possibility of attracting girls now, I thought as he bounded up the stairs. He's definitely on the geeky side, but not so far that sex with the girls is out of the question. He's no virgin, that's for sure. I took care of that two years ago and lots of times since. Just not any more, I thought with a tinge of sadness, only slightly dulling the good mood left over from the evening's events and my reminisces.