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The Circle Squared


Book One

Squaring The Circle


Track 1

"A.D. 1928"

(Introduction to Rockin' The Paradise)

Sunday night




The wonderful feelings shared with everyone earlier, 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 at the foot of my bed. When Tom entered 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.

"So, what'd your mom say, Knight?"


"Knight in white linen, remember?"

He grinned and rolled his eyes.

I had called him my knight in white linen at my toga party for being the one to run out into the cold night to bring me back, but he had definitely earned the title when he brought me back from the dead that day in the garage.

"She says you need your sleep and I don't need to be over here so late keeping you up, and blah, blah, blah. So I got an hour."

The way he said it that time seemed different, but I laughed, as usual. He'd said the same thing a hundred times in different ways with different reasons, but he always had an hour. I knew that he often got in trouble for staying at all.

I stood over the blue footlocker, so newly no longer filled with dark secrets, and considered whether he had said it differently, or I had heard it differently, or one of us had changed in a way to make it only seem as if he had said it differently.

The more I thought about it and watched him, the more I felt increasingly sure that something was different about him. I knew that something was occupying his mind from the way he walked in and swung his arms to and fro, putting on an air of normalcy in doing something not normal for him.

I had learned much about body language and subtle signals from him; he could read people like a book and had taught me how to do the same. With my own observations, and more such lessons from Tim, I had become pretty good at it myself.

So, I wondered, is there something new about him, or am I seeing something that's not there? Or am I so different after today? Today? Hah! Today had just been sharing some things about Toby with Toby's parents and aunt, my parents, Tom, and Jeff. And meeting Toby's little brother, who I had no way to know existed until then, except that Toby told me " or I told myself " that I was going to meet him soon. And dealing with his suicide and my love for him in front of everybody.

Fuck. What a day! What a day? What a month!

Birthday toga party, Jeff and I get together, I get the van, die in the van, Tom rescues me, weeks in the hospital, get things settled between me and Tom and Jeff, then Toby's family earlier tonight. Yeah, what a month.

Yeah, I've probably changed. But, so has Jeff. And Tom, too. Shit. We've all changed. But I can tell something's on Tom's mind. He's trying to be all cool and shit, but I know him too well, and he's taught me to read people too well.

"So, Kilroy Was Here comes out in two weeks. Figure out where to go get it yet?"

"Probably K-Mart if I can get mom to go, or downtown even if I have to ride my bike to school," I said dully, having thought it out long ago and having answered that question from him before.

I gave him my look that told him that I knew something was up, and asked, "So, what's the deal-e-o?"

The corner of his mouth raised and his fingers subtly twitched, indicating that he was thinking hard.

"Well?" I prodded.

I waited a moment, and when he didn't continue I prodded yet again.

"Ye-e-e-s-s?" I asked, drawing it out in my imitation of Tim Curry that most of the Circle guys found very funny.

He grinned, as I knew he would, but otherwise didn't react.

"Dude, what's the deal?"

His only answer was to shrug without looking at me.

I suddenly felt a bit angry.

"Tom, fucking tell me what's the big deal!" I said as I shut the heavy lid on the footlocker, nearly slamming it for emphasis. It was enough to cause him to flinch, and not from the noise.

He took a deep breath and said, "Okay. But don't be mad, okay?"

I nodded and sat on one of the beanbags at the foot of my bed. He took the other, as normal.

"It's just, well, dude, now you're with Jeff and all, it's... different. Ya know?"

I knew, but I didn't see why it was such a big deal to him. I was the one who always overreacted, I was the one who always imagined things to be bigger than they were, not Tom. For once, I was the one not having a problem with something.

"Yeah, kinda. But it's not, too. See? We're no different. I'm still me. You're still you. We're still best friends. Shit, Tom. You don't think I'm not gonna be around, do ya?"

I could tell I had hit the bull's-eye.

I thought I took care of this! I thought angrily. After the party and again in the hospital last week. Then again when I got out, and a-fucking-gain just yesterday! Fuck, man, I don't want everything to change between us, I thought. I'm glad Jeff and I are gonna be together, but I don't want things to be all that different between me and Tom! I just want things to be normal!

"Dude, Tom, don't. Look. We got all week, right? When I go back to school, I'll see him on the bus and around school, but it'll just be you and me after school. See? Nothing new. The only thing new about it between us is we don't, you know, don't, now. And Saturday'll be Jeff for overnights. And Sunday mornings. I can't see Jeff at all during the week. Oh, he'll be over this Wednesday. That's all. I'm sorry it means we get less time on weekends, but we get lots of time all week."

In fact, I had never before considered how much time Tom and I spent together. I did a bit of math and shared that with him.

"Dude, Tom, we spend more time together than we spend with everyone else."

He grinned a lopsided, halfhearted lip curl.

"We got all week. Okay? Even after I get back to school. I'll only see Jeff on the weekends. Maybe on holidays and shit. But all week it's just me and you most of the time. You'll be over everyday after school like always. We'll get high and play Atari and bullshit like normal."

Well, not like normal, I thought. We won't be messing around. From now on, I'll only be having sex with Jeff. That's a big something different. Should I mention that or what? Would it make him feel bad again if I do? He has to be thinking it already anyway, right? Sure. He's not stupid.

So mention it, don't hide from it, but make it funny.

"Except you'll have to use magazines and take care of yourself," I said. "If you want a blow-job, you'll have to get Helen to thaw out and put out."

We laughed.

Tom said, "You got enough to think about anyway. Why worry about my piddly little shit?"

"Piddly little shit? If something's got you bummed, I don't call it piddly," I said firmly, heading to the desk to retrieve a joint.

"It's piddly compared to... what you went through. I mean, fuck. Plus you got all that school work to catch up on, sucker!"

He grinned evilly at that last part, or in anticipation of what he hit me with next as I sat next to him, doing so gingerly to avoid stretching the healing burns, and lit the doobie.

"So... " he said, drawing out the suspense in his way. "Just how was it?" His bouncing eyebrows and leer made sure I knew exactly what it he meant.

I lifted the corner of my mouth, scrunched that eye nearly closed, and glared at him, trying to hide my grin as I held my hit.

"Mm-hmm?" he asked.

I tried not to snicker in embarrassment and lose any smoke. I was failing.

"Ah-hah. So... that good, huh?"

He was grinning widely now, enjoying my joyful discomfort as we passed the joint back and forth. I was willing to talk to Tom about last night alone with Jeff, or some of it, but I wasn't sure what to say or in what order " or how much.

It had been awesome, wonderful, hot, tiring, sweaty, and satisfying. And private. But, it's Tom. But, it's Jeff.

"So-o-o... ?"

He was obviously not going to let me remain silent.

I delayed as long as I could, rolling my eyes and pretending to be insulted he'd ask such a question.

"I'm not asking exactly what you guys did, but you can feel free to fill in any such details! Just, was it, a stretch?"

I lost my hit and began coughing. It hurt still, and after a few deep heaves, I knew more gross stuff was coming up. Each cough also aggravated the burns on my side and back as the skin stretched. I climbed onto and across the bed to get the box of tissues. My burns complained further, and the sore, sprained tendons in my left hand kept the entire hand useless. Once I managed to clear my throat and to breathe decently, I rejoined Tom on the beanbags. He looked a bit worried.

"What? I'm gonna be coughing like that for a while," I got out before having to catch a breath. "No biggie." Another pause for breath. "Just as long as there's no blood, or black, dried blood, it's fine."

He nodded and visibly relaxed, even though I still coughed repeatedly.

"In fact, it helps. The sooner I cough that shit out, the better!" I managed after another unpleasant discharge.

"Cool, don't feel so bad then."

"Bad? Don't! Please don't feel bad making me laugh! I really need you to keep me laughing sometimes! Okay, Knight?"

I surprised myself by sounding so desperate, almost pleading. I was also surprised at just how much I meant it. But at least my breathing was clear now. Comparatively.

He tilted his head slightly to the side, and his face grew a bit serious as he said, "You do, don't ya?"

I nodded, wishing that I could smile. I was barely able to prevent suddenly crying. He checked his watch and looked at the television.

"The shows on eleven are comin' on. You wanna watch 'em or record 'em?" he asked.

"I can do with some Benny Hill," I said, glad to change the subject and feeling like I needed a few laughs.

He turned on the television and changed the channel. Before long, I had to try not to think about how in the past one of us would have started something with the other sooner or later, and how that was now over. It bothered me that for myself there was Jeff, but for Tom there was no one. I felt as if I were somehow cheating Tom out of something. Or cheating on him.

It didn't help that he wasn't gay, that what we had done together wasn't the same for both of us. I had always known that he was interested in girls, and in Helen in particular. I was just glad that he not only didn't hate me for being gay, but still considered me his best friend, and that he didn't mind messing around with me until he managed to get Helen as interested in him as he was in her.

It was wonderful to finally be with Jeff, especially after so long a time secretly pining for him. I knew that it wouldn't have happened without Tom. Tom had worked incredibly hard to get Jeff and me together, even while having doubts about his own sexuality and what he wanted from our friendship. So, somehow, the wholly wonderful thing that was being with Jeff seemed to be tainted by leaving Tom to be alone.

No matter how hard I tried to reason it away, it came back. I felt as if I were abandoning my best friend for someone else.

Damn it, Tom! I railed inside. Now you got me feeling like it's all changed. Well, fuck. It has all changed, ain't it?

Not only is sex with me off-limits to him all the time now, Tom has no one else to be with. And now we'll be apart for a big chunk of our regular weekend time. For me, not a problem, it will be time with Jeff . But, for Tom, I would be totally off-limits from Saturday afternoon or evening until sometime Sunday, even though I was still right next door. And Tom will know what we're doing.

I saw it then from his side.

I've been arguing with Tom that nothing's changed, and I was wrong the whole time. Nearly everything's changed!

That new and upsetting reaction occurred again: my right eye winked repeatedly as my right hand flinched and the fingers snapped closed momentarily.

Worries of some sort of neurological disorder were quickly displaced by the insistent train of thought concerning Tom and our new normal.

Now I'm with Jeff, and now Tom's alone. Sexually, I'm always off-limits to Tom now. Always.

The eye tick and the hand flinch recurred, this time joined by an odd, unsettling sensation, as if the whole world " no, the entire universe " suddenly seemed to rotate around me. Without my moving a single atom, every other atom in the universe had taken up a new orientation around me. It resulted in a feeling that was almost as if I had been watching myself through a mirror, but now was the one on the other side, not knowing which of us was the image and which the reflection.

I studied my room and Tom sitting next to me, also not laughing at Benny's exploits. It all seemed much the same, unchanged, yet completely and utterly foreign. All I could think, all I wanted, was for things to be normal. I didn't think, "back to normal," I knew that things were never going to be exactly the same ever again, but I wanted"needed"things to be normal, whatever the new normal was going to be.

I was emotionally and physically exhausted, but I'd asked Tom to stay when Jeff and Todd had left because I wanted things to be normal. And normal for nine o'clock on a Sunday night was Tom and me in my room, getting stoned, playing video games, then watching BBC shows on PBS. Hand-jobs, or maybe even blow-jobs, would also have been normal, but it wasn't part of the new normal.

And there we sat on a Sunday night for the first time in weeks, with Doctor Who about to start, and neither of us seemed entirely comfortable. Or normal.

"I feel, like, it's all... different," I said sadly.

"Yeah," he sighed deeply, and then said in a rush, "I'm gonna miss it."

He threw me aback with that. I wasn't sure which it he meant.

Does he mean it, as in the sex? Or the old normal, which was the same, except for the sex? So he still might have meant the sex. Or did he? Well, fuck.

I didn't know what to say. Nothing came to mind at all. I tried as hard as I could to think of something to clear things up, but absolutely nothing was there. I was too stoned, too tired, and too lost.

"I gotta go."

"Yeah," was all I could say.

I felt horribly, sitting there in silence as Tom put on his coat and walked out of my bedroom. I wanted to say something, anything, so long as it would let us part for the night in a better way. I felt as if I had physically pushed him out of my room.

I sat on my bed and looked out of my window to watch him walk home. I let myself admire him a bit, even though he was bundled against the deep cold of the Chicago winter, knowing that, since he was walking away, it wouldn't lead to anything. The shape of his bare body and the paleness of his skin was easy to see despite his clothed form. I saw in my mind's eye his dark eyes behind his gold-rimmed glasses, his pale face surrounded by his straight, black hair, his dark red, thin lips.

You really are cute, Tom, at least to me, I thought to myself. Then I repeated it aloud, but very softly, slightly fogging the window glass.

I felt a bit guilty about thinking of him in that way, because Jeff and I were together, but most especially because of Tom.

I sat and thought a while, trying to figure out how to keep Tom happy, spend lots of time with him, and keep us both together, even while spending more time with Jeff. Doctor Who started and I started another joint.

I'd have no school for the next week, but Tom and Jeff would. I would spend an entire week at home. Without Jeff. In a way, it felt like it was summer vacation or Christmas break.

Talk about changes, I lamented. Entire days home alone - cool. Nothing to do all day - boring. Weeks of homework to catch up on - fuck!

Doctor Who ended, and still I lay awake thinking. I didn't want things to change between Tom and me, but I knew they had, and I knew they would. I wanted the changes between Jeff and me, but not at the price of losing Tom. I was not innocent enough to think that things would be the same between Tom, Jeff, and me, but it hadn't occurred to me just how much they would change in how short a time.

Sleep finally came.

Then the smell of gasoline.

I pumped the pedal once, moved the Styx medallion aside, then turned the ignition key.

The engine turned for several seconds, almost catching, but not quite. The smell of gas grew stronger.

"Yeah. Old Chevy, not started for a few days, in cold weather, used to driving every day. She's gonna be stubborn. I should've gotten some starting fluid. And that gas leak is serious when it turns over. I shouldn't of messed around with it without taking the cowl off. See if you can pop that hatch cover, will ya, son?"

I leaned across the sizable hump between the front seats, knowing that I would be unable to open the hatch cover. Still, I unlatched the one on the passenger side easily. The driver side was far more difficult; I couldn't get the clasp to come off. I pulled and yanked, afraid I might tear it off. The van was shaking from my efforts.

"Don't break it off. I tried. It's stuck good. Try to start it one more time, then we get that clasp fixed so we can get to the engine decently. Go ahead and try starting it again."

"At least you know I ain't even started it," I answered with a sly grin.

I didn't feel like grinning. I felt like screaming "Get the hell out of here, Dad!" and running for my life, but there was nothing I could do. I was fated to relive it again and again.

He peeked around the hood at me with a grin.

I thought, Don't stand there smiling at me! RUN!

Instead, and despite my best efforts to prevent myself from doing so, I turned the key again. The engine turned over, barely beginning to catch. Dad called for another pump of the accelerator. Knowing that it was the final doom, I watched as I pushed and released the accelerator. The engine turned faster, then caught with a pop. I tried to close my eyes as tightly as I could, knowing what was about to happen and completely unable to stop it. Another, louder pop, then an even louder "whoom!" as there was a bright, orange light, and I was knocked against the van door, my sore temple striking the pillar.

Things went fuzzy, and wobbly, and blurred, all at the same time. I heard my dad yelling my name. The engine cover was gone and flames rose toward the dashboard. My eyes closed instinctively against the heat and smoke. I could feel the heat of the fire on my right side. I smelled the odor of burning carpet, oil, rubber, and plastic.

I reached for the key, fumbled with the medallion, and killed the engine. The flames still raged, even seemed to grow larger, and now started burning the black shag carpet covering the lower half of the dashboard above the engine. The flames were less than a foot from me, reaching to the height of my face. Thick, black smoke was curling up the windshield and rolling over my head.

I opened the driver's door, but it hit the wall of the garage after a mere six or seven inches. My lungs began rejecting the air they drew in, making me cough uncontrollably. I couldn't keep my eyes open against the smoke and heat, let alone breathe it.

I heard my dad calling my name again, and I tried to call back, but when I inhaled to scream, my lungs refused the air and I began a horrible coughing fit. I was unable to see or answer him. I rolled the window down to get fresh air from outside the van, and perhaps be able to yell for him, but the crank came off in my hand. The smoke increased and billowed out of the partially open window, still choking me. I slid as far from the blazing engine and dash as I could, pressing myself against the partially open door, shoving my face out the partially open window in an effort to find air.


I felt the heat of the fire singeing my skin through my clothing. Images of my charred and smoking body being pulled from the van by firemen, my grieving parents held back by police, ran in my head. I clawed at the window, knowing that even if I broke the glass and tried climbing out that I would only get my head out before hitting the wall, and only end up cutting myself horribly. I could flail my arm out the partially open window, and I could feel the narrow distance between the van and the garage wall; I knew it was no use.

Real panic began to set in, forcing reason and rational thought to flee. I pushed the door with my shoulder, but it was as far open as it could get. I knew there was no way out to my right, not with the fire above the engine growing hotter and closer. Flames were also spreading across the thickly upholstered dashboard, the carpet near the engine bay between the front seats, the material of the overhead, and the hanging curtains just behind both seats. The flames were traveling across the bottom of the dashboard, and multiple, flaming drops of it were falling onto my jeans, melting through them, and then into my legs. The pain was excruciating, but I couldn't get my legs away from the falling drops of fire without putting them into the raging fire on the engine.

Not only was the air full of burning particles and ashes, it was hot, and toxic with fumes and chemicals. The coughing became constant and painful. Each inhalation burned terribly, the chemicals, burning ashes, and heated air triggering uncontrollable and gut-wrenching coughs.

I tried to make my lungs work, to draw in and take what oxygen they could from the smoke, but they refused. My heart's efforts doubled. I pushed my face into the window, no longer caring if the glass broke and I was horribly cut; I only wanted the air. I clawed feebly at the stub where the crank had broken off, knowing that I could never turn the spindle, but trying anyway.

The pain in my temple flared with each cough. I felt the familiar dizziness come, and knew I was about to lose consciousness.

And somehow, my own thoughts were to blame it on God, worry about not being with Toby in the afterlife, how unfair it was that now Jeff and I were going to be a couple, I was going to die instead.

The heat of the fire, the pain of my skin burning on my right side and back, the pain as flaming drops of carpeted dashboard burned through my jeans and into my legs, the pain of my lungs filled with toxins and chemicals and hot ashes, the horrible suffocation.

The pains, the smells, and even my vision all began to fade, and I knew that I was dying. Again.

I woke up almost screaming. I tried to bring my rapid breathing back to normal around the deep coughs. I was wired and sweaty, shaking and still afraid. I could have let myself cry, but I let the anger at having to relive that event win out over the urge to weep. I let the anger grow, and I poked at it.

I washed up at the bathroom sink, staring angrily at myself the entire time. I'd had that dream in the hospital. It had haunted me nightly. I had tried to pretend that the dreams hadn't happened, but the night nurses weren't stupid. When a patient hooked up to a monitor has a nightmare so bad that he wakes up almost screaming, they know.

I went back to bed, wanting and needing sleep, but afraid that I might dream it again. I thought of the little yellow pills the lady doctor who liked to talk had prescribed. They made me feel emotionally empty, and that strange nothing feeling lasted into the morning. I knew if I took one so late at night that it would last past lunch. But it would keep the dream away.

No way, no empty hangover tomorrow, I decided as the last of the shivers ran out of me. No feeling nothing and missing it. Even getting stoned isn't fun. Nothing is. I'd rather have the downs, so long as I get the highs.

Just don't dream it again. Just sleep.

I tossed and turned, trying to find a comfortable position and sleep. I found myself utterly unable to keep my eyes closed or to even feel tired.

Eventually I sat up and groaned, looking around the mostly dark room for something to do. Since I wasn't going to school for another week, I didn't have to worry about getting up in the morning. I turned on a light and thought about jacking myself off. I even toyed with myself, but the desire wasn't there.

Wanting sleep, I sneaked downstairs and chewed a sleeping pill, washing it down with orange juice. After throwing a mental hug at Toby's picture, I let my mind wander as I headed back upstairs. It wandered right onto Jeff.

Wow! Jeff and I had so much fun! I thought, elevating my mood considerably. Our second weekend together since we, well, got together, was as much fun as I hoped. Mostly. He wants to do me. I'd have to go from a banana to a cucumber to a fucking zucchini to get ready for his big dick. Why's he gotta have such a thick one? Long enough, too. Damn! And his head sticks out too much to go in easy. And it would hurt him to have his foreskin pulled back, trying to get it in.

Damn! And he sure don't want me doing him. I couldn't even tickle it and stuff. He'd never let me show him that prostate thing. All he's cool with is playing under his balls. Wow, and even his balls are nice and big! He's so big! He was this cute little guy when I first met him. Slim, slender, smallish, so cute. Now, now he's this big, hulking, hairy, massive, huge presence. Even his personality, it's way bigger, stronger, more powerful.

He's almost not the same guy at all. In all ways. He's growing, I guess. He used to be, well, almost shy. Quiet. Now he's taking charge a lot, being the one in control more and more. I don't know if I like that or not. Pretty sure not. Or how his body's changed. But there's nothin' I can do about any of that. So what do I do?

Why isn't this as simple as Toby was? I wondered.

I went to my desk and started rolling a joint of the merta weed. It was extremely potent, and I had feared smoking it while taking the sleeping pill, but now I didn't care. The first few hits caused some coughing, but I powered past that point.

Being with Jeff as lovers was a dream come true. I'd wanted him for so long. Having him was wonderful, and not just for the sex. He liked hugging and spooning, touching and kissing. Not since Toby, and only with Toby before, had those emotional keys been present with any sex. The playing around with friends was fun, even physically satisfying, but I wanted that tender, emotional component, too.

Tom didn't mind a little of it, like hugging and laying with each other after, but drew the line at kissing or other romantic things between us. It was fun with him, but not like with Toby or Jeff.

But in some ways, Jeff's not as good as Tom, I realized.

So complicated! I almost yelled aloud. Nothing like as easy as it was with Toby. Why? Tom and Jeff are neither as good as Toby was. He'd liked everything and had taught me almost everything I know. Stuff I never dreamed of. Like the prostate stuff. And licking everywhere. And making it last a long time. Or playing around for a long time before getting down to doing it.

I know everybody's different, and Jeff's never done anything with anybody before. Neither had Tom. So I was the one teaching. And they liked learning stuff, for sure! But they're different in so many ways. We want different things.

"So fucking complicated!" I whispered in a growl.

The merta joint was finally a roach, the sleeping pill was finally working, and I tucked myself into my blankets. It was the first entire joint of merta I had ever smoked alone, and after weeks of being sober, my resistance to weed had been reduced greatly. But this was not ordinary weed, and I felt the incredibly powerful pot working. I began having deep, powerful body rushes. Over and over, I felt as if my entire body were being washed through by a current of warm, electrified water. Not water: it was more like some soft, velvety, electrically charged liquid, slightly denser than water. I was floating on its surface, buoyed easily. Waves and troughs moved through it, bobbing me along. Or perhaps I was entirely immersed in it, with no need to breathe.

I was queasy, but not concerned about throwing up. I was frightened, but had no worry of being harmed. I was sweating, even though I wasn't hot. I shivered, but not from cold. I felt how shallowly I breathed.

Fuck! I never had this powerful of body rushes before! I hope I didn't poison myself! Could... sleeping pills and... merta weed... interact badly?

It was my last conscious thought.


I was spinning along an invisible path, out of control. Flashes of colors and bits of sound made it through to me at times, but nothing that made any sense. I couldn't feel anything other than emotions. My body seemed simply to be gone.

Realizing that, a thought came to me suddenly. I concentrated on being stationary, not whirling along in some unseen nowhere. The vertigo lessened, vanished. I concentrated on myself. I found I felt fine, but felt nothing of myself. I tried touching myself. I had no sense of my arm moving, or of it touching anything. I tried clapping, but there was no contact, no sound, no surety that my muscles were responding, let alone even existed.

Snap my fingers? I thought.


Well, what the fuck? What kinda dream is this?

I heard an exasperated sigh, one that belonged to someone very wonderful. It was his own particular sigh, one I had never heard from anyone else.


"Like watchin' that blind kitten standin' in a puddle," he said, humor in his voice.

"Oh, man, that sounds so mean!" I complained.

"I didn't do it, stunod. I saw it there."

He reacted to my next thought before I could voice it.

"Guess it got lost from its mom or somethin'. Took it home. Still roamin' around catchin' mice."

That was more like the Toby I knew.

"Arthur," he said, answering before I asked.

"Wish you'd let me ask first."

It felt somehow uncomfortable having him inside my head like that.

"Yeah, takes getting used to. I can ignore it, though, wait for you to really ask, or whatever."

"I don't think I like getting my mind read."

"Understand. Didn't think about it, I guess."

"'S'okay. Uh, but why's it all dark this time?"

"Well, ya ain't really very far through this time. It's like you're still between."

"We can hear each other though?"

"I'm kinda stretchin'. Reachin' out a lot."


"I probably shouldn't, but fuck it. You're so close. It'd be a waste not to. And it won't last very long at all."

"I'm glad you did!"

"Been a while for ya this time."

"Sure has."

"A lot happened."

"Sure has!"

His giggle was like an euphoric drug.

"You did pretty good, Alex."

"I did?"

"Sure enough."

"Like what? I just, sorta..."

"Did what you thought was right."


"Good job. So far. Keep it up."

I felt depressed that there was more to go.

"Always more to go," he said consolingly.

"Just wish it was easier, is all."

"Never is. Nothin' worth it is."

"But why's it got to be so complicated?"

He laughed in that old way he had of doing when I had said something he found to be incredibly stupid.

"What?" I asked, feeling a little perturbed.

"Complicated? You have no idea. And believe me, you got it easy. Just enjoy what you got."

"Hard to enjoy it when you don't understand it."

"Why? Why do you have to understand it? Just freakin' enjoy it."

I sighed, seeing the simple truth of his words. Like he always had, he had solved a huge problem with a simple fix.

I wanted to hug him so badly. Having him so near and yet so far was excruciating.

"I'm always watchin' over ya."

"Thought you wasn't gonna read me again?"

"Didn't have to. Heard ya sigh like that," he explained, his voice soft and caring. "In a way, we're touchin' right now. Not physically or nothin', but I'm holdin' ya in a way."

It was good enough. I could feel that sensation, that emotion, that came when I was in his arms. I just couldn't feel his arms around me. There was something else, though, replacing that physical sense of contact. It was similar, but different, and was just as nice.

"I can't tell you how much I miss you."

"Me either."

I tried to lock myself in that moment, to sense it as much as I could, to freeze it in my memories.

"Just wish..."

"I know."

We were quiet for a while, during which I let myself sink into the sensations and emotions I felt. It was like being safe beyond being merely safe. I was loved, appreciated, wanted.

I wanted to know that he felt the same. I wanted to be sure of that.

I asked. He complied.

I was him, reaching out to grasp me as I drifted by, holding me. I was me, drifting by, being held by him. I was us.

I saw how much effort it took for him to retain me. I saw the strain growing. It was taking an enormous effort, and that effort had to be increased constantly.

Again, I attempted to lock that moment into myself for all time. I reveled in it for longer than I had first intended; it was too good not to.

"Love you. Miss you. See you."

"Always loved ya, still do, always will."

We let go.