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I was suddenly awake. I looked around and saw that Jeff had come back upstairs at some point and was spooned up behind me, his arm over me. The dream was fresh and potent, but seemed distant, as if I had slept through it, and after. I wasn't sweaty and twisted in the blankets, I was being hugged from behind.
I realized that I had fallen asleep after Mom had called. I worried that I might have woken Jeff up until I remembered how hard he was to wake up. His sound sleep was the source of many a Circle prank. If I hadn't been so reluctant to take advantage of his sound sleep to prank him, the guys would have been merciless.
Oh my gawd! I thought in horror. They had to know I liked him even from way back then! I never liked it when they pranked him. They knew I liked him and didn't like the pranks on him. I was so obvious! And I never knew! What an idiot!
And what the fuck kind of dream was that? I asked myself. And I thought I'd raped him! I didn't do anything like that! I just got him to do what he wanted, but he was worried his mom would find out. And he wasn't sure it was what he wanted yet, either. And he didn't know how to handle any of it. But I hadn't tore his clothes off, or did something he didn't want to do, or especially, I didn't hurt him. Not like that!
Knowing that it wouldn't disturb his sleep, I rolled out from under his arm and sat on the edge of the bed, feeling almost as if the dream had been real. I wondered what I was going to do to get back to sleep. The little white illuminated numbers on the clock-radio said it was four-eighteen in the morning.
It was a cinch to have one out of the box and ready to go when the little one and nine clicked over to a two and a zero.
Lighting the joint and laying back on the bed, I tried to figure out why I would dream that Jeff would rape me.
Why'd he get so rough? Why'd I dream that Jeff would do that? First he just watches me die. This time, he pulls me outta the fire and rapes me. Why? It was rape. I didn't want him to do that. Not even with lube and a lot of loosing up with fingers do I want his big dick trying to get in me. Maybe someday. But not soon.
Was it because he'd been so insistent last night? Just because he had been so horny and wanted to so bad? He didn't mean to hurt me, I'm sure. He didn't even know he did. Or probably that he could. We just have to wait to do that. Work up to it.
And what if he won't let me wait? Does that mean we can't be together? Do we have to do ass sex? Toby and me did, and I liked it both ways. And with Tom. Both ways. But Tom wasn't very willing for that. Oral, sure. Hands, anything goes. Anal, one way or the other, only rarely. And I had to remember to keep it non-emotional with him.
And so far Jeff isn't showing any signs of letting me do him. We had our third times alone together last weekend. It was awesome! But he shied away from anything anal, except to be pretty vocal about wanting to fuck me.
Shit. He wants to fuck me. With that anaconda! No way! Maybe that's what I'm afraid of? I'm afraid he's gonna talk me into letting him get that into me?
I turned that over and over. I tried it for fit and match of pattern. I couldn't see how that fear could turn into an image of him raping me.
Unless I'm afraid he will? Do I think he'd make me take it?
I turned that over once.
Nope. Jeff would never do that. I don't think he'd even enjoy it if he did. He's not the type. I don't need to worry about that.
I noticed that I felt a bit lighter, that mentally I did feel relieved at the certainty of my perceptions.
Maybe that was the deal-e-o? I thought.
Shrugging, hoping that the fear was resolved and I wouldn't have another such dream of Jeff, I put the remaining joint out and headed back to bed. I slipped in and under his arm and cuddled up to him. I wondered if I would fall asleep soon, and wondered if I would have that dream again, or if I would have the other one.
After lying there against him for a few minutes, I no longer wondered.
"Yeah. Old Chevy, not started for a few days, in cold weather, used to driving every day. She's gonna be stubborn," Dad was saying again.
Jeff stood near him, wearing a baseball uniform, staring at me coldly, tossing and catching a ball.
I thought, I knew he'd be cute in it.
I knew he had always been there. I knew there was nothing I could do. I was fated to live it again, over and over while he watched, too cowardly to help.
"See if you can pop that hatch cover, will ya, son?"
I unlatched the one on the passenger side easily. The driver side was far more difficult. I pulled and yanked, afraid I might tear it off. The van shook 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.
He peeked around the hood at me with a grin. Jeff glowered at me from the other side of the hood, tossing the baseball into his glove. He shook his head sadly at me.
I didn't ask.
I moved the Styx medallion out of the way and then turned the key. The engine turned, barely beginning to catch. Dad called for another pump of the accelerator. Knowing what was to come and unable to change it, I pushed and released the pedal. The engine turned faster, then caught with a pop.
Another, louder pop, then a loud, whooshing boom as there was a bright, orange light, and I was knocked against the van door, the side of my head hitting the pillar.
Things went fuzzy, and wobbly, and blurred. Dad yelling my name. Flames on the dashboard now. I could feel the heat of the fire on my right side. I smelled the odor of burning carpet, oil, rubber, and plastic.
I managed to get past the Styx medallion and kill the engine, but he flames still raged, even grew larger, burning the black shag carpeted dashboard; closer, hotter. Thicker, blacker smoke curled up the windshield and rolled over my head.
I turned back to the driver's door, but Jeff was there, saying, "Why can't you let me be like Toby and Tom? Ain't I good enough?"
I started to tell him that I loved him, but my lungs rejected 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. Yet I clearly saw Jeff shrink and shrivel into a mimicry of a fetus. Only his over-sized manhood remained unchanged, and was now larger than the rest of him.
Dad's voice called my name. I tried to yell for help, but my lungs still refused the smoke and I began a horrible coughing fit. I rolled the window down to get fresh air from outside the van, 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 singing 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, pushing my face out the opening.
Jeff pushed me back inside, yelling, "I'm a mutant! Who'd want me?"
Now he was normal of stature, but his penis hung to the floor, a generous section laying there, coiled like rope.
Real panic set in, forcing reason and rational thought to flee. Flames were spreading across the thickly upholstered dashboard, the carpet between the front seats near the engine bay, the overhead, and the curtains behind both seats.
The coughing became constant and painful. Each inhalation burned terribly; each cough hurt even more than the last. The chemicals, burning ashes, and the heated air triggered 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.
The pain in my temple flared with each cough. I felt the familiar dizziness come, and knew I was about to lose consciousness.
"You okay, Alex?"
Jeff was back at the window, just as my last seconds of life ticked by.
"Hey, Alex! You okay?"
"Huh?" I asked, disbelievingly, surprised that he cared, hardly able to respond at all.
"Why do you care?" I barely managed.
"What? Come on, wake up!"
I felt the van rocking violently and then noticed that I was lying down, not sitting in the driver's seat, not smoldering as the flames grew closer, not wishing I were still choking on the thick smoke instead of unable to even draw breath.
"What?" I asked.
"I said, wake up!" Jeff insisted.
I was laying on my back in my bed.
"You okay?" he asked.
I nodded. I inhaled deeply, glad that I could do so. I coughed a few times, but nothing like I had gotten so used to. I tried to hide the horror and fear that still raged through me.
"Fucking hell of a nightmare, man. What was it?"
I struggled to sit up, and settled for leaning on my elbows.
I began thinking again, and was in no way going to tell him that I had been dreaming about the van fire every night, and that now he had been in the dream, watching me die. And worse.
He began running his hand through my hair. For a moment I remembered the fight with my mother after she had done much the same thing. I almost felt the same anger as Jeff did it, but I knew he was only trying to comfort me.
Desperate for something to divert him from talk of the dream, I could only think of one thing.
"What did you wanna talk about? You know, at school the other morning. When Tom hit the john. You said there was something you wanted to talk about this weekend."
The fear and horror of the dream was fading, so hearing him tell me about joining the baseball team and having to stop spending time with me couldn't hurt me so much, I hoped.
He sighed and stopped playing with my hair. His hand fell to the bed between us. I wished that it wasn't dark so that I could clearly see his face.
"Yeah, I should get that out of the way," he said quietly. "Better get it out and over with. Then we can have the day without me worrying if I tell ya."
His words were ominously filled with serious intent. I tried to ready myself.
"It's not that big a deal or anything, just, I gotta do something. Okay? After school all week. I won't be on the bus all week. Maybe even next week. And I can't tell ya what I'm doing. Okay? So don't ask. Just Sherlock it. You'll find out, honest. But right now, just don't bug on it. Okay?"
I had no words to reply with as we lay there in the dark.
So this is how he's not gonna tell me about the team? So now he can say to himself that he told me what he could? Now he can feel better about it? What about me? Am I supposed to just let that lie there? Not worry about it? Pretend it's no big deal? I guess it wouldn't be if I didn't know. If I didn't hear him and the jocks talking about me. Talking about how I wasn't the kind of guy he should be seen with. How he had to pick them or me.
It hurt, a lot. I felt as if I were shrinking. It wasn't that things were seemingly larger, it was just that I was smaller. I was less.
"In the mornings I gotta do things, too. So when we get to school, I gotta miss the breakfast table."
I hadn't been expecting that at all. I thought I had hurt, but until he said that, I hadn't. I had to think in order to inhale.
If we hadn't been lying on our backs in the dark, he would have seen my eye wink, he would have seen my hand flinch. He would have seen how hard I worked to not make any crying sounds.
So I know what he's doing after school, the baseball tryouts and such, but what's he doing in the morning? The team don't do anything that early, do they? Most of 'em ain't even at school before classes. I've seen a lot of them arrive right before first bell. No, they don't. So what's he doin' before classes? Does it matter?
To hide my thoughts and feelings, I shrugged it off with, "No biggie, I guess."
If it wasn't a big deal, you wouldn't even have said anything about it. You just would'a done what you had to do without saying anything. Maybe explained later if I or someone asked. But it is a big deal. Ain't it?
"Just didn't want ya wonderin' where I was at, is all."
"Tell anyone else?"
"Nobody else matters like you," he said softly.
When he reached out to touch my hair again, I rolled away and sat on the edge of the bed.
"Gotta pee," I said, walking toward the bathroom.
I did, but that wasn't on my mind as I looked into the mirror, blinking against the light, and ground my thoughts for a while.
Nothing about the team, I noticed. Nothing about the morning stuff so important he can't spend even a single minute near me where someone will see. Except the bus in the morning. Bet if he can find a way to school every morning, he would. That way he wouldn't be seen with me at all. Then he could get on the team no problem.
And how's he getting home everyday after practice? Do I care? Do I?
I should'a changed to his civics class. Then I could'a fucked with him. Then he'd be seen with me. I'd sit right next to him, too. Make sure I did. And I'd throw googly-eyes at him all class. And I'd...
No I wouldn't. Fuck.
So he don't even want to be seen with me, period. Fine. If he thinks this is gonna be a weekends only thing, he's so wrong. I want it all or nothing. I might settle for somewhere between for a while, but I won't do that. I won't go without even talking to him all week, being ignored all week at school, then have sex on weekends and pretend everything was all fine and shit. I deserve better than that. I want better than that. I won't settle for that, even with Jeff. Not with anybody.
No crying, I told myself as I stared into my own face. Anger. Use it. He don't care about me the way I do him. He can't stand being around me with other people. He's too afraid.
Let him have his baseball.
I emptied my bladder, and by the time I was done, I had decided to let him choose whatever he was going to choose, that I wasn't going to try to make him choose me.
I was, though, going to put him through the wringer about himself. I was not going to let him easily slip away. I hoped that maybe by making him face himself, he would then choose to stay with me on his own.
I returned to him on the bed, and we cuddled and slept.
When I woke up, he was going through the channels on the television. Early Sunday morning network television was a religion-pocked wasteland. When he was done with all ten stations, including the UHF ones, and nothing appealed to either of us, I lit a joint and turned on the Atari.
I made plans again, discarding almost all of my previous plans for him. I didn't want him if I had to force him to make that decision. I wanted him only if he came to that conclusion himself. I was willing to take what relationship we could have if he needed my nudging, but not if I had to shape his decision to any such great degree as I had previously planned to do.
He kicked my butt in Dig-Dug, as usual. We switched to Centipede. We were better matched, but he was better. Night Driver, and I ruled. More pot. The morning burned away. It was uncomfortable most of the time, fun some of the time. We had a few laughs, but we both acted odd. I wanted to kiss him, and end up on the bed, but I knew we would end up with him on top of me wanting to fuck me. Each time I thought of sex with him, I thought of that, and I no longer wanted sex.
Near noon, Mom called upstairs to let me know they were home. I called back that Jeff was there. She asked if we wanted to get our own lunch or if she should fix something for us. I called back that we would get something later.
More pot. More video games. A little talk. A little laughter. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good. And we both caught each other looking oddly at each other when we both knew we should have laughed.
I began plotting and planning between turns on Atari.
"Jeff, what's the big deal about Tom knowing about us? Or the other Circle guys?"
He put down the joystick in the middle of his game, not caring that he lost his life. He didn't pause the game, either.
He sighed deeply and slowly, blowing his breath out forcefully.
"I figured it was on your mind," he finally said. "So, what's the point?"
"I just have to convince you to deal with it and admit it. At least to the guys. You did to your mom. And bro. And me. And you told us. You, told us. Remember?"
He sighed deeply again before he asked, "How do you? Deal with it? With people knowing?"
His beautiful blue eyes were dulled, almost faded. He looked worried and tired. And hurt.
I had to think for several moments to come up with and arrange my answer. He waited patiently, seeing my gears turning.
"I didn't at first. I was where you are now. Sort of. But I slid out to the guys. One on one. Ya know?" I blushed furiously. "They all figured it out before I thought they even knew about each other. And you saw how it was no surprise when I told 'em. At all. And I deal with it. But man, there was lots of shit to deal with. Of all kinds. And I got no way to know how it will come at ya. I can only be here to help, if you let me."
I thought I had made a perfect argument.
"They know. But they don't make a big deal of it. So why do you?" I asked again.
"Because they know!" he answered again, seemingly frustrated.
"It's just them! It's just the guys. So what if they know?"
"I don't know!" he yelled, exasperated, almost literally pulling his hair out. "It just does! They know!"
"What? That you're gay? You told them. Remember?"
"Yes! And now I regret it."
I flinched in that new way I had developed - right hand and eye. That hurt. Not the flinch, his words.
He didn't look at me, so I know he didn't notice, or know.
Surprising myself a great deal, I wanted to hurt him back. Instead, I only slapped him with, "So what about Todd and your parents? It bother you they know?"
He looked slightly pained as he looked at me then.
"Fuck you," he said simply as he went back to looking at his feet. "It's how... when on Saturdays, when everybody leaves, they'll know I'm not. They'll know that.."
"So? Even if they weren't here, they'd know that. And you know it don't bother them any."
"No, but they, while they're here, I feel, like, as if they're always thinking it. About us. What's gonna, happen. Right here, too. It's just... you seen how it is. We sit apart and we're all nervous and shit. Both of us. Right?"
He was right. I'd noticed. So had he. We weren't comfortable with it all yet. But I saw it as something that would change over time; hopefully. Jeff obviously saw it as something indelible once established, and that we could never get past the fact that someone else knew about us.
"I thought we'd be good together. Ya know? But... it's all awkward and shit. And embarrassing. And we got no, I don't know, nothing secret. Just between us, I guess. I don't know," he trailed off again, seeming so sad and hurt. "What's the fucking point of being together if it makes us paranoid and uncomfortable around everybody?"
I wanted to hug him, embrace him, hold him. But I was angry, too. Foremost, angry. He had made far too good a point with that last.
You're just whining about not having what you won't let yourself have, I thought, seething. If you'd just do it, you'd have it, and be happy. But you gotta worry about everybody else. You're just not ready. And we just don't synch even if you were. We'd never be what I hoped and dreamed we'd be. And it sounds like we're not what you thought or expected, either.
But figuring that out didn't diminish the growing anger. But I did know why it was there.
All the shit I been through, not just to get him, but the van and fire and hospital, and Toby and losing him, and a thousand other things, and I still can't get what I want.
It's like the Stones sang, you can't always get what you want. I can only hope that if I try, then this time, maybe I'll get what I need. Jeff or not.
"It's like this only weekends stuff. Only getting to see you on the weekends, and only when the guys are here. It sucks."
I had to agree with that. I tried to find some solution to that, but I knew there was no such solution. We were relegated to only weekends, unless one of us got a car. I thought of that crappy, old, green Plymouth, and Tom telling me that Mom and Dad intended to get it for me. It suddenly didn't seem such a bad car at all.
"What about when I get that car? I can come see you everyday after school."
"That'd help, but... it's more, the guys. The Circle guys. The guys at school. I just can't deal, man," he said, sounding almost desperate. "I just need, like, some time. Space. I, I just, think we should cool it."
He was near tears, which was extremely unusual for him, especially since his recent tendency toward taking control of things. His words hurt me, his expression hurt me, his decision hurt me. I wished that I knew something to say to fix it for him - for us. All that I could do was hope time would let him deal with who he was enough to have a relationship. Hopefully with me.
I wondered if he even really wanted a relationship. I'd offered a way to get together through the week, but he had dismissed it.
Doesn't he even want to try? Or, wait. Fucking baseball. Fuck. Does he really want the team more than me? Shit! And why don't he just tell me about the fucking baseball team?
The anger was fed by the frustration, and before I could stop myself, I burst out, "You're holdin' yourself back! And me with you. Until you deal with what you are, and who you are, and know it, we wouldn't have a chance in hell anyway."
He looked a bit surprised, and a little hurt, and I was glad of that. But I didn't really want to hurt him. Not purposefully, anyway.
"Just sayin', ya gotta figure this out for yourself."
He looked even more unsure and upset.
"Look, I know what you mean, okay? I do. I know it now. Now. But, before... before you convinced Mom that being gay wasn't instant damnation to hell, I, I didn't think it."
Being reminded of the days when Jeff's mom was moving him away from the homosexual that she thought was threatening her son's soul was a painful moment. It had been an awful time, feeling that I had finally gotten with Jeff only to have her tear him away. Those horrible feelings of losing something so recently obtained after being so long desired still hurt. Much as any reminder of Toby hurt so deeply at first. And here, now, again, Jeff was slipping away.
"And it's hard to just change what you've thought all your life. Okay?"
I knew exactly what he meant. When I had finally accepted that I was gay to myself, it had been a tough time for me, and I hadn't been raised strictly Catholic. I nodded, not knowing what to say, hoping that I could just keep him talking.
"It was so hard to admit it. I mean, I knew it for so long a time. I knew I really liked guys and not girls, but I hoped, no, yeah, I hoped it would stop. I really did. I prayed it would. Geeze, did I pray!"
He shook his head and suddenly looked so very lost that my heart seemed to flip over in my chest for him.
"Every time I prayed, I felt like it was gonna be the one that turned me... normal."
He shook his head again, with more emphasis and feeling than previously. His brows furrowed and he frowned deeply. It hurt to watch, but I somehow knew that he needed to talk himself through it.
"I'd cry, I'd pray so hard! I just wanted to be normal! To not feel like I was gonna disgrace Mom and Dad. Or make everyone hate me. Or be sent to hell."
He sniffled and wiped his nose with his shirtsleeve. He inhaled deeply and held it for a moment before releasing it explosively.
"Fuck! I was so worried about how people would act if they found out what I... that I was a... that I was, gay."
I remembered those very same worries myself. I could feel them again, and they were made even worse through Jeff's suffering them. I put my arm around him, hoping it would help him.
He looked at me for the first time since beginning his self-revelation. His red-rimmed eyes hurt to see, reminding me of that night so long ago, but only a few weeks past. He looked into my eyes and tried to smile. I returned the effort. He kissed me suddenly, a quick peck that lingered only a moment on my lips.
I was shocked at how much it affected me. Up to that point I had been moved for him, gone from being angry at him to feeling badly for him, to hurting for him, but that kiss sent me further than all that had gone before.
I wanted to make him happy again, far more so than previously during our conversation. His pain hurt me more than ever. I wanted him to feel better about himself, but I was confused. I didn't know what to say, or even if I should say anything. I had even lost the thread of the conversation and didn't know where we had been, other than he couldn't simply accept that Tom and the other guys knew about him, and about us.
"Like I was sayin', dude. We both know you're gay, and we both know you're as normal acting as anybody. That's just the way ya are. You ain't all poofy, ya know?"
I had hoped to get a laugh by using that worn out word. I even executed the limp wrist and head toss gestures.
It got a snicker, which seemed good enough for that moment.
"So don't make any kind of deal of being gay and it won't be a deal."
He smirked oddly.
"What?" I had to ask.
"Here I am being all moody and pissy, and you're busting your ass to make me feel better," he said.
Tom's answer to my very same statement came at me from the back of my head.
"So what else is a friend for?"
"Lots of things, Froedrick," he said softly, surprising me.
"Friends are for lots of things. Making one feel better is only one. An important one, though."
"Yeah, okay, true. But you see? You ain't gotta start goin' to school dressed in a polka-dot dress with high heels."
"Besides, you ain't got the knees for a dress, Eyegor."
"Yeah, I know, Froedrick." His pronunciation that time emphasized the first syllable, and upward as well. The second was curt, and ended harshly with his braces glinting and lips wide. Adorable. He went on, "And I know what you mean. I don't want to wear any girl's clothes. And, yeah, I see what ya mean. I might like guys, but I don't wanna be a woman."
"Like us and sex. Neither of us wants to be a woman. We wanna be the guy."
"We both want to be the pitcher, not the catcher."
His analogy almost stung.
"And one wants our friends to be part of it and know all about it, and the other wants it secret, even from them."
"It's not really that I want it to, I, I just, it, it needs to be. And it feels, weird, too. I like you, love you, I'm sure, but, you're my best friend."
He looked hurt and confused, and worried. I hated seeing him like that, and I wanted to relieve him of those horrible emotions, but I didn't know how.
"I want everyone to know we're best friends," he said, smiling deeply at me. "I don't want anyone to know we, that..." he trailed off, losing his smile to a frowning, hurt expression.
We sat in silence for a few minutes. Awkward, horrible silence.
There they were, the cruxes of our dilemma, spoken and understood.
I sighed and nodded, the only things I could do.
"I can't be both," he said softly. "I can't. And if I have to be your friend or your, you know, boyfriend, then I'd rather be your friend. I'd rather be like we were, without all the... bullshit. All the worry. The, being afraid. Hiding."
I still wanted to say something, anything, that might help him, but nothing came to me. I could understand, I thought, I just didn't see how it was such a problem. He was gay, he knew it now, why couldn't he start trying to deal with it?
"We, we're too much alike in the wrong ways, and too different in other ways."
I care for him a great deal, and I want his friendship and companionship, but we both want something the other doesn't want. And things are moving too fast for him. When it comes to dealing with being gay, he's still a lost child. He can't deal with the guys knowing. Or anyone at school. We can only see each other on the weekend, when all the other guys are around. And he hates that the other guys know. He's got all that Catholic guilt, too. He wants to be such an in-charge guy, but he can't deal with this. So why make him?
We locked eyes.
The only solution was a horrible one. I saw on his face that he was thinking the exact same thing. That answer hurt us both.
We saw into each other, and we broke into tears.
All I could think suddenly, was, don't let it end, even though I knew that it was about to.
"I don't wanna break up."
"I don't either. I love being with you."
"So do I! It's like you're my other half. Or, we were..."
"We knew each other before. And been that close, before," I stated firmly, feeling as if I were risking something huge.
After a long silence, he said, softly, "No shit."
We sat in silence again, longer. Much longer. We sat like weeping statues. He nodded and sighed out several more sobs. We ended up leaning against each other. As we sat there, side by side, heads somewhat bowed upon the other's, it came to me that we had grown out of each other while outgrowing each other.
I fell for the smaller, thinner, adorable, snuggly, little Jeff. But he's grown into this large, wide, strong, massive bulk of a Jeff. Now he's taller than me, wider than me, heavier than me, stronger than me. He's not even a nerd, geek, or dork. He was just the new kid who hooked up with us. He was smallish at one time, and wore braces, and was fairly smart. But now, now he's gonna move on. We might stay friends, but we won't ever be more than that. Especially not once he's part of the popular crowd.
I still have those feelings for him, but he's not the Jeff I wanted.
And I'm tired of fighting for him. I gave it all I had. I tried. And tried and tried. And cried as much as I tried. And he can't be gay to everyone. He has to keep it secret. Which I could do at school. But not lie to the guys about it, or even pretend around them. If he can't even deal with the guys knowing, how's he gonna deal with it at all?
I lost him.
We've gone around before. Maybe we will again. We sort of did this time, but we don't fit together well this time. Maybe on the other side? Next time around? Not now, though.
There was nothing left but to ask. To make it formal. Real.
There was nothing to see, nothing to look at, so I closed my eyes, and into that darkness, I asked, "We're breakin' up, ain't we?"
I heard Jeff's soft exhalation, and his equally softly spoken answer.
"I think we knew it was gonna happen. Right?"
"It's just so, weird. I mean, I like kissing you, I do, but, it's, like kissing my best friend!"
We laughed. I was stunned at our laughter.
"We just don't match up, do we? I mean, I really do love you. I do! But... we both want the same thing from the other one."
"And neither of us wants to be that."
"Like two light bulbs looking for a socket," I said around a sudden giggle, and immediately felt insanely stupid.
He snorted and shook his head.
"You can always make me laugh."
He wore that half-smile of his that meant he was both amused and not, at the same time. His beautiful cornflower-blue eyes, which usually sparkled, were dimmed and rimmed in red. His lips were bright red against his pale face; moist and plump, as tempting as ever, but down-turned in a manner I was unfamiliar with, and did not like.
I felt the rest of my organs fall to join the others and take my soul with them. They tugged against my chest, making it feel suddenly concave, as if I were collapsing in on myself, forcing the desire to cry to become nearly overwhelming.
I sat up straighter and rubbed my hands on my knees and thighs, refusing to let myself cry. I thrust my chest outward and turned that into a stretching motion. Then I utterly collapsed physically, bent deeply over, elbows on knees.
I had to know this was coming, I knew we were never going to be together for long. It's really here. It's time to break up and move along. We had a good time together, and we both know we're as far along with each other as we can be. We really don't fit together good enough to last. We really are like two of the same, both looking for the same thing, the same something that the other doesn't have.
We really don't belong together that way. Our puzzle pieces fit together, just not in that way. He don't plug into me, and I don't plug into him. Instead, we have edges, mostly flat but a bit curvy that slide together without locking. No, they locked tightly together at the friendship point.
We belong next to each other, locked together, just not as lovers. Not this time around.
That bright realization seemed to lighten even the darkness of breaking up with him. It no longer seemed so... unreasonable. Not nearly so debilitating, or horrible, or life-ending.
But still so painful to see us in that light.
"We just don't fit together. What a shitty deal-e-o."
He nodded solemnly, then said, "Our puzzle pieces don't fit together that way."
His turning my own concept on me like that only proved to me that we had learned so much from each other, and we had enjoyed so much time together; we had melded together mentally over the years, and were as close as we could be. At least, this time around.
I nodded and said, "Thank you for everything, Jeff."
Without preamble or leading gestures, we hugged each other. We sniffled and laughed stupidly on each others shoulders for a few minutes, holding tight to each other one last time.
"Man, I was in such a shitty place before you helped me out of it. And I never even said thanks."
"Not like you have to at all, either."
He grinned. Almost a real smile.
"I don't know where I would'a been if you hadn't got me out of that hole I was gettin' into."
I did know where he would have gone if I hadn't gotten him out of the trap he was building for himself. Toby had shown me.
I shivered deeply and hoped he hadn't noticed, being still tightly embraced.
For the briefest of moments, I considered telling him what I had seen of his future while I had been on the other side. It took only that single moment of consideration to again decide against it, the same set of facts asserting themselves.
"Ya know. We finally have a private serious chat without Todd spying on us, or Tom setting it up, and we break up."
He grinned and laughed.
"We both needed somebody, though. That's for sure."
I had almost never felt more sure of something.
More silence. Not awkward, just silence.
"I really need a little yellow helper," I said solemnly. "I'm so gonna need it. And something to drink."
I got up and headed toward the door.
"You?" I offered, knowing the answer.
"Yeah," he said.
I turned to wait for his request. When he didn't answer right away, I asked, "Coke?"
"Nah, burns my nose. Just the pill," he said with a stupid grin.
I was shocked and amused. I hadn't expected the joke, nor for him to accept a pill.
"You want one?" I asked quickly.
He nodded, then said, "If I don't have to feel this way, I don't wanna." Then, "And a Coke."
Pushing the surprise down, I headed downstairs. I didn't want to run into my parents, so I crept through the hallway. The light and television was on in the den, so I didn't stop at the pictures but only sent a brief thought toward Toby as I passed him. I retrieved a pair of pills and a pair of Cokes, then slunk my way back upstairs. I stopped on the second floor, then went into one of the spare bedrooms; the one that had been mine before the third floor was converted.
I sat on the bed. I was actually consoled by the fact that Jeff was deeply enough affected by the situation that he was actually going to take a pill, and even then kept his sense of humor. That was little consolation, though. I wondered if my body had somehow stored up enough of the pills I'd taken to blunt my emotions earlier. I knew that I should be crying more, or at least I felt that I should be. I almost felt guilty for not crying more.
Then I did cry for several minutes, letting the tears flow and the emotions run. I didn't let them run rampant, but gave them a few minutes, to lessen the pressure. I made those whiny, little noises as I fought to hold back any loud ones. It was impossible for me not to make some sound when I cried so deeply.
Why the fuck can't we be compatible? Why the hell do I have to fall for somebody I'm not meant for? Why do we go through this?
For a moment I wanted to rail against God. For only a moment. My times with Toby after his death had taught me a lot of things, one of the chief among them was that God didn't plan our entire lives. He let us bang and careen around on our own, even out of our own control. It was up to ourselves to try to have some control over our existence.
So I have nobody to blame. Except me. If anything is gonna go better, I have to make it. But I can't make Jeff change how he feels about something, anything, and most especially about himself being gay. All I can do is let him find out things himself. Geeze.
And we ain't. Not like we both want. Even what parts we do both want, we can't have. I guess we're both too good of friends to be comfortable as boyfriends around our friends. And Jeff won't be comfortable being known as gay and with me as his boyfriend for a long time. If ever.
That little amount of anger was enough to let me take control of myself. I wiped my eyes and steadied my breath, then walked upstairs to rejoin Jeff.
We watched some television and played a few games on the Atari. We talked about D&D. We joked and punned, even laughed a little. But our new normal was still too new to judge, and not nearly normal. I knew that I often felt a little awkward, and I thought I detected it in him more than once. But at least it wasn't constant, and it wasn't overwhelming.
His mom arrived just about on time, and Todd was with her. She wanted to visit with my folks for a while, so Todd joined us upstairs. We didn't fool him, and he was soon suspicious and asking questions.
"Look, bro. Alex and me, well, we're too good of friends for it. Okay?"
Todd looked surprised at first, then almost angry.
"What the fuck does that mean?"
It was my turn.
"Todd, man, it's too weird. You can't understand. We're too good of friends is all."
He still looked angry, but now a bit confused as well.
"What the hell's that got to do with it? Should make it easier!"
"That's what we thought," Jeff began.
"But it turns out the opposite," I finished.
"You guys gotta be kiddin' me," he asked, not convinced.
Within minutes, he was. Jeff knew his brother very well, and the two of us knew how to work him. Circle pranks and jokes over the years had honed us.
"Bro, don't get all squirrely, okay, but, doing it with Alex is almost like if I was doin' it with you."
Todd put on an hilarious shocked expression and did his funniest, "Ewww!"
"Imagine yourself doing it with Jeff. See?"
"Ewww!" again. "Oh, man. Okay, fine. I guess, sorry, guys."
"Don't be. At least we found out by tryin'. And, besides, it was pretty cool for a while," Jeff said honestly, grinning.
"Yeah. Your bro is hot in the sack," I said, going for another...
In a few minutes, they were gone. Jeff and I simply said, "See ya tomorrow," at the front door. Mom replaced my bandages and reminded me to gain weight. I explained that it was normal for extra calories to be used for repairs before building muscle or storing them as fat. I told her that once the burns were healed and my lungs stopped forcing chunks of dead tissue and contaminants from them, that I would begin to fill out. During dinner, I continued the charade of normalcy. I knew that I couldn't hide it all from them, so I used what little I couldn't stop from showing as the smoke, and the words I chose as the mirrors. By the end of dinner, they were convinced that I would be caught up in classes in plenty of time before finals.
Back upstairs, my room had rarely felt so empty. Nor had I. At least I wasn't filled with agony, thanks to the pill.
I called Tom's and found out they had just returned. I told Tom that I wasn't feeling well, that I would see him on the bus in the morning. I did homework. Little of it made sense, and I didn't care.
I got stoned. I watched random programs on the television, trying not to think. At nine, I turned on the regular Sunday night shows on PBS. The usual lineup kept my mind less focused on the horror of the hours just passed, but did little as far as making me laugh. I knew it would be hours before laughter would be physically possible once the little yellow pill wore off, and probably much, much longer until the loss of Jeff wore off.
Without the little yellow pill, I would have cried myself to sleep. And I knew it. Instead, I ran that new knowledge over and over in my head as the Doctor occasionally distracted my thoughts.
When Doctor Who ended, I got up and turned off the television. I was tired, as was normal anymore, but not ready for sleep. I picked up one of the books on dreams and began reading. I skipped the sections I found irrelevant, focusing on the ones that dealt with meanings, interpretations, causes.
Long into the night, I read. I even took notes. I finished the book, at least the parts I wanted to. Exhausted, I went downstairs for a sleeping pill, which I chewed and then lay down.
I wondered just what Jeff would say to the jocks. I knew of his love of baseball, it was no secret at all. He had more than once said he wished he had gone out for the team freshman year. Or even sophomore year. But he knew that junior was a bit late to join. Even I knew that. Yet he was trying, talking to team members about it. And now he could claim a separation from the homosexual.
I resigned myself to being there for as long as he wanted me. If he no longer seemed to, then I hoped that I was ready and able to say goodbye. What had happened earlier paled in comparison to the mere thought of losing his friendship.
I knew that I could survive not being his boyfriend. I wasn't so sure what my fate would be if I lost him altogether.
I got more comfortable in bed and ran over the plans. We were confident that we would have everyone knowing that we weren't working out as boyfriends by the end of the Circle meeting next weekend. And hopefully by the next Monday and final exams, things would be back to normal.
Normal, I scoffed, as darkness claimed me.
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