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Some chapters of this story contain explicit sexual activity between teen males ranging from 14 to 18. These ages are based on the real ages of the individuals in the events. Many of the events are partially or completely fictitious, though some are true.
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P.S. Yes, finally, another x-rated chapter. You horn-dogs. Though it's a short scene.
At first, the sounds of my screaming and the fire seemed a bit off, then I noticed that "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" was somehow playing on the van radio loudly enough that I could hear it over the fire and my screams. Then the smell of burning gasoline, plastic, and vinyl lessened, easing my coughing. I was able to breathe, and was doing so at a rapid pace when the song was finally the only sound other than my coughing.
I swung my arm over, found the bedside table, and turned off the alarm clock. I let my arm dangle off the side of the bed and tried not to let consciousness return. I didn't want to return to the nightmare, but I was in no hurry to wake up. I wasn't ready to wake up, either. I felt as if I hadn't slept in days. It was so normal, though.
Fuck that nightmare, I thought. I'm getting tired of waking up in a bad mood from it. I should be happy. I had sex with Erich. Sort of. And it was pretty good! Even if it was cheating on Jeff. No, it wasn't. Damn it. Don't think of it like that.
Clean clothes: Ugh, another day trying to catch up in classes. Oh, shit! I gotta ride the bus with Jeff, after doing all that with Erich. Damn! That is so gonna suck so bad. I gotta act cool, not give anything away. And I gotta tell the guys it was all a joke. Gotta pretend we only did German and listened to music. They won't believe it was heavy metal. They know I don't listen to much of that at all.
Shower: So do I lie about that? Why? Maybe I shouldn't even hide I had sex with Erich. Why should I? Jeff said we should just go back to being friends and not being boyfriends. He said it was too much to deal with. So, if we're not boyfriends, why be guilty? Because I'm waiting for Jeff to deal? Why wait? Plus, he's got secrets from me now. Always did, I guess. He never mentioned having Erich in a class, or even that he's taking Latin for the second year. What else he hiding from me? Besides baseball, too.
Drying: Well, I guess I don't really wanna wait on Jeff, now do I? I mean, I did it with Erich. Wow, did I do it with Erich. Well, to Erich. We didn't just mess around a little, I blew him off twice. And I saw him do himself! Wow, was that great! And hot. And Erich is fucking hot. I mean, I knew, but I didn't know. How didn't I know?
Dressing: Because I didn't want to. I didn't look at him at all. I kept looking at something else when I talked to him. All the time. And Erich's been in my gym class all three years. So's a couple other guys. Luck of the draw and all that. So all three years, I pretty much only had eyes for Jeff. I didn't really let myself see the other guys so much. I did, but I didn't really.
Teeth, face, hair: God, I hope we don't give anything away today! Just don't act stupid. Don't say anything. Be cool. Nothing going on. Can he do that? What if he can't? What if he gives something away? Shit, don't think about that! Think about after school! I'm gonna get a real good look at Erich today! Without seeming, uh, I don't know, weird about it. I mean, I seen him naked in gym a lot, but it's not even the same! Shit, if I'd seen Tom or Jeff naked in gym even once, it'd be different, but I never seen Erich up close. And when I can touch him, too. Reach out and actually touch!
I was getting hard, and fast.
Save it for Erich, I thought. We didn't say we were gonna do it again, but we did, sorta. We're gonna. I know it. Cool! Is he gay, or not? Is he just shy to admit it? He didn't seem to be lying, he really seemed to mean it. But what did he mean about there being someone else who's gay at school, then, if not him? How would he know?
Shit! Is there someone else who's gay and I ain't seen it, but Tom and Erich have? Am I that blind? Or stupid? Does Erich know about Puppy Dog? Isn't he Puppy Dog? Fuck. This is crazy.
Just like how I'm gonna go meet Kevin's band guys today! Fuck. What did I get myself into?
Feeling confused and stupid, I stared at myself in the mirror. I rolled my eyes.
Downstairs: fresh bandages, pills, breakfast, ordinary talk, dishes. Then alone with myself.
Again, the same things rolled over and over in my head. I was happy about the new friendship and sex with Erich, but down about the ending of Jeff and what we could have had, what I wanted from him so badly, but couldn't get. Worried that Erich or I might give something away. The fear and worry about hanging out with Kevin and his band. Returning to gym class now that everyone knew that I was gay. The end of the Circle. No more Eric or the twins. The question of why no other gay guys talked to me.
But mostly and by far, the dichotomy of sex with Erich and what it meant between Jeff and me.
Tom's knock interrupted those thoughts. Wondering why he would come over instead of waiting to meet me on the way to the bus, and early at that, I jogged to open the front door.
"Man, why don't we live in the fucking arctic? Be warmer," he complained, entering.
"Dude. What's up?"
"Did you call Jeff?"
"No," almost angrily.
"Dude, I thought we cleared that up last night."
He shrugged and said, "I promised not to fuck around in it, not to ask anything. I won't."
He stood there looking at me.
"What?" I asked, knowing there was more by his expectant grin.
"Man, you forget?"
Judging by his expression, I had. I got the feeling that I had forgotten something important. I searched my memory, trying to figure out what he could be talking about.
My blank face entertained him immensely; he grinned evilly.
"You are such a airhead. Maybe you been smokin' too much."
He dangled his keyring in front of me.
I stared blankly at them, then back at him. I shrugged, asked, "And?"
He rolled his eyes and cocked his head at an angle in exasperation.
"Holy shit," he said slowly. "I... got... the wagon."
"Dude! I'm a fuckin' retard!" I exclaimed, cheering instantly.
I do not have to face Jeff on the bus!
I immediately felt a bit guilty that that was the most important fact to me, not that Tom had a car at last. I knew that I should be happier for him than for myself, but I wasn't.
"So, you ready?" he asked, grinning.
"Dude. Do we have to go now? This early?"
He seemed taken aback a bit.
"I mean, we don't have to go so early anymore, right?"
"What about the guys at the table?" he asked.
"What about 'em?" I asked.
I didn't know if anyone would care if I or Tom didn't come in early anymore. Only Jeff had been of any concern in that regard, and he wasn't there anymore. I was sure it would make Jeff happier if I wasn't on the bus; he wouldn't have me to make him nervous and paranoid.
Then I thought, what if Erich thought me missing at the breakfast table had something to do with what we did yesterday?
I saw that I did need to go in early this one last time.
"Okay, today we go now. Tomorrow, we go later. Okay?"
He looked like he wanted to argue, but reluctantly agreed. As I got my things from my room and put on my coat, gloves, and ridiculously long Doctor Who scarf, Tom and I agreed that we would leave tomorrow at exactly eight-thirty, that he would drive over to my driveway to pick me up.
The ride to school with Tom in his seventy-one Ford wagon was a landmark day. It marked the end of nearly three years of riding the bus along with Jeff. Not only was it warmer, and with music, it was more comfortable and far shorter. We arrived in less than fifteen minutes compared to nearly an hour on the bus.
During the ride, the only thing we talked about, other than the wagon, was when he asked if I was going to be okay riding the bus home alone. I was put aback by the question.
"Probably suck," he answered.
I wondered if I should tell him that Erich was giving me a ride home. I was not going to mention the coincidence of his using the word, "suck."
Why should I? He's keeping secrets from me. Why should I tell him everything? I hate that we don't, now, though. But, things change. We're changing.
I sighed internally, deeply saddened.
Plus, I thought, I really don't even want him knowing I'm hanging out with Erich after school. I'm looking forward to having that entire thing a secret. Especially the sex, and especially from Tom.
"I'm a big boy now, and I can do it all by myself," I said in my best imitation of a proud little boy.
He parked in the student parking lot, and only then I noticed that he had a parking permit already. I shrugged it off and we headed inside.
It almost seemed as if Tom and I were going to a new school. We approached from a different side, entered a different set of doors, took a different path to our lockers. The sensation was almost enjoyable, and if it weren't for all the worries and concerns swirling around in my head, I might have enjoyed the sense of disorientation and strangeness as if they were a buzz from an exotic drug.
I explained the prank with Erich, and asked him to explain it to Jeff during the class they had together. He agreed, after raising a bruise on my shoulder with his fist and promising me a prank in return, with interest.
I tried not to let my emotions run away with me as I approached the cafeteria. Erich would be there, and I had to act as if nothing was new or awkward between us. I was worried that one or both of us would end up revealing something. I was immensely glad that Jeff would not be there. That fact bothered me. I would only have to hide things from Tom, and that was hard enough.
I tried again to convince myself that the sex with Erich was in no way cheating on Jeff, and that Jeff had set things in motion that had made it none of his business. I had nothing to be ashamed or fearful of, I was certain. I even consoled myself with the fact that I hadn't actually had sex with Erich, I had only given him a couple blow-jobs, and he hadn't done anything to me. Yet I was both afraid and ashamed.
We sat down at the table and Tom brandished his keys. He was congratulated and began bragging on the Green Monster. We explained that we wouldn't be at the breakfast table as early anymore, but would be there for a few minutes before first class.
"So you drive Michael Myer's wagon now?" Marcus asked with a snicker.
Tom shot a finger and a scowl his way.
"Imagine following Helen around with it!" Cooley joked.
"She'll call the cops for sure, now!" Dan joked.
When Erich arrived, he was grinning widely and blushing already. I was on edge immediately. He was even quicker to laugh than was usual, and seemed fidgety and restless. I noticed that his hair was particularly neat, for him, anyway. And that he was wearing a nicer shirt than was his usual style. We met eyes several times, and each time his grin widened ever so slightly. I had to control my own smile as well.
I was intensely worried that I or Erich would give something away. Tom knew me so very well, and I was horrified that even the smallest thing I said or did would tip him off. I remained as quiet as possible the entire time. I began to wonder if the messing around with Erich was more a bad thing, as it seemed to be ruining the time spent at the table. I found myself being glad that I wouldn't be there for so long a time anymore. Tom seemed willing to pretend that Jeff missing was no big deal, like everybody else. I tried to.
Another thing that's changing, I lamented. Change, change, change. Things just do, it's the way things are. People, too. And now I've got a whole list of things I want to change about myself.
Seemingly far too soon, the bell rang, and it was time to head to classes. It was almost a normal day at school. I was finally getting back to a comfortable routine of sorts. While it was not as if nothing had ever happened, or had changed, it was at least becoming a regular part of my day again.
Class followed class. Boredom returned in most of them. Kevin nodded at me, even said, "Heya, Alex," as he sat down in third period. Terry, nodded, too, as he handed Kevin his books. I replied with a small nod, not wanting any attention. As we left the class, it was a nice change to not have to avoid him. Instead of calling me a fag, he said, "See ya for practice. Pick ya up, six o'clock." I nodded. It pained me to see him hobble off on his crutches, another friend of his carrying his books.
At lunch I managed to catch Erich before he sat down, and told him that Tom and Jeff knew that my riding off with him was a prank on them now. He turned bright red, and I began wondering what we could claim was causing it before we reached the table. I also wanted to clarify the possibility of sex again that afternoon, but there was no time. I promised myself that I would work up the guts and bring it up in chemistry class, in German.
Too embarrassed to arrive at the lunch table with him, I used the excuse of not wanting any lunch to part from him before we got to the line. Lunch went normally, though Erich and I shared more eye contact than was normal. I tried not to, but it happened all the same. I remained quiet, not wanting to give away any possible hints.
As was always normal, I walked with Erich and Wes to our Chemistry class. As was now normal, I carried Erich's books for him. And as was fairly usual, Thomas walked silently with us until his usual turn. Once in class, I worked on the courage to ask or hint about a repeat performance that afternoon. I watched the clock far too often, making the class go even slower. Eventually Erich asked what was on my mind. We had been using German as much as possible, as usual, so I had the opportunity to ask or hint without the preppies across the lab table having any clue. The only problem was my lack of guts.
But, eventually, I managed it. As the last several minutes remained, in German, I asked, "What is the chance of today at your house being like yesterday?"
He grinned and fought it, obviously pleased, or at least not angry or upset.
"Hundert prozent," he replied, blushing and grinning, looking very cute.
We were silent the rest of the class except for what needed saying to do the experiment synopsis we had to write and turn in. I felt as if I could almost walk on my toes and hardly touch the floor. I tried to keep from looking it, and I hoped I succeeded. Erich seemed to be very happy, almost giddy. I took him and his books to his next class and then jogged to my own.
Literature class went by normally, meaning that I had to fight to stay awake, eventually lost, and then spent the rest of the class pretending that I hadn't.
In gym class, Erich seemed to still be in a good mood, and otherwise unaffected by the fact that he and I had been together just yesterday, and were planning on doing it again in just hours. My guts clenched and tingled each time I thought of it, and I wondered if his did too. He showed no signs of it, but then I was hiding that reaction in myself so that no one would suspect anything.
I spent the class sitting with Erich and Carl, watching the guys climb and rappel. We had a good time chatting, making jokes, talking about things most of the class would have called nerdy, geeky, or just plain stupid, and doing homework and practicing German. At the doors, as we waited to be dismissed, the usual group formed, and the usual talk flowed. Erich and I acted as normal as was normal. I hoped.
English and Civics went as normally as things seemed to be allowed to be. The finals loomed large.
I spent my free period in the library doing homework and trying to catch up. I even finished a lot of it, despite the recurring interruption by images of Erich's body. I almost went to the little computer lab, where I had heard Jeff and the jocks talking about me. Almost. But the pain of the event, and the possibility of more pain from what I might hear if I went there again, made me decide on the library instead. I knew that the little lab was my only hope of catching up in the class, but I was afraid of going there and hearing more.
As the bell rang, I was waiting for Erich inside the doors to the student parking lot. I stayed out of the way of everyone, keeping an eye out for him. I fidgeted, though I tried to stand stationary and look cool and calm. It felt as though everyone knew why I was standing there, though. That was almost enough to cause me to run back into the school and wait for the bus, even if Jeff was on it and not staying after school for some reason that he didn't want me to know, even though I did know. I knew it was only paranoia, but it was hard to fight. It was made worse by so many of the geeks, nerds, dorks, and brains nodding at me, the preppies, richies, and jocks grimacing at me. The punkers and pot-heads mostly ignored me. I had to force myself to stay there and wait. I kept looking downward a lot. Thankfully, Erich wasn't long.
"Hey," he said, approaching out of nowhere it seemed, distracted as I was.
"Oh! Hey," I said, recovering.
We were quiet until we were inside his car and it was started. I wanted to break the awkward silence, but I had no idea what to say. Looking at him, it was obvious he was as uncomfortable as I was. That spurred me to say something in order to relieve the stress on him.
"I really do want to work on some of these words," I said.
"Um, since my sis'll probably be home, can we go to your place? I'm kinda dyin' to see what your room is like, anyway."
I almost said no out of habit, not wanting Tom to see his car in the driveway. Then I remembered that Tom was going to work and wouldn't be home until after nine.
I nodded. On the way out of the parking lot, I saw Tom's car parked where we had left it that morning. That puzzled me. He had said he had to get to Burger King as soon as possible after school, to fill out paperwork and get a uniform and start training. I wondered what was making him run late.
My guts were in knots as we banged heads to Cheap Trick, Alice Cooper, and Whitesnake. I wondered if my neck was going to complain later as we entered my house, and I was hard by the time we entered my bedroom.
"Hmm. Some geek, some nerd, massive bookworm, a lot of science, and music. Considerable evidence of model destruction. Got a temper?"
"Accident," I said with a grin.
"A lot of chaos, but order showing under it. Neat, mostly, but enough disorder so you're comfortable. About like I expected."
"Really? You weren't expecting ballerina posters and music boxes?"
He laughed, showing his retainer and his perfect teeth.
Fuck! He is cute, no doubt. Cute Erich is in my bedroom! And we're probably gonna do it!
I started growing even harder.
"Want a doobie?" I asked, sitting at my desk to hide my lap, taking off my scarf and then coat.
"Hell yeah," he said, sitting in the chair that Tom had last night. "Nice stereo. Can I turn it on?"
Why not, you're turning me on, I thought. I nodded and started rolling a joint. He took off his coat, standing at the chair, looking at the stereo. His shirt rode high and exposed his bellybutton. I twitched from head to foot. Though I had seen it hundreds of times over the past three years in the showers, this time it was intensely erotic. He didn't notice that I watched him as he walked toward the stereo, admiring him. Once he found the heavy metal station, he sat again after setting the volume. I had a pair of eight inch hemostats, one of the gifts Tim had given me before he left; I applied them to the newly rolled joint.
I was able to learn to like some metal, but what were called "speed" and "thrash" were beyond me. A thrasher I didn't know and instantly didn't like roared out of my speakers. He was in heaven. I'd noticed his stereo in his room, and knew the cheap Merchandise Warehouse system. My home system was as good as what he had in his car that was so capable of blowing out my ears. He was enjoying my Fisher speakers and H-K receiver and amplifier setup. I was still proud of the new dual, 10-band, inline equalizer with its twenty little red LEDs, each at the end of a slider.
When the song ended, he turned down the volume before the break began and said with his being-a-pest grin, "Makes Styx seem tame!"
I flipped him off with one hand and took the joint with the other.
When "Someone Like You" began, the opening chords were hard to ignore. He leapt to turn up the volume. We both loved the song, and we both sang along to it at full volume.
I coughed a few times while belting it out, but not badly. The horrible ones had grown fewer and lesser over the last days, and there was less thick, discolored mucus. Best of all, my breath wasn't a wheezing horror during the coughing, bringing on fears of suffocation. I had to exert myself to experience that now. But after throwing so much into that song, I was coughing fairly hard as I turned the stereo down.
"Ya lightweight," Erich said, throwing me a grin as I sat back down.
"Not from that," I said, shaking my head.
"Smoke?" he asked, making the word mean fire and not marijuana with his inflection.
"And the singing," I added. "It can do it just like too big a hit can. Or the cold air did for a while."
"Ah," he said with a thoughtful upward nod. "Too bad. You got pipes."
"Man, don't even pretend ya don't. Your voice has great projection and power and timbre to it now."
I cocked my head backward on my neck in doubt.
"Don't throw your twenty-dollar words at me. I never took any music but the one semester you have to," I said with plenty of not-so-false indignation.
He snickered and then said, "You got a cool voice and you're figuring out how ta use it. Can you make your teeth tingle?"
I pushed my head backward on my neck again.
"Felt 'em vibrate, why?"
"Hard for a lot to do! Geeze. Wonder if you can break clean. I bet you can scoop with that lower range, can't ya?"
My expression alone told him I was lost, I didn't have to say, "I ain't takin' voice vocabulary lessons. German, remember?"
He explained a few words, showed me what he meant in Styx songs, and asked if I could do them. He used other singers and groups, parts in songs I knew, but had no idea of the terminology tied to them.
"Didn't know you knew so much about singing."
"I like to. Was in Chorus until this year. Not real bad, either. Just can't do power stuff like the music I like. I bet you can sing for real," he said with a firm nod. "What's your favorite song to sing to right now?"
"Dude, I don't sing, okay? Besides, my voice is changed from what I'm used to, and I don't think it would sound good to anything."
"It sounded great. You could get good," he said seriously.
I rolled my eyes.
"We better do some German," I said.
"Yeah. So, um, you have to pronounce it right, then define it, all in German. As much as you can, anyway."
He pulled out the textbook and we went down the list of words I had missed while hospitalized, one by one, again. We sat close to each other so that we could both read from the book. I was afforded a great view of his groin, and his soft jeans revealed his anatomy well. Soon, I was painfully hard, and took time to have a good look at him. I really liked what I saw. He was trim, not skinny, and rounded in the right places. I liked his mildly messy, multi-toned blond hair. I liked how his brows were faint and light. I really liked his sparkling gray eyes. I liked his long face, with his long, narrow nose that flared slightly at his nostrils. I liked his fair complexion that blushed furiously in blotchy patches. I really liked his plush lips; smaller and paler than Jeff's, but heavier and darker than Tom's. I liked his strong profile, even if it wasn't considered classically attractive.
I grew harder and my heart hammered harder as we grew nearer to the end of the word list we had agreed to do. As we finished the last one, I sighed with relief.
"Thank God. At least I won't sound like an idiot if I have to read any of those."
"That was hilarious the other day," he said, grinning.
I opened the box and began rolling another joint. We talked in German as much as I could, with me learning a new word from him now and then as we smoked the joint. I noticed that he was blushing. I was sure of why. I began to as well. We were awkwardly quiet for some seconds. We laughed nervously.
"So, you-" I said, as he said, "Do you-"
"We're thinkin' the same thing, ain't we?" he asked without looking at me.
"Think so," I replied.
I moved my hand to his thigh, then slid it to his groin. He was as hard as I was. I wondered briefly if he would do anything to me this time.
Don't care, I thought. If I get to do him, that's enough, I think.
My stomach turned over and that gentle trembling began in my muscles as I looked into his clear, bright gray eyes. There was something there. Something... something like Toby. Like Toby now. Not the Toby I got to meet and know here, but the one from over there. I was feeling sure that there was something between Erich and me, from before. Or now. Or some time or another.
"Bed?" he asked. "Like yesterday?"
I nodded, still looking into his clear, bright gray eyes.
He moved to the bed, where he took the same position, leaning back on his elbows. This time I went to my knees between his legs. I took my time without seeming to do so to get a good look at him. He slid his shirt up to his neck, red and snickering. I loved his smooth chest and really liked his pink nipples and fair, light hair between them. I adored his little, innie bellybutton. I loved his narrow, faint treasure trail. The way he didn't fill the crotch of his jeans was almost too good to believe. They were loose there, but I could see his long, hard cock, pointed to the left.
I looked up and saw him looking at me. It was intensely embarrassing. He was red-faced, biting his lower lip, grinning. He snickered as I looked at him, and I did, too. He was very cute. To me. I couldn't believe I was about to do what I was about to do. Again. I trembled inside, and my hands wanted to shake. Instead, my shoulders did. I let my eyes travel downward, seeing his pink nipples, and the light hair between them. His smooth stomach and little bellybutton. His trail of faint hair leading to his jeans.
I undid his jeans. I slid them down to his ankles. I liked his thin but firmly padded thighs. The bruises tried to make me feel guilty, but I was too interested in what I was about to do. Again. His erection pushed the soft, white material of his shorts upward and outward admirably. His balls filled the remainder of the shorts wonderfully. I carefully removed his shorts, noting a large wet spot. I knew he had been thinking of this moment and been erect for some time. I slid his shorts down to his ankles, placed my knees over them and between his ankles, then spread his knees.
I was careful to avoid the bruises and burns, which were mostly mid-thigh and the insides of his knees. I toyed and played more than yesterday, but we still moved faster as well. I wrapped my fingers around his dick, liking the firmness and the size. His foreskin hid most of his head and was a wrinkled bundle at the tip. I slid the skin downward, slowly revealing his head. Most of the shaft was pale, only the last quarter or so of it was a darker color, almost red, and only once I had pulled it down. The soft contours of his head were almost perfect. The rounded head was slightly dark. I moved my hand upward, taking his skin with it, until his head was mostly hidden. I poked my tongue into that mass of skin and wiggled it there. Jeff had loved that, and Erich seemed to as well. I closed my lips over it, sucked slightly, and then began sliding his skin downward with my hand. As the last of his foreskin unraveled and uncovered his head, I followed it down, replacing it with my lips. His strong scent and flavor filled my senses. I sucked, probing his hole slightly. He wriggled and giggled. I continued moving my hand and my mouth downward, sucking harder, using my tongue against his head. He hissed his breath inward and softly groaned it back out. He trembled slightly. I didn't move fast as I slid up and down him, but I did tickle and lick his head far more than I had yesterday. I let a finger trace circles behind his sack, which he seemed to like. I thought of finding his hole, but was afraid of going there, just in case he was telling the truth about not being gay, or didn't like it. I didn't know if all straight guys liked a finger in there or not, or if all gay guys did or not, but I didn't want to experiment with Erich and make him less willing to do this.
Even without doing that, he thrashed and bucked a great deal. He stifled moans and gasps, but I heard them. His salty pre-cum came often, and his whole cock pulsed each time. He trembled as he neared, and cried the same words the same way. When he came, he filled my mouth, and it was thick, bitter, and musky again. He let me clean him briefly, but made me stop. We had less time today.
I helped him dress again, this time we were more capable at it, and I was more grabby. He enjoyed it and was nearly fully hard again as I slid his jeans up his legs.
"I'm gonna have a boner all night," he said with no small amount of exasperation.
"Wish I could slip over and take care of it for ya later."
I helped him put on his coat and walked him to the front door, chatting as if we'd never touched each other in any sexual way, as if we were just two straight teenagers after a couple hours of studying together. My erection had subsided by then, reluctantly.
"See ya in the morning. Sorry I was, um, giggly and stupid today."
"Nah. And we wasn't too bad. No one noticed that I saw, anyway."
"Me, too. Won't be so weird tomorrow."
It was awkward then, but not overly so.
"Thanks. Again," he said softly.
"Don't thank me. Geeze. Not doing you some kind of favor, ya know," I said, though I felt that I was, was even sure that I was.
"The fuck you ain't! It's almost impossible to beat-off like this," he said, holding up his gloved hands.
I knew that he had no idea that he caused me such guilt by saying and doing that, so I didn't feel it so much, but it was certainly there.
"And you are cute, Erich. Especially when you smile."
He blushed brightly and turned away with a huge grin. He waved once and headed to his car. I closed the door and grinned my way upstairs. The stairs seemed twice as long as usual, and I was nearly panting as I sat at the desk.
I had only one thought, one need, and I took care of it immediately, frantically, while I replayed in my head what I had just done for Erich. I laid down on the bed, pulled my shirt to my neck, my jeans and shorts to my thighs, and went to town. It was quick, explosive, and satisfying, though a bit empty in the end. As I rested inside the blissful aura of release, I was left wishing that Erich had reciprocated, and wondering if he was really Puppy Dog, or actually straight.
As I showered, I tried to remember anything that Erich had done or said that could indicate his being gay, but nothing came to me. The only thing even slightly gay about him had been the way he squirmed and wriggled, and that didn't register as enough to consider proof.
Though he's sure pretty squirmy and wiggly, I thought with a grin. And, I kinda like it. And he isn't even gay. So he says. So what was that about knowing someone else at school is gay? I got to ask more about that sometime.
He knows I'm gay, so why would he say he wasn't, if he was? I mean, he can't be afraid I'd tell someone, could he? Or is it just so hard to admit to. God knows, it is hard to tell someone that. Maybe he isn't ready to? But then why tell me that he isn't, even though I was about to suck his dick? I could see not being able to tell me he's gay, but tell me he's straight? When he so knows I'm gay?
I shook my head in doubt, almost sure that Erich had been honest about his sexuality, and now doubting that he was Puppy Dog.
Which left the inevitable question: If Erich isn't Puppy Dog, who is?
But the question didn't ruin my decent mood. I was as happy as I seemed to get anymore.
Since Jeff and I were happy together the last time, I thought. Fuck. Jeff and me really won't be a pair, will we? He'll never be comfortable being together like that. Too long in the Catholic church. Too much Catholic guilt. And he's too big. Not just his dick, he is. I don't like guys bigger than me very often now. And Jeff is way taller and wider and stronger, all of it. More in charge. Just not what I want.
Erich? He's got a better body, for sure. Not much body hair, no big muscles, great nipples, nice butt, cool hair, face, lips, eyes, all that. Fine eyebrows, too. But, I don't love him. I dig him, for sure. Love having sex with him. And his dick I would let in me. I wonder if he would want to do that?
Tomorrow! We didn't talk about doing it again tomorrow! Damn. But I'm sure he will wanna. Right? And don't feel so guilty about Jeff. Kinda sad for him, though. Like I said yesterday, waiting for Erich to pull up, if he don't get past it, he won't find somebody to be his boyfriend. Ever. Dumb-ass. Hmm, hope I still get to mess around with him this weekend. Shit. Erich and Jeff. That'd be fun! Not likely, not the way Jeff is. But good to jerk off to later. Like I'm gonna have a chubby later. I'm pooped out! Won't be hard until tomorrow, probably. And Erich's hard right now. Gonna be hard all night, probably. No wonder he cums so much, he's hard all the time!
I finished the shower, brushed my teeth, combed my hair, dressed, then sat at my desk, still deep in those same thoughts as I rolled and smoked another joint. Not long after, Mom called that dinner was ready. Tonight she wanted an easy night, so take-out Chinese took care of all the work. Kung Pao chicken, fried rice, extra crab rangoon stuffed with cream cheese, and fried dumplings - reminders that I needed to gain weight alongside the verbal ones.
It was again difficult not to tell my parents about Erich. I briefly wondered why. I did tell them that Tom had the wagon, and would be taking me to school in the mornings. They asked if he would be bringing me home. I slipped and said no, that Erich was. I wouldn't have if I hadn't been so tired and distracted, and thinking of Erich anyway. I had to cover by telling them he was helping me with my German. He hadn't stuck out much during his rare visits to the hospital, so they didn't remember him and wanted to know whose car I would be riding in. I assured them he was a decent guy. They wanted more than just that. I said I would ask him if he could stick around and they could meet him. I also told them that I was going to be gone until nine or ten tonight. I didn't tell them that I was going to hang out with a band, only that I was going to hang out with friends from school. I was given the usual admonition to not be out late, and was asked if my homework was done. I almost grinned at that question. Dinner went by fairly normally, and at almost exactly six there was a honking horn from the driveway.
I'd already brought my coat downstairs and laid it on the chair by the door, so it was a matter of seconds before I was outside and climbing into Kevin's car.
My guts were knotted again, but this time for a different reason. I was not going to hang around the house with Tom for the first time in... I had no idea. Other than the time I had spent in the hospital, Tom and me had spent our afternoons together since just before ninth grade.
The idea of hanging around with Kevin would have been strange enough before we had fought, but now, it was almost bizarre. On top of that, I was headed with him to meet the members of his band, and maybe help one of them learn how to set up a synthesizer.
I was very nervous, and still worried it was all a trap to get the faggot alone. I tried to judge Kevin's attitude and intentions as he drove. He seemed open and honest as he talked about the guys in the band and the songs they were practicing. With the topic being Styx and other real music, we actually made small talk as if we'd known each other for years, despite my reservations.
We drove to James' house, not far from the twins'. He lived in a huge, square, boxy, brick-and-stone monstrosity. Like my own house, but five or six times the size. There was a long, arcing driveway and a four-car garage. He parked in front of the last garage door and we walked around to the back of the house. I was acutely aware of his crutches, and wished I could think of something to say about them, about being sorry he needed them. He seemed to get around on them very well, and I wondered if he had ever needed to use them before.
Once we made it around to the garage, nearly the entire back of the house on this side was glass walls and doors. Several layers of patio extended some ways into the back yard. Through a set of these doors was a large room with drums, guitars, amplifiers, a keyboard, and several microphones, all plugged into a console. It was a studio, a full-fledged studio. The mixing board and reel-to-reel recording equipment took up most of the wall opposite the glass doors and walls,. The wires ran along that wall behind the drums and spread out so that walking over a wire was something you didn't need to do very often. It was neat and orderly.
I uttered an awe-inspired expletive.
The Oberheim OB-X sat near the wall to the left of the doors. A thin guy with the most startling, long, deeply red hair sat there, toying around with it, making almost piano-like sounds. It was odd enough to be in a strange place, to meet strangers, and talk music, but the sight of the red-head actually took my breath away.
Then came a chair and a guitar, then the drums, then two guitars on chairs, and lastly a bass and chair in use by Terry. Kevin pointed me toward the keyboard.
"David plays piano. He's good, but can't get the synthesizer settings right."
"Friggin' 'ard, all those buttons and levels," he said in a wonderful accent.
His accent was fascinating, and I wondered what it was doing here. I'd heard many like it on BBC programs on PBS, I just didn't know exactly where it came from. Northern reaches of England, around Scotland was my guess.
"Uh, that's okay. I know them, mostly," I replied.
It was an expensive synthesizer, the same model used on Paradise Theater, and the father to the one not far away at the twins' estate.
David, as he was introduced, drew my eyes to him. I'd never seen him before, and I knew instantly that if I had, I would remember him. He had to be a sophomore, or in another school. He had the most remarkable red hair. Real, deep, rich red hair. Straight, and hanging down between his shoulder blades, parted roughly down the middle. He had wonderful, bright, blue-gray eyes. His complexion was pale, almost white, and a very few freckles were faintly visible here and there; mostly along the tops of his arms and the back of his hands. He was thin and wiry, and moved smoothly and almost gracefully. He spoke slowly, almost shyly. As he toyed around on the keyboard, his fingers and hands showed real grace and training.
"What songs don't you know how to get set up?" I asked, trying to keep my voice steady.
"All the Styx. I've got the piano-like settings, almost, but not bleedin' quite."
He had it nearly set to piano, so I changed a few keys.
"Uh, Sailin' Away?"
A couple more changes in settings, doing my best not to bend even closer to him.
"Give it a try. Keep playing, don't stop," I said, making fine adjustments.
It was sounding close when he hit several bad notes.
"Smooth move, that," he declared, tisking and rolling his head.
I absolutely loved the way he said it.
"Don't bug out on it, dude."
"Yank phrases. They crack me up."
I giggled, partly because he had no idea how his phrases affected me.
I made more adjustments. He started over.
"That's fab!" he said, playing, grinning wonderfully.
For the first time since I had walked over to him and the keyboard, he looked up at me. His grin faltered or adjusted, not knowing him yet I couldn't tell which. Either way, he reddened and looked back down quickly. I assumed he recognized the fag and was now uncomfortable. He also fumbled on the keys and then began over.
I was in a swirl of emotions. The nervousness of being with an entirely different bunch of people in a strange place was enough, but the equally strong emotions stirred up by being around a keyboard in a musical setting added to that was nearly too much. Then thrown in was this stunning example of ginger perfection. It was bad enough to be gay and trying to be just one of the guys, but it was now impossible with the instant attraction I felt toward David.
Someone I didn't know sat down and played the drums in a very basic way. Kevin began singing and playing the guitar. He sounded pretty good. Terry filled out the strings, and he was obviously good, too. David was hitting the keys all wrong. He needed to learn to rely on the key action for duration and volume.
I did everything I could to be normal. Or at least to seem normal. I didn't stare at David, but only by remembering not to and forcing myself not to. I looked at the other guys as well, and out at the back yard visible through all the glass doors and walls. I grinned, tapped a foot, nodded in time. I glanced quickly and slyly at David's crotch. I mentally slapped myself and paid attention to his fingers. I smiled and grinned at the guys playing guitars so well.
I ached to touch his hair. I yearned to smell it. I burned to run my fingers through it, over his shoulders, down his chest, along his belly, slipping my fingers past the waistband of his pants and...
Fucking stop it! I chided myself. Drop the fag stuff! Just be one of the guys for a change! You could work with a band. One that plays Styx! They're doing "Rockin' The Paradise!" And good, too! Enjoy it. Don't think about how sweet and wonderful David looks. Ignore how hot his grin is. Don't think about what his deep red pubes must look like, and how his dick is probably not very long but nicely smooth judging by how his fingers... damn it!
Stop it! How can I do this? Who am I kidding? Even without a David, what do I think I'm doing? All I ever did was fuck around with Toby and the twins. So I got good at playing Styx. And about a dozen other songs. What good is that? What the hell do I think I'm doing?
After going through the song once, Kevin and Terry wanted to try, "Pieces of Eight." David tried his hand at the opening sequences. He clearly had no experience at them, and the sheet music he was trying to play it from made no sense to me.
"I don't bloody well get it. Ya got to show me," David said, looking up at me.
I was loving his accent more and more. His, "Ya" wasn't a true, "Ya" at all, but almost, "Ye." His vowels were rounded in the extreme, and his consonants were mostly shortened and curt. Scottish hints flavored his northern English accent, making it extra special. The way his words seem to trill up and down was immensely satisfying.
And, he was hard not to stare at. He was shortish, very slim, and neat. His face had nearly sharp angles, nearly elfish, very cute. His eyebrows were almost invisible, they were so light and fine against his pale complexion. His blue-gray eyes were bright and sparkling, as if he were on cocaine as well. He'd had the same eye-rolling reaction to Kevin and Terry's actions as I had, or I would have suspected that he was coking too. His intensely red hair was straight, parted down the center and usually over his ears to end up hanging straightly to below his shoulders, like a frozen waterfall of rubies. He obviously liked dark gray and black clothing. The only other color was a gold crucifix on a silver chain around his neck.
I felt my guts shift in admiration of him. I realized that he was waiting for me to say something, to demonstrate the song for him.
"I'm gonna suck. Been eight months," I lied, feeling my guts tighten even further as I saw the keyboard as something I was going to use, not merely the instrument David was playing.
I'd loved playing on my cheap synthesizer as Toby and I sang, and on the expensive OB-Xa with the twins during the rare Circle meetings there. It had been great fun with Jeff, too. I'd played my own J. C. Penny model long before I ever met any of them. I knew I could play that song, and nearly every other Styx song as well, but I had never played in front of strangers, or even new friends. And it had been months.
Taking a deep breath, I moved to sit as David vacated the seat. Three guys walked in, laughing. I recognized Wil and James from around school, but hardly knew them. The third guy I didn't know. They were laughing until they saw me. Wil kept smiling, but James and the other guy didn't look friendly as they walked toward the drums.
"Isn't this-" David started to ask me, pointing at the sheet music, before James cut him off.
"Don't bother. No fag is playin' my keyboard."
That hurt deeply. I'd been called a fag many times before anyone knew, and it had hurt. I'd been called a fag a few times even after it became public knowledge, and it had hurt, too. But now I had been called one in front of a few guys I was beginning to look forward to becoming friends with. This time it really hurt. But worse of all, it was in front of David, which only made it seem so completely true. It hurt more than ever.
I saw that even David flinched and looked down at the keyboard in discomfort.
"Dude!" Kevin said, throwing James a foul look.
"Don't dude me. I'm not playin' with a fag. You guys wanna fag up, go ahead, but I ain't gonna. I thought you were kiddin', Kev."
He flipped Kevin off as he sat down behind his drums.
I felt like a pile of warm dung on a silver platter. I wanted to beat James to a bloody pulp, and his buddy, too. I wished I could. I wished I could call up the odd coincidences that had controlled the fight with Kevin at school. I wished that I wasn't a powerless wuss. I wished that I were far away from there, that I hadn't come.
"You can't be serious, you total dick-wad," Kevin half-asked.
"What about the gig on Friday?" Kevin asked. "And the student union, Saturday?"
"Fuck it. Didn't wanna do it, anyway. Find some faggy drummer to do it. Should fit right in."
"Jesus Christ, James," Kevin exclaimed in exasperation.
"Come on!" Wil said, obviously angry at James as well.
"You all can get your stuff outta here. I ain't got time for this shit, anyway. I wanna hit Marty's party Friday night, anyway. And I got other stuff I wanna do, anyway. So find some other drummer and some other place to practice. I'm out, and you guys are gettin' out."
He crossed his arms. The guy I didn't know crossed his arms as well, grinning.
"You're fuckin' serious!" Kevin declared in disbelief. "You wanna piss away the best band in school? And Alex can play the Styx stuff we wanna do."
James nodded once. "Than play with a faggot. But he's not touchin' my keyboard. Or bein' in my house. Get the fuck out," he said, the last while glaring directly at me.
They both glared at me as if I were that pile of steaming excrement I felt I were, but they had found me laying on top of one of the drums. I felt sweat running down the sides of my face and the back of my neck. I was angry and scared. And embarrassed. And guilty.
"Fine. Fuck you, then," Kevin answered as he began gathering up his gear.
"Fuck this," Terry said and started unplugging his things as well.
I helped with the considerable wires and boxes. It took a while, during which James and his silent friend sat motionless, watching us come and go. We moved their stuff out in silence, and I tried not to look at James and his friend, but I did more than once. Their glares made me feel as if I were in mortal danger. It took a while, but we managed to haul everything out to Kevin's new K-Car convertible, Wil's massive, old Bonneville, and Terry's Ford Ranchero. Terry said that he was going home to see if they could use his house to practice; he was sure it was possible. They talked a while about who they could get to play drums on such short notice. And where to get another keyboard to play.
"We're fucked," Wil said sadly.
"No shit. At least Jimmy had the stamina, man. He could play all night."
"If he had enough coke," Wil added.
"Ya, but he's a total dick," Terry said with a glance toward me.
"He's been actin' like he was gonna drop out, anyway," Kevin said, mostly at me.
I felt horrible, and responsible. It was obvious the last straw had been my presence. I apologized to Kevin as we got into his car.
"Dude, don't sweat it. He's an asshole. I thought he might drop out cold. He's been bitchin' about not having time and shit. So good riddance, ya know?"
We were quiet for a bit before he asked, and I agreed to be picked up tomorrow night. He was sure he could get another drummer, and even another keyboard to play, though it might not be so new and not an Oberheim. He just wasn't sure how long it would take. Tomorrow he wanted to meet at Terry's with everyone and talk drummer and make calls about keyboards. I wasn't sure why I should go, but he was sure I should, even if they didn't find another keyboard tomorrow.
We talked as he drove, but my mind was on so many things that I felt dizzy after a short time trying to sort them all out. I had to see if Tom worked the rest of the week or not, and how it went, and what hours he would be working this weekend. I also wondered why his car had been at school so late. I was wondering if I would mess with Erich's back door or not, and how he would react. I wondered if Jeff was still mad, why he couldn't be seen with me, and how things were going to work out between us. And in among these were all the constant concerns of late, now mixing with the new guilt of having caused Kevin's band to break up.
Once he dropped me at home, I hit the books for a couple of hours. It was hard to concentrate with all the concerns running around in my head. How could I not feel responsible for what happened to the band?
I got some homework done, though little, and even that was a struggle. At nine I went downstairs for the usual treatments. I was put through the normal routine of fresh bandages, pills, reminders to gain weight, and a few questions about school. I had a snack, if only to make Mom happy, then retreated back to my room. I sat at my desk, where I smoked a joint as I wrote quickly in my journal.
Just as I closed the journal, after telling it of the band and my woes, I heard footfalls on the stairs. I turned in the chair just as Tom walked through the doorway.
"Hey, what up?"
"Hey, Tom. How's the workin' man?"
"Sore and tired, and needin' a buzz," he said with a grin.
"Got just the thing," I replied, opening the box.
The supply was getting low, but there was plenty hidden in the chest freezer in the garage. I grinned, thinking of all that pot Tim had given me.
"What's the grin for?" Tom asked as he pulled up the chair as I rolled.
"Just thinkin' how much grass is in the freezer downstairs."
He laughed, then said, "You could go to college on that."
We both knew there wasn't that much, so I threw him my "bull-shit" look.
He shrugged, then said, "Okay, fine. Enough to replace the plastic grass in a hell of a lot of Easter baskets."
That idea was appealing. I nodded.
"That would be a kick-ass Easter basket."
We laughed. I finished rolling a joint and passed it to him. When he took it, I noticed that his fingers had something black and gritty in all the nooks and crannies, under his nails, in several cuts on his knuckles and the backs of his fingers.
"Thought food service was a clean job?" I asked.
"Is, except when you're the one cleaning the broiler and shit," he said quickly.
Too quickly, I thought. Should I ask why his wagon was still parked at school when he should have left for Burger King already?
As he lit the joint, I decided against it. Not only because it seemed like I was prying, but mostly because I didn't want to tell him why I had been on that side of the school.
As we smoked the joint, I asked, "So what's the plan for Friday night?"
Once he blew out his hit, he answered, "Work," with a frown.
I had suspected that the Circle would be winding down, from the moment that Toby had told me not to worry about it, that they go 'round and 'round. But I had hoped not.
Tom talked about this and that, keeping off any subjects that might be downers. I noticed, and was thankful. He never mentioned Jeff. Nearly as soon as the joint was done, he stretched and mentioned a shower and bed.
"Ya. See ya in the morning."
"Pick ya up at eight-thirty."
And he left. And he left me feeling deeply empty.
And he left me wondering what he was up to. We had known each other for only three years by then, but we knew each other as if we had grown up together. We had spent so much time together, it could have added up to the time some life-long friends had spent together by our age. He had taught me things about reading body language, and I had gotten more from Tim, but I didn't need it to read my knight.
As he walked down the stairs, I knew there was something he was hiding from me, and something else he didn't want to tell me. The only things I didn't know were what they were, and if they were related somehow. I began cogitating.
First, he didn't wanna tell me about something over a week ago. Had something to do with me. Then he lied about where he went. Then he lied about going to work after school. Now he says his hands are dirty from cleaning the broiler at Burger King. If that thing has that kind of nasty shit on it, I don't ever wanna eat there again.
I sighed. I picked a long roach out of the box and lit it. I thought. I pulled out the journal and added two pages to it. I also added some data to the other journal, putting Erich's statistics and information into it, noting that he also held up the usual adages. I thought more, finally finishing the joint.
Finally, not able to put any more pieces together in any meaningful way, I gave up. I perused a bit of one of the books on dreams, then played through Paradise Theater. It was draining. And drew me into thoughts of Toby and existence outside this chaos. I ended the album badly, but I wasn't interested in doing well, only doing it.
Once through was enough. I started thinking of the new usual things, some good, some bad. I tried the television, but only channels five and nine were still on, and they were useless. It wasn't long before the usual thoughts of losing Jeff to sports and the jocks, of Tom being around less, and of the Circle coming to an end, were drawing me down.
I tried to concentrate on Erich being a good thing, but guilt about Jeff and about Erich's injuries bruised it. I tried thinking of Kevin being a new friend and the whole band thing as positive, but the fact that I had caused the band to break up shattered that. I tried being happy about becoming caught up in most classes, but the worries about changing, showers, and shifting seating sunk that. I tried being pleased about Tom getting a car and riding to school with him in the mornings, and not having to face Jeff on the bus, as a positive thing, but the chill between Tom and me that had nothing to do with the weather froze that.
I tried, but again and again my thoughts turned to losing Jeff as a boyfriend, and losing him as a friend to the jocks and sports. To losing Tom. To losing the Circle, Eric, and the twins. To returning to gym class as the class faggot in an empty aisle of lockers. To breaking up Kevin's band. To possibly proving to all the members of the band that I was a homo by perving David to the point he quit the band. To having no one to love, or to love me. To being so terrible a person, that none of the other gay guys in school would talk to me.
I worried about how much I could take before it became too much to bear, and what would happen if I reached that point.
I rolled over in frustration, again and again. I pulled a pillow tightly over my head, as if it could shield me from the horrible things in my life. Eventually the sheer lack of sleep took over. Eventually my thoughts calmed, grew placid, quiet.
"Yeah. Old Chevy, not started for a few days, in cold weather, used to driving every day. She's gonna be stubborn," Dad said, yet again.
Oh, God, no! Make it stop!
I looked up.
Jeff stood near Dad, just as always, looking so cute in his uniform, catching his ball, grinning coldly, nodding.
I knew I was fated to die again and again, over and over, with Jeff looking so cute, wanting me to burn.
"See if you can pop that hatch cover, will ya, son?"
I unlatched the one on the passenger side easily. I pulled and yanked on the driver's side, the van shaking from my efforts.
Dad told me to just 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, not with Jeff there, grinning so chillingly. I wanted to scream at Dad to run, at Jeff to stop enjoying the spectacle, and to run from the van, never to touch it again.
Dad peeked around the hood at me with a grin. Jeff grinned horribly at me from the other side of the hood, urging me to start the van.
I moved the medallion aside and turned the key. Dad called for another pump of the accelerator. I pushed and released the pedal. The engine turned faster, then caught with a pop.
I stared into Jeff's eyes, knowing what was about to happen and completely unable to stop it - either of us. Another, louder pop, then a loud, whooshing boom as there was a bright, orange light, and I was knocked against the van door, the left side of my head hitting the pillar.
Things went fuzzy, and wobbly, and blurred. Dad yelled my name. Jeff laughed manically. Flames on the dashboard. Heat. The odor of burning carpet, oil, rubber, and plastic.
I fumbled with the medallion, and managed to kill the engine, but the flames raged, grew larger, burning closer, hotter. Thick smoke curled up the windshield and rolled over my head.
I opened the driver's door, but Jeff held it shut, grinning at me horribly. He asked, "How can you sleep with Erich already? Didn't you ever love me at all?
I wanted 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.
Dad's voice calling my name again. Jeff's laughter.
I felt the heat of the fire. I saw my charred and smoking body being pulled from the van by firemen, my grieving parents held back by police, Jeff smiling and laughing in his uniform. I clawed at the window, pushing my face out the opening, but Jeff kept pushing me back inside, glaring at me, wanting to know whom I really loved.
Panic. Flames. Heat. Smoke. Fear. Jeff's question and his laughter.
The coughing was constant and painful. Each inhalation burned, each cough hurt even more than the last.
I struggled for air. My heart thudded against my ribs. I pushed against Jeff, but he kept pushing me back inside the window, enjoying the sport. He was so much stronger than me, was able to with ease.
The pain in my temple flared with each cough. I felt the familiar dizziness come, and knew I was about to lose consciousness.
My thoughts were to blame it on God, worry about not being with Toby in the afterlife, and how unfair it was that Jeff wanted me to burn.
The heat, the pain, the horrible suffocation, Jeff's laughter.
All of it was dimming, but I clearly heard Jeff say, "I told Tom to wait for ya at school, that you was gonna pick him up in the van!"
Then the only sounds were my thoughts and my stuttering heartbeat.
Soon, even those sounds grew dim, irregular, indistinct, then stopped.
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