This material is intended only for adult audiences who wish to view it, and wherein it is legal to do so at your age at your location in your circumstances. If you find homosexual conduct offensive, are a minor, do not wish to view or read such material, or it is illegal for you to do so, WTF are you doing here? Put the browser down and back away.
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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The Circle 3 will be available around January 2014.
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P.S. Yes, finally, another x-rated chapter. You horn-dogs. Though it's a short scene.


Track 5

"Heavy Metal Poisoning"

Part Three


"Alex, hun, I'll be leaving soon. You up?"

The fear and horror were fresh and potent. I was soaked with sweat. My legs were tangled in the blankets.

What the fuck I gotta do to get away from that fucking dream? Take two sleepers and two little yellows? Risk it? Ugh. I'd rather have the nightmare, I think, than feel like... nothing. Or risk it.


"Yes, Mom," I called back. "I don't have to leave for almost an hour. I got a ride, now, ya know."

"I know, and do not forget breakfast!" she reminded forcefully.

"I won't. I'll get something at the cafeteria. We'll get there about twenty minutes before class starts, plenty of time."

The coughing started. I'd managed to say more before it started than I had previously. The coughing was also less severe, and what I spat up was nearly normal.

After a brief pause, she said, "I'm leaving a ten on the table by the front door so you don't have any excuse not to eat breakfast the rest of the week. And I'm going to call Tom right now and ask him to make sure you do. Understand?"

Oh, good grief, I moaned, feeling disgusted and put upon.

"Fine. Thanks."

"Get a shower then come down so I can do your bandages in time for my ride. Hurry it up, young man."

Groaning at being treated like a child, I crawled out of bed, showered, and then headed downstairs. Mom put fresh bandages on, all the while reminding me of the same things, harping especially upon gaining some weight.

Dad grinned gently when I pleaded wordlessly in his direction, then said, "Please just gain some weight, before your mother and I have to have the doors widened so we can come and go."

I rolled my eyes.

"Since I get a ride in mornings, when ya gonna let me sleep later and not wake me up so early?"

"Tomorrow. Maybe. And you are going to have to have Tom do your bandages."

I sighed.

Soon, but not soon enough, their rides arrived and they were gone. I returned to bed and nodded off almost immediately. Also almost immediately, or so it seemed, the alarm went off. I rolled over and slapped it off.

I was fully dressed and ready to go when Tom pulled into the driveway. The air coming out of the dashboard was already warming, and I held my hands in front of the vents. He insisted I wear the seat belt. After the jokes about Mom's call, we yawned excessively, and were as quiet as if we'd driven to school together for the last three years. We did talk a bit, and I found out that he was definitely working tomorrow night, as well as Saturday. He was also scheduled every day after school next week. I considered asking why the wagon had been in the parking lot so late yesterday if he'd had to be at BK so early, but I didn't think he would tell me. I knew he was keeping some secrets from me. I lamented those changes. And other changes, too.

No Tom after school, and he's keeping secrets from me, but I get to have sex with Erich. Then hanging around the hot David. Not totally a bad swap in all, I thought without cheerfulness.

After we swapped books at our lockers, we headed off to join the guys at the breakfast table. I already missed Jeff, and I didn't expect to see him at the table, even though our bus had dropped him off twenty minutes ago. Tom promptly reminded me that I had to have breakfast just as we walked through one of the eternally open double-doors. I threw him an irritated look, but followed it up with a roll of my eyes and a change of direction toward the counter. I rejoined him and the other guys with a banana and a carton of orange juice. Jeff was missing; the new normal. I felt a strong twinge of guilt and a sense of abandoning a friend when I saw Erich, but then I thought of why I felt that way, and had no answer yet again.

I sat down, and Tom took his glasses off and then wiped his face from forehead to chin with his other hand. After replacing his glasses, he looked at me and said, "I am not covering your ass on that one."

"What? Nothing worth a damn left this late," I explained.

He didn't look convinced. I shrugged and chugged the orange juice.

"Usually only thing left by now is bear-claws and oatmeal," Thomas said, backing me up.

I was surprised at his vocal outburst.

"That's gonna be a problem," Tom said slowly.

"What, you suddenly his mommy?" Marcus asked with a laugh.

Tom was suddenly very serious as he said, "You ain't noticed he's lost tons of weight?"

His slightly raised voice got nearly everyone's attention at the table.

"Maybe, a little," Steve said, eying me.

"Too much," Tom said firmly.

"What? He was almost dead last month, cut him a break," Cooley said in my defense.

Ed asked, "Is it a big deal or something?"

"No!" I said emphatically, just as Tom said, equally strongly, "Yes!"

"Five bucks on Alex," Erich said, slowly moving himself and his books away from us, eying Tom and me as if we were about to jump onto the table and fight it out.

The laughter broke the small adversarial mood between Tom and me. We grinned at each other and let it go.

Bill Berry held out a muffin. I shook my head. A couple of others held up other things.

"Guys, it won't hurt me to have a light breakfast for one day. Don't let Tom fool ya. I'm fine, just need extra calories to put some weight back on, is all. Drop it."

The fact that so many had offered a bit of their breakfast or lunch wasn't lost on me. It felt good, and almost offset all the horrible thoughts. But the first glance at either of Jeff's empty seats would throw me right back into the depths.

Being so used to having nearly an hour before classes began, it seemed far too soon when the bell rang. As was always the usual, some of us threw "Later" and "See ya" at each other as we gathered our things and headed to our classes.

The day was even more normal than the previous. The new normal seemed to be settling in. I missed Jeff. I missed talking to him during breakfast. I missed looking forward to having him around on the weekend. I missed him, period. I began to seriously doubt that our friendship would survive our short time as more than just friends, and not just because that time was so short. He apparently wanted the baseball team and the friendship of the jocks more than our friendship.

In each class I tried to stay tuned in, but thoughts of the recent bout of changes and new norms kept creeping back. I dozed off in every class, except computers, where I had too much to finish. I didn't want to let down that teacher, not since he had told me what he had about himself. The playing was obviously helping, and I was typing with both hands again, just fairly slowly.

I would be down and out about Jeff, then I would be up and grinning to myself over thoughts of Erich. Then I would go back down while thinking of spending so much less time with Tom, but I would rise again when I thought of finally healing, down again at thoughts of Kevin's band, and up again thinking of the hot David.

Up and down, again and again, all through the last half of the day. I reached my zenith as Erich and I spoke in German, punning about sex after school. I hit the lowest point when I went to the little computer lab for my free period to end the day, and I noticed that many of the students around the shops were either giving me the evil eye, or looking shocked or surprised.

I knew the most likely guys to really have a problem with someone being gay would be the gear-heads, or metal and wood shop types - the macho ones. So I wasn't surprised that so many in that part of the school would be giving me such looks. But worse, I was being watched. I wasn't completely sure, but a guy was leaning against the doors to the auto shop, and he seemed to be keeping an eye on me as I walked into the computer lab. I wondered, worried if there was violence in his head. He just looked more guilty than threatening, really.

I kept waiting to hear Jeff's voice. I never did. I was both glad and sad about that.

I spent that last period torn between happiness and sadness. I was losing one of the best friends I had ever had, and someone I had been in love with for years. I was gaining a new good friend, one I was sort of having sex with instead of Jeff. I was also losing most of my time spent with Tom, but I was becoming better friends with Kevin, and maybe the guys in the band, and David.

Change, I thought once again. I wanted change, something different, until I got it. Now I got it, I'm not so sure I want it. Maybe it would better if everything went back the way it was before.

Before? Before what? Having sex with Erich? Jeff and me trying out being boyfriends? The van fire? Dying? Or coming back? Or telling Charlie Derek and the whole school that I was gay?

Cripes. This is the age they always say is full of changes. They said in health classes that my body was going to change. That my voice was going to change. That my brain was going to change. Tastes, hobbies, preferences, desires, even the way I thought. Fuck, man, and they still didn't even get through just how much things would change.

I began to wonder if it was just me. Maybe to everyone else, there were fewer changes, and smaller ones, and it was nowhere near as dramatic, as profound. I wondered if I was having a tougher time than others. I wondered if it was because I was gay. Or a geek. More a nerd, but, "A trifling's the difference, there," as grandma would say.

I wondered what it was like to be normal.

I scoffed at the idea of anything about me being normal. Boring, sure. Tedious, probably. Dull, definitely.

After a day of up and down, over and over, I rode the same roller-coaster at super-sonic speeds during that last period. So much so, that I got absolutely nothing done whatsoever and was startled by the bell. On my way out, I was nervous and worried about being jumped, but I was almost sure a different guy was seemingly not watching me, so I walked quickly the other way, only coincidentally toward my locker. Feeling like a coward, I swapped books, bundled up, then walked to meet Erich.

It was a massive change in my life. For all three years in high school, meeting Tom and Jeff after classes and for the bus ride home was a daily ritual. One I had missed so much while in the hospital and at home. Now, that was gone, and I was again off for an afternoon of secret sex with Erich. Even if I stopped my activities, what had been so normal would still cease to exist, as they were also doing other things. That waiting period after school had deteriorated dramatically anyway.

I was almost as happy as I thought I should be while heading off with a cute guy to have sex. Almost. But once again I felt a bit guilty about it, as if I were cheating on Jeff in some way. It must have shown.

"You got somethin' on your mind?" Erich asked as he started the little Mustang Two. "You look like you lost your best friend."

I knew that he had no idea how close to the mark he was with that. At first I was going to blow off his question, but we locked eyes, and I suddenly wanted to talk.

"Man, you ever feel like you get more crap than everybody else?"

He looked puzzled at first.

"Well, yeah. Sometimes it seems like it, for sure. Why? What's up?"

He looked more worried than puzzled then.

I shrugged and looked out the windshield at the blustery winter sky.

"Just sometimes, it's like, all this stuff builds up. Like it piles up and tries to crush me."


"Some of it's even good things, but it just adds to the pile."

"Yeah. Some of it's even normal stuff. But it's still heavy. Adds to it all. Makes even the good stuff seem bad."

"Yeah. And it just keeps coming."

We were silent for a while, until the engine idle began smoothing out. Erich put the car in gear and backed out of the parking spot.

"I know what'll get your mind off it," he said with a leer.

I grinned back. He turned up Metal Health and we banged our heads all the way to my house. We worked on the new German words in my room. Now, nearly every time I looked into his eyes, my thoughts briefly drifted to what seemed to lay, shimmering, behind them, and how many times or for how long we had intersected before. By the time we reached the last word, we were both making obvious references and puns about sex.

We repeated what was rapidly becoming our normal. We moved to the bed. I took his jeans and shorts down. I tried not to feel guilty about the bruises on his thighs. I blew him. There was no foreplay, no kissing, no hugging, no snuggling. No soft breath in an ear saying loving words. No long, intimate touches. Just oral sex, with no guilt but what I brought with thoughts of his injuries and of cheating on Jeff.

More than once I considered moving a finger behind his sack and into his backside, but I was worried that he didn't want that kind of play. And we hardly took our time, nearly rushing through it. I enjoyed it. He did, too. I helped him get his shorts and jeans back on. We talked or listened to music while smoking pot. I wished he would blow me.

As five o'clock approached, I gathered the guts to mention what I had promised my folks.

"Hey, Erich? I, uh, my parents don't remember you from visiting me at the hospital. Since you're giving me rides home, they kinda wanna know who's driving me around, ya know?"

He seemed to think for a moment before he nodded.

"Guess I would if my kid was in their car everyday."

"Cool. I was hoping I didn't have to explain it wasn't, like, come-meet-my-parents time or something."

He laughed hard, rocking in the chair.

"Oh my gawd! That's a fucking riot, man! That'd be so fucking weird!"

I laughed too, though his laughter seemed almost forced, at least somewhat.

"I know, right? So, you'll stay?"

He nodded. I rolled another joint. I yawned expansively. It was normal, something I did constantly of late. Erich directed me to a piece of paper, folded many times, inside his pack. I opened it and took out two small, white pills.

"Weak speed. Won't burn ya up, but it'll keep ya goin'," he said. "Lasts three or four hours at most. And they won't make ya hyper, either."

It sounded good. I took one and put the other in a sandwich baggie from the box and into my pocket in case I needed it later.

"Thanks. Gonna need it. I'm about whooped right now."

"You fucking swallowed that without water?"

I shrugged.

"Man, I sure can't." He seemed suddenly preoccupied. He turned red. I was about to ask, but he asked, "Uh, I hate to ask, but, uh, I gotta pee?"

I laughed.

"Dude. I don't think I'm gonna be grossed out holding it for ya."

I wasn't, either. And he wasn't, either, growing fuller as I held and aimed it for him. I couldn't help but hold it fully as I retracted his foreskin somewhat. I stood to his right, being careful not to press my own erection against his thigh or hip.

"Dude, ya need another?" I asked when he said he was done.

I stroked it more than shook it for him.

"I don't think it will," he said, though it said otherwise.

I kept stroking it. It kept hardening.

"Seems like it thinks it can," I said, trying not to seem too enthusiastic.

He snickered. I didn't stop. He grew fully erect in my hand. I had dropped his jeans and shorts only far enough to allow him to pee, so now I pulled them further down and he turned toward me. I wiped his small slit with my fingers to remove any remaining urine, and stroked him faster and tighter. He sighed slightly and dropped his chin onto his chest and closed his eyes. His small smile was adorable, as was his blotchy blush.

I stroked him for a while, then slid both hands around to grab his buttocks and pulled him into my mouth. He hissed and tensed. I slid up his long cock, my tongue pushing his head against the roof of my mouth the entire way. He groaned as my nose nestled into his short bush hair. I stayed there, wriggling my tongue under him, sucking him, kneading his butt cheeks. His gloved hands went to the sides of my head. He started moving his hips, sliding himself in and out of my mouth. I slid my hands up and down his hips, thighs, and flank, over his bush, navel, and chest.

"Oh, man!" he repeated many times, often shivering.

I let my hands roam all over him, taking breaks to play with his hanging balls from time to time. He would move quickly for a while, then slowly. He pushed himself deeply into my mouth for a few thrusts, then stayed shallow for a few. Sometimes he held himself with just his head between my lips, staying there, shivering. Other times he slid deep, just touching the back of my throat, my nose in his hair, and he would shiver then, too.

He was slamming himself into my face, his balls slapping my chin, when he grunted several times and warned me.

"Shit, oh, Alex, man, I'm gonna cum!"

I held his hips tightly and forced him to slow down. At first he fought, then he followed my hands. I guided him to a slow, even pace. He whined softly, breathing hard. I moved my hands to his butt cheeks again, still controlling his speed. I held my tongue under his cock, letting it slide along the underside of his head all the way back to the base.

"Awww! Yes!" he groaned almost softly, his hands now gently resting on the top of my head. "Yes! That's awesome!" he groaned, louder this time. "Shit! Yes-s-s-s!"

His cock swelled and bent upward, and then released. He grunted wordlessly as his second orgasm in an hour sent waves through his entire body. He pushed deeply into my mouth, not moving it now, holding it there as his back and legs locked. His wordless grunts continued. His cum washed over the back of my tongue, thick and bitter and strong. I swallowed again and again. It wasn't as large an amount this time, or didn't seem so, but it was very thick. I loved the way his entire cock throbbed and pulsed so dramatically, every time, even after the last of the fluid.

He nearly collapsed suddenly, almost dragging his cock across the top of my lower teeth as he sank toward his knees. He caught himself, but barely. He backed up against the wall and panted, his cock throbbing with his heartbeat, deeply purple at its head and the foreskin violently red.

"Oh, my God," he said several times in a husky whisper between breaths.

A drop of late cum started hanging from the tip, growing longer. I yearned to lick it up, but didn't. I reached for some toilet paper and wiped it away. I got a small washrag and gently and carefully blot-dried his softening dick. It reacted to any and every touch, making him jerk repeatedly. I pulled up his shorts, tucking him neatly away. I admired his white cotton-wrapped package as I drew his jeans up his legs, noticing his bruises and burns. The sight of his still partially engorged cock and hanging balls in his briefs made my belly tingle and my cock twitch. I adjusted it so that it was aiming his accustomed to upward and left angle. I tugged his jeans the rest of the way up, zipped and buttoned them, and then played around with his package, as was the new normal.

He watched me, and when I looked up, I caught him doing so. He grinned in embarrassment and blushed a bit.

"Am I gonna have to make a break for freedom?" he asked, grinning so cutely.

I rolled my eyes a little and let go, reluctantly. He walked into my room. I quickly took a mouthful of mouthwash and swished and spat to be rid of his bitter taste without brushing my teeth in front of him.

We went over more German vocabulary, mixing Latin in for the hell of it. We turned song titles and lyrics into German and Latin, or tried to. We talked, and had a good time. I was hard the entire time, but I tried to ignore it. His red lips, bright gray eyes, varied blond hair, speech, laugh, the way he held himself, all made it hard to not be hard.

Mom called up that dinner would be ready in a few minutes. We both seemed fairly uncomfortable for a few minutes as we delayed heading downstairs. Eventually, we did. I felt as if my parents would point at him and yell at him for getting between me and Jeff, or that he or I would let something slip and expose what we had just done. My parents both remembered him on sight, which, strangely, was a huge relief. Erich said that he had to get home for dinner, and I walked him to the front door.

"I'm glad they remembered you."

"Yeah. Would'a been more awkward if they didn't. You got nice folks, ya know?"

"I do," I admitted, agreeing with him.

"See ya in the morning."

"See ya."

The speed was working, but it didn't nothing to increase my physical stamina, merely making me feel more awake. They asked if I was going to be out again tonight. I nodded, and then made promises to keep my homework up to date and not fall behind if I was going to spend so much time out and about. Then dinner. Leftover potstickers with fried potatoes and gravy. And those soft rolls. Mom and Dad were staying away from the cheesecake, so I had another couple of days of that to go.

It was a lot of food, and I was able to finish a plate, with no thought of a second. I was already full before the last few bites. I stuffed that cheesecake in, hoping it would stay there.

Again, I didn't mention anything about the band. That was made easier by the fact that I had no idea if the whole band thing was even going to happen. They had no drummer, drums, or keyboard, and had lost their place to practice. And it was my fault.

I could help a band practice! Me! I thought in wonder. Styx at that! Could be, but ain't. They just need to find a keyboard and a drummer. And a place to practice.

I was glad that the light bulb that flashed into life above my head was invisible to my parents.

I turned the idea over, examined it, tried to see what ways things would go, saw ways to try to nudge things the right way, and felt the sudden idea really was probable.

As absurd and insane as it seemed, it was not only possible, but really probable.

Why I hadn't thought of it before, I didn't know. I was suddenly giddy with the idea, and the thought of possibly saving the band. And helping out a couple of friends. There was also another reason to call the twins.

As soon as the dishes were away I headed upstairs, where I picked up the phone and dialed.

"Yeah, Alex, what's up?"

"Well, first, any chance you can make it over for the Circle meeting?"

I almost dreaded asking. With the way things were going, I was sure to hear him hesitate, thinking up some excuse not to spend any time with the fag former friend.

"You kidding? Yeah," he said in a matter-of-fact tone.

I should have known better, I thought, chiding myself.

"Know if Eric is?"

"Ha! He wants to know if Eric can make the Circle."

I heard his brother laugh.

"Dude, he won't have free time for another week, at least."

"What the hell did he do?" I asked.

"Dude, you gotta ask him yourself!"

I was kind of angry that no one would tell me what Eric had done to be grounded for so long.

"Jeeze. Ya know we can't call him or he'll just be in more trouble. So just tell me, already."

"Nope. He wants to tell ya. But we'll make it."

"Cool. But, uh, dude, I got this guy, in a band, lookin' for a drummer. A pair would be better."

"What are you talkin' about? Play in a band? You know our parents, right?" he asked ironically.

"And you're in high school now. You got things to do for school functions. The Corral is a school facility. The jocks go to keep the coaches happy and knowing where they are. It's a school thing."

"Play what?"

"Styx, Foreigner, and other stuff we've done. I'm helpin' their guy figure out how to do some synthesizer."

"You?" he asked, sounding shocked.

I realized that he should. I was helping out a band? Hah! How laughable.

"Dude, just sorta happened. It's just, they need the skins for practice until they find someone. They're like the best rock band in school. And you guys can do it. It'd kick ass, man!"

He started filling in his brother. I was almost surprised that one needed verbally informed of anything his twin knew.

"Can we come up and you can jam for 'em?"


I told him, and I heard the surprise from both of them.

"Dude, you're movin' in odd circles lately."

"Tell me," I answered.

"Let's do it," the other said loud enough for me to hear. "Just fuck around and see, bro."

"Come over," he said and hung up.

I was on a natural high as well as a speed high. I got onto a weed high.

As I smoked, I thought and contemplated. I was sure it could work out, at least for a little while. The twins would get to play with the best band in school, and the band would have a place and drummers to practice with. And they would have a keyboard for a while.

Then Kevin would have far less stress and worry about finding replacements. He could take his time to find better replacements.

I was pleased with myself. I knew the twins' parents were a concern, and I hoped they wouldn't be angry or upset.

I heard Kevin honking from the driveway. I was in my coat, downstairs, and out the door before Mom could remind me of more things.

"Ready?" he asked as I closed the door.

"Ready! Did you find a drummer yet?" I asked, trying not to bubble over at the prospect of fixing what I'd been responsible for. And helping the twins get to play with a really good band.

"Nah. Got a lead, though. He's not bad, but he said not until after mid-terms."

"Uh, I got an idea. Go down Plainfield. I wanna check somethin' out. I might know a drummer or two."

"Or two?" he asked.

"You know the frosh twins, Brent and Ryan Thompson?"


"We met a couple years ago. They live near me. They've been drumming since before we were... I don't know, a while. I think they started at five or so. So like almost ten years. And they're good."

"How good?" he asked, looking interested.

"Dude, used to play Paradise Theater all the way through with 'em."

"They can do it? Together?"

"Dude, they can both play it alone, and together they fucking kick its ass!"

"We are talking the album, not just the song?"

I gave him my, "How dare you?" glare.

"Two full sets?"

"Yup. And those brasshats, I think ya call 'em. And bells. Blocks. And bongos."


"Oh, and they have that bass drum thing with the kettle pot?"

"A timpany?"

"Think that's it."

"What the hell? How rich are they?"

"Rich. And they love drums."


"And Styx. And rock. I bet they'll try to play at the Corral. They probably can't, but they'd probably fucking love to try."

"Why couldn't they?"

"Their folks. Super rich and super private. They don't like the twins leaving the house except for school or family stuff. And nobody for guests unless planned and cleared and shit. They got security."

"So, we're going there now?"


"How? If they got security and shit?"

"We're clear, to visit. What happens with the band, I don't know yet," I said, smiling. "Head up and turn after the church, left," I said, pointing. "We're goin' in back."

He looked curious.

"It'll be cool. I think you guys can practice there for a few days. Longer, maybe. And I think maybe the twins will wanna try to play."

When we got to the right alley, I pointed him down it, then directed him into the right drive. We parked next to the staff cars and Brent came running out of the house, his grin visible before his eyes.

"Dude! I called Mom, told her we had a chance to do some practice time with some guys with a band at school and we needed to have them over, and she starts up with all the usual shit, but then I mention you say how they're the best band in school and she says fine!" he related breathlessly.

"Awesome!" I said, giving him the Circle high-five. "This is Kevin Corless," I said, pointing to him.

"Heya," Brent said with a nod upward.

"Hey," he returned in a friendly way. "What's with his parents okaying if you're involved?" he asked me.

"Long story. Boring one, too," I answered.

"Alex is the only person ever made my parents feel small," Brent said gleefully.

"Something tells me that ain't no boring story," Kevin said with a smirk.

"It is, believe me," I said firmly. Then to change the subject, I added with a hippie lilt, "Him and his bro can beat the skins, man."

Kevin laughed and said, "Okay, let's see, then."

It was a considerable walk to the upstairs west wing where the brothers ruled. In one room facing the outside of the house, as far away from the inhabited parts of the estate as possible, was the twins' music room. It was at least forty feet from doors to outside windows, and sixty feet or more from left to right as you stood in the wide double doors at the end of the hall. Most of the middle of the room was carpeted in a thin, dark gray office carpet, and on that stood two identical, or nearly identical, sets of black and silver drums.

Between them, reachable by either drummer, was a set of tan and brown bongo and other odd drums. Hanging between and above them was a collection of tubular bells, and a row of wooden blocks of varying sizes and shapes. The drum sets faced away from each other, but at this collection of oddities between them, the twins could reach hand to hand and face to face.

It was an impressive display, even though I'd seen it many times. And it changed from time to time, too. But Kevin was nearly apoplectic. His jaw hung loose, his eyes were round.

"Wait 'till ya hear 'em," I said with a grin.

Ryan walked in another doorway and said, "Heya, Al. How's it hangin'?"

"Low and lonely," I replied out of habit, without a thought to how Kyle might take it. I covered by moving on with, "I told Kyle here you can do Paradise Theater. But, how about doing Candy your special way that kicks ass. You ready to blow his mind?"

I suddenly worried that I had tossed another gay joke or reference out for Kevin to be repulsed by. He didn't seem to notice, though, as he walked slowly toward the far drums like a zombie.

"Yeah. We even got a surprise for ya," Ryan said, grinning specially.

I was suspicious instantly, the Circle paranoia firing up. Brent was smiling the same smile that meant they had something they'd been working on for a while, or that they thought was especially good.

Ryan was first to his seat, and as they liked to do as a warm up, he rolled across and down with rapid beats. They made some adjustments to their equalizers and amplifiers between them, then started again. When Ryan hit the last beat, Brent jumped in and repeated Ryan's pattern in reverse. As Brent hit the last low, so did Ryan, then they were off. It was unmistakeably, "I Want Candy," but not the version I expected. They were playing the original version by The Strangeloves from nineteen-sixty-five. And they were playing it really well. It sounded just like the drums of the sixties, even the bass and matching rhythm points. I could almost hear that lonely guitar. They sang it far too high for me now, but I had been able to fit right in before the van fire changed my voice. I didn't try this time, even though I saw that they both expected me to.

Kevin was obviously impressed. The twins hit the solo perfectly, and together they added a tiny bit here and there, especially the ending.

"That kicked ass," Kevin said, obviously impressed.

"That was easy," I answered. "Thanks guys, glad you got it down. I meant what you did with the new version. That sound."

They nodded, messed with their amp/eq systems, and then counted out. Without missing a beat, they both boomed into the fast tempo drum solo intro of the new version. They pounded it out, beat for beat, in time, thundering along. But they weren't moving their feet yet, at least not on the bass pedals.

Kevin was smiling, seemingly enjoying their playing. I knew what was coming, but poor Kevin was dumbstruck; he visibly jumped when the rapid solo turned into the main driving beat with that crash of cymbals and the bass drums thundering through the air. Between the two of them they covered the song easily.

With two drummers pounding on amplified drums, we didn't so much hear it as feel it. And it felt good. Kevin and I sang along, unable to hear ourselves, let alone each other. Kevin was nearly drooling as the twins fought out the drum solo as if two titans were pounding on each others' shields with massive hammers. The last powerful beat left a sudden vacuum in my chest. Kyle felt it too, judging by his reaction.

"Oh, my, God," he panted. "Holy, fucking, shit!"

He was grinning wider than I had ever seen him.

"Not bad, huh?" I asked, grinning, still trying to talk over the ringing in our ears.

"Not bad?" he asked incredulously. Then, deadpan, "No, not bad at all." He shrugged noncommittally, trying to hide an enormous grin.

I noticed his change. It washed through his expression and into his body language.


"Out of the strangest sources, come the most wonderful discoveries."


He shook his head and smiled a little differently. "Styx?" he asked asked the twins.

"Paradise Theater as a specialty, thanks to Alex. But a lot of others, too."

"Paradise, the song, or-"

"The album, dude," Ryan said as if he were insulted.

"Love doing Foreigner," Brent said, breaking into "Juke Box Hero." They screamed the chorus.

"Dude, we can play that! And you guys can belt it out! You play it?" he asked me.

"The synth is easy. And Dirty White Boy."

I couldn't believe I had just admitted to that. It would have been true months ago.

"Cool. Any other Foreigner?"

"Pfft," Ryan hissed, then rattled off several songs.

Kevin stopped him at, "Cold As Ice."

He looked at me and asked, "You can play it?"

I considered how much I wanted to reveal. Music was a very personal thing to me. I had only played alone until three years ago. Then I had played with Toby the first time during that first summer. Then I had played with the twins for a year after that. I had played much more with the twins after that, sometimes in front of the other Circle guys, during that year. Then more with Toby for those two very short weeks just eight months ago, then hadn't played at all until the last few days.

Playing meant Toby. More than anything else, Toby. The twins a great deal more time, but there was no romantic or emotional load associated with the many, many hours playing with them. Then there was Jeff, too, as of last weekend. Jeff.

Music was intimate to me. And painful.

And now, here it was, becoming public.

The twins were grinning widely, expectantly. I couldn't resist them. I gave in.

I nodded, said, "Could. Been a long time, but I got it down once."

"Practice it. I wanna play it. Okay?"

I froze. My guts and my spine went so cold that I couldn't move.

"I, I, it, I mean, it starts with the keyboard. Piano. Can't David?"

"He don't know it," Kevin said. "Can you?"

"Uh, I, I mean, I'm helping out, not playing!"

"Think you can, though?"


"I mean... hell no. No way."

I liked the song a lot, had played it a lot, but it had been eight months. And he was talking about me actually playing it in public. I started to sweat at the mere possibility.

"Well, practice it. We'll see."

Kevin kept asking what songs the twins were able to play, and they kept playing them or nodding and mentioning another song by that group. The twins were kept kids. Money was no object, and the drums kept them home and under supervision. And safe from nasty outside influences; which, for a while, included me and most of the Circle, along with nearly everyone else.

But with no freedom, taken to and picked up from school by a driver, the twins had grown up playing the drums. Together. Day after day. They loved them. They lived them.

And on nights, when possible, that the Circle had met there, we often gravitated to the drums room at some point for some length of time or another. It was after a long ago Circle meeting years ago that the twins asked for a synthesizer, "that would sound like the ones Styx used." The staff had gone to The Music Stop and asked for, "keyboards to sound like Styx." A deal was struck, and by week's end a delivery truck arrived at the house with an Oberheim OB-Xa, like the one Styx had used on Paradise Theater, but the next model.

It was sitting in the far corner. I glanced at it. It was an extravagance that I had always been uncomfortable with. But I'd loved playing it. The last few Circle meetings there I had never been in the mood to play. Once Toby had gone, I had lost most interest in making music. I'd even lost some enjoyment in some music.

I hadn't played that synthesizer for eight months.

"You got your own?" Kevin asked, looking at it.

"No," I said quickly.

"It's his, he leaves it here is all. Hard to get around," Ryan said.

"Belongs to the twins. I never paid a dime for it," I insisted again, this time in front of someone new.

"Whatever," Brent said dismissively.

"You said you were never in a band before," Kevin said, now inspecting the keyboard closely.

"What band?" I asked innocently. "Two drummers and a keyboardist who can play Styx and some other stuff. The drummers can do about anything between them. I can do Styx and easy other stuff. And not as well anymore, and not with a sore left hand."

He turned it on and hit a few keys, finding it still set up for very Styx-like sounds.

"Was playing Paradise Theater the last time," I said, fighting the urge to feel depressed.

"Do ya think ya still can?" he asked me.

I shrugged on the outside. At least, I hope it looked like a shrug.

"Wanna give it a try?"

I was actually considering it, surprising myself. I had been ready to help their player set up their keyboard, but I wasn't so sure about actually playing. And then the hints came flowing back. All the little bits. The puzzle pieces always pointed this way. Someday. From multiple sources; Toby, Tom, Jeff, and others.

Coincidences? I wondered. I get the damned thing outta the closet, and now suddenly, someone wants me to play. But, it started with a hint from Toby, didn't it? Geeze. Then the doc saying I should play to get my fingers healing right. Cripes. And what else do I play first, but Paradise Theater. Jeeze.

I wanted to cry. I didn't want to cry, but I was too close to doing so.

"Come on, Al," Brent said almost pleadingly.

I blew my breath out forcefully, then nodded.

Ryan asked, "Can you bring up your guitar?"

"Sure. Gotta be quick, though," Kevin responded, grinning.

I led him out to his car and helped him bring his guitar and amplifier inside. He moved fast, using only one crutch. He pretty much got along just fine, without good use of his one arm on the crutch.

I was torn in two. Playing with the twins had always been a joy, until I had lost Toby and the desire to play music. Now I was going to play again, after so long an absence, and with someone on guitar. And not just anybody, Kevin Corless.

What kind of crazy life am I living?

My palms were already sweating as Kevin set up, and I warmed up the synthesizer and my hands. Kevin asked if we thought we could play the title song straight through. The twins and I grinned at each other, knowing we had done so more times that we had counted, it had just been a while. Kevin counted time, then started singing. I started playing those low, mellow piano notes. He nodded and grinned at me, making me feel great. When I started playing the hollow, breathy organ notes on the other keys, he lost his place and stared at me for a moment before he regained himself after those almost-words from the keys. He was grinning widely.

His voice was clear and strong, sounding great. When the song took off, he hit the high and powered it out, along with the guitar, which was a totally new experience for me - us. It sounded great, and I started getting goosebumps. He sang it almost as good as it sounded on the album. The twins' drumming was perfect. They even sounded great singing the chorus. My goosebumps got goosebumps.

When I had to play the fast section, pounding keys, I had to skip some notes, and was still late at times. I wondered if I practiced enough, if I could I sound decent again.

When the three of them hit the chorus again, I almost wanted to join them, just out of pure joy of hearing the music live again, playing it, and this time with a guitar and a real singer. They really rocked the song, right to the powerful ending.

"Wow!" Kevin declared. "That wasn't bad at all! Why didn't you say you could do the voice on that thing?" he asked me.

"Didn't think about telling you. I mean, you asked if I could do the synth parts, I said I could."

"I freakin' meant the melody, not the effects. Can you do all of 'em?"

I nodded, wondering what he was confused about.

"Well, mostly."

"He can," Brent said. "Don't let him fool ya."

"And he does some cool stuff of his own, too," Ryan added, grinning that familiar grin.

Ass-hats, I thought. Double-edged blades, those.

"How about the lead-in on Too Much Time?"

I nodded, hit the presets for each row of keys, nodded again.

"You got it preset?"

I nodded and then shrugged. He shrugged and then grinned. He counted. I hit the right keys, simple. Then started the melody section. He stared at me. I felt uncomfortable. The twins started in. I joined the upper keys to the next preset, and began playing that section of the song, too. I couldn't look back up, but I felt him still staring at me.

He began the vocals, then I could look up. He was still looking at me as he sang. I played.

I knew the OB-Xa didn't sound exactly like the OB-X on the album or the videos on MTV, but I had spent considerable hours tweaking and perfecting how it did sound, and I knew I couldn't get it any closer without an older OB-X and Dennis himself there. I had always been happy with how close I had managed to get it to sound. I also knew that I couldn't exactly copy a lot of the entire arrangements in several songs, especially not all at the same time. In some cases, it would be impossible for one person to do without tracking or someone else playing another keyboard or the piano portions. But for "Too Much Time On My Hands," I was confident I did a full job of it. The way Kevin watched me, though, made me wonder what I was doing so wrong.

I liked the way he was singing, and I liked the way he was playing his guitar. I would have been having a great time, I thought, if only he wasn't watching me like he was. And if it weren't those songs. The twins joined for the chorus again, sounding very good.

We were synching well, matching timing, having a great time. But again and again, a strong twang of loss echoed through me. The sound of Toby's voice would suddenly come, causing a mix of loss and joy.

Kevin was doing great. The twins were doing great. I thought that I was, but Kevin kept his eye on me as if looking away would cause me to screw up horribly.

The song wound down, leaving just Kevin whispering the last lines. I rolled down the chimes in time with Ryan.

He flipped off his guitar strap over his head and looked at the three of us.

"Okay, dudes, look, this is great, can you play this weekend?"

"Play? You mean somewhere? This weekend?" Ryan asked, seemingly stunned.

"You gotta be kidding," Brent echoed.

"Hey, guys, I told ya. Tell your folks it's for school. And it is. And the first part is getting them to let them practice here."

Both of them rolled eyes and shook their heads, but I knew the idea appealed to them.

"Get permission for practice here? Maybe. But play?" Brent asked.

"Maybe, if it's for school..." his twin replied, locking eyes with him.

At the Corral.

On school grounds, and under supervision anyway.

And get driven back and forth and shit...

And watched like hawks...

Parents knowing everything...

Like always...

But they might...

They glanced at each other for a moment, then back at me.

I gave them my last argument.

We'd often talked bands, like most kids our ages. But here we were, presented with a real chance.

It was just a kind of shrug, with an arching arm gesture at Kevin, and the 'rock and roll' arm pump with the other. And a silently pantomimed, "Blah-blah-blah."

They nodded.

"If you can, I think we'd kick ass," Kevin said again. "We play a party tomorrow, then the Corral Saturday. The other guys play great guitars. And we got a guy who plays a great piano. And a sax player. Almost all of us can sing. I think we can make Paradise sound pretty good. Hell, we got a sax, and we can get the brass. Most of it."

As he went down a list of songs the band already played, and the twins verified or declined, one the staff said over the intercom that it was time for the twins' dinner. He left part of the list with the twins, for them to check off or cross off.

We all carried his equipment to his car, talking the entire way about the songs the band wanted to play both nights. They agreed to talk to their parents later tonight, and would call me in a couple of hours. Kevin was ecstatic as we drove away.

"So, dude, tomorrow night. Six to about ten. Need to do about twenty rocking songs and a lot of dancing in the middle. We got enough guys to take breaks and shit. David knows the songs, all you gotta do is whatever you feel safe on."

"Wait, you mean, play?"

He shrugged and nodded at the same time.

"Dude, I'm gonna help your player is all. I ain't actually gonna, play."

"Why not? You said you know a lot of the songs. And you kicked butt on Paradise Theater. Why not?"

Why not? Because I'm too fucking chicken is why not!

"Dude, I'm not, like, trained or anything. I just mess around, that's all."

"Dennis DeYoung never had lessons," he said pointedly.

"I ain't Dennis. Not even close," I said a bit angrily.

"But you are a Dennis. You can play. So why not?"

Because I'm fucking chicken! I want to do something about it, not be such coward, but, play? On stage? In front of people? How can I just, do, that? I want to change, sure, but that much? So fast?

"Just come to practice, then. Show David what you know, see what you can show him. Okay?"

I nodded.

"Maybe you'll change your mind. First we gotta meet the guys at Wil's."

When we arrived, everyone was in the basement, where a room had been set up for the band. I quickly learned that they had met there from time to time when James' house had been unavailable, which had occurred more and more often recently. There was a smaller drum set, less speakers, and a much smaller mixing board.

Wil and Terry were working on the same difficult section together, David was trying to get this keyboard to sound like a piano, and someone familiar was sitting at the drums, reading a book.

"Hey, guys," Kevin said as we walked in.

I was nervous again, sweating under my arms and on my palms. I had been comfortable in the car on the way over, or nearly so, compared to the rush of nerves I experienced walking into that basement room. It was far too much like entering that last such room.

"Hey, Billy, this is Alex. Alex, Billy. You guys know each other?"

We must have betrayed something when we saw each other. We shook our heads, and Billy gave me a nod. We didn't know each other, but we had seen each other. He was in the civics class right after my own, and our teacher had wanted me to work with him and another in his class, before I had told everyone that I was gay that day during the fight with Charlie Derek.

"Bill can bang the drums pretty well. He just sucks at anything fast. Prob'ly takes an hour to beat off."

"Bite me," Bill said before returning to his book.

I saw that it was our civics textbook. I almost laughed.

He was a little taller than I, but a lot wider. He wasn't hugely fat, but he was considerably overweight. His fair, blond hair was fairly long, and matched his heavy eyebrows. He had a little acne, a little facial hair, scruffy sideburns, and hairy arms poking out of a Foghat tee-shirt.

"He's not bad to practice with, but he's not real good. If he'd practice more and eat less he'd be good enough to play on stage."

Bill flipped off Kevin and said, "If I wanted to play on stage I'd practice more. I'm doin' ya a favor playin' now, so don't push my buttons, ya putz. And we only got to eight. Folks wanna watch their show."

"Magnum?" Kevin asked.

"Nah, that'd be almost cool. Try, Fame."

Multiple groans greeted the title. I felt like one of them for having reacted similarly. I remembered that I forgot to set the VCR to record Simon and Simon, but I could make it home in time. And watch Taxi.

"Bill knows most of the songs we wanna practice, so..." Kevin explained as he set up his guitar. "Oh, and by the way, Alex found us drummers," he added nonchalantly.

Everyone started, then stared at Kevin, waiting.

"They're good. Couple of froshes," he said, plugging in.

"Well?" Wil asked when it was obvious Kevin wasn't going to say anything more. "Froshes?"

"You'll meet 'em tomorrow, maybe. Don't know if they can let us practice at their place or not yet, or if they can play tomorrow night, yet. Or Saturday. Possibly. Seem to got Styx down, and say they can do a lot of the songs for the gig tomorrow."

"Frosh?" Terry asked dubiously.

"Ya. Alex known 'em a while. Totally monied. Got the most killer sets I ever seen. And can pop 'em like nobody I seen."

Kevin was getting odd looks from Wil and Terry, and I recognized them, I was sure. They were thinking that they were getting their legs pulled. And hard.

"Serious," Kevin said to them.

They looked at me.

I shrugged, then said, "They're really good. Been playin' like ten years. All they do. We've done a lot of Styx together."

As none of them had heard me play a note, they had no idea how to take what I had to say about anything musical. They were looking at me with doubt and uncertainty.

"If they can play, you'll hear 'em tomorrow. If they can't, don't worry about it. You guys find anyone to play?"

As no one responded, it seemed they hadn't.

"You willin' to do the slow songs tomorrow if they can't?" Kevin asked of Bill.

He shrugged, said, "Guess so. But I wanna leave early enough I can get trashed at Kyle's and get laid."

"You wish," Wil said with a laugh.

"So it's these guys or we skip the faster songs. Or more."

"These guys ever play in a band before?" Terry asked me.

"Just with me some weekends. They play together all the time. Been a few months for me, though," I added.

"How long?"

"Like, eight months."

"We're fucked," Wil said with a shake of his head.

"If they can play, we're gonna be better than ever. So don't worry about it. Right now, we might as well practice what we can of it. We pretty got the standard stuff with Bill down good, a couple brushes through and we should be good on those. So let's hit Paradise first."

I walked over to David and the little Sony keyboard, and helped him set it up for piano. Neither of us was familiar with it, but I had a head-start thanks to the Oberheim and several other kinds of synthesizers. The rest of them drew out lines of coke. I explained that the keyboard was different than what I was used to, and David had no experience other than piano, so it wasn't going to sound great.

They played through Paradise Theater and I did what I could with David. He could play the piano sections from the sheet music he was reading, and doing okay on those piano parts. The synthesizer sections were far more difficult for him, and the sheet music didn't help any at all.

Kevin wanted me to show David how to do all of the parts of the songs that weren't simple piano. I told him that it would take a very long time. David was having a hard time. He explained that it was nothing like playing a piano, and that trying to do the things I showed him was contrary to what he had learned. He struggled with every section, often hitting the right keys, but not using them correctly. He grew frustrated and angry.

"Think you can pick it up?" Kevin asked David.

"Feck, no. It's like, like, if you tried to play guitar left-handed."

"I do," Kevin said with a grin.

"I feckin' mean right-handed, then, ya arse!" David said angrily.

Kevin nodded and forced a grin.

"So, you think you can do it?"

"No. Not a fuckin' chance of it," he said firmly.

Kevin looked at me, and I shrugged.

"It's different than piano. Like a guitar and a harp. Both use strings, but you play 'em different. Looks like David learned piano good, but it's different. No pedals, for one. He has to use pressure and timing to change notes instead. Like learning all over."

"And I'm not familiar with the sounds, how to make them. I'm just following along and it doesn't make a lot of sense," David added.

"Then you gotta play those parts," he said at me.

I swallowed. I shook my head.

"I can work with David, maybe he can do the important stuff if we work on it."

David didn't look convinced. That caused Kevin to not look convinced.

"Okay. We'll practice the usual stuff, then," Kevin answered, then returned to the others.

I sat next to David and they all began playing through their regular song sets, none of which used any piano or synthesizer. I was impressed. Kevin, Wil, and Terry all had good voices, and could really play their guitars. Bill wasn't bad on the drums, but as Kevin had said, he wasn't good when he needed to move quickly.

They took a break and passed a joint around. I made a mental note to bring my own tomorrow. They all seemed surprised when I took the joint from David and hit it. I passed it to Wil, who's whose expression was hard to miss.

"What?" I growled, a small curl of smoke wafting upward.

He shrugged, grinned, and hit it.

"Didn't know brains smoked grass."

"Don't judge a record by its cover," I said as I exhaled, then coughed once.

Nothing else was said about it.

Kevin led them through more standard performance fare, none using a keyboard, so I sat and talked with David for some time.

I had to work not to stare at him. Since I had started becoming attracted to boys, I had liked red-heads. There was something so wonderful about their delicate natures. Eric was the only red-head I currently knew who was sturdy and stocky, all the others I had seen were slim. David was slim almost to the point of looking undernourished. His features were delicate, almost elfin, with hard angles at his cheekbones and jawline, though softened by his fairness. His pale blue-gray eyes seemed to shine. His red eyebrows and eyelashes were present but faint, and I simply adored that. His nose was thin and short, almost turned upward. His lips weren't dark red, but seemed so against his pale, almost alabaster complexion. His ears were smallish and stood out from his head ever so slightly, hidden by his hair when it slid out of the way he seemed to prefer keeping it - back over them and his shoulders. He had freckles, but they were faint, almost hard to see, except along the upper side of his arms and the backs of his hands, but were slight even there. His hands were slim and delicate, making his fingers look long even though they weren't. I wondered if his fingers and nose hinted at the size of his personal appendage. According to my research, he wouldn't be short there, matching the length of his fingers and nose, he would actually be fairly average there. I noticed that his earlobes were tight and small, and I wondered if his balls hung up tight to him as well. I was aware, through my research, that would be likely.

I loved how he spoke. His rounded vowels and curt consonants made his speech a pleasure to hear. His phrases he used when he messed up, like "Smooth move, that," and "Oh, feck me," made me want to laugh every time. I wondered if it was somehow some sort of subliminal Pavlov effect from the accent only ever coming from British comedies on PBS before. But then, even the smooth tone of his voice and the way he held himself was pleasurable. I even liked his gestures. I found myself enjoying my time with him immensely.

We soon found that we had more than music taste in common. He liked many of the same movies I did, even the ones that almost none of my current friends liked. He also still loved the Planet of the Apes movies and even other, older, odder science-fiction movies from the sixties and fifties. We were talking about those old movies when the rest of the guys decided to take a break.

We all sat and talked for a while, smoking another joint. Kevin assured them that the twins were good enough to play, that it was just a question of whether they would be allowed to. I did my part by telling them how many times we had played Styx, Queen, Foreigner, Journey, and odd songs from others.

Kevin wrote down every song I said I could play with practice. I added that with my sore fingers on my left hand, I'd be slow or unable to play certain ones until they'd healed. I let him know what ones on his list, and a few more I was willing to add to it, I could do sooner rather than later. He gave me a list of songs to consider learning, as the rest of them could play them already. Some needed both hands, and wasn't sure how learning new ones with injured fingers would work out. I highly approved of their selections and commented that I would have learned most of them sooner or later if I had kept playing.

That was where I made the mistake. I was asked why I had stopped playing. I had never given any thought to that question, and so had no ready answer for it. Only the truth.

Once again, the vow.

I'd been nervous when I first entered the basement room hours earlier. Being with a new friend, and about to hang out with four other new people was more stress. That one of them was completely attractive to the point of distraction was no help. That there was a new person there that I hardly knew meant even more nerves. That music was involved, too, had me shaking and wiping sweaty hands for a while.

But I had calmed and become nearly comfortable. Sitting with David, talking together as the rest of the guys had practiced songs without keyboard or piano, I had been nearly comfortable. As I sat there, on the edge of such an innocent yet complicated question, I realized how comfortable I had been. That was gone, though. I was again suddenly shaking and sweating.

I inhaled deeply but quietly, held it for a moment, blinked, and then said it.

"I used to play synth with Toby. He was, like, my boyfriend. He died last summer. I ain't played since."

I shrugged as simply as I could.

"Fuck," Bill said profoundly.

They were all obviously a bit stunned. All but David, who smiled lopsidedly and seemed to approve somehow.

"Didn't mean to, like, bring the mood down. Just, I promised I'd never lie or cover him up."

"Cool," Kevin said simply, then, "How long until your fingers heal enough?"

"Dunno. They're getting better, I guess," I said, gently moving the culprits.

"Punch someone?" Wil asked with a grin at Kevin.

"No. Never punched him. Did it tryin' to get out of the van."

Nods proved that they all knew what I was referring to.

"So you kicked his ass with a hurt hand?"

"And still getting better from almost dying."

"No," I denied loudly. "It wasn't all like that. I wasn't trying to-"

"You really almost die, man?" Kevin asked before lighting another joint.

I nodded. Then I proceeded to answer their questions. I told them it was mostly blurred and forgotten. Inside I could acutely feel the sense of suffocation, the pain in my shins, the burning sensation on my hips and back, the choking and fear. Suddenly the sweats were from remembering a more recent event.

By not talking of all of it, I was able to talk of the rest of it, period.

It was the first time I'd related the story to anyone other than the Circle guys, and the guys at the breakfast and lunch tables. I'd told them much the same things. But these were new guys, maybe new friends, and it seemed so much harder to do.

Soon the talk turned back to music, and the performance tomorrow night and Saturday. Another couple of joints, and another round of coke for the four of them. I was feeling worn down, and it took very little for Kevin to talk me into taking a line of it. I'd tried it once before, but hadn't noticed much of anything I enjoyed. This time, however, I noticed a marked increase in my energy and mood. It was a good high, a power high.

David was openly disapproving.

A little over an hour later, I was home, and Mom had taken care of the bandages and seen to it I had a snack and the night pills in me. She had told me that Ryan had called and asked her to tell me, "The Thunder Cats are go." I didn't explain it to her; if I did, I would have had to explain that I was hanging out with a band. She was used to my friends sending coded messages anyway. She reminded me that she wouldn't be changing my bandages in the morning, and that she expected Tom to take care of it. She said that if she found out it wasn't being done, she would be waking me up herself again starting Monday. I said thanks, fine, and good night, and then headed upstairs.

I sat down and turned on the synthesizer, set it up, and practiced Paradise Theater as well as possible on the cheap thing. I went through the album twice, doing each keyboard part at least once. I wasn't happy with it, I went through it again, trying to find that easy, simple, reactionary style. I did horribly.

I practiced, "Cold As Ice." It was actually easier, but I was horrible. The small synthesizer parts were quick and short, easy to remember and to play. The piano was far harder, and played throughout the entire song. The piano was still simple by comparison to most Styx compositions. Even though, I still had a hard time getting them right. I played the piano with my right hand, and the synthesizer portions with my left. I listened to it on tape several times, then played along with it, then played alone. Eventually it came back to some degree. It sounded odd on my cheap keyboard, but I knew I was getting the notes right, more or less. I wasn't smooth, or fast, but it wasn't horrible.

I went back to Paradise Theater. I did a little better, but it was still bad. There were too many emotions tied to it, and my mind wandered into thoughts of Toby, distracting me. I finally gave up.

I went back to, "Cold As Ice," finding I was better now. I played it quicker, smoother, but not as well as I could once, months ago. I was happy to be playing it as well as I was.

As soon as I shut off the synthesizer, my head was filled with all of the things going on, all of them insisting that they be thought of at that moment, juggling for position and screaming for attention, fueled by the last of the speed and coke. A dizzying headache was stirring behind my sore temple.

I started in on the homework, fighting the thoughts in order to get it done. I no longer had nearly an hour in the cafeteria every morning to do any homework, so it had become mandatory that I do it all tonight. No matter how hard I tried, I was unable to concentrate. I didn't know if it was the buzz or the coke, or what else, but I couldn't keep my mind functioning. I found myself staring blankly at the textbook, not a single thought in my head.

By two o'clock, the mini-speed and coke highs were gone, and I again felt as if I had no energy. Weak and tired, I slipped into bed with my thoughts, ragged as they were.

Am I going to really play? In a band? Me? Play in front of people? I thought of it, the twins and I dreamed and joked about it, but...

What the hell will happen with Jeff now? Are we ever going to see each other? Will we stop being friends? Does he still come over this weekend at all? Circle or not? Hell, the Circle is gone, I know it. Why didn't he tell me he was in Latin Two with Erich?

Oh, my God! Does Jeff know Erich is Puppy Dog? Does Jeff know Erich has been, well, somehow looking at me? If Erich does, why did he say he's not gay? Is Erich why Jeff never mentioned taking Latin Two?

I need to sleep. Why can't I stop thinking?

Tom. Now he's got secrets from me. Do I tell him about Kevin and the band? He worked so hard to get Jeff and me together for so long. And now he's got the wagon and a job. And why was his wagon still in the parking lot at school when he should have gone to work to fill out paperwork, get a uniform, and start training?

At least he didn't keep Mom and Dad's plan to get me that crappy, green Plymouth a secret. I really don't want it, but at least it's a car. It'll be great to have a fucking car, no matter what it is. Hah! Just realized! Tom and me would both be driving big, old, green monsters! Cool! A final coincidence before we drift far apart?

And just how long did he know he was going to get the wagon before he told me? And the job? Probably a while, because parking permits for school don't come easy or fast. And he didn't tell me because I was messed up over Corless and shit. And was acting odd since Sunday, when I called and said not to come over.

I need to sleep. Why can't I stop thinking?

Sex with Erich. Cute, hot Erich. Fun, funny Erich. Sexy, sweet Erich. Good ol' Puppy Dog! Won't Tom shit when I tell him I figured him out, finally! When do I tell him? Do I tell him? I get to have sex with him after school every day! For how long, though? Why the hell worry about how long already? Or that it's kinda replacing Tom. Geeze, don't go there. Even if it is cheating on... not it's not. Just enjoy it! Geeze.

Gonna practice with a band. Maybe. What about mid-terms next week? Shit. Gotta study my ass off! Can't be spending all my time playing with the guys. Hope Kevin doesn't mind driving me around if I do. Wish I had the van. Gonna get that dumb, green Plymouth, instead. Ugh.

I need to sleep. Why can't I stop thinking?

Sleeping pill tonight?

Not hanging around with Tom much anymore. Keep having secret sex with Erich? Why not? Jeff going up the social ladder and leaving me behind. Me and all the guys? And the Circle dies. Fuck.

Going to go back to changing and showering in gym soon. And they'll all know about me being gay. Fuck. How is that going to be? Will they make me change all alone in an office or something? Make me take a shower before everyone else?

And why don't some other gay guys talk to me? Isn't there any others? Almost two thousand students, half guys, so a thousand guys. I can't be the only one who's gay. Can I? So what's wrong with me?

How much can I take? How long until I reach some point that I can't take anymore? What happens if I reach that point? Will I go crazy? If I do, will I become a vegetable or run screaming through the streets?

Fuck it. Sleepers tonight.

I got up, went downstairs, and took a sleeping pill, chewing it on the way upstairs and washing it down with a little can of my dad's V8. My only pause was passing Toby's picture in the hallway.

I crawled back into the warm blankets and lay on my left side, like normal for so long by then, hugging myself under the blankets, watching the little digits click over on the alarm clock.

All the thoughts started screaming for attention again... until eventually, a white haze slowly shut them down.

The white haze gave way to the stench of gasoline...

"Yeah. Old Chevy..." Dad began.

Oh, God, no! Please make it stop!

I looked up.

Jeff stood there, as always, looking cute in his uniform, catching his ball, grinning coldly, nodding.

I knew that I was fated to die again and again, over and over, with Dad and Jeff watching, Jeff smiling so icily, looking so cute, unable to do anything.

"See if you can pop that hatch cover, will ya, son?"

The van was shaking from my efforts, but I knew it was useless.

He asked me to 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.

Dad peeked around the hood at me with a grin. He seemed so normal. His hair was back, and he looked funny with it. But it belonged. I felt guilty about it, even though I knew that I shouldn't know about it.

Jeff grinned horribly at me from the other side of the hood, urging me to start the van.

Dad asked me to try it again. I fumbled with the medallion, turned the key. He 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.

Yet again.

Things went fuzzy, and wobbly, and blurred. Dad yelling my name. Jeff laughing manically. Flames on the dashboard. Heat. Smoke. The odor of burning carpet, oil, rubber, and plastic.

I fumbled with the Styx medallion and managed to turn off the engine, but the flames raged, grew larger, burning closer, hotter. Thicker 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.

"Tom, then Erich, now you want David. Why not me?"

I do want you! I wanted to scream at him. I wanted him to know that I loved him, but that he would hurt me. I tried to say so, 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.

I felt the heat of the fire. I saw my charred and smoking body, my grieving parents held back by police. I clawed at the window, pushing my face out the opening, but Jeff kept pushing me back inside.

Panic. Flames. Heat. Smoke. Fear. Jeff's 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.

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 laughed as I burned.

The heat, the pain, the horrible suffocation.

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."

Of course.

Then the only sounds where my thoughts and my stuttering heartbeat.

Soon, even those sounds grew dim, irregular, indistinct, then stopped.

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The Circle parts I and 2 are now available as EPUB/Kindle/PDF at my website here.
The Circle 3 will be available around January 2014.
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