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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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Track 7

"Double Life"

Part Two

Tuesday

The D.J. told me that Kilroy Was Here was selling well, and that the top single from it, "Mr. Roboto," looked to be heading quickly up the charts. I wished I had a way to get those tickets. "Come On Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners was number one, followed by "Hungry Like The Wolf," "Billy Jean," and then "Pass The Dutchie."

I shut the radio off and waited for some of the fear and horror to subside before I sat up. I was so sore that it hurt to move, and so tired that it took concentrated effort to do so. I forgot about the burns until I removed the t-shirt and the greasy ointment was somewhat stuck to it.

I hadn't forgotten the dream. The new nightmare. Images from it were still vivid. Jeff laughing. Eric cheering on the flames, then walking away. I wondered what it would take to be free of the nightmare. I vowed to rid myself of it, one way or another.

At least the shower was wasn't so bad, and I barely had to pant as I dried off. My head, though, was stuffed with cotton, making thinking almost impossible. I was actually thankful of that.

If it wasn't for that damned dream, I could have a nearly normal morning, I thought as I dressed. Almost normal, I corrected myself. There isn't much of anything normal about me.

I sat on the bed and finished dressing, slowly thinking.

Gay. Fell in love with one of my best friends who turns out to be gay, too, but we can't get past being different in ways, and being friends first. Besides, he'd rather play ball. Lost. Alone.

Tom getting distant, lying to me, keeping secrets, acting different. Alone.

Having sex with Erich, who might be Puppy Dog, or straight, and might be the mystery keyboardist, but might not be. Giving sex, but getting none. And nothing emotional, nothing rewarding. Empty. Alone.

Eric ran away rather than be seen with me at school. Alone.

No Circle anymore. Alone.

No Todd. Alone.

No other fags interested in knowing the obvious fag. All alone.

All I got anymore is the band, and I don't know if I can do it.

I finished the usual morning things, then headed downstairs to wait for Tom, not looking forward to the ride with him.

The ride was awkward and quiet again. I knew that he wasn't working at Burger King, and I wanted to ask why he was lying about it. I didn't have the courage, though. I wanted to know what he had to do the previous morning, if anything, that he couldn't sit with us like normal, but I didn't have the guts. I was sure why, I feared his honest answer, if he gave it, and I dreaded what lie he would use if not.

As soon as we got through the doors, he said that he had something to do, and split off with a friendly wave. Not all that unusual, but unusual. I walked to my locker, swapped books, plodded toward the cafeteria and the breakfast table.

So tired. Thoughts seemed to require energy.

As I neared the table, Tom's and Jeff's empty seats mocked me again, as was the new normal.

Most of the guys spent the morning studying, so I tried to. The quiet was awkward and uncomfortable. It was as if they, too, were no longer comfortable around me. I didn't feel comfortable, anyway.

I thought of going elsewhere for my mornings, so they could enjoy themselves again.

I wondered why no other gay guys had come to talk. I wondered what was so wrong about me.

The bell.

Physics and the predicted exams. Not impossible, but tough. And I'd missed too much. I was sure I was doing poorly.

On the way to German class, I was letting all the worries and problems pour through my head, feeling like the entire world hated me. How could it not, but still throw so much crap at me?

I bumped into someone. The smallish, cute, rich-looking, blond guy who had talked to me twice before, again. This time I nodded and kept walking. He came up beside me. I glanced at him and instantly regretted it. He was adorable, even beautiful. His features seemed perfect, as if I had dreamed him up, or he was some archetype I had long ago formed my taste upon. And his brown eyes sparkled and danced, and were deep and warm, as if he were looking into the face of his very best friend after a long summer apart.

"Hey, I wanted to ask you something, if it's okay?"

Here it comes, I thought. Might as well get it over with. Maybe he's not going to be rude. Why do I suspect him so much?

I nodded without looking at him. I knew if I did look at him, that I would probably end up giving something away of how cute I thought he was. I kept my eyes down, and that allowed me to notice that his hands were grimed and dirty. Not dirty, but stained and marked by grease or dirt. That didn't fit him. He looked more the type to have someone else do his dirty work for him.

"I was there when you dressed down Charlie Derek. I saw how you handled him. It was impressive. That was about my first weeks here."

He laughed a little, and it was almost familiar, and it made me feel a little like I wanted to cry.

"Anyway. I remember when you used to stutter, and had that lisp. You obviously mastered your speech, and argued so well during that fight. That, and how well you speak and all now, I think you would do very well on the Debate Team. I joined when I got here, and you probably know it's very good. I was hoping that I could persuade you to join the team with me?"

Remember when I stuttered? Had the lisp? He went to grade school with me? He remembers me from then? Who the hell is he? Debate Team? Is he insane?

"So, Lex, what do you think?"

Lex!? How the hell can he know that nickname? No one calls me that anymore. Who is he? He's almost familiar. And he knew me in grade school? And knows that nickname? Obviously he knew me in junior high, too. What if he knows about, it? What hadn't happened. Could he? But if he did, he wouldn't be talking to me, now would he? He'd be telling everybody about me. Except, they all know already. Hah, that bomb is done disarmed. But, still, I have to know who the hell he is.

"Uh, look." I sighed, still looking down at my shoes. "I'm not interested. Okay? But, uh, I'm really sorry, but, I don't remember you."

There was a pause as I stared at our shoes; my worn, cheap tennis shoes, his new, expensive Hush Puppies.

"Oh," he said in a low, disappointed voice. "I guess I changed some. You did, too, some, but I'd never forget you. Never seen that color of hair anywhere else. And your brown eyes haven't changed at all." There was a pause as I felt my face grow hot. "It's me, Alex. X, it's me, it's Three."

My eyes snapped up to meet his without a thought. I saw him behind his eyes and recognized him. I stumbled. I was suddenly dizzy and nauseous. My head was swimming and I had a hard time staying upright. I caught myself not breathing and had to think to do so. I had always remembered him as much taller than me, and always thought he would grow up to be enormously tall and powerful. The short, cute, smallish guy in front of me didn't fit at all. But I saw the Trey Waring that I remembered in his eyes, even though they looked at me in a much different way than I remembered them doing all that time ago.

The horror and fear of that day so long ago swarmed back, overwhelming me.

I heard myself say, "Stay the fuck away from me," in a surprisingly low and rough voice.

It was easy to see how much my words hurt him. His entire face seemed to change, and his eyes lost their incredible warmth. I didn't like how much his pain pleased me. I didn't wait for his response, or to give him enough time to recover. I literally ran away from him, tears in my eyes.

I heard him yell, "Sorry!" but I didn't care.

Memories I had forgotten for so long were rushing back, and I fought to contain them. I wanted to erase them, like data on a diskette. No, more than erase them, I wanted to destroy them. I wanted to wrap the diskette around a road flare and then toss it into a roaring camp fire.

We were kids, I tried to reason when forgetting was obviously not going to happen. It didn't mean anything. Just kids. And I had asked for it.

No. Yes. Not that, though. I deserved it, though. No, I didn't. He didn't have to.

Forget it! It never happened!

NO!

I found myself in a bathroom, sitting in a stall with my face in my hands and my elbows on my knees. I was shaking violently.

Forget it. The whole damned thing! Him. Them. That place. All of it. Put it away and never look at it again.

How can I? He's here! He goes to my school! He knows who I am! What if the others go here, too? They can't. Too bizarre that he does. HIM!

Oh, God! Why? Every time I see him now, how am I not going to remember?

Some things can never be like they never happened.

Oh, God.

No! I have to deal with it. Have to. Not going to be able to forget it anymore. How can he talk to me? He fucking said hi all normal and shit my first day back. Never talked to me before that. He said he was there for the fight with Charlie, so he's been here since at least before the van fire. And now he wants to act like nothing ever happened?

Jesus Christ! Someone else wanting to act like nothing ever happened! How do people fucking do that? Especially something like that?

Oh, fuck. I did! For years! I pretended it never happened! I forgot it!

Oh, God!

I knew that this was that last thing, the one last thing that would tip me over the edge into insanity. It had been saved up for just this moment, and now it was served, steaming, on a silver platter before me.

I know that for a few minutes I wasn't there. I cried too deeply. Anyone could have come and gone and I wouldn't have known it.

Been so long. So very long. Only three years, though. So much has happened since then. He said sorry when I started running away from him. Maybe he is. Could he be? How am I supposed to forgive him? Should I even try? Why should I?

Because we were kids. Stupid kids. I made a mistake. It was more my fault than his.

No! He planned it! Him and his friends!

Do get a permanent room at the funny farm now? I lost all emotion when Eric ran. Now I'm suddenly hiding in the john, and I don't know for how long.

I dug the red digital watch out of the pack and saw that I had missed almost half a period. German, too.

Fuck me! And I can't miss it! I got to go.

I closed my eyes and controlled my breathing, ignoring the stink of the bathroom. I put muscles back into more accustomed positions, stopped the whirling nausea. I stood up, the shaking subsiding and my breath under control. I checked myself in a mirror and saw that I looked fairly normal. For me, anyway.

I told the teacher that I'd had a headache spell from the temple wound and spent some time laying down, as I was told to do by my doctor if that happened. She asked why I hadn't gone to the nurse's office. I said that it had happened suddenly and I was near the cafeteria, and how if I had walked as far as the nurse's office, it might have caused me to pass out. She asked if I was okay, and I told her it happened from time to time, that it didn't mean anything, just that I had to take it easy for a few minutes, on doctor's orders, that the nauseous headaches always went away after a few minutes of resting. I explained that was why I was still on light activity in gym class.

Erich backed me up by saying, "He does. Seen him have some. In gym all he can do is hold ropes. And if he has one he has to lay down until his blood pressure falls again. Side effect of one of the pills."

"The one for blood pressure, actually," I said. "And I have to wait for my blood pressure to go back up, not down. The pill keeps it low while the blood vessel in my brain heals. But it sometimes makes it go too low, especially if I don't have enough to eat."

She was satisfied, and I managed to complete the exam before the bell rang. On the way out of class, I thanked Erich profusely.

"So, why where you really late?"

"I just got a big surprise, is all," I said with a groan. "Don't ask."

He didn't. We talked normally as I took him and his books to his next class. I spent the rest of the morning in a haze punctuated by tests and exams. And the newest, most horrific horror of horrors: My tormentor had found me.

In lunch, we all saw Thomas talking to Patricia again, and I had to keep the guys from banging on him too harshly, again. I watched as he walked away from her and toward the table. I was sure he was looking more at me than the rest of the table, but it was hard to be sure. He was as red-faced as before. Scott asked him if he had agreed to go out with her. He nodded, but otherwise refused to speak.

On the way to Chemistry, as Erich, Wes, Thomas, and I walked, Thomas seemed even more preoccupied than usual. He even fell behind a step or two several times.

"You okay?" I asked just before he made his turn away from us.

"Huh?" he said suddenly, surprised. "Oh, yeah. Fine."

He smiled briefly, then waved as he turned away.

"Probably tryin' to figure out when to put his hand up Patricia's shirt," Wes said with a laugh.

Erich and I grinned.

Chemistry class wasn't all bad, as Erich and I had some fun talking in German and Latin about making up for missing yesterday.

Gym was the only other standout in the day. After learning yesterday that Greg Hallman had stayed in the aisle, I was expecting him to have moved anyway by the time I arrived. Indeed, when I walked around the corner of the row, my breath caught in my throat and a quick bout of dizziness washed through me. Greg wasn't there, but Scott Swenson, Scott Fischer, and others were in the aisle, getting changed, as if they belonged there.

For a moment I wondered if I had walked the wrong way and was at the wrong aisle.

Great, now everyone's gonna think I'm roaming around scoping out cocks! I worried for a moment. Greg arrived, and after saying, "Hey, Raymond," started opening his locker. Did he move and I found him by accident and this isn't my aisle? They don't all use the same aisle, either. What the hell?

I looked at the numbers on the lockers, verifying I was in the right aisle.

"You look lost," Brent Carter laughed.

I think that I looked around me, as if I were. I was never sure.

I understood why the others had all moved away from the fag, what I didn't understand was why these guys moved here to be with him. All I could figure was they were more or less forced to by the ones who had moved out.

"You guys sure you wanna share a row with, with me?"

I'd managed to stop myself from saying, "with a fag" in time. I walked up to my locker.

"Some of the aisles got crowded," little Scott Swenson explained, now using a locker to my left.

"You'll probably all be called, fags, ya know."

"Like we don't already?" Scott Fisher asked from the other side of him.

"Yeah, but I really am. You ain't worried, I'll, you know?"

"What? Look? Like we never been in the showers at the same time already?" little Scott asked.

I'd certainly looked at Scott Swenson. Like the other Scott, he was hot. Or what most called geeky. Unlike the other Scott, he was smallish and almost elven seeming. Delicate but not weak. Shorter than I and almost anyone else in our class. Small, but proportioned nicely and rounded well. His oval face with noble features and easy grin would have gotten him into any of the more normal cliques. Except that he liked sciences and computers, as well as playing a horn and D&D, and was smart. Ding.

Brent Kovelosky said, "Everybody looks, they just don't admit it. But, I really don't care, if you're gay. Not really. I always thought you were a pretty decent guy. I mean, I'd rather change in the same row as the gay guy than get pushed around in that crowded one I was in."

Brent had considerable acne, dark brown hair, and brown eyes, and was average in all measurable ways. He took science classes, computers, and business. He played D&D on occasion, was in a couple of clubs, and got good grades. Ding.

"We're friends anyway, and my row got crowded, too. Fucking Jason Peterson's in there now. And him and Brian Wells together are pains in the ass!" Paul Masters said. "Plus we stand around after showers waiting and talking until they let us get dressed. You seen all you can see already, anyway."

Paul was taller than I, a little heavy, but far from fat. And very hairy. His brown hair was filling in everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. I was sure he was going to be one of those guys who had hairy shoulders and backs. He wasn't particularly smart, but he liked science and science-fiction, and fantasy games, and was good at chess and math. Ding.

"No kiddin'," Scott Fischer said. "You ain't gonna see anything you ain't already. Or can in the showers. So what's the big deal? This way getting dressed is safer, anyway."

Big Scott Fischer was tall, well over average, but not among the tallest in our class. He was broad, but not among the widest. He was smart, and definitely among the very smartest. His brown hair and eyes were average, his face a mix of oval and round, average features, but still so good looking because he was so geeky. He was good with science, math, and history. He liked anything medieval, Dungeons and Dragons, chess, and reading. Ding.

"We get called fags anyway, and I'd rather be like you than like them," Brent said.

I almost felt like crying.

Again, I thought. Why do I have to feel like crying anytime something happens? Something bad, sure, but something good, like this, why cry? Fucking wuss! Something else to change about yourself, since so many fucking changes are going on. Stop crying over good things. Cripes! Grow up!

I latched onto that anger and fed it, making it grow, using it to hold back the desire to cry. I kept the blank expression I was hoping I was wearing, not wanting to show the emotions warring in me. I wondered if this good thing would be enough to hold onto, to keep myself from going over the deep end, especially now that my tormentor was back.

I opened my locker and got changed. Or, started to. Once I had my shirt off, the questions started about the burns. When I took off my jeans, they asked about the spots on my shins. I answered the ones about the fire itself again, saying I only remembered the explosion, some smoke, coughing, and blacking out. Then waking up in the hospital.

David Carlson, Rick Bandercroft, and another guy I only knew by his first name, Brad, moved into the aisle before we were all dressed. No one had taken any locker to either side of me, and I noticed, but it didn't bother me very much. The horror of Trey's return was actually mitigated by their moving to my locker aisle.

Once I was changed, I was still answering questions asked by those still changing, so I stood awkwardly, meeting eyes with those talking to me, trying to talk as if we were all outside or in a classroom, until we walked out as a group. As we walked past the aisles, almost everyone noticed as we walked by, but this time no one said, "fag," "homo," "queer," or any of the more creative revilements, like, "turd burglar," or, "rump ranger." And no one said anything rude to me during the class as I held the safety rope.

After changing back into street clothes, I joined Erich and Carl at the doors, waiting for everyone else. Before we were released, a larger group surrounded us, talking and acting as normal as any other high school students. Nearly all of the geeks and nerds in the class formed up into a single group, nearly all of them now in my row of lockers.

For the first time in what felt like days, without playing the synthesizer, I felt alright. Even despite Trey's reappearance.

I wondered if any of them were among the gay ten percent, and if so, why they didn't say anything. I knew it wouldn't happen right there in front of everyone, but I thought they could at least put a note in my locker.

I started.

Someone sent me a Valentine's card, I thought. Who? Why? Are they really gay, or is it some joke?

The card was still in my pack. I made a mental note to stop ignoring it.

The rest of the day was predictable. Even going to the little computer lab; I was glared at as if I didn't belong there, watched from the door to the auto shop. I tried not to think of Jeff. Or Tom. Or Eric. Or Trey. Or the other thousand things.

I swapped books and waited for the start of the good parts of the day, starting the other half of my double life. The memories of Trey and that day, and of the years before, came again and again. I knew that I could no longer pretend it had never happened, that I was going to have to deal with it, and remember it every day.

Just more to push me toward the edge. Just more to make me lose my mind. How close am I getting, now? Jeff, Tom, Eric, the Circle, finals, Trey and those memories coming back, the band, playing music again, lying to my folks, the drugs, no sleep, shit, how long can I hold it together?

No answer.

Erich was right on time.

"You're bummed again. What's wrong?" He asked, looking concerned.

I sighed, and tried to shrug it off. He wouldn't let me.

"Come on. Something's buggin' ya. Big time."

"Dude, it's just, I got a big surprise today. Two of 'em."

"More stuff for the pile?"

I remembered our talk last week, and nodded. I finally looked at him, and our eyes met again. And again I knew we had more of a past than this life. I grinned, thinking of how he made me feel.

"What?" He asked me, grinning now, so cutely.

"Nothing," I said, but smiled wider.

I wasted no time when we got to my house. As we threw off our coats, I rolled a joint, sat next to him on the bed, lit it, and placed my hand on his thigh, very high. The contact gave me a huge thrill. His soft thigh was warm, and there was even more warmth coming from further up, just an inch from my little finger.

He grinned and blushed.

"Not wasting any time?" he asked.

"As soon as this is done," I said, taking the joint back from him.

If they're gonna call me a cock-sucker anyway, I'm gonna enjoy it.

I was hard already, and tingling throughout my groin. I moved my hand to his groin and rubbed it while we smoked. I felt him harden, and loved how it felt to follow the length of it through his jeans. I could feel it pulse and swell, reacting to my touch. Eventually I put the long hemostats on my bedside table, dropped to my knees in front of him, and undid his pants. I was hard, pulsing even harder from time to time in anticipation. He helped me get his jeans and shorts down, then I played with him with relish. I made it last. I sucked only part of the time, spending most of my time licking and stroking. I played with his balls constantly. I rubbed his tip with my thumb and finger, twisted my finger and thumb around the soft, gentle curves of his head, and rubbed the sensitive spot below his head near the tip.

He was thrashing around in no time, and I enjoyed watching his near-agony. He came close more than once, but I felt his tensing hardening and relented. He grunted, hissed, groaned, whined. I tortured him.

When I finally let him release, I was slowly stroking his soaking wet head with only the circle made by my forefinger and thumb, concentrating on his head and corona, my other hand holding the skin around his cock as far back as possible. I squeezed as his cock swelled, slid my finger and thumb up, then down, then squeezed. Over and over. He bucked, jerked, pleaded for me not to stop.

"HOLY SHIT!" he hissed, his head thrown far back into the mattress.

I watched his cum fly through the air, tumbling, landing on his neck and under his chin. Again, and a length stretched from the nook of his neck to near his nipple, showing brightly against his dark blue shirt. Again, from near nipple to near navel, this one landing partly on his skin and partly on his shirt. Again, near nipple to navel again. Again, navel to pubes, entirely on his white skin. Long stretches of cum, cables of white. Again, stretching over his skin from his light blond patch of hair to his navel. More, into his triangle of hair, then more, running over my finger and thumb and down his shaft. He had been silent, his breath coming in short, sharp gasps, making almost whining sounds with each explosive release. He bucked and jerked with each stroke after his orgasm, letting me continue for a very short time. Then he sat up, placing his gloved hands over my hand and his cock.

"Fuck! Stop!"

I pulled my hand away, and he fell back, still covering his groin.

"Oh, shit," he sighed, nearly breathless.

While he was nearly comatose, I went to the bathroom and ran warm water over a washrag as I licked my hand clean, savoring the aroma and flavor. It was very bitter. I used some mouthwash and then brought the rag back with me and began washing him. He took over, even with his gloved hands. He was still breathing quickly and grinning.

"Looked like a nice one," I said, wishing he would throw me down on the floor and reciprocate with vigor.

He grinned a little wider, blushed a little darker, nodded.

"Man, sure was. Danke sehr."

He sighed and shivered.

"Did you go without, totally, yesterday?"

He nodded.

"Tried, almost got caught, though. Gave up."

"Well, glad I could help out."

"How am I gonna pay ya back?"

I had some ideas, but it really seemed that he wasn't interested in giving back. I considered mentioning it, though.

"You helped with the German, man."

He shrugged, said, "So. Would, anyway."

I reconsidered. I worked on working up the guts.

"You, could, ya know, uh... "

I could tell that he knew where I was headed, and he wasn't interested.

"Dude, I, I'll help you out with about anything, but, I don't think I can do that."

He didn't look happy, almost as if he wished he could, but was somehow unable to, beyond having gloved hands.

I sat next to him on my bed, careful to hide my erection, or at least keep it from ripping through the front of my jeans.

"Can I tell you something, though?" he asked, his nice gray eyes looking into mine. "You won't say anything?"

"No more than I'd say anything about what we just did."

He nodded, tossed the rag on the floor, stood, tried to pull his shorts up. I reached for them from behind, admiring his butt, and pulled them up. I leaned out and around and made sure that he was comfortably positioned in them, then pulled his jeans up from behind. He turned and I fastened and zipped them. I groped him again, and he seemed more than willing to let me do so for a while.

"Dude, um, when I get these gloves off, I can, uh, take care of myself. But, uh, would, you, ya know, still, take care of it?"

Will I? Hell, yes! I thought. But play it cool. Not too cool, he knows you're gay.

"Uh, you sure you'll want me to?"

He nodded.

"At least until I get a girlfriend," he said with a laugh. "Not everyday, or anything, but, you know, now and then. Maybe a couple times a week, if we got time."

He couldn't look at me, at least not in those brief times I managed to force myself to look at him. We were both furiously blushing, both of us watching what I was doing to him with my hands.

I nodded.

"We could keep studying German. And chem. And you could teach me some more Latin."

"Cool. You sure it'd be okay?"

"As long as I don't have a... someone to not cheat on," I managed to force from myself.

As if, I thought bitterly.

I was still fondling his groin, and he was still allowing me to. He was semi-hard, and possibly growing harder. He must have looked at the clock.

"Gotta go."

I nodded, but didn't stop playing.

He laughed.

"Horn-dog. Leggo my Eggos!"

He laughed and I did too.

"See ya tomorrow, Al."

He had never called me that before.

"Yeah, see ya," I said, then walked with him down the stairs in silence.

I closed the door behind him after he turned to wave and then ran for his car.

I was sure he was Puppy Dog, almost. I was sure he wasn't straight, almost. I was sure he was the mystery keyboardist, almost.

I just didn't understand why he was lying about all of it.

I thought about it while I smoked a joint and toyed with myself through my jeans. I hurried the joint, then hurried myself to orgasm. I barely pulled myself out of my jeans, hardly got started, before I came with surprising pressure and volume. I shivered in the chair, panting a bit.

I cleaned up and changed clothes, then practiced "Come Sail Away" while playing it over and over on the turntable. I hadn't liked the way David played it, and I wanted to have it done right if they played it on stage while I was still playing with them. I knew David knew the piano portion, so I worked on the other parts, all the synthesizer parts, and there were many. The J. C. Penny synthesizer could almost sound like some. It took a lot of work, but by the time mom called up that dinner was ready, the song nearly was.

I ate, finishing my plate for the first time in a long time without being harangued to do so.

"Ready?" I asked Dad.

He grinned.

"Not in any kind of hurry, are you?" he asked.

Mom grinned, then said, "And do not be out too late. I don't care how much studying you need to do."

There was something about how she said that that triggered some primal reaction inside of me. I couldn't peg it down, so I dismissed it, preferring to concentrate on getting Dad into his coat and us on the road. I grabbed my coat, the weed and supplies already stashed into it, and waited impatiently. It was obvious that he was taking his time. I tried to play it cool, but I was anxious to be on my way. Not only to drive, but to start playing music.

He offered little advice, most of it about braking earlier. I had been told I did so too soon by the examiner, but Dad seemed concerned in the opposite. The new Bonneville was easy to drive, and comfortable, too. With all the digital gauges it was almost like I could pretend to be flying an aircraft or the space shuttle.

By the time I got to the twins', the rest of the band was there, having already dragged their gear up, and were almost set up. Within a few minutes, we were playing the usual songs. Joints were passed, sodas drank. I forgot Jeff. Forgot Tom. Forgot Eric. Forgot gym. Forgot finals. Forgot Trey. Forgot the crappy old Plymouth. We started with the usual songs, and then worked on "Cold As Ice," my own work on the piano parts becoming cleaner. After the third time through the song, there was clapping from the doorway. It was their mother.

"Oh, crap!" Brent said very softly, in horror.

"No crap!" Ryan said next, and just as softly and horrified.

If I hadn't been sitting so near them I wouldn't have heard them at all.

She was wearing a very expensive-looking business dress. I hadn't seen her for months. And that had been only the once since I had chewed her out for keeping her kids in a silver cage.

"My boys are in a band," she said softly.

She was grinning slightly, something I had only seen her do once, on that long ago day I had told her to let her kids out to run and play, or they'd end up stunted and deformed, physically and emotionally.

"Mother," Brent and Ryan said together.

They stood up dutifully and began walking toward her. They were stiff and formal, nothing like the crazy, wild twins I knew.

"No, don't bother," she said, holding up a hand. "I'm only home for a changeover. Come down for a light meal with me at six, sharp. Your guests are welcome to join us. In fact, they best had."

She turned and walked away.

I felt myself relax and breathe, unaware that I had been holding my breath.

"Oh, shit," Brent said softly.

Ryan stared at his twin.

The good mood had been broken, for the twins and me at least.

"What's up?" Kevin asked, seemingly sensing our change in mood. "Didn't you get permission?"

"Uh, mom's never let anyone stay for dinner before. I don't know what the fuck's up with that," Ryan answered, looking worried.

"She seems nice," Terry said.

I laughed, cutting it off as soon as I could.

"What?" David asked.

"Um, nice is not a word anyone's ever used about her before."

"Oh."

"So, what do we do?"

"We go to dinner," Brent said, looking at the oversized basketball clock. "In ten minutes."

I thought I saw both of the twins shudder.

I had no idea what to expect at dinner. No one had ever been asked to stay for dinner at the twins' house that I ever knew of. Not any friends of the twins, anyway. Plenty of big-shots who needed plenty of security, whose names were never in any newspapers, politicians who always were, and local celebrities, but no one, well, normal.

At two minutes to six, we marched downstairs in silence, following the twins. I had never been to the dining room before, had never even seen the doors open or gotten a glimpse inside of it. It was as large and ostentatious as I expected. The long table had settings along both sides, and one at one end. The twins sat nearest that end setting, and we ranged along both sides down the table.

Their mother walked in, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. Jeans! A t-shirt! I almost swallowed my own tongue. And an Animals tee, at that. I looked at the twins, who were white and gape-mouthed.

A butler and a maid walked in with serving trays. They set them down and made a round of the table, pouring milk into our crystal goblets. We remained silent, stunned. The other guys were uncomfortable, not knowing what was going on. Not that I had a clue. Or the twins, judging by their horrified and tense expressions.

Once the staff had set a bowl of tomato soup and a ham and cheese sandwich in front of each of us, they silently walked out of the room.

Tomato soup? Ham and cheese? What the fuck? What's going on? This is normal food. Last time I heard what the twins had for dinner, I couldn't pronounce it and had to look it up in a book at school.

"So, tell me about your band," she said conversationally, then sipped her milk.

"Well, uh... " Brent didn't start.

"Um, uh... " Ryan didn't continue.

"Well, Wil, Brian, Bill, Terry, and I, we needed a synthesizer player. And, uh... I heard Alex here could play. And, when he came and tried out, uh, our drummer, uh-h-h... he, uh, quit. And-"

"I take it he didn't care for Alex's sexuality?" She asked matter-of-fact.

"Bluh, uhhhh," Kevin didn't continue.

"Yes, ma'am," I answered for him, unable to meet her gaze either.

"Do go on," she said, then began on her soup.

The rest of us followed her suit and lifted our spoons. The twins looked as if they were about to be sick into their bowls.

I had no idea what was going on. The Animals t-shirt kept yelling, "My wearer has gone insane. RUN!"

"Well, uh, he was a, a pain, anyway. So it was no big loss. So, uh, next day, Alex says he knows a couple guys who can play drums like... "

"Yes? Like, what?" she asked softly, her manner making me think of a cat about to pounce upon a sleepy, unsuspecting mouse.

"Well, very well. And he called, and next day the twins said it would be okay to practice here one day and see how it goes."

"And how did it go?"

I wanted to warn that poor mouse sitting right next to me.

She had another spoonful of soup. I had my first. It was rather good. Rich, creamy, not too salty, sweet, and spicy.

"Well, uh," Kevin dropped his spoon, on purpose, then looked directly at her. "Can I talk frank?"

Uh-oh. I wished that I could leap out of the way.

"Of course, dear," she said gently, blinking several times.

I had a sudden flash of the evil Red Queen.

"The twins here are the best damned drummers I ever heard outside an actual band playing on a stage for thousands of people."

Her eyebrows went up, ever so slightly.

I tensed. My guts clenched, and I suddenly needed to use the bathroom, badly. Very badly. And not to stand up.

"Do say?"

"I do! Geeze! When I first got here and they played that funky version of Candy, I knew they were good. Real good. And we've been playing song after song after song, and they can play. I mean, play!"

Both twins were beet red and staring at their soup. I wondered how long it would be before they violently ralphed into it.

Then Bill spoke up.

"Uh, ma'am. I been playin' drums since I was five. And I've been told I'm good, real good. By the teachers in school, and you know our music teachers are good. But, ma'am, these guys can kick my butt with one foot and one hand tied behind their backs."

She smiled and huffed a short laugh.

"Oh, they are!" I said, wanting to defend them. "These guys can play almost anything, and they can play stuff that guys earning millions a year can barely do. And I mean it."

"Oh, good, this could be so much fun for you!" she said suddenly, clapping her hands together.

I almost blew my chunks. I was now certain she was going insane, or had overdosed on some expensive, exclusive drug. Or some combination of.

She laughed. The twins were stunned, white, almost visibly shaking.

She laughed, a lot, and with what seemed real humor.

I had no clue what the hell was happening.

Here it comes, I thought. Now she'll say something like, "It's time you put away silly, childish music, and got down to more serious things, boys! And you, you ruffians, get out of my house and stay away from my children!" Then I expected her clothes to turn black, a black cape to appear over her shoulders, and her chair to turn into a broom, then she would chase us out on it.

Her laughter died down, and she seemed honestly happy.

"Oh, my. Look, sons, I said it was okay for you to have a band here to practice with."

I saw then that she had been playing us. All of us. Even her sons. I gawped.

"And from what I heard upstairs, you're enjoying it a great deal. And you are very good, indeed."

She was smiling at them. They were still open-mouthed and white.

Now I was doing everything I could not to break into laughter, just from the relief, let alone the effective yanking she had just administered. And was still dishing out, as no one else seemed to have caught on yet.

"You really enjoy it?"

They nodded in unison, faces unchanged. I almost laughed at that.

"Fine. Is there anything else you need? Any special equipment?"

They shook their heads in unison. They still looked ready to hurl.

"So, when does this band play? And where?"

"Uh, this Friday and Saturday we do the student union at school. You know it?"

"Yes, I do. And I am aware of your engagement this Friday night past. I received quite a glowing review of your performance through connections."

She had more soup, glancing at her sons.

"Well? Do you have nothing to say?"

They blubbered a moment, obviously still off their tracks. I couldn't blame them. I began to wonder if their mother had been abducted and replaced by a doppelganger, but with a soul and a heart.

"So, it's okay?" Ryan asked timidly.

"I did say so to Wilfred, didn't I? Did he not tell you so?"

"Yes," Brent said, recovering somewhat.

"Fine, then. Stay out of trouble. And I don't want to hear your names in connection with anything unsavory or illegal, or I'll shut this whole thing down so fast your little asses will be left spinning in mid-air."

She had another spoonful of the soup, then a bite of her sandwich.

"I, uh, I thought... "

"I was going to shut you down?"

Ryan nodded.

She grinned a bit more. The milk mustache almost made me laugh out loud.

She wiped her lips, then said, "Sons, if you enjoy music, then enjoy it. But your grades will not suffer. If so, your music will suffer, and so will you."

They both relaxed visibly, actually blowing out their breaths and rolling their eyes.

"The staff will have something for your dinners each night. No need for you to go without dinner to practice. You can have something up there, if you prefer. As long as the staff doesn't complain about the mess."

"Thank you," they said in unison, real relief on their faces.

"And I mean for all of you, if your parents don't mind. And you will discuss that with them, first," she said firmly, looking around at the rest of us, making sure we understood we were to clear dinner with our parents. We all nodded.

"And as for you, Mister Raymond. It seems whenever these boys are up to something, you are involved."

I wasn't sure what she was hinting at, or intimating, or implying. I didn't know if I should be thankful, embarrassed, or insulted.

"But you've been a good influence on them, from all accounts, and from what I can tell. I have been impressed with you since that summer day you told me and my husband how to raise our sons. And you were right. We saw that, thanks to you. They could easily have been locked away and made into social misfits. We only meant to protect them, but we were overdoing it. I thanked you then, and I thank you now."

She was doing an excellent job of embarrassing me.

"And I expect you to make sure this works out just as well as your Circle has. You keep your eye on them, understand me?"

She was glaring right through me. I could almost feel her eyes boring holes in mine.

I nodded.

"Yes, I understand. And honest, they hardly need anyone watching 'em. They aren't idiots or jerks, or stupid. You did pretty good with 'em. They really are good guys."

I got a good blush from them both. The other guys nodded.

"So, do you know any Animals?" she asked, returning to her soup and sandwich.

"I love The Animals!" Terry said enthusiastically.

"Man, who don't love House?" Kevin replied.

"Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood!"

"We Gotta Get Outta This Place!"

"Can you play any of them?" she asked her sons.

They blushed and nodded, grinning at me in glances.

The twins' mother became a real person to me as we ate our soup and sandwiches with her. She had always been just the twins' mother, a stranger who I had talked into letting her sons be my friends, not isolated loners. By the end of dinner, we had agreed to practice some Animals songs to play for her when we could.

Back upstairs, I collapsed onto the couch with a, "Holy shit."

The twins silently sat at the drums. Everyone gathered their instruments, and Kevin reminded us that we needed to practice.

"You gotta give us a minute to figure out what world we're in," Ryan said.

"No fucking shit," Brent said meaningfully.

No one seemed to understand. I tried to explain.

"Dudes, their mom just turned out to be a human after all. We gotta kinda deal with that."

They laughed.

"You just don't even know," I said sadly.

I explained her to them. I told them how she had always been distant, physically and emotionally. I told them how she and their father were always gone, and when they weren't, they still weren't around, and almost never talked to them. I told them that today was the most I had ever heard her say, let alone to the twins.

"Most she's said to us for as long as I can remember," Ryan explained. "Except after the night Alex told her and Dad off," he added with a smirk.

Brent laughed.

"I gotta hear this story sometime," Kevin said again.

"Sometime," I answered.

"Hey, look, we all got issues with our folks. Me and my old man could beat the crap outta each other one day. Probably will."

I looked at Terry and wondered if it was true, or it only seemed so to him.

"Yeah, we all got things with our folks. It's cool us practicing here, and you being in the band, so, let's get practicing already."

We went through the planned list for Friday again, most of which had no keyboards, but some piano that David could already do. I got plenty of time with the members also not playing all the time, and the one or two drummers sitting out at a time. We refrained from smoking, knowing it was possible that the twins' mother could show up at any time. The bathroom lines were shared, however, and I got in on several.

We had just finished "The Best Of Times" when, as we faded down, there was applause from the doors, again, but much more this time. The twins' mom and some staff were there, and had obviously been listening in. The staffers were grinning, clapping enthusiastically. Their mom smiled, and was now dressed in another business suit.

"I see I've not made a mistake," she said proudly.

"Told ya they was good," I said.

"Well, that was hardly a challenge for them. I was speaking of trusting you to know what you're doing, and finding the best band for them to work with."

"Uh, I hardly found the band for them to play with. It happened the other way around."

"Did it?" she asked innocently. "At any rate, I have to leave soon, so could I ask you gentlemen to play a song I might know?"

"Can you do House?" Kevin asked me.

"I, uh, I can, but, not without a lot of practice first. It's hard, too."

He nodded.

"Misunderstood?"

"Same."

"Down?"

"Same."

"Okay, leaves Place."

I shrugged.

"You guys, you know it?" he asked the twins.

The twins nodded, but shrugged, too.

"Might be rusty. Ain't since Alex played with us."

"You guys played oldies, too?" Kevin asked.

"My fault. They'd rather do just new stuff, but I loved 'em, and what kinda drummers can't do the classics? So, I, uh... " I was not going to tell anyone what I had offered if they would play oldies with me, and especially not the band guys, and most especially not their mother. "... talked them into it."

"Okay, looks like we're stuck doing the best we-"

"Wait," Ryan said suddenly. "The Surfaris."

Brent looked horrified, staring at his twin that way.

"Ry!"

"Oh, stuff it," Ryan said at him. "Pull that sponge outta your butt and shove your spine back up there."

I had never heard Ryan talk anything like that when his mother was even in the house, let alone standing at the door. I looked over at her and saw her grin slightly.

"Mom'll love it."

"I'll get us started if you'll tap us time," Brian said to the twins as he donned his wooden six-string.

"Bri? You know it?" Kevin asked.

"Know it?" he echoed.

Ryan supplied time, and then Brian let loose with an insane and incredibly bizarre laugh, followed by, "Wipeout!" at the top of his lungs.

Brent and Ryan started slamming skins. Brian kicked in with strings, then Terry added a resounding bass line that sounded awesome. Kevin nodded at them, smiling.

Brent and Ryan swapped at each guitar stab, then played in tandem for the main sections. On a sudden impulse, I punched a set of keys harmonic with the guitar at the stab. Kevin nodded at me, so I continued doing so.

I felt the song in the air, palpable, beating against my chest, sucking the air from my lungs. I felt the floor vibrating through my shoes. It was incredible. My little pops of sound hardly added a fraction.

Brian obviously not only knew the song, he loved playing it. The guitar part had to be as hard as the drums for any one drummer, but Brian plucked and strummed nearly perfectly. He bent over his guitar during the long sections, swaying and rocking with the rhythm. He actually pointed at Brent or Ryan as they swapped playing with each stab of his guitar once he caught onto their act. As he entered the last round, he leaned back, pointed his guitar forward, and played it at an angle, shaking his head over his hands as he looked downward, rocking forward and back.

Brian faded down and out at the usual end of the song, but Kevin motioned at the twins to go to town. They did. They beat the hell out of the cans. Even I was impressed, and I had seen and heard them do some amazing things on those drums. They dueled, as if they had done so a thousand times. I wondered if they had. I was sure they had. They dared each other with the varied and even faster routines that the Ventures had used for the song. They smiled, grinned like a pair of Cheshire cats, glowed, pounded, laughed.

I understood it. They knew they had permission, that the band was a go, that they could show their mother what they could do, what they loved to do.

They matched up suddenly on a quick nod together. They went through the last round of the Surfaris' version in unison, and when they stopped, it sounded as if it were in mid-strike. I knew they had killed the amps with the foot pedals, but the effect was still stunning. Only the cymbals were left hanging in the air, like some weird note struck from the anvil of the gods.

The staff cheered enthusiastically, clapped loudly, smiled. I wondered if it was the first time they had done so in front of her. I was almost sure of it.

Kevin held his arm out at the twins, and said, "Ma'am, I give you the best drummers I've ever heard. And soon to be your famous sons. Thunder Cats."

The twins almost held out, but relented suddenly.

"Thunder Cats, Thunder Cats, Thunder Cats, HO!"

They used their drums to punctuate the words, louder and deeper each time, until both of them slammed down on everything they both could at the same time, repeatedly, for the last, long held syllable. It shook the room, and my chest.

It made me laugh. But I'd seen it before. Most of the other guys snickered. Wil mumbled, "Freshman," around a laugh.

"So that's what I hear from the garden walkway," their mother said with a grin.

The twins looked happier and more enraptured than I had ever seen them. They were bright red, sweating, panting, eyes flashing, grinning from ear to ear.

"Amazing," David said from beside me, too softly for her to hear.

The proud mother blew a kiss to her sons. I caught her quick glance at me as she turned away, followed by her staff. The head man gave the twins a very unusual smile and an even more uncommon thumbs-up, then closed the double doors behind him.

"You guys are freaking brilliant!" David said, this time loudly enough for everyone to hear.

"They are amazing," I said, meaning more than the drumming.

"We are gonna be so famous!" Wil declared.

"And rich," Brian added. "Not that you guys will notice!" he said to the twins.

They rolled their eyes.

"What was with the high and low change-ups?" Kevin asked.

"Ventures!" Brent said gleefully, then demonstrated a round of the version.

"Gimme a week and I can brush that version up," Brian said. "In ways it's better than the Surfaris'."

"Can you guys do the whole drum set so I can hear it?" Kevin asked the twins.

"They do it the same for the first change, then start messing around."

"Show me."

They tapped time, started playing it. The drum solo was faster in this version, but sounded the same for the first swap set. When they hit the second set, they ranged, just like the Ventures version. Kevin was agog in no time. Bill stood behind the twins, watching them as if he were viewing Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel, enraptured, head swiveling to one then the other drummer. He managed to grin even though his mouth was agape.

Then the twins hit the third round, and the style changed again, now ranging inside each set between guitar stabs, then ending with higher tones, hard hits, the faster tempo. Kevin grinned like a maniac. Bill ogled, simply amazed.

Then the fourth set, and the wide-ranging hits from left to right or right to left between each stab. Fast tempo, hard hits. Cymbals abounded.

They dropped out on a single beat. They were panting rapidly, hair soaked with sweat, faces gone beyond blushing to nearly a flush, only their lips red now. Ryan dropped his sticks and leaned backward in his seat, staring upward. Brent laid his sticks down on a drum and spun his seat around, arms over his head.

Both were grinning widely around heaving breaths.

"I, saw, God," Bill said quietly.

"I gotta rest, I think I sprained my elbow," Ryan said, bending his right arm several times, still gazing at the ceiling.

"All the beating-off you do you should be able to play that song all night," Brent said with a leer, stopping his spinning.

Ryan replied silently with a firm, single-finger salute using his other arm.

"Rest up, dudes. You're done for the night. Bill can sit in and we can keep practicing the usual stuff. Adam, give Bill a hand swapping drums around," Kevin suggested.

"No," Bill said quickly. "No. I'm gonna learn this setup. Only a couple differences and I sorta made changes at home anyway. I can handle the change on most of the songs."

"You sure?" Kevin asked, sounding doubtful.

"Or I'll quit playing," Bill said firmly, and with a nod.

The twins looked at each other and left silently.

And Bill did adjust, too, or at least as far as I could tell. I didn't hear any big problems, and only a few little ones at first.

David and I sat on the couch until the twins returned. They both wore huge grins, still.

"Whose canary ya eat?" I asked as they sat next to David and me on the huge couch.

They didn't answer, unless you counted even bigger smiles as an answer. When David went to play for a couple of songs, Brent and Ryan gave me looks that piqued my curiosity. I told them so by raising an eyebrow.

"Nothin'," Ryan said, telling me everything that he was going to.

As they began playing, under the music, I asked, what was going on.

"Gawd, you're so dense sometimes," Brent said impatiently. He rolled his eyes at me, then said, "Didn't you catch what mom said at dinner?"

I must have looked confused, or stupid. Or both. Brent rolled his eyes again.

"When Kevin mentioned their drummer quitting when he met you, and mom knew why?" Ryan hinted slowly, as if explaining thermonuclear physics to a retarded chimp.

I must have been a really retarded chimp.

"Oh, my, fucking, gawd," Ryan said, throwing his hands up in the air. "Mom knows you're gay!"

I didn't react. I couldn't react. How could I react? How could I react?

Well, I did blink one eye, and one hand did flinch, but that wasn't me reacting. Was it?

"How the hell can she know?" I whispered, more to myself than to them.

They shrugged, still grinning, Ryan especially.

I felt good for them; for Ryan. He could now hope that when he told his parents, that he could survive the experience. I wasn't sure how I felt for myself, though.

"Which means she knows our best friend is, and which means she probably won't freak out about Ry," Brent added quietly.

I did react to that sentence.

"Who?"

Now they seemed confused.

"Best friend?" I asked.

"Uh, yeah. Why?" Brent asked.

"Me?"

"No, Ronald Reagan," Brent said with impudence.

"The only person who ever stood up for us," Ryan said, ticking off with his fingers. "Save our bare asses at camp and never told a soul. Made our folks cut the leash a little looser. Let us have friends over. Kept us from making the mistake of making friends with the preppie squad. Got me through a lot this year. Got us into a band."

"Started getting us high," Brent added.

"And other stuff," Ryan added behind his hand, trying not to laugh.

"Fag," Brent said equally softly, elbowing his brother with a grin.

"Eat me," Ryan shot back, punching him hard on the shoulder.

As David returned from playing, the twins were going physical, and that meant that the conversation was over anyway. David and I got out of the way while they wrestled each other onto the floor. The band stopped playing, but I waved them on, explaining it was fairly normal. They ended up behind the large couch, with Brent having Ryan in a headlock with both legs pinning his brother's. Ryan tapped, unable to speak, red-faced and sweaty. David and I were kneeling on the couch, leaning over the back of it.

"Five bucks," I said, holding my hand out.

"Owe ya," David said, turning to sit on the couch in a more normal manner.

"You bet against me?" Ryan asked as he and his brother rejoined us as the band played on.

"Of course. When's the last time you won?"

"Hey, wait, I didn't think of that. You had unfair information," David complained.

"You made the bet," I answered.

He relented.

We drank soda, rolled joints, smoked joints, listened to them practice their normal routine of songs. From time to time, David got up to play the piano for a song or two, then rejoined us on the couch, or one of the guys would sit out a song and join us there. There were few songs requiring my synthesizer ability.

For the last two hours, that changed as we worked on all kinds of Foreigner. I had played several before, but was terribly rusty at them. I was asked to start learning the ones I hadn't before and brushing up on the ones I had. I agreed. Everyone else knew the songs already, except David and me.

I passed on the last round of joints, looking forward to the drive home. I called at nine-thirty and was picked up in a few minutes. I drove home, most of the buzz gone, but still very paranoid. I probably smiled the entire way.

Tom called almost as soon as I got home. He seemed worried about something, but wouldn't let on as to what. He asked if I felt okay, how things were going, and if anything was wrong. I wondered why he had called and hadn't come over, but didn't ask. I told him things were fine, that finals sucked, and I would be really glad when they were over. He laughed and agreed. He said he had to hit the sack, was dead tired from all the studying, work, and tests, and would see me tomorrow. We said goodnight and hung up. I couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong, but it didn't seem major, and Tom had seemed to be in a good mood. I had almost asked him how work was going, what with leaving his car at school every day, but I was just glad that he remembered that I existed.

By ten I was showered, newly bandaged, and I hit the books, often glancing at the old synthesizer along the wall. I concentrated on my studies, forcing myself to learn something for tomorrow's finals. After a short time, I couldn't learn a thing. I gave up. I sat at the synthesizer and worked on the songs Kevin wanted me to play on Friday and Saturday, "Cold As Ice" and the entire Paradise Theater album. Near two o'clock, I had to quit. I needed to get some sleep. I also didn't want dad coming up and catching me playing instead of studying again.

The songs raised such strong emotions, and dealing with those and the horrors of normal life was too much. I laid in bed, trying to sleep, but I kept thinking of the change in the twins' mother, how she seemed completely different. The t-shirt had shocked me as much as anything else about her had. I was glad that the twins had the green light in such a clear way, but it made me feel more guilty about not telling my parents about the band. I was also glad for Ryan, and his now possible path to telling his parents that he was gay. Or, if not gay, interested in both sexes. I wondered if he ever would.

I warmed as I remembered their assertion of our close friendship. I'd had no idea that they thought of me as their best friend.

Then I wondered if Jeff would ever be able to deal with himself. If we would remain friends in any way, or if he would drift entirely away, into baseball and sports.

Then I wondered if I would ever talk to Eric again.

Then I wondered where Erich and I were going.

Then I worried about Trey and that past.

Then Tom and me.

Then the Circle.

Then the band.

Then the lies to my parents.

Then my probable horrible finals results.

Trey. And all that horror.

Then how close I was to losing it. Just going off the deep end and living the rest of my life doped up on meds in a padded room.

I started to toss and turn.

Eventually, though, darkness came...

... and the smell of gasoline.

"Sure," I said, leaning forward, moving the medallion aside, grabbing the ignition key, and pumping the pedal once.

Oh, God.

The engine turned for several seconds, almost catching, but not quite.

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

Jeff in his baseball uniform, and Eric in his toga, grinned in anticipation, together, as they always had. Trey walked up to join them, wearing those black jeans and his sexy new, blue shirt. I couldn't understand how I had forgotten that Trey had been there that day, too. I knew I was fated to relive it over and over, the three of them always there, watching, enjoying the spectacle. As always.

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

I watched as I unlatched the one on the passenger side easily. I pulled and yanked on the driver's side, shaking the van.

Dad asked me to try starting it again.

I joked about having not started it before. Dad grinned playfully. Jeff and Eric said together, "Too bad."

"Yeah, I dare ya," Trey said softly, gently, wearing that smile that was so cute.

I moved aside the medallion and then turned the key. Dad called for another pump of the accelerator. The engine caught with a pop.

Please, no. Please.

Another, louder pop, then a loud, whooshing boom, an orange light. I was knocked against the van door, the side of my head hitting the pillar.

Everything went fuzzy, wobbly, blurred. Dad yelled my name in horror. Jeff, Eric, and Trey called my name mockingly, laughing together. Like always.

Flames on the dashboard. Heat. Smoke. Fear.

Jeff and Trey nodded, smiling evilly, high-fived each other. Now that the flames were going well, Eric grinned, then ran away.

I opened the driver's door, but Jeff was there, holding it closed.

"You let Tom fuck you! You let Toby. You let Ryan! You do Erich. You want David to! But not me! Who do you love?" he screamed, then laughed maniacally.

Coughing painfully, endlessly. My eyes stinging, watering, refusing to open, but I saw all. I couldn't breathe.

Dad's voice calling my name again. Jeff and Trey calling my name together, mockingly.

The smoke increased. The heat increased. My fear increased.

I shoved my face out the partially open window, Jeff pushed me back in, grinning horribly.

"Take it!"

"Yeah, I dare ya," Trey said again, still wearing that smile that was so cute.

I saw my body being pulled from the van, my wailing parents held back by police, Jeff and Trey, smiling, laughing, high-fiving.

Panic. Flames. Heat. Smoke. Fear. Their laughter.

Agonizing coughing. Struggling for air, just one breath of clean air. My heart pounded against my ribs. I pushed against Jeff, but he kept pushing me back inside the window, laughing at me, joining Trey in a frenzy of berserk laughter.

The pain in my temple flared with each cough. The familiar dizziness came.

I blamed God. I worried about not being with Toby in the afterlife. I was grief-stricken that Jeff and Trey wanted me to burn, and were enjoying the spectacle, and that Eric ran away.

The heat, the pain, the horrible suffocation, the laughter, the feeling of abandonment.

All of it fading, but clearly Jeff saying, "Now I can play ball!" and Trey, "He kissed me first!"

Then only my thoughts, my fears, my stuttering heartbeat.

They grew dim, irregular, hazy, then ceased.





"Double Life"
Part Three




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