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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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Time to call it a night. And face the nightmare again.
And I'm done out here. And the garage ain't got nothin'. It ain't like it never happened, but it can be like that sometimes. It wasn't all black and white.
And the van ain't a danger. Hell, as much work done to it, it's safer than a new car. And cooler. And it's mine. So cool!
I pulled Kilroy Was Here out of the tape deck and put it carefully into its case. Tomorrow, tickets went on sale for the Kilroy Was Here concert at the Chicago Auditorium in six weeks. I had to get tickets, or I would have to wait until they came back to play the Rosemont in September. The two places couldn't be more different. I wanted to see them at the Auditorium, where the stage was closer and the sound was better. I turned the ignition off and removed the keys. I held them, looking at the Styx medallion.
I should take the medallion off the ring. It sticks out and gets in the way. I don't want it on the key ring, anyway.
I patted the steering wheel a few times, then climbed out after I made sure all the lights were off inside the van and then turned off the space heater. I wondered how dead the battery in the van was. I went to the hood, but someone had already hooked the charger up to it, set to deep cycle and low. I wondered who.
I left the garage, closing the door behind me softly.
Only the nightlight was on in the kitchen. I walked into the hall, then down half the length of it. I stopped at the pictures on the wall.
I didn't have to think my thoughts at Toby, I only thought them. I warmed as I felt his. Or, I warmed, and I felt certain of why, suspected why, but couldn't prove why. And that didn't really matter at all. It was true nonetheless.
I started down the rest of the hall. They were watching the news together in the den, the door open.
"Good night," I said when the commercials started.
"Night, hon," Mom said, nodding, a small smile on her face.
"Feels strange having you in the house," Dad said with a laugh. "I guess I better get used to you being out, though."
Okay, the big question.
"Is it alright if I drive to school tomorrow?"
"Told you," Dad said with a grin at her.
"Fine. Pork chops for dinner tomorrow," Mom said with a similar grin.
"You didn't think I'd ask?"
"Oh, I knew you'd ask, I just didn't agree with him that it would be the first thing you asked," she said.
"Ah. Sorry you gotta cook."
"So, whose idea was tonight? And fixing up the van? Or do I need to ask?"
They grinned together.
"Not gonna tell me? Or was that what Mom thought I'd ask first?"
"You know who, and yes, it was," Dad told me.
"I doubt you know how hard he worked to pull it all off," Mom said firmly.
"I don't know. I might. It makes sense of some things."
"It don't matter. Some things are just best kept secret."
"Yes, son, some things are."
We had one of those moments when we felt connected. Or, at least, I did. And the feeling of being responsible for his lost hair and his burned arms and hands was heavy at the moment.
Some things are, but some things ain't. And this isn't one to keep secret.
"I'm really sorry you got burned, Dad," I forced out.
"Oh, son, I've told you, it wasn't your fault. It was mine."
"And I told you how that don't matter. It was giving me something I wanted that ended up getting you hurt."
"And I told you, I'd do it again. I'm the one responsible for you. I should have been more careful. Or at least taken it to a garage."
His face was firm and resolute, and I wondered if that was how he was keeping himself from tears or a breaking voice.
"It's just, I feel... like it's my fault," I argued. "I guess I just will."
"Me too. But neither of us is totally right. And it's over. So don't dwell on it, son. Hear me? Move on."
I saw that he was far more right than I was. And maybe it was time to move on.
"Night. Love you guys."
"Don't forget breakfast in the morning. Or lunch at school. Or dinner at the twins'. I can check up on that, you know."
And some things never change, I thought.
The weight and bulk of the keys in my hand drew my attention to them.
I turned back.
"So, can I?"
"I suppose. The streets will be clear for a few days, and you did fine driving to the twins', to study, so, go ahead."
"Just be careful!" Mom warned.
"Yes! I'm gonna go get a snack. You guys want anything?"
"No. And make sure you get to sleep right away. No more late nights."
Some things just never change. Even if you want them to.
And sometimes, that's a good thing, I concluded.
When I thought of how useful the van would be in moving equipment from the twins' and back, I felt guilty that I still hadn't told my parents anything about the band. I walked back to the doorway.
"Um, what would you guys think of me joining a band?"
"Well, how will you ever find time? You're so busy as it is, with studies, over at the twins' and all."
Something in what she said or how she said it triggered a red flag. Not a major one, but one was definitely triggered.
"I can find time. Finals are over. If not... "
"So long as your studies don't suffer," Mom said. "Or you will."
Geeze, they're all alike.
"Okay. I'll let ya know. Night."
I felt much better, not realizing how much that lie of omission had weighed on me, even though I hadn't come completely clean. I wondered why they hadn't asked what I would be doing, or what kind of music the band played, or who was in it. They both seemed to be obvious questions that a parent would want to know when their kid talked about joining a band. I figured they'd ask when I mentioned it again, once I got around to doing so.
Grinning, I grabbed a root beer and a bagel from the fridge, spread peanut butter on the bagel, and headed upstairs, still grinning. I paused as I passed Toby's picture in the hall. I touched it. I thought a few thoughts, confident that he received them even as I thought them. I apologized. I was sure he laughed at me. I had the bagel gone before I reached my room. I wished I had brought another one. I showered, so physically tired that I cut it short. I did all of the other things usually done before bed, or nearly all.
I got my books and things ready for school tomorrow, and when I pulled the clothes from my pack, I found the Valentine's card. I put it in the top desk drawer for now. My pack ready for tomorrow, I sat down at the desk and told the journal how stupid I had been. It didn't laugh at me. When I was done, I was starving. I put on a pair of sweatpants and headed downstairs. I knew that Mom and Dad would be angry if they caught me up, so I moved quietly. I carried the key ring with me.
After another pause to wink and think at Toby in the hall, I could hear music. I crept down the short distance to the door to the den. I could hear the music clearer. It wasn't George Thorogood, not quite, but close. More punch, more glee in the voice.
It must be some PBS special, I thought. He's not bad. Kind of the way I must have sounded when I sang it two nights ago. Two nights? Is that all? More like two years. Months, at least. Wow. So much can happen in so short a time.
They rolled down and out. Applause. Cheering. Whistles.
"Thanks! Thank you," I heard Kevin say. "We've wanted to play that one the right way for a long time!"
My entire body seemed to swirl around some unknown point and stabilize again several times a second. It had been me, but how could that be?
More applause. I could hear Tom whooping loudly.
Oh, you ass-hat! Tom recorded it. He taped it and gave it to Mom and Dad. And they fucking already know I'm in a band! Well, son-of-a-bitch!
As Kevin ended the performance that night, I tried to figure out how Tom could have gotten a camcorder. Once Kevin had finished, there was silence.
"He said there was two parts," Dad said over that silence.
Several loud clicks and then I heard Jeff say, "Uh-oh, he looks pissed."
"Not pissed," Tom replied in an odd way. "More like, I dunno. Hurt?"
"You think they told him? Gonna make him somehow?" Jeff asked, sounding angry.
"No. Kevin knows-," Tom said flatly, the anger in his voice barely controlled.
The crowd began to cheer, drowning out anything else they had said. Kevin introduced, "Jeopardy."
Both nights! He recorded both nights!
I listened as I growled out the song, as I and the others played. They sounded great. I sounded fairly decent. I remembered what I was thinking while I played. And sang.
Played "Jeopardy" in front of people.
Sang "Jeopardy" in front of people.
I quailed when Kevin asked the crowd to encourage me to do "Tainted Love." I listened, nearly shaking, as I growled out the lyrics. I howled my pain and lack of understanding. I sounded good. I was surprised. I shook and shivered a little as I listened to myself again, and Tom, and Jeff, and Mom and Dad. And they knew already.
Then I heard myself playing the extended version, with "Where Did Our Love Go." The synthesizer sounded great, better than I thought I could play it. My voice was low, heavy with loss and pain. I was amazed.
It ended, slowly, achingly. The applause was so loud that it overwhelmed the microphone on the camera.
"Un-freaking, believable," I heard Tom's voice say. Then static.
"Hit rewind and play it again," I heard Mom say, her voice ragged.
I heard her sniffle.
"I knew he was pretty good on that organ, hon. But, I had no idea he could sing like that," Dad said, his voice also heavy with emotions.
Mom continued to sniffle.
"Do you think we should go this weekend?"
"Hon, if he found out we knew, or that Tom had told us, he'd have a cow."
"Oh, but I'd love to be there. To hear him. You can't really hear on tape."
"I know," he said softly. "Maybe we'll sneak in, and stay way in back. Okay?"
I knew that she nodded and curled up to him.
"I wish we could afford one of those good keyboards for him."
"We'll just have to let him continue to go over to Brent's and Ryan's, to, study."
Son-of-a-bitch! How long have they known that, too? And how? Who? Tom, again?
Ah, hell. Does it really matter?
"Hon, I've been thinking. He's been gone so much, and with the band now, I really think we should tell him."
I heard dad sigh deeply.
"My love, why? He's having the time of his life. He's sixteen, he's got his first car, he's playing in a band, he's finding out who he is, and dealing with it and everyone knowing. And he's just had a hard enough time, lately. We can tell him later. For now, just let him have this time."
I was instantly on guard. I knew something was wrong, and the weight in their voices told me it was deadly serious. I wanted to push open the door and ask them what they were hiding from me. I had always hated it when they hid something from me. I hated being treated like a little kid that needed protecting.
Well, shit. What else would parents think? I'll always be their little kid. They'll always wanna protect me. They'll have to give it up, sometime, but maybe they're right. For now, why should I worry about it? If it was all that bad, they would tell me. They know I can handle it, they just don't want something to be bothering me right now. And why should I want something bothering me? Didn't I just learn that I tend to make things up to bother me? That I make things to worry about out of things aren't worth it? That I worry when I shouldn't? Always looking for the bad side. There are bad sides, sure, to almost everything, but I shouldn't let them stop me from seeing the good side, what could be an overall good risk.
My folks'll tell me when they want to tell me.
The VCR clunked loudly, signaling that the tape was fully rewound.
There was the sound of light applause, then, "Tonight we have a special guest singer with us. He's a bit shy, and would rather stay unnamed. Yeah, I know, odd, but you gotta give divas their way or they don't perform."
There was some laughter caught on the tape before Kevin continued, "So, without further ado, and without an introduction... Move It On Over."
Oh, God! Mom and Dad have no idea what happened just seconds before this!
I felt myself blush even more.
I heard Terry on guitar, and I heard myself playing, then it was me singing. I missed the first lines, and for the second lines I was rough, unready. The drums began, and I could see Ryan playing them. When I rejoined, I sounded far better. I became louder and clearer, rougher, more full. Then I could tell when I had started to have more fun with the next lines.
I listened as we did "Who Do You Love." I sounded good. Real. I could feel those emotions again as I listened. I built up energy, line to line. I ended with that question, asking it so heartfelt that I wondered where it came from, how I could possibly sound like that.
I wondered what Jeff and Tom had been thinking at that moment. I knew Jeff had to have been horribly uncomfortable.
The applause was loud and long.
Then "Bad To The Bone," again.
I had to sniffle, but I wouldn't while so close to them. I ran back upstairs, lay down on my bed, and let the tears flow for a change. I had been expecting tears tonight, just not those kind.
It felt good to let those tears flow. I had shed so many of the other kind lately, that I had forgotten that good tears existed.
I knew I could play decent, just not that I was that good. But, I can sing, too! Man, I sounded like I knew what I was doing. I mean, it wasn't great, I won't get rich doing it, but I can do it. And good enough that people like to hear!
I was amazed. I wondered if I could improve, both my playing and my voice. I wanted to find out. I couldn't wait for practice tomorrow. Or taking Jeff home after school before that. Or talking to Mister Broft at the hobby shop. Or seeing if things could be fixed between myself and Trey, or the many other things I wanted to do at school tomorrow.
It was almost time for Doctor Who, so I turned on the television and rolled a joint as I laughed at the last few skits of Dave Allen At Large. They were old, and familiar, and held no surprises, but I laughed all the same. As the new theme for Doctor Who started, I played along with it. It would take time to exactly match the new, haunting, wavering melodic notes. The cheap synthesizer couldn't reproduce the sounds exactly, but I didn't care. It was fun. I smiled. I smoked the joint and watched, enjoying the show for the first time in two months. I liked the new theme music, and the new opening graphics. I was okay with the changes. Change could sometimes mean progress, and be an improvement.
Though Tom Baker was enough to make it one of my favorites, Full Circle also introduced the cute, raven-haired, adorable Adric. His raven-black hair, his round, smooth face, his flashing, dark eyes, his cute smile, his sexy accent, all were wonderful. What his costume allowed to be seen was attractive, and maddening in how it hid more. I had adored him last year when this episode had first aired, and now, nearly a year after seeing him last, I still found him adorable.
I envied Adric, too. To get to roam the universe with a Time Lord in his T.A.R.D.I.S., righting wrongs and fighting villains, what more could one want? Of course, in my little universe, Tom Baker and Adric were more than friends, and the ladies could wander off on their own as far as they were concerned. Last year I had masturbated immediately after the episode, and the others with Matthew Waterhouse, but tonight I had other things to think about.
I turned off the television and laid back down and got comfortable under the blankets, holding the key ring in my hand and looking at the Styx medallion. I loved having that back. It was Toby, all summarized in a way, even though it had come from Tim.
I should take it off the key ring, I thought. It gets in the way. Even in the nightmare.
An idea struck me sharply.
Just what I need! Something already in the dream, and easily taken with me into the dream, something I could concentrate on. Something memorable. Something with meaning. Something important.
For the first time in a long time, I let sleep find me, take me, daring it to come.
The smell of gasoline.
"Yeah. Old Chevy, not started for a few days, in cold weather, used to driving every day. She's gonna be stubborn," Dad said, again.
I knew I was fated to die again and again, over and over. But something was missing. Or someone. I looked around, expecting to see someone, anyone, but I didn't know who.
"See if you can pop that hatch cover, will ya, son?"
I unlatched the one on the passenger side easily. I pulled and yanked on the driver's side, the van was shaking from my efforts.
"Don't break it off. I tried. It's stuck good. Try to start it one more time, then we get that clasp fixed so we can get to the engine decently. Go ahead and try starting it again."
"At least you know I ain't even started it," I answered with a sly grin.
I didn't feel like grinning. I wanted to scream at Dad to run for his life.
He peeked around the hood at me with a grin. It seemed that there should be someone else there, too. Maybe more than one. But I couldn't remember anyone else being there that day.
Despite my best efforts to prevent myself from doing so, I reached for the key. I froze.
There's something... but, what?
I moved the Styx medallion aside so that I could turn the ignition key.
There was something important about it. But what?
I took hold of the Styx medallion, looking at it. It reminded me of something. Or someone.
Toby! Of course! I'd given it to Toby. But not this one. This one Tim had left on his key ring when he had sold the van to my parents. But, it burned with me. It was gone.
It was about to. It was back. Not just back from Toby, but from Tim. I'd gotten it back, with the van. They were back. The van fixed up like new by Tom, and Jeff, and Eric, and others. And the medallion had come back again. And I had remembered it, to remind me in the dream...
This is a dream about the day the van caught fire!
This is just a nightmare!
The fear and horror of what was to come faded.
I don't have to go through this! This is my dream. I can do whatever I want!
The fear and horror were weakened, being replaced by confidence and relief.
I let go of the medallion and grasped the key the ignition and readied to turn it. I hesitated. The fear and horror were still there, and insisted that they knew best: If I turned the key, I would die, again.
No. No, I won't. This is my dream. It's just a dream. And it's mine. Mine.
Like the van. Again. Mine.
I turned the key. The van started, purred smoothly.
"That takes care of it," Dad said, closing the hood.
"Good. I'm sick of being out here. Let's go inside."
"Sounds good," he said, grinning. "Let's move on."
I killed the engine, and took the keys with me, bouncing them in my hand.
I can do whatever I want here.
I opened the door to the kitchen without touching it. Mom smiled, carrying a pair of large, black cups.
I handed Dad the one with coffee, I inhaled deeply of the rich cocoa scent from my own.
"Hey," Toby said from the table.
I sat down with him. Mom and Dad went to enjoy a movie in the den.
"So, how's tricks?" he asked.
"You're not really you, are you?"
He looked confused.
"Nope," I said, certain.
He looked curiously at me.
I held up the keys and the Styx medallion, directly between us.
"Know what this is?"
"My key," I corrected the Toby-like image.
He was suddenly naked. So was I. The table was now a bed. The kitchen was now an open clearing in a wide field next to a snow-peaked mountain under a starry sky, yet there was daylight.
It's a dream. My dream. I can do whatever I want.
I woke, feeling almost rested, wondering if I had forgotten to set my alarm and had slept late. It was dark outside, but in Chicago in March, that didn't mean it wasn't morning. I saw that it was barely after two. I had slept less than two hours. I dropped my head back onto the pillow. I felt the keys in my hand and I remembered the nightmare. I grinned. I remembered what I had turned it into. I giggled. My hand wandered down to my faded erection, and I found an unexpected, slippery, sticky dampness.
"Oh, you got to be kidding me!" I said aloud.
After a shower I went to the desk and added my house and school keys to the key ring. I fondled the Styx medallion, wondering at the concurrence of it. I had given Toby a medallion just like it, then I had gotten one back from Tim. I lost it, and when I had gotten it back, along with the van, and my best friends, it turned out to be the very thing that I needed to defeat my only real enemy. I put the bike lock and footlocker keys in the desk drawer; I didn't need them anymore. I pulled out the Valentine's Day card and examined it again. The handwriting held no clues.
I walked over and opened the old, blue footlocker to put the card away in it. It was far simpler now that I no longer kept it locked. What things it held were no longer dark secrets, even though it now held far more intimate and private things than when I had kept it locked. I saw the Rubik's Cube, and the single gay porn magazine. Report cards going back to first grade. I looked over the small coin collection, and the few World War Two German bills my granddad had given me. The diaries that my grandmother had given me for every birthday that I had written so many secrets in. I glanced at the other things I also kept in the footlocker, more for convenience than secrecy or security. I ran a finger over the white box that held almost all of Toby that I had left, including his yearbook that held a letter from his best friend.
I gotta be more like him. Brave. Honest. Sincere. Caring. Loving. Fun. Happy. If I can be like him, maybe I can... what? Be him? Hah! I couldn't be him if I had to. I guess... I can only be like me. I can change me, some. I can try be more like Toby, but be Toby?
Why should I? Toby didn't love me because I was like him, he loved me because I was like me. Jeff loved me because I was like me. Tom, too. My friends like me because I'm me, not because I'm like Toby. They like, me.
I can change myself some, but I don't have to be like Toby. Or anyone. I can just be like me.
Why should I be someone else? Being me got me Tom, Jeff, Todd, Eric, Brent, Ryan, the guys at the breakfast table, the lunch table, in my row of lockers in gym, the guys that helped fix the van, Chris in Physics, the guys in my computers class, Kevin and the guys in the band. And Toby. And Robert. Even Trey.
Tom said I'm fun, when I'm not being all moody. And Jeff said I'm caring and loving. And Erich said I'm sincere. David called me brave. And Thomas said I'm honest. Wow. I just gotta be happy. Oh, is that all? Maybe if things had worked out with Jeff?
Won't happen. I know it won't. He's always gonna be uncomfortable with who he is, and about us, especially around everybody we know. Maybe in a long time from now, maybe, he'll be able to handle it. But he'll find someone else by then. So will I, I hope. Maybe we were lovers in a past life, but not in this one.
I wanted something of Jeff to add to the other things in my footlocker, but I had no such thing. There was no such thing. I lamented that I had wished and hoped for him for so long, and had finally had him, but it had been for such short a time. So like with Toby.
No, I don't want anything of him. He's not gone. He's not going. Not now, anyway. He's just not mine. Not that way. But he's my best friend. Only behind Tom. And that's more than good enough. Let him find someone who he fits better with.
Me, I got time to wait. He's out there. I know it. I've been told it by my guardian angel. Both of 'em.
I was about to put the Valentine's Day card into the footlocker, but wanted one more look at it. I removed it from the envelope and held it with both hands, my thumbs caressing the raised single rose on the front. My fingers felt irregularities on the back. I turned it over and noticed faint markings. I held it to the light, then turned it slightly. The light cast a faint shadow into the lines, revealing handwriting pressed into it, as if someone had written firmly on a piece of paper that had lain over it. I grinned. Only a very few people I knew would do such a thing: this was an important and possibly revealing clue in itself. What was written would be more so.
After hunting for several minutes, I found the square charcoal stick. I carefully laid the card out flat, held it tightly down, and softly brushed the stick over the markings.
And in all the world, I see,
Man dreams whatever he be,
And his own dream no man knows
And I too dream and behold,
I dream I am bound with chains,
And I dreamed that these present pains
Were fortunate ways of old
What is life? a tale that is told;
What is life? a frenzy extreme,
A shadow of things that seem;
And the greatest good is but small,
That all life is a dream to all,
And that dreams themselves are a dream
WHEN LOVE IS NOT MADNESS, IT IS NOT LOVE
I recognized the small, tight, neat handwriting. The words were centered perfectly on the back of the card, and pressed in firmly, as if done intentionally for secrecy. They were perfectly straight as well, and tightly spaced, as if college-ruled paper had been used as the guide.
I grinned as I put the card back in its envelope and then into the old, blue footlocker, closed it, and went back to bed with my keys and the medallion grasped tightly in my hand.
Pieces of the puzzle fell into place.
I wondered when he had put the card in my locker. I wondered if he would ever tell me. I wondered if it was too late, if I had burned that bridge. I wondered what it would take to rebuild that bridge.
Thinking of him caused me to think of school.
I worried about my finals grades.
I worried about changing and showering in gym.
I thought of the band, and of playing again. Of even singing.
I thought of Ryan, of what he had said to get me to play, what we had done, and what he was planning on doing at school. Of what he said I had taught him. And what he had said about someone asking me something.
I thought of David, and what was possibly brewing between us.
I thought of Erich, Puppy Dog, and his hinted-at continuance of our liaisons. For a while, anyway.
I thought of Tom, of what he had done for me lately, and what he wanted kept so secret.
I thought of Jeff, and how he had ruined his own precious secrecy, though it had only been in front of the band guys.
The new Circle members, I corrected.
I thought of the van.
I thought of the nightmare.
And and then of what I had done with it.
And what I could do with it.
"KILROY HIC ERAT"
"IN CIRCULO: PARS DUAE"
the end of
"The Circle: Part Two"
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