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For all the goodness than comes with closeness, between friends and more.
For all the beauty, obscured and obliterated by the actions of idiots.
For all the ones who can tell the difference,
mostly for the ones who live the difference.

The Circle



It was the last day of February, nineteen-eighty-three; a wintry day in Chicago's western outreaches. That of course meant that it was cold and windy. It was snowing as well, the large flakes blowing on the strong currents, already covering the dirty snow with a fresh layer. It was also my sixteenth birthday.

I knew that most guys turning sixteen were focused on getting that ticket of freedom, a driver's license. Dad was taking me to the DMV the next week, anyway, so I could worry about that, then. When you lived in a large city like Chicago the likelihood of it leading to actually driving, especially ever having your own car, was low. It was even more unlikely given my family's economic situation. Neither of my parents made a lot, but together they brought in enough. Dad carpooled to work, mom carpooled or used the bus and train. My parents owned a car, a two-year-old Bonneville four-door sedan, but it usually resided quietly in the garage. I had my bike, a chrome, five-speed Huffy with blue-anodized brake hardware, sprockets, and twenty-six inch aluminum rims with knobby tires. I rode it almost every day in summer, as well as deep in the Chicago winter when I had to. I had really wanted it, and was very glad to have it. Even some of the rich kids raised their brows at it. That bike had been my only birthday present when I turned twelve. It had been large for me then.

The things planned for tonight night were much more imminent and important than getting my license next week, and they had dominated my thoughts throughout the day at school, as well as over the past weeks. As I pushed through the main doors of the large, old high school and walked out into the cold, winter day my thoughts were on the plans for that night. I unlocked my bike as the few other juniors or seniors also leaving school early walked past me - toward their cars.

For the first time in the two weeks that I had been riding my bike to school in the cold and snow, my mind didn't dwell on why I was doing so instead of riding the bus. Thoughts of Jeff and the events between us were superseded by other, more normal thoughts for a change.

After dinner, five friends were coming over for a small party. Since it was a Tuesday, and a school night, it was agreed, no big party. Tom, Jeff, Eric, Brent, and Ryan were coming over tonight; most of the Circle. Jeff had yet to speak to me in the last two weeks, let alone had said if he was coming, and with things the way they were between us, I wasn't expecting him to. That was deeply disappointing.

The guys coming over tonight had all said that they were bringing small presents, stuff my parents wouldn't be surprised about. My best friend, Tom, had already told me what he was bringing. We intended to play with it when we got home after the hobby shop. He wouldn't talk about the gift he had for Friday night; not a word, just his slick, sly, little, conspiratorial smile.

It would be a small party with just my closest friends and my parents to mark the day.

 Friday night, the party would start at six at home with my parents, some family, the Circle guys, and my school friends; the typical party that I worried over mom's attentions to.

Later, another party was planned, the real party, with just my closest friends; the Circle. It was set for elsewhere; elsewhere because I still didn't know where it was going to be. My circle of friends were very good at keeping secrets; even from each other when needed.

Despite my best, yet subtle, efforts, two girls had been invited to the first party on Friday. I was sure that I was being "set up for some" by my buddies, and I dreaded the thought. What could I do to prevent it without demanding that no chicks be at the party? That would set off alarm bells with mom, dad, and my friends.

One of the girls coming was Marie. She had lived in the house next to mine since they were first built. She was tall, especially for seventeen, and pretty. She had long, curly, dark-honey hair and was always very tanned. She liked showing her huge breasts off in tight tops and sweaters, but they didn't do a lot for me. She had been dating Berry until they broke up last month, so I was pretty sure that she was most likely the one they were setting up for the big surprise.

Too bad it wouldn't be Berry, I thought, leaving the bike racks and starting the ride to the hobby shop. I had less than an hour before school let out for everyone else and Tom would arrive there, and I wanted some time alone to look through the new version of the Dungeon Master's Guide before he did.

I had often taken long looks at Berry when he had come to pick up Marie next door in his sixty-nine Mustang convertible. Berry was one of the rich boys that lived in one of the much larger houses in the neighborhood. His family was from Maryland, and had money. He and Marie had been going out pretty much since last year. I'd watch Berry sitting in the driveway next door in his convertible in those warm summer months, his blond hair shining against the black of the car's interior. He was slightly tanned and a slim jock, almost a year older than me, and had matured much more; something I had known I liked for some time by then. His features were taking on the sharper and larger proportions of a man, and his body was hardened from years of baseball and soccer. Yes, I found Berry much more attractive than Marie.

At sixteen, I was fairly certain that I was gay. I wasn't a virgin anymore, in any sense of the word. That was lost at twelve, along with a few other things, most importantly simple innocence. A cute, much older girl at a lake during the family's summer vacation had been my first sexual experience, and by sixteen, still my only encounter with the opposite sex. By the next summer, at thirteen, I was pretty sure that I was going to like guys, not girls. By fourteen, I was almost entirely certain. At fifteen, I knew full well, but had yet to deal with it. I was experienced by then and certain that I had known love. By sixteen, I was doubtless, on both counts, and I had dealt with it; I thought. I had dealt with being gay, I had fallen in love, and I had lost that love forever. I thought at sixteen that I had learned all there was to know about being gay. Wow.

I was a brownish redhead who had let it get long, wild and wavy. My deep brown eyes were usually behind glasses, and I had only recently talked my parents into gold, wire-framed ones to replace the brown, plastic-framed, beat-me-up styles that I had worn for as long as I could remember. I had hit puberty early, and even though I was a year younger than most other juniors - having skipped fifth grade - I was one of the larger guys in my class. Being a bit of a redhead, by sixteen I had all but invisible, light, reddish hair on my chest, arms and legs, and fair skin with more than a few freckles everywhere. Unlike many guys in my grade, I had no beard, sideburns, or mustache, and no need to shave. I had always expected more by sixteen, maybe some shadow above my lips at least, but nothing so far. At nearly five foot and six inches and one-hundred and forty pounds, I was sturdy without being fat, muscle replacing the younger softness. By riding my bike all around the streets of Chicago's western suburbs, I had developed a solid physique with very strong legs and a firm backside.

I released the handlebars of my bike, steering by balance, and huddled my face deeper into the long, multi-colored scarf. I let my mind wander back to the beginning days of the Circle, after I had moved from the far western suburbs.

I had lost the few friends I had, and was forced to start all over again. I had also lost much more, but that had been just shortly before I had moved. I put that behind me, and resolved to make better friends. It hadn't taken as long as I had been afraid it would before I had met a new friend, one who would become my best friend. We entered high school together, and eventually I had a tight group of close and well-trusted friends made up out of the middle-class kids living among our stuck-up, richer neighbors - the Circle had been formed. This band of friends would evolve over the next years, gaining a rare member temporarily, but the Circle of Seven remained a strong and loyal group. Outwardly, the Circle was well known. Our parents knew the name and often used it to describe other members. "Going to the Circle meeting?" was a common question from all of our parents.

Around school we were a loose group, and even went to different campuses. Most of the Circle were not nerdy enough to be banished to the nerd clique, not athletic enough to be accepted by the jocks, too poor to be able to afford being in with the richies, not smart enough to be with the brains, not cool enough to be a head, and smart enough not to be a pet. Still, each member fit into at least one of those other cliques and spent some time, at school and out, among them. The Circle was the center of things for nearly all of us, though; more so for me than any of the others.

Nearly all of my circle of friends were the lessers, as the richer kids called us. We lessers were the ones who lived in the smaller homes, newly-built among the mansions and near-mansions of the neighborhood. Most of the larger homes were nearly a century or more old; grand affairs with high fences and manicured lawns. Just a mere four years ago one of those old homes had burned, been demolished, the land divided into four smaller plots, and four less grand homes built; to the horror of the neighborhood. Tom, Marie, and I had moved into them along with an older couple.

Not only did social and economic considerations isolate us from the rest, so did cars; the rich kids had them. Most of the families in the newer houses barely made ends meet in order to live in these neighborhoods. Affording a single car had been nearly a luxury for my folks when we had lived in the smaller house farther out in the suburbs. Now, with a much higher house payment, insurances, and higher utility bills as well, a second car was certainly out of the question. I knew that well.

As I rounded another corner and started down another wide, suburban residential street, I returned to thinking upon the darkest of the shadows that hung over me. Not the heavy, dark, winter clouds that were perpetually overhead during a Chicago winter, nor the social barriers, nor the financial separations, but mostly a particular shadow that had developed over the last few years, was deeply personal, and had grown darker and more foreboding over time. It hung over me every week, every day, every hour, in every way.

In seventh grade I began to think something about myself that was very difficult for me, even if only to myself; I liked looking at and thinking about boys far more than girls. I liked looking at and thinking of doing things with boys, but girls seemed strange and not nearly as interesting. From what had I learned of the female anatomy it seemed messy, disgusting, and absurd. Yeast infections? Discharges? Blood? Tampons, douches, creams and ointments? Gross!

By thirteen I had tried to convince myself that I was just curious and would outgrow it. I liked hockey, I would reassure myself, surely fags didn't like hockey! And NASCAR. Gays don't like masculine sports! I didn't walk funny. I had had a stutter and a lisp, sure, and that was bad enough! I had gotten rid of it in fourth grade, thanks to a great teacher. I didn't have weak wrists, I didn't stand or walk funny - I couldn't be gay!

But I found myself attracted more and more to guys, and mostly to my best friend. By the summer after eighth grade I was sure of my sexuality, and revealed it my best friend. It ended badly, and not privately. Then I moved, and high school started.

By the time the Circle had been formed, I knew I was gay, and was attracted to Jeff.

The members of the Circle often bragged and lied to each other about getting lucky or, "gettin' some". We all knew it was all bullshit, but we rarely called each other on any of it. It was all in fun and good times among good friends. As we grew older, some of the gang would get their hands on a porn mag from someone at some time or another, bringing them to the Friday meetings of the Circle. We would sit around smoking grass and flipping through the pages, making comments and laughing.

The Circle consisted of me; my best friend and neighbor, Tom, and his older brother, Jon; Jeff and his younger brother, Todd; Eric; and the rich twins, Brent and Ryan. Tom was six months older than me, his brother, Jon was nineteen, three years older. Jeff was sixteen months older than me, and his brother was twelve years-old. Eric was barely fifteen, and the twins were just months behind him.

Each of the guys in the Circle, and out of it, that I had messed around with had been just that, messing around. Jacking each other off was the most frequent thing we would do. I learned that I loved giving head the very first time that I had given it to an older friend of a cousin when I was twelve. After that, everyone that I messed around with got sucked off eventually. I loved the way a cock felt in my mouth, and how it felt to feel it. The texture of the heads, the shafts, the different foreskins, lengths and thickness, I loved it all. I also loved knowing that I was giving so much pleasure. There had been some anal sex, but it was rare, and merely experimentations, except with Toby.

Toby was the first guy that I had ever had return the feelings I had. I didn't know what it was to be loved by somebody until I had met Toby. I learned what it was to be in love, as well as to be loved, thanks to him. I had done everything with Toby, and as often as possible! Not a day went by that I didn't think about him. He was a year and a half older than me, taller, and as gorgeous as a guy could be. I used to think it was, well, gay to call a guy gorgeous, until I saw Toby. His strawberry-blond hair, incredibly green eyes, lusciously soft lips, fair complexion, and sweet personality had won me over instantly that day I had met him in the park. I learned that love at first sight was not only real, not only possible, but wonderful.

He was from Georgia, visiting a relative who lived near me for a few weeks that summer. We had spent almost the entire time together, mostly alone. He became a member of the Circle and a friend to my friends that first summer. We had hid our secret friendship from everyone. When he had left after that first summer, I knew heartache and loss. His return last summer had lifted me above all concerns for that short period of bliss with him. His leaving after that second visit, six months ago, had taught me what true loss was. The events directly after that had taught me the true meaning of grief.

Tom and I had been carrying on, in secret, for over two years. While Tom was willing, and often initiated it, he was not gay and had made that clear numerous times. There were no kisses with Tom, no real hugs or cuddling, either. Not like with Toby. Toby was all warm, soft hugs, cuddles and snuggles. And kisses! With Tom, it was subtle, restrained, and very much needed to be controlled. There was no emotional connection from him; it was empty, but fun.

His Irish features and slight build attracted me considerably. He had been chubby when we met, but he had thinned down over the past two years. His straight, black, Moe Howard bowl-cut hair set off his pale complexion well. His narrow, black eyebrows helped punctuate his skin, as did his narrow but dark lips. His dark eyes, though, were the true counterpoints. He enjoyed the things we did with our hands and mouths, and he enjoyed fucking me, but there was nothing beside the physical sensations for or from Tom; even though I would have very much liked there to be. I held my own emotions behind my eyes while I was with him, experiencing them alone.

I felt something for Jeff very much like what I had felt for Toby, even from first sight. For Toby it had been unleashed, unbound, and uncontrolled. With Jeff, it was only wishes and dreams.

I knew that Jeff was going to be trouble, and indeed he had already been as much trouble as I had feared was possible. With his incredible, smooth, blond hair, his bright blue eyes, fair skin, and wonderful personality I knew that I was falling for him from the first sight. He lived too far away for there to be anything more between us, even if it were possible from him. All we had done was jack each other off a couple of times, but I had loved it. I had been surprised that he would even do that much. He was very shy about sexual things when they came up in Circle meetings, being deeply Catholic, and with his nearly fanatically religious mother, that was no surprise. His only, and probably first, straying from that religious life had been with us in the Circle. And with me. I knew I felt things for Jeff that weren't just friendship, and he was adorable to me. Not just his face, or his body, or the way he acted, or his cute habits, or any one thing. I knew it was all of him that I liked, that I wanted. I had begun letting myself think that I was in love with him - even after Toby - and had thought that maybe it could be, until he had proved that a very bad thing.

I had stopped riding the bus two weeks ago. I had taken Tom's word, and Tom had been wrong, and I had made a complete fool of myself. I had moved too fast, gone where Jeff wasn't comfortable, and he had immediately left. I had proven to him that I was a raging faggot. We hadn't spoken since. Jeff was certainly going to miss the big parties, and I regretted that. Riding the bus to school with him had already become excruciatingly uncomfortable and more and more difficult even before the event of two weeks ago. I had to stop riding the bus with him after that. Riding my bike to school since hadn't been pleasant, but it was preferable to feeling the way I did being so near Jeff in so public a place. And it was better than what I feared my presence on the bus could cause to happen to Jeff, even if he could stand to be near me. Jeff had also missed both Friday night meetings of the Circle since that horrible day. I knew he wasn't going to be at the next one, either, let alone at the parties that night or Friday. I was growing certain that I had seen the last of Jeff. That hurt nearly as much as losing Toby six months earlier.

Tom and I messed around fairly often. I longed for Jeff, who seemingly had no such desires. Brent and Jon had done some things for fun, and were not likely to do so again. Eric and Ryan had often been willing, and still were. It was a juggling act not letting any know about any of the others. It was also a constant juggling act keeping my feelings for Jeff hidden, not only from Tom, which I feared was impossible, but from the rest of the Circle as well; not to mention my parents.

I suddenly worried again about my parents and Toby, and what they thought they knew.

I took a turn too fast, distracted by my thoughts, and nearly slid out into a busy intersection and into the path of an old, red Buick. I leaned left, turning tight and letting the rear wheel slide out and away as I effectively dismounted the bike. I was standing with my bike facing behind me, unscathed, and just inches from being out from behind a parked car and in the street as the loud, old Buick and its even older driver roared by unaware.

Memories of a long, bright trail of blood on white snow played through my mind. Other horrible images of smeared gore trails on pavement assailed me momentarily, taking me aback. I stood motionless for several seconds, my eyes focused upon nothing even as the image of the pavement before me was processed but went unnoticed. Eventually I shivered and shook them away as best as I could. Back on the sidewalk, I was more cautious for a time. It was a long ride yet to the bookstore, and the waiting treasures therein, and I wanted to arrive safely, able to browse and examine them in detail. I also wanted time enough to look through the Dungeon Master's Guide alone before Tom arrived so that we could look through The Player's Manual together.

Tom had ridden his bike to school with me nearly every day the past two weeks, which had surprised me that first day. I wondered if we would mess around at my house after the bookstore, before my birthday party, and if he had any ideas on anything special for it. The last two years we had messed around nearly daily, and I yearned for something more with him than just the sex, but with him being straight, I knew there was no chance of that. Eric was around at least once a week, and wanted to mess around nearly every time we could get alone. Sometimes one of the twins wanted to slip off alone for a bit, and after they had found out about each other and myself two weeks ago, they had insisted that we do it together. I was falling for Jeff, who was impossible, even for just sex, let alone a real relationship like I felt that I wanted with him, all beside the fact he was most likely gone from my life entirely. And of course, Toby haunted my thoughts and my heart, and everyone had to be compared to him.

As I took the turn towards downtown, thoughts of Toby and comparisons of him and Tom, and of Jeff, began again. Soon I longed for the simpler times when it was just Toby. Just Toby and me. I knew what he wanted, and he knew what I wanted, and nothing else mattered then . . . to either of us . . .

Toby's Return