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The Circle

Chapter 12

Wednesday: A Close Call and A Bad Call

The morning sun woke me. I smiled as I remembered the dreams of meeting Jeff and the beginning of the Circle. Then I remembered last night with Jeff and my smile grew. He had been so interested, so questioning, and so adventurous. He had liked the touching too. We had cuddled and hugged a bit, but never kissed. I had wanted to several times, and had wanted to at least try just to see his reaction, but I was sure that was more than he wanted.

After the last two weeks of silence between us, the last thing I wanted to do was go too far with him again. I didn't want to scare him off, or overwhelm him. I was sure that I hadn't done that with Jeff. Each time we had done anything before, he had left early, or immediately. I had been so careful last night not to do anything more than he seemed willing to do.

The warm feeling inside me from remembering that excellent night with Jeff made me cross my arms over my chest and hug myself, curling around my center. I felt so good. I wanted it to last forever. Then I remembered that it was all just last night, and that Jeff was in bed right next to me!

What am I doing? I'm wasting time! Two weeks we ain't talked and then he comes to the party last night, then stays the night! And we . . .

I spun over, trying to decide if I should put my arm over him, or just quietly admire what I could see of him for a while. The bed was empty. The covers were back, as if someone had gotten out of it, and the sheets were wrinkled, but there was no Jeff.

I sat up and expected to see some of his clothes laying somewhere, at least. Maybe he had woke me up when he went to the bathroom, I hoped. His clothes were not on the bed, or on the floor. I shook out the blankets a bit, hoping they were tangled in them. Nothing. I sat on the edge of the bed, noticing the bathroom door was open. Jeff always closed it when he used it, even when it was just the two of us. I still went in and turned on the light, even checked the silent shower. I couldn't see his shoes anywhere, either. The cassettes and albums were still laying where I remembered them as we had played them last night. Our soda bottles were where we had left them. I threw on my pants and ran down the stairs.

Why would he leave this time? He'd asked to do it. He wanted to. What the fuck is going on? Please! He has to be in the house!

I decided on looking in the kitchen and den first, in case he was watching a movie or getting breakfast. Then I checked the entire first floor, even the utility room, and even the van and the garage. Then upstairs I checked all the empty bedrooms as quietly as I could. I checked my parents' room, and they were both gone to work. Back in my room I checked my bathroom again.

No Jeff, no clothes, no coat.

He did it again! We did something and he took off again! We did a lot more than ever before! I bet he's so gone this time! We even talked about all the stuff! He'd said it was better to talk before. We'd talked a lot! And even after we had fell asleep together! Was that too much? Was waking up in my bed too much? Or was it all too much? Is it all over now? No friendship even?

I sat on the bed, nearly panting. I was sweating heavily and it wasn't all from exertion. The nervous gut had started up the minute I hadn't seen Jeff in bed with me. I knew panic was coming, or I was sure it was even if it really wasn't. I tried breathing deeply in rhythm, concentrating on taking control of myself.

There is nothing dreadful occurring. Jeff left, that's all. It could be a million things. Even though it was nearly a blizzard, almost two feet of snow outside, he left. How far could he get in all that snow? Tom's! I hope he went next door! I don't want to call and seem like I'm a worried wuss. He'll call over here or something soon, anyway. Or Tom will, to see what plans we could come up with. It's cool. Fine. Jeff is just next door is all.

It would've been great to wake up next to Jeff, but I'll take what I can get. Especially where Jeff is concerned. There couldn't be anything to worry about, it's not like he's going to walk home, even on a warm sunny day, let alone after a January blizzard. I just need to calm down and see.

My breath had slowed to normal, and I started smiling again, remembering last night.

He's almost as adorable as Toby. Almost. But they say you never have a love like your first. I sure know I don't want anybody as important as Toby was. Well, maybe, someday, but not soon. And Jeff is definitely able to give Toby a run for his money. I don't like that, but he does. Jeff's the most attractive guy I know besides Toby, ever. I even knew Jeff before Toby. Over two years now since that day on the bus for freshman year. I hadn't met Toby until nearly a year later.

I compared Toby and Jeff again, for the N-th time. As every time before, I found that I liked Jeff nearly as much as I had liked Toby, both physically and mentally. Jeff knew me, and we shared tastes in most music, almost all movies, and even in how to spend time doing nothing. Like Toby, Jeff could finish my thoughts. Tom could too, and often did, and I liked Tom sexually and physically, but nothing like I did Jeff or Toby. And the thoughts of last night with Jeff stirred that old tingle and warmth inside of my chest that so far only Toby had caused.

Still shaken from the worry that Jeff had taken off, I realized that I could use a joint. I usually didn't wake and bake, but it was the day after my sixteenth birthday, and I had had sex with Jeff last night. I figured I deserved a celebration of sorts. Besides, it was a snow day, and Jeff was right next door, and it could be a great day!

After saying again that schools were cancelled, the dee-jay played "My Sharona." I loved the song, but it was getting played out. While I let the radio kill off the song a little bit more for me, then more overplayed songs, last night played out in my head, again.

I relived touching and stroking Jeff's smooth skin. Running my fingers through his silky hair. Tasting him, smelling him, seeing him. His eyebrows didn't lie: they were darker than his hair, but still light blond, and his body hair matched them. His entire body was covered by a light covering of that hair, and his chest had a nice patch between his nipples. His treasure trail was furry and nice, almost sculpted, just hard to see against his skin.

I ran down the list of things I had started tracking about guys long ago. I was matching physical attributes on the guys I had sex with, or got to at least get good views of their entire bodies. Again and again the old adages proved to have more than a bit of truth in them. Jeff was further confirmation that most guys fingers told a great deal about their privates. Jeff's hands were large, his fingers longish and thick with slightly bulbous knuckles. His fingernails were averagely oval. His cock, too, was largish, contoured, and thick, and it had a rather average head compared to it's length. More generally, Jeff wore size fourteen shoes and had large hands and a strong, proud nose. It all matched the more private statistics.

What turned out to be most interesting was Jeff's wonderful foreskin. It was so tight, not in the sense that it couldn't be moved much, but in that the opening in it was smaller than the width of his head. The somewhat irregular opening was only wide enough to let most of his head appear through it, but not wide enough open to slide back over the entire head. I had never seen such a thing, and Jeff assured me it wasn't abnormal, just unusual. Circumcision would have taken care of it, but his mother hadn't had it done when he was a baby, and now that it mattered somewhat, Jeff wasn't willing to be cut. And I didn't think there was anything wrong with it. In fact, I had found instantly that I quite liked it!

Tom, Jon, Jeff, Toby, myself, Eric, the twins, Tim, the guys during summer vacations, all of the others in showers, all proved those adages more correct than false. I hopped off the bed and opened the blue footlocker. Tom had teased about what he knew was in there, but he had no idea of the data diary. I pulled the black-and-white-peppered covered journal out and sat at the desk, writing down the things I had learned about Jeff in the data columns. For only the second time, I felt kind of strange about putting data in the journal. Only Toby had caused me to feel so strongly strange about doing that before.

I understood why, I thought. I cared for Toby and Jeff; they weren't just data, or information, or casual sex, or just friends. They were far more to me, and adding them to a pile of seemingly cold data didn't feel as isolated or distant.

I was enjoying those memories, when the sound of a snow blower broke into my thoughts. I had heard one earlier, but suddenly it sounded close. I sat up and leaned to look out the window. Tom was using a snow blower to clear my driveway. We both had complained many times about having to shovel our driveways, so his using a snow blower was a surprise.

There was several feet of snow in places, our sidewalks and driveways invisible. All of our houses had much deeper snow between and behind them. The shallows in front of our houses were barely over a foot deep. The street wasn't clear, by any standard, but it was clearly passable, as several cars were visible moving slowly in either direction. Across the street, however, the brick fence wall had as much as four or five feet of snow drifted up against it.

I got dressed and ran down stairs, getting my coat on as I shot out the door.

"Tom!" I yelled, trying to be heard over the loud blower.

I started to trudge through the shallowest area next to the house, waving my arms to get Tom's attention. I had made it to less than ten feet from him when I knew it was too late. Tom hadn't seen me coming yet, as he had been heading toward the street, away from me, and had just finished a pass. Now he was turning to start a new row, and had swung the blower at sharp angle up the drive: the snow was coming in my direction and I was less than ten feet from it.

I leaned to my right to get out of the mass of snow aimed at me at about the same time Tom saw me, but the snow, and whatever else, was already out the blower and in the air. Some loose object, packed snow, ice, a rock, something, along with all of the snow from the just started pass, shot out of the blower at me. That unseen something, definitely quite hard, struck me on my left temple.

It hurt, badly, and I covered it with my hand as I stood again to share a laugh with Tom. I couldn't decide which Tom I wanted to laugh with, as two of him floated irregularly before me. Not only two Toms, two bright red snow blowers. And they were all weaving around. And it was suddenly far too bright.


Wispy images of nearly everyone I knew, and a few I didn't recognize, drifted past me in the darkness. Each face eerily glowed in its own color, illuminating nothing but themselves. They drifted silently past me, acting out scenes I had encountered them in, or standing static like a statuette. Their eyes all seemed focused elsewhere, never at me, and that seemed unsettling to me, to say the least.

The closest were the most familiar, and bore the most details in the most vivid colors. The more distant were often still images, often from my past or people I hardly knew, and had only the faintest luminance. Among the ones in the foremost was suddenly Toby, who took on more realistic colors, then a three dimensional aspect as he turned to face me. He smiled, and he was suddenly very real. No specter, but a seemingly real, naked, alive Toby.

"Wow, this is cool! What am I on?"

He smiled wider, then suddenly laughed.

"You're out cold."

"Unconscious? Really? Cool! What happened?"

"Don't matter. Just means we get a minute to talk again is all."

He was lovely. Naked again, in vivid details and living colors. All of his hair was the beautiful strawberry blond shade it was the summer I had first met him. I noticed his body, and all his parts, and I appreciated it all, but what I wanted to do to it wasn't even close to sexual. I didn't know what I wanted to do to it, for sure, but I knew there was something.

"Get your mind back here," he said in that voice he used to be mockingly scolding.

"Hey. What?"

He was laughing softly, trying not to laugh harder. I could tell, and it made me feel a bit angry.


"Don't worry about it," he said as seriously as he could.

"Hey! I want to know how you . . . I, how we knew about the van before I ever got it or knew about it!"

"Look, we don't have time! Just wait for your pop before you start it is all."

"I did! That's over. What's next?"

"No, it's not yet. Just leave the van alone. You'll need your pop there when you start it."



I sighed. I wondered how I could have thought up the idea of being in a van, let alone dad being around at the time.

"When? And what's so bad about starting it?"

"I so love you, Alex. I don't want you ending up here yet. It'd be too soon."

"Too soon for what? End up where? In a dream?"

He sighed in exasperation, a cute, short, wonderful sigh. I could easily have simply swooned at the sound.

"I miss you so much! No wonder I dream you up."

He grinned cutely and shook his head.

"You know I love you, right?"

"Of course. You made sure I knew. Thanks. And you know I love you, right?"

"Of course. Just please, don't start up that van. Not without your dad."


Without warning a gale rose and swamped his last words as I seemed to fall asleep.


"Man! Alex! You okay?"

"Oh, crap, dude! Ouch!" I said, again swinging my hand up to the left side of my head. "OH, dude! Ouch fucking ouch!" I hissed, gently probing the area where my glasses met my left temple. The ordinarily straight temple bar was bent and stuck in a gash in my skin at the hairline. Blood was running freely, and I could feel the temple bar pull out of the gash as I gently removed the glasses.

"Alex, man, you okay or what?" Tom asked insistently and repeatedly.

He seemed to be speaking from a distant place inside of a cave.

"Oh, fine, you know, for being killed and all." I said, still lying flat on my back, my right hand holding my glasses as my left gently probed my left temple.

When I pulled my fingers back and saw the blood, I wasn't surprised, but I was surprised at how much blood there was. I felt it running down my cheek and past my ear already. I had to have been laying there for more than a few seconds.

"I didn't mean it, I didn't know you were there!"

" 'Sokay, my fault. Really. I gotta go check this out, is it bad?" I asked, brushing my hair back and turning my head so Tom could see clearly.

"Wow, you got a good cut, but it don't look big. We better go look. You didn't answer me and was just laying there!"

"I was? How long?"

"A few seconds."

"Cool, I think," I said, standing up with Tom's help.

I was dizzy and nauseous, and unsteady on my feet. Without his help I couldn't have gotten up, let alone stood, and no way I could have walked.

"What was it?" Tom asked as he put his shoulder under my arm.

"I don't have a clue. All I saw was white coming my way, then black. Then . . . I don't remember feeling anything much really."

"It didn't hurt at all?"

"Not much until I opened my eyes," I said, weaving a bit, but feeling steadier with each step.

"Uh, you're eyes were open."

"Really? The whole time?"

He nodded, looking even more worried.

"Just kinda zoned out a bit, huh? Nothing, I guess. Didn't even go unconscious, so don't bug about it. Just got stunned for one die four rounds."

We laughed and headed inside. Once in the bathroom the damage wasn't so scary. A gash less than an inch long was clearly imprinted from the temple piece of the glasses, or possibly the object itself. The temple piece had taken the brunt of the hit from whatever, and probably saved me from a much worse injury. The temple bar and the object had cut deeply, though, and I was sure if I pulled the wound open that I would see the yellow of bone. I held it tightly together and began cleaning the blood from around it with a gauze patch.

"Almost broke them, I think."

"Man, never so glad of glasses. They really saved your skull today! We can bend 'em right back, you know. Your dad's soldering iron to soften it, a few careful bends, good as new." he said, handing them back to me.

"Last thing I need to do is ask the folks for new glasses! They already spent a ton on the van and it's gonna cost more to get plates and insurance and stuff."

"Yup. I gotta ask you man. Like, you was just staring up with your eyes open and shit. You know? Just, like, dead. But you was breathing and your pulse was fine and all. But you didn't move or answer or anything. But then you were talking but not making any sound. Like you was talking to somebody but not me. Like you was dreaming. You don't you remember seeing me or yelling at you or anything?"

"Yeah, I saw you leaning over me. And I heard you saying my name, sure. Why?"

"The whole time?"

"You said it was a few seconds is all."

"Yeah. I bet I said your name, I don't know, like twenty or more times! I was about to go call an ambulance!"

I furrowed my brow in puzzlement, and learned that there were a few muscles in your temples that were involved in that expression. I also learned that they don't want to do anything when they've recently been impaled. After gasping and wincing, and Tom asking if it was okay or not, I nodded and wiped the fresh blood from the wound.

"I don't remember that many times. But a few. I guess I was unconscious a bit is all."

"I thought people's eyes closes when they was out?"

"Some sleep with their eyes open. I don't, but you know. I don't know."

"There wasn't any, like, light or tunnel?" he asked, mostly in jest.

"No. But, it was kinda scary. Everything just, I don't know. I just opened my eyes and my head hurt and I realized I was laying down outside. It was too weird!"

I had no desire to speak about the dream or hallucination.

"You don't know how scared I was! I had images of having to call the paramedics and police asking me questions in the back of their squad car!" Tom exclaimed. "For a second, or two, I really thought you might be brain-dead."

"Yeah. Wow. It can happen, just like that, can't it?" I asked, pausing, letting that realization sink in deep.

"Man. Yeah. One second here, the next . . ."

"Enough of that! I'm alright, just bloody and getting a headache from hell," I stated, returning to cleaning my hair of drying blood. 

The cut stopped bleeding after a while, and a regular Band-Aid covered it fine, but was not going to stay because of being along my hairline. I didn't think I would need it later anyway, once the clotting took over, I hoped I could take it off and brush my hair to cover the cut.

"I guess I'll go finish," Tom said. "If you're okay?"

"Yes, mommy, I'm fine, boo-boo all better!" I said, mimicking a small child.

"Yeah. Hey, I was wondering what you wanted? What'd you came out for?"

I didn't remember. I tried for several seconds to find that memory. There was a twinge, only a twinge, of something wrong. I shrugged it off mentally and shrugged visibly.

"Probably where did the blower come from?"

"The Wildersons saw me shoveling and told me I could use their blower! He let me go ahead and use it here, too, but I had to promise next snow to do their driveway for 'em."

"Coolness! We can take turns doing their drive and do ours! We should get some gas for it!"

"No shit, man!"

"Hey, do me a favor?"

"Sure, what?"

"Don't do right in front of my garage, leave the last couple feet. That way the folks know I didn't take out the van."

"Oh, okay, I get it. I'll blow the snow so it looks like you shoveled if I can," Tom offered.

"Exactly, thanks! Then I'll go out and make shovel marks and do the last bit later tonight."

"No problemo, man!" Tom said, giving a thumbs-up and tapping the door frame on his way out.

I returned to my image in the mirror. The cut wasn't big, it just went in deep. I was sure it went down to my skull. Whatever it was, the glasses had obviously stopped it from expending all of its energy on me. I wondered just how close I had come to being killed. I knew, or had heard often enough, that a small strike to the temple could kill. Sometimes instantly. My head hurt, badly, but what else could I have expected?

I shook my head and immediately regretted it. I was suddenly nauseous and dizzy. I belched and drooled. I leaned over the sink, steadying myself with regular breaths. Shortly I was fine, with a slightly increased headache.

Just starving! I thought to myself. I couldn't remember eating anything since the party last night.

I looked back in the mirror, wondering if I had just created another vision, or if it was slightly possible that Toby could contact me at times. I tried to look into my own eyes, bringing my face so close I had to turn my face to spare my nose.

How could I have imagined it, but told myself about the van six months or more before I would get it? Maybe I was just wishing, and it really came true by chance? Just coincidence? Another?

When I leaned back, I wondered what Toby had seen in me, and wondered why he had even bothered to give me the time of day. My brownish-red hair was boring. And it tried to curl too much, but not enough to be curly. My boring brown eyes matched my boring auburn-brown eyebrows. I had enough freckles that the redhead in me couldn't be denied. I didn't like my pale skin, either, though I knew that I liked it on others. I had okay lips, but nothing worth mentioning. And the scar from the car accident four years ago was still prominent above my lip. The two teeth behind it would never be straight without further extensive surgery which was something I wanted to avoid.

Why would Toby even consider me worth doing it with? I wondered. He was so gorgeous, and cute, and sexy. And here I am, a dopey, boring, dull looking nothing.

I tossed down the brush and headed to the stereo. I turned on The Oak Ridge Boys, turned up the volume, and sang along in the shower despite the headache. I even danced a bit as I got dressed.

A little over an hour later, the kitchen door to the driveway opened and Tom came in as I was getting a bowl of Honeycombs, surprising me by having Todd with him.

"Heya, Alex," Todd chirped.

"Uh, hiya."

Todd had closed the door behind them, and that naturally elicited the question I asked without thinking.

"Why didn't Jeff come over?"

"Huh?" Both Tom and Todd asked simultaneously, looking surprised.

"You know. Tall guy, blond hair, Moe Howard with a bleach-job, braces, your older brother, Todd . . ."

"Uh, duh, but what about him? Where is he?"

"Where? Why are you here if he's not?" I asked Todd with the spoon halfway to my mouth.

"Because he stayed over here last night . . ." Todd said slowly and trailed off, his hands moving horizontally as he spoke.

The sudden memories of last night seemed more in place as the fact that Jeff had left that morning came flooding back. I was stunned that I had forgotten such an important, and at first terrifying, fact.

We hadn't talked for two weeks, then he'd come to my birthday party. We'd even got past the problem of the last two weeks! Then we'd done more than ever before! And he'd been more into than ever before! And he'd left in the morning, again. And I'd hoped he'd been next door.

I was at a complete loss for what to say to either of them. I had assumed that Jeff had gone next door. I had no idea how to explain his absence.

"He didn't go over there this morning?"

"Hell no. Why? Where's he at then?" Todd asked, looking confused.

"I don't know! He wasn't here when I woke up," I answered, still not eating that spoonful.

Todd rolled his eyes and threw Tom another complete eye roll. Tom nodded and grinned at me.

"What?" I asked, not getting it.

"Suuure," Todd said, instantly letting me know he didn't believe it.

I could tell that they thought Jeff and I were pulling a prank. I was more confused, and started growing very worried, too. For a moment I had thought that perhaps they were all, Jeff included, playing a prank on me. I had quickly decided to continue playing ignorant until I could get a grip on their joke, but then I realized that I wouldn't have to play ignorant. And I knew Jeff wouldn't be up for any prank on the fact he had slept over alone.

Where the hell did Jeff go? Prank? No. I know he's not in the house! How do I explain this? What's Jeff going to tell Todd? Or Tom? No way they are going to believe me, especially now that they're thinking I'm pulling a prank. And if he didn't go next door, where in the hell did he go? Is he really hiding somewhere here in the house?

I stared hard at them both. The spoonful of Honeycomb remained motionless near my lips as I gave them the most serious stare I could muster. It wasn't hard to be serious right then. I had no choice as good as playing the prank card until I could figure out what the hell was going on.

"No, really, uh, he's wasn't," I said, intentionally unconvincingly.

The headache from whatever the snow blower had hit me with was beginning to pound severely, and my stomach warned me that anything I put down there could be expelled with force. I ate the spoonful anyway, forcing it down and a smile on my face.


After a couple of hours of video games, and stalling the joke as my guts turned inside of me, I snuck off to call Jeff's place. I had already snuck away to more thoroughly search the house. I feared finding him cowering in some dark corner, his mind gone. When I didn't, I hoped he had headed home and got there by then. If he had walked, he probably hadn't made it.

I dialed his number with shaking hands and trembling body.


"Jeff! Man! You okay? How'd you get home?" I asked, hearing his voice and feeling better, but feeling worse because I didn't understand why he had left, let alone gone home.

"I took the bus and train. I felt like coming home. Tell Todd mom said he can call Uncle David for a ride home or wait until tonight."

"What happened? Why did you leave, man?"

"I don't want to talk about it. At all. Ever. Just tell Todd about Uncle David. Alex . . . just, I'll see ya 'round school. Goodbye."

He hung up. I could tell by his voice that he wasn't mad, at least not at me, but something was certainly wrong. I wanted to call him back, but obviously he didn't want to talk. That had been the first time he had ever used the word goodbye to me, on the phone or in person; it surely wasn't akin to his usual parting of "Sees ya".

What happened? We fell asleep facing each other, smiling at each other. Then I wake up and he's gone. And he won't talk to me. Is he going to not want to talk to me for a long time again? What if this messes our friendship up, or breaks it? Did he mean . . . goodbye? Did he mean he didn't want to stay friends now?

Why the hell does he run away every time? And why do I let them happen? What am I gonna tell Tom and Todd? I have to tell Todd about how to get home, but that means I have to tell him how I know that. What am I going to do?

My head felt like splitting open from the temple upward. Blinking hurt. Thinking was hard and made the pain worse. I was sweating and slightly shaking, and I was worried I might throw up. I didn't know how I was going to deal with any of it, let alone all of it.

I finally get Jeff in more than a stupid jack-off session, and he runs away afterward! I got what I wanted, sort of, but now things are worse off for it! We don't talk for two weeks, then he comes to the party, and it's all cool, and after he stays the night, and I do it with him again like a fucking idiot, and he left again. Like I should of expected.

I paced in front of the phone, worrying about what I would say to the guys, hoping I didn't barf. Nothing came to mind but the same worrying questions.

How can I cover for this? What's the problem with Jeff? Was he regretting it? Obviously he is some way or another. What did he tell his mom when he got home? Will he call me or should I call him? Can we still be friends? Does he hate me now? What's going to happen?

Tom and Todd forced the issue by coming into the kitchen, chatting about Pac-Man patterns.

"Jeff knows the good ones. And just where is he, anyway?" Todd asked, still thinking it was a joke judging by his grin.

"He's home," I answered curtly and without puking, though I did belch wetly.


"He is. I just called. He took the bus to the train this morning."

That urge to puke grew, my body began to tremble, and I started to drool. I knew it was coming.

"Why?" they both asked simultaneously.

I concentrated on breathing as deeply and rhythmically as I could without it being obvious.

"I don't know. Honest. No fucking clue man! He just did!"

I was suddenly worried that I might start crying on top of the headache, the churning stomach, the headache from hell, being about to vomit, and the numerous worries. But I was having to deal with all of it in front of Tom and Todd. My vision suddenly seemed blurred and choppy. I pulled off my glasses, lighting up the temple cut like a bonfire, and pinched my nose between my eyes. I had to remember to breathe correctly.

"No shit?" Tom asked.

He knew if I answered the same that it was true. Both of them knew that was what it would mean.

I didn't move as I said, "No shit."

"Wow. No idea? Did you guys fight, or something?"

I wasn't about to tell them what we did, I was sure they knew anyway.

"No. No fight, man. Nothing like that. We fell asleep laughing about stuff, and this morning I wake up and he's gone is all."

"You said you called, right? What'd he say?"

"Nothing. Just Todd should call his uncle for a ride home if he wanted to before she come when she was supposed to. Your mom said so."

"Okay," Todd said, setting down his unopened soda bottle and picking up the phone on the wall.

"Not right now, stupid," Tom said.

"Yeah, right now," Todd answered back firmly.

"You can stick around, man," I offered.

"No. I want to go find out what the fuck, man."

"Just, like, don't get all up in his stuff, Todd," I warned.

"Sure, as long as he tells me what the fuck."

"Just call Jeff first and ask what the big deal is," Tom offered.

We both looked at him with our heads cocked sideways. He rolled his eyes and sat down. Todd and I looked at each other, shaking our heads, then he dialed his uncle's number.

Todd asked for a ride right away, and seemingly got one. I felt like sitting, or falling down. I took two steps toward the chair and fell into it. Tom sat down next to me and crossed his arms on the table, staring at me. I knew it, but I didn't care. Not with everything else going on in my head and guts. Todd hung up and said he had about ten minutes.

"I want to know what happened before I go," he said, more adult than his years suggested he could as he took a chair.

"Nothing!" I declared again. "We had a good time! Laughs, video games, a movie, fell asleep. I wake up, and he's gone is all!"

"So was it okay?" Tom asked.

I rolled my eyes and my head and threw my hands up. The motions made me drop my glasses and suddenly feel drunk on top of everything else. I held my head in my hands, elbows on knees, forehead a few inches above the tabletop.

"Does all my business have to be public?"

I was angry. Not only at the situation with Jeff, but at having to involve his little brother and our friend, who was my best friend and who knew about me.

It should be my own private affair, so why couldn't it? I asked myself repeatedly.

I was closer to puking, and when I opened my eyes it seemed as if I were cross-eyed. Suddenly I started drooling again. I knew what was next, so I ran to the sink. I made it in time, and I noticed that when you barfed into a sink, the growling heaves sounded less hollow than in a toilet. The only real problem was that each heave made a wave of pain roar up from my temple, blackening my vision.

Having the faucet so handy was a great bonus. I let the cool water run as I finished retching, then let it run into and overflow from my mouth. I spat a few more times before I eventually swallowed cautiously at first, then more thirstily.

After I sat again, I remembered Tom and Todd. Todd now had his coat on and was looking at me with the same expression he had worn when some of us had found a badly wounded cat hobbling across a yard. Tom looked at me as if he could see beyond me. I didn't like how either of them was looking at me.

The question still hung in the air. I could feel it as if it were a tangible thing. After I had sat for a minute, and felt able to speak without fearing another wave of heaves, I spoke.

"It was pretty fucking good! Okay? We liked it. We didn't do anything he didn't want to do. And he liked it. Okay? O-fucking-kay now? You happy you know my entire sex life?"

I had said it too loudly, and now my head felt like it had split open! I held both sides of my head and pushed my hands toward each other, putting pressure on my skull. It seemed to actually help so long as I held a constant and light pressure. Then it got worse. I went back to merely holding my head in my hands with my elbows on my knees.

"Alex, man, not like we don't know before, you know? Come on."

He was trying to keep things mellow, and I saw that, and decided it was a good idea for several reasons.

"Okay, fine. It's just, I'd like to have a private life, ya know?"

They laughed, so I had to after a bit. It helped relieve the tension a great deal, but it hurt my head too.

"I know," Todd suddenly said very solemnly.

"Know what," Tom and I said together.

Todd said, equally seriously, "I know what the deal is."

"What?" we asked, again in unison.

That time we didn't try to break the curse either.

"I'll make sure, first. But I know, I'm sure. Just, like, I don't know. Don't think Jeff is going to, you know, want to again. I'm surprised he did. I didn't think he would. But if you guys did, you know, more than, just, you know, more stuff, I bet he's freaking out."

"I know what you mean," I said, trying not to sound how I felt.

I'd done more with Jeff, but I wasn't going to again. Not only wasn't it going to be a real relationship, which I didn't expect anyway, nor was it going to last even a second time, but I might even lose his friendship. He was ashamed. He had experimented with someone, and now he wasn't comfortable with that person anymore, or not nearly so. He was ashamed of what had he let himself do, and maybe how he felt about it, and he had run away from it. And he would keep running away from it.

A horn sounded. Todd shook his head a bit and waved half-heartedly as he left through the kitchen door to the driveway.

Tom wanted to stay around, but I told him that I really felt like having some alone time. He made it clear he would talk about it with me when or if I wanted to. He also said that he hoped it wasn't a big deal, and it was all over with by tomorrow.

Tomorrow! Tomorrow is the big parties, and now Jeff is fucked up and probably wants to be left alone and away from me! SHIT!

"Thanks for reminding me," I said bitterly to myself as he closed the door behind himself.

I wandered upstairs to my room where I let the radio play mostly unnoticed until "Babe" by Styx. I cried despite the pounding, throbbing, pulsing headache that spread through my entire head - and the waning sickness. The sweats and shakes had stopped, but then my body trembled with sobs.

By the time my parents made it home the driveway had shovel marks all around it, and the snow shovel was prominently planted in that last two feet of snow in front of the garage. I had combed my hair so that the cut was mostly hidden, and I hoped that I wouldn't have to explain it. I took six aspirins, hoping the headache would go away. It seemed better, and I didn't feel sick by the time dinner was ready, though I still had no appetite.

Mom noticed the bruise near my eye, and asked if I had a black eye. I leaned so she could see it from across the table, far enough that I hoped she could only see a little bruising instead of the red, swollen cut under my hair. She was satisfied with the distant glance as I explained that some wrestling had gotten a bit rough and I took an elbow to the face, assuring her it was nothing.

Dad asked what I had done all day as I picked at my plate of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans.

"Just shoveled, watched teevee, played with my presents," I answered truthfully enough. "I didn't even start the van."

"We trusted you that much, son," he said.

His offer of trust turned sharply in my gut after the deception over the temple cut and the half-lie about the driveway. I thought of coming clean, but knew it would mean a speech about the safety of snow blowers, the responsibility of showing every little cut to my mom, and reveal the truth about the 'shoveled' driveway. I decided to go ahead and compound it all.

"I just got too tired to finish the snow, I'll get it later," I offered.

"Okay, fine and dandy," mom said. "You not hungry? You feeling okay?"

"Yeah, I feel okay, just not hungry. Snacked too late, I guess."

It was quiet for a time, and they neared finishing as I still poked at my meal.

"Coach Ditka looks to have something in that shotgun move, huh, Alex?" dad asked over the paper.

It was a good move, and I knew about it, but dad knew I wasn't too interested in football.

"Okay I guess. Probably won't be around long. Ditka either," I opined.

"And Gordie Howe scored his eight-hundredth goal," dad said into the long silence.

"That a lot?" mom asked.

Dad and I shook our heads at each other.

"Nobody has ever scored that many before," I told her.

"How many a year is normal?" she asked, stunning us. "What?"

"Lifetime," dad said, shaking his head and smiling.

"Oh. I see."

"And Jim Craig signed with the Atlanta Flames."

"So, he's good then?"

"He's okay," I said. "Only on this years United States Olympic hockey team."

Even mom knew of the stunning win the United States hockey team had pulled on the heavily favored Russian team in the Lake Placid Olympics the week previous. Then they went on the next day to defeat Finland and win the gold. The partying for that was still going on all across the country.

"All the news I know is that Reagan better get these prices under control. He just doesn't know what the average American is going through," mom said, starting off the same old debate with dad.

I was waiting for them to bring up Jeff, his stay last night, or at least ask why he wasn't still there. Amazingly, they never did, and dinner passed relatively quietly.

Up in my room I studied the paper I was to have handed in today if we had had school. I made a couple of corrections I had missed and recopied it. I sat on my bed and thought. I changed the sheets and tidied up my room. No television, no pot, no radio, no music. I shoveled the last of the snow before bed. When I had come back inside, my glasses had fogged as usual. I knew it would be painful to remove them. I had felt them rubbing into the wound every time that I had pushed them up my nose while shoveling. They were staying stationary then, so I left them alone. Instead of taking them off, I wore them and walked carefully around the house in a fog. Literally as well as figuratively, I joked to myself.

I said goodnight to my folks as I headed up the stairs past the second floor, saying I was getting ready for bed. They called goodnight back. Once in my room I grabbed some briefs and sweats from the dresser and headed into the bathroom. When I looked in the mirror, there were several streaks of blood on my face coming from my temple. The cut had opened and blood had run out more than once. There were streaks running from the cut down my face at several angles. Most had stopped quickly, probably freezing in the cold. I had thought it sweat, naturally, as I had shoveled the snow in front of the garage.

My glasses were in the dried and frozen blood, and that was considerable trouble as it was in the hairline as well. I knew the best thing to do was to get in the hot shower with my glasses on and wash it all away gently. It took some time to work the blood away from the hair and my glasses. I finally put them on the corner of the sink outside the curtain and started washing everywhere else.

After the shower, the cut was running again, pretty freely, too. After toweling off it slowed, and before I was in bed it had stopped bleeding and I had a large Band-Aid on it. I still felt a bit sick, but better after the shower. I wasn't in danger of puking, but when I lay down on the bed I was dizzy for a long time. I had to sit up to calm the queasiness for a while before I could lay down and turn off the light.

The only times I had felt like that before were when I had been drunk. I hadn't had any kind of alcohol, so I couldn't blame it on that. I was certain it was all the stress of the confusing and complicated situation with Jeff. Or mostly.

I tried to let my mind wander through all the things that had happened the last couple of days other than Jeff: The 'outing' by my parents, the party, the gifts, the van, the job at the store for the books, the day off school. Every time I tried to concentrate on the happy things, Jeff came back into my head. Jeff; there my mind strayed and stayed.

Jeff is moving away and I never even asked where to last night. Maybe that's bothering him, or was maybe part of it, I wondered. And he'd only be here a few short months more! And now we're like this instead of good! And it's my fault for letting us have sex.

I had rarely felt so low. Once again, Toby and Jeff had something in common with each other; they both now caused deep feelings of loss and sadness.

Jeff, who can blame you for being shy? Your strict, religious mom raising you and your little brother alone, following your dad around the country? Now you're leaving. The Circle will be broken for the first time.

What's wrong? Is it regret? Did I say something wrong in my sleep? Did the pot make you do something you didn't really want to do? I have to apologize some way. But how can I if he didn't even want to talk? What could I do? And does he hate me now? He has to, since I'm the one he did it with. Now he probably feels as guilty as he ever had in his life. And probably scared of his mom's reaction to finding out. That would be hell, and I know it.

I put Jeff in a horrible situation! I disgust myself. If I'm right. But what else could it be that would make him leave like that, take the train home, then pretty much tell me never to talk about it? Did he want to never talk to me again? I can't stand that thought! That's the worst thing that could happen! Not the two weeks all over again! What about the parties?

Maybe Todd will find out something? I'll call Todd! Yes! Of course! Duh. He wanted to know too. He'd know something by tomorrow!

I thought of calling right then. I looked at my phone, then the clock, but it was too late for sure. His mother was strict, and calling after nine was a huge no-no. I sure didn't want to piss her off, too. Or tip her off. I also wondered, worried, what Jeff had told his mother when he had come home so early.

I tried to think of other things, but that wouldn't happen. Only for a few seconds, but then I'd be right back to thinking about Jeff and the situation. I finally relented, and stumbled to the desk. After turning on the little light, I pulled out my shrinking stash and rolled a joint. I knew I would need more for the parties on Friday, and made a note to see Tim before then. If the weather cleared, I considered.

I turned off the light and sat on my bed, watching the snow continue to fall, and smoked the entire joint. I lay down and studiously thought only of Middle-Earth, and Grayhawk, and the Forgotten Realms. I blamed the deep dizziness on the weed, I did finally fall asleep, lost somewhere in the Misty Mountains, alone and on the run for my life.

 Thursday: Gettin' It Off