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The Circle

Chapter 17

Friday Evening: Van Party

Mom kept both of us away from the closed kitchen doors once she got home, so naturally Tom and I wanted to know what was going on even more. We waited though, watching a movie until the doorbell rang. I called out to my parents that I would get it. I was curious to see who had arrived so early. I was very surprised when I opened the door and my mom's parents were there. I was glad to see them and happy they were there, but I worried they had driven in such weather.

I had shoveled the sidewalk earlier, but obviously several inches lay over the sidewalk, and large flakes were clinging to their clothing as Granddad handed a large box wrapped in blue paper to Dad.

"Oh, no you don't! Later!" he said, keeping the package away from me.

After taking their coats and putting them in the closet, I followed them to the kitchen doors where I hugged them both, then was shooed away by mom and told to go watch a movie with Tom. The idea of getting into the kitchen with them had indeed been my plan, but was foiled.

Over the next hour, watching Halloween yet again with Tom, as the parties grew closer, I was still worried there was some kind of set up with a girl in the works from the guys. The dreaded hookup with some chick was a faint possibility, but one that loomed large in my mind.

I had masturbated with and sucked off all of the Circle guys, and done something anal with a few of them, but only Tom and Jeff knew that I was gay. The rest, I hoped, thought it all just experimenting, and, I hoped again, assumed I was as straight as they. I was sure they were hinting at something to do with girls at the party.

I thought to myself with steely resolve; I will tell them about Tom and me, and I will tell them I am, and he isn't. I want to tell them. And about Toby. Especially the ones who met him. It feels important that the guys who actually met Toby know what he was to me. Mom and Dad had known for months. Tom knows. Jeff knows at least something about me being gay, and he's still coming tonight. And he even asked to stay over tomorrow night so we could talk alone! And he's coming today! He said so! Jeff's really going to be here! I got to be so cool, not get all crazy and shit.

With still half an hour before the guests were supposed to arrive, the doorbell rang again. When I opened the door, Marie stood there. The idea of her being the hookup sprang instantly to mind. I was nearly paralyzed with fear that she was there for that very reason. She saw that, though, or already knew I would fear such a thing, and immediately told me she wasn't there to be set up with me for my birthday. She quickly said the guys had come up with the idea, and she had told them they were too late for that, that we had already messed around quite a bit, and it was none of their business. She explained that she had threatened them with womanly retaliation should they try setting me up with some other girl.

We laughed as we entered the den, and the timing couldn't have been more perfect; I knew Tom thought we had been laughing about something sexual together. His grin said he was amused by more than the obvious. Instantly, Marie sighed in disgust at our choice of movie and tried to persuade us to watch Dallas instead. As Halloween ended, the doorbell rang. I ran to answer it, yelling that I was doing so. I opened the door and was struck wordless.

Todd smiled, waved, and said hi in the usual manner. Jeff nodded and smiled his hello, but I sensed, or seemed to, that he wasn't as happy as he put on that he was. I wished that I could take Jeff aside and we could talk right then, but not during the party, I knew. I resolved to try if the opportunity arose tomorrow. I wondered if he was still going to stick around late tomorrow or overnight, so we could have some time together. Even though he had asked to stay overnight tomorrow, I was intently worried he wouldn't, or couldn't.

Their mom honked as she pulled out of the drive. We heard her drive away. The snow kept falling.

"It's fucking cold! You guys fucking gonna move or what?" Todd cursed as he scooted past me and inside.

I coughed and stepped to the side, then closed the door behind Jeff. My stomach was full of lead, and I felt as if my fingers and toes were suddenly numb. I couldn't think of a single thing to say. Now that he was really there, he had really come, I was wordless, thoughtless.

The sound of Jon's station wagon pulling up outside meant he had arrived with Eric. I strained to think of something to say to make things okay between Jeff and me, but of course there was no such possible a thing to say, and no time. He took off his coat and I took it and Todd's to the closet. Jon and his girl, followed by Eric, walked in. I noticed that none of them carried any packages.

Over the next few minutes, the rest of the guests arrived. Jon's girlfriend and Marie were the only girls at the party, at least so far. Rick, Thomas, Kevin, Ed, Marcus, and Cooley, my friends from school, rounded out the guest list.

Halloween Two had been in theaters last Halloween, and it had recently been made available on VHS. Some of the guys hadn't seen it yet, so we watched it, enjoying theirs and the girls' screams as much as the ones on the screen. We had to rewind and pause a few of the juicier scenes, of course; something still very new to home VCR sets. When the fun with the movie ended, Mom announced that there was lasagna and soda in the kitchen. We found that the food was set out buffet style. We shuffled through the kitchen, filling plates and grabbing cold sodas, then were herded out the other side of the kitchen to the garage.

My grandparents kept me behind the rest by asking me a few questions about this and that. They wanted to know what I was going to do with the van. I told them a few of my plans, mostly the easier and less important stuff. I knew it needed brakes, I had heard the squealing start almost a month ago. The exhaust was rusting and getting noisy; the headers were new, but the pipes after them weren't and needed replacing. Then there was the steering; I knew it was in need of work, even though I had yet to steer it, let alone start or drive it.

"Well, your dad tells another story. He says your cooling system needs work, and the suspension is worn," granddad said.

"Well, okay, yeah," I admitted, knowing there was more as well.

"I also understand you could use tires. And a few other things. I know the allure of a van. We still have our travel van, and wouldn't trade it for anything. So, we thought you could use some help with yours. Don't go spending it on dingle-balls or speakers! You and your dad get tires and parts and things fixed. No safer vehicle to start driving in than a van, except an old Roadmaster!"

"You're kidding? How much?" I asked, all tact forgotten.

"Your dad will decide that. You don't worry about it," grandpa told me. "Happy sixteen," he said, waiting for a hug.

I was happy with that. I could somehow get some money to afford the things I wanted to do about the other stuff.

"Let's go join your party, now," grandma said after her hug.

"You bet!" I said, eager to join my friends.

I was led by grandma, followed by dad and grandpa, to the garage. When the door opened and I was pushed through, I gasped.

The van was backed in on the far side of the garage. There was no way to get in the driver's side, as it was nearly against the far wall, but the sliding door was on this side and wide open. The stereo was switched on, filling the garage with The Fixx's "One Thing Leads To Another." Christmas ornaments, tinsel and lights ran around the van's roof line and hung across the open sliding doorway.

Balloons hung from every possible object in the garage, including the overhead door rails, and multi-colored streamers ran from the kitchen door outward, looking like a rainbow sunburst radiating from the door. More crepe streamers ran from the van, across the garage to the near wall, spreading outward and crossing the other set at angles. More balloons hung from the walls and rafters. Halloween decorations, skeletons and spiders and zombies, hung on the walls, holding bright, construction-paper packages with Christmas bows on them.

Mom was already there, standing at a table in the center of the garage. The family car had been moved outside, leaving only the van, a dozen folding chairs, and a table with white paper over it, garland and lights around the edge. The table was in the center of the open area between the kitchen door and the van, with the chairs all around it. Everyone was standing around the far side of the table, holding their plates and sodas.

There were presents along one side of the table, the other side held the remaining half of the birthday cake from Tuesday, more soda, plates, forks and cups, and a bag of ice in a cooler.

As I entered, mom said, "Now!" and everyone yelled, "Happy birthday, Alex!"


She had the camera out, as I knew she would. Everyone started singing happy birthday, to my complete humiliation.

When it ended, mom said, "Last year for that, okay? Now, blow out your candles and make that wish!"

I wish Toby was here.

I blew out the candles in one go.

Everyone applauded and mom took more pictures as I was given a ready plate of lasagna and a mug of root beer.

When most everyone was done with their second or third plates of lasagna, then cake, we were in groups that were either talking in the chairs around the table, or sitting in the van. Mom and grandma cleared the table and dad announced that it was time for presents. When mom was poised nearby with the camera, dad handed me a small box.

"From your grandparents, mine," he explained. "They mailed it last month."

I knew they wouldn't come for my birthday, were hiding in Florida from the wild winter weather of the Echo Reservoir area of Utah. One of the most beautiful places on earth, I had thought, since visiting in the summer. Too small to want to live in, but great to visit. And I had seen a couple of the most beautiful guys on Earth at the reservoir, and in the small town.

Shaking the small box gently at first, it rattled hollowly. It wasn't heavy, and it gave way under pressure from my fingers. I shrugged, giving up on guessing the very first present. Inside was a plastic case holding a digital watch. It was one of the red-colored, digital display ones. I put it on. I knew I wouldn't wear it to school, but I could keep it in a pocket.

Next, Marie's gift, I guessed as a pair of fuzzy dice for the van, but was proven wrong when I opened it and found it was a large, stuffed Garfield with suction-cups on his paws.

She smiled and winked, "We used to watch him after school a few years ago," she said, making most there laugh. "I know you still have a soft spot for him, 'cause I caught you watching him last week when I came over, remember?" she asked with an exaggerated wink.

"Oooooo," most of the boys teased lewdly.

She had indeed come over, and caught me with Garfield on the television, but there wasn't anything sexual about her visit. But if she wanted to lead the guys on, fine with me, I decided, even if it was a bit embarrassing in so many different ways. I hadn't really been watching Garfield, it had been conveniently on as I sat there doing homework. I nodded, blushed, and accepted the jokes and jibes.

More eight-track versions of some of my favorite albums proved that some of my school friends were in on the van. That, or they suddenly bought them very recently after hearing about the van. I wondered if I should bother to try to find out which.

The other two gifts that I missed were impossible to guess, and were presented together. I simply had to admit defeat and open them without making a decent guess. First, as demanded by Jeff, was a travel box of tissues that left everyone wondering.

Jeff said simply, "For the van," and did his best to hide an enormous grin.

I immediately got suspicious. Surely Tim would never!

The second gift, from Tom, shed the light on the matter; a travel jar of hand lotion.

"For the van!" Tom also said around laughter.

Everyone burst out laughing, myself included. Both grandparents smiled and shook their heads along with my parents.

It was funny! I admitted. They got me good! And they hadn't let on one bit!

I glared at Tom and Jeff, and I saw them look at each other in mock worry; they knew revenge would be served in time. Jon high-fived the two of them, laughing hard. I noted to include him in the revenge plan.

Dad reminded everyone that there were movies in the den, if anyone wanted to watch them, otherwise we were on our own, and the adults wouldn't bother us out there until someone's ride arrived. The adults wished me a happy birthday, not making me hug them in front of my friends, then they closed the kitchen door behind them.

The party didn't change much, it just continued as we talked and listened to the radio or eight-tracks. There was no lack of music, as Tim had left a dozen eight-tracks in the van, and several gifts that night had been more. I took up court inside the van, sitting in the middle of the bed in back. The back doors were open and swung wide, so it was easy for others to sit on the bench along the back wall of the garage and be nearly eye to eye with those of us inside the van. The guests moved in and out of and rotated around the van, sometimes sitting at the table in the garage, other times dancing around to a song, chasing or being chased, or sitting in the chairs.

I had a great time. It was great being with so many of my friends. Thomas and Cooley had been to my house before, but Rick, Kevin, Ed, and Marcus were there for the first time. What a great orgy this would make, I thought so many times that I lost track. Before long, I was semi-hard and fantasizing about various pairings and groupings as often as I was able between conversations.

Rick Banden's complexion was a light coffee, and his hair was cut to a short knap. He was soft spoken and smiled a lot. He was as good as I in advanced math, that is, not that good. We did far too well in standard level though, and were stuck being the stupidest in the advanced class. Rick had a sexy way about him, and I often wondered if he had any gay leanings, but was too afraid to find out. We weren't that close, and Rick had given no overt signs, so I let that dog lie and simply enjoyed his friendship and my private fantasies.

Thomas Cassey was very attractive to my eyes, and the opposite of Tom. He was a little short, sandy blond, nicely tanned, and pretty smart. He was a great Dungeon Master, knowing how to keep magic and enemies in balance against the party of adventurers. Thomas had golden-brown eyes that seemed color matched to his tanned skin, though they sometimes seemed to be gold or hazel. His eyebrows were fine, but slightly darker than the rest of his hair. He had an oval face with what people called an equine nose; fairly long, fairly narrow, a little flare to the nostrils. Thomas also had the sweetest smile; so innocent. I loved it. I knew Thomas was as straight as an arrow, kind of afraid of homosexuality, and still a virgin, too shy to be otherwise. We had met and became friends in freshman year. I often thought Thomas could be in the more popular cliques, but his love of Dungeons and Dragons apparently overrode his desire to be more popular.

Kevin Thorn was the strange one. We had met in freshman year gym. About five foot five, thin but not skinny, with a large, fuzzy, light brown perm, he was a bit goofy looking and played the part. He had brown eyes and a pale complexion, and was always very animated. I wasn't particularly attracted to Kevin, but I would have loved to check him out and have some fun with him sexually. I would do anything he wanted to do, if he ever wanted to do anything. We had hit it off well.

Ed Scallis was the real geek among us all. We had been friends since freshman year as well. He wore glasses that made his big blue eyes look even bigger behind them, had a narrow, oval head with narrow features. He had pimples, pretty bad, usually all year long. He had at least ten or fifteen extra pounds, but they were in all the right places, and he had no tan at all. He had a single crooked tooth and a pointed nose, he wasn't attractive, but he was a great buddy. And a Dungeons and Dragons encyclopedia. And if Ed ever seemed open to messing around, I would have jumped at it.

Marcus Dolby was the overall brain. He was without doubt, the smartest kid in the room. He was probably the most lonely, and the smallest. He was among the youngest, at fourteen, and still a junior having skipped two grades. He had potential for being a cute guy, but he let his hair go messy, which really didn't look that bad, I considered. It was dark blond, almost brown, and had light highlights. His bushy, light brown eyebrows almost met over his wide nose. About five foot tall and just barely a hundred pounds, he was small, slight, and wiry. He also had a shy complex that radiated around him like some spell. At first I was kept busy keeping Marcus in conversations or involved at all.

Cooley Black was the one I was watching lately. Once small and thin, Cooley was showing growth and change. His hair was light brown, almost blond, and he had matching eyebrows. His eyes were always hard to pin down, and I hadn't really gotten the chance to examine them closely. Outside, anyone would swear they were a little blue. Inside at night, they looked gray. In school, they flashed as if they were sea-foam on rocks. Cooley also had an accent, being from Tennessee, and I loved accents. Plus, Cooley had said during a Fantasy Gaming Club, while we all chatted and got ready, that it didn't matter who was gay in school, it was their business. I had agreed, but almost everyone else said it was weird, mostly because of the showers in gym; they didn't like that a queer might be checking them out. Cooley said he didn't care who looked, that he went skinny dipping with guys and girls all the time back in Tennessee. Almost everyone made some comment about inbreeding and sharing moms, ending the fascinating topic that I wanted to discuss with Cooley at length sometime.

Then there was The Circle: Jon, Jeff, Todd, Eric, Brent, Ryan, and Tom.

Good ol' Tom, I thought, watching him talking with Jeff in the front seats, Eric sitting on the engine cover between them, all obviously conspiring with each other. They caught me watching them, laughed, and Eric closed the curtains with a smirk.

'Sokay, let them make their plans. Just more to have to pay back, I thought. And they were so in the hole after the tissues and hand lotion! Though I do have to give 'em credit for that one!

Cooley, sitting on the black shag carpet just in front of me, asked if I thought the van could hit a hundred miles an hour, interrupting my thoughts.

I replied, "Yeah! Of course! Downhill with a fifty mile an hour tailwind!"

Everyone laughed, and Jeff jumped out of the front seat. His shirt and pants were wet and he was glaring at someone in the front of the van.

I knew only Eric and Tom were up there on the other side of the curtain with him, and wondered what had happened. Jeff's white shirt had turned brown down the front, and a stain spread across Jeff's lap as he brushed at his clothes.

Brent joked, "Geeze, Jeff! Need a diaper?"

"Ha, ha, ha, it is to laugh!" Jeff said back, anger apparent in his voice.

I was laughing. Jeff was so cute! His upper lip curled upward and to his right, exposing his white teeth and braces. Those large, soft, luscious lips stood out against his pale complexion. His light blond hair haloed his round, gentle face. My mouth was literally agape at his handsomeness.

The sudden, intense sense of deja-vu was overwhelming. I immediately remembered the source of the original experience, and remembered Toby in that nowhere place saying, "Then explain this."

I shivered all over, actually shaking enough that Cooley asked if I was okay. I nodded and put on a smile, pretending to enjoy Jeff's predicament. I felt bad for Jeff, though, because I knew that shirt was one of his favorites, and it was probably ruined. I also knew Jeff would freeze later when we moved to wherever the guys were taking me for the private, Circle only, party.

"Hey, Jeff. I got some stuff upstairs that'll fit ya. Shirts top drawer, some jeans right below it," I said.

"Thanks," Jeff said simply, heading toward the door to the house.

"The black jeans will fit ya, I'm sure," I called after him.

I thought how Jeff would soon be nearly naked in my bedroom, but I would miss it. There was almost no way to go upstairs and not raise questions from my guests, so I resigned myself to missing it as I watched Jeff walk away.

So cute, even from the back, I thought, knowing my hormones were raging with Niagara-like force. I have to stop thinking about Jeff like that! It just isn't right! He's not interested, could never be. I have to put that out of the realm of possibilities, stop teasing myself with it! It's only gonna ache, and hurt, and disappoint that much more later! He's fucking moving! Just, forget it! And the others! Just don't think of them that way! Sure, probably okay to compare, check out, maybe dream about, but stop the teasing yourself!

Reconciled with myself over the topic, I returned my thoughts to the party. It felt so wonderful, surrounded by friends, sitting in my van - my van. And the music was good, too. I sighed, looking at my friends surrounding me, wishing there were only one more guest. Just that one more, very special person.

But then, if it was him, then he has to be here right now to have seen it and shared it with me. If it was him, and not just me.

The question of just how I had seen that event hours before it occurred tried to intrude, but Marcus was a talkative sort.

"So, Alex, gonna drive to school every day now?" he was asking.

"Huh? Oh, yeah, I think. If I can afford the parking permit," I said, returning to the there and then.

"Be pretty cool, huh?" he asked, adjusting his cross-legged position on the van floor in front of me.

"Yeah, it will!" I said, fully back in the present.

"You're lucky," Marcus said, chin on palms, elbows on knees.

"You have no idea," I said, knowing it, meaning it.


"Nothin'," I said softly.

Eric suddenly laughed from the other side of the curtain separating the front seats from the back of the van, then he jumped through the curtains and stumbled over Cooley who was sitting near Marcus on the floor.

"Idiot! What're you doing sittin' there!" Eric yelled.

"Hey! Watch where you're going and it wouldn't have been a problem!" I snapped before I could catch myself.

Both Eric and Marcus looked surprised at my outburst, and the noise level dropped in the garage, only the music still filling the air.

"Sorry. He was just sitting there. Be more careful, okay?" I said to Eric, holding out a hand for a high-five.

"Sure. I'm sorry, too," Eric said, slapping my hand. "Sorry, too," he said to Cooley.

"Me too. I didn't think anyone would come through there," Cooley offered sheepishly.

By now, Tom had peeked through the curtains and was looking at me with a puzzled expression which he erased as soon as he saw me looking his way.

"You okay?" he asked, still looking directly at me.

"Yeah. I didn't mean to yell. Just a surprise, ya know?"

"Had enough of 'em already?" Tom asked, grinning suddenly.

"Maybe," I said, trying to return the smile.

"Man, don't be! There are plenty more comin'!" he promised with a wink.

I laughed, truly feeling better. I reached out and gave Marcus a playful push on his head as Tom asked Cooley if he wanted a cold soda from the cooler. It had been a miracle that Eric's stumbling between the front seats hadn't knocked it over.

Cooley said sure, and thanks. Tom reached into the cooler, paused, and looking at me, suddenly grinned evilly.

I knew what was coming. I could read Tom easily enough. I opened my mouth to warn Tom not to do it, but it was too late. His hand flew out of the cooler, filled with ice and water. The splash was well aimed, striking me from face to waist.

Laughter erupted as I jumped up, struck my head on the ceiling of the van, stumbled forward and to the right, toward the open sliding door to avoid falling onto Marcus and Cooley. Unfortunately, Eric was just turning back to see what the noise and laughter was about. I tried not to, but I was out of control - I fell forward, toward the open sliding doorway, taking Eric with me. Eric grabbed both sides of the open doorway and held on as Marcus grabbed me by my jeans waist and pulled me back into the van. I fell on my ass, hard, but safe. As the laughter grew louder, now that neither I nor Eric were in danger of falling out of the van onto the concrete floor, I grabbed for ice from the chest. I was poorly positioned and was unable to reach into it. Tom tossed another hand full on me as I wrestled my way up from underneath Eric, who had fallen onto me after yanking himself back from the brink of falling outside backwards.

I saw that Cooley got a good handful of ice, and as he pulled it out of the chest, Marcus was there, pulling Eric's shirt up, then the waist of his pants outward, away from Eric's tummy. I was under and behind Eric, so I wrapped my right arm around his chest and held on tightly. Cooley stuffed his entire hand into Eric's crotch, and shoved it around a bit as Eric screamed and squirmed. He took his hand out, something I would have been much longer in doing, then backed up, clearly surprised by what he had just done.

I winked at Marcus, who was still doing a decent job of helping me hold Eric down, as he pushed a handful of ice down the front of Eric's pants, making sure it was under the briefs as well. When Eric only screamed and laughed, made no effort to fight with his hands, I saw that Tom had both of Eric's arms held up over his head.

More laughter rang out as Eric squealed. Someone shouted, "Another!" and Marcus and Cooley complied, shoving a second handful each down Eric's shorts.

Marcus released Eric's clothing, then Tom let go of the Eric's arms, and he rolled out of the van, shaking one leg then the other, hopping up and down on his feet. He pulled his pants away from his belly, reached into his under wear, and pulled several pieces of the ice out, throwing them on the floor.

I shared high-fives with Tom, Cooley, and Marcus back in the van.

In the melee, I had gotten completely soaked. I brushed at my shirt, then wrung the water out, letting it drip onto the thick, shag rug on the floor of the van.

"You better go change, too. You go out later that wet, you'll be sick, man," Tom said quietly.

"Probably right," I admitted, climbing out of the van.

"I better, too," Eric piped up.

He was far wetter than I was in a far more risky place, without doubt. Tom spoke up quickly, though.

"No, Eric, come over to my place. I got stuff that will fit you."

Eric agreed and he and Tom ran next door as I pulled the wet shirt off and walked to the kitchen door. As I went up the stairs, I realized Jeff was not back from changing. It hadn't been but a very few minutes, so he probably hadn't had time to finish changing. I had wanted to come up to watch, and suddenly realized that I had the perfect excuse.

There I go again! Stop teasing yourself over him! You're gonna make yourself crazy! He's a great buddy, treat him like one. Give him that much respect! And yourself that much of a break!

At the top of the stairs, my door was shut. There was a small landing there, as wide as the stairs and just as deep, only my door there between the two close walls. I thought about knocking, but it was my room, after all. I tried the knob, but it was locked. Jeff's voice came from inside.

"Who is it? Just be a sec!"

I heard some shuffling noises, then Jeff opened the door. I stood there, shirt in hand. I was unable to form any words.

Jeff was wearing the black jeans I had mentioned, and held a black Led Zeppelin tee-shirt in his hands. The jeans were a bit small for him, and his considerably larger equipment strained the fabric into an impressive shape, and it was a beautiful sight! His bare chest was just a bit broader than mine, and his pink nipples were like candies there.

Before I could bring myself to say something, Jeff spoke first.

"Uh, Alex."

Jeff's reddened face smiled strangely.

"Um. So, I guess they fit?" was all I could think of to say other than something along the lines of, 'Wow, nice body! Can I slide my tongue up and down it?'

"Yeah. Thanks. I'd have froze tonight, going over toooo, uh, there, later!"

I smiled, said, "Damn! Almost!"

We laughed as we switched positions. I was sorely pressed not to press myself up against him, bare chest to bare chest, as we swapped places. I could smell his cologne, soap, and shampoo; or whatever mix it was that wafted around me, setting my skin to tingling. His broad chest passed a bare inch from mine, his pink nipples like Jelly Babies.

"Al, I'm really sorry about, you know, about leaving. Ya know?"

That statement coming as it did out of nowhere slapped my head upright, my brown eyes staring directly into his bright blue ones. My heart remembered that it needed to beat to keep my blood moving, so that I could . . . do something.

Anything you idiot! Say anything! Fuck! This is the big chance. Talk! TALK!

"Er, uhhh, s-sorry I made you l-leave. Or wanna, I mean. Leave, t-that is . . . uh . . ."

Oh, my, gawd! What the fuck was that? That was not just me! It was not!

I waited for him to stare at the stuttering dolt, or laugh, or grimace. His face never changed expression as he said, "Really. I'm sorry I left like I did. I'll talk to you later about it, but, I, I guess I just wanted to, you know, just, say so, for now. Ya know?"

"T-thanks. I know. Thanks! Really. I was so scared you, that I, I don't know."

I gave up with a full body shrug and a profound sigh. He smiled and half laughed, his grin making me grin.

"Uh, we better not be gone together long, ya know?" he said, blushing and staring around, anywhere but at me for that moment.

I was the same, suddenly, knowing exactly what he meant. I nodded, wishing he could follow me into my room, then feeling badly that I had thought it, wanted it, would have preferred it.

"So, like, what happened to you?" Jeff asked, nodding at the shirt wadded up in my hand.

"Oh. Uh, Tom started a water fight."

"I missed it! Who won?"

"No one, really, I guess. I, uh, had to come change."

"Um, yeah, sure it wasn't just to come watch me change?"

Oh, my, gawd! I so wish I had seen that! I thought. And that was too good a guess! I said, "No!"

"Sure," he replied, grinning.

Uncomfortable with the closeness of that shot, I tisked, imitating what I considered one of his adorable habits, then closed the door in his face.

I sighed, deeply, and leaned against the door.

Fuck! I screamed inside. Shit! Was that more sexy than usual or am I just noticing more since I decided to stop considering him! Could have been my jeans that did it! My heart's racing! I'm sweating! Oh, man, hard to breathe!

I rushed to my bed, sat quickly, and centered myself.

Cripes! He shouldn't be allowed to wear tight clothes! Ever! That's the first time I've seen him in tight pants, now I think about it!

And that was true. Jeff preferred to wear baggy, sometimes oversized clothes. That first summer I met him, his clothes weren't so large on him, but once he had started growing, he had changed his wardrobe, wearing new clothes that hid his body again.

I have to let it just go. It wasn't anything, just Jeff. Nothing to get all worked up about. Just stop thinkin' like that about the guy!

I lay back, my breathing and heart rate back to near normal. As I let my arms lay out wide, shaking my head, I noticed something on the bed next to me. I touched it and looked to see what it was. Jeff's clothes in a pile on the bed, next to me, less than a foot away. I stood up and took two steps back from the bed, my eyes never leaving the sight of Jeff's jeans and shirt laying neatly folded there.

Jeff's clothes, on my bed. Jeff's clothes! The ones he'd just taken off! The ones he'd just been wearing. On my bed. And he ain't anywhere near. I just swore him off. I decided not to let myself get teased in.

Oh, come, on.

Two steps later, I lifted the shirt to my face, inhaled shallowly, testing, then deeply as I crushed the material to my face. It smelled of laundry detergent, Old Spice, Jeff, and root beer. I rolled it around in my hands, inhaling deeply again as my body raced with chemical reactions.

When I let the wadded up shirt fall slightly away from my face, I saw the jeans there. I dropped the shirt and picked them up, hesitating as I saw the red briefs that had been under them.

Oh come on!

Jeff's briefs. Red Fruit-of-the-Looms with white piping and waistband.

I realized Jeff was either going commando in my borrowed jeans, or he was wearing some of my underwear. Neither idea bothered me in the least. I almost hoped Jeff was wearing a pair of my briefs, permeating them with his body's scents. I wanted them back, unwashed.

I toyed with the idea of hiding his briefs, of keeping them. But Jeff wouldn't forget about them, and would certainly know what had happened. And after the recent events, I didn't want to take any such risk.

I put the jeans down, finally took up the briefs. I held them up with both hands by the waistband, noticing the material still held a stretched shape in front. I could almost feel Jeff's body heat radiating from them. The wetness of the spilled soda discolored a portion of them.

I lay them across my face, held them in place with both hands, pressing them tightly to my face. My entire body trembled, vibrated with a harmonic slightly familiar to me, but new at the same time. I inhaled deeply, holding my breath, wanting that faint trace of Jeff to settle into my lungs, to become a part of me.

I breathed out only reluctantly, and only after pulling the scented treasure away from my face so as not to taint it with my own breath. I replaced them, nuzzling my nose deeply into them, inhaled slowly, both mouth and nose. His smell was as pleasant and spicy as Toby's. Jeff's scent excited me and caused tingles to race through me, much like Toby's had done. I exhaled with a deep, longing groan.

I sat on the bed feeling guilty and strangely elated. I lay the briefs on my lap. Not as if I were wearing them, upside down rather, just for the proximity. I sat back, leaning on my hands and arms, racing with hormonal reactions, flushed, shivering slightly, erect.

This is so wrong!

I sat up suddenly, removing the briefs and covering them with the jeans just as they had been. I replaced the shirt and stood up.

Cruel, cruel God! Toby had been so sure of a just and caring God. If he was even real, then he was a cruel thing! I thought, shaking off the surges of sexual attraction.

I can't be allowing this! But, oh shit, he's down there now, in my clothes! All hot and stacked and. . . STOP IT! No more fantasizing about Jeff! Give him that courtesy at least! Leave the guy alone! You're only teasing yourself! He's moving away, and you can't have him!

I pulled another shirt from the dresser, applied a bit more deodorant and cologne, then put the shirt on. I took one last peek at the pile of clothing, then shook myself again before leaving the room, hoping to leave thoughts of Jeff behind me as well.

I stopped on the second floor, having to gather my thoughts from straying to Jeff again, settling myself before continuing.

Back in the garage, the party was still rolling along. I took a seat at the table, got another piece of cake and sat eating it while talking with Cooley, Marcus, and Kevin. I told them about having the Dungeon Master's Guide, and working to earn the other new books. We talked about gaming, and chess, and school, and girls, and music, and movies, and cars, and more girls.

I didn't mind talking about girls, I just had to fake the enthusiasm. The guys always talked about girls, all of them. Tom mostly, once I had thought about it. I considered just how often Tom brought the subject up, and how much he participated on the topic. He seemed driven on the subject.

Over-compensating, I suddenly knew.

Then I thought of who didn't talk about girls much. Surprisingly, it was Jeff. And Cooley. Even then, Cooley had the least to say. He sat mostly quiet, stirring the remains of the cake icing on his plate with his spork. He was gazing at Marcus, apparently listening to his every word, seemingly interested, looking enthusiastic about it.


I knew then. Or strongly suspected. I kept the topic going, watching Cooley as slickly as I could. There! A glance downward, a quick frown forced into a smile in reaction to Marcus' statement of wanting to get in Tina's bra. Cooley continued to react in telling ways as I watched. I grew more certain of it with each passing example.

Maybe I'm just wishing! Seein' what's not there, hoping he might be, that maybe then I could have a chance with him, since I won't have none with Jeff.

I looked to where Jeff was sitting with Tom, Marie, Jon, and his girlfriend in the van, talking, apparently all of them having a good time.

This is gonna be impossible! I thought, trying not to stare at Jeff. But he's too good looking not too! My clothes are at least one size too small! Look at how his chest stretches that shirt! And I don't even wanna think about what's stretching the crotch and the seat of those jeans!

I turned my attention to anything else, noticing Eric was still being teased about his clumsiness by Todd and the twins in between debating the Bears' new coach, Mike Ditka. Nearby, Thomas was talking animatedly with Rick and Ed, arguing that McMahon had been a good rookie, but maybe not worthy of being Rookie of the Year. He was nearly beaten for that blasphemy. They did all agree that the strike had screwed Peyton's numbers, but he was still great to have gotten a four-point-oh carry. Ditka was already on his way to becoming Chicago's Golden Coach after his first season.

Cooley was still cooing over Marcus as Kevin chatted with him - never noticing - saying how cool it would be to see Rachael Brennado's tits, how they were probably the biggest in the entire school even if she was a sophomore. Cooley still didn't reply as that topic passed between Marcus, Keith, and myself; I noticed that too.

As the party wore on, everyone congregated around the table of gifts and food. At a quarter to nine, Marie stood and said it was time for her to go. She bent over me, showing off her breasts in my face, wished me a happy birthday, hugged me, then kissed me full on the lips in front of everyone. She quickly stood up and walked toward the back garage door.

"Just so no one can say sweet sixteen and never been kissed!" she said loudly, flashing me a wink and grin as she closed the door behind her.

"Oooooo!" and "wooohooo!" echoed through the garage, stoking my ego.

"Ain't nothin' to you fools!" I said, unable to hide my smile or blush.

"Is Marie your girlfriend?" Marcus asked innocently.

I smiled, wanting to say a simple yes, but fearing the repercussions if it got back to Marie. Not only that, but not wanting to smear that friendship.

I noticed several members of The Circle were snickering a bit, and guiltily glancing at Tom, too, revealing their thoughts to me as clearly as if I could read their minds. To the others, I knew they seemed to be hiding a secret about me and Marie, and it wouldn't seem anything gay to them. I didn't know why I felt like that, but I seemed to know there were no gay overtones present, only humor and teasing over the kiss from Marie.

I glanced over at Tom, who was furiously red, shaking his head slowly, and smiling in his way that probably fooled everyone but me.

Poor Tom, I thought. No wonder he wants to stop fooling around. These secret jokes were getting ridiculous, but Ill take care of that later, I promised.

"Not really, just a friend," I answered with a shrug.

"Yeah, sure!" Cooley said, obviously coming to another conclusion, most likely taking a cue from my closer friends' snickers.

I shrugged again, laughed, and the party rolled on.

Kevin and Ed had ridden together with Ed's mom, and she arrived at nine to pick them up; dad opened the garage door and informed us of that fact. After wishing me a happy birthday, and saying it was a great party, and thanks for inviting them, they left.

Marcus's ride arrive minutes later, and he too was gone with a wave, a thanks, and a wish for a happy birthday.

Cooley's ride arrived a few minutes later. He wished me a happy birthday and thanked me for the invite as well. When he asked me if I would be at the next Fantasy Gaming Club, I had to tell him that I was helping a teacher some days, and working at the hobby shop the others for at least a few weeks. Cooley seemed a bit let down, and I told him we would see each other around school like usual.

If he knew of the Circle, and he likely did, then he seemingly was interested in being in our group. Outwardly we seemed a close group of friends, like many others. Even inside, that was really all we were. But to me, it was a more exclusive group than that. It wasn't about the sex, it was more about the closeness. The sex was just a private bonus of the Circle and the intense friendships we formed together.

I knew I was willing to invite Cooley in, even if he was only fourteen or so, sex or no sex. He was older than the twins, and older than Eric or Todd had been when they were welcomed in, so I resolved to ask the guys what they thought of getting to know Cooley, and seeing if he could be part of our group.

Rick and Thomas had ridden together, and being older, their parents allowed them the luxury of staying out until ten.

Jon's date had driven herself, and shortly after Cooley had left, said she had some things to do. She said she would leave the boys alone to play and kissed Jon goodnight. "Oooo," and "Woo-woo" followed by threats from Jon that he was about to, "Start doing some selective kicking of some selective asses."

"Yeah, really. If they was doin' it, Jon would'a left with her!" Eric chided.

His next statement, a minute or so later, was "UNCLE!" from underneath of Jon.

Now it was down to the Circle and two other friends of mine, both of whom seemed to be having a good time. Jokes and boasts were exchanged and lies told. Bets were taken on which girl at school I would bag in the van first; Marie from next door was the favorite by a wide lead.

Suddenly, and out of the blue, Thomas wanted to know if I had anything to smoke, surprising everyone.

"You serious?" I asked.

We had thrown a couple of pot jokes around in front of them, and at school, often enough that none of us should be surprised that anyone knew we smoked it. I wasn't surprised at that, only that he had asked to get high.

We had planned not to get high until the other guests left. I knew it wouldn't be long before only the Circle members remained, and was already looking forward to catching a buzz and finding out where the secret party location was. I had been wondering how long what little pot I had could be stretched. I knew it wouldn't last nearly as long if I lit up with two extra persons almost an hour early.

"Yeah. I thought you smoked pot. I thought that was what all you guys did on Friday nights. Got around and got stoned. I know you smoke it!" he declared, looking at all the faces around him, then back to me.

"Yeah. I never even suspected you did!" I said back, nearly everyone else nodding. "You, Rick?"

"No. I never thought about it. I mean, you guys don't look like potheads," Rick answered back shyly, obviously a bit scared.

I think he's blushing, I thought. Hard to tell with that lovely coffee complexion, though he does seem a bit reddish under that dark skin at the moment. Rick is as straight as guys get, sexually as well as other ways, I wonder if he would try it?

Most of the boys laughed at the pothead nickname, and I went on to say, "We ain't exactly potheads. I only smoke it weekends or special days. Rest of the guys smoke it even less. Except Tom, he'd smoke it everyday if he could get it!"

Tom smiled and admitted, "Yeah. I love getting high. Alex has to keep his stuff hid or I'd be smoking all of it!"

My calculations on how long the pot would last had never included these two. I hadn't thought of smoking it with Rick and Thomas, but after I had, I realized I thought it would be cool to induct two new smokers, or at least introduce two more guys to pot.

I said I would be right back, then went upstairs to my room and got what pot I had from under the beanbag chair. I did so very carefully. I shivered, remembering the vision of Jeff jumping out of the van, brushing at the spreading soda stains on him hours before it had really happened. I looked over at the bed and saw his clothes lying there. I felt warmer than I could account for.

On the way back down to the garage, my parents called from the den and asked how the party was going. They were watching "On Golden Pond" with my grands. They all asked if I was having a good time, if we needed anything and so on. I told them how the party seemed to be going fine, I was having a great time, and there wasn't anything I thought we needed right then, and said thanks.

Back in the garage, I took the seat on the bed, next to the cabinet, just as I had watched Tim do so many times. The van had been at the house for over two days, and that was the first time I had sat in that exact spot. I felt weird sitting there, in Tim's place, the one doing the handling of the weed, others watching.

Right here, in this very spot, I remembered, Tim had rolled many joints, packed many bowls, sold many bags. And I had blown him many times. Not the time to think about that part of it!

We were all crammed into the van. Both twins were behind me on the bed, Jeff was in the front seat with Tom, Jon and Todd were on the floor near the front seats, Eric between them and nearer me, and Thomas and Rick were on the bed with me.

I felt great, surrounded by my friends, in my van. I pulled one of the rolled joints from the baggie and sniffed it.

"Red Sinsemelia," I stated. "Some of the best pot ever grown. Raised from a tiny seed, nurtured as a delicate sprout, loved and tended until it budded. Then cut, hung, and cured to perfection. Fresh from the farm and Mother Nature!" I finished.

"With whom you do not fuck," the members of the Circle intoned by habit, making the others laugh.

"Okay. Rick, Thomas, hit it soft, just inhale a bit of the smoke, then hold it a long time, but not for as long as you can. Just don't inhale and exhale, like a cigarette. Hold it for a few. Okay?"

I demonstrated, then lit another, passing it the other way round.

"Don't let anyone make you do this, or anything, ever, okay, dudes?" I said clearly. "If you don't want to try pot, don't try it, okay?"

Both of them inhaled without coughing, or at least not coughing out their entire hit.

"Good job! Just don't overdo it. You can get a sicko headache or somethin' sometimes," I advised.

After Thomas' next hit, I nodded and said, "Good. Bigger hits until you see what you can stand. Doing great!"

The smoke we made and exhaled drifted visibly out of the van and into the garage. I worried the parents would smell it, but I knew they knew, and I knew they probably expected it.

"That's it guys, doing good," I prompted after the new smokers' third hits. "Feel anything?"

"I don't feel anything," Rick said.

"I don't know. It's like, a beer, or something. Feels different, but, not like I expected," Thomas said.

"Affects different people differently. See how you feel in a few. This is creeper, which means it builds up effect over a time. You might be wasted in five or fifteen minutes, or not. But it's got a nice mellow buzz, you won't freak or anything. Might get the giggles a bit because it's got some giggleness in it, but not much."

"I feel fine! Man, this is like, neat!" Thomas said, smiling widely.

"One thing. Listen to things. Music sounds so much better when you're stoned. Try to kick back and just listen to the tunes! Okay?"

The radio did a decent job of playing good tunes. Who could not like AC/DC, Rush, and Pink Floyd? "Open Arms," the new song from Journey, came on. We were all quiet, listening, enjoying it. When it ended, Rick and Thomas said they had to go. I nearly offered to light another joint. At the last second, I thought better of it, knowing they were already pretty stoned. Both boys were laughing constantly and making stupid, but still sometimes funny, jokes.

They said bye and thanks for the invite, wished me a happy sixteenth, and left. The rest of us began talking about moving on to the next location.

"Not even a clue where we're going, even now?" I asked, doing a puppy dog face.

The guys laughed and refused to offer any information. Jon said he would be right back and left out the side door. I asked, but nobody would tell me anything about where he went. Soon the unmistakable sound of the wagon pulling into the drive told me where he had gone, but not why.

"I thought it was just a short walk?" I asked. "Why the car?"

"It is a short walk. To the car. But it takes longer to drive the rest of the way once you walk to the car," Tom said with an expression just as serious as if he were reciting a math equation while during homework together.

"That was cheating!" I declared, meaning it.

"If you think that's cheatin', wait 'til later," Eric said, beaming.

He was immediately shushed by all present, even slapped on the back of the head rather sharply by Jeff.

I was nervous then; truly and actually nervous. What were they up to? The twins only smiled and shrugged when I looked to them. Tom did the same, adding both hands in front of him, palms toward me. Todd laughed and obviously didn't have a clue, or was still impossible for me to read. Jeff gave no information away with his smiling eye roll and head shake.

"Twins, get our coats from the front room, and Alex, is yours in your room?" Jon asked, taking charge after coming in from outside.

The twins, still under slave contracts for lost bets and dares, complied noisily.

"Yeah..." I answered, still worried and wondering.

I put away what little weed remained, then announced I would be ready to go after informing my parents that we were off. The guys filed out the side door of the garage as I went inside and told my parents that Jon was driving us to the twins' uncle's house for the night, as we had planned to tell them. They told me to be good, to not cause any trouble, to call when I arrived, and that they would see me tomorrow. All four expected a hug, and received one as they again wished me a happy birthday. The twins arrived with the coats and the three of us headed outside.

I joined the gang in the big, old, green, Ford station wagon. My guts were swirling with anxiety. I had enough pot on me to go to jail over if we got pulled over. On top of that, I was heading somewhere that I didn't have a clue where.

"So don't I get a clue even now?"

"No. But if you think you know, keep guessing, okay?" Jeff said from my left, between me and Jon.

I grinned back, trying not to grin too widely. I should be smiling, after all, but sitting next to Jeff, so very close, was causing my smile to seem painfully wide. It was cold in the wagon, and we were wearing heavy clothes, but I was sure that I could feel his body heat. My left leg bounced against his right one, our thighs touching most of the time. For the first time I wished that Jon didn't have the big, nineteen-seventy-one Ford wagon, but a new, smaller car, so that Jeff and I would be pressed closer together. I cursed the wide, front bench seat for the first time.

Tom, Eric, and Todd were in the back seat, and the twins were laying in the back area of the wagon. All of them were enjoying the game, and it showed clearly.

Styx came on the radio, "Sail Away," one of my favorite songs, as well as Toby's. I reminisced, again wishing Toby could be there for the party, and again wondering if somehow he was. The song brought bitter, sad memories now as well, not only the happy ones it once inspired just last summer; the lyrics twisted from the familiar, comfortable, pleasing meanings.

I looked around at the passing streets with not a clue as to where we were headed. The sensation of uncertainty, of not knowing where I was going, being pressed so close to the impossible Jeff, and the song all brought me to a melancholy state of mind. My mind began to again drift off to thoughts of Toby as we moved through the dark streets, the headlights illuminating the huge, slowly falling snowflakes as if they were passing stars and we were hurtling through the void of space and time in the TARDIS.

Friday Night: The Circle Convenes