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The Circle

Chapter 27

Sunday Afternoon: Tim's Gifts

I rode hard and fast, usually up on my legs to keep my speed up. When the right one came by, I had to be ready. It was cold, but the snow was soft in the bright sun. I rode over the low snow piles that looked packed enough to do so. If I slipped, I would probably end up under one of the very trucks I was looking to hitch.

It was a long ride to where Tim lived, and I had to cross an eight-lane interstate highway. To do so, I had to take one of the busy, multi-lane roads that went over it. None of them had any kind of shoulder, even in the best of conditions. But far out of my way was a wider cross-over, with a shoulder almost three feet wide, but when it was plowed the shoulder became a snow dumping area. But at least on bike it was possible, not like my other choices.

Riding along what was cleared of the the shoulder, a strip perhaps a foot wide, vehicles passed within inches of me. Most drivers stayed near the speed limit of thirty-five, but most didn't. Their speed wasn't so bad, it was that narrow margin of error on a unpredictably plowed half-shoulder that mattered. It would matter even more when I was on the overpass; on a bike, the three-foot high, flared, concrete barrier was more trap than help against the thirty-foot fall to the pavement of the interstate below.

In winter, with snow on the streets, the trips to Tim's were always the most hair raising, but still well worth it. Once I had graduated from having to find him out and about in the van - usually at the forest preserves near school - and learned where he lived, I preferred the long, dangerous ride to his house to meeting him at his van in public.

He was an interesting case for me. He had at first been a total surprise, then a semi-monthly fling; a pleasant way to get some grass. As far as friends, I might have counted Tim among them, but I didn't think that Tim counted me among his. He was attractive to me, and I enjoyed performing on his body. I didn't have any deeper feelings for the guy, I was sure. There certainly wasn't anything like love involved, I knew.

As I rode, I tried to nail down just exactly what I had with Tim. I knew we were on good terms, and I knew he'd gone out of his way to make sure he had pot for me more than once. I guessed that we were friends, and not just customer and buyer, but I wanted to make sure, I supposed.

Tim's given me a lot of things, other than great deals on dope, I pondered. Some confidence in who I am, the ability to read others by their body language, expanding my musical knowledge, and even my tastes, I thought, pumping the pedals hard to keep up my speed. Almost three years. And how many times? A hundred? Maybe more? And this might be the last time I see him for three years! I really hope we get down to doing something!

A large box truck came lumbering along the road almost a mile before the highway overpass, and I was able to latch a ride all the way to my turnoff over a mile after the overpass. My legs got a needed rest for that distance, and I made good time the rest of the way.

I parked my bike where it wasn't visible from the street or the neighbors, then went down the stairs to the basement door. I knocked lightly and waited. When the door opened, he was there in dark blue, loose fitting, joggings shorts, sandals with white socks, and no shirt.

"Hey, come on in," he said, standing aside and holding the door open.

I stepped inside and shook off the cold. I unwrapped the ridiculously long Doctor Who scarf and took off my coat. He was back on the couch across the basement by the time I got my coat, hat, gloves, and scarf off, so I walked over and sat down one cushion from him, the brown clasp envelope in my hand. My glasses were completely fogged by then.

I removed my glasses so that I could see and then looked around at the empty seeming basement. Tim had removed all the concert, girlie, psychedelic art, and pot posters. The printed bandanas and scarves were no longer hanging from nearly every rafter either. Most of the rugs were gone from the floor, and the bookcase cutting this side of the basement off from the rest of the basement was empty. The smallish, wire-spool tables, once covered by skull ashtrays, dragon statues, and a multitude of other interesting objects, were bare and exposed; only a lonely plastic ashtray sat atop each. The chipped, low, oval coffee table only had a plastic school lunchroom tray holding a few small things from Tim's pockets on it. The basement seemed bleak and hollow, the sounds the two of us made, along with the sound from the stereo, reflecting hollowly off the bare concrete walls and floor. It was no longer the overly warm, smoky, comfy retreat it had become.

"So how you doin'?" I asked, not liking the barren-seeming basement, feeling uncomfortable when it was just the two of us there for the first time since my first visit.

"Okay, I guess. What's up?" Tim asked, filling the bong's bowl and packing it down.

"Not much. I told ya I'd come over. And, I, uh, I brought something you might be interested in, but later, okay?" I said, laying the package carefully next to me. "And thanks again, for agreeing to sell my dad the van."

"I was wonderin' what to do with it. I can't drive it anymore, and leaving for the army soon, so I was gonna have to ask dad to park it out back. That would've sucked. So when your buddy Tom came up with the deal, I was, like, cool! I'm really glad you got it," he finished, lighting the bong.

"I love the van! You know that! I know the van won't make me cool or anything, either, not like it could, even. And I'll try not to embarrass its reputation, ya know?"

Tim held his nose and tried not to cough or laugh and lose the hit he was holding. As he fought the coughs, Tim's shorts rode up his thigh. He wasn't wearing any shorts under them.

I started getting hard right away.

"Make ya cool? The van won't make anybody cool. And, the van's rep? Riiight. It ain't nothing," he said when he had held the remains of his hit long enough.

"Nothing? The Miller Mobile? The Ganja Express? The Black Beast of Combustible Comestibles-"

"Comestibles? What? What the fuck are you talking about?"

"Your van! The van! My van, now. Wow!"

"Yeah, but what the fuck is a comestible?"

"Comestible. Latin. Eat. Sometimes edible, or ate. Depends and, just, Toby knew it. He called it that once, and, it slipped, is all."

"Ah. So, what else it get called?"

"The Rumbling Roach Wagon, The Chevy Shorty of Spleef, The Joy Wagon, The Budwagon, The Budwagon Express, The Happy Van, The Van o' Victuals, Tim's Pleasure Wagon-" I rattled off quickly before he interrupted the list again.

"My what?" he hinted with a sneer.

"Um, smoking pleasure, I'm sure," I answered with a shy grin. "I didn't make that one up, uh, that was Ryan one night in the Circle. Not as bad as some we made up, really bad ones, sometimes."

"How many fucking names you got for it?"

"Yeah, well, Tom and me, and some of the guys, we sorta got tired of calling it Tim Miller's van."

"Got tired? How often you talk about it for fuck's sake?"

"Uh, pretty much every week. When the Circle got together and we'd fire one up, somebody'd say something like, uh, I saw the Black Box of Burning Bliss at the Hillside Drive Inn. Or, the Bud-mobile at the dirt track. Or something like. Not always just about the pot. Alex's Dream Ride and Alex's Pipe Dream sometimes, because, everybody knew, I... "

... loved the van. No shit! They always said they saw it here or saw it there. Almost always had a new name for it, too. No wonder Tom talked to Tim about it! I was obvious, and I didn't even know I was giving clues! Like Mr. Broft seeing me and Tom! Like mom and dad seeing me and Jeff. Tom I understand, after catching us pretty much, but Jeff they got mostly just emotional clues and seeing our looks. And the grands weren't even phased when I told 'em I'm gay! They got enough clues I bet! If mom and dad didn't talk to them... Ewww!

That 'what-have-my-parents-done' stomach twinge returned, then I grinned, figuring it was all water under the bridge, and that if they had, it obviously had done no harm.

"What?" he asked me.

"Well, I just learn'ed something new. Thanks."

"Now what?"

"Just, again like about people. How you give off clues you don't even notice. Or ever think you did."

"Ah. Yeah. Jessie showed me about that, by the way."

"Jess? Smoked-pot-and-nobody-knew, you-helped-with-the-bullies, had-the-same-credit-deal-as-me, uh, you and, uh, Jon, and, uh, that Jessie?"

"Yup. I said we talked some. Like us. He told me how he saw I was, bi-curious, he said," he explained, becoming red-faced.


And it was, I thought. I learned something from Jessie. Two things, when I add the fact that I know it's possible to smoke pot and not a soul suspect you of it. No, three things! Tim's bi-curious! Thank you Jessie!

"Oh yeah! Forgot the parts! There's a bunch of parts in the garage. You should come get 'em when you get your license, okay?"

"Oh, sure. What?"

"Four seats, a mirror, a couple of those red light inside lights, light covers for outside, headlights, a box of stuff she used to make the curtains and stuff, dashboard, vents, all kinds of crap. I'll put all the boxes and stuff outside and under a blue tarp. Come get it and the tarp. I'll tell my folks so they know about it and don't call the cops."

"Thanks! Oh, and I found the joints behind the cabinet near the mirror! I think there's like three or four there yet."

"Yeah, don't worry about 'em. Smoke 'em up, bud. I think there's pot and stuff all over that van. The cops didn't search it very good, 'cause they thought they had what I was carryin'. They didn't search it for shit, so there's probably all kinds of stuff all over it. Check the visor seam near the window?" I nodded. "So, either visit your 'cuz a lot and go into business for yourself, or get yours from Billy. He's got that Bronco now, so anybody who asks you for any send his way, or just say you don't know nothing about no grass. I guess word is out I'm done selling. My phone ain't rang." he added rather sadly.

"That sucks. You got buds unless you ain't got bud, eh?" I asked.

"Seems like it. You should talk, you never came around except for grass either."

"What? If I just came around and hung around it would've been weird! Wouldn't it?"


"Folks might say you was molesting me!" I laughed.

"Stop making me loose hits, asshole!" he said around another bout of laughing and coughing. "You coulda come over and hung out. The other guys buying would have seen you with me and you coulda taken over now if ya wanted."

I learned your lessons, I thought. Three years in the military? Or jail for longer? No pot for who knows how long! No friends! No real friends, it seemed, in your case anyway. Um, lemme think . . . uhhhh, not! But if he don't stop with his leg up there he's gonna make me fucking horny as hell. I wonder if we'll... it's the last chance for a long time... stop it!

"Nope. No dealing for me," I said firmly.

"Good, I was hoping you'd say that," he said, smiling at me and nodding.

As he leaned back with the newly filled bowl and talked, he swung his right foot back up on the couch, knee bent and high. I saw more of Tim's privates in the shadows of his shorts. Those shorts hugged his cock, caught between the material and Tim's thigh. The head was near the end of the leg of the shorts, just an inch from being visible instead of the obvious outline it was at the moment.

I hardened again, and thoughts of reaching over to grab him started filling my head.

I tore my eyes from the sight and said, "Really? I could have just hung around? What about Keith? He's such a dick. And Billy and I never got along. It would've been weird is all. But I might have sometimes, if I knew I could. And no way am I gonna sell!"

"I guess I should've invited you to just hang around, huh? You'd been welcome to anytime. I would've told Billy and Keith to get lost if they messed with ya, ya know? And good, you don't need to."

"Yeah. Then they wouldn't've been suspicious at all!"

"Take a hit and shut up for a while, will ya?" he said, after laughing out another hit.

I complied, hit the bowl, and passed it. We passed it back and forth a few times until it turned gray and he refilled it. By then, Tim's shorts had slipped further up his leg and his sack was in partial light, until he put his foot back on the floor and leaned toward the table to clean the bowl. I almost wished he hadn't; I had been enjoying the view immensely.

Between others and Tim, or rather Jessie, I had learned very well how to read people. The best readings were from people you know best. They gave away the most by doing things and holding themselves in really small, subtle ways that you won't notice in a stranger, or someone you don't know all that well. I thought I knew Tim fairly well, and so when I saw the signs of nervousness and uncertainty in him, I was sure I was right. As the moments ticked by in silence as he filled the bowl, too slowly and too methodically, and while obviously in deep thought, I waited for him to work it out.

I thought again and again that perhaps he was trying to bring up the deal. Or maybe trying to bring up just the sex without the pot. I was unsure if I really wanted sex, though. I was enjoying just talking and hanging out with him as friends. It seemed like there was something, or something more, that I wanted with or from Tim, but I couldn't name it, or even narrow it down any. It was just a vague desire for something unknown, or so it seemed.

"You and Jess ain't the only guys I knew who were gay, ya know," he began before he lit the bowl. "There was this guy, when I started high school. Trent. We didn't smoke pot yet. We were friends and all, not real close or nothin'. We started smoking pot about the same time. Saw each other the same places, ya know? We kinda hung around some those times. We stopped being friends after he made a play for me. Sort of."

He hit the bowl and then passed it.

"We ran into each other at the place of a guy we both knew. We went around to a couple more weed parties together after there and got real baked. We went to White Castle for some munchin'. He told me he was gay there. He said he liked me, a lot, and wanted to, well, he wanted to, ya know? Have sex. Even if I wasn't, he said he'd like to. I kinda lost it. I called him a fag and a queer and a butt-fucker and cock-sucker and kept going down the list."

Tim paused, his frustration evident as he swung his hand in small arcs against the table top.

"He kinda sat there and took it. He didn't say anything at all. When I asked him to say something, he said there wasn't any point."

He struck the table in a gently angry way with his knuckles several times before he continued.

"He just got up and left. Walked home and that was that. I was pissed at him! I didn't know why for sure. When I calmed down I figured out I was mad because he never told me, I guess, 'cause I wasn't mad he was gay. I was mad because he didn't tell me sooner and I made a fool out of myself talking about chicks with him, maybe. And my making fun of gay guys and homos and stuff all those times in front of him. He made me feel, like, like an asshole."

Tim almost flung himself backward into the couch. He crossed his arms and apparently studied his forearms.

"He was a friend and I treated him so bad. So I got feeling bad, and in a couple days I call him, and this lady answers, and I ask for Trent, and she says he's dead. He killed himself in the garage a couple days ago. Turned on his dad's car and took his mom's sleeping pills. All of 'em. Turns out he was kind of a loner, didn't have many friends. This lady asked me if I knew him very well and if I had any idea why he would do that. What could I tell her?" he said with a shrug. "He told me he was gay, and I called him names and made him leave, and he went home and killed hisself. How do I tell her that?"

Tim looked to be near tears.

"Oh, man. It wasn't your fault, Tim. How could you know?"

"I couldn't. I know that now. But I never forgot. And I always stuck up for anyone at school who was gettin' picked on for bein' gay after that."

"Is that why you got in so much trouble?" I asked, flabbergasted.

"No. I did plenty other stuff. And you know what? I don't think I ever got in any trouble for fights helping a guy gettin' picked on like he was gay. Funny, huh?"


"What? Since when you all spiritual and stuff?" he asked, looking surprised.

I looked at him and met his eyes as I said, "I lost a friend sort of the same way, too. He killed himself because some guy was forcing him to have sex with him at school."

"Really? Bully who was a fag? Or just liked making him do it? Oh, shit! Sorry, I guess I should say gay, huh?"

"No. That's alright. I'm a fag. I can deal with it, I guess. When I hear the word anymore it bothers me, but not as much. I hardly notice. So don't worry about it. And it was his teacher. Gym coach."

"Fuck! What a bastard!" he exclaimed as he lit the new bowl.

"Yeah. He got what was comin' to him, though. I sorta saw to that."

Tim raised his eyebrows in obvious curiosity. I didn't feel like going into that story, so I shrugged.

"I got a question I'd like to ask. If you don't mind answering it."

His voice was fairly serious, so I nodded solemnly.

"Well. How, or when, or, like, what was it that, like, made you know? You know, that you was gay?"

I instantly knew how hard it had been for him to ask, so I thought out my answer carefully, making sure it was ready to be given. I had often thought of that question myself, and had come up with what I thought was the best answer if someone should ask.

"I was sitting in my room, thinking about how I liked . . . uh, how I liked this guy, right? And I was all like, shit, I like guys and what the fuck do I do? Right?"

Tim nodded, still looking curious and confused.

"Be what I feel like I was and face it, or pretend to be like everybody else and fit in."

"You don't fit in and you'd be miserable if you tried."

"Hey! I'm not that different!" I protested.

"No other dude I ever knew ever said anything like, and I fucking quote, 'If I wanted to be like you I'd get a lobotomy,' to a bully. I knew you was different before then, sure, but that sorta set it."

"Oh, you heard about that, huh?"

"Yeah. When I heard you said that, I knew you was a square peg. Envied you right then, too."

"For what?"

"Telling a guy twice your size to fuck off. And he did, too. Then you told him he was just bothering you because he liked you and he didn't know what else to do about it."

He laughed as I remembered Charlie Derek looking shocked, then suddenly scared and flipping me off.

"Yeah, well, I was pissed that day. Something bad happened , and I was, just, I wouldn't have any more, ya know?"

He nodded upward once and hit the bong. I noticed that I was feeling more comfortable in his basement than ever before, and regretting that it was so late.

"I meant to say, we should'a hung out more. I'm sorry I never though about that, dude. You're this older guy who sells pot and don't mind getting sucked off for a bag now and then. I never really saw you as a real friend, you know? I mean, I do now, I guess. Usually you older guys don't want us younger ones hanging around, ya know?"

"Yeah. I understand that. I never saw the guy I started buying grass from as a friend either. He was older than me, though. Well, older than me now, I mean. But I see exactly what you mean. I should have asked you to just come by sometime."

"Yeah," I agreed a little sadly.

"And look who's talkin' about how usually anyone a year older than you don't want you hangin' around. You've been friends with me, and Jon, both older, and Tom and Jeff, both a year older, and Eric, the twins, Todd, all way younger. You don't exactly follow that, out-of-my-grade rule either."

We both grinned. We smoked the rest of the bowl in silence.

Tim put in one of my tapes that Jeff had supplied for the party and turned up "La Bamba" by Valens.

"So, let's get started on those beers?" he said, grinning as he very poorly danced to the refrigerator and brought two beers back to the couch.

"Sounds like a plan!"

I cracked open the cold beer and downed a few mouthfuls.

"Easy! I don't wanna have to throw a passed-out Alex out the door!"

We laughed a bit and talked about the army, and what it would be like. He was quite a bit older than me, and I had always found him attractive. He had a soft, full body and nice hair in most of the usual places, though little under his arms. He was well hung, without doubt, and he liked letting me perform on him. His treasure trail started in his bush, and was visible then as it traveled past his innie bellybutton, growing a bit wider there, then slipping sleekly up to his chest, where it got lost in his hair there his hair spanned between his large, brownish-pink nipples, but no wider.

I caught my eyes drifting across Tim's bare front and shook my head, focusing on Tim's words. We were talking about all the grass and how he wanted to get rid of it.

"Oh, and there's something I wanna give you," he added as he apparently remembered something.

He went to the freezer under the stairs and brought a brown paper bag and a blue plastic bag back to the couch. He unfolded the top of the brown paper bag and turned it upside down to let the contents fall onto the couch between us. I gasped as large, zippered storage bags full of weed fell out between us. I picked up the closest one, gawking at it.

"There's like a pound each one!" I said, then couldn't resist adding, "Hefty, hefty, hefty!"

"Five bags, five pounds." he said around his laughter.

"Wow! I haven't seen this much since summer vacation! And you told me you was out on Friday before the parties!"

"That was hard to do, too! Not laugh when I had this in the freezer and like five ounces on the table I was sorting out!" he said, easily laughing about in then. "Here, take this."

He reached into the plastic bag still on the floor next to him and tossed another large, zippered bag into my lap.

"Oh, shit, it's that Red Sinse! I didn't know you had any left! And the huge fucking bag you had Jon give me is more than enough!"

"I kept a bunch. See?" he said, holding another, smaller, zippered bag with almost an ounce of it in it. "That stuff Jon dropped off is the normal stuff, nothing special."

 He pulled another, smaller bag from the plastic sack at his side that held one large, dark bud.


"What is it?" I asked, examining the strange, dark, almost black bud with what looked like cobwebs covering it.

"It's merta. If you bury good, not too-moist pot right, and dig it up on time, it's potent shit! Be careful with it! Just smoke a bit, not much, mix less than half as much with as much regular stuff. Trust me!"

"Ahhh! Good body rushes? And do I put the webs and stuff in too?"

"Clean it good of seeds and husks and stems, and don't worry about the webby stuff, you should smoke that, just put it with the grass in the bowl, or joint, or whatever. And be real careful! It's real strong! You can freeze it, like regular pot, too."

"Freezing really won't hurt it?" I asked, putting the small baggie in my pants pocket.

"Ask your 'cuz. Best way I know to keep it more than a couple weeks."

"Yeah. They have a chest freezer always stuffed with grass."

"Just make sure it's double wrapped from the cold air inside real good. Freezer-burned grass is useless. So, you keep that one, and I'll leave anything nobody comes by to say hi and don't get in the same blue box as some other stuff in the garage. Get it as soon as you can, okay?"

"I can't smoke this much! I mean, a pound! I would have to fuck you for the rest of my life to pay off this much pot!"

"Little... Alex, you get as much credit as you want. Hell! Besides, what am I gonna do with three years old frozen pot when I get out? I doubt it'll be worth shit after that long. If it's still there, and no way it will be. And I don't want it found, for sure! I had some stuff for almost a year, and it was weak. Nah. Nobody thinks I got pot, so if they don't come by to say bye, they don't get shit. So I gotta leave it somewhere, right? Gotta get rid of it."


It was all I could think of to say.

"You don't have to pay me back or anything. When I get back? It's not so you, owe me, or anything... "

I saw that he was worried I would expect he was putting me into debt to him.

"I got'cha. But I will, anyway. You know it. The van, the credit, all the lessons, all the talking, and help, I owe you!"

"Me too. So don't worry about it. I just can't think of any way to get rid of it. I been smokin' it like constantly! But no way I can get rid of it. Ain't gonna burn it in the fireplace or flush it. No way. If nobody comes just to visit, it's all yours. You're the best choice. Easy. You and the guys. The Circle."

"What about your customers? And, uh, yeah, I'm glad we got you in the Circle finally."

"I ain't called out, don't want a record of me calling any of them after all the cops and lawyer stuff was done. A few said they thought I didn't deserve it, or, like, seemed to give a shit. And they didn't want to come buy any after I told them I got busted and all. So, like only a few came by the first day or so, then nobody. So, fuck 'em.

"So, fuck, them, all. If they just want dope, I'd rather just burn it in a pile than give them any. These go to the friends who stop by, that one to you, and I intend to smoke the rest in this bag," he said, lifting the plastic shopping bag by his feet, "before Monday. What I don't, I'm gonna set out under the gnome under the pine tree out back, you know where? Good," he said when I nodded. "So, Monday night or so, come over and get it, okay? Should be some left over, I'm guessing. Do whatever you want with it."

"Man, thanks. I didn't know dealing drugs was so lonely, ya know? I always thought you had more friends than you could count!"

"Customers? Yeah, more than I could count. Friends? Nah. And, well, you were more than just a customer, or a friend. You and Jess."

"Is what happened with Trent why you were nice to Jess? And me?"

"Maybe. I think I thought of Trent when I first saw Jess, when he bought his first bag from me. I could tell he was gay. He acted a lot like Trent. If I knew now what I didn't back then, I probably would have seen Trent was gay."

"Live and learn," I intoned one of the most basic truisms I believed.

"Yeah. And that day you came over that first time. Jon had slipped that one time, so I knew you had sucked him at least once. Probably more. And you kept checking me out the whole time we talked before I gave you a ride."

"I did not!" I insisted.

"You did too! When you rode up it was the first place you looked! Then you stared at my face while you talked, lookin' scared, but you looked at times. Then when you looked there again when you thought you was gonna bike off, I decided to see if you wanted to deal, like Jess."

"I did not look that often!" I insisted still.

"How would I have got the balls to ask otherwise?"

"You had the balls! I could see 'em!"


"Oh, shit!" I exclaimed

Mr. Broft told me he could see it just days ago! Tom's noticed and said so. My folks, too. Probably the grands. And the guys!

"Like a few times tonight. It's okay with me. You better watch that, though!"

"Boy had I better! I didn't know I, well... "

"Don't forget it, okay? Watch your own eyes! We talked about watching other people's and shit. You do it too, give away stuff."

"Thanks, I will!" I promised as I took another drink of beer. "Like I said earlier, about giving clues you don't know you are? You're a font of wisdom!"

"Nah. I'm just a hundred and twenty-five percent more experienced as you are is all," he said, beaming.

"Nah, you're one-hundred and twenty-five percent as experienced as I am. Bit different. But a hundred and twenty-five percent more experienced would make youuuuu . . . thirty-six. Unless you mean more than age, then, uh, who knows?"

"Only a freaking nerd would know the difference," he said, getting two more beers from the refrigerator.

I was feeling the beer, and the weed, and feeling pretty good. It was probably the right combination of sleep deprivation, emotional stress, beer, and pot that made it easy to ask suddenly. I had often thought it would be much harder to do than it suddenly seemed after another long, first drink of a fresh, cold beer.

"So, I wanted to ask, in your letter, you said you wanted a ride in the van and all, and some other stuff. Did you really like what I did? You know, the credit?"

"Oh, hell yeah! I always wanted to just tell you to forget money, you know?" he said blushing and smiling.

"I would have said great!" I told him.

"I should have, huh?"

"No risk, no gain," I said, reciting another truism my life had already taught me was valid.

"Well, this might be a lot to ask about, but, well, what have you done with guys?"

"Name it," I challenged, nearly slapping my hand over my mouth.

"Oh, really?"


What the fuck? Is someone remote controlling my mouth? What the hell, though, all or nothing, I guess.

"Okay. Sixty-nine?"



"And been."

"By a guy?"


"Jeeze! How about anal?"

"Both ways," I said, smiling at Tim's surprised expression and my own easy confession of it.

"Is there anything you haven't done?"

"I don't know. I've done everything I've heard of and wanted to."

"Damn. What's your favorite?"

"Blow-jobs, giving and getting."

"So a sixty-nine?"

"Yeah, or in turns. Or any way, you know?" I said, laughing.

It felt weird to talk to Tim that way. Tom, no problem. Jon, Eric, the twins, maybe no problem. But Tim?

"Yeah, I guess I agree with that."

"Still think guys give the best head?" I asked.

"Yes. No fucking doubt about it! You and Jess blow any chick away!"

We laughed at the double meaning, both blushing.

"There have to be chicks who know how to do it right. Like in the porns?"

"Yeah, in movies. And there has to be girls all over who can do it as good as you or Jess, but I haven't found one yet! Some close."

"Bet you find a guy who does better than me in your barracks!" I laughed.

"Fuck you!" he said, and started slapping around my head with both hands.

"No guy gonna be doing me in the army. I'll get hookers on leave and wait until I'm back before I let any guy touch my stuff!"

I leaned back out of Tim's range, ending the slap fight. "So, you really wanna, when you get back?"

"Maybe. If you don't mind? And if you aren't... but I hope you got somebody. Honest. I like it enough, just don't get the wrong idea! I find a regular girl and you gotta find somebody else's!"

For a moment, I wondered why he hadn't assumed Jeff and I would still be together. As far as he knew, things had worked out great just yesterday morning as the party broke up and left his basement. I thought of asking, wondered what I should ask, but decided to drop it.

 "There's only two gay guys and one bi in the Circle!" he said, trying to lighten the mood.

"That we know about," we tied saying.

"Perdiddle!" I said, surprising him.

"Shit. Lost the first one!"

"Everybody always does!" I replied, laughing.

"We gotta smoke one together, right?"

"Yup. Or the loser takes a hit. Real hit, from the winner."

"I'll pack it," he said, nodding quickly.

"Yeah, yeah." I intoned.

"Yeah, well, I don't care about your past or anything, but I always wondered, how many guys have you ever fucked, or, just done somethin' with?"

"Don't know," I answered, knowing exactly.

"More than ten?"


"Well, I was wondering, okay? I've done two. Guys. Twelve girls. Three guys if you count Jon being around, but we didn't, you know, not each other."

"Twelve? Pretty good!"

I thought how Tim had actually not 'done' any guys; he had been jacked and blown by two, but he hadn't actually 'done' any.

"How many steady?"

"Real girlfriends?"



"Okay, cool." After a slight pause, I said, "Ten. And one girl."

"Okay, cool," he replied. "Ten? By sixteen? Shit!"

"Stop it!"

We laughed. I felt comfortable with him. Not just then, but before, I realized. Only then it occurred to me that I had already had that friendship with Tim, and that there wasn't anything more that I wanted from him, other than assurance that we would remain friends.

"Uh-oh," he said seriously, looking at me with a worried expression.

"Shit, what?" I asked, growing worried.

"You're having deep thoughts," he mocked with a sudden smile.

"Happens when I let it slip," I answered seriously, but with a smile.

We were quiet for a while after sharing that bonding. I was dizzy and buzzed, not just on the beer and the weed, but also on the high of talking to Tim that way. He had packed another bowl, and I almost turned it down. My head was starting to swim, and I had the long ride home by bike on Splatter Avenue, in the cold of sunset.

What the hell, I thought to myself at the last moment and took the offered bowl.

"You have a bowl at home?"

"Naw, just roll 'em up."

"Will you look after some of my stuff? The bowl, the bong, and some of the stuff? I want it back, but you can use them 'til then."

As we smoked the bowl, I accepted guardianship of the stone and wooden bowl, as well as the purple acrylic bong. Tim agreed to leave them in the same big box in the garage on Monday morning, or I could ride home with them right away. I decided I'd take the bowl and some other small things, but the rest would wait until Jon could give me a ride; or, I hoped, I could drive over and get them myself.

"You know, Alex, between you and Tom and Jesse and Jeff, I think gay guys are far more, I don't know, more, reasonable."

I choked on my hit and waved a hand at him before I could talk.

"Tim! I told you guys! Tom ain't gay! Leave it alone! He'd be so pissed!"

"You know, for being so smart, you sure are dumb about some things," he said, taking the bowl.

I held my hit, glaring at him with a half-smile, half-smirk.

"What?" he asked as he took his hit.

I exhaled and picked up my beer before saying, "You guys are so wrong about Tom. I keep telling you. So, he messed around some. That's all. We never kissed, or hugged, or anything else. He's as gay as you. Nothing even like. It was just, just helping each other get off. Like paying for the pot with a blow-job. That's all."

I saw and recognized his look of disbelief.

"I'd so know if Tom was. I'd so know. We've done all kinds of stuff. He's never wanted to kiss, or hug, or cuddle, or talk, or anything besides just get off. Why do people think that just because a guy does stuff with a gay guy, it makes both of them gay? You know, going by that, you're gay, too! Almost the whole Circle!"

"Okay. You've known him the longest, and best, so if anyone would know, it'd be you. So, if you say so, okay."

I say so, I thought firmly. I've tried to look at Tom and that idea from all sides, hoping I could find a way for it to be true. I want it to be. It would be convenient and a possible life saver. But, no matter how I try to fit Tom's puzzle piece, it won't show him as gay. It only points the opposite way. Tom is so straight.

And Tom is never gonna get rid of the rep with the guys. Not until he gets his car and can start taking girls out, anyway. Then they'll know. And if not, if everybody else is right and Tom's gay, then when I leave Jeff alone, maybe Tom can fill in. Maybe they can become a couple? Would I mind? Hmmmm... maybe. But I'd try not to. And that would be better, I think. I think I can let them, but I know I can't do that to one of them. And if I'm right, Tom's straight, and this way the three of us can stay the cool friends we are, without all the gay stuff being such a big deal. And who knows, maybe Tom will keep doing it a while, and maybe Jeff will if we stay friends. We better stay friends!

"And I didn't really mean to even mention Tom, then."

"Just forget about Tom. He's not gay. He's my best friend and I'd know. Especially after some of the things we done."

I blushed at the memories of some of those things, and at mentioning them even that vaguely.

That last time, on Friday, when Tom had done it, "my way" as he had called it, that was great! That was the closest Tom ever got to real sex with me. It was close to what I want from him, and what I want and know I won't get from Jeff.

 "So, what are ya gonna do now? About Jeff, that is," he asked as if reading my thoughts.

"Why'd you even think of asking about him?"

Tim blushed a bit again, then looked strange, until I realized it was embarrassment.

"Well, the Circle is real close, ya know. And now that I'm in it, I'm in the loop. Sorta."

Loop? In the loop? What fucking loop and where does Jeff or I fit in it? Of course we're close, but that don't answer my question, though it does remind me that he's one of us. That answers my question.

Well, I caught Tom at one thing, anyway. One out of how many? Who else he called trying to help out? Wonder if the Pope is up to speed yet? I grinned and rejoined Tim in his basement.

"I guess, he's just not, not only not ready, just, not in a good place to, either."

"Rock and a hard place?"

I laughed again, glad I was able to, and doing so even while thinking of Jeff.

"So I shouldn't've called today and sounded bummed that Jeff was moving, and asking his mom if he was going to be at the Circle meeting Friday for sure? And asking how long we had left to be friends before he was gone?"

I shook my head and rolled my eyes with a small laugh.

"No. But thanks. Having to worry about his mom all the time? No way. And if he can't face her, fine. He don't want me much if he can't face her. Just drop it. Let him be. If he can't face it, fine. If his mom is such a bitch, fine. He's moving anyway. Why get all involved and lose it again?"

"Maybe it's hard for him. His dad don't live with 'em, right?"

"Yeah. He travels around all the time. Guess he's home a few times a year, but, like you said, he don't live with 'em."

"She's all he's got. He don't want to screw that up."

"What about us? Him and me? Why's he willing to screw that up?" I asked with more anger than I intended.

"That's starting something new. And she's his mom. And you're new and scary."

I felt a sudden shock of realization. A piece of the puzzle slid into place, revealing a pattern I had missed before despite dad's words earlier.

"Fuck. Sure. Why didn't I even think about that? He's scared, and the only person he knows to go to is the one who's stopping it all! He can't just face it, he'd have to face it without his only support! His mom!"

I sat back, understanding coming in that moment.

"Not just without, against ! He can't do it. No way. It'd be like, like, like trying to save yourself from drowning by letting go of the life preserver!"

He nodded and put the burned-out bowl on the table.

"You see?"

"Fuck. Yeah, I see. I knew it wasn't gonna happen, but at least now I know why. And I understand why he... why so many things happened. Why he did some of 'em. It has to suck!"

"I bet it does. If you hate it, imagine how he would hate it."

"I don't want to. I don't want to even think about it. And now, now I know there's no way he's gonna call me. Not and say what I want him to. Shit."

I sat back into the couch and crossed my arms, deeply saddened. Tim was aware of that realization about Jeff, but only I knew of a startling one about myself.

Oh my fucking shit. I don't wanna hide it. I want somebody to be out with! I don't want to sneak around! I don't wanna pretend it ain't happening! I don't want to be sitting at school holding hands, or anything, no way! But I don't want to have to act like it isn't happening to my family. Or to the guys. To anybody who even wants to know! And not without mom and dad knowing. I don't want to sneak it around them at the house, and how could Jeff? In their small apartment?

Once that piece had found its proper place, it led to my finding the next one.

From Jeff's side, it looks like I won't be with him if he won't be out! At least to his mom! I kept pushing him to tell her! So does Todd, but he don't know! To Jeff it looks like everybody is fine with it, but him and his mom. His mom, who he always got his support from. The person he learned everything from, leans on so much for everything, and I'm trying to make him tell her something she would hate!

Those pieces in place, backing to see the image, I saw how it changed.

I could've snuck around with Jeff, it just our secret, before mom and dad knew. Or told me they already knew, I mean! Fuck. I wanted that, then. Before I knew the guys knew I'm gay, even, I could have snuck around with Jeff before, but it wouldn't have been as fun. I even knew that then, but now, now I don't even want that. If it has to be sneaky, or we have to pretend it ain't goin' on, like me and Tom did, like me and everybody else, then no. Pretending it ain't, even though they all fucking know? Even keeping it totally secret? No. No, then I'd rather just be friends. All or nothing. Real or no fake. The genuine thing, or no thing. Nothing. Just nothing.

"I'm sorry it makes you feel worse. But, truth is truth."

I knew he could see the changes in my body language and expression, and that he could tell that I was sliding down the emotional ladder as well. I also thought of how he had no idea of the further pieces the one puzzle piece he had given me had revealed. I was silent a moment longer, admiring the new gifts, before I nodded at him and offered a silent toast, downing the rest of my beer.

"Actually, Tim, thanks. You made sense of it. I get it. And I get his side of it. I never knew so much. But, damn!"

"It doesn't really help, does it?" he asked, retrieving another round of beers.

"Yes. No. It don't. But it, it does help to know it, somehow. Thanks. You're a true font of wisdom."

He opened his beer as he sat, taking a long drink from it. I had already cracked mine, and was still taking my first, even longer drink from it.

"Easy, bud. You got a long ride home. When you want that pizza?"

"I'm not sure I even want pizza! Thanks, honest, but, no thanks," I said with a grimace.

"Cool. I can dig it. We can cook up His Majesty, though. Want some more music? I like the tapes from yesterday," he asked, standing and walking toward the stereo. "You got good taste in oldies. Some of them are just so boring, but you picked the good ones," he said, changing the tape. The Lovin' Spoonful's, began singing "Do You Believe In Magic."

"You know, that merta? I said to always half it? No more than that added to regular stuff?" When I nodded, he went on with, "Tonight, I want you to smoke a doobie of nothing but that. Got me? Soon as you get home. After parents and dinner and whatever. When you're in your room for the night but not bed yet. But not late! Got me? No later than say, ten. Okay? Is that gonna work?"

"Sure, about eight'll be cool. Why?"

"I think you need a vacation," he said simply, ginning in a particular way.

I trusted him more then than I had ever before, and I trusted his advice.

"Okay. Will do. Probably sleep till the alarm goes off?"

"Yeah," he said with a snicker. "But smoke it until you do forget it. Don't just put it down after a few hits, okay? Put on a good album with your headphones. Or a good movie. Lay back and puff that bad boy and take the night off."

I knew that snicker, and I knew there was more to it, and I looked forward to finding out.

"Thanks for asking me in the Circle. The guys are pretty cool. And they know how to have fun. Your party really was fun."

"I'm glad got you in. We should have sooner. You deserve it. Even if just for the pot, but for, being my friend. And now the guys know you, too. So that's cool. And when you get back, who knows, we might still be around, and the Circle might still be together."

"You think it won't?"

"Who knows? We'll all be graduated, except the twins'll be seniors. Who knows? College? Jobs? Who knows?"

"Huh. At sixteen I thought my friends were going to be around forever. A while anyway. Don't know if I really thought about it or not, though."

"Yeah, well, I kinda know it's not like that. That's what kids think. That your friends will always be your friends, they'll always be around, and always this and that forever."

"Kids, huh?"

"Yeah, why?"

"You're sixteen and a couple days."


"You don't think that's a kid still?"

I snickered, then asked, "You think I'm a kid?"

He laughed.

"You're right there. You ain't been a kid since I knew you."

"Nothing is forever."

"You know lots of those sayings, huh?"

"More than I can count. And they're almost all true."

"When did you get so old?"

I knew when, down to almost the second, but I wasn't ready to tell him that. Not yet. I secretly patted the brown clasp-envelope next to me and visibly shrugged.

"Yeah. I didn't never think of that stuff until, maybe last two years. Never at sixteen, I don't think. Sixteen. What a weird time, what I remember. It was so, like everything mattered as much as anything could possibly matter. Even the smallest thing could make the whole world seem to turn against me. Or so I'd think sometimes."

"Yeah. I know what ya mean! So, like it's all such a big deal! Until you really think about it. Whatever it is, is it really that big a deal?"

"Yeah. I was thinking you needed to learn that when you ran out of here after the first time stories at your party!"

"Gawd! That was fucking so embarrassing!"

"You freaked everyone when you walked out, you know that? Tom went white. He shot up and ran to the door before the rest moved."

"If you're gonna say he's gay again, and that proves he loves me, I'm gonna get pissed," I said with a smile.

"Nah, I won't. But it shows he thought of it first. You can't say he don't love you in his way. Friend or more, or whatever," he said sternly.

"Yeah. Okay. I can't say that. He's cool. I'd hate thinking what my life would be without knowing him, ya know?"

And I did hate thinking about that enough that I immediately changed the subject back to the party, and we laughed and joked for hours after that. Sex with Tim went through my mind several times, but we were having a good time, as friends, and he didn't seem too interested in it either. I was surprised I was happy with it that way, before I felt even happier that I did feel happier with it that way.

The last hour went by quickly, and I hated to leave, but I didn't want him to get into trouble for having company. As five o'clock arrived, we talked of writing each other. He promised to call after his training, when he was home for a month. I made sure he had my phone and address several times.

I picked up the clasp-envelope.

"What is it?"

"Something stupid," I answered.

"Not. Alex, you can't lie for shit."

It wasn't that I had changed my mind about sharing Toby with him, it was that suddenly it felt so exposing.

"What?" he asked again.

"Fine. I wanted to show you something. It's stupid. I don't know what I was thinking about. It's just... "

Tim waited for me to continue, and when it was probably obvious that I wasn't going to, he punched my shoulder again.

... so horribly embarrassing! You're my pot dealer! You're my friend, yes, and now a member of the Circle, but... but what? Really, but what?

"Why does it matter?" I challenged him, wanting to share Toby again, just curious why he was so curious.

"I, you wouldn't believe it anyway," he said, apparently deciding not to tell me. He sighed, then looked upward before saying, "So why not? I dreamed you brought a friend today. Last night. And I didn't think about the dream until I saw the envelope. Then I remembered it suddenly."

"Tell-me-about-the-dream," I said with great immediacy. Then calmer, purposely much slower, "I really like hearing about dreams."

He looked suspicious, but obviously decided against pursuing it.

"Just not much. Like an impression, more. Like a, just a thought about the dream. You had a friend with you is all."


"Never saw, I don't think," he said, looking puzzled.

"I brought a friend and you never saw him?" I asked him disbelievingly.

"Sort of. There was a feeling like he was here, like you did bring somebody, but I don't remember anything in the dream where he talked, or you talked to him, or I saw him, but he was there, damn it. Like in a dream, ya know?"

"I know. I so know!"

And I was sure that I did indeed know. I shivered, but it was a weird, good kind of shiver. It wasn't cold and chilling, more rolling and warm. I sighed and smiled.


"I guess I did bring a friend. It's a picture and a letter from Toby."

"Oh. Shit. You were gonna show me that?"

"Yeah. Stupid, huh?" I said, blushing and watching my feet.

"Fuck no. I, it's kinda cool. I mean, I'm honored! I know he's, was your first boyfriend. And the guys during the party, well, it's no secret. But, that you wanted to show me his picture, and that letter, that's, that's cool."

"Really? And you even heard about the letter?"

"A letter he wrote. And that you didn't wanna make a deal of it. I always wondered, ya know?"

I considered asking just how he had ever heard of any letter associated with Toby, but I not only really didn't care, I was sure that I knew.

"Would you, wanna, like read it?"

"Fuck yeah! Show me?"

I rolled my head on my shoulders, sighed and pulled open the envelope. I handed the letter to him and sat back on the couch as he read it, thinking of Toby, and not feeling so terribly sad.

"Wow. That's, like, that's so, I don't know. He loved you so much, it's obvious! Show me what he looked like?"

"Sure," I said, trading the letter for the photo.

I warmed, feeling good about sharing Toby with him.

"Fuck. No wonder. That hair is cool. And he's got a nice smile. Dimples, even. His eyes are like, forest green, too. He's fucking sharp!"

"Yeah, he was the guy I told you earlier, that killed himself because his school coach was making him, do stuff."

"Yeah, sorry."

"It's okay. You didn't have anything to do with it. Up to not long ago it really hurt to even think about him, or that, but, I don't know. It's better now."

"Time heals, so they say," he said, handing the photo back.

"You know some of those sayings too, don't ya?," I said, nodding at him.

"Sorry you lost him."

"Yeah. So am I. But, well, it wasn't meant to be any longer than it was. Fate decided that before we even met."

"Now you believe in fate, too?"

"Sure. Karma, fate, destiny, whatever you want to name it. Some design we follow, like it or not."

"Some being deciding what you're life is going to be before you're born?"

"Maybe more like some design that's influenced by the designs around it, pushed and pulled, bent and curved and straightened out as all the others around it weave around and about. We follow it along our lives. We can change it by pushing or shoving it around, but mostly is like train tracks we roll along."

After a pause, Tim slapped me on the back and said, "I'm glad you came to buy from me. You've been a good customer, I think a good friend, too. You gave good advice when I asked for it, and I think I learned a lot from knowing you. I'm glad we met."

"Me too, Tim. You taught me to read people. And see that kind of stuff. And all the music! Oh shit! I can't even begin to thank you for all the cool tunes and bands you showed me!"

"Eh, just learning new stuff from a new person is all."


"You better go before they get home. Don't forget, I'll put His Majesty and some stuff in the blue box under the other stuff in the garage. Get it when you can, okay?"

"Yeah. I won't forget."

"Oh! And your tapes! Jeff might like 'em back. Or you."

"I gotta carry all this pot and my envelope as it is!"

"In the box in the garage'll freeze 'em."

"Yeah, damn."

"I'll keep 'em here and maybe Jon can come by and get 'em."

"Cool. So... "

"Yeah. So... I'll be at grans in three days, then back here in three months. Almost four. Not so long."

"I can put a lot of this in the freezer that long, right?"

"Sure. It'll kinda keep. We can try it out, but Billy better have the dank or I'll strangle him. He knows some of the guys I got from, and he should always have it."

"I'm gonna miss you."

"Me too."

I slipped him a Circle shake, and he did pretty well considering he only had a day to practice, and not even a whole day. I wondered if he had practiced with Tom as they got things together for the van and the party. It didn't matter all that much anyway, I figured. I left him, feeling that sense of deep loss again, but not in such a horrible way as over Jeff. Or Toby.

Outside there was a strange pickup in the driveway, and as Tim followed me outside wearing only sandals and shorts, I wondered what the hell was up. When Tim grabbed my bike and nodded at me to follow him, I became nervous. I walked up the the driver's side of the truck, near Tim, who had by then put my bike in the back of the truck.

"Alex, this is my cousin Terry. He's gonna give you a ride home. I told him a buddy was coming and would probably need a ride home. He'll make sure you get home. After the beers and weed, I'm not letting ya ride home."

"Heya, Alex. If Tim needs someone driven a few miles, no problem. I guess you're a customer?"

I nodded, mostly surprised, but still rather worried.

"Don't worry, Alex. He's cool."

Tim nodded, so I smiled and said thanks.

During the ride, I met another stoner, and another guy to get pot off of. Terry was nearly thirty, at least, and skinny. He was barely more than skin over bones; very tanned skin, brown eyes, and his brown hair was unremarkable. He wasn't hot, but he wasn't ugly, and I did peek and notice things.

At home, I dodged past my parents with a coat full of pot, and more in my pockets, saying that I had to write something down before I forgot. They knew about the journals, and I suspected they had taken a few peeks from time to time, and I did have plenty to write down. First, though, once up in my room I picked through the haul of pot, putting most of it into the huge baggie and stashing it in the biggest secret of my room; the one not even Tom or my parents knew of.

At my desk, after placing the precious clasp-envelope back into the footlocker, I played with the various strains, noting the differences in color, texture, smell, moisture, sizing, seeds, and compression. I rolled a joint out of the strange merta weed as Tim had directed. Instead of hitting it until I forgot it, which I knew good weed could do, I hit it repeatedly while continuing to write in the journal.

I should try to tell him some time, what all gifts he gave me. Shit. Even trying to list them is a pain in the ass. It keeps getting longer. Pot, all the fucking pot! Then the van, reading people's body language and faces and voice changes. And then all the neat new music he showed me. He even changed my music tastes some! Then helping me figure out how Jeff has a hard thing going. Plus how Jeff sees it, I think. How I don't want to be secret with him, and he wants to be secret to everybody. And that I want somebody to be out with! I don't want to sneak around with Jeff. I want it real, and in front of the people it matters, or we can just be friends. Then there's that not everything is as important as it might seem right then as it happens, sometimes we blow things up in our own heads. Oh! And watching where my eyes roam! That's a big one! And that just because you're popular don't mean you have friends.

Thanks Tim!

I took another few hits from the joint, saluting Tim, then laid it down to take a shower and changed clothes.

It was much later, after one of the longest showers I don't remember taking, dinner, and small talk with the parents, then back up in my room, that I saw it on the desk and remembered it. I hit it once or twice during "The Voyagers," but was so disappointed by the second commercial break that I turned to "Ripley's Believe it or Not." It passed the time, and I forgot the joint again. I watched "CHIPS"next, but was again disappointed and switched to "Archie Bunker's Place." It grew on me from that night on, becoming a regular early Sunday night show of mine. "Gloria," next, sucked, so I flipped through the still creaky-new Dungeon Master's Guide for that half hour, puffing the doobie once as I got started.

It wasn't easy to think of D&D without thinking of getting Jeff started in it, but I managed without dwelling on it at least. "The Jeffersons" and "One Day At A Time" kept me laughing, as usual, then it was time for the shows I never missed if I could help it, the PBS shows; "Benny Hill," "Fawlty Towers," "Monty Python," "Doctor Who," and finally, "Dave Allen At Large." I could almost always forget any problems while I watched those shows.

I always rolled and fired one up for the PBS late night lineup, and I put flame to tip of that merta doobie as the opening credits of "Benny Hill" began, grinning in anticipation, and intending to smoke it until I forgot it and other things. It was the jazzier, flashier, gaudier opening from the later seasons, and one I was sure I hadn't seen yet. I settled into bed, hitting the joint with every one of Benny Hill's goofy facial expression.

The first couple of skits and my laughter at them were all I ever remembered of the entire night...

... except for the dream.

Monday: Confrontation