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The Circle

Chapter 8

Tuesday Night: The Van Party

Toby was gone. I didn't want to sit there on my birthday and remember that, but I had. That was six months ago, and it was nothing I wanted in my mind right then. I suddenly wanted to get back out to the garage and my friends, my party, and my van.

I headed back out to enjoy the party with my friends. As I was about to open the door to the garage, I suddenly realized what my mom had really said to me that night.

"Love is that way. No matter who you love."

I was actually stuck in mid-stride, reaching for the door handle, motionless, like an actor in a bad sci-fi movie who had been hit by a freeze-ray. Instead of finishing the movement to the door knob, I backed up to the chair and sat down.

More than six months ago! I thought about that in my head a thousand times, hearing mom's words, but never her meaning! Even then my parents knew! They knew about me and Toby! Obviously!

They knew about me and Toby over the summer! Did they know about last summer, too? Oh my gawd! They would have to know by now! By now they'd of figured that out, even if they didn't know before! And they think Tom is my second boyfriend!

I performed another bad movie cliché; I gasped and grabbed at my chest. I was surprised I did it, and I didn't know why. My heart was pounding alright, but nothing like it had when mom and dad had talked to Tom and I before the party. It wasn't as fast, but it did beat at least as hard.

Holy shit! And I thought I had been totally secret about Toby from mom and dad! I knew Tom had figured it out, but not anyone else! That's why I told him as much as I did. Tom knew without me telling him. Now obviously so did at least mom and dad, so who else knows?

My eyes shot to the garage door.

My friends, nearly all of them, are out there right now, and I have no idea who knows what!

The idea frightened me so much that I began to figure out ways to not have to go back out to the party. I had come up with a couple good excuses to get away when I thought how stupid I was being.

It's my sixteenth birthday party! Sure, someone else might know, but if they do, they do. They're here, so it means they don't care. If they even know, that is. If they don't know, it don't matter to 'em, right? So what if they know. And that's a huge if! And if they know, they're here, anyway, right? Wait, right? Why do I care so much if they know about Toby?

Suddenly I felt incredibly guilty. I was denying what I felt for Toby. He meant more to me than that. It hurt that I was worried my friends might know about him. Suddenly I wanted them to know. I felt like I had to tell them all about Toby. In the space of one single heartbeat my entire mindset on my relationship with Toby changed dramatically.

When the time seems right, when the opportunity strikes, I'm going to mention Toby, and what he was to me - is to me - and make it all clear to everybody. One person at a time, or whomever was around when it felt right. Jeff first, if I kept the guts to have that private, long talk with him. Not mentioning Toby, denying him to my friends, pretending it was nothing, that was diminishing him, not falling in love with someone else. I was the only one who could do that, who could make Toby seem less to me. And I'm not going to let that happen, I decided.

And Jeff made it! He fucking made it! He not only made it, he brought a cool gift! And he's changed some. He'd never have said that to Ry before! I wonder if I like it. I don't know if I like how big, and powerful, and strong, and solid he's getting, though. He seemed so cute and cuddly before, but I could still hug him so hard he broke into a million pieces!

And there I am again, getting totally faggy over Jeff! Stop it! He's not like that, he don't deserve you thinking like that about him! He's a fucking great guy! He came! I can still have him as my friend!

I suddenly felt right, sitting there with the sounds of my friends laughing and listening to music in the van. My van.

I knew again then that I could hold onto Toby as long as I wanted to, and having another someone to love wouldn't diminish his memory to me. Jeff or anyone else. Only time could do that, or my denying what he was to me.

I headed back out to my van, my party, and my friends.

We chatted, laughed, listened to music, and had a great time. The guys wondered over the sink, and soon figured out how the pump faucet worked after locating the five gallon plastic tank in the cabinet underneath. We talked about how easy it would be to fix all the inside lights, and get them working again. How new seats, or at least covers, would go a long way in improving the insides. How the black and red upholstery everywhere was cool. And eventually, who would get the first ride and, of course, who would get the first ride in the bed.

I knew that was going to come up sooner or later. After the disaster between Jeff and the twins, I expected it would take longer. I hoped that the guys took it easy on me, or, at least, easier than my parents had done earlier! Eric and the twins agreed that Marie would probably be the first to use the bed with me.

"Hey! I don't think Marie is going to be the first, but that isn't any of your business, anyway," I warned. "Besides, the way Eric is humping the bed, he's going to be the first, and it will be all alone in about one minute!"

All the boys laughed, except the target of the joke, who blushed violently, nearly matching his red hair, and sat up, saying, "Yeah, well, the way you and Tom are going at it, he'll be the first back here with you!"


The barrier had been broken. Eric had discussed the forbidden. Tom and I, both in the front seats, were silent. The others started making various, "O-o-o!" noises, followed by a few more seconds of silence.

"Ain't nothing you didn't do, too!" I said, almost yelled, at Eric.

I had meant it to sound strict and stern, but it came out like a weakling threatening a bully.

"Sorry, I didn't mean it," Eric said, downbeat.

"Not like we don't all know," Jeff replied in the following silence.

"What?" Tom and I exclaimed simultaneously, without a thought of a perdiddle.

"I said, it's not like we don't all know, anyway," Jeff repeated, slightly louder.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

I could feel, not only hear, my heartbeat hammering in my chest. I could feel my pulse in my neck as I heard it roaring in my ears. I looked over at Tom, who was as red as anyone had ever seen him. Neither of us knew what to say, or do, or how to react to try to save any shred of innocence. I locked eyes with Tom, who looked as if he had just seen his own heart ripped from his chest and devoured by some monstrous entity.

I waited for Jeff to tell everyone that I had made a move on him, had groped and molested him two weeks ago.

"But, forget it. I have the feeling Tom and Alex aren't doing anything we all ain't done at some time or another," Jeff finished.

More silence with some nervous coughing.

"Hey, this is a party, not a funeral! So, who cares if Tom and Alex are having some fun? I know what you two get up to," Jeff said by way of shifting the topic away from Tom and I and onto the twins.

"You don't know crap!" Brent declared defiantly.

"I know all about the notches, and the numbers," Jeff hinted, using his sneer that I thought was as cute as anyone human being could sneer.

Both twins snapped their head toward each other in surprise, mouths agape; they had never looked more alike.

"Notches? Numbers? That sounds interesting," Eric said, leaning forward, rubbing his hands, obviously hoping to hear some juicy gossip.

"None of your business, carrot-top!" Brent said loudly.

"And none of our business, about Alex and Tom," Ryan said, seemingly surprised, apparently understanding what Jeff had meant earlier.

"So, just forget it," Jeff stated, placing his hand out for a group swear. "What anyone does with anyone, is their business, and none of any one else's," Jeff declared.

"Like then, like now, like always," all of us swore.


True to their word, my parents never came in, but did knock loudly and open the kitchen door to shout over the music for Jeff and Todd later. Jeff climbed out and came around to the driver's window, motioning to me to lean out.

"Your mom is probably having some coffee, you don't have to leave already . . . "

"Al, I'll see you Friday, as soon as mom can get me here."

"Why don't you just ride home on the bus with . . . Tom and me?"

I stumbled over the words, the idea of riding the bus seeming strange.

"'Cause Todd is coming, dumb-ass, so mom's giving us a ride. And, uh, I've got something to do before I come over. And, I, uh, got something to say to you Friday night. It's gonna be hard, and all, but, yeah, the guys all have to hear, too," Jeff said, looking down at his shoes.

"What?" I asked, getting worried.

Our eyes met and I felt that swimming feeling in my guts again. It was as if I knew him, as if I had known him for my entire life, as if we had known each other for all our lives, many lives, over and over.

Those beautiful blue eyes, I thought, once again staring into them. Gawd, I love those eyes. Why do I have to be such a fag? If I wasn't, then the last two weeks I could'a been lookin' at 'em instead of hiding from 'em.

"Don't sweat it. Just something. You'll see," Jeff said with a forced grin.

"Gee, now I'm not worried, at all!" I said, rolling my eyes to make him laugh.

"You'll see, just wait. Gotta go, see ya," he said softly after the chuckles, then more loudly to be heard over Santana, "Bye guys, see ya later!"

"Later birthday boy! Hope you get your spankings later!" Todd teased.

I gaped, open-mouthed at his daring. He was too far to catch, I knew, but Jeff slammed the back of his head with the palm of his hand for me, then threw me a nod and a grin. The rest of the guys all called out their goodnights as I watched Jeff walk toward the door.

Why do I have to like him? Why do have to be fucking queer? Why am I fag? And why do I like guys who I can't have? And how can I be friends with Jeff and not want him? Can I? I so want to! I want to just be a guy and have fun with him if I can't have anything more.

I shook my head as Jeff closed the door. I returned my attention to the smaller party. Eric left in twenty minutes, the twins following shortly, but not after an offhand remark about leaving the two love-birds alone.

"See, that's why I don't wanna do it anymore," Tom explained when it was just the two of us. "Bad enough they tease us about it, now I know they know," he continued, looking truly disturbed over it.

"I . . . yeah, they do," I admitted, feeling guilty and a bit down about it.

Each one of the guys who had just left had done something with me at some time or another. Some more than others, some a few times, others quite a few times. It wasn't like they were innocent, it was just that Tom and I were an ongoing thing, and they knew it.

"It's not that I don't like it, man, I really do! And I like to do it, I just, don't want to confuse it with girls," Tom tried to explain yet again. "And I don't want what they tease us about to be real. I guess it already is, sorta, but, not really. And I don't want it to. Is that okay? Do I make any sense?"

He did. I knew what he meant, but it wasn't what I wished I could hear from him. He liked messing around, enjoyed the sex, but he didn't want to be boyfriends. He didn't want kisses, or hugs, or cuddles.

"It's okay with me. I don't want them to make fun of me, either. I think I'm going to tell them, soon, anyway" I said sadly.

"Really? When?"

"Maybe, Friday. Jeff said he has something important to say then. So, I think I'll tell the guys, if there's a chance. And don't worry, I'll keep you out of it, make it clear you aren't my boyfriend and there ain't nothin' goin' on, ya know? And I'm telling 'em about Toby."

"Yeah. Thanks. Hey, wait! Did you say you're gonna tell 'em about Toby?"

I nodded solemnly.

"Wow. Cool. And, uh, man, Jeff, about that, I know what he's going to say, and I promised to not say anything. I guess, lucky, I never swore to it. He never asked me too, either. So, I guess I can, I should, tell you, man."

"No. He mentioned it and said to not worry, so I won't. He didn't want to tell me, so I don't want you to tell me," I said, meaning it.

"It's okay. He didn't tell you because he didn't want you to think on that instead of your party."

"Is that all?" I asked, wanting to know, but not if Jeff didn't want me to know for some other reason.

"Yeah, I'm sure. Look, Jeff, he wants to tell us all, and I found out from Todd, that they're moving."


"They're moving end of the school year. His dad's been there all year, you know, and his job offered him more money and a promotion to stay there. His mom told them last month," Tom explained.

"Last month?" I asked as another piece of the puzzle fell into place.

"Yeah. He's been wanting to tell you before everybody else, but things haven't been right I guess. He says he tried a couple times, but he ended up not."

"Fucking moving? You sure?" I asked.

Tom pulled his head back and looked at me sideways before saying, "What the fuck you mean? I'm making it up?"

"Forget it."

"And you got the rest of the year, ya know? You can get in his pants by then," he said with a grin, meaning no harm.

I threw a backhand punch at his shoulder, but got blocked.

"Well, anyway, we need to act more, I don't know, more something around people. The old guy at the store knew. He said his son was, so he could see, but still."

"Less something. Less faggy. Sorry," he added.

I stretched over the engine cover and acted like I was going to punch him. Tom bunched up his fists and made defensive motions with them.

"If you apologize one more time for using faggy, gay or somethin', I'm gonna kick your ass!" I said, smiling, still trying to find an opening to get my fist through.

"Well, if you weren't a poof, I wouldn't have to apologize for you!" Tom shot back, taking a punch at my extended shoulder.

"Well, if you weren't so cute, I wouldn't have the hots for you!" I laughed.

The mock fight ended shortly thereafter, when dad knocked and said, "Almost ten. I think Tom should be heading home."

"Okay!" I shouted back. "See ya on the bus tomorrow," I said, roughly tousling Tom's sugar-bowl haircut.

"You really back on the bus?" he asked.

I nodded.

"Thank God. And, did you notice something?" Tom asked, nodding toward the still closed door to the house as he flattened out his hair.

Tom's face wore a serious expression, the laughter and smiles gone.

"What?" I asked, looking where Tom had indicated, but seeing nothing but the closed door.

"The door. He didn't open it. He shouted through it, never opened it," Tom explained.

"So?" I asked, not understanding, and still smiling - for one second. Then, suddenly, meaning dawned on me, and my smile faded to a look of surprise. I looked back at the door, then at Tom, back at the door, back at Tom. "You fucking noticed! You notice, like, everything, don't you? Do you really think he thought we were, uh, you know?"

"Yeah. I see a ton of stuff. Stuff most people just don't notice, all the time. And I don't know what he thought, or thinks, but he didn't open the door, did he?" Tom answered with his snide half-grin.

"He did open it the other times, for when the guys rides got here, didn't he? When there's others or a bunch over," I said quietly, looking at the door. I swung my head to look at Tom and said, "So, you noticed me looking at the van? And this," nodding toward the door. "What else?"

"That Jeff still draws your eyes like magnets. That you notice Jeff all the time. All the guys, too, but you like stare at Jeff sometimes."

"Wow. I'm obvious, ain't I?" I asked, tightly stroking the steering wheel, staring ahead out the windshield.

"No, you're not. Really. Berry is," Tom said quietly.


"Berry. Marie's last boyfriend? He's obvious," Tom said surely.

"What? But, he like fucked Marie and blabbed all over school about it. And he's always got a girl!"

"Yeah, he did, didn't he? Made sure everyone knows about it, too, didn't he? And he only did it once with her. And I  he almost always has a chubbie in the showers, and he checks guys out, and he spends a lot of weekend nights at home with Larry Sanders. And Larry spends a lot of time at his house when Berry's parents are out of town. Just them. No parties, no crowds, no team mates. Just them," Tom finished.

"How the hell do you know?" I asked. "Been keeping an eye on him?"

"Since he started dating Marie. I like her, but I didn't like him. And Berry's house is on our way to school. If you just looked, you'd seen the same things when we rode past, or on weekends when we went to the mall or parks. We go past all the time."

"Jeezus. You should be a detective! You are Sherlock Holmes! Why don't you have good grades, Tom?"

"You know I hate school. And the classes. And just sitting there! Like a prison! I can do the stuff they teach, I just hate the tests. And the way they treat us. I hate it all," Tom said with noticeable anger in his voice.

"Wow, dude, I know you hate school, but, not that much. Just do better on tests and up your grades a bit. At least so you don't get in trouble for today! What classes you miss to pull this off?"

"English and History. No biggie. I can almost ace the tests if I wanna. Won't be any problems because of today."

"No wonder skipping eighth didn't get me to the bookstore before you today."

"You skipped eighth? No wonder you saw me at the bookstore!"

"I knew I saw you there!" I declared in glee.

My follow up was halted, though, as a knock came on the still closed door, and we smiled conspiratorially at each other, motioning for silence and stealth. I left the van door open and waved Tom to follow as I stepped quietly to the door. I halted at the door as Tom arrived, and just after dad finished saying . . .

"Tom, Alex, time for Tom to go. It's ten o'clock and his mom just called. I don't want her to have to call twi-"

I whipped the door open.

"Okay, just coming. I'll turn off the radio, Tom. And your wallet is on my bed. I'll meet you upstairs and you can go home," I said, waving Tom through the open door. "Just be a sec, dad," I said to his upraised eyebrows.

I went back to the van, turned off the radio and pulled the keys out of the ignition. I thought of the secret compartment, and since the guys were all gone, I checked it. Inside was a sheet of writing paper. There was some writing on one side, obviously Tim's, judging by the sloppiness and the spelling. It started with my name.

Dad asked, "What is it son?"

"Just looking around," I said crumpling the paper and closing the compartment.

Dad couldn't have seen what I was doing, the compartment was behind the driver's seat, out of his line of sight. I held the crumpled note in my hand until dad was looking the other way, then pocketed it as I entered the kitchen. I ran upstairs and joined Tom in my room where the gifts had been piled on the bed by my parents.

"So, I guess this was one of the things on your mind when you thought there was a surprise party waiting inside?" Tom said, hefting his wallet.

"It was curiouser and curiouser," I intoned. "Your wallet in the drive, strange tracks in the snow, footprints all around the door, I mean, come on!" I said as I examined some of the items on the bed.

"Yeah, I was wondering what you would notice and not notice. I thought about that when I left your house after Tim and I dropped the van off. Your dad gave us rides back. Me to meet you at the store, Tim he took home. Must be when I dropped my wallet, getting out of the van before he backed it up the drive and in the garage. I worried the tracks would give it away."

"They sure didn't scream, van in the garage, or anything, but they didn't belong. Pretty slick, pulling all this off And, thanks, for everything! You were part of the best surprises. The van, the job, the books, thanks!"

It seemed that nearly every day I learned of more that Tom had done for me without my knowledge.

"Yeah, well, man, just don't get all mushy on me," he said, blushing as he pushed his glasses back up his nose.

"Yeah, I know, no gay stuff. You still want to stop?"

"We have to stop. I'm gonna start going out with Helen," Tom said a bit loudly.

"Ya, sure, you said that like two years ago when we started!"

"Ya, but, I asked her, and she said ya, and, serious, we're going out after I get my license," Tom revealed, not as happy as he should have been, I thought.

"Oh, fuck, cool!"

I was really glad for Tom. I had come to terms with the fact that soon Tom would no longer be playing around in that way. We had spent two years exploring, learning, teaching, experimenting with each other.

"Dude, thanks for the best birthday ever!"

"Well, if we had time I would make it even better," Tom said very softly. Then, much louder, "I still can't get over your parents, earlier!"

"I know! And I don't have to worry about it with them anymore, like with you all this time!" I exclaimed, overjoyed.

"Don't let the waterworks start in again," Tom advised as he held his hand out. "Happy birthday, Al"

"Thanks, Tom. You're the best friend any guy has ever had."

"And you're the best friend I've ever had. And I better go home before I get in trouble!"

The last was spoken very loudly as he walked to the door and the stairs.

"Yeah, guess you better get home," I over-emphasized too, playing along.

I suspected he was going to walk loudly downstairs, saying goodnight to my parents, close the front door, then sneak back up to my room. Instead, he stood waiting for me to join him at the stairs.

I went downstairs with him, talking about the presents. When we got to the bottom of the stairs, he stopped me at the door. It was obvious he was going to say something, so I waited. Instead, Tom rolled his eyes and punched my shoulder before opening the front door and walking out with a big grin.

There was nearly a foot of snow on the ground, and Tom stopped to quickly make a snowball that he threw at me. I closed the door enough to block it, and laughed with him as I swung the door open again.

There was no less than a foot of new snow, and the large, heavy flakes were still falling. It was enough snow to prevent school, and it was still coming down hard enough that the closest street lights were haloed, and the further ones dimmed to a faint glow.

"Probably no school tomorrow!" Tom yelled.

"Probably not!" I agreed. "You want to stay over?"

"Nah. Probably will be busy anyway. If not I'll call after breakfast and come over, maybe, okay?"

Okay? Maybe? Call? Call after breakfast?

"I WOULDN'T BE SURPRISED IF JEFF COULD OF SPENT THE NIGHT!" Tom yelled far louder than needed as he backed away from the front of the house.

He turned and walked away after a wave, so I closed the door, puzzled.

I know something is up, but what could it could be? He acted as if what he was saying was for everyone else around us. Like a show, a fake-out, a Circle prank. But there wasn't anyone else around us. My parents?

I turned to go up the stairs to my parent's bedroom door. It was open, mom sitting in bed with a book, dad just coming out of the bathroom.

In back of the house and upstairs, they couldn't have hard a thing, I knew. Not even the loud words upstairs in my room. I put it down as Tom being Tom, and messing around with my head. Again. I made a note to be prepared for some kind of prank coming from him.

I felt great, even with the threat of a Circle prank coming from Tom. Maybe that threat even helped with the good mood. But standing at my parents' bedroom door, I felt very warm, and not just physically.

 "You know, I told my friends tonight that I'm richer than any of the rich kids at school," I said, leaning against the doorframe, hands in pockets. "I got the best parents, the best friends, and the best life of anyone I know," I declared, trying not to cry. I wanted to be more adult than that, not their little kid. "I just wanted to say that, and thanks, again, for the van. And about Tom, and the grass, and trusting me, and not treating me like a kid. All the time, anyway."

The words had come out, unplanned. I knew that I wanted to thank them for the party, and perhaps hint at the gay issue, but I didn't know what I would say at first. I started to thank them, and before I knew it, I had said everything I had in the back of my mind. Nearly everything, anyway.

 "We still don't know what we did to have you turn out so well, Alex. You're already smarter in school than we ever were. You proved special when you started school and got mad at how simple the books were. You were special when you proved more adult at your age than we were at yours. And you still surprise us from time to time, too. And we love you, gay, straight, or somewhere in between. Just as long as you know what makes you happy and you go for it," dad said as he got into bed. "You just be careful!"

"Thanks. For the party, the van, everything," I said, holding back sniffles.

I wanted to mention their knowing I was gay, or about Toby, but they were too difficult to speak of. And too embarrassing. Just saying Toby's name was nearly as hard. There was a question to do with it that I did manage to voice.

"Um, can I ask you something?" After they waited in silence a moment, I continued, "Uh, when you were thinking about, uh, having that talk, uh, weren't you worried I might, like, I don't know, get hysterical or something?"

"Hysterical? Like how?" Dad asked, looking confused.

"You know. Fly off the handle. Go berserk. Wig out, man." I snickered the last.

"We've seen your hysterics. If you want to worry us about you having them, you'd better beef them up a bit," he said, grinning at me. "There's only been one time you acted, I don't know, hysterical. And we just couldn't see you having a fit over us telling you we knew."

"We worried you might go up to your room, and lock yourself in, but if you did that during your whole party, well, we figured we'd just tell the guys why, and let them go up and drag you out," mom said, explaining many things.

"So why? Why tonight, especially?"

"You'd never miss your party. You'd have a good time to spite us if we had gotten you angry at us. Yes?" he asked in his reasoning father voice.

I nodded, hiding the grin at least.

"Son. When I was your age, it was, harder for, well, they weren't gay then, they were queers. And one of them was a friend of mine. I didn't know it. He never told anyone until senior year, when he shot himself in the head and explained in his note. I didn't know about the note, nobody did, until years later. I was home from college and bumped into his mother in the store. We talked, and she said that she thought I should know then.

"He couldn't be blamed. Being queer in the fifties wasn't nearly the death sentence it was earlier, but he thought so, anyway. He could have told me. Honestly. I would have been surprised as hell, and maybe worried a bit, but I like to think that even then it wouldn't have changed what I thought about him.

"His note said that he was afraid to tell anyone. He told his parents in it, and he told them he couldn't disappoint them. And he couldn't ruin his friends lives by being found out and making us look bad as his friends. He couldn't live with it.

"Now, times are a bit different, but it's still a tough subject. I, talked with your mom, and we agreed, that we don't want you having to deal with it alone. I won't have you hurting like my friend was. I wanted that possibility removed. And we knew, hoped, and knew, that if we could help make it easier by bringing it up ourselves, then, we would.

"I, we, couldn't stand thinking of you being, having that on you. Alone. And us knowing would only have made it worse for us. We had to fight ourselves to keep it until today! There were several times we considered doing it sooner. But, with you all excited over today anyway, we hoped it wouldn't be that big a shock to deal with. And having your friends coming over, and having Tom right there, well, it was time."

"I wanted to tell you! I really did! But, I didn't, just didn't know how even. Or, where to start, or . . ."

My voice was shaking nearly as much as I was. While the talk in front of Tom had been more traumatic, and shocking, the conversation with them then was more intimate, personal, and much more difficult.

"Son, don't work yourself up over it for now. You need a break, I think. Just go upstairs and unwind. Try not to think about it. Okay?"

I nodded behind my grin of relief and said thanks.

"Love you, hun," mom said, blowing a kiss like she did for special reasons.

"I love you too, son."

"Good night, love you guys," I said, closing their door.

Talk about life changing days! Cripes! My parents fucking know! They fucking know and known and don't give a fuck! Fuck!

It seemed impossible. Not that they'd found out, just that they knew, and I was still in the house!

I still have my room! And a place to live, and parents, and food, and the real parties Friday, and Tom, and the Circle . . . just not Jeff. Not that way.

When I reached the stairs, and thought of Jeff, I slid my hands into the pockets of my jeans in a depressed kind of way. I felt the paper there and suddenly remembered the note from Tim that he had left in the secret space in the van. I pulled it from my pocket and read it as I climbed up the stairs, taking dad's advice and trying not to think about it too much, using the letter to do just that. I was dying to read it ever since I had found it anyway.

Tim's Note (.jpg image) 

 Wow, and I thought Tim was only desperate for sex! He really liked it. And me. And Billy would be supplying my grass from now on. That was better than Keith. I hate Keith. Keith always has a smirk and snide comment for me, almost as if Tim had told him how I paid for some of the baggies of pot. And Keith's creepy, like an ex-con, or a murderer in the making. Billy is cool and treats me like a younger kid, but at least it's in a friendly way. And Billy is probably the most honest of Tim's crew.

And the cutest, I thought. I wonder if I could make the same arrangement with Billy? Naw. Though Billy don't have a girlfriend . . . naw, no way. Billy would never go for that! That's why Tim mentioned the thirty bucks in the letter. Better not scare off your new dope dealer, I chided myself.

Tim's gone. Jeff is moving! When?!? I don't know when! Or where! Shit! Damn it, how could I not ask? Tomorrow! I'll find out tomorrow at school, from someone, somehow. All of it by lunch. Moving! Tomorrow I have to work in the bookstore after school! If there is school! I'm looking forward to it. And I have to help tutor in ninth period classes next week.

And the guys are so onto me and Tom. Nothing to do about that, now, I figured. It's so embarrassing, but what can I do? I've done something with all of 'em, and I'd do it with any or all of 'em again if they wanted. I liked it the most, obviously.

I'll straighten all the Tom stuff out Friday at the Circle party. I can make sure the guys don't think Tom's gay, anyway. And I can tell them I am. And about Toby. But mostly, about Tom. I have to make sure the guys know Tom and I only mess around a bit more than them is all. Why not? He lives next door. If any of the other guys lived next door we would probably do it as much as Tom and I did. Probably. Maybe.

I was sure that I had learned the difference between messing around with a friend and making love to a lover. Toby and I had been lovers, boyfriends, not just messing around like Tom and I, and the others, were. I didn't know what my friends thought, or even if they thought at all about Toby, but I felt that I had to tell them I was gay. It felt like I was lying to them by not telling them. It felt that I was hiding Toby from them, the best thing in my life so far. I wanted to feel that same relief I had felt after my parents' talk earlier, and that I got as I thought of it. That same sense of pressure relieved, of openness and cleanness. Honesty and acceptance. I needed those things. I began to believe that I could expect them from my friends.

Just then, I got yet another surprise as I topped the stairs and saw into my room.

Jeff was laying on my bed, facing me, drinking a bottle of soda. The image of him was so similar to one of Toby from that first summer almost two years ago, that for a moment I thought I was having a flashback or an hallucination. But it wasn't Toby, it was Jeff. And then I remembered Jeff laying there in the same position, too, not that long ago, on a night that was also one of the times my life had changed, and that had involved Toby.

For Toby