The Circle Squared - Book One: Squaring the Circle

by Smokr

Chapter 11

"Half-Penny Two-Penny"

Monday: Home

I rode home by tagging a tow from another delivery truck. At times I rode in the gutters along the side of the major roads, ignoring the honking horns and shouted advice having to do with anatomically impossible actions concerning the fate of my bike.

How I made it home without becoming a road waffle I will never know. Instead of thinking of the traffic around me or where I was going, I thought only of the events of the day. The words, "fucking faggot" and other such phrases were interlaced with images of Mr. B's cold expression as he'd told me I was no longer worthy of tutoring his students. Being elbowed and checked into the door frame by Kevin, who had been friendly before he knew I was gay, hurt considerably. The faces of those who left the table at lunch swirled with those of the ones who left the group in gym class. But the most painful, was that Jeff had moved further away at the breakfast table. The only good thing that I thought of was Erich in Chemistry class and his apology over what had happened in German class.

The welcome back party at the bike racks should have been a pleasant surprise, and I knew it, but it was only a sour final note in a symphony of horrors. The only bright spot I could hold onto from the entire day was the hope of being moved to Jeff's ninth period Civics class, and his surprise when I would walk into the classroom tomorrow.

I found it hard to believe that I wanted to torture him so. The idea seemed foreign to me, yet appealing. I figured that I was tired of his turning our being together into something awful that had to be hid, denied, covered up. I didn't think that being in a class with him would make him see how stupid he was being and suddenly come running to me, arms wide. Not at all. I hoped that it might force him to learn how to deal with it. I hoped that in time, maybe in a few days, he would get over it, see it as the stupidity that it is, and we could move on, together.

I turned into my driveway, huffing and puffing. After stowing the bike in the garage and making sure the door was locked so that Tom couldn't sneak in, I dragged myself upstairs and shed backpack, coat, gloves, and scarf. I was exhausted. My legs ached, my back ached, my ass was numb, my lungs burned, I was coughing and panting at the same time. A throbbing headache resided just behind my injured temple.

After sitting on my bed for a long time, trying to regain my breath between coughing fits and spitting up, I noticed that my jeans were soaked half way up the shins with salty, crusty slush. I pulled them off and sat back down, still breathing hard.

I don't even feel like jerking off, I thought in surprise. How fucked is that? Spent almost all of gym class with a hard-on from checking out the guys, and now I'd rather just do nothing. Too fucking tired, I guess. It was kind of freeing to be able to sit there and think about them like that.

I thought I'd feel freer once everyone knew about me. I did when I found out that Mom and Dad knew about me. How fucking releasing that was! And at the toga party at Tim's, when I realized all my friends knew, too. And then the fight. Admitting to Charlie Derek in front of dozens of kids felt freeing then. But now back at school, it's not freeing at all. It's confining. That's what I felt all day! I felt confined. Pinned down. Trapped. And watched.

So where's the freedom now?

I stumbled to my desk where the box still lay open from that morning. I rolled a joint made up of all the types of weed in the box, staying far away from the remaining merta; I wanted to get stoned, not obliterated. I puffed the joint slowly, holding the smoke for as long as I could before expelling it and immediately taking another hit. I turned on the stereo to my favorite rock station, The Loop, and started writing in my journal.

I concentrated on the good things, trying to forget the entire day at school, but I soon found myself recounting even those things to the pages.

T-O-B-Y

Tobes The Tobester
The Great Toberini

Tobias Matthew Anthony Cole

TMAC T-Mac T-Mack

Jeff and I could be together. Together! After like over two years of dreaming of it, it could be real now! It could be but it's not gonna be easy. Or simple.

He can't even just hang out with me and Tom. Yesterday proved it. He was all cool and nice and everything was normal until Tom walked in. Then he goes all stupid. Then I go all ape-shit. Maybe I went overboard. Maybe. But, fuck, it's Tom. How can he be paranoid about Tom knowing about us? How the fuck could I act normal if Jeff can't? I don't wanna be uncomfortable around Tom with Jeff. Tom deserves better than that. So I couldn't handle it. I threw Jeff out.

He's not the same Jeff I first fell for. Now's he huge, towering, hulking Jeff. But he's still nice! I fought with his mom so I could have it all with him, it was all or nothing. But he's got such a fucking hangup about the guys knowing. Even just Tom. And he can't even sit near me at breakfast. Cripes. How can he wanna be so in charge if he's really such a pussy? I could handle him being a wuss if it was the way he is, but not if he wants to act like he's strong when he ain't.

And then I go and blow Tom. I kick out Jeff and then blow Tom. I can't forget I gave Tom a blow-job last night, but I could try to not let it be a big deal. Like Tom is. Tom and me can be okay about it. Tom won't ever tell. If I don't, Jeff'll never know. It can be like it never happened.

But I'll know, I realized, hating myself more. I'll always know, and I'll always have to hide it. And I'll always have that back there bugging me. Won't I? Ignoring something doesn't make it better. Ignoring something won't make it like it never happened. So how can Jeff expect me to ignore how I treated him?

How can he act all normal even when he won't act normal at the breakfast table? Is he afraid he'll be seen sitting with me? Why else move?

Fuck.

Disgusted with myself and the whole situation, I slammed the diary closed, threw the remainder of the joint into the box and rolled another, this time of the potent merta. After lighting it, I sat on my bed and looked out the window, knowing that Tom would be walking into view soon. I wondered if he would stop at my house or if he'd go straight home.

If he stops here, do I answer the door? If? Of course he's going to stop here, and of course I've got to open the door.

I wondered for a very long time what I would do. I wondered how long I could deny what we had done - what I had done to him - to myself and to Jeff. I wondered how Jeff would react if, or when, he found out. I wondered if Jeff suspected, if Tom had said or done anything that made him suspicious.

I played the events after school with Jeff and Tom over and over, trying to spot anything that seemed out of place or wrong between him and Tom. Nothing stood out. I hoped and prayed that I hadn't missed anything, that there had been nothing, that Jeff was oblivious.

Jeff had been normal, too. He'd talked and acted as if I hadn't thrown him out of my room. He'd joked and grinned as if it had never happened. He acted as if he were still sitting across from me at the table in the mornings, too, as if I hadn't even noticed he'd moved.

I saw Tom walking down the sidewalk. He was looking at the house, up at my window. I knew he couldn't see me yet, and I knew that very soon he would be able to. I felt my heart beating harder in my chest in dread. I needed to decide what I was going to do. If I stayed where I was he would be able to see me very soon. If I didn't move, I couldn't hide from him.

And why should I hide? He knows I'm home. Fuck. Plus I don't feel like being alone, anyway. And Tom might even cheer me up somehow. He's good at that. Or, he was when we could have sex. But what about now? Can he do it without us doing it?

Fuck. But I need to talk to him. If not about what we did, then about normal stuff. Or about what happened today in school. Or even about Jeff. Anything. I just need to talk, I guess.

Fuck it. I'm going down to the front door and letting him in.

When I stood, I luckily saw, or felt, that I didn't have any pants on. I grinned, remembering recent events involving hastily donned jeans. I shook my head and grabbed a pair of older, smaller jeans, and groaned against sore muscles as I pulled them on. Once they were carefully secured, I started down the stairs, my legs complaining and threatening to fold up under me. Thoughts of falling down the stairs occurred to me momentarily before they were replaced by thoughts of the gag the guys had pulled on me.

I still owed Tom for that prank the first night back from the hospital. I considered answering the door in my underwear as a partial payback, but quickly decided against it.

Eric and Kevin had acted as if they were fighting. They got physical and moved closer and closer to the stairs. The other guys all managed to block me from getting between them, even if I could have without being home from the hospital for the first day. I was kept back, gently man-handled and kept to the rear, as Kevin and Eric went down the stairs very noisily. It had sounded just as if they had fallen down them. All of the guys in my room, blocking the doorway, suddenly were saying how horrible it was, and how I had to go see what I could do. They were pushing me forward, and now I didn't want to see what had happened. I saw streaks of blood and twisted, broken limbs in my mind's eye long before I was pushed near enough to the stairs to actually see Kevin and Eric on the first landing down, holding back expectant grins.

Later that night, I had learned that Kevin's initiation into the Circle had been having to convince me that he and Eric were going at it, to make the fight and the accidental fall down the stairs believable.

As I made it to the front door, I opened it, smiling already in anticipation of not being alone and spending some time with Tom.

The front steps were empty. I poked my head out and looked around, and had just enough time to see him walking through his front door.

He must have almost ran, I though. He should have only gotten half way to Marie's front sidewalk if he hadn't stopped here, so he must have like ran past my house.

I almost called his name. The surprise of him passing by left me motionless and unable to do so. I closed my front door in near shock. I put my back to the door and slid down until I was sitting.

Feeling more alone than I had felt in a very long time, I put my head in my hands and refused to let any tears form.

Why'd he walk past? Did I piss him off or something?

I played the moments outside of school over again in my head. What I had said wasn't directed at him, or Jeff, but if I had heard Tom say the same thing, I would probably figure he didn't want any company. I saw why he had walked past.

I felt better, but still felt awful. The phone rang. I knew it was Tom. I ran to answer it.

"Hey?"

"Hey, man. So, uh, you still wanna be alone... or what?" he asked.

Without thinking, I said, "Hell no. Get over here. Okay?"

He hung up without saying another word.

I opened the front door and waited. In seconds he was out of his house and jogging over.

"Glad you're not doing the pouty alone thing," he said with a grin as he passed me.

"Well, being honest, I was, almost. I just don't feel like being alone, not really."

"So, Asteroids and a doobie?" he asked, taking his coat off.

"Sure," was my answer, following him upstairs.

I saw his ass in front of me, and instantly looked at my feet on the stairs instead, concentrating on making my sore muscles work for a little longer.

Fucking be careful what you look at and think, I reminded myself.

"If you're worried, man, don't be. Jeff don't suspect anything, and I won't say anything. And it isn't a big deal anyway. Ya know?"

"Yeah, I know. It's just... I shouldn't've. Ya know?"

"Yeah. But we did. And it's not a big deal. It's over, okay? Forget it."

Sure, just forget it. That way it'll be like it never happened, huh?

"Easy said," I replied with a snort.

"Hey, if it helps, I can tell him, and have him blow me. Make things even and all."

"The fuck you will!" I said, giving him a hard push from behind as we turned on the landing to the third floor.

When he was at the top of the stairs he turned around to face me and walked backwards into my room, saying, "I could tell him how I seduced you and you had no chance to resist and how sorry I am and how it's all my fault."

His grin was infectious, despite the horrible subject. I saw immediately what he was doing. I thanked him, then joined in.

"If you do, I'll tell Helen that you know how to put it in the back door without it hurting. And have a talented tongue."

His eyes widened and he froze in place for a moment.

"Man, that's harsh!"

"So keep your mouth shut and I won't have to ruin your chances with'er," I offered, still nearly out of breath from climbing the stairs.

"Oh, man. You're gettin' all bitchy on me!"

I laughed and shrugged.

"You know I wouldn't, right?"

"Yeah, I do."

And I did know that he was joking around. Even though we were talking about telling Jeff that I had cheated on him, I still felt pretty good, all things considered. Not only did I feel better about that particular thing, I felt better because I saw how Tom was trying to make me feel better. I knew again that I could always count on my knight in white linen.

"So, you gonna put this on that list of things?"

He smiled and said, "Man, I did really make that list. And this don't rank on it. So no."

"So when I get to see this list?"

"Maybe soon. I keep thinking of things to add to it, but I think I gotta be runnin' out of things soon."

We laughed about that list, making jokes about things that really didn't belong on it as we got comfortable and ready to battle out another Asteroids campaign.

"Man, need some head change," Tom said between blowing into the Atari game cartridge in hopes it would work first time.

I nodded and said, "Keep blowing, you're getting good at it," as I got the box from the desk.

He laughed and replied, "Yeah, well, you should be doing this. The game'd work for sure then!"

"No, if I did it, the game'd be too tired to work."

He laughed hard enough that his breaths into the cartridge were interrupted hopelessly.

"I swear, your voice gets any lower and I will start callin' ya Lurch."

"It's not that low," I protested, but heard for myself how low it had become, especially by comparison to what I was used to sounding like.

By the time I had the joint rolled, Tom had Asteroids working and was already on his fifth screen.

We played until Mom called upstairs, "Dinner's about ready!"

"Holy shit!" we said in unison.

"Guess I better get home," Tom said, slapping the pause switch.

"Okay. See ya after dinner. Got some homework to do but I can get it done while you take forever on your turns."

"Hey, I can't help it if I kick your asteroids."

I groaned at the old joke and tried to stand up. My legs complained, my ass joined in, then my back decided it would as well.

"Three hours!"

"No shit. And three joints."

Tom grabbed his coat and we went down the stairs side by side, laughing at old and stale jokes. After saying, "Sees ya," to each other at the front door I walked into the dinning room.

Suddenly the buzz seemed overwhelming. It had been nothing while playing Asteroids with Tom, but at the table with my parents it seemed to well up. I felt paranoid that they would chastise me for smoking pot on a school day instead of doing my homework and that they would be let down at my lax attitude toward my schoolwork. I dreaded that they would figure out that I had given Tom a blow-job and cheated on Jeff. I was terrified they would ask or know about the horrible events at school. Or that I had ridden my bike.

I felt heavy, ashamed, dark. The two of them chatted about news and such, often asking what I thought of some tidbit or item. I mostly shrugged. I didn't care what the actor-president had said about Russia, or what he had to say about anything.

"Hun, everything go okay at school today?"

If only she knew! I thought.

"Sure, why?" I asked as innocently as I could without overdoing it.

"You just seem, I don't know, quiet."

"Just a long day, is all," I offered.

"Something at school?" Dad asked.

"Yeah. Nuttin' big, though," I said, trying to think of something to explain my funk. I had no desire at all to tell them of the things that had been said to me, or the guys who hadn't been at the lunch table, or who had walked away in gym, or about no longer being considered safe or worthy to tutor civics, or any of the other events of the day. I was horrified at what they would say if they found out that I had ridden my bike to school.

They both kept it as normal as possible, and I noticed. Other than a reminder about the doctor appointment on Friday, the parents seemed willing to keep to topics that had nothing to do directly with me. After helping with cleanup, I was back upstairs and waiting for Tom to come back over.

I pulled my books from the backpack and had managed to get things in the order in which I'd need to work on them. Not liking to study in silence, I turned on the radio. The station started talking about the upcoming release of Kilroy Was Here. I listened intently, hoping to learn something new, but the disc jockey had nothing new to say, just the usual teases. I knew what day it was due out; I knew where to get it; I was just waiting, and hoping to hear another song from it. I turned up the stereo as they played "Don't Let It End."

I remembered hearing the song for the first time so recently, but before so many things had happened. I had been lamenting the strange and stressful situation with Jeff, hoping and wishing that he would remain my friend. And here I was again in much the same situation.

I sang along, but lower, in a key I could manage now. I had been able to sing along with Dennis then, but no longer, and that bothered me still.

But none of that stopped me from letting out my feelings by throwing the lyrics out in any way I could. Styx brought another beautiful song to an end, and another one that I knew would always mean something special to me. I had my eyes dried by the time Tom came back.

"Ugh! Fucking meatloaf, again!" he complained as he arrived.

"Yeah, well, Mom did that tuna casserole, so don't bitch."

"That's what that smell is!" he said laughing. "I was gonna suggest you change your shorts!"

More jokes, more grass, more rounds of Asteroids, and homework all equaled less time for me to dwell on Jeff, or what I had done with Tom just some twenty-four hours ago. While those things did pop into my head from time to time, I was able to dismiss them and not let them dominate my thoughts. However, while Tom flew his way through level twenty-something after I had finished my geometry assignment, a question kept nagging at me.

I turned it over and over in my head, trying to answer it myself. No matter how I looked at it, I couldn't come up with any reasonable answer.

"Tom?"

"Yeah?"

"Uh. How come you left right after I... uh, you know, last night, like you did, all shocked, but you're all cool and calm about it after?"

I was watching him when I asked, and I saw him try to hide how much that question disturbed him. His little triangular ship suddenly wasn't moving in smooth paths that led it from one rock to another.

"Well?" I pushed, expecting him to shrug the question off or answer with a joke.

He slapped the pause switch and put the joystick down. He turned to face me and swallowed.

"Al. When, it was... over, and I knew what happened, I panicked." He shrugged simply. "I didn't know what to fucking think. Ya know?" He shook his head a bit. "I mean, it was so awesome." He grinned. "And, it was so bad, too." He looked pained. "I didn't know what to think." He looked down at the floor. "I didn't. I just knew... it shouldn't have happened. That I shouldn't have let you. I... felt like I... like I'd, I don't know," shrug, "like I'd just done something really bad. And I did."

He paused, and I didn't rush him. I let what he said sink in and I examined it as I waited. I knew what he meant, and I understood how he felt and why he felt it. It made perfect sense.

"So, I just had to get away. Ya know? Had to. But, well, I get home, and I feel like shit for a while." He looked up and met my eyes. "But it didn't... I didn't see why we should feel bad about it. Ya know? I mean, so you blew me. You've done it a lot of times before. And we was so stoned. And it just, just happened." He ended with a shrug. "And Jeff don't have to know. And we don't have to do it again. And it was an accident. And I should've stopped you but didn't, and it was too late, and I wasn't gonna let it fucking screw you and Jeff up over it. So, I just had to let it be nothing. Ya know? If we made it something big then it would'a been something big. But if we just didn't let it be something all big, then it wouldn't. So I made it nothing. See?"

I did. Sort of. Once again he was able to moderate something and make it less than it could have been. He could pretend it had never happened.

"So I came over next morning tryin' to make it nothing. Figured if it was bothering you I could convince you it was nothing before we got on the bus. And if not, I could convince you not to say anything until we got alone. Figured the worse that would happen would be you and Jeff didn't talk for a day or two again if he found out, like you've done before over stupid shit. Just figured I'd get it sorted sooner or later."

He shrugged again.

It's like it's nothing to him. He can pretend like it never happened. Like I want the van and the fire to be, I realized with a shudder at the memory. More stirred in the back of my mind, but I didn't have the energy to devote to it.

I looked at him, at his black eyes behind his gold-rimmed glasses, his fair skin, black hair and faint eyebrows, his thin, red lips and round face. The emotions stirred again and I found myself wanting to hug him.

"What?" he asked suspiciously.

"Just, I wanna give ya a hug."

"Oh no! Don't start up!"

I laughed and said, "No! Just, want a hug."

He cocked his head to the side a bit and narrowed his eyes.

"Just watch your hands," he said with an even wider grin, offering one hand to me.

I took it in a cross-thumbed grip and threw the other arm around him. We hugged for a moment. Not nearly as long as I wanted, but long enough and tight enough to do me some good. We shook those hooked hands a bit after the hug and shared a smile together.

"See, you don't have to molest me every time," he said with a laugh.

"Bastard," I offered back with an equal grin.

"You are riding the bus tomorrow, right?"

He'd asked me that question far too much in the last weeks. Hearing it again threw many memories into the light. The horrors of feeling that I had pushed Jeff away grew imminent again for a moment. Those hours and days played out in an instant in my mind, leaving the image of myself in my head gibbering in a dark corner. I mentally backhanded that self, calling it a coward and forcing it to stand up and stop blubbering.

"Right, Knight. Don't worry about it. I was stupid to miss it today. I feel like I was a kid or something," I said, honestly feeling it.

"It was kinda dumb. I mean, if you'd answered the door, we'd a talked and got it cleared before the bus came."

"Probly. And I might'a fucked up the whole thing, too."

He said simply, "Doubt it. Now get dessert ready while I continue kicking your ass."

He looked me over for a moment before reaching for the joystick and slapping the pause switch.

We played and smoked for a while. I got most of my homework done. The phone rang.

"Hey, Alex," Jeff's low voice said. "So how's stuff? Tom get you back to normal yet?"

"'Bout as normal as I get, anyway," I answered.

"Good enough," Jeff said with a snicker.

"Yeah."

I suddenly wanted to apologize, but I couldn't see why I should. He'd acted stupidly as Tom arrived, worried about Tom knowing about us. He had moved at the table. I didn't see what I had to apologize for. But I did it.

"Nah, don't bother. I mean, I know why you got upset. I really do. Honest. But I can't help it. Okay? I really can't. I try, but, I... I just can't. And just forget it, okay? I deserved it. Just drop it, okay?"

Just drop it? Something else to just pretend never happened? Easy for him to say. He didn't know I gave Tom a blow-job after I made him leave. He don't have to deal with feeling guilty over that. I do.

I heard a great deal of pain in his voice. I felt awful that I had caused it. Then I realized that I hadn't caused it. Not directly. And I suddenly didn't want to cause him any further hurt. Or discomfort. Especially not in school.

"Hey, would you freak if we had a class together? I mean, how would it be if we did have a class together?"

"All the times we tried to have a class, and never got one. Ya know?"

He paused, and I could tell he was thinking about it by the slight humming I heard from him.

"I guess it'd be weird, huh? I mean, would we sit together or not? If we did, shit, it'd be even weirder. Damn. Guess I'm glad we didn't get a class together!"

He sounded happy, and I wanted to, but it took a great deal of effort to do so. I wasn't happy at his answer at all. It was entirely possible I would be walking into his class tomorrow, and I knew he would be uncomfortable about it. And I saw why he would. I even saw that I might well be, too.

Do I tell him? I wondered. Fuck. If I don't tell him and I just walk in tomorrow he'll probably freak. Especially now after I brought it up! Why did I do that? Dumb-ass!

My right eye blinked and my right hand almost dropped the phone.

That's getting to be a real pain, I thought, and again briefly wondered where it came from again before concentrating on the matter at hand.

Better tell him, I figured.

"Well, uh, Mr. B and I had a problem today," I started off and paused.

"Who?"

"Uh, my civics teacher. Ninth period."

"Oh." His voice was flat, and I could tell easily that he made the connection immediately. "What kind of problem?"

"He, uh, changed his mind about me tutoring a couple of his students now he knows I'm, gay."

I had paused at that last word, finding it a strange thing to say once again.

"Did you ask to transfer?" Jeff asked without hesitation.

"Yeah, I did."

"Did you get it?"

"I don't know until tomorrow."

The long pause after that statement made me very uncomfortable.

I knew that there was only one thing I could offer, so I did.

"I can sit way apart. We can just ignore each other."

Like at the breakfast table, I almost said.

The continuing silence hurt more than my own words did.

Finally, "Yeah."

I didn't know that I had been holding my breath until I started breathing again with a long, silent exhalation of dread.

So he isn't glad I'm going to be in his class. Good thing I told him instead of just walking in tomorrow. I guess.

"I gotta go. It's late. If Mom catches me on the phone this late it'll be hell in a basket."

"Okay," I replied.

"See ya on the bus?"

"Yup."

"Night."

"You too."

I hung up the phone and looked at it for quite a long time. Long enough that Tom had finally gotten blown to bits and was waiting for me. It was that silence that grabbed my attention.

"Wanna be alone?" he asked shortly.

"Not really. Won't help. Ya know?"

"Sure."

A few more moments of silence.

"Got your work done for tomorrow?"

"Yeah. Except the civics. Don't know if Jeff's class is at the same point. Should'a asked, huh?"

"Prob'ly. Don't matter, though."

His voice was flat and unemotional. I didn't feel like having any emotions myself, and certainly didn't want the ones that I was having. I looked at my best friend and shrugged helplessly.

He's right, anyway. Why stress it? I might not even got the transfer. And Jeff might be cool with it after thinking about it overnight. And if I sit with him what are people gonna think anyway?

"Can ya transfer back?"

"Don't wanna. I'd rather drop civics and take a study hall. I got enough credits that I can graduate next year if I only take six periods anyway."

A long pause before he asked, "He drives that crappy, rusty, red Fiat, don't he?"

I felt my eyes widen and my mouth hang open as I stared at him.

"You wouldn't!"

His only reaction was a very slight raising of both of his eyebrows.

I had to fight back the grin that tried to show.

"Dude, don't. You could get in so much trouble."

"Why, Alex Raymond, whatever do you think I'm thinking?" he asked, grinning evilly again.

I thought for a moment. Images of toilet paper, shaving cream, soaped windows, flat tires, and long, deep, wavy scratches filled my mind's eye.

And knowing Tom, all of the above, I thought, trying not to enjoy the sense of glee I got from the idea. All the shit going on and he'd go and make more trouble? Would he? I don't know. But I got enough trouble. Jeff moves at breakfast, some guys walked away in lunch, some in gym, guys calling me fag and shit, even Kevin Corless hating me now; and now I can't deny it. Plus, now, being in Jeff's civics might be a problem.

So many fucking problems, I lamented. I just wish I had some kind of fucking control over my own fucking life! How much can I take before I go loopy?

"Well?" Tom asked, reminding me of his question.

"Sometimes I don't know, and right now, I'm glad I don't."

"Then don't worry about it," he said, holding out the joystick, his face now less serious.

Don't worry about it? Don't fucking worry fucking about it? I screamed inside.

I wanted to be free of all those worries and concerns, and I knew exactly how I could. After telling him I would be right back, I went downstairs to the kitchen and took one of the little yellow pills for anxiety. Toby got a grin and a touch as I passed both times. Back in my room, I sat next to Tom and took the joystick.

"You go take your sleeping pill?"

"Nope. The anxiety one. Makes me not feel anything."

"Oh. I meant to ask if you wanted to make hot chocolate. I got a craving for it. Want one? I'll go make it."

I did. One side effect of the little yellow pill was dry mouth and increased thirst. The pot did that enough. He said he would be right back, and I played well, for me, but I lost my ship in no time. That gave me time to think, and that wasn't a good thing at the moment. I considered taking the sleeping pill I had near the clock-radio.

Yes, I wanna be free from the dream tonight. And sleep instead of wake up two or three times covered in sweat. And Tom's leaving in a little bit, anyway. Surprised he bothered with the cocoa this late.

I got up and took the sleeping pill, chewing it, and was back on the beanbag before Tom returned.

As was our custom, he had used what Mom said were soup bowls with a handle. If you put two packs of cocoa in one, it made for a good, strong, sweet cup of hot chocolate. That sweetness was helping against the bitterness of the chewed sleeping pill, but not as much as I would have expected.

I watched him fly around the screen, blowing asteroids into smaller and smaller chunks, his ship and the asteroids moving far faster than I could have handled at my best.

Before very long, I nodded off momentarily, surprising myself. I didn't remember the little yellow pill and a sleeping pill making me so sleepy in the hospital. But I hadn't been smoking pot, I reasoned.

Yawning yet again, I said, "Sorry, guess it was a big day."

"Yeah it was. That's why I crushed up one of your sleeping pills in the cocoa."

His eyes never left the screen, and his voice was as matter-of-fact as it could ever be.

"Bastard," I said, sliding down deeper into the beanbag.

"I noticed you ain't been takin' 'em much, and after today I figured you need a good sleep. You sure seemed worn out lately."

"Fucking bastard."

I wondered what else he was doing that I had no idea of. Again the thoughts of all the many things he had done for me roamed through my mind. I knew that I might never know of many of them, and I knew that many had been done with the hope that I wouldn't ever know of them. I wondered just what else he was keeping secret from me as well.

He might'a done some stuff for me I don't know about, but I did something he don't know about.

The thought brought out a snicker.

He asked, "What?"

"I took one myself a few minutes ago."

"Oh, shit. You gonna be okay?" he asked, sounding worried, though I couldn't be bothered to look.

"Hell yeah. Just probably sleep really good is all. At least I prolly won't have the nightmare," I mumbled, truly hoping and confident that the little yellow pill would keep it at bay with the help of Tom's cocoa mickey, if not obliterate it. "Just promise you'll molest me while I'm passed out."

He laughed.

The whole world was rapidly becoming only a faint, blurry, fuzzy bit of fluff. I was laying slightly to the side to keep from placing the burns under me, so I was nearly laying over onto Tom's shoulder. I didn't care. He was convenient. I let my head rest on his shoulder.

The thoughts of what had happened throughout the day came and went, and came back again and again, but they didn't bother me. I knew them as facts, but it was as if they concerned some other me, or someone else entirely. I saw how bad they were, and how horrible it would be to have them happen to you, but I didn't feel connected to them in any way. They might as well have been mathematical equations for all the emotional content they carried.

Instead of being tortured by them, I drifted unharmed along an invisible current of ethereal warmth. It glowed in all colors and yet none, as I was surrounded by a hazy blackness that was welcoming and comfortable.

"You should try this sometime," I said in hardly a whisper.

I was enjoying the sensation of sliding into that warm, soft, nothing. I was vaguely aware of moving, or of being moved, or the sensation of movement. And Tom's voice saying something. It didn't matter, I didn't care.

I was mostly empty. The weird, floating, unconcerned, empty non-feeling was all I knew. I felt nothing of my body. My train of thought didn't just get sluggish and dull, it parked.

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