Ventura Freeway


I had just dried off from the shower and pulled some clean cutoffs on when I heard knocking. I opened the bathroom door, but didn’t see anyone.

“Who are you?” a girl’s voice called. Now I spotted her outside on the porch, her forehead pressed against the screen door.

“Wait!” I yelled, turning back into the bathroom to dig a fresh T-shirt out of my pack.

She struck me as a nice-looking girl—not nice-looking like sexy, but like a girl who would actually be nice. She had long, dark hair that reached the tops of her sizeable bazoombas, and strong eyebrows that gave her intelligent face a quizzical, humorous look. For a minute, we scrutinized each other through the screen.

“So who are you?” she repeated.

“Who are you?” I asked, evading.

“Marti, of course,” she said. “Are you gonna let me in?”

I didn’t like that “of course.” Did it mean that she had special rights to Aaron? Was she his girlfriend? She turned the handle, proving, I guess, that she could let herself in, in case I didn’t do the gentlemanly thing.

“I don’t know. I don’t live here,” I said. It sounded more like bleating than speaking, even to me.

“But you do know who you are, right?” she pressed. Her dark, shiny eyebrows arched in mock concern.

“I could be anybody,” I sighed. “Aaron doesn’t think I can be trusted.”

Marti’s grin rose as powerful as an ocean wave. She didn’t laugh; she just held the grin and my eyes with it. “I’m gonna call you Hubert,” she said.

“My name’s Nathan,” I admitted.

She pointed at me, pressing her finger into the screen. “Gotcha.”

“You may as well come in.”

Her hand felt really good in mine. Smooth, just the right temperature, and, for a girl, a good firmness in the shake.

“So. How long have you been with Aaron?”

“With him? How long have I been with Aaron?” It almost sounded like she took me for Aaron’s boyfriend. As if he were gay and had talked about it with his friends.

Marti looked at me pityingly. “I think I like you,” she said, “but you’re really not a good source of information.”

“Are you?” I asked.

Upstairs the pipes made a groaning sound. Someone had shut off the shower.

“I can be for the right person.” She looked me over critically.

“I was hitchhiking and they picked me up. About two hours ago. I don’t know anything about them.” I whispered this with such intensity that she took a step back, then reading my face again, grabbed my hand and pulled me out onto the porch, which extended around the corner of the house. She led me to the end, then, placing both hands flat on my T-shirt, pushed me gently up against the wood.

“Who is ‘them?’ she whispered.

“Colby, Bret, and Aaron.”

“Colby is here?” she shrieked at the top of her lungs. “Oh my God!”

So much for our private tête-à-tête. Upstairs a window rasped open.

“Is that Marti?” Colby’s amused, sexy voice called down.

“Come down here and kiss me this instant!” Marti demanded, craning up to try to see in the high window. “This guy isn’t doing anything for me,” she continued playfully, pushing again on my chest.

I wasn’t that interested in girls, but it felt good that she liked me enough to tease about me, and—not to be gross or anything—even through a T-shirt her firm, warm touch on my nipples felt good. I wouldn’t have minded kissing her.

The window ground shut and we could hear the floor creak from the guys walking around upstairs. Any minute now, one of them would come down. My eyes must have shown desperation as my opportunity to glean information from her waned.

“What is it you want to know?” she asked.

Everything inside me collapsed as I realized I couldn’t risk putting my real questions into words. The pleasure left my face; I felt bereft and defeated.

“What?” she pushed, maybe reading the change.

“It’s really none of my business,” I choked out.

“You are such a case!” she commented.

Her remark spurred me to a question I could ask. “Does Aaron bring a lot of people here?”

Now Marti smiled, as if reassured. “Aaron has never brought anyone here in four years except Colby. Well, Hank … ” She turned away, looking preoccupied.

“Who’s Hank?”

Marti looked right at me, but without any sparkle in her eyes.

The screen door burst open hard enough to hit the wall. From the heavy tread of the footsteps, I knew it would be Colby a second before his orange-fringed presence hulked into view.

Marti slipped an arm behind my neck, joining me in propping up the wall. “Are you gonna kiss us?” she asked Colby.

Colby growled promisingly. His freckled wrist grazed my neck as he leaned into the wall to kiss her lips gently. Shampoo and aftershave fragrances lit up the air.

Marti moved away; I lingered there a second too long. Colby hesitated and bent toward me just as she disappeared around the corner. As his face got closer, I was stunned to think that he might kiss me too. Amazingly, I didn’t want it.

“That was the royal ‘us’,” he murmured near my ear. My genuine grin seemed to please him. “Relax,” he advised, wrapping his arm around my shoulder and steering me back inside.