Ventura Freeway


Bret and Colby were hunched over some food at the kitchen island when we got back to the cottage.

“How are you guys getting…?” Colby stopped when he saw my face. He could see that I had been crying, and Aaron probably looked pretty stressed.

“Nathan’s leaving this afternoon,” he told them. “I’m taking him to the train station in Oxnard.”

“I guess we should call ahead and find out the schedule,” he added.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “I checked the schedules back in Fullerton. There are several trains every day. It’ll be OK.”

Bret and Colby remained deathly quiet.

“Do you have a place to stay in the Bay Area tonight?” Aaron wanted to know.

I nodded.

“Maybe you’d like to call and tell them you’re coming,” he suggested. “It might be pretty late when you get in.”

God! How could he be thinking about all these little details when our life together had just been ripped to shreds? There was no way I was going to call my Dad’s friends in San Francisco right now and make up some cute, perky story about why I’d be arriving on short notice in the dead of night. I’d rather spend the dark hours in the San Francisco train station or just walk the streets. (This was before I had shivered through a summer morning in San Francisco.)

When I didn’t respond, Aaron said, “I’ll just go upstairs and get cleaned up so we can go.” He started up the stairs. “Cole,” he called back carefully, “can you come up for a minute?”

Colby studied my eyes as if they were headlines, then started up the stairs after his friend. Bret busied himself rinsing dishes.

I had almost nothing to pack except my toothbrush. Not wanting to drag Bret into this depressing drama, I shut myself in the bathroom and spent the time washing up. After all, I’d be at least eight hours on that train.

When I came out, Bret was just turning loose of my pack. “Something was caught in the side zipper,” he explained.

I could tell he was lying, but the pack held nothing of value, so I didn’t worry about it. I thought maybe he’d succumbed to curiosity to see what I had, or maybe Aaron had asked him to check that I hadn’t stolen anything. At this point, none of it mattered anymore.

I could hear Aaron and Cole moving around and talking upstairs but couldn’t distinguish any words. Pretty soon they came down.

“Bret and I will ride with you guys,” Colby said. Bret looked a little surprised but didn’t say anything.

Did Colby think Aaron needed protection from my random acts of violence? The thought irritated me, but again it didn’t especially matter. As we headed out to the car, Colby said something quietly in Bret’s ear. Bret nodded. He took the front passenger seat.

I realized regretfully that I was missing my chance to say goodbye to Marti. I couldn’t do anything about it. I looked around for her house as we started out, wondering if it was one of the ones we passed on the way out to the highway.

My pack occupied the middle of the seat between Colby and me. He slid a hand under it until he found my hand, and squeezed. Then he leaned over and murmured, “Were you thinking about Marti?”

I nodded.

“I’ll tell her you said goodbye. Anyway, she goes to Mills College in Oakland, so you might see her up there.”

“Right!” I thought sarcastically. “What’s the chance of that?”

Under cover of my pack, Colby continued to hold and massage my hand all the way to Oxnard. I pressed back, because it did make me feel better, but in another way it made me feel more like crying because I wanted to be holding Aaron’s hand, not his. Nobody spoke the whole way.

When we got to the train station, Colby said he would go in with me. Bret got out and gravely bade me farewell. I felt like a soldier in the First World War, heading off to the front lines. Aaron and I didn’t speak. I just looked in his eyes and hoped he could see something of what I felt. Take your pick: shame, sorrow, gratitude, longing, discouragement, anger, best wishes. Choose one from column A and one from column B.

When we got inside, Colby said, “I want to help with your ticket.”

I shook my head. “I have money,” I told him. “I worked all summer and had no chance to spend any of it.”

“You were hitchhiking,” he reminded me.

“I wanted an adventure,” I explained, feeling like an idiot.

He put his arm around me and squeezed while we waited in line.

“I don’t know why you’re being so nice to me,” I said. “I thought you’d be mad at me like Aaron.”

“Aaron can sometimes be a tiny bit provoking,” Colby explained gently.

I pulled away from Colby to look up at him. “I never met anyone like you before,” I said. “A member of the goddam Stanford basketball team who doesn’t hate gays and can be so … gentle.”

Colby looked surprised. “Who said I played on the Stanford basketball team?”

“You did. Everyone did.”

“Nathan, I play intramural basketball at Stanford. I probably wouldn’t be allowed to carry towels for those guys who play on the Cardinals. They’re all at least four inches taller than me and a whole lot faster.”

My patience was ready to snap. Always being stupid about everything was starting to wear on me. Colby went to Stanford and talked about being on a basketball team. How could I have known it wasn’t THE team?

Colby chuckled. “I’m glad you think I look like I could be on the Cardinals,” he remarked, hooking his wrist around my shoulder again.

I paid for my ticket. The schedule wasn’t bad. The train would come in about two and a half hours and I’d be in San Francisco a little after midnight.

After we left the window, Colby looked around the mostly empty station. “Let’s see what’s over there,” he said, pointing toward the far end of the platform. I slung my pack onto my back and followed him down and around the corner of the building into a narrow, unoccupied alley.

Colby looked both ways, then took my face between his hands and kind of guided me up so that my backpack scraped against the wall.

“Don’t be discouraged,” he said. “Nobody could get through to Aaron right now. He’s still too shaken up by everything that happened with Hank. And Aaron is really difficult at the best of times.”

I knew he was trying to make me feel better, but it wasn’t working.

“He’s not the kind of guy you can tell you want to give him ‘physical pleasure.’ Not so soon. Not that he doesn’t want it. It just scares him.”

Aaron had already repeated to Colby the most private thing I could say to him! A giant sob was just gathering in my lungs when Colby startled me again.

“You’re a special boy, Nathan,” he said softly. “Almost magic. You were there waiting by the side of the road just when we needed you.”

The smell of his aftershave reminded me of that first evening, when he made a joke about the idea that he might kiss me.

“If I were a little more into guys, I’d want you myself,” he murmured.

This time he did kiss me, even flicking his tongue once across my lips. Whatever food was in my stomach felt like it liquefied on the spot. I thought I was going to have a bathroom accident right there in the alley. What was he doing? All but concussed, I pushed him away from me.

“Col-by!” a voice called.

Aaron stood about twenty yards away at the corner of the stationhouse, watching us as if we were monkeys mating in the zoo.

I stumbled off of the wall—wearing the backpack unsteadied me—and retreated as quickly as I could toward the street side of the building. As I turned the corner, I looked back. They had already moved out of my line of sight.