I woke up slouched across the sofa. It was already late afternoon. The window in front of me was a bright green rectangle of sunny forest surrounded by the dark wood of the cabin interior. I could see the hill down to the post office, the hill we came up. When I turned back towards the interior, sunlight angled in through the other windows that lit the kitchen area of the cabin’s largest room, highlighting the wood-panel walls and the skillets and copper-bottom pots hanging on all sides. The house was silent; I was alone, again.
I checked the bedrooms. Ben, the cowboy who had given me the ride, was gone. Charlie, too. Simon had apparently left without my having seen him, and he was the reason I was here at all. Simon’s bedroom was the biggest one, of course, and it faced the street. No one was parked outside, neither Simon’s VW bus nor Ben’s pickup. I lay down in Simon’s bed. There was hardly any smell of him, except in the towel he must have used after his shower. I remembered, that’s why I hadn’t seen him: He’d been in the shower when I arrived, and I must have zonked out that fast.
I let myself relax. This mountain cabin was what I needed, cool and quiet. I wondered where Simon could have gone to, but I was still a little stoned. When he finally got in an hour later, I was dozing again, though this time I was able to get up fast enough to meet him at the door.
“Hi, man!” I said, and grabbed him in a hug. It was amazing how suddenly the emotion came on. He stood patiently through it, but turned his face when I tried to kiss him.
“Not here! Not now, anyway!” he whispered very loudly.
I was dumbfounded. “Simon, there’s no one here!”
I could feel him relax. He bent his head down and kissed my forehead, and then I let him go. He bent down again and really gave me a kiss, which gave me chills.
“It’s good to see you, Jonathan. How’s things down on the farm?” he asked.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m here, I guess. It’s like we’re always arguing about one thing or another. I needed a break, to come up for air.”
I followed him to the kitchen area, where he got a beer out of the refrigerator. “Do you want one?” he asked, waving the bottle at me.
“No,” I said, “I think I’ve had enough for awhile. I had some cake on the way up.”
“So that’s why you were out of it.” He nodded and then suddenly turned to me. “Did you hitchhike stoned?” he asked, a little disbelieving.
“No.” I shook my head. “I had already gotten the ride, and Ben kept begging me for something to smoke. I asked him if he was a narc, and he said no.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t buy that theory, Jonathan. If he’d wanted to bust you, he’d have done it. All he has to do is lie in court.”
“Maybe. Ben’s okay, anyway.” It felt uncomfortable to find myself defending a total stranger against my friend.
Simon drank his beer leaning against the sink. His long, blond hair hung down as straight and fine as ever. Though he was anything but beautiful, so thin, such long skinny arms and legs, I wanted to leap up right then, to tell him I loved him. For as much as I knew then, love was Simon, this young man hardly twenty-one who was ready to be grown up in any way needed. Often, in fact, it appeared that he had matured in exactly the ways I had yet to tackle. After all, he was the one with the job.
He said, “I had to go back to work this afternoon. I’m sorry, they called me back in at the last minute. Charlie and Bud, too. They should be coming home any time now. That’s why…”
“Okay, I get it.” It was a warning to me not to get too physical. I really didn’t want to jeopardize his job or his living situation, but I was also allowing myself to realize how much I wanted to be alone with him. Desire was nothing concrete yet, though. Other than pictures in my head of kissing him, running my hands over him, whispering to him, I had no specific ideas on mechanics. I hadn’t built up a vocabulary of sexual fantasy.
“Do you want to go for a walk?” Simon asked.
“Sure!” I replied. It must have come off like “woof!” I was that eager.
Simon threw his jacket onto his bed, and we went down the front steps and around to the back of the cabin, where a trail led into the forest. It was a trail I almost remembered. The cabin was Simon’s parents’, and I had visited several times the summer before. The path led up, steadily up, though we couldn’t see to where because the trees were so close together.
But in spite of the disorientation, the not knowing exactly where I was the way I did back in the desert, I was happy for the trees just then. But Simon was now accustomed to the trees in the same way I had adopted the desert as my home. In any case, he certainly knew the trail well enough.
We were quiet for a long while. I made no attempt to touch Simon, though not for fear of being seen. There was something he needed to tell me, and it was going to take some time.
“Are you going to stay on at the commune?” he asked me, “I mean, the ‘compound?'”
“I haven’t thought about it.” It had been three years since I’d dropped out of graduate school and gone to live there in the valley land just west of Las Cruces.
“Aren’t you worried about when you’re going to get around to accomplishing something?”
This was surprising. Simon wasn’t the overachiever. I was. I said, “The whole reason I quit school was because I was ‘accomplishing’ too many things and not really feeling I’d done anything I could be proud of. At least now I’m learning something that’s for real.”
“Like what?” Simon asked, not really quite that harshly.
“Like growing vegetables, milking goats, taking care of chickens. I’ve never done any of that at all — I grew up in the city, remember?”
“But really, Johnny, is it all that important? I mean, will it make any difference in the long run?”
“Okay, okay. Let me say it like this: Whatever it is that I’m going to accomplish in the long run, I need to know more of these basic things. It’s not much, I grant, but I know a lot more than I did three years ago.”
“So why will it make a difference?”
Again, I had to think for awhile. “I don’t know exactly how, but I’m sure it’s the thing I have to be doing right now.”
“But you had to leave.”
“I needed a vacation.”
Simon stopped walking and sat down. It didn’t look any different than any of the places we’d been picking our way through, but Simon knew this spot.
“So you’re going to do something different. Later on, I mean.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Probably.”
He said, “I don’t know about this Forest Service work. I don’t know if it’s going to be the thing I’m going to accomplish. I keep telling myself that I have to play by the rules here to make any difference later on but, anymore, I don’t know.”
He would have stopped then, but I wanted to know what he meant. “What kind of difference?” I asked him.
“Well, I wish that they had a different attitude towards the forest. They’re pretty redneck. It’s just another job. They get to show off their strength, and all the things they know how to do. They don’t care about the forest itself. I never say anything, because it starts arguments. I suppose I have to get them to respect me before they’ll listen to me. But I’m beginning to think it’s never going to happen. There’s so many people in the bureaucracy that my little voice isn’t going to make a shit.”
I still didn’t know the details, but he had said what he was going to say, and now I was supposed to respond. Usually, we told each other not to give up — that had always been our motto — but this time I didn’t know the facts the way he did.
“So what will you do?” I asked.
“Oh, well. Stay on, at least for a little while. It’s still a job, and I don’t have anything else.” I can see now that he was working very hard to create some rules to live by, some way he could know he was fashioning a way of living that worked. In 1974, I was still ripping apart my own false maturity and I could barely fathom that other people wanted to make prisons to live in — that’s what I thought of a well-ordered life back then — because they simply needed to be able to trust themselves.
We sat there another ten minutes or so, and then Simon started back down. The sun was behind the hill now, and the forest had become suddenly dark. I followed him closely till we got to the cabin.
“Listen, Simon,” I asked him, “where do I get to sleep? I didn’t know the place would be full.”
“Didn’t you bring a sleeping bag?” he asked. It was like an accusation.
“Well, no.” I felt guilty. “I mean, all the other times, there was a bed. It would have been one more thing to carry while I was hitchhiking.”
He scowled, but he didn’t have anything nasty to say. “Okay,” he said, after a bit, “you can sleep in my bed with me. But we can’t do anything. Bud and Charlie would hear it all.”
It was a real disappointment, but I would be sleeping with him. It would be the first whole night I would spend with another man. It was enough for that moment.
Simon also wanted me to be discreet regarding the dope, even when I told him how matter-of-factly Charlie had remarked on my being high. I was to keep the cake out of sight, although Simon was looking forward to having some of it himself later. We had shared some over the years, and it was always a particularly sweet time for us.
Charlie and Bud, whom I hadn’t yet met, were already leaving the cabin when we got back. Simon said they always ate out, so we had the kitchen to ourselves. I don’t remember the details of making dinner, but I know we did it together, and it must have been spaghetti and something, because Simon loved making pasta dishes. I’m sure I washed the dishes and Simon dried and stacked, because that’s what we’d done all the other times I visited, even when his parents were there. And I can bet that Leo Kottke and Jim Morrison were the music we heard. Velvet Underground would have been nice, but I wouldn’t have asked for anything that far out, in case Charlie and Bud might be coming back early.
After dinner, we played cards for two hours. We did put on the Underground once, and even danced to it, together, Simon — and I, too — watching the front door for the boarders.
We made plans for the next day, Sunday. Simon said that he wanted to get away somewhere, and also to try my cake. I’d never been to the top of Sierra Blanca, and we decided to hike it. It’s the tallest peak in this part of the state, a good eight thousand feet higher than the desert below it. You can see the mountain from eighty, ninety miles away. We went to a store in town that night and bought food for the climb.
Simon suggested that we should turn in early, and I was tired enough to agree. We undressed in the dark in his bedroom, and got into his parents’ enormous bed. After endless last-minute updates on what we had done over the past few months, we said goodnight. But I was unable to sleep with him so close to me, his smell, the warmth of his body. I went to the bathroom and masturbated, and came back to bed. I fell asleep before Charlie and Bud came home.
** ** **
Simon woke me up early the next morning. While we were cooking breakfast and filling our backpacks to take up to the mountain, Charlie called me over to his bedroom.
“Your buddy said he’s going back to ‘Cruces Monday morning. I gave him our number. He’ll call you when he’s going to leave.”
“Thanks!” I told him. Maybe I wouldn’t have to hitch back.
I walked away, but Charlie called after me, “And he said to leave him some cake, please.” I turned back to see him grinning broadly and giving me an exaggerated wink. I made an “okay” with my finger and thumb.
Simon was not happy. “Oh, geez,” he said, under his breath.
“What’s the problem?” I whispered. “Ben’s cool, Charlie’s cool. What are you afraid of?”
“You never know who’s going to tell who. Anyway, I’ve been trying to keep the stuff out of the cabin, so my parents won’t find out. Suppose Charlie decides to buy a bag for himself?”
So I asked him, “It’s your house, isn’t it? I mean, you can always throw him out, right?”
“Let’s get out of here. I’ll tell you later.”
We put our backpacks into the bus out front and took off, but outside of Ruidoso, Simon pulled over.
“Look, I’m sorry I was so uptight, but Charlie’s got seniority over me. He can get away with things I can’t. And he likes to — no, he loves to — find out all the little quirks and weaknesses of everyone else. I crashed my bicycle last fall, and he still keeps calling me ‘Hell on wheels.’ Anything ‘interesting’ that you do today, he’s going to be reciting it for months, like he was a cow chewing it over and over again.”
I nodded. I felt like some naïve flower child.
Simon drove some miles north of Ruidoso, to where the huge ski signs were posted. We drove in as if we were going to ski, not very possible in May, and parked in an empty lot that had been crowded with Texas tourist cars only two months before.
We had put too much in our packs, so we ended up leaving stuff in the car. Even so, they were heavy. The trail from the parking lot started out level, moving along a stream bed, and then climbing a hill full of long grass. The sun warms everything, even at those heights. The air was clear, and the sky was that deep blue that I’ve seen only at high altitudes. The trail led back and forth up the steep hill. With the work of climbing, and the beauty of the day, we found it easy to drop whatever bad feeling might have remained from our disagreement at breakfast.
After a half hour or so, when we had made some progress up the hill, Simon turned back to me and asked if I’d brought along the cake.
“It’s in my pack. Why don’t you get it out yourself?”
We traded places so that he was below me on the trail, and he started to untie my pack. Eventually, he had opened up enough space to stick his hand inside and feel around, but the shifting of my pack made me lose balance, and we both tumbled over down the grass to the next switchback.
I wriggled out of the backpack’s straps and found the baggie andone piece of cake. I had left the rest of it back at Simon’s cabin, carefully hidden at the bottom of his underwear drawer.
“Is that all you brought?”
“It’s enough, Simon, trust me.” I wiggled my fingers at him, like something out of a horror movie. Simon laughed.
So we shared the one piece of cake. I licked his fingers afterward. He was embarrassed but had made the decision to let it all hang out while we were so far away from the human race. .
After some climbing, we reached the top of a hill. I don’t know quite how it happened, but we were singing “Yellow Submarine,” the most mindless song we could think of. We discovered, however, that we were far from the peak. We had missed a turn somewhere down below. Now that I’ve been there again, I know that we ended up on a peak north of Sierra Blanca itself. While the true peak was barren and rocky, pitted and scarred by summer lightning strikes, ours was grass-covered right up to the top. We could look across the valley we had climbed and see that our slope faced another slope opposite, not grassy but a solid mass of evergreen trees. We had to decide whether to go down and correct for our mistake and then climb back to the peak or to stop there and enjoy the view we had. In silent unanimity, we stopped.
The marijuana had begun to take effect, so we were glad for the sandwiches and the jar of juice that had been so heavy on the way up. We sat down and ate, wordlessly, in the brilliance of the sunshine.
“Are you still making yogurt?” he asked me.
It was strange to hear that in the silence. “Yeah. Still the same way.” A gallon at a time, in a covered casserole dish. Pre-heat the oven to 350, turn it off, and then put the dish full of milk and culture in. As the oven cools, the dish warms to the right temperature. Pretty simple but, you have to keep watching it for hours.
“It’s the best. It’s the only yogurt I can stand.”
“I’ll make sure we have some when you come down next time.”
Our talk roamed around. We wondered whether Nixon was going to be impeached. Would he try some forcible means to stay in power? The talk slowed down as we became more and more stoned. I was staring at the evergreens on the hill opposite. It looked like a choir singing in voices too high or too low to hear. Was there something I needed to know?
I realized at one point that Simon was talking to me.
“…. Frank? Larsen?”
Frank, “Big Frank,” was a rowdy peacenik, maybe more of a semi-converted redneck. He saw the war as a personal affront to his life. He always showed up at the demonstrations. Sometimes we were glad, when his being there would shut up some of the opposition. Sometimes he got out of hand.
Simon was shaking my shoulder to get me to turn around. A photograph fell out of his pocket. I picked it up; it was of Simon, but somewhere I’d never been, a city, Albuquerque probably. He was hanging by his knees from a playground swing, his long hair almost reaching the ground. It was the Simon I knew, carefree, enjoying life completely. “I’ve never seen that,” I said.
“Big Frank gave it to me. He came by on his way from Santa Fe. It’s a couple-three years old.”
“Can I have it?” I asked.
“Why?” He looked surprised that I was interested in it.
“You look so free! It’s the best picture I’ve ever seen of you!”
“Well, yeah, I guess so,” Simon said, but he held on to it.
He put his arm around me, and then we separated again, Simon lying down against our mountain, me leaning back on my elbows, still watching the trees. “Were you going to say something about Big Frank?”
“I was thinking about you and him at that demonstration.”
The demonstration he meant took place Thanksgiving week one year. Nixon must have done something early Thanksgiving week, when students were supposed to be too interested in going home to cause trouble. It didn’t work: there were outbursts all over the country, even in Las Cruces.
I said, “It wasn’t much of a show, was it, Simon? I mean, it wasn’t hardly organized at all.”
“But the point is, we did it. You did it…” I did my part, but it would have happened no matter what. People were pissed.
We’d arranged ourselves on the campus green, that Tuesday at half past three. ROTC used it as a parade ground each week at four. We spread out in a circle to take up the most room we could, and then filled it in to make a large peace symbol, and sat down. Someone must have tipped off the cowboys, because they were there to harass us.
Simon was still talking while my memory was replaying itself: “And then he showed up with the campus cops.” He was Dean Bierce, maybe the only really human member of the college administration.
“I was scared shitless,” I said. “It was a three-ring circus: cops, cowboys, demonstrators…”
“Oh, yes, the stomps. Were they ready for a fight!”
“I was sure they’d drive their pickups right up onto the grass. There I was hassling it out with Bierce, like exactly when we would leave and how we were going to get away without being killed, and then Frank starts yelling ‘Pig.’ What got into him, anyway? The cops weren’t doing anything.”
“One of them was lecturing us on patriotism,” Simon answered. “It really wasn’t all that bad. I think Frank just wanted to yell.”
“Well, Bierce must have seen the cop’s reaction, because he suddenly stopped talking to me and ran over to get between Frank and the cop. Then I flashed on what was going on, so I ran over to Frank to stop him.”
“That’s the amazing part,” Simon said. “I mean, nobody stops Frank. What did you say to him?”
“Something like, ‘This is more important than your fucking ego, Frank, so shut up!'” I put on my most kick-ass face for Simon. He started laughing.
I laughed, too. I said, “And then, right as the rotcee guys march onto the field, right in between us and the cowboys, we take off in the opposite direction, away from the stomps. It was great. Like, ROTC ends up being our protectors, our shield. It must have pissed them off but good!”
Simon wrapped his arm around my shoulder. “Did you hear what happened after we left? What the rotcee guys did?”
“You mean them stomping on the ground…”
“… and yelling ‘Kill! Kill!'”
After a bit, I said, “I tried to find you that night. I was shaking and crying in my apartment. That’s when all the scary feelings came out. I’m always like that.”
“I don’t remember that.”
“I couldn’t find you. I called your mom’s place, too, but she said you had gone somewhere.”
He tightened his hold on my shoulder. “I don’t even remember what I did that night.”
We stopped talking. The great thing about Simon was, when I couldn’t talk to anyone else, he would listen to me, no matter how weird or crazy I sounded. With everyone else I had to pretend that I knew what I was doing, but not with him.
We both drifted off. I watched Simon put the photo into my shirt pocket. He left his hand there for a minute, and kissed me on the neck. Then he lay back on the mountainside.
The marijuana had come on in its full intensity. I continued sitting for awhile, then leaned back again on my elbows. The trees opposite were still singing, and it still looked to me that they had an answer to something, but I didn’t even have a question. Then, out of nowhere, I realized: The One Who Doesn’t Know How to Ask. The Four Sons, the Wise Son, the Wicked Son, the Simple Son, and the One Who Doesn’t Know How to Ask. It’s from the Passover Seder. I had heard it every year when I was a kid, and it had crept into some faraway part of my mind and now suddenly showed up in my consciousness.
The goal was to be the Wise Son — I wanted to be the Wise Son – but somehow I never felt like I measured up. I wasn’t the Wicked Son. What I was afraid of was being the Simple Son, though tradition wasn’t ashamed of him the way I was. I wasn’t any of those. It felt right, and it wasn’t anything I was ashamed of. I lay back and watched the clearness of the mountain sky. The last thing I remember was putting my hand in Simon’s, or him putting his in mine.
** ** **
What woke us up was the thunder coming from below. We were in the middle of a fog. No lightning was visible, but we heard thunder again, and then hail started to fall. Sudden storms are possible up there, but it had never actually happened with me right there on the mountain at the time. We managed to gather up almost everything we had brought. We ran straight down the steep grass slope, ignoring the switchbacks. The grass was slippery; we fell to our knees half a dozen times, sometimes sliding several yards down the mountain. I think we were screaming, because I remember becoming hoarse.
By the time we reached the parking lot, we were soaked and panting, and our knees could hardly hold us up. But we were now below and out from under the storm. The ground was dry, while clouds covered a good part of the sky. We got into the bus and drove off, afraid that the hail was following us.
I took off my wet t-shirt and cutoffs; I was cold. Simon was shivering, too, but he kept his clothes on. He looked over at me. “You can’t do that, man. These people are rednecks.”
“Rednecks, rednecks, rednecks! I’m sorry, Simon. I’m not going to freeze my ass off. I’ll leave my underpants on” — I felt them, and they were dry — “but that’s it.” I pictured Ben, ready to strip down at White Sands. Would he have cared? “Your teeth are chattering, Simon. Take your clothes off. This is important.”
He said nothing, but undressed..
When we got to Simon’s cabin, I hustled out of the bus with my clothing in my arms. I raced up the steps and in the front door, only to run into Charlie, who was wearing only a towel himself.
“Slow down, man!” Charlie said. That’s when he saw Simon coming in. “Oh, geez, I’ll take my shower later. Go ahead, guys.:
“Thanks,” I said, and got to the bathroom. I turned the hot water on and stepped in.
Simon was still talking with Charlie out in the living room. It got louder. Finally, I heard Charlie yell, “You don’t have to fuck him, just get in the shower with him!”
Simon came in glaring. I was warm enough by this time, so I got out of the shower. “Go!” I said, and went out and took the towel Charlie offered me. I went to Simon’s bedroom and found a change of underwear. He came in as I finished; he looked to be in a better mood. I came up to him, and said, quietly, “You don’t have to fuck him, but…” He blushed. I was amazed at my own brazenness, and at his not blowing up. He tossed me a pair of his old cut-offs. They were super-tight, but they were what was there..
In the living room, Bud had come in, so Charlie introduced us. Whereas Charlie was tall and lanky, Bud was short and heavily muscled. Bud had a guitar in his hand. When I asked, he said, “Oh, I can pick out a few slow ones.”
“Like what? I like ballads.”
“’Long Black Veil?’”
“Yeah,” I said, “I like that one.” It was a pretty one, about a man who lets himself get hanged for a murder he didn’t commit, because his alibi is that he was busy screwing his best friend’s wife at the time of the murder. He’s singing the song from the grave, where he can see her when she comes to visit. She’s the one with the long black veil. I’m saving songs like that for a Sickness of Heterosexuality radio program I’d like to do some day. Something to throw back at the Radical Right. I didn’t have the same slant on things back then.
Bud played “Long Black Veil,” and then “Banks of the Ohio,” another one for my list, but again a really pretty melody. He didn’t mind my singing along. We must have done his whole repertoire, maybe seven or eight songs, all slow ballads. The last one was “El Paso,” the Marty Robbins song. Yes, that is another candidate for my show. Charlie was tickled that Bud and I were singing together. Charlie got us both beers. Simon had come out and had one or two.
The sun had come back out, but it was getting on toward evening, and Bud and Charlie were set to go out for dinner. Bud invited us along, but Charlie said, “I think they still have some catching up to do.” I shook hands with them both as they left.
“You know, I wouldn’t mind going out, myself, if you want to,” I told Simon. “I hardly ever get out back in ‘Cruces.”
We settled on a steak place. He found me a pair of his brother’s jeans. They hadn’t been washed since the summer ten months before, but they were a lot closer to my size. He also lent me one of his button-down shirts. My own stuff was still drying in the bathroom.
In the restaurant, he started talking again about his job. The whole area, not only the forest, was becoming more and more a tourist magnet and less a place to live. The tourists were mostly Texans. A lot of New Mexicans take pride in their bigotry against Texas, so there were some Texan jokes in our talk. What was clear, though, even to me, was that, wherever people were coming from, they were loud and rude. I’d been finding it in the way people talked in the restaurant — “as if they owned it,” Simon said — and how they drove on the road, as if they owned it. Was that one of the reasons Simon wanted me to be more discreet, to set some example of being mindful of other people’s feelings?
When we got back, Simon wanted to sack out early. The next day was Monday, work. In his bedroom, I asked him to leave a light on so I could see the room better at that hour. When his parents were in, it was their room, and I had never seen it lit at night before. The wooden paneling looked warm and cozy. The single light, an electric bulb in a hurricane-lamp fixture, was also surprisingly sweet. The only other light on in the cabin was in the living room, beyond our closed door, waiting for Bud and Charlie to come back.
We talked in bed, mostly about how long he felt he could hold out in his job. Also the climb, laughing over how scared we were when we woke up in the storm. I felt Simon’s leg brushing against mine, the same way he had back home three months before. This time I stopped myself from making any direct response. I started to stroke his side, almost by accident, the same way I had found myself petting Captain. “I feel so close,” I said. Simon put his hand on my chest.
It was then that Bud and Charlie came stumbling home. We heard them clumping in the front door, using the bathroom, and getting ready for bed in the next room. Simon said, “That was one hell of a workout today,” and made as if to go to sleep.
I must have kept on caressing his body, because Simon suddenly said, “All right! If you want it that bad, go ahead!” and turned over onto his stomach. I slipped into place above him.
“Go easy, huh?” he said. “This is pretty new to me.”
Since I was pretty new at it, too, I can’t say how easy I went. He began to move in sync with me, and I was surprised. He was not being simply passive. This was something I hadn’t yet encountered. I still remember my hands on his smooth back and sides, and knowing that I wanted to ride him forever. I kept kissing his neck, stroking his hips. I whimpered when I climaxed and, with the walls as thin as they were, I’m sure the others heard. Then I relaxed onto him, still holding him.
He squirmed under me, so I slipped off, and found myself with my back against him, feeling his warmth.
“That was great, Simon. I didn’t think you wanted to do it.”
“Well? I got into it.”
I figured he wanted his turn, and I pushed back more till we were pressed hard against each other. I wanted him to know I was ready. And willing. But he never made any move to go further, so we spent the night like that. After a long time I dozed off.
I woke up to Simon whisper-yelling to me, shaking me. “Get up! Get up! Come on, you’ve got to go!”
At first I couldn’t even think to respond. When I figured out what was happening, and where I was, I said, “Go? Where can I go? It’s too early to hitch. It’s too cold!” It was barely light out.
Simon was frantic. He laid out my clothes on the bed; he must have got them off the rack in the bathroom. “Look, I have to work with those guys. I can’t have you screwing things up for me!” He pulled me out of bed.
I took hold of him by the arms. “Don’t be crazy! What will they say when they find me gone? What will they think of that? Anyway, they must have heard enough already. There’s no point in kicking me out now.”
He calmed down, got back into bed, and let me hold him. When we did get up, just before the other two, I made sure to be as quiet as I could. I heard Bud or Charlie coming out of the other bedroom, but Simon was pushing me out the door by then.
As we drove down Sudderth to the highway, he was still agitated:
“You don’t understand, do you? I have to live with those guys. I have to work with them. If they want to make my life hell, they can do it.”
“So that makes it okay to put me out in the cold at five in the morning. That’s pretty bad, man. Where was I supposed to go?”
He took a long time to answer. “Yeah, you’re right. I owed you that much.”
“Yes, I think you did.”
“Okay! I said I was sorry.”
After a bit, I turned to him. “So what are you going to do?”
He paused. “I don’t know. I guess they won’t do anything stupid. I mean, I suppose it won’t make them look too good if they tell everyone they’re living with a queer. They’re not paying much for rent. They won’t get a better deal anywhere else.” He sighed. “I guess it’s okay. “I won’t mention it to them at all, and see if they’re willing to keep it that way. Say, Jonathan?”
“When Frank Larsen came by last month?”
Simon was speaking slowly. “He’s working for some missile contractor now. He told me I ought to wise up and move on. He said, ‘There’s a time for idealism, and there’s a time to get what you can. Now it’s time to get what you can.’ He told me I was an idiot.”
“Is he making your decisions for you now?” I asked, and immediately regretted it.
We reached the highway intersection. Simon pulled over. We shook hands in the bus, and I got out, took my backpack out, and closed the door. But Simon got out of the bus, too, and walked around to me. I saw that his eyes were wet, and took him into my arms.
As our bodies made contact, I sprang an erection. Totally uncalled for, and unwanted. I was planning on forgiving him, of course, but not so soon. Now it was clear — to both of us — that I couldn’t pretend I didn’t still care for him. Any nasty thing I said or did then would have looked like a lie, so I let go of him and started walking down Highway 70.