It was 7:00 before we pulled up into the Eastland Mall parking lot. I knew we weren't going into our own town when Jay turned south on the road past the high-school, and I thought it might be Reynoldsburg, but he took Route 40 only as far as the road down to Interstate 70 heading west. I figured it was the mall when he took the Hamilton Road exit south, but there were still a lot of stores and things there, so I was still clueless.
When we'd left Jay's, my hand was resting on the seat between us, and every so often, I'd move it just enough to touch his thigh or hand when he changed gears, giving him a shy smile when I did. After the third time, he took my hand and placed it on the white gear-shift knob, covering it with his own. The heat was amazing, and I was ready to move it when he had to change gears again—but he gripped tighter and cast a quick glance at me. "Listen to the engine, you can tell when it's revved enough for a change—I'll guide you through the pattern."
I swallowed hard, "Jay, I can't drive...you know that."
My hand was squeezed tighter when he moved us down to second, then first at an intersection. "Not on the road—but you can do it around the farm—it's private property. Just remember with a manual, you have to put the clutch in as you shift—this thing's dad's baby, and he'll have your balls if you break it!"
"Me—drive your truck?" Wouldn't you know it, my voice chose that moment to crack, and almost came out in a squeal. "I don't know about this..."
Jay ran his fingers up my arm close to the gear-shift, and snorted. "You're learning this, so shut up. You can do it—who else am I gonna get all sweaty with this summer doing farm shit?" His hand made a quick detour to my thigh and gave it a feel before he smirked at me. "Besides, I've got plans for your balls, so you need to keep 'em safe."
Once we hit I-70 Jay had to shift less, and he held my left hand almost the whole way...knowing how he was about changing his radio stations, that was probably the reason. Yeah, right! I didn't care at all and just enjoyed the contact. He explained that he didn't like the freeway much because the speeds were too high, but with passage of the 55 mph national limit two years ago, he'd do it on trips into Columbus rather than fight lights on county roads. It must have been a day for travelling music, because we must have heard nearly every car song recorded since the '50s—we came in on Hot Rod Lincoln by Commander Cody through Shut Down by the Beach Boys. My favorite oldie though had to be Hey Little Cobra by the Rip Chords...until their last selection started Autobahn by the German group Kraftwerk.
I couldn't stop myself—I reached over with my other hand and turned the volume up, causing Jay to yelp in surprise. "What is that crap? That's not an oldie!"
Was this our first disagreement? Over something as stupid as a song—god, I hoped not! I lifted his shifting hand and kissed it gently. "Trust me? This is only the best song for long drives. You can really feel the experience of being on the road...I've got the album at home and it practically lives on my turntable!"
Jay shook his head like I was crazy, but he listened; I was sort of spacing out to the rhythms, and my free hand was absently keeping time—when it got to the eight-minute mark, I knew this had to be the longer version; you never heard that on the radio since it was twenty-two minutes long...I didn't notice we'd arrived until Jay started to reach for the knob to turn off the radio.
"Please Jay—can we just sit until it's done?" In an attempt to persuade him, I leaned against my door and held out my hand to pull him closer so that he would be leaning up against me as much as the truck's confines would allow. As it turned out, the confines let him lean into my chest and rest his head on my shoulder, though our lower bodies were encumbered by the floor's gear-shift. As the music wove its spell around us, I let my fingers run through his hair and along his jaw—then I undid the top two snaps of his shirt and traced his collar-bones and grazed his sternum. When he looked up at me and smiled, I kissed him. "Can you see it, Jay? You and me, lying under the stars, wrapped up in one another's arms, letting the music wash our cares away? Can you smell the cut grass, the scent of lilacs? The whisper of the breeze through the trees..."
When the song was winding down, he started to reach for the knob again, just as Bowie's Space Oddity began. I grabbed his hand back and rested them on his stomach, making little circles with my thumb in the space between two snaps of his shirt. "Last one, I swear; you don't really want to get up, do you?"
When the song finished, I let Jay turn off the radio and gave him one last kiss before climbing out of the truck. I made sure to push down the lock plunger on the door—couldn't have Dirck mad at me! I walked around the front of the truck to wait for Jay: he made sure all the windows were up, and the doors locked, then checked the back for anything which might need to be put inside the cab. I nearly took his hand when he came up to me to walk toward the nearest entrance. I could see we were near the center, Lazarus to our right, Sears to the left. Still no clues to our eventual destination...but I had an idea.
"Okay, Jens the Mysterious...do we have time to stop in at Lazarus? I'd like to look at a few things." He glanced at his watch and pursed his lips...I was hoping he'd tell me what we were doing, figuring if there was a time we needed to be there, he'd balk. No such luck—he leaned closer and grinned.
"If you can catch me, you can do whatever you want!" And he took off toward the entrance at a fair pace—I was stunned for a minute, but with my longer legs, I didn't worry too much. Jay brushed past two guys walking down the middle of the lane, turning his head briefly to apologize, then continued on. I saw them look after my Dane's retreating back and they laughed. They didn't appear much older than us—one tall with red hair, the other an inch or two shorter with black. Real foxes, I thought as I passed them also. "Sorry—he's a real dick sometimes!"
"It's cool, man—you'd better hurry!" The red-head's voice was full of laughter at our antics. Jay had stopped at the sidewalk to glance back, but when he saw I was closing the gap, he took off again—thankfully, there were no other people to dodge.
The sidewalk came to a 'T' where it turned toward the entry, recessed between the outer walls of two stores. I cut across the grass at that point and caught up with him by a concrete bench about twenty feet from the glass doors, grabbing his arm before sliding my hand up to rest on his shoulder; I leaned into him to catch my breath, and he was also panting slightly. Neither of us were out of shape, just a bit winded. I met his eyes and grinned. "Anything?" When he nodded, I backed up, drawing him with me, and I bumped right into someone!
A hand shot out to steady me, and I saw it was the red-haired guy from the parking lot. I began to blurt out my apologies like a running faucet does water, but he waved it off. "Peace out, dude! Accidents happen, we're cool."
"I see you caught him—what now," his black-haired companion asked. "He's fast, but you've got the longer legs! You run track at school?"
"Nah, I just walk and ride my bike a lot..." Jay nudged my shoulder and I felt the gentle pressure of his motioning me toward the door. "Less than two hours, kær—Mikey."
I floundered for a second—I was talking to strangers? Had to be the bad influences of my batty boyfriend, since I wouldn't have done such a thing before unless it was a dire emergency. "Things to see, people to do...you guys have a nice evening."
"Catch you cats on the flip side," came their response as Jay held the door open for all of us to enter the shopping center. Muzak played softly through the speakers—nothing annoying to the customers—but I found it grated on me in the back of my mind. There were a few people strolling from place to place along the wide corridor, and one or two forlorn men sat on benches in the middle, obviously waiting for wives or girlfriends to load them down with more bags.
Small shops lined either side, and there was a large lit map in front of us, along with several pay-phones in silver and blue. I spotted the 'You Are Here' arrow, and saw we passed one of my favorite book stores. Could I push my luck to include a trip into B. Dalton's? The only problem with that was that I could spend hours in there—and had when my dad drove me into town to shop about once a month. I headed off up the corridor—the smell of burgers from the depths of the big Woolworth's to our left nearly drew me inside—but we turned right up the main axis toward my destination. There were several fountains and some planters under the high ceilings, and more people as we went, and I caught the aromas of food from several restaurants and small shops.
Lazarus loomed ahead, it's huge opening set off from the rest of the mall's creams and whites by a rectangular arch topped by huge letters spelling out the store's name, and inside, the lighting was a bit yellower, maybe due to the slight tinge of pinkish-beige to their tiled floors. Glass cases held toiletries and perfumes to entice women shoppers, as well as some displays of coming summer fashions. Deeper in, we came to Mens Wear, with dark wooden tables full of sweaters, shirts and ties, and more holding both jeans and dress pants. The mannequins were all generic grey, looking more like robots than people, with only mildly realistic molded forms. I saw a nice light-purple shirt, but a quick look didn't turn it up in a size to fit my shoulders and neck.
Shelving and racks along the department walls held more shirts and folded pants, and I pointed things out to Jay, or paused to stand next to him touching shoulders when he stopped to examine something. I envied him his ability to wear anything we saw while I had to find a 'Big and Tall' section for any sort of jacket or shirt; despite usually being among the tallest boys in my year, I still lacked three inches on my dad, though I got most of his shoulders. It sucked royally because that department was always more expensive.
A pair of pants on a display caught both our eyes, and I bumped into Jay when I was a second too late stopping. He put his hand to my chest, and I automatically wrapped it in my own for a minute. In front of us was a black pair of pants, with silver rivets at the pockets...but they weren't jeans, exactly—they seemed to be made of leather! "Holy—"
"...shit!" Jay whispered back.
My hand went out to touch the material—smooth, with a lining like cotton, but I couldn't tell if it was genuine leather—with the $30 price tag, I still didn't know. "God, Jay...you'd look so sexy in those..."
Jay closed the short distance between us by leaning in to whisper: "You'd look so damn hot in those it makes my head spin." For good measure, he put his hand on the small of my back, and let it move down to my rear for just a moment, which made me jump an inch or two in surprise. I shook my head in amusement and turned away to continue toward the underwear section which was one of my two goals here, the other would require some craftiness as slick as Tricky Dicky's at Watergate to pull off.
We got to the racks of briefs and tees, and Jay's mouth nearly dropped open at the variety of styles and colors so different from what his mom bought for him. I cruised right past the boxers and the rows of white gear by various makers, and zeroed in on the section of briefs in fancier colors and styles. There were single- and multi-packs, some with single colors, others mixed together...and I pointed out to him that the best ones were those without flies of any sort—just single layers of cloth across the entire front. When he asked why, I had only three words: "It just is."
I had my chance when I caught Jay stealing a glance at his watch. "Jay, I need to use the w.c. really bad—will you pick out some packages for me—you know what I like—and I'll be back in just a few minutes! Maybe some tee-shirts too?"
I figured I had maybe ten minutes before it got suspicious, so I made straight for the jewellery counter. Call me dumb, call me a romantic, but I wanted to get my boyfriend something special. The clerk was a woman about thirty in a semi-formal outfit, and I pointed out the thin-linked silver chain identical to the one I had on...then asked if they had any sort of charms on hand. Most of them were too small; I wanted something about the size of pilot's wings. Then I saw one that was just screaming Jay's name in my head: a small rearing Pegasus!
"I'll take that and the chain; can you put it on and wrap it for me? It's a present."
While she did that, I looked over the selection for my charm—something which would symbolize the roots I'd support my boyfriend with when he needed it. I finally found one, a small oak tree with spread branches. I pointed it out to the nice clerk when she returned. I took off my chain, and held it out to her.
"I know it's a lot of trouble, but could you please do the same for this?" I was rewarded with a wide smile, and a nod before she left to do what I'd asked. The small box she brought back was wrapped in a silver paper with a gold bow, to set it apart from Jay's which was done in the reverse colors. After she ran my store card through, she put small labels on so I could write our names 'so I wouldn't mix them up.' "I hope your special friend likes the gift—how long have you been going out?" Was I that obvious? "Hon, people in love just glow, no matter how they try to hide it."
I smiled back and lowered my gaze to the small bag with my purchases. "Four days..." It sounded better if I counted from Wednesday's ride home—not so high-schoolish. "Nearly four months before we got the nerve to talk about it."
I thanked her for her assistance and headed back to the underwear section, where I found Jay shuffling through five packages, some rectangular, a couple in the tubes some makers used. "Mikey, these are all $10 at least!"
I shook my head to show my lack of worry over that—such were the joys of having my own Lazarus card and an allowance so I could pay it off regularly if I didn't go crazy. I looked them over, thinking that they'd all look fantastic on Jay. With the cost of the charms, I reluctantly put one of the packages back—one with all grey shorts in it—Jay was not going to switch from boring white to nearly-as-boring grey briefs while I had a say in it. "You think they look sexy, right?" I asked just loud enough for him to hear, as we walked toward the department's cashier stand.
On the way out of the store and into the mall again, we passed the jewellery counter, and I waved slightly behind Jay's back at the clerk, giving her a wide smile and a thumbs-up sign. She took a look around, and not seeing anyone else watching, she pretended to fan herself and gave me a wink and a similar thumb gesture.
I loved shopping at Lazarus!
* * * * * * * * * *
Jay and I walked out into the wide axis heading west where Sears anchored the other end of the mall. The axis' middle was occupied by benches and planters at intervals, and a large circular fountain at the intersection where we'd first entered. To the left was the way to the truck, to our right the recessed entrance to J.C. Penney's—I kept glancing at him to see where we were going, but he just casually glanced at both sides as we went, smiling at me when he caught my eyes on him. I noticed we'd fallen into matching paces, and our shoulders would touch once in a while, or our hands brush together—when that happened one of us would squeeze gently for just a second before anyone might notice.
We passed the lit display window of Roger's Jewelers opposite Penney's, and I was glad I'd gotten my stuff at Lazarus! Most people thought gold and diamonds were the epitome of stylish fashion, but I wasn't one of them—I'd take silver any day, and diamonds just seemed so cold and impersonal that I saw no sense to people thinking they symbolized eternal love. There was a lot more gold shown in the windows than silver, and Jay caught me shaking my head. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing...just all that gold..."
"You don't like gold, or something?" I noted the raised eyebrow just like his dad used. "Next you'll say you don't like diamonds!"
I pointed to a fairly average engagement ring set: a plain gold band set with a small diamond for the man, and a larger stone for the woman. I explained my reasoning to him about diamonds, and added that gold was too flashy for my tastes. I leaned in close so no one would overhear. "You're gonna laugh, but the only gold I like is that in your hair..."
Jay's eyes got larger for a minute, then his cheeks started to turn pink. "You bastard! Do you have any idea how much I want to kiss you right now?" My hand reached up to touch his cheek, but at the last second my brain kicked in and I gave his shoulder a small shove instead. I started off again in the direction of Sears, still not knowing our goal—but now I didn't care—all I could think about was the way his lips felt pressed against mine.
I slowed outside B. Dalton's and gave Jay my puppy-eyed look, but his attention was already on something inside. I turned to look in the direction he was staring and saw the guys from the parking lot browsing the magazine racks which stretched along one wall near the open front of the store. The black-haired one was near the newspapers, while the red-head was scanning the magazines. Jay glanced at me after checking his watch. "You've got ten minutes, tops!"
Now I was stuck: ten minutes—no chance of that if I did my usual tour. Reluctantly, I glanced back toward the science-fiction, but settled for a quick look at the scattered tables in front before going over to the magazines. The copy of Old House Journal was one I already had, so I moved on to the science ones instead. I saw the new Archaeology and picked that up, and moved down to look at Scientific American, but my eye caught something on the very top of the rack in the next section over. A couple magazines I'd not noticed before with titles like Blueboy, Mandate, In Touch and Torso. About all I could see were the titles, so I glanced around quickly and lifted up the glossiest cover and slipped it between the pages of Archaeology. I then casually opened the magazine to the place where the more exciting one started.
In Touch's cover was nice, and it appeared to be a picture of a skate-boarder named Dana O'Brian, whoever that was. I saw some articles on news, movies—even the gay life-style—there were also quite a few pictures of semi-nude models...then I hit the centerfold, and had to suck in my breath—holy shit—the guy was naked! I felt a pang in my chest and quickly pulled my eyes away from the magazine, seeing Jay walking over to one of the parking lot guys. I put the magazine back—it felt wrong, like I was cheating on Jay—and there was no power on earth which would make me do that to him!
Jay had wandered over to our black-haired friend and browsed the papers also, picking out the Citizen-Journal, the Columbus Dispatch's major competitor. The man glanced over and smiled. "It's the fugitive from the parking lot! Is your fleet-footed friend here too?"
Jay nodded and pointed to where I was browsing the magazines farther down the rack than the tall red-head. "I told him ten minutes—we're going to see a movie at 8—but don't say anything because it's a surprise."
"My lips are sealed," the dark-haired guy said with a grin. "Treb and I were wondering what to do next, so maybe we'll join you—if that's okay?" Jay nodded slowly, he'd had an idea for some fun in the darkened theater, but maybe these guys would sit far enough away not to see them making out.
"Logan's Run is supposed to be good, me and Mikey like science-fiction stuff!" The blond finally remembered his manners—his mom would have smacked him for being rude. "My name's Jay...and my tall buddy is Mikey."
The man took Jay's hand and shook it firmly, but not crushingly like some guys did as a test of strength. He tossed his head in the direction where his friend stood. "That's Trebor—he prefers that to his real name, Robert—I'm Dave. We go to OSU's main campus." Jay saw him close his paper and straighten the pages back up.
"You guys are from Newark? I see you have a copy of the Advocate. Me and Mikey live east of here too." He didn't understand why Dave began to snicker, then break out into a genuine laugh over the reference to the paper from his county seat—until the older boy handed the paper over. There was an article on Anita Bryant speaking about the true goals of the 'gay rights agenda'. His eyes bugged out to see articles and ads supporting gay people and their fight for civil rights. "P-people write about this stuff? You guys are...gay?"
Despite the hoarseness of his whispered exclamation, Dave heard him clearly. The taller man took the paper out of his hands and tucked it under his arm. "Not here...let's get our friends and see that movie."
I walked over to the red-head as Jay was finishing up his conversation, and saw he was looking at House Beautiful—weird, my mom had that lying around. Before I could do much more than say 'hello', the other guys joined us. A round of introductions ensued, and we shook hands with smiles on our faces. Trebor? By my expression they knew I was wondering if I'd heard right, and Dave told me it was backwards, as his friend preferred. "That's really keen! I wish I could do that, but I'm stuck wi..."
"There's nothing wrong with Mikey—unless you don't like me calling you that? I think it's a cool name." I looked at Jay's warm smile and it finally hit me: only in very serious moods had he called me Miles, but I didn't get it until now—every happy time we spent together since meeting, it had been Mikey—he was telling me in his own way that my old unhappy life was gone, to be put behind me. We had a fresh start, together. I couldn't kiss him in the middle of a book-store, but god how I wanted to!
We paid for our purchases and walked in a loose group toward Sears, Jay finally stopping just before the corridor widened for the mall's biggest anchor store, and faced to the right. "Here we are Mikey...I hope you'll like Logan's Run!"
With one glance, I knew what had happened—Jay was so excited to find something for us to do, that he'd seen the large poster for the coming attraction and assumed it was playing now. The marquee above the General Cinema sign clearly said The Bad News Bears. The theater was right next to the mall entrance by the big chain store, so I quickly pulled Jay around the corner, next to a planter with a small tree. A quick glance showed no one in the cross-corridor, so I put my hand to his cheek.
"Oh, kæreste—we'll see it when it starts in June...you know what really matters?" My blond Dane shook his head dejectedly—I could see he had put so much of himself into making our date special..."The part I love most is that I'm with you! I'd have stayed in Algebra II and flunked it so long as you were there with me." That did the trick, Jay began to smile, and he started snickering. He knew just how much I hated math!
After another quick look, I gave him a soft but intense kiss before heading back to Trebor and Dave, who were talking right where we left them. The college guys saw us coming and walked over to us, making sure to stand between the wider axis and us. "Dudes—not here!" Trebor's freckles were harder to see through what seemed to be a blush. He pointed to our joined hands. "Keep it cool—no one saw you, so just act natural."
"So, we seeing this movie, or what?" Dave interjected placing a hand on each of our shoulders. I think Jay and I would have jumped apart except for his strong grip. We looked at each other with pale faces, and I tilted my head. He raised an eyebrow in return, and I shrugged. He knew where I stood on this issue—we were together and that was all I cared about.
"It's up to you guys..." Jay began just as Trebor's stomach growled. That had us all laughing and poking fun at him...but he just shrugged it off. "Sounds like our friend wants to eat, so how about that?" Quick nods followed Jay's suggestion, then came the debate; we settled on French's since we were right next to it. A hot dog sounded about right after Rosalie's big dinner a couple hours previously.
The restaurant's interior was all made to look like wood—no doubt fake—but it looked nice with booths and a few tables. I held back to find a good booth for us, which was easy with only three other people inside. Jay leaned over to ask what I wanted, and I said just a plain dog and a Pepsi, then went off to join our new friends at the counter. A couple minutes later they returned with drinks and I found out the food would be brought out to us. Jay saw my grimace when I sipped my drink. "Sorry, they only serve Coke...but I got you an extra dog to make up for it!"
I could feel Jay's thigh pressed against mine since he was sitting on the outside of the booth, and I scooted my knee so that it was touching his under the table. Trebor and Dave were opposite us, with Dave on the outside on their bench. We chatted quietly for a few minutes about the mall, sipping our sodas when Jay said, "So you guys are gay too..."
My eyes got very wide and I started coughing, nearly spewing my drink onto the table. Jay pounded my back a few times, taking the opportunity to rub it gently in the process of being helpful. I kicked him under the table...hard! "We are gonna have words later, Jens Per Beckel!" I could see that Trebor was surprised, but not quite so much as I by my boyfriend's words. Fortunately for my rash companion, Dave leaned across the table slightly so he could be heard without raising his voice.
"Don't get bent out of shape, Mikey—Jay saw me reading a gay newspaper in B. Dalton's, and I told him we'd talk somewhere else about it. Treb and I aren't out to anyone but a few friends on campus, but our families know."
"It's so much different here, guys! Back home kids are more laid back and mellow...being in the ocean's all they care about—who you love is your own business..." Trebor trailed off, not wanting to insult us by saying anything mean. Dave nudged him to follow when his name was called out from the counter, and the two of them went to fetch our food.
I looked to my left and saw Jay's eyes on me, begging me not to be angry with him...and I couldn't, because of those damn blue eyes. Did his father ever win an argument with Rosalie? If he felt anything for his wife like I felt looking at Jay's eyes, I doubted it. I squeezed his hand under the table and smiled. "I get it—I'm not mad at you. You knew one of them was like us, probably both, and that we could learn a lot from them. I had suspicions about Trebor when I saw him reading his magazine, and I get nothing but good vibes from them. You get a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card this time."
Talk was light while we ate, not wanting to bring up the subject where we might be overheard, we didn't mention being gay again. At 9pm an announcement came that the mall was closing, and we got up to leave, putting our trash in the bin on our way out. We walked back toward the center of the mall, and turned to head out to the parking lot. On the way, I ducked into one of the bathrooms, and went into a stall. That must have started a parade or something, because within a minute, the other three came in behind me. I noticed some fresh paint on the stall's wall, but a few pieces of graffiti were scratched in deep enough to still show—I studiously ignored them as I finished up.
Near the exit, I stopped at the pay phone and dug around in my pockets for a dime. I turned to Jay, but he only had pennies. "I think you should call your mom to let her know we'll be late—we ran into friends at the mall." I got a strange look, but he nodded, and started to pull out pennies. When I looked down, I hit myself on the head. "What a dumb-ass!"
I kicked off my penny-loafers and stood there in my socks as I pulled the dime out of each shoe's top. I was so dorky that I put dimes in them for just such an emergency! "You talk to your mom, I'll talk to mine—maybe I can stay over tonight—if you want me to?" His face lit up and he quickly punched in his number, while I listened in.
"...Mor, kan Mikey overnatte? Vi mødte nogle venner i the Mall...ja...okay, I'll ask!" He put his hand over the mouthpiece as he looked at me. "It's okay if your mom says 'yes'. You better call to see!"
I picked up the other phone and punched in my number, having to stare at the buttons for a second—we only had rotary phones at home. I heard it ring three times before it was picked up. "Hi mom! You got my note?...Jay, from art class...we did our homework, then his mom made dinner...yes, I made my manners. No, he drove us into town to see a movie—yes, he's a great driver! No, mom he doesn't drink—and he doesn't smoke either...none of his family do..." Jay saw me roll my eyes and blow out a silent sigh, and giggled.
"Mom—I'm calling to ask if I can stay over at Jay's tonight since the movie won't be out 'til nearly midnight...Jay's on the other phone with her now—she says it's okay if you say it's okay." I kicked my foot in frustration, and my loafers went skidding across the tile floor—fortunately, Dave brought them back with a huge grin on his broad face. "I don't know, mom...I'll try, hang on!"
"She wants to talk to your mom—I know, I know...but what else can we do?" We held the receivers next to each other, and after a bit of confusion where each of us tried to rotate them so they were speaker to receiver, I said, "Okay mom...here's Mrs. Beckel!" We could hear the voices a little tinnily, but not the actual words, until about five minutes later we heard a loud whistle. I put the receiver back to my ear, and listened for a few more minutes as I was given a list of instructions. "Yeah, mom...I will, I promise. No, I won't forget...Thanks, mom...I'll see you in the afternoon. What?...Mo-om! Okay, I'll make sure. Bye!"
I leaned my head against the cool white wall and sighed. It was always the same—a hundred questions and warnings, as if they really cared...I only saw either of them a few hours a day before they went to bed, or I did. I gave Jay a tired grin and headed for the exit, our new friends in front of me, when Jay touched my arm to hold me back a second. "You might want these...you didn't bring socks, and mine won't fit your size 13 clodhoppers!" He bent down and let me lean on his shoulder as I slipped my shoes back on, then walked next to me as we made our way outside.
The parking lot was dark now, with only the tall poles of the flood-lights giving us a chance at seeing our way around. A lot of cars had gone now, leaving only those of employees of the mall's stores and last-minute movie-goers. Jay had been forced to park almost half way down our aisle, and only a few cars remained beyond that. We stopped at the truck, Jay putting our bags inside, then we leaned on the fenders to talk some more: me and Jay on one side, Dave and Trebor opposite us. The metal of the truck was cold where we leaned against it, and I shivered enough that Jay wrapped an arm around me to try to warm me. "I should have brought a jacket." I groused.
"I suppose we'd better get going," my blond said to Dave, though I was hoping for more talk with our more-experienced friends—there was so much we didn't know...we had no idea if we'd see these two again. "I'm fine Jay, it's not like it's below zero. We can take turns in the truck if it gets too bad."
"I don't see how you guys can live in this weather—I don't even go up into the Sierras at home! I'm a beach boy to the core." Trebor laughed when he said that, then he handed Dave a set of keys. "Can you bring the car over, D? No sense freezing our balls off if we don't have to." The dark-haired boy trotted off into the darkness farther out into the lot.
"You know dudes, we knew you were gay all along—we saw you going at it in the truck when we walked by." Nothing in Treb's tone was anything but wistful, so we tried not to be too nervous; with Jay next to me, and his arm around me, I think I did pretty well. "It's cool that you are so happy, but someone else might have seen you guys. I thought about coming over, but Dave and I kept watch as we walked, thinking you might not have had many chances to be alone."
Jay was about to say something when the sound of an engine's throaty purr came our way from down our row—Trebor's smile told us not to worry, and he kept his eyes on us as the noise got louder, and a shape loomed out of the dark. The vehicle, bigger than a car we now saw, pulled under the closest lamp-post...all boxy, greenish and...groovy as fuck!
"Zoinks!" I gasped, and Jay was right there with "Jinkies!"
Our mouths just gaped in awed surprise at the appearance of the vehicle from one of our favorite cartoons; as Dave came around the front of the van and threw open the side door behind the passenger's. "One wild mystery coming up for some meddlesome kids—Scooby snacks await!"
Trebor watched as Jay and I walked over to the open door; the interior was the same greeny-turquoise as the outside, with strings of beads separating the front seats from the open back space. The overhead light was standard, but augmented by a small round ball which cast spots around the inside, and the floor directly behind the seats was carpeted, while the rest all the way back to the rear doors was a large padded mattress area. A small stand opposite and behind the driver's seat held a small radio, two drawers and a bean-bag chair in red vinyl. Pillows in various shapes and colors were scattered by the walls on the mattress, and a large blanket in blue with a smiling golden zodiac sun-face covered the rest. A small chest to the left of the door we peered in held bottles and cans of various sodas. Books were scattered around, and the walls had various psychedelic posters for concerts in San Francisco.
"Hop in, man!" Dave said with a grand wave of his arm. I let Jay go first, and he pulled off his boots as soon as he was inside, then moved over toward the mattress to give us room. I did the same, my loafers landing mingled with his cowboy boots, and I found the mattress was soft—as was the side-wall! It hadn't been noticeable from outside, but the sides and rear doors of the storage space were padded and fabric-covered rather than painted in that semi-neon green. It was also much warmer than the night air which came in through the open hatch. The only window in the whole back of the van was a round porthole in the rear door which lined up with the driver's seat.
Dave was last in, pulling the door shut and letting his sneakers join Trebor's by the door...we could hear the motor running 'so the heat can build up' according to our hosts, and Trebor took out a book of matches and lit something, placing it in a brass dish on the small night-stand. Within moments, the sweet-spicy aroma of incense began to curl into the air. Dave punched a button on the radio, and we saw it also contained a cassette deck which spieled out the soft silvery drones and drum rhythms of exotic music: I remembered hearing it in Ms. Skopik's art class last year—I think it was sitar music by Ravi Shankar.
I let Jay pull me back against him where he leaned into the corner of the rear door and driver's side of the van, having piled up a few of the cushions for a back rest. Trebor took the opposite side by the door, having made his own nest of cushions. We just relaxed for a minute, letting the music and aroma of sandalwood draw out our tensions...it was actually beginning to get pretty warm in the van, so Dave went through the beads to turn off the motor, returning to sit next to Treb and leaning his head on his friend's shoulder. Trebor idly ran his fingers through Dave's black hair as he smiled at us. "How long you guys been together?"
Jay gave me a squeeze around the waist and a little nudge, so I answered his question. "We've been in the same art class all semester, but we only got up the nerve to do anything about our feelings on Wednesday..." As they listened to me talk about the jokes, then the note—and me not showing up—they snuggled closer, with Trebor pulling Dave half onto his lap so they could nuzzle each other's necks. I looked at Jay when I got to the events of Friday night's rescue, and he shrugged. "It's up to you, kæreste; I've got a good feeling about them too..."
I felt myself holding back, not because I didn't feel we should tell these guys, but because it was still so recent, and inside my head the dust was still settling and my new outlook was only now beginning to feel permanent. "Yesterday Jay and I had an emotional experience which brought us into focus, made us realize what we meant to each other."
Jay kissed my cheek softly and rubbed my shoulders as he took up our story. "Only this week we found out there are other guys in our little town like us—we don't know who they are except for one, and there is no way we can be open at home—Mikey and I got 'outed' at dinner tonight by my mom and dad! As it turns out, they had wondered about me, and are completely cool with it since my uncle's gay too."
It was cute to see how excited Trebor and Dave got at that news—Dave rolled over to grab some cans from the cooler, passing out sodas to each of us. "That's totally sweet! I remember our 'first' date—it was freaky because we were roommates in the dorm—it was about two weeks before we took a chance to see if we could be more than friends..."
I saw that I was holding a can of RC-Cola, and decided it would do—much better than Coke, but not as good as Pepsi—Jay had a can of Grape Crush, and I was sorely tempted to switch with him, but I didn't: grape-flavored anything was his version of my chocolate addiction. The flat-topped steel can was chilled, but not dripping with water from ice, so I guessed that the 'cooler' was in fact a small refrigerator. I pulled the tab from the top of the can to get at the soda inside through the V-shaped slot, and handed it to Dave to toss in the trash. While drinking and listening to Dave and Trebor explaining their own history, I nudged Jay to scoot forward a bit, and eased myself into the corner so I could draw him into my lap—my back had begun to hurt in the positions we'd had before.
I thought it was so cool that the two college guys had met through the university's process of selection, despite the fact that they were both from Redwood City and had attended rival high schools. The fact that their last names both began with 'M' didn't hurt either: Mendoza for Dave, and Mciver for Trebor. We found out that their town was just south of San Francisco on the peninsula which separated the city's bay from the Pacific Ocean. I had seen a picture of some redwoods, so I had a vague picture of a town whose parks were full of the giant trees. As Dave spoke, Trebor was fiddling with a small box and some slips of colored paper. Why didn't he just buy cigarettes, I wondered to myself.
Jay snuggled closer into my lap, and that had its usual effect on me. "Stop it, Jay..." I whispered in his ear. He turned his head and gave me a kiss and a totally innocent look—which I wasn't buying for a second. He wriggled again, and let his feet rub along my ankles, grey socks next to white. He grabbed my free hand with his and rested them in his lap, where I found him just as hard as I was.
"So guys, got any advice for me and Mikey? I know we just met, but we both think you guys are seriously cool, and we'd like to be your friends." The California boys exchanged a smirk and Dave raised his can of soda in salute.
"Here's to good friends—which are hard to find, and even harder to keep!" The older boys grinned as they looked where my hand was resting, and all three of them snickered to see my furious blushing—even my evil boyfriend! They moved closer to us on the mattress, so our feet were intermingled, and Trebor held up one of the cigarettes he'd rolled. "Toke?" he asked, pulling out a silver Zippo lighter.
"I don't smoke," I said shaking my head. "I tried it with a friend in the back of an old car in a field behind his barn when we were twelve—I coughed my lungs out and quit after two weeks." Jay likewise shook his head. I was glad he didn't smoke either—my sisters did, and I hated the smell when we visited. Dave laughed and told us it was California Gold—only then did I figure out they were talking about pot! Everybody heard the horror stories the Establishment tried to convince us was gospel truth, but nobody over age 12 could really buy that line...still, I had doubts. Trebor sensed that right away, and put the joint in a small plastic bag, handing it to Jay, since he was closer.
"That's ace, guys...keep it for later, when you're ready to try it—but I can assure you, one 'hit' won't make you addicted; back home, it's everywhere, and very few people do it constantly, only once in a while when they want to relax, or get into a better mood. All it will do is make you more cheerful, make you laugh a little easier for a while, and get a little hungry. The effects wear off in a half hour or so, probably even less time with just one puff.
"Don't do it where you can be caught by the Man—bears love hassling kids as it is, so don't give them any extra ammunition. That goes for any public displays like holding hands or kissing too—those things aren't illegal anymore, but there are guys out there who will call you names or worse if they see it."
Dave took his turn to help ease our minds about being given the pot, and life in general for gay guys like us. "Treb's not just saying that so you'll try it—throw it away when you get home—we're still your friends. We maybe do one joint a week, if that, and we both have GPAs of 3.75. We don't drink much either, even though we're of age: you'll find, eventually, that going out to bars is really big for gay guys...it's a chance to meet more people like yourselves and see some of the different types of people in the scene. It's also how guys meet up for getting laid."
Trebor put his arm around Dave and drew him back beside him. "You see, it's kinda rare that you meet your Mr. Right in high-school...most guys spend a long time searching, and they get into the rut of thinking that if the sex is good, then this is the One...Often, it's not—so you have to go into things with your eyes open and your guard up. Don't let a guy's looks or fast talk make you give up yourself to them for a night's fun...it's not worth it!"
The guys showed us the copy of the Advocate Dave had bought, and talked with us about Anita Bryant's anti-gay rhetoric and the fact that there were some fundamentalist preachers out there who took every chance to condemn 'our kind' as immoral and sinful. Trebor dug out an older copy and gave it to us. That brought up the discussion of whether we chose to be gay, or were just born that way. Scientists were leaning one way, psychologists another, but based on my own and Jay's experiences, I figured it had to be something we were born with—I certainly didn't choose it—and Jay had an uncle the same way.
I saw the red numbers on my watch were showing 11:20, and told Jay we should probably get moving...we'd be getting to his place at midnight with luck. We crowded by the side doors of the van and dug through the pile of shoes for my loafers and Jay's cowboy boots, putting them on as we sat on the door-sill. Before climbing out, we looked at the college guys, and Jay gave a grin when Dave held out his hand. He pulled the black-haired guy into a tight hug, and whispered 'Thanks, man," into his ear before letting go, then did the same to Trebor.
Jay had rapidly been eroding my reluctance to touch people or show my feelings this past week, so I repeated his actions with only a second's hesitation. "I really want to see you guys again..."
Dave ducked back inside the van for a second, coming out with a piece of paper. "Here's our phone number—we're there anytime after 6 during the week. Call to chat, ask us questions, or just to bullshit...we're good with anything!" Trebor echoed his words, and added, "Since Logan's Run doesn't start until June, how about going with us to a movie next weekend? You'll love it, just make sure you wear old clothes, nothing fancy!"
"We'll check with our parents, but it sounds good to me," Jay said. I quickly added my assent too—any chance to see a movie was like a gift from the gods—if there were two bigger boob-tube fanatics than us, I had yet to meet them! And I was looking forward to longer talks with our new friends who'd already taught us some things about being gay, and could teach us a lot more. I gave each of them another hug and headed to the truck, standing by the passenger door, Jay followed me a minute later after his own round of hugs.
With the engine running, we waited a second for the heater to kick in, and waved a final goodbye to two of the coolest guys we'd ever met!
Next stop, Jay's!