Triptychs – Chapter 3
“Okay,” from Cole. “I’m beginning to see what you mean. About driving an automatic in traffic.”
We’d hit a little slow patch on 580, the stretch of freeway I’d be taking down to school, when I drove. Not much of a slow patch; kind of like, slow down, come to a stop; then speed up to 30, then maybe up to 40, for a stretch, then everything would come crashing down to a dead stop again, in a red blaze of brake lights.
It’s the Bay Area; freeway traffic’s terrible, even on a good day.
I grinned over at him, smugly. “Told you.”
He glanced at me, quick, before we started creeping forward again. “I said I’m beginning to see it. But it still feels weird; like the truck’s making all the decisions for me, like I’m not really in control . . . No; no. I still like Jeremy’s car better.”
I couldn’t help laughing at him.
I do that a lot; usually, he gets mad, when I do, and then he comes around, and starts laughing at himself, too. Which is another reason we’re so close, him and me.
“What - ?” Another glance over in my direction.
“You!” I made myself stop laughing, a second, and just grinned “I’ve been with you guys in traffic like this, before. Do you know what it looks like? You spend so much time shifting, and shifting, and shifting, it’s like you’re fucking rowing us down the freeway. It’s hilarious!”
That got me a quick, dirty look; which kind of morphed, over a couple of seconds, into a squint, and then a kind of rueful, not-quite grin of his own, as he thought about it, his eyes back to looking straight ahead at the road.
“Okay,” he said again, after a couple of beats. “Okay. Maybe I can see that . . . ”
Yeah, all right. But I still like stick shifts. They really do give you a lot
more control, it’s easier to accelerate faster, and, I don’t know, using the
stick on Jeremy’s car just FEELS better. And you have to admit, they’re kind of
“Mmmmm,” I hummed; just to tease him. Cole’s told me stories about him and Jeremy, fooling around in his car. Jeremy’s, I mean.
“Perv.” He flashed his eyes at me, smiling cooked; then traffic started up, and we were rolling faster again, all in a pack; 20, then 25, then 30 miles an hour . . .
And as the breeze through the windows kicked in again, cool against my sweaty shirt . . . I looked over a him; steering a little awkwardly, still, concentrating on the car ahead of us.
Framing the scene, actually; I do that, a lot. I’m a photographer, a good one; and I’m into film and video. It’s what my major will be, and what I’ll do for a living, someday, and I’m always thinking scenes; images, sequences, frames. It’s what I do, I can’t help it.
Just now, it was easy; and special. Cole was driving, and I could look at him, without him looking back at me; and that doesn’t happen very often.
So I burned the image into my mind, Cole’s beautiful profile, a little sweaty, the open truck window behind him framing his head, his soft brown hair, just beginning to stick on his forehead . . . wishing, for the millionth time, that I had some kind of permanent storage behind my eyes, some way of capturing the scene in every detail, every pixel . . .
And all at once our breathless, thirty-miles-an-hour rush was over, and we all braked down, fast, to another dead stop; and the stagnant heat was back, and Cole was shaking his head in frustration. The air drifting through the windows stank of diesel fumes, from some truck ahead of us.
“Fuck,” he said; then he looked over at me, quick, one corner of his mouth curled up, a little ruefully. “Fuck. I hope you don’t have to do this drive too much.”
“I won’t if I can help it.” I looked ahead, at the sea of cars and red brake lights in front of us. “BART’s got to be cheaper than the gas, for a ridiculous truck like this.”
Silence, for a second. And me cursing myself; bringing up money, yet again. Will I ever, ever learn, to watch my mouth - ?
Silence, for a short stretch of seconds; then the car ahead of us began to move, and Cole stepped on the gas, and we were moving, and the noise of the engine through the open window sort of masked that little bit of tension; for a moment.
“So,” went Cole, eventually. Over the traffic noise; a little abruptly. “Have you called Erik yet?”
I grinned, wide; mostly to myself. Partly because Cole’s changing the subject was deliberate, a kind of peace offering, and I appreciated it. And partly because – this was going to be fun.
“Hey,” I said, looking ahead at the road. “Why should I call him? I’m the cute young boy; he’s the older, more mature guy, he’s the one who should be chasing ME.”
“He’s only twenty-two.” I glanced over, and saw the corners of his mouth twist up a little. “A year older than Jeremy.”
“Yeah, well, that’s older. And besides, on our last date, he said he’d call me, he was really deliberate about saying he’d call me.”
“Did he say NOT to call him - ?”
“No, duh; of course not.” I stopped to consider, a second. “But – ”
A quick flick of his eyes, over at me. “Yeah?”
“He said he’d call me. He made a real point of it.”
“That was more than a month ago! How long are you going to wait - ?”
I tried, hard, to damp down my grin. “Hey. Come on. Everybody knows I’ve been chasing him for years. HE knows I’ve been chasing him since I was thirteen. If I start calling him now, don’t you think he’ll, like, just run away?”
The hard logic of dating; and true enough.
What wasn’t exactly, precisely true, was the part about me chasing him for years. But Cole didn’t know that.
I was right, about me calling Erik, though; and the logic of it stopped Cole for a second.
Traffic slammed down again, in a wall of red brake lights; and Cole swore under his breath, as he braked hard, and steered us down to a dead stop.
“It’s just one more exit,” I said; sympathetically. “The next one, after this. Then it’s a clear shot to the campus.”
“Good.” I saw him scowl at the traffic. “Good.” He glanced over at me, and met my eyes. “You know, you’re right, you shouldn’t like, stalk him, or anything . . . but it wouldn’t hurt if you showed a little interest, anyway. Maybe just one call?” His look went back to the road again, as we started inching forward. “The thing is, you’re not going to get laid like that again, if you never talk to him.”
My last date with Erik, I HAD gotten laid, pretty spectacularly; and I’d told Cole all the details, of course. I really enjoy doing that.
I kept my eyes carefully on the road ahead of us; it was so hard not to bust out laughing, I could feel my lips quivering.
“Well . . . ” I started, after a couple of beats. “I didn’t call him. But I didn’t say I didn’t talk to him.”
His eyes snapped over to mine; and I held my breath, expecting to feel the truck swerve. “What?!”
“He called me. Last night; I didn’t have a chance to tell you.” I felt my grin turn smug. “We’ve got a date all set up.”
“You asshole!” Cole glanced at me quick again, and his own grin was wide, and delighted; “You asshole!” Then his eyes darted back to the road. “Wait a minute – this next exit? Coming up?”
“Yeah. You’ve got a mile.”
“Okay . . . ” and he looked over his shoulder, and started steering us, carefully, over to the right hand lane. “So, when’s your date?”
This was the delicious part.
“Saturday. When my mom’s going to be staying over in Stockton, with Uncle Ryan and Uncle Patrick.”
Which meant, I had the whole, entire night free, for once in my life. Which meant, no worrying about my mom being alone, back at the house, without me around; I didn’t even have to worry about the truck, she’d be using it to get to Stockton. Which meant – I’d be sleeping, in Erik’s bed, in San Francisco, all night.
All right. I was pretty sure we wouldn’t ACTUALLY be sleeping. I was pretty sure I was going to be getting nicely, thoroughly, spectacularly laid, again. Whatever else you can say about Erik and me, we fit together really well, physically. Better than anyone else I’ve ever been with, except Cole. I was SO looking forward to it.
And maybe, just maybe, there’d be other . . . developments. Maybe I’d make a little progress on my own self-help agenda. Maybe I’d make a little progress, getting myself a little saner.
More emotionally available.
More open to maybe, maybe loving someone else, for real. Someone other than Cole.
We came up the hill on Carlos Bee Road, and when we hit the campus ring road, I had Cole go to the left, more towards the back side of everything. Mostly because, the longer we had to walk, the more of the campus Cole’d get to see.
But. Being from Berkeley, being used to the UC Berkeley campus – there was one thing about this part of the campus, one thing about this back ring road, that was guaranteed to impress him.
“Jesus fucking God,” he breathed. Glancing back and forth, from the road to my side of the truck, as we moved forward, slow. “Jesus!”
“Yeah,” I smiled. “Think we’ll find a place to park?”
You have to understand – Berkeley, back where we came from, isn’t exactly a car-friendly city. It isn’t exactly an easy place, when it comes to finding parking.
“Look at all this! Jesus! This is all student parking?”
“Yep.” I was feeling REALLY smug, now. “Well, there’s more. This is lot . . . ” I squinted at the sign, as we passed it slowly. “Lot ‘K’.”
“Yeah. Starts at ‘A’; I think it goes up to ‘P’.”
All right. Berkeley’s downright hostile, when it comes to parking; until my summer job came up, I logged more miles just moving the truck around, from street parking space to street parking space, than going anywhere else. I got good at finding the legal ones; and the semi-legal ones.
So here we were, cruising by these big, student parking lots; acres and acres of parking, mostly all empty, because the quarter didn’t start until Monday.
And UC Berkeley, the school . . . you can pretty much forget about parking there, unless you’re a teacher. Jeremy only got an off-campus space for his Mini Cooper, because his dad knew someone, who knew someone; one of those things.
“Which one?” from Cole, as we crept along.
“Pick one,” I shrugged. “Doesn’t really matter.”
Into the lot, into a space – it took Cole three tries, to fit the truck into just one space, and he started to get mad – and then we were down, out of the truck and locking the doors; and we hoisted up our empty book bags, and we started towards the main campus.
I glanced over at Cole; feeling a little high, just having him here with me. “Welcome to Hayward State!” I went, grinning.
“Don’t call it that!”
I looked at him, surprised; he sounded almost mad, again.
“It’s not Hayward State! It’s CSUEB; Cal State University, East Bay.” He looked at me, level, unsmiling. “It’s a good school. You shouldn’t run it down.”
This was getting dangerously close to our argument, last year; the only real, serious argument Cole and I have ever had.
“Yeah; okay. I didn’t mean it wasn’t a good school. Just, it’s a California State University, and it’s in Hayward; and that means it’s Hayward State.”
See – in California, there are two systems, and it’s a little confusing. There’s the University of California, with schools like UCLA and UC Berkeley and UC San Diego; that’s the high-end, prestigious system.
And then, there’s the California State University system; not too long before my mom went to San Jose State University, it was called the San Jose State College, and the whole system was the State College system. They just renamed it, to make it sound better.
Which is fine, even if it’s more than a little funny. They’re all decent schools . . . even if they’re not the REAL UC system.
But what was more important to me, much, much more important to me – my new school was a LOT less expensive that Cal Berkeley. Or UCLA, or UC Davis, or any of the other UC schools.
A LOT less expensive.
Which went to the core of our argument, Cole and me, and left me suddenly uncomfortable, as we hit the walkway from the parking lot.
“You said it yourself,” went Cole. “At Cal my first two years will be mostly big lectures, given by TA’s. You’ll have smaller classes, run by professors.”
“Yeah,” I shrugged. Even though we both knew, it wasn’t really the same.
And on one level, I knew, this was so sad; was so sad, and, really, so touching. Cole HATED the idea of me coming here, coming to Cal State University, East Bay, rather than UC Berkeley . . . he really hated the idea, and it was the root cause of our argument.
And now, he was trying to make me feel better about the whole thing. For my sake.
Not wanting to get back into our argument; just trying to make me feel better. It was another peace offering on his part, it was such a peace offering.
I love Cole. Is it any wonder that I’ve loved Cole, so long?
“And in a couple of years,” he was saying, “you can transfer back to Cal. Maybe you can get into the New Media Center program.”
If my mom or me won the lottery. If I sold one of my kidneys. “Yeah.”
“Just keep an open mind about it, okay? The New Media Center’s important, and it’s going to be more important. We still might both wind up there.”
The New Media Center at Berkeley is this new, experimental, interdisciplinary school; it brings together film and the Internet and gaming and a lot more, trends and technologies that are just being invented, and I’d give anything to get involved in it, it’s perfect for me. And Cole and I had dreamed about doing it together, maybe even starting a collaboration, starting up a little business or partnership of our own, together, using what we learned there, using whatever connections we made, there; him concentrating on the computer technology side of things, me on the film and media side . . .
And it wasn’t going to happen.
“Yeah. I’ll think about it. I promise.”
Up another walkway, and we were passing by a gray, raw-concrete-sided building.
“That’s the theater building,” I went; a little abruptly. Changing the subject, deliberately.
“Uh-huh.” Which didn’t tell me whether he already knew, or not; I wasn’t exaggerating, about Cole probably downloading data and maps.
On a little ways; and all of a sudden we were out into the main interior part of the campus, the heart of it, really. Lots of grass; grassy lawns, grassy slopes, low, 70’s-ish buildings, all kind of understated, and low key . . .
And then, best of all, the trees. Pretty much in the center of everything, clumps and clumps of trees, all kinds, but including a lot of redwood trees; TALL ones, soaring into the hot blue sky. By the looks of them, probably planted around the time the school was built, in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. But the thing is, redwood trees grow FAST.
“Oh, wow,” from Cole, and we stopped for a second, as he looked at it all, then looked around us, taking it all in; then, “Oh, that’s cool,” looking at the trees, again.
And I felt a ridiculous burst of pride. I mean, Hayward State – sorry, CSUEB, Cal State University, Easy Bay – may not look all that impressive to a couple of kids who grew up in and around the UC Berkeley campus; but it’s got its points.
And the best one was still to come; I was saving it for last. “C’mon,” I said; tugging on his sleeve, pulling him downhill, to the west.
Down the slope; pointing out different buildings to him, watching his head swivel around, as we walked in the heat and the bright sun . . .
And just having him there, just having that familiar, beautiful profile there by my side as we went . . . I realized how much it meant to me, how fucking MUCH it meant to me, him being here. I mean, Cole is such a part of what I am, such a part of my life; and up ‘til now, the times I’d been on campus, alone, not being able to share it all with Cole –
Well. I realized how really sad, and lonely, I’d been, the times I’d come here alone. And how much it meant to me, exploring the campus like this with Cole. It felt so right, exploring together, as we’ve explored so many places together, and maybe, in a way, it made me feel, deep down, just maybe it really was the right thing for me to do; coming to school here. Maybe.
Which, of course, is really perverse, and kind of fucked. You know? Since a big part of why I chose this school, was to get away from Cole, some. Wean myself away from Cole, some; as much as I could bear it.
Well. I never claimed I wasn’t perverse. God, no.