Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for mature content.
“Helen,” Jay said as he got into the driver’s seat. “Sit up front.”
The order was so certain that I felt I had no choice but to comply. As we drove, I watched my car grow farther and farther in the distance. Nobody spoke. Then, a minute into the drive, Jay spoke. “Aren’t you going to introduce yourselves?”
The blonde spoke first. She was Alex. The brunette was Sasha. All I remember thinking in that moment was that they both seemed scared. Of what, at the time, I didn’t know.
Jay turned on the radio. He browsed through a few stations before settling on Jefferson Airplane. Comin’ Back To Me.
“I love Grace Slick,” I said. I did love them, and her, and especially how Grace seemed just to live her life without caring what anyone else thought. I’d mentioned this at a party once and got a lot of odd looks.
“So do we,” Jay said.
“My sister saw her a few years ago.” I said. “And didn’t tell me,” I added quietly.
“Whoa,” Sasha said. “That’s amazing.”
“Where did she see her?” asked Alex.
“Um, in San Francisco. We’re from there.”
This got a reaction even out of Jay. “City girl,” he said. He seemed impressed.
“I want to go to California,” Alex said. “I’ve never been there.”
“It’s all right,” I responded. I looked out the window, at the expansive view of forests and mountains. There was nothing like this in San Francisco. “I’m never going back.”
No one replied to this. Jay asked if we were hungry and we resolved to stop at the nearest diner. A burger and fries sounded amazing. He then asked me about Jean, if she was still in San Francisco. I said that she was. Then he asked if we had a good relationship. The truth was complicated. We had never been particularly close. I did love her, but we often fought. She, along with my parents, would often talk down to me and treat me as if I was stupid. Every day, there was always something new I’d done wrong. But not Jean. Jean was perfect, knew everything, and never made any mistakes.
“I don’t know why it is,” Jay said, “that we’re the cruelest to the people we’re supposed to love.” Almost to let his words sink in, he paused. It made sense. My impression of him then was that he was very smart, that he’d probably lived a couple of lifetimes by then. “We don’t have any tolerance for that, Helen.”
As we drove, I tried to assess exactly what the relationship between the three of them was. No one looked anything alike, so I doubted they were a family. From the way they looked at him with such reverence I figured he slept with one or both of them. But even then, they seemed very young, and Jay made no attempt to hide his making eyes at me. I’d heard a lot about free love before. After all, the Haight was only a short drive away. But having been married, I was closed off from all of it. I accepted it. Maybe it was a better way to live.
We stopped at a diner. He told us to order whatever we wanted. I ordered a burger and fries and ate it ravenously. In what I’d realize much later was simply him loving the sound of his own voice, but at the time I took for all knowing wisdom, he led a conversation. He brought up my family again, and my marriage. He said that monogamy was one of the many ways society held us down. We were all prisoners of society, and I was smart, I was one of the good ones, for having realized it.
I then asked how they’d all met. Jay laughed before telling me that they’d all broken free from their chains and found each other in order to create a better world. I remember, in the back of my mind, realizing that I’d barely heard Alex or Sasha talk or say a word for themselves. But I pushed out the thought because I was so entranced by him and everything he was saying. I began thinking about Simon, and how I’d been in such a rush to marry him after we met. Did I really want a family and marriage, or did I just want it but because that was what was expected of me? I’d never thought about it like that before.
Then he took my hand. I was surprised at first, but his grasp was strong. Reassuring. Then, he looked right at me. “We’ll take care of you, Helen,” he said. “If that’s what you want.”
I nodded. I supposed I didn’t have any other choice. I’d left my car in the middle of nowhere. He told me they were about twenty miles away from where they’d camp for the night. I supposed if it didn’t work out with them, that there were other like minded people I could find.
I also realized that I wanted Jay, that I was attracted to him, and that he wanted me too. But in that moment I also noticed Alex, and I realized that she was in love with him. Sasha I was less sure. But Jay had said that monogamy was bad, so maybe they were all okay with it. They ought to be, as far as I knew.
“I don’t have a sleeping bag,” was all I said.
“Don’t worry about that,” Jay replied.
We paid for the meal and started for camp. On the way, I asked if they were headed anywhere in particular.
“Wherever the wind takes us,” Jay said.
I felt myself blushing then. Who was this man? Why had I never met anyone like him before? I noticed the girls sitting quietly in the back seat. I’d never been good at making female friends so maybe this was a chance to change that. So I turned around.
“Where are both from?” I asked.
It took either a moment to respond. “We’re both from Montana,” Sasha said finally.
“Montana,” I said curiously. “I’ve never been there.”
Neither responded, and I worried I was coming on too strongly. Jay turned to me. “It doesn’t matter where we’re from. It matters where we go.”
I feared that I’d overstepped. “I’m sorry I ask so many questions.”
“Don’t apologize,” Jay responded. “I know you care about what’s important.”
By the time we reached camp, it was dark. It was a quiet, secluded spot, and the first thing that I felt was peace. It was a warm night, and we began to unpack. Jay made the girls give me two of their extra blankets and pillows since I didn’t have a sleeping bag. Then, they began to pitch his tent. I was going to ask why Jay got to sleep in a tent when we had to sleep outside. But Jay turned and asked, “Have you ever slept out under the stars?”
I shook my head.
“It’s something.” He moved closer to me and put his arm around me. The feeling of being close to him was intense. “Look.” He gestured for me to look up. The night sky was one of the most brilliant things I’d ever seen. “There’s so much beauty in the world, Helen.”
The girls were finished with the tent then, and they approached us. “Why don’t you two go get firewood? And when you come back, we’ll make a fire and we’ll talk.” Sasha nodded and almost immediately started down the trail. She waited for Alex, who stayed there, staring at us both.
“What do you need?” Jay said, an edge to his voice.
“Nothing,” Alex said, almost inaudibly, before following Sasha.