Curt and Greg have been best friends since they met in grammar school and through high school, and now in college. Christmas break is coming up, and they are planning to camp out on Mt. Diablo and hike one of their favorite trails. But Mother Nature has a surprise in store for them, a surprise that will change both of their lives.
I was on my way to my C++ programming class when my cell buzzed.
“Hey, Curt, whatcha doin’?”
“Walking to class, Greg. What do you think I’m doing?”
“Oh, lounging round in the cafeteria, scarfin’ up donuts and coffee, as usual!”
“No, I’m going to class, as usual, which is what you should be doing! Where are you? Don’t you have AmLit now?”
“Yuck! AmLit with ol’ Miz Reynolds is like living in hell.”
“So, where are you?”
“About 15 feet in back of you.” I heard raucous laughter both in my cell and, only a little less loud, in back of me. I stopped, shut off my cell, put it back in my pocket, and turned around. By then Greg had just about caught up with me.
I laughed and shook my head. “Greg, you know something? You’re a nut case. A certified, committable, nut case.”
Greg grinned. “I know, I know. But I only do it to make you laugh. I gotta make sure ya lighten up that dour disposition.” He grinned at me, then put his right hand on my left shoulder. “Now, kiddo, what are we going to do starting next week? We have three weeks off! Three! Whole! Freaking! Weeks! Off! I am SO ready!”
“Well, I’m ready for some time off too. I was thinking, how about getting a start by going for a hike on Mt. Diablo this weekend? Man, we haven’t done that for, what, over four months? Then we could drive up to Mendocino and visit your aunt for a few days. If we’re lucky, it’ll be stormy and windy and we can take walks with her along be beach like we did when we were in high school. And then on the way back we can drive up to Tahoe and get in some skiing and boarding, and then….”
Greg interrupted me in his typical loud, rapid-fire staccato way of speaking. “Whoa, there! Let’s play it cool an’ just figure out howta plan those things. What you said so far is a lot to do, too much even. Don’t forget there’s Christmas and New Years and all the family stuff we each gotta do and shopping and visiting relatives. Yeah, too much!”
“OK, I guess you’re right. And we’ll have studying to do as well, you know. Finals are coming up the week after we get back.”
“Jeez, you sure know how to screw up my good mood, don’cha?” He grinned. “OK, all this jawing has been fun, fun, fun! But I do have AmLit and I gotta keep up my grades so Dad doesn’t make me join the Marines or some sort of crap like that. Let’s get together after class, grab some coffee, and do our plannin’, OK?”
“OK. How about I meet you at Peet’s, the one across from the theater, at about 4:15?”
“Ya got it! Later, Curt.” With that Greg turned and took the stairs leading up toward the library three at a time, scattering people who were trying to walk down. Grinning, I shook my head, and walked to my class.
I got to Peet’s right at 4:15. Greg was already sitting on the bench just outside the entrance.
“Hey, Greg!” He looked up and grinned.
“I’ll get some coffee.”
“Go for it, bro!” He held up his paper cup, the large size. “They’ve this eggnog thing and it’s awesome!”
I went inside and got an eggnog latté, then walked outside and plopped down on the bench next to Greg. “OK, let’s figure out what we’re going to do on break. Are you still OK with a hike on Mt. Diablo this weekend?”
“Yeah, I wanna get out and breathe some clean air. Sitting in stuffy classrooms all day sucks big time. What’s the weather gonna be?”
“I don’t know. I’ll check it when I get home. Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if it snowed? Remember when we were there in March and it snowed and we spent the day having snowball fights?” I smiled as I thought about the fun we’d had that day.
“Yeah, fun until that dick of a ranger came and kicked us out’a the park! I still can’t figure out why the hell they’d close the whole freakin’ state park just because of like an inch of snow or whatever it was.”
I laughed. “Whatever. Anyway, let’s plan it. Can we head up first thing Saturday morning?”
“Works for me.”
“OK, I’ll pick you up at nine. Assuming you’re awake.”
“Hey, I’ll be ready. You just be on time, Curt!”
We sat finishing our lattés, enjoying the sun as it began to slide behind the hills west of us, making it look like late evening even though it was just 4:30. I looked up at the sky and saw there were clouds moving in from the north. It might not be clear for our hike this weekend after all.
I looked down the street. A movie must have just ended and there was a crowd coming out of the theater. I saw Jen and Cindi walking out, talking to each other.
“Hey, Greg, Jen and Cindi are down there, in front of the theater.”
“Oh, crap, did they see us? Let’s get outta here!”
“That Cindi is a pest. She’s always after me, like she’s got some kinda big crush on me, and I don’t wanna have to come up with some excuse for not going out with her.”
“Wow, I though you liked Cindi. Didn’t you date her for a while?”
“Once. Just once. That was just fine. But she wants something more than just dating, and I’m not interested in her that way. Let’s roll, bro, let’s get outta here before they see us.”
“Too late, they just waved and are coming this way.”
“Damn, damn, damn!”
I looked at Greg. He had a pained expression, and didn’t look happy at all. I was surprised. I’d thought he liked Cindi. She was a nice enough girl, sort of bubbly, always happy, the kind of girl that I thought Greg would go for. But he only dated her once then stopped seeing her? That was unusual for Greg. Normally he’d go out with a girl at least two or three time before dumping her. He’d probably dated half the girls in our class by the time we’d graduated from high school. He was a real ladies man, and I guess he figured the next girl was always better.
Now Jen was something different. I went out with Jen when I needed a date for the tenth grade Spring Fling dance. It was my first date ever, and when I asked her she told me that she wasn’t interested in a serious relationship, she was concentrating on her studies and her straight-A average, that she liked me as a friend, and if that was OK with me then she’d like to go with me. That worked perfectly for me. No one knew it, but I’m not into girls. I was and still am attracted to guys. Going out with Jen helped me maintain my straight persona, something that made my life easier. Jen was cute, was fun, liked a lot of the same things I liked, and was, for a gay guy, the greatest girlfriend anyone could imagine.
I thought back to our Junior Prom. I’d taken Jen to Mel’s Diner after the dance, and she told me that she knew that I was gay, and that was fine with her. I was stunned, I was certain that I hadn’t said or done anything to even hint that I was gay. I asked her how she could possibly have come to that conclusion. She’d smiled and said that when I was with Greg she saw the way I looked at him. She’d said it was obvious that I was in love with him. I’d told her that she was confused, that Greg was my best friend and only my best friend. She’d said she was certain even if I wasn’t. She’d changed the subject, but I’d been rattled. She’d made me think about things I’d suppressed so deeply that I’d never admitted them to myself. That conversation had caused me to finally accept that I was, in fact, in love with Greg. Something I hoped he’d never find out.
My trip down memory lane was interrupted when Jen and Cindi walked up and said “Hi, guys.” They sat down, Cindi started a conversation with Greg, and I turned to Jen. She had moved to the campus and started taking classes at Cal the week after we graduated from high school, and I hadn’t seen her since then.
“Hey, Jen, how’s school? What’s it like going to Cal?”
“Both good and bad. Living in frosh housing sucks, the building I’m in is old and drafty, our room sort of smells like it’s moldy. My roommate isn’t into studying, she has friends there all the time, so to study I have to go to the dorm lounge or the library. My classes are intense, but I’m really enjoying being there. It was sort of frightening at first, the school’s so huge. There are so many students! But I’ve adapted, and things are good. How about you? Where did you finally decide to go?”
“Well, you know I applied to Cal and got accepted, but money’s been tight since my dad’s accident. I talked to the computer science counselor at Cal and he said because of my grades and my SAT scores I could to go to a community college for my freshman year, reapply to Cal for my sophomore year, and I should be accepted. That’s assuming I get top grades here at DVC. So, that’s what I decided to do. That way I’m saving a ton of money by not having to live in a freshman dorm, and I’ll be able to save by commuting next year. My folks tried to talk me out of it, but I convinced them it was best. I put in my new application to Cal last month and I’m waiting for that letter in the mail.”
Jen smiled, and put her hand on my arm. “Good luck, Curt. I know everything will work out for you. You’re a smart guy, the smartest I know.” I blushed, and Jen giggled. “And when you get to Cal, I want you to be sure to look me up! Here, let me give you my cell phone number and new email address.” Jen wrote down her information and handed it to me. “Let me know about your application, OK? I’d really like to keep in touch, Curt.”
I smiled, and realized again what a great friend she was. “I will, Jen. Thanks.” We talked for a few minutes about what we’d be doing on our Christmas breaks, then I turned to Greg and Cindi. From what I’d sort of overheard in the background, Cindi had been doing most of the talking and Greg was mostly giving one or two word answers. Normally Greg dominates a conversation, but it was obvious to me that he was letting Cindi take that role. He must have felt me turn, because he looked over his shoulder at me, then at his watch.
“Oh, jeez, it’s almost 5:00. If I don’t go like right now I’m gonna be late picking up my little brother at his soccer practice.” He stood up. “Hey, Cindi, it’s been super seeing you. You too, Jen. See you at school mañana, Curt.” He took off like he was trying to escape from something. I looked at Cindi, and she looked a little sad. I knew from what, or more correctly from whom, Greg was trying to escape.
I looked at Jen and Cindi. “Hey, I have a ton of homework tonight. Seems like the instructors are having us get everything in by tomorrow. That’s the last day of school before our break, then we have finals the week we get back.”
We stood, said our goodbyes, and I went to my car and drove home.
That night I sat with my folks watching the news. When the weather guy came on I paid special attention. This was a big storm that was coming down from Alaska. It was supposed to pass north of us then move into the Sierras. He said the Bay Area might get a few sprinkles on Saturday afternoon, and it was going to be cold at night, around freezing. The storm was expected to leave as much as six to twelve inches of snow at the Tahoe ski areas, then move out on Tuesday.
I phoned Greg and relayed the weather report. “Sounds like we’re going to be A-OK for the weekend, guy! My folks said I could take the minivan. I can fold the rear seats flat and store everything we need to take and it’ll be easy to get at.”
“Cool! Where you wanna camp?”
“I like Juniper best. I went online when I got home this afternoon and made a reservation. We probably won’t need it, but it’s best to be prepared, like a Boy Scout. That OK with you?”
“Yeah, that’s cool.” Greg laughed. “I don’t think we’d make very good Boy Scouts, though!”
“What? I think I’d make a very good Boy Scout! I know things like how to make a fire, and set up a tent, and recognize poison oak.”
“Yeah, sure, you could set up a tent if you had me to help, and you could make a fire if you had a lighter and there was no wind, and you’d prolly use the poison oak to start the fire! Some freakin’ Boy Scout you’d make!”
“Well, I’ll show you my Boy Scout skills on our hike this weekend. In the meantime, I’m too busy going to class and doing my homework and making sure YOU go to class.”
“Yeah, yeah, stop bugging me about school. Tomorrow’s the last day of school before Christmas break. I don’t need another mother tellin’ me what to do! I’ve already got one, and one’s enough!” Greg started laughing, and that got me laughing too.
“I don’t know how I put up with you, Greg!”
“It’s because you love me. I’m just a loveable kind of guy. With all my faults I’m still the most lovable guy in the whole freakin’ Bay Area. No one can resist me. ‘Specially not you.” Again, he started laughing. What he said startled me, and made me wonder if he knew how I felt about him, and was hinting to me that he did.
I recovered my composure and was able to reply. “Well, I won’t love you if I’m still half asleep when the alarm goes off in the morning. I have an 8:00 class so I have to be up with the roosters at 6:30. I need my beauty sleep, bro!”
“Curt, I know you’re tired as hell ‘cuz you sure as hell wouldn’t leave me openings like that if you were even half awake. Get your skinny ass in bed and give your swollen brain a rest. I’ll see ya in the cafeteria round nine and we can hang until our ten o’clock classes. S’OK?”
I laughed. Greg did make me laugh, every time we talked. “OK, mommy, I’ll go to bed now. I promise. Night, Greg. See you tomorrow.”
I shut off my cell, then actually did what Greg ‘ordered’ me to do and went to bed.
I was tired, but remembering what Jen had told me after the junior prom, and some of the comments that Greg had made, I started thinking about me and Greg. We were basically inseparable. We did everything together. We were best friends. I wasn’t close friends with any other guys, just Greg. As far as I knew Greg wasn’t close friends with any other guys either. Did that mean anything?
I went on some dates with Jen while I was in high school, and only Jen. I hadn’t gone out on a date since our senior prom. Greg went on dates with lots of girls all the time in high school. Greg hadn’t gone on a date since we graduated. Did that mean anything?
I was gay. I was in love with Greg. I thought about that for a while. Jen had told me she could tell that I was in love with Greg. She hadn’t said anything about Greg being in love with me. Shit! I was going to have to be really careful to not telegraph my feelings to him!
But what about Greg? For sure he was straight and into girls. But every so often he’d say things that made me wonder about him. So, could Greg be gay? I didn’t think so. He was just my best friend. And that’s how I wanted to keep it. I might lose him if he found out I was gay.
I finally rolled onto my side, and fell asleep.
After my Friday morning differential equations class (note: that is an awful class to have at 8:00 in the morning), I met Greg at the cafeteria. He was nursing a cup of coffee, something I wouldn’t do. The coffee in the cafeteria was, in my opinion, undrinkable.
We talked about what to bring with us for the hike. But the most important thing we talked about was where we should hike. We decided that since we were staying at the Juniper campground, we should take the Eagle Peak trail. The trailhead is at Juniper, and it’s a nice half-day hike, about 7 miles, and it’s rated moderate. Since we hadn’t been on a hike since summer, it would be a good way to get back our hiking legs. On Sunday we could take a longer hike, maybe the Mitchell Canyon Loop. It’s 14 miles, a lot of elevation gain, has some spectacular views, and is rated as the best trail in the park. It’s a strenuous hike, but there are enough places where we could branch off and shorten the hike if we got tired. We’d hiked both trails when we were in high school. In fact, we’d probably hiked every foot of every trail in the entire park since we started going to Mt. Diablo with my dad when we were in intermediate school.
Our decisions made, we went to our respective classes.
After I finished for the day I went home and pulled out the gear for the weekend. I have a great lightweight, easy to set up two-man tent, and an air mattress that fits the base of the tent like it had been made for it. I pulled out my two sleeping bags that are rated for 20 degrees. They can be zipped together to make one bag, a feature I’d only used in my fantasies about me and Greg, one that began to play out in my head. It made me feel a little strange. I knew that I shouldn’t think about Greg that way. He’s my best friend, not my boyfriend, for God’s sake! I shook my head to clear away the fantasy, and got back to my packing.
I raided the kitchen for food, and picked six frozen burger patties, a package of hot dogs, bread, fruit, drinks, and a bunch of other stuff — it was a slash-and-grab operation. I made six peanut butter sandwiches and split them between a couple of plastic bags. All of the food went back into the refrigerator.
My clock radio woke me at 6:30 Saturday morning. I felt great, wide awake, not tired at all. I showered and dressed in a heavy shirt and pants for cold weather hiking, put on my hiking boots, and packed a couple extra T-shirts and briefs and socks. I checked my cell and camera to make sure they were fully charged and put them in my daypack. I got the food and icepacks and stocked the cooler chest, then packed everything into the van. When I was finished it looked like Greg and I were going to be gone for two months instead of two days. But that’s one of the advantages of camping at a drive-to campsite. You can over-pack and you don’t have to carry everything like you would on a backpacking trip.
My folks were up and eating breakfast when I got downstairs. “Morning Mom, Dad.”
“Morning, Curt. What can I get you for breakfast? You need a good breakfast if you’re going hiking, not just a banana and piece of toast like you usually eat.” Mom is always concerned about what I eat. She thinks I don’t eat enough. I looked at my dad’s plate.
“OK, how about bacon and eggs? Scrambled, and toast with your peach preserves, please.” I grinned, and she smiled.
“Coming up! Sit down, here’s your coffee.”
While Mom got my breakfast ready, Dad and I talked about my hike. He asked if I’d checked the latest weather report, and I admitted I hadn’t, so I ran upstairs to my room and did a quick check on weather.com. The forecast for the Bay Area had changed a little. Instead of the rain being no further south than Santa Rosa, now the forecast was for rain as far south as Fairfield, less than 25 miles from Mt. Diablo. The reports from up north about the storm said that it was a lot colder and wetter than had been previously predicted, and now they were projecting two feet of snow at Tahoe. The ski resort owners had to be dancing in the streets anticipating a heavy crowd of skiers over the next couple of weeks.
Mom called me, so I went downstairs and sat down to what was, for me, a huge breakfast. I told Dad what the weather report had said.
“Curt, make sure you’re careful. If it looks like there’s going to be heavy rain, you come on back home, OK?”
“Sure thing. The last thing Greg and I will want to be is wet. We’re both wimps!”
Mom chimed in. “You’re not wimps, it’s just sensible to stay out of the rain.” Typical Mom.
“Well, I don’t think we have anything to worry about, it’s not supposed to rain this far south, the worst would probably be a few sprinkles. I have my waterproof jacket and my poncho, so I’ll be fine. If it rains too heavily we’ll come home. And we’re only an hour from home, it’s not like we’re going backpacking in the Sierras or something.”
That seemed to calm their concerns, and I finished my breakfast. Mom tried to get me to eat more, but I begged off. I was already stuffed. I put my dishes in the dishwasher and was ready to leave.
“Bye. I’ll call you when we get to the campsite so you know we’re OK. What are you two doing today?”
Dad didn’t look very happy. “Your mother is dragging me to the mall. To do Christmas shopping.” I laughed, and so did he, then Mom did too. My dad absolutely hates shopping for anything except groceries. That, for some reason, he likes to do.
“Mom, you keep the last of the big spenders here under control, OK?” That started us all laughing again. Ever since Dad was injured we’ve been real frugal, not spending a lot on stuff we don’t need.
I said goodbye to my folks, listened politely as they repeated their cautions, promised to keep in touch, and left to pick up Greg.
I halfway expected Greg to still be in bed, but he surprised me by answering the door almost before I’d pressed the doorbell button.
“Hey! Ready to go?”
“Man, you know it. C’mon in and say ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ to my folks.”
I followed him into their kitchen, said ‘hi’ to his folks and Keith, his 14 year old brother, chatted a bit about where we’d be hiking and camping, gave a brief weather report, said ‘bye’, and followed Greg and his family out of the kitchen.
“OK, let’s split this joint!” Greg grabbed his daypack which was next to the front door, grinned and yelled “See you tomorrow!”, and we were off for the short drive up North Gate Road to the ranger station. We got there by 9:40, checked in and got our campsite tag and information packet, and drove to Juniper campground. We located our campsite, and weren’t too surprised to see that none of the others were occupied.
The morning was cold, maybe in the mid 30’s, but the sun, which was still low in the sky, felt warm on my face. There were dark clouds to the north, but that was expected from what the weather report had said.
We grabbed our daypacks, including sandwiches, water, Cokes, and snacks. I pulled and latched the privacy cover so our stuff wasn’t visible from outside the van, put on the steering wheel lock, enabled the LoJack warning system, and locked the van.
Greg stood watching all this. “Jeez, Curt, this thing’s got so much security shit I wonder if we’ll be able to get in when we get back!” He grinned.
“Like my dad says, ‘Better safe than sorry’. Since there’s no one else around, it’d be easy for someone to break in and steal the van. And our stuff. Right?”
Greg grumbled and tried to look mad, but couldn’t do it and grinned. “Yeah, guess so. Better safe than sorry.”
I pulled out my cell, turned it on, and pressed the speed dial number for home. I left a message saying we’d arrived and we were heading out on our hike, then put the cell in my jacket pocket and zipped it closed. “Ready to go?”
“You know it! Hey, what’d you bring for lunch?”
“I made six peanut butter sandwiches, three for each of us, there are chips, trail mix, tangerines and apples, and two Cokes each.”
“What kind of jam’s in those sandwiches?”
“Mom’s peach preserves.”
“Ooooh, that’s great! I love your mom’s peach preserves.”
I put on a serious expression. “Hey, you eat too much of that you’re gonna get lots fatter!”
I could tell that for maybe a half-second Greg thought I was serious. But I couldn’t hold back my laughter, and he realized that I was kidding.
“Oh, you are SO going to get it for that remark!” Greg grabbed me in a hug and tried to tickle me. I am like totally ticklish, under my arms, my sides, my belly, and the bottoms of my feet. But I had on my big Timberland jacket, and he couldn’t get to any part of me that was ticklish. He finally gave up.
“You’re safe for now, Curt. But just wait until tonight, you’re in total freakin’ trouble! I’m gonna tickle you ‘til you can’t breathe, then I’m gonna tickle you some more ‘til you beg me to stop!”
“Promises, promises! Hey, we’re supposed to be hiking, let’s get going!”
And that’s what we did. We headed down Eagle Peak Trail. Despite the clouds, the views were fantastic. We saw a black-tailed deer, a buck, across a valley. There were live oaks and pines. Live oaks have two acorn crops, and the squirrels and some of the birds on the mountain depend on them to get through the winter. The ground cover was all dry, and this time of year nothing was in bloom. We could hear birds or small animals scrabbling around in the underbrush, but we never saw them. I took some pictures, mostly of the views and a couple of the buck. We chatted about the views, the birds and animals we saw, the trees, the trail, school, our classes, my digital camera, what kind of digital camera Greg should buy, and about going to Tahoe to ski and snowboard. But we didn’t talk about anything personal, and for me that was a relief.
I noticed that the weather was getting colder. My jacket and gloves were keeping everything warm except my face.
I checked my watch. “You know, it’s almost 1:00. You ready for some lunch?”
“Great idea! Why don’t we sit on that log over there?” Greg pointed to a small stand of trees a little further down the trail. One of the trees had fallen, and looked to be pretty much flat and level, making it a good place to sit.
“OK, looks good.”
We walked to the log and sat down. I pulled off my gloves, and we ate our lunch.
“Man, Curt, I love your mom’s jam. It is so good!”
“You ought to tell her, and use one of your patented puppy dog expressions. She’ll for sure give you a jar to take home.” I grinned.
“No shit? You think she’d really do that?” I nodded. “Let’s stop by your house on the way home tomorrow, OK? I can tell her how great it is then. That way I’ll have it for breakfast Monday morning!”
I laughed at his enthusiasm. I looked at him, right into his ocean-blue eyes. “You are amazing, Greg. You make me smile and laugh, you make me happy, guy! I am so glad you’re my best friend!”
His eyes sparkled, and he smiled. At me. “God, Curt, you’re such a great friend. I’m so freakin’ lucky!” He reached over and grabbed my shoulder and looked at me and I looked at him. Then his gaze moved up and his expression changed. “Shit, Curt, look at the sky!”
I turned around. The sky was filled with thick, black clouds. And they were moving in our direction, fast, from the north. The wind was increasing, a very cold wind.
“Wow, that’s impressive! And scary! Looks like maybe we’re going to get some weather after all!”
“Hey, Curt, I think we oughta get back to the campground!”
I nodded, pulled up the hood on my jacket and zipped it all the way up, put on my gloves, and watched Greg do the same.
“It took us about 3 hours to get here, but we were taking it easy. We should be able to get back in a couple of hours. Trouble is, it looks like it’s raining in that direction, you can see it under the clouds.”
“Shit! I hate to get wet when I’m hiking.”
We moved our packs around so they were in front, pulled our ponchos out of our packs, and put them on and zipped up, and pulled the ties so the hoods were closed as tight as we could make them but still open enough so we could see where we were walking.
We headed up the trail, back in the direction we’d come. We’d hiked maybe a half hour when the first rain began to fall. It wasn’t heavy, but it was that miserable kind of light rain that blows directly into your face. Fortunately, it only lasted about 5 minutes before it stopped. The respite lasted about 15 minutes then a heavier rain began to fall. And it got even heavier as we continued to hike up the trail. It was also getting a lot colder, I could tell because my nose was starting to run, it only does that when I get cold.
We hiked for about 45 minutes in a driving rain. By now my pants were soaked, and the rain on my face was running down my neck getting my shirt and T-shirt wet. I was miserable, and I was sure Greg was also. We couldn’t talk, the hoods on our jackets and our ponchos prevented us from hearing each other unless we stopped and yelled face-to-face, and the last thing I wanted to do was stop. But I was getting tired, and felt like I needed to rest. I looked up the trail. There was a grove of trees off to our left. It looked like it might be a bit dryer inside the grove, so I turned to Greg and pointed in that direction. He nodded, and we headed for the trees.
The trees were grouped in a way that they kept most of the rain out of the center of the grove. I sat down and leaned against one of the trees. Greg squatted for a minute, then sat facing me.
I pulled a bottle of water out of my pack and drank about half of it.
“What dipshit weather.” Greg looked at me then smiled. “But it’d be a lot worse if we weren’t together, Curt.”
What a great thing for him to say! It made me realize how much I loved this guy. I smiled, a smile meant for him. It was a good thing my face was so wet, and that we were far enough apart that he couldn’t see my eyes, because tears started running down my cheeks.
“There’s no one in the universe I’d rather be with in this kind of weather. Or any kind of weather, Greg.” I almost added ‘and I love you’ but caution and fear kept me from doing that. Greg smiled, and took a long drink of water.
We rested for about 5 minutes more, not saying anything. “Hey, I’m going to call my folks.” I pulled my cell out of my pocket and pressed the redial button. The phone beeped. “It couldn’t connect from here. When we get back to the campground I’ll call them and give them an update.”
“We better get our freakin’ butts in gear, and get back to the car. I think the rain’s let up, doesn’t seem as loud.”
We left our shelter. It was still raining, but not as hard. There had been enough rain that the trail was slippery in places. Fortunately, we’d already covered most of the steepest parts of the trail. I figured it would take at least an hour, maybe an hour and a half, to get back to the campground.
We hiked, watching our every step, and after a half hour the rain stopped. I turned to make sure Greg was right behind me, and my foot slipped in the mud. Greg was close and grabbed me around my waist, and if he hadn’t I would have fallen and landed on my butt.
“Careful, Curt!” Greg’s eyes showed concern. I regained my balance and he let me go.
“I guess I can’t walk and chew gum. Or hike and turn to see if you’re there!”
“Just be freakin’ careful! I don’t want to have to carry your broken body from here to the campground!”
“I will. Thanks for grabbing me.”
“I’ll grab you any time you want, Curt.” Greg grinned and winked at me.
What did he mean by that? I shook my head to clear my thoughts. I was sure that I was taking innocent things Greg said and assigning them meanings that were figments of my overactive imagination, but I couldn’t help but wonder just a little, what if he really meant them?
We continued to hike, and I was extra careful, watching every step, watching every time I put my foot down. It wasn’t raining, and that was a big help, but the trail was slippery and treacherous in places.
About 15 minutes later I heard Greg shout. I stopped and carefully turned to see why. He was looking to our right, and pointed up the hill next to the trail. It was hailing up there! It looked so cool, the hail was coming down and making the entire top of the hill white.
“Uh, Greg, I think it’s coming this way!”
I was right. We could see that the line that marked the edge of the hailstorm was moving slowly in our direction. We started hiking along the trail, moving as fast as we could, trying to get past the hailstorm. We almost made it, but it caught up with us. Like most hailstorms it ended in a few minutes. Unfortunately, we were at a point where we had to hike an upslope, and the trail ahead was covered with hail. That’s ice, for anyone who’s never been in a hailstorm. Ice is slippery, especially hail because it’s round like ball bearings. Our progress up the trail was torturous. We kept slipping, but because we were being careful neither of us fell. It took maybe five times as long to hike up that slope as it would have if it hadn’t been covered by hailstones.
When we got to the top, and the trail leveled out, it started to snow. I stopped and turned to Greg.
“When do the swarms of locusts descend on us, guy?” I busted up laughing. This was too much. Snow! That’s all we needed now.
Greg looked at me like I was crazy. “Uh, Curt, we better get our butts moving. Snow is like hail. It’s ice. It’s slippery. Let’s get goin’!”
I looked around and recognized some of the landmarks. I figured that we were about a half hour to 45 minutes from the campground. I also noticed that it had gotten even colder, the snow was wet, and the snowfall was heavier. We got moving, carefully, watching where we stepped. As we hiked up the trail we were walking through about three inches of accumulated snow. Amazing! Mt. Diablo usually gets less than an inch. This might be a record snowfall!
After about 40 minutes I recognized the upslope we were on as the one that led directly up to the campground. In 10 minutes we were at the top and back at Juniper. I stopped. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was at least six inches of snow on the ground. I looked to my left and saw that the road into the campground was also covered with a thick blanket of snow. This side of the mountain had gotten a lot more snow than where we had been hiking. We were very, very lucky.
We got to the car, and Greg looked at me. “I don’t think we should put up the tent. Maybe we should get out of here and head home.”
I walked around to the back of the van, pulled out my keys, turned off the car alarm, pulled open the liftgate, and stepped back so it would clear my body. That’s when I saw it.
“What! What?” Greg came around to the back of the van wondering why I’d yelled ‘shit’ because I almost never swear. I pointed to the right rear tire. It was flat as a pancake. We must have picked up a nail. We were parked at the bottom of a downward slope that was fine when we arrived, but now was a big mud puddle. There was no way we’d be able to change the tire where it was.
I closed the back, got into the driver’s seat, and started the engine.
“Hey, Greg, stand away from the van, I’m going to try to pull forward and move onto the road.”
“OK. I’m clear.”
I stepped on the gas, very lightly. The front wheels spun, but the van wouldn’t move. Damn! For about 5 minutes I tried to get the van to move ahead by rocking it. It flat out didn’t work. We were stuck.
Greg looked at me. “What’er we gonna do, Curt?”
“First, I’m gonna turn on the heater in the van. That will help us warm up and dry off. Second, I’m going to phone my folks and tell them where we are and that we’re stuck here until they can get the auto club out here to tow the car to where they can change the tire. Third, we have to eat something, and fourth I guess we’ll just wait out the storm. I agree it wouldn’t make any sense to set up the tent. We can lay out the sleeping bags in the back of the van.”
We got into the front seats. The engine had been running long enough that the heater should work, so I turned the heat and fan controls all the way to high. I pulled out my cell and hit redial. My dad answered. I told him what happened, what we were going to do, and that we needed the auto club to come up and tow us to a flat area where they could change the tire. I could tell that he was a little worried. He said he’d call the auto club, and Greg’s folks. I said we were going to change into dry clothes, that we were soaked from walking in the rain, and we’d cook the burgers and stay in the van. He suggested that we zip the sleeping blankets together to help keep us warm. I said goodbye, and told Greg what he’d said.
I reached back and grabbed my bag of clothes. Damn, I should have packed another shirt and pair of pants! Mine were soaked from the rain. I sat there looking at my collection of underwear and socks. That’s all I had that was dry. “I’m so stupid sometimes. I didn’t bring any extra pants or shirts. All I have is underwear.” I turned to Greg. “What do you have? You have maybe two extra pairs of pants, I hope, I hope?” Actually, I had very little hope he’d have brought two extra pairs.
“Nope, same as you, just what I’m wearing except for a couple a T-shirts and a pair of boxers.”
“Let’s move over to the shelter. I’ll fry up the burgers and we can eat. Afterward we’ll get out of our wet stuff and get into the sleeping bag.”
The shelter at the campground had a roof. We took our food and the camp stove over there, and I fried the burgers and cooked some veggies and we had what was actually a pretty good dinner. All the while it continued to snow. We cleaned up, using snow to wash out the frying pan, and packed the food that we hadn't eaten into the cooler. We moved the tent to the shelter to get it out of the way. I opened the van’s side door and unrolled the sleeping bags on top of the air mattress. It was a hassle, but we got them zippered together.
My cell rang. It was Dad.
“Curt, I have bad news for you. Both entrance roads to the park are closed because of the weather. The auto club can’t get to you until the road reopens sometime tomorrow. They suggested that I call the ranger station, and I did but there’s no answer. Are you OK? Are you and Greg going to be OK until tomorrow?”
“Yeah, it’s not great, but there’s a shelter where we fried the burgers for dinner, and we’ve got lots of food and drinks, and the restrooms are open. While we ate I kept the engine running with the heater on and it should be warm in the van. We’ll be fine.”
“Well, you’re mother’s very worried. I’ve told her you two guys are resourceful, and smart, and that you’ll be OK. It’s good to hear you tell me that you’ll be OK.”
“Thanks, Dad. Should I talk to Mom?”
He put her on, and I reassured her that we were fine.
After we hung up, Greg asked if he could use my cell to call his folks, and I gave it to him. Based on hearing his side of the conversation it sounded like he convinced them that we were OK.
Getting undressed was a challenge. I opened the side door, we climbed in, and I pushed the door close button and the side door slid shut, then I cracked open the side windows about a quarter-inch so we’d have some fresh air. “Greg, I think we’re going to have to do this one at a time.”
Greg slid over next to the door. “You’re first.”
I took off my jacket, poncho, shirt, and T-shirt. I took off my boots and pulled my pants and briefs off, reached down and pulled off my socks. I used the towel to dry myself, and pulled on both of my dry briefs, T-shirts, and socks. I climbed into my side of our dual sleeping bags.
I was aware that Greg had been watching me the entire time I got undressed. It had been all I could do to keep from thinking about him, because otherwise I would have gotten hard and as a result very embarrassed.
“OK, Greg, you’re next.”
He blushed, and that surprised me. He repeated the technique I’d used, and when he pulled off his boxers I saw why he’d blushed. He was hard! I turned away so he’d think I hadn’t seen him. I was confused. Why was he hard? Was it because he’d watched me get naked? Probably not. I mean, I get hard sometimes when there’s nothing to arouse me, so that was probably what it was with Greg.
While I was thinking about this, Greg finished changing and climbed into his side of the sleeping bag. I reached between the front seats and turned the ignition off. I sat up and grabbed the top zipper and pulled it up closing the two of us into the sleeping bag.
Greg was shivering. “You OK, Greg? You’re shivering. Are you cold?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
I rolled onto my right side. “Roll this way. Let’s hug. That way our body heat will keep us warm, and the sleeping bag will keep it inside. We should be warm all night.” He seemed to be reluctant, so I reached across and put my hand on his right shoulder and gently pulled. “Come on, roll onto your left side.” I felt him let out a sigh, and he rolled toward me. I grabbed him in a hug, and he put his arms around me. I moved around until our bodies were in contact form our shoulders to our feet. That’s when I realized that Greg was still hard and knew why he hadn’t wanted to hug.
“You must hate me!”
“I’ll NEVER hate you! Don’t ever think that! I love you, Greg, I don’t hate you!”
“Y… you love me? Really love me?”
I realized what I’d said. It had just slipped out. I’d told him that I loved him. And it was true.
“I’ve always loved you. I’m gay, Greg. I know you can’t love me that way, but….”
He interrupted me. “STOP! I CAN love you that way! I DO love you that way! Oh, God, Curt, I love you so much I can’t even freakin’ think of anything other than you sometimes!” He hugged me harder, and pulled me closer. It felt so good.
There was enough light to let me see his eyes and his lips. I pulled him into a kiss. It was a soft kiss, just lips, and I kept looking into his eyes. I heard him sob and saw his tears. I pulled back from our kiss. “Why are you crying, Greg?”
“I’ve never been so happy in my whole freakin’ life. I’m crying because I’m happy. You love me? For how long?”
“Probably since the day I met you. Forever.”
“Why didn’t you say anything to me? Why didn’t I say anything to you? We’re so freakin’ stupid, Curt!”
I put my palms on his cheeks, and with my thumbs I wiped away his tears. “You went out with, like, almost all the girls in our class. I always thought you were straight. That’s why I never said anything to you.”
“Curt, I never had sex with any of those girls. I’ve never had sex with anyone. Ever.” I could see him grin while tears ran down his cheeks. “I’ve been saving myself for you! But you and Jen were so tight, you were going steady.”
“Jen and I weren’t going steady. She was my safety date! That way no one would ever ask why I didn’t have a girlfriend, or figure out that I was gay. I haven’t had sex with anyone either. Let me ask you a question, Greg. Why didn’t you ever give me a hint, or ever ask me if I was gay, if you’re gay?”
“Curt, I’m not gay. I just happen to love a guy. YOU! What the shit’s ‘gay’ about that? There’s nothing ‘gay’ about that. I’ve never been interested in any other guys. I don’t look at other guys and want to jump their bones. When I hear ‘gay’ I think of every freakin’ stereotype about gays I’ve ever heard or seen. That’s not me. I think I’m normal. It sure is normal for me! But that doesn’t answer your question. If I’d told you I loved you, and you’d freaked and walked away from me and wouldn’t be my best friend any more, I would have died inside. Really. I don’t think I could live without you. I’ve been thinking about what’ll happen when you go to Cal next year and I won’t see you every day. I decided that I’d tell you this weekend. Tell you that I love you. I already tried, a bunch of times, but I chickened out, every time. I’ve never been so nervous and worried in my life. Couldn’t you tell?”
“You said a few things that made me wonder.” I looked at him and smiled. Oh, God, was I happy! I moved my lips to his and kissed him. And he kissed me back. I reached under his T-shirt and began rubbing his back. Greg moaned, and began rubbing the back of my neck.
I was hard as a rock, and uncomfortably confined in my briefs. I could feel Greg hard and hot against me, not as tightly confined because he was wearing boxers. I nibbled on his earlobe and whispered, “I’m so glad you’ve been saving yourself for me! Let’s get undressed. I want to feel your body, all of your body, against mine.” I heard Greg giggle as he lifted his butt up and I felt him pulling his boxers down, then kicking them off. While he struggled to get his T-shirts off, I pulled off my briefs and worked them down my legs and off, then almost ripped one of my T-shirts in my haste to get them off, and we left it all in the sleeping bag. I pulled Greg into a hug. It felt so much better, lying next to him, the two of us hugging each other, our bodies naked, feeling his heartbeat as his chest pressed against me, his erection pressing against mine. We kissed again, then again and again. I felt Greg’s tongue rub against my lips, and I opened my mouth and let it explore mine. These were things I’d never done before, with anyone. And I was doing it with Greg. Talk about my fantasies coming true!
I could feel tears well up, tears of happiness. I began exploring his body with my hands as we kissed. He felt so wonderful. So amazing. So right!
We weren’t talking. I discovered you can’t talk when you’re kissing.
In the waning light I could just see Greg’s eyes sparkle. “I feel so fantastic! I love you Greg, I love you, I love you, I love you!”
He smiled. “Me too, all that too! Jeez, Curt, this is my dreams come true!”
We spent the next half hour or so kissing and touching and nibbling and exploring. Especially exploring. As we explored each other we generated enough heat to warm us and the sleeping bag. Finally the exhaustion of the day caught up with us, and we held each other and fell asleep, in each others’ arms.
You ever wake up and not know where you are? You know you’re not in your bed, but you don’t know what bed it is you’re in. You feel… I don’t know… disoriented. That’s the word. That’s how I felt. Disoriented. I didn’t know where I was or why. What I did know is that I was still tired, that I wanted to go back to sleep, and that my face was cold.
I opened my eyes. Well, one of them, sort of. Then I opened my other eye. Now both eyes were at least partially open. I couldn’t really see any details because it was dark. I had an impression that the ceiling was low, like I was in the top of a bunk bed. As my eyes and brain began to function better, I was able to make out some shapes. It looked like there was a window at the far end of the bed. It also seemed like it was getting light, there was a dull glow.
I tried to move. Something was holding me down. I felt around with my left hand to find out what was holding me down. It was an arm, a warm arm. My brain woke up and I suddenly remembered where I was. And whose arms I was sleeping in. Greg's!
I stretched as well as I could in my cramped position. I was sore from lying in the sleeping bag. The window I’d seen was in the liftgate, and it was covered by snow. There was more light behind the snow; the sun was rising. While my body was warm inside the sleeping bag, my face was cold. It was probably time to get up and get dressed and see what was going on.
I rubbed Greg’s arm, then his back. “Hey, buddy, wake up! It’s a new day!”
Greg groaned, then opened one eye and looked at me. He smiled, leaned forward and kissed me. “Hi, lover!”
“Hi, lover, yourself. We better get some clothes on in case a ranger comes around.” Greg’s stomach growled, and I laughed. “And we have to get something to fill that bottomless pit of yours!”
“It might be bottomless, but you filled it pretty well last night!” He grinned, a nasty grin, then laughed. It was infectious, and as I remembered last night I started laughing too. Then my stomach growled.
“Well, let’s get some food into it, and into mine.”
We retrieved our clothes and, with some difficulty due to the confined space, got our underwear and socks on. Our pants and shirts were still a little damp, but they were all we had so we struggled into them then pulled on our boots.
I looked at Greg. “You ready to brave the cold and snow?”
“No. But we gotta do it, right?”
I pushed the button to open the side door of the van. “Right, we gotta do it. How about hot dogs and fruit for breakfast?”
“As long as there’s somethin’ hot, I’m for it.” Greg stepped out of the van and put on his jacket. “Oh, man, Curt, this is so beautiful!”
I got out and stood next to him. It had stopped snowing. The ground was covered by snow, about nine inches, and the trees had enough snow on them to make it look like a scene on a Christmas card. I put my arm around Greg’s shoulders and pulled him close to me.
“I want to remember this, our first morning together. It’s so beautiful, it’s the perfect start to our lives together.”
Greg turned to me, smiled, and kissed me. “You, Curt, say the most wonderful things. I love you, man!”
My camera was still in my jacket pocket, so I pulled it out and took pictures of the amazing scene, then of Greg against the snow covered backdrop, and he took some of me.
Both of our stomachs growled, simultaneously, and we busted up laughing. I started the engine so the car would warm up inside, and we went back to the shelter to fix breakfast. Hot dogs. Not my numero uno choice for breakfast, but they’d be hot and easy to eat and delicious.
I called my dad and told him we were OK, that we were fixing breakfast: hot dogs. He laughed at our breakfast choice, then said he’d call us when the auto club called him back, and that he’d let Greg’s folks know we were OK.
We were both ravenous. Those hot dogs were one of the best breakfasts I’d ever had.
We cleaned up, packed everything, and put the tent and cooler back into the van. I brushed the snow off the windshield and back windows, and we got in and sat in the warmth from the heater. My pants were drying out, and I wasn’t as cold as I’d been.
I was startled by a knock on the window next to me. It was a park ranger! I rolled the window down, and he wanted to know why we were here when the park was closed. I told him what happened, that we’d arrived on Saturday before the storm hit, and we had a flat and couldn’t get the van to move to where we could change the tire. He seemed skeptical about our being there, but I pulled out our campsite tag and that seemed to satisfy him. He hooked a chain from his Jeep to our van and pulled the van up onto the campground road, and the three of us worked together to change the tire. When we finished, we thanked him for his help.
He told us that we could follow him out of the campground, that he had a plow blade on the front of his Jeep, and that he’d clear a path for us. Then he looked at us, grinned, and told us that if I ran into the back of his Jeep “your ass will be grass.” We all busted out laughing. While I drove, very carefully following the ranger’s Jeep, Greg phoned my folks and told them that we were on our way home and to cancel the call to the auto club, then called his folks.
It turned out that North Gate Road was clear below the ranger station. We stopped to thank the ranger again, then drove to my house. We told our story, and showed my folks the pictures we’d taken. They were relieved that we were OK, especially my mom. I took her aside and asked if she’d give Greg a jar of her peach preserves, and she gave him two jars. I think he smiled for about ten minutes, holding on to those jars like they were the most precious things in the world.
I drove Greg to his house, and we retold our story. Greg’s dad told us that he’d heard on the radio that it had been the biggest snowfall on Mt. Diablo in modern times, ten inches of snow near the summit. They were calling it a blizzard. We showed them the pictures we’d taken, and they were amazed at the amount of snow. Greg’s brother Keith wanted to know if our story would be in the newspaper, and Greg and I both said “NO!” simultaneously, which greatly disappointed Keith and made everyone else laugh.
Greg and I went on a hiking trip on the first Saturday of Christmas break. Stuck in a campground on Mt. Diablo in a record snowstorm that some called a blizzard, we became boyfriends that day. That was the best Christmas present ever for each of us. We’re still together today, still in love. But that’s another story for another time.
A big thanks to Cole Parker for editing "Christmas Break" and making it a much better story.
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This story contains occasional references to consensual sex between young adults. If it were a movie, it would be rated PG13 (in a more enlightened time it would be rated G). If reading this type of material is illegal where you live, or if you are too young to read this type of material based on the laws where you live, or if your parents don’t want you to read this type of material, or if you find this type of material morally or otherwise objectionable, or if you don't want to be here, close your browser now. The author neither condones nor advocates the violation of any laws. If you want to be here, but aren't supposed to be here, be careful and don’t get caught!