When Peter was younger he hitchhiked across Kansas. The MG was broken down again. The clutch was shot. He didn’t have the money to replace it.
Back then he would have been in summer school at KSU enrolled in an architectural design studio. It would have been the Fourth of July holiday. He has three days to travel from Manhattan to Faith’s parents’ lakefront cabin and back before the start of the second summer term. He and Faith are not yet married, but everyone assumes it will happen in good time. Peter will make the two hundred mile trip in just under six hours.
Faith’s parents are as always, cordial. They like Peter. He seems a sensible boy. They take the two kids out to Jeffery’s Country Restaurant and Truck Plaza, the only respectable eating establishment within twenty miles. Peter has fried chicken. Faith and her mother each have a salad. Faith’s father orders up a thick steak. They talk about harmless things: college, the farm economy, Faith’s high school acting career. Peter does his best to appear completely respectful. After supper, Faith, Peter and her parents drive the twelve miles back to their cabin in silence. Faith looks across the back car seat at Peter, smiling an impious smile
Later, after Faith’s parents have gone to bed, she and Peter sit out on the back porch. The warm Kansas night is liquid with the sound of cicadas. The two of them sway lazily on an old cedar porch swing. They talk some. They kiss some. They hold each other very closely. Peter is pent-up, filled with an irrepressible confidence in himself. Faith’s head is swirling too. She seems to suggest her willingness to please him in any way he wishes. They kiss again for a long time. The swing creaks beneath them. Peter begins to stroke Faith’s upper body. He begins pressing her with an impulse he has never before had the nerve to act on. He wants her. He believes he has waited long enough. He does not speak his intentions directly. He assumes the movement of his hands across her small breasts, over her tight belly and down between her legs says all that is necessary.
Faith understands the message of Peter’s hands. She has indulged his groping before, but tonight she recognizes the urgency of his touch. It frightens her. It’s too soon in their relationship. And, “Gawd,” she panics, “it would be right here on her parent’s back porch. For Gawd’s sake, it would be right here out in the open.”
Playfully, she pushes Peter away once. He returns to her. She pushes him away again, this time more sternly. He comes back at her again. Finally, Faith’s had enough. She leverages her small body against Peter’s and flings him sideways. He slides off the swing onto the porch floor in an inelegant clump. Faith announces solemnly, “I am going to bed. You may sleep on the sofa if you wish. Breakfast is at seven.”
The next morning, Peter slips out of the house before sunrise. He feels shame and anger but not least of all, a painfully unfulfilled desire.
Out at the cloverleaf, Peter thumbs for a ride back to Manhattan. He is dressed as any college kid might be in the middle of the summer: a tank top and a pair of cutoff jeans sheared directly up to the underside of his butt. He doesn’t think how this might look to those in the cars that pass by. He is just looking for a ride back to Manhattan.
Peter is still upset by Faith’s rejection. He doesn’t think he had done anything wrong. They had been dating for months. They claimed they loved each other. He was ready to have sex with her. He had thought about it feverishly for weeks. He thought she should be ready too. He doesn’t understand her reaction. The incident embarrasses him. It humiliates and humbles him. And, he remains painfully horny.
After about twenty minutes of thumbing, a car pulls over. It is a late model sedan, dark and unadorned; the kind of car driven by a salesman or manufacturer’s representative. A middle-aged man motions for Peter to get in. He does.
“Hey sonny. The name’s Hank. Henry Scotton really, but most folk call me Hank. Where you off to so early?”
“Manhattan, eh? We’ll maybe I can help you out some. I’m headed that way. Most ‘a that way, anyway. I could use somebody to yammer at if you don’t mind.”
“No, I don’t mind.”
Peter does mind. He prefers hitching with sullen people who would leave him alone, but a ride was a ride.
“Sos,” Hank continues, “You a student at the University? I just bet you are. I see a lot of ‘em out here on the road during the summer…”
“Yep. I drive all over this state selling fertilizer. I see a lotta university kids out hitching. I pick ‘em up whenever I can. I like to help out, you know. I do what I can to help out. You know, whenever I don’t have an appointment to get to or something else going…”
Hank is balding. He is dressed in a cheap brown suit. The cuffs of his dingy white shirt are frayed and its collar is yellow with sweat. He has a paunch, fat jowls and short, stubby fingers. His window is rolled down. He holds the steering wheel lightly with only the two fingertips of his left hand, his elbow poking out the open window. His right hand grips the floorboard gear stick beside Peter.
“What you say your name was again, son?”
“Yeah, Peter. Good, yeah. Petey. So Petey, you know much about the fertilizer business? Best business in the world. Best little business in the world, I’d say. Granular nitrate’s what I deal. Ya can’t grow corn without granular nitrate or at least you can’t grow it too good, know what I’m saying, Petey? Ya know?”
Peter winces at Hank’s use of the nickname “Petey,” but nods his understanding of the fertilizer business.
“Yes. My father was a farmer.”
“Yeah? You a farm boy, eh? Well, I guess I might a guessed that. There ain’t nothing like farming, is there son? Nothing like it in the world. Best little job in the world, I’d say.”
This goes on for miles. Hank can talk for hours about farming and fertilizer. Peter endures it with only an occasional reply. He is thinking about other things: about Faith, about sex, about the irrepressible urges that continue to well up between his legs. He gazes at a featureless Kansas landscape of corn and wheat passing outside his window.
Hank keeps flapping his damp, sputtering lips like a bed sheet hung out to dry on a blustery day. He raises his right hand, shakes it as though it had fallen asleep and then lowers it again. As he does, he returns it not to the gearshift, but to the edge of the passenger seat near Peter’s bare thigh. The change in position seems innocent and casual. Peter doesn’t think anything of it. Hank yammers. Miles pass.
Hanks flips on the radio and punches up a country western station. Loretta Lynn is singing some sad song. Hank dials in the station more clearly with his right hand. When he’s satisfied with the sound, his hand again returns to the passenger seat slightly closer to Peter’s thigh. Peter still takes nothing from the gesture. Hank just seems to be a real friendly country lout, like a hundred others Peter had known while growing up in a farming community. More miles pass.
Gradually, it comes to Peter that Hank’s hand has moved from the edge of the seat and now brushes lightly against the flesh of his upper thigh. It still seems innocent, but the sensation of Hank’s touch is making Peter uncomfortable. He tenses but continues to look out the window as though nothing has changed.
Peter thinks to himself. He is twenty-one. Except for his time in Manhattan, he’s never been off the farm. He has a girlfriend. He loves her. He believes he will one day marry her. She has made him angry but he knows he will get over it. He is a virgin. He has a powerfully edgy desire to change this situation. He’s never thought about sex in any way except between a man and a woman. It was all he knew. It was all he wanted for himself. He was aware there were people in the world who had other ideas about sex. Men who preferred men. Women who preferred women. He never imagined he would ever meet one of them. Certainly not in Kansas.
He is riding in a car on the Kansas Turnpike at sixty-five miles an hour with a normal acting, average looking, middle-aged man named Hank. Peter is thinking about sex, thinking about Faith, thinking about the previous evening and desperately trying to suppress the urgency welling up within him.
Hank’s hand moves swiftly from the car seat onto Peter’s thigh. Peter stiffens.
“You don’t mind, do ya, Petey?”
Peter doesn’t know what to think. His mind races. He’s frightened. He immediately worries for his safety. He thinks he should have never gotten in a car with this man.
But strangely, Peter also recognizes that he is in no way revulsed by the clammy hand now stoking his inside face of his thigh. He wouldn’t have expected himself to react this way, with indifference. He is vulnerable. He is so horny. He so wants to release himself from the pain of never having had sex.
He thinks again about Faith. He thinks about how she humiliated him. He thinks about how much he wants to have sex with anyone. He doesn’t know how or why he says what he next says, but he does.
“No…No, I don’t mind.”
“Dandy. I thought you wouldn’a.”
Peter leans back and closes his eyes. He tries not to believe that the coarse hand now stroking the length of his leg belongs to a man. He tries to think of it as only the hand of another human being. He spreads his legs further apart. He relaxes some. He feels his penis budge inside his cutoffs. He keeps his eyes closed tightly.
Hank is now rubbing Peter’s crotch. He fumbles with Peter’s belt buckle. Peter opens his eyes briefly. He moves Hank’s hand back onto his thigh. He unbuckles his belt, unfastens his shorts and pushes them and his underwear down to the car’s floorboard. He believes he can do nothing else. Peter has been raised to be obliging. He closes his eyes again and draws Hank’s fingers around his penis.
Miles pass. Peter closes his eyes more tightly. He revels in the feeling of being touched by another human being. He believes he should moan. Hank strokes more furiously. Peter tries not to think about the man but only of his hand and the feeling of it wrapped around him.
More time and miles pass. Peter imagines it’s hours instead of minutes or seconds. He strains against Hank’s hand. He flexes his calves and arches his back. He moans again more loudly. Hank quickens his pace, but Peter is far too uptight to surrender to orgasm. It simply will not happen. Hank suddenly loosens his grip. His fingers have gone numb. He shakes his hand. Peter opens his eyes. He sees the frumpy, balding, middle-aged man seated beside him. Peter is horrified by what he sees; horrified by what he has allowed to happen. He gasps and screams: “Stop! Stop the car now! This is my exit!”
“Whoa, sonny. We’re nowheres near Manhattan.”
“This is my exit. I have to get out here. Please stop the car.”
Hank grips the wheel with both hands and applies the brakes. Peter pulls up his underwear and shorts. The car stops. Peter staggers out. He mumbles his thanks.
“For the ride,” he adds meekly.
“Glad to help out, Petey.”
Hank pulls away. Peter turns from the rising cloud of gravel dust. He sits down on the edge of the pavement. Even though the morning is already warm, he holds himself and shivers uncontrollably. It will be thirty minutes before he regains his composure. He returns to the freeway onramp and thumbs another ride, this time from a young farm girl also headed back to the university. She’s friendly. She notices Peter doesn’t talk much. After an hour or so, she drops him off at his dormitory. Peter enters his room and lies on his bunk bed for the remainder of the day. He thinks about Faith. He thinks about Hank. He will think about the events of this weekend for a very long time to come. Later in the evening, once his room is sufficiently dark, Peter will masturbate until he finally reaches orgasm. He falls asleep on his bed.
Two weeks later, Faith will come to visit Peter in Manhattan. She will apologize for the way she reacted on the porch. She was worried when Peter left the next morning without saying goodbye. Peter apologizes for this. It was rude.
Peter will tell Faith the story of his ride back to Manhattan. He will tell her about Hank. He will tell her how Hank propositioned him and his horror at what had happened. He will tell her how he stormed out of Hank’s car. He will tell her everything except the extent to which he willingly participated in it all. Faith hears Peter’s story. She looks at him lovingly. Her eyes tear with sympathy. Later in the evening, she will allow Peter to make love to her.