susan carlton
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Love & Haight

Love & Haight

Chapter One: Opposable Thumbs

The view was wrong. That's what Chloe kept thinking. Where was the phantasmagoric bridge? Where was the Rice-a-Roni scene?

She'd been waiting eleven hours for this moment. Eleven hours in the Lady Bug from Phoenix, bending north past Hollywood then Santa Barbara then Santa Cruz then, finally, San Francisco. Eleven hours of loading up on Tab and pulling over to pee. Eleven hours of speculating about what mischief two girls could stir up on their pre New Year's road trip. Every twenty minutes, MJ would come up with a cheer, a leftover habit from her majorette days. The punchline was always 1972. I'm gonna wanna 1972. We'll party, 1972. Let's all have cheese 1972.

And then....

"There it is!" Chloe said, getting a far-off glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge, busting into the sky.

MJ started the count. "And a 5-6-7-8."

MJ unlocked her side of the Bug's convertible roof then climbed into the backseat and around to the driver's side to unlock the other half. She yanked the canvas roof back and snapped it into place.

The air was minty fresh from all the eucalyptus trees at the side of the road. Chloe breathed in deep.

"No turning back now!" MJ took a fistful of Cracker Jack, of happy food, and threw it like confetti.

"Cut it out." Chloe batted away the sticky bits.

The bridge slipped from view, but there was no doubt they were hurtling ahead, top down, to spend winter break in the most grooved-out city on the planet.

MJ fiddled with the radio. Static/ classical music, static/ jingle bells, static/ traffic report, static/ sitar. Finally, she hit an FM station at the top of the dial and The Who came through. I said, now I've got my MAGIC Bus....

The road thrummed under the wheels.

"It's so huge!" MJ said, when the bridge emerged again.

"It's not even golden," Chloe said. "It's orange. A color called International Orange, not golden at all. That's what it said in the triple-A guide."

The freeway zigzagged right, left, right, right, left then straight to the bridge.

They'd gone twenty miles out of their way, looping north to go south just to enter the city via the bridge—but instead of gunning the gas, Chloe flicked on her turn signal.

"What are you doing?" MJ yelled over The Who. The Saint Christopher medal she'd hung from the rearview mirror swung to and fro.

"Pulling over."

MJ shot her a quick look. "Uh, we're halfway on a bridge."

"We're either on a bridge or we're not. And we're not."

So far, senior year was all either/or. Either a fox or a prude. Either a partier or a dud. Either a hippie or a conformist. Either on the magic bus or off it.

Chloe downshifted—fourth, then third, then second, then first—and stopped in the makeshift emergency shoulder.

"You're crazy!" MJ said, getting out the passenger door.

Chloe climbed over the gearshift and got out on the guardrail side, too. A pick-up truck zoomed by and the ground quivered.

The air, the realness, made her queasy.

"I don't want to go," Chloe said quietly, but because there was traffic, she ended up saying it again, louder. "I don't want to GO."

"I'm OK," MJ said. "And you're OK?"

They'd had to read the crappy self-help book, I'm OK, You're OK in Girls' Health. It had become their inside joke: I've had four beers. I'm OK...are you OK?

"I'm not okay," Chloe said. "I don't think I can, you know, woo-hoo-hoo in 1972."

"You'll woo-hoo. We're staying with Kiki, remember?" MJ fingered the little gold peace sign she always wore, twisting it around and around.

Cars motored on—a pair of Mustangs, a station wagon with wood paneling, a souped-up-something painted red—but no one stopped to ask if they needed help.

Chloe's Snoopy watch said three fifty. She was supposed to call Kiki at four.

MJ sat on the hood and cracked her knuckles. "Here's the deal I just made up," she announced.


"One-two-three-four, I declare a thumb war. If I win, I drive. Because it's happening either way," MJ said.

"Oh, it's happening," Chloe echoed.

Sitting there on the hood, they waged five thumb wars. She and MJ had been battling since first grade. They were the queens of opposable thumbs.

Chloe let MJ win. Actually, MJ always won.

After a logging truck nearly sideswiped them, logs jousting for freedom from the chains, Chloe stood up.

MJ climbed in first, over the gearshift, to the driver's seat. She slid the seat back to make room for her basketball legs and readjusted the mirror. Before they took off, MJ unlooped the Saint Christopher and pressed it into Chloe's hand.

"You know, He's the patron saint of long journeys," MJ said.

"Not for me," Chloe said, dropping the pendant in the ash-less ashtray.

"It can't hurt."

MJ gunned it and they were back on track. The bridge's cables loomed like double-dutch jump ropes. Chloe had to pace herself, decide when to jump in. "I haven't told anyone else," she said. "Did I tell you that?"

MJ smiled. "Except Shep, the original dipstick."

"Ugh, but not Kiki. We're staying with her but she doesn't need to know why. And not Virginia either." Since the divorce, her mother had wanted to be called Virginia. In her head Chloe added, and definitely not Teddy.

MJ's answer was to turn the radio up, loud. Elton John filled the silence. They loved this song—Hold me closer, tiny dancer...Count the headlights on the hiiiiiiiiighway!—and they sang along.

As they waited in line to pay the toll, Chloe thought that driving across the Golden Gate was a little like sex. It was supposed to be this major mind-blowing experience but then it was over in three minutes and it didn't really measure up to the hype.

© Susan Carlton