Fog City Summer pt. 2 – Fiction
Fog City Summer
a San Francisco Romance
Excerpt from a Novel by
Last time: Sparks fly when Djuna and Julian meet in a San Francisco café. Later, a chance encounter in the arboretum coincides with an earthquake and blackout, forcing Djuna to spend the night at Julian’s apartment. Just as things are about to heat up between them, Djuna gets a call from the mysterious Scott, which she ignores, but it clearly upsets her and ruins the moment.
Julian lay on his back on the floor of his apartment, listening to Djuna breathe on the bed above. He had insisted upon letting her sleep in the bed, despite her telling him repeatedly that she didn’t mind sleeping on the floor. He settled into an old torn up sleeping bag on the floor.
It was too early for him to go to bed, only a little past ten o’clock, but after her phone rang, she insisted she was tired and told him she had work very early in the morning, so he did his best to fall asleep.
He had finally slipped into a swirly half-slumber, when he heard a creak in the bed and the rustle of sheets. He kept his eyes closed, realizing it must be Djuna getting up to use the bathroom. Her footsteps brushed the rug. He felt the sleeping bag lift slightly, letting cool air in on his side.
Her leg slipped over him and her hips and chest pressed against his. He tried to speak, but only a guttural sound came out of his throat, and she covered his lips with her thumb, her hand grasping his jaw, his questions momentarily replaced with irrepressible desire. He squeezed her hips as she kissed him, pressing her lips so hard against his that a little burst of pain traveled through them from his teeth.
She could feel his response, his breath, his heart. He unexpectedly rolled her onto her back, pulling off the large t-shirt he had given her to sleep in. She slipped her hand underneath his cotton shirt, feeling the gold-smooth skin of his chest, and pushed it over his head and arms.
He dragged her body back towards him again, and slowly trailed his fingers along the inside of her thigh until her whole body shook. Grazing her bottom lip with his teeth, he slipped her underwear down her legs.
Djuna’s skin was shining in the candlelight, her hands white like the moon. He kissed her pink mouth, and then traveled down her torso to taste the meeting of her thighs.
At first she made no sound, but soon her body swayed, her chest arching upwards, rising and falling like waves in the ocean. He felt her pulse accelerate as her hips rose to press against his lips, her body shaking. Her skin was hot, the blood in her veins carried embers to the heart, and he grasped her thighs as he felt all of her muscles become tight. A sharp, staggered breath entered her lungs. When he finally looked at her face, silvered with sweat, he saw the tension between her brows slowly melt into a faint smile.
She loved the way he held her hips as she straddled him, the way he looked at her as if she were a goddess, the way every touch of his hands made her crave him more and more. It had been a long time since she had been with a man, and she felt the familiar sting that soon turned to pleasure as he pushed his hipbones into her thighs. Soon, she felt his heart buzz with excitement and knew he couldn’t last much longer. His thighs pressed into her one last time, and they both exhaled together.
They looked at each other, panting, in the soft light. Then she stood up, and walked to the bathroom.
Julian put his boxers and shirt back on while she was out of the room, trying to understand what had just happened. Djuna was like a beautiful haze of fog to him. Whatever had stopped her from kissing him before had obviously subsided. Now that his heart rate began to return to normal, he was able to think, and as the wheels began to grind against one another, he started to think that maybe he should not have allowed that to happen. His physical desire had overtaken his ability to remain a gentleman, and he was not proud of that. He was not ashamed of it either, knowing that the act had been entirely consensual, but felt that perhaps a bit more restraint may have made the aftermath less complicated. Now he was unsure where they stood, and what she wanted out if him.
“Whatever had stopped her from kissing him before had obviously subsided.”
Djuna looked in the small cloudy mirror in Julian’s bare bathroom. Her face appeared in soft focus, like in the love scene of a black and white movie, the imperfections smoothed and invisible. She had done something so unlike herself that now she could hardly look at her own face in earnest. She knew she owed him an explanation, and that even if he didn’t ask, he would expect one eventually. If only she knew what primal need had possessed her, something more powerful than the desire for sex alone, she might have been able to explain it to Julian.
Djuna came back out and sat on his bed, looking at him.
“Do you want to sleep next to me?” she said. Suddenly she sounded meek, completely unlike someone who had just pounced on him like a lioness.
“Do you want me to?”
She paused for a second. “Yes.”
She peeled back the cover and slid under it, allowing room for him on the other side. He lay down and reached for her. She didn’t move.
He lightly touched her hip and looked into her eyes, dark windows reflecting clouds. A multitude of silent words flooded his throat.
Djuna settled into his green eyes, wishing he would speak, say anything at all.
“I have to go to work tomorrow,” she said.
“And I’ll need to stop at my place for a change of clothes, so I have to get up pretty early.”
She wanted to slap herself in the face. I sound like a stereotype of a man after a one night stand. “What time do you get off work tomorrow? I live right around the corner.”
“Oh—” He sounded relieved. “I’m done at 7.”
“If you want, I could make you dinner at my place. As a thank you for, you know, letting me stay here and everything.”
“That sounds nice.”
“I’m not a very good cook or anything, so don’t get your hopes up.” She laughed, and his laugh followed hers. Her clenched jaw relaxed.
“That’s ok,” he said. “I could probably be there by 7:15.”
He smiled. Her body heat painted the front of his own body.
“You don’t have any food restrictions, do you?” she asked earnestly. “Are you vegetarian? Or vegan? I’m not, but I know how to make meals without meat or whatever. Or, if you’re gluten-free—”
“I eat everything,” he said. He jokingly rolled his eyes. “San Franciscans.”
“Hey,” she said in mock seriousness, “Gotta respect people with the willpower to resist cheese.”
“Agreed, I am weak when it comes to the power of cheese. And ice-cream.”
“Of course, I should have known you weren’t vegan.”
As she giggled, he took the opportunity to wrap his arms around her. She didn’t resist. In fact, she nestled her head onto his shoulder. He would have been content to stay that way the whole night.
She let herself dissolve into his warm cotton smell. As she was falling asleep, a bolt of fear crippled her chest. By letting him hold her, he would know that she liked him, and by some horrific dating logic, that made her weak. Worse, she remembered the symbol on her phone that signified the receipt of a voicemail from Scott. But none of this could be resolved tonight. She had eight hours of dream life procrastination.
She enjoyed Julian’s toned chest next to hers, his inhalation deep and echoing. When he exhaled, a gust of warm breath went through her hair, wheat fields on a windy hill.
Julian was surprised at how soundly he slept. Ordinarily, sleeping next to a new person was a stressful experience. Both would shift awkwardly, trying to keep from waking the other, and he would usually wake up with pins and needles in one of his limbs from the stiff position. He had held Djuna in his arms all night, and neither of them had moved without the other complementing the shift in position.
Somehow, she had slipped out of his bed without him noticing, and he awoke to the sound of her footsteps in his kitchen. He opened his eyes halfway, and saw that she was leaving a note on the kitchen counter. He watched her for a moment, her brow creased the same way it always was when she wrote at the coffee shop.
“This is my address and phone number,” she said, noticing he was awake.
“Oh, yes. Thank you,” he uttered, his dry throat making his voice raspy.
He looked adorably disheveled in the morning, she thought. His hair was standing every which way, and a hint of sweat made his tan skin glow.
She sighed, annoyed at having to leave so soon. “I have to go.”
“I know.” He stood up in his cotton t-shirt and boxers, and walked towards her. “Hopefully the buses are back.”
“I’m sure they are. Your refrigerator is working again, so the electricity must be back on.”
She wanted to kiss him, but felt her own fear and awkwardness grip her like a sudden sickness. She moved towards the exit, and he followed her. She turned towards him, her back to the wooden doors.
“I’m glad there was a blackout,” Julian said.
His sweet smile made her feel as if a sip of tea and honey trickled through her insides, warming the blood in her veins.
“So am I,” she said.
Before she let her thoughts stop her, she pressed her lips boldly against his, then pushed the antique garage door open, and stepped out onto 11th avenue.
“I eat everything,” he said. He jokingly rolled his eyes. “San Franciscans.”
Djuna sat on the bus, having showered and changed her clothes at the speed of light before rushing out the door again. When she got to the office, she was greeted by a raised eyebrow from her tall Amazon-like boss. Shayna was in her usual solid colored dress, with her hair in an overly-complicated bun. The website that Djuna worked for– FemiList.com, a series of pointless articles pandering to online feminists– had recently acquired a completely unnecessary office space, so now she had to put on real clothes every day and work at a desk instead of on her couch with daytime television in the background. Djuna made her way to her desk, aware that the sweat on her neck made it obvious that she had run from the bus stop to make it on time.
“Good morning,” Shayna said. “You remember I’m doing interviews today, so I’ll need you to come with me and take notes?”
“I remember,” Djuna said, trying to conceal that she was still slightly out of breath.
“Wonderful. And when will you have a draft of the latest top ten list?”
“It’s a few tweaks away from being finished. An hour at the most.” Djuna knew that the tweaks would take a total of five minutes, but always over-estimated so she could procrastinate longer. She either naturally worked faster than everyone else or everyone else did the same thing. Either way, most of the time she spent at work was wasted, something she might have cared about if she had any respect for the company.
“Oh, and in case you forgot, it’s Rhonda’s birthday,” she added passive aggressively.
The company set this irritating precedent that everyone was friends, not coworkers. Djuna couldn’t stand the disingenuousness of it. When she had agreed to work in the office, she had assumed that meant drinking after work with equally jaded and cynical coworkers. Instead, they had company-sponsored happy hours where everyone talked about work in their free time. It wasn’t worth the free booze, so Djuna never attended and simply put up with all the annoying “you should really make an effort” comments. There were perks to working there, the free food being the main one. They had catered lunches a couple times a week, and it seemed like it was always somebody’s birthday, which meant cupcakes. But overall, Djuna missed her working from home days, free of forced social interaction with people whose idea of culture was discussing the new iPhone model. Djuna had a flip-phone. She had to go to three different stores to even find one. Maybe people like her were dying out in San Francisco.
Even though she’d only been at work for about 10 minutes, she looked at her phone to check the time, and once again noticed the voicemail logo in the corner. She felt ill at the thought of hearing Scott’s voice recorded in her phone. She considered deleting the message without listening to it, but decided instead to escape to the bathroom and just hear it once.
She got up from her desk, keeping her eyes low so no one would distract her from the task at hand. Once safely behind the door, she held down the 1 button on her stone-age phone and pressed it to her ear.
She inhaled deeply. The message was short but bloated with pauses:
Hi. It’s Scott. Listen. I’m in town. You should call me back. I have a lot to say. Ok. Bye.
She deleted it immediately after hearing it. She held on to the sink for a few minutes. Then she smoothed her hair, and walked casually back to her desk.
Julian was in a trance the whole day at work. His chest fluttered, like he had drunk too much espresso, and his head felt as if it were filled with static. He skipped through the day, completely oblivious to the things that usually irritated him about his job– the rude or patronizing customers, having to awkwardly reach down to the bottom of the showcase to grab a particular pastry, washing endless cups only to refill them with coffee. He did it all with ease now.
“Djuna missed her working from home days, free of forced social interaction with people whose idea of culture was discussing the new iPhone model. Djuna had a flip-phone. She had to go to three different stores to even find one. Maybe people like her were dying out in San Francisco.”
At 4 o’clock, he remembered that it was his mother’s birthday. He had remembered the day before that it was coming up, and had written MOM B-DAY on his hand, but it had become smudged and unreadable. It was the sight of a black mark on his palm that reminded him. The thought of her sitting on their porch made the wheels of nostalgia churn inside his gut.
On his break, he dialed her number, but he only got the voicemail. He considered just phoning back later, but panicked when he heard the beep and left a message:
Hi mom! Just wanted to say Happy Birthday! I hope you and dad are doing well. Give me a call back when you get this. Ok. Well. Love you. Bye. You know my number.
His family would set up a table on the porch and have a nice dinner celebrating her birthday, with tropical fruit and rum and coconut milk. Maybe they would go to the beach. His mother, his father, his two brothers, and his younger sister. All laughing and dancing. He smiled knowing that none of these things would really happen, and that he had been on the Mainland long enough to have a romantic image of Hawai’i in his head.
Finally, Julian’s hands rattled as he scrubbed the last of the dishes in the sink and readied the mop. He both loved and resented the mop, as mopping was the last thing he had to do before closing.
“You in a hurry?” Brian said. Brian was both the owner and the manager of the café, which made him the most annoying person in Julian’s life. He was the type of boss who had never actually done the job that he was now presiding over, and seemed to think that his employees had no lives outside of the café.
“I’m meeting someone after work,” Julian replied. He rolled his eyes as soon as he turned back around and knew Brian couldn’t see his face.
“Ooh, hot date?”
“Well, just make sure you mop before you go.”
“I will,” Julian said, confused as to why Brian would feel the need to remind him, since he was currently holding the mop in his hands. Brian moseyed back to his office, and Julian pushed the mop across the floor as quickly as he could.
Djuna had just enough time to pick up some ingredients for dinner on her way back from work. As soon as she got back and looked around her place, she was really glad that Julian lived in a garage. Otherwise, she might have felt a little embarrassed about her apartment. She quickly straightened the rugs and tidied the couch, then pulled all of the food out of the grocery bags. She hadn’t cooked for two in ages, and had no idea how much to make. Better to make too much than too little, she figured.
She heard the doorbell ring while she was right in the middle of removing asparagus from the steamer. She turned off the burner and skipped over to the buzzer that unlocked the downstairs gate. A minute later, she heard a knock on the door, and excitedly yelled “It’s open!” The door made its familiar creaking sound, and she began to say “I’m just finishing the vegetables and then—”
Scott smiled. “I think you were expecting someone else.”
Julian did his best to not look awkward holding the two bottles of wine against his chest. He didn’t know if she liked white or red, so he had bought one of each. He came up to the yellow building that matched her address, and found that the gate was already open. He decided to think that she had left it that way for him so that he could easily come straight up to her door.
“How did you get my address?” she asked, keeping her distance from him.
“Look, I just want to talk to you.”
“This isn’t the time. I’m expecting someone.”
“Were you ever going to call me back? I’ve been trying to get ahold of you.”
“Please go,” she said firmly. She gripped the handle of the pan on the stove until her fingertips were drained of any blood. She smelled smoke coming from the stove, and realized she had overheated the olive oil, and that a small grease fire was forming in the pan. The smoke detector screamed. Scott rushed over, but she shoved him away and threw the lid on the pan, smothering the flames. Knowing Scott, he would have thrown water on it.
“Get out!” she yelled over the loud beeping.
Scott put up his hands as if the police were surrounding him, and backed out of the apartment.
Julian passed an angry looking man with a football player’s physique just as he got to apartment #4. Djuna stood barefoot in a room filled with smoke, fanning the smoke detector.
“Hi!” he said over the obnoxious beeping.
“Oh, hi! I’m sorry, this thing went off—nothing’s burned, I just—”
Julian grabbed an oven mitt and helped her fan the round white device. Finally, it stopped making the maddening sound.
“Are you ok?” he said.
“I just let the olive oil heat too long, so it caught fire. It’s fine, I mean, I can still make something, I just—I’m sorry, I’m a little rattled.” She seemed almost manic.
“Sit down,” he said. “I brought you some wine. But I didn’t know if you liked red or white, so I got a bottle of both.”
“White, but I’ll drink red,” she whimpered, smiling as he held up the two bottles.
“Perfect. I prefer red, but I’ll drink white.”
“I’m sorry,” she said again.
“Don’t apologize.” He sat across from her and reached for her hand, which she squeezed back. “How about I open the white first?”
“Please do. Wine opener’s in the top drawer.”
Djuna put her forehead to her palm as he got up to open the wine. She decided that it would be dishonest not to tell him why she was upset, but was afraid that she would start to cry if she told him now.
“I like your place,” he said. “You’ve done a lot with the space.”
“Thanks. My friend Henry calls me a ragamuffin because of it.”
Julian laughed. The top row of his teeth were straight, with an endearing crookedness to the bottom row. “I like the ragamuffin look.”
“Thank you. That’s what I always say. All of this furniture came from the street, you know.”
“Wow, good job. All of the stuff I find either has a leg or a drawer missing. Glasses?”
“In the cabinet on the right. I don’t have any wine glasses. You can just use whatever’s up there.”
She watched his arms work as he pulled the cork out of the bottle with ease, and poured two glasses, one in a mason jar, and the other in a mug with a picture of Lionel Ritchie on it.
“There you go,” he said, handing her the mug. “Feel better?”
“Yes. Much better.” She took a sip. “Have some asparagus, and I’ll try to cook this steak without burning the building down.”
“Thanks,” he said, forking some asparagus onto the plate in front of him. “If you want any help, let me know.”
He watched her concentrate on the pan as if she were the referee at the World Cup, until finally she slid a steak onto his plate, and one onto her own.
“Hopefully this isn’t awful,” she said. “I’ve never cooked steak before.”
“I’m getting your inaugural steak? What an honor!”
She laughed, and took off her sweatshirt. He could see little sparkles of sweat on her collar bones and neck. Her cheeks were pink like the inside of the steak. She was clearly watching him as he chewed the first bite.
“It’s good,” he said.
“Sorry if it’s a little dry…”
“No, it’s great.” He could tell she was still a bit shaken. “That fire must have really scared you.”
“Yeah,” she said.
She still felt uncomfortable talking about it, so she decided to change the subject entirely. “So what was it like growing up in Hawai’i?”
He smiled a smile that gave away that he’d heard the question many times before. “It’s just… different. The people are different. The lifestyle’s different.”
“Did you like it?”
“There were things I liked about it. But mostly, it’s like living in a small town that you can never leave because it’s an island.”
“But it must be really beautiful.”
“Of course. But the heat can make you not want to do anything or go anywhere. People just stay in the same place their whole lives. They don’t tend to be very ambitious—not like here.”
“Do you speak Hawai’an?”
“Not fluently anymore, but it was all around me. I was the only half white kid in the neighborhood, so the kids would call me ‘Haole.’ It just means ‘white person,’ or a person from the Mainland. My dad is actually Kanaka Maoli– I mean, not fully, hardly anyone is– but my mom is really paranoid about sun exposure, so she always made me wear a hat and sunscreen. So I looked more white when I was a kid, and that’s not good in Hawai’i because the kids will tease you relentlessly.”
She laughed. She loved how talking to him made her forget about other things. “Why did your mom want to live in Hawai’i if she’s afraid of the sun?.”
“I always thought that was weird too, but then I asked her one day and she said because that’s where your father is.”
“That’s so sweet! So, when did you move over here?”
“We moved to Brooklyn when I was 15 because of my dad’s work. But then eventually my parents moved back to Hawai’i, and I went to LA for college.”
“What was that transition like?”
“Is this an interview or something?”
She immediately blushed and laughed nervously. “Sorry, I do interviews for work, so sometimes I get into that mode with new people.”
“That’s ok, I get it. Sometimes I fall asleep muttering ‘for here or to go?’ So do you work for a magazine?”
“I wish. I work for a “feminist” website.” She made a point of doing exaggerated air quotes. “We mostly just do cheesy top-ten lists. I have issues with it.”
“Well, I thought it would be the perfect job for me since I’m a writer, and I consider myself a feminist. But they don’t really care about feminism. They’re just using key words as clickbait so they can sell more ads.”
“So you don’t do any real writing?”
“I write the blog. But I don’t think anyone actually reads it. That’s where the interviewing comes in. Mostly shop owners nowadays. But every once in a while I get to interview a real activist.”
He shook his head. “At least you get to do that. Hawai’i is so different. Even New York… it’s not like San Francisco.”
“This city is a world of its own,” she said coyly.
If only he could wrap his arms around her little waist and feel her breathe.
An hour passed, and their empty plates sat on the table as they remained absorbed in conversation.
“I can’t believe we finished both bottles of wine,” Djuna was saying as he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. The screen said MOM.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I have to take this. It’s my mom’s birthday.”
“Of course! Go ahead.”
He stood up and snuck out into the hallway to take the call.
“Hi mom! Happy birthday!”
“Julian, so nice to hear from you!” His mom’s voice sounded so close over the phone, as if she were in the next room. “Your father took me out for the night—did I tell you we have an Olive Garden here now? Kaipo! Come over here! Say hi to your son! He’s coming, he just takes longer these days. Now, honey, how are you doing? Did you find a nice place to live?”
“Djuna was at the sink washing dishes with a little red apron on when he came back in. For a split second he pictured this as his home with her, them splitting up the chores and heading to bed together.”
Djuna cleaned up the dishes from the table and began to wash them, letting the frothy soap bubbles seep through her fingers as she squeezed the sponge. Her cheeks hurt from smiling so much in the last hour. The conversation flowed so easily with Julian that she felt like they had known each other a lot longer than they had.
She looked at her phone. Sure enough, there were several messages from Scott, which got progressively less comprehensible as he seemed to be paying less and less attention to autocorrect.
7:51pm— Can’t we just be friends?
8:23pm—I just main to tall to you.
8:44pm—Let of bond over and explain.
8:45pm—I might taking to you.
Scott would never write those things without them being exorcised from his fingers by alcohol.
She could hear Julian outside, the tone of his voice upbeat and oblivious. She was glad he hadn’t pried into why she was so upset about the fire, or she might have become a broken dam and let flow everything that had happened between her and Scott over the last two years.
“But this actually isn’t the best time, mom. How about I call you again tomorrow?”
“That’s ok, honey, I know you’re busy. We’ll talk another time.”
“Ok. I love you.”
As he hung up, he noticed a figure at the end of the hallway that was gradually approaching him. When he got closer, Julian saw that it was the same angry-looking man he had noticed in the hallway earlier, although now he just seemed confused. Julian shrugged and went back into the apartment.
Djuna was at the sink washing dishes with a little red apron on when he came back in. For a split second he pictured this as his home with her, them splitting up the chores and heading to bed together.
“There’s a guy outside who seems really out of it,” Julian said casually. “It’s kind of funny—he’s just stumbling around.”
“Really? That might be my neighbor Joe. He’s a total fratboy techie—just goes out and drinks with his friends on weekends and stumbles home with some drunk girl in a tiny skirt. He’s a nice guy though, actually.”
“Yeah, maybe. He kind of looked like he used to be a football player or something.”
Djuna’s face looked suddenly ghostly, as if a gear had been switched. Her whole body went stiff.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Is he still outside?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
She rushed past Julian’s confused look to the door. Very cautiously, she opened it. It was like a theater curtain, slowly revealing Scott’s slumped figure. He was leaning against the wall, and from the looks of it, that was the only thing keeping him on his feet. That meant trouble, a lesson Djuna had learned all too well.
featured in Literary Foolery, as well as occasional appearances with Hubba Hubba Revue, and Crescent Moon Theater. She co-hosts Poets Upstairs on the second Sunday of every month at Overland Books.
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