‘San Francisco Summer ’69’
Julia and Ali are leaving life on a houseboat in Seattle and heading south to San Francisco in the Spring of 1969. It is a time of change in their lives and a time of enormous changes in San Francisco: (This novel has x-rated content, but there is none in this excerpt.)
Ali pushes the canoe away from the back porch of our houseboat. Seated in front of her, I dip my paddle into the water, breaking the reflections shimmering on the lake’s surface. We begin to glide down the narrow channel between the docks where the houseboats are moored side by side. Ahead I can see lights beginning to twinkle in the darkness of Queen Anne Hill across Lake Union. In the sky, the last trace of sunset.
“It’s too cold for this,” Ali mutters.
She’s right. It is cold even for mid-April. It always seems to be cold when you live in a house floating on logs a few inches above a lake, as we both discovered in the last year and a half. Rain endlessly dripping from above and chilled damp air seeping up from below.
“I know, but it’s our last chance,” I answer with a sigh and paddle a few more strokes. “I think this will be the only thing I miss about Seattle. And twelve hours from now we will be on the road to San Francisco.”
I can almost hear Ali’s smile behind me.
“We better stay close to the ends of the docks,” I say as we begin paddling northward toward the ship canal. “With this mist I don’t want to be run down by some big boat.”
We paddle along in silence as the mist thickens. Occasionally, I hear muffled sounds—a door closing, a murmur of voices—coming from the houseboats as we pass by. Then from somewhere ahead I hear my favorite song, “Night Ride across the Plains”. It is coming from out on the lake and getting louder.
“What’s that?” Ali asks. I turn around and shrug my shoulders.
We turn the canoe toward the music. The mist begins to thin out a little and I can see a boat—no, a white yacht—blazing with light. Music is pouring out across the lake. The people on board are silhouettes.
“It looks like a boat party,” Ali says with a grin on her face. We continue paddling toward the music and shining lights.
“Hey, there.” It’s a man’s voice coming from the yacht.
“It’s a couple of girls in a canoe.” I hear another man’s voice.
“Hey, come on board,” one of them calls out.
I glance back at Ali. Why not? She nods her head and calls back to them: “Okay.” In a minute Ali is tying the canoe to the side of the yacht.
“I bet you were looking for me, weren’t you, honey?” I can’t see his face as he leans over the rail. I glance at Ali with a surprised look on my face. What a thing to say, I think. Why would we be looking for him? Who is he, anyway?
He reaches down to help Ali climb onto the deck, then clasps my hand and pulls me aboard. In the light I realize it is Tommy, the guy who sings “Night Ride”. Not as tall as I thought, but good looking, wavy blond hair and, up close, I see his eyes are a light brown and slightly bloodshot. He is grinning from ear to ear. Hmm…maybe a little drunk.
“Come on inside, girls. It’s cold out here. I’ll get a beer for you.” He wraps an arm around Ali’s shoulder, then mine, and steers us into the cabin.
“What’s your name, honey?” he whispers to Ali.
“I’m Ali. She’s Julia.”
Of course, he’d ask her first. Not only is she pretty but she is naturally blonde. And she has blue eyes to go with that blonde hair. Me, I have shoulder length brown hair and green eyes. It’s the blondes who always get the attention.
“Hey everybody, meet Ali and Julia.”
We get a few glances from the half a dozen guys and as many young women standing and sitting around the cabin. Most of them are wearing jeans, a couple of the girls are in velvet and lace, and all are clutching their jackets tightly around themselves, obviously chilled. Not many are talking. No one looks too happy. One guy appears to have passed out in a corner. Empty beer bottles are scattered everywhere. Clearly, this party has been going on for hours and is on its last legs.
“Somebody, get these girls a beer,” Tommy says.
He hugs us both closer and I realize he is a lot more than a little drunk. I wonder if he could stand on his own if he didn’t have one of us on each side of him.
“So what did you think of the show last night? I was great, wasn’t I?” He asks Ali, a big grin smeared across his face.
“Uh…sorry…we missed it,” she answers with an apologetic smile. “We were packing. We’re moving to San Francisco tomorrow morning.”
A guy hands me a bottle of Rainer beer and gives one to Ali, too. I look up to thank him and a tremble runs through me.
“Thanks,” I manage to mumble and look away from him quickly.
He’s tall. Taller than Tommy. Black hair—not too long, not too short—falling every which way. Sky blue eyes. He must have an Irish grandfather somewhere. He’s wearing black jeans, a thick blue sweater, black leather jacket and dark blue cowboy boots. I don’t know who he is, but standing right beside him, my body is now humming in a way I have never felt before. My pulse is beating faster and I feel flushed. What’s going on?
“You’re welcome.” His voice is as smooth as warm honey. His smile is, too.
“I don’t think your name is really Julia,” he says. “It’s Lady of the Lake, isn’t it? And here you come, gliding out of the mist.”
I force myself to take a breath and look up at him again. I try to smile and desperately sort through memories of old English legends. “Lady of the Lake? She’s the one who gave King Arthur his sword, if I remember right?”
I take a sip of beer and look around, anywhere but at him. Maybe my pulse will slow down if I just don’t look at him. Maybe my body will stop humming.
“That’s what one old story says. In another version Merlin is beguiled by her and she—“
“Hey,” Tommy interrupts, yelling out to no one in particular. He is really drunk. “Ali and Julia are moving to San Francisco. Two more beautiful ladies in that beautiful city.”
He smiles at Ali. “You oughta come visit us. We’ve rented a big house on Lake Street and we like to have pretty girls around. Gonna have fun in Frisco.” He burps.
I look over at Ali with a raised eyebrow. She looks back with a tight frozen smile that’s almost a grimace as Tommy runs his fingers through her hair. Both of us are thinking the same thing: this was a mistake; time to go.
“What’s your last name, Julia?” It’s Mr. Black-Hair-and-Honey-Voice again.
I look up at him and my breathing instantly becomes shallow. I don’t understand this. Why am I reacting this way to this man at this drunken party? I don’t even know who he is.
I can barely answer him: “It doesn’t make any difference. We’re leaving now.”
“I’m Austen.” He smiles his honey smile. “Here. I’ll give you something so you’ll remember that.”
He reaches into the pocket of his leather jacket and takes out a book of matches and a pen. He writes something inside the matchbook. He takes my hand and presses the matchbook into my palm and with his fingers closes my fingers around it. It feels like a shock of electricity runs through me. I pull my hand away from his and turn to Ali.
“Ali, we better go now.”
“Leaving so soon, Lady of the Lake?” I look back up at him and nod my head. I think I will faint if he smiles at me like that again.
A minute later we are scrambling back into the canoe. “Thanks for the beers,” Ali calls out as we paddle away into the thickening mist. As soon as we come closer to the houseboat docks, I begin to giggle nervously and then break into laughter.
Ali looks back at me and starts laughing, too. Then: “Watch out.” We almost run into the end of a houseboat dock.
“Oh my god, is that what we’re going to find in California? He was so drunk, so—“
“—obnoxious,” Ali completes my thought. “What an idiot. So vain. And when he began running his fingers through my hair—creeepy.”
“Well, it’s made for a memorable last day in Seattle,” I smile and shake my head. “I still like the song “Night Ride”—even though that guy is awful.”
We start paddling again, passing the now light-filled houseboats. Night has fully descended on Lake Union and the mist has grown thicker again.
“I saw that other guy give you something just before we left. What was it?”
“A matchbook. He probably put his phone number inside. I didn’t look.”
“Who is he?”
“I don’t know.”
“And he gave you his phone number?” Ali asks, surprise in her voice.
“I think so. Guys do that all the time. He probably hands them out to every girl he meets.” I hope my voice doesn’t give away how I felt when his hand encircled mine. I still don’t understand my reaction to him. It makes no sense. He was good-looking, but I’ve met a lot of good looking men and never felt like that before.
* * *
San Francisco Summer ’69 is available on Kindle.