Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Notebook: A Year in the City

I know I promised you more chapters of Diaries of a Loyalist Pilot in the Notebook, but there's really no controlling where my pen takes me. Besides, there hasn't really been much of an interest in it, has there? I'm only kidding. I will continue that sci-fic escapade at a later date, but for now, I present to you something totally different.

A Year in the City is a simple romantic short story. It's boy-meets-girl, and it's sweet and heartwarming. Perfect for the season, I say. But it's more than that too. I guess, in a way, it's an ode to the future, to my own future, and a way for me to tell you my hopes and dreams in literary form. Please enjoy, and tell me what you think!

Yes, this is a screen cap from Zombieland. I picked it because I pictured Emma Stone playing the role of Jules. And yes, it was pure coincidence that I named my character Jules and she played Jules in Superbad. Pure coincidence. Nothing to it.
A Year in the City
By Blake Gabriel

To tell you the truth, I never knew what I was doing when I lived in the big city. It was always sort of a “day-by-day” thing. Wake up. Work. Relax. Do some more work, maybe clean up around the apartment. Go to sleep. Then, rinse and repeat. There never was a plan. I know my folks would kill me if they had ever heard that.

I was in the city for a reason. I had hit a writer’s block that just sucked the creative juices out of me. So, following the advice of a friend, I struck out for the city to find inspiration. I’m a firm believer that real people are as interesting as any fictional character or circumstance.

This was how I met Julianne. I wound up at a party in the Green District, dragged there by an acquaintance, who quickly lost herself on the dance floor. Jules was at the bar, a half-full martini in one hand, conversing with a man who seemed a bit more inebriated than everyone else at the party.

We met purely by accident. She was wearing this coat that from behind, she looked exactly like my said acquaintance. I came up behind her and tapped her shoulder. When she turned, I realized my mistake and was going to apologize if I hadn’t been struck dumb by some supernatural force of fate. Our eyes met and every muscle in my body froze, my words caught in my throat, and I awkwardly blabbered, trying to excuse myself.

She only smiled back at me. The other guy, finally catching on to her disinterest, hobbled off.

“Jules,” she said, extending a hand.

“Eric,” I said when I finally found my voice.

It wasn’t just that she was pretty. If what people said was true, then these parties were famous for attracting the head-turners and jaw-droppers from every corner of the city. Don’t get me wrong; Jules would have definitely stood out in a crowd. Her hair was a reddish auburn, teased into light curls, and her eyes were a dazzling blue. She wore a blue dress beneath her plaid coat that night.

But it wasn’t just her looks that had stricken me as wordless as Moses at the mouth of the Red Sea. It was something indescribable. I couldn’t put words to it if I tried. If I had to, I guess I’d say we connected. A couple drinks in, Jules confessed how thankful she was that I had swooped in when I did.

“That guy – Well, don’t get me started on that guy,” she said with a wink.

“It was an accident, really. My friend – she’s got the same coat,” I protested.

“Then I guess, if you think about it, we were meant to be talking here, huh?”

She looked at me then with this look that still sends pleasant shivers down my spine. We were standing quite close, the bar being crowded and the music loud enough to render casual conversation almost impossible had we not been less than a foot apart. Jules rested her cheek on one hand, a half-smile dimpling her face. I leaned closer. Our lips touched. Her kiss tasted of cinnamon.

I woke up the next morning with Jules’ legs intertwined with my own, her warm body against mine, her head resting on my chest. I kissed her awake.

“Oh, you,” she whispered, tracing a finger up my arm, smiling the same smile from when we met.

“Do you feel like coffee? Bagels?” I asked.

“Sure,” Jules said, then looking around. “So, this is your place, huh?”

I looked around, biting my lip. In retrospect, it would have been a good idea to clean up a bit. My laundry, both dirty and clean, was everywhere. Some button-downs were draped over my little couch. My laptop shared my desk with a pair of discarded socks.

In my defense, I hadn’t planned on bringing a girl back to my place, but my mother would definitely have turned in her grave at the sight. Actually, knowing her, she would be smugly telling me “I told you so.”

“Yeah,” I said, running my hand through my mussed-up hair. “It’s a bit messy.”

“Understatement of the year, that,” Jules said. “But I forgive you. I’m not much better anyways.”

I grinned at her, walking over to the closet space that was my kitchen. I almost banged my head on a big iron pot I never used while I hunted for clean mugs. Finding those, along with my can of Folgers, I started the coffee. Unfortunately, there was only one bagel left in my fridge.

“Hey, do you mind splitting a bagel?” I asked, leaning my head out.


Jules was at my desk, perusing the stacks of printouts beneath the boxers.

“Hey, these are pretty good,” she said, skimming through one of them. “You’ve got talent.”

“Thanks,” I said, coming back into the bedroom with the bagel. “Sorry. You caught me a little under-stocked.”

“That’s alright,” she said, her attention still on my half-finished script.

“Ah, that one,” I said, reading the title page. “Yeah, I’m still working on that one. The character of Samantha – I’m still working on her. She felt too cut and dry, you know? A cardboard cutout.”

“I think she’s well-done,” Jules said, finally looking up. “Really. I’d love to audition for her role if this ever went to production.”

“Well,” I said with a laugh. “You are sleeping with the writer.”

“Oh, am I sleeping with you now? I thought this was just a one-time deal,” she said, biting her bottom lip playfully.

“Give me a second chance and I’ll show you why you should reconsider,” I answered, nudging her with my elbow.

“Why don’t we eat and have some coffee first, tiger?” Jules said, pushing me back.

And so we did. It wasn’t until noon that I finally walked her to the door of the building, a cab waiting for her in the street.

“Call me tomorrow,” she said, blowing me a kiss.

Then she got into the cab and they drove off. It wasn’t until they turned the corner that I realized we had never actually gotten to trading numbers.

I chased that cab several blocks. Luckily for me, traffic was busy for the lunchtime rush. I caught them at a red light halfway up Chase Avenue. I didn’t care how ridiculous I looked doing it, in my bathroom, pajamas, and slippers. There was no chance in Hell that I was going to let her go without getting her number.

“Well, no one can say you aren’t dedicated,” Jules said, leaning out of the cab window to give me a kiss as she slipped the piece of paper into my hand. “Catch you later, tiger.”

When I got back to my place, I almost couldn’t stop myself from writing. My fingers danced across that keyboard like I was on fire. It wasn’t until five when I realized I hadn’t eaten anything except for half of a bagel and that I hadn’t showered.

Jules and I saw each other many times that week, and the next.  And the one after that. We went to a few parties together and danced the nights away. We saw movies, laughing, shedding tears, and everything in between. I tried impressing her with my meager cooking abilities. She got me front-row tickets to her shows at the theater. We whiled away the time in each other’s company, hardly noticing the seasons shift and the weather change.

It was the deep of winter, over at Jules’ place, huddled under the covers, the blizzard of the century battering the windows, when she said the words.

“I think I love you, Eric.”

“You know what?” I said. “I think I love you too.”

After that night, things changed between us. I could almost taste it. A lot of her things, clothes especially, started migrating to my place. We practically lived together. Then, we took another big step.

“My parents are in the city for the day,” Jules said one morning as she put on mascara. “We’re meeting them for dinner.”

“Are we now?” I asked, surprised. “Glad I was warned beforehand.”

“Oh, shush it. I’ve been talking about it for the past week,” she answered.

“I don’t remember you ever mentioning that –,” I tried saying, but she was already halfway out the door.

“Just be at Bellucci Brothers at six,” she said, hurrying out to rehearsal. “Love you.”

I tucked the pages I had been editing away and went about getting ready. I only had two suits and one was immediately disqualified considering the strict dress etiquette at Bellucci. If you looked like you made less than six figures, the hostess was liable to kick you out.

At five, I went out, hailed a cab, and was on my way. Jules was waiting outside, looking splendid in a strapless black dress; her neck and shoulders would have made any model envious.  At least I thought so. Whenever I tried telling her that, she just shook her head and asked me to stop flattering her.

“You look nice,” she said, kissing me on the cheek. “You could have worn the red tie though.”

“I like this tie. It’s got little ducks on it, look,” I protested.

“Cute, but I’ve told you how my dad is,” Jules said, taking my hand and leading us into the restaurant.

“Right. Very professional,” I said. “Doesn’t mean he can’t like ducks.”

The hostess brought us to our table and we ordered a bottle of fancy imported wine while we waited. Sipping politely, I leaned in to whisper into Jules’ ear.

“Wow, this place is –,” I tried finding the words.

“Ridiculous? Yeah, I know, but my parents picked it,” she said.

“What does your dad do again?”

“He’s a lawyer. He’s got his own firm back east,” Jules answered.

“Well, at least he and I have a lot to talk about,” I joked.

“Julianne!” a booming voice came from behind us.

I turned. She sprang to her feet. Who I had to assume was her father was a tall, broad-shouldered man with only the hint of a belly. A mousy-haired woman in a red dress with diamond earrings was on his arm and she smiled warmly at us.

“How have you been, darling?” she asked Jules.

“Great, mom, just great,” Jules answered.

“And this must be Derrick!” her father said, grabbing my hand and shaking it vigorously.

“Eric, dad, Eric,” Jules corrected him.

“Pleased to meet you, sir,” I said.

His hand clamped tighter around mine. “You should squeeze harder when you shake hands, boy, as hard as you can. It tells the other man who you are.”

“Noted,” I said.

“Well, I see the two of you have already started with the wine!” he said, taking the bottle and sniffing it.

“That’s a good choice, Julianne. I taught you well.”

“Actually, Eric chose it,” she said, smiling.

I didn’t choose the wine.

“You drink a lot of wine?” Mr. Keane asked.

“I’m a tequila and whiskey sort of guy, but on special occasions, yes,” I answered.

He fixed me with a look, the sort of look a prospective buyer gives when he’s examining a car. After an awkward second of that, Mrs. Keane suggested we all sit and order.

“The fettuccine is always good here, isn’t it?” she said cheerfully as she browsed the menu.

“I don’t know, mom. We don’t come here a lot,” Jules said.

Mr. Keane fidgeted in his seat and looked like he wanted to say something, but Jules shot him a glance that wilted him immediately. He went back to reading the menu.

The waiter came by and I took Mrs. Keane at her word and ordered the fettuccine.  While we waited, we engaged in polite small talk, mostly between Jules and her parents. They asked her how she’d been, commented on the unusually warm weather for early spring, and told us about how well they were doing back home.

When the food came, we busied ourselves eating. Midway through my fettuccine, Mr. Keane had gathered his courage in the face of his daughter’s glare and asked what he must have been holding in all night.

“So, what do you do, Eric?” he asked. “You know, other than sleep with my daughter.”

“Dad!” Jules said, looking up sharply.

“I’m a writer,” I answered, meeting his steely gaze.

“Published?” Mr. Keane said.

“I wrote the script for an insurance commercial,” I said.

He chewed his lasagna.

“Forgive me for asking, but how in the Hell do you support yourself in this city?”

I shrugged nonchalantly.

“My parents left me some money when they died.”

Well, that subject reliably brought conversation to a halt. Mr. Keane chewed his lasagna some more. Everybody else sort of poked at their food.

“Excuse us,” Mr. Keane said, breaking the silence. “I need to speak with my daughter.”

He rose and motioned to Jules, who still kept glaring at him. This time though, he met her glare for glare.

Eventually, Jules stood up to follow him. She held my hand tightly beneath the table until she left.

Mrs. Keane sighed as they left. “Don’t worry, Derrick. It’s always like this.”

“Always?” I asked.

“Ever since her first boyfriend,” she answered. “I think George questioned the boy about what he was planning with his life – Mind you, the boy was only fifteen.”

Mrs. Keane dabbed the corner of her mouth with her napkin. “Julianne really likes you, though. I can tell and I think that’s what matters in the end, Derrick.”

“It’s Eric,” I said, putting my fork down. “Excuse me, Mrs. Keane. I’ve got to go to the bathroom.”

Somewhere along the way I had drank more wine than I intended and it was going through me like water. After washing my hands, I almost went out into the hall when I heard raised voices I distinctly recognized. I figured it’d look suspiciously like eavesdropping if I walked out into their private conversation, so I decided to stick around inside the bathroom and just eavesdrop from there.

“God, Dad, why can’t you just like him?”

“Like him? Honey, he’s a layabout! Look at him! Look at his hair, his shirt, his tie! His damnable tie with ducks on it!”

“He’s not a layabout! He’s a talented writer!”

“Talented? He’s written a commercial. I wouldn’t call that talent.”

“I believe in him. He just hasn’t gotten his lucky break yet.”

“You can’t spend your life waiting for a lucky break! Sooner or later, his little trust fund will run out and then what? Will the two of you live on your actress’ wages?”

“That’s what all this is about, isn’t it? It’s what it always comes back to. My acting.”

“Honey, I paid for your going to Stanford, and then you drop out before the semester is over and move to this city to act! Act! Of course, I’m going to bring it up!”

“Dammit, Dad. Why can’t you just understand that I love this? I love doing this!”

“You like coming home to a dump? I’ve seen your apartment, Julianne, and I can’t imagine our ‘writer’ out there has anything much better.”

“Shut it, Dad! You don’t know anything!”

“Honey, I’m just trying to help–.”

“You’ve helped, enough. It was a mistake coming here. Eric and I are going home.”

I could hear Mr. Keane stomp off and Jules crying in the hallway. I couldn’t help myself; I pushed the door open and went out. She looked up and saw me, shocked surprise dawning on her face, her face marred only by the streaks of mascara on her cheeks.

“Did you hear all that?” she asked.

I nodded. “Thanks for believing in me, Jules.”

And I embraced her for all I was worth. She shook with tears in my arms, sobbing, and I cooed softly in her ear, trying to comfort her even if I was barely holding back tears myself.

“I love you, Jules.”

“I love you too.”

“Do you want to get out of here?” I asked.

“What do you think?” she said, looking up at me and wiping the tears from her eyes.

“Well, there’s the smile I know,” I said, grinning back.

We snuck out a side exit, telling a passing waiter that Mr. Keane would pick up the tab. Outside, the night air cooling our faces, we agreed to walk the twelve blocks home. It was a beautiful night.

When we reached my place, we were exhausted. Jules barely had the energy to take her dress off before climbing into the bed. She was out in minutes. I tossed my tie into the hamper I had gotten a week ago in an attempt to be more organized. But I didn’t climb into bed immediately.

I went to my computer, my pencil, and my draft. It was only ten until midnight. And with the creative juices flowing like they were, well, I couldn’t not write.

I didn’t wake up until almost noon the next day. Jules had left me a burger and fries, along with a little note promising she’d be back right after her rehearsal. I spent the afternoon going over what I had written the night before. I couldn’t believe it; I had finished my script, albeit in the need of a little tweaking, but I had finished my script!

I was still reading and editing when Jules came home.

“Hey, tiger, I brought dinner. Hope you like Chinese.”

“Jules, I’ll like anything right now,” I said, beaming.

When she gave me a questioning look, I slapped the finished draft onto the table.

“It’s done.”

A wide grin split Jules’ face and she threw her arms around me, whooping a gleeful congratulations.

“I can’t believe you finished it!” she yelled, kissing me.

“Neither can I,” I said.

“Who are you going to send it to?” Jules asked.

“Everyone!” I answered, the excitement pouring out of me. “Anyone!”

Jules laughed, pulling me close for a congratulatory peck on the cheek. “Why don’t you let me show it to Daniel? He knows people in the business.”

“You could do that?” I said, jaw dropping considerably.

“Of course, tiger. Daniel owes me a favor anyway,” she said, giggling at how giddy I was.

“Have I told you how much I love you?”

“Many, many times.”

“I love you.”

“Oh, shush.”

It didn’t take off right away. In fact, a couple of months passed before we even heard anything about it. When I did get the call, it was late August.

“Mr. Oswell?” a man said over the phone.

“Yeah, is this Daniel?” I said.

“Yes, it is. Listen! It’s about your script. There’s a director and a producer interested out here. I think it’d be a great idea if you came out to meet them,” he said.

I bought the plane tickets right away and made a stop at a little store while I was out. I think I spent more money that day than I did the entire year. When I got home, Jules was already there, completely bushed after practicing for her latest show.

“Jules,” I said, closing the door.

“Hey, tiger,” she said, looking up from the couch, and then catching on to my expression. “What? What is it? You look real excited.”

I reached into my coat, pulling out the plane tickets. “We’re going to L.A.”

“L.A.? Eric, I’ve got rehearsals all this week, you know that,” Jules said.

“Daniel called,” I said. “There’s a director and producer interested in the script. And I can’t go out there without introducing them to the leading lady.”

Her eyes brightened. “You think they would?”

“Jules, it’s my script. And I’ve seen more than a dozen of your shows and believe me when I say you’ve got what it takes to play this role,” I said. “Besides, it was tailor-made just for you.”

She kissed me with those cinnamon lips. “Okay, let’s go.”

Daniel met us at the airport. We took a taxi into the city and as we passed the Hollywood sign, I asked the driver to stop. I pulled Jules out onto the curb, the sign right behind us.

“Eric, what are you doing?” she said, slightly abashed when passer-bys gave us curious looks.

I dropped to a knee.

“Julianne Keane,” I began.

She put her hands over her mouth, her bright eyes moistening with tears.

“When I met you one year ago, I thanked whoever is watching up there that I had somehow ended up talking to the prettiest girl in the city. But you were more than just the prettiest girl.”

“You made me happier than anyone else I had ever met. You’re sweet. You’re kind. You’re talented. You listen. You stuck up for me, believed in me when nobody else would.”

“I came to the city in search of inspiration. Ever since my parents passed away, I could hardly write, and what I did write was existential, superficial garbage.”

“That all changed when I met you.”

“You are my muse.”

“You are my light.”

“You are my sun and moon and stars.”

“You are my love.”

“And you complete me.”

I paused, taking a deep breath, not caring that about a dozen pedestrians had stopped to watch us.

“Will you marry me?”

I presented the diamond ring and I thought that its light and beauty couldn’t compare to the pure joy that illuminated her eyes. Jules bent down to take the ring.


She threw her arms around me, kissing me deeply.

“Yes, tiger, I’ll marry you!”

Our audience clapped and I thought, wow, this sure makes an end for a story.

1 comment:

  1. Out of boredom I came to check this out, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Keep writing Blake!