In a transient city like San Francisco, goodbyes are frequent.
This isn't suburbia, where people are locked into 30-year-mortgages. No, this is arguably the most dynamic urban hub in America. For every hopeful young adult who thrives in the city, there are hundreds who fail. And give up. And eventually leave.
My current novel, "Cocoa or Nothing," addresses this issue.
During Callie Schneider's five-year stint in SF, she watched countless friends come and go. Her own presence in the city seemed immutable, however...until certain circumstances forced her to relocate to the East Coast.
What followed was a flood of emotion she couldn't stop, slow, or ignore. No matter how badly she wanted to do so.
The excerpt below captures Callie in one of her goodbyes. It's more sentimental than Callie would like, and far more difficult as well.
My stomach rumbles. A small Asian waitress floats gracefully between the tables, pouring water and sliding through nearly-invisible gaps between seats. She looks like she weighs about eighty pounds. Dripping wet.
“I’m starving,” Giovanna groans.
“Ditto,” I agree. When I shift my weight, I accidentally knock over my shopping bag. I reach down to pick up the secondhand clothing that’s spilled out of the bag. Giovanna and I managed to find the craziest, most obscene tourist attire; my party outfit is officially complete. After only thirty minutes’ worth of rummaging through thrift store shelves.
We order quickly, without even looking at the menu. Giovanna reaches across the table and grabs my hand. She’s always been the sentimental kind, but this time her grip feels different.
“Ok I have to say something. We’ve had the best afternoon, and I can’t hold it in anymore. I hate this, Cal. I absolutely hate it,” she tells me, her voice soft.
“Me too, Giovanna,” I say. I know exactly what she’s referring to.
“Your apartment rocks. Seriously. I can’t wait to move in…but, to be honest, I would rather you stay. Please just stay,” she whispers.
The lights overhead grow dim, as though on a timer. Behind us, someone opens the door, jingling a bell at the top of the doorframe. Even amid all the background noise and chatter in this clustered space, the bell echoes loudly.
“I’m scared,” I finally admit. The entire restaurant grows fuzzy, until all I see is Giovanna’s wide eyes. They latch onto mine, steady and unwavering. She doesn’t even blink.
“Are you really coming back at the end of the year?”
“I don’t know. Maybe? I think so? That’s the plan, anyway.”
“Then why bother leaving for a year? It doesn’t make any sense,” she reflects. “Just stay, Cal. Stay here.”
“I have to do this,” I tell her. “It’s a great opportunity. In terms of my career, I need to be in the Orlando base. Trust me, Giovanna. This is the right thing to do. I need to be smart about this. For once in my life.”
“The city won’t be the same without you,” she says. “Who will be my comic relief? Who will say the wacky things that we are all thinking but don’t have the balls to actually say aloud? You’re the token jokester around here, Cal. You’re the free spirit and the one with no cares. We are all secretly jealous of you.”
“Because I’m broke and lonely?” I chuckle.
Giovanna releases her firm grip on my fingers. She places her hands on her lap, moving the tablecloth half an inch by accident. “Because you’re an adventurer. Plus, you don’t get your heart ripped apart like the rest of us. You’re independent, wild, free.”
“Independence isn’t always a good thing,” I argue. “And my wild side has gotten me into trouble lately.”
The waitress appears instantly; we never even noticed her approaching our table. She sets two steaming plates in front of us. Giovanna and I dive in greedily, as though we haven’t eaten in a week. In the midst of our frenzied feasting session, my phone buzzes from the center of the table. It’s a text from Ray.
Thinking of you...since I just got to your city, he writes. How’s your night, so far?
Bittersweet, I write back with a mouth full of Pad Thai.