interrupt Anna, who was deep in conversation and laughter, with a pinch on the shoulder. “Anna,” Laura said. “Laura! You made it!” Anna replied, and leapt up to hug her. Laura found Anna’s bare skin and its intimacy comforting. Conversation around the blankets ceased. “This,” Anna began to explain, pausing to let the shirtless men take in Laura, “is my fabulous and single coworker Laura.”
Laura kicked at the sand and looked away. She adjusted her sunglasses. When her gaze returned to the group, they exclaimed in unison, “Hi, Laura.” Save for the man laying back and resting on his elbows. Justin offered a simple wave and half-smile. Laura shook her head, said, “nice to meet everyone,” and sipped through the straw of her coffee. “Here, take this. Just as cold. And more fun,” Anna said, and handed Laura a beer from one of the coolers.
Justin lit a cigarette and watched Laura while she drank her beer and navigated through the discomfort of meeting a new tribe. He’d been in her position four years prior during his first foray into the social tapestry of this San Francisco clan. Cagey to start, the clan allowed Justin into its fold after their informal vetting. The vetting included several late-night parties to judge “how he handles his shit”; a weekend trip to a ski house on Lake Tahoe owned by one of the tribe’s fathers to judge “how he contributes”; and a “last-minute” substitute for the tribe’s co-ed soccer team to judge “fidelity” and “athletic prowess.” Justin passed the tests and had his California social safety net. The clan, of course, alluded to their threshold for excommunication: incest. They documented the disasters of previous clan members who’d attempted sleeping with and dating each other, always making sure to emphasize the outcasts’ names with an eye roll or a disappointed head nod. Justin would have slept with several of them, too, maybe would have made a long-term play, but he didn’t want to jeopardize the comfort in always having someone to hang out with.
The women in the tribe thought about breaking their own rule often. And alcohol did play a part in one late-night cigarette that may have led to a kiss and oral sex on a rooftop. But Justin woke up so anxious of his still-tenuous membership that he and his guilty counterpart agreed to shift the “may have” to “never happened” in their group’s folklore.
Despite the familial feel of his San Francisco friends, Justin introduced the women he’d date only when he’d made a monogamous commitment to them. It had also been six months since his last relationship fizzled, leaving Justin with – according to one of the elder clan members – “half a broken heart”.
If they were to have guessed, everyone on Ocean Beach that day knew what would transpire between this lithe, available blonde named Laura and the tribe’s unofficial brother and one-day-in-the-near-future VC partner Justin.
A walk along the beach later at dusk. Fireworks in an apartment after the alcohol had done its most impactful work. Long-term partners.