Juliette pulled Ian in for a quick hug and lifted her glass, wishing Mark would hurry so they could leave the club and go home — where it would just be the three of them.
Juliette settles against Mark on the futon, letting him take all her weight while she watches Ian all sprawled on the beanbag chair across the small room.
“Good thing you weren’t there,” he says to Mark. “You might have punched him.”
Juliette feels Mark’s response rumble up his chest before she can process the sound. “So why didn’t you, Brah? All my Ninja training having no effect?”
“Hey, if I’d a known, I’d a let him have it,” Ian jokes, starting to shadow box. “Pow! A left jab, a right, another left! Roundhouse! Out for the count!”
“My heroes,” Juliette groans, rolling her eyes as she reaches for another slice of pizza. They brought it up from the kneipe, the pub on the ground floor where Mark and Ian eat at least once a day. She’s almost as much a regular as they are.
They hadn’t had a chance to discuss Captain Daniels on the U-Bahn ride home, Mark too busy interrogating Ian: “Well, did you go to the OSI? What’d they say? You file a contact report?”
The train jolted, then whoomphed quietly out of the Tempelhof station. “Of course I did,” said Ian. “I told you I would.”
Juliette held on, listening, skirt slipping around on the slick wooden bench.
Mark pushed up against her, getting closer to Ian. “And?”
“No big deal, man. I had to wait almost an hour to talk to somebody, and then it only lasted five minutes. Not even.”
“So, what’d they say?”
“He didn’t even take an official report. Told me I was right to stop by, but not to worry about it unless something unusual happens.”
“And he knows where you work?” Mark prodded, sounding suspicious.
Ian shrugged, bumping Juliette. “I told him Marienfelde. He acted like he knew what that meant. Didn’t seem to care.”
Juliette stared at each of them in turn. “What the hell are you two talking about?”
Her friends spent the rest of the short ride — changing trains once — filling her in. The more they told her, the more her stomach soured. She agreed with Mark. The Russian guy Dima sounded like serious trouble. Maybe for all of them.
Just before they pulled into Wittenberg Platz, she shook her head at Ian. Didn’t say a word. Just shook it and frowned. She figured he didn’t need her to spell it out.
When he glanced away and looked at the floor, she eyed Mark and mouthed, “stubborn.” She knew that expression on Ian’s face. It was the same one he’d worn when she told him drinking frozen vodka straight from a liter bottle was a terrible idea.
He hadn’t listened then either.
They pushed through bustling crowds and headed upstairs to the KuDamm, the Kurfürstendamm Straße, West Berlin’s central shopping and tourist boulevard. Mark and Ian lived in a small apartment just a couple blocks off the main drag.
Juliette felt uncomfortable in the crowds and out of place once inside the kneipe. Her uniform made her stand out as much as her skin. They sat at the bar drinking Schultheiss beer while their pizza cooked.
Early evening routine filled Juliette’s ears. Digital poker machines chirped and beeped. News blared from the TV hanging over the bar, tuned to either ZDF or ARD — she could never tell the difference. A buzz of quiet conversation and clinking cutlery drifted over from the dining area, along with aromas of the sausage, veal cutlets, and pasta that joined pizza on the menu as staples.
She felt so relieved when they finally trooped up the two flights of stairs to the apartment. She let the boys pour beer and find clean plates for the pizza while she stepped into Mark’s room and rifled through his cluttered bureau.
She grabbed a pair of his sweat pants and a tee, smoothed her A-line skirt out neatly on the bed, and hung her blouse in his half-empty closet. She hollered through the door while she changed. “Both of you listen up! Eat more than your share of that pizza, and there’ll be hell to pay!”
She gathered Mark’s still-folded tee to her face and breathed in deep, smelling him through the detergent. Spice. Fallen leaves on an autumn day.
Leaning into Mark on the futon, discussing that ridiculous incident at the O-Club, she wishes the guys would change the subject. She can take care of herself. She’s tough, damn it, and both of them know it!
She can’t help laughing at Ian’s clowning, though. He keeps shadow boxing, and Mark keeps egging him on. “You guys are such little kids!” she teases.
Mark reaches over and pulls her in tighter. “Eat your pizza, huh? You don’t have to fight any battles tonight. We’re home.”
She stiffens for a second, then lets herself melt into him, relaxing completely for the first time all day, letting that comfortable scent surround her as his warm, muscled bulk supports her. He keeps joshing with his roommate, but he turns his face to her as she eats, intense brown eyes welcoming her closeness, letting her know he’s glad for it. She pulls her fingers back before they can run through his dark curls. She isn’t ready to be that intimate in front of Ian.
The phone rings, jarring her.
She’s closest, so she reaches for the handset on the coffee table.
“Hello?” Hollow static fills the earpiece.
“Allo?” she repeats, German style.
A quiet voice hesitates. Soft words slide into her ear.
“Ich spreche kein Deutsch,” she apologizes. “I don’t speak German. Entschuldigen Sie, bitte.”
The voice comes again, and then it clicks for her. She isn’t hearing German at all.
“Izvinite, pozhaluysta,” a young male voice asks in Russian. “Excuse me, please. May I speak to Yan?”
“Oh!” she hisses, taken aback, but speaking politely from force of habit. “Yan? Ty khochesh’ pogovorit’ s Ianom? Um … Khorosho. OK…”
“Ian,” she whispers, covering the mouthpiece, noticing him already half out of his seat. “It must be your Russian friend.”
She holds the phone out as he leans over the coffee table.
“Dima?” he shouts into the mouthpiece, falling back into the beanbag. “Is it really you?” he asked in Russian. “How are you? I’m so glad you called!”
Juliette feels Mark’s body tense up.
“Da, da!” Ian half shouts. “Khorosho. Yes, yes. OK. That sounds great. When? … Sure, no problem.”
Mark sits up straight, muscles going all rigid.
“OK,” Ian continues. “Nine in the morning, then? Sure. U-Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten? Can you find that stop? Da, da! Good, so just come up the escalator and walk straight out. Don’t turn. I’ll be right there.”
Mark stands up.
“OK, Dima. We’ll have fun! Bye!”
By the time Ian returns the phone to its cradle, Mark is pacing. Juliette can tell Ian is oblivious. His eyes are shining like a kid who’s been handed a brightly wrapped present.
“Dima’s coming Sunday,” he announces. “He’ll be here by 10 at the latest, and we can spend the whole day together.”
He turns to Juliette. “What do think we should do? Let’s see. Lunch, KuDamm, the Irish pub in the Europa Center. Think he’d like that? The Tiergarten, maybe? Or what about …”
He pulls in a breath before continuing, and Mark cuts him off. “Ian!”
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Hey! I went to the damn OSI. They didn’t even care. Didn’t even do a report. I TOLD you.”
“Brah. They told you to report anything unusual. A fucking Russian just called our fucking house. That sound usual to you? Huh?”
“What’s so unusual about spending time with a friend on a weekend? What’s wrong with that?”
Juliette feels Ian’s intransigence wash over her like a cold wave. She shivers.
Mark can evidently sense it just as easily. She watches him slip back into his normal nothing gets to me attitude. He eyes Ian quietly and calmly for a long minute, then lopes back over to the futon and slides back into Juliette, pulling her close.
“OK, dude. Cool. You do what you need to do.”
With his body pressed so tightly into hers, Juliette shivers at the tension he’s hiding.
This is Chapter 7 of a serialized novel, a genre-bending Cold War geopolitical thriller cum gay coming-of-age romance. You can expect a chapter every couple of days.
The action is set in Berlin, Russia, Greece, and Tunisia. The settings and the characters are pulled directly from my own life, but the story is entirely fictional.
I never fled Berlin with the son of a Soviet Air Force general hiding from the KGB. Or did I?
Borin Defends Dima: The General and the Commissar
Moon over Berlin, Sun over Santorini: B1C8
Miss the first chapters?
One American Youth, One Soviet General
Moon over Berlin, Sun over Santorini: Fateful encounter
One Lonely Russian, One American, One Phone Number
Moon over Berlin, Sun over Santorini: B1C3
James Finn is a long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Act Up NYC, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to email@example.com.