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Cake Time Paperback – April 6, 2017

4.8 out of 5 stars 28 ratings

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Editorial Reviews


Cake Time is a delicious indulgence. Treat yourself to its dark, seductive intimacies and savor the gritty sugar of its unsentimental humor. —Jillian Lauren, New York Times bestselling author of Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, and Everything You Ever Wanted

?Siel Ju?s Cake Time is sharply observed and wonderfully contemporary: these complex, flawed, and real characters live in our current world, with all its confusions and opportunity to connect?or disconnect. It?s about the perils and pleasures of intimacy, and its heroine feels as alive as you and I. A compelling and unflinching debut.? ?Edan Lepucki, author of California

?Siel Ju?s Cake Time is an astonishing debut. Ju?s novel-in-stories is unsettling and fierce and full of loneliness, sadness, and humor. Her voice is so alive, and her candor?particularly about men and sex?is keenly astute, intimate, and startling. The prose is precise and poetic, and Los Angeles vibrates on the page. Wry and heartfelt and uniquely defiant, Cake Time is like a hard slap I didn?t expect or see coming.? ?Victoria Patterson, author of The Little Brother and Drift

?Siel Ju writes with refreshing candor about sexual appetite and the treacherous difficulty of finding love. There is cruelty in the search and tenderness and a lot of honest fumbling around. Cake Time is our time?a provocative debut.? ?Noy Holland, author of BIRD

?Siel Ju?s stories are not boring because they are about not-boring things, like swingers? parties and organic fashion company beauty pageants and high school sex and breakups and hook ups. Lots and lots of breakups and hook ups. I worried for Siel Ju reading about all these breakups and hook ups. Then I reminded myself these are fictions Siel Ju is telling us, and Siel Ju is fine. We are all fine, even after all these breakups and hook ups.? ?Elizabeth Ellen, author of Fast Machine and Bridget Fonda

Siel Ju featured in

Wait. Stare at the walls. A few announcements are tacked up near the front, one an orange warning about the above-average radioactivity detected in the area. Below it are scratched-up plastic holders with pamphlets on STDs, pregnancy, proper condom use, the same ones a thirty-something Planned Parenthood volunteer brought when she spoke to your health class last month. "What's most important is that you plan ahead," she said, then told a story about how the week before she was in this very unprepared situation with a guy she'd started seeing. ?We were like, "What do you want to do?" and I was thinking, "I should know better, I teach this stuff!?" The main message she got across was that she had a new boyfriend.

When the woman at the sign-in window calls your name, she's already looking straight at you. Walk up and say," I'd like a pregnancy test," clearly and firmly, the way you practiced in your head. She buzzes you through the door. She hands you a styrofoam cup and points you to the bathroom. Pee in the cup. The cup has no lid. Walk back through the hall and hand the cup to the woman.

In five minutes, another woman calls you back into a cramped clinic room. She closes the door. "So, do you know what you want to do?" she says.


Ask how much abortions cost. In Los Angeles, the government pays for contraceptives, pelvic exams, and HIV tests if you're a high school student. If you want a free abortion though, you have to qualify for Medicare or Medicaid. In any case, you have to be at least eight weeks pregnant to get an abortion here, she says. She recommends another clinic that does it at six weeks. "Plus they're cheaper," she says. "$160."

She hands you a proof of pregnancy form, a photocopied half-sheet with a checkmark next to "pregnant." "Don't lose it, you'll need it for the abortion," she says, "and don't forget to make an appointment with the clinic." She gives you a buck-up smile. Nod the way you do when your calculus teacher explains a concept then stares hard at the class for signs of understanding. Fold the sheet and stick it in your backpack.

Walk up two blocks to take the Melrose bus to your afternoon classes. All the seats on the bus are taken. Grab onto a pole and watch the buildings go by: All American Party Store, Paramount Pictures, squat, white shops with thick prison bars on the windows and signs that say just LIQUOR. The streets get cleaner as you go west, then dirty again in front of the school. Before getting off the bus, scribble yourself a note about being sick, then fake your mom's signature under it. When you get to the door though, the teacher on duty doesn't see you because she's laughing with a trio of her students. "I mean, one was a flat and one had a heel, like two inches!? she says. ?I thought it felt funny but I still didn't realize it until second period!" One of the students, a guy in your French class, sees you and slyly cocks his head to the left, a signal to sneak in, fast. As you do he laughs loudly, putting his arm on the teacher's shoulder and turning his body to block you from view.


After school, call the clinic. It's called Family Planning Associates Medical Group, according to the recording while you're on hold. Wait. When the receptionist answers, she takes your name and gives you a Saturday morning appointment. She tells you not to eat for twelve hours before the abortion, "or you may not wake up, okay?" She says this very firmly then waits for you to say okay before going on. She's used to talking to teenagers. She instructs you to bring a driver for the ride home. Ask, "What about the bus?" "No," she says. "Girl, you need a driver."

Call Ryan that night, after he gets home from his part-time job delivering pizzas. Without preamble, say, "So, I'm calling because, I'm pregnant." Hear him suck in air. He says, "Can you hold on for a minute?" Then there's silence. When he comes back on the line he says, "Hey." Then there's silence again.

Let the silence stretch. There's a part of you that's excited to be having this conversation, that's proud, in a way, to have surprised him, to know more than he does. Before this, he hadn't called you for a little over a week, and you'd begun to suspect he wasn't planning to call at all. When he first heard your voice on the phone, he probably thought you'd come up with some coy excuse to hear his voice. Now you have his attention.

Not that you and Ryan ever talked much, on the phone or off. You met him at a party Monica threw when her parents were out of town. He was a quiet one, but he was cute and tall and had a car, and the girls hung around him, so the guys did too. He was the exact kind of guy that never went for you, but halfway through the party suddenly the two of you were sitting on the front steps together, haloed by the bright porch light. You talked vaguely about the people at the party; you didn't really know anyone in common. At some point he said he lived with his mom, like you.

You made out with him behind the house for hours, first standing against the wall until your neck hurt — he's a foot taller than you — then sitting twistedly on the concrete. He gave you hickeys, hideously big purple ones. You gave him a blow job, but stopped before he came because you thought you heard someone coming around the house. He said he'd break up with his girlfriend, and the next week, you heard from Monica who heard from Laney that he had indeed dumped her, a waspy brunette called Jenny.

Those were the happy times, when you got the news about each other through the grapevine. Once you started talking directly, things turned shitty.

"Are you okay?" he says now. Answer with the abortion appointment info. Say, "I think that's what we should do." "Yeah," he says quickly, "I'm way too young to have a baby." His voice turns to a whisper, so you know his mom's home. It's almost eleven so soon she'll yell at him to get off the phone. He quickly agrees to split the cost. Give him the appointment info again; it's in eleven days. Tell him to honk when he gets to your place so you can just run out. Tell him he can't be late this time.


Each day, follow the regular schedule of classes. Marvel at how normal everything seems, how unchanged. The steady part of you, the part that memorizes ten SAT vocab words a night and recalculates the problems you got wrong on the physics test, has kicked in. There's no room to panic. It's just about following procedure: Get pregnancy test, make appointment, find ride, abort fetus.

On Wednesday morning, get what looks like your period, except a darker, almost brownish red and a thicker texture than usual. Be surprised. Put a pad on. After school, go to Monica's. Her dad's a gynecologist. Tell her the situation. "Oh no," she says, but sounds a bit excited. She's a virgin. She says you should call her dad at work. You've met him dozens of times, but she says she'll tell him you? re 'a friend' and he won't know who you are. Agree to this, then take the phone.

Her dad's voice is shaky, like he knows he's doing something wrong, giving you advice over the phone. He says maybe you're miscarrying, maybe you're not. There are these things called false miscarriages, like false labors, he explains. Hang up and call Planned Parenthood for a second opinion. The Santa Monica office says call an ambulance immediately. The downtown office says wait it out; it's probably nothing.

Wait it out.

Wonder which time the pregnancy happened. Count days. Decide it was probably on the night in Venice. Ryan suggested going to the beach and it sounded romantic, but when you got there it was close to eleven, so the beach was closed. You started making out. His car was a small two-door, and instead of getting in the backseat he liked to recline the passenger seat and get on top of you. He'd brought a condom but he started putting it on inside out, which ruined it. "I can pull out," he said hopefully, and he did, but barely, coming on your vagina instead of in it. He had a little pack of tissues and as you cleaned up you noticed there was a man outside, leaning against a yellow pole at the edge of the parking lot, looking your way. "Is that guy watching us?" you said, and Ryan turned to look. "Weirdo," he said, and zipped up. You looked at the man again and he looked right back at you, hard. "Is he trying to tell us something?" you said. "No," Ryan said. "He's just getting off watching us. Perv."

Get stomach cramps and curl up in the fetal position on Monica's bed. She curls up next to you and holds your hand. The gesture feels fake somehow, like the two of you are posing for a film about the perils of unprotected sex.

Go home and pull off the pad and dig your fingers through the clumps of blood for the semblance of a child. Find none. Throw it away, then wish you had searched harder, ripped it apart.

Since you could still be pregnant, don't let the first trimester pass you by. Monica says even if you've miscarried, they probably need to scrape out your womb. She's heard about it somewhere. Decide to keep the appointment.


On Saturday Ryan arrives fifteen minutes late. "I had to run errands for my mom," he says, and sounds more defensive than sorry. The clinic accepts only money orders, so you stop at Bank of America for your eighty dollars, at Wells Fargo for his eighty dollars, then at Ralph's, the busy one on Third and Vermont, to buy the money order. Get lost on the way to the clinic and argue about directions. He tries his way, then yours. You? re right, of course; you have the Thomas Guide on your lap. When you arrive you're twenty minutes late, angry, and panicked.

Family Planning Associates is newer and cleaner than expected. Inside the front door is a lobby-like area with no one in it. Ryan spins around a few times studying the room, like he's making sure it's empty. The office, he reads on a sign as you're about to knock on a door, is in the basement. He leads the way down.

Three people are waiting in the long office. Its windowless walls are a pale, creamy yellow, the cushioned chairs fake black leather. The receptionist sits in a movie ticket booth-like office. Sign in and hand her your pregnancy test slip through the semicircle at the base of the plastic window.

Wait. Think about the short blurb you read in Glamour last year, the one about a girl who went to get an abortion with a boyfriend. When her name was called she turned to him and said, "I don't want to do this," and he said, "I don't want to either." So they left the clinic and got married. That was one of a half dozen letters from readers about how they'd met their soul mates. You think about this story not because you don't want to have an abortion — You most definitely do — but you wish it wasn't this way, with someone you only communicate with through appointment times.

Wonder what he talked about with his ex-girlfriend. Did they have conversations about music and school and love? You talk about none of those things, though you thought you might, when you first met him. But you saw he lived in a modest little bungalow house in West LA, a mansion compared to the dank, cramped walk-up apartment in Koreatown you lived in with your sister and your mom, who was never around, and who when she was, you wished she wasn't, answering the phone with "Who is talking?" in her aggressive accent, arranging in cheap plastic vases the discards from her job at the discount flower shop, the one next to the dollar store. So you kept a no-nonsense exterior, nothing could hurt you, there was nothing you hadn't seen or done before. "Are you sleeping with anyone else?" You asked one afternoon when he was driving you back home, asked it like it didn't matter, like you were asking for practical reasons, since you only used condoms sporadically. "What?" he said, then, "No." He drove on for a while, then said, "Are you?" He had this bemused look on his face, like he'd agreed to play a game you'd invented, but there was a thin pallor of fear under it too.

Out of the corner of your eye you see a guy walking down the hall toward you, and when you turn to look, you see it's Sam, a guy in your AP English class. When he sees you he literally covers his face with his hand and ducks into the closest open door. You're less embarrassed than surprised to see him there; he's a big, awkward, lumbering type and doesn't have a girlfriend. "Do you know him?" Ryan asks. Shrug. Say, "He's in one of my classes."

After a few minutes, the receptionist calls your name and hands you a stack of sheets, the top one titled Elective Abortion. To put it quite simply, the contents of the uterus are removed by suction, by a machine that operates under the same principles as a vacuum cleaner, it begins. Start skimming. Perforation . . . Cervical Laceration . . . Failure to Terminate Pregnancy (Rarely, estimated about one in 2,000 cases . . .). Ryan reads along with you, but you read faster than he does, flip the page before he's done. Sign the papers. The receptionist directs you through a door and as you leave Ryan gets up, looks like he's about to say something, but then just stands there. Give him a wave.

You're taken to a small office where a middle-aged woman starts going over the important details in the sheets; it's assumed no one reads them with care. "For two weeks after the abortion, don't put anything in your vagina," she says. "No sex, no douche, no tampons." She takes your money order. "This covers emergency services if something goes wrong," she says, "including hospitalization, but not medication." She makes a wry face at that last part. "There's a twenty-four-hour 800 number and around-the-clock assistance." She's a firm, no-nonsense type, making eye contact after each point and waiting for you to nod before going on. Nod emphatically. Wonder if you look English-illiterate.

She hands you a styrofoam cup, this time with your name on it. This clinic's bathroom is nicer, chrome and fake marble with a rectangular hole in the wall where you deposit the cup. Through it, you see what looks like a lab. As you squat to pee, you see a male hand take the cup that's already sitting at the hole's ledge. Place your cup in its stead.

Outside, a different woman gives you a locker key on a wristband, the kind that looks like a circular telephone cord. Then she hands you a blue outfit to wear for the procedure, complete with thin blue plastic pouches with elasticized ankles for footwear. "The opening should be in the back," she says. She points to a door. "Go in there when you're ready," she says, and leaves.

Step into the closet-sized locker and change, then go through the designated door, one poufy step at a time. The room's packed with thirty or so other girls, all like Smurfettes in their blue robes, and as you sit, someone yells out your name. It's Helen, a girl in your chemistry class. "Oh my god," she says, "we're both here!" The girl next to Helen giggles. "Oh, you guys know each other?" Smile back at both of them. Helen's had the same boyfriend for the last two years; he takes the same bus you do, gets on and off three stops closer to school. Sam must be Helen's ride.

The room quiets down again. Wait. After fifteen minutes, ask the overweight girl next to you how many girls go in at a time. She shakes her head, then turns back to her Cosmopolitan. Notice her eyes are swollen.

A woman in pink and purple scrubs comes in, holding a clipboard. She calls your name tentatively, like she's apologizing. Raise your hand. She gestures for you to come out into the hall. Shuffle out. She has your proof of pregnancy form in one hand and something square in the other. The square has a blue minus on it. "I'm not sure what happened," she says, "but you're not pregnant anymore." Nod. Say, "I thought maybe I was miscarrying." She relaxes, gives you back the money order. Ask, "Do I need to?do anything?" She shakes her head. "You're free to leave," she says, then gives you a big congratulatory smile.


Change back into your clothes and put the robe and shoes next to the trash can, which is already overflowing. In the waiting room, Ryan's deep into a football game. When you call his name, he startles, then rushes over. "What happened?" he says. Say, "I miscarried." "What?" he says.

Turn around and start up the stairs. He'll follow.

It's still sunny outside. In the car, say, "I got the money order back." He nods. You've forgotten where you put it, and after emptying out the purse, you find it in the pocket of your jeans. Cross out Family Planning Associates on the Pay To line and replace it with his name, acknowledging the change with a signature. "The bank won't take that," he says. Argue about banking procedures. Say, "If it doesn't go through, call me, and I'll just pay for it." "That's not what I meant," he says.

Realize he's driven all the way down Third Street into Koreatown, long past the Wells Fargo branch you stopped at earlier. Now he can't find another Wells Fargo. Pass three Bank of Americas looking for one until he stops at a residential area and asks a dog walker in red for directions. When he follows them, you spot the bank. The ATM line is long. Wait.

Watch him weary in line. A woman in a gray business suit keeps changing her mind, pulling out transaction slips and her card before reinserting it and starting over. When he's finally at the machine, he takes a while, hitting the wrong buttons. He comes back with four twenties. His hands are sweaty when he hands you the money. He asks if you want to go to the bank now. Say no.

When he pulls up in front of your apartment, say bye opening the car door, without looking at him. "Bye," he says. Walk down the narrow alley, turn left to go up the stairs. He's still there; you can hear the engine of his old Ford Fiesta, running hoarsely.

Don't turn to look. You don't know it now but you'll see him again, when you call him three weeks later. "Just checking to see how you're doing," you'll say in your best casual voice. You'll go out to watch Batman Returns, then have sex in his car on the third floor of the parking lot of the Beverly Connection. It'll be a lot like the first time, quick and furtive and uncomfortable, though this time, you'll use a condom. Afterwards he'll hold the door on his side ajar and drop the used thing on the concrete with a soft plop. He'll do this casually, almost confidently, without comment. For a minute it?ll feel vaguely like you're both just following a script, acting out a long-ingrained habit you never knew you had.