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Funny Attractive F*cked Up People: Part I

Contents

the hypothetical.

an introduction.

THE PROLOGUE.

the prologue.

WE’RE STILL IN 2013, THIS IS SOME OF NOVEMBER & DECEMBER.

we’re still in 2013, this is some of november & december.

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

REDEMPTION IN JANUARY.

redemption in january.

FEBRUARY LUCK.

february luck.

THE 48 HOURS OF FEBRUARY 28th & MARCH 1st HAVE THEIR OWN CHAPTER.

the 48 hours of february 28th & march 1st have their own chapter.

IN MARCH I TURNED 28 AND MY WORLD TURNED TOO.

in march i turned 28 and my world turned too.

THE FOOL OF APRIL.

the fool of april.

WHY MAY IS IMPORTANT.

why may is important

MAY: SCINTILLA, noun, A TINY TRACE OR SPARK OF A SPECIFIED QUALITY OR FEELING.

may: scintilla, noun, a tiny trace or spark of a specified quality or feeling.

Oh hey, people traditionally put a sample of their next book in the series. Here’s a nip slip of Part II…

 

Copyright © 2016 Jerico Olivari

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the expressed written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Wink, wink.

“If—” (1895) by Rudyard Kipling, part of public domain.

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Little Novelist Publishing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a random night in May.

I’m driving my red car to see a girl, thoughts in a fog, thirsty for a drink of alcohol. I admit to myself that maybe I like the chaos, and I wonder, if I write all this down, will those people hate me for telling the story?

And then I laugh and think…

[_ _]

Well, they better.

the hypothetical.

Suppose reincarnation is real. Skeptics can argue that the earth’s population keeps growing, and that there are more people alive now than there were before, and that it sounds like a dumb fairytale… but what does happen to the human soul? Is there a heaven? A fiery hell? A temporary afterlife? Do we turn into energy? Dust in the wind?

Do we melt into a vile darkness and lose our consciousness, or do we stay in an endless dream-state like that of our sleep? Are we really just organisms that eat, survive, fuck, reproduce, and nothing more? Or, does the story keep going, unaware to the protagonist that the book has changed? Let’s suppose reincarnation is real…

Limited to Earth, the only place in the known universe where life can exist, it gives us our own respective lifetime to meet the other half of our soul. Some people call that love. Some call it fate. Most don’t give a shit about either.

Okay, the deep questions are done. The joint is out. You don’t even have to answer them, though I’m sure anyone over the age of thirteen has tried. I only ask because this story lives on a theory. What if, when a person dies, he or she is reincarnated into two different people? What if a soul splits in two? Or in three? Four?

A soulmate does not have to be romantic to be a soulmate, after all. It can be your best friends. Even if you don’t keep them all your life…

an introduction.

Words are a time machine.

I’m aware of how hard (i.e. annoying) it is to jump around, but as someone who wants to be a storyteller, I can tell you it’s important to choose the perfect place to start. The inspiration for writing Funny Attractive Fucked Up People in its particular blend of journal-entry-confession-window-love-letter-diss-song-word-vomit comes from a short story I wrote in college titled “About An Hour Ago.”

That had been a true story with the same protagonist as this one. Only I was a nineteen-year old late bloomer in my Sophomore year of college in 2005. Keen on getting back together with my ex-girlfriend (who took my virginity and cheated two weeks later, hooray), I lost my innocent perspective. My heart went crack, and never came back the same.

In the bittersweet journey I turned into everything I hated about my ex, and I hated her polygamous behavior. Suddenly I was capable of deep feelings, but incapable of trusting them, or trusting people. Take the following four passages from “About an Hour Ago”, its truth unchanged in over a decade:

1. My curiosity to see if I could juggle two girls, even three was enough to kill the cat—but then I remembered a cat had nine lives.

2. It was not cool, and it was not the right thing to do, far from it, what I had done was play the role of the heart breaker not the heartbroken.

3. “I don’t really add people on Facebook, but I added you,” I confessed to Caitlin.

4. About an hour ago I realized that my name didn’t matter in all this because anyone who ever went through a similar situation could relate to being nameless, aimless, and heartless. I had a new debt with karma where I once had credit.

 

Could you believe it? I added her on Facebook first. No, but really, the website was only a year old, and it was a pretty big deal to find someone and see if they were looking for “Random Play”, an option removed in 2008. I’m getting sidetracked—that year forever changed how I studied situations.

 

‘Staring at my own breath in the cold air, I looked at the city lights with headphones on. Elliott Smith’s “Pitseleh,” was playing. It was hardly an upbeat song; I played it because sometimes there was a special feeling when piling sadness with sadness.’

[_ _]

That was the boy I had been, with long hair swooping over half my forehead. My heart became a void. Henceforth I kept one foot out the door, out the bed covers…

 

Until three years later.

Like I said, words are a time machine.

In 2008 I met my soul split in two. I was twenty-one, immature, naïve, and hopeful, easily impressed and starry-eyed; what everyone else was at that age. For the first time in my life my best friend was a girl. Melanie and I were inseparable, with a pact to visit our favorite hole-in-the-wall bar every single day the last month of college.

She was the cure, the one who fixed me. Melanie was a religious girl, a virgin, a valedictorian, with a heart of gold and kind blue eyes, who had my twisted sense of humor but never offended anyone, who helped others before herself, and never took life too serious.

We were told we were the same person. I agreed. I wanted it to be true.

Of Melanie I once wrote, “we were interchangeable souls seeking effortless fun on boring nights, a laugh here or there, and maybe—just maybe—love.”

Love did happen, albeit on our last week of college in May. We had already loved each other as best friends, the transition was only missing a physical attraction. We shared a lot of experiences that summer, which sadly included the end of our friendship… but that was a different story. Literally a different story as it was the subject of the first novel I attempted to write.

After that I was a walking corpse of both experiences, a storm of a personality, an anomaly feeling everything and nothing at once, strangely still in love with those glances out the window, as if my redemption was out there somewhere, and all I had to do was reach out and take it…

 

*FUNNY *

*ATTRACTIVE *

*FUCKED UP *

PEOPLE

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part I

Written by

Jerico Antonio Olivari

Edited by

Jane Lexington

Based on a true story.

_Unfortunately. _

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THE PROLOGUE.

the prologue.

Puddles became lakes. Fireflies became cars. Boxes of shinning jewels became neighborhoods. The plane landed in Tampa on the night of October 16, 2013.

Carly stepped out of the bar and greeted me and our friend from college, Drew, who had picked me up from the airport. “Hey, hey!” Her bright smile lit the night with promise. I put my luggage in her car. “Just walk right in and go down to the second bar. You’ll see us.”

Underneath Carly’s bleach blonde hair was a funny idea to surprise her friend Melissa. The peculiar thing was that technically I was visiting Carly who was visiting Melissa who lived there; or, yours truly was visiting the blonde who was visiting the brunette. Unlike Carly, I had met Melissa after college. It seemed like a minuscule reason to travel all the way to Tampa, but I decided I would use the visit to finish editing a novel I had written about the summer after graduation.

Drew and I walked inside. I stared at a bewildered Melissa while she processed the situation. “Wait… Jericho? What!” Melissa flung her short brunette hair, and jumped off her chair. “We were just talking about you!”

I hugged her back. “What! No way! And Carly is here too? What are you guys doing here?”

“Wait… you didn’t know either?” Melissa asked, bewildered again.

Carly rolled her blue eyes. “He’s just being an idiot,” she said, then revealed she had orchestrated everything.

“Who is this guy?” Sitting with them was a hefty guy in a pink polo shirt and golf shorts who half-chuckled as he repeated the question. “No, but seriously, who is this guy?”

As he would come to find out, my name was Jericho Castillo, and I stood six feet tall with olive skin, brown eyes, and dark hair in a faux-mohawk. I had a strong jawline covered by a beard, and although the bottom row of my teeth were crooked, the top row provided a friendly smile.

Once we were drunk, we decided to go home. Drew said goodbye first. I walked with Carly to her car so I could grab my luggage while the rest of the group waited for a taxi by the street. I filled my lungs with the humid Floridian air; it came with nostalgia. I kissed Carly. It felt like the right thing to do, but she stopped me, claiming that “they could see us.”

The night should have been predictable. Carly had given me a blowjob my last visit to Tampa, and I assumed the hefty guy wanted to get with Melissa. Instead Melissa and I stayed awake to re-watch the Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones while he fell asleep on her bed. Carly slept in the guest room.

Somehow, against the odds, it sort of just happened. We started making out. It should have taken me more off guard than it did, but I was pretty familiar with an odd phenomena that occurred to people like me who lived in Los Angeles. Similar to a currency exchange rate of dollars-to-domestic in foreign countries, I may have been worth a dollar in L.A., but I was at least three dollars and seventeen cents in Tampa.

This exchange rate, coupled with my limited dating life in L.A., gave me a sense of comfort for what I said next. “You know how you told me you could fit your fist in your mouth?” I asked. Melissa didn’t remember the time Carly and her called me drunk and left a voice mail, but she confirmed I was right. In my best arrogant voice I asked if she wanted to give me head.

[_ _]

Jump first, land second. That was the narrow train of thought that led to such a situation. Melissa said, “I enjoy giving head,” and so it was. She gagged more than sucked, and since I was taking a little while she stood up, and I pulled her underwear down and fingered her while I finished in her mouth… only to see Melissa cringe.

“Shit! I’m sorry!” I apologized as she spat in the sink. In my defense I had squeezed her arm as a gesture that I was about to finish. She ensured me it was okay, just that she hated it.

The next day Melissa and I laughed about the incident on a jog down beautiful Bayshore Boulevard. That night Melissa fucked another guy, some six-foot nothing Masshole with a backwards Boston Red Sox hat. My head hardly flinched. All was fair in love and war.

Well, maybe not war.

In any gathering of people some things were always bound to happen: laughs, discussions, romance…

We were wired that way, with chemicals in our heads to function as personal aphrodisiacs. Carly and I were napping in the same bed not forty-eight hours since my arrival. Since we had been flirting sporadically, it was only a matter of time before we got horny at the same time.

After all, we were young and attractive and lived thousands of miles apart. So [_why not? _]

We awoke from a nap and kissed, but before anything happened Carly asked for fifteen more minutes of sleep. You know how your mind betrays you and keeps you awake when you really want sleep? I laid awake, and it was Merry fucking Christmas in the morning.

Carly woke up and massaged me over my boxers. Then she turned to check her phone and when her hand reappeared I had quietly removed said boxers. As soon as she touched skin, her blue eyes perked, and her mouth went wide in a playful expression.

The sexiest thing, aside from Carly having bleach blonde hair that draped over her naked-except-for-a-pink-thong tan body, was the mirror next to us. I watched her bobble up and down as she used her hand and mouth simultaneously, sneaking out a moan whenever she could; sometimes I brushed her hair back then let go. When we made eye contact I felt my soul sizzle.

As it was the last time we had been together, Carly swallowed then laughed. Everything was more of a joke to her, anyways. It was all about dancing to the tune of “What the fuck are we doing?” instead of playing from the music sheet on the stand.

Then the next night Melissa, Carly, and I slept in the same bed.

My heart raced with uncertainty. It had been Carly’s idea we have a sleepover, and known only to me—I assumed—was that both girls had given me head in a span of seventy-two hours. I had a lot going in my favor. Those three dollars and seventeen cents were starting to look like four dollars.

Melissa slept wearing boxers and a t-shirt. Carly chose to rest her head on my shoulder while my fingertips danced on her lower back. In one swift move she brushed her hand over my stomach, but then retracted. And… I was too shy—too shy and too damn unsure on how to get anything going, so we all fell asleep like the angels we were not. How would I have brought it up? I later thought of playing Truth or Dare, or just grabbing Carly’s hand and placing it somewhere strategic.

The truth was these moments rarely happened. Earlier in the year I had “dated” two girls, both over the summer, but aside from that it was another lonely year in Los Angeles. One had been a co-worker who I had coincidentally slept with the night the Red Wedding episode originally aired. I was a good distraction until she got back with her ex-boyfriend, but even then she enjoyed flirting with me at work.

The other had been the perfect girl, a wonderful hippie who shared my love for space and my favorite band. Moments before we slept together she told me about her open relationship with a thirty-five year old who lived in Australia. She was going to move there at the end of summer. I stomached the revelation, and told her I would “Casablanca” their relationship.

Both had someone better than me. So you could see why I was a little jaded. Melissa had been a good surprise, and Carly was half-expected, but a threesome?

I didn’t even fucking consider that an option to jerk off to until that night.

Lost in the cluster of nights I wrote about all those years ago in “About an Hour Ago” was a girl named Elyssa. She was known as “the high schooler” to my friends. First of all, Officer Fourthwall, she was eighteen. Not that I would have cared if she was seventeen, to be honest, since I was only nineteen.

When I booked a flight to Tampa for a week, I had made plans with Elyssa. How did I keep in touch with someone I had only seen twice in eight years? Who knew. Persistence. Fate. Lust? Elyssa was, arguably, the one who got away. She became my pen pal. Through the thick and thin, through the multiple people we dated, wherever we moved, we kept in touch.

We agreed to meet the night before I was to leave Tampa. I was writing the third act of the post-college novel, What We Feared Most, while I waited for Elyssa to be done with her bartending shift. Then I waited forty-five more minutes for her to drive over.

My stomach was in iron knots in the parking lot. Eight years. Eight fucking years, I kept thinking. Eight years of moving, working, dating, heartbreak and heartbreaking, writing and rewriting, and then I saw her car. As soon as she parked she got out because the moment called for a hug; her words, not mine.

[_ _]

My God. Elyssa was now twenty-six and as beautiful as I remembered, if not more beautiful. Her green eyes remained timeless, and where her shaggy dark hair had been, there was now short punk blonde hair that framed her skinny, pale face.

What happened next was a moment that could only exist in a dream.

Elyssa and I went to Downtown Tampa, a place I rarely explored in my college years, allowing for a fresh memory to be made. We ate a late dinner at a Mexican place. We joked (“Where’s your avocado, huh? Didn’t you order one?”), and I remembered how sweet she was, and I realized that she still had a great sense of humor.

I went to the bathroom, looked into the mirror, and thought—I’m here, what am I doing here?

(This happens a lot, to be fair, but it’s not a moment of fear. This is more like an embodiment of a promise. A promise that the unexpected reaches us at an older age, and a look in the mirror is an acceptance that life gets better, that you do truly become your own person. You’re out at a bar, in the bathroom, and you have put yourself there, with people you find interesting outside those doors.)

I was the same person she had met yet I was not. I had grown up. She had grown up. All I had to do was open that wooden door and she would be there, beautiful, waiting for me. For me. I was not worthy.

I stepped out. Elyssa was there, smiling. “Where should we go now?”

Elyssa and I drove down Memory Lane and went to Davis Island, a neighborhood connected by a bridge that hosted houses as well as a small airport, and a dock for boats. There was a spot you could call a beach the same way you could throw a bunch of sand in your backyard, put saltwater in a kiddie pool, and call that a beach.

I had been writing about Davis Island in the third act of my book that night, and there I was in person. Life imitates art imitates life, I thought. These moments didn’t shock me anymore, yet you would think they did by the way I looked out the window and gazed at the lonely night sky.

We sat on giant rocks facing the bay and talked about life. I didn’t think I was going to kiss her. I almost didn’t want to, but in a talk about physical scars I showed her the scar on my hand. She studied the two inch strip then showed me hers on her forehead, and it became inevitable that two people, attracted to each other, with a history, sitting in the bay with the melody of the water encouraging them, were going to give in to the mortality of the night and kiss.

So I leaned in, and we kissed; slowly at first.

Elyssa was sugar and spice. Elyssa was kissing me, and my hands were reintroducing themselves to her body. We walked by a park and joked about having sex on the swing. There was symbolism there. Children played in parks, and adults played in parks with a loss of innocence.

We got in the back seat of her car like in the old days, and she took off her shirt, but we didn’t let the moment escalate. It was okay. I believed it when we said we would see each other again. I envisioned a trip to Europe, California, or even Arizona; her by my side was the only geographical point that mattered.

The night overwhelmed me. Suddenly the stars lined up—corny to think, corny to write, but I saw it with my eyes, and I interpreted the shinny diamonds as I wanted to believe.

That night Elyssa dropped me off into a cinematic dream. A slight drizzle began to fall from the clouds as we embraced with wet lips one last time. Kings of Leon’s “Closer” started playing in the background. Insignificant detail? Maybe. Except their song “Sex on Fire” was an influence for the feel of my first novel set in Tampa. “Manhattan” always reminded me of a nostalgic drive down Bayshore Boulevard in a friend’s car.

Now “Closer” was a reminder of that night in Tampa.

Later that sleepless morning Carly drove me to the airport. On the way there I looked out the window and reflected on the week. I was disgusted with myself, sick to my stomach. I felt cured again.

It was on that trip to Tampa in October of 2013 that I had decided it was time to look into the future: a serious relationship, a career writing books, and a good life.

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WE’RE STILL IN 2013, THIS IS SOME OF NOVEMBER & DECEMBER.

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we’re still in 2013, this is some of november & december.

By November of 2013 I had started working on a hidden camera television show that featured old people pranking young people, and if you can’t figure out which one it is, you either don’t watch a lot of television which is great, or you know of multiple shows with that premise which is not so great.

After only a week on the job I got an e-mail:

‘So I didn’t get a chance to talk to you on Friday, but we just wanted to make sure you actually wanted to keep working on this show. Believe me, I totally get it if you are over working as a Production Assistant, and I won’t take it personally if you don’t want to keep working on this. BUT, if you do want to keep doing it, you’re going to have to change your attitude a little. I can’t have people from other departments complaining about you saying that you aren’t working, and that you seem like you don’t want to be there. I can easily get someone else in here, I just need to know now if you want to do it or not.

So just let me know… If you want to keep working you can, but you’re going to have to actually work, and not goof off the whole time, and be a contributing member of the team. If you would rather not work so you can get your own stuff done that’s totally cool, and no one would look down on you for that. Up to you. Just let me or Chet know by tomorrow? Thanks!’

All those years in Los Angeles, and I always refused to take production work seriously. It was practically an entry level position any sophisticated monkey with common sense could do. All those twelve-hour shifts I had put into television shows like a mercenary of bitch work… and nothing.

The only thing I had thought about during those tedious hours was how I was going to be a famous writer one day. While I picked up garbage? I thought about the next celebrity I would meet. While I went to Starbucks for a producer’s Grande latte in a Venti cup so the extra space could be filled with Soy milk? I thought about fans shaking my hand, thanking me for having written such an important piece. While I moved heavy things, or unloaded folding tables? I thought about the old novelty typewriter I was going to buy to rewrite all my poetry.

Enough was enough. I was not the writer I thought I was, and after reading the e-mail, I was not the worker I thought I was. I took a walk outside my apartment to let some of the cold air cool my head. I realized I was under the foolish dreamy assumption that I was going to write my first novel and my life was suddenly going to begin.

Well, guess what? I had finished a book. Nothing had changed. The weight of its 74,000 words had been replaced with two simple ones:

What now?

[_ _]

No one was reading the novel. It was just sitting there, all 438KB of space in my computer, filled with grammar mistakes and names I still needed to change.

And so I quit writing.

I walked back inside and re-read the draft I had written as a reply. It was filled with excuses. I erased all that. In my new response I apologized for my behavior, and begged to be given one more week and then a reevaluation. Inside my head I accepted that I was going to do the dance. I was going to take the challenge, work hard, get promoted, and if I found time to write then marvelous, but if not…

Who cares? I was done with writing.

The saddest part was how [*easy *]writing became an afterthought. I didn’t make notes of anything that interested me, I didn’t come up with scenes while listening to music, and I didn’t daydream about success while I took out the garbage.

Thankfully, people took notice. By the time we wrapped on our house set, I had rebuilt my reputation. No one complained about me anymore. I was part of the team.

(And yes, I was fortunate enough to meet one of the most golden girls to ever work on television. She was an absolute sweetheart and extremely witty for someone who was ninety-two years old. A crew member asked her if she liked Grey Goose vodka, and she said, “oh honey, you know I love all animals.”)

Unknown to me was that while I had put the pen down, it had not run out of ink. A story was forming before my very eyes, a story where I was the protagonist. Except this was non-fiction, and the first antagonist emerged within a couple weeks of the television show about pranksters.

No, it was not the girl I met during those weeks at the house named Ophelia. In fact, the opposite. Within those couple of weeks in November she had become my partner in crime, my confidant. She was a shoulder to cry on, and a laugh to echo my own from our countless jokes.

His name was Jacob, and he was only exceptional at one thing: making our lives fucking miserable.

“Do you not have money in the bank? Or do you need it that badly?” Jacob would respond when we asked for our per diem, which was ten dollars for lunch. His fat purple lips curved, satisfied that he had stressed us out one more time.

Ophelia and I would look at each other like a pair of children from Oliver Twist. “Yes, we need money,” we would say to him, timidly.

Jacob appeared to find it amusing when people didn’t have money. “Okay, hmm, how about I get it for you tomorrow?” He would offer, and he would add, “I didn’t realize you were that poor.”

A producer overheard him and shook his head. “I can’t believe your per diem comes from how much money you have in the bank,” he commented. Was he going to do anything to change the situation? Nah. Welcome to reality television in Hollywood.

(Treating lower tier employees like shit is completely acceptable. It’s like you’re supposed to do it. The ones who had dreams of working on films, but instead make the same content you would after a burrito filled with Thai food, are the most miserable. Like zombies, they arrive dead behind the eyes and collect a paycheck.)

The foundation of our friendship was not gossip, but Ophelia and I did a lot of it. We would snicker away during our lunch hour, eat in fifteen minutes, and check out the location. On the day he pissed us off about money we walked around Union Station in downtown L.A., and found a nice little Mexican place near some street merchants.

In our time together Ophelia and I developed different voices for dozens of made-up characters. When things got tough, it was easy to escape our frustrations. We improvised a maniacal baby plotting to kill his brother (“Bring me the pasta strings!”), or my personal favorite, a National Geographic voice over exaggerating the landscapes of Los Angeles (“Watch! As the majestic pigeon comes out for a feeding frenzy over the frozen tundra of Santa Monica!”).

When it came to getting consent from strangers that we pranked on the show, we were the 1-2 punch in a team of 3. It was especially easy for Ophelia. She had the vibe of a blonde surfer girl from San Diego, with full-of-life brown eyes, a sharp chin, a mischievous smile, and a confident attitude.

On our van rides to and from set together we would share stories not meant for anyone else to hear. Some were shameless, others heartfelt. We got each other through the day.

Sometimes we could not believe how slimy Jacob was to people. One time we pranked a group of tourists in a parking lot nearby the beach, and told them we’d pay the meter for their time. They walked away and Jacob refused to pay, claiming it was not his “fucking problem” if they got a ticket. It would have cost us two dollars, but it would have cost them a $75 fine. Another crew member, our audio guy I believe, paid for it out of pocket.

That was just the type of guy Jacob was, someone who confused cool with being rude. He was short and stubby, and full of shit. When he was not being incompetent, Jacob was attempting to flirt with the wardrobe coordinator, a tall athletic girl named Carrie who was born and raised in Orange County. Ophelia and I joked that she looked like Jennifer Lawrence. Admittedly, Carrie was flirty by nature.

Though it was not her intentions, Carrie had indirectly created the pieces that Jacob was going to use to push me to the brink of quitting. It all started that morning at Union Station when I met Carrie’s assistant, Charlotte. Charlotte was cute in an interesting way. Her face seemed sort of squished as if she was permanently smiling, and it was her kind nature that got my attention.

One day early in December we filmed at the Los Angeles Convention Center. I was assigned to recover some of the wardrobe that had been left behind in the van. When I told Carrie about it she turned to her assistant, Charlotte, and told her that she should go with me.

We walked to the parking lot and thought of pranks that the old people could do, and I teased her because all her pranks ended with someone slow clapping from the crowd. We got to the van and—Fuck!—a window had been shattered, pieces of glass decorating the floor like popcorn at a movie theater. We called it in to production and were instructed to wait.

That was when the inside jokes started; a specialty of mine that was not a deliberate flirting mechanism, just an unintentional one. As “detectives” we went through a list of who could have done the crime and came to the conclusion that it was… Carrie! “But of course! So innocent and sweet!”

“And she sent us here to get the wardrobe and frame us!” Charlotte added. “Ah—ha!”

She had blonde hair so of course the lure was already there, but when we walked back to set and laughed as we pretended to arrest people, I developed a crush on Charlotte.

A couple weeks later the show experienced budget cuts and she was gone.

I would see her one more time at the company Holiday Party late in December. That was when the problems with Ophelia started, and the headache with Jacob escalated.

The day before the company Holiday Party Charlotte asked me if I was going to go via text message. Obviously it made me pretty happy so I showed Ophelia. We were at Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica that day. “See, she likes you,” Ophelia said, but quickly backtracked. “Eh, but maybe she’s just curious if someone else she knows is going to be there.”

Charlotte looked beautiful that night. She wore a black dress and bright red lipstick, which I usually was not attracted to, but her fair skin contrasted the boldness. She had layered her curly blonde hair so it appeared more bouncy.

Everyone that had worked on the show was there, but I mostly spent my time with Charlotte. We took pictures in the photo booth, drank, laughed, and talked about the book I had just finished. With my finger pressed on her hand (okay, it was more seducing than it sounds) I promised I would send her the novel if she promised to go on a date with me. She never gave an official answer.

Despite all that, it never felt like a first kiss would happen that night. It was fine. I joined Ophelia and a couple friendly co-workers on the dance floor to end the night, and then drove home alone.

The next morning was Sunday, but we had to go to work. I found out Charlotte was in the hotel with Carrie like in the old days. I sent her a text: ‘What are you doing on set! You don’t work for us anymore!’

She ignored it. Things unraveled rather quickly from there.

An hour later I found out that Jacob had told Charlotte I had a crush on her. His gossip was not a product of his speculation, but of Ophelia’s own words. She was the one who had told him everything. I felt back stabbed by my own best friend.

“Why did you say it?”

Ophelia shrugged as we walked down the sidewalk. Our set that day was a designated block of Ventura boulevard. Last time we were there Ophelia and I had spent our lunch hour inside a thrift shop where I purchased a woman’s jacket that fit me pretty well. “It just slipped,” she said, too casually for my liking.

She didn’t say much else. Soon Jacob provided more coverage of my personal disaster by telling me two things. The first was that Charlotte was “mad” I sent her that text. The second was a bit more heartbreaking: “Charlotte was surprised you had a crush on her. She was telling everyone you were gay.”

“Gay? She thought I was gay?”

Ophelia’s only answer was that she “could see that” happening. All right. Fair enough, it was not the first time I heard that, but I was not gay.

Nothing stopped Jacob from channeling a middle school child the rest of that afternoon. His comments: “Are you going to take Charlotte shopping?” “What spa are you guys going to go?” “Do you want to get your nails done with Charlotte?” “Does she gossip to you about boys?”

My blood boiled. This toad-faced frog visited every lame stereotype about the homosexual community for an entire day, and he couldn’t even think of anything original? It was all rehashed material that probably came from an angry place.

His jokes eventually turned into something worse.

By nightfall there was only an hour left of work. We were all back at the office when Jacob started talking about going on a double date with Carrie and Charlotte. He claimed the date was with him and the third member of our release team, Marcel. Marcel was a black guy with spiky hair, and was older than me by a couple years. He had his own issues, primarily an ego trip because he was so close to Jacob and thus his job was safe.

Unfortunately, I gave Jacob the reactions he wanted: closed-lipped, sad-eyed stares into the wall, and mumbled responses to his feet. When I was alone I wanted to cry. When I was with Ophelia I rambled on about how I wanted to quit. I quickly backtracked into my old self, and suddenly I was too good for everyone.

You’re better than them. You’ll laugh in the end. They’re stupid. You’ll rise above this.

Ophelia only said, “if I was you I would not want to come back after the winter break either.”

But I did come back. Maybe out of pride. Maybe because I was too stubborn to shy from a challenge. Most likely because I was broke. But I did come back.

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10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

“Happy New Year!”

2014.

I was in Phoenix, Arizona (home to my family).

“Are you going to come back by midnight?” My mother had asked me as I walked out the door to go out for New Year’s, and I had stopped, laughed, and repeated the question to my dad. “Did you hear that? No, mom, why would I come back? I love you. I’ll see you next year,” I had said.

I was wrong. She was right.

See, I had intended to go out in Scottsdale and celebrate with Alexandra, a close friend I had met in 2009. I was at a bar listening to music I didn’t really like when my heart changed its blood. Suddenly I felt compelled to be with my family.

The pulse of my mother’s words gravitated me back home.

“Alexandra, I have to go,” I had said an hour before midnight. Alexandra understood. She told me she loved me (platonically, this time), and I left the crowd of people with a perturbed face.

A fifty dollar cab ride later, and I walked in through the door and said, “okay I lied. You were right. I’m back!” But there was no joy there, just my parents staring calmly at a fire in the backyard.

“Your sister went for a walk to the park,” they informed me. It was half a mile down the street. So in my nice leather shoes, I put on a song, (“Hand Covers Bruise” from The Social Network soundtrack because that had been the song playing when my sister talked to me for the first time in six months) and I sprinted…

I found my sister on the swing set and immediately wanted to tell her I missed her, and had missed her all year, because I had, but my tongue was frozen. My heart pounded. I was never really good with moments, and to a certain extent I believed none of us were unless we were imagining them for television.

Instead of spilling my feelings, I sat on the swing next to her and told her a story. I told her about how my car had been stolen earlier in the year. We laughed as I went over the details, and then we ragged on our parents a little bit as it was the sibling thing to do. Just before midnight I convinced her to walk with me and rejoin our parents.

“Ten, nine, eight…”

The four of us spent the new year in our backyard in Arizona. A happy mood had been restored as we laughed and went over our goals. “I think my first novel is not going to do well,” I confessed, referring to What We Feared Most. “But my second one will bring me success.”

We laughed as my dad took out a piece of paper and counted down. “One eighty-nine, one-eighty-eight, one-eighty-seven,” he recited.

“What are you doing?”

“Counting down the weight I’m going to lose,” he answered.

We laughed again. As was New Year tradition, it was time for people to make promises, practice them for ten days, and then abandon their goals entirely. But not me. A spark had forever changed my outlook of Los Angeles, and I wanted to try new things. Simple things, but new nonetheless.

One of my roommates had suggested I quit eating dairy for dietary purposes, so that was one. I wanted to grow my hair out again instead of having it in a faux-mohawk. For as long as I could grow one, I had a beard. Now I wanted to keep my face clean cut. I wanted to work harder and get a better job.

Eventually, the fire died. Our family went to sleep. The decision to come back before midnight was one of the best I had made in my entire life. Not everything was beautiful and perfect, though. By the end of my stay in Phoenix there was a new dent on the fridge as a result of my frustrations over dinner one night.

It was a little argument caused by my refusal to eat fish on the count of the little bone pricks I had to pick out to ensure I didn’t swallow them. “You just want your mother to do it for you,” my father insisted.

“No, I just don’t want to put any additional work into eating,” I argued.

When he insisted I was manipulating my mom into cutting the food for me, I excused myself from the table and sucker punched the fridge. Perhaps if I didn’t keep my feelings bottled up, they would understand me a little better, but in that moment it felt like they had never understood me most of my life.

So why start now?

Yet—that was not what brought me to tears when my plane landed in California.

When I turned my phone on I found out that friend from college had lost his battle with cancer. Even though Mikey had not liked me when we first met—he had actually tried to pick several fights, all of which he would have won—he proved to be a loyal friend in the end.

In the end we had said goodbye in a parking lot in Tampa where I gave him my old mini fridge from college. “How much do you want for it?” He had asked, cash in hand. I said, “It’s yours for free, Mikey.” He was so happy he squeezed me. In the end he was my friend, and now my friend had passed away.

My high school and college friends were getting engaged, married, buying houses, and having kids; they were being promoted, starting their own businesses, going to graduate school, and losing their hair while simultaneously adding wrinkles. And now they were victims to cancer.

I was feeling the effects of getting older, and consulting my lamenting heart was no use—I was going to have to get used to this feeling.

Work resumed one lovely morning. We were in Long Beach that day. Ophelia and I finally got into a horrible fight.

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REDEMPTION IN JANUARY.

redemption in january.

There had been animosity between us the entire day. It had started in the morning when the shoot was delayed, and some of the crew decided to go to a local restaurant. I didn’t go. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to sit in the van and think about how I had always said life was long, but that would have been an insult, a spit on the very dirt that hosted another life taken too early.

The tears barely peaked over my eyelids. After thirty minutes of staring at cars I went to look for the crew at the restaurant. Everyone sat with guilty faces. The first thing they told me was no one had drank any beer, and then they signed their receipts.

Something was odd. People were scattering. Marcel was trying to be coy about signing his receipt, and Ophelia was looking at me with those big unsure eyes. She knew how to make them appear sympathetic.

For the rest of the day we didn’t really talk until Ophelia admitted they had lied. “You can’t tell them I told you, but we had a beer while we were waiting. We just didn’t want you to know because Jacob thinks you’ll tell Chet,” she said, referring to the Production Manager of the show.

“They think I would tell on them? Because they had one stupid beer? How old are they?”

“Well, yeah,” Ophelia answered. “Jacob doesn’t trust you.”

“He doesn’t trust me—what?” I was confused. It was true, I knew Chet pretty well. He was the one who got me the job, and his name had been in the e-mail sent back to me in November. Ophelia knew all that, and she knew me well enough to trust me, or so I had thought.

Suddenly she was filled with regret for telling me the crew’s secrets. All I could remember was the start of the fight. I was standing by the bay waiting for her to come with my arms crossed, my eyes burning.

Ophelia walked to me with her little arms crossed as well, with a doe-eyed confused expression on her face, and the next thing I remembered we were yelling at each other. Then she stormed off. What was the fight about? (I shrug as I write this, I really don’t know). All I knew was that when I caught up to her she was crying, and by the time I hugged her I was crying too.

“I’m sorry,” I said in my breakdown, “I found out my friend died a couple days ago and I took it out on you. There’s just so many people that deserve better,” I fought through the tears to say.

She let herself cry harder. “This job is getting to me,” she admitted. Ophelia didn’t know if they took her seriously, or if they thought she was a “bimbo because she was a girl.”

We hugged and in that moment I knew she was my best friend. I knew she had taken the title from my best friends before her and put it on her head like a crown. A little crying session reset our stress levels.

At night we were packing the van with camera equipment when Tammy, who was called in to drive the actors from the hotel room to set, approached us. She had a Midwestern kindness to her that went a long way in a city like Los Angeles, but she was not from the Midwest. She was from Pasadena, California, with big green eyes often squinted in focus, and a warm, toothy smile.

“Are you guys going to the bar with everyone?” She asked.

I hesitated. “No,” I answered, and then looked at Ophelia. She repeated my answer. Tammy produced a disappointing smile, and walked back to her car.

“Marcel and Jacob probably planned it,” I whispered.

“So?” Ophelia curled her hair on her finger like she always did when she was bored. “I’m not going to go. You don’t want to go anyways.”

“I know, I can’t even go,” I agreed. “I have a housewarming party in Northridge.” That was true. The party started in a couple hours, and thanks to the delay from the morning I was not going to be home until nine o’clock.

Somehow Ophelia and I made it to the office first even though Marcel was the faster driver. We decided to unload as quickly as possible so we wouldn’t have to help him. Once in the office, we sat at Jacob’s cubicle with smarmy grins. Then ten, fifteen minutes passed…

“Where the hell are they?”

Olivia got a text message. “‘We had to go back and grab a receipt,’” she read. We both nodded. Then she read another message out loud. “‘We had to meet Will and give him his per diem for the day.’” Minutes later her phone lit up again. “Oh,” she sounded kind of surprised. “I got another text. ‘There is so much traffic,’” she recited. “What is going on?”

“Ask if we can go… unless—oh my God, Ophelia. When Tammy invited us to the bar, you don’t think they went right after we packed the vans, do you?”

“No,” she said as if I was crazy. “I don’t think they would do that. They’re not stupid.”

“I have to find out right now,” I said swiftly. “I’m going to text Tammy.”

“Jericho, no—don’t get involved.”

“I have to know,” I insisted. I had to know if Jacob, in his attempt to be manipulative, forgot that he was messing with manipulative people.

Tammy didn’t respond. Half an hour later they arrived. Marcel went to put equipment away, while Jacob stared at us. “Yeah, Marcel took the streets instead of the highway. That was a dumb mistake on his part,” Jacob explained. “There was traffic everywhere.”

We played our part and “believed” his story. Since Marcel and I lived within two miles from each other in Sherman Oaks, we actually carpooled to work. On the drive home I baited him with a question.

“So Jacob told me there was an accident on the highway, that’s why you guys got stuck?”

“Yup, that’s right, an accident,” he agreed.

I smiled because of revenge. I wanted revenge.

On a walk to get ice for the party Tammy replied to my text message. It was the last piece I needed. “Hey Chet,” I greeted him on the phone. “I have to talk to you about something that happened on set today.”

Ophelia, Marcel, and I made up the three members of our release team, but we were actually a Second Earth type scenario because there was an “A” team of three who did the same things we did. This “A” team was spearheaded by the coordinator who had sent me that e-mail in November.

Seventy-two hours after the incident in Long Beach, we filmed inland in Pasadena. It was a Sunday, I remembered, and both “A” and “B” teams were there. Once it was time to pack the van and leave, Ophelia and I made it back to the office first again. This time we immediately became suspicious.

The “A” team arrived, and wondered where they were. I grunted. Ophelia gave me a look. “Don’t say anything, let me take care of it from here,” was what Chet had told me on the phone. So I kept it to myself… for about two minutes.

Soon, the “A” team knew everything I did. It was okay. She hated Jacob too, and I had proved my worth to her so I knew it would work.

Jacob arrived. “Why did you get here ten minutes after us if you left before us?” She asked him.

“We went the wrong way on the highway,” he explained.

“So did we.”

Then Jacob hit her with an impressive counterargument. “We went the other wrong way on the highway.”

“So… you went the right way? There’s only two directions you could have gone.” She paused to smile. Her teeth might as well have been fangs. “It’s a highway, Jacob.”

“Yeaaah,” he stalled. Taken back by the attention, he thought of his next words carefully. “Then… yeah, we did go the wrong way at first. But there was traffic!”

“We had traffic too,” she pressed.

We got released shortly after that. For some reason Marcel acted more obnoxious than usual on the carpool ride home. Maybe he felt threatened? A while back, I had made a tiny sticker with a label maker that read ROCKET in capital letters, and stuck it below the air vents on the dashboard of my car.

Like a clichéd movie villain, he felt invincible and got it into his head to make fun of my car’s nickname. Marcel pointed at it, and said, “I’m going to nickname my car Crocket.”

He was speaking in a British accent again. Oh, I forgot to mention Marcel spent six months in England a while ago, and as a tribute to his short time there he occasionally spoke in the Queen’s English.

“Do you know what a Crocket is? I’m going to put a sticker right there,” he said, pointing at the same spot where mine was located.

I ignored British Marcel.

“What kind of person nicknames their car?” He asked the window. “I don’t know anyone that does that.”

(Not at all annoying to hear in a phony British accent).

Oh my God, keep talking, I thought. If they found out he was at the bar again, he was for sure gone too. I kept my mouth shut, and let him keep ‘taking the piss’ about Rocket. It was going to make his firing so much sweeter.

When I woke up sick Monday morning I blamed it on the negativity around me. Truth was I had gotten a severe cold after telling my roommate “I was a beast” and wouldn’t get sick if I came into contact with him when he felt under the weather. Then Tuesday it got worse. My head felt swollen, and it was hard to get out of bed. I usually had those days off because of our schedule, but I asked for Wednesday off, too.

Of course, everything came together on the day I was gone.

First, I got a text message from Carrie, the wardrobe girl, out of the blue. ‘So my friend Charlotte. Are you interested?’ Wow. I spilled my guts. I told her that of course I had been, but when I asked her out at the Christmas party she didn’t seem interested. Plus, Jacob told me how she thought I was gay.

Within a minute I found out that, not only had Jacob lied about the gay comment, the girls had never heard anything about a double date. Since I was already destroying Jacob’s reputation around the office, I lied to Carrie about what Jacob said behind her back.

Little lies, white lies, it didn’t matter. I wanted her to be disgusted with Jacob. I wanted Carrie to hate him. At the same time I was slandering, I was exchanging text messages with Charlotte. We even agreed to go out on a date.

Things kept unraveling from there. Out of all people, I got a message from Jacob. ‘How are you doing, buddy?’

I answered, and then immediately told Ophelia. She knew why he had asked. Apparently Marcel had been bossing her around all day, and she stood up for herself by using our trump card, and told Marcel we knew they went to a bar in Long Beach. His stupid smirk disappeared after that, she said.

A couple hours later Ophelia suspected Marcel told Jacob because Jacob started acting nicer to her. When I returned to work the next morning, I suspected the same thing Ophelia did. Jacob was being a whole lot nicer. He even laughed at the jokes he used to ignore, and helped us unload some of the equipment.

But it was too late.

When we got back to the office that night Marcel, Ophelia, and I were asked to step inside Chet’s office. “Today was Jacob’s last day,” he announced. “He’s cleaning up his things right now. He will be replaced by a girl named Sandra who has worked on the show previously, starting tomorrow.”

All three of us went silent. Only two of us smiled. Jacob left without saying goodbye to anyone, and Marcel was quiet during the drive home.

The tide had turned, and I had won.

I would have never imagined that the firing of Jacob would lead to a fallout between Ophelia and I, but it did. Ophelia never warmed up to our new boss, Sandra. It didn’t help that Sandra had replaced her as the quirky, cute girl on our team. The attention Ophelia harnessed slipped quickly, and she started to complain about the little things.

“Sandra never brings us bagels,” she would say. We were in Hollywood that day, filming on the Walk of Fame. “Jacob used to bring us bagels all the time.”

“He literally did that like twice,” I argued. “Sandra gives us our ten dollars every day and buys coffee on the way in so we don’t have to.”

“Meh, he didn’t really deserve to get fired.”

Hollywood was not my favorite place for pranks. There were too many crazy people, and worse, there were a lot of tourists. Sometimes we got the occasional actor who was hoping to make it big, and didn’t want to have our television appearance on their resume.

(Admirable, but the equivalent of turning down a scratch-off lottery ticket for a chance at the Powerball.)

I fixed my beanie and reopened the argument. “Do you honestly think what I did was wrong?”

Ophelia shrugged. “I’m just saying he didn’t deserve to be fired. There was a change in him. I can respect that.”

“He didn’t want to get in trouble! Look, I did what I had to. It’s done.”

Snitch, her eyes said. “He started laughing at my jokes,” Ophelia explained. “I don’t know, he was just being nicer and caring about me.”

“He was being manipulative,” I argued.

“So? He was nicer.”

Holy shit. She didn’t care that it was all an act. All she wanted was the attention. Ophelia,[_ insecure like the rest of us_]. So it turned out she wanted to be told her shit smelled nice more than she wanted respect.

Even if Jacob came into our houses and tucked us in, the guy had been drinking[* *]on the clock with thousands of dollars of company equipment in the van; a van that had been broken into not a month ago. And he blatantly lied about it.

Sure, Ophelia was an attractive friend with a book full of stories, who had used her flash to keep me entertained on the bad days. Absolutely, she had used her fashion sense to guide me when we went shopping. But the shit Jacob did was only covering how selfish Ophelia was as a person.

The revelation came to me when we didn’t have lunch together. I thought about how she had told Jacob I had a crush on Charlotte. I also remembered that time last year she had mentioned I was using writing to mask insecurities.

[_ _]

Oh wait.

Ophelia had been right about that. She was my best friend, after all, for better or worse, and had been interested in hooking me up with her friend Lidia. Of Lidia she said, “I think Liddy is really pretty, but a tad too aggressive with guys. She’ll probably make out with you on the first night.”

“I’m in,” I said. “I want you to meet my roommate Pablo, too. I think you guys will really hit it off. You two listen to a lot of the same music like Radiohead, and kinda share the same fun-but-melancholy outlook. In a good way.”

“Yeah, I’d like to meet Pablo. He sounds really cool,” Ophelia replied. “Wanna go out Sunday night?”

“Always,” I answered.

“And one more thing,” Ophelia added. “Lidia is really a lost soul when it comes to relationships. I think if you dated her for like two weeks she could learn a thing. Plus, this guy friend I know says she gives really good head.”

“Oh okay,” I reacted, and forgot Charlotte existed on this planet.

On Sunday night we went to some bar in the middle of nowhere, but of course in a city as populated as Los Angeles, it was hard to be in the middle of nowhere. One of the bartenders there, Tessa, was Ophelia’s best friend, but I recognized her from elsewhere.

I had met Tessa when some friends and I were casting actresses for a horror movie trailer. Tessa had actually been my choice for the role because of her convincingly bitchy interpretation of the character. The other two in my team went with a different choice.

Tessa wore a black shirt. She had curly blonde hair, and a pretty face in the likes of Old Hollywood. Pablo greeted Ophelia and was not shy about sitting next to her at the bar. He had short but messy hair and an unkempt five o’clock shadow to match. His laid back nature was what made me think him and Ophelia would find a spark.

Lidia had arrived already so she greeted us with a drink in hand. She was dirty blonde, homely with hints of cuteness, and I indeed had interest. I sat next to Lidia, but it was hard not to talk about work with Ophelia.

(Have you ever been friends with a group of waiters or bartenders who work in the same restaurant? They fucking hate their jobs, but all they talk about is their stupid fucking jobs. The “entertainment” business is the same. Despite working twelve grueling hours together, we can’t find anything better to talk about.)

We must have sounded similar because of what Tessa said next. “Look, it’s another Ophelia.”

Lidia echoed the similarity. “Oh yeah! He’s totally a male Ophelia.”

I froze. I looked deep into my soul. I was scared. The comment was playful and meant to be kind, surely, but it unlocked something hidden in the back of my mind. Melanie’s face appeared in my head. Melanie was my best friend in college, and at one time the person I believed to be my soul split in two.

I thought, how far have I fallen that this is my new soul that has been split in two? I used to be compared to Melanie, but now I was Ophelia, the fun life of the party who never said no. She was more spiritual than religious, fifteen-plus partners past a virgin, and enjoyed gossip as much as I did. At one point I had been compared to a girl who helped others before herself—but now this?

I was a male Ophelia, I accepted, and she was a female version of me.

Pablo and her resumed conversation.

I followed Lidia out to a patio area so she could smoke, but the comment never left me. It made its way through my veins as I sunk in the revelation. I blamed Ophelia for constant negativity—but that was me too. She put others down, but that was my favorite way to joke. Like her, I was envious of those who stole my attention.

I judged her for her shameless string of sexual encounters, like her run-in with heroine and a forty-year old guy on New Year’s, but what about Tampa in October? October? Hell, I had fucked a girl on my futon in December after she cried over Tilikum in the Blackfish documentary. (Oh, I forgot to mention I slept on a futon in the living room of my apartment like a real adult.)

I was not on a righteous path—I was my old self again.

I blamed her for being superficial as I sat across from a girl who apparently gave good blowjobs. “Do you want one?” Lidia asked. In her hand was an unlit cigarette. Her mouth curved in a shark’s grin. I snapped out of it. She had these razor sharp brown eyes making her appear intimidating when she squinted.

“Can I?” I lit it up and took a drag. “I only smoke when I drink now. This is like my fourth cigarette all year,” I lied to make myself feel better about bumming the cigarette.

We chatted until Tessa took a break from tending the bar, and stepped outside. “Is there a date going on in there? Because I think it’s going really well!”

We laughed and told her how they had just met. She was surprised and gave a nod of approval. I watched Tessa walk back to her post, then stared at Lidia. Here we go again, I thought. The buzz from my Jack and Coke had me wanting to pursue the girl sitting across from me.

Then Lidia announced she had to leave. I was shocked, but that didn’t stop me from offering to walk her to her car. [_COCKTAILS _]was written on a vertical sign above the front door of Virgo Bar. We walked down the street, and I resisted the urge to kiss her when she opened her car door and said goodbye.

As I walked down the dimly-lit street I thought of Melanie. My memory spiraled down the freshly ripped hole, and I was taken back to college.

I don’t do well with memories, I told myself, but it was too late…

You could write down every characteristic of the ideal person, not even for a relationship, just as a human, and it would have been Melanie.

Inside the fabric of her soul was my sense of humor, loyalty to her friends and family, and compassion for those who ever wronged her. She always partook in the spirit of random adventure. Add a good dose of empathy, positivity, and spirituality, and Melanie was beloved by all. But she was my best friend.

We had been young. Twenty, then twenty-one, and finally twenty-two. We had walked the streets of Tampa thinking we were so much older, thinking we had life figured out. We had seen each other laugh, and we had heard each other cry. “I love you,” I had said to her the night we graduated, and I had meant it.

Melanie was innocent. Despite her skinny frame and large breasts, her body was pure, a virgin. She was saving herself because she believed in the sanctity of marriage, even though we had come close one night as a result of our youthful passion and a bottle of wine.

And that good human being was who I had been compared to years, years ago.

So what the fuck happened?

“I just got a text from Lidia. She thinks you’re cute and would totally fuck you.”

“Ophelia!” Tessa yelled from the other side of the bar. “Why would you tell him that?”

I smiled, and kind of agreed with Tessa. Ophelia shrugged. My roommate laughed, and gave me a wink. Pablo knew me well. Maybe it was not Ophelia’s fault. My life had been one chaotic spin around immaturity like the Earth around the sun for a while now. Like the sun, which only shinned on me for certain hours, I stumbled back and forth between light and darkness, right and wrong, as a man without a moral compass.

Both right and wrong felt good for my soul. Making “wrong” choices made for an exciting night, but making the “right” choices always made it easier to wake up in the morning.

Charlotte, I thought. Surely she would be the change I needed in my life. If there was anyone who could take me back to simpler times, it was a girl like Charlotte.

The only problem was that Charlotte lived really far. I had to drive an hour south to Newport Beach just to meet in the middle. All I kept thinking was how two months ago this would have felt impossible.

Here we go. It’s about to happen. You’re going to see her soon, I anticipated. Just before I arrived to the beach’s parking lot, anxiety and doubt plagued my head. Don’t fuck this up. The date is about to start. Oh God. Why did I even go out? I should have stayed in my room. Sorry, Rocket.

As soon as I parked I sent her a text, and she said she was nearby. While I scanned the parking lot I saw the figure of a girl with green shorts putting things in her trunk. It turned out to be Charlotte. All my nervous energy went out the window. It was just one of those little things I knew right away that, if the date went well, I would tell her about it.

We walked down the beach and asked each other questions until we spotted a line of huge rocks that stretched into the ocean. As we carefully jumped from rock to rock she told me a story from her childhood. The scar she had on her head came from playing a game called Egg on a trampoline. She had scrunched up her body into a ball while her older brothers jumped around attempting to break her. Out of stubbornness, she claimed, she never broke, not even when she trickled down the side of the trampoline, smacking against the metal bar on the way to the grass.

Once we sat and admired the view, Charlotte said, “I read your book.”

She referred to What We Feared Most, the story set in Tampa.

“Yeah, while I was at the beach yesterday. It’s good.” She took a breath, probably hesitating about how honest she should be with me. “The girl was my favorite character, but I think the two guys in the story are interchangeable. And I didn’t really get the twist at the end, I had to go back and re-read it, like wait, who?”

“Right, with Ryan,” I acknowledged. “I tried so hard to make it a twist I literally refused to give any hints until the name reveal. So stupid.” All her notes went into a mental compartment. “You know, I’ve been writing that story for six years now, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be happy with it.”

Then I reiterated what I had said on New Year’s and told Charlotte about my second novel, and how I thought it was going to better received by people. Since that novel started with a near-death experience, it sparked a conversation about her family, and the fucked up things she had gone through on account of her dad.

One thing led to another and the sun went down as we walked around town and talked; walked and talked, walked and talked. We looped back and sat on the beach, admiring the sunset.

When the sun disappeared I told her about the cute girl with green shorts. “Green is my favorite color,” she said.

I asked her if she wanted to grab a drink. The second half of our date started after we both changed in our cars.

The bar was practically empty. We got a couple beers. Drinking loosened our tongues, and with that we started flirting. It must have been an hour before we moved to the corner and started talking about Harry Potter. I didn’t know a lot, but she quizzed me on how Harry got to Hogwarts.

“What was the platform called?”

“Nine and three-fourths,” I answered confidently. “What do I get?”

“Nine and three-quarters. But close enough. What do you want?”

A hesitation. An answer.

“A kiss.”

We had been together for almost eight hours by then, but she hesitated too. “Then come over here and kiss me,” she said, welcoming a change of speed to the night. We kissed. Our cards were on the table now. After that we drank faster, danced like idiots, and kissed freely. I even went to the bathroom and did the whole “What the fuck am I doing here in the middle of Newport Beach?” moment while I stared at the mirror with a happy buzz.

By the time we decided to leave the bar was packed. This time we got in the same car, and drove down to the same sands we had sat in and talked all those hours ago. Only this time we climbed up a lifeguard tower and made out. The deck was cold, just like her back. My hand pushed up against her breasts. They were bigger than I anticipated. As I rubbed her lower back she joked, “I wish I had a butt. I literally don’t have one. It’s just flat.”

“I wish we were inside,” I responded.

Her mouth twisted, unsure of what to say. “I have to tell you something,” she said in an embarrassed tone, but what she revealed, she revealed with pride. “I’m still a virgin. That’s right, I’m a twenty-seven year old virgin.”

“I mean because it’s cold, and the sand, and all that.” She had misunderstood. “But, but, don’t get me wrong, I respect that you’re a virgin. That’s awesome.”

“Oh.” She laughed, and we continued to kiss. My hands never wandered where they shouldn’t again. On the way back we stopped at Del Taco and munched on greasy food. I parked behind her, and walked Charlotte to her car. With a kiss we agreed to meet again, and the thirteen-hour date came to an end.

Whatever the fuck drew us together again, it put us at a Korean BBQ restaurant in Sherman Oaks. Ophelia and Lidia talked by the bar while I was distracted by basketball highlights on the TV. Pablo chatted with a friend he knew from his stint at Technicolor. No one could have guessed Pablo, Ophelia, Lidia, and I were waiting for a table together.

When the small talk with his friend was done, Pablo didn’t even go to Ophelia. He came to me, and we both sort of just stared at the television. It was like we didn’t want to be there, or perhaps we didn’t want to put in the effort necessary to make it a double date.

During dinner we let Pablo order the food. He would occasionally ask if we enjoyed a certain meat, but we let him have control over the final decisions. Ophelia ordered Sake, and with the drinks I tried to make small talk with Lidia. It was just that every time we talked, I stopped and recalled something from work with Ophelia.

“Can you guys keep talking about work,” Pablo teased us.

Sure, there was something about Lidia that appealed to my primitive lustful nature. She was dressed in all black, and because of Ophelia’s gossip I felt like I had to put in little effort to get something out of her. It was the type of behavior I was trying to get away from, but Los Angeles made me feel so uncertain about everything that it made every certain opportunity one to seize.

She gives really good head, I thought as I stared at Lidia’s mouth while she talked. Regardless of how uninterested we all had been, the four of us went back to our apartment in Sherman Oaks. There I had to make the reveal, one that Ophelia and Pablo already knew.

“I live on the couch,” I informed them. I looked away to avoid her reaction. “Last year I had to leave my apartment in West Hollywood abruptly, so I’m crashing here,” I said. ‘Crashing here’ made it sound more casual.

We sat on the futon—my bed—and watched Pablo disappear and reappear from his room. He placed a small wooden box on the table, opened it, and took out a tiny bag of cocaine. The first time I had tried the drug was in a bathroom in Hollywood with Pablo and another girl, as was the second time but with a different girl.

Lidia stared at it. Ophelia noticed. “Don’t act like you don’t wanna do it, Liddy, just do it,” she pushed. So Lidia did the first line. Then we all did one. When the cocaine went up my nose, it lit my brain with energy, and I thought it would change the pace of the night.

I thought we would skip this bullshit and Pablo would take Ophelia to his room so Lidia and I could have some time alone, but instead Ophelia proved to be an anomaly. She closed her eyes. In an attempt to wake her, and possibly explode her heart, Pablo retrieved a Red Bull from the fridge. Even while she took sips from the energy drink, Ophelia yawned and fought sleep.

They left twenty minutes after that.

The door had barely closed when Pablo announced he was no longer interested in Ophelia. “Don’t lie, dude,” he said, casually. “I think she likes you. I think you like her. You talked and joked all night.”

“I don’t like her,” I insisted. “She’s just my best friend, man, and we work together. That’s it.”

“I don’t know.” He poured himself a glass of water. “I’m not feeling it… I think Lidia and I had kinda like a moment when she caught me staring at her legs,” Pablo raved. “She definitely knew I was staring at her and we kind of locked eyes, and I dunno, I’d rather see how it goes with Lidia than Ophelia. She’s more my type.”

“Dude, trust me. Just stick with Ophelia. She likes you, she was just tired. We work really weird hours. C’mon, how many times have you seen me fall asleep by ten? Right? Give it one more chance,” I encouraged.

I need Lidia on the off-chance something will happen, I would have said, but it was a little too selfish, too honest for me to share.

“All right, whatever you say,” he said. “Good night.”

None of what he said made it to Ophelia’s ears as work on the prank show slipped into its last days. Our friendship stuttered forward, and I kept telling myself I was going to drift from old habits.

But damn, God damn, were old habits fun.

[* *]

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FEBRUARY LUCK.

february luck.

30 DAYS.

On the morning of February 1st, Pablo gave me and our other roommate, Yoshi, his notice. Pablo had been warning us since December that he wanted to move, and it had been close to being official in January, but with the holidays and whatnot, we had all stayed put.

Yoshi was such an easy-going guy, he didn’t really care either way. “We’ll figure something out,” was his motto. Half-Asian and half-Hispanic, Yoshi had the best traits of both ethnicities. He was smart, humble, and just sarcastic enough to keep you on your feet.

Now it was not wishful thinking. Now it was as official as the turning of the month, and twenty-eight days was all the time I had left in Sherman Oaks.

Just like that my rally cry for California had been silenced. I realized then my head and heart lacked complications. There were no internal conflicts. I had no rush in me to find a new place to live. By my own lack of interest I had found an answer. Maybe I was ready to leave California. Maybe the idea of changing my diet and growing my hair and working hard had been a last ditch effort into Los Angeleno civilization, but the truth was I just wanted a normal life.

Could you blame me for wanting a nine-to-five and time for the gym and a shot at a normal relationship?

Doubt was nothing new, but the thirty day limit in Los Angeles while I was having my doubt was. A place to live would dictate my future. I had a friend who lived twenty minutes westward in Northridge with a spare bedroom, but I didn’t ask. Instead, during the first days of February, I thought about rebuilding in Arizona. I thought of taking summer jobs and saving money while I lived at my parents’ house.

February was going to be a month of transition regardless. Our beloved hidden camera show wrapped on February 1st, the day before Superbowl Sunday, and I was out of work again.

That Sunday Ophelia was supposed to come to a Superbowl party, but she was uninvited by Pablo who feared too many people were coming to his friend’s apartment. Seeing as I had no problems with Pablo even though he was moving, I went with him to watch the game in Culver City.

Only three other people showed up, but the four Seattle natives danced and celebrated like they were part of the Seahawks’ defense. After the game they invited me to get in the car and drive around with their Seahawks flag hanging out the window. I passed.

No one gave a shit as they honked and hollered from their car. Internal happiness was the only thing that mattered.

Patrick, one of the co-workers with the “A” team, spearheaded an attempt for an unofficial wrap party in Las Vegas, Nevada. A frequent gambler, Pat had been offered the penthouse for a weekend of his choice in February. At first everyone agreed to go, but the number dwindled as people took work on other shows.

I never asked Charlotte because I thought it would be a ridiculous suggestion for a second date. I was hoping her closest friend Carrie would ask, but Carrie canceled due to a work conflict.

Ophelia was the last one to cancel. “Las Vegas won’t be fun without me,” she warned. “You guys should move it a weekend or it’s going to be lame.”

“No it won’t,” I said to her over the phone.

“Who’s all going?”

“Me, Patrick, and Tammy so far,” I answered.

She scoffed. “See? That sounds lame.”

It hurt that I partially agreed with her. Tammy was a tame person, and Pat was a goofy guy with thick glasses and a nerdy smile. I didn’t know either of them well enough to see if they fit the “Vegas mold.” I had other reasons to go. A good friend lived in Las Vegas.

Her name was Ashley Lane.

Of Ashley I had written a poem based on the only night we had spent together. By “together” it was more of a accidental teenage wonder of kissing each other’s soft lips after taking a fingernail’s worth of Molly in 2011.

Middle of the night with dawn at hand, the television is on

And we can pretend all we can, but we’re broke

And I can say I don’t have a thought in what I call my head, but I do

And you can turn away like a shadow hiding from light, but it’s there…

Your beacon eyes can’t hide the lies as we stare.

[_ _]

From the first time I saw her I always thought of Ashley as gorgeous, and no other word. She had big friendly hazel eyes, and a smile locked into a contagious laugh. Her thick dark hair was curled when I met her, but straight any other time. A hippie at heart, Ashley was in love with love and at peace with peace.

When I had informed her that we were coming to Nevada, she agreed to take us out on the town.

Patrick ended up bringing a friend that had not been part of the show. The three of us got there and explored the room. We took pictures wearing bathrobes toasting around a handle of whiskey we had bought at a small grocery store. The view of Las Vegas from so high was the charm of the city. With daylight still pouring in from the windows and reflecting off the buildings that overlooked the strip, we sipped on whiskey waiting for Tammy to arrive.

As soon as Tammy got there she started drinking too. Then the group split. Patrick went to gamble, which I’m sure made the hotel very happy, and his friend went to interview homeless people as part of a personal art project. Tammy and I were left in the hotel room to relax and drink whiskey. Somehow that led to playfully poking each other like a Facebook simulation.

I was drunk. She was next to me on the couch. Tammy had big green eyes, pudgy cheeks, and a sarcastic voice that drew shy teenage smiles out of me. And it was inevitable, and accidental like I always claimed, when we kissed.

I made out with Tammy for the joy of it, but eventually stopped her and stuttered through an explanation. “I, um, I want this to happen, but do you remember Charlotte? The wardrobe assistant? I went on a date with her—and it was only one date, but I’m trying to be good and I wouldn’t want her to do this, so… I shouldn’t be kissing you.”

Tammy understood, or so she said. We each had our selfish intentions brought forth with inevitability, guided by the influence of liquor. The words went out the window. We kissed again, and again, and I started groping her body until she had to slap my hand away. We stopped again.

I wanted self-control, but Jack Daniels swam through my head, and there was a cute girl who wanted to kiss me on a couch in a luxury hotel room in Las Vegas. Even sweeter, I remembered, she had been the one who invited us to the bar and set off the events that would eventually lead to Jacob being fired.

It was too late to be anything but careless.

Ashley arrived an hour or so later to take us around Las Vegas. She expected all four of us to go, but Patrick was still gambling, which I’m sure really made the entity of the hotel happy, and his friend was still interviewing homeless people.

On the way out we had found Pat waiting patiently for the result of a fifty-dollar bet on red at a Roulette Table. Right before we left the hotel we heard his voice. “Wait!” Patrick jogged while he put chips in his pocket. I smiled. Ashley had that effect on men.

We got into a taxi and made our way to the next hotel, but as soon as Pat saw a table he left us to gamble again. Oh, right. Money had that effect on men too.

The bar we went to looked like an igloo, but without the cold. The experience quickly turned into a reminder that I was very clumsy. A cute, dolled-up waitress knelt down to put our drinks on the table just as I crossed my legs, hitting the tray with my foot. The drinks crashed against her beige corset.

She giggled and claimed it was fine, probably aware that now I had to leave a big tip. Ashley and Tammy found it endearing. My foolish charm was just that, foolish and charming. After that one round of non-spilled drinks Ashley said she could get us into a club with a cool show. “It starts at midnight,” she informed us.

Ashley led the way up the spiral stairs, and I couldn’t stop staring at her body. We walked down a long hotel corridor aligned with pictures. She met with a promoter, and he got us into the club. The clock hit midnight, and the room turned into a dream sequence.

The show was chalked full of noise and color and artistic design, an edgy vision into adulthood and sexual tension. Men dressed as women, women dressed as men, and abs and tits were mandatory. The mood was soaked in mystery, and my head was soaked in alcohol. I felt the bass quake through my internal structure. We all danced.

Later, at a time unknown, we walked down the same corridors aligned with pictures until we reached a bathroom because Tammy had to pee. While we waited I did the natural thing in my drunken haze, and stared into Ashley’s hazel eyes. Her lips were cherry, a brighter red than her cheeks.

In my drunken haze I kissed Ashley. I felt her jaw push and kiss me back, and then we stopped to laugh. “I always enjoyed your lips,” she said, not in a sexual way but like how you would compliment your aunt on her sweater.

More than lust it was an unspoken understanding, an agreement, a mutual sign we cared for each other. We kissed again, and kissed as it got risky—and thus, the kisses got better—until we stopped just before Tammy rejoined us. (I will never know if she saw us.)

Did I call Patrick? I didn’t remember. My next memory was waiting in line to order a sandwich with the girls, and Pat was there. Then in my next breath I was looking down at crumbs and yelling, “who the fuck ate my sandwich? Who the fuck ate it! Who the fuck went at my ham without me!?”

My friends laughed at me. According to later accounts, Pat rallied me into gambling, and I was all about dropping two hundred on red. I had then rallied the girls, but by the time Pat came back from the bathroom we had all left the restaurant. A phone call I did not remember took place, apparently, and he gave up trying to get me to gamble.

There were two couches. I slept on one, Ashley on the other, and Tammy took the bedroom. Then next thing I knew I was on the same couch as Ashley, and we were cuddling until I felt something cold and assumed it was her nipple ring. She asked me to go to sleep.

I did, back on the other couch. I would have stayed asleep until the sun came up, but moments before dusk Pat came to me using his cell phone as a light. “Wake up,” he whispered. My head spun. “I got some blow.”

I got out of bed, and stumbled toward his bedroom. There I saw his friend was sitting on the edge of the master bed, patiently staring down at a nightstand Patrick had dragged to the middle of the room. Pat flipped over the Ziploc bag and a block of white powder splattered on the silver furniture.

With a credit card in hand Pat started combing it. Maybe it was my sleepy state, but the way the cocaine moved resembled sand more than drug. He cut up a huge line and snorted it. I watched in disgust. The thickness of it made it look unnatural. As soon as his friend did a line he put his hand on his forehead, leaned back, and laid on the bed. “I think I’m feeling it,” he claimed.

Suspecting that it was not cocaine, I declined my line and watched Pat snort up another monster. His friend sat back up, his hands patting his face. “Is it supposed to make you feel sleepy?”

“Okay, I’m out,” I said. I went back to the couch and fell asleep again.

When Ashley woke me up to say goodbye I offered to walk her to her car. The Las Vegas version of that was striding down six valet lanes, and waiting for a driver to bring it. We sat on the bench and stared at the buildings blocking the desert landscape.

Ashley always made the air more relaxing. She enjoyed sharing a philosophical thought about the world, and hope, and the beauty of things, and the beauty of non-things. Similar to how Elyssa had made me feel in Tampa in October, I felt a strong connection with Ashley.

It made me angry with Los Angeles, and how could it not? These were two perfectly eligible girls in two cities, and I had chosen the thrill and torture of L.A. for a chance at… [_writing? _]

I didn’t even have a job that would help me in that field.

“Oh my God!” She remembered something. “My lucky penny that was in my bra! It fell out! Damn it.”

“Oh,” I reacted, a little ashamed. Without making eye contact I whispered, “I thought it was a nipple ring.”

“Now it’s your lucky penny,” Ashely said in her sweet voice. “It has to stay with you.”

“I’ll find it,” I assured. I stared at her, and thought about how much I needed the luck. “I promise next time I see you, I’ll give it back to you.”

We chuckled, and I hugged the most beautiful soul in Las Vegas goodbye.

After we all packed, Pat and I had some alone time in the elevator. The first thing he said was, “well, my buddy made out with Tammy last night, so that’s good.”

He had crawled into bed with her after I went to sleep, apparently. I wasn’t even mad. It just proved my point. We were all starved for the human touch, even the innocent ones.

In the middle of February I got work for a week. This time I was on a show about models, not old people, and I was filming nights, not waking up at five in the morning. My official title was Talent Wrangler, which was exactly what it sounded like. I was going to wrangle models of both genders around set while thirty-two of them got cut to sixteen for the final cast.

I had gone from working with elderly people with a youthful sense of humor, to following around young models with barely any sense of humor. But everywhere I walked with them eyes followed, including my own. They were tall, skinny, and almost alien like in their fascinating beauty.

Part of me felt like it was wrong to shamelessly stare, but the models welcomed it. They were friendly, and wanted to be liked. They wanted every bit of attention they soaked from a room, and for good reason; it was their livelihood. In a place filled with beautiful people, the ones with charisma separated themselves from the mass.

After two days of waking them up in the morning I assumed every model slept naked.

I also realized that sticking your tongue out was the go-to goofy picture for them. My favorite was a girl named Cindy Ray. She was blonde, from New York, and loved to talk. The first day she arrived she stripped to a bikini and modeled for the producers, and it made me blush so hard I stared at the wall more than Cindy. I was left in charge of walking her to her room.

Since I was helping her with her luggage, I walked inside, and the doors closed behind us. I realized how much trouble I would be in should someone wonder where I was, or saw me coming out of her room, but I didn’t fucking care. No, nothing was going to happen, but she was the only model who had opened up, and I wanted to listen.

She told me a bit about her life, and her family, then expressed concern for not being able to look at her phone the next couple of days. Then we tried to figure out how to turn on the air conditioning, which made me nervous as fuck because we were so close to each other.

I had heard somewhere that Cindy had been brought to the group to stir drama, and I could see why. She was by far the most confident and outgoing of the batch, and was more of a bikini model than a runway model, or so they said. I didn’t witness any of the confrontation, but couldn’t imagine why they wouldn’t create it for television.

I also heard that on the day she got eliminated she tried to escape her ride to the airport to go drinking with a friend in the city. As exciting as that life was, I had my own things going on that were pretty cool. Charlotte and I had agreed to go on a second date.

The only criticism I got from Carrie was that Charlotte enjoyed making plans, and my first date had lacked one. So the night before our date, I brought my laptop to work. When the models went to sleep I took my post at the end of the hall, where I was stationed to ensure they didn’t sneak out and fuck each other, and started writing.

I wrote a short Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story about two detectives on a case about an art thief from space. It was a callback to the day we had gotten to know each other, and it presented a chance for her to pick the first two locations for our date.

I knew the night would end at laser tag for my friend Bruce’s twenty-sixth birthday party. Bruce just so happened to be the same person who, along with his girlfriend, was taking over the lease at my apartment. He was Yoshi’s best friend, after all.

There was one more thing about that week… in the introduction I copy-pasted a passage I wrote about playing sad songs because sometimes there was a special feeling when piling sadness with sadness. “Look On Down From The Bridge” by Mazzy Star. That was the song I put on after a phone call with my mother left me in tears. My dad was on the verge of leaving a company for a better job, my sister was doing great, and my mom sounded so happy.

 

If there was pain or harm that should come to my family—I wanted it to hit me, and only me. I wanted it to destroy me first like a wall would endure agony. I glanced out the window on the 101 interstate highway with the downtown city lights in the distance, alone in a city of three million, heading to a night of work.

 

I hoped they were proud.

Charlotte drove the two hours to my apartment in Sherman Oaks. I did the usual explanation before we got inside about how I lived on the couch, and she unexpectedly responded with excitement. “Are you kidding me, that’s awesome. I would kill to live in an apartment near the city! I live at home taking care of my mom.”

She sat on my futon and read the short story I had written the night before, and immediately chose the Griffith Observatory as our first place, and the gun range in Van Nuys as the second.

Well ya see, despite my best intentions to make it her adventure, the book was not without its flaws. “Actually… it would be better if we go to the gun range first because it’s closer, and then we can go to Griffith. If that’s okay?”

“Let’s go, go, go,” she urged.

Since I read that they tested guests before letting them fire pistols, I told Charlotte to play a YouTube video to teach her how to load, cock, and unload a gun. Yet when we got there, the guy behind the counter handed me the gun. Fuck me. I was sweating bullets as soon I touched it.

Admittedly, that was the first time I had ever held a gun, and it felt heavy; it felt powerful. My fingers shook as I loaded it. All I thought about was keeping the gun aimed at the floor, that much[_ _]I had remembered from the video. I took a glance at the guy behind the counter and noticed he was talking to someone else, which eased me for a second, but relaxing in the middle of an adrenaline rush was useless.

“Good job,” he said to me. I handed him back the gun and pretended to cough so I could clear the sweat from my forehead, cheeks, and neck. Charlotte looked at me with approving eyes, and we made our way to the next room.

With a tiny bit more confidence, I loaded the gun for Charlotte. A single thought crept in my head about what would happen if I loaded the bullet wrong, and the gun jammed and exploded. When Charlotte took the gun I imagined blood covering her hands like a melting ice cream cone.

Bang!

Charlotte fired again.

Bang! Bang!

It got easier to breathe after the first couple times I pulled the trigger. Some hundreds of bullets later, we got down to our last round. “I’m going to put one right in his forehead,” I said, threatening our paper target. I held the gun with both hands and breathed out, ready to fire—but at the last second I decided to trust my feelings a la Skywalker and closed my eyes. I flipped the gun sideways and BANG!

Right in the fucking forehead. She swooned.

“Okay, now where? The Griffith Observatory?” She asked.

I looked at the time on my phone. “Eh, I know you wanted to go there, but… we would have to take the 405 all the way to the 101 and into Hollywood, then back to the Valley. Can we go to the Getty instead?”

Charlotte smiled. She was down for whatever, so as any young gunslingers would do we were on our way to see priceless artwork collected from all over the world.

The Getty Center was located atop of a large hill by the I-405, and in order to get to the entrance you had to take a train lift that provided a better view with every inch the cart crawled up the hill. We sat next to each other, obviously, and looked at the three other couples that shared the ride with us. Coincidentally they were all holding hands.

I whispered that observation to Charlotte. “Does this mean you want to hold my hand?” She whispered back. Without hesitation I grabbed it and squeezed.

When we got up to the art museum, Charlotte insisted she should pay for something so she bought us white wine, which came in plastic cups. In a romantic spirit we finished our drink by an overlook of the city lights. The breeze brought us closer. Our lips touched without warning.

Cue the acoustic Indie music.

Before leaving the Getty Center we sat on a bench in front of a garden, and made out for an obnoxious amount of time. By obnoxious I mean if it were a comedy bit it would be one that’s initially funny, then loses its charm because it goes on for way too long, then becomes funny again because it keeps going and going…

Seriously, I thought. This is like playing chicken. I had my eyes closed. She had her eyes closed. Sometimes I would open them, and I’m sure she did the same. It was like a dare between two stubborn people. It was a golden opportunity for a thief to go through the contents of her purse on her lap.

We must have made out for half an hour, forty minutes? Then we got up and left. Before we could go to Bruce’s birthday party, we stopped at my apartment in Sherman Oaks. There we kissed on the futon, and I got frisky and lifted her shirt up to her neck for a second.

Pablo stepped out and we scrambled to sit. “Hey man, you ready?” I asked.

“Nah, I need a little more time,” he said. “Wanna smoke?”

“No,” I answered. I didn’t even have to ask Charlotte. “I think we’re gonna go, unless you want us to wait?”

“Go ahead,” he said, looking at his phone. “I’m trying to make plans for after.”

“You mean playing laser tag is not the only thing you want to do with your Saturday night?”

Pablo laughed. “No because I’m not fourteen.”

Frankly, if it wasn’t two miles down the street we probably wouldn’t have gone, though I wouldn’t have made plans with Pablo because we didn’t live in a planet where him and Charlotte would be friends.

The party planners at laser tag had given Bruce his own room decorated in a way to make any child happy, especially a child turning twenty-six. I mixed soda at the party with whiskey I had in a silver flask. An employee noticed, but only laughed. I offered a slice of pizza to Charlotte, and explained I had cut cheese from my diet. “That sucks, I could never live without cheese,” was her response; I was starting to get used to hearing that.

When the time came we walked to the tutorial area and sat down. Charlotte and I ended up on Team Yellow, which also featured my roommates Yoshi and Pablo, as well as a quiet couple. We had devised a strategy during the minutes leading up to the match, but when the buzzer sounded we devolved into running and screaming.

Team Yellow won both matches. One of Bruce’s hefty friends with a five o’clock shadow and a loud mouth insisted that Team Blue had won because he got the highest individual score. “You’re all losers,” he claimed. “I won because I got the highest score, so Blue won.”

Pablo entertained him the most. “Yeah, whatever dude, it’s a team game. Your team lost. Get over it.”

“You can have all the high scores you want,” I added. “It’s all about getting them rings.”

He talked over us as he continued to push his argument. I assumed he had been the type of child who lost at Hide and Go Seek and then claimed to have an invisible forcefield. “Let him be. He’s delusional,” Yoshi whispered to me, but never got involved in the argument.

Because Charlotte had work in the morning, she insisted she would pay for a taxi to her car. “I’ll take you,” I offered. I grabbed her hand, and said goodbye to everyone.

I drove her back to her car in my neighborhood. There we kissed in the middle of the street adjacent to my apartment; a street lacking functioning lights so darkness surrounded us. We agreed to see The Lego Movie before she got in her car and drove away. Unknown to me…

That would be the last time I ever saw her.

(I don’t know if I would have done anything differently. I don’t know what question I could ask to get an answer. I didn’t know why she ignored me, or if it had to do with Tammy and Las Vegas. I speculated it had something to do with her being a twenty-seven year old virgin, or how sometimes it’s easier to be immature and ignore someone rather than communicate.)

A kiss was a kiss, and even if it was as sweet as hers, I later admitted that the magic was not present. There were no mysteries of the universe flashing by my subconscious when I spent time with Charlotte; no, little did I know that would be reserved for another girl. But that was still months away.

The night did not end there—

Half an hour after her departure, my roommates Yoshi and Pablo called me and asked me if I wanted to go out with them. The birthday party was over, but it was still relatively early. Reeling from the joy of the date, and pushed by the perspective that we were about to be separated, I agreed and waited for them by the street curb.

I got in the back seat of Pablo’s car, and my mood felt… jovial. There was something about listening to music while cruising with your friends that was instantly nostalgic, as if there was this unspoken appreciation for independence and adulthood. From the inside of the car we felt invincible as we studied the excitement and trouble of human nature at night.

Yoshi drove us to a bar, but the ratio was about seven guys to a girl so Pablo went with his backup plan. “I got something, but it’s really small.”

How small?

[_ _]

The three of us went to his friend’s apartment in West Hollywood. Two people were there, because they lived there. We immediately started drinking whatever was offered by the two hosting the small affair. One of them was an attractive girl, but she had trust issues; some of which she shared while she went through her vinyl collection on the floor of her room.

While Pablo flirted with the girl and her roommate shuffled through his music, Yoshi and I found a pack of cigarettes on the top drawer of the kitchen. We went through it like a raccoon would a dumpster. In a heartbeat we were out by the alley, each of us with a cigarette and a few more to spare.

“I’m concerned about what you’re going to do,” Yoshi told me. “I knew Pablo wanted to leave so I didn’t care if he found a place or not, but I know you wanted to stay. Are you sure you have a place?”

“Yes, I already told you. Don’t worry about me. If all fails maybe I’ll ask Chase if I could move into the empty room they have in Northridge. Well, it’s not really empty. It’s an office,” I said.

“Okay, well I care about you,” he said. “Bruce and his girlfriend are going to move into my room, and I’m going to move into Pablo’s room.”

Yeah, that was right. Bruce and his girlfriend who I had seen a couple hours ago were moving into Yoshi’s master bedroom, and he was going to Pablo’s old room. The living room would revert back to having no one living in it. I breathed in that cigarette, a good friend when liquor was invited, but an enemy any other time.

“I think it will all be for the better,” I lied.

Then we got a text from Pablo. He wanted us to leave so he could try to get somewhere with that girl. Apparently he had hooked up with her before, and he was looking for a repeat, or something like that.

Yoshi and I got in Pablo’s car and made it all the way to the end of the block before we got another text. ‘Yeah, that’s a no-go, can you guys come back and pick me up?’

‘Of course, dude. It’s your car!’ I wrote to him.

When it was just the three of us again, Pablo and I drunk, a single cigarette was passed around. The windows were down and the wind blew in, not as an intruder but as the fourth passenger, and we quietly accepted that our time together was over.

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THE 48 HOURS OF FEBRUARY 28th & MARCH 1st HAVE THEIR OWN CHAPTER.

the 48 hours of february 28th & march 1st have their own chapter.

My dream of California was held together by brittle threads. During the final days of February, I accepted the possibility of moving back to Phoenix.

With the help of my mother I transferred most of my belongings to a storage unit. If I wanted to stay a little longer, I had the option to crash on a friend’s couch in Hollywood for two weeks in March. A former co-worker, Henry Cramer, had offered me the invite while we were at a bar together. It was a friendly thing to do for someone I teased as a frat bro.

The prank show I had worked on scheduled an official wrap party on the last day of February. My plan was to go to the party, wake up early the next morning, and pack the rest of my car. From there I would drive to Northridge and spend the weekend there, maybe ask if I could move in to the uninhabited room, then go to Hollywood.

Did I actually want to live there? Sure. Maybe.

Not really.

Should I extend California for two weeks, I firmly believed I could pour my heart and soul into a short story I had titled Flowers for my Daughter. I had gotten the idea during the summer of 2013 when I was working for the same horrible production company as Henry. I had never written anything aside from notes.

It had been a particularly frustrating day at the office. The hot weather wasn’t helping either. I had gotten in my car and studied the mess. My window was broken and didn’t go down. I accepted that I could never be an adult as long as I lived like that, so I thought of what an older version of me would do in my situation.

When I got back from my errand I imagined looking into the rear view mirror and seeing the eyes of a little girl. What if the little girl introduced herself as my daughter?

I told Henry the premise and he loved it, but suggested it would make a better script. And that became the plan for it. Those were my expectations for my last days in the city.

Pablo was moving to a nice place in West Hollywood. He packed his things while I got dressed for the wrap party. Back then it was normal for me to change in the bathroom, then go and fix myself in his room mirror. For the first time in years I was able to slick back my long hair. I took a picture, and sent it to Charlotte.

No response.

I drove down to the bar the company had rented for the night. There I saw people I had worked with almost a month ago. I was met with smiles, embraced in hugs, and flooded with old inside jokes.

“Jack and Coke,” I told the bartender. It was customary for these things to be an open bar, unless the production company was cheap. I smiled when I noticed Marcel sitting alone on a bar stool, all miserable. After Jacob was fired Marcel had dropped his arrogant act, but the damage was done. Ophelia and I ignored him, the producer clashed with him, but instead of firing him they kept him on, almost as a punishment.

I also saw Sandra, the girl who had replaced Jacob as my boss. She wore a sexy black leather dress that provoked my drunk little mind. I was not particularly attracted to her, but I had this fleeting temptation to fuck her while she was wearing that leather dress.

Chet, who had assisted during the Jacob scandal, was wasted by the time the majority of the crew arrived. He made a speech on top of a stool and immediately didn’t remember making it. Carrie was there and mentioned how Charlotte had been invited, but wasn’t coming. I wanted to mention she had ignored me, but I didn’t want to make it awkward.

Ophelia showed up close to an hour after everyone else. She had sent me a message when she was on her way. I was nervous about seeing her. Not because of the increasing distance, but because I was already convinced that I was disgusted by her, and feared that a verbal fight would happen.

It had to do with the last time I saw her a couple weeks ago…

It was my friend Tori’s birthday, and she wanted to go to a strip club in Hollywood named Jimbo’s Laugh Room. Ophelia lived down the street so I invited her, and Pablo had asked to join before she confirmed. Once they assured me there was no animosity over the Superbowl party thing, I went through with the plans.

We were in line when Ophelia got bored. She tried to rally my friends to go to another bar, birthday girl included, but no one wanted to ditch the plan—except Pablo. They disappeared, and we eventually got in to Jimbo’s Laugh Room.

Hours later, after barely making it rain like the weather patterns of Southern California, one of Tori’s friends and I left to eat some Chinese food next door. There a drunk person sang karaoke from the bottom of his middle-aged heart. “This is more entertaining than strippers,” I thought out loud.

I got a message from Pablo. ‘Don’t answer.’ I showed the text to my friend, and my screen changed. Ophelia was calling. I thought about responding, but chose to silence it. Pablo slept over at her place that night.

Meanwhile, at the wrap party…

Ophelia didn’t talk to anyone beside me, or so it felt like that since she followed me around. She wore a thin headband that crossed over her forehead, and for some reason it rubbed a couple people the wrong way. I heard one of them say, “why is she wearing that stupid thing? This isn’t the sixties.” Our routine was becoming insufferable. We talked shit here, shit there, and then she decided to share something with me.

“Pablo has been texting me,” she said.

“Cool,” I scoffed.

“Nothing happened between us.”

“That’s not what I heard,” I said. According to Pablo’s accounts he had fingered her “nice” vagina. “He said you guys kissed a little bit before falling asleep,” I added.

“Well, he’s a cool guy, but I don’t want him to get the wrong idea,” Ophelia shared. “I’m still with Nate,” she said, referring to a younger guy she had gone on a couple dates with in December.

“Wait, you’re with him? I thought he was ‘all annoying and stuff’? This is the guy one who brought you flowers and you thought it was corny, right?”

“He’s sweet,” she said. “We’ve been dating since last December.”

“Wait… what?” I reacted. My head spun a little trying to remember her dating life. “You said you hooked up with someone on New Year’s… and what about Pablo?”

“But nothing happened with Pablo, and it didn’t feel official with Nate until now.”

I shook my head. “Okay,” I said, firmly. I thought about telling her how Pablo had been more interested in her friend Lidia, but decided against it. “I don’t think Pablo will be devastated if you two don’t work out.”

“We didn’t have sex or anything,” she reiterated. I remained quiet. “He was telling me that he can’t wait to not live with you anymore,” Ophelia dropped on me. “He says you’re a mess and he can’t stand it.”

What the fuck? “Ophelia, why the fuck would you tell me that?” I wondered. “That’s been my roommate for over a year. That’s someone I consider a brother.”

My instant emotional reaction was not to be mad at Pablo, however. I was more curious as to why she would bring that up unprovoked. If the bridge between Pablo and I was going to burn, it was a bridge that was not hers to set foot on, let alone light the gasoline from prior fights about dishes and food.

Of my anger, she apologized for one thing. “I’m sorry. I’m just trying to start conversation,” she claimed. It was not exactly what I wanted her to be apologizing about, so I broke.

In one monologue I told Ophelia everything that had been boiling up inside of me. I told her that I had been distant because she was very negative. I told her I did not want to be compared to her, that I was not the male version of her, and she was not the female version of me, and that she had no reason to gossip about Pablo.

“I don’t want to be friends anymore.”

We exchanged a few more words in furious whispers. Ophelia left in tears.

When the party ended only Tammy, Sandra, myself, and three others we were left standing outside the closed doors of the bar. We wondered what to do next. Sandra suggested we join her for a house party, and I immediately jumped on board, but within a minute Sandra’s friend said no strangers were allowed.

Then came a glorious message in my Facebook inbox:

‘Dude I don’t know you or what your deal is, but how the fuck do you feel the need to make someone cry at a party where everyone’s just trying to have a good time? Ophelia’s always said nothing but good things about you, its seriously really shitty that she felt the need to walk out and leave a wrap party of her co-workers that she was that excited about. I’m not trying to start shit, just wanted you to know how screwed up that is in case your oblivious.’

Oh, Nate. Sweet, chivalrous Nate. My immediate reaction was to let him know my roommate had fingered his beloved Ophelia like a shy ventriloquist a couple weeks ago. What I really wanted to do was reveal that Ophelia had sent me a message after she left the party too.

It had said: ‘I only went to the party because of you.’

I laughed out loud at Nate’s friendly message. The remaining crowd wanted to know why I was laughing, so I read it out loud. What I really wanted to know was what kind of fucked up version of the truth Ophelia had said. Oh well. I put my phone away, and we all made a plan not make a plan. Tammy offered to give me and another former co-worker a ride to our respective cars.

As we pulled to an intersection she asked, “who’s car should I drive to first?” I remained quiet hoping that he would volunteer. Luckily he did, and Tammy drove away before he even opened his car door.

She pulled up behind my car, and parked. I told her about what had caused the fight with Ophelia, and Tammy agreed that Ophelia could and should have stayed. Then I showed her a picture of the guy who sent me a message, and she laughed. I was angry enough to make fun of a person’s looks. This dude from Arkansas (the insult could stop there) had spiked golden hair and a goatee, looking like an inbred version of two boy bands from the 90’s.

Nothing said “I open sugar packets and dump them on plates for no reason” like his smug look and white beater with an open red flannel on his profile picture.

“Hey, did you know Ophelia once gave her brother’s headshot to all the producers at the office? Yeah, he wants to be an actor or something and she was trying to get him on the show,” I told her, beginning my journey of burning Ophelia.

“That’s stupid,” Tammy agreed. She hugged me and calmed the anger out of me the same way I imagined Nate probably did for Ophelia.

We started kissing then, and the mood changed. The mood changed again when the radio angels decided to play “Kids” by MGMT from the speakers. Suddenly I was on board again with one of the most overused sayings in life:

Everything happened for a reason.

It was past midnight, thus it was the first of March, and the date had a history with me. On March 1st, 2009, according to an app on my phone that let me identify the song, I had heard “Kids” for the first time. I was visiting Los Angeles with my sister, and we were dancing at a bar, and I knew, I fucking knew, I wanted to move there.

On March 1, 2011, I moved out of my first apartment in Hollywood. I ended up going to my friend’s apartment, unit number 180 (like degrees), to crash on his couch for a summer. That friend? Chet, the one who fired Jacob.

That night I was on the verge of leaving Los Angeles again, but the song that had put me there in the first place was playing on the radio. So I cried with happiness, internally knowing the reason was justified. The tears did not last long though, there were things to celebrate.

I was young, drunk, and Tammy was letting me go under her shirt.

What was that smell?

I woke up on the futon and walked to the kitchen while I remembered how the night had ended. I had made a stop at a grocery store on the way home, and bought an entire congratulatory pizza for myself. Half of it was still in the oven. I broke off a piece and chewed on it. My favorite thing about cold pizza was “unlocking” the sauce under the cold cheese. That wasn’t the only mistake I had made.

I re-read the text messages on my phone. There was a conversation that had taken place with Ophelia between four and five in the morning. It was actually pleasant. After we apologized we agreed that we could not be friends. Then the bittersweet moment called upon our sloshed minds to exchange inside jokes for half an hour.

A part of me was at peace that it was over.

When Pablo came home to pick up the rest of his things, the three of us grabbed some Mexican food and ate it on his carpet floor. Our time together had really ended, and as it was with the nature of endings, we reminisced and basked in each other’s company. My favorite memory of Pablo, and there were many, was drinking beers and playing computer games online together. He had reinstalled my nostalgic love for Starcraft, and we had played that game until we were as good as our teenage counterparts again.

Most of all, I admired how Pablo was the one who enjoyed partying and going all out on a Wednesday while Yoshi was the good boy who watched movies for fun on a Friday. I had been a happy medium of the two.

I would have left an hour after Pablo, but Yoshi’s new roommates needed our help. Well, he asked Yoshi, but Yoshi was moving into Pablo’s old room, so he asked me to help Bruce. Bruce from laser tag and his girlfriend were stressing out, so I accepted Bruce’s humble offer of twenty dollars and dinner.

That was a hard day to forget, especially when the sky started drizzling. Of course he lived on the second floor, and of course they had also crammed every single novel and comic book they owned into a cardboard box the size of a teenager, which put it at about ninety pounds.

The three of us returned to Sherman Oaks sometime in the afternoon. We left the moving truck out front while Bruce and his girlfriend borrowed Yoshi’s car, and returned to their soon-to-be old apartment. I could have left, but instead I begged Yoshi for one more memory.

“I did something for you guys, now I want something. Let me have one last run around the neighborhood,” I said. “The last one did not have that closing feeling to it at all. Please. I want to go run in the rain.”

I could have gone into more detail with him. There was something compelling me to go running, a call I needed to answer to stop the itch.

“Of course, man,” Yoshi said, as always supportive. “Go on your run.”

Because the run was sure to be special, I made a playlist of my personal musical powerhouses.

“Moonlight Mile” by the Rolling stones, first heard in college; “One Thing” by Finger Eleven, played when I left Tampa; “Kids” by MGMT, first heard in a visit to Los Angeles; “Albatross” by Fleetwood Mac, played on repeat the morning we shot the horror movie trailer; “This Must be the Place” by The Talking Heads, a lyrically perfect song.

These songs were sure to peck at my emotional fibers.

By the time I was heading back I couldn’t feel my legs. The rain had darkened my gray college sweatshirt. My cell phone malfunctioned, so I turned it off, dramatically flicked my ear buds to a side, and sprinted.

I did what I had never done in my runs through Sherman Oaks, and ran without music. It was just me and those streets, me and the air, me and the rain; me and my own music, my own thoughts, [_my own _]daydreams.

Desperate for a breath, I sprinted to a place called home for the last time. An era had officially ended.

While I was in the shower the powers that be took away my fairytale ending. As soon as Bruce and his girlfriend came home a muffled argument broke between them and Yoshi. Then all their voices were hushed. I knew it before Yoshi could say a word. Bruce’s emotionally impulsive girlfriend was mad I was still in the apartment.

Never mind that without me their move would have been near impossible, the apartment was “hers” now and she was too tired for guests. This city was a cesspool with selfish people swimming in it. But I already knew that.

I took half the money Bruce offered me, hoping he would understand I did it out of friendship, and not because of twenty dollars.

That night I drove to Chase’s house in Northridge, lost and tortured by my mind. It was as subtle as the sound of the engine, but I had my first anxiety attack. I’m alone once again. I’m on the road once again. All my personal things were in my car, on the move without having a home to move into; I was lucky just to have a place to sleep.

The beers I drank at Chase’s house hit a soft spot in my tired bones. “I want to tell you about Flowers for my Daughter,” I had said when I followed him out front to smoke a cigarette. “It’s going to be about a guy who lives on his friend’s couch and has accepted his fucked up lifestyle. But, like, one night he unknowingly talks to a psychiatrist who tells him he should project an older version of himself to help him stayed focused. Like an imaginary friend!”

Chase nodded with interest.

“Here’s the twist,” I said. “His imagination creates the older version of himself, but what he doesn’t expect is an eight-year old girl who claims to be his daughter. My friend Henry said it would work better as a script, though.”

“Not bad, but I could see that making a better book than movie,” he said.

I smiled. That was what I had thought. Like usual, Chase and I were on the same page.

We stayed up until four in the morning drinking, talking about writing a comedy together. It was only when he was really drunk that I suggested I should move into the extra bedroom. Chase said he was going to have to convince his two roommates first before anything could happen.

That night I passed out with zero expectations for the new day. Of course I slept through a phone call with a job offer in California.

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IN MARCH I TURNED 28 AND MY WORLD TURNED TOO.

in march i turned 28 and my world turned too.

The kind woman in my voice mail introduced herself as Yvette, an associate producer on a new television pilot for a network channel. She had gotten my resume from Yoshi, and was wondering if I would be interested in an interview.

Damn. In a last ditch effort my old roommate had given out my resume, and all I had to do was wake up before ten and take the call.

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Fuck. I had spent the later hours of the night trying to sleep on the couch while Chase made me watch his old student films from high school. I called back, nervous that I would be too late, but Yvette granted me an interview for Monday.

When that morning came I packed my belongings in my car again, except for a couple boxes I left in Chase’s garage for safekeeping. The building was located down the street from the Warner Brothers lot. With a great nervous energy I walked into the office to interview for a Post Production Assistant gig slated to last two months. They were filming the episode in Canada, and should I get the position, it would be my first scripted experience and my highest paid job.

“Scripted is where the real talent is,” I said in my interview. Eventually my hatred for reality television leaked as I told them a couple horror stories from my past, including the recent stint with Jacob drinking on the job. Of course I didn’t tell them I was the one who got him fired.

The other woman in the room had also worked in reality, and justified all my accounts.

“I’m just looking for someone to give me a shot, and I want to be here,” I concluded. “I can do this.”

When I left the interview a nice guy with glasses was sitting on the couch with his bag clenched on his lap. Despite knowing we were each other’s competition, we exchanged a friendly nod.

I alerted Henry I was on my way to his apartment in Hollywood. He lived so close to the bottom of a celebrated hiking trail named Runyon Canyon that the black iron gate was visible from his garage. Going up the slanted street, I saw hikers in shorts and yoga pants walking on the sidewalk, and sometimes on the road.

I was careful not to hit them, though my instinct always told me jaywalkers were on their own.

Runyon Canyon provided a hard route for serious workouts, and an easier one with a Los Angeleno downtown photo opportunity with a bench. Most people chose the one they could Instagram.

I moved my belongings into Henry’s closet, and he gave me a spare key to his apartment door, but not a main one for the entire apartment complex.

That night, I went out to eat at a Mexican restaurant with two former co-workers from the prank show. As fate would have it, the girl who sent me the e-mail, the one who had put my job on thin ice, had been the one who invited me. “I heard you had a fallout with Ophelia,” she said. That was like practically asking me to share the details.

I gladly did.

They didn’t know her well enough to defend her, and as it was with the nature of gossip, they agreed with my point of view. Believe it or not, the other girl had a similar fallout with her closest friend on set. Her story paralleled mine to the point that I became fascinated. They had even experienced a breakdown that led to tears together too.

Despite all those personal stories they shared, and motivation they had poured into each other day in and day out, they had gotten into an argument big enough to forever diminish their friendship. That was just the way of the world. The city was home to millions colliding and accepting each other with the idea that they were similar, only for them to bounce in opposite directions for that very reason. We were all celebrities in our own light. Some of us didn’t have the talent, but talked the talk; others had the skill but were buried by their own self-degrading nature.

Because time was linear, none of us could have imagined having dinner together.

I couldn’t have imagined the phone call I received. I knew my fate was about to be told, so I excused myself, and stepped out to the street. There I looked up at the night sky in my best attempt to make it dramatic. “We want you to know that we will be hiring two people,” Yvette said. “And you are of them.”

The other? The young guy with glasses who had been sitting on the couch when I left the building. I was too happy to wonder who they had called first.

Sadly, not even the good news could prevent me from having another small anxiety attack when I got back to Henry’s apartment later that night. There I was, on a random couch in Hollywood, unsure of what was going to happen day to day. My possessions had been scattered thirty miles apart in Sherman Oaks, Van Nuys, Northridge, and wherever my car was parked at the moment.

It was not like Henry and I had been close friends. In fact, when I told him I was interested in staying on his couch he admitted he had forgotten about the offer. Either way, Henry was loyal to his word, and welcomed me.

“At least,” he said, “for two weeks.” Then I was on my own again.

(Because of disclosures, both personal and work related, some parts will be blacked out from now on.)

The new job was easy. I had a fifteen minute commute to work, which was heaven-sent in this city. I got to bring my own laptop, and used it to play video games. (If you highlighted this and are able to read the text, after everything I admitted, did you think it was going to be more scandalous?) As was the nature of post production, there was not much to do at first. Still, we got free lunch, and had a fridge we kept stocked with snacks.

I shared the office with the other woman who had interviewed me. She was nice, but there was something just a tad off with her personality. Like she was the type of person that if you suggested one route, she would always suggest an alternative in a “Right, or you can—” fashion.

That applied for everything. Groceries, electronics, websites, restaurants, you named it, she had different opinion. “I’m heading out to Trader Joe’s to buy some fruit,” I would say.

“Yeah, or you can do Vons. I think one’s closer.”

It was fine. It was more than fine. I had way worse bosses in my past. She was a very nice woman in her late thirties who was knowledgeable about post production. Every day I walked in through those doors I was grateful. I wanted my days in reality television to be over for good.

It was hard not to compare this experience with the worst one I ever had in a little company fictionally named 3/65 Productions. That had been a nightmare. I was overworked by people who, according to Darwinism, shouldn’t have been statistically capable of driving into work every morning without an accident.

Top to bottom, the place was a mess. The receptionist once told the (Hispanic) head of post production his mother was there to see him; it turned out to be the cleaning lady. That guy was rumored to have cheated on his pregnant wife with the office coordinator. The accountant’s breath smelled like whiskey, but my guess was that wasn’t limited to only that company.

(Okay. Sure. I had made my own stupid mistake there too by sleeping with a co-worker who then went back to her ex, creating a snappy environment. In retrospect, it was silly to think a first kiss on the rooftop was romantic when the next one happened in the girl’s bathroom.)

My new roommate Henry still worked at 3/65 Productions as the assistant to the executive.

I agreed to meet with Henry and two people from that company for lunch. One had been the friend who brought me on board, and the other’s first month there coincided with my last.

I did a bit of boasting when I could. It was in our Los Angeles nature to one-up positive moves up the ladder. “Are you saying I should quit my job and start in scripted with a smaller salary?” One of them joked.

I knew what he was getting at, so I had to play along. “It’s just so great to have actors people have actually heard of, you know? You describe the show by mentioning the actors first, not the gimmick.”

“Well, if you ever hear of anything…” the girl said, then trailed off, implying I should suggest her for a job. Admittedly, that was the type of response I wanted.

Henry was too busy glancing at the menu to care. We were roommates now, and had talked about problems in the company plenty of times. He knew better than to gossip while we all sat together.

There was a saying in the city that went: You’re not stuck in traffic. You are the traffic.

Whether we wanted to be or not, we were the traffic. We were the young learning from old executives and producers and adapting to the lifestyle, evident by what we talked about, and the food we ordered. I stuck to my no-dairy rule. The girl ate a salad without dressing. Henry ordered gluten-free fries, and shared them with the table.

In some alternate universe I was back in Phoenix. The events that followed would have not unfolded, and Denise would have never had lunch with me the following week.

But she did.

My friendship with Denise was always on and off; partially by my doing, partially by the drama that had inflicted our shared acquaintances when she used to throw house parties. As a friend would later tell me, Denise described us as two people who were “not that close.” But I would argue differently.

Denise had thin blonde hair and a Brooklyn tone to her dialect, but not the accent. She was loud and honest about everything from her personal opinions, to her movie preferences, and boys. Especially boys.

She was good friends with Yoshi, but in a minute’s time during lunch Denise and I were about to become a whole lot closer.

I told her everything that had led me to that point; about work, about moving out of Yoshi’s apartment, about my new found drive to improve myself in the new year. “But I have to leave Henry’s couch in the middle of March,” I explained.

“You can always come live with me in my studio in Silverlake,” she offered without hesitation.

A smile escaped me. For some reason when we met up that day I knew she would propose that. Our lunch at Togo’s Sandwiches (pronounced to-go, or toe-goes; the argument rages on) changed everything. Again.

“I have spin class in the morning and law school at night, so I’m never there.”

That was it, I realized. The city was a lonely place without friends, and Denise loved her friends. We had always gotten along, and whatever drama I had in the past had always been with her friends, not her. Besides, she didn’t even talk to the girl who started all the drama in the first place anymore.

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah!” She reassured. Denise had a new outlook on life as well, with goals similar to mine like losing weight and getting a better job. “We’ll be roomies, it’ll be so much fun. I don’t care!” Denise puckered her lips for a second. She was the type of soul that went with the wind, and if there wasn’t one she created her own. “So tell me about Yoshi,” she added. “How’s he doing? I miss him.”

Then I remembered the thing that drove all of us. “Honestly, I don’t think he’s going to like living with Bruce and his girlfriend,” I said.

The plot thickened. Bruce was Denise’s ex-boyfriend.

“Who would? He’s such a scumbag,” she said. “Eww.”

“It’s more than that,” I decided to share. “As soon as she moved in, she put Yoshi’s sofa chair in the patio. Then they dismantled his futon and put it in the garage by their cars to make room for their furniture.”

Denise shook her head. “Does she know he’s a little cheater?”

“No,” I answered. “What do you mean?”

“Nothing,” she said, her voice teasing she was going to share more. “It’s just that Bruce was still sending me messages when they first started dating. That’s all.”

I squinted my eyes wondering if the time lines matched. I didn’t think they did, but I played along as anyone would in my situation. “Really? That’s really shitty. I will tell you one thing, I don’t feel bad at all. She kicked me out after I helped them move!”

“Because she’s selfish like he is,” Denise said.

Even though Bruce was my friend I didn’t deny it. I had managed to go from one glimpse of hope to the next, and I wasn’t going to ruin it by challenging someone’s hate toward their ex.

I had developed a rather boring routine in Henry’s apartment. I would get home from work, wait for someone to let me into the complex since I didn’t have the outside key, and hide my things behind a sofa chair in the living room. Then I would borrow either Henry or his roommate’s outside key, and go for a walk.

Usually I walked to the grocery store to buy a snack for them, but sometimes I would walk just to warm up for the apartment gym. Not a day went by that I wasn’t active, and as a result my stomach had started to flatten.

In one of those walks I realized Charlotte and I had not talked for almost a month. I knew it was over, but without an explanation I was hungry to get some type of response, some kind of closure. I called and left a voice mail, hoping she would be mature, but then again… it was always easier to pretend like nothing had happened.

One weekend we decided to have a barbecue on his rooftop, which included a pool. Even the first hints of summer were hot, and the view of the Hollywood Hills was vast and represented Los Angeles in a postcard perfect picture.

I had brought my red notebook to the roof.

“This is the way I write,” Henry explained. “I list everything chronologically and then try to figure out the gaps.”

“Well, you already know I want the story to start with something romantic, but it’s actually fucked up. I’m thinking Sebastian is in bed with a girl,” I said, speaking of the protagonist of Flowers for my Daughter. “But the next time you see him he’s sleeping on the couch. You see, that bed was actually his roommate’s, and that girl has a boyfriend.”

“What if the boyfriend is the roommate?” He suggested.

My eyes perked up. I wrote it down. “That’s perfect actually,” I said. “But will it be too hard to come back from that? I wouldn’t want to cheer for a protagonist who slept with his best friend’s girlfriend.”

We went back and forth.

“This is my goal chronologically,” I explained. “It opens up with him being bad. He goes to a Hanukkah party, we get a taste of chaos. Then he unknowingly talks to a therapist. By the time there’s a Christmas party he’s changed. By New Year’s he relapses.”

“That’s a really short amount of time,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be better if you expanded it? What if he’s a student at a college and needs to write a research paper? Then you could have the older version and the daughter help him write it… and they uncover something. You’ll have a whole semester!”

“No,” I said silently, then louder, “no, that’s not it. The point of the story is a second coming of age, self-growth.”

“So does the older version exist in real life?” He asked. “What I mean is, what if he changes by Sebastian’s actions. Say Sebastian gets kicked out of the apartment, then you see the older version as a homeless man. He could be introduced by hitting Sebastian in the head with an empty beer bottle from the street.”

I wrote that down too.

If you ever met anyone who lived and worked in Los Angeles then you would know of their monthly, sometimes weekly, empty threat about leaving the city.

“I’ll be back when I have money,” was one of the popular reasons. “I’m jaded,” was a tad more honest. “I came out here, I saw, I enjoyed myself, but now I want to settle down and start a family. You just can’t do that here,” was so true, you couldn’t blame anyone for it.

It was what I had gone through, after all.

But I wasn’t talking about me here.

“So this is kind of interesting,” Henry shared with me one day. We were on his couch as I watched him play The Last of Us on his Playstation. “I got a job offer in New York.”

“You what now?”

“I’ve been keeping in touch with my buddies back home, and I got a job offer.” He looked down at his whiskey neat and took a sip. “You know I’ve been an assistant in that company, and I feel like I haven’t learned anything from anyone there.”

“You can’t grow crops with salt,” I quipped.

“They just can’t get any projects off the ground, man… and don’t get me wrong, he’s a great businessman, but none of his shows ever get second seasons,” Henry vented. “Plus, I’ve been wanting to move home for quite some time now.”

“Trust me. I can understand that,” I said. I shook my head. Part of me felt like I should have been more surprised, but the irony kept a sober grip around my mind.

Just as I had a foot out the door, Henry announced he had a job offer in New York. “My main goal was always to do great things out here then go back home. With this I have a chance to do that and be closer to Pennsylvania. You know what I mean? I’m going to have to start packing things and sending them over.”

“When do you leave?”

“April,” he answered, firmly.

I looked around the room, finally a little shocked by his casual announcement.

“Cheers,” I toasted. “To your big balls.”

He had never asked me for a single penny while he kept my dreams of California alive, and now Henry was going home. He proved to be a really great friend in the end. I knew we would get along the morning he greeted me with a “Good morning, asshole”, but I never thought I’d be sleeping on his couch.

Irony really enjoyed making the world turn. As I sat there and awkwardly listened to the conversation between Henry and his roommate, I realized I never wanted to leave Los Angeles.

I only wanted to improve myself while I was here, and leave the old me behind like a snake shedding its skin.

On Wednesdays I went to the Folks Tavern whenever I could.

The tradition had actually started back in December, but I never truly became a regular to my friend Tori’s weekly outings until March. I had met her through Chase, the guy with a spare room in Northridge, on the set of the horror movie trailer we shot.

Tori was a rare breed who was actually born and raised in Los Angeles. She was a makeup artist with cute round cheeks, and an ever-evolving look. Those days her outfits had an underground vibe that I could never place, like a goth kid who had gotten a taste of the sun, and liked it.

When Tori had first invited me to the Folks Tavern last December, she had pitched it as a dive bar her and her friends, who were all in their early 20’s, went out to for Karaoke. I had met Jeanie there. She was about as instant of a crush as I could experience. Jeanie was pretty; half her face was her sexy mouth.

However, on the same night I met Jeanie and her eccentric personality, I found out she was on the verge of dating some hopeful actor friend. I kept my feelings to myself.

On the Wednesday five days before my birthday, I arrived at the Folks Tavern before Tori and her friends. I didn’t want to sit at the bar by myself, so I called my mom and walked up and down the sidewalk. While I updated her on my life, I saw two people pass me, a boy and a girl. I admired the girl and exchanged glances with her, and naturally, smiled into my phone and talked louder in Spanish.

My mom was happy I had found a new place to live. She was happy my sister was doing better. She assured me that a faith in God would light the way for me. I agreed, but my heart was anchored by uncertainties. It was not easy for me to talk about religion. I usually swayed with whatever the popular opinion of the room was, if I even stuck around for the conversation.

Tori sent me a message that they were walking from Jeanie’s mom’s house. I looked in that direction and saw them walking. There were four of them. I had met Addyline, who was tall and naturally beautiful but hated me for taking beer pong too seriously at a housewarming party in Northridge. By their side was Rebecca, who’s bangs were short and curly, and Jeanie, who smoked a cigarette.

Tori was wearing a short black skirt and long socks to go with a yellow crop top sweater that showed off her stomach. Her friends dressed similarly.

I walked in the bar with them. Jeanie didn’t have to show her I.D. anymore because she was a regular. It also helped that she yelled at the top of her lungs when she performed Karaoke. That was kind of hard forget. We walked to “their” table in the corner, only to find the boy and girl who had passed me sitting there. “Should I go tell them to fuck off?” I joked. “Like totally regulars only there, bro.”

“Hah!” Tori burst into a laugh. “That’s my date, actually.”

They greeted each other with an awkward hug. The boy introduced the girl who was visiting from Rhode Island. Her name was… (uh, it started with a “P”). With the girls in their own world, I ended up talking to “P” about L.A., and how I wanted to be a writer. She told me about her life over a drink, the short version anyway.

We stepped out and shared a cigarette, my marker that I was drunk, and I stared into her eyes the way someone would under the spell of liquor. She had Greek features highlighted by her olive skin, and a stud by her lip, but not on it. Suddenly she was not some girl from Rhode Island with a weird name, she was a somewhat cute grunge girl.

The shape of her large chest made me wonder if her boobs were fake or not. For that reason, I took out a crumbled dollar bill from my dark green military jacket, joked about saving it for a strip club, and tossed it between her breasts. She giggled and kept it there, so I asked a followup question. “Can I take it out?”

With a shrug she agreed. With a smile I reached down and made sure not to be too creepy about the whole thing and retrieved it. Maybe a finger slipped to a side and I brushed up against her for a quick second, maybe. The stunt made me confident about buying her a drink. When we got it she asked me a question that did not need a verbal answer. “So what do you want to do now?”

Despite a voice screaming inside me with the fear of rejection, I slowly—very slowly, almost too slow—leaned in, and kissed her. She kissed back, so slow that I could feel her lips slightly stuck to mine.

I pushed for us to go a corner of the bar to make out, and we did, until she called me out on my public display of affection. We returned to the group. No one had seen a damn thing. Happy, I excused myself to the bathroom and sent Charlotte my final text—‘I don’t normally pursue a girl who doesn’t want to talk to me, so that should tell you something.’

Maybe later we were all outside with another cigarette, and in an attempt to make her laugh I insulted myself. Maybe she saw right through me. “You’re obviously cute and funny, why do you have to say you’re not? Men can come off so unattractive when they say shit like that.”

“Okay,” I said, digesting her advice.

“Don’t get mad. Self-degrading humor is only cute for so long,” she reiterated. “That’s all I’m saying.”

After the bartender announced last call we left to get food. I offered to drive. On the way there I walked into a pole while I was looking at my phone; the girls laughed, but no one took the keys from me. Everyone ate and talked shit and made jokes until three or four in the morning despite having work the next day. It was exactly what I wanted.

Okay, so the next morning at work I managed to fuck up things with “P.” That was fine, and almost expected. We had texted a bit, but when it came to making plans… nothing materialized. Moving on—

It was three days before my birthday, and what was interesting about that Friday was that Henry’s guest from London had arrived.

My weeks on his couch were over.

Except—the luck of having my birthday on St. Patrick’s Day lent itself one more time. “I found an air mattress so you don’t have to leave right away,” Henry said that afternoon. “I just wanted to make sure my buddy had the couch, it’s not like I want you gone, dude!”

We went to a bar named The Churlish Goat in West Hollywood—

(Wait. The Churlish Goat becomes home to two of the most significant nights of the year, none of which happen tonight. It just stung my heart to type about it, that’s all.)

—where I told Pablo, my ex-roommate, to come and join Henry and his newly arrived guest from England for some drinks. I had not seen Pablo since we moved. Well and, Henry’s guest wanted blow so I asked Pablo if he could help me out. I made sure to mention Henry was letting me stay on his couch for free, and that I would be the one buying it. He let me know that it was going to cost twenty bucks.

Pablo was not the only person I invited out to the bar. After a beer I decided to text Tammy, who I had not seen since ending the wrap party in the back of her car. She was finishing a kickball match from one of her leagues, and would be able to make it within an hour.

[_ _]

More time to get drunk, I thought.

Pablo walked up to me before going to get a drink. “I don’t know how to do this so—oh I know,” he held his phone out to my stomach, “check this out.”

I stared at it until I realized there was a little green bag of cocaine resting on the illuminated screen. I took it, put it in my pocket, and attempted to do the same trick with my phone in order to be cool and hand him twenty dollars. Just for shits and giggles, I took a trip to the bathroom and tested the product.

When I came back I passed it over to the British guy in the way of a handshake. “Hey!” Henry called out. “Why him first? I’m the one letting you stay on my couch!”

“Henry boo boo, I had no idea,” I said, delighted.

It was starting to be a little naïve to assume functioning people in L.A. had never sniffed cocaine, you know, just to smell it.

“I think we’re getting out of here,” Henry informed me shortly after that. “There’s a girl he hooked up with last time he was here, and he wants to see her again, but,” Henry said, trailing off and shaking his head. “I don’t think it’s gonna happen for him! Oh well! Gotta try it, right Jerry?”

“Right, Henny-poo!”

“Just don’t tell him that I’ve hooked up with her too,” he whispered.

I winked.

They left in pursuit of greener pastures, giving Pablo and I time to talk about out new lives. Of all the things he mentioned—being happier, our mutual disrespect for Ophelia—he told me he was having a girl he was seeing come to the bar.

Me too, ya old dog, me too.

Pablo’s guest arrived first. She was a skinny little thing that was all over Pablo. He was not giving her any attention. While she basically molested him, I got impatient, and urged for a cigarette. Pablo gave me one. I walked to the section reserved for those seeking lung cancer, and saw one of the most beautiful girls I had seen in ten minutes.

She was angelic, with milk skin and wheat blonde hair. Her eyes were crystal blue and friendly. A cigarette burned between her lips, as she smoked with a calm anger. She was so beautiful, in fact, that I lit the wrong end of my cigarette. Not only did she laugh, but she offered me a free one. For a second I was convinced that smoking was the greatest thing ever. She introduced herself as Daisy.

Daisy lived by the beach in Santa Monica. Daisy was frustrated. Daisy had driven all the way to West Hollywood because of a guy she liked, a writer no less, who was aware he did not have his life together. I loved Daisy and identified with her crush for the ten minutes we chatted.

However, the anticipation of Tammy’s arrival forced me to split away from the smoker’s section. I grabbed a piece of gum and awaited Tammy by the entrance. “Hey,” she greeted me, and I kissed her. She was dressed in yoga pants, a turquoise shirt, and a black jacket no doubt covered in dry sweat.

One drink later the four of us went to the next bar where Pablo and I felt compelled to keep drinking while the girls did not. It was not until a joint trip to the bathroom that we revealed that in some fucked up way, we were feeling a sense of grief knowing those were the girls coming home with us.

(It sounds like an asshole thought between two assholes, but I’m talking about substance here. Desire goes hand-in-hand with love, and there was not enough of either chemical present in this alchemy. At least, from my side.)

(Sorry.)

We walked to Pablo’s apartment to end the night. After his first trip to the bathroom, he whispered, “under the towel” to me. I went to the bathroom and found the little green baggy. I smiled, and did a couple bumps of cocaine with Henry’s apartment key.

I came out and somehow Tammy ended up sitting on my lap, smiling as Pablo told us to pose for a picture. Her head tilted to a side, complimenting her coy smile, and even though her eyes looked flirty she still managed to look unsure. I had a more playful expression, a smile hidden behind my hand as my fingers covered half my face.

We were all chatting on Pablo’s kitchen table, until we noticed the girl was clearly rubbing him while her drunk eyes remained fixated on us. All right then, Tammy and I both thought. Time to go.

Because I was on a couch and she lived all the way in Pasadena, Tammy drove me to Mulholland Drive. It was my favorite street in the world, located at the apex of the Hollywood Hills. Multi-million dollar homes decorated the left and right of the road.

Tammy drove through Mulholland Drive, and then up a random road where she parked. Because of the drinks I sped our dance to uncharted territory and took off her shirt. The natural progression of things, combined with the buzz, allowed a sense of confidence when I unbuckled her bra. Her boobs were bigger than my mouth.

I assumed she was the type who was shy about the size of her breasts, seeing as she had always hid them under a sweatshirt. We continued to kiss, and I continued to grope, until a sense of comfort sent things even further. I unbuckled my jeans, and pulled them down to show my boxers.

She smiled and said words I never thought I would hear twice in a one-month span. “Remember how I told you I was a virgin?” It was quickly followed by, “I’ve just been waiting and I’m not going to have sex with someone until I really like them.”

Oh sex—right, I thought. I’m not even thinking of sex. Then I remembered she had told me about her virginity during the drive back from Las Vegas. I was probably just waiting for my turn to talk.

Truth was I did want something… something she was reluctant to give me. “We’re moving too fast,” she cited. All I could do was squirm in my seat like an eleven-year old boy; only this eleven-year old boy didn’t want dessert, he wanted a blowjob.

[_ _]

Please, I begged inside my head.

We were in a stalemate for the longest minute in recent memory. I was a half-naked boy on the verge of twenty-eight, and she was an innocent girl probably wondering how this was going to end.

“Please,” I finally begged out loud. “Please, please,” I whispered over and over, until she finally, in one swift motion, simultaneously said “fine,” and bobbled down until my dick disappeared in her mouth.

I let out a sigh of relief. She had been reluctant about moving fast, but not about pleasing me. Once she started it felt like she never took a break. The whole thing suddenly made sense. According to the unwritten rules of dating, once a barrier was broken and a new level of intimacy was established, it was expected to happen more often.

Five minutes later we switched positions. We were limited to her backseat, but I laid down until she got on top of me and I could feel her big breasts pressed up against my legs. Whenever she needed a break I would stick it between her breasts and stare at her smiling face.

As more and more minutes passed I started to realize that I might not be able to finish, and I wondered if it was because of the whiskey, the beer, or the drugs.

We switched positions again. This time she was down on the floor of her car while I sat. From that angle I pushed her head down until she choked and her eyes got teary, and to my surprised, it made her smile.

Fuck. I accepted it. She was doing fine, but I was not going to finish.

My “I’m so sorry” speech started. It angered me. Not for my own release, but because she had been so sweet, so willing, but I couldn’t even show her how good she was.

By the time she drove me back to my apartment it was five in the morning. I didn’t have the outside key to get in, and Tammy was too tired to wait for the outcome. Once again, by some blind luck, a stranger walked out and I was able to get into the complex within minutes.

Oh God, I can’t believe that just happened, I thought as I laid on the couch.

And I still had two days until my birthday.

(All right, so imagine you move to a new apartment. Maybe on the first drive there you don’t notice the stores near you, or the way the neon light flickers on the gas station sign, or even the bushes outside the apartment complex. Then over the coming months you walk more, and you have people over for a party, or to pregame before going out.

Soon… the flickering gas station sign remind you of a walk you took with someone you like, and the bushes remind you of a drunk friend falling on them. Then there’s the mom and pop store you visit weekly, and on the day you forget your wallet they say “it’s okay to pay tomorrow.”)

That was how I felt about moving somewhere. That was what I thought on my first ride to Silverlake. I lowered the music and kept my eyes glued to the street signs. The roads were steep around Denise’s apartment in East L.A., but at least there was plenty of parking. I knew that eventually I would be driving down the street blasting music with the window (that worked) down, taking shortcuts and swerving away from potholes.

For now I was walking to her apartment in with a rolling luggage, and I could feel a hole in my stomach. Shit. What the fuck am I doing? The white flag had been put up and the hearse had been on its way, but I chose to take the flag down and live off scraps.

Sweat decorated my forehead as I shuffled my feet and took out my phone. Outside the apartment I noticed a car with a group of girls waiting for someone. I quickly realized they were Denise’s friends. I greeted them. Suddenly my sweat was not because of the sunny day, but because of embarrassment.

What did they think about super successful Jericho moving onto their friend’s couch?

Denise came out while I was talking to them. “Oh my God!” She shrieked. We hugged and she handed over my set of keys. One of them was purple, and the other was triple the size and had a Hello Kitty logo dressing it. “I got it especially for you,” she teased. “You know what room it is, right? Meet up with us later! Okay, bye!”

I took the elevator to the third floor. From there I walked to the end of the hallway, my heart pounding at about four beats per step. I opened the door and studied her studio apartment for the first time. She had a Queen sized bed in one corner of the room. There were tiny steps you had to go down before reaching the living room, which featured two couches, a television, and two shelves stockpiled with movies. The kitchen was next to the patio sliding glass door.

I put my things down and walked back to my car, eager to unload and get the move over with for the third time in a month.

That Saturday night I drove to downtown Los Angeles and joined Denise at a bar. I really wanted to skip it, but I didn’t want her to be disappointed so quickly into our new alliance. Sober and tired, I followed them barhopping and watched them drink green beers that matched their green shirts. I saw a girl I had kissed once, but we had mutual disinterest now.

We left a bar and one of the girls, one who had always rubbed me the wrong way, puked next to an alley while the others kept walking to the next location. “It’s just Judy Fern puking, she’s fine.” I wondered if it was the beer, or the food she just ate.

At the next bar I overheard their conversations about boys, and witnessed their aimless attempts to woo them. Denise used to throw parties when she lived in a house. From those parties in the past I knew of their non-committal ways, but I knew that they would lock up a boyfriend in a heartbeat if it ever happened.

Hell, I thought, I guess I would do the same thing if I met the right girl. We were in the same hopeless wheel, barely breathing a fresh breath of genuine air.

When it was time to leave I offered them a ride to Denise’s place. The girl who threw up in the alley made fun of my old car, as was expected.

I woke up on a couch in Silverlake.

I was going to have to get used to it. I could see Denise’s bed from the couch, she was under the blankets with two of her friends. They were going to brunch, but the Folks Tavern girls had invited me to Santa Monica beach. Denise wanted me to go to brunch too, but I informed her I was going to commit traffic suicide and join the thousands of idiots in Sunday traffic. The eighteen mile commute lasted over an hour.

Using the lifeguard tower numbers as a reference, I met with Tori and greeted the usual group. Her roommate now had blue hair, tall Addyline was wearing a shirt despite being at the beach, and Rebecca shared a towel with me. Jeanie was there too, as lovely and foul-mouthed as ever.

To my surprise, “P” and the boy from Folks Tavern that past Wednesday arrived shortly after I did. I was a little nervous about seeing “P” again after I had invited her out and she had ignored my message. We all sat around and drank while playing a card game.

It became obvious I was nervous, to the point that Tori wondered why I was not flirting with “P.” I whispered that I would explain later.

When the heat wave was unbearable, we walked to the shore. Tori’s roommate was scared of getting her newly dyed hair wet because it would “bleed,” but she eventually dove under water.

I taught the girls a silly stunt from my childhood when I would face the wave, and then do half a back flip until I was upside down. Suspended with my legs over my head and my feet above the water, the wave would hit me and send me into a swift back flip. We spent twenty minutes on it, with only five looking like idiots trying to perfect it.

Later, when I got back to our spot, I attempted to sneak a picture of “P” in her bikini so I could remember her well. Her curvy torso was the definition of sex, and I still didn’t know if her big ‘ol boobies were real or not.

More so, I had an awful habit of motivating myself to improve by obsessing over what I didn’t have. And I didn’t have her. I thought about what it would be like if I was a fairly successful writer, with an apartment with a view. One of those fantasies whipped out of control, and I imagined her topless in jeans, walking around the coffee table adorned with lines of cocaine.

If only… if only I was not such an unbearable walking stereotype even in my own freaking fantasies.

Right before we left the beach Tori and I took a picture together. Someone picked a place to eat. Everyone dispersed into tiny groups. On the walk to our cars Jeanie shared her doubts about the boy she had been dating since last December. It was March now and they were entering the “What are we?” stage of romance.

Jeanie was a down to Earth girl that would not demand an answer, but she still wanted to know where they stood. “Does it make us exclusive, or not?”

Even though I thought we would be perfect together, the guy she referred to was a good person. It didn’t mean I couldn’t compliment her. “You’re probably the most beautiful girl he’s ever, ever dated so he’s just nervous,” I said. “He definitely likes you.”

“His Tinder notification went off after we had sex,” she said.

“Okaaay. I dunno. Tell him how you feel? I personally think you are such a catch, he probably doesn’t even know if you like him.”

Jeanie thanked me, but like anyone in her situation she continued expressing doubt. Tori kept silent. I assumed she had offered Jeanie advice way before me.

When it came time for the car ride, only Tori got inside Rocket with me. I used our alone time to explain why I was kind of ignoring the girl from Rhode Island. “You kissed her?” Tori asked, shocked. Then she revealed something more interesting. “I haven’t even kissed that guy—and we’ve gone on dates, dude.”

Maybe they were shy. Maybe they understood that creating a layer of friendship before the first kiss was a viable option.

“You have to slow down,” Tori advised. She chuckled to herself. “I can’t believe you kissed her.”

“I can’t believe you haven’t kissed him! Let me know when you do?”

“Yeah, sure,” she said, licking her teeth with her tongue. I noticed it was a habit of hers. “Let’s put on some music. You really like Brand New, right? Can we listen to them?”

I played “Jude Law and the Semester Abroad” from their first album. Tori rolled down her window and smoked a cigarette. She offered me one. The music was blaring and my skin was seared and salty, so it felt like the right thing to do. I was sober though, so after the first drag I wanted to put it out. I hated the pain the cigarette caused my throat, but I never told Tori. She was busy singing lyrics out the window.

Not jumping to a first kiss? I guess despite everything we had learned from romantic comedies and Facebook statuses, it was totally acceptable to live as if there was a tomorrow.

I forgot to alert Denise that I would not be driving to Silverlake that Sunday night. Instead I went to Hollywood to gather the rest of my things. Knowing my morning commute to work would take fifteen minutes, combined with Henry’s guest staying at that one girl’s place, I slept there for the last time.

I fell asleep. I woke up in the dark. I thought about the wind, and the wind came with a whisper. I realized I was dreaming. I really woke up, baffled. I went to sleep again on the morning of my birthday, and just before dawn rose—EARTHQUAKE. The apartment rumbled as if a giant had taken a step outside, and then shook for what felt like a minute but was actually closer to fifteen seconds.

Awoken by the trembling the three of us called out to make sure we were fine. “I’m naked, so glad we didn’t have to run outside or some shit,” Henry’s roommate added. No one moved from their bed, but we all did a quick retelling of our thought process during the earthquake, as was human nature.

A mix of adrenaline and fear had been released, but I managed to fall asleep again. I woke up to several messages from Denise, who had expected me to be there on the couch. It was nice to have someone worry about me, even though she assumed I was dead.

At work it was more of the same. We all told each other how we had reacted during those couple seconds of terror. Everyone smiled at the end. “Yeah, me too, me too,” we all tried to talk over each other.

I asked to talk to Yvette, our boss and the associate producer, in private. The first thing I told her was that I didn’t want anyone to know it was my birthday, which she playfully acknowledged by putting a finger over her mouth. “I get it, I get it,” she teased. “You don’t want people to know you’re old. Trust me, I know!”

“So that’s not the only thing I wanted to say,” I added. “I worked the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards last year, and they asked me back this year.”

That was half true. I had worked for them in 2013, and they did technically ask me to work again in 2014, but I had already declined their offer.

The truth was that among the birthday messages from friends and family, I had gotten one from an old friend. Her name was Kelly, a girl I had gone to college with in Tampa. She was making a pit stop in Los Angeles before going on a trip to Europe, and the dates she was in town matched the Kids’ Choice Awards; hence the white lie.

“Can I have March twenty-seventh off so I can work there?” I asked. “It won’t start until the afternoon, so if you need me to I can come in for the morning and help out.”

“I’m sure that can be arranged,” she said with a kind smile.

I drove home—to my new home in Silverlake, specifically, and waited inside the apartment for Denise to arrive from work. Together we went jogging around Silverlake Reservoir, a two-mile loop around a large body of water. I was in love with it at first sight. There were areas that felt like a park, areas that felt like a neighborhood, and stretches of darkness that felt dangerous.

That night I found out Denise ran with her phone blasting music from her sports bra because she hated things in her ears. It was the type of small details we were about to learn from each other, and if she paid close attention she would learn that I brushed the tip of my shoes with my fingers after I laced them.

There was a Mexican restaurant Denise wanted to try, so after our jog she drove us there covered in sweat. Their sign was bright green, and their service was that of a food truck with a window to order, but they had an area with tables. True to Silverlake, they specialized in protein-rich Mexican food served in gluten-free tortillas.

We took the food back to the apartment and talked about our love lives. She had a couple boys she simultaneously had a crush on, and I had dated too many girls for her to remember their names. We laughed, and as I slapped hot sauce on my burrito she went ahead and said those magical words.

“It’s like we’re the same person,” Denise shared.

The same person.

“And that’s why we get along so well,” she added.

“Yeah,” I agreed with a curious glee, as if I was pondering the statement. Yeah, why not? Melanie, Denise, Ophelia. Maybe we were all the same person.

Little did I know the next girl to make the claim would be right.

A girl named Farrah was born five days after me, and what was significant, at least to me, was that her birthday marked the first outing with Denise’s friends since I officially lived on her couch.

Farrah was one of Denise’s closest friends in both proximity and social circle. At first glance Farrah was a flower child plucked from an era we were all too young for, but that was mainly because of her bohemian fashion choices, music selection, and overall kindness. Farrah transcended the generation gap by being just as much of this era as the era she so loved.

She made the healthy choices you would overhear a girl from Silverlake make at a restaurant, she watched all the newest movies with as much respect as the old ones, and she enjoyed a good hike, popular spot or not. But I already knew all about Farrah because her and I had chatted a few times at events like these.

The night of her birthday celebration I met another girl who would eventually become a good friend. “This is Camilia, but it’s not spelled like she has it here,” Denise said while we glossed over her Facebook page. “I think she did that so a crazy ex couldn’t find her.”

“She’s really pretty,” I acknowledged.

“And she’s also from Florida, she likes Game of Thrones, she wants to be a writer, and she’s a huge nerd,” Denise added. “I, like, want to be best friends with this girl!”

Me too, I thought.

“She’s on her way over here right now,” Denise informed me.

“I’m sorry, what?”

When Camilia walked through the door I greeted the pastel girl with big dark eyes, and quietly retreated to my couch where I sipped on wine by myself. I wondered if I was ignoring her because of her good looks, or because she made me nervous.

Soon it was time to go.

I stood up and realized how lightheaded the wine had made me. We walked downstairs for our Uber ride. The trip was short, and the girls spent it playfully insulting the driver for lying about the color of his car.

As soon as I walked inside Farrah’s bar of choice, I lost my morale compass I had so desperately promised myself I would not lose. Loneliness had broken it; broken me.

I walked in as proof you could still feel lonely without being truly lonely.

The truth was I felt estranged, caught somewhere between jaded Los Angeleno and hopelessly grasping at the last inches of rope in the city. Most of Denise’s friends were there, and the usual dilemma presented itself: there was a chance to be good, but being bad was also an option.

I greeted her friends and shuffled through of the possibilities. Her redheaded friend Lucy, who lived two floors below Denise, was the easiest to talk to because we were neighbors now. After I told her how I ended up in Denise’s apartment, Lucy made a suggestion. “Hey, now that you live in my apartment complex I should have your number.”

I made one of my own. “I’ll buy you a drink.”

It was like I had a time bomb strapped to my ankle, and I needed to kiss someone to stop the timer. Luckily, Lucy kissed everybody. We walked to a part of the bar with a dance floor, and instead of getting the drink I moved us into the middle of the crowd.

We both sort of clashed and kissed.

She stopped it almost instantly. “I can’t kiss you! Denise will kill me! I can’t!”

“I’m sorry,” I said, snapping out of a spell. “I’ll still buy you that drink. I’m sorry again.”

So I did, and with it in her hand she scurried away. I eventually walked back to the other side feeling a little ashamed of what I had just done. Lucy was in between two people telling a story, so I left her alone. That’s when I noticed Brandy had arrived.

Why wouldn’t Brandy be at the party? She was Farrah’s best friend. I had exchanged a single goodnight kiss with Brandy last year before we passed out on the couch together. She had farted in her sleep. It was a really cartooney one too. I had never looked at her the same way.

Until tonight. Naturally I offered Brandy a drink, and we went to the other side of the bar again, only this time we were at the opposite end away from the dance floor. Brandy looked like every single single girl in their mid-20’s, with colorful hair and eyes that said “maybe you’re the one, but I also don’t really trust you.”

She had really pale skin and freckles, and small round cheeks. I listened to her talk about work while I finished my drink. Luckily, Brady also kissed everyone. We started making out almost instantly, until I remembered something. “Holy shit! I forgot! Yoshi is on his way to surprise Denise,” I told her. “He texted me he was in line twenty minutes ago, I have to grab him for the surprise.”

She didn’t realize how badly I wanted Denise’s approval.

I waited by the door like a good dog would for his owner. Yoshi got inside, and I walked him to Denise. Her face lit up. I knew I had done well. During our heart-to-heart over burritos the other night Denise had told me she considered Yoshi her best friend because of his loyalty.

I went outside and fetched a cigarette with Brady. She let me chain smoke with her as if I fucking hated my lungs.

At around 1:50 in the morning everyone slowly started to pour out of the bar. Farrah was leaving with a handsome boy, an impromptu birthday gift to herself, because she had perfected what she called “the two A.M. scramble.” Denise had offered to continue the party at her place. Everything was fine, until I made a tiny, stupid suggestion to one of the girls at the party.

Well ya see, there was a short, stocky girl who I spotted jumping on a guy’s back and chocking him out. She was cute, and I thought it was funny. So funny, in fact, I wanted her to do it to Yoshi because it would be… kinda like flirting?

Yoshi was 5’5”, and never stood a chance.

The girl clobbered her arm around his neck and used her weight to bring Yoshi down to the sidewalk. Onlookers began to notice his face turn purple as he tapped her arm in mercy. She did not let go right away. Yoshi stood up, and I confessed that my suggestion had backfired. “Fuck you, dude!” He yelled. “Fuck off, I was having a nice night and I was going to give everyone a ride, but now I’m going home. Fuck this. I’m out,” he swore.

I looked around and watched the group disperse. Denise caught up with Yoshi, and I saw him flail his arms as he retold her what had happened.

[_ _]

Fuck.

Brandy, with a drunk smile on her freckly face, offered to walk back to the apartment with me. She talked about her psychology class, but all I kept thinking about was how I had potentially fucked myself out of a place to live. Not only because of the sneak attack, but because of Lucy.

When we first got to Denise’s everyone ignored us, putting a sinking feeling in my stomach. To my surprise, both pleasant and dreaded, Yoshi sat there on the couch. It was pathetic, but I quickly ran a checklist of other places I could sleep should I be asked to leave.

Yoshi, younger by a couple years, proved again to be one of the most mature; or most sober. He always felt the need to apologize, even when it wasn’t his fault. I talked over him. “It was all my fault,” I said in a weak voice. “I thought it was good flirting.”

He laughed. “Maybe to you who thinks wrestling with girls is flirting,” he said.

“Okay, that’s a little true,” I whispered.

There were other miracles happening in the apartment. One of Denise’s friends had turned into a master chef and was pumping out egg-and-cheese sandwiches from the kitchen. He was so focused. Considering how the night had ended, I was too timid about asking him to make one without cheese, so I ate two despite the evils the tasty yellow ingredient did to my diet.

The next morning Denise was ready for a retelling of the night, as was tradition. “So what’s this about kissing Lucy?” Denise asked, referring to her redheaded neighbor two floors down.

“Oh shit,” I said, guilty. “I was worried you would find out.”

“I know everything,” she reassured in a cocky tone. “Lucy came up to me immediately after you guys kissed and apologized. I was like, ‘why do you have to be sorry?’”

“Yeah, well I’m sorry too. I think I got a little carried away.”

“Oh, I don’t care,” Denise said a raspy voice. Then she cackled.

“No, I said I would change. I need to stop flirting with your friends. We should work out a deal or something,” I suggested. I proposed what would become an instant inside joke. “Every time something happens with one of your friends I will give you five dollars.”

Denise loved the idea. “I’m going to be rich,” she claimed. And so, over the next half hour my roommate and I went over the guidelines and rules of the deal, laughing at the ridiculous proposal.

That was my path to being a better person, to finally having some self-control; a five dollar charge to a pimp.

Before I could leave for the “Nickelodeon gig,” which was a front to visit my friend Kelly who was making a pit stop in L.A. before going on a trip to Europe, I had to get approval from the associate producer. Yvette asked me to close the door to her office when I walked in, causing a quick rush of blood to turn my face red.

[_ _]

And just like that I’m fucked, I speculated.

“Jericho, I just wanted you to know that I’m very happy with the work you’re doing,” she said.

My face returned to its usual complexion. “Oh, um, thank you very much,” I said, surprised not only at the compliment, but that everything was going to plan.

“You’re very professional and have been level-headed during our stressful times here. It’s good to be calm and collected,” she said with her sugary voice. In the same tone she made my day with one swift promise. “I have decided that if we get picked up for a season you will be promoted to Production Coordinator.”

In that moment—Kelly who?

Wow. I was shocked. “Thank you so much, Yvette. You have no idea how much that means to me,” I said. I looked off in the distance for a second. My voice was made quiet by the hardships of my past. “I really want this, and… it was my goal this year to have this, so getting offered… yes, thank you.” I chose against telling her that my luggage had been in my car when I had interviewed.

“You deserve it,” she said. Then she wished me a good day.

An onslaught of memories came to my head. I couldn’t stop smiling. I had gone out and gotten what I wanted. I had won. On the brink of failure, I had been given a second chance. Hard work, the not-so-mysterious disappearing of my writing, the initial spark by Yoshi, and the carrying of the torch by Henry and Denise had helped me succeed.

[_ _]

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same…

[_ _]

Those were lines from the poem “IF—” by Rudyard Kipling. That was how I felt, alive and righteous, at the crossroad of my career.

[_ _]

Those mornings at the beginning of the year when I woke up on the futon by the kitchen while it was still dark suddenly seemed further away. If the show got picked up for a series my life would change. I would be able to afford an apartment again, and maybe save for a new car.

And there was actually a person waiting for me to celebrate the occasion.

[_ _]

Kelly Atwood had touched down in Los Angeles yesterday. The average non-stop flight time from New York to L.A. was five hours and twenty minutes.

[_ _]

Kelly, Kelly, Kelly

Diving into our history would make a good thesis paper for any young therapist. We served as living proof that going backwards in time was the only way to explain how our relationship (friendship?) moved forward.

On my birthday this year Kelly had sent me a message that she was going to be in town. That could mean anything, I had thought. We were either going to just be friends, and she was going to remind me of how shitty it was when we dated; or we were going to sleep together, and then she was going to remind me of how shitty it was.

Before her message we had only spoken through sporadic drunk texts that always involved her repeating the same two-step process. Step one, she insulted me. Step two, I talked her into sending a picture of herself in her underwear. My favorites were the ones that showed her tattoo that read ‘Vivir’ (“to live” in Spanish) above her right butt cheek.

And those sexy pictures had started a couple years ago when she sent me one in her bikini bottom reflecting off a bathroom mirror. The text that followed read: ‘Do you want to see me without it?’

Kelly was six feet tall, and slim. If I stretched my hand, I could almost cover her lower back from hip to hip. Her thighs were thick compared to her skinny calves. Despite all the Hispanic references, she was white—pale even without the help of the sun, but identified as one with Tequila.

And she sent me pictures because the last time we physically saw each other we were “trying to make it work” before she moved to New York. We were young back then, just out of college and in Los Angeles, laying on a hammock talking about taking each other seriously—which meant I would have to give up “writing that book about Melanie.”

And before that there was the spark of the whole thing. Her and a couple of her friends, me and a couple of my friends, a pool, our bathing suits, and a box of pizza she had just paid for, and of course, the peperoncini. “I like pep-ero-sinni,” I had told her, purposely mispronouncing the word. We kissed by the stairs while she held the pizza box.

Looking back now it was laughable to think how hesitant I had been to grab her butt when we kissed. I was under the impression she was going to slap my face, but I groped anyway. We ended up in my bed. “I thought you only had sex with your girlfriends,” she said, which was true at the time.

“Do you want to be my girlfriend for the next fifteen minutes?”

And that was how our fling in Los Angeles had started. Years before that we were two dumb 21-year olds who made out for a minute in college. To be fair, according to her, she was making out with everybody at the time.

And before that she was just a girl who hated my best friend Ryan because Ryan was dating her best friend.

In a blink Kelly and I had a story that was six-years old in our hands.

On my way to Santa Monica I stopped at a grocery store to buy two bottles of wine, and I thought about buying condoms but decided against it. There was something embedded in my mind about what I wanted to do with Kelly, and it did not involve us being intimate for the first time in three years.

What I really wanted was to do something I should have done years ago and—gasp—take her out to eat, finally. No more going over to each other’s place just to sleep together.

I called her and told her I had parked up the street. “Are you still driving that red car?” She asked. It was like her to go for a quick jab. “I don’t want to be seen in that. Come to the door,” she instructed me.

I walked to her friend’s apartment she was staying at, and looked for the unit number. As I stood in front of the door, I let my mind slip into a stream of self-aware thoughts. She’s on the other side of the door. She exists. She’s right there. Any second now I am going to see her. Any second now…

The locks on the door shifted. My last nervous breath escaped me. Here we go

She was thinner than I remembered. Her potent blue eyes pierced just as hard as they did three years ago. I felt her nervousness bounce off mine in an awkward greenhouse effect for the giddy, as we scattered our attention around the room avoiding each other.

“Finally, I’m starving,” Kelly said. She grabbed her purse, and handed me her friend’s car keys. “Here, we’ll take her car. Where do you want to eat?”

“I don’t care, whatever you want.”

Of course that meant that I was going to guess until I said something she wanted. Sushi was turned down because she ate it twice a week in New York. Italian food was “Meh,” which worked out for me because Italians loved cheese. Mexican? “Maybe.” Where? “No se.”

“I only come to Santa Monica when someone is visiting,” I said. “Do you just want to walk around Third Street Prom-en-ade (I purposely mispronounced) and pick something?”

Kelly agreed.

Out of all the places we named out loud, we ended up at Baby Bop’s Beanery, which in my opinion was the restaurant equivalent of a dive bar. Their menus were in the style of a newspaper, and the walls were adorned in a mess of different sports, musical, and pop culture icons.

We blamed our hunger, as well as our inability to go on a proper date, for being there. As we drank I.P.A.’s, our tongues loosened, and we made an effort to remember what friends we had in common. That led to her suggesting sending a picture of us to my best friend Ryan whom she hated; or at least now that her best friend was married and Ryan was in a serious relationship, she claimed to hate.

“I used to tell Ryan you two would have really great hate sex.”

“We would,” she agreed. Kelly studied the menu and informed me she could not order anything fried as part of a dietary restriction.

“I don’t eat cheese anymore,” I said.

“Ugh, how could you not eat cheese?” She asked, almost offended. “I love cheese.”

I paid for our meal. Because she didn’t finish her food either, she put her leftovers in my to-go box. On our walk back to the car, a homeless guy started asking, practically yelling, about our food when we got within ten feet of him.

“Oh, that’s a guilt trip,” Kelly whispered, looking at the floor.

“I’m trying not to look at him,” I said, as we whispered over each other. “Me either. I feel bad.” My shoulder smacked hers. “I don’t, they normally don’t ask.” She remained close. “Is he talking shit about us? Yup, he’s talking about us.”

Look, I generally enjoyed giving homeless people food, as did she, but with the way he called out? “That was kind of rude, wasn’t it? Like, even for a homeless guy?”

“Wait, is it rude to call a homeless person rude?”

My parking ticket didn’t work in the parking garage, and I was worried for a second until we realized we were in the wrong structure. They all looked identical except for the neon number. As we walked to the next one down the block we had our first flirty moment when we rushed to beat the crosswalk’s countdown, and I turned and picked her up. She blushed, and after I put her down she looked around.

As soon as we returned to her friend’s apartment in Santa Monica, I realized my hands felt a little empty. “Wait. What what happened to our to-go box?” Our eyes went wide simultaneously. “Shit! I left it on top of the fucking pay machine in the first parking lot!”

She burst into a laugh. “Okay, now I really feel guilty.”

“Sure… but dude was kind of a dick,” I half-joked.

We laughed on our walk up the stairs. “So the couple who’s apartment we’re in, I was supposed to go to their wedding, but I couldn’t make it,” she explained. “I came out here to visit them on my way to Europe, and now they’re on their honeymoon.”

“Bad timing,” I said.

“Now I have the apartment to myself.”

Good timing.

[_ _]

Of course it had crossed my mind, but those intentions were latched back by the promise I had made earlier.

Inside the apartment we played a drinking game called King’s Cup, a card game meant to be played with at least five people to be fun. Yet there we were, across from each other on a stranger’s couch with the cards in a circle between us. Each card in the game represented an action or consequence.

When Kelly drew a King she made a rule that I had to compliment her before taking a sip of wine. The verbal tribute was easy: beautiful eyes, funny, clever, caring, (two cups of wine in) flexible, great in bed, smart, spoke Spanish… kind of, independent, (three cups in) so skinny, gave great head, legs, mouth, she put her friends first (I guessed), sent great pictures… “Did I mention you have the sexiest mouth of any girl I’ve ever been with?”

I ran out of compliments.

[_ _]

Fuck it.

Next time I had to take a sip, I moved closer and kissed her lips.

“What took you so long?” She had the audacity to ask.

I thought it was obvious, Kelly. If it hadn’t been, it was obvious after I spilled my guts in a heartfelt ramble. “I fucked up a good thing with you,” I started. She gave me the keep going eyes. “I wanted to prove to you that I could be a good boyfriend. Like, I know I wasn’t in the right mindset when we were seeing each other, but I think I’m ready, and you’re girlfriend material.”

“I don’t even live here,” she said.

“I know. I know.” An acceptance disguised as a pause kept us quiet. “It was still nice to go out today and pretend we were a couple.”

And we were off to her friend’s bed—

Quickly undressing, Kelly got on top of me then wiggled down and took my boxers off with her mouth. “I always do that for you,” she reminded me, and started with a blowjob.

Realizing what I had to do like a valiant hero sacrificing himself, I stopped Kelly. “Wait a minute. I owe you,” I said. I had never eaten her out, and felt compelled. “Sorry if I’m bad at this, but I still rarely do it.”

I took off her underwear. With those long legs it felt as if her thong was never going to come off her body. I kissed the skin over her pelvic bones, rested my palms on her ribs, and dove in tongue first. With the wine circulating inside me I licked her as eagerly as I could. Up and down. Left and right. It was as if I was trying to scratch off a lottery ticket and my tongue was the coin; or as if I was trying to input the Konami Code. Sweat formed on her stomach and on my forehead alike.

When my tongue was tired, I laid next to her and watched her kiss my stomach. She went down on me again with familiarity, one hand wrapped around following the direction of her large mouth, up and down, slow, sensual, focused and caring. She made me feel like she enjoyed everything, like it was a pleasure to her as much as it was for me.

Then Kelly sat on me, and asked if I had a condom. “No,” I answered honestly. There was a moment of hesitation (maybe three seconds?) before she lowered herself, and I felt her warm and wet. Her ribs appeared and disappeared as she swayed on top of me. My thumbs pushed down on her hips like talons on a prey.

(You know how in sequels they do callbacks to the most famous parts of the original? That’s what having great sex with someone you haven’t had great sex with in a long time is like.)

I was on top now. I grabbed Kelly’s legs and bent her so her ankles were by her ears; it was the peak of her flexibility. Seeing her folded in half always got me to finish.

But I couldn’t.

She asked me to do it inside her, even without a condom. Suddenly an awkward conversation started while we were having sex. “Why can’t you?” She asked. I explained, in my own manner, that we were having unprotected sex, and it felt like a bad idea. Kelly countered by referencing the time my condom had broken like a fist through a top hat in the same exact position we were in, and all I could say was, “oh! You remember that! Me too!”

Then there was a conversation about a condition she had, a surgery that took place, or something, and the bottom line was she couldn’t get pregnant.

[_ _]

Hmmm. No, that wasn’t going to do it either.

So Kelly took it as a challenge and went back to giving me head until I finished in her throat. We laid next to each other, speechless. She had her beautiful blue eyes on the ceiling and her arms stretched out over the bed. One of her hands hung off the edge.

We always knew the sex was good. Perhaps that was why we put up with each other’s shit over the years.

An instinct came over me, swiftly and aggressive. I had to prove it to her that I could finish inside. I had to make her mine again. I got on top of her, kissed her neck, and we started having sex again. This time I pushed harder, and my grip on the back of her neck was borderline violent.

In less than six minutes I finished inside her. Proud of myself I rolled to the side and breathed in heavily. “See?”

Naked, we made small talk; about what, who knew? It was the sort of diplomatic thing we all had mastered by our age, and then we prepared to go to sleep. She was exhausted, as was I, though I was still riding a good feeling so I put on an animated movie (“Anyone can cook!”) and watched it until I passed out.

I had set my alarm specifically early to have morning sex… but Kelly only grunted with her eyes closed. We said our goodbyes after my shower. I went to work, and the next day she went to Europe.

Kelly would come back in May. In those couple months she was gone I had moved again, returned to writing, and claimed to have “kissed my wife.”

[* *]

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THE FOOL OF APRIL.

the fool of april.

Working on a scripted show was a breeze, a magical place where lunch and dinner were paid for, where I had enough downtime to visit Yoshi at his office and play darts, until—April.

One teeny, tiny problem arose, and it became mine to deal with the remainder of the pilot even though I was not there the day of its conception.

The thing about the television and movie industry was that sometimes producers were going to behave like walking stereotypes of themselves, thus making demands knowing they could strong-arm the studios funding them. This was including, but not limited to, food.

On Monday I came into work and saw a receipt on my desk from Sunday. My co-worker with glasses had taken that shift. They had ordered dinner, which was normal, but the receipt waiting for me was not.

[_ _]

$264 for eight people; over double the proposed limit, which was fourteen bucks per person. Each receipt needed to be accompanied by names of the people who ate. There were nineteen—nineteen—names on the piece of paper next to the receipt. Some of the names listed were crew members in Canada who had never stepped foot in the office, let alone the United States! They were even nice enough to include a person who could not have possibly worked according to his time card, me.

 

“What the hell is this?” I asked.

“They really wanted sushi,” my co-worker explained. He rolled his eyes. “I got in there and the freaking Sorority,” as he called them, “just started ordering and I didn’t want to say no. I brought it up to Yvette, and she said we’d deal with it Monday.”

“Yeah well, now I have to deal with it.”

I walked into Yvette’s office, receipt in my hand. “I’ll turn it in, but the only thing I ask is that my name is not on it. I was not here, and it doesn’t match with my time card.”

Yvette agreed. I turned in the receipt to the studios, and got an answer in two days. It was obviously [_what the fuck is this shit? _]in a cordial manner. Over the next couple days the Kindergartners started pointing fingers. The producers blamed the studio for not letting them eat sushi, while the studio blamed our production team for not stopping them, while the three of us below Yvette blamed her for not nipping it the same night. It was a very sophisticated process.

Whenever we talked to the producers we would be on their side. Whenever I had to deliver something to the studio, I would rag on the producers. When they cut down our cash flow as punishment and asked that we detailed specifically what we ate and who was there, I let my creativity make a cameo appearance. I would write things like—

On this sunny Tuesday the team got a little craving south of the border that only tacos and burritos could cure. Once we saw each order came with a side of crunchy nachos, we had to have it. The craving was impossible to resist. Jericho Castillo got the chicken burrito without cheese, and ordered it in Spanish…

In the end, the incident made us “incompetent” according to the producers. Although it was still miles better than working for on reality television, there were rumors our entire team would be replaced should the show be picked up for series.

I made my way into WeHo. I parked Rocket two blocks away—not because I feared being seen walking back to my car later, but because it was hard to find parking in West Hollywood. When I was outside I made the phone call and put my cell back in my pocket. In my other hand I held a hollow book I had bought at a Flea Market in January.

Pablo came out. I handed him three hundred dollars in an envelope, and he handed me one of those new reusable grocery store bags California was encouraging by charging ten cents for paper or plastic. I smiled. “That’s why I brought the book,” I said. I opened it to show it was empty of pages.

“I got you,” Pablo said.

Inside the grocery bag was an orange plush raccoon he had accidentally packed when we moved from our old apartment, as well as a zip lock bag. I put the zip lock bag inside my hollow book and smiled. The book had finally met its intended purpose.

After I got in my car I did what anyone who was breaking the law would do, and strictly obeyed the law; three-second full stops, speed limit, blinkers, the works.

Back in Denise’s apartment I took out the hollow book and put it on the counter. I opened it, opened the zip lock bag, and took out another little plastic bag the size of a bottle cap. That one I had to open a bit more carefully. Since I was in the kitchen I grabbed a nearby knife and used it with a surgeon’s hand so I wouldn’t puncture the bag. When I got a tip’s worth I held it up to my nose, and sniffed the first grams of cocaine I had ever bought for myself.

The rush was immediate for me. This was a mistake I was aware of making—not as an addict, I swore, but as a fan. I went for the next bump when the doorknob jiggled—[_shit. _]I froze with the knife in my hand.

“Ummm,” I hummed. Denise walked in and held a laugh until she erupted into a cackle. “So you might have just walked in on me taking a bump,” I explained.

“That’s okay! I just came back from getting drugs for Coachella,” she said.

“Okay. Perfect.” I paused. “So… should we do a line?”

Thrilled, she shrieked, “yes!”

And certainly cocaine was not a drug for someone poor like me, nor was it a drug to talk about openly when most people I knew lived in states where weed produced a gasp, but that was the thing about friends like these; we were all in the same mistake together.

On the night Denise left to Coachella, I rushed back to the apartment and cleaned up as much as possible. Tammy, who I had not seen since my birthday, had agreed to follow me home from Silver Street Brewery. I had parked in a secluded street down the hill that guaranteed a spot, and jogged to the apartment.

Tammy arrived. I was nervous. Despite everything, I was nervous. We looked around for something to do, and I found a board game. Halfway through the game, I leaned in and kissed her for the first time all night. When the kisses came more often, the game was forgotten. The board game, at least.

I picked her up and took her to Denise’s bed. Of course she was uneasy about us being there, but I assured her it was fine. Tammy got on top of me and I let my hands slide down her lower back, then dive under her jeans; she was wearing booty shorts.

Tammy bit my bottom lip, so I put my finger next to her mouth. She opened and sucked on my finger, but only for a second. It all stopped. Tammy rolled her eyes, and scoffed. “I’m not going to pretend like the fight didn’t happen.”

I sighed. Ah, the fight. If she was here then why would she care about the fight?

I had already apologized. I had already explained myself.

A couple days ago she had invited me to a concert nearby where I worked. I could have easily gone, but I declined. My reason felt validated. ‘I can’t leave my car in that sketchy parking lot. My car was stolen a mile north of there,’ I explained via text. ‘Also, I don’t want to go after work and leave my laptop in the car.’

The thing about exchanging text messages was that it gave her control over the tone of my voice. Suddenly we were in a fight. ‘Maybe you have a different idea of what’s going on between us,’ she wrote. ‘You never come out to me, I always go to you.’

Yet tonight we were on my friend’s bed in Silverlake, glued to each other. I laughed and kissed her again. She stopped me with a lingering smile on her face, a sort of angry one. “It’s not funny.”

My mental equation for our chemistry was: I enjoyed her company, I found her attractive, kind, and funny. But the element missing—the spark, the fire, the butterflies, whatever you wanted to call it—was larger than the sum of what she offered. So I laughed again. “C’mon,” I pleaded with her.

She wasn’t having it.

[_ _]

Am I satisfied with our only night? Should I tell her what she wants to hear so she will take off her shirt again?

No.

I let Tammy walk away without putting up a fight. I knew it was better for her not to get involved with someone like me. Maybe I was not as ready to date as I thought. Maybe the reality of it was that the more I tried to grab hold of myself, the more the machine spun, and the more the machine spun the more I understood that stupid saying about “the more things change the more they stay the same.”

I thought I had changed, but I had not. Tammy left the apartment upset because I behaved like an asshole, and I found it funny. That was that.

If I was a painter, I’d credit Pablo for the new colors in my painting pallet.

What I meant was, Pablo had always been able to go out on a weekday and “push through” work the next day, then pass out when he got home. I didn’t realize how much he had influenced me until I started to mimic his behavior. Surprisingly, it was… easy.

I had all the motivation I needed. I was once on the verge of leaving the city, but now I was here to enjoy it. All it took was a little extra effort. Toward the last weeks of April I was ready to melt into my work and social life, a mix as functional as oil and water that required me to give up a full night’s sleep.

A normal April day would mean working ten hours, coming home, and either jogging or playing basketball. There was a park across the street filled with the “Americanized” Mexicans raised on the subcultures of hip-hop, respect, money, and polygamy. One time my Hello Kitty apartment key fell out of my pocket. A couple people stared. “It’s my bitch’s key,” I explained. They nodded.

I would then go back to the room, take a shower, and watch an episode of Twin Peaks while I cooked pasta. When Denise came home we would turn into each other’s therapists and vent.

But when Denise left for Coachella that weekend, and my job required me to work a ridiculous seventeen—seventeen—of the remaining nineteen days on the job, I unraveled. The more I worked the more I thought about living my life to the fullest, and the more I did that the more I used work to recharge.

Saturday night I had the place to myself. The girls who normally went to Folks Tavern on Wednesdays: Tori, her roommate, Rebecca, and another girl arrived first. Chase and his friend needed some convincing, but they came all the way from Northridge.

I repeated the same welcoming process for both groups. I’d go downstairs, challenge them to pick one of the two slow elevators, then race to the third floor.

When everyone had arrived it was time to take out the main guest of the party, the blow. A splash of it landed against a small mirror and we all watched Rebecca, the one with the curly bangs on her forehead, use her driver’s license to cut up some lines. Everyone except Tori and her roommate had their brain on fire.

I revealed to Chase that on the heels of such a busy gig, my writing had made a triumphant revival. It was not Flowers for my Daughter. It was not the next version of What We Feared Most. No, it was not even Funny Attractive Fucked Up People. The project was titled Sedated.

Talking fast was a side effect of coke. It helped explain my script. “Do you remember the night when I left my apartment in Sherman Oaks and went to your house? And we talked about how we should film a comedy soon? And we said it would be about a guy visiting his cousin in Los Angeles. Well, I kinda fiddled with an idea and once I started writing, I couldn’t stop writing.”

“Go on,” Chase said. His fingers tapped his chin.

I explained it to him as best as I could. I had intended to write thirty pages but it turned into a cathartic experience, and I used the story to split myself in two. The core of me was Sebastian, lonely but never lonely. He was one of a couple characters going to a party hosted by Michelle, who was loud and clever, practically the female version of Sebastian. But she had a boyfriend.

Even in my own story I wrote a sad ending for Sebastian, one where he could never profess his love to Michelle. As I was typing one of his monologues I realized I had been trying to avoid dating a girl who was just like me, but that was what I needed. I needed to get back to my roots, to my first love, Melanie, who had been my best friend in college.

Other characters included a girl living on a couch, and Ricky who was inspired by Chase. Lastly, there was Tom, the youngest character. He was from a small town and visiting Ricky in L.A.

Tom had expected to see the bright lights of Los Angeles. Instead he met a couple losers. Life was not what people thought out here. The story took place in one night. “The script is seventy-two pages long,” I concluded.

He was pleasantly surprised. “Send it to me, but the title… Sedated… it makes no damn sense, ya goof. How is anyone sedated? That’s like the opposite of what it means.”

“Wait, what do you mean?” I asked. I was genuinely confused. To me, sedated was the state of mind they were in as they went day-to-day. They were sedated by their jobs, by their relationships, and by their responsibilities…

“Heh. Sedating someone is calming them down, sort of like a tranquilizer,” Chase explained. He chuckled. “Don’t worry, we’ll fix the title some other time.”

I smiled. The party was still going on, and I was anything but sedated.

Everything continued in small cycles. Drinks were poured, emptied into our stomachs, and poured again. Lines were cut, inhaled up our noses, and cut again. Cigarettes were lit, burnt down, and lit again. The music was the only thing that changed, and eventually, the amount of people at the party.

Tori and her roommate wanted to go home, but Rebecca was the one who drove them. She offered them forty dollars to cover their taxi. To seal the deal, I threw in another twenty. It was the first moment in the night that I got the hint—

Rebecca liked me.

The thought swirled through my intoxicated head. Around four o’clock in the fucking morning it became obvious. At Folks Tavern, at the beach, at the party; Rebecca and I always ended up talking about things. I stared and examined her closer. Rebecca, with her bangs pushed down on her forehead, acne still on her cheeks, was wearing a dark green jacket to compliment her black shirt, skirt, and tights.

She was actually pretty cute.

Around five we stopped doing drugs. Only reason I stopped was because I had work at noon, or I would have kept going until breakfast. Chase and his friend turned on the television, and stayed awake until the sun arrived to the party, late as usual. Rebecca, the other girl, and I slept on Denise’s bed.

Reminiscent to my shy high school encounters that went absolutely nowhere, I unleashed a series of strategic arm placements while I was next to Rebecca. One time I even put my hand on her shoulder, and her hand fell on my knee.

[_ _]

Holy shit. What does that mean? Are we really that into each other?

If I put my hand on her forearm, did it mean more than putting it on her elbow? I should have used the time to sleep, but my body was awake with the rush of flirting.

Oh, and drugs.

All that was child’s play—after half an hour we held hands, and I fell asleep.

That Sunday I should have gotten out of work and used the rest of the day to sleep, but when plans came calling I was determined to answer. Especially if the plan included Camilia, the slim brunette I had met before Farrah’s party.

She asked if I wanted to watch the new Game of Thrones episode together. I was a little surprised. I told her I was going to watch it at a friend’s house half a mile away, and Camilia said she was down. Only thing—Rebecca had already been invited. Of course, Camilia didn’t really care who was there, she came to watch the show. Only I cared, because only I could take it as a sign that Camilia liked me.

Camilia arrived with a six-pack of beer and a bottle of wine…

Did she really want anything to happen? Do I? Is this idea even justifiable? Do I expect every girl to be interested in me?

Hmm. She was just over thirty and single, and whereas getting attention at Farrah’s party would hurt my chance normally, I figured a girl like her was riddled with curiosity. At first it made me sick to think I was one of those people, it really did, but a debate from the other side of the coin raged inside me, despite the self-loathing.

If she flirted with me, why should I not go for a girl like Camilia? If it could happen once and be forgotten, why should I turn down the opportunity. All was fair in love and war, right?

No, no, no, no, no.

I snapped out of it.

The three of us watched the episode at my friend’s house half a mile down the street. A king died. The crowd drank in celebration, and then we walked back. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I expected Camilia to leave.

At least, I wanted Camilia to leave. However, when Camilia didn’t leave, and instead cozied up in Denise’s bed, I wanted Rebecca to leave. “I just need to rest a tiny bit until I’m ready to drive,” Camilia explained.

Rebecca and I sat on the couch and whispered so we wouldn’t wake Camilia. Ironically, having to be quiet made us sit closer and closer until we had our arms around each other. “I’m not very good at these things,” Rebecca confessed, “I don’t really know how to flirt.”

I told her a little bit about my thought process the night before—no wait, I had lost track of time, it had all happened earlier, only hours ago. “I didn’t really know what to do with my hands when we passed out.”

“Can you guys be a little quieter?” Camilia called out. Her eyes were closed. She must have thought we were in her room, or something.

Rebecca and I finally had our first kiss. Shy about it, we separated. That was only Sunday. That was only the beginning of the week.

The next afternoon was as good as any to sleep—except that Denise was returning from Coachella. Camilia once again sent me a message on Facebook, and once again she returned to the apartment to welcome her friend.

“Can I ask you a question? Were you two making out on the couch?” Camilia inquired almost immediately.

“No,” I half-lied.

“I don’t know,” she said, letting the last word dangle in the air. “I heard some lip smackin’ going on. You two didn’t have sex, did you?”

“No!” I said, more firmly.

“You didn’t get busy on the couch? Not even a little bit. Damn,” she said. “You really are popular with the ladies.”

I shook my head. “It’s not what you think.”

Great. Camilia was going to dangle that over me like a kid in school threatening to tell a teacher. Only instead of a teacher it was Denise, and if Camilia even joked I had sex on the couch, Denise would be mad.

The thought stressed me out, but then again, I had put myself in that situation.

“She says she’s almost home,” I announced. Originally I wanted Camilia to pop out of the closet and scare Denise, but when Denise arrived the anticipation got to Camilia and she stepped out anticlimactically.

Denise told us about the weekend, about music and drugs, and about the friends they had made. It sounded fun.

The next day Rebecca visited me after work and brought an avocado. It was a joke she took serious, but she happily cut it while I finished cooking pasta. Denise arrived just in time for dinner, but did not eat. After Rebecca left, it was time for questioning.

“So that’s the famous Rebecca?”

“I told you, nothing happened.”

“Jericho,” she said, firmly.

“Okay. Fine! I kissed her.”

“Hah! I knew it!” She shrieked. “Five dollars!”

“What!” I snapped, laughing. “She’s not even your friend.”

“Nope,” she agreed. “But five dollars.”

I transferred Denise ten dollars for the Lucy/Brandy incident, but I didn’t play into her joke and pay for kissing Rebecca. If anything, that money was for Tori.

That night I should have gotten sleep, but Denise had a friend visit. She was reluctant to leave until she was done painting her fucking shoe, which had been shipped in the wrong colors, and… I guess she didn’t want to return them? It was annoying, but I was a mere guest on the couch.

Then Wednesday happened.

Rebecca invited me to Folks Tavern on Wednesday, as was tradition. It was the first time I joined them since I became “romantically involved” with one of the girls. Coincidentally it was also the first time without Tori there.

Not only that, I got the regular treatment when the bouncer let me in without checking my I.D., and I rejoiced by gloating for longer than I should have. Over a dozen Wednesdays and hundreds of dollars later, I was finally a regular.

Inside the the dive bar, at our table just past the popcorn machine, Rebecca and I were in our comfortable world. We were openly flirty, and held hands while we talked to friends. We listened to strangers belt their hearts out to familiar songs. Jeanie screamed lyrics at the top of her lungs.

We took breaks from drinking and stepped out for a cigarette, and took breaks from being adults by scurrying to make out by the parking lot behind the bar. No one in our group teased us. It was a “thing” now.

“LAST CALL!”

The lights came soon after, so we left. I offered Rebecca and Addyline a ride to Jeanie’s mom’s house, and they accepted. When we got there Addyline said goodnight, but Rebecca remained in the car. She moved closer and closer until she had to get over the stick shift to sit on my lap.

“We should go back to my place,” she suggested.

An angel appeared on my shoulder. To my surprise, another angel arrived on my other shoulder. My feelings about the situation were clear. “I don’t want to do anything that’s going to jeopardize the friendship of the group,” I told her with an honest heart. “That’s the most important thing.” She pondered the words, so I added another reason. “Don’t you think it’s moving too fast?”

“I hate you right now,” she said, frustrated, and produced a nervous chuckle.

I sped to the highway before one of those angels could turn into a devil. As soon as I hit the ramp and my headlight illuminated the dark Woodman entrance, I got a phone call from Rebecca. With it, another offer to turn the car around.

[_ _]

What the fuck should I do?

Tempted, but not enough to beat the idea of getting a full six hours of sleep, I declined. With hazy eyes I walked down the poorly-lit hallway on Denise’s floor. As I dragged my feet the writer in me forced me to think of the first time I walked down the hall with a suitcase in hand.

As soon as I got close enough to the door I heard the sound of Denise’s bed post slamming against the wall, along with the groans, moans, and some dialogue between a boy and a girl along the lines of, “don’t stop! Don’t stop!”

Of course this is happening, I thought.

Adding to the awkwardness that I was about walk in on Denise having sex, I had to stand there and listen for a quiet break so I could jiggle the keys and doorknob. I was hoping it could be like that scene in Ace Ventura when he signaled the animals to hide from the landlord.

Before I could even fully open the door, I heard Denise ask her partner something. “Is this really happening right now?”

“Yes, this is happening,” I answered, walking into the studio. “But don’t worry, don’t worry, I only came here to grab my laptop and a shirt for work tomorrow. I’m going to go,” I announced to her, and her African-American guest. “You got me. I’m going to go fuck Rebecca.”

Next thing I knew I was driving on the empty highway again; my eyes burning. I got to her condo all the way in Encino, and the first thing she did was warn me not to wake her mother. She offered me a veggie burrito as we walked through the kitchen. I gladly accepted it.

Rebecca cooked it in the microwave before handing it to me on a paper plate with a paper towel under it. As I bit into the burrito I realized it could have used another minute in the microwave because of the frozen bits and chunks here and there. Regardless, I huffed it down and followed her to her room.

We were naked within minutes. I was surprised by the body underneath Rebecca’s clothes. Whereas her face was pimply and riddled with those tiny dents and her hair appeared greasy when she gelled down her bangs, the rest of her body was smooth, perky, and clean, like most twenty-three year olds.

Bare, she got on top of me and interrupted the flow of kisses to let her thoughts wonder out loud. “What are we doing?”

“I don’t know,” I answered.

One condom later we were having sex. She was tight which felt nice, but her eyes were full of doubt. When we switched positions she looked at me dead in the eyes. “I can’t believe we’re fucking in my sister’s bed,” Rebecca said. So it was not Rebecca’s room, and as soon as I looked around I noticed some photographs. It was her younger sister’s bed.

We stopped. I didn’t even finish. Pretending like it never happened, we both subsided to our side of the bed, and slept.

A horrible nightmare—no, it wasn’t a nightmare, I was awake and my stomach was in pain. I knew immediately I needed to go to the bathroom. With every bit of energy left in my body I tried to shake Rebecca awake. She barely budged, until I freaked out and cocked my arm in one last effort to punch her awake.

The only thing that moved was the veggie burrito from my stomach to a nice little spot on the bed. Rebecca moved. “Huh?” The noise of my throat heaving and struggling to push the last bits of it out must have woken her.

Barely reacting to my suffering she got out of bed, grabbed a towel, and instructed me to cover the throw up. I was so exhausted, and I’d admit, a little fascinated by how my life could be such a mess sometimes, that I did as she told and put the towel over the throw up like a person would over dog pee. I went back to sleep.

It felt like not an hour went by when my alarm sounded. I crawled naked out of the bed while my brain urged that I risk getting fired for more sleep. Tell them you were in a car accident, my brain said. Tell them you thought you had to come in late. But even with my stomach in pain, my throat dry, my eyes dizzy, and remnants from the dried vomit on my lips, I crawled out of bed and quieted the phone’s alarm.

Oh, what a motherfucking surprise—the charger must have came off the phone as soon as I had plugged it in last night because the battery was at six percent.

Six fucking percent.

More dead than alive, I stumbled into the bathroom, but I was not there to shower even though I felt greasy and smelled of whiskey and puke. I wasn’t there to pee either… I left the faucet running so no one could hear me on the toilet. Somehow I got it out, combed my teeth with toothpaste on my finger, changed, and managed to get on the road within fifteen minutes.

The morning sun splashed against my window, amplified by my off-kilter senses. Instead of preserving my precious phone battery until I got to work where I could charge it, I called my best friend Ryan who lived in Texas. For some reason I wanted to amuse him with the story.

[_Was I really happy to be a mess? _]Due to the time restraint on my dying phone, I had to sum up my night in quick story through my groggy voice. “I had sex with this girl last night, threw up next to her, slept next to the puke, and I am probably going to lose my job by the end of today. I didn’t even shower because I was too busy taking a shit in her toilet. How’s your Thursday going?”

He laughed a wonderful, Midwestern wholehearted laugh, and thanked me for the details. Whatever was dying inside me still needed out, so I grabbed an empty bag of chips, and dry heaved into it.

Everyone at work believed me when I told them my roommate Denise had given me a bad burrito, which had resulted in food poisoning. Everyone except for the young co-worker with glasses. He called me out on my hangover. It bothered me a bit because it was so obvious that any suspicion the other workers had would be amplified by his claim. Yet deep down I wanted to believe that they accepted the facade. I wanted them to think I was a responsible twenty-eight year old with my shit together.

Ten grueling hours of work later I got home and had a quick laugh with Denise about what happened the previous night, then prepared for bed— but nope. It was a Thursday night and my friend from college had flown in to visit her family in El Segundo, California.

She insisted she could see me at another time, but I swatted down her attempt at rationality. Miriam O’Neil had no idea how close I had been to leaving the city, and how much living I was doing during my reemergence in Los Angeles.

The fuck with you, sleep, I thought as I used a knife to intake a couple bumps of cocaine, and then I was on the road again. It was everything I wanted.

Miriam laughed and teased me when I told her I had a strict no cheese diet. She asked the same thing everyone else did. “How can you live without cheese?”

Of course she had every right to make fun of me, this was Miriam O’Neil, who I deemed the second funniest girl I had ever met. Our sense of humor and our [_what’s even happening right now? _]string of choices and actions, albeit totally innocent, made us close friends.

Her face was thinner, but Miriam still looked the same, except maybe she was a smudge older. Her dark red hair had been thoroughly combed, her eyes were still green as Irish fields, and she had a splash of freckles on her cheeks.

When I told her I lived on a couch she laughed, but only because I made it sound like the worst thing in the world. “At least you don’t live with your parents! I had to start my entire life over at twenty-seven after Conner and I broke up, you kidding me? It suuucks.”

Miriam took a sip of her beer and I wondered if she still did that thing where she held her chewed-up gum in her hand while she drank. “So I got a shitty job because I have no money and just spent a million dollars on a Master’s degree. I have no idea what I’m gonna do. Trust me, you’re not the only one going through it. Oh, and the guy I’m seeing now is like[_ ten_] years younger than me,” she added.

“Do you change his diaper?” I teased.

It was hard to believe we were making fun of younger people. Miriam and I used to be so immature during our time in Tampa. “Do you remember the time we went to Pita Pit and got a pita filled with nothing but condiments?”

“Wait, I thought we got meat.”

“We did, we did, but then we smothered it with every condiment they had—okay, I did that, not you,” I said. “I’ll never forget you texting me ‘me hungie’ at The Trap.”

“That’s what I thought! Okay! That was disgusting! I still eat like that. Did you eat it with cheese? Do you want anything?” She asked. When I shook my head Miriam insisted. “I’m going to order you fries without cheese.”

“No, I’m trying to lose weight!”

Another friendly judgmental stare. “What are you talking about? You’re fine!”

My Los Angeleno is showing, I thought.

As soon as the clock passed midnight all my sentences came with yawns. I invited her to a friend’s birthday party that weekend, and she informed me that she planned to rent a car so I would not have to pick her up.

Before we separated, however, we [_had _]to bring up the subject; the sad elephant in the room. “I still can’t believe about Mikey, I honestly thought—with all my heart—he was going to make it. He was so damn strong,” I said to her.

Miriam was how I had found out about Mikey’s passing in January. She had been the one who sent me the text message when I flew from Phoenix to Los Angeles.

Miriam was one of Mikey’s best friends, and from her calm voice I could tell many people had sought her counsel. “Me too. I talked to him on the phone a couple times through the whole thing and he was always really positive about everything. He would send pictures. Then a couple months later I stopped receiving pictures… I sent him a Chicago Bears sweater for his birthday… he sent back a picture of him wearing it. He had lost close to forty pounds. Did you know he had a two-year old son?” A break to catch her breath. “We all wore football jerseys at his funeral.”

It was exactly what he would have wanted, I thought. My eyes were red. Once again I thought about the last time I had seen him in the summer of 2008. I thought about meeting him in the parking lot. I remembered the money in his hands, and the face he made when I told him the fridge was free. He told me he was going to put the fridge in the garage and stock it with beer. He picked it up easily, and put it in his car, still smiling.

I knew we didn’t keep in touch, but my heart went out to him and his family.

If you were Miriam and had never experienced an evening out in Los Angeles, Friday night was as “Hollywood” as it could get.*

*For someone taken out by a local who was nowhere close to stardom, in the scene, or had money.

I told Miriam she could head over, but I warned her that I was still on the clock. My team was working on the tape over at Warner Brothers, which took hours to do, and then I was to deliver it in Hollywood. The good news was that the party was a couple blocks away from my delivery point.

I welcomed her with Mexican food from a hole-in-the-wall spot in Silverlake. We ate, then I suggested going early so we could tour the Warner Brothers lot in a car. For that to happen all I had to do was ask Denise to get her a gate pass. We drove through the part of the studio where giant structures and facades mimicked entire neighborhoods. She recognized the set of Gilmore Girls.

It was just us and the headlights of my car shinning on the fake, empty town.

We walked inside a building where I introduced her as my friend who worked for Warner Brothers. It was a pretty stupid thing to do considering how easily it could have backfired if they asked her a single question, but they were tired and wanted to go home. They gave me the tape and I was on my way to a post effects house.

“This is the part of television you don’t see,” I told her. “Think about every show that’s on T.V., because they all do this.” The office of about six people were waiting for me. From the car she saw me walk in, and saw the employees cheer as I handed over the tape.

We had trouble finding parking close to the speakeasy bar, at least, if we wanted to park for free. Once we walked to the bar, we talked to an eighty-year old doorman dressed like the Monopoly guy imitating a red chili. He asked us for the password to get inside.

Singing in the Rain played on the television screens. Young hopeful actors stared in awe. One shared how much of an inspiration the movie had been for her career. Two people Miriam mingled with explained their twelve hour day on set prior to coming out.

I agreed to go to Chase’s house in Northridge to pass out, partially because I wanted to give Denise her privacy; partially because I didn’t want her to think Miriam was a girl I had picked up at a bar. We stopped for wine at a gas station on the way—that experience was reminiscent of college in Tampa, not Hollywood.

Instead of passing out, we busted out my script still titled Sedated, and decided to do a read-through with the people there. That meant we were going to read the entire script out loud. Miriam got to read every single female characters’ lines, a dream for any actress, but a nuisance for her.

Oh also, on the drive there I had told her that Chase and his friend were lovers. Considering they were drunk and sharing cigarettes, clinging on each other, and signing songs, she believed it. It was in the spirit of a liberal city to meet someone and think, well you never know, right?

Whether this counted as a Hollywood experience or not, Miriam and I went into the office room and blew up an air mattress. I told her how I secretly wanted to move into that very room and live in Northridge.

She invited me to her aunt’s house so I could meet her family.

Unknown to me Sunday morning was the effect that night was going to have, a figurative awakening courtesy of the big and little hands on the clock. But when it was still morning I woke up chasing another dimension, another high. Just for the hell of it I broke off a piece of weed chocolate, and ate it well before driving to Miriam’s aunt’s house.

I knew it was not going to hit me right away, but I didn’t expect such a delay; enough of one that it didn’t kick in until I was on the highway. I missed an exit, laughed, and missed the next one. Aware of what felt like my body changing temperature, I put on music and tried to relax.

I called Miriam from the street. She told me to come in, but I begged her to meet me outside. She greeted me with a big smile. A glass of red wine was in her hand. “Miriam,” I said in a short whisper. “I ate a piece of a weed chocolate before coming here so I would be really hungry, but it didn’t hit me ‘till like fifteen minutes ago.”

She laughed, probably confused and a little shocked, and guided me into the house where I met her friendly aunts, uncles, cousins, and her kind, soft-spoken mother; Miriam’s father was still in Chicago. Her mother had the same facial structure and green eyes as Miriam. My high mind thought of genes… pretty crazy stuff.

It was rare to interact with children in L.A., at least for me who didn’t have friends with kids, so I was surprised with how well-mannered the three brothers were, and how eager they were to fit in with the adults. They laughed at jokes they had no chance of understanding, fidgeted in their chairs but remained attentive, and chimed in with an opinion whenever there was a break of silence. Most of the time their words were met with small, amused chuckles.

Then it hit me like the cold breeze. To them… I was the adult. I was an adult. [_Holy shit, when did this happen? _]It was a lot harder to accept than you would imagine for someone who had a job, paid bills, owned a knee brace, drank, and didn’t have a bedtime.

Oh my God, it dawned on me. I’m old. I’m a human being that, when I was their age, I used to look at older people and think of them as responsible. I used to assume they had clean homes with fridges filled with food. Oh man, what is going on? _]I kept thinking. [_Why did it take this moment to see it?

When the uncle announced the barbecue was ready, I was eager to satisfy the growls in my stomach. Eating was going to cool down some of my high. “Don’t be shy about it,” he encouraged. I filled my entire plate, ate it in four minutes, and went back for seconds.

That should have been enough food to kill the high, but a strange thing happened. As the effects mellowed down, the epiphanies and revelations about cycles in life were only starting. It felt like I never came down. Life existed in a linear nature with repeating moments sprinkled between birth and death. This is really happening in real life right now, I acknowledged.

Someone from the family brought out a birthday cake and took it to Miriam’s mother. She smiled as everyone sang. Then she blew out the candles with the help of one of the kids, and I couldn’t tell who was more excited. Two people recorded the event on their phone. Miriam forced me to eat a piece even though it had dairy in it. Another cousin arrived to the party. This one was a lanky teenage girl wearing her softball uniform.

Just an hour ago one of Miriam’s aunts had asked Miriam if she could give the young girl some advice on her softball career. Of course, it’s so beautiful, I realized. Miriam was going to be in a mentor role. She could share all the details, from grueling practices to the triumph of a championship.

When I met Miriam in college she was on the softball team. Apparently, she had received a scholarship for it. By the time college ended her heart was not in the sport anymore, but that was something I knew, and the young teenage girl would never know because Miriam would never share that.

The young girl went to greet her younger cousins who had gone inside the house. The aunt gave Miriam a wink, so we went into the house. We walked into a room where the older brother was playing on a desktop computer. His shoulders were hunched over. Next to him was an empty plate with a crumbled napkin on top of it. Oh my God, that’s me, I thought.

Still in her softball outfit, the girl stood over his shoulder explaining a meme into a headset with a microphone. After a laugh she returned the headset back to her cousin, and talked to Miriam about softball. Meanwhile, the youngest of the three was running around the room showing us his toys. One at a time, he held the toy until we acknowledged it, and then he would explain either the origin of it, or a special ability.

The middle child sat quietly playing a Nintendo Game Boy—sorry, a Nintendo D.S., which I found out stood for Dual Screen. As I looked at the monitor I quickly realized he was playing Pokémon, the exact same franchise I had played once upon a time when Charmander, Bulbasour, and Squirtle were the starters.

(Bulbasour is ride or die. I’m looking at you for choosing Charmander, Gary. You punk bitch. You didn’t think I would notice?)

I didn’t need a crummy piece of weed chocolate to make me appreciate the moment I was living in, nor did I need to have a writer’s attention to detail to find the importance of the situation. “Everything I’ve learned about life can be summed up in three words,” Robert Frost had once said. “It goes on.”

We had both been there before, at a time when we didn’t know each other existed. I pictured a scrawny, younger Miriam walking into her house with dirty socks, holding cleats dressed in dirt. I pictured her typing essays filled with inspirational quotes, and when I pictured her mailing those essays, I felt nervous for Miriam. I pictured a proud face when she got accepted into college.

From what I overheard Miriam was now in a league with others who had been softball players in college. They were your salesmen, nurses, and real estate agents, but back then they had been amateur athletes. She told her cousin about how her current team had won a whopping six league championships in a row.

For me, I remembered how my life had been in Florida when I was young and on the brink of puberty. Back then it was all about Starcraft and Diablo II, two of the greatest games ever made. I sunk a lot of hours playing them while I listened to music I had downloaded from Napster.

I thought about the cross-hairs of childhood and adulthood.

The Stars We Wish Upon.

That was the title of a story I devised in my head. A story which would follow different generations through connecting segments. Just like most of my stories, I already knew the ending—a generation far enough into the future where mankind was going to send a human, the astronaut who’s family tree provided the protagonists, to Mars.

I thought of an old lady in a hospital bed, celebrating her birthday while her daughter, her son-in-law, and her grandson sang to her. I thought of them showing her a recording of her blowing out candles one random night when she was younger.

Then we jumped into a wormhole, as writing allowed us to do, and we were at that night, in our new present, and we saw how vigorously she had blown out those candles. She was younger then. They all were. We see her daughter, youthful in her mid-20’s, go into the house to grab a knife to cut the cake. A boy, with the same descriptions as the son-in-law, followed close behind.

Taking complete liberty with what actually happened, as writing allowed us to do, the boy kissed her, finally.

And I snapped back into real life with one question lingering in my head, repeating itself over and over. I tried to ignore it while I said goodbye to the family and walked outside. I managed to forget about it for a second when I posed for a picture Miriam had requested of me and my car.

On the drive home the question reemerged and repeated. [_What was the most important moment in your life, and did you wish it upon a star? _]

[_ _]

What was the most important moment in your life, and did you wish it upon a star?

Rebecca wanted to meet me for coffee one night, so of course I agreed. I had not seen her since the throw up incident at her condo. I got there twenty minutes early, which left me with time to think about how things were different now. Things had changed since Sunday night.

Immaturity was an anchor on a vessel that needed to move on, and I understood that now. I was an adult now. Talking about it, but not actually doing anything was as good as throwing a second anchor overboard.

It was time to take action while things were happening and the landscape of my life was going through a makeover. It was time to start writing novels for myself again. It was time to accept that, yes, I deserved a promotion should our pilot get picked up for a season. It was time to ask Rebecca out on a proper date.

I had lost the weight. I had grown my hair. I had changed my exteriors. Now it was time for my insides to catch up with what everyone saw, a man who just turned twenty-eight, a man on the verge of figuring himself out—finally.

Rebecca got out of her car and greeted me with a hug. She was wearing that dark green jacket she loved so much. “I always come here,” she told me, and ordered her usual plate. She paid for my hot tea, and we went outside to sit on the patio.

The night was particularly chilly, but my warm drink helped. The night was also curiously dark, but the feeling of bliss and hope made sure I was not intimidated by the big city. While I stirred sugar into the drink with a plastic spoon, Rebecca started nervously giggling to herself.

When she let me know what was so funny Rebecca made eye contact. “Yeah, so, about what happened… that was not like me. I was actually trying to get over my boyfriend of two years.” She smiled so things wouldn’t be awkward. “I kind of just… used you. You got used.”

“Oh,” I said.

The transcript was different in my head: Oh. So that’s how it feels. Like,[_ wait_], [_even though I didn’t expect us to get married this whole thing was so you can get over someone else? _]

Only when I was told did I feel used. It was like this whole thing had been a long joke (a la “the aristocrats”) improvised for her amusement.

[_ _]

This was my fault. This whole time I had been justifying my actions by believing hooking up with girls was “what we both wanted,” but I never thought about the aftermath.

Storms rarely stuck around to see the damage they made.

Sure, there were girls who had rejected me when I wanted to date them, even after we fooled around. But I had never had a girl tell me her whole act was a game. I always figured I just lost their interest on my own.

“Are we cool?”

“Yeah, we’re cool,” I said. I shrugged. “I’m the one who said the important thing is that the group is still the same.”

“Exactly.” Her eyebrows perked up as she took a sip. “It was fun.”

So I drove home alone, again. I walked into the apartment complex and saw myself in the mirror, disappointed again. I strolled down the hallway while I passed a dozen doors, a dozen or so more lives, again.

As the month was coming to an end there was an uncomfortable panic in my head that things were about to change again. I had felt it in late February when I first moved, and I was feeling it again during the last days of April. I didn’t know what it was, but I just knew; I knew May was going to bring something.

Her full name was Sylvia-Lee, but everyone called her Sylvia.

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WHY MAY IS IMPORTANT.

why may is important.

In 2004 I was a senior in high school. Back then I wrote journal entries inside a purple notebook that was inside a thin white binder. To me that was security, a way to keep my thoughts far from the rest of the known world. On the very first page, in a small but readable font, I wrote something one would consider extremely deep at that age:

Enter a mind

That had been a decade ago. Exactly ten years ago I had been aware of the significance of May. My first documented reason was E3, the biggest conference for all things video games, which took place in May. Second to that was how I was going to graduate high school.

When I found my purple notebook in Phoenix I scanned through it. One thing caught my attention and sent chills down my arms.

May 5, 2003 – That was the exact date I found out I had been accepted into the University of Tampa.

The rest came from newer writing entries:

May 5, 2008 – FIVE YEARS later, I kissed Melanie. She was my best friend, the girl version of me, my soul that had been split in two. I was walking her to her friend’s place so she would get home safe after celebrating Cinco de Mayo. As we crossed a street she tried to hold my hand, but I declined for fear that I would kiss her; ironically, when I flung my hand so she couldn’t grab it, we crashed into our first kiss.

That summer I wrote the first draft of What We Feared Most, which was then titled Give a Little Bit.

May 5, 2009 – One year later I celebrated Cinco de Mayo in Arizona. I meet a new group of friends, including Alexandra, the girl I celebrated New Year’s with at the beginning of the book.

May 6, 2010 – In a twist of fate I was in Tampa again, having lunch with one of Melanie’s best friends from college. After a couple drinks we returned to her apartment. She took a shower, and sat next to me in only a towel. “What do you want to do?”

I spent the next two days with her, and considered it revenge, but I never got over Melanie, nor did I ever tell her what happened. On the flight home I wrote a poem about the incident entitled “Flamingo”.

(The following years had fairly significant moments, but none in perspective to this story.)

But on May 5, 2014 — nothing happened. I didn’t go out, I didn’t do anything. I spent it watching television, numb from the looming uncertainties.

Little did I know I had done something important. I didn’t have the exact date, and maybe it happened at the end of April, I wasn’t too sure; that’s how insignificant it was at the time. All I knew were two things: it had happened one night at Denise’s apartment shortly after my show had wrapped, and it had not happened on May 5th, 2014.

But it had happened. It was late at night and Denise was out on a date. I paced and paced around the apartment, bored with myself when I went to the patio and had a single thought. I held that thought, aware that it was like a drop of water in my hands, capable of slipping away at any second.

I opened up my laptop, started a new document, and wrote:

The night may have been gloomy and grey, but I knew it was not going to rain.

More words poured out of me:

I loved every second of it—we both did, Elyssa and I—despite the occasional shiver while we sat on a rock facing the water. A lake was in front of us, one we used to toss stones in, stones that interrupted the mirror image of the static sky. There was no chance we would see a star tonight, and it was all the better. There was nothing for us to wish; we had it all.

[_ _]

Satisfied, I hit the button to save the document. A new window popped up. It needed a name. Luckily, I already knew the title, and typed it in, never giving a single thought to what I had just started:

Flowers for my Daughter.

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MAY: SCINTILLA, noun, A TINY TRACE OR SPARK OF A SPECIFIED QUALITY OR FEELING.

may: scintilla, noun, a tiny trace or spark of a specified quality or feeling.

I was unemployed again, and Denise took a vacation from her job, which led us to feeling cramped in the apartment. “What are you going to do?” She asked me daily.

My answer was always the same, but I had so much doubt in my voice she never believed me. “I’m going to wait to see if we get picked up for a season, and then I’m going to make a decision,” I told her the first time.

A couple days later she sent me a message while I was at Chase’s house in Northridge: ‘Okay well, if you are going to stay I need four hundred dollars from you a month.’

At first I was a little shocked, and then I was a little shocked that I had been shocked. Denise had opened her door for me, and helped me out so much that four hundred dollars was nothing. It was just that living on a couch in a studio apartment for $400 felt like a huge step backward.

Of course, the other option was the Northridge house. When I told Chase he made sure to finalize the conversation between him and his roommates. The rent there was $588 a month, and I would have my own room in a house with a backyard.

My storage unit was costing me about $60 per month (making the Silverlake rent $460 monthly), an expense that would be eliminated if I chose Northridge. Only—Northridge was fucking far, ten minutes from the closest highway, and about fifteen miles from anything worthwhile.

A couple days later Denise asked me what my plans were again. I felt the weight of everything caving into my chest, and realized how easily it was for me to cower and make the same threat. “Maybe I’ll just move back to Phoenix.”

“Don’t do that. What’s in Phoenix?”

I shrugged again. I never had an answer for that question. It was like I was playing tough with the city, bluffing about Phoenix, and the city was laughing. Los Angeles always had a way to whisper, “come on, bitch, you know you want to live here,” in my ear.

What I really cared about was making the right choice with the money I had saved. For all I knew the show would get picked up, and I would get my promotion. Then I could continue to save money on Denise’s couch.

Wednesday arrived. I had no intention of going to the Folks Tavern, and coincidentally Tori and the girls had no intention of inviting me.

[_ _]

I knew it. I fucking knew this would happen. Whatever.

Randomly, I saw a status on Facebook. A girl named Clair Lewis was asking for resumes on behalf of a friend searching for a Post Production Assistant on a well-established scripted show about fairy tales (no, not that [_one, _]the other one). But I had not spoken to Clair in over a year, which was a shame because her and I used to be close. She was one of my first friends in Los Angeles. We were both from Florida, but didn’t go to college together.

It couldn’t hurt to try. That was what I thought when I messaged Clair. We caught up briefly, then she told me to e-mail her an updated resume. Things could have ended there, but I felt compelled to thank her for the opportunity.

I reminded her we had not seen each other in over a year. We became determined to change that. She was not free that Wednesday night, but said she would be free the next day. Clair and I agreed to go to a bar.

Thursday was May 8, 2014. Night fell upon Los Angeles. Clair offered to pick me up, which I was grateful for, so I gave her the address. She pushed the pick up time to 10:30 because she was waiting for her friend to come to her apartment first.

It was kind of funny, you know, how the rest of my year changed because of that decision.

Sylvia?

The only Sylvia I had heard of was a baseball player for the Washington Nationals, which made me think she was inviting a guy. Why is she inviting anyone? I thought. I was actually upset. I thought Clair wanted to catch up, and now some dude named Sylvia was coming with us?

There was a moment while I was getting out of the shower when I thought about canceling the whole thing.

I didn’t like the time push to 10:30. I didn’t like the idea of a stranger coming with us. They were going to talk about things I didn’t know, or Clair and I were going to.

Then one thought calmed me. As I looked into the mirror I studied my wardrobe of choice—blue jeans, a dark blue shirt, my green Converse military jacket, a clean face; hardly the most charming combination. I remembered I was embracing change, and embracing change meant not going out just to flirt with the next girl.

It meant I should have a good time regardless of who was going to be there.

At 10:30 on the dot Clair announced she was outside. For a nanosecond I thought about canceling, and then going to sleep since I was already laying on the couch. But I wouldn’t do that, so I told her I would be there in five minutes.

I walked down the stairs at a lethargic pace. I opened the side door and felt a chill. I stared at the moon, and smelled the fresh air. I followed the path adjacent to the iron fence until I got out of the building. I saw a white car parked along the curb, its lights on, clearly waiting for someone. The driver had her head turned to her friend on the passenger seat.

But no, it could not have been Clair. There was no fucking way it was Clair because the girl sitting next to her was so beautiful, she… was so… beautiful. Baffled and absolutely convinced it was not Clair in the white car, I took out my phone and called her. Clair turned and waved at me with a confused grin. The girl in the passenger seat laughed.

Oh no…

I’ve countlessly re-edited this section trying to describe the first time I saw her, originally describing it as a new color in my boring electromagnetic spectrum. She was so beautiful my insides were rearranged like a Picasso painting. I was actually confused more than anything. That was not a dude named Sylvia.

She had dirty blonde hair in a ponytail. Radiant hazel eyes. Pale skin taking in the illumination from the light post and reflecting off something lovely. Cute round cheeks and a pinched, but bubbly nose. And that smile. Her mouth frozen open looking like the happiest girl in the world.

In an instant, a flash of fury flushed over me. This can’t be happening, I told myself. It was supposed to be a normal night, but now my heart was beating uncontrollably.

Before I got in the car I knew I was going to fall for that girl, but the worst part, unknown to me at the time, was that she was going to fall for me.

“Where do we go?” Clair asked me as soon as I got into the backseat. I admired how she still had her nose stub, the spirit of her punk-rock youth alive despite the added wrinkles around Clair’s twenty-nine year old eyes.

“Wherever white people go,” I answered.

Those were the first words the passenger heard come out of my mouth, and whether I was intentionally showing my sense of humor or not, I got the result I wanted. The girl laughed.

We searched for a bar down Sunset, and I was so nervous half of what I said was either a joke, or a stupid joke. For whatever fucking reason I ended almost every sentence with “so that’s a thing” for the first time in my life, but said it with the confidence of a catch phrase. Either way, the girl laughed, and that was what was important.

I suggested the Tango Lounge because it was one of the few places I knew. Clair drove there, and we parked half a block away. When Clair got out of the car, I greeted her and being the awkward girl that she was, she was caught off-guard. “Oh, hi!”

“Hi Clair!” I said, happily.

I let her go. She was the type to go on a diet every three months and still look the same, but for the first time it looked like Clair had lost weight. She still had a rather round face, complimenting her careless smile.

“I’m Sylvia,” the elegant girl officially introduced herself, and reached out a cold hand.

“Jericho.”

While standing I could see that she was wearing heels, tight jeans, and a leather jacket. My God. Her figure, her face… she was perfect, more beautiful than I had previously thought.

We walked inside the Tango Lounge, and I immediately noticed something was different. The last time I had been there the music was low enough to have a conversation. Now rap blasted from the speakers, and no one from the young Hispanic crowd was talking to each other without yelling.

The music is too damn loud, I thought, but I didn’t want to admit it. I didn’t want to be the old guy complaining about how I couldn’t hear myself think. Luckily as I wondered how anyone in their right mind would actually enjoy the bar, Clair spoke for me. “All right! I don’t care if I sound old, I can’t hear anything! The music is too loud!”

“Yes!” I yelled back. “That is totally a thing. Let’s leave!”

Sylvia shrugged, finished her drink, and put it down on the counter. We went outside. There was actually a line to get inside the Tango Lounge. “Let’s go to the Rose Lion,” I suggested.

The Rose Lion was a German pub directly across the street. It was a place Clair and I were very familiar with, but she didn’t didn’t gesture anything specific to me. Maybe she didn’t remember that night.

The inside of the Rose Lion was the exact opposite of the first bar, which made us all laugh in unison. The place was dead. The only music came from a seventy-year old woman slamming keys behind a piano. The bartenders, all dressed alike in an Oktoberfest outfit, were older except for one miserable young girl.

“Nah fuck it, this place is dead, let’s go back across the street!” I said.

“Let’s just keep going back and forth,” Clair joked.

Clair suggested we go upstairs to see if it was more lively. It wasn’t, but there was a small bar with six stools. We sat on the three closest to the wall, and admired the artwork from Germany.

“Jericho,” she said my name. “Where is that name from?”

“It’s kind of a long story,” I answered. “Yours?”

“Sylvia like the author, both my parents are writers,” she answered. “Well, my full name is Sylvia-Lee. My parents added Lee because they liked it so they got weird and gave me both.”

Why, yes, yes, of course. The prettiest girl I’ve ever seen and both her parents are writers. Why not? _]Whatever hope I had of getting out of the quicksand of infatuation had diminished. [_Don’t fall in love, I begged my brain, but I was negotiating with the wrong organ.

Don’t fall in love, you stupid, stupid heart.

While Clair and I caught up, Sylvia, who was sitting between us, bounced her pretty little head back and forth, sneaking in a laugh and a wisecrack whenever she could.

“Did I tell you my car got stolen?” I asked.

“Oh no—Rocket? What happened to Rocket?” Clair asked. “And no offense, but who the hell would steal that car?”

“I mean, really, who would steal that car, right? Rocket is my very beautiful, very old Nissan,” I told Sylvia. She smiled and nodded and a nervous heartbeat jolted my spine. “It was the night before April Fool’s, and I was getting drunk playing Wii Golf with Chase in North Hollywood because that’s a thing.”

“Naturally,” Sylvia agreed.

“Chase used the only bathroom in the house so I go out front to pee, and I noticed my car was gone. I remembered I parked it in front of a power converter box-thing, and I ran down—it’s really gone.”

“Poor Rocket,” Clair said with a hint of sadness.

“I’m fucking freaking out. Chase thinks it’s a prank. I start bawling my eyes out. He believes me. He suggests they towed it for an unpaid ticket, but it’s almost midnight, like, who would do that? So I call the cops and they tell me I have to fill out a report in person. Chase drives us and stops me from sprinting out of the car. He’s like, ‘hey your breath smells like whiskey, here’s some gum.’ Oh yeah, we’re both drunk.”

They both smiled.

“And I run in there, and the tears come back, and they call patrol or whatever, and they’re looking for the car. I remembered that I had a picture of my car in my wallet, so I whipped it out—”

“You did not do that,” Clair interrupted. Sylvia put her hand over her mouth to hold her laughter.

“I didn’t do that?” I asked. I took my wallet from my pocket and pulled out the exact same picture I had shown the officers of Rocket outside my old house in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. “How about that? Cars in your wallet is a thing.”

“It’s not a thing,” Sylvia said playfully. She grabbed the picture and studied it with great focus. “I like that you named your car Rocket.”

“Thank you,” I said. “So anyway, I’m there crying, telling them all about growing up with my car when suddenly they get a call about a red Honda that had been found. I fucking drop to my ass, because I know everyone confuses my car for a Honda Civic. ‘All the windows are down except for the driver’s seat window,’ I heard the officer say.”

“Sounds like Rocket,” Clair joked.

“It was! Chase drives us there and I sprint out of the car and hug the guy who called it in. And he’s like, ‘Easy bro, chill, they might still be watching’ like referring to a gang. ‘Check if anything is missing,’ an officer tells me so I go to my car, right? I’m a fucking detective. I find a couple packets of hot sauce, and then I notice my knife was gone… but they didn’t take the water.”

They both looked at me with the same expression. “So?”

“So? So that means they would rather have a knife that hurts people, than water, which you need to live,” I explained. They laughed. “No, wait, don’t laugh yet—I told the officer I found evidence and held the packets of hot sauce. He said, ‘that’s not evidence. That’s hot sauce.’”

“Oh God.”

“And that’s how I got Rocket back,” I concluded.

Clair looked around. “We’ve been here before, haven’t we?”

“We were at someone’s birthday party right over there. We’ve been here a couple times, actually,” I answered.

“Is this the bar where we went ghosting?” Clair asked.

“No, that was a different bar. God! Do you remember that night?”

“What’s ghosting?” Sylvia asked.

“Someone pulled the friend-card and forced us to go to a bar because she was flirting with this guy but didn’t want to be alone,” Clair explained. “When we got there she completely ignored us.”

“So Clair and I accepted we died in a car crash and became ghosts because that’s a thing,” I continued the story. “We started going behind people and brushing their hair, right?”

“If you got caught then you weren’t a real ghost,” Clair said.

I thought about the night. Of course I opened my big mouth without having the entire joke ready. “Top three ghosts of all time… Patrick Swayze, the green blob from Ghostbusters,” and I thought of a third—an offensive third, and it sprung out of my mouth. “And all the children from Sandy Hook.”

The laughter stopped.

Sylvia threw her hands over her face to cover incoming tears. “My little sister died in Sandy Hook,” she said with a weak voice.

While my heart came to a full stop my face turned red, and I stood from my stool and backpedaled until my back hit the wall. My hands were over my mouth just like hers had been over her eyes. What had I done? [_My stupid mouth. _]It was such a great night, and just like that it was over. Sylvia was so upset.

“JUST KIDDING!”

Sylvia laughed at me.

Clair shook her head.

[_ _]

[Me? _]That was it. I was in love, _in love. That was what had done it, a senseless joke. I had, admittedly, fallen in love with a girl after a pair of Sandy Hook hooks. I ran up and hugged her as tight as I could. Then I sat down while we maintained our eyes locked on each other, and she ran her hand over my leg while she told me the truth. “I don’t even have a little sister.”

“Well, you wouldn’t either way if she was actually there.”

Clair was not stupid. She knew what had just happened, and from her perspective, she knew us individually so she had a better idea of what we were capable of doing. I could see she felt uncomfortable. Clair turned and noticed a guy walk by and go inside the bathroom. “He’s cute,” she commented.

“Too clean face,” Sylvia responded. “I like facial hair.”

“Sylvia, Sylvia,” I whispered while I took another gulp of beer, eager to let her know. “I usually have a pretty thick beard, but I shaved yesterday.”

“You do? Seeexy.”

The way she stretched out the word turned my smile into stone. Clair’s eyes went wide.

Eventually, the other stools were taken by two middle-aged men. One of them talked to Clair, and the other with Sylvia and I. For some reason, we thought it would be funny to tell him about what had happened with the Sandy Hook comment.

His face shifted into an uncomfortable mess as he looked off in search of something to say. “Well… um… yeah, you know, not my humor, but… yeah, humor is subjective, you should be allowed to say anything you want in this country.”

The more uncomfortable he got, the more her and I felt accomplished. When he turned to talk to his friend, we noticed a heavier guy at the end of the bar eating a salad. She walked behind him, and pretended to steal his food.

I shook my head. “You’re acting like you’re all hungry like those are some chicken wangs over there, but the dude is eating a soup and a salad.”

“Maybe he’s on a diet,” she whispered.

We exchanged playful smiles. “Hey,” I said louder. “This girl wants some of your soup, sir.”

When he turned she looked away in shame. Now that I had otherworldly confidence, I sat on the bar stool next to him. Sylvia joined me, leaning against my leg so I put my hand on her back. “She is hungry,” I repeated.

Kindly, he offered her the plate, and she dug her forehead against my shoulder.

“She’s not so hungry anymore,” I said.

“Soups that go cold turn into oatmeal,” she said, and I laughed.

“Norman is going to meet us here,” Clair announced. Norman was her boyfriend. “Let’s go to the downstairs bar and wait for him.”

“Oh good,” I reacted. “I haven’t seen Norman since he auditioned for that horror movie trailer we shot. You know something Clair? I really fucking wanted him for the part.”

We sat at the downstairs bar waiting for Norman, and ordered another drink. I figured Clair had invited the two older guys because they followed. This time one of them talked to me about what he did for a living, while the other guy talked to Clair and Sylvia.

I was listening, I guess, but I was actually focusing on how Sylvia and I were now holding hands beneath the bar’s counter top. I brushed her thumb, she brushed mine. We didn’t have to talk or make eye contact. It was perfect.

Norman arrived. He was a lumbering guy, tall with broad shoulders, but had the face of someone you’d find in the I.T. department. He ordered a beer and made a quick joke. In that moment I was able to turn my attention to Sylvia. And then I realized it, I realized why my bones were about to burst.

She had been manifested by the neurons in my mind, placed before me at the right time—

Sylvia was a character I had written in Sedated. She was Michelle, the girl with the same sense of humor, mannerisms, and behavior as Sebastian, the character who was my counterpart.

“You’re an actress, right?” I asked.

“Yes, I work at a restaurant,” she answered with a smile.

“I have to send you a script I wrote,” I told her. I hated the way that sounded, but she smiled. “You’re exactly how I pictured Michelle.”

I gave her my phone, and she typed her e-mail address. To keep going with the whole offensive joke thing, I wrote ‘#nineleven’ in the body of the e-mail. Then it was back to talking to separate people while we held hands. I brushed her thumb, she brushed mine.

Ten minutes later, maybe fifteen or half an hour—who knew, time was suspended, we all found ourselves outside. I was drunk, so when Clair took out a cigarette I asked for one.

“Can I have one too?” Sylvia asked.

“You don’t even smoke,” Clair answered.

I laughed to myself. “We can share mine.”

Clair and Norman stood to a side while I walked a bit further up the sidewalk. Sylvia followed me. The bright red paint of the bar was in the background. The light post shinned down on us the way the stars did. Sylvia observed me taking a drag, and giggled to herself. “You hold your cigarette like a joint.”

“Do you want to shotgun it?” I asked.

I took another puff and got closer to her. My heart came to a full stop. An inch away I could see her, and her cute round nose that I assumed she hated, and her youthful hazel eyes, and her caramel lips. I treasured the moment and tried to hold it before my next move.

I took a drag of the cigarette. We leaned in so our noses touched. She opened her lips slightly, and I blew smoke into her mouth. And yeah, it was not how one shotgunned a cigarette, but it was what we did. I did not try to kiss her. I was nervous. I was shy.

But then it happened.

“Let’s try it again,” I said.

This time I stepped right up to her, blew the smoke in her mouth, and let our cold lips collide. Whatever rip the universe felt during the Big Bang was what I felt when we kissed. Once, then twice, three times, and suddenly we were making out on the sidewalk outside the bar like a pair of bandits stealing each other’s wishes.

We smiled while we kissed, and I—a fan of first kiss narratives—already speculated her lips were in the top six of my entire life. (Yes, I had once made a list.)

When we stopped kissing I wondered if Clair was watching, or judging, or even cared. We rejoined her and Norman with guilty smiles. They didn’t acknowledge what had happened. On the walk to the car Sylvia and I held hands, even though I really hated holding hands.

Clair suddenly started her role as the antagonist. “Sit up front, Jericho,” she ordered. I pretended like I didn’t hear her, but again, Clair reiterated her command. “You take shotgun.”

No, I thought. Never. I walked as fast as I could to the backseat and got inside. Sylvia slid onto the seat next to me. Clair dropped the subject. “Let’s all get something to eat,” Norman announced.

As we drove down the streets we passed the Silverlake reservoir, the two mile stretch that circled a lake. I smiled and pointed out the window. “This is where I run,” I told them.

Sylvia scooted closer to my side of the car. As soon as she did I slid my hand and placed it over her hand. We looked at each other, and instead of smiling we started secretly kissing; each kiss more guilty than the last. When we stopped she smiled wildly and slammed her forehead on my shoulder.

I lowered my head, caught the scent of her leather jacket, and kissed the top of her hair.

That moment was everything I had asked for in the year. That moment I knew I had met the person that was going to put me on track to what I wanted to become. That moment was mine. Just like our first kiss, that moment was going to flash before me in my untimely death, I was so sure.

As soon as Norman parked the car in the Denny’s parking lot I gave her one more kiss and then, wondering if that was the last time I would ever kiss her, brushed my hand over her shirt so I could grope her breast. It produced a small, but unmistakably pleased chuckle out of Sylvia.

We got a table for four, and within a minute Sylvia said something fucked up. We had quickly accepted that this Denny’s restaurant was in a rougher part of town, so after the waitress took our drink orders and walked away, Sylvia asked something in her direction. “Excuse me, have you ever been raped here?”

I coughed, and held a shameful laugh. Clair and Norman hid their faces behind their hand. The comment sparked a battle between our tongues. The goal? Who could be more offensive, with the reality being who could impress each other more with a quicker ticket to hell.

Before our food came we were all on our phones. I teased her about how she didn’t know who the band Blink-182 was, so she turned her phone and showed me a recent picture of them she had shared. Then she snatched my phone and went through the list of people that had requested my friendship on Facebook. “I’m going to say no,” she said, checking off the ‘ignore’ button on all of them. “There. Now we’re Facebook friends.”

When I first glanced at her profile my face froze. No wonder Clair had tried to stop me. I excused myself, and went to the bathroom, disappointed and angry, confused by how someone had presented themselves to make everything make sense, and now it was gone.

It said she was in a relationship.

Oh wait.

He was gay. I had overreacted.

As I stalked the guy she was in a relationship with, I breathed again. It was there in writing and in pictures, clear as white sunlight passing through raindrops and reflecting a few colors in a spectrum depending on a fixed angle and measurement between your eye and the sun.

If anything, going through her profile in the bathroom proved she was put in my life for a reason. Sylvia was born on March 5, 1993. Five was my favorite number. Anyone interested in astrology would be able to pick up on the other notable thing: she was a Pisces, like me.

Of course she was a fish. A wonderful fish; a dreamer, sensitive, and charming. To those who couldn’t live without looking at the stars, it meant everything.

I came out and rejoined them at a table. When the food arrived Clair filmed a video of me spoon-feeding Norman some scrambled eggs. It was perfect.

On the walk to the car Clair sprinted to the backseat and sat in the place where I had been, but I kept the same serene smile that had been decorating my face. “Go for it,” I whispered. Clair could have it.

No one could take away how happy I am, I thought as I got into the front seat.

I instructed Norman how to get back to the apartment. I explained to them that it wasn’t actually my apartment, and that I might move again within a couple weeks. As the car pulled up I glanced at the spot where Clair had parked when she first arrived.

One minute I had been outside in search of a car, and the next I was in the same spot with my head stuck in the clouds. I smiled intensely, and looked at Sylvia. “I’m sure I’ll see you again,” I said.

I got out of the car and watched Norman drive away with Sylvia in the car. I could have gone upstairs then, but there was a stranger sitting outside petting a cat. “Is this your cat?” He asked me.

“No,” I answered.

“It sort of just followed me, I dunno, it’s pretty friendly for a cat,” he said. The cat was black and just like he had said, the cat was friendly.

I sat down, and stared out at the gloomy sky with an impressed gaze contemplating the night. There was comfort in staring at nothingness, and letting my mind go there.

In my state of being Sylvia was everything I could have asked for in a relationship. She had the sense of humor, she was nice, she acted foolish, and she didn’t take herself seriously. And she was beautiful. She was so fucking beautiful.

The timing was perfect, I was so sure.

A soul split in two, perhaps.

Then the cat bit me. I snapped out of my trance. I had been petting the cat while I was thinking of Sylvia, and probably lost track of how hard I was petting the poor thing.

“I’m going to sleep,” I announced. “Good luck.”

There it was, that wonderful hallway mirror. I looked at it in and stared at myself in disbelief, and smiled. The elevator took forever to open, and I loved it. The third floor hallway was a shorter walk than I remembered. I got to my door, my cozy couch.

Denise was already asleep. Protocol would be walking to the couch with my cell phone illuminating the way, stripping to my boxers, and going to sleep.

But not tonight.

I glided to her bed and softly repeated her name until she woke up. “Denise, Denise… Denise,” I whispered.

She slapped her lips together and stared at me with one eye open. “What?”

Sitting on her bed, I let the weight of the night push me back until I was laying down with my arms outstretched. “What?” She whispered again, surprisingly in an amused tone.

“I just kissed my future wife,” I informed Denise.

She cackled. “Not again. You did not.”

“I did. The kiss was… she was so beautiful and funny.”

“What’s her name?”

“Her name is Sylvia. She wants to be an actress.”

Although I stared at the ceiling I could see Denise rolling her eyes. “Oh God. How old is she?”

“Twenty-one.”

“It’s never going to work,” Denise said, fast and true.

At the moment she was the only one in the room with a working brain. “I’m in love with her,” I proclaimed.

“Of course you are, and that’s why I love you,” she said. Denise shifted, and I watched her close her eyes again. “You are not going to date a twenty-one year old actress in Hollywood,” were her last words for the night.

I laughed. “Maybe not,” I said.

I walked over to my couch and sat down, delighted that everything in my life made sense.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Oh hey, people traditionally put a sample of their next book in the series. Here’s a nip slip of Part II…

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…As soon as I saw her my heart cooled down, as did my brain, and every muscle that had tensed inside my body. There was nothing there for me. My crush escaped me. My pursuit was over.

 

But how—how could I have been so stupid? Sylvia-Lee was the most beautiful girl in the world, and there I sat looking up at her thinking I could actually rally a date between us. I was just Jericho. I had no business looking into the eyes of such wonder.

 

She was tall in high heels again, and her outfit was of white and gold to match her hair, and her face rivaled the shine of the moon. A warm, nervous rush fleshed over me as I got up and hugged her. She was more beautiful than I remembered; her hazel eyes bigger, her touch kinder, and her skin tanned into a sun-dried wheat field ripe for harvest.

 

“I want you all to meet my uncle!” She yelled. Her cheeks were wide and full when she smiled. It was a reference to a joke in Denny’s the night we met.

 

I laughed and mumbled something not as clever, nor even in English, probably, and sat back down. I started physically feeling stupid for thinking I had a chance with someone who was a walking heart attack for anyone who dared to look twice.

 

She was so free and loud and clearly more comfortable, and there I was nestled up on the inside, unhappy with the challenge of going after someone that made me so happy.

 

Sylvia had brought three friends with her. Two of them were girls who were boring and kept to themselves, and as I would later find out, thought that Clair and I were in our mid-thirties (what the fuck, dude?). The other was the boy that Sylvia was in a relationship with on Facebook. I later found out he found me attractive, which was great because he was in her ear half the night.

 

All of us talked and enjoyed ourselves while I tried my hardest to make Sylvia laugh. But it was not going to be without a fight.

 

A boy standing fifteen feet away caught the attention of the two girls. Of course he had, they recognized him from a modeling show—the same modeling show I had worked on in February, but from a different season, so I had not met him. He was tall with long hair and a perfect beard.

 

The three of them went to talk to him, which left me to put up with Clair’s glances. Each little nod said, See, she’s all over the place, I told you so.

 

As soon as they came back from chatting with the tall guy with long hair, the two girls and her gay friend wanted to leave and tried to get Sylvia to leave with them. But she stayed. Which was a victory. But when she walked them out and came back in, the model stopped her before she came back to our table. He started chatting her up, which ate me up inside like termites would a house, nice and slow.

 

I tried to keep the subject away from what was happening, but Clair was curious. “So? What are you going to do?”

 

“I don’t know. She’s so pretty.”

 

“You and everyone else thinks that.” Clair lit up a cigarette.

 

Out of nervousness I asked for one. I wasn’t planning on smoking, but I had mints in a pocket sleeve just in case. That was a pretty good reason to smoke. Oh, and the girl I had thought about every day was talking to a sentient surfboard with young Santa Clause’s beard.

 

While we smoked someone came and asked Clair for a cigarette. It caused her to lose track of our conversation for a second. “Where’s Sylvia?” Clair asked.

 

All I did was inhale and move my dramatic eyes in Sylvia’s direction. Clair didn’t give me a verbal response, just a cocky smile with a cigarette locked between her lips.

 

I was embarrassed.

 

I was defeated.

 

But that was not the universe we lived in anymore.

 

Sylvia came back shortly after that, and just in time for Clair to offer us a drink. We accepted. Clair got up and left the table, leaving me alone with Sylvia across from me. My glances escaped to the model who was still lingering around, almost as if to say, you want him, not me.

 

She noticed and smiled that impeccable smile. “Don’t worry. I like you better,” she said.

 

Everything collided then. Almost angry, I made a suggestion.

 

“Then why don’t you shut up and kiss me?”

 

Sylvia leaned forward and crashed against my lips. I caught the back of her head with my hand and pushed her into me, hoping our lips would fuse together. Just like that the termites were gone.

 

“You’re sitting too far away,” I said when my mouth was free, and moved next to her. I was so happy to be by her side again. As she brushed my hand just like she had at The Rose Lion, I leaned in and told her a secret. “The day after we kissed Clair was mad at me. She said Norman was mad we made out in the back of his car.”

 

“She sent me a message too!” Sylvia revealed.

 

I thought about it for a second—a mandatory second where I processed the conspiracy that Clair was trying to prevent us from being together. I dismissed it. I had to dismiss it, after all, because Sylvia was in front of me and that was all that mattered.

 

We started then stopped kissing and looked around, curious to see if Clair had noticed.

 

Oh, fuck it. This was it. This was everything I ever fucking wanted.

 

We kissed until I saw Clair from the corner of my eye. She put the drinks down, and I smiled. Who’s all over the place now? A familiar dance had already started, the one where Sylvia held my hand under the table.

 

It was only the beginning. Every time Clair looked away, or even did as much as look at her phone, Sylvia and I would exchange flirty glances then sneak a kiss. As always, there was laughter. At one point in the night I grabbed a glass that I thought one of the girls had left behind, and tossed whatever was left aside. I poured a bit of my beer in the wine glass and told Clair to sample it.

 

It turned out that it was Sylvia’s wine glass she was drinking. We laughed like assholes. I left to buy her another Sauvignon blanc, and when I came back I saw that a majority of the mints, which I had left on the table, were at the bottom of my beer.

 

Just like last time Clair’s boyfriend Norman showed up after work and joined us. The more people gave us attention, the more Sylvia and I misbehaved. We pushed the jokes, we played with everyone’s beer, and we got careless with our kisses.

 

At one point I grabbed Clair’s coaster and flung it to a side. Norman knelt to get it and I felt bad so I threw myself down like a drunk asshole to help him. I was starting to wonder if he hated me or not, but I figured he understood. We were drunk and young—or at least one side of the picnic table was.

 

When it was time to leave Norman went to close his tab. I knew better than to wait, so I grabbed Sylvia’s hand and led her outside. Speechless until we got to the outside walls of the bar, I called her beautiful and kissed her, pushing her against the wall as I massaged the small of her back.

 

I held her, kissed her, and never wanted to stop, but it was inevitable. We stopped and looked down the street. Clair and Norman were walking away from us, their bodies turning into shadows as they passed the lamp post.

 

I nodded. The torch had been passed.

 

We didn’t need them.

 

 

On the way to my car Sylvia and I stopped to make out by a neighboring closed restaurant. We took a couple more steps, and made out against the wall again. The cold wind encouraged us to keep close for warmth.

 

I could not believe what was happening, and I appreciated every single kiss as it happened. Every. Single. Kiss. It was like appreciating eating rice one grain at a time.

 

“Hey… have you ever done cocaine?”

 

I hated that I felt compelled to ask, but I had a little devil on my shoulder, greedy as they came, wanting to double down on the night.

 

“One time… my roommate gave me some because I was sad… it’s okay,” she said.

 

I pretended like I never asked. I grabbed her hand and kept walking. I knew she lived around the area, but I had no idea where exactly. Since I used to live nearby too, I asked where she lived. “I live one more block just up the street, and to the right,” Sylvia answered.

 

“No. That’s impossible,” I said as I thought it. “I used to live one block over. With my sister. I bet I’ve parked my car outside your apartment before. We have to pass both our streets to get to my car actually, I parked up Crescent Heights.”

 

“Where are we going?”

 

“I don’t know,” I said. I realized that I could walk her to her apartment, but I also realized that she had not asked me to, so the night was not over.

 

The sidewalk curved on the Santa Monica and Crescent Heights intersection. It was there that Sylvia stopped to kiss me, and with her arms around my neck she told me something private. “You should know that I’m a virgin, and that I don’t want this to be just a hook up,” she said.

 

Shit.

 

Holy shit.

 

The holiest and most blessed of shits.

 

I wanted to tell her everything, everything I had just told Clair, only because in those words I could find a way for her to understand that I was looking for the same thing, and yeah sure, the comparisons to Melanie would arise—and no one should compare a girl to another, but was this really happening?

 

Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit.

 

Aside from being exceedingly funny, and also really beautiful, she wanted to date? Like she actually wanted to go through with the prophecy, and recognize we were perfect for each other?

 

I stuttered again. “Sylvia… that’s exactly… no trust me, I like this. What’s going on. I really like you. Yes. This is not a hook up,” I forced myself to hold back so I wouldn’t scare her off. “This is great. You’re great.”

 

“Okay, I get it,” she hushed me with a kiss. “Good. I just wanted you to know.”

 

We held hands on the walk to my car. As soon as I saw the sexy red beast, I picked her up off the ground and put her on the spoiler above my trunk. There I rubbed her legs while I admired her; truly admired her. Her arms never left my body. It was there that I realized it—

 

“You were four years old when this car was manufactured.”

 

She laughed and shrieked in a happy tone: “Eww! Gross… pervert.” She kissed me. In a weird way, we both liked the age difference.

 

I picked her up one more time and returned her to the sidewalk. I jogged to my side of the car, stuck the key, and opened the door. As soon as I sat down I reached over and unlocked the door for her. She got inside and let her eyes wander. She pointed at the sticker with ‘Rocket’ written on it and yelled, “yes! Rocket!”

 

“This is her.”

 

“I love it,” she said, amused. “Where are we going?”

 

I didn’t know. I didn’t even want to suggest driving her home, or driving forty minutes to get to my place. In those seconds of silence young Sylvia took off her gold jacket. We started kissing for a little while, and when we stopped she got another idea. Without even looking at me, or saying a word, she unbuttoned her white shirt just enough to reveal a lacy pink bralette.

 

“Holy shit,” I blurted out loud, then squeezed the top of her perky pale breast with my hands. Then I squeezed down on her other tit, until I was sweeping over them back and forth.

 

“Fuck it.” I put my car in first gear and we ran away. We ran away from the whole world.


Funny Attractive F*cked Up People: Part I

The easy part was writing this for myself in the late hours of the night. The hard part was stomaching the moral responsibility of putting a period on the last sentence, and accepting life the way it was written, flawed and full of secrets. I had to accept what happened twice. Once in real life, and again in my own words. Psychology says we all wear masks in public, but Funny Attractive Fucked Up People is the blood in my heart and the blood in my brain, and as you will read time and time again, blood elsewhere more private. The fingerprints we all left, sometimes with a touch of kindness, but mostly with a vigorous slap against the cement jungle of Los Angeles, exist only as fossils now. 2014. It was a lot of the same with the group of friends I had. Gossip married us like covalent bonds. Love was always the goal. Cupid had more than one arrow in his holster. It was okay to try any drug once. People who made creativity possible often made life impossible. No one judged you, unless it was behind your back. We were all playing the city’s version of chutes and ladders… A trip to Tampa the previous year put things in perspective. I had to reconsider if I really wanted to live in a city I had called home for four years. Life was at a plateau. I sunk into doubt. If you were me, would you really want to quit working on television shows? Would you trust my friends? Would you chase the same girls? So began my months of self-evaluation, of change, and in the midst of the chaos—quitting writing, moving out of my apartment, dating different girls, and constantly questioning if I should move back home—I rode the drama… Admittedly, my heaven lived inside these problems. Chaos was an enjoyable journey, a drive to certain doom with the window down and the breeze brushing my hair back while my hand dangled helplessly in the wind. The following story is based on true events. Well, most of it. Okay, all of it. Just half of it. None of the following story is true. Ah, just kidding. It’s all true.

  • Author: Jerico Antonio Olivari
  • Published: 2016-10-03 23:50:16
  • Words: 51988
Funny Attractive F*cked Up People: Part I Funny Attractive F*cked Up People: Part I