Sofia stops me in the hallway on the way to the locker room.
“We’re never allowed to drink alone together. We’ll end up in another state with no memory of how we got there,” she says in jest.
I laugh when she laughs, and it’s real. A sound that comes from the bottom of my throat; hearty and full. My head hangs back as I open my mouth towards the ceiling. We laugh in the hazy memory of a weekend well spent. We laugh at the shared understanding of our codependent debauchery. She laughs at another moment of fun. Underneath my laughter, my heart fractures a little more knowing I’ll never say a word.
My recollection of the events that follow are primarily a blur, but I remember the day of the week. Sofia had called while I was out with my sister and another friend. It is a colder than usual Saturday night in Hollywood, and the three of us have opted to sip hot tea and coffee on the patio at Starbucks. I have plans to be in North Hollywood the next day to see a friend, so I’m keeping a low profile.
Reading Sofia’s text message, my lazy mood picks up. Sofia had insisted on getting my number a few days earlier, and I didn’t think she’d actually use it. So many people ask you for things they have no intention of using. We know so many people at work, I figure we would be two people who’d only ever chat inside the walls of the Hallowed Arrow Cafe as she served guests and I cleaned up after them. It was how we had been communicating for the past month.
The amount of work it takes to find someone who understands the levels of my personality is exhausting. I have no need for additional friends, but Sofia insists that she get a chance to spend time with me outside of work.
“The next time I invite you out, you’re not cancelling.”
It had been her one demand.
Saying goodnight to everyone I’m with, I head over, happy that the address she’s sent me is only a few blocks’ walk away. I text to let her know I’ve arrived and get no response in return. I was younger then, not inclined to look after myself as much, so I wait and try sending another text. Still nothing. After a few minutes, I decide it is time to go back to the coffee shop and see if my sister and friend are still there. As I leave, movement catches my eye. A woman, around my age, comes to the door to let me in with a smile. She knows my name even though we’ve never met before. I am a lot less cautious, too. She’s waiving me in, I follow.
I’m not sure what I expect by agreeing to go out. I have little experience in dating, and for a single fleeting moment I think that perhaps Sofia is interested in me. The fleeting moment turns to a desperate hope as I walk into the apartment to a chorus of cheers for my arrival. Through the cigarette smoke and the loud music, my eyes find Sofia in the kitchen. She is laughing and smiling, and even through the din of noise, the sound of her enjoyment hits my ears. It is at that moment that I really allow myself to take her in, to admire her gothic punk/rock style. She has meat on her bones, long legs, jet black hair and tattoos from neck to toe. Her red lipstick is the brightest color on her. I want her to want me.
She hands me my first drink with a full-toothed grin at my arrival. Insisting I get caught up since they have clearly been there for quite some time. I take the drink without question. I trust her. I had only known her a few months through work, but Sofia put me at ease completely. I liked the feeling. She hands me a screwdriver — vodka and orange juice — and I don’t complain. I was never one to turn down free alcohol. As I finish my first drink, she makes me another, and another, and another.
The alcohol weighs heavily on my limbs, and the burn of it warms my skin. The other people in the house with us are Tommy and Sofia’s cousins. The two of them are brother and sister. Tommy matches his sister’s aesthetic perfectly: black clothes, spiked belt, tattoos covering all exposed skin, and a well-maintained blue mohawk to boot. They are my friends; this I have determined. Tommy is the first friend I made at work. We look so different from one another, but our personalities clicked instantly. Through him, I met Sofia. After meeting her, I slowly started leaving him behind. But this was later. Now, we’re all friends and we’re all enjoying ourselves. Until Sofia announces that she wants to go swimming.
We’re in the middle of Hollywood, with no pools in sight. Most apartments are for living and nothing more. None of us make money to afford a nice place with a pool on the roof, but the girl who opened the door for me says she has a pool at her apartment. Everyone is pleased with the news and we form a plan to move the party all the way to Ventura. Since I came on foot, Sofia directs me to one car to jump in. We’re all still drunk, they’re all high and drunk, but I go anyway. The drive is almost an hour north, an impossible bus ride back to Korea Town where I live. I ignore the anxiety from that fact and choose to enjoy the evening. I’ll figure out how to get home later.
We make it in one piece, then gather in the new apartment for more drinks. Everyone is comfortable in the space, even me, although I have no idea where anything is. My nerves from liking Sofia take over any logic I have left. All my focus is on the tall tattooed girl dressed all in black. The one whom I traveled all this way for. I gulp down the drink that’s been thrust into my hand.
“Hand’s empty!” Sofia says as she pours me a fresh drink.
My vision is blurry unless I’m looking at her. She’s drunkenly insisting on wanting to swim. I find myself agreeing with her wants. Nodding along to every word that flits out of her red-stained mouth. Allowing her mysteriousness to seduce me in my inebriated state. It warms me quicker than the excessive amounts of vodka in my new drink.
On the walk towards the pool, my body sways with every step. My momentum guides me through the group of strangers. I grow more excited as we approach the pool gate.
It’s not until I’m face-to-face with the gate that I experience fear for the first time that evening: I’m afraid of heights. The gate is locked, but Sofia still wants to swim. And swim she shall. One guy jumps the fence first. I try to push my way through — even on the wrong side of drunk — I believe I can do it.
The next thing I know, a stabbing pain penetrates what little drunken calm I have left. In the blink of an eye, my ass connects with the pool deck’s cold concrete. I wave off help to get down from the six-foot-high barrier that was keeping us out of the community pool. At that point of the night, I am far too intoxicated to remember who all’s with us. The only three people that I know are Henry, Tommy, and Sofia.
The stupid mistake severely bruises my tailbone for months to come. In the present, I regret my insistence on independence. Writhing around on the concrete, I don’t notice everyone else safely climbing the fence. I climb to my feet, eyes closed tightly, pushing away the need to vomit. Everyone else, strangers and friends alike, mills around getting ready to swim. After the pain subsides a bit, I realize that I have nothing to swim in. I think this is something I point out to no one in particular.
“Just take off your clothes,” Sofia says.
That’s how I find myself skinny dipping in the pool, hoping to catch Sofia’s eyes from across the pool. Hers never meet mine. Her lips are too busy kissing Henry in the pool. It’s the first time I wish my parents hadn’t taught me how to swim when I was thirteen. That way I could sink under the swaying surface of the water and avert my gaze from watching Sofia wanting someone who wasn’t me.
I drank every drink she put in front of me, got in a car with complete strangers, and broke something important in my backside all to get her to notice me. And there she was, kissing someone else. My inebriated state pulls my walls down too far to stop the rush of anger washed over me, coming up to meet my exposed eyes. Instead of saying anything, I stew in my heartbreak, unable to figure out how to get the girl I like to like me back.
I swim around the pool in nothing but my underwear, poorly pretending I couldn’t care less. Once we grow bored of the warm water, we all make our way to the apartment. My anger refuses to morph into disappointment, but as I try my best to ignore the pain from sitting on the couch, the room sways left and right like the waves of the water in the pool. My stomach turns, then I shoot up from where I am falling asleep on the couch.
I spend what feels like the rest of the night over the toilet with Sofia handing me water like a concerned mother. As I look into her eyes, I feel the sense of ease come over me again and I want her to like me. Perhaps she would, perhaps if I waited long enough, she would. It might take her a little while to understand that I was better than Henry, that I would treat her better. But when she realized it, I would be there.
I stumble out of the bathroom to her words of concern, that I temper with the reassurance that I really am feeling much better. Without willing it so, my eyes close and sleep takes me. When I wake up, the sun is glaring in through the patio windows and everyone is splayed out on the floor and other couches, passed out from our night of partying. My head is throbbing, but my eyes are scanning the prone bodies for one in particular.
It takes a minute to grasp the truth of my current situation. Sofia is gone. I try looking around from left to right instead of right to left, as if that will make a difference. It doesn’t. She is nowhere to be seen. She’s left me.
The feeling of abandonment doesn’t leave me for the next few days following the party. I get a ride from the girl whose apartment we had all gone to. I spend the day recovering on my friend’s couch, regaling them with stories of my night and the poor decisions I had made in the past twelve hours. Then, on Monday, I walk into the back room of work, down the hallway that led to the employee locker room and there she is again. Her laugh echoing off of every wall I had built back up to defend myself from the disappointment of being abandoned in a stranger’s house, over an hour away from anyone I knew, with no guarantee that I could get home. Nevertheless, I warm at the sight of her. Feel the need for her to like me poke at my heart as it speeds up in her presence.
“You were so drunk,” she points out.
“Well, you made the drinks,” I defend. “I got so drunk.”
“I pour heavy,” she says. “I was making them like, sixty percent vodka and forty percent juice.”
“That explains a lot,” I jest. Then she laughs at my laugh and we’re laughing together.
I ignore the twinge in my chest. I want her regardless of how little she regards me. I’ll want her whenever she calls, whenever I hear her name. Even years later, when she only finds my number once a year to make plans I know she’ll bail on. Our friendship is like the drinks she made me. Sixty percent me and forty percent her. Give and take. This is our friendship. The only way our lives will coexist. I know this, even in the moment in the hall, I know; and I still feel my heart beat a little faster. Wanting and hoping she’ll someday see me.
Tiffany Niles has an AA in Creative Writing from LBCC and she has grown to love all aspects of the writing/publishing community and hopes to help other underrepresented writers find their voice. She works for Perennial Press as an editor, designer, correspondent, and social media liaison.