“Maybe you just liked me when I was on my ass, because it made you feel better about yourself,” he shouted. It startled her. Quite a bit. Maybe it was time to call it quits.
They had met each other in the summer, under the warm glow of the Californian sun, on the sands of Venice Beach. He was a barista at the Starbucks just a couple blocks away from the campus she was studying at. She was a medical hopeful, and he was an aspiring actor. Their first encounter was nothing spectacular. He was just tanning on the beach, while she was playing beach volleyball with her friends. The ball came her way, she hit it, and it went the wrong way. It rolled on to his feet. And this was how they first met. It was cliche, it was predictable, but for the two, it felt like magic.
“Hey,” she spoke up first, as she approached the ball at his feet. “My name’s Monica.” She held out her hand to shake his. He looked up from behind his sunglasses, got up, and shook hands.
“Kevin,” he said. “Is this yours?”
“Yeah,” she said. “We’re just playing over there. Want to join us?”
Over the following weeks, the two got to know each other better. She would stop by at the Starbucks during Kevin’s shift, and Kevin would stop by on campus to wait around for Monica between lectures. Sometimes, Kevin would call in sick, and Monica would skip her lecture, to go off on an adventure along the golden coast, and reminisce about how they had first met. They talked a lot on these drives.
“What do you want to do when you graduate?” Kevin would ask.
“I don’t know,” Monica would respond. “I think just study for my MCATs, I guess. What about you? Anything planned?”
“Get an acting role in a big picture,” Kevin said, with confidence.
The two would go on and talk about the big dreams they both had: Hawaii weddings, Hollywood premiers, even going to Paris someday. Most of these fantasies were made by Kevin. Monica had smaller dreams: buy a house, get married, start a family. They would laugh at these conversations, conjuring up a happy future together.
Monica would often talk about her friends, and their lives, in these conversations. She often brought up how her friends were doing well for themselves, starting up businesses doing moonshot projects, or taking up roles in independent projects, whether they be in film, music, or even visual arts. She would bring up that boy in class who got an internship at Facebook for the summer, or that girl who got an offer from Google. She would talk about how her friends were making thousands of dollars working in these companies, or the kinds of awards they won in competitions through their creative media. She didn’t mean anything by these comments. She was just stating facts. But Kevin heard a different message. And over time, it took its toll. He felt the need to change.
Kevin began taking up roles in independent films, and YouTube acting roles through friends who were interested in film making. Monica would often stop by at these shoots, always mesmerized by the film making process. She was also taken aback by the amount of passion Kevin put in to acting. He seemed like a different person in front of camera. He exhibited a different personality altogether. It seemed like she didn’t know him.
And, slowly, Kevin’s passion began to gain recognition. Soon, he and his friends were making more and more films that were longer, and longer, in duration. Soon, he began taking in acting roles from independent film makers, and his schedule began to clog up. He quit his job at Starbucks, and those spontaneous drives the two used to go on were no more. Monica would always run out of lectures to find Kevin just outside. Those habits, too, were now gone.
Months passed by, with the two barely connecting over the internet. Everyday was just more of the same. Even days that were meant to be special passed by without much notice. For the first time, in what seemed like years, she spent the most special day of her life alone. She blew out the candle on her cake, smoke rising as tears fell.
The two managed to schedule a date night during Kevin’s time off set. Monica was excited. Kevin, too, was excited. When the two met, the emotions were wild. Sparks were flying everywhere. When the dust had settled, the two went out for dinner.
It was a French restaurant — suggested to Kevin by one of his coworkers on set. They sat down, ordered the 7 course meal (after all, they haven’t seen each other in months), and a bottle of the finest Bordeaux wine.
“Wow,” exclaimed Monica. “Are you sure you wanna do this?”
“Yeah, of course!” replied Kevin. “Why?” He leaned in and whispered, “Do you feel it’s a bit too much?”
“I mean, I’m excited to try all this food, but…” Monica paused. “You know what, never mind. It’s been a while since we met, so let’s just enjoy ourselves.”
“Yeah, definitely. Besides, I just got my paycheck from the new film I landed.”
Monica’s expression grew pleasantly surprised. “Wow, you seem to be doing well for yourself!”
“I mean, I realized, you know,” he replied. “Everything you said, about your friends, and your acquaintances, I really needed to fix myself up.”
“I mean, that’s great!” Monica exclaimed. “So, what’s next for you, Mr. Hollywood Star?”
“Well,” he interjected. “Not yet.” He chuckled out of embarrassment. “The short film I’m shooting right now should wrap up in about a week? Then, it’s off to Toronto for TIFF.”
“TIFF?” Monica had a confused look about her face.
“Toronto International Film Festival,” he explained. “Our movie was nominated for best international short film.”
“Wow,” Monica let the syllable drag. “Toronto…”
“Yeah,” Kevin looked smug. “Toronto.”
“When’s the date?” Monica asked.
“It’s when you have school,” Kevin said, with that stereotypical tone of smugness about him. “I already checked.”
The air around the couple grew cold. The atmosphere became tense. Kevin knew that he had triggered something.
“I mean,” he began. “I really wanted you to come with me, too. But I checked, and you had school. And I didn’t want to impeded you and your studies.”
“Well,” she became more visibly upset by the moment. “You could have, maybe, asked me.”
“I know, and I’m sorry,” he apologized. “But you know I was thinking about the both of us.”
“Well are you, really?” Monica’s voice rose. “Are you sure you’re thinking about both of us? Is there even an us anymore?”
“What do you mean is there an us anymore?”
“I’m asking because, I feel like I’ve been relegated to the back seat of your life,” Monica’s voice was nearing a yell. Her eyes were tearing up at this point. “You,” she glared, with teary eyes. “You don’t even remember, do you?”
“Remember what?” Kevin was visibly frustrated.
Kevin rubbed his hands against his face. He, too, was shocked that he had forgotten. Monica reached for something under the table. It was the tiny gift bag that had been in her purse the entire time. She handed it over to Kevin.
“Your birthday,” she began. “It’s next week, isn’t it? I was trying to make this a surprise birthday celebration. But maybe you’re too good for me now.”
“What are you talking about?” Kevin said, out of frustration. “It’s a tiny mistake. It’s not like I forgot about you as a person.”
“You just don’t get it, do you?” Monica said. “I don’t feel like you have the same feelings for me anymore.”
“Well, maybe I felt the same way about you, all this time,” he said, abruptly. “Maybe you just liked me when I was on my ass, because it made you feel better about yourself,” he shouted. It startled her. Quite a bit.
Just then, at the worst possible time, as if it were some sort of badly written movie, the food arrived. The waiter set it down in front of Kevin and Monica, leaving with a “bon appetit”. Monica and Kevin both had blank stares about their faces. Monica was the first to move in the situation. She gathered her stuff, and left. She typed furiously at her phone, searching for a Lyft ride. Kevin just sat there with the blank stare consuming him.
Years past since that day. Monica had lost all contact with Kevin. And, Kevin, similarly, lost all contact with Monica. The two went about their lives as if nothing had happened. Monica graduated from college, went on to ace her MCATs, and began her residency at UCLA. She never left SoCal. To her, it was the world. Kevin went on to become a successful actor. Not a major box office hit, like those Marvel superheroes, but a successful one, nonetheless. He was frequenting LA, and New York, and sometimes even foreign destinations. Both had long forgotten about the good times the two had shared. They had even begun to forget the faces that were once so precious.
Kevin landed in LA, after an appearance on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. He got in his car, after navigating his way through the massive crowd at the airport, and began his long drive home in Beverley Hills. On the way, he passed by a sign. It read, “UCLA 2mi”. ‘UCLA,’ he thought. ‘I remember that place. I wonder why?’
Kevin couldn’t beat his curiosity. He had to turn off. He drove, as if instinct guided him, to a Starbucks. He remembered. He used to work here. He had forgotten about it, after all these years. He began to wonder, what else had he forgotten. He parked his car, and entered the Starbucks. He ordered his tall iced americano, and waited for his drink. His phone began to ring. It was his agent.
“Kevin,” his agent began. “I got a great role lined up for you.”
“I don’t know,” Kevin said. “I don’t think I can handle another role right away.”
“Kid, you don’t understand. This is going to make you a star.”
Kevin began to get fully involved in this conversation. The barista called his name. Kevin missed it. Then, someone tapped him on the shoulders. Kevin looked over his shoulders. It was a woman. And for some reason her face seemed so familiar. His eyes began to tear up. The woman, too, seemed shocked, as if she had met someone she had forgotten.
They had met in the summer, under the warm glow of the Californian sun. Perhaps not quite where the two had first met, on the golden sands of Venice Beach, but somewhere perhaps even more meaningful. The place that they had tried to escape from so many times, skipping classes for one, and skipping work for another. The place that symbolized the mundane, that made each other all the more special. Kevin grabbed pulled Monica in for a hug. All was right with the world.