When Mia contacted me to see if she and two friends could come visit in SoCal, it wasn't just an ordinary matter for me. It was an event.
I had a crush on Mia Laraz during most of my time in college. Three-and-a-half years after graduating from Amherst, I was now a graduate student on the other side of the country at the University of California in San Diego. I was halfway through the winter quarter when I received an e-mail from Mia saying she'd heard from a friend of a friend that I was living in La Jolla. She was studying law at UC-Berkeley and, with spring break coming up, she and two girlfriends were planning a road trip south. Would I put them up for a couple of days?
Mia Laraz... I hadn't expected to ever hear from or see her again. And yet, here was this note proving the opposite. She hadn't forgotten me.
I e-mailed her back with the house's address and the home's phone number. Two days before the start of spring break, she called the house to let me know they'd be arriving that Saturday afternoon.
"The girls and I," she added, "were thinking of heading into Mexico on Sunday to take advantage of one of the beach towns down there. Rosarito, probably. Would you be up for that?"
I would have followed her into a mosquito-infested swamp, if she'd asked.
I met Mia when we shared the same floor in my freshman year dorm in Massachusetts, and I was instantly attracted to her. She was thin, had a small frame and long brown hair, and somehow seemed imbued with a spirit of a bygone era. It was maybe her long, flowing, home-sewn dresses she sometimes wore with a headband, or the tie-dye t-shirts she donned with bell-bottom jeans. Or maybe because anytime I walked past her room—which was often, since she usually kept the door ajar—I could hear The Doors, Blood Sweat & Tears, Black Sabbath, and other seminal bands of the sixties and seventies blast from within the room. I wasn't just attracted to her; I was intimidated by her as well. While I was still trying to establish my identity, she was so confident in hers that she almost scared me. I wasn't used to women talking openly about sex. And she did—talked about how much she liked it and how the worst part was standing up and walking around afterward with semen dripping down her leg. She'd say things like that to her girlfriends, oblivious to who else might be listening.
Once I developed a bit of confidence and started dating, I still compared those girls to Mia. Mia would never order the steak. Mia would never kiss with so much tongue. Over the months and years at school, I got to know small details about her. She was a vegetarian, she liked long lingering kisses, she preferred sunrises to sunsets, riding motorcycles to driving cars, sex on a beach rather than just about anywhere else. In my junior year, when I went steady with the girl who would turn out to be my main experience with the female sex and my girlfriend for a year and a half, I sometimes wondered when we went for walks around town where Mia might be at that moment, what her hand might feel like in mine. No, it wasn't a healthy infatuation. And because I remained intimidated by her, I never asked her out.
After two years in the dorm, she moved to a house off-campus with a couple of roommates, and I saw her only occasionally from then on: walking around campus, at the library, or at a café. Sometimes I'd have the nerve to go up and talk to her—that was always a high point of my day—but more often than not I just observed her for those brief moments, wishing I were the type of guy who went after what he wanted.
Who knows if that would have made a difference? Even in my interactions with her throughout the years, it seemed that I often faded, disappeared altogether. I'm not sure why, but as a romantic prospect, she never considered me as anything more than a guy she shared a dorm floor with.
After graduation I got a job copyediting for a company in Boston and lost track of Mia. Stopped thinking about her, really. For two years I enjoyed the city, but when I had my heart stomped on by a girlfriend, everything changed. The job that had never bothered me before became dull, my friends flighty, the city too astir. I considered my options and decided on going to graduate school, somewhere in the west, I hoped. And when the University of California at San Diego offered me a spot in their literature PhD program with a full scholarship and teacher assistantship, I jumped at the chance and moved west, never thinking or imagining my path would ever cross again with Mia's.
And yet, two days after she and I spoke on the phone, there she was.
Had Mia changed? She'd maybe gained a few pounds, but on her frame, that was welcome. Also, if what she was wearing was any indication, her clothes were different, which reminded me that all I knew of her were tidbits accumulated years ago. I still had expected her attire to be groovy in the way that it had been at Amherst. But I wasn't complaining. She looked cute in a short skirt and tank top.
Her two friends were both blonde. Angie looked like your typical sorority girl in the movies. She was slim, tallish, and good-looking. As for Vivian, the first thing I noticed was her piercings—four earrings in her left ear, three in her right, a nose stud and a pierced eyebrow. There was also no doubt that black was her color—what with the dark jeans, Doc Martens, and Metallica t-shirt. She would have been cute if it weren't for all the darkness and the hardware. And though the fair hair looked good on her, it struck me as peculiar that she didn't dye it black.
The owner of the house was gone for the week and had given his permission for the girls' stay. So I showed them to their rooms, which were both on the ground floor. There were three girls, but only two beds—queen size.
"I'll leave it to you to decide who's sharing the bed," I said.
"Angie and I will room together," said Mia.
The thought of these two women in the same bed had my heart pumping loud and hard. It was silly of me to think they might hear it, but to cover up the noise that seemed so clamorous in my ears, I spoke.
"Do you girls need to freshen up or something? I was thinking we could drive down to Pacific Beach for a drink and some food."
Twenty minutes later we were walking along the beach, looking for a likely restaurant. We spotted one that seemed promising, sat out on the terrace, ordered drinks, and got to talking. Both Mia and Angie were in the law program at UC-Berkeley, while Vivian was a grad student in biochemistry.
"How did you become friends?" I asked Vivian. "I mean, I don't imagine biochem and law sharing similar courses."
At first, I directed my questions to Vivian who, despite the edgy look, was easy to talk to, while Angie's good looks made me uncomfortable.
"Angie dated my friend Ryan, and the four of us, with Mia, hung out a lot. When Angie and Ryan split up, we three just kept hanging out."
"Rad." Rad? What was I—some surfer guy just back from riding waves? I was a little nervous. Here I was with Mia Laraz and her inner circle of friends and, somehow, fitting in.
We talked, ate, drank some more and then, late in the evening, headed home. Everyone had drunk quite a bit, though since I was driving, I restrained myself. At home, the girls went to their rooms to change into their pajamas, while I went upstairs to use the bathroom. When I stepped out of it, Mia was standing on the landing in pale green silk shorts and a small, white, tight-fitting t-shirt. I could see her nipples pushing against the soft fabric.
"Which one's your room?" she asked.
I pointed to it.
"Sure, check it out."
She pushed the door open. There wasn't much in there. A single bed, a dresser, a closet, a desk with my computer on top. The best thing about the room, and the reason I had chosen it, was the view of the pool in the back.
"Great view," she said.
"Thanks. Have a seat."
She sat on the bed, which left me the choice to sit next to her, or to settle into the desk chair.
I settled into the chair.
"It's so cool of you to let us stay here, Carter."
I straightened my back a little when she said that. It wasn't my house, and I hadn't done anything exceptional. Still, a compliment from Mia made me feel lighter, or stronger, or both at the same time, if that's possible. I felt more manly, at any rate.
"Have you heard of what Petey's up to?" she asked.
Petey had been my roommate in college for two years.
"Yeah, he's working in New York City as a financial analyst. Making loads of money, that guy is. Which is the opposite of what I'll be making when, or if, I ever get my PhD. Whoever thought getting a doctorate in literature was a good idea?"
She laughed, and the sound of it—this sound that I had helped birth into existence—had me now sticking out my chest like I was a high school jock walking the school halls after a victory on the field.
"At least you're not oozing debt out of your every orifice like I am."
What a plucky statement, I thought as I chuckled.
"Granted," I said, picturing dollar signs floating out of her ears, nostrils, mouth, eyes, upward, ever upward, a steady stream of wealth vanishing into the ether. She was still as self-assured as she had been back in college.
"So, Rosarito tomorrow?" she said.
"Yeah. Leave around noon?"
Mia got up from the bed. She walked into the hallway and I followed her out. She started heading toward the stairs, but then seemed to think better of it, came back toward me and kissed me on the lips. Slow, gentle, lingering. Just like I had always imagined her kiss would be. Then she started for the stairs and I whispered, "Stay." She just smiled impishly and disappeared down the stairway. And though I wondered if maybe I could have been bolder, sat by her, kissed her, I still felt elated, and brave now, and audacious. I knew that tomorrow would be a day of possibilities.
We took Angie's white Buick Roadmaster, she and Vivian in the front, Mia and me in the backseat, Christina Aguilera blasting, the sound straining the capacity of the speakers. Angie and Vivian belted out the songs and I found it hard to accept a gothic chick like Vivian being so unabashedly into Christina Aguilera. The girl seemed full of contradictions. In the midst of all this jovial racket, I remembered the prior evening's kiss and my resolution to be bolder. I turned to Mia, smiled at her and took her slender hand in mine. She seemed surprised, but let me. And as we drove down to Rosarito, I was astounded that now, after all my years of pining for her, I had kissed Mia and knew for real (not just in my mind) what it felt like to hold her hand. Once the astonishment wore off, a sort of beatitude fell upon me. I was no longer invisible.
Once in Rosarito, the girls drove around and bought a few things, items that were more difficult or impossible to purchase in California. Cuban cigars, fireworks, Viagra. Of this latter purchase, Mia said, "We've heard it intensifies a girl's orgasm." I had never heard of a person desiring a more intense orgasm.
We drove toward the beachfront, found parking and headed to the beach with some towels in a couple of tote bags. We set up close to the water and the girls undressed. I found it hard to keep my eyes from Mia's body. It was toned, tan, and tight in all the right places. I wondered for a minute about the strange social convention that allowed people to see each other half-naked, so long as they were near bodies of water. I lathered some sunscreen on myself and asked Mia to get my back. Afterward, she turned and said, "Would you do mine?" As I applied the cream, I was already memorizing her features and the moles on her back, as well as sneaking in occasional glances at her butt. Then, as everyone settled on their towels, Mia smiled at me and said, "Would you be a peach and get us some beers?"
The bar was just a hundred feet behind us. When I returned with four Coronas, Mia and Vivian were in the water, while Angie lay on her back, tanning and looking gorgeous. I placed two beers in the sand, and one in her hand.
"Thanks, Carter. You're sweet."
We clinked bottles, and I said, "To spring break."
She laughed and repeated, "To spring break."
Vivian and Mia stayed in the water a while, long enough for Angie and I to finish our beers.
"How's the water?" I asked when they returned.
In unison they said, "Cold!"
"But so refreshing," Vivian added. Her two-piece was, of course, black, and her navel contained a tiny barbell. I wondered what other non-visible body parts of hers might also be pierced.
Soon, I was off to the bar for another round.
When I returned, I doled out the beer and then lay down and closed my eyes. When I opened them again Mia was gone. I drank some beer. It was warm, but I took a good long swallow anyhow. I looked around again, and this time Angie caught my eye.
"You snore!" she said, and Vivian, who was beside her in her dark sunglasses, giggled.
"Man, I was out, wasn't I. Where's Mia?"
"She went to get us another drink," Angie said.
I sat there, watching the push and pull of the waves, then looked out at the immensity of the ocean before us, feeling so small all of a sudden, a mere pebble on a mountaintop, the most minute moiety of a waterfall, one solitary leaf amongst a forest of balsam firs. I felt insignificant and, for a moment, it was overwhelming, as though I might never again feel unique, essential, or meaningful in any way.
I remembered my beer. Remembered Mia. And the melancholy vanished.
"I'm going to go see what's keeping her," I said.
Mia was knocking down a shot along with three guys at the bar. She lifted her arm up straight and whooped, then turned to the guy on her right and kissed him on the lips.
I couldn't move, couldn't will my body to go forward and proclaim her as mine. It's not that I was outnumbered. I would've happily taken a beating to get her back. No, it was that she looked like she belonged there, in that outdoor bar, celebrating youth and beauty and time off from worries over finances and academics. I sensed that moment for her was sacrosanct, and I let her have it.
I retreated to the beach towels.
"Did you find her?" Angie said.
I sat down and stared at the ocean again.
"Yeah, she's doing shots with some guys."
"By herself?" Vivian said.
"And you left her alone with them?"
"She didn't seem to need any chaperoning."
"I suppose not. But still... Angie, maybe we should go check on her."
The two got up and headed toward the bar. I kept my gaze averted from the horizon, knowing there was nothing there for me—nothing but obscurity and desolation. Instead, I focused on the recurring waves, each one seeming to whisper, I am here, I am salient, I am special.
Title image "Sea Waves" Copyright © The Summerset Review 2021.