It was full dark now. The sun had set. Streets were lit by alternating red and green and yellow traffic lights. Neon signs with kiwi green and fuchsia lettering. In a bubble of yellow light that poured out of a storefront, I stopped, feeling the breeze of bodies pushing past me. I held perfectly still, staring into a cube-shaped shop faced with transparent glass. There were two signs on the window, words in lilac neon—so soothing and vivid I could almost smell the color. Delicate. Floral. Wafting on seemingly clean air.
F R I E N D S H O P
Blinking on and off next to it:
24 HOURS ONLY
24 HOURS ONLY
24 HOURS ONLY
The real eye-catcher was beyond the glass of the storefront. Floor-to-ceiling rainbow on all three walls. I opened the glass door and it buzzed at my entrance. The rainbow was made of bracelets woven of embroidery thread. Friendship bracelets, the kind that kids made at summer camp—or so I was led to believe from movies I watched growing up. I had an impression of kids sitting at picnic tables amidst sun and pine trees.
Each bracelet was unique in color and design. Chevrons and stripes. Diamonds and hearts. Twists and braids. Multi-colored and monochrome. Beads woven into the thread.
I noticed, for the first time, the shopgirl boxing up bracelets in one corner of the shop. The girl’s eyes crinkled with her smile. There were tiny stickers—heart, smiley face, star—decorating the corners of her eyes. She wore a green and pink floral kimono on denim short-alls, and a nametag that said “Taffy Jones, manager.” I thought Taffy could have been either twenty-two or forty-two years old.
“You made it just in time!” Taffy sang. “We pop up for one day only every spring, and you look like someone in need of a friend.”
Taffy gestured at the rainbow walls so the sleeves of her kimono dipped and Leah saw that her arms were adorned wrist-to-elbow with bracelets.
She made me nervous, and I laughed uneasily, looking to the walls of bracelets. I stepped toward the wall for a closer look and one that caught my eye. It was simple—a pattern of repeating daisies, like a chain. I reached out and touched it.
“Looks like you found a friend,” and with that, Taffy reached around me, taking the bracelet off the wall and wrapping it around my wrist, tying it in a tight knot. I stared at the knot, stunned, uncertain of how Taffy even came to be standing next to me.
“How much is it?” It was the wrong thing to say. I should have said, No, thank you. But I asked how much, knowing there was only thirteen dollars in my wallet in ones and fives, all the cash I had left in the world, aside from a checking account so depleted I couldn’t bear to check my balance, and a credit card for emergencies. This whole month had been an emergency. I had no intention of buying anything. I just wanted to get out of the car, stretch my legs, maybe window shop a little bit. Right? I asked myself. Right?
Taffy smiled. She looked at me like she was looking into me…
“It only costs thirteen dollars, no tax. Small price to pay for the perfect friend.”
…or into my wallet, counting everything I had left, and noticing a desperate, friend-shaped gap in my life. My hand reached for my wallet of its own accord. My head nodded as if it brainlessly believed we’d stumbled onto the most amazing deal.
Can’t pass this up, my mind rattled, senselessly.
It’s not my fault, I argued with myself. It’s not my fault this woman tied the bracelet in a knot. I shouldn’t have to pay for this. I didn’t need—of all things—a friendship bracelet. It would just have to be un-knotted. No, no, no.
I held the money out to Taffy, resignation washing over me.
Who was I kidding? The tension of having nothing had to split at some point. Maybe the bracelet could be a talisman, a good luck charm. Maybe it would help manifest an actual friend. Maybe I didn’t need to eat dinner tonight. Maybe I didn’t need to eat tomorrow.
Since arriving in Los Angeles and finding myself with no job, I was usually nauseous, a lump in my throat every time I spent money. I didn’t feel it now, handing the bills to Taffy.
I must be disassociating. No one is occupying this body. Taffy didn’t even count the money, she took it out of my hand, smiling, crumpling the bills around the middle—the way a cartoon character might grab money. Then, she put her arm around my shoulders and led me toward the door of the shop.
“I hope to see you again next spring. Good luck in LA and have fun!”
She opened the door and Melrose engulfed me. I faced a now trafficless street. There was a click! as the door was locked behind me. The square of yellow light disappeared along with the soothing violet neon, and I turned to find the windows blackened, the interior invisible, and just my own reflection looking back at me.
My phone said: 12:01 a.m.
I started walking back to my car and saw something round and shining on the sidewalk and made a reflexive jerk toward it. The reflex was jarring to me, all in the hopes of finding a quarter or change, and it was only a scrap of plastic reflecting light. I looked at the bracelet, daisies dancing around my wrist. I looked back at the black cube of a shop wedged between a trading card store and an arcade. Then, I looked up at the sky. How did it seem so oppressively close without any stars in it? The full moon was low and huge, blending in with the streetlamps as if it was just another light fixture.
Nothing in this city is real, I thought.
The coffee shop had a patio in the sun. A couple of men in suits talked about their screenplays, air pods hanging out of their ears. A group of women in yoga clothes shared a table, ate French toast dusted with powdered sugar and breakfast burritos with silver ramekins of salsa. Students stared into textbooks and scribbled in spiral notebooks.
Lured in by the birds and the shade, by the brightness of it all, I was tempted to sit down at a table without buying anything, but my body was in charge again, and I found myself approaching the counter and ordering. I found herself handing over my probably maxed-out debit card. The cashier swiped it, and miraculously, the screen went from Processing…to Approved and a receipt printed. A moment later, two alerts pinged on my phone—my bank account was less than the fifty dollar amount, and my account was overdrawn. Available balance: $-4.25.
Don’t panic. The money would come back to me. Something would come up, because it had to. It had to. I found an empty table near a woman with platinum blonde hair and sunglasses sitting cross-legged in high tops, and sipping a pink smoothie, reading a book. She’s so aesthetic, I thought, sitting down at the empty table, watching the woman’s lips curl as she laughed at something in the paperback in her lap.
The mesh seat was too low for the height of the metal table, making me feel like a child with an oversized, bowl-sized cup of matcha. Liquid motivation, steeling my courage. If life wasn’t working for me, I’d play at it. I’d browse jobs in case—
But I didn’t want to think about the other job not coming through. It had to. It’s what I came here for. I focused instead on my latte. There it was, cradled in glossy ceramic. I had yet to take the first sip, always hesitating to wreck latte art—a feathery white leaf floating in a frosted willow green sky. I opened my laptop.
A pigeon flew low, and I felt the breeze of its wings near my cheek. A couple tiny sparrows hopped onto my table, one tilting its head to regard me. I could hear the twittering of its family and friends in the branches overhead and felt encouraged by their presence and proximity.
The bird took wing between me and the platinum blonde at the other table. As it passed between us, we made eye contact through the blue lenses of the woman’s sunglasses and smiled at each other.
There’s at least one friendly person in LA, I thought.
The birds tweeted and hopped around on the branches above. There was a Crack! followed by a Plop!
A small branch dropped out of the tree landing smack! in my matcha latte, breaking the art and spraying green onto my jacket and cheeks, splashing the screen and keyboard of my laptop. I sat there stunned. Next to me, the platinum-haired woman giggled, making me laugh too.
“Here,” said the woman, and flipped up her sunglasses. “I have some napkins.”
“Just when I was starting to feel hopeful,” I said, taking napkins, dabbing at the drops.
“The universe is such a jokester, am I right? Is your computer okay?”
I tried to wipe at drops on the screen, smeared and smudgy.
“You, uh, have a few more spots on your hair and forehead.”
I cringed, embarrassed, feeling for the sticky spots on my face
“I hope this isn’t how the rest of my day is going to go. Or my week.” Or my life.
“I have a feeling it’ll turn around,” she said and reached out her hand. “My name is Daisy, by the way.”
When I gripped her hand, I felt a static shock.
“Oops,” she said. “Sorry about that, I’m always creating static electricity. What did you say your name is?”
Daisy slipped the book she had been reading into a striped tote bag.
“Leaving?” I asked—my voice operating without me, and sounding strained. I realized how desperate I was for any human interaction at all.
“I’m actually on my way to the beach,” Daisy said.
“Oh, I haven’t been to the beach yet.” My mouth is being chatty, I thought.
“No, I just moved here.”
“Do you—want to join me? I’d love the company.”
“Yeah, really,” Daisy laughed.
What gripped me? Impulsiveness? Desperation? A feeling of connection? The job search was important, but the possibility of a friend was too tempting, too necessary, too more-important-than-anything else.
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I’d love to join you. Please.”
Daisy smiled. “Do you need to finish that first?”
We looked at the latte, a partially submerged branch sticking out of it, and burst out laughing.
I exhaled through the rolled-down windows as Daisy’s car carried us forward and away. Soon, I could taste the salt on the air and then I could see it—the road before us leading directly into the ocean. We parked on a small, crowded street. Daisy grabbed beach towels from her trunk. She even had extra flip-flops, and the two of us half-ran, unsteady through the sand toward the water. “You have to jump in, even if you don’t have a swimsuit with you,” Daisy insisted.
That’s what I wanted to hear. I wanted to be swallowed up by the ocean and cleansed of all the ill experiences thus far. Even fully dressed, the cold ocean gave me goosebumps. The waves knocked me down, but pulling myself up, I imagined the weight of the water on my clothes was Los Angeles, holding onto me, wanting to keep me. Dripping, Daisy and I spread out them, colorful floral prints only slightly faded by sunshine. As we unfurled the towels, old beach sand flew off the threads and sparkled in the sun before settling back where they belonged. Pixie dust.
Daisy disappeared for a few minutes and reappeared with a paper basket of fries, sticky with fresh minced garlic. We shared them, stretching out in the hot sun.
“Love a spontaneous new friend,” Daisy said, turning to lie on her back, shading her eyes with her forearm. I turned my head, squinted at Daisy through the sting of saltwater and bright sunshine.
I couldn’t respond. Spontaneous. Not reckless. Not impulsive. Not throwing every penny I had away on a hope and a whim. Spontaneous. Daisy’s feet dug into the warm sand, and I gasped—seeing something around Daisy’s ankle—an anklet embroidered with the very same colors as my new bracelet. I sat up, looked closer—daisies. Just like mine. They matched.
“I’m so happy you decided to come along,” Daisy said, her voice sounding sleepy and distant, almost syrupy, as she lay in the sun. “I felt like I needed a friend.”
Daisy dropped me off back at the café where we met. A yellow butterfly flew by as I stepped onto the pavement. The light through its wings made it look like a moving fragment of stained glass.
“Call me anytime,” Daisy said before she drove away.
I walked back to my car on sidewalks dotted with some kind of smashed brown fruit that must have fallen from the palm trees. I took a deep breath, feeling more myself than I had since moving to L.A., energized by half an order of garlic fries and the afterglow of a day at the beach. Then I saw my car—the only one remaining on the street.
Closer, I noticed the envelope tucked under the wiper blade. Inside, a strip of paper, as thin and slender as a receipt. It was a parking ticket. Breath left me. I leaned against the side of my car, unable to support this new weight. My eyes were still focused on the seventy-five dollar fine when my phone pinged. I looked: Charges to account exceeded available balance. An overdraft fee for a matcha latte I never got to drink. Charged money for not having enough money. I looked up from the phone’s blue light into the rusty light as sunset turned palm trees black along Beverly Boulevard.
The next day, I stood outside the office building where I was supposed to work. It was empty. Totally empty. There was a sign in the window.
I could see inside, an expanse of concrete foundation. Only a few weeks earlier, they’d offered me a job which I’d accepted with enthusiasm over the phone. I drove west for this. When I tried to call, the phone rang without switching to voicemail. I checked their website.
404 NOT FOUND
Anxiety mingled with exhaustion. What do I do? Do I even have enough gas to get out of the city? Probably not. Heavy trucks lumbered by, the clanking of their gruff metal and thud of bulk moving over potholes unsettled me. The sound itself felt harsh like a vibration shaking me from the inside. I got in my car. My body operating without me. Turning onto the freeway, ready to leave, counting the ticks of my turn signal when—Slam! Crash!
At first I didn’t know what happened. I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. There’d been an almost-benign sound of crumpling metal. My car, scraped across the asphalt and the world turned over. The KITCHEN box slammed against me, sliding from the passenger’s seat. It took a moment to get my bearings, to realize I was hanging upside down from my seatbelt. The car was facing a totally different direction than I’d been traveling, having spun then flipped. The cream plastic of deflated airbags crumpled at the window, the felt lining of the car’s interior burst open. Paramedics pried the door open and I crawled out, already a little bruised and scratched, unsteady on my feet. My things spilled into the road, broken glass lit by the sun. A sauce pan was dented. I wished I’d never brought any of it with me. Cars drove around the wreckage without stopping. A box had split and let loose a blanket. Cars rolled over it, pinning it down, leaving tire treads across its surface, one corner trying hopelessly to lift in the wake of speeding cars.
I found out the other car ran a red light, ramming into the side of my car. They were fine. Their car hadn’t flipped over. They never spoke to me. Never got out of their car. Maybe they were more traumatized than me. Maybe if I wasn’t exhausted and disappointed I could have reacted sooner. It wasn’t my fault. Everyone said. But the feeling of failure was ripe and in full blossom inside my chest.
At the hospital, I gaped at my skin as I tried to change into a hospital gown. Already there were purple bruises where the seatbelt strapped me in. After a few X-rays, they released me from the Emergency Room. I had no car and nowhere to Uber to. I looked down at the medical bracelet printed with my name and patient number and insurance I’d signed up for when the ambulance dropped me off. Side-by-side with the medical bracelet was the embroidered friendship bracelet with the daisies, looking bright and optimistic and new.
Daisy had typed her number into my phone the day they went to the beach, and now, I didn’t know what else to do. I hadn’t met anyone else in LA. Daisy answered after one ring.
“Hey-a Leah! What took you so long to call?…Hello? Lay?”
“I’m sorry.” I wanted to apologize for my existence and what I was about to ask for. “I was just in a car accident—”
She never gave me a chance to explain myself.
“Where are you?”
I was stretched out on the hospital bed staring at the wall when Daisy got there. They’d let me wait. I heard her voice coming around the curtain.
“Welcome to Hell-A, am I right? You’re not wasting any time—jumping into the Pacific, flipping your car. I’d say you got your initiation to the city out of the way,” Daisy’s voice was light, and she was gentle as she helped me up. “I have a sofa with your name on it.”
Daisy lived in Koreatown, a ground-floor corner apartment with hardwood floors and a plush, well-loved sofa that opened into a bed. She had ivory curtains that let in the sun but blocked out views from the street. Her bedroom was small and the bathroom was tiny, but after sleeping in my car, the space felt luxurious.
“It’s not much, but it’s home,” Daisy said after a quick tour that involved mainly pointing at things.
Daisy ordered Chinese food then went to pick it up. “When you’re well enough,” she said, “I’ll take you to this place. It’s just around the corner and I love it.” The food revived me. There were doughy noodles in thick black sauce and spicy red soup. There was so much of it that I couldn’t finish, hungry as I was. I felt better.
“I’m so sorry for putting you out—” Daisy was already waving my words out of the air, swatting them away like she was trying to stop the sound from landing on her ears— “I’ll leave as soon as I’m feeling better I promise—” Daisy shook her head as if an obnoxious fly was circling. “And I’ll pay you back for the food and—”
“Listen, money is just energy and energy needs to be fluid and in motion. We have it, we let it go, it comes back, or it goes somewhere else. Sometimes it’s stagnant. If I have some that I’m not using, you may as well be using it. Money is a made-up system, and nothing really belongs to any of us.”
Who says things like that? I wondered. Who says things like that and means it?
The light through the curtains the next morning and many mornings after that taunted me as bruises surfaced like mottled florals on my body. When we finally went out, I seemed to bring clouds with me, but I gradually started to feel revived in spite of myself. Rain clamped down the smog. The city was grey but shiny, and my soreness subsided enough to get out of bed at Daisy’s urging. “LA is magic. One day you’ll see.” We strolled down Hollywood Boulevard across a slippery Walk of Fame.
At Grauman’s, measuring sneakers against high-heeled impressions and hovered our hands over puddle-filled prints to discover we were both exactly the same size as Debbie Reynolds—so we danced in the rain to celebrate.
Daisy shined bright on the grimmest days. She wore clothes that looked like they were made from recycled inflatable furniture from the early 2000s. Pink transparent plastic dresses with balloon sleeves or shiny skirts over tights. Somehow everything looked right on her and nothing looked out of place. She seemed to be deriving nutrients directly from the cosmos, soul-fed. She was a mystery, an enigma, and I felt at once enchanted and confused by her.
Daisy possessed the spirit of the city, or so it seemed to me, a playfulness and edginess, that was an embodiment of the best of it. “How can that be?” I wondered out loud, and Daisy just shrugged and said, “It’s easy if you’ve always been here and never known anything else.”
One day, driving home in a new-to-me car, I started singing along to an Ace of Base on the radio and caught a glimpse in my rearview mirror of the girl in the car behind me doing the same—raising her arms in the air and moving to a beat as we were stopped at a light. The man in the car next to me was doing the same—all of us in our totally separate, enclosed spaces, listening to different songs, moving and singing along. I didn’t realize until then that something had shifted in me, that I was different. It wasn’t so long ago I’d been sobbing in my car, feeling alone and isolated, trying to change lanes and feeling totally shut out, rejected by the city, wondering what I was even doing.
I still felt the trauma of the accident, still tensed at intersections, had to steady my breathing turning onto freeways, felt my body respond when I approached the site of the accident, even if I wasn’t consciously thinking about what had happened there. But it was manageable. Maybe I wasn’t totally better, but I felt okay, I was functioning better.
I started to believe that LA was magical. The kind of place where you a bracelet you buy with the last of your money has the power to manifest a friend who doesn’t make you feel bad for the things that have happened to you or judge you or ridicule you or give you a hard time about sleeping on their couch. Now and then, I caught a glimpse of Daisy’s anklet peeking out from under the hem of her jeans. Always a reassuring sight with its repeating pattern, like mine. By the end of the year, my bracelet had faded and it was barely hanging on, frayed, and falling apart. It was knotted too tightly to take it off for showers or swimming. Daisy’s, on the other hand, stayed pristine. Exactly as it had been when I first noticed it. Exactly as mine had been when I first bought it. My bracelet now was getting ragged and frayed, but I felt so attached to it. A good luck charm.
But one day, it caught on my jacket and I pulled to get it free. There was a fell whisper against my skin as the last delicate thread separated and it drifted to the sidewalk, dropping into a puddle. I felt a twinge in my chest. At first, it sat on the surface of the water and in slow motion, sunk, as water took hold of it, and drew it under. I watched it disappear as if in slow motion.
What did it feel like then? Like a smartphone slipping out of my fingers, the corner hitting pavement, splintering into spiderweb cracks that would leave fiberglass in my fingertips—that’s how it felt, in my heart, a sickening loss that couldn’t be real.
The puddle—a gross, downtown, LA puddle, brown and yellow and mysterious in a way I didn’t want to know. The bracelet was unsalvageable. I said a silent goodbye. Farewell, friend, and rubbed my naked wrist as I walked on.
Daisy was late to meet me at the Moonlight Rollerway. It was Retro Night with music from the 70s, 80s, and 90s—our favorite. I sat on a bench with my skates on, and Daisy’s skates that I’d already rented sitting next to me. We were the same size. We were celebrating the new apartment I’d moved into, and I wanted to treat her. I put her skates in a locker and went into the rink for a few laps to “Grease” and “Hit Me Baby, One More Time,” with my phone on vibrate, all the while scanning the crowd. But Daisy never showed. She didn’t answer her texts. She tried calling, but the phone just kept ringing.
I drove to Daisy’s apartment, but Daisy didn’t buzz me in. Discomfort settled in my chest. I looked around the neighborhood before climbing over the low wall and up to Daisy’s corner windows to peer inside. No curtains. The apartment was empty. Bare walls and empty hardwood. I couldn’t even see dust marks to show where furniture had been. Daisy was gone, and she hadn’t said goodbye. My heart pounded. Someone was leaving the building, a flash of pink velour, I rushed over to see the upstairs neighbor with her dog—the dog was tinier than I imagined. They both wore pink tracksuits.
“Excuse me, I’m looking for my friend. In apartment 2B.” Leah pointed to the corner windows. “Do you know when she moved out?”
The woman looked me up and down. “I never met a tenant living there.”
“Her name was Daisy. She has platinum blonde hair—” Never met? I’d heard them talking by the mailboxes.
“Listen, I never met anyone in that apartment and I never peered through their front windows either, as far as I know, it’s vacant, and has been for a while. I think you should stop snooping around the property before someone calls security.”
I walked the neighborhood as if I might bump into Daisy.
Smashed dates littered the sidewalk. I went to the ice cream shop with the cute, fish-shaped cones, and walked through H Mart, lingering in front of the kimchi. I even walked by the empty building where our favorite Chinese restaurant had been—the one with the huge bowls of noodles in black bean sauce and the spicy beef stew. The building was empty now. I kept trying Daisy’s phone as the days went on, and it kept ringing. It didn’t even switch to an answering machine. I drove through Daisy’s neighborhood again and again. I walked the courtyard in Little Tokyo with the Japanese lanterns where we’d sung karaoke on an open stage. Someone had put a $5 in a jar for us. I passed the studio where we’d stood in line for an open audition even though neither of us could act. It was just “so LA” and Daisy said, “You have to, at least once!”
I got into my car and started home. I zoned out, lost in thoughts of our friendship. It got dark as I drove. On Melrose, I caught sight of a cube of light and a lilac neon sign. Then I realized—it was spring again. It had been one year since I moved to Los Angeles. The pop-up had reappeared. It was almost midnight. I pulled into a parking spot so abruptly the car behind me honked before zooming past and laying on its horn. The noise didn’t mean anything to me now. I’d changed. I’d survived a crash. This city couldn’t hurt me any more than it already had. I parked quickly and ran down the sidewalk. Many of the shops had changed in the past year but the crowd on Melrose remained the same. Denim and leather. Bright hairstyles. I opened the glass door to
F R I E N D S H O P
and heard the welcoming buzz. Taffy, in her floral kimono, turned around to greet me.
“Welcome back,” she said. “You look like you could use a friend.”