I Thought I Meant More to You Than That
Tablet Original Fiction: Angela loves Paul loves Claire loves Adam loves Angela
1. We’ve All Seen Angela Cry
Angela cries over bad boys and good jokes. She cried after three of her best friends helped her move across the country, from California to Chicago, hugging them tightly before they took off. Angela cries in bars over the mention of Gabriel García Márquez, her German Shepherd that died from a brain tumor. It was either watch him suffer or let the vet euthanize him. She now has a third tattoo: a portrait of Gabe’s face on her ribs.
Dear Gabriel García Márquez, she wrote on her private blog weeks later. Today I went to the pound to look at dogs. I felt like I just needed to be near one. To scratch a dog’s little ears and maybe find one that I could fall in love with, that could help me try and get over you. But all it did was make me miss you more.
Angela shamelessly reads young adult fiction and cries over every imaginary tale of heartbreak. Angela tears up whenever she is reminded of her abortion, even though she knows it was the only thing to do at the time.
But Angela can’t shed a single tear for her best friend Claire, no matter how strained their relationship gets. And as for Claire, she rarely cries about anything. Claire doesn’t open up, which she at least is open about, reminding Angela on several occasions, “I don’t like to talk about my feelings.”
2. The Starting Line
During a lazy late-morning in July, four restless 20-year-old girls stand in the kitchen, huddling around a toaster. Today’s breakfast has been planned for weeks. One by one, each girl grabs a crunchy piece of wheat bread, uses the same knife to smother on a goopy ball of peanut butter, and finally, daintily, places a crispy magic mushroom on top. One bus ride and many giggles later, they arrive at their college campus, U.C. Santa Cruz, where they will hike the trails of Pogonip and explore the surrounding meadow until dusk.
The friends organically pair off. Two move at a toddler’s pace, gasping over the softness of every blade of grass and every immature strawberry, dotted brilliantly against the green meadow like neon laser beams. The other two friends rush past, their focus on the radiant hill ahead. They smile at each other as they pick up speed, trying desperately to get a sneaker’s lead ahead of the other. They’re neck and neck, Angela and Claire. For now.
3. Halloween, Two Years Later
Claire’s zooming downhill. She’s not on foot but on her Bianchi fixed-gear, painted its signature shade of Celeste turquoise. It’s Halloween night and Claire’s spending the holiday party-hopping with friends from her marine biology classes. They’re too drunk off whiskey sours to drive, so they’ve decided to ride bikes all over town. Claire’s flying past everyone, her long red hair elegantly trailing behind her. She’s laughing into the cool night air, gaining speed at an alarming rate. She can’t think quick enough to slow down. Soon, she crashes face first at the bottom of the street, her fair-skinned Irish complexion offset by a bloody, peeling nose and chin. Her two front teeth are horrifically jagged and chipped, and that beautiful Bianchi? Turquoise origami.
Neither one of her two best friends are there to comfort her. Gwen has a valid excuse: She’s studying abroad in London for the fall quarter. That frustrating eight-hour time difference every time they want to Skype. Angela, like Gwen, has been Claire’s roommate since the first day of college. The three of them were assigned to the same dorm room in Porter College, which houses too many white boys with dreads and hairy girls who hula hoop. Angela is also too drunk and having a lousy time tonight, but not in Santa Cruz with Claire.
Angela’s over the hill in San Francisco, wondering how she was suckered into spending Halloween with Paul, who she is still secretly very much in love with. Angela and Paul have been sleeping together since summer, and now here he is, introducing Angela to his latest crush: Carmen, or whatever. Angela takes a nap at Paul’s, sobers up, and drives the hour-and-a-half ride back to Santa Cruz in the middle of the night. There’s no way she’s going to sleep in the same room as Carmen, who she drunkenly called “Indiana Dyke” hours before, unamused by Carmen’s lame Indiana Jones costume. Angela was Paul’s ride back to Santa Cruz, but who cares? Her heart hurts. There’s nothing to do but sleep it off.
4. Just Another Saturday
Angela’s hunched over in a stranger’s backyard, puking whatever’s left of her vegetarian burrito into a bush. Another Saturday night, another mediocre party. Her friends are just as drunk as she is, but keeping down their beer better. Paul comes up behind her, holding back her messy brown hair.
“Go take care of Carmen or whatever the fuck her name is,” Angela mumbles in between heaves. “I fucking hate you. Just go away.”
“Is that what you really want?” Paul asks meekly. She nods, now rolled into a ball on the grass. He not only leaves her side, he leaves the party.
Angela stands up, wiping her mouth with the palm of her hand. Her fingers remain pressed to her lips, Krazy-glued in shock, as she faces her friends in disbelief.
“Did he actually leave me here to vomit in a stranger’s bushes?” Josh and Phoebe nod.
She’s furious and suddenly fresh out of fucks to give. She flings her arms out into the air, a backwards hug, and announces, “By the way everyone, Paul and I have been boning for six months!”
Other people at the party, people Angela doesn’t know, yell “You go, girl!”
Josh knows she isn’t trying to brag. He wraps an arm around her and whispers, “Let’s get you home.”
5. Does Claire Know?
Angela wakes up the next morning in her bed, having no recollection of how she got there. Shit. Shiiiiiiiiiiit. Does Claire know?
She’s nervous, even though Claire wasn’t at the party. She was at a different one, with her Sea Creature Friends from Marine Bio, as Angela often refers to them.
Claire, barefoot as usual, prances into Angela’s bedroom in a T-shirt and underwear, her red hair swaying behind her. She hands Angela a mason jar full of tap water.
“You were so drunk that Josh and Phoebe had to carry you home,” she smiles, amused. Claire shuts the door to let Angela recuperate, heading back to her own bedroom down the hall. Angela sighs, feeling a little relieved. Claire clearly hadn’t heard about her big announcement at the party.
Paul won’t stop calling, no matter how many times Angela clicks ignore. She gives in.
“Did you tell Josh and Phoebe?” He was pissed.
“Um…I might have gotten a little too drunk last night,” says Angela groggily.
“You’re fucking everything up. Everyone’s going to know,” he says, uncharacteristically stern.
“I don’t care if it gets out. You’re an asshole.” She goes back to bed.
Of course she does care if one particular person were to ever find out, and that’s Claire. This is now the fourth year they’ve lived together. Since freshman year, they’ve made nearly every single meal together, spent weeknights drinking Two Buck Chuck while watching The Office and Parks and Recreation. On these nights, Angela would often pass out during the first episode, but Claire would continue to watch, letting Angela sleep on her shoulder. Angela remembers Claire playing the role of Mama Bear, driving Angela home from a party if she thought she was too drunk and might regret a random hook-up. They both drink too much coffee and find each other hilarious. They can study alongside each other at the library for 12 hours straight. They’ve wreaked havoc all over Europe together. They’ve swapped boy story after boy story, in superfluous detail, except for one that Angela will never open up about.
Angela met Adam in December of junior year. It was at the beginning of winter break, when Claire needed to go to campus to turn in one last final paper.
“Come with me! I’m going to drive!” Claire begs Angela, who never needs prodding to hang out with close friends.
They park the car in a 15-minute parking spot, and soon after, Claire spots her friend Adam. She yells his name. He turns around.
Hello, beautiful Jewish man is all Angela’s thinking. I want to marry you.
“Hey, how’s it going?” Claire asks. “Are you going to be here for winter break?”
“I’m gonna be around for a couple days, then I’m going back home to Portland,” says Adam.
“We’re going to have some people over tonight: drink some wine, play some board games. Come hang out!” says Claire. She doesn’t introduce Angela.
As soon as they hop in the car, Angela says, “He’s cuuute.”
“I knew you’d be in love with him,” Claire teases.
Adam is the last person to leave Claire and Angela’s place that night, having spent the entire evening flirting with Claire.
“Did you guys make out?” Angela asks the next morning.
“No, he’s totally not my type,” says Claire. As expected, Adam texts Claire later that night about going on a date sometime. She says no.
Two months later, Angela meets Adam again. Her good friend Jonathan convinces her to come to Lisa’s house for dinner. Turns out Lisa and Adam live together.
“Hey, what’s your name again?” Adam asks.
“Angela,” she says, though thinking, I hate your guts. You’re such a douche.
“You live with Claire!” He recalls, his mouth smiling so big it looks like it’s on the cusp of breaking into song. Angela ignores him the rest of the night.
Hours later, a drunk Jonathan tells Angela, “I’m going to stay here for the night.” He has a thing going with Lisa.
“But you drove me!” sighs Angela. Adam offers to take her home.
Angela and Adam make plans to see each other the next night. The hangout goes so well that they begin dating. It gets serious: Adam keeps a toothbrush at Angela’s. But every so often she is troubled by that first night he came over to the apartment.
“You hit on Claire first!” says Angela on the verge of tears.
“I didn’t even know you,” says Adam weakly.
“I was there! You could have hit on me while you were there,” she whines.
“She’s just so sweet, and charming, and a redhead. I have a thing for redheads,” Adam mumbles.
“You will never like me like you like her.”
7. Adam’s Best Friend
One day, Adam tells Angela, “My best friend’s coming back! I’m so excited. You’ll love him.” His best friend had been studying abroad in Berlin.
Meanwhile, Lisa keeps trying to make Angela her best friend, most likely to get closer to Jonathan. Or because she has a morbid fascination for knowing too much about everyone.
“Want to come over and make pizza?” Lisa texts with several pizza slice and glass-full-of-wine emojis.
Angela writes back, “Is Adam going to be there?”
Adam wasn’t there, but his best friend was. He’s sweet and very charming, despite his patchy auburn facial hair that makes him look like a pervert. Angela immediately enjoys his company, and they become close friends, just as Adam predicted. Then Adam’s best friend begins dating Claire. He’s sleeping over at Claire and Angela’s place practically every night and Claire even meets his whole family. But it only lasts for four weeks, up until Claire becomes enamored by Tyler, a six-foot-four scruffy hippie with an A+ smile, who she can go snorkeling, dissect frogs, and pickle vegetables with.
Adam’s best friend is devastated. It didn’t help that Claire dumped him at his 21st birthday party. He cried into the phone, grateful that Angela picked up at 3 a.m. He asked her to come over. She said she would, waking up Adam sleeping next to her to ask if he wanted to come too. Adam was much too tired, so she went alone to his best friend’s house. His name is Paul.
8. Another Break-Up
A few months later, Angela and Adam break up. They have to. They saw it coming. For months, she was aware of his plans to study abroad in Paris. They stayed together as long as possible. They even Skyped and emailed for weeks afterward, contacting each other less and less the more time elapsed.
Paul and Angela are best friends at this point—constantly making meals together, drinking wine while watching movies, and biking all over town. They did these things before Adam moved away. He liked that his best friend and girlfriend got along so well. Plus, they always included him in their plans, but he often declined, needing to do philosophy homework or wanting to catch up on sleep instead.
Claire feels weird and slightly suspicious about Angela’s friendship with her ex-boyfriend, making snide remarks from time to time. But most weekends, Claire is too busy scuba diving or interning at the Monterey Bay Aquarium to care. And why should she? She’s the one who called things off to be with Tyler. She hasn’t wanted Paul in a long time. If ever.
9. Never Again
It’s summer now, and Claire and Tyler have been together for months. Every weekend they go to the beach to snorkel or some shit. That’s how Angela explains it. She has the apartment to herself a lot these days. It’s mid-July, and she’s been single for nearly a month.
Paul’s spending the summer at home in Berkeley. Angela’s been there a couple times before. Paul’s parents adore her. “Come up to Berkeley and hang with me,” he says over the phone one morning. A few hours later, she starts up the car.
After a late lunch with Paul and his mom, Angela and Paul go shopping at Buffalo Exchange and then see a matinee of The Inbetweeners. They are the only two people in the theater. After the movie, they go back to Paul’s. They drink a few bottles of wine and watch stupid videos Paul made for high-school class projects.
After the last video ends, they look at each other. Angela feels a weird-drunk-tense moment. They both feel it.
“We can’t,” says Paul, staring into Angela’s mischievous green eyes.
“No, we can’t,” she says, unable to look away from his soft blue eyes, equally as impish.
“It had to happen,” says Paul, breathless. “It’ll never happen again. We had to get it out of the way.” They just had sex on the kitchen table.
“Let’s go to bed. We’re too drunk,” Angela agrees.
They begin to brush their teeth and end up having sex again over the bathroom sink.
“OK, never again,” Paul promises once again.
They have sex one more time that night. Paul can’t stop complimenting Angela. “You’re so hot. You have such a nice body. I’m so into you.”
Angela keeps thinking I’m in love with you. But not.
She doesn’t understand her feelings. Up until then, she didn’t have any romantic interest in Paul. Scout’s honor. She viewed him strictly as one of her best friends.
“OK, no one can ever know,” says Paul. “This dies with us. This never leaves Berkeley. Everyone will hate us if they find out.”
“You’re right. No one can ever know,” says Angela. “It was just a fluke. It was just something we needed to get done.”
After a homemade breakfast of omelettes and coffee, they go back to being just friends. When Angela returns to Santa Cruz a few days later, she tells Gwen what happened over gin and tonics. Several.
“You guys can never have sex again. Ever,” says Gwen, tipsy though wide-eyed and worried.
“Yeah, totally. He’s in Berkeley through August and I’m in Santa Cruz, so it’s not going to happen anyway,” says Angela.
10. Madly, Truly
A few months later: Adam’s program has begun, Gwen is now in the U.K. waiting for her program to start, and Claire spends every non-academic moment with Tyler. Paul and Angela are inseparable—eating lunch together on campus, making dinner at her place, or hanging out at his. This is around the time Angela realizes she is in love with Paul. Madly, truly in love.
It hits her abruptly one night, while they are all hanging out as a group: Angela, Paul, Jonathan, Phoebe, and Josh. They just baked mac and cheese together and split a few bottles of wine. No one is drunk, just relaxed and content. Paul wraps his arm around Angela’s shoulders, resting his other hand on her knee.
“Angela, I want to talk to you in my room,” says Paul. Jonathan gives Angela a raised eyebrow.
The Strokes, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem. All of it booms while they have sex in a blanket fort. Yes, this is the moment she remembers falling in love with Paul. There’s no doubt about it.
11. The Six Month Stand
It’s almost graduation. Adam and Gwen have been back in the U.S. for months. Adam’s in a long-distance relationship with a girl from UC Davis who he met in his program abroad. Angela’s in a very passionate relationship with Kevin, who none of her friends like because he’s controlling. Paul’s dating around. Tyler cheated on Claire, which hurt her tremendously.
Angela’s poem the “Six Month Stand” got published in her school’s most prestigious literary arts magazine, available all over campus the week before graduation. Angela’s very proud of it. She owns several copies. The writing part was cathartic, though it still stings to read:
Six Month Stand
Remember that one night stand?
On your mother’s chair,
and her bed (twice)?
And remember how that One Night Stand
how it turned into a two night stand,
while suffocating under a heavy blanket fort,
the ceiling clinging to our wet bodies?
And when it became a three night stand,
how you told me it had to end,
your sloppy tongue thick in my mouth,
and my hand shoved down your pants.
And when three nights became three months,
or bodies sweaty, still clothed, sprawled on your bed,
the record skipping,
and you told me we were still just friends.
The four month stand,
on your dirty floor,
our friends wailing a drunk “happy birthday”
outside locked doors,
you whispered about a new girl you met,
while clumsily unhooking my bra.
On the five month stand,
in a resurrected quilted fort,
after exchanging hushed “i love you”s
the ceiling slipped off the chair,
as you hurried to meet your date.
And on the Six Month Stand,
under the red glare of a smokey bar,
tears and gin still hot on my breath,
I told you it was over,
in front of everyone,
your arm slung around her,
your laughter resonating with the others,
but your eyes locked on me,
as I receded to our empty fort.
12. “Santa Cruz 2008-2012”
Angela got accepted into Teach for America directly after graduation. It’s her dream to be a high school English teacher. She’s nervous about moving to a new city, but she feels better knowing Kevin’s coming too. They both need their cars, so they’ll have to do separate cross-country trips with friends. Angela urges her best friends to take one big roadtrip in her messy Honda Civic for a week. It may be the last time for a while that they all get to spend time together, she reminds them, since half of the gang is moving back home to southern California, half are staying in the Bay Area, and she’s moving to Chicago. Everyone’s able to make it but Claire, who is super bummed. She got a full-time job at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and can’t take any time off this soon.
In the weeks leading up to Angela’s big move, Claire spends time putting together a thoughtful photo album containing memories from all four years of college: house parties, taking mushrooms for the first time in Santa Cruz, bowling at the boardwalk, taking mushrooms for the second time in Santa Cruz, camping in the woods for Claire’s 22nd birthday, the prom held at Susan and Gwen’s place, drunk pictures from dive bars, and swimming in the pool that one day they all played hookie from school. The album cover says “Santa Cruz 2008-2012” with an image of a gin & tonic elevated with puff paint. Though Claire can’t come on the trip, her photo album sits in the backseat the entire time.
13. I Thought I Meant More to You Than That
It’s December after graduation, and Paul and Claire have sex for the first time since they dated in college. It doesn’t mean anything. They are both drunk and single with nothing to lose. A month later, Angela’s on winter break and decides to visit everyone in the Bay. Angela quickly starts a fight with Paul in the corner of a dive bar.
“What’s your problem?” he asks. “Why are you in such a shitty mood?”
“Because you slept with Claire, and I’m really upset about it,” she reveals.
“Why are you mad?” Paul asks. “You have a boyfriend.”
“You shouldn’t have done it knowing how I felt about you,” she says softly, but confidently. “That was a shitty thing to do.”
“We were both just really horny,” he says. “We hadn’t had sex in a while.”
“I thought I meant more to you than that.”
14. Things That Remind Angela of Claire
On the last page of her Moleskine, Angela writes a list of 10 things that remind her of Claire:
3) Parks & Rec
4) goat cheese
6) dat ass
9) lesbian weddings (we thought about it for the tax cut and better student loans)
She couldn’t think of a #10. We can’t help what we don’t feel.
To read more fiction from Tablet magazine, click here.
Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is the best film of 2014, and one of the least Jewish movies ever made