Return of The Kid
I never thought I’d go back to Indio, California. Coachella 2014, my first and only music festival, resulted in a feature-length screenplay about eight strangers in the desert. For research, I spent the weekend wandering from stage to stage attempting to understand why hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the valley. My entire family went; my younger sister Samantha had a room with her sorority sisters and I stayed with our parents. Our mom had extra tickets from her job in retail and I jumped at the chance to escape my existence as an out-of-shape workaholic claiming to be a writer. That weekend sparked a major turning point as the private equity associate turned entrepreneur gave up late-night pizza and dysfunctional flings for grilled chicken and daily prose.
I almost declined this time around when my old college roommate Dimitri messaged me that he had an extra ticket. I couldn’t possibly expect another experience to inspire what took place over the previous three years. Sure, it’d be nice seeing him, Annie, and Roger; in addition to our friend’s sister Maryanne and four of her girlfriends from home – all of us occupying a spacious, desert villa. And yes, I’d enjoy watching my favorite artist Future perform and spending time with my family, given they lived only two hours from the festival. I objectively couldn’t have asked for more ideal circumstances. But what drove my decision to go was the fact my sister and I weren’t on speaking terms.
The specifics of our fight don’t matter beyond it making me want to cut her off from my life. She didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, but I refused to tolerate her tantrums any longer. I tried explaining the situation to our parents and neither of them wanted to get involved. I actually blocked her number for a while. I started feeling pretty lousy about myself as the weeks went by… I mean, what kind of person doesn’t speak to his only sibling? Knowing she’d both be home and attending the festival, I booked my tickets without telling her in hopes of reconciling. I received the following text before takeoff: Mommy said you’re coming to ‘Ella, I’m so excited!
We were somewhere around Barstow at the end of the desert when the bats came for us. Kidding. I landed at the Orange County airport close to midnight and stopped on the tarmac to inhale sweet, sea-salt air. I rented a silver hatchback, the only car left in the lot, and pulled up to our two-story home, located on a cul-de-sac along the sixth hole of a private golf club. Thumbing for my keys in the dark, I leaned against one of the two stone pillars on our porch to unlock the front door. Only a single hallway light illuminated the dark brown family room. I tiptoed up the semi-spiraled hardwood stairs, so I wouldn’t wake the dogs or my dad. Outside my room, which sat on top of the garage, I overheard Samantha watching Housewives. I contemplated tapping on her door, but didn’t want to risk an immediate argument. I collapsed onto my comforter shirtless and immediately passed out.
“Ðing” my phone rang at 5:19 AM.
I already had a boatload of e-mails given the time difference and I answered them in rapid-fire succession. Several coworkers asked about the festival, not realizing it didn’t start until Friday. Not long after finishing a sales call, I saw Samantha grinning at my door in yoga pants with matching pink sneakers.
“Hello, brother,” she said.
“Hello, sister,” I replied.
“Are we going to work out today?”
She pretended to hula-hoop and flailed her arms.
“Yeah,” I responded. “What do you want to do?”
“It’s all taken care of,” she clapped excitedly. “I booked a session with my trainer, Jonas. He’s super chill and is super excited to meet you. He’s also a Virgo, which is my new favorite sign.”
“When do you want to go?”
“Now!” she smiled. “And then we can go get Acai bowls.”
I threw on a hoodie and eased my way downstairs alone. I said good morning to our dad, who commented on how I still looked half asleep. Corralling our dogs Chanel and Pablo, we took a lap around the block while he pointed out neighborhood improvements – mostly repaved driveways and extended patios. Nearly six inches taller than me, I noticed his beard had grown grayer since the last time I visited. He waved to one of our neighbors passing in a minivan and they spoke at length about the economics of solar panels. Some of the houses had started installing them, despite looking like industrial mosaics. We crossed a grassy park across the street from our house while Samantha revved the engine of her SUV.
“Are you ready to go?” my sister glared at me.
“What?” my dad dropped the leash, spreading his broad shoulders. “You can’t say hello?”
“Hi daddy,” she beamed.
“When will you be home?” he asked.
“We’re just going to go workout with Jonas. We’ll be back right after.”
I assured our dad we wouldn’t be gone long and hopped in the passenger’s seat. My sister put the car in reverse without checking her rearview mirror and sped towards Pacific Coast Highway. Nothing reminded me more of home more than surfers jogging barefoot across the two-lane road. I looked over at Samantha, swaying her wavy, light brown hair in the elevated seat, and finished responding to e-mails. She cycled through a playlist of music she wanted to hear that weekend until landing on a song by Future: Mask Off. I rapped along to his hazy, trap-inspired delivery, reminding myself that I’d be listening to him live in a little over forty-eight hours. My sister hummed along and we pulled into an underground parking garage.
“I didn’t know you liked Future!” Samantha dangled her keys as we headed to the escalator.
Her three-story gym sat at the corner of an upscale shopping mall on the water.
“Yeah, he’s my favorite.”
“Well, we should totally watch him together.”
I nodded as we entered the scented lobby, filled with active wear and fruit smoothies. Samantha scanned her phone and it turned out I played high school football with the receptionist, who let me in without paying. I climbed upstairs and admired the vast space, which had a tall window running along the side closest to the beach. I’d never seen so many attractive 40-something-year-old women in one place. Navigating through rows of cardio equipment and squat platforms, I wandered throughout the pristine facility until I found my sister stretching on a yoga mat. One minute before the hour, a grinning, ex-college running back with barbell biceps approached our corner. My sister buried her head in his rocky chest and exchanged pleasantries about some party they attended in Newport.
“Nice meeting you,” I interjected.
“Yeah man,” Jonas cocked his head. “We’re going to have some fun today.”
“Are we starting with kettlebells?” my sister skipped over to the rack.
He ran us through a series of lunges, dumbbells and cable supersets. Focused on seeming fit, I conserved all my breath between sets as Samantha and Jonas discussed festival outfits. It turned out she invited him and his curvy, ethnically ambiguous girlfriend Brianna to stay in their suite at Coachella. I learned over the weekend that in addition to the influx of travelers from all over the world, nearly all of Southern California between the ages of seventeen and thirty attended. I struggled through a combo of vertical rows and rope slams and held my shorts for support.
“She’s stronger than you, bro,” Jonas slapped Samantha’s hand.
My sister casually blew a strand of hair across her forehead and did another round. I’d envied her athleticism since seeing her dance for the first time as a kid. She performed at Alvin Ailey in New York and earned a solo in her first recital. Watching her sashay across the stage made me wonder how we could be related. The ensuing applause represented the kind of approval I so desperately sought. We brought her yellow roses after the show and I vividly recall her indifference, like she didn’t understand why everyone cared more than her. Disillusioned with long hours and overbearing instructors, Samantha only lasted a couple more shows before my mother gave up trying to force her to go. Back in the present, we finished our session with maximum effort plank holds and told Jonas we’d see him the following day.
“That was good, wasn’t it?” Samantha beamed from the front seat.
She pulled out of the parking structure and turned inland, away from the beach.
“Yes,” I unwrapped a towel from my head. “It was.”
“Jonas even thought I was stronger than you.”
“You are,” I shrugged. “Are we going home?”
“Not yet,” Samantha ran her fingers through my dirty blonde hair. “We need to do something about this situation of yours. You can’t go to Coachella looking like that.”
I agreed. The disaster on my head was a product of my Albanian barber being more interested in Champions League football than evening out my neck. I felt somewhat guilty with every passing shopping center since I promised our dad we’d come straight home after the gym, but she assured me it wouldn’t take long. We arrived at her small, flowery salon, which sat beside a health food store, and I followed my sister inside, overtaken by the aroma of peppermint and spray tans. Samantha greeted her stylist, who leaned against one of ten horizontal stations and had apparently gone to high school with us. Bianca had blue hair, two nose rings and a tattooed sleeve, indicative of the kind of girl who acted like I didn’t exist back in the day. I plopped down into her chair and smiled through the long mirror.
“So what’s up?” Bianca asked plainly.
The only other clients, a pair of 30-something-year-old blonde women, paused to hear my response while Samantha scrolled through her phone on a flat couch beside the entrance.
“Let’s call a spade a spade,” I grew increasingly animated. “I was hoping you could help me turn chicken shit into chicken salad.”
“I wouldn’t say it’s chicken shit,” Bianca massaged my head, holding back a smile.
“Okay. What would you call it?”
“I don’t know…” she grinned. “How could you let this happen?”
“Because…” I declared. “I’ve had my mind on a lot of things.”
I looked at my sister for approval, who rolled her eyes.
“Well the other night, I went home with a transgender woman. To be fair, I didn’t confirm whether she was transgender, but she did ask me if I was born a guy. The next day at work, this other woman I work with who I’m pretty sure isn’t transgender said I looked gender ambiguous. She said I looked like some character on the show Billions. So now I’m thinking about all the times girls and guys and gender agnostic people have called me pretty, and everything is all starting to make sense.”
Everyone erupted with laughter, my sister included. I’ve never fully understood why I invite so much absurdity, but Samantha says it’s because of my astrological chart. Bianca applied product to my hair and gave my sister a blowout. I paid for both appointments and we drove home along the ocean in silence. I hopped out of the car, despite my sister keeping the engine running.
“Tell Dad I have a spray tan appointment,” she said abruptly.
“Are you coming back?” I asked.
“I’m not sure yet,” Samantha replied.
“So what do I say?”
“Tell him I had to go to LA to pick up the twins,” she rolled down the window.
The twins’ importance in my sister’s life can’t be overstated. Fiercely loyal and unapologetically themselves, Audrey and Molly protect my sister’s innocence and add a reality-show level of comedic relief. We met at Coachella 2014 and they had an almost hyperbolically nasty argument in public, but then proceeded to rip shots of Sex on the Beach minutes later. I wish I spent more time with them over the weekend, but what makes Audrey and Molly so endearing is that even allowing someone to be in the same vicinity as them is a major compliment. If Samantha and I had more siblings, I’d be shocked if they weren’t exactly like the twins.
“Tell them I say hi.”
“Sounds good,” Samantha sped off. “Text me later.”
Unsure when I’d see her again that weekend, I went inside and caught up with our dad for the rest of the afternoon. In addition to trying to accommodate everyone that crosses his path, his two most admirable traits are honesty and kindness. With playoff basketball playing in the background, we grilled streaks on our lilac-gardened patio and he showed me a new technique for charring the exterior. I grabbed him a beer as the meat simmered and poured myself a glass of red wine. Appreciating the tranquility, we lounged in Adirondacks overlooking a pond near the third green while the dogs slept lazily beside our feet.
“Are you dating anyone?” he asked.
“Sort of,” I said. “I don’t know. Not really.”
No more than fifty yards from us, a guy in the fairway lofted a seven iron fifteen feet from the hole; we congratulated him on the shot.
“It’s a process,” he said.
“But in listening to you I can’t help thinking it might be nice if you had someone to spend time with. It doesn’t need to be serious, just that someone you like.”
I thought about all the recent parties and weddings I’d attended alone.
“You’re right,” I said.
“Do you know when you’re coming back from Coachella?” he asked.
“No. But I’d definitely like to see you before my flight.”
“When is that again?”
“Monday at one o’clock.”
“Got it,” he said. “I know you’re here for that, but if you came back any sooner, it would be great to see you.”
I nodded and cleared our plates. Samantha texted me to bring her inflatable flamingo to the desert and it took nearly forty-five minutes of deflating to squeeze it into my undersized trunk. I tossed my bag in the backseat and hugged our dad, not committing – though knowing – I’d probably come back early to see him. Stopping at Starbucks for a double espresso on ice, I flicked on my headlights and input Burbank into the GPS. Dimitri landed at 8:38PM and it said I’d get there just before 9PM. At least three different Future songs came on the radio and I found my friend pacing outside the airport’s sole terminal in a velvet jacket and Ferragamo loafers.
“My man,” he greeted me from the passenger seat, tossing his luggage on top of mine.
A former sprinter, Dimitri had jet-black hair and worked for a country music production company in Nashville. Socially adept and semi-manipulative, I couldn’t have asked for a better Coachella companion. I frequently sought his advice about girls, especially when I grew unreasonably infatuated or they hurt me. He didn’t judge my tantrums, though would not-so-politely remind me that he’d heard the same story a few days prior about someone else. Fitting for our friendship, we shared an unspoken amusement of staying with five girls we’d never met – Maryanne and her crew from high school.
“So how you doing?” he asked, beating me to the question.
I accelerated into the carpool lane, already twenty miles above the speed limit.
“Good,” I said hastily.
“Oh yeah?” he removed eye drops from his leather bag. “You sound so convincing.”
“How are you doing?”
“Meh, same shit, different day,” he shrugged. “I don’t sleep most nights and the situation at home is pretty fucked. But I still think you should just say fuck it and move down to Nashville.”
“And do what?”
“Work with me. Everyone in my company is a moron. Plus you can write and get all that artistic bullshit out of your system.”
His bluntness had an endearingly nihilistic charm.
“How far is this place anyway?”
“Another hundred miles.”
“Have you talked to Roger?”
I nodded; Roger and his girlfriend Annie added my name to the room given their flight from Chicago was delayed. Our friend’s sister Maryanne experienced similar issues from D.C., but we had no way of contacting her. Following a two-hour drive, Dimitri and I stopped at a grocery store and loaded up on alcohol before reaching our decentralized, gated property. We checked in at the compact, lemony lobby and drove another half mile, winding throughout the anonymous complex to our villa, which sat on a links-style golf course. The first to arrive, Dimitri and I unloaded our bags in the brown living room, which separated the two wings of the suite, each with their own bedrooms. We stocked the refrigerator and stepped onto the spacious balcony, which extended outward to the master bedroom. Already past midnight, I made us each a vodka soda while he told me about his recent escapades on the road. No one else had arrived by 3AM, so we took our respective couches and I messaged Samantha.
“We’re here,” I wrote. “Hope you and your friends arrive safely.”
And I felt a burst of excitement, despite not having slept for nearly twenty-four hours. Coachella 2017 had officially begun.
Friday – I Still Haven’t Heard Radiohead
Listening to music at Coachella is more challenging than expected. Putting aside abbreviated, overlapping sets at opposite ends of grounds, the process of physically arriving can take an entire afternoon. It’s not as extreme for campers, but shuttles and Ubers take at least an hour with traffic, which increases due to lax limits on attendance. This doesn’t even include the two-mile trek to the official entrance including two security lines, a bag search, and an ID check for alcohol. I also significantly underestimated the time wasted keeping friends together, navigating through a psychedelic, belligerent mob to find water, bathrooms and food. When the group eventually splits up due to different music preferences, hours can be wasted fighting horrible cell reception and indistinguishable landmarks except for the Ferris wheel at the entrance. With this wisdom, I skimmed the three-day lineup and decided I could live with not seeing anyone except Future, who didn’t even perform until Saturday night.
I laced up my sneakers and crept out the front, not wanting to wake Dimitri or the rest of our suite, which arrived only a few hours prior. Samantha hadn’t responded to my message, but I wasn’t surprised or concerned. I ran to the hotel gym and found it surprisingly crowded, mostly with South Americans in tight pants. I did an abbreviated circuit inspired by our workout with Jonas and rewarded myself with an enormous iced coffee from the lobby shop. Still sore from the day before, I limped back to our room and called my sister. She didn’t answer. Given that everyone was still sleeping, I grabbed my laptop and slid onto the balcony. I wrote a short story about the flight over, overlooking yet another golf course.
“Mind if I join you?” Roger emerged from behind the terrace curtain.
A six-foot-two math genius who’d run over a dozen half marathons, Roger smiled awkwardly as I hugged him in my sweaty shirt. Similar to Dimitri, I felt like he understood me, but in a manner more suitable for professional life. Whereas Dimitri unconditionally accepted my passion, Roger taught me how to express myself more palatably when interviewing for jobs. While we hadn’t seen each other since a wedding last winter, it didn’t take long for us to move past casual conversation. He told me about his plans for a yearlong sabbatical to travel around the world – fifty countries in as many weeks, most of them in the Asia Pacific.
“What is it about traveling?” I asked.
He removed his backwards Exeter hat and tossed it on the black outdoor table.
“What do you mean?”
“I get why it’s cool,” I said. “But it would never even occur to me to go to half these places.”
“That’s exactly it,” he replied. “Some of them are so hard to get to and I’ll probably never have the chance to go unless I do it now.”
I nodded, wondering what Annie thought of his trip.
“Hi guys!” she joined us outside.
A former dancer, Annie had excellent posture and Goldie Locks’ hair. We’d only met a handful of times, but she was probably my favorite friend’s girlfriend due to her empathy. The consummate host, she handed us each a cup of coffee.
“You’re the best,” I said.
“Is that, right?” she teased. “Just for coffee?”
“Absolutely,” I touched mugs with Roger. “And I’ve already had more than enough this morning.”
Annie winked at Roger.
“Well what about breakfast?” she said.
They’d also made eggs with whole-wheat toast, to my utmost delight. We migrated to the villa kitchen and I sat up on the marble countertop. Sizzling bacon eventually woke Dimitri, who immediately poured a round of Bloody Marys. I declined and opted for more coffee. Two eggs quickly turned into four and I had remnants of guacamole all over my plate. Murmurs ensued from the adjacent master bedroom and I attempted to eavesdrop. Annie had already scoped out the day’s logistics. Before long, Maryanne slipped outside in an oversized t-shirt and no shorts. Arching her back, she extended her hand and I smiled.
“Hi,” she said confidently. “Hopefully we didn’t wake you guys last night.”
She greeted my friends and I fixated on her red nail polish. Her light eyes danced from Dimitri to Annie to Roger. Noting her bikini tan line, I kicked back on my stool and tried containing my smirk.
“Not at all,” I said. “There’s breakfast if you guys are hungry.”
Annie dripped grease in the frying pan for another batch of eggs. Maryanne took the seat next to me as her friends joined us one by one, picking at our massive spread. While they retold their horror stories from traveling, I made another pot of coffee and suggested we go to the pool.
“Great idea,” her friends said enthusiastically.
Lathered in tanning oil, the nine of us spent the next couple hours lying out in the sun. Maryanne sat with her friends in lawn chairs and I unwittingly took a beach ball from a ten-year old, who graciously allowed Annie, Roger and I to bounce it around while Dimitri argued with one of his vendors. With the sun climbing overhead, the water eventually grew warmer than the air and I hopped onto the burning cement, tightening my abs in case the girls were looking. I called Samantha again, but it went straight to voicemail.
“Want to head back upstairs?” I asked the group.
“Why?” Maryanne’s petite, feisty friend Roxy protested. “We have so much time.”
I wish I could say more about the other three girls, but beyond them being pretty and polite, we exchanged few words besides “hello” and “thanks for the drink.”
“We might as well start getting ready,” Maryanne said.
“It’s not going to take that long,” Roxy disagreed. “Plus, I’m not trying to get to the festival right away.”
“So what’s the harm in pregaming?” Maryanne smiled.
We returned to our suite and began mixing drinks. Before long, our beloved marble countertop grew flooded with solo cups and half-eaten biscuits. We sat around an accompanying glass table and I suggested we take a shot of tequila. The group vehemently disagreed until Maryanne supported the idea. The silver burned my insides and I felt an instant release, pouring everyone another round and making a toast to Future. The girls started loosening up and we took turns changing. Unable to shut the bathroom door due to wet towels hanging from the handle, I couldn’t believe the number of hairdryers. I put on a lime v-neck and checked my phone. Nothing. Her friends Molly and Audrey had posted videos of them drinking on social media, so I knew nothing bad happened. We did another shot of tequila and wandered towards the lobby.
I climbed onto an already packed chartered bus with the rest of our group, accepting I probably wouldn’t see my sister all weekend. I’d be disingenuous if I said a part of me wasn’t surprised, since we realistically hadn’t planned on going together. It sort of made me sad. Dimitri and I sat in the last row. He called one of his producers who’d also traveled cross-country and I placed my head against the tinted window, ignoring the shouting from up front, mostly from kids our age and younger. All the selfies and girls flailing across the aisle reminded me of college. After an unavoidable bout of traffic, we reached the grass area roped off for shuttles. The last one off the bus, I jumped off the platform into a dreamy inferno with a cloudless sky.
“Do we have everybody?” Annie took charge.
We assembled after a brief porta-potty pit stop and marched into a grass-hedged maze. Along with hundreds of other festival-goers, we blindly followed the people in front of us hoping someone knew the way inside. Dust seeped through my already damp shoes and I kicked myself for not bringing my fedora. We herded outside the final security check, which proved to be a total sham. Maryanne and her friends smuggled liquor in bottles of lotion that no one even checked. Some Bohemian-looking guy boasted about meeting his drug dealer inside. I waited in front of the main grove while the others wrestled through the line, already being seduced by the whirlwind around me.
“WE’RE AT COACHELLA BITCH!” a pair of teenagers shouted in front of me.
What these people wanted, rushing from biergarten to performance to food truck with a budding amount of substances in their systems, I couldn’t say. But presumably the millions of souls who’d walked on that very turf chased some dream of the perfect moment. Banners from previous weekends whisked like jerseys in the rafters of arenas. Thousands of acts had established and solidified their legacies over the past thirty years. Following a string of increasingly popular evening concerts in the 90’s, the committee opted not to hold an event in 2000, contemplating how to expand their desert oasis. The festival started as a single-day event in 2001 and it grew to three-days by 2007. They added a second weekend in 2012 and the next progression would be linking the two, creating a larger-than-life 10-day musical experience. Would I ever do anything worth mentioning in the same context? Or at minimum, contribute to the transcendence of a modern-day Woodstock? Annie forcefully tapped me on the neck.
“Where’d you go?” she gasped.
“Nowhere,” I said. “I was waiting here.”
“Well we were thinking about going to Yuma,” she pointed to the yellow dome, which had hordes of young people pushing inside.
The eclectic, bubbling crowds had also distracted Roger and Dimitri.
“What about Maryanne?” I asked.
Annie shrugged, as if wanting me to suggest splitting up. Maryanne and friends congregated in front of the festival map and checked their phones. Unfazed by what would inevitably be a mildly uncomfortable conversation, I strolled over and tapped her shoulder.
“Hey guys,” I cleared my throat. “We’re going to Yuma in case you guys want to join.”
“Who’s playing?” Roxy said skeptically.
“I honestly couldn’t tell you. But there’s AC and it’s right there.”
“Tempting,” Maryanne responded. “But we’re still figuring out how we want to spend the day.”
I nodded, impressed by her politeness.
“Well maybe we can meet up for Radiohead later,” I suggested.
I followed Annie, Roger and Dimitri into the Yuma tent without removing my sunglasses. The cold air felt so refreshing I quickly forgot about Maryanne and her friends. An Australian DJ stood on a dark, elevated surface, waving her hands under a blue-tinted strobe light. Her energy had an inviting mix of innocence and self-awareness, and I grew enamored with her jingling silver bracelets. Water sprayed in helicopter fashion and holographic dolphins swam on the ceiling. Her D-minor rifts amplified and mist overtook the stage. My friends laughed as I pushed towards the front of the stage, shuffling from heel-to-toe. My mission had become making everyone appreciate this lip-ringed angel as much as me. Tempo increased and she built to crescendo. The crowd leapt in unison and mist overtook the stage. Limbs ran amok. But the song finished shortly thereafter and her crew quickly made room for the next performance.
“Want to get a drink?” Dimitri motioned to a bar outside the back exit.
The four of us entered the 21 and over area, which felt more like someone’s backyard than a music festival. Massively dehydrated, I stood under an umbrella beside a row of picnic tables while Roger and Dimitri fought to order $14 rosé from a single warped, wooden station. I’d also sobered up from our early afternoon tequila and had no intention of restarting. I eavesdropped on other groups’ conversations about mutual friends and other artists. Mildly bored, I used my hand to shade the sun to scroll through my phone.
“Where art thou mi hermano???????” Samantha messaged me, followed by seventeen different emoji, smiley faces.
I replied and she immediately responded.
“Come play! We want to see you!! I also just met your next girlfriend!!! She’s a Taurus!!!!”
I winced, notwithstanding my affinity towards Earth signs. The only time I’d ever been with one of Samantha’s friends resulted in her not speaking to me for six months. The summer after college ended, I continued my drunken stupor at home for before moving to New York for my cushy banking job. With our parents on an extended vacation, Samantha regularly invited her infinite friends to our house. Beer cans and cigarette butts accumulated between the cement tiles while I sat lifelessly by the pool with a bottle of whisky. Somewhere in my haze, my sister’s yoga pal Kendra took a break from flip cup and brought me coconut water. She was a free spirit with frizzy blonde hair and green eyes. I attempted kissing her fifteen minutes later and she playfully moved her head. I tried again the following night and she kissed me back. While Samantha entertained the party, we snuck upstairs and I unknowingly took her virginity. She wrote me all sorts of poems and I reacted by telling her she should stop harassing me.
I replayed the episode in my head while my friends upgraded their orders to Vodka Redbulls. As much as I’d like to write my experience with Kendra off as being a dickhead 21-year-old trying to sleep with as many women as possible, it’s not like we met randomly at a dive bar. A part of me wanted to hurt my sister as retribution for all the times she gallivanted around Orange County while I spent weekends alone in my room; as payback for not appreciating when I helped her with school work or picking her up places when she didn’t want to get in trouble. I didn’t understand that no one – let alone a confused teenager – could provide the type of emotional support I needed. I held off on replying and Annie joined me at our standing table.
“Is something wrong?” she handed me a bottle of water. “You haven’t said anything for a while.”
I paused, observing the influx of individuals overwhelming the sole bartender. The hairdos and sandals reminded me of an outer space themed restaurant Samantha and I used to go to when we lived in New York called Mars 2112. We insisted on going there whenever our crazy Cuban Godmother watched us. She’d invite her eccentric theater friends and we’d sit in a spaceship replica ordering milkshakes and curly fries. While I was only nine or ten, those Sunday afternoons after going to the movies were some of our best memories as kids. I responded to Samantha as Dimitri and Roger stared at me over their plastic cups.
“I was thinking of going to see my sister,” I said. “She’s with a bunch of people and it would be awesome if you guys came.”
They deliberated amongst themselves without words.
“Where is she exactly?” Annie asked.
“I’m not sure. Near one of the other tents.”
“She with any hotties?” Dimitri rolled a toothpick between his teeth.
“Probably, but I honestly don’t know.”
“We were planning on checking out the main stage, actually,” Annie said.
“So we can meet up later then?”
I felt somewhat guilty leaving Dimitri for third wheel, but it’s not as if I didn’t invite him along.
“Okay man,” Roger said. “Let us know where you end up.”
“And definitely let me know if there are any hot girls,” Dimitri said.
I nodded and made my way through the Yuma interior, which hosted another rowdy DJ. Back near the festival entrance, I squinted from the sun as my shadow extended well across the grove. The crowd had grown noticeably more inebriated based on the amount of stumbling and yelling. I reached the festival’s nucleus, an intersection between its seven stages accompanied by an army of porta-potties and a long row of food vendors. I ordered a kebob and continued along to an intimate, oceanic stage engulfed by palm trees called Outdoor, Samantha’s last known location. Given the next act wasn’t meant to start for another hour, I found her lounging on an aquamarine quilt in the relatively unoccupied grass with her friends: Audrey and Molly, also known as the chic twins; my sister’s trainer Jonas and his bronze girlfriend Brianna; and Eric, the fashion journalist who I hadn’t met but seemingly always had a smile and drink in hand. And an adventurous-looking brunette stretched out beside them with one leg resting over the other.
“You made it!” my sister sang.
She reintroduced me to them one at a time, leaving her new friend Sabrina for last.
“You must be Samantha’s brother,” Sabrina said with a Texas accent.
Smiling with semi-dilated pupils, Sabrina wore a baby blue bikini and had dark eyes. I joined her on the ground and her lips gently pressed against my cheek. Backing away, Samantha stood behind her and mouthed: right!?
“I am,” I said.
“And apparently I’m supposed to call you the Kid?”
I grinned from ear-to-ear and learned the story of how she met Samantha. Sabrina was sitting on a bunny hill in need of a lighter and my sister coincidentally approached. My sister had many stories similar to this, but I’d never had the chance to see it in person. At that very moment, a stocky, pale fellow with a recently shaved mustache shouldered up beside her. Someone had neglected to mention Sabrina came to Coachella with another guy.
“Nice to meet you,” I extended my hand.
“Yeah,” Josh frowned.
“How do you guys know each other?”
“From home,” Sabrina said.
“Yeah,” he said with a sarcastic undertone. “From home.”
I excused myself and joined my sister, who retold the saga of arriving the night before. The reason I didn’t hear from Samantha was because her phone died and the twins thought they left their wristbands on the plane. Brianna rested her head on Jonas’ tree trunk thigh and Eric bit into a piece of watermelon. They offered me gummy bears as I explained my hotel situation. In the background, Sabrina and her friend argued – something about not ditching some guy who could help them score – which I ignored by staring up at the imminently night sky. Folks had begun assembling around us as the next set approached. Josh trudged off shortly thereafter and I pretended not to notice.
“Sorry about that,” Sabrina nestled next to me cross-legged.
“Sorry for what?”
I learned pieces of their muddled story over the weekend, but something seemed off. They’d apparently met at a bar in College Station and Sabrina mentioned wanting to go to Coachella on their first date. After a couple weeks of fizzling text messages, Josh bought a ticket and asked if she’d done the same. Both feeling pressured and overcome by a desire to get out of Texas, she agreed to accompany him and two of his friends. It’s still unclear to me whether they’d slept together.
“Nothing,” she said. “Forget I said anything.”
I looked over at the rest of the group – Jonas and his girlfriend seemed like they were mentally somewhere over the Milky Way. My sister giggled with the twins, who put on Hollywood sunglasses. Eric still hadn’t finished his watermelon.
“Samantha says you’re a writer?” she changed the subject.
I nodded, trying to seem aloof.
“Me too,” she rolled onto her stomach.
“What do you write?”
“Sports journalism,” she said.
“No way. I used to do that in college.”
I stared at her long eyelashes and she smacked my arm.
“Stop it,” she said playfully.
“Stop what?” I said.
“Don’t act like you don’t know what you’re doing.”
While Samantha and her friends took turns running to the bathroom, Sabrina told me about getting her graduate degree in journalism. Born and raised in Odessa, her family moved to Dallas when she was 12, but she didn’t mention much else. She took a drag and stared off into space. I couldn’t tell whether something terrible had happened or she found the people around us distracting.
“Has anyone ever called you a Surfer Girl?” I stood with the rest of our crew.
I helped fold the quilt, so we wouldn’t get trampled.
“That’s what Samantha thought when she first met me,” Sabrina said softly.
“You are. I feel like the only other place on Earth I could’ve met you is on the Santa Monica boardwalk just after sunrise with a board under your arm.”
Sabrina smiled, noticing the influx of messages on her phone and frowning.
“I have to go find my friend,” she said.
I shrugged, doing my best not to seem irritated. She hugged my sister and I waved like a dunce. With the grass fully populated for the next performance, Sabrina disappeared into the crowd and I figured I’d never see her again.
Samantha floated over and clasped her hands.
“Isn’t she amazing?” Samantha said.
“I guess,” I said. “It’s too bad she has a boyfriend.”
“Do not worry, my big brother” she patted my chest. “The universe wanted me to find her otherwise we wouldn’t be here. She’s just having a hard time, okay?”
I ate another gummy bear and darkness fell across the stage. Before the show began, Molly and Audrey quietly grumbled about being the only single girls around us. They were right. I’d never seen so many couples in my life, all of them declaring allegiance to one person in a sea of thousands. Even within our group, Brianna rested under Jonas’ arm; I discovered over the weekend that Brianna was not only incredibly shy, but felt most comfortable expressing herself with strong eye contact or in her boyfriend’s case, physical touch. My sister also had some guy driving up the following morning: Fred, who Samantha had known since senior year of high school. I didn’t know their exact situation, but the way she said his name gave me some clue as to how she felt.
“Are you okay?” Samantha asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “You?”
“For sure,” she said cheerfully. “I’m really excited that Fred is coming tomorrow. I really hope you guys get along.”
My stomach dropped and I forced a smile. Fireworks reflected in Samantha’s eyes. The crowd erupted when the most prolific band in festival history sent a haunting keyboard deep into the night.
Saturday – Future Hendrix
I woke up at 8:30AM feeling more refreshed than expected. Pitch black with AC blasting, our villa breathed and smelled like the hotel rooms I lived in during beach week. I tiptoed into the second bathroom, which required passing through the room with two queen beds. Roger and Annie occupied one mattress with a goose-feather comforter pulled up to their faces and Maryanne and Roxy lied on the other with a thin sheet barely covering their bodies. Pursuant to routine, I headed to the hotel gym and found it completely uninhabited. I called my dad after a quick session and dodged his questions about coming home on Sunday. I added an extra shot of espresso to my morning coffee and heard a familiar voice behind me.
“Hey you,” Maryanne said in the dual-aisle lobby store.
Drenched in sweat, I had a towel over my head and wasn’t feeling especially friendly. I grumbled my order without acknowledging the greeting until she repeated herself. Freshly showered, Maryanne wore a white bathing suit under a pastel dress that probably she probably could’ve worn to a club.
“Hi,” I popped my t-shirt. “I feel like we’re opposites right now.”
She smiled and ordered a skim-milk latte with a dash of sweetener. I eyed a wall of jerky and reminded myself to pick some up for a midnight snack. Maryanne adjusted the plastic top while pushing the jingling door open with her forearm.
“So how was the rest of your yesterday?” she asked. “It’s too bad we didn’t end up meeting up.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” I grinned. “I was sort of in rare form.”
“I would’ve liked to have seen that.”
We stepped onto the sidewalk as a red jeep circled the roundabout, which broke off towards our building. She told me about how her friends accidentally split up and never met back up for Radiohead. I half listened, noticing a copy of This Side of Paradise tucked in her beige sack. Maryanne had an ideal balance of intelligence and style. For all its positive vibes and glamour, Coachella made it easy to feel sorry for myself. New York desensitized me to professional success, but seeing all these creatives performing to endless ovations reminded me how far I had to go with my writing. Not that it was necessarily unattainable, but I felt like I could continue for the next ten years and still not come close to vibing with the imaginary audience I hoped would someday expand beyond myself. Maryanne arched her thin eyebrows at my lack of response.
“Is everything okay?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I shrugged. “Can I tell you something?”
“Sure,” Maryanne hesitated.
“I don’t like that book.”
She fumbled for her pool key and I imagined how Fitzgerald would’ve spent six pages describing the mountains looming in the distance whereas I only wanted to discuss the way Maryanne made me feel. And because I felt more compelled to casually admit being attracted to my friend’s sister instead of pontificating about desert scenery, it made me an inferior artist in the eyes of readers. I swiped my card and Maryanne hinged the welded gate.
“Because he’s a better writer than I ever will be.”
“You’re a writer?” she said. “I thought you did finance?”
“Business development. I mean I don’t make a living doing it.”
“Oh,” she stepped inside. “Are you coming in?”
“In a bit. I need to shower.”
I turned my back, retreating slowly up the steps to our second floor suite and noting the small cacti planted neatly at the base of the structure. I caught a glimpse of Maryanne retying her hair with the novel pinched between her legs from my elevated positioned and pressed the door handle. I checked my phone and had already received a barrage of messages from Samantha.
“Where are you?” she said. “We want to play! Come play with us, my big brother!”
“What are you guys up to?” I replied.
“At my baller pad!!! We are going to have a pool party. Sabrina is here and won’t stop talking about you. Are you coming??????”
Not that I was surprised, but I wondered how Sabrina got to my sister’s place given she was camping. Annie and Roger listened to reggae in the kitchen while Dimitri hollered at one of his employees on the balcony. The other girls seemed surprisingly upbeat – even ol’ Roxy stopped to chat about her day in the sun. I declined Annie’s offer of a Mimosa and she sat on Roger’s lap while he checked his stock portfolio, feeding him a piece of kiwi. I sipped my coffee as they interlocked lips and focused on the AC unit blowing directly above me. Annie kissed her boyfriend’s cheek and tilted her head.
“So!” she said enthusiastically. “What are we doing today?”
“Excellent question,” Roger slammed his fist. “I like the initiative.”
I smiled; it’s hard not to appreciate two people who are so obviously meant for each other.
“Future!” I declared.
“Of course,” Roger said. “We must see Future.”
“But that’s not until tonight,” Annie rubbed his back. “What are we doing before? What’s up with your sister?”
“Funny you should ask. She just invited us to a pool party.”
“What pool party!?” Dimitri called from outside.
“She’s having people over at her hotel. It’s probably not going to be a rager or anything, but I’m sure it will be extremely entertaining.”
“Hmmm…” Annie tapped her index finger on her chin.
“Worst case we just go over to the festival early. Or head back here first. And then we go see Future.”
I invited the girls out of politeness and they declined. I bathed and changed into a cologne-sprayed linen shirt while Annie, Roger and Dimitri deliberated. About what, exactly, I wasn’t sure, but I spent the time waiting for them to get ready lugging beer out to my trunk and revving the air. They piled into my hatchback for the twenty-minute drive to Samantha’s secluded hotel, which required taking a dirty side street off the main road to a quaint, yet somewhat surreal, establishment. I didn’t see a single other human in the desert courtyard with four identical towers, neither of which had any markings beyond a small chiseled number outside each room.
I parked outside my sister’s first floor spot and led my friends into the stone paved formation. I pushed the door open and found no fewer than twenty people crammed into a smoky, two-room suite dancing with empty pizza boxes and bottles spread across the carpet. Jonas and his girlfriend watched lazily from a cushioned chair, either too dazed or amused to match the energy. While I didn’t recognize any of the other kids, who all had loose ties to my sister and oozed a vibe of punk, surfer, and hippie, I shifted towards the kitchen to greet the rest of her friends from the day before. The twins wore matching overalls and argued over how much longer their brownies needed to be in the oven. Eric smiled happily, slicing tequila-infused pineapple beside a bowling alley of liquor bottles and open containers of guacamole. My sister leaned against the refrigerator sipping a Corona, deeply engaged with her pseudo-guy Fred, who was at least three inches taller than me with a studded pair of aviators resting on his heavily gelled spikes. I noted Sabrina crossing her arms in the hallway towards the master bedroom while Josh spit tobacco into a solo cup. I postponed my reaction to that situation until first dealing with my sister. Samantha saw us hovering and sidestepped Fred to hug me.
“The Kid!” she exclaimed, signaling to Annie, Roger and Dimitri, who seemed both amused and taken aback by the room’s semi-debauchery. “Are these your fuh-riends?”
Samantha kissed their cheeks European-style and offered them food and drink.
“I can’t believe you guys are siblings,” Annie smiled. “You guys look nothing alike, but at the same time, it’s so obvious you’re related.”
“We get that a lot…” my sister sang.
I continued ignoring Sabrina while Samantha played host for my friends. Eyes drooping, Fred uncorked a bottle of rum and triumphantly took a swig. Wiping his mouth with a lightly freckled forearm, he winced and grabbed his abs.
“You want?” he burped.
I shook my head, staring up at him.
“I’m good,” I said. “When did you get in?”
“Oh shit,” he exclaimed, cheeks reddening. “You’re Samantha’s older bro.”
I nodded, flexing my jaw.
“Good to meet you, man!” he casually shook my hand. “Samantha talks about you all the time.”
“Yay!” my sister hopped back over, creating a triangle between us. “I’m glad you already guys met.”
“Yeah. Fred was telling me about getting in this morning.”
“Bro, you don’t even know…”
My sister interrupted by grabbing the rum.
“Will you do a shot with us?” she asked politely.
“Sure,” I shrugged.
“What!?” Fred joked. “You’ll take one with her and not me? Not cool, man. Not cool.”
“Why not make it a double then?”
My sister poured the booze and I took mine without grimacing. I faced the party to discover my friends had set up the mermaid pong table outside the window: two versus two with Josh as the fourth. The rest of the party trickled outside to watch and Fred threw his arm around Samantha. Sabrina still stood in the hallway, exhaling from the corner of her mouth. Distracting myself from the sudden public display of affection, I approached my new amiga and she placed her bare foot against the sandy wall.
“Hey,” I positioned myself, so I wouldn’t see what took place behind me. “It’s nice to see you again.”
“Yeah,” she bit her lip. “What took you so long?”
My sister suggested they join the crowd outside, leaving Sabrina and I alone beside Jonas and Brianna, who spooned watching Animal Planet.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “I see you brought your friend.”
Through the blinds, Josh and Dimitri argued about the legitimacy of bouncing with only four cups remaining.
“What did you want me to do?” Sabrina replied. “He has a car and I wanted to see you.”
“You could have called. I have a car.”
“I didn’t have your number.”
“You left before I could ask.”
“Well I’m here now, aren’t I?”
I leaned forward and paused, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. I felt Samantha’s gaze, sensing her anxiety over how me pressing against Sabrina’s jolly-rancher lips would impact our weekend. If I’m being honest with myself, I wanted to kiss her, but not at that moment. The dynamic with Josh didn’t help, but I disliked the idea of my sister seeing me behave like every other guy would in my situation. Samantha, who floated around her peculiar hotel room like a kid jellyfish, didn’t deserve the experience of me exchanging saliva with someone I’d know less than 24 hours. Dimitri fortuitously called me to come outside and we joined the rest of the group in a massive game of flip cup.
My friends stuck around longer than anticipated and didn’t complain when I chose to spend the rest of the afternoon hanging by the lagoon-style pool. They chose to head back to our suite to change before the festival and ordered a car; we agreed to reconvene for Future. My sister’s randos trickled out one-by-on until only the core crew remained: Jonas, Brianna, the twins, Eric, Sabrina, Josh, and Fred, the latter of whom swung his tank like a helicopter and jumped from chair to chair. I jumped into the water while everyone else congregated under four outstretched umbrellas, aided by a strategically placed cover underneath a row of dangling palms. Samantha, discreetly noticing I’d slipped away from the group’s conversation, dove into the six-foot deep end and waded over to me.
“How are you, my big brother?” she rolled her R’s in an Eastern European accent.
We treaded over to the edge furthest from their conversation, using the grainy, slanted walls beneath us for support.
“I’m okay,” I said.
“Don’t be sad.”
“I’m not sad.”
“Mom texted me earlier asking why I hadn’t called her. I told her I was with you and she said go hang with your brother.”
“How is she? I called her earlier.”
“Do you like Sabrina?”
I glanced at her while she laughed with the twins.
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t worry about that guy. I can tell you’re upset,”
“You have to admit it’s pretty weird.”
“You need to trust the vibes. This happened for a reason.”
I briefly submerged and my sister inched closer, fluttering her eyelashes.
“Can I ask you something?”
Fred chugged a beer with Josh and slammed the can.
“Sure,” I shrugged.
“Do you like Fred?”
Samantha could tell how I felt, but who was I to judge? And yet… I didn’t understand why she insisted on seeing someone so one-dimensional. People like drinking; I understand. But why didn’t she ever date guys with vision, a person who’d inspire her creativity and nurture her child-like enthusiasm? It was obvious to everyone within one hundred miles that Fred was a fucktard who didn’t care about anyone other than himself. I just valued our relationship too much to give away a reality she needed to experience on her own.
“He’s cool,” I said. “It seems like you guys have fun.”
“We do!” she beamed. “I’ve never been with someone so outgoing.”
I suggested changing for the festival and we squeezed into an Uber XL after another round of rum. We arrived at the main stage ninety minutes later, fast-forwarding through overzealous traffic and security lines. By some miracle, we found an enclave under one of the lights platforms near the front. I nestled between Samantha and Sabrina, smiling at each before turning to the electric field. The ground rumbled and I cheered until my voice went hoarse. Cannons blared as sunset overtook the festival.
“Coachella!!!” Future called into a sleek microphone, strolling onto the platform in pinstripe and a fedora. “What the fuck is up!?”
I’ll admit to having an unhealthy relationship with hip-hop. Since I first heard Eminem at nine years old, the rawness inspired me to use anger from not being accepted as fuel for my ambition. I became obsessed with Future’s output after Ciara left him because it revealed an unadulterated cry of selfishness, pain and swagger. Early mornings and late nights became the norm. After a customary make some noise interlude, my favorite Atlanta MC sipped from a Styrofoam cup and kicked off with a banger.
“Peel you off a couple bands, girl like here you go… you looking like the baddest girl in my video…”
I erupted to the chorus and Fred threw his arm around my sister. Independent of my feelings towards him or any of her friends, I needed Samantha to understand why she was so special. Oddly distracted from Future’s octane performance, I admired the natural beauty she inspired. Her friends, all of different races with varying interests, would’ve never shared this moment without Samantha’s positivity. Her Princess Leia braids evoked laughter none of us would ever forget. As Future played classic after classic, I found myself increasingly in awe of my sister’s smile. For as much as we fought, she was the only other person who mattered besides our parents. Future kicked off the finale of his show and we sang the hook.
“Percocet,” Future winked. “Molly, Perocet…”
The rest of Coachella joined us until Future walked off stage like he’d hit the game winning shot. It was over. After a bittersweet realization that no encore would ensue, everyone rushed to the next act. Our group held hands in a crack-the-whip line, so we wouldn’t lose anyone in the madness. And in case there was any doubt, Samantha led the pack.
Sunday – We The Best
I woke up on my villa’s couch not wearing pants and decided I wouldn’t stay the night. Coachella 2017 had been a success and I didn’t want to jeopardize my most enjoyable experience with Samantha since Vegas, especially at the risk of not seeing our dad before my Monday flight. Annie and Roger had already begun the journey back to Los Angeles so they could spend a romantic afternoon at a friend’s beach house in Malibu. Dimitri snoozed with a bottle of melatonin under his arm and I wondered how I was going to tell him that I not only was ditching him again, but also no longer dropping him in Burbank the following afternoon. I made what remained of the coffee and eggs to apologize, recognizing I misrepresented my priorities after he graciously invited me.
“Good time last night?” Dimitri yawned, hopping up a stool.
“It was good,” I said. “How about you? Wish you would have stayed at my sister’s place.”
“That’s cute,” he ripped off a piece of bread. “But trust me. I made out okay.”
His smirk left little room for ambiguity.
“I have to be honest about something,” I said. “You’re going to think I’m asshole.”
“You got that girl pregnant?”
“I’m driving home today.”
“You fucker,” he shook his head. “At least tell me you’re going to see your dad.”
I nodded and he downed his mug. I asked about his evening to change the subject, but he refused to share any details beyond the nail marks on his back. For all I knew, one of the girls we were staying with imprinted them. He received a bikini selfie and turned over his phone, so I couldn’t see. Maryanne and her friends emerged from the master bedroom, already with striped towels under their semi-burned arms.
“Good morning,” Dimitri winked. “You ladies have a good time last night?”
“We did,” Maryanne said politely, scooting into the kitchen for Nutella and rice cakes.
“Because you guys were fucked up by the time I got back,” he joked.
The girls recounted their evening, which entailed an endless stream of Chardonnay and negotiating their way to the front row of Lady Gaga. Roxy had apparently met a promoter who upgraded their wristbands to VIP. I half listened to their story, remembering I needed to scoop my car from my sister’s hotel.
“I’m glad it was good,” I said.
“For sure,” Maryanne flexed her calves to reach the last mug while her friends scavenged through the other cabinets. “What are you guys up to today?”
We had enough orange juice for six mimosas; I passed mine to Dimitri.
“Well this fucker is ditching me,” he dug his elbow into the marble. “Can you believe this kid? On the last day.”
“Ditching you?” Maryanne said curiously, pressing against the counter. “Why, what happened?”
“I need to get my car,” I ignored her friends’ disbelief. “Then I was going to head back to Orange County to see my dad.”
“That’s cool,” Maryanne replied. “To be honest, I’d probably do the same if I were you.”
“Not exactly helping my case here…” Dimitri grumbled.
“Well we’ll be out by the pool if you guys want to join,” she lingered.
The five of them exited and Maryanne smiled back at us as the door shut. A part of me hated that she was our friend’s sister, but it’s also partially why I found the idea so appealing. Dimitri grinned to himself as I ran the dishwasher.
“So when are you leaving?” he wiped his sunglasses with linen.
“Soon,” I shrugged. “I need to say ‘bye’ to my sister.”
“I guess I’ll just stay here then.”
“You’re welcome to hang at my sister’s place,” I said. “Just not sure what the situation is like.”
I placed a wrinkled brown bag in front of him before he could respond.
“My man!” he beamed with approval.
While he uncorked its contents, I packed my stuff and called an Uber.
“You sure you can’t hang out for a bit?” he coughed.
“Nah,” I hugged him with my free arm. “I have to go.”
“Well you’re still an asshole, but you could’ve objectively left me in a worse situation.”
I smiled and dragged my carry-on down the stars. I ducked into my driver’s Corolla without popping the trunk, waving at Maryanne and her friends as he made a U-turn on the winding road towards the exit. Almost immediately after we left the property, Ricardo told me an elaborate story about drinking with one of the bands after driving them to their hotel. We passed an empty football field and I remembered all my high school practices going up against kids far stronger than myself. I’ve never been athletically inclined, but I found something deeply poetic about doing drill after drill in the blazing sun with little if any shot of seeing playing time. We pulled up in front of my sister’s hotel and I sighed with relief at the sight of my sizzling hatchback. I thanked the driver, who gave me his number in case I needed another ride.
Amused by another invitation to stay at the festival, I stepped into Samantha’s suite and found it relatively vacant compared to the day before. Jonas and his girlfriend sheepishly nodded from the couch and I sidestepped a pile of dirty clothes and half-eaten chicken wings en route to the bedroom. I knocked and heard my sister’s tired, albeit youthful, voice. Burrowing under the covers, Samantha wigged away from Molly and Audrey and sat beside me. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ecstatic to learn Fred hadn’t spent the night.
“How was the rest of last night?” I said softly, alluding to my sister’s after party.
“Amazing,” Samantha whispered. “Amazing, amazing, amazing. We had so much fun and Fred wants to take me to dinner this week!”
“Where is he now?” I asked.
“He drove back early for work at his country club. Isn’t it cool that he’s very hard working?”
I kissed Samantha’s forehead, so she wouldn’t see me wince.
“And how are you guys?” I grinned at the twins.
Each of them pulled pillows over their heads and Samantha placed her hands on my shoulders.
“But you shouldn’t have left last night!” she said intently. “We missed you. You also can’t leave without saying ‘bye’ to Sabrina.”
Not that anything happened, but I’d left things open ended with Sabrina when I left the grounds. The situation with Josh still had me a bit skeptical, so Samantha needed to be the primary reason for prolonging my stay. Somehow reading my mind, she showed me dozens of designs she’d made for her shoe line. Her style reminded me of Manolo Blahnik mixed with beachside Chuck Taylors. Around lunchtime, Samantha made fish tacos and insisted we hang by the pool. I called our dad to let him know I wouldn’t be home until nightfall and he didn’t seem to mind. After a series of naps and outfit changes, they declared themselves ready and I offered to drive. With Jonas in the passenger seat, the girls piled into the back and I eventually managed to drop them at the dusty four-lane pedestrian entrance.
“Thanks for taking us,” Samantha hung back, not immediately joining her friends on the other side of the fence.
“Will you come say bye?”
“I wish I could, but I don’t have a parking pass.”
“What am I supposed to do?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t want this to end. Sabrina wants to see you, too.”
I couldn’t help smiling.
“See you soon!” she cried, disappearing into the shrubbery maze.
I spent the ensuing twenty minutes in a car line, thinking I could talk my way passed the attendants. Not that I’m especially smooth, but not accepting all the money in my wallet so I could see my sister seemed absurd. But as we moved at a nonexistence pace of one car length per minute, I abandoned any hopes of reaching the parking lot in time and illegally spun around in front of six goons with bullhorns. They didn’t hide their disapproval. I sped to the next intersection and turned away from the festival, slipping into a neighboring sub division near the local courthouse. While there was always a chance of being towed, I figured the county police force would have higher priorities than a dinky Honda parked between two generic looking homes.
I ran at least a mile before rolling up into a mob outside the entrance. I saw the emblematic Ferris wheel in the distance and weaved through drunken idiots and bicycle caravans. Sweat dripped from my neck, but I accelerated to a near sprint, gliding by the shuttle station. Light-headed from the stench of body order, booze and perfume, I squeezed towards the metal detectors, aggressively cutting in front of anyone too inebriated to notice. I finally reach the Coachella memorial banners and called Samantha. No answer. I tried again. The call dropped. I checked the final day’s lineup and saw one act set perform: DJ Khaled. I avoided crossfire and marched towards the Sahara tent, notable for its white tarp and mosh pits. I patrolled the row of food vendors and climbed onto a trash can, hoping to find my sister in the faceless anarchy. And before I could even entertain the thought of what if I don’t find her, I heard someone shout my name and discovered Sabrina smiling up at me.
“You plan on staying up there all night?”
I hopped off and landed in a patch of sand. With Josh nowhere in sight, I leaned in and kissed her cheek. A jet soared across the sky and the rest of the crew filled in beside us. We assembled towards the back of the crowd as DJ Khaled flew across the stage and proclaimed: we the best. Everyone in Samantha’s crew blurted the chorus except her. Seeming unusually serious, she wedged between Sabrina and I and spoke directly in my ear.
“I’m really happy you’re here,” she said.
“I was just thinking…” she trailed off. “I hate how much we fight.”
“I agree,” I admitted. “But I think that’s what happens when you combine two sensitive people.”
We stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the festival in front of us; Samantha turned to me with a sudden burst of emotion.
“But you know what really bothers me?”
I stared at her, bewildered. We made it the entire weekend without anything close to a fight, and now, after I traveled across the dessert for a final send off, she decided to finally tell me her what’s on her mind? I told myself to remain calm as a pair of Khaled’s frequent collaborators joined him in the booth.
“What?” I said plainly.
“You have everything. Like actually. And you pretend like you have nothing. And you feel sorry for yourself or call mom or me and look for sympathy. And it really needs to stop.”
I’m not sure where the urge to confess this originated, but it spoke to the larger issue between us and with myself. Having a younger sister is a bit like being a dad except I didn’t have a choice. I do view myself as this underdog who no one believes in because it wasn’t until recently anyone besides our parents cared about my professional or creative development. Meanwhile, my sister seemed to catch every break while putting forth little-to-no effort. And yet… why was that her fault? We existed on two ends of the spectrum with a common goal; I believed the only way to achieve my artistic ambition was pouring my heart on the page, day after day, until composing something so beautiful even the biggest naysayer couldn’t deny its greatness; whereas my sister believed everything would always work out in her favor. Still, at least she valued our relationship enough to tell me how she felt, even if it came midway through the song All I Do is Win.
“I love you Samantha,” I kissed her forehead. “Thanks for letting me hang with your friends.”
She hugged me and returned to the twins. I hung around for the remainder of the set and said my goodbyes to Samantha’s friends. I interlocked fingers with Sabrina and briefly pressed against her lips.
“You have to go?” she whispered.
I nodded and we embraced again.
“It was nice meeting you,” she said.
“Definitely,” I smiled. “You’ll always be my Coachella girlfriend.”
I released her hands and flagged down Samantha, who’d returned to her normal upbeat self.
“Can I tell you a secret?” she said. “This is my seventh year at Coachella and it’s been by far my favorite.”
“Bye, Sam,” I whispered.
Fading away, I watched them saunter to the next performance as night began permeating the desert. The trek back to my car didn’t take nearly as long given everybody with an active wristband was inside the concert. I started the engine after an elongated silence and pulled onto the highway with the windows down, reflecting on what Samantha said.
While the festival made me more inclined to take Dimitri up on his offer to move to Nashville or visit Sabrina in Texas, my sister was right. I do have everything. And my obsession with locking myself in my apartment to push towards galactic objectives causes me to forget about all the people in my life – family, friends, and lovers. This Coachella trip’s transformation had nothing to do with self-realization, but rather, a means to improve the inner loneliness I can’t escape on my own.
By the time I made it home, Samantha had sent the family a photo album from the weekend. Our dad had also waited up for me and we took the dogs around the block, enjoying the ocean breeze.
“Looks like you had a good time,” he said.
“Yeah,” I nodded. “It was great.”
“Do you think you’ll ever go back?”
I looked up at the stars, imagining my sister laughing with her friends.
“I don’t know,” I shoved my hands in my pockets. “I guess it depends.”
“On what?” he asked.
“On whether Samantha goes again.”
“You know…” he chuckled. “You two are something else.”
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