Even when I would account for the additional time I’d have to spend in Los Angeles’ traffic, I’d somehow manage to arrive late, thus forfeiting “Punctual” from my list of descriptors. It was impossible to skirt the long lines of cars with drivers pressing on their brakes, checking their social media accounts, then gently letting off the brakes--eyes still glued to their phones.
This blue-toned morning was no different, and I had just spent the past forty-five Eastbound minutes in my car screaming through barely sound-proof glass, "IT'S A FUCKING SUNDAY! A SUNDAY! WHERE ARE WE ALL GOING?! ARE WE ALL GOING TO MEET LIZ FOR BRUNCH?!"
Since delayed arrivals were still new for this Nevada Native--and sadly becoming my norm--I held close to the persona of someone who was on-time by over apologizing. So much so, that the apology had to be extended profusely to the barely legal hostess I pushed past to find Liz in the winter-glare filled sunshine on the patio of Le Mair (what language was this supposed to be?!).
Ah, Liz. A fantastically animated and protective friend of mine who had comedic timing down to a science. On a good day: she was a great listener, who could be empathetic and moved by your story. On a bad day: a victim to restless-leg syndrome while verbally undercutting my venting sessions with extremely tough love, delivered point-blank. However, I wasn't always the helpless sheep that needed guidance. There were days when I'd watch Liz cry a puddle around herself and I'd gently mop it up with soothing advice poised in the form of questions. (So that, as a grown woman, she could come to her own conclusions.)
I glanced around before spotting her flashy hazel bomber jacket covered in intricate, embroidered dragons breathing roses instead of flames. She gripped what had been a cocktail, biting the straw and sipping the last diluted drops of who knows what through her stainless white teeth. She was engaged with two others at her table, so I slowed my pace. This would not be a heart to heart over acai waffles. This would be a loud, social event filled with banter about shows on streaming networks. Great.
Sitting at the four-top was a disproportionate blonde using her long hair like a shawl to keep warmth on her tan shoulders, as the slinky, strappy, blush dress wasn't holding any heat in. The other was a very average looking bearded fellow with a far off gaze. So average looking in fact, that I glanced at a few other tables and saw carbon copies of him sitting with their equally plain girlfriends.
After taking a few moments to assess the situation, I approached the open spot across from Liz and she shot out of her seat with a warm welcome in the form of a high-pitched scream and open arms. She had to be a few drinks in, because in her clingy hug, she slurred what I assume was supposed to be a secret down my ear, "I haaave to tell you about the new hottiebagawwwtie in my life because he's moooost definitely possibly but definitely THE ONE."
With her arms still wrapped around my upper body I glanced at the guy sitting in the seat next to hers. He was now fixated on the vines above as if he was a five-year-old learning what a plant was for the first time. Nice.
She introduced me to Caira and Matt as she squatted back into her seat. Before I knew what was happening, the two were back in their own bubble of a conversation: Caira rapidly dropping influencer names I'll never know, opinions on which pet stores were the best for vegan treats, and who's dad got who out of their nth DUI, all while Matt blankly blinked every ten seconds. Liz sat there, pupils dilated, an attentive yet somehow meek smile on her face as she absorbed it all. You could see her mentally noting every pronoun mentioned as someone she'd either follow online later or some place she'd add to her desperate vision board.
Caira took a breath and flashed a flirty smile at a server, making a "cheers" motion with her empty champagne glass and swirled an acrylic-tipped finger from her free hand at all of us to express, "another round, ASAP." It was in this moment, I saw them. In my bitter character judgement I had completely glossed over her blatant identifiers: two small horns protruding from her forehead. My eyes jetted over to Matt's painfully forgettable face, now clocking the knowledge that would make it even remotely possible to spot him out of a line up: two small horns.
Fuck. Liz had brought her demons to brunch.
This was not my first experience with her horned cohorts. I had never met these two before, but Liz tended to surround herself with similar specimens. In Liz's reality TV-drowned, 2000’s magazine cover-filled mind, these were the highest of beings. It was no surprise she brought them out to a crowded Sunday brunch at a place that charged twenty fucking dollars for avocado crackers (the new, less caloric cousin to avocado toast).
I didn't take it personally, I didn't feel snubbed. Maybe I felt that way the first time I had to forgo quality time to watch my friend’s genuine vibrance sit back seat to two debaucherous maniacs stealing the spotlight, but at this point, I knew that Liz was attracted to these things like a feline to a decorated Christmas Tree. And like said fern of capitalism, with time, they would be put away, and then put loudly back on display.
The blond took out a joint and started lighting it without missing a beat, "I mean, I totally get where Rowen is coming from, but personally, Keto is too heavy of a diet for my two hour window of extreme intermittent fasting.” Matt expelled an affable laugh and aimlessly flung his cigarette, freeing his hand to welcome the green goods. Was I the only one who realized: there was a baby sitting at the table not only right next to us, but directly downwind?! (California gets nice breezes. Whether they are real or man-made like Big Bear Snow is unclear.)
"Umm... do you want to maybe blow that over in our direction?" I cautiously proposed.
"Why? It's legal now."
No one had taken our order yet, so I passed on dying on this hill. Sorry, kid. Call me lazy, call me passive, but I hadn't had a single sugar or carb yet, so this baby was just going to have to reap the benefits of growing up in the "Entertainment Capital of the World."
Our server arrived and like some weird human Rube Goldberg, it caused Liz’s hand to reach over to Matt's not toned, but not fat arm. When is casual wrist holding ever necessary? Her jaw then slung open as she placed a hefty order. The only fantastic thing about Liz bringing her demons to brunch is that it forces her to eat for three. This would also serve as a survival tactic in absorbing all the liquor in her small stomach. She aggressively sipped the rest of her thyme garnished drink so she could ask for another, not unlike a kid shoveling down their vegetables to get to dessert.
"Stellaaaaaa, what's new with you?" Liz said in my direction while I watched her lose the motor function of one eyelid. Jesus Christ.
Liz asking me this felt about as forced as when you go to a pretty accessible website and are immediately greeted with a chat bubble from a totally real, totally human “Customer Service Representative."
The truth was that I had gotten into a spat with my work-wife earlier this week, but my story paled in comparison to the cast of characters at our table--with an honorable mention to the baby, now questionably sound asleep. I also knew Liz was just asking me this so I'd end my update with, "...and what's new with you?" Which would be the perfect set up for her to open the floodgates and release the kraken that was origin stories of the two sitting with us. I would then patiently listen to details of what I had I already derived: Liz had quit sobriety thanks to the blond monster, and had been spending her nights with easy, low-life lays who barely remember her face thanks to...wait what was his name?
I thought about all of this--Oh right, his name’s Matt--and knew the woes of my desk job would fall on deaf ears as I watched Liz not even anticipate an answer to her question. Her eyes were on a fidgety loop of glancing from the demons, to her empty glass, to the back of our waiter's head. So I passed with a casual, "Ah same shit, different day. You know that was once printed on a shirt at Hollister when I was in high school?"
"Oh my god, no way!" Liz was one of the best off-camera actresses the world would never see.
I decided to limply bite the bait, "What's new with you?"
"UGH! Well..." Liz took a deep breath and the duo slowly turned their heads towards us. Of course, the only way they'd give Liz the floor was if she was talking about them.
And that was the interesting thing about these two--or really any of the demons Liz had ever brought around. They didn't need praise. I had once watched Liz denounce them with self aware clarity over a different meal at a different time, assuming they’d poof away or fall through the cracks of the Earth with the severe empowerment in her voice, but they didn’t. They just sat there and relished in it.
No matter where the tone of the conversation landed on the spectrum--from Good to Evil to Absolutely Insane--these things would stick around as long as she recognized them. They grew stronger with even the slightest of mentions, for it made them more real.
The two at our table leaned into Liz’s rambles, while my bored gaze slowly panned across the patio seeing what my rushed entrance had missed: pointed tails protruding from varnished chairs, pitchforks serving as hooks for Birkins. My stomach sank as I felt a manicured hand with long, matte black tips curl around my shoulder.
If there's any group in LA that believes in The Secret more than a crystal-wielding yogi, it's your demons.
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Special Thanks to Christina Kishpaugh & Tiffany Tatreau.