I had been back from Seattle for two months. I had moved to the Northwest from my native San Fernando Valley to escape the pain of my first true heartbreak. The beauty and splendor of the Emerald City had done just enough to help me start over again in Los Angeles on my terms.
Somehow that meant playing video trivia at the TGI Friday’s in Porter Ranch. It was a pleasant but aimless Sunday evening. I sidled up to the table with a pint of cheap American beer and my two best friends sharing the four-top.
The appeal of trivia can last only so long, and at 8 p.m. I said good night, which led to the usual hand-wringing and “Where are you going? It’s still early” caterwaul.
One friend, Tim, my college roommate, told me that a mutual friend who had lived in our building during our junior year was going to come, so I should stay for another drink. This only made me want to hasten my exit. Gabriela had lived in our building, but I had nothing in common with her and really did not need to spend any more time socializing on a work night.
“I’ll buy you a beer,” Tim said. Sensing my hesitation even at the offer of free alcohol, he blurted out, “Two beers.”
I stayed, against my better judgment, and was silently annoyed. When I heard him on the phone again uttering the words, “Oh, and your sister too,” I began to not-so-silently plot my final exit for the night. Now I was going to have forced socialization with someone I really didn’t like and a mini-version of the same person? No, thanks.
As Tim was verbally jousting me back into my seat, the two young women walked in. I immediately recognized them: Gabriela, yes, but also, to my surprise, her lithe, lovely sibling.
I had seen Irene a month before, at a house party for Tim’s brother. That evening I had been awe-struck at the sight of her and retreated into a corner, where I stayed the remainder of the night lamenting the fact that I would never approach a girl that pretty.
A smile sauntered across my face as the sisters approached. “Well, I guess I will buy Irene her first legal drink,” Gabriela said to the group.
It turned out that Irene had been studying all day and was only now getting around to celebrating her 21st birthday. At Friday’s. With us.
In my 24-year-old post-collegiate mind, the age difference between Irene and me was ideal, and so was she.
Irene sat next to me, and we spent the next few hours laughing, telling stories, comparing notes and discussing the minutiae of our lives, right down to the clichéd sharing of the same favorite movie: “Pi.”
We ended that night innocently, with Gabriela the Protector keeping Irene insulated from any advances. We didn’t even exchange phone numbers. Email had yet to become as ubiquitous as it is today, and social networks did not exist. I had to rely on word of mouth and serendipity as I pined to see her again.
A phone call from Tim directed my fate. “Yo. Irene is having a surprise party this weekend with all of her friends,” he said. “You should roll through.”
Of course I will attend, good buddy of mine.
As the days slowly passed between that call and the party, word sneaked out of Irene’s camp that she at least thought I was cute. I had a chance.
The night of the party, things progressed amazingly from the moment she spotted me with her huge, beautiful eyes. She ran into my arms, and we laughed and danced and held each other, only to be pried apart by her brother. Who approached with a knife.
“Time to cut the cake,” he announced.
My heartbeat resumed but still fluttered each second I was with her.
Our first date, at the romantic enclave that is Six Flags Hurricane Harbor, was filled with vivid conversation that ranged from our shared desires to our favorite bands. We eventually graduated from theme parks and corny restaurants to tony meals and international travel. We formed wonderful memories as our bond grew.
We’ve now been married nearly eight years and just had our first child, Felix Bae. Irene claims that “Pi” was never her favorite movie. And I haven’t played a game of trivia since that night at Friday’s. And Gabriela? She’s one of our best friends and most trusted confidantes.
Lovett, a former L.A. Times sportswriter, owns an online advertising agency and lives and works in Sherman Oaks.