I met her in at a fraternity house before my senior year of college, which is surprising considering how much I disliked most Greeks.

But in this case it was summer, the university mostly a ghost town, and just about anyone left on campus was invited to a big fraternity party. The place was packed. Booze was everywhere. Ice chests packed with beer, kegs standing in lines like soldiers, more vodka and whiskey than an entire liquor store. And the food. Tables stacked with pizza boxes, chips, cookies, even several boxes of Twinkies. It was somewhere around ten o’clock and I’d already gorged myself on pizza, but since I was drunk I thought I was still hungry. The Twinkies were almost florescent under the warm lights in the dining room, so I unwrapped two of the little yellow cakes and smashed them together to make one big one. This seemed like a great idea at the time. But just as I opened my mouth to take the first giant bite, someone cleared her throat behind me.

I turned and saw a girl, miraculously gorgeous, and felt my face flush red. She was one of those blonde coeds so attractive that it was impossible to say anything witty to her. If you tried to approach someone like that you wouldn’t even be able to make your mouth move. And yet she was definitely standing there, seemingly materialized from nothing, watching as I prepared to inhale a ball of fake yellow cake. I waited for her to cut me to the quick. I winced at what she might say.

What she said was, “That’s a big Twinkie.”

And that’s how it started.

* * *

For the rest of the party, the two of us were inseparable. We took Jell-O shots together in the kitchen, played pool in the game room, and spent hours sitting on a sofa, just talking. I remember we turned all the lights off because of a huge saltwater fish tank that stood against the far wall. The tank was lit from inside and cast the entire room in a flickering blue light, almost ethereal, and which somehow added magic to our drunken conversations. Or so I believed at the time. By the time she was ready to leave, I felt like I’d known her for my entire life. Which I realize sounds trite and not very creatively expressed, but anyway that’s how it felt.

Her apartment was nearly two miles away, and mine a bit further, but neither of us were sober enough to drive. So we walked. After a few minutes of “accidentally” brushing our hands against each other’s, I finally laced my fingers between hers, and she let me. I didn’t feel awkward or nervous like I normally would in a situation like that, where I might be trying to gauge the feelings of someone else, wondering if she felt the same, if I was moving too fast or not fast enough. It was all completely natural. And when we finally arrived at her apartment, I didn’t hesitate to ask for her phone number. I assumed we’d be seeing a lot of each other in the coming days and weeks, so logistically this was the next step.

But her answer was, “I can’t, Thomas. I have a boyfriend.”

It probably seems profoundly egotistical to say so, but I couldn’t believe she was serious, boyfriend or not. We were in college. How close could they be? Of course it was lost on me at the time how I could apply the same logic to myself.

“Don’t you want to talk to me again?” I asked her.

“I do,” she answered. “Very much so.”

“Then let me call you.”

But she wouldn’t. When I asked why she’d spent the whole night talking to me, why she let me hold her hand, she blamed it on the alcohol.

“Sophia, come on. I’m sure you’ve been drunk a hundred times, but did you have a night like this?”

She didn’t answer. She just hugged me and told me it wasn’t meant to be and walked away, and I felt like I had just reached for and missed the most important opportunity of my life.

* * *

Today we take things Facebook and instant messaging for granted, but back then social networking was still theoretical because the Internet didn’t exist in its present form. However, installed on all the machines in the computer lab was a chat program called ICQ, and then, just as now, people used computers more for wasting time than doing actual work.

I was in the lab one day during the summer session, scrolling through the user names on ICQ instead of studying, when I saw one that said “SophiaP.” I’d never had a reason to ask Sophia for her last name, but I also couldn’t imagine there were many people on campus with that first name. So I sent an unsolicited message, and to my delight it turned out be her. She was sitting in the back corner of the computer lab and smiled when I stood up.

We chatted online for more than an hour. About movies we liked and songs we couldn’t live without and why both of us were taking classes in the summer instead of spending it at the beach like her boyfriend. She told me about another summer party the following weekend, where a new indie band called The Flaming Lips would be playing. Her boyfriend was driving into town for the concert, but she invited me to join as well, so I did.

I never saw the boyfriend at the party. He spent most of his time in the bar and I spent most of mine outside watching the band. I’d never heard of the Lips back then but their live show was already fantastic, lit beautifully in hues of blue. Sophia joined me for a while. We moved in rhythm to the music without making much eye contact, dancing together even if neither of us was willing to acknowledge it.

At one point she leaned over to me and said something like, “This music is so spacey, as if it came from another world” and it made me think of our first night together, talking on the sofa, bathed in that ethereal blue light from the fish tank. I was young and surely impressionable, but the whole situation seemed preordained to me, too perfect, almost as if someone had scripted it that way. It just didn’t seem real, how easy and natural it felt to be with her, and it was in that moment I decided I couldn’t give it all away, boyfriend or no boyfriend.

After all, I was a budding screenwriter who felt like he was living in one of his own stories. If someone was going to write us an ending, it might as well be me.

“You just like men who play guitar,” I replied to Sophia.

“I do. You should learn to play.”

And that’s when I had the first inkling of an idea, how I could push this story toward a happy ending. The only thing left was to find a way to make it happen.


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THOMAS PHILLIPS is a screenwriter living deep in the heart of flyover country. During the day he's a bleeding edge thought leader who reaches hungrily for low-hanging fruit. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter. He also just published his first ever short story on Amazon.com.

22 responses to “The Way it Is(n’t): A Love Story – Part One”

  1. Must be fate, Thomas. I love the Twinkie moment. It sounds like a scene in a cool movie or a good book. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the story. Please don’t keep us waiting too long for Part Two!

    • Gloria says:

      Is that your new hair? Is that what you look like now? I love it.

      Sorry, Thomas. Sometimes I use TNB like Facebook, since I don’t have Facebook. I will now read your post, sir.

    • Hi, Tawni,

      It seemed like fate at the time. But don’t all our biggest moments? And don’t we often later realize we were projecting our hopes and dreams onto a situation that exists outside of our own perception?

      On the other hand, that sounds like a lot of existential mumbo jumbo. LOL.

  2. Erika Rae says:

    That would have been a big Twinkie. Just how big was that Twinkie? Kryke, Thomas. Sounds positively terrifying. All that petroleum in the middle. Gagging thinking about it.

  3. Thanks for asking about the Twinkie, Tawni and Erika. It clearly was a magical Twinkie that attracted women with golden hair. These magical Twinkies are how we decided who was the keymaster and the gatekeeper. It’s also how we decided who should own the petroleum rights.

  4. Gloria says:

    And did you really see The Flaming Lips perform in a small venue like that? Holy shit. I’m super jealous.

    I don’t believe in fate (necessarily), but it sounds like you do. How did things shape up with Sophia? Did you ever learn to play guitar?

    • It’s not as cool as it sounds. They did play but they were a fairly new band at the time and I didn’t even realize what I was seeing. I guess it wasn’t really apparent until later when they became somewhat famous. But it’s a fun story to tell.

      Thanks for asking about Sophia and what happened later. I did pick up a guitar, but to tell more would ruin part two.

  5. Zara Potts says:

    Oh, being a true romantic, I can’t help but hope things worked out with you and Sophia. I’m figuring that as this is part one – there’s a beautiful part two coming?
    Fingers crossed.

    • Hi, Zara. Thanks for your comment. There is a part two coming, but that’s all I can say now without ruining it for you.

      Sorry to hear about your hometown. I hope you and your loved ones are doing okay.

  6. Joe Daly says:

    That’s quite a dangler you’ve left there, Thomas. And apparently you’ve got quite a big Twinkie as well.

    Like the others, I’m looking forward to the next installment. Hopefully it includes a guitar and a candle-lit rendition of Guns N’ Roses’ “Patience.”

  7. Thomas!

    All good things begin with Twinkies, no? Okay, maybe not. But they *should*.

    Ah, this makes me miss my college days just a little. The old chat programs in the computer lab is a real flashback for sure. I remember a group of us logged onto one in the lab of the writing center I tutored at, and the first thing someone said to us, or “Melanie,” was “how big are your boobs?” I think just the pervs in their mother’s basements were frequenting the chats back then.

    • If you count listserv, pervs have been trolling the Internet since the mid 80s.

      Seen any good films lately? I just watched “A Piece of Work,” the doc about Joan Rivers. It was fascinating. I didn’t know much about her beyond the red carpet thing, but she’s a complex woman for sure. Worth a look.

      • Well, I’ve seen Super 8 more than is reasonable. There’s that. I keep hearing about A Piece of Work. I’ve heard it’s fascinating — more for those that don’t like Rivers than for those that do. I need to check it out.

  8. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    Enjoyed reading this, since I’ve been hanging back in my own college summer nostalgia. Really liked the moment when she leans over to say “This music is so spacey, as if it came from another world.” And also, this line “if someone was going to write us an ending it might as well be me.”

    Hope it turned out well, or else gets written that way.

    • Thanks, Nathaniel. It feels a bit strange to use quotes for something said to me so long ago, but I suppose in a piece like this you’re trying to capture the feeling of the moment. In any case, considering the Lips’ music, it’s an accurate description, and it also captures the out-of-this-world way that evening seemed to go.

      Part two is coming soon. The written ending is definitely the way it was always going to turn out. Or so I believe.

      Off to read about your own nostalgic experience. I just saw your post about York. (-:

  9. Mandy says:

    I can’t imagine you playing guitar. Which makes this even more of a cliffhanger.

  10. angela says:

    Thomas, I really enjoyed this. Can’t wait to read the next part!

  11. […] any case, this is the second part of a story I posted on June 15th. I intended to follow up much sooner, but unfortunately I had to take a little break from the […]

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