That night, as she stood alone on the water’s edge, the expanse of the ocean before her felt as dark and infinite as the universe. A soft crush of waves melted into the earth and rose back up, frothy, pulsing, pulling, and dissolving the sand beneath her feet. Glistening, fingerlike threads caressed and grabbed at her toes. She imagined being dragged out and swallowed up by the vast unknown. Gia was terrified and yet, she dug her heels in and stayed her ground.
In the distance, on that stretch of beach, college kids drank beers, ate sushi, and played beach volleyball near a raging bonfire. This was a world unfamiliar to Gia—coeds, fraternity sweethearts, Asian sorority sisters from Sigma Phi Omega, and frat boys from Gamma Epsilon Omega, the Asian fraternity. She was out of her element.
“Has anyone seen Gia?” asked Josh making his way through the group. “No,” is what they each said before returning to their partying. Except for Josh, himself, and his frat bro, Luke, who drove them there, no one knew who Gia was anyway.
Josh had only recently met Gia a few days ago while standing in line at the university bookstore. Josh had been struck by Gia’s beauty. She was tall, slim, and had the most perfect oval face and pretty, sunny eyes. Her long black hair was radiant—sleek and glossy. Josh was taken aback at first, but it only took him a couple of seconds to get over any hesitation to talk to her. Josh was a tall attractive young Asian man himself—and he knew it. All the guys from the Gamma house were known for their handsome, good looks. All the girls from Sigma Phi Omega were also reputedly gorgeous. This was Southern California after all.
Josh and Gia had made small talk in the bookstore, and Josh learned that Gia was a transfer student from Virginia. Josh was a California valley boy, born and raised. When Josh asked Gia if she wanted to go to this beach party, he was pleased when she agreed.
“Gia!” called Josh above the rushing, rhythmic ocean sounds. He thought that was her standing alone by the waterfront.
Josh noticed how the moonlight cast a glow on her enchanting face. Her silhouette against the dark blue shoreline was almost picturesque. She looked peaceful—or maybe troubled. He called out again, “Gia!” as he ran up next to her. “You okay?”
“Oh, hey,” responded Gia glancing over at Josh.
“You’re out here by yourself. You wanna join the party? I’ll introduce you to everyone.”
Gia looked at the ground. “Uh, Josh. I’ve actually got a lot on my mind.” She looked back up. “I shouldn’t have agreed to come tonight. I’m sorry.”
“Oh…okay. No worries.”
“I mean…I don’t want to give you the wrong idea. It was great of you to invite me. You and Luke even came and picked me up. It’s just…I’m just not up to it all, ya know?” explained Gia.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Josh. “If you need to go, I can get Luke’s car and take you back to the dorms…if you need to get outta here.”
“Yeah, cause I’m just…stressing.”
“What’s wrong?” asked Josh.
“It’s…well, family stuff,” said Gia. “They’re all coming into town tomorrow to support my sister. She plays soccer.”
“Soccer? Cool—I mean, not cool if you’re not happy with them.”
“I hate 'em.”
“Hate? That’s a strong word.”
“I hate them all.”
“Wow, okay. Well, I’m sure you have good reason…to be unhappy with them,” said Josh. “How anyone could do something to cause you hardship is beyond me. You seem like a nice person.”
“You don’t know anything about me. You just met me.”
“That is true. I don’t know you.” Josh pushed the front of his hair back with his hand and paused. “Can I take you back home?”
Gia looked out at the ocean water pensively, and then looked into Josh’s eyes. “Josh,” she said. “Could you come with me tomorrow for brunch?"
“And meet your family?”
“I think we’re moving a little fast here,” laughed Josh.
“As a friend. Just come as my friend.”
“Friend? So now we’re friends? I don’t know anything about you. I just met you, remember?” teased Josh.
“Please, Josh.” Gia stared at Josh and searched his eyes until she knew she had him. She knew her eyes were one of her best features; she had already figured out the power she had because of them. “For moral support,” she added.
Josh was intrigued by this attractive, strange, and complex woman. “Well…. Okay. Just for brunch.”
The next day Josh picked up Gia and drove to The Huntington in San Marino. Brunch was being served in the Rose Hills Garden Court that day. As Gia and Josh walked through and approached the area, Gia noticed her brother and sister standing around, waiting to be seated for their reservation.
“Jackie! Mike!” Gia called out to them. But, there was no response.
When they got closer, things got awkward. Josh tried to lighten the mood by making a comment about how nice they redid certain sections of the botanic gardens and art museum. Gia engaged back with a light conversation with Josh. Although they stood near her brother and sister, neither of Gia’s siblings acknowledged her. Josh thought it was odd.
“It’s like I’m invisible,” said Gia sullenly to Josh.
Josh shook his head. He stared at Jackie and Mike who were oblivious. Gia’s siblings appeared to be intentionally ignoring her, and it began to anger him. “Hey! Your sister’s here!” he shouted.
“Josh—” pleaded Gia. But, her parents had just arrived and her siblings had turned their attention to them.
“Mom, Dad,” said Gia as she approached her parents.
Gia’s mother had a puzzled look on her face and walked away. The host had waved to the group and Gia’s parents and siblings began following the young hostess who was taking them all to their seats. Josh and Gia joined the line, trailing behind.
When Gia and Josh sat down at the table, Gia’s mother’s brow furrowed and she let out an incredulous gasp. “Uh, excuse me!”
“Mom, it’s me,” said Gia. “Mom, Dad, this is Josh.”
Gia’s parents looked stunned. Gia’s siblings, Mike and Jackie, were speechless. They didn’t even notice Josh.
Jackie stared at her sister. “Is that really you, Gia?” she asked.
“What did you do to your face!!” sneered her brother, Mike.
Gia’s mother put her hand over her mouth. Josh looked around at the family and didn’t know what to think.
“Gia, I didn’t even recognize you,” said her father.
“What did you do to yourself?!” demanded Gia’s mother.
“You’re not impressed that I lost all the weight?” asked Gia.
Josh’s brow wrinkled. He was as confused as the others.
“You know how big she was before?” shouted Mike obnoxiously to Josh. “She was humungo!” Mike’s laughter was full of snorts and whistles. Congestion went down the wrong windpipe and he began hacking on his own phlegm.
Jackie was laughing and chortling along with her brother. “We called her Giant Gia!” mocked Jackie.
Josh stared at Gia in disbelief.
“Gia, you gonna load up at the omelet station? Gonna grab yourself ten stacks of stuffed French toast? It’s all you can eat!” taunted Mike.
“Stop it, Michael!” chided their mother.
“I prefer the salmon and berries, thank you,” retorted Gia with an air of indignance. Josh nodded towards her in support.
Gia’s mother slid her glasses onto her face and looked Gia over more carefully. “Oh, sweetheart. I’m glad you lost the weight, but your face. You don’t look like you,” said her mother.
“You had work done,” said Jackie.
“A lot of work done…all over,” interjected Michael who made a sweeping motion with his arm towards Gia. “The whooole thing.”
Gia turned to Josh. “See what I’ve had to endure my entire life? Non-stop bullying.”
“That’s why you were in such a hurry to leave for LA,” said Jackie snarkily.
“I had it all done in the early part of summer—yes, that’s why I flew to LA so early.”
“What. What did you have done?” asked Gia’s mom stoically with only a hint of a twitch in her upper lip.
“Everything—eyes, cheeks. Jawline shaved. Rhinoplasty, blepharoplasty, liposuction. I even had a vampire facial.”
“Vampire facial?” asked Josh.
“It’s when blood is drawn from your arm, processed, and then injected back into your face. The result after scabbing is regeneration. My skin glows!”
“You learn something every day. Even for an LA guy like me, that’s the first time I’ve heard of that. You do have beautiful, glossy skin,” commented Josh.
“So, what do you all think?” asked Gia looking expectantly at her family.
Her parents, sister, and brother had no response.
“You have nothing to say?” Her family members either looked at the ground or averted their eyes. Gia raised her voice. “Not even a ‘you look great, Gia’?”
Finally, Michael sat up in his seat and jeered, “Well, you’ll always be Giant Gia to me!” He began laughing again, uncontrollably. Jackie tried to conceal her chuckles, but finally, let out a muffled howl.
Gia fell silent. She looked around the table as tears welled up in her eyes. She pushed her chair away from the table, stood up, and shouted, “I can never win with you all! No matter what I do! And, you know what? I don’t give a flying F about anything you all say. Say whatever. I just don’t give a crap. It does not affect me, whatsoever!”
As Gia walked out, her family had fallen silent. They were in shock. They had never heard Gia speak this way to them before. Josh got up and went after Gia.
“You okay?” Josh asked after catching up with Gia.
“Yeah, thanks for checking up on me,” responded Gia. “Can we just go?”
“Where do you want to go?”
“Anywhere but here.”
Josh and Gia pulled up at the beach. They walked until they found a spot and settled in with a beach towel and boba they had picked up along the way.
“I know they’re family. But, I’m sorry that you have to deal with all of that,” said Josh.
“I’m used to it. Been dealing with the harassment and abuse my whole life.”
“Well, you know what I think?” asked Josh.
“I think you’ve got incredible, inner strength—and you look beautiful!”
“Even if it’s all not real? Even if it’s all fake?”
“It’s okay. You made your decisions. Embrace them. It’s who you are now. Accept the fact that you’re absolutely gorgeous now,” said Josh encouragingly.
“I’m just not sure how to handle it all, though.”
“Sure, you do. Just forget about your family for now. You’re not going to change them. Focus on yourself. Get to know the new you and enjoy it.”
“It’s like I have a costume on. I don’t know who I am anymore,” admitted Gia who looked lost.
“I saw what you did yesterday. You had me. You’re learning. You got me here, didn’t you?”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Welcome to the pretty club, baby!”
“You’re freaking me out, Josh.”
“Doesn’t sound like your plastics doc gave you a manual on how to use your newfound beauty powers. Well, I’m here to tell you that now that you’re all healed up, you’re gonna find that being young and attractive’s gonna give you all kinds of advantages. Stop hanging by the edge and just jump in the water, Gia!”
“But Josh, I don’t think I’m ready. You saw what I’ve been subjected to my whole life. That’s what I’m used to. Being the outcast. I’m not prepared to manage these so-called powers that you talk about. I’m…I’m scared.”
“I got you, Gia. I got you. Hey, listen. I understand you,” said Josh looking directly into Gia’s eyes.
“No,” said Gia searching Josh’s eyes and face. “You too?”
“Yup, double eyelid, rhinoplasty, chemical peel. Even butt implants.”
“Nah, not the implants,” laughed Josh.
“It’s really not a big deal. Everyone gets something done eventually. That’s life. This is LA.”
Gia looked away. “So…are friendships fake out here too?”
“Some. Not all.”
“What about us?”
“I just met you,” teased Josh. “But I think I know a little bit more about you now. You can count me as a friend…if you’re comfortable with that.” He smiled.
“Sure. I’d like that, Josh. Beauty is only skin-deep. You being there for me…it’s everything.”
“You know, you’re pretty grounded for a gorgeous girl.”
Gia smiled, and for the first time, accepted a compliment.
The two sat quietly and looked out at the immense, moving body of water before them. Gia sat perched like a delicate bird with her thin, sculpted legs beneath her. The afternoon sun seemed to shine through her translucent skin. Her careful face, gleaming hair, and perfect features made her look ethereal, almost otherworldly.
For a moment, Josh thought he saw himself reflected back from the glossy depths of her eyes. He searched again and found the earth’s powerful ocean waters within her orbs that sparkled like stars in a dark universe. Josh smiled back at Gia. He thought to himself, “she’s dazzling.”
Cover photo: Pixabay