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Angela and I met eight years ago when I took a part-time job as a cashier at a store that had the reputation for having a different terrible smell in every aisle. It was a bad job, and it didn’t pay much, but it kept enough gas in my car to get me to and from college. I worked as much as I could between classes, which meant most of my social life happened within the store.

We were always friendly, although I found her happy, outgoing nature a little off-putting at first. She was my supervisor, and I was her main cashier since I had the fastest hands and could keep a cash drawer balanced. One day, I stared at the break schedule, which she was in charge of writing that day, to see how long I had to suffer until my lunch break. From behind, I heard someone ask, “Isn’t she cute?”

“Huh?” I grunted over my shoulder. She was walking toward me.

“My daughter. That’s her first school picture. Isn’t she adorable?”

“Oh,” I finally realized there was a picture of a tiny blonde girl on the clipboard. “Yeah. Very cute.” And just like that, I’d successfully faked my way through another obligatory social interaction. That was our first conversation.

Almost 4 years later, we went on our first date. It was a movie date. Magic Mike XXL. Prior to that night, she had no clue that Magic Mike was about a male stripper, so from that night onward, we had an ongoing joke that I supplemented my income with a glitter-fueled night job.

I was not aware that this had been a date until I got a text later that night saying something along the lines of, “I can’t believe you took me to see a movie about male strippers on our first date. You’re the best!”

Fast forward to 2018, six years after my first tattoo, and there I was, lying face down on a table at Good Mojo again. Despite the needles forcing my leg muscles to flex throughout the entire tattooing process, I got comfy to the point of almost falling asleep. I must have fallen asleep for a brief second because—and I’ve never told anyone this before—I saw an image of my gone-but-not-forgotten friend, smiling and giving me a thumbs up. It was a look that said, You’ve found the one, now don’t let go.

“What do you think?”

I was confused and drooling.

“What do you think of this color?” It was Angela, my best friend, asking me. She had insisted on coming to the tattoo parlor with me and had been coaching the artist through my tattoo. Another design had come to me in my sleep, but this one was different.

Without shifting too much, I looked over my shoulder to see the cosmos forming on my leg. It was beautiful, exhilarating, life-affirming, and full of color.

I had only gotten black and grey tattoos to this point, so why such a colorful tattoo had gotten stuck in my head is beyond me. I also felt weird about getting something that involved someone else’s trademarked property permanently engraved in my skin, but I needed it. It was too perfect to pass up.

The tattoo is a silhouette of Stitch from Lilo and Stitch holding a guitar. Stitch’s body is made of the cosmos, swirling shades of blue and purple with twinkling stars, while the guitar shows a tropical beach, swimming with warm hues of green and yellow.

It reminds me of dates with Angela, spent watching the waves at the beach during the day and laying in the grass, staring up at the night sky, putting my glasses on her so she could see the stars. It reminds me of how different things have become since my days of studying with rocket scientists and realizing that I’d be happier spending a night at the beach rather than the lab. It reminds me, whenever she isn’t around, of looking into her eyes and losing myself in a sense of serenity, in a feeling of the world falling away, in cherishing every moment. It reminds me that when I’m drifting out in space, my mind stuck in the cold blackness, I always know where I can find my colorful beach.

Our lives had been vastly different up to the point that we met. One of our friends pointed out that, on paper, we had very little, possibly nothing, in common. I like books, she likes movies. She likes the Transformers movie series, I hate Mark Wahlberg. In spite of our backgrounds, we thought too much alike and saw the world too similarly to be anything less than best friends. Now we’re always on the same page to the point that she’ll ask “who was that guy from that thing,” and I’ll somehow know what she means.

We had both been lilo—the Hawaiian word for lost—when we’d found each other, and in each other we had found what we had been missing. For me, it was a sense of belonging, of home, and of family.

I’m typically a quiet person who keeps things small and simple, so naturally I thought her family was insane when I met them. Everyone had so much energy, and they all seemed so different that I had no idea how anyone could possibly have been related to each other. Then I started meeting more of her giant extended family, and things only got worse. I gave up trying to figure out everyone’s place in the family tree and found myself embracing the confusion.

One thing that was always clear to Angela was my strong sense of family. But my sense of family changed over the years and I found my definition of family evolving into the idea of ohana. “No one gets left behind or forgotten.” This has only led me to include more people in my ohana and fill me with more love and joy than I ever thought possible.

On paper, Angela and I don’t work out. No dating app or algorithm would ever put us together. I never thought I would have found love in chaos, but I suddenly find myself with two beautiful, brilliant, loud daughters, a best friend for life, and a dog that seems capable of an incredible destruction. In them, I’ve found so much more than new best friends—I’ve found my home.

Over the next few months, I’ll be planning a big trip to Disney World for the four of us. I’ll have to ask them some questions to make sure we do everything we want to do, but then I’ll have one big question to ask when we find our beach there.

They’re too perfect to pass up.

Ryan Fay

Ryan is an editor and semi-pro author with life goal of having enough money to buy the cool things people make in DIY videos.

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