The Miami breeze pulls my long dark hair into my face as I make my way through the crowded parking lot. It’s the type of hair exclusively trimmed by an over protective brown mom: Long, shiny, and never cut shorter than the middle of my back. God forbid I step into a high end salon, with a professional stylist, who uses objects other than a pair of dull kitchen scissors.
One time I wore a blonde wig as an April Fool’s gag and she was super livid. Didn’t give me a chance to explain it was fake. Thought I had the ovaries to go get my hair dyed without her blessing. She demanded I go back to the hairdresser who did that to me, and to tell the hairdresser to put me back the way I came, or she would put me back from where I came.
She does not joke when it comes to my hair, and she has assured me cutting it short would be the equivalent of ruining my life.
Most of her threats have always been about my hair. Being 26 years old now means nothing, and I still do not argue with her over matters concerning my mane.
The walk to the entrance of the night club is a good distance from where I parked. The parking lot is loaded to the brim with people itching to celebrate the arrival of Friday night. As I make my way towards the club entrance, surrounded by palm trees reaching for the moon, I hear my phone going berserk inside my white clutch. It’s Carina.
“Happy Birthday, Marci!” she exclaims as soon as I answer. “Are you nearly there?”
“I’m walking to the entrance now. Are you here?”
“Short answer, no. Long answer, hell no. The traffic from my house was atrocious, absolutely awful, muñeca. I’m afraid my ride share has had to crawl the entire way.”
Despite us being the exact same age Carina always talks to me as if she’s old enough to be my mother.
“But no worries, muñeca. I believe we are pulling up right now. Did you dress for the theme?”
Club Arriba has themed parties every Friday night. Tonight’s theme is Play Boy, and Carina insisted we dressed in a manner which leaves ‘very little up to the imagination’.
“I promised I would.” I say.
“Perfect! See you soon!”
The black laced crop top is working overtime to contain what it can of my breast, and the snug black skirt hugs my curves the way an old friend would after not seeing you over a great period of time: too long and too tight for comfort. I decided to leave my long dark hair hanging loosely at my waist, and wore a headband with white bunny ears. If this isn’t Play Boy I don’t know what is.
The entrance of the club is illuminated by massive yellow letters spelling “Club Arriba” above it’s colossal oval shaped brown doors. As I get closer I can hear the music booming. The doors are being guarded by two bald bouncers.
Another cool breeze brushes over me and the black cloth I tied around my neck with a black bow nearly flies away with it.
A small jet black coupe parks by the front door and out steps Carina. If there was any doubt whether it truly was Carina, all the men nearly breaking their necks to get a good look at her are confirmation enough.
“Carina!” I call out as I approach the entrance. She swivels in her Steve Madden heels and her hands shoot into the air once she spots me. We are wearing nearly identical outfits, but her skirt and laced crop top are white, and her bunny ears are black.
“It’s like we’ve been friends for years!” she marvels.
Her hair is the same length as mine, but dusty brown, and her skin is a beautiful shade of caramel, nothing like my dark brown body. Side by side she is the tanned Christopher Columbus to my Indigenous features.
Carina loops her arm into mine and pulls me towards the bouncers who ask for our IDs. We hand them over.
“Having a busy night?” Carina asks them as she flashes her big smile.
“You speak very good English for a Mexican” says baldy on the left.
Here we go.
“First of all, I’m Venezuelan. Second, I speak English WELL, because I’ve lived in this country since the 5th grade!” barks Carina.
She snags our IDs out of their stubby fingers and takes me by the arm, marching us into the club. It’s overcrowded inside the dimly lit club and the girls on the battered dance floor are wearing far less than us. We sit on the tall chairs at the bar where the smell of wooden barrels and whiskey lingers heavily in the air. Carina orders her Red Bull and vodka and I order an Archie Special. The bar top is a deep brown wood and it curves in a colossal horseshoe shape. The outer edge of the bar is traced with a thin yellow glowing light.
“How’s Ben?” I ask in an attempt to help her forget about the obnoxious bouncers.
Carina always speaks with her hands. It’s one of the small things I love most about her. She may have lost the Spanish accent, but she never lost the mannerisms of her culture. As she answers her hands fly in the air in their usual way, and the massive wedding ring on her left hand sparkles from the light bouncing from the ceiling.
“Ben is the best! I’m so glad he was able to get off work early to watch Baby Lorenzo.”
Carina had her first baby several months ago and getting her out of the house like this is a rare treat.
“It’s your birthday! I’m gonna find you a man tonight.” she promises me with a world of confidence.
“You of all people know a guy is the last thing I need right now. I already have enough on my plate with the art gallery, and I need to stay focused. No boys.” I say with all the sternness I can muster. My fingers spin the wedding ring around on my finger. Carina notices.
“But don’t you think it’s time?” she asks gently.
The wave of pain washes over me forcing my eyes to squint in order to keep back the tears. I can’t find my voice and a deafening silence falls upon us.
“How long has it been,” she continues, “nearly 4 years? When was the last time you got laid?”
I place two fingers over her lips, “Hush.”
“I want you to know it’s okay to move on. Plus, I get action whenever I want, wherever I want.” she says, taking another sip of her drink.
“Wherever you want? What does that mean exactly?”
She places two fingers over my lips. “hush.” she says as we fall into a laughter. The music is growing louder and louder, and the energy is contagious. We order several shots, slamming them back to back before running onto the dance floor.
We dance all of it: Bachata, Merengue, Salsa, Tango, Cumbia. Finally, drenched in sweat we go back to the bar for another round of shots.
“I’m glad we did this. I honestly needed a night like this!”
“Like old times!” Carina shouts over the music.
Our drinks arrive and we toss them back like water.
“I’m going back out there.” She motions to the dance floor.
“I’ll meet you there I’m going to touch up my makeup.”
“Ciao for now.” Carina says as she spins around to walk towards the dance floor.
I turn to move towards the bathroom, but my body collides into the broad back of a man. He turns around mid apology and a gasp escapes my mouth.
“Marci?” asks the broad shouldered man in disbelief.
I look at the floor embarrassed. Of all times to bump into him it had to happen tonight when I’m dressed in an outfit which ‘leaves very little up to the imagination.’
I’m becoming hyper aware of how much he’s able to see of my body, and I shift my feet from the discomfort this awareness brings.
“You look incredible.” he says.
“You do too. You’ve changed since school.” I say , noticing his bulky chest and big arms. His dark hair is parted on the right and the long ends in the front fall right above his left eyebrow. His facial features are proof of his Italian ethnicity: dark thick eyebrows, the large nose, and deep dark eyes surrounded by long eyelashes, like petals of sunflowers. His tall body has to hunch forward so we can speak.
“Wait. Isn’t today… it’s your birthday isn’t it?” he asks.
“Yes, this is my birthday bash.” I gesture at all the people in the club and he shoots me his signature killer smile.
“Happy Birthday. Has it been a good one?”
“It keeps getting better and better.” I blurt.
Did I seriously say that aloud? Am I drunk?
“Are you here with anyone?” he asks, glancing around in search of the someone I came with.
“I’m here with Carina but I think I’ve lost her to the dance floor now.”
I haven’t checked on her in several minutes, and it truly takes no time at all for her to get into trouble. She gets bored easily, and I can’t help but wonder what webs of entertainment she is getting wrapped into at the moment. This wonder takes over my intoxicated train of thought, causing me to mindlessly wobble until I lose my footing, and take a few side steps before catching myself by holding onto a bar stool.
“Are you okay?” asks Giorgio.
“We kicked off the night incredibly strong when we arrived, and now it has the room spinning.” I fan my body in an attempt to waft more oxygen towards me.
“I know it’s your birthday and you’re here with a friend, but if you want to take a break from the music we can go outside for a bit. They have heaters out there and you can borrow my jacket.”
Red signals fire across my brain screaming ‘NO!’, but my mouth betrays me.
“Okay,” I blurt, “but you have to buy me a Dulce de Leche café to keep me warm.”
“Promise.” he says, sticking his hand out for me to take. “I’ll make sure you don’t slip.” he explains.
I put my hand in his and we walk out of the club towards the vast patio which wraps around the side of the building. It’s smothered with grey couches and several orange glowing fire pits are scattered across the wood tile floor. I take a seat on one of the sofas in front of a warm blazing pit. Giorgio drapes his foliage green fleece jacket over my shoulders and sits in the grey arm chair next to my sofa. I can sense him watching me as I stick my arms through the sleeves of his jacket.
“That olive green looks great against your skin.” he says.
An awkward silence drowns us. The brutal realization that I haven’t spoken to him in 7 years makes me immediately regret being alone with him.
“Is this your hangout spot on weekends?” I finally ask.
“No, I’ve never been here before. I recently moved back from university and some friends invited me out, because I don’t drink, and they needed a designated driver.”
A waiter passes by and Giorgio stops her and orders my Dulce de Leche café .
“You don’t drink?” I ask, unable to hide my surprise.
My head is spinning. This chilly air has induced my process of intoxication.
“I’ve never liked it, but now that I’m competing in body building competitions I stay far away from it.” he explains. “What have you been up to all this time?”
What a question. How do I tell him I’ve been preoccupied with stitching myself together with one hand and the needle I’ve been forced to use burns as though it has been dipped in the fires of hell. Another wave of silence washes over us. He’s staring at me and I must look like an abused puppy, because before I can give an answer he brushes away the question.
“Never mind. I didn’t mean to dampen your mood on your birthday.”
“Honestly, I haven’t had much going on.”
“I’m a college dropout and I paint for a local art gallery.”
“Whoa! That’s wonderful, Marci! You told me painting was a dream of yours, and now you’ve made it a reality.”
He remembers my birthday. He remembers about the dreams I gushed to him about. What else does he remember? Does he remember how much he meant to me? How much he still does? It’s been such an exhausting effort not to tell him the truth. It’s on the brink of falling off my lips: YOU MEANT THE WORLD TO ME, AND YOU STILL DO, AND YOU ALWAYS WILL.
But if there is one form of art I’ve mastered it’s the art of saying nothing while every atom which makes me is dying to say everything.
The waiter arrives with my spiked coffee and it’s heavenly with a lingering aftertaste of cinnamon and Kahlua.
“I’m glad I bumped into you tonight. How long has it been since we last saw each other?” he asks.
High school graduation.
“Who knows.” I shrug. “Come sit with me. You’ll be closer to the fire.” I pat the couch cushion beside me and he plops himself on it. His face is inches from mine and the way he is staring into my eyes leaves me questioning if it’s obvious I’m buzzed. A smile spreads across his face.
How much does this guy remember from 8th grade? The not knowing is killing me.
“You remember my perfume?” I ask as innocently as possible.
A chuckle escapes him, “Oh, I remember all of it.”
“Long dark hair in a ponytail,” he continues, “straight bangs hanging right above your eyes, and your sexy Spanish accent.”
“Are you saying I’m no longer sexy since I lost the accent?”
“If I ever said that it would be an utter lie and I’m a man of my word. However, I do miss the straight bangs a great deal.” he shoots me a smirk. “The first day when you arrived in the baby blue skirt and those long white socks you had my whole heart.”
My cheeks grow hot and I’m uncertain if it’s from the alcohol or from embarrassment. My family had moved to Miami from Columbia, and I was sent to school on the first day of 8th grade in an outfit which screamed ‘fresh off the boat’. I can tell by the look on his face the trance of nostalgia is sweeping him to an alternate universe. The one where he and I could’ve been. A universe I used to visit often when I was a child. We’re not children anymore.
“When you sat in front of me during English you stood to leave at the end of class and flicked your ponytail across my desk. It was the first time I smelled your perfume.”
I don’t blame him for remembering it so vividly. Such a monumental experience for me as well. There are many ways to measure life but the easiest is by recounting all the tremendous moments a person experiences within a lifetime. Looking back on this day it’s easy to forget all the minor details: the scorching coffee, the bad haircut, unknowingly hugging my dad for the last time. The thing about these moments is no one is prepared when they occur. The day I first met Giorgio was the day he had given me my first kiss. It was the day he became my first boyfriend. You’d think a day so full of first’s wouldn’t be capable of containing any last’s.
“Why did you ignore me? Once you arrived at the same high school as me… after all the time we spent forced apart. I tried so hard to talk to you.”
“My life was an awful wreck. A relentless train wreck…”
Deafening silence covers.
“My dad, my grandma, and now…”
The thought can’t be finished and he’s looking at me expectantly, but I haven’t been able to discuss it aloud for 4 years.
“I heard about your family. I’m sorry for your loss. I could’ve been there for you though. If you would have let me.”
“Please believe me when I say I was never trying to treat you badly.”
I take a long sip of my hot coffee as he continues watching me closely. He moves closer, filling the microscopic space between us, and his face turns serious.
“Our whole life you’ve tried to push me away, and I know it wasn’t your choice, but for some strange reason life keeps finding a way to bring us together. Let me be in your life, please?”
A heavy breeze washes over us, pulling my hair into my face. I push it out of my eyes with my left hand, when I notice him noticing it: the wedding ring.
I cannot be sure, because I’ve had plenty to drink, but through his eyes I think I’m able to see his heart as it shatters.
“Okay Gio, I wont push you away anymore.”
My vision has everything around me spinning and sitting with him under the fresh Miami night sky has felt easy and effortless.
A smile spreads across his face.
“What are you smiling about?” I ask.
“I haven’t been called Gio since the 8th grade. I like the way you make it sound.”
“I’ve been so miserable.”
My body moves towards him without getting permissions from my head. I lean forward until my lips find their way on his. The way he taught me, melting into him.