Stories

Miami Story – Claudia Azalde

I’m feeling like James Bond but a girl as I’m being driven around by these attractive men in a low to the ground car through the dark streets of Miami. A bottle of Hennessy is cradled between my thighs in the backseat, the dark liquor sloshing around as a slow Bad Bunny song plays on the stereo. After a few beers they ask if we want to go to the beach and naturally, we say yes. 
        I take a sip and pass it to Camila. It’s viscous and warm, and my chest feels like it’s buzzing. She hums Bad Bunny, staring out the window. 
        “I wish we had our bathing suits.” 
        “That’s okay, you don’t need them,” one of the boys says. 
        We tumble out of the car, trudging into the sand. Mateo brings out some bottles of Presidente that he had in the trunk, and a woven blanket. Rafael opens the beers for us with a lighter. He and Camila are staring at each other and she’s giggling at everything he says. 
        “You wanna swim?” she asks me. 
        “Maybe in a little bit, I think I need to drink another one of these before I get in there.” 
        She takes off her clothes until she’s in a bralette and thong and runs into the water. 
        “The water feels amazing!” 
        Rafael laughs and throws his clothes off until he’s in his briefs and runs in after her. Mateo stays with me on the blanket, taking slow swigs out of the green glass bottle. 
        “You don’t wanna go in?” 
        “Give me a second! 
        His fingertips reached over to touch the top of mine and I moved closer, until the tops of our shoulders were touching. Looking out into the dark water, I could barely make out the outline of Camila and Rafael, but it seemed like they were making out. Mateo just shook his head and laughed. I started to take off my clothes and run into the water. “Hey, wait!” he called out. I kept going and could hear Mateo laughing and coming behind me. He caught up to me as a wave touched the top of my thighs and splashed me. 
        “No, don’t get my hair wet!” 
        He kept splashing me and I ran away, further into the ocean, shivering as the water reached my chest. He splashed me again and I was starting to get annoyed but then he came closer, putting his hands on my waist and I didn’t say anything. 
        He looked me in the eyes and said, “You’re really pretty.” I laughed and looked away. But then he kissed me and the mixture of sea salt and Hennesy on his breath tasted a bit like coconut. I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him closer. When we finally looked up, Camila and Rafael were gone and the inky black ocean spread out empty around us. 

The air was still warm as we collapsed onto the sand but I shivered slightly, feeling the breeze on my bare skin. Our shoulders and arms were touching and I felt the hairs on my arms rise up. I looked around in the darkness behind us. “Where’s the Hennessy? And where did they go?” 
        They were nowhere to be found. He began to run his hand up my waist, until he reached the strap of my bra, and then back down again. I caught his eye and he kissed me again. We kept kissing, and once we started, it felt so difficult to stop. 
        I sensed some movement behind us, which snapped me back to reality. When I turned around I could see a shadowy figure standing by the beach entrance, who appeared to be walking toward us. 
        “Fuck, who is that.” 
        “I don’t know, I’m sure it’s fine,” he said, still staring at me. 
        “I don’t think so,” I said, and began to put on my skirt, and gather things into my bag. The figure kept coming toward us. 
        “Shit, maybe you’re right.” 
        We could see him more clearly now. The man was disheveled, with long, stringy hair and several layers of black clothing. He held his arm outstretched and in his hand was what looked like a sharp rock. 
        “Fuck, what do we do?” 
        “Run,” he said to me. 
        We ran to the other beach entrance and I could feel the man behind us, like a cloud of hot, rank air hanging over my shoulder. He made a growling sound and seemed to be getting closer and closer. I could feel his hands reaching for me, almost touching the skin of my back. As we ran off the beach onto the concrete path and through the parking lot, it seemed like he was no longer following us. When we got to the car, I turned around. The man was standing by the entrance to the beach, still holding the rock in a raised fist. I think I could see him grinning in the darkness. Camila and Rafael already in the front seat, we climbed into the back trying to catch our breaths and locked the door.
        “What the fuck just happened?” 
        “Drive!” Mateo yelled. 
        “What?” 
        “Just go!” 
        Rafael booked it out of there, with tires screeching. 
        Camila was just laughing with her head thrown back, holding the Hennessy bottle. “You guys were tripping, damn.” 
        I rolled my eyes. “No, that guy was really fucking creepy. I swear.”

++ 

I had no idea what Ramon was doing here. I hadn’t seen him in over two years. He was drinking a beer at the end of the bar and had his arm around a small goth Asian girl. Everyone in our social circle had cut him off a while ago because of his bad behavior. He liked to date rich international students, usually ones that didn’t speak English that well. He would live in the apartments their parents paid for and call them his “little hamsters” to his friends. I guess because they were like cute things that he held in his palm, right where he wanted them to be. He would have schizophrenic breaks and his friends would have to take him to the hospital, sitting in those shitty waiting room chairs under fluorescent lights. I think he may have gotten even worse since then, honestly. 
        I went to the bar to order a drink and he recognized me and said hi. I gave him an awkward side hug. He spoke in the way I remembered, quickly, with wide dark eyes and fidgety hands covered in knuckle tattoos. We exchanged how have you beens and he introduced me to his girl, whose name was Annie. I said hi and then made some excuse to go back to my friends. The bar had pink countertops that squiggled through the room, and dirty checkered floors. My vodka cranberry was sweating on top of the black and white coaster. 
        Some guy in a Hawaiian print button down with red tinged skin and sparse white hair had started talking to Camila while I was gone, and he kept trying to put his arm around her and convince her to play pool with him. His friend said hi to me and smiled at me with a mouth full of metal fillings. 
        “You wanna play doubles?” 
        “I guess so.” 
        He wore dark sunglasses and his breath smelled dark and fuzzy and sickly sweet. Another man walked past me on his way to the bathroom. He had these vacant blue eyes with heavy lids and a tear tattooed under the right one. He looked pretty normal except I noticed he was missing his thumb on his left hand. All that was left of it was sitting next to his silver rings, where his light brown skin faded into a milky pink stub. When he came out, he made eye contact with me, though it seemed like he was looking through me rather than at me. The man with the stinky breath nodded at him but he barely looked up. The blue eyed man was heading straight for Ramon, and stopped right next to his shoulder. Something flashed through his eyes as the man whispered in his ear. He followed the man outside with his head hanging down. I was considering following him out because of my chismosa tendencies, but then Camila pulled me away because the old men were buying us tequila shots. 
        While Camila giggled, the bad breath man started asking me where I was from. “America,” I told him, taking the lime wedge out of my mouth. 
        “But where’s your family from?” 
        “The United States.” He wasn’t content with my answer but decided to drop it for now.
         “I’m from Cuba. But I’ve been living here for many years.”
        “Oh, cool.” 
        I scanned the bar to see if there was anyone better to talk to. I spotted some German tourists with ugly haircuts that were full of gel and poofy on top and a chunky Asian man wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a sexually explicit message. The options were not promising. I noticed Ramon’s girl standing in the corner. Some older man was also talking to her while she looked away blankly. She spotted me and walked over. 
        “Have you seen Ramon?” 
        “I think he went outside, I saw him talking to some guy.”
        “Okay, thank you.” She looked confused. 
        The old men bought us more tequila shots and we stood around the pool table. Camila carried the conversation as I sat there drinking my drink. After a couple minutes Annie came back and looked up at me with sad, heavily made up eyes. 
        “I can’t find him!” 
        “Ramon? He’s not outside?” 
        “No, I couldn’t find him anywhere!” 
        She looked like she was about to cry so I offered to go outside with her to look for him. People were walking by but I didn’t see him or the blue eyed guy anywhere. We tried walking down the block and looking under other awnings but we were out of luck. 
        “Maybe he went to the store, try texting him.” 
        “His phone’s dead,” she said, defeated. 
        “Okay. Well we can help you get home if anything. Take care of yourself though, he’s bad news. I don’t know him that well, but he’s got a bad rep.” 
        “I know, but I love him!” 
        “Come on, you can definitely find someone better, he’s crazy.” 
        She didn’t say anything, and just stared down at the sidewalk. 
        “Maybe we should try looking around the corner,” I suggested, and started walking. The street we turned onto was pretty empty, there were no bars or restaurants, and all the windows were dark. As I walked down, I heard a strange whimpering sound. Ramon was sitting against a wall of a small alleyway with his head between his knees. As we got closer, I could see he was bleeding from his mouth and there was a big welt under his eye. 
        The girl came up to him, fawning over him and crying, but he just pushed her away. 
        “Hey,” I said, “Do you need help getting up? We can get you a taxi.” 
        “No, go away!” he screamed. 
        The girl kept trying to touch him and he pushed her away. “Leave me alone!” She just cried even harder, so I went over to pull her up. 
        “Leave me the fuck alone!” he screamed. 
        “Asshole,” I muttered. 
        I finally got her out of the alleyway and her tears were coming down in black streaks over her face. 
        “Hey, it’s gonna be okay. You should probably go home though. It seems like Ramon needs a little alone time…” 
        We sat on the curb in front of the bar and I put my arm around her as she cried more and called an Uber. The silver Toyota Prius we were waiting for finally came and I made sure she checked the license plate, too. 
        “Get home safe, okay?” I gave her my number so she could call me if anything. As she got in the car Camila came out. “Where the fuck have you been?”
        “We had to look for Ramon.” 
        “Ramon sucks though.”
        “I know but I couldn’t leave that girl. We found him in an alley and it looked like someone beat him up.” 
        “Who?” 
        “I don’t know, I think it was this guy with these intense blue eyes who was missing a thumb.” 
        She wrinkled her nose, “Sounds creepy. I ordered an Uber to the club though, if you still wanna go.”
        “Sure, yeah,” I nodded. 
        We got into our Uber and were pulling away from the bar. At the red light on the corner I saw the man coming out of the doorway of the liquor store. His white t-shirt had some dark stains on it and I think he saw me, too, because he stopped right under the awning in front of the neon Corona sign and stared as I looked out of the car window. He raised his hand with the rings and no thumb, saying hi I guess, and started walking toward the car with a dopey smile on his face. Thankfully the light turned green and we were shuttled off away from him and to the club. 

++

The next day we were hungover drinking sugary Cuban espressos with shaky hands and watching the old people play dominoes. The clicking of the white rectangles against stone tables seemed to pierce into the fuzziness of my head. 
        A tour bus pulled up to the curb, and a crowd of people piled into the plaza. The tour guide was a tall skinny blond man wearing a floppy hat and a neon green vest. He winked at me and Camila as they all crowded around us. The old Cuban people just ignored them and kept playing dominos. 
        “Ugh, let’s get out of here.” 
        Camila nodded and we left. As we walked out of the fenced area, I saw the tattooed knuckles, silver rings and stub of a thumb coming around the corner. 
        “Oh fuck.” 
        It was too late to walk any other way so I just hoped he wouldn’t recognize us in our large sunglasses. 
        We walked past him and he looked right at me, his crisp white t-shirt seemed to glow in the sun. He came in close, grabbing my arm, and said in a low voice, “Oh hey you.” 
        His hand was cold and his touch sent a shiver down my spine. He held my gaze for what felt like a full minute, until he finally let go. 
        I didn’t know what to say, so I just kept walking. When we crossed the street I looked back and he was still standing there, with one hand in the pocket of his True Religion jeans, and the other in the air in a thumbless wave. 
        “The creepy guy likes you,” Camila said. 
        “Eww no.” 
        I turned back again and he was still staring at us. 
        “What if he comes over here?” 
        “Let’s turn here. We can catch the bus to the beach two blocks over.” 
        We hurried over and sat next to some older ladies with shopping bags. Thankfully the bus came in a bit less than ten minutes. 
        I sat by the window and took some Tylenol for my headache while Camila looked at Instagram reels. 
        “Rafa just texted me inviting us to some house party tonight.”
        “Oh, do you wanna go?” 
        “Sure, why not. We have nothing else to do and I’ve never been to a Miami party before. I wonder if it’s gonna be in a mansion or some shit.” 
        “Oh yeah, maybe they’ll have a pool.” 

++

We got ready after dinner, I put on a turquoise tube top and silver hoops and Camila wore a low back bodysuit. My face felt a bit swollen from the sun and I tried to cover the pink tinge on my cheeks with some concealer.  
        Rafa texted that they were out front and we did one last check in the mirror. I put on a bunch of lip liner and Camila put on some Dior lip glow; we looked pretty good, if I’m being honest. 
        We piled into the backseat and Mateo passed us a handle of tequila and a bottle of Squirt as a chaser. 
        “Want some?”
        “Yeah.”
        The party wasn’t in a mansion but it was in a nice house, with a white columned porch, in a quiet neighborhood. You could hear a bunch of voices and a Fetty Wap song floating out of the window. 
        She clocked me as soon as I got through the door, her long ponytail flicked as she turned her head to give me a cold stare. She was pretty and slim thick, in some kind of beige I.AM.GIA-type two-piece set that emphasized her small waist and fat ass. 
        Her gaze turned from me to Mateo, and stayed there as he walked into the party. As we walked past her, she grabbed his arm with her sparkly pink acrylic claws and whispered something into his ear, and then turned and glared at me. Mateo kind of shrugged her off and kept walking. Once we were in the next room I asked him who the girl was. 
        He sighed. “That’s my ex, Karina.” 
        “Oh, she definitely had it out for me.” 
        “She can be a bit…intense.” 
        Rafael and Camila came into the kitchen and we all decided to do some tequila shots. “Salud, Amor, y Dinero,” I called out as we cheered. 
        We made ourselves some drinks and went out to dance to the Rauw Alejandro song being played in the other room. I felt us getting closer, and Mateo grabbed my hips as I danced on him. The ice in his cup bumped against my arm and I could feel his warm breath on my neck. It looked like Rafael and Camila were enjoying themselves too, because she was dancing on him like crazy and they ended up making out in the corner. 
        We danced to a couple more songs and then Mateo went to go refill our drinks. I stayed, leaning against the sweaty wall. After a couple minutes, I went over to the kitchen to find him because I was getting bored being alone. 
        He was there next to the kitchen island, talking to Karina. Her long fake lashes were fluttering at him, and her hand rested delicately on his arm. I couldn’t see his face because his back was turned, but he wasn’t moving away either. 
        My head was spinning so I pushed open the screen door and went out to get some air. Sitting by the pool was a pretty brown haired girl in a pink tank top. I think she was on something because her pupils had expanded into black discs and she sat hugging her knees to her chest. I decided to sit next to her. 
        “Are you okay?” I asked. 
        “I’m fine, better than you probably.” 
        I turned to look at her. “What makes you say that?” The black discs seemed to bore holes into my body. She raised her palms, which were covered in two large and intricate eyeball tattoos.
        “I can see everything,” she said. 
        “Oh.” 
        “I can see it. Your dark shadow.” 
        “My shadow?” 
        “Yes, it’s following you.” 
        “Doesn’t everyone’s shadow follow them though?” 
        “Not in the same way….It likes you here.” 
        I raised my eyebrows at her. She was running her thin fingers along the surface of the water. “That’s…frightening.” 
        “Only if you want it to be,” she said, while not looking at me at all. She untucked her knees and gracefully dipped her toes in the water. Her rotund but firm belly peeked out of the bottom of her tank top, and I realized she was knocked up. 
        I left her there, staring intently into the water, as if she was waiting for something to come up out of it. 
        As I opened the door to get back in the house, I was greeted by Mateo’s frowning face. “I was looking for you.” 
        “Oh really, you seemed…occupied.” 
        He ran his fingers through his hair awkwardly. 
        “I’m sorry, she wanted to talk to me about something.” 
        “Oh,” I just looked at the ground. 
        “Do you want to go on a drive with me?” 
        “Yeah, sure, haven’t you been drinking though?” 
        “I’m feeling pretty sober now.” 
        “Okay.” 
        We told Camila and Rafael that we would be back in a bit and got into his car. 
        “I’m sorry about that, really.” 
        “Yeah, whatever. It’s none of my business.” 
        “No but I really like you, and I can tell it’s bothering you. So I’m sorry. I broke up with her two months ago and it’s been messy, but I really don’t want to be with her.” 
        “You know I’m leaving in two days.” 
        He looked at me with sad eyes. “I wish you weren’t” 
        He put his hand on my leg, softly stroking it. 
        I couldn’t look at him. “I like you too, maybe you can visit me sometime.” Then he kissed me and his full lips were like soft pillows. 
        “I wish you didn’t have to go back. You could stay in my apartment and every day after work I would take you to the beach and then to eat fried plantains at Versailles.” 
        “That does sound nice,” I had to admit. I imagined myself tan, with a French tip manicure and cute heels, stepping out of the passenger seat of his car and into his arms. Walking into a restaurant hand in hand to eat fresh fish and drink cocktails that had purple and white orchid flowers tucked on top of the floating ice. 
        We made out for a while and then he pulled away saying, “There’s somewhere I want to take you.” 
        “Okay, where?” 
        “It’s a surprise.”
        We drove through the pothole-covered, tree-lined streets of the neighborhood to an area that seemed sparser, past a soccer field and a bus stop and a round metal building that looked like an airplane hangar. Eventually the empty lots and chain link fences covered in vines gave way to warehouses and then buildings made of glass and steel. We passed parking garages and some bars and a CVS on the ground floor of an imposing metallic building. He parked a couple blocks down, in an area that seemed devoid of life. There weren’t even any palm trees on this street. 
        We got out of the car and he took my hand and led me to a pair of glass doors that opened up to a lobby filled with glowing yellow-white light, black and white tiles, and big ferns that sat in ridged black pots. A black carpet led us to a pair of elevators at the back of the room. There was some eighties-sounding Muzak playing softly in the background, but no security guard. 
        “Are you sure we can be here?” I asked him. 
        “Just trust me.” 
        We got in the elevator on the right side and he pressed the button for the 49th floor, the very top. We got off and he opened a silver door which led to a stairwell which evidently went up to the roof. 
        It was a warm night but up on the roof of this glass building it was freezing. Why did he take me here? Mateo looked at me from under his hoodie, “Look at this view.” 
        The buildings glittered under us like crystal spikes and the wind whipped around us. I shivered and he put his arm around me, stroking my arm up and down to warm me up. 
        “You cold?”
        “Yeah, a little.” 
        There weren’t any stars visible in the sky but everything was covered by an eerie yellow glow and the moon was full and round. I began to see small dark shapes moving around in the sky, in what seemed to be circular motions. They were moving in these odd curlicues and seemed to be getting closer and closer. 
        “What are those?” 
        Mateo squinted at them. They were coming toward us, I could tell, winged shapes flying to the edge of the roof. “What the fuck, they’re coming right at us.” 
        The black shapes swooshed over our heads and I could glimpse their small and furry black bodies flying above me. It seemed like they were almost touching us, and then they flew back up, over the roof and into the dark sky. 
        “Bats!” 
        “What the fuck.” 
        “I didn’t think they would come to Downtown Miami. Not enough trees here.” 
        “Almost heaven, West Virginia,” a cracked, smoker’s voice rang out. 
        We both turned around. It was coming from this old white lady with garish mauve lipstick and dyed red hair. She stood by the door to the roof, staring at us. She wore a lilac hooded puffer jacket with the hood pulled up and a bunch of thick beaded necklaces. 
        “Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River.” 
        We just stared at her.
        “Come on, I know you guys know this song,” she cooed, swaying her arms back and forth as if she was conducting an invisible orchestra. 
        “No we don’t,” Mateo said, and he pulled me by the arm and took me out through the exit door. We ran down the stairs and into the elevator, not relaxing until he pushed the button and the silver doors closed us in. 
        I stepped out onto the warm and desolate streets. Almost no one was out but the cars sped by on the road, casting muted red light onto the gray. 
        We walked toward Mateo’s car in silence. Up the block there was a man screaming out a string of cuss words. As we got closer I could see there was another thin man in a black hoodie throwing things at some of the homeless people on the block, trying to wake them up. He laughed and started filming them on his phone as they would start incoherently mumbling and then run away as it escalated into screaming. 
        “What the fuck?” 
        Mateo just shook his head. 
        “I should say something to him.” 
        But it was too late, he had already gone down the block and around the corner, leaving a bunch of angry and disgruntled homeless people in his wake. 
        We finally found his silver car and drove away from there. As I watched him with his hands on the steering wheel it struck me, there is really nothing like the feeling of a hot man driving you around. Surrendering control as you watch him from the profile view. I stared at his prominent nose, full lips, nice chest and arms sticking out of a black and red soccer jersey, over black cargo pants. He drove us out of downtown in silence. 
        “What happened back there?” I asked him. 
        “I don’t know I’m sorry that was so fucking weird. It’s not usually like that.”
      “Oh, so that’s where you take all the girls?” 
        “No, not really. I come here and drink beers with Rafael sometimes.” 
        “Hmm..” 
        “I swear! I don’t know why you care anyways, you’re going back to New York tomorrow.”
         I looked at him through narrowed eyes, “I can’t stay here forever.” 
        “Why not?” 
        “I’m not gonna leave my whole life behind.” 
        “I know, I’m just kidding. I wish you would though.” 
        “I do like the weather…” 
        “Do you wanna get some drinks from the store and hang out at mine?” 
        “Ok, I should probably see where Camila is at though. I’m also a little bit hungry.” 
        “Yeah maybe text her, Rafa told me they were leaving the party. And we can get some snacks too. I’m gonna get you right.” 
        I smiled, “OK.” 
        I texted Camila Wya and a couple minutes later she responded with: Going back to Rafa’s place XD See u tmmrw AM.
        With that, I let him sweep me up into the night, through the tree canopied streets, on the way to the liquor store. 

++

I stumbled back into the Airbnb at 10am in a daze. Camila came about twenty minutes later and we silently tried to pack our suitcases in a delirious state. I downed some coffee and Belvitas, trying to control the waves of nausea coursing through me. 
        The cab driver that picked us up was an upbeat seeming woman with curly hair who was spraying the car with mango scented Victoria’s Secret perfume. She seemed to sense our mood. “Are you girls alright?”
        “We’re just sad to leave Miami.” 
        “Oh yeah, it’s hard to leave you know.” 
        I stared out at the pastel houses, curving jungle trees and cracked asphalt. A Shakira song began to play, a sad one in English I had never heard before. It made me think about that last night with him, the way his arms looked clutching the steering wheel. The way he told me he wished I wouldn’t go, and that things were different, as he looked at me with his big brown eyes. 
        It’s stupid really, I don’t even know what would have come out of that. But a single tear fell under my big sunglasses. I watched the palm trees as they sped by my window, their skinny bodies being bent over by the breeze.