Category Archives: Writing

I Literally Turned Into a Mermaid With Dragonfly Wings

I

Something about the the orange Creamsicle colored sky reflecting off the dark blue water made me want to go for a swim. It was like I was hypnotized. Without even thinking, I took off my dress and stepped into the crashing waves. The salt from the cool ocean spray hit my naked body, making my pores contract and my skin glisten.

I released my hair from the top knot I had it in and the smell of my gardenia perfume added a floral note to the smell of seaweed mixed with wet sand. The setting sun made it look more silver than platinum blonde and it was just long enough to graze my nipples. Once the water reached my thighs, I turned around to face the rocky shore and let myself fall into the surf.

The cold water enveloped my body and I became weightless. My hair took on a life of its own, moving with the current in a fluid motion. I stretched out my arms and my legs like a starfish, letting the water caress my thighs and flood my belly button. My face was the last part to go under. I took one last breath before my nose dipped below the surface.

I could hear the buzz of the ocean floor and the waves crashing into the sand when I was fully submerged. That’s when my body began to transform. As if prompted by the seawater, the skin below my hips turned into turquoise scales. My legs were fused together, becoming a tail that propelled me deeper into the ocean than I had ever been before.

Before I knew it, I was a mile offshore. I came up for a breath and the strength of my fin propelled me into the air. That’s when I realized that I had also grown emerald green dragonlfy wings. I flew high into the sky and dove back into the water at a velocity that shot me deep into the dark water. The vastness of the ocean was terrifying at first, but my eyes suddenly began to radiate golden light, illuminating my surroundings.

There wasn’t any life to be seen around me, but I could hear the conversation of a pod of humpback whales in the distance. I followed their calls until they were visible by the light of my golden eyes. It was a mother with her calf and three more family members swimming alongside one another. Before I knew it, the mother was swimming underneath me.

I was brought back up to the surface on her back as she continued her journey. I couldn’t see land anymore when I was riding on her slimy skin. I let my hand hang off her side, just behind one of her fins. My long, indigo-colored nails sliced into the water while we chased the last seconds of sun on the horizon.

If I were brave, I would have swam with them forever. I never felt more alive. The ocean always seemed lonely to me, but that’s only because I hadn’t experienced it like this before. It felt like I had been gone for hours before I decided to head back to shore.

I thanked my friends for the company and flew up to the darkening gray sky to find land. I enjoyed every minute that I was able to soar, with the wind flowing through my hair and between my bare breasts. I knew it wouldn’t last, though. Once I was close enough to see the green canopy of the island, lit with the incandescent lights of the seaside village, I went back underwater to conceal my transformed body.

I swam backwards, peeking my head up every once in a while to catch the final dance of the sun. As soon as I reached the shore, my body was back to normal again. I could feel the weight of gravity on my hips as I got back on my feet. It took me a while to find my dress, but I couldn’t bring myself to put it back on. I wanted to enjoy every last second of freedom before becoming part of civilization again.

II

“I found her!” Liz yells as she walks onto the rocky beach to find her friend Ally lying naked on the shore.

“What the fuck, Ally? We thought you drowned or got kidnapped or something,” she barks as she picks up her friend’s white linen dress, stained with sand and seawater.

Liz walks over to help Ally get dressed before the rest of their friends get to the beach.

“Where have you been? We’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

“You’re not gonna believe me if I tell you,” Ally says as Liz throws the dress over her head and tries to make her messy beach hair look somewhat presentable.

“Alright, get up and tell me on the way back to the hotel. We’re already late for dinner and you need to sober up.”

Cynthia Smith and Her Boys Short Story (photo: Favour Omoruyi)

Cynthia Smith and Her Boys

It is just after sunset when Cynthia Smith and her boys walk into the efficiency she rents in El Portal, a neighborhood just east of Miami Shores in northeast Miami-Dade County. She immediately switches the air conditioning unit on high to get rid of the damp smell in the living area. Her sons, three and four years old, throw their book bags onto the old wood floors and jump onto the black canvas futon that sits in front of a large TV set that came with the place.

“What are we eating for dinner?” her eldest son asks as she sets her large black purse on the kitchen counter. She turns on the slow cooker and lets him know that they will be eating red beans as rice, same as last night. The kids groan at the prospect of eating leftovers of a meal they didn’t like to begin with.

“Alright guys, sit quietly and finish your homework while I take a shower. And don’t tell me you don’t have any because I spoke to your teachers today,” she says as the AC unit begins to make a rattling noise. Her lie about speaking to their teachers seems to do the trick, giving her at least a few minutes to unwind.

Once they have their workbooks open, Cynthia walks into the bedroom she shares with them and sets her smartphone on her white formica nightstand to charge. Under the dim light of a small bedside lamp, she takes off her white blouse and tosses it on the bed. Out of habit, she hits the home button on her phone to see if there’s a response from her estranged husband.

She had texted him while sitting in traffic on the way home from her office job about their children’s expenses. The only unread message she sees is one from the mobile phone company threatening to discontinue her service for lack of payment. Her heart sinks as she remembers the bills she’s behind on.The last thing she wants to focus on during her brief moment of solitude is the humiliation of having people call her mobile phone only to hear that it has been disconnected.

Sitting on the side of the messy bed, Cynthia throws her black pumps into the closet, then falls back onto the bed and rubs her eyes. Her next payday isn’t for another week, which means she may have to go a few days without a mobile phone before she can afford to get it reconnected. Even though her boy’s learning center has her office number on file for emergencies, she breaks into a cold sweat worrying about how her financial situation may affect her children’s well being in the long run.

Her worry quickly turns to anger when she imagines her kids’ father shacking up with his girlfriend in her Downtown Miami loft. She would love nothing more than to grab her phone and send him an angry text pointing out how his behavior is affecting their boys, but she knows that it will only make it harder for her to get him to co-parent in the future.

Frustrated and exhausted, she hangs up her black slacks, throws her bra and underwear in the laundry basket and steps onto the cold, cracked pink tiles of her small bathroom. She lets the shower run so that it isn’t freezing cold when she steps into the pink tub. The water in the efficiency never really gets hot, but it’s worth waiting a couple minutes for a luke-warm shower.

As the water runs, Cynthia pins her shoulder-length hair up and places a blue shower cap over it. She pulls a baby wipe out of the basket under the sink and begins to wipe off her makeup, revealing dark black circles under her eyes. The site of her tired face makes her feel even worse than she already does. The only thing she’s happy about is that she can’t see the stretch marks on her tummy from the same angle in the bathroom mirror.

Just as she pulls open the mildew-stained shower curtain, she can hear the television switch on. She knows that the boys’ homework is not done yet, but she isn’t in the mood to discipline them. The guilt of leaving them in daycare while she’s at work all day takes over as the water washes over her face. All she wants to do is clock out for a few minutes. Finally feeling a moment’s peace, she looks down at the shower caddy to grab the soap and nearly screams as a cockroach crawls out of the drain into the tub toward her feet.

Cynthia immediately jumps out of the shower and shuts the water off. As much as she wants to scream, she knows that it will be in vain. With nobody to help her get rid of it, she makes herself a glove out of toilet paper and flushes the roach down the toilet with it. Once she sees it go down, she sits on the toilet and begins to weep.

Not one to feel sorry for herself, she usually finds a way to talk herself through the difficult times, but she can’t help but feel hopeless and lost at the moment. She wishes she knew what to do to get out of this mess, but she barely has the energy to get through a normal day. The weeks just seem to meld together and her lack of sleep makes it hard for her to recharge her batteries and push through like she did in college.

Thinking about her goals and ideas for the future when she was completing her business degree makes her feel even worse in her current situation. Her parents are in similar economic circumstances, so she has nobody to call on when she’s in a bind. Taking care of her children by herself puts a strain on her low-paying job that makes it almost impossible to get a salary increase because she is always missing work to deal with sick kids and their disciplinary issues. 

After letting herself cry for a few minutes, an odd sense of relief comes over her. Even though she still feels helpless and alone, Cynthia decides to get up and keep going, not for herself, but for her boys. She uses a white hand towel to wipe her tears, then throws it over the drain in the shower and turns the water back on. She can taste the salt of her tears as the fresh water splashes on her face again. As she grabs the soap, she can hear her boys laughing at the TV and a smile finds its way to her face for the first time all day.

How to Outlast, Outwit and Outplay Cable News

I’ve been streaming my television content since I moved to Miami Beach in 2013, mainly because I don’t watch enough channels to get any value out of a cable package. In 2016, I decided to download the CNN Go app to follow the election because I felt like I was missing out on important coverage during such a monumental shift in American politics. I tuned out after election night, though, because I felt bamboozled with the election results and placed the blame on my reliance on cable news as a primary source of information.

I will admit that, at first, I tuned out in an attempt to bury my head in the sand and live in denial about our current political leadership. But then months passed and I didn’t feel any desire to check in with New Day or AC360, the programs I watched the most last year. Instead, I subscribed to The New Yorker and went back to reading The Economist and The Guardian to stay informed.

Current events seemed so heavy at the time that I frequently read pieces from The New Yorker’s archives to take a step back and gain perspective on the issues of the present. It was there that I came across a piece written by E.B. White in 1960, another election year, that helped illuminate my problem with cable news and television programming in general.

“If you open a copy of the Times to a page that has in one column a Macy ad displaying a set of china and in an adjoining column a news story about China itself, your eye makes a choice; you read about Macy’s china or about Mao’s China, according to your whim. It’s a free selection. But if you turn your TV set to a channel, only one image appears, and after you have watched for a few moments, an advertiser buttonholes you and says his piece in a loud voice while you listen or try not to listen, as the case may be. Thus, your attention is not just invited by the commercial, it is to a large extent preempted. Preemption of this sort does not occur in periodicals. It cannot occur. There, advertising matter competes with editorial matter for the reader’s attention, and it is fair competition,” wrote White in “How Television Has Changed Us“.

Reading his words, which could have been written last year without losing their effect, made me realize that my problem wasn’t with one television journalist or cable network, but with the business of television programming in general. While cable subscribers enjoy a sense of choice by being able to switch channels from one network to another, they still experience the effect that programming and advertisers have on the information they are consuming.

If there’s anything the 2016 election taught me, its the power of television networks to create and inflate celebrity. Gone are the days when we knew nothing about our trusted news anchors. These days, journalists and pundits make their careers based on Q Scores, not the validity of the information they are sharing. This issue was exacerbated when Donald Trump won the Republican nomination for the presidency of the United States.

While most of us were fixated on all of his gaffes and blunders on the campaign trail, Trump was fixated on the television ratings his candidacy generated (a fixation that has followed him into the Oval Office). He was the most covered candidate from the primaries through the general election and cable news has benefitted from his political ascent, even though neither networks executives nor Trump himself want to admit to their symbiotic relationship.

These days, I stream episodes of Survivor in lieu of tuning into cable news in my free time. I find the skills necessary to win a game like like that far more useful in my daily life than what I learned from watching pundits vie for a chance to shine on CNN.

On Survivor, you get blindsided if you’re too altruistic. You get voted out of the game if people see your leadership qualities as a threat early on. At the end, it is a jury of your peers that decides if you deserve to win $1 Million, usually based on your ability to make friends and gain influence while playing the game. I wish I had been exposed to these ideas before the 2016 election.

Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but maybe I wouldn’t have been blindsided by the election results and would have been better equipped to help my candidate win if I had tuned out of cable news earlier and focused my attention on how to outlast, outwit and outplay the competition.

Weighed Down By What-Ifs

Weighed Down By What-Ifs Poem (photo: Kelly Sikkema)

Weighed Down By What-Ifs Poem (photo: Kelly Sikkema)

you’re one of the few people
i’m glad i never confessed my love to,
not for fear that it was unrequited,
but because i’m not sure we could’ve
had a happy life together.

it was ultimately our ideals
that made us go our separate ways.
we wanted the same things
but on different terms.

i hope i never run into you again,
even though i secretly want to.
looking into your big brown eyes
takes me back to a time when
my love was pure but my heart was torn.

my spirit’s desire for freedom
brought me to where i am today,
a challenging but beautiful place
filled with solitude and gratitude
but sometimes weighed down by what-ifs.

i don’t wish to kiss your lips anymore,
nor take you away from the ones you love.
i think we may have already been together
in an alternate universe, where our love
knew no bounds and your kisses were all mine.

and that’s the only love we will ever share
because i plan to keep this selfish love quiet,
expressing it just this once,
to please my soul and lighten the load
my heart has to carry through this life,
even if only to prove to myself
that i’m no longer in denial
about how much i used to love you.

With Love and Style, Stella

I

Why the hell didn’t I park valet? Stella wondered as she combed the parking lot of the Bal Harbour Shops. And what the hell am I gonna do about a dress? My mother is gonna cut my tits off when I show up dress-less and dateless on Saturday night.

Her brother’s engagement party was only two days away and, after hitting up every mall in Miami, her options were to either go naked or get food poisoning. The latter was the most enticing, but Stella knew her mother wouldn’t be having any of that.

So it was back to the drawing board tomorrow, her last day of shopping, as Saturday was booked with hair, make-up, mani, pedi and helping her mom get their home ready for a hundred fifty guests.

Worse comes to worse, I could haul my cookies to Aventura to find that jade cocktail dress in my size, she told herself. If only she were still a size zero.

After five minutes of searching, she spotted her white SL 500 on the opposite end of the lot. She also spotted her brother’s fiancé, Vivian, waving and walking toward her. Stella tried to look as cool as possible when she walked toward her future sister-in-law (and her only female competition in the family), but a gust of wind blew Stella’s dark brown hair all over the place, revealing her track. Apparently, Mother Nature wasn’t giving her a break today either.

“Stella!”

“Hey Viv,” Stella said as she grabbed onto her hair (renegade extensions included) and draped it over her right shoulder.

Naturally, Vivian’s shiny black bob and blunt bangs were unfazed by the gusts. She gave Stella a kiss hello and pulled a dress out of her Neiman Marcus bag.

“What do you think of this for Saturday?”

Stella looked at the size zero ruche satin halter dress and wanted to kill her. She had to pick that dress. What was worse: she fit into that dress. Stella was fuming as Viv posed with the tiny jade dress in front of her.

“Isn’t that the Max Azria dress we saw in In Touch last week?” You know, the one that I said would be perfect for ME to wear to your stupid engagement party because I didn’t have a dress. ‘member?

“Yeah! I just bought it as an option for Saturday. I love the light chiffon one I bought with your mom last week, but it’s too bridal, you know? I mean, it’s beautiful, but I wanna save that look for my actual wedding. This weekend I wanna look like the sexy fiancé.”

You don’t wanna look sexy, bitch. You wanna look like me. God, when are you gonna stop trying to be me?

Sadly, though, you’re actually right about the other dress. It looks like a wedding gown for a midget and does nothing for your little boy body.    

“Plus, this one was the only one left, so I had to snag it. You know how hard it is to find a fierce dress in a size zero!”

I’ll give you a size fucking zero.

“Not as hard as it is to find a size four, apparently.”

Vivian’s big blue eyes opened a little more. Stella did not look like a size four. She did, however, look pissed. Her feline eyes were fixed on the dress, as if ready to pounce. Vivian quickly threw it back into her shopping bag.

“Sooo, did you find anything? Your mom told me you still hadn’t found a dress yet.”

Mental note: Remind my fucking mother to keep my name out of her mouth when she’s talking to Vivian.

“No, I found one already. I just came for a late lunch,” Stella answered, trying to play it cool. The last thing she wanted was for Vivian to know that she was going crazy trying to find a dress for her big night. She refused to give Vivian a one-up on her in any way.

“Oh my God, awesome!”

“Yup.” Stella replied as her Blackberry chimed. She reached into her red EPI Speedy for her phone. It was a BBM from Jordan, her gay boyfriend. “Give me a sec, it’s Jordan.”

JDN: We still on for coffee tonight, Bitchface?

“Oh, tell him I say hi and I can’t wait to see him this weekend!” Vivian insisted.

“Okay,” Stella said with a smile.

Stellar: Omg this nasty bobblehead just bought the dress I sent you

the picture of an hour ago.

JDN: I thought they didn’t have it in your size.

Stellar: I don’t care! She knew I wanted it and she bought it

anyway. She’s so jealous of my life. That’s it, we’re boycotting Saturday!

JDN: Ummm no we’re not bc I just dropped a wad of cash

at Ferragamo to make sure you have the hottest date there.

Stellar: Loves it. But I still hate her. Be at my

house around 9?

JDN: Yup. I’m gonna play football with Sebastian and

my brother at 6 so I’ll go by after that.

Stellar: Okay. Tell Seba I’m over his stupid little party.

JDN: Yes. I’ll remind him this weekend is all about you, not him

or his fiancé.

Stellar: Please do.

“He says ‘hey’ and he’s super excited for the party!”

“Yay!”

“Anyway, I gotta run. I have to go get ready for a date and I’m already like an hour late. I’ll see you on Saturday!” Of course, by a date she meant her coffee date with Jordan. But Vivian didn’t need to know that.

As soon as Stella got in her car, she switched her Tory Burch wedges for the spare ballet flats she kept in her glove compartment. She then wrapped her uncooperative hair in a Pucci scarf, put the top down and blasted vintage Madonna as she sped down Collins Ave. She was dying to get home to take her hair out. She didn’t want to deal with heels or hair for the rest of the day. She had enough on her plate as it was.

II

After quite the frustrating afternoon, Stella needed a distraction.

First, she picked up some purple hydrangeas so as not to get home empty handed. She couldn’t think of anything worse than spending the entire day running around and coming home empty handed. Plus, her room could use a splash of color.

Stella had never bothered making her room in this Miami Beach mansion her own. Moving there was her parents’ first step toward retirement. Thus, Stella’s room was decorated more like a guest room than their daughter’s room. She wanted to paint it a blue-gray color she had seen in a Hamptons beach house in Life & Style, but her mom vetoed it for a more neutral cream color. Luckily, they did agree on the traditional white beechwood furniture and mahogany floors.

The truth was that she didn’t really care what her room looked like when they moved in because she only thought of it as a temporary holding cell. She had planned to be married to her boyfriend before the paint would dry in that room. But, now that they had been broken up for a little over a year and she had yet to meet someone new, she figured it might be a good time to make herself at home.

She put her flowers in water as soon as she got to her room, but couldn’t find a clean surface for them. Her furniture was littered with empty shopping bags, receipts, unopened credit card bills and shoeboxes filled with more of the same. Every time her mom would come into the room, she would say that she spent too much money on this furniture for Stella to keep it like this.

Stella actually agreed with her mother on that one. She was determined to rid herself of all the clutter and throw out the trash in her room. There was no need for her surroundings to look as shitty as she felt.

It took her the better part of an hour to decide what junk to keep and what junk to get rid of. She got rid of basically everything except a shoebox of memories she couldn’t handle throwing away just yet.

She hid the shoebox behind her most prized possession – her first Chanel purse. Her parents bought it for her sixteenth birthday and she retired it a year later when she replaced it with a Fendi Spybag. She planned on giving it to her future daughter as her first vintage piece. Now she may have to give it to her first niece since there’s no telling when she might meet someone worthy of impregnating her.

Whatever.

Stella made her way out of her closet and noticed how beautiful her room looked. The purple hydrangeas contrasted perfectly with the neutral walls and the orange sun setting outside her window. She normally closed the blinds at this time to keep the light out, but this time she decided to sit on her bed and appreciate the beauty.

Stella couldn’t remember the last time she watched the sun set. Her ex was too much of a prima donna to have ventured out to enjoy nature, and she was fine with that because less time outside meant less time ironing her hair.

She had never realized that there was just as much beauty outside her window as there was in any fashion magazine. How could she have spent so much time blocking this out?

The tangerine colored clouds on the horizon that faded into pink, then violet, then cobalt. She was amazed that such a cloudy day could produce such a pretty sight. It was as comforting as it was beautiful. It had been a while since Stella felt this zen.  

As much as she was dying to wash the Miami street smell out of her hair, she couldn’t peel her eyes off her window. She dreamed up outfits and accessories in the colors she saw until there was no more light in the sky.

Stella added mood lighting to the darkened room to keep her evening as pretty as possible. She also decided to move some furniture around before her shower. She wanted her bed under the window where an antique chest currently sat. The bed should be the focal point of a bedroom, she thought as she pushed the chest to the other side of the room.

Once the manual labor was done, she burned some oils and soaked in a hot bath. She couldn’t believe how easy it was to change everything in her room. If only she could do the same to her personal life (and family life, for that matter).

She soaked for about fifteen minutes before getting restless. She couldn’t relax knowing that she had so much to do in the following days. The engagement party wouldn’t be so bad if she had something to wear. But my brother had to propose to her, and she had to buy my dress.

Uuggghhh!

III

Stella managed to finish her therapeutic bath more frustrated than when she started. She wrapped her hair in a towel and walked back into her room, where she noticed a scratch on the hardwood floor. Oh God, she thought, Mom’s gonna kick my ass when she sees this shit.

As luck would have it, her mom opened her door before Stella could do anything to conceal the damage. Thinking on her toes, Stella dropped her towel right over the scratch.

“Hey Mom,” she said as she made her way to her underwear drawer.

“Niña, por el amor de Dios, ponte algo! Your brother and his friends just got back from football.” Carola inquired.

“Whoops.”

“Yeah, whoops. I’ll give you whoops.” Carola said as she scoped out the new arrangement of the furniture.

“Stella, I told you I don’t like the bed on that side of the room,” she said as she grabbed Stella’s eye cream. She looked at herself in the mirror. Her short highlighted hair was a mess and the stress of playing hostess on Saturday had taken its toll on her deep brown eyes.

“Oh, but I do.”

 “Claro. If I say I like it on one side you move it to the other,” Carola said as the damp towel on the floor caught her eye.

Stella noticed her mom walk toward the towel and rolled her eyes.

“Pero sera posible? How many times have I told you to be careful with these floors!?” Carola began. Stella grabbed a paddle brush and ran it through her wet hair, trying to avoid an altercation with her mom. “No, no, no, y como tu no lo pagas, no te importa un carajo.”

“Oh God Mom, it’s not a big deal. I’ll buy you a square foot of wood, okay? You don’t have to cry about it.”

“It’s not about the money, Stella. It’s about respect, okay? Contra!”

Caro was less upset at the scratch on the floor than she was about Stella’s indifference to it.

“Whatever, Mom. It happened, okay? I’m sorry. I mean, I don’t know what to tell you. Jesus.”

“You should have started with I’m sorry, okay? That’s what you should have done. You should have told me about it and not hid it. Dios mío, esta chiquita. No, and had I not seen it right now, you probably would have blamed it on poor Anita tomorrow.”

Stella rolled her eyes at her mother and took out her blow dryer. She couldn’t wait to drown out the annoying chatter.

“And preparate for when your father sees this.”

Five years earlier Stella might have believed that her mother would actually tell her dad, but she knew better now.

After making sure her daughter was sufficiently nagged, Carola stepped away from the scratch.

“Are you staying in tonight?”

“I don’t know,” Stella responded. ‘I don’t know’ was her way of telling her mother ‘It’s none of your business what I’m doing tonight’ without getting slapped.

“Yeah, you never know. Well if you do go out, remember to close the gate when you get in. I don’t wanna hear your father screaming at six in the morning again.”

Alright,” Stella responded. She had heard enough. Then she remembered her run-in with Vivian.

“Oh wait, let me ask you something. Why do you find it necessary to keep Vivian all up in my business?”

Eh?”

“I saw her at the mall today and she said that you said that I didn’t have a dress for Saturday.”

“You don’t have a dress for Saturday.”

“I’m aware of that Mom, but that doesn’t mean you have to go blabbing it to her. Now she’s gonna be calling me and asking me to go to the mall to find a dress…”

“And? I don’t see the problem, Stella.”

“I don’t wanna hang out with her! All she does is freaking copy me. First she buys my exact black Chanel purse…”

“Stella, don’t start. You have Chanel purses in every color!”

Again, not the point. And what about the clothes? It’s so freaking annoying. Jesus, why doesn’t anybody see this but me?”

“You wanna know what everybody sees? Everybody sees that you don’t cut Vivi any slack. You should be happy she loves your brother enough to have put up with your attitude for the past few years. She has been a saint to you since the day she met you.”

“She’s been nothing but bulimic since the day she met me. Actually, even before that.”

Carola shook her head in disappointment. Stella sat in front of her vanity mirror and started applying body lotion.

“Alright, you know what Stella? Go to sleep, go out, go wherever you want because I’m so sick of you.”

Caro made her way to the door.

“And listen to me very carefully. You had better control yourself on Saturday, you hear me? Because I don’t have time to baby-sit you and your mouth. So whatever you like or don’t like about Vivian, her dress, her make up, her parents or her friends, you keep to yourself.”

Stella responded by turning the blower on and pretending her mom wasn’t there anymore.

“I didn’t raise you to be so coldhearted.” Carola added just loud enough for Stella to hear.

IV

“Oh my God, I am so over my mother,” Stella told Jordan as they sat down at Versailles Café for some croquetas and café con leche.

The pair had originally planned on doing a Starbucks run, but Stella was in desperate need of comfort food. She also craved the nostalgia of the Cuban café. The smell of espresso and Cuban food reminded her of life before diets, dresses and drama.

“Uh-oh. What happened now?” Jordan asked. He did not sound surprised.

“It’s her same old obsession with stupid Vivian and Sebastian and the wedding. It’s all she freaking cares about.”

“Well, she is helping Vivian plan it, so I guess that makes sense. I mean, weddings are really time consuming, Babe.”

“What’s time consuming is all the ass-kissing my mom does to that girl.”

Stella dipped her tostada cubana in her coffee. Jordan rolled his eyes.

“It just bothers me. Like, she has always been obsessed with Sebastian more than me, but that makes sense because he’s a hundred percent useless and can’t do anything for himself. And I’ve never really been that needy, so she’s never had to do anything for me. But now whenever I need her for anything she’s all like ‘Vivi this’ and ‘Vivi that’ and blah blah blah. And that wouldn’t be so bad if she didn’t hate on me so much all the time. It’s like, sorry I’m not married and you didn’t get to plan my wedding last year. Sorry for not finding a man. Sorry for thinking Vivian is an annoying ass bitch who copies every single outfit I wear, and then pretends to give me credit like I’m her little Rachel Zoe or something.”

“Jeez, tell me how you really feel.”

“Oh God, don’t tell me you’re gonna defend her, too.”

Jordan took a bite of his croqueta to buy time before he answered. He knew how Stella felt about the whole Vivian thing, but more importantly, why she felt that way. He wanted to be a friend but still tell her she was wrong without sounding like he was on Vivian’s side.

“I’m not defending her, Babe. And your mom wouldn’t have to defend her if you wouldn’t attack her. I mean, I know she can be annoying, but I don’t think that’s why you really hate her. And that’s what concerns me. I don’t care about her. I care about you.”

“I get that, Hon. And I appreciate it, but I still don’t understand why I can’t hate her. Why is that something I have to explain to everyone? As if there aren’t a million people my mom or my brother don’t hate.”

“I know but those people aren’t gonna be part of your family.”

“W slash E.”

Jordan laughed. He didn’t want Stella to feel bad. He just wanted her to admit what was really making her feel bad, but Stella wouldn’t give in that easily.

She would talk to him when she was ready. In the meantime, he would catch her up on all things Jordan.

While he was catching her up on the new guy in his life, Stella had noticed that the soccer moms to her left were eavesdropping on their conversation.

Both in their forties, one had a bad dye job that made her hair look Cheetos orange. The other was petite with highlights and roots that needed to have been retouched about three months ago. Both were in frumpy-mom gym outfits – an oversized t-shirt and faded black yoga pants. Their look – if anyone would call it a ‘look’ – alone offended Stella.

Then, to add insult to injury, she noticed that the topics she discussed with Jordan started making their way to the conversation at their table, only the soccer moms had a different take on things.

“I mean, imagine growing up with two moms or two dads. As if kids don’t have enough to deal with off the bat, you know? At least normal kids start off at zero. Kids that grow up with two dads start off with one strike off the bat. It’s not right,” stated the redhead while she stuffed her face with mariquitas. Her short friend nodded in agreement, her mouth full with about half of a Medianoche sandwich.

Jordan caught Stella listening and tuned in to the conversation at the next table, too. As soon as he got the gist of it, he rolled his eyes at Stella.

Feeling uncomfortable for her friend, Stella put down her café con leche and turned to look them up and down.

“What the fuck bitches?” she began.

Excuse me?” the redhead responded with a furrowed brow.

“I’m a lesbian, okay? So, if you have something to say about me, say it to my face.”

The woman looked confused. She turned to Jordan, who was rubbing his temples.

“She’s not a lesbian,” he told her, then turned to Stella. “You’re not a lesbian.”

Stella shot Jordan a dirty look.

“Hey, Benedict Arnold, what the fuck?” she asked.

“And you,” she began with her finger pointed at the ginger to her left. “You know what? I may not be a lesbian, but if I were, I wouldn’t wanna tap your giggly ass. Your husband probably doesn’t either, which is why you’re here devouring your feelings.”

The woman was shocked and furious. All she could do was turn to Jordan to save her from his friend.

“Control this girl before she gets you in trouble, okay?”

Although Jordan definitely agreed that Stella was out of control, he didn’t like the woman’s tone. He also didn’t like the fact that Stella was fighting his battle.

“Relax lady. If you don’t like what my friend has to say, you can get up and leave. If you don’t wanna leave, then keep your mouth shut like I did while you were busy spewing ignorance and perpetuating the negative stigma homosexuals and their children have to deal with from narrow-minded bigots like you.”

The redhead was taken aback by Jordan’s reaction. She threw a twenty on the table and left with her friend, shaking her head at Stella and Jordan.

“You people have no class and that’s why nobody respects you.” She muttered as she walked away.

“I’ll give you fucking class!” Stella hollered back. She then turned to Jordan, who was laughing and shaking his head.

“I knew those claws were just dying to come out,” she said, then lifted her coffee cup for a toast.

“To class!”

With his face flushed from embarrassment, Jordan giggled half-heartedly and lifted his cup.

“To class.”

Stella immediately noticed his lack of cheer.

“What’s your problem now?”

“Nothing. I’m just over letting people like that get to me. Now everyone in this restaurant is looking at us like we’re trash.”

“Oh God. You sound like my mother right now.”

Jordan laughed.

“I love your mom, so I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Umm I love her too, but I meant that in a bad way,” she responded in a playful manner.

He laughed and shook his head.

“Dude, we’re in our mid-twenties. We have to start acting like decent human beings, cause acting like shallow bitches doesn’t make us cute anymore. It makes us classless.”

Stella rolled her eyes. She was sick of everyone’s indictments. To her, these comments sounded less like constructive criticism and more like unwarranted attacks on her character.

“I’m not interested in acting like an adult. I’m not gonna become a boring ass bitch just because I’m twenty-five. Fuck that.”

Jordan wanted to roll his eyes at this dramatic overreaction, but he decided to laugh it off and rejoin team Stella instead. He remembered that his role was to be the supportive best friend, not the third parent. He also remembered what Stella was going through. It couldn’t be easy to be suddenly single when everyone you know is engaged, married or pregnant.

V

Stella had no idea what to do to keep from thinking when she got home. Against her will, the coffee kept her awake and alert. She couldn’t go to sleep and she couldn’t stand being alone at night.

In a last ditch attempt to make herself feel better, she decided to deal. She grabbed a tacky little notebook someone had given to her as a gift and started writing.

Dear Diary,

Sorry I’ve never written in you before but I’m not Ugly Betty or one of those dorky ass bitches in high school who wrote in diaries.

I was too busy fucking my boyfriend to keep a diary. And I wasn’t dumb enough to leave a self-incriminating diary for my mom to find when she was putting away my laundry.

But, right now I need to talk to someone that doesn’t hate me and I’ve run out of human beings, so you – as tacky as you are – will have to do…

Why the fuck has everybody decided to hate me all of a sudden? First Dad screams at me this morning, then I see stupid Vivian, then my mom tells me I’m a cold-hearted bitch, then the fat whores at Versailles…

What the fuck? When did I get like this?

I don’t get it. I used to love my life. Everything was so perfect.

Now I’m a potential spinster and I fucking hate it.

How the hell did this happen? And why the hell is stupid Vivian getting everything I was supposed to have?

These years were supposed to be about me. My engagement party, my wedding, my first pregnancy… Then this bitch comes along right after I get dumped and she gets to plan a wedding. That nasty bobble head is getting married and I’m getting fat.

How did this happen? What did I do wrong? I don’t understand. I was the perfect girlfriend. I gave him everything he wanted and that wasn’t enough.

I wish I could go back…

I would do anything to not feel this alone. I don’t care what it would take.

I think what hurts the most is that I still love him so much.

I would give anything to have him as my date for Saturday.

How pathetic.

God, why can’t I hate him?

Why do I hate everyone else but him?

Why don’t I want anyone else but him?

God, why did You let me make so many memories with him if You knew this was gonna happen?

That I was gonna be lonely like this.

I made him the center of my universe and now he’s gone and all I’m left with is a black hole.

I should have just been a bitch to him.

Maybe that would have made him love me.

Maybe then I’d be pregnant right now with our first child, picking out wallpaper for the nursery and Saturday would be my baby shower, not an engagement party for somebody else.

Maybe then I wouldn’t be sitting here, blaming myself for being alone.

I don’t want to blame myself, but I don’t know what else to do…  

It doesn’t make sense.

I don’t want to be this person that everybody hates.

I want to be the confident, capable and happy girl I used to be.

But I can’t do it without him.

I can’t do it alone.

I’m not strong enough.

I need someone to love me.

I feel like the oldest kid at the orphanage…

And I can’t blame anybody for hating me.

I know I’m a bitch, but I don’t know how else to be.

Nobody ever showed me how to deal with this hurt.

I’m dealing with it the only way I know how.

I wish I were stronger, nicer, sweeter…

But why can’t somebody love me the way I am?

What’s so horrible about me?

Or why can’t somebody just tell me why they hate me so I can change?

I want people to love me.

I want to be loved more than anything.

I would give up everything…

I just don’t understand why I have to.

I don’t understand why I’m stuck here, humiliated and living with my parents, while everyone around me is moving forward and celebrating the happiest times of their lives.

I’m alone and growing older with nothing to plan, nothing to look forward to, with no one to love me, no one to hold me, to think about me. And every time I see a happy couple it’s like salt on my wounds.

I can’t handle being lonely.

I can’t handle Saturday.

I don’t know what I’m gonna do…

VI

Stella closed her new diary, put her head down on her desk and sobbed for what felt like an hour. She hadn’t cried like that in years. Not even when her great grandmother died did she sob like that. She had always been afraid that if she let it out she would never be able to make it stop.

Miraculously, though, she stopped crying after a few minutes. She was still confused, but she felt less frustrated. She was shedding some of the weight she had packed onto her heart over the past few years.

It was a step. She didn’t know in what direction, but it was something. She was actually doing something. It was the most she had done to try to move on with her life.

Intent on moving forward, she opened her closet and pulled out the shoebox. She hadn’t actually opened it in over a year. It was the biggest skeleton in her closet. She knew it was going to make her cry, but she wanted to get it over with at this point.

Stella threw the box on her bed and sat in front of it with her legs crossed. She lifted the top and threw it to the side. It wasn’t as scary as she thought. Just a bunch of notes and little bullshit gifts he had given her for Valentine’s Days and anniversaries.

I guess one of the perks of dating a dick is that he doesn’t leave too many sweet memories to remember him by.

Feeling empowered by her benign reaction, she dumped the contents of the box onto the bed and continued to sort through them. She was relieved that there was so little meaning in most of the items.

She read a few of the notes, cursed the day he was born, and decided to just throw it all away because she was tired from all the crying and she was tired of giving that relationship so much power over her.

She tried to dump everything back into the box, but of course, not everything fit anymore. One of the items overflowing was a large white piece of paper folded twice. She knew exactly what it was. She didn’t even remember it existed until the sight of it pulled the memory back into her consciousness. She picked it up and placed it on her desk.

She sat in front of the paper forever, just staring at it. She was afraid that she would want to die when she opened it and came face to face with it. This piece of paper meant more to her than any of the mindless scribble that idiot wrote in his cards.

After much agonizing, Stella came to the conclusion that if she could look at this piece of paper and not die, she could deal with everything else that might come her way.

In an act of bravery, she opened the piece of paper to reveal the sketch of the wedding dress she planned to wear when she walked down the isle of the Church of the Little Flower on the perfect spring day.

It was the most beautiful wedding gown she had ever dreamed up: inspired by a Monique Lhuillier dress she had fallen in love with, the satin gown had a plunging neckline and a big ruffled skirt. She removed the detailed lace and organza in the original design and replaced them with very minimal beading. It was young, chic, and just slutty enough to piss her mom off, but not enough to get kicked out of the church.

She couldn’t help but cry again, this time in mourning for the dress. It was the most beautiful dress she could dream up. She spent night after night sketching until it looked perfect. It had to be perfect. It was her wedding. The day she had been planning since she had the ability to reason.

Her first inclination was to destroy it. She needed to let it go, but she couldn’t find it in her to destroy it.

Their love may have been a pile of bullshit, but the dress was still beautiful. Nothing could change that. Her tears came and went, but she kept staring at the paper. She didn’t want to put it away again. As much as it hurt to think about it, the dress made her happy. The design came from a good place in her heart and she couldn’t let that go because she had no idea how to get back to that place.

It took a while for her mind to return to her current reality. Stella wanted to bring the girl that designed this dress back to life, she just didn’t know how. She could frame it in her room so that she looked at it every morning, but then it would always be a sketch, never a dress.

And it would be too weird to make the dress and hang it up in her closet. She wanted to feel happy, not insane. She looked at the sketch and imagined how the dress would look going down the aisle.

The image made it clear to her what she had to do. She opened a drawer, pulled out a pen, and wrote at the top of the sketch:

To Vivian:

Welcome to the family.

With Love & Style,

Stella.

 

Humanitarian of the Year

I

It never occurred to me that I would be sitting on this hard as fuck bench that smells like piss and dirt on what has to be the hottest night of the year with nowhere to go.

I never thought that everything I own would fit into this carrion bag. I was hoping for a godsend or a lifesaver, but all I got was till the first of the month. Even as I was selling everything that ever meant anything to me, I never thought that this would be it.

My net worth is now a few t-shirts, a couple changes of underwear, a suit I couldn’t sell because I burnt it with my last joint, and a pair of shit-stained jeans that I couldn’t sell for obvious reasons. I can’t fucking believe this shit.

The idea that selling everything I owned wouldn’t even cover a security deposit on an efficiency in Little Havana makes me want to kill myself.

Part of me still doesn’t believe it. The optimistic part of me is still waiting to wake up in my bed thanking God it wasn’t real. That I wasn’t really sitting at a bus stop with a carrion and no idea where any of these buses even go.

I always wondered how people became homeless. I can’t believe this is how I’m finding out. Are you fucking kidding me, man? What the fuck?

Had I fucking known that I was gonna end up here I would have done everything so differently. I wish I had known this before G-E-D and B-M-W and D-U-I.

All of those letters make me wanna fucking kill myself. F-U-C-K U-P. That’s me. That’s my autobiography. I wish I had known this before I sent all my friends to H-E-L-L.

I wish I had listened to D-A-D or G-O-D and become a P-H-D or a C-E-O. I wish someone would send me a genie to grant me these wishes. I would wish for it to be less humid.

I wish someone had told me that I wasn’t gonna be taken care of for the rest of my life. I would have learned a fucking trade. Then again, no I wouldn’t have because if that were true I wouldn’t be in this predicament.

I wish an angel or the devil would have come to me a year ago and let me know that this was gonna happen ahead of time. Then again, I wouldn’t have listened to an angel or the devil back then anyway. I would have thought it was just a bad trip.

Jesus! I hate myself so much right now. No wonder I have fucking no one. I don’t even fucking like me. I can’t stand being alone with myself and it’s only been a few hours.

And this fucking bench… I wanna know what ASSHOLE decided to make this bench so hard, the backrest so short. And who the fuck thought it was a good idea to make the armrest out of steal or whatever the fuck metal this shit is made of? I can’t even lean on my elbow because it feels bruised. My back is aching and my ass is sore.

The only thing that’s keeping me on this bench is my pride. I’d rather be waiting for a bus to I don’t know where than be wandering the streets with a carryon bag twenty miles from the nearest airport.

My underwear is already damp with the humidity and my armpits are moist. Not to the point where I smell, but to the point that I feel gross and want to take one of those quick showers I took for granted.

I never thought you could take a shower for granted.

I should have shaved my head and my pubes and every hair on my body when I still had a bathroom. It’s so hot all I want to do is take off all my clothes. My face feels greasy and my balls are sticking to my leg. My thighs feel like they are a hundred degrees hotter than the rest of my body.

I hate these jeans. My ankles are sweaty and I can feel the sweat dripping from the hair on my legs.

I don’t understand why I’m being made to feel more uncomfortable than I have my entire life on a night like this. God, haven’t I been through enough?

I know I’ve been a fucking douche, but there are a million people who have done worse shit and I’ve never seen them out on their asses. Why me? What the fuck did I do that was so bad?

I still don’t get it.

Why cant I just pay for all my sins when I die, like in purgatory or something? Why do I have to go through this now? Why am I even still alive? I should have been dead the night of my DUI, the night I overdosed, the time I got beat up.

Why the fuck didn’t I just die then? I didn’t give a shit if I survived any of that.

I wanna just lay down on the pavement and hope for someone to run me over, but I doubt I’d be that lucky. Some sick fuck up there wants me to be a survivor for some twisted reason.

I don’t know why. I have nothing to contribute to this world. I’ve been on this earth for a quarter of a century and I’ve never worked an honest day in my life. The only reason I haven’t killed myself is because I couldn’t do that to her.

All I wanna do right now is run to her grave and break through the sod and the soil with my bare hands and pull her out of there and hold her like she used to hold me and tell her not to worry about me and that I’m sorry and that I love her and I will always love her and that I wish it was me who was down there all by myself and not her.

I want to smell the way she smelled before she got sick.

I want to be with her so badly right now. My mind does not comprehend why we can’t be together. It feels unnatural that she be kept away from me. The image of all that dirt surrounding her makes my heart weigh more than I can carry.

I wonder if this feeling will ever go away. I wonder if my heart will ever feel light again. Right now it’s so heavy I can’t breathe.

I just want to feel her presence. I want to pretend that none of this ever happened and I want to be home.

I don’t want to be here in the middle of nowhere with nowhere to go.

Alone.

I’m alone. The feeling makes me want to vomit. I feel a pressure in my chest like it’s about to erupt. I feel the weight of everything I have to do right now just to survive.

I wish I would have spent more time just sitting next to her in the living room watching TV or reading magazines. Or heeded her warnings about wasting my life.

I can’t give in to this reality. I’m still hoping to wake up. The fact that I have nobody and I have nowhere to go and that everything I have done in my entire life has gotten me to this bench that smells like piss and vomit makes me want to hide my face.

I feel so exposed. I can’t face this. This can’t be reality.

If I accept it, it becomes real and I’m not strong enough to deal with that kind of reality right now.

Now I understand why bums always spend their money on booze. Who the fuck would want to be conscious of the fact that they have nowhere to live and nothing to live for? The thought alone makes me wanna smoke and drink myself to oblivion.

Worse still is the thought that I am one of those bums. I’m gonna be just as dirty and smelly as they are in a couple of days, my clothes are gonna get all raggedy and I’m gonna be all unshaven just like the bums I would walk by on my way to clubs downtown back when I was somebody.

I wish I were young enough to be an orphan.

I wish I were sick at the hospital. I’d take the physical pain. People take care of you when you’re in physical pain. I’ve never felt so betrayed by my health before.

I resent GOD and life and everything else that fucking exists for making her sick and giving me health that I don’t FUCKING deserve or want.

Holy shit.

That guy scared the fuck out of me. He’s wearing what seems to be a waiter’s uniform. Normally, I would be a little scared to encounter someone on the street in the middle of the night, but right now it just makes me feel less alone. I’m glad I’m not the only one that has to deal with this isolation from comfort.

He’s probably wondering what some random pussy in two hundred dollar jeans is doing at a bus stop in the middle of the night. And what’s up with the fucking suitcase?

I’ve become that bag lady I used to see at McDonalds way back when. Oh God, why did I make fun of her with her three suitcases and all her newspapers? Is that why I’m here? Is that why I have to suffer like this?

Now I wanna tell her I’m so sorry for making fun of her in my head. I wanna go back in time to help her with her luggage. I want to tell her I don’t care that she smells and I know that she acts insane because if she looked at her situation rationally all she would do is cry.

I want her to know that she doesn’t have to carry that baggage by herself.

I want to see her smile. A real smile, with light eyes and a light heart. Even if it only lasts five seconds. That’s the only thing on earth that would make me feel better right now.

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten high, gotten drunk or gotten off. I don’t even know when the next time I get off will be. It’s not like I have anywhere to jack off.

I wish I were in my room the way it was before she got sick, listening to Sinatra in my underwear with a glass of wine.

I loved the dark blue walls of my room and my autographed movie posters. Not mine anymore, actually. They are now the property of some motherfucker that bid like fifty cents more that the highest bidder at the last second of the auction. I almost didn’t want to send it to him for pulling that shit cause I hate that, but I needed those fifty fucking cents. Not that they ended up helping much in the end. I’m still here.

Sweaty, stranded and singular.

Where the fuck am I supposed to go? What happens if I get too tired to sit up? What if I get hungry? What if it rains? What if I get a cut or get beat up? I can’t go anywhere I’ve been before.

It would be too humiliating.

They’ll probably laugh in my face. This motherfucker finally got what was coming to him. What a fucking idiot. Burning what little money he had left. Selling all his shit on eBay and still foreclosing.

He should have thought of that before he threw so much money away on all those bottles, that grass, that blow. That’s what he gets for being so frivolous.

That’s what he gets for not caring enough about her to sober up when she was dying. Let him sleep outside for a while. It’ll be good for him.

FUCK ME.

I should just wait for this bus to come and take me out of this town. I need to start over. But I don’t want to be away from her. If I leave what’s left of her here, I’ll have less than I do now (if that’s possible).

Oh God please don’t tell me that pain in my stomach means I’m hungry.

I don’t wanna deal with that right now. What the fuck am I supposed to feed myself? The money I have in my pocket won’t get me dinner anywhere I used to eat.

I could go to Publix and buy something, but what? I don’t have a fridge or microwave or utensils and I can’t leave my shit outside. Someone will steal what little stuff I have left.

I should just fucking starve to death. Mom used to always tell me I would if she weren’t around.

Oh God why did you take her away from me? Why did she have to be the one to suffer? Why is it always the ones who don’t deserve it?

I wish I could go back to when I was small enough to crawl onto her lap and lay my head on her chest and listen to her voice when she talked on the phone the way it sounded when I was in her belly.

I just want to feel what it’s like to be held by my mom again. I want that peace of knowing that there will always be someone there for me even when I don’t deserve it.

Why did she have to die? Why did she have to feel so horrible? Why couldn’t she live a long life like so many other people? It’s not fair.

I want to be dead with her. I don’t want to be here without my mom. It’s too hard. Every time I feel like I may be able to keep on living I think of her and I can do nothing but cry.

We are so helpless as human beings. We can’t control half as much as we think we can. We can’t stay healthy even if we tried. We can’t control the weather. We can’t stop people from dying no matter how bad we want to. We can’t even control our own thoughts, our emotions, or even our hunger. We need so much.

Why did God make us so needy?

Why can’t we just be?

The only reason I have to thank God right now is that my mom didn’t have to see this.

I’m sure she knew it was gonna happen. I’m sure that’s one of the main reasons she didn’t want to die. I know she wanted to live as long as possible to make sure this didn’t happen to me, but life had other plans.

I can’t not go along with it. That’s what sucks about reality. That lack of control you have over it. Maybe that’s why I was always out of it.

That I could control.

I could make myself feel really good. I could escape from it. Not that it got me anywhere.

When you go get to a certain age virtually unscathed, you start believing you are invincible and you do stupid shit that will inevitably lead you to a place like this.

Now how the fuck do I get out?

When you’re sick you go to the doctor, when you are hungry you go to a restaurant, when you are homeless you go to… a shelter?

Do they accept people at any hour of the night? Do you have to be recommended by like, a priest or a psychiatrist?

Is it a big warehouse with a bunch of cots with bums clutching their bags while sleeping with one eye open?

Do you have to like prove you’re homeless? Do you have to like register yourself with the city? Do they make you get a job?

I don’t know how the fuck I’m supposed to get a job. I’m a gay ex-con with a GED and a suit with a hole on the crotch. I don’t think that qualifies me to do anything other than mop the floors at Popeye’s Chicken.

Chicken.

My fucking mouth is watering. I’m gonna have to get up before I get so freaking hungry I pass out.

It’s just that first step that’s killing me.

I don’t even know if I should go left or right.

What’s the closest place that serves food and is open at this time? I wanna say there’s a McDonald’s a couple miles east of here.

Miles.

I have to walk miles to put food in my stomach. I remember when I would complain when Mom would make me go downstairs and sit at the table to eat.

God, if I keep on thinking about those times I’m never gonna get off this bench.

As fucked as it is, this is my new reality. I can’t help but think of all those people who told me I couldn’t walk a mile in their shoes.

I’m finding it impossible to even take a step in mine. They’re not even technically mine. She bought them for me.

You know what? I’m never gonna get up to feed myself. I don’t give a fuck about me. It has taken all this time that the only thing I really ever cared about is gone.

I have nothing left.

But she does.

I may have fucked things up when she was still here, but I believe she’s in heaven.

I know she’s probably looking down on me hoping to God, who probably has his arm around her, that I start to listen to them.

That I start to get it. That I stop being the idiot I have been my entire life. That I get off this nasty bench and take my first step in the right direction.

And for the first time in my life, I want the same thing for myself. I want to get the fuck off this nasty, hard, smelly bench just as much as they want me to. I want to be as far away from this bench as possible, and not only as a measure of distance.

But I don’t wanna ask God for help.

I’m afraid I’d be struck by lightning if I ask for more than I’ve squandered in this lifetime.

I’m just gonna have to muster up all the courage I’ve ever dreamed of possessing and walk into that McDonalds with my embarrassing suitcase, feed myself, find a place to sleep and figure out the next step from there.

All I have to do is take the most difficult step I’ve had to take in my entire life. I have to do it myself and I can’t let the next one scare me into staying seated.

That’s how I got here in the first place and i don’t ever wanna be here again. I never want to see this street again and I don’t even want to see a picture of this bench for as long as I live. This bench represents everything that is fucked up about me.

Or maybe I should take a picture of it when I can afford a camera again and show it to people to make sure that the only people sitting on this bench are waiting for a bus to take them somewhere.

I don’t want anybody else to ever feel like this.

I’m gonna be the angel and the devil I needed before because that’s the only reason I can think that God has kept me alive.

And I want to make her proud of me.

I couldn’t do it when she was here because I was a fucking idiot, but now I get it.

I have to start believing in her belief in me.

I have to believe it because I have nothing but that and a carryon bag to get me off of this bench, on my feet and in any direction but where I came from.

II

“Tonight we honor a man who managed to lose everything, earn it back tenfold and give it all away again in the name of charity. He is truly an outstanding citizen and recipient of this years award for Humanitarian of the Year, Mr. Jorge L. Rodriguez.”

“I am so humbled by this award that the only way to express my gratitude is to thank God for two things. I want to thank God for giving me the time that I had with my mother on this earth, and I want to thank God for showing me how to love. And not necessarily in the romantic sense, although I do love and appreciate you, honey.

As most of you know, I became homeless a few months after my mom died. I was twenty five and had no idea how I ended up sitting on a bench after midnight with nowhere to go. It wasn’t until years later that I came to understand that the ‘where’ wasn’t the problem. It was the ‘who.’

After my mom died I had no loved ones. And it wasn’t because life was cruel to me, it was because I was cruel to me.

I never let anyone love me because I didn’t love me. The only person with enough unconditional love for me to withstand my self-destruction was Mom. And as soon as she was gone, I imploded.

After that I spent most of my time trying to kill myself in cowardly ways. I abused drugs, alcohol and sex in the hopes that they would kill me accidentally and I would be able to make my exit from this world quick and painless.

Fortunately for me, although I resented life for it at the time, they didn’t kill me. They just robbed me of everything but a pair of soiled jeans that I still look at today every time I think life is becoming too difficult.

I thought it would be so much easier by now, but it’s not. I can’t help but still want my mother here with me, to show her the man I’ve become.

I’m sure she had something to do with it from up there because I don’t think I could have gotten anywhere without her.

I am so grateful for this honor and the people in my life, many who are in this ballroom tonight, but I can’t help but still feel resentful to life for taking my mom away from me.

I want to dedicate the award to her for being the only person who believed in me when nobody else did.

Not even me.

For her unconditional love, because I now know how hard it was to love me back then.

Mom, if I had one wish tonight, it would be to go back in time and tell you how much I loved you while you were still alive. I was never able to give you peace back then, but I hope to make up for that by the time we meet again.

Thank you all and God bless.”

back to Short Fiction

Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Pop Proclivity

Don't Be Ashamed of Your Pop Proclivity (photo: William White)

Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Pop Proclivity (photo: William White)

I noticed something funny on my way home from the Grove the other night. I found myself jamming to a Justin Timberlake song and it made me stop and think.

Would I be listening to this song and even singing along to it if I weren’t alone in the car? My question was answered when I rolled down my window to pay a toll. I turned the music down as to not be ridiculed for blasting the musical endeavors of an ex-Mickey Mouse Club Member.

This little incident made me think back to conversations I have had concerning music as a form of art versus music as a product. Most people who say they are music savvy consider a pop song a product spoon-fed to pre-teens through radio stations as well as music television. By no means is it considered ‘real music.’

If indeed the music itself can be considered a product, then business forces come into play. These products wouldn’t be successful if people didn’t want them. With no demand, a product will pretty much go nowhere. So the idea of the public being pushed to like certain songs, and therefore buy certain albums, can only be true to an extent.

What is true about the radio and music television is that they choose the songs that people hear on a daily basis, some by popular request, but the rest based on other factors.

Exposure is key for the success of many songs, so those songs that do not get rotation on the radio or TV are left to fend for themselves. However, a good song can still become popular without such initial exposure.

Take Norah Jones’ ‘Don’t Know Why’ as an example. Music that is well marketed and widely accepted is automatically discarded, I feel, without proper justification.

Pop music is different from artsy music. Different genres satisfy different cravings. Sometimes people don’t want to listen to poetic rhymes and intricate instrumentation. They just want to zone out for three and a half minutes.

Also, I think that popular music is an accessory to some people. It’s nothing on its own, but it’s a nice touch, like a baseball cap or a watch. It’s just like a supplemental soundtrack to the drama of everyday life.

No, why is it taboo for a music lover to listen to Justin and friends? I mean, let’s face it: Pop music is catchy. While some would compare its catchiness to the flu, I think the best analogy would be to compare pop to sugar.

Pop music is to ‘real music’ as sugar is to coffee. Music in general is a cup of Joe and pop music is a packet of Equal.

I have seen some kids (and a few adults) eat sugar right out of the packet. There are people with a sweet tooth. No harm, no foul.

Music aficionados, like coffee buffs, prefer their coffee black. They are insulted with the suggestion of tainting their music collection with a Sum 41 album.

I take my coffee sweet. I balance my affinity for music with the charm of pop music. Some like bitter coffee, some add sugar for extra punch.

I rarely hear people get persecuted for taking sugar in their coffee, so why should I be scolded for liking Christina Aguilera’s new album?

The way I see it, if I refuse to give pop songs a listen, I am being a hypocrite. I like music of all types, whether fashionable to detestable, I choose different songs for different moods and refuse to feel impotent in musical discussions for having Stripped in heavy rotation at home.

In the end, who really cares if Christina is a ‘Fighter’ and Justin wants to ‘Rock Your Body?’ I do. Will I be sent to music hell for even remembering the names of these songs? I think not.

If you want meaningful music/lyrics you may have to embark on the arduous journey of finding a Björk fan on campus (they do exist) or maybe check out a Metallica album.

However, if you want to turn the radio up on the way home from school or work and jam to a pop record, by all means, do so without feeling persecuted.

back to Nonfiction

Anything But Beautiful

Anything But Beautiful Short Story (photo: Jazmin Quaynor)

Anything But Beautiful Short Story (photo: Jazmin Quaynor)

“You’re beautiful,” Andy says to Charlie as they exit Starbucks on a crisp fall afternoon. They are enjoying their first cups of hot coffee after a long, hot summer in Coral Gables, Florida.

Charlie looks at Andy with a confused grin. They have been dating for a few weeks, Charlie has grown accustomed to Andy’s terms of endearment, but the word beautiful makes him uncomfortable. “Oh please,” he responds in a skeptical tone.

“What? You don’t agree with me?” Andy seems confused as they round the busy corner of Ponce de Leon Boulevard toward Charlie’s apartment.

Charlie looks at his reflection in the window of a stationery store they walk past. His short brown hair is unruly without the product he usually works into it. His glasses are held together by a paperclip and a five o’clock shadow covers his face. He feels anything but beautiful this afternoon.

“Not today I don’t,” Charlie responds. He takes a sip of his latte and self-consciously wipes his mouth. He doesn’t want a little dissident whip to further illustrate his point to Andy.

“Why not? I mean, I know you don’t think you’re ugly. You spend way too much time looking at your own reflection to think you’re ugly.”

Charlie blushes bashfully, then covers his face with his free hand. All this time, he thought he was being slick when he would catch a glimpse of himself in a car window or elevator mirror. He can’t help but laugh.

Andy gives Charlie a pinch on his side, playfully reassuring him that he’s only teasing. They are still in the honeymoon phase of their budding relationship, so he finds Charlie’s embarrassment adorable.

“Busted,” Charlie says as the pair crosses the street toward his building. He tries to think of a way to explain to Andy that doesn’t think of himself as ugly, just not exactly beautiful.

While Charlie seems off in deep thought, Andy runs his eyes over his new love’s warm chocolate eyes down to his full lips and prickly jaw. His impulse is to push him against a street light and give him a kiss, but he wants an answer to his question first.

“So, why won’t you accept my compliment?”

The answer seems obvious to Charlie. “Because I look like shit today!” he says.

Andy smiles. “I didn’t say you look beautiful. I said you are beautiful.”

Hearing those words come out of Andy’s mouth makes Charlie feel buoyant. He remembers the nights he went to bed thinking about Andy before they started dating, wondering if his feelings would ever be reciprocated. He had never felt this way about a guy before. It tickles every time he inhales and he feels an overwhelming inclination to kiss Andy, who has also turned a little red in the cheeks.

Andy has made himself feel shy and tongue-tied with his last comment. He doesn’t mean to come on so strongly. He just can’t help himself. Charlie’s beauty is so apparent to him that he refuses to let anyone challenge that – even Charlie himself.

“If you say so,” Charlie says. He leans over and gives Andy a kiss on the cheek.

Overwhelmed with desire but aware of his surroundings, Andy grabs Charlie’s hand, gives it a kiss and doesn’t let it go until they reach the Spanish colonial style building Charlie lives in. He knows that public displays of affection make Charlie uncomfortable – especially in a conservative area like Coral Gables, but he doesn’t care anymore. He has waited a long time hold someone’s hand like this and he refuses to let anything – or anyone – stop him from falling in love.

back to Short Fiction

Breakup Sex on the Beach Short Story (photo: Quino Al)

Breakup Sex on the Beach

Bryant: Where are you?!? We already ordered appetizers..  

Julian: Yeah right. You’re probably not even there yet.

Bryant: lol.  I am here and I can’t start the party without you, bestie, so hurry up. R u coming alone?

Julian: uh, yeah. Walking up Collins. I’ll see you now.

Who would I be coming with? My asshole ex-boyfriend? God, it feels so weird to call him my ex – especially after last week.  

Julian checked out his reflection on a car window before he reached the Shore Club. Taking advantage of the sub-seventy degree temperature, he wore a thin navy sweater over a white collared shirt, slate Rock and Republic Jeans and Ferragamo loafers.  

Thank God I look fierce.  

Julian spotted Bryant’s sister Evelyn and her boyfriend as soon as he got to Nobu.

He complimented her on the form-fitting little black dress that barely contained her recently enhanced breasts.  

“Where the fuck’s your brother? He’s been texting me for the past hour.”

“Bryant? He made Alex buy him a drink at SkyBar while his guests arrived.”

“Oh my God, he would.”

“Hah.Yup. He told me to text him when everyone was here so he could make an entrance,” Evelyn added. “You come alone, Hon?”

“Yup,” Julian responded, forcing a smile. Thanks for pointing it out.

The night of Bryant’s birthday marked the fifth week that Julian and Amir, his boyfriend of three years – and the love of his life – had been broken up.

It had proven quite difficult for the pair to avoid each other since the split, though. They spent years replacing their individual friendships with mutual ones until all they had left were their two best friends – Bryant and Alex – who happened to be boyfriends.

He knew it wouldn’t be long before their social circle would force them together, but the idea of sitting down for dinner with Amir still terrified Julian. Not so much because he hated Amir, but because he hated how good it felt to have Amir sitting next to him. It was one thing to hear about him or check his Facebook for updates, but it was quite another to see his face and smell his masculine cologne.

Julian felt especially nervous about Bryant’s dinner because of what happened the weekend before. The fact that he hadn’t heard from Amir since their last rendezvous made seeing him at dinner that much more difficult.

Once everyone arrived and the table was set, Bryant made his big entrance. He wasn’t beautiful by conventional standards – he had a big nose, a small chin and blue eyes that were a bit large for his face – but Bryant walked with more swagger than any celebrity.

He greeted everyone like a bride making the rounds at a reception, then sat himself across from Julian.

Julian was beautiful by conventional standards. His dirty blonde hair fell just short of his almond eyes, his sloped nose and his square jaw. He had freckles where most people had blemishes and never seemed to gain a pound.

The quintessential pretty boy, Julian was teased by all the guys in high school. Except for Bryant of course, who explained to him that the boys were just jealous because he had better skin than their girlfriends.

Ten years later, they were just as close, celebrating Bryant’s twenty-fifth birthday in style.

There were several conversations going on at the table by the time they ordered appetizers. Julian overheard one of Evelyn’s friends comparing the passion of makeup sex with the nostalgia of breakup sex.

“Isn’t it the same thing?” Julian asked Bryant in a hushed tone. He was sure that it was a stupid question, but he needed clarification.  

“Isn’t what the same thing?” Bryant asked, lowering his voice to match Julian’s.

“Makeup sex…breakup sex. What’s the dif?”

”Oh my God, are you retarded?” Bryant always wondered how his friend, the Ivy Leaguer of the group, could be so deficient in common sense.

“Seriously, though. Isn’t it the same thing? Sleeping with your ex?” Julian, suddenly self-conscious, brushed his golden bangs to the side and looked around to make sure no one was listening.

Sure enough, Bryant’s boyfriend – and Amir’s bestie – Alex, had been eavesdropping. He seemed more than happy to throw in his two cents.

“Um, yeah, only when you have makeup sex, he’s your boyfriend after. When you have breakup sex, he still hates you after,” he said, glancing at Amir.

Julian wanted to disappear when he heard Alex’s calculated words. He glanced at Amir and caught him rolling his eyes.

Oh my God, he heard. Kill me now.   

Amir had obviously told Alex about the breakup sex they had on the beach last Saturday night.

Julian told the same story to Bryant: how Amir said he wanted to talk, but couldn’t resist grabbing Julian and taking him right there in the sand, not afraid of who might catch them. How their lips locked together while he ripped Julian’s clothes off, his huge arms wrapped so tightly around Julian’s back he could barely breathe. How they held each other in the sand after, neither one letting go.

It was the same story, only Julian called it makeup sex.  

I’m such an idiot.

He took down about half of his Jack on the rocks to wash away the memory. He could not believe how naïve he had been the entire week, waiting for a phone call from somebody who apparently still hated him. He would probably need a couple more shots before he could even look at Amir again.

The waiter showed up with the Tuna Tatake before Julian’s mind could wander any further.

“The Lobster Ceviche will be out shortly.”

Bryant thanked him and ordered a bottle of Dom Perignon for the table, hoping his extravagant order would turn the attention away from Julian’s blunder.

“Dude, we’re gonna be wasted before the food gets here,” Amir said.

Part Middle Eastern, part Cuban, and six foot four, Amir looked more like a bodyguard for the table than a friend of Bryant’s – or Julian’s boyfriend, for that matter. He towered over Julian, but they made a hot couple; his rough exterior complimented Julian’s fine features.     

And although Amir weighed twice as much as Julian, he had a much lower tolerance for alcohol. ‘That’s what you get for not going to college,’ Julian would tease.

Bryant certainly wasn’t going to let Amir rain on his parade.  

“Oye Taliban, it’s not a celebration without champagne,” Bryant responded. Amir shook his head and laughed. It was going to be a long night.

“And I’ll have another Jack on the rocks, please,” Julian requested.

Amir shook his head again, but he did not find Julian’s drink order as amusing ad Bryant’s.

“Jack and champagne… classy,” he muttered under his breath.

“You shut the fuck up,” Julian snapped. His bitterness about the breakup sex was stronger than his social graces.

Evelyn and her boyfriend laughed nervously. They looked around to make sure there was no one within earshot of Julian’s dirty mouth. Luckily, the heavy layer of chatter in the packed restaurant made it difficult to hear anyone, let alone someone at another table.

There was dead silence following Julian’s little outburst. Amir drew a deep breath and clenched his jaw, focusing his eyes on the appetizer in front of him.

“Guys, can we try and keep it classy for one night… or at least until after dinner?” Alex requested.

In an attempt to salvage some of his class, Julian decided to express his frustrations to Bryant over BBM.  

Julian: Why are we sitting in a table full of my enemies again?

Bryant: umm, because one of them is my boyfriend

Julian: hhhm. how bout I put you on match.com as a birthday gift??

Bryant: hah I’m good, thanks.

Julian: whatev. The offer still stands… I could have done without him and his dumb friend tonight, though.

Bryant: sorry. I didn’t know there was still drama. I was under the impression you guys were better after last weekend

Julian: so was I. but apparently your idiot boyfriend knows more than I do, so maybe I should have asked him…

Bryant: He is an idiot. Don’t listen to him. Let’s just get wasted and call it a night. It’s my birthday!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Julian: I knoooow sorry. Okay. Less drama – more drinking.

“Will everyone be drinking champagne?” the waiter asked as he removed the wire around the cork.

As soon as everyone had their flutes, Evelyn toasted to her baby brother. The main course arrived shortly after that and Bry blew out his twenty-five candles.

After dinner, Bryant decided to take the party back to SkyBar to order another bottle of Dom from a poolside cabana. The cool breeze brought life to the palm trees, their fronds reflecting the silvery light of the full moon.

The romantic atmosphere led Julian directly to the bar. He had anticipated that this would be the most awkward part of the night. Sure enough, each couple snuggled up on the couch, leaving Julian and Amir to sit on opposite sides of the cabana, keeping their eyes on their Blackberry’s until the bottle arrived.

Bryant and Alex spent the first few minutes flirting and kissing the way that new couples do. Julian couldn’t help but envy them in their naiveté. It reminded him of when he and Amir first started dating. They couldn’t keep their hands off each other, he remembered as he glanced at his ex on the other couch.

Julian looked at his tan skin and perfectly groomed beard. It hurt that he still found him so beautiful. He remembered sitting in the steamy bathroom watching Amir meticulously shape his beard, using his fingers to create perfectly straight lines. He refused to believe he would never experience that again.

Nonetheless, Julian was sure that nothing good would come of remembering the good times. It would only make him resent Amir’s asshole behavior even more. But he could not control himself. Nor could he control his drinking, it seemed. He was holding a cup of ice while everyone else nursed their champagne.

Weary of mixing champagne with the Jack Daniels that was already in his bloodstream, Julian went back to the poolside bar. He was happy to get away from the group for a little while, but he kept an eye out for Amir. Their relationship might be over, but Julian was still very territorial over him.

Nothing made this more abundantly clear than the rage Julian felt as he caught Amir making room on the couch for Frankie Castro, Julian’s arch-nemesis since the second grade.

As children, Frankie and Julian couldn’t have been more different. Frankie was a cute kid who grew fatter in adulthood. Julian was an awkward adolescent who grew into his features. Frankie was trendy – Julian had style.

Frankie rented a studio in a seedy part of South Beach just to say he lived there. He leased a Mercedes C-class just so he could say he drove a Benz. He would skip a meal every day to have enough money to pay for bottle service at a club.

Julian was spoiled without realizing it. As his grandparents would say, ‘el nunca ha pasado hambre.’ But even though he had access to everything Frankie wanted, he never really cared for any of it.

Tonight, however, the tables had turned.

That son of a bitch.

Julian: What is fugly frankie doing in our cabana?

Bryant: Omg I know. I told Alex to make it go away.

Julian: And tell him to be quick about it too.

Refusing to share a cabana with him, Julian stood across the pool waiting for the Frankie to make his exit. He acted as if he was busy texting someone, unaware of Frankie’s existence, as he stood under one of the heaters that were scattered around the pool.

Much to Julian’s horror, Frankie did not leave alone. Amir made every effort not to look in Julian’s direction, while Frankie turned and raised his cocktail glass, toasting to his small victory.

Desperate to look nonchalant, Julian forced a smile and raised his glass to his nemesis. He knew how much Frankie and Amir hated fake bitches, so a fake bitch he had to become. It was the only way to get back at them. Thankfully, Julian had spent enough of his life in Miami to have mastered the art of being a fake ass bitch.

As soon as they were out of sight, Julian dropped the act and stormed into the cabana.

“Where the fuck do they think they’re going?” he asked. There was no need to be fake in front of Bryant and company.

“What the hell do you care?” Alex asked.

Bryant, who had gotten up to serve himself a drink, shot Alex an icy stare.

Alex seemed offended. “Oh I’m sorry, am I supposed to be on team Julian now that Amir left?”

“Oh, no. I would never think of making you leave team dipshit. They’d miss you too much,” Julian responded.  

“Now, now, place nice boys,” said Evelyn, making room for Julian on her couch. Her maternal instinct kicked in once she saw the desperation in Julian’s eyes. “Come here, Baby. Tell mama where it hurts.”

Julian sat next to her and placed his head on her left breast. He was surprised at how soft it felt under his head. He had always heard that implants were harder than natural boobs.

“Don’t get jealous, Carlos,” he said to Evelyn’s boyfriend as he felt her up.

Carlos laughed. “Don’t worry, man.”

“Carlos isn’t the one with a jealousy problem,” Alex said, glancing at Julian.

Evelyn injected herself in the conversation before Julian could react.

“Don’t hate, Alex. You know you’re just mad that you can’t lay your head on this rack.”

Alex rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to Bryant.

The group spent the rest of the night talking amongst themselves (except for Bryant and Alex, who were making out again). This gave Julian the chance to catch up with Evelyn.

They had fallen out of touch since things had gotten serious with their last boyfriends and catching up was a welcomed distraction for Julian. It kept his mind off of Amir and his little rebound.

But even though he wasn’t thinking about Amir, Julian felt his absence. There was a comfort in Amir’s presence that never went away when they broke up – like something in his gut was telling him they belonged together. Their time apart only intensified the feeling.

Julian chatted it up for a little while, but his curiosity consumed him. He hated not knowing where Amir was, but he didn’t want to look like he cared (not in front of Alex, at least). He took advantage of the fact that Bryant was serving himself the last bit of champagne to get some information.

“Are we going out from here, or are you and this idiot gonna call it a night?”

Bryant laughed. “Are you crazy? I am not drunk enough to be a quarter century old!”

“Right. Well where do you wanna go?”

“We’re gonna meet up with Amir and Frankie at Score. What are you gonna do?” Alex interjected.

Julian was stunned to hear Alex refer to them as ‘Amir and Frankie.’ He had always thought Amir was just talking to Frankie to make him jealous.

Could they actually like each other? Or does he just want to hurt me that bad? And why the fuck weren’t they together last Saturday night? I wonder if Frankie knows what Amir was doing that night…

“He’s coming with us, Alex. And stop being such a douche. It’s my birthday. The only one that can be a douche tonight is me!”

Before making the rounds at Score, Jules bought Bryant a birthday shot. Hoping to lose consciousness before seeing Amir with Frankie, he made his a double.

As he made his way through the sticky crowd, Julian began to lose feeling in his face.

Thank God, he thought as his body adjusted to the damp, smoky air. He would normally pass on places like Score, but there was no way he was going to give Amir the green light with Frankie tonight.

“Oh God,” Bryant said to Julian as soon as he realized where Alex was leading them.

“What?” Julian hadn’t been paying attention to where they were headed. He was too busy combing the dance floor with his eyes, hoping to find a dance partner that Amir would hate.

“Umm,” Bryant pointed at a table littered with Frankie’s friends, all sporting Ed Hardy t-shirts, chinstrap beards and zirconia studs.

Naturally, Frankie was dancing on the table with a big smile on his face. Amir was standing against the wall behind the group with his arms crossed.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” Julian told Bryant as Alex greeted friends and acquaintances.

“Hey me,” Bryant said. He didn’t even bother telling Alex where they were going.

There was a line for the men’s bathroom, so Bryant led Jules to the cleaner and less populated ladies room on the other side.

“I need another drink,” Julian said while he stared into the mirror. He remembered looking so much better before leaving his house. Hhm.

“Hon, you don’t have to stay here with these pussies on account of me,” Bryant said from the stall. “In fact, I’d probably leave with you if you wanted to go.”

“Oh, but you swear that I’m gonna let them win.”

“Okay, then I’m pretty sure we’re gonna need another drink.”

“Correct.”

Julian made his way back to Frankie’s table with a renewed sense of confidence. His buzz was back and he intended to keep it for the rest of the night.

“Hey sexy,” Frankie said, oozing sarcasm.

Julian found the idea of touching Frankie vomit inducing, but he was willing to do anything to get under his skin. Without saying a word, he gave Frankie a big hug and wet kiss on the cheek.

Eww.

Surprised by Julian’s display, Frankie looked at Amir, who was shaking his head in disapproval. His reaction helped Frank figure out Julian’s little game. After Julian’s display of affection, Frankie put his arm around him and walked him over to the refreshments.

“We’re almost out of Goose, but there’s a waitress coming around. I can call her over if you want,” Frankie said.

“Nah, don’t worry about it,” Julian said. While Frank’s boozehound friends shot him dirty looks, he dumped the rest of the Grey Goose into a glass. “Cheers,” he said before taking his drink down in one shot. He handed Frankie the empty glass and gave him a pat in the ass.

It was fun to mess with Frankie, but Julian couldn’t stand to be around him for too long. He wasn’t sure if fugly was contagious and he didn’t want to take any chances. Plus, he still needed to get back at Amir for bringing Frank into the mix in the first place.

Julian moved to the dance floor just within view of Frankie’s table. He had always found it difficult to dance to the house music they played at gay clubs, so he just kind of bobbed his head and bounced around, as flirty as possible.

After a few minutes, he noticed one of the club’s strippers smiling at him. The stocky dancer made his way over to Julian, who looked drunk enough to tip generously.

Julian’s initial reaction was to laugh at the guy’s hairless body and Asian-inspired body art, then pawn him off to someone else. Dancing with a man in a thong was against his better judgment, but he knew how much Amir hated strippers, so he humored the guy.

Halfway through the song, the dancer whispered something in Julian’s ear, but the music was too loud. Then the guy grabbed him and rubbed his package all over him, which was probably supposed to turn him on, but Julian began to feel his drinks swish around in his stomach.

It felt like he was dancing upside down. Suddenly, the guy grabbed Julian’s arm to take him somewhere, probably for a lap dance. Julian snatched him arm away. He wanted to run to the nearest bathroom, but he couldn’t keep his balance. He fell forward onto the dancer, who begrudgingly pushed him back, knocking Julian flat on his ass.

Before Julian could pick himself up off the ground, someone punched the angry stripper square in the face, dropping him to the floor. Julian was too disoriented to make out who his defender was. Before he could get a good look, the guy grabbed Julian slung him over his shoulder. The last thing he saw was the stripper on the floor screaming obscenities while holding his bloody nose.

Julian was just sober enough to be completely embarrassed, but still drunk enough to feel like he was about to vomit on the guy who was escorting him out of the club.

Julian had assumed he was being removed by security until he found himself being carried down Lincoln Road on the man’s shoulder.

Huh?

Then his pepper-infused citrus scent registered.

“Let go of me, Motherfucker!” Julian demanded, but to no avail. Amir ignored him and continued to walk down the street with Julian slung over his shoulder.

Nauseated, Julian persisted. “You’re embarrassing me you idiot!”

”You’re embarrassing yourself.”

“I’m gonna vomit, Asshole!”

“Vomit.”

As much as he hated Amir at that moment, he would die before vomiting on him.

As soon as they got to the car, Amir opened the trunk of Julian’s Range Rover and seated him on the bumper facing the parking lot.

Julian heaved as soon as Amir stepped aside. He felt like someone stuck a vacuum in his mouth to suck out his bowels. It took two or three eruptions to empty his stomach, after which he would just gag and spit. Once he stopped gagging, he curled up in fetal position and sobbed in his trunk.

Julian always cried after vomiting, but this time the tears went beyond humiliation or disgust.

Why am I the one in the trunk of my car feeling like shit? Why am I always the one who feels like shit? What the fuck am I doing?

Amir knew that the weeping meant no more heaving, so he closed the back and drove Julian home.

The sun had filled his room with bright heat when Julian opened his eyes in the morning. He attempted to roll out of bed, but his stomach quickly reminded him how much he drank the night before. So he lay in bed with a pillow over his face until Lucy, his sandy lab, started begging to go downstairs.

Foggy memories of the night before crept into Julian’s consciousness as he made his way to the bathroom in his vomit-stained jeans. The smell of cigarette and street emanating from them made him want to hurl, but he knew that if he started now, he would spend the rest of the day on the bathroom floor and he didn’t want the horrible time he had the night before to spill into another day.

He took down some Excedrin and Gatorade, then opened the kitchen drawer to find Luce’s leash missing. He scanned the counter, opened a few drawers and no leash. When he turned around to go look in the living room, he saw it dangling from one of the bar stools under the pub table.

Julian knew he couldn’t possibly have taken the dog out in his drunkenness and he was too obsessive compulsive to have left the leash there the day before, which could only mean one thing.

He grabbed his Blackberry and dialed the number he had erased from his phonebook the five weeks earlier.

“Thanks for taking Lucy out,” Julian said instead of hello.  

”She shouldn’t have to suffer because her owner’s a drunk,” Amir responded.

“What the fuck’s your problem? I was trying to be nice.”

“If you wanna be nice, get your ass over here and pick up your car. I have plans

this afternoon.”

“And how the fuck am I supposed to get there with no car?”

“Call a cab.”

Julian wanted to call him a piece of shit for making him take a cab across town, but he ended the call instead. His head hurt too much to argue.  

One forty dollar cab ride later, Julian was knocking on the front door of Amir’s townhouse. Julian felt like he was about to toss his cookies when he walked in. It felt like he was on a roller coaster trying to hold down a stomach full of junk food.

Julian was surprised to find the furniture downstairs covered in plastic and moved to the right side of the room, which was now painted white. Amir went back to painting without acknowledging him.

“They’re on the kitchen counter.”

“Huh?” The curiosity about the white walls made Julian forget why he was there.

“Your keys.”

The only logical reason for Amir to be painting the walls white was because he was moving out.

But where? Why wouldn’t he have told anyone last night? There were no comments on his Facebook about this.

“What are you doing?”

As usual, Amir was not in the mood to chat. He showed Julian his paint roller.

“Painting,” he said for clarification.  

“Why?”

“Because the walls were white when I moved in.”

Talking to him was like pulling teeth, but it was clear that Amir wanted Julian to know what was going on. He easily could have left the keys in the mailbox and avoided this line of questioning.

“Where are you going?”

“What do you care?” Amir snapped.

“What? Moving in with Frankie?” Julian couldn’t resist. He also couldn’t think of any other reason for Amir to be moving. He didn’t have family or a career and he had been spending most of his time with Frankie, so it really wasn’t too far fetched.

“Bro, you’re fucking obsessed.”

I’m obsessed with Frankie? That’s funny coming from the person who has gone out with him every weekend since we broke up. Oh, except for last weekend, of course.”

Amir clenched his jaw and started to paint again, turning his back on Julian.

“And it’s so obvious you’re only with him to make me jealous, by the way.”

“I don’t have to do anything to make you jealous. You do that all by yourself.”

“Oh okay, so it’s just a coincidence that you started fraternizing with one of my enemies right after we broke up?”

Amir threw the paint roller into the tray and turned to Julian.

“This is exactly why I can’t fucking stand you. It’s always about you… your friends, your enemies, your frenemies… If you’d step out of your perfect little world for a fucking second you might–”

“I might what, Amir? I might meet someone like you? Look where that got me,” Julian interrupted.

Amir shook his head and turned his attention back to his work.

“You know what? Just get the fuck out. I don’t have to do this with you.”

“And what if I don’t feel like getting the fuck out?”

“Don’t be an idiot, Julian,” he barked.

“Oh, it’s too late for that,” Julian said as he took a seat on the plastic covered couch. He felt like an idiot, but his desire for closure was stronger than his pride.

Amir slammed the paint roller into the tray of paint.

“What? Are gonna hit me like you hit that stripper last night?”

“Don’t act like you don’t love it when I get into fucking fights for you, okay?

“I don’t.” Julian lied.

Amir laughed. “Alright Bro. Next time I’ll let you slobber all over the motherfucker and let him drive your drunk ass home.”

“It’s none of your fucking business who I slobber on or how I get home. You don’t give a shit about me, so why pretend to care?”

”I don’t wanna talk about this right now.”

“I know. You never wanna talk about anything. You just wanna call me when you wanna get laid and –“

“That was a mistake…”

Julian’s heart sank deep into his bowels when he heard those words. It hurt almost as much as when Amir told him he wasn’t in love with him.

The idea that Amir could have been acting on impulse that night on the beach mortified Julian. But then he remembered the passion as Amir took him in his arms on the beach that night and refused to believe he was motivated by anything other than love.

“Let me guess: you’re sorry.”

Amir furrowed his brow.

His gesture infuriated Julian.

“You know what? I’m the one who’s sorry. I’m sorry that I ever loved you. I’m sorry I fought my parents to be with you, sorry I lost so many friends because of you, sorry I put my career on hold for you…”

“I didn’t ask you to do any of that.”

“No, but you didn’t stop me, did you? You fucking ingrate.”

Amir walked toward the back door and stared out the window.

As hard as it was, Julian contained his rage. He wanted to tell Amir how much he hated him, but he held back. He knew that the anger would fade and he would realize it wasn’t true.

The white walls reminded Julian that this would probably be the last chance he would get to tell Amir how he really felt.

“Look, I can’t stop hating you if I still love you. And I know you said you didn’t love me, but I don’t believe you…” Julian looked for a reaction, but got nothing. He was humiliated.

Though he didn’t regret saying it, he knew that Amir had already made his decision. There was no point in fighting him, regardless of whether or not he believed him.

“You know what? If you don’t wanna love me, that’s fine,” Julian said, grabbing his keys off the counter. “I may have lost all my pride, but I haven’t lost my fucking dignity. I’m not gonna sit here and beg you to love me. I deserve better than this shit. So finish painting your walls, pack up all your shit and stay the fuck away from me.”

Julian made his way to the front door and turned to Amir before walking out.  

“I’d wish you the best, but you just lost the best thing that ever happened to you. And honestly, I hope it hurts.”

With that, Julian walked out and slammed the door behind him.

The second he got into his car, the nausea was back. He tried to get to the expressway without pulling over, but only made it to the gas station around the corner.

He made a beeline for the bathroom and erupted as soon as he got into the stall. Thankfully, the toilet was not completely disgusting – before he vomited, at least. Once the Gatorade was out of his system, he flushed it away and went back to the car. Then came the tears…

back to Short Fiction

Chapter 4 New Year's Eve Part 2: Don't Call Him Mr. President Tonight (photo: Dan Watson)

Chapter 4: New Year’s Eve | Part 2: Don’t Call Him Mr. President Tonight | Any Other Way But Together

After a quick but steamy shower, Isobel wipes down the bathroom mirror with her towel so that she can begin applying mascara. Running a few minutes late for Xavier’s sister’s New Year’s Eve dinner, she has her hair in large blue curlers with a black bra and black sequin leggings on.

“I don’t need you to tell me how to talk to my sister,” Xavier says sharply. He is changing Rudy’s diaper on their bed with a pair of white boxer briefs on and his outfit set out by his wife on the bed next to him.

She rolls her eyes as she starts pulling her hair out of the rollers, even though he has his back to her. Isobel would like to avoid an argument with her husband before spending the night with his family, but she can’t help herself. “I don’t expect you to get it, but seriously. It’s not funny to anybody but you. Tonight is about spending time with your sister and your parents. Don’t ruin it by being a… you-know-what,” she chooses not to name the male appendage she would like like after glancing at Rudy out of the corner of her eye.

“You need to relax. I’ve known my sister a lot longer than you have.”

Xavier’s sister Caroline is a decade older than he is, so his relationship with her is a cross between a big sister and a young aunt. While he was attending an all-male Catholic school in his teens, she was starting a family with her wife Lisa. Even though his family is conservative, they were accepting of the relationship and went on the treat Lisa as a member of the family. This made their family like harmonious and inclusive, but it made Xavier’s life at school a challenge. Even though he played sports and always had a steady girlfriend, he was still alienated for having a modern family before it was seen as a novelty by most Americans.

Caroline and Lisa live in a Spanish style home in Miami Shores with their two sons. They host a New Year’s Eve dinner for their families every year complete with catering and a live band. Xavier’s nephews are in middle school and he now serves as their male role model and godfather, a job he takes very seriously. Having been with Xavier for a decade, Isobel has formed a close relationship with Caroline based on their similar worldview.

“Oh, but just because you’ve known her longer doesn’t mean you know her better,” Isobel says before calling for Emilia to put on a winter white cardigan over her periwinkle dress. New Year’s weekend brought a slight chill to Miami and with a chance of rain, Isobel wants to make sure her daughter was properly covered up.

“Whatever bro,” Xavier says, shaking his head as he buttons down his tartan plaid shirt. While temperature has remained close to eighty in Miami for most of December, it has been a very cold month in his household. He expected things to go back to normal after the contentious election cycle divided his family based on political ideology, but he can still feel the effects as they prepare to welcome a new year.

He and Isobel have always felt like their political differences balanced out their relationship. And the fact that his wife and sister are on the same side of the political spectrum bonded them in a way that Xavier couldn’t relate to. This dynamic has helped Isobel form a tight bond with his sister, but the events of 2016 have made him feel alienated once again, albeit for different reasons than when he was a kid.

“Momma, is Aunt Esthie coming?” Emmie asks as she walks into the bedroom with her cardigan on.

“No baby, but you’ll see her tomorrow.”

With Zika transmissions no longer a threat in her area, Esthie has begun the process of moving her things back into the apartment she shares with Dominick. This shift in the household dynamic is welcomed by Xavier, who feels like the odd man out in his own home. He gets along with Esthie for the most part, but he can’t help but feel threatened by the fact that his wife has a clone in the other room.

“Are you excited to have your room back, Princess?”

Emmie frowns and turns to her mother, who is facing the mirror putting her hair in a french braid. “Why does she have to go?”

“She’s not going far, baby. You’re gonna see her all the time.”

Once her hair and makeup are done, Isobel puts on a navy blue silk top with a neck tie over her sequin leggings and steps into her stilettos. “Alright, lets start getting in the car, we’re already late.”

Sitting on the edge of the bed while Rudy roams around the bedroom, Xavier scrolls through sports stats on his smartphone before starting the process of getting the kids in the car.

“Come on, Mr. President,” he says with a grin.

Isobel smiles at him as she sprays on her white floral perfume. She regrets the day she decided to dress her kids up as the presidential candidates for Halloween. Election 2016 is something that she would like to move forward from, but her husband doesn’t show any signs of letting it go.

“You used to find me hilarious before we got married,” he remarks as they turn off the bedroom light and walk down the hall.

“You’re a lot funnier when you’re not trying so hard, Babe.”

Part 1: The City Beautiful   Contents   Part 3: The Countdown