Sunday morning welcomed me with a hangover. My head throbbed and my body felt slow, syrupy. I didn't want to move or talk or eat, or especially drink. I sat outside with my friends, letting their conversation drift past me. Ten vodka-cranberries swirled in my stomach, a good six hours after I'd swallowed them. My legs ached from dancing the night before. Boom, the club was called, and Austin and I christened the dance floor with our movements, him being one of many men in the club, me being one of about three girls. He introduced me to his friends, who smiled freely and called me "fabulous." They wrapped me in their well-tended arms, smelling like soap and cologne despite the smoke and grit in the bar. They said "I love her!" to my friend, who seemed to be proud to have me around. We worked our way around the club, saying hello to the couples of men Austin knew, who held hands and spoke standing closely together. They smiled and stirred their drinks with tiny straws, screaming their conversations over Gwen Stefani's blaring voice. I felt wonderful, honored that Austin brought me to his domain, a strip mall especially for gay men, opening a portion of his life to me. "Will they let me in here?" I asked him, aware that some gay clubs frowned upon straight women passing through their doors. "You? Please. You're coming with me whether you like it or not," he told me while putting the top up on his beautiful black Nissan 350Z. But he knew I'd like it. I always had. He was the first man to ever bring me to a gay club.
I thought about our night sitting beneath his large deck umbrella the next morning. "Laurie had gay men hanging all over her last night," he told Alex and Nancy, my driving mates for the trip. They laughed, and said something about me giving up the dream to convert one. I laughed too, but silently hoped to just be done with my hangover. I thought the sun would cook it right out of me, but it didn't help at all.
"You better get out of this shit mood you're in," Austin teased through a smile, holding his cigarette level with his lips. I promised that showering and putting my face on would be the cure, but I was wrong. It was getting into his hot car and sitting in the passenger seat while he drove way too fast down 95 to Miami with the top down that cured me. I wrapped my head in my pink scarf, Grace Kelly style, as we zipped through traffic. We listened to loud music and weaved in and out of lanes on the interstate, wind-whipped and warm from the noon sun. Nancy and Alex followed behind us, so that we formed a small caravan to South Beach, four pretty people, eager to see beautiful people and sand.
We crossed a bridge that leads into Miami, offering a view of the coast. Blue water surrounding crisp white buildings and pure wealth. Palm trees and creamy houses lined the streets as we made our way to the parking garage. I felt so free, my hair now out of my scarf and flying around my head, getting stuck in my sunglasses and in my lipstick. We parked Valet, Austin handing his keys to the gentleman in the forest green shirt, who sat in the saddle seats and whirred away.
We went to Mango's, where women dress in skimpy animal prints and dance on the bar to Spanish music. I drank a frozen banana concoction, despite saying I wouldn't drink at all that day, and ate chips and salsa and checked out passers-by with my friends. Nancy and Alex checked out women, but Austin and I checked out the men. And we tried to be very clear that he and I were NOT together, just in case a boy we were oogling took a shine to either one of us. We walked around Miami all day, looking at men, stopping in bars for a drink here, a drink there, chatting it up with the bartenders and the local patrons. I bought a shirt advertising "I [heart] Nerds," and Austin bought rolling papers. We looked in shops and laughed at each other. Austin and I walked faster than Nancy and Alex. Even in my pink stilettos, my gait was long and purposeful. Nancy and Alex trailed behind, meandering toward our cars, Nancy's tired toes hanging over the edge of her sandals. Her walk said "I'm so tired. I just want to sit down."
It was dusk by the time we crawled into the cars. I sat shotgun with Austin, excited to sit in his shiny black convertible, to cruise along Ocean Drive with the top down and my hair blowing in the cool evening's ocean air. Night time felt seductive, decadent. Thick air dancing with headlights and taillights, Mercedes and Bentley; Jaguar and Rolls Royce. We flew back 95 North, slowing only when we came to our exit. My hair was tangled and dirty, full of heat and exhaust and the remains of the day. It was luscious.
Monday found the four of us at the Ft. Lauderdale beach. We ate too much in Hooters on the water, drank beer until we felt giddy and bloated. We crossed A1A and walked in the sand, the soles of our feet burning. We walked in the water, the surf hitting us in the ankles, splashing salt water up our legs. I carried my shoes in my hand, Austin and I once again blazing a path ahead of our friends. We didn't know where we were going, we just wanted to keep walking. Nancy and Alex held hands behind us, and strolled through the water, leaving vanishing footprints behind them.
We found a spot to sit, a short white wall separating the sand from the sidewalk, and settled in for some people watching. We didn't talk much, just sat in the warmth, the breeze licking the edge off of the heat. My skirt stubbornly fluttered in the wind, revealing the bikini I wore in case we decided to swim. My feet were sand-encrusted. My body felt light. Free from responsibility.
We bar-hopped our way down the sand, deciding to play the game where the next person who walked by our table "is yours." Nancy got an over-weight, hairy-backed, sun-baked raisin of a man. Austin got the quintessential tourist, complete with fanny pack and straw hat boasting "Ft. Lauderdale!" perched atop his old head. Alex got an attractive woman in her forties, big fake boobs pushing at her two-sizes-too-small shirt; She wore Chanel sunglasses and big high heels, and everyone at my table turned to me and said that would be me in twenty years. We laughed, agreeing at the truth of the statement. Except for the fake boob part. I'm afraid of surgery. I, on the other hand, wound up with the same thing I would find in Milford: A pasty straight guy, beer belly leading the way, goofy smile on his face, with complete disregard for fashion and taste. He drank beer out a bottle shaped like a football, foam resting at the top, sucking it through a straw. "Thanks guys," I laughed. "I didn't have to drive twenty hours to find that!" We set to the task of finding me a man I wouldn't find in Milford. Tanned skin, V-shaped upper body. Huge biceps curled around tiny waists. Smooth pecs, chiseled abs. Angular faces, fresh from the water, glistening with sweat. We laughed at each one, all of them swaggering, puffed-up and on display.
We drank our way through the rest of the beach, my pale skin burning despite the gobs of sunblock I'd been slathering on all day, and finally headed home. We made bleu cheese burgers and potato salad for dinner, thinking we'd all go out later that night. Around nine o'clock after drinks and sunshine and beachy winds, we all decided going out just wasn't going to happen...So we settled for sitting on the porch, wrapped in blankets, drinks in hand, talking about whatever came to mind.
Today, I am alone. Nancy and Alex have gone off to visit his brother in Ft. Myers, Austin has gone to work, and I am sitting in my pajamas, sun rash sprouting on my arms, grateful for the succulent silence here today. Austin put on his Soul Station before he left, leaving Al Green and the Temptations and Marvin Gaye to serenade me all day. I sat by the pool and read for a while. I ate a salami and Swiss sandwich. I drank coke. I talked on the phone. And now, I'm sitting here, sleeves rolled up, the soft wind coming through the open window brushing my bare shoulders.
I feel awake and relaxed, eager to stay here all day. I don't want to sight-see, or live by a schedule. I'm happy right here, knowing that there's nothing that has to be done. I feel recharged; No one tugging at my thoughts or dragging my attention from the bliss of right now. I smell of sunblock and saltwater, a hint of the beach in the air around me. I feel at ease and free, purely content.