that summer in South Beach

The most distinctive thing about him was his thick, Eastern European accent. That was the first thing that got my attention. I liked it. The way he pronounced certain words in English and the way he combined sounds from his native dialect made his words and phrases run together in patterns and rhythms that were completely foreign to my ears. On top of that, he exuded charm. He was handsome, physically fit, and pleasant to everyone.

This was my third or fourth day in Miami, and I’d made my way from the arts district to South Beach. In South Beach, everyone was brown or bronze or tanned, shapely, lean, muscular, and dressed like frigging movie stars. And oh my God, the boob jobs. Did anyone here have natural breasts? Those definitely did not look real. Even the mannequins in store windows had double-D breasts, which I found utterly fascinating. I’d never seen a mannequin with a boob job until I got to South Beach. Anyway, most of the women were half-naked and completely done up from head to toe as if they were headed to a photo shoot, instead of ordering a salad at a juice bar, or shopping at Walgreen’s, or simply walking down the street. But I quickly got acclimated to the culture and fell in love with that place, in spite of its superficial qualities.

These were the things that stood out to me and made the place distinctive. I’ll never forget it.

I had all this in mind when I first saw him and heard his voice. I was checking into this hostel, and he was across from me, sitting in front of a computer and looking up my reservation. I liked him instantly because he was as warm as he was professional, and I sensed and observed that he had a very strong work ethic, which I respected. And I realized I was attracted to him right away, but I wondered if he was straight or gay. It’s hard enough to tell with American men, but with Europeans, you get layers and layers of cultural flourishes and characteristics that make it really ambiguous.

In his case, his hair was dark, wavy, and impeccably groomed. His appearance was neat – black slacks, black shoes, white oxford dress shirt, and a black vest with “George” emblazoned on a shiny, gold name tag. I found out later that wasn’t his real name, but that was after I’d spent the night at his apartment. So it turns out he was definitely straight, but I couldn’t tell at first. He had a piercing – a silver stud, centered below his lower lip, above his chin. I thought it was so sexy. Later he told me the piercing always made people think he was gay. This frustrated him a great deal.

I’d actually flirted with him as I was leaving the hostel one night with some friends I’d made who were from Paris. And he responded, and told me that he liked girls, and I told him that I liked boys. And I teased him and told him he probably wasn’t allowed to fraternize with guests – we were in the lobby and there were people around us – and he looked straight at me, leaned forward in his seat behind the desk, lowering his head as he did so, and said in a soft murmur that only I could hear, “Keep it on the down-low.” Jackpot. I’d baited the fish, and now I was reeling it in. And I fell for him. Fell for his dark eyes and penetrating glare, fell for his Roman nose and soft hair, his thick calves, his intensity and unbridled passion, his heavy accent and funny-sounding words, and the way he made me smile when he used American slang.

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