This story is by Robert Ochart and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The disheveled mop of hair atop Raul’s six-foot-eight-inch frame towered above the crowd. My gaze followed him as he snaked his way through the nightclub. He didn’t look in my direction, but I willed him to do so. I expected some acknowledgment he messed up and wanted to return, because despite his many screw-ups and countless humiliations, I’d take him back.
Raul worked the room like a polished politician, waving and smiling and introducing his female companion to our friends. I wanted to punch the smile off his face because they had been my friends first.
I tried to lose myself in the rhythmic beat of the music as sweat beaded on my forehead and moisture developed between my breasts and under my pits, but our eyes met, and he smiled, showing off the Chiclet-white veneers I paid for, which only made me shimmy harder.
The band finished the set, and I raced to the restroom without looking in my friends’ direction. My first night out in the three months since the miscarriage and break-up, I suspected my friends were looking to see if I would fall apart, or go ballistic, both of which were possibilities. I wanted to avoid their self-righteous condemnation, or worse yet, their pity.
My heart palpitated like it was attempting a prison break through my chest, so I used yoga breathing techniques to calm down. After wiping the perspiration from my face, from between my breasts, and from under my arms, I walked out of the restroom with my head held high and shoulders pushed back. I sashayed across the floor with my hands by my side, owning the room, just as I instructed my dance students.
I returned to my table, and my best friends, Sophie, and Juan, seated with their significant others, Alfredo, and Andres, stopped talking. Their eyes darted from me to Raul, seated at the neighboring table, and back again. I wanted to let out un hijo de puta but refused to give Raul the satisfaction. When he glanced in my direction, I turned away and blew a kiss to a former admirer across the room.
Juan ordered me a mojito, and everyone remained quiet, until Andres said, “Well, if no one will tell her, I will.” He leaned towards me and said what sounded like, “Dress button cracked.”
I inspected my dress. “What buttons?”
“Girl, you need to take your dress out your butt crack.”
My ears burned at the thought of everyone seeing me walk through the club with my dress up my ass. I lifted my butt off the chair and tugged on the material when I overheard Raul’s date say, “She’s an old lady. I didn’t realize you did charity work.”
Jumping from my seat, I moved towards Raul’s date, wanting to show her the old lady could still kick her ass, but Juan interceded and steered me to the dance floor.
“They’re not worth it,” said Juan.
“Did you hear her?”
Looking over Juan’s shoulder, I saw Raul and his date in an animated exchange. I imagined Raul chastising the woman until he leaned over and kissed her.
“What do you expect out of the mouths of children?”
My eyes watered. “Why is he doing this to me?”
“He’s an ass.”
“With all the clubs in New York, why does he come to my favorite place?”
“And then to throw that young girl in my face, in front of my friends.”
“A lack of respect.”
“After ten years, I deserve better.”
“That’s what happens when you mess around with someone half your age.”
I smacked Juan across the shoulders. “I’m only ten years older than him.”
“I haven’t told anyone, but I’m closing the business. We’re broke.”
“He denies taking it.”
“Did you report it?”
I hesitated, and Juan’s eyes met mine. He said, “Don’t be a pendeja.”
“He wants to remain friends, but how can I be friends with someone who treats me as he does?
“Friends? He needs to be arrested.”
I scanned the room. “Shh. Everything happened so fast: the money, the baby, and then him leaving. I was devastated. Tonight is the first night I haven’t stayed home crying.”
Juan lowered his voice, “So, he’s screwing you and anyone else he can, AND he’s a thief? He needs his butt kicked. Say the word, and I’ll do it myself. We’ll see how those bitches like him when he gets his ass kicked by a queen.”
The floodgates opened, and tears streamed down my face as I laughed at the thought of five-foot-nothing Juanito kicking Raul’s ass.
We danced until I almost forgot why Juan took me out to dance. I loved salsa music with its blaring horns, pounding congas, and its rat-tat-tatting timbales; salsa made me move in ways too embarrassing to move otherwise. And I’d dance with anyone who’d ask, unlike the divas waiting around for non-existent dream partners. If someone had the courage to walk across the dance floor and ask to dance, I owed it to the person to accept. Plus, it was good for business.
Raul and his companion disappeared by the time we returned to the table, and I flopped in my chair, parched. “Where’s my mojito?”
“I put it to good use,” said Andres, before he slurped the last of the drink. He flagged down the server. “Bring her another mojito… extra strong.”
“I told the asshole he needed to leave before you returned,” said Sophie.
“I missed you.” We hugged, and a teary-eyed Sophie nodded in agreement. I appreciated her witnessing what happened, since she had defended Raul when I told her of his previous transgressions. Our friendship deteriorated when she suggested my insecurities chased him away, and if not for Juan and Andres’s anniversary gathering, we would’ve continued inventing convenient excuses why we couldn’t get together.
“Can you believe what that bimbo said?” asked Andres.
Juan scowled at his lover, and pointed at the mint leaf between his teeth, but Andres sucked his teeth and continued. “Can’t be a day over twenty-five. She’ll get hers. Wait until old age drops her ass and those tits to the ground. I see it at the gym every day.”
“I don’t think time affects implants,” said Alfredo.
“Please change the topic,” I said. “Fredo, dance with me.”
“I’m just here for the company and the music.” He winked at Sophie. “I will not embarrass myself.”
Before I convinced Alfredo to dance, the band stopped playing and Raul and his date walked on stage. Raul took the microphone. “Ladies and gentlemen, my apologies for the interruption, but I would like to thank the band and the management team at Club Ecstasy for allowing me to share this special moment with you.”
Raul retrieved a small box out of his jacket and dropped to one knee. I tasted blood as my incisors bit into my lower lip. That should be me. I was the one who changed you from a trapo mojado into what you’ve become. Me! I should’ve called the police when the money disappeared. The same money you used to buy that ring. Now I’m broke, forced to close my business, and you’re moving on.
“Stephanie, we’ve only been together for a short while, but it’s the quality of our time together that makes me feel I’ve known you my entire life. As my soul mate, I can’t think of anyone else to spend the rest of my life with. Will you marry me?”
The yoga classes and the freaking pretzel positions; the five AM jogs on the boring-ass treadmill; the bacteria injected into my face; the rabbit food that left me starving; all of it, for nothing. You still left for someone younger.
Was it because the doctor said I could no longer have children? We would’ve. A son, our son, if I hadn’t continued working to compensate for the missing money.
“Yes, yes, I’ll marry you.”
I thought I was your Dulcinea?
Raul struggled with the ring, so Stephanie helped push the ring pass her knuckle.
Raul Delgado, that will be the last time you humiliate me.
Amidst the applause, whistling, and clanging of glasses, I pulled my SIG P238 out of my purse and shot him.
I’m a terrible shot. I missed Raul, but lucky me, the bullet ricocheted off the congas and hit him, anyway. He now has a permanent limp.
Raul and the bimbo hosted a lavish wedding attended by my traitorous former friends. The newlyweds moved to Scarsdale, and I’m sitting in a six by eight awaiting my mental health evaluation for my insanity defense. I’ll have to live with the pain and humiliation of having lost everything: my love, my child, my money, my business, my friends, my freedom, and my sanity.
I’d be better off dead.