(Editor’s note: This essay contains nude photos)
I ’m in the bathroom of the Airbnb putting on mascara when M, the photographer, arrives. I can hear her talking to J, the man I’m seeing, like they’ve known each other forever, which they have. I can hear the ease in their voices as they murmur to each other, the mention of the names I don’t know, the quick, habitual laughter that only happens between friends. I listen for a minute, my ear to the door. I look at myself in the mirror again, standing in my bra and panties, as if there’s anything I can do now about how I look, as if there’s any chance of getting out of this.
No backing out, I whisper to my reflection. You’re fucking doing this.
I open the door, pop my head out.
Hi, I say. Nice to meet you.
You too, says M. She has an easy smile, one that doesn’t hide her teeth, and she’s dressed in workout clothes. I like her immediately. She looks like the kind of person I’d be friends with, and so I decide I will be. She scans the small basement room, clucking her tongue about the lighting, which is limited to a few bedside lamps. She fiddles with something on her camera and whispers to J, who nods. He has experience with this. He smiles at me, and I smile back. I can’t help myself. M threads the lens onto the camera and looks at me again.
Okay, she says. We’re ready. Time to take your clothes off.
You send me a photo after work. Just a little slice of Miami for you, you say. I make it my Twitter cover photo, the background on my phone. It’s hovering behind my eyes when I close them. I see the coast stretching out endlessly in both directions. I hear the mournful cries of the gulls as they dive for fish, the waves rolling to white noise just beyond the parking lot. The scent of salt is in my nose. Now your arms are around me, your mouth at my ear. I hate the beach, you whisper, and I laugh. But I like you.