I smile at her, and she smiles back.
A face I never thought I would see again.
"I missed you."
"I missed you too."
The distance of time mercifully allowing me to forget.
Yet, decides to bring back everything in an instant.
And under new circumstances,
The cruel vision of a garden bursting into life.
"I want to do a photo shoot of my Halloween outfit!"
"Oh? What are you wearing for Halloween?"
"Why not!? :("
"I don't do schoolgirl, yoga at the beach, bloody and gory stuff, train tracks, or graffiti wall stuff. I can recommend other photographers who would love to do the concept though. I'm open for shooting something else, however. I've been meaning to do an outdoor shoot of some sort."
"What if I buy you cheesecake?"
"Is that a yes??"
"Dammit... you know me too well..."
Sisters, Photo Shoot, and Another Round for Everyone
Yara messages me one day.
"My sister is in town, and I would love to do a photo shoot with her! Here is her IG (...), let's shoot!"
That was out of nowhere I say to myself, but I check out her sister's Instagram. What I see surprises me.
"I have a theory," I tell her.
"Yeah? What's that?"
"All women from Ukraine are beautiful. I may have to move there one day."
"Haha! It's nice there. We are usually very family oriented and good cooks (except for me), so you'll love it there."
They arrive at my home on time, and I help them bring their belongings upstairs. I kindly ask Alexa to play some music, and I introduce myself to her sister.
"I'm Ricardo, and it's great to have you here. What's your name?"
"I'm Sofia, and thank you for having us here," with a noticeable smile and a particular accent.
"Ahh, Sofia. Like the capital of Bulgaria?"
"Yes, do you know the area?"
"No, I just used to know someone from Bulgaria, that's all."
They notice Blu's hamster and ask about it.
"It's a Chinese Dwarf hamster."
"Can I hold her?" asks Yara.
"Sure, but I warn you, she bites."
And she opens the cage and reaches her hand inside!
"She bites, don't say I didn't warn you."
"They all bite because they are just trying to defend themselves, once hamsters realize you are not a threat, they won't bite anymore."
So she places her hand next to the hamster. The hamster bites, gently, and continues to sniff her hand. Yara then grabs the hamster, and the hamster tries to free herself. She cups the hamster with both hands and begins to blow hot air into her hands. The hamster attempts to free herself, without biting apparently, but the older sister keeps control of her. The hamster calms down, and after a bit, she is released back into her cage. I'm dumbfounded by what I have just seen and think how incredible this woman is with animals.
I tell the sisters to make themselves at home as I begin to set up the flooring I purchased at Home Depot specifically for this shoot. They walk around, looking at the things that make my home, home. After a bit, they insist on helping, despite my protest. That's when I learned: Ukrainian women are stubborn, in a good way.
We unroll the backdrop that I painted a few weeks ago and tell them how I originally bought one on Amazon.com, but it was terrible. I mention how I offered artists $350 online to make one for me, how that fell through, and how finally I decided to do it myself.
"You painted this?"
"And you have no experience painting?"
"Nope. YouTube helped though."
"Thanks," I reply with a slight sense of embarrassment for some reason.
Once we were done setting up, they begin changing into the many different outfits that were brought. I could not help but notice how fashionable these sisters are. We begin shooting.
I'm making changes on my camera, as Sofia walks unto the set. When I was done making the changes I wanted, I look up and see this.
"Please don't move! Stop smiling, serious face, and hold still!"
She tried hard not to smile, but she eventually got it. I look down at the camera, and go, "Woah!!"
Sofia starts laughing, and says, "I love how excited you get!", in her Ukrainian accent.
"And I love that Ukrainian accent. Keep talking."
Her face turns red.
"No, I have a bad accent," she responds.
I lift my camera again, and we continue shooting.
She is always smiling, so it is a challenge for her to keep a straight face. She also accuses me of being a contributing factor, so I tried to keep a more serious demeanor. It works. And we continue shooting as I begin to love the portraits we start to take.
I was impressed by Sofia's ability to take such strong portraits, and her sister equally impressed me. The color contrasts between the sisters' skin and the tone of the backdrop were nothing but excellent. I see myself getting closer and closer to the ultimate vision I have with hand-painted backdrops with each test shoot I do.
Another Round for Everyone!
We wrap up the shoot late, noticing that none of us ate dinner, I invite the sisters to dinner. Somewhere local.
They say something to each other in Ukrainian, and decline while shaking their heads no towards me.
"You were so amazing today, let us invite you instead!"
"Umm, no it's OK!"
Next thing I know, we are driving to South Beach. I help them carry their belongings to their place. They show me around the apartment, and I am offered a drink while they get ready. I can't help but look around, this... Eastern European feel inside this apartment. It's nice.
We walk towards Espanola Way and make our way to an Italian restaurant. On our way there, Yara is greeted by so many people! It seems like if she knows everyone, people saying hi to her, giving her hugs and kisses on the cheek. Her sister and I joke that she's the mayor of Espanola Way!
"I used to work here, so I know everyone," she says.
It was pretty nice, seeing what I just saw. Yara has that charming personality, and she is just so kind and sweet. It felt nice to be in her presence, for she emitted so many positive vibes, it was insane.
We order drinks. Yara orders a coconut mojito, Sofia.... a sweet drink that's name I forgot, and I ordered Maker's whiskey (after the wine tasted bad).
"On the rocks?" asks the waiter.
"No. Neat please."
"Neat? As in no ice?"
"Only way to drink whiskey, my friend."
He comes back with my whiskey and a glass of ice.
"On the side, just in case," he says. I thanked him and the ice goes unused.
Soon after ordering our drinks, the waiter arrives with a champagne bottle and glasses.
"What's this?" Yara asks, with a smile on her face.
"Compliments of Mario!" says the waiter.
We all look at each other and just smile, thinking what a grand gesture it was.
"He's such a sweetheart," Yana says and proceeds to tell us the story of Mario. The introvert in me begins to wish I was more extroverted, because this vibe, this energy, is soo... how do I describe it... amazing?
"Cheers! For new friendships!"
We look at the menu, and we start ordering. The first thing that arrives are oysters! Funny thing about oysters is that... well... I never tried them before. It just feels weird looking at something slimy and just eating it. I make my confession to the sisters.
"Here, I'll show you how to do this. Just squeeze some lemon on it, put some of this stuff too, and swallow."
"Oh? you don't chew?"
I look towards Sofia, who is already starting to prepare her first oyster for the night.
"Come on, eat up! It's an aphrodisiac!" laughs Yara.
I like oysters :).
The other entrees arrive, and soon after, two good friends of Yara arrive and join us. They just came from dinner from some fancy place (I forgot the name). They are visiting Miami Beach and are staying at The Delano. The two friends appeared madly in love. It was nice seeing how they interacted with each other.
"Boy, we LOVE The Delano, but ever since SBE bought Delano, it's just not the same anymore."
"Why don't you check out The Betsy? It's nearby," I slyly insert.
"The Betsy? We will have to check it out then!"
I loved the service at this place. When we were done, I offered to take the check. So did John, one of the two friends who came to say hi to Yara. Yara insisted that it would be on her, and that none of us will pay. John and I look at each other, and we then insisted we pay.
"Nope! I already paid. Too late," says Yara.
Impressive. I don't see that often these days. What a beautiful caring and giving person.
So an American, a Romanian, a Nicaraguan, and two Ukrainians walk into a Bar
So John says, "Guys, the night is young. Why don't we get drinks somewhere else? Faena? They have a great bar there. I'll order us an Uber!"
"I already ordered one," Yara responds, as she puts the phone away.
It was a weird feeling. Wanting to pay, or even contribute, but being denied and being insisted that the tab is already covered. I'll cover the bar tab at The Faena I decide.
We get to the Faena, and Yara tells Sofia and me that there is a woolly mammoth in the back part of the hotel, that we should check it out. So Sofia and I make our way to display.
Soon after we meet with the rest of the group for another round of drinks. Whiskey again for me, and this time, Yara too orders whiskey. I'm impressed by her choice. Unfortunately, we were not able to stay long, because the bar was closing, so we only had time for one round of drinks. Again, John and I were outmatched and the tab was once again covered. Ugh! Grateful, but still!
We walk towards the pool area of The Delano. I was the IT Director for Delano, and it's sister property for almost 6 years, and I never visited for drinks. Until now. When we get to the pool bar, both bartenders recognize me.
"Hey! What are you doing here!"
Laughs ensue, and drinks began to flow.
"Let's go in the pool!" says Sofia. I take another sip of my drink, curious to see where this leads.
Yara looks at us, and says, "Go in!"
Sofia starts to walk towards the pool. I take another sip of my drink.
Yara asks the bartenders, "Can we get some towels?"
"Yes, of course!"
I look towards Sofia, and her dress falls to her feet. Her body slightly illuminated by the nearby pool lights. Perfection.
"What are you doing?" Yara asks me. "Go in!"
I smile to myself. And in a reckless abandonment of who I usually am, I walk towards the pool, unbuttoning my shirt all the while.
It's never too late to apologize
There will be times when people you care about disappoint you, and those times can hurt. What do you do when this happens to you? If an apology is given to you, and you feel it be sincere, do you still walk away?
In the past, I would. However, I now understand that forgiveness is a beautiful thing. I know so many people that will fight to the bitter end, to prove they are right and forget the big picture. When someone places their ego aside, in search for something bigger than themselves, that is something I inherently respect, admire, and to be honest... value. Even if someone is wrong, the simple act of putting aside what happened for the sake of a friendship/relationship is rare. It's a form of effort, and in the end, that is ALL that matters.
So I chose to forgive her.
That night, after I put my daughter to bed, I sat on my couch, finished my glass of wine, pulled out my phone, and re-read our conversation. And I felt happy.