An excerpt from the forthcoming novel Normandy Park

I fell in love with a girl once. A brown girl named Cami who everyone said was fourteen going on twenty-five. She was in my freshman Gym class, and her locker was right next to mine. She had this wild mane of fluffy brown hair that could never be tamed, springy curls that went in every direction. I remember watching her in the locker room. She’d take her clothes off right in front of us—t-shirt and shorts, bra and panties. Stripped down nothing, flaunting her pierced nipples as she strutted to the showers, looking every one of us in the eye as she passed, as if she was saying, Watch me. You know you want to.

And I did. I watched her hips sway from side to side, watched that birthmark on her left butt-cheek that looked like a map of Jamaica, and wondered what else she had pierced.

At home sometimes, in the privacy of my bedroom, I pretended to be just like her, undressing in front of the mirror. Imagined that someone was watching me. At first, it didn’t matter who. Could’ve been anyone—the next-door neighbor’s son, who I’d had a crush on since the eighth grade, or Kilo, who’d been my boyfriend on and off for months. But then, that someone was Cami.

Everyone talked about her like they knew her. How she used to go with so and so from Carol City High, or how she hooked up with some guy under the bleachers, or how she dated all these older men no one ever met because they were from out of town, or even how she’d kissed some girl at a party while playing Spin the Bottle and all the boys went crazy.

But to me she was like this mythical creature. Like she had some secret life outside of our Miami Beach neighborhood that I didn’t know about, like she could get out any time she wanted. I used to watch her in the halls, in class, while playing dodge ball in the gym. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

Once, I ran into her in the bathroom next to our American History class. She was putting on eyeliner in front of the mirror, a thick charcoal pencil. She wore a short orange dress and scuffed Doc Martens, and her brown skin was glistening like she’d just massaged lotion all over herself, as if she’d expected to be caught this way. She didn’t even blink when I walked in. She pulled a small pencil sharpener out of her gigantic purse, started sharpening her eyeliner, never taking her eyes off her own reflection. I stood there holding my history textbook like I was hypnotized while she fluffed her hair with both hands.

“You like me,” she said. It wasn’t a question. It was like she knew, even before I did.

“Um… what?”

She wiped the corner of her eye with her pinky. “I can tell.” She grabbed the history book out of my hands, jammed it under the door, and then turned to me, smiling. “I’ve seen you watching me.”

“It’s not what you think,” I said.

She took two steps toward me, and I backed up against the wall. I could smell her hair—tangerine shampoo and cigarettes—and I could make out the T-shaped scar on her left eyebrow, which she’d penciled in with the eyeliner. All I could think about was the smell of piss in the girls’ bathroom, and that a history book couldn’t stop anyone from getting that door open.

And then Cami, this wild girl who couldn’t be tamed, kissed me. On the lips.

And when she slid her hand inside my jeans, I forgot about the history book and the smell of piss, and the world became her lips, her fingers, her hair against the side of my face. She pressed her body against mine, her tongue in my mouth, and I lost myself, my hands pulling on the back of her head, leaving behind the girl I was. I wasn’t her anymore. I was something else. And I finally knew what desire was, the kind I could only know at fourteen, when everything else was uncertain and the only thing I could be sure of was that my world was beginning and ending all at once.

And I knew—just as I’d always known we were only children who were playing at life—that I’d always wanted this.

*

Two weeks later, Cami disappeared.

For months I dreamed about that moment. Dreamed she’d come back. That she’d fall in love with me, and my friends would become her friends, and everyone would be happy. Dreamed she’d come for me at 2:00 AM, throw rocks at my window like they did in the movies, and I’d pull on my Air Jordans and sneak out without leaving a note.

Me and Cami, two wild girls running off into the night.

I sat in the locker room an entire school day once. Skipped all my classes just to sit there, just so I could think of her. I imagined she’d show up at school that day, tell me how much she’d missed me while she was gone. We’d take the Metrobus back to Normandy Park after school. We’d hold hands, watching out the window as Miami Beach passed us by. She would kiss me again, longer that time, and we’d both see that there was an entire world outside of Normandy Park, or Miami Beach, something holding it all together. A place where we’d be free to do what we wanted, where we could be ourselves, and everything would be fine. Because one day we would live in that world.

But Cami didn’t come back to school that day, or any other day.

*

I fell in love with a girl once.

Two weeks later, she disappeared.

JAQUIRA DIAZ is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and the Carl Djerassi Fiction Fellowship at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. Her work has been selected as Notable in Best American Essays, and appears or is forthcoming in Pushcart Prize XXXVII: Best of the Small Presses, The Kenyon Review, The Sun, The Southern Review, and elsewhere.