Havana was always full of the same faces, but the only other pub suitable for us was the Mano de Fatima, and that was a total embarrassment full of spotty kids in fake Philipp Plein tracksuits puffing their chests out and smoking shisha. El Jardin had been closed for two or three weeks, pending investigation after a few violent fights and claims of money laundering, so Havana it was.
The first thing I did was leave my jacket with the DJ. Naturally, everyone was looking at us even though the pub wasn't too full up yet.
"Don't lose it," I yelled over the music. "It's real leather."
He gave me the thumbs-up, staring at my cleavage. My mother wasn't keen on lending me her gold, but I'd managed to nab a thin choker to go with my hoops, and her Gucci watch. She was prone to taking things off and leaving them where they fell for several days, and truth be told she had so much stuff that she wouldn't even notice I was going to keep the choker for myself. It brought to mind one of the many comments my father had made over the years, this one being, "Fuck's sake, Rocio, being married to you is like throwing money into a bottomless well."
I scanned the pub and saw no one new tonight. Like clockwork, my cousin Javi appeared. Steisy and the others were making me wear a pink Happy Birthday banner which clashed horribly with my outfit - I'd drawn the line at the sparkly pink tiara - and he made a beeline over to our sofa and kissed me on each cheek. He loved putting on a show in front of Esme and Afri especially, and loudly told us that if we wanted we could join him at his booth in Portobello after.
Javi was a a wannabe drug dealer too, and it's true he always had money, but it was a mystery where that money came from because he never seemed to work.
"I've got the top floor one," he bragged, tugging at his thick gold chain. "If you all want to come join us."
"It's my birthday today," I replied. "I've got a booth too."
"Happy birthday, prima," he pecked me again on each cheek. "Anything you want, just ask for it. Second bottle's on me."
He left, then Steisy and I made our way out to the terrace for a cigarette and some gossip.
"He's making money lately, your cousin," she said, offering me a Camel.
I lit up. "Mhm, working a lot, I guess."
I felt tense and jumpy, not really paying attention to anything, and when Raúl and his lot walked in it just riled me up a bit more. I didn't think he'd possibly pay Esme or Afri any attention when I was here, but who knew?
Raúl, needless to say, was looking as good as ever tonight, or perhaps even better because I knew what was going to happen later. I smirked.
They came straight toward us.
"Happy birthday," he said again, ruffling my hair. I tried not to flinch; I hated my hair being touched. "Nice banner."
I beamed. "Thanks."
We all went inside. Raúl and his friends crammed along with us on our sofa and somehow I ended up almost sitting on his lap. If anyone saw us, we didn't care, but it was still odd for us to be so indiscreet about it.
But that meant he'd definitely leave Jessenia for me. I was thrilled. I just needed to think about how to ditch Aaron. Ghost him? Tell him I'd heard he'd cheated? Start an argument?
Pubs and clubs were the seedy underbellies and stranger things went on there than what we were doing, so I wasn't too concerned. If someone spent too long in the dingy toilets, they were definitely doing lines. There was always that guy who swore up and down he loved his girlfriend, discreetly inviting his side chick to a drink. There were those two, who'd broken up but were clearly still messing with each other. It was a seething hive of gossip, as primal as something out of a nature program: the females, twerking as low as they could in a modern mating call, the males asserting dominance by inviting the prettiest ones to drinks and shisha, jealous ones sizing each other up.
Things could get nasty quick. All it took was for someone to misinterpret a look, a comment, mistake an elbow for a jab, and the fight would be taken to the terrace. Glasses were liable to fly. That wouldn't happen until closing time, the tensions simmering and bubbling over until they reached boiling point, and we'd be in Portobello by then.
"Picture?" It was the camera guy who took photos of the best-looking partygoers to upload on Havana's Facebook page.
Us girls all stood up and carefully arranged ourselves, Esme and Afri on one side of me and Steisy and Saray on the other. We pursed our lips, placed our hands on our hips and stood to the side. I was the tallest, the prettiest, the curviest one there, with my clashing birthday banner and gold, and I grinned toothily as one two three pictures were snapped in quick succession, happy to be the centre of attention. Tonight was all about me. Nothing could dampen my mood.
Somehow with the ecstasy I'd taken, combined with the copious amounts of alcohol I was currently consuming, time flew. I felt hot sweat on my back and hoped Raúl wouldn't notice later. He kept looking at me as if he wanted to eat me alive, or was it my imagination?
"Let's go," Steisy yelled some time later, and with a jolt I realized it was already three in the morning. People had started filing out, Raúl and his friends amongst them, which was our cue to go. The evening had run away with me - hadn't we just been eating pizza? - and we tottered off to the taxi ranks as quickly as our heels would take us.
"Come on, boss," I said, when the driver said that we couldn't all fit, batting my lash extensions as best as I could. "It's my birthday, do me a favour."
"Alright then," he weakened, staring at my body. "But if the police pull us over it's on you, kid."
Pervy old man.
I slid a ten into his hand and told him to keep the change. Esme lit up a cigarette in the back.
"No smoking in here!" But we coaxed him, insisting that we'd roll the windows down and air the taxi out, no problem, and the driver decided that it wouldn't be worth his while to argue with five drunk girls.
"Kiara, where's your boyfriend?" Saray asked on the way. It took me a few seconds to reply because I'd been ignoring her all night and wasn't expecting the question.
I turned my head hazily. "Marbella."
Turning back round, I felt disgruntled once again. Did she like him or something? No way, she probably just wanted to make some snarky comment about me being with Raúl and not him. It really wasn't my fault that I could get two or more guys while she couldn't get any, though. That was just life.