Chapter 1: Vizcaya

Chapter 1: Vizcaya

A Chapter by Lina Rivera

The first chapter of my novel, Vizcaya, now available on!





 forgot to do my Chem homework last night. That was a first for me because if there was anything in the world I had mastered, it was the art of making sure I got my homework done on time. I couldn't believe I forgot to do it. I woke up this morning and got dressed in my new peach-pink-leather skirt and my oh-my-god-I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-cashmere turtleneck. I blow-dried and twisted my long blond hair into a don’t-be-jealous style that left it shiny and full of body. I was checking myself one more time in the mirror when I realized I forgot to do the assignment for school.

“Nikki,” said my mother’s voice from the hallway, “I’ll be late coming home tonight so make sure and get yourself some dinner.”

I opened the door and looked at my mother. She was digging through her purse, probably searching for her car keys. “Hey, Mom, I forgot to do my Chem homework.”

“Tell your teacher that you’ll turn it in late,” she said as she left. The careless slam of the front door reverberated around the house. I stood still and considered this option. My Chem teacher was tough, but he was harder on the kids who never tried. I tried. I tried harder than anyone else in that class.

I grabbed my peach-colored oversized purse, which doubled as a schoolbag, and checked that it had all the essentials: Hello Kitty notebooks; multi-colored Gel-tastic pens in every pastel shade available; my sunglasses; my school-issued homework planner; a pack of gum; my pink cell phone; and, most importantly, my lip-smacking berry berry strawberry flavored lip gloss. Using the house key that I kept on a long silver chain around my neck, I locked the door.

I didn’t walk down the sidewalk to the bus stop"I strutted. That wasn’t my fault. I had been born with my strut. My head was always held high, my chest was always pushed out, and my tall legs carried themselves in a quick, but confident, stride that had nothing to do with me.

The air was a bit muggy, and I could sense the sea salt lift up from the ocean and frolic around the neighborhood. It was Miami in October, and things were starting to get cool, but not cool enough to complain about it being cold.

“Hey, Nikki,” said Elvis. Elvis was a fellow sophomore and lived three houses from me. Unlike the obvious assumption that he was named after Elvis Presley, his real name was Edgar. He had gotten his nickname a few years ago when he auditioned for a Latin boy band. He had selected a song by the Puerto Rican merengue singer Elvis Crespo. Although his voice was flawless, I could’ve told him he wasn’t going to make it based on his looks alone. Elvis didn’t look like a Latin boy band member. He looked more like a Latin Bill Gates.

“Hey, Elvis.”

“You look really nice today.”

“Thanks, Elvis.”

“You look so nice that I think you should let me take pictures of you today after school.”

I gave Elvis the kind of look that any self-respecting girl gives a guy who stares at her chest instead of her face when she asks him a question. “I don’t think so.”

“Not like that,” Elvis quickly covered. “You know, at Vizcaya, since we have to go for our project.”

Oh right. I had forgotten about that. First Chem and now Vizcaya? Where was my head? I had completely forgotten about the ridiculous art project. Whose idea was it to take art in the first place? Oh right"Diego’s.

“Well, you know I’m always ready for my close up.” I tossed my hair and gave him a big toothpaste commercial grin.

Elvis got too excited and started talking about the kind of shots he wanted to take. He lost me at angles and lighting. I tuned him out and looked at my cell phone to see if Diego had called me. Who was I kidding? Diego probably wasn’t even up yet.





Whenever I looked in the mirror, I always saw my dad. Straight hair that fell in short spikes like pine needles overhanging a branch. Sharp turquoise-water eyes that were gem-like and unnatural peeked out from under full eyebrows. His hawkish nose, his subtle jaw line, and his olive skin that turned bronze in the glare of the Miami sun. It was never me in the mirror, always him, always the one man that I had never seen with my own eyes.

I rinsed out the toothpaste that was in my mouth and turned the water off before I took one last look at myself. My mother said that the best thing that ever happened to me was my dad leaving us. She never mentioned if this was the best thing that had ever happened to her too.

I threw on a navy-blue polo and some worn jeans and looked at the time. I was late to first, but that wasn’t a surprise. They knew better than to expect me before third. I grabbed my backpack and slid my cell phone open to see several missed text messages from Nikki.

I had kissed Nikki over the summer at an illegal bonfire on the beach and we had been together ever since. I didn't mind when she got on my case about things like being late or not doing my homework. I liked that someone was around to help me do whatever was expected of me. She was probably the only reason I bothered to show up to school at all.

I strolled into the kitchen to get a Pop-Tart and found a note from my mother saying that she’d be staying at Chris’s place. Chris was her boyfriend, and he had never been over to the house. My mother was like that. She would never do anything that made her look bad in front of me, and somehow she thought that this would make her look bad. I couldn’t even judge if I liked the guy or not because she kept him far away. Maybe she hoped that if I didn’t see him, then I wouldn’t think he existed. That hadn’t worked with my dad, and it wasn’t about to work with her boyfriend either.

“Hi, Diego,” said our neighbor, Mr. Alvarez. He was an older man, maybe in his sixties, and he had a wife and lots of children who liked to visit with their lots of grandchildren. He was finishing up watering his lawn, making sure to get it done before the hot sun torched the water into nonexistent gases.

“Hey, Mr. Alvarez.”

“You’re late again? Let me drive you.” He started rolling up the garden hose into a precise coil.

Mr. Alvarez liked to assume the role of father to me. He knew my mother worked all day and rarely came home at night, and somehow he had gotten it into his head that I needed a guardian. “I’m alright. I’m catching the bus.”

“That will take too long.”

“I’m already late; it won’t matter.” I walked quickly so that Mr. Alvarez didn’t have time to go into motion and talk me out of it. I liked taking the city bus. Every now and then, I’d get off before school, and sometimes, I’d stay on it after it passed the school. When I skipped, I usually liked to go down to the beach and draw the people playing on the shore. Occasionally, I went to my cousin's house to shoot some hoops. Billy always had an article to write for some magazine, but he loved to procrastinate just as much as I did. Today, I got off at the school stop and signed myself in.

“Tardy again, Diego?” the front office secretary said as she pushed the clipboard toward me.

There was no point in answering the obvious. I signed the tardy log and took the pass she gave me. As I walked toward what was left of my second period class, I got a text message from Nikki. I slid my phone open again to read what it said: u here yet? I texted her back.





The dress was indicative of autumn. The copper gown had a burnt orange overlay that helped the satin shine against the contrasting piece. It made my naturally tan skin glow, my brown eyes glisten, and my long black curls shine against the warm hues. Mami had paid a seamstress a lot of money to make this dress. It was a “one of a kind,” designed by me and Mami, and it fit my body perfectly. I had waited fifteen years for this moment, for this chance to parade around the Vizcaya gardens in my beautiful Quinceañera dress. I always felt like a princess, but today was the day that I finally got to play the part.

The photographer Mami had hired was a family friend who had shot celebrities for really big magazines like Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone. Today I was the celebrity. I stood by the gazebo with Biscayne Bay as the backdrop. Sunshine filled the sky, and the water reflected the blue of the heavens. The marble breakwater sat to the left of me, offsetting the otherwise monotonous seascape.

I worried for a moment that my autumn dress would clash with what appeared to be a perfect summer day, but I knew that the photographer would make it work. That was his job after all. Mami fussed over the dress and knelt down to place it so that everything about the picture would be flawless. I put my hand on my hip to prepare my pose as Mami stood and fixed my curls so they draped over my shoulder in a way she had probably seen in the fashion magazines she subscribed to.

The photographer liked to say kind and encouraging things like, “You look beautiful, you have a face the camera loves, turn a little to the side, that’s it, it’s perfect.” I always followed instructions well. Plus, this hadn’t been the first time I had posed for professional pictures. When I was nine years old, Mami took me to an audition for a Latin sitcom that was filming in Miami. I got the part and sat in for several photo shoots worth of promotion. Unfortunately, the sitcom never aired.

Papi was standing behind the photographer, talking on his cell phone. He was always taking important business calls. “How many pictures do we need of her in front of the water?”

“We can’t waste this view while the sun is cooperating.” Mami inspected my face to see if any of the lipstick or mascara needed reapplying.

The sun was cooperating a little too much. I could feel the heat soak through my scalp. My dark hair was like a sponge for the sun’s rays. There was only a light breeze coming off the bay to help matters.

“It would probably go quicker if you stopped primping her after every shot,” Papi said. He probably wanted to get out of the sun’s rays, as well. “She looks perfect. Just let the man do his job so we can hurry this up.”

“Hurry this up?” Mami said with indignation. “This is one of the most important moments of your daughter’s life and you want to hurry it up?”

My parents always did this. They used me as an excuse to fight about things. They liked to fight"it’s what kept their marriage going.

When the view of the bay was exhausted, we finally moved to the gardens on the grounds. I walked with my hands hoisting the skirt of my dress, afraid that it would get scratched against the rough stones of the archways and gates that led to the fountains between the main villa and the large mound that served as the grand highlight of the gardens.

I was not the only girl having my picture taken today. It was traditional for many girls to take their “Quince” pictures here. While I kept my mouth shut, Mami had no problem comparing their dresses to mine.

“It’s ill fitted on that girl. She went traditional, how boring. I can’t believe her mother paid for that dress.” And on the criticisms came.

Young girls playing the part of princesses for the day weren’t the only people who were there posing for photographs. There were many tourists, of course, and many locals as well, enjoying a calm October afternoon and being inspired by the lavishness of the grounds. I passed by a blonde in a peach skirt as she pretended to look studious for a boy who was entertaining himself by eagerly photographing her. The girl looked up at me and for a split second we made eye contact. Then she looked back down at her sketchbook and I walked straight ahead.

“In front of the fountain,” Mami said, “Before that girl gets over here.” That girl was another Quince girl in a light blue gown that looked like a poufy, dyed wedding dress. I quickly stood before the fountain, and Papi paced behind the photographer as he spoke firmly to whomever was on the other line.

Once again, Mami fixed my dress and my hair, and I posed in a contemplative form, then with my head bowed, then looking off to the side, then looking straight ahead where I made eye contact once again. Only this time, I stared at a boy around my age in jeans and a T-shirt. He was seated on the steps of the south façade of the villa, drawing in a sketchbook, and his eyes were the color of Biscayne Bay.





This wasn’t the first time I had sketched Vizcaya. Several art camps and summer art programs made it a point to bring us here, and over the course of my fifteen years, I had managed to document the gardens and architecture with my pens, pencils, charcoals, and chalk. Today I was focusing on the perspective of the fountain that converged to the concrete mound. I had drawn this many times before, but I never felt that I had drawn it in a way that meant anything or brought anything to the image. Nikki said I was just a perfectionist, but she didn’t understand that anyone could draw this scene. I wanted to draw it in a way that was special.

Nikki was on a bench by one of the gates, having chosen to focus her drawing on one of the many Roman statues that lined the fountain garden. Elvis was foregoing drawing for an impromptu photo shoot. I already knew that Elvis would be nice enough to give me some pictures without my asking, but he’d keep his favorite one just for himself.

Many people passed in front of my line of sight, but they didn’t distract me from the overall composition. I had this view memorized. Maybe that’s why I was startled by the girl who stood there now, in front of the fountain. She pretended to look away in thought. Many girls in gaudy and over-exaggerated dresses had stopped there to take pictures, but none of them looked like this. Most of the girls carried themselves in a way that made it obvious that this was a special moment, something they would only do once in their lifetime. This girl carried herself in a way that made it seem like this happened all the time. Of course she’d be wearing a dress like this for a photo shoot. Of course she belonged in the pristine gardens and in the villa inspired by Italy. Of course she’d be on the bay that had a coveted view for so little of the residents of this city. At that moment, this girl was Vizcaya.

I quickly turned the page of my sketchbook and began rendering her. Her body was trim, and her curves subtle but evident. Her dress draped her body, creating a seamless form of a young woman with a small waist and ideally proportioned hips. Her hair was magnetic as it captured each ray of the sun, causing the black to have various shades of shine and luster. Her face was soft and round. Her brown eyes were narrow, and her nose was proportionate to the overall structure of her face. It was easier to draw her features than the dress, and I quickly sketched the latter while trying to have my fingers deftly document as much of her natural attributes as possible.

When the shoot was done, she walked in my direction with her entourage. She delicately lifted the skirt of the dress as she walked up the steps. I did not break my gaze on her as I watched her move closer. Our eyes locked as she reached the steps on which I sat. She glanced down to my lap where she saw the sketch I had made.

Her eyes narrowed even more, and then she looked at me. “Did you draw me?” She had a strong voice. I had been expecting her voice to be soft like the gardens where she posed.

“I did,” I answered.

“Who said you could draw me?”

“Who said you could pose for me in front of my gardenscape?”

“I don’t see a garden in that drawing.”

I turned the page back to my garden drawing for her benefit.

“Happy birthday by the way.” It was obvious that was what the photos were for.

“Thanks, it’s not until Friday,” she said, “But my actual party is on Saturday.”

“Nelli,” the woman that had just caught up to her said.

I judged by the matching dark hair, matching narrow eyes, and slightly older countenance that this was her mother. “Apúrate, we don’t have much time before the sun starts going down.”

“I have to go,” Nelli said.

“I’ll be here,” I said.

She looked at me unsure of how to respond to that and then turned to follow her mom up the rest of the stairs. I looked down at the sketch and then back toward my view that now seemed empty. I tried to focus on turning my attention back to depicting the garden, but now my vision of it had been shattered. I couldn’t visualize it anymore without her standing there.

I waited patiently for her to pass beside me again. When she did, she hunched down and took my pencil out of my hand then wrote her name and email address on the picture.

“Nelli,” I observed, “with an i.”

“It’s short for Minnelli,” she said holding out the pencil firmly for me to take back from her. “Like Liza.”

“Who’s Liza?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “My Quince is on Saturday, but my friends are throwing me a huge after party. You should be there. What’s your name?”

“His name is Diego,” Nikki said, and I wondered when she had approached and how much she had overheard. Nikki hunched down on the other side of me and looked directly at Nelli, “You don’t mind if I come along do you?”

Nelli looked at me, waiting for an explanation.

“This is my girlfriend Nikki,” I provided. “Nikki, this is Nelli.”

“Nice to meet you,” Nelli said to Nikki without missing a beat. “Of course you can come. The more the better, right? Just email me and I’ll give you the info.” Nelli got up and went down the steps to meet with the photographer.

I looked down at the drawing and then at Nikki who looked at the drawing, as well.

“I’m ready when you are,” Nikki said standing up. Elvis ran up the steps to meet us, as if afraid that the caravan would leave without him. I stood up as well and took one last look at Nelli in front of the fountain. She didn’t look my way again.





Diego always reminded me of those commercials where the guy would spritz on some cologne and girls would look and fall out of their chairs as he walked by. Only Diego didn’t need any spritzing to make this happen. I’ve known Diego since middle school and became his friend because I was the only girl who seemed to be able to speak around him. The other girls tended to become silent and turn around to their friends when he walked by only to oh-my-God-squeal-and-eek.

“Wanna get off at the next stop to get food?” Diego said on the bus. I shook my head. It was a formality on his part. I knew that he wanted to get home so he could lock himself in his room and draw “Nelli” to his heart’s content. What kind of a name was Nelli anyway?

“Are you really going to email her and go to this party?” Yes, Nikki. Yes he was.

“Maybe. You wanna go?”

No, I didn't want to go. “Sure, we can go. She looked pretty loaded. I bet she lives on Star Island or something.”

“I guess we’ll find out.”

I opened my school planner and wrote Nelli’s name on Saturday's square with my fluffy-top, purple pen. My planner only had school-related things in it, so it was kind of nice to put something in it that pertained to the outside world. I usually didn’t remember that it existed.

“Can I come, too?” Elvis asked. He turned to face us from the row in front of us.

“Sure,” I said before Diego could answer. “She did say the more the better.”

“Can I tell my mom that I’m staying at your house?” Elvis tried with a puppy-dog look.

I shook my head knowing that Diego was smirking by my side.

“But that’s the only excuse that may work. She won’t let me go to a party if I don’t lie to her.”

“Sorry, Elvis,” I said.

“You could tell her that you’re staying at my house,” Diego offered but Elvis looked resigned.

“She would never let me stay with you. She thinks you’re a bad influence.”

I laughed, and Diego poked me on the side, which caused me to laugh more. Elvis looked amused, which made me feel better about not covering for him. It would just take one paranoid phone call from his mom to mine to incriminate us both.

As the bus ride continued and the piss smell of the humid seats behind us began to make me nauseous, I caught Diego glancing at his drawing of Nelli. The potholes, sharp turns, and abrupt starts and stops couldn’t distract him from looking at her image, nor could they distract me from looking at him looking at her image.

Diego had drawn me only once before, and that was because I had asked him to. I had wanted to give a drawing of me to my mom for Mother’s Day one year and Diego had done an exact rendering of each and every feature I had to offer. It was a great drawing. My mom had it framed and kept it in her bedroom.

Diego had never asked to draw me again, and he had never asked for a replica of the drawing. It was apparent now that he had never looked at me quite in the way he looked at her. I know that Diego felt our relationship was casual, but he was the only boy I had eyes for. I had never really thought that someone would come along and make me think that the feeling wasn’t mutual. At that moment I knew that our love story fell apart when he saw her. But then again, maybe that’s when it really began.

© 2012 Lina Rivera

Author's Note

Lina Rivera
This is a sneak peek, first chapter look, at my novel Vizcaya. It's now available on! So if you liked what you read, go to amazon and grab a copy, and see what happens next!

For more information on my novel, check out the official website:

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Added on March 7, 2012
Last Updated on March 7, 2012
Tags: vizcaya, young adult, coming of age, literary, miami