FROM ‘The Education of Miri Acosta’:
“So, are you going to help me or not?”
“Help you with what, Eduardo?”
“The social media nonsense.”
Miri smiled in spite of her earlier resolution to freeze him out. It was a good thing he couldn’t actually see her smile. It would betray how much of a pushover she was.
After managing to get through the entire Sunday dinner a few days ago without saying more than two dozen words to Duardo, her sense of triumph was almost immediately thereafter supplanted by a very hollow feeling when she recalled that the team was moving to a couple games out West, and she would likely not see him again for several more weeks. Talk about biting off her nose to spite her face.
Each morning since, she woke up pretending she wasn’t hoping he’d texted her, and each lunch hour felt barren and uninteresting. Miri had just about given up hope for their friendship when her phone rang. It was far too late for anyone to be calling unless it was an emergency—well after eleven p.m.—but she hadn’t the willpower to simply ignore him. Back when they’d been actually communicating, when he was away they seldom spoke on the phone, most often connecting by text. The chance to hear his voice, particularly when she wouldn’t see him for so long was too much to pass up, so Miri answered, trying to sound casual, and a little sleepy when neither of those things could be further from the truth.
The truth was, she’d been in bed for well over an hour, with all the lights off save one, and the television on, waiting for the Sandman to show up and lead her to slumber. She’d just about given up on him and was planning to try reading a novel when her phone chimed.
“If you don’t help me, I’ll have to pay a consultant. My agent tells me that’ll run me somewhere around ten thousand.”
“Ten thousand?” Miri sat up in bed, outraged. “That’s ridiculous. No not ridiculous, it’s insane.”
“Well what do I know? I guess I’ll have to pay it. Unless you want to help me out.”
“You don’t need anyone to help you out, Eduardo. A ten-year old can do this stuff. And you must have Facebook, right? And Tumblr? You …”
“No? Not even just for you and your friends back home to keep in touch?”
“Everyone I want to keep in touch with, I keep in touch with. Facebook never made much sense to me. It basically keeps you in touch with people you never made a real effort to see in the real world. And probably for good reasons.”
Miri rolled her eyes. “I love Facebook. And Tumblr, and Instagram, and Snapchat. You get to make your own little virtual village. You admit the people you want in your village and you ignore the ones you don’t want in your village. Social media is one of the most important things to happen in the digital age.”
“You sound like an expert.” There was a smile in his voice. “So you’re the perfect person to help me.”
Miri sighed and leaned back against her pillows once again, resting the phone against her ear. Next to her bed, there was a half empty mug of chamomile tea. Tepid by now, it was supposed to be helping her get to sleep. Now she was grateful it hadn’t worked. But strangely, just hearing Duardo’s voice had settled something for her; she was relaxing and suspected that once their conversation was done, a sound sleep would follow.
“Hey. You still with me?”
Aside from being relaxing, his voice, in her ear while she lay in bed, also made her feel a little naughty, like she was doing something wrong. Miri was suddenly hyperaware of her nipples, and how they felt brushing against the fabric of her tank top. And she had the urge to slide a hand down her stomach, and between her thighs. What if she did? What would it matter? It wasn’t as though he would know what she was doing.
“I’m here,” she said.
“You’re being quiet again,” Duardo said, sounding suspicious. “Like you were last Sunday at your brother’s house. Did I … is something wrong?”
“Something like what?” Miri played with the lacy edges of her underwear. Did she dare?
“Did your brother tell you I talked to him?”
“He did.” Miri slid her hand beneath the waistband of her panties, tentative at first and still hesitant to let the genie out of the bottle with Duardo’s voice in her ear.
“And is that why you …”
“Why I what?”
For the first time in her life, she wondered whether she should wax. Like, wax … completely. Nessa said she did, and that it made sex more pleasurable. Made everything more pleasurable. Of course, Miri had never actually had sex, and had only her imagination to tell her what the “everything” referred to.
“Miri. You sound strange. What’s the matter?”
What was strange was that they had been on the phone for only about five minutes, and yet she was moved just by the sound of his voice to do something that she seldom did otherwise. Now, parting her legs and touching herself, Miri was stunned at how wet she was, how sensitive. She couldn’t do this with him on the phone, because after the lightest touch, she was already having a difficult time remaining completely silent, and not giving in to the urge to moan.
“So?” Duardo prompted.
“So … what, Eduardo?”
“Stop calling me that,” he said, sounding somewhat testy.
“Calling you what?” she laughed lightly. “Your name?”
“You stopped calling me ‘Eduardo’ since the second time I laid eyes on you. Now all of a sudden you address me the way my parish priest would?”
If Miri didn’t know better, she would think he was upset with her. But why? Moments before, he seemed fine. And besides he was the one who was out carousing with blondes in short skirts. But she wouldn’t think about that right now, it would upset her groove and the slick, slow rhythm she was beginning to establish with her right hand. Slowly, her eyes fell shut as she moved her fingers in circles, stroking herself. A slight moan escaped her lips and she held still for a moment, waiting to see whether he had heard it, and would react.
“Okay, it’s late,” he finally conceded. “I just want to know whether you’ll do the social media set-up for me. Just tell me that much and I’ll let you get off.”
Miri couldn’t help it. She erupted in surprised laughter, halting her motions for a moment because if she kept it up, she really would get off.
“What the hell is so funny?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all. Yes, I’ll do the social media set-up for you. Although it’s really idiot-proof and if you just took a couple hours, you could do all of it yourself. The hardest part will be gathering all the images you have on your various devices, and …”
“I don’t have time for that.”
“You literally could have done some of it in the time it took us to have this conversation.”
“And what if I just wanted to have the conversation?” he asked. “What if the social media stuff is only part of the reason I called?”
Miri opened her eyes and froze for a moment. “So I didn’t scare you off by being so mean on Sunday?” she asked, before she could consider the wisdom of the question.
This time it was Duardo’s turn to laugh. “Last Sunday, that was you ‘being mean’?”
Well, as mean as she could manage, anyway.
“Why?” Shit. Now what was she going to say? That she saw a picture of him with the blonde and was jealous?
Jealous. Yes. That was what she was. She’d seen a picture of Duardo with a woman he was more than likely involved with, and it made her positively green. The woman-in-the-little-white-dress probably didn’t need to surreptitiously touch herself while listening to Duardo’s voice from across the country. The woman-in-the-little-white-dress had probably experienced Duardo’s fingers doing to her what Miri now had to do for herself.
There it was. Thinking of him with someone else made her … jealous. Now what the hell was she going to do about it?
“You’re right,” she said quickly. “It is late. And I have work tomorrow, so how about we talk later this week about getting you plugged in?”
“Hey, wait a minute. I want to know why you were …”
“We’ll talk again soon, okay?”
He said nothing in response, but in the silence, she could feel his displeasure.
“One thing I need you to do though?” she said.
“While you’re away, take pictures. Places you go, things you see, even meals you eat. Take pictures with your phone and then save them for when I see you next, okay?”
“Sure. But wh…”
“Duardo. I really do have to get some rest.”
Miri ended the call before he could get another word in, and quickly shut off her bedside light, sliding even deeper under the covers as though hiding. And then for good measure, she turned off her phone. It took her a few minutes, lying there in the dark, to admit that there was no way she would fall off to sleep unassisted.
Sighing, Miri reached down once again, closed her eyes and summoned the image of Duardo’s tanned arms, the outline of his muscles under a grey t-shirt—for some reason he favored grey—and the look he sometimes gave her that almost fooled her into thinking that he wanted her too.