She was late. Again.
Miri Acosta looked down at her outfit and cursed herself for not leaving enough time to change. Taking a deep breath, she rang the bell and waited, praying that her sister-in-law would be the one to answer the door. Hearing the steps approaching inside, making clicking noises on the terrazzo tiles, Miri exhaled in relief. Only a woman’s shoes would make that sound, so she was safe.
Her sister-in-law Dylan pulled her in to a tight hug and then held her at arms’ length to look her over.
“Shh,” Miri said, putting a finger over her lips before she could say anything more. “I need to borrow a top or something before I go in and see everybody.”
It was only then that Dylan seemed to truly take in what Miri was wearing—skintight jeans and an equally snug white sequined tank with black stilettos.
“Where the heck are you coming from at this time of the afternoon looking like that?” Dylan asked. “Were you …?”
“Shh!” Miri said again. Grabbing her sister-in-law’s hand she pulled her toward the staircase opposite the front door.
The entire family would be out back, everyone talking and laughing, waiting for Sunday dinner to be served in the large formal dining room. Except that the Acostas didn’t do formal, so now it was just the ‘family dining room’, or at least that’s what Miri’s eldest brother Mark liked to call it.
“Your brother would …”
“I know what he would,” Miri said as she and Dylan ascended the stairs. “That’s why I need you to loan me something to wear.”
“What have you been doing?”
“I haven’t been doing anything. Just out with friends, that’s all.”
“Do you need to take a shower or anything?”
Dylan led her into the large master suite. The home, which her brother and Dylan had purchased shortly after Mark signed with the Mets, was stunningly beautiful, and conveniently large. So Miri would have no problem showering, getting cleaned up and dressed in something more appropriate to face her three brothers, parents and whomever they’d invited over this time for the customary family Sunday dinner.
“Anyone else down there today?” Miri asked as she sat on the edge of the bed, peeling off her jeans.
“The new guy on the team. Mark invited him over because he’s got no family in the States. You know …”
“Lemme guess,” Miri said rolling her eyes. “Some nice Dominican country boy?”
Dylan laughed. “Something like that.” She stood in front of the mirror and fussed with her shoulder-length, wildly curly hair, twisting and releasing it so that it exploded in a mass about her face once again.
Miri watched her. Dylan was always fussing with her hair. Miri had a suspicion that what she really wanted was to chop the whole thing off. But she never would because Mark liked it. And what Mark liked, Dylan tried to comply with. As much as Miri loved and respected her brother, and adored her sister-in-law who was more like a best friend, their traditional man-wears-the-pants marriage was precisely what Miri didn’t want for herself. If in fact she ever decided to get married. The jury was still out on that question.
In her time at Columbia a lot had changed for Miri. Even though she was just barely a year out of university, she was determined never to lose those parts of herself she found while there—the independent, assertive and opinionated young woman she’d never dreamed she was at heart. If her family had anything to say about it, she would get a nice, not-too-challenging career, meet a nice Dominican man and settle down to pop out some babies.
Well, they wouldn’t have anything to say about it. Or that was Miri’s plan anyway.
“Where’s Jordan?” Miri asked once she was undressed. “If she isn’t downstairs, I want to kiss her before I jump in the shower.”
“Downstairs, attached to her father probably,” Dylan said shaking her head.
Dylan and Mark’s three-year old, Jordan was Miri’s only niece. Her other brother Peter had a son, Pedro, who was about to turn five. Her third brother Matt, Peter’s twin had no kids. He was the consummate bachelor and black sheep of the family. Black sheep because they had no idea what Miri had been up to, anyway. By Dominican standards, they were a small family. With four kids, all of age, Miri’s parents were beginning to yearn for a houseful of grandchildren as much as they doted on the two they already had.
“Okay, so I’ll clean up and meet you down there. Just tell them I needed to make a phone call or something. I won’t take too long.”
Dylan gave her a look, which Miri knew meant that she hated to lie to everyone. Dylan and Mark’s marriage had been through a baptism of fire in her brother’s rookie year in the league and now they were one of those sickening couples everyone hated, who had no secrets and told no lies. If coupledom were something she aspired to, Miri supposed that in that respect at least, she wouldn’t mind being like them.
“Be quick about it,” Dylan said. “Or soon your mother’s going to come looking for you.”
After she’d showered, Miri found a pair of jeans in Dylan’s closet and an appropriately chaste white blouse and grey cardigan to wear over it. Though they wore the same numerical size, Dylan’s clothing felt roomy on her slender frame and Miri wished for the millionth time that she wasn’t quite so sylphlike, and that she might wake up one morning having grown boobs and a nice round booty like Dylan’s. Men liked that, and for sure her brother couldn’t seem to keep his hands off Dylan’s.
Raking a comb through her long auburn hair, Miri found a few bobby pins to secure it at her nape, and borrowed one of Dylan’s lipsticks in a muted coral shade. Checking in the mirror once more, she grimaced at her reflection. She looked eighteen again. Like the innocent, sweet-as-pie girl from the South Bronx that she used to be. The image didn’t bother her so much, except that it wasn’t true of who she was anymore. She just wished she had the guts to apprise everyone in her family of that fact.
Look at me! I’m all grown up now! She sometimes wanted to yell the words out loud. But they were so invested in the image in the mirror that Miri doubted they would hear her even if she did.
Making her way downstairs and toward the back of the house where her family was gathered, Miri heard their voices as she went. Her father’s and Mark’s, Peter’s and Matt’s, Dylan’s and that of Xiomara, Peter’s wife. And as a backdrop, there were the squeals from her niece and nephew who loved each other like siblings.
At the door to the veranda, Miri paused and scanned the faces of the people she loved so much, recalling in an instant that no matter how she complained about them all, she loved them fiercely and knew they loved her back just the same. Why else would she eschew every single Sunday afternoon activity her friends tried to tempt her into just to come all the way up here to Westchester to be treated like an infant?
Today, following their long night of clubbing in the Village, Miri’s friends were on a quest to get cupcakes at some new bakery in Midtown that was rumored to have revolutionized ‘the art of the cupcake.’ That’s what her friend Vanessa had called it—“the art of the cupcake.” Nessa was everything Miri hoped to be, if she could just find the room to pull it off—the quintessential New York It-Girl with the beautiful hair, chic clothes and living in a hip neighborhood.
But of course, Nessa was free to reinvent herself. Her family was safely in Nebraska somewhere, and needn’t know that their sweet Vanessa had cut her hair short, pierced her navel and wore black lipstick. The third in their little crew was Marisol, a mouthy Nuyorican who like Miri had to live a double-life just to avoid friction with her family. Still, as much as Miri loved those girls she loved these people more—this maddening group of people who any minute now would notice she was there and start prying into her business, asking questions about her whereabouts that she would have to evade.
But they didn’t notice she was standing there. At least not at first. Instead someone else noticed. Sitting at the edge of the crowd, wearing a white linen short-sleeved shirt and loose khaki pants was a stranger. The country boy Miri presumed. But far from countrified and unsophisticated, he was, well, stunning—a deep, dark, brown complexion with curly, coal-black hair, his quiet and stillness stood out among the noisy Acosta brood. And yet he seemed perfectly comfortable, one leg resting on the other ankle to knee, leaning back in his chair, a slight smile on his lips as though enjoying the warmth, family and fellowship.
Or at least that was what Miri thought he was enjoying until she realized she was staring directly at him, her mouth not completely closed.
His smile widened as he took her in, and his eyebrows inched upward.
Was he amused at her expense? Miri bristled at the thought, forcing herself to clamp her mouth shut, and then slightly jutting out her chin, refusing to be intimidated by his beauty.
A voice at her ear startled her, and Miri jumped. It was Dylan. She had approached and was inches away without Miri even noticing.
“So,” she said. “I see you’ve spotted ‘Duardo.”