The Muse entered first, gesturing with her thumb back at me over her shoulder. "Somebody doesn't know how to read a map." We entered Miranda's living room, and she and I regarded one another awkwardly for a moment, it being the first time we had met in person. "Just hug each other and get it over with," the Muse said. "It's not like you don't actually know one another."
Miranda--much taller than I had imagined, nearly my own height--put her arms around me, and I did the same to her. We gave each other a brief squeeze, and she started to move back, but I gave her a tighter snug and held her fast. "It's so nice to actually be here," I said. "I was beginning to wonder if you really existed or not." I released her, and instantly the Muse had taken my place in her embrace, and planted a kiss on both of Miranda's cheeks. "He might be too shy to smooch you," she said, "but I'm not. It's about time we got together!"
"Oh, so sweet," Miranda said, smiling. She returned the Muse's kisses, and nodded toward the sofa at the far end of her living room. "Sit down. Relax. You guys want something to drink? Some water?"
The Muse shook her head, and I said, "No, thanks. I've been sucking at soda for the past eight hours. More fluid is the last thing I need." I sat on the sofa and the Muse plopped next to me. Miranda took the chair next to us.
"Okay," the Muse said. "I have no idea where he is sleeping tonight," and she pointed at me, "but I am sleeping someplace where I can stare at you all night long. You're even more gorgeous in person than in your pictures."
Miranda laughed and turned her face away, covering her mouth with her hand. "You're just as bad as he makes you out to be."
The Muse nodded. "I'm a letch. Get used to it."
"She is," I said. "I can vouch for that."
Miranda pointed from her chair, giving us the tour without getting up. "Kitchen is there, but there's nothing in it right now. The bathroom is right down the hall. I left the light on so you can see it." She pointed to a doorway with a beaded curtain hanging across it. "That's my bedroom. I've got an extra bed in there, so Muse can sleep with me." To me, she said, "The couch doesn't fold out, but it's comfy anyway. I've got extra pillows and a blanket."
"I'll be fine," I said. "I'm so tired I could sleep on the floor."
"Well, I'm not that tired," the Muse said. "I'd much rather sleep in a bed, thank you very much." She lowered her voice and said conspiratorially, "He snores like a lawn mower. You'd never get any sleep with him in there."
"And you'll never get any sleep in there with the Muse," I said, "for all sorts of reasons. Watch your back, is all I'm going to say."
The Muse snorted. "Whatever. I'm going to go get some jammies on. You two entertain yourselves while I'm gone." She got off the sofa and grabbed the smaller of her bags, heading with it off to the bathroom.
"She's not actually going to try anything," I said. "She's all talk, mostly."
"I'm not worried," Miranda said. "I've got a rape whistle. If you hear it, come running."
"If I don't hear it, I might come running more quickly. The Muse is tricky. She'll have your pants off in less than fifteen minutes."
"I sleep naked. It won't be much work."
"Thanks for that image, babe. Appreciate it."
"You're so very welcome. Glad I could please." She curled her legs up underneath her. "It's so weird having you actually here."
I nodded. "I know what you mean. I mean, we've talked online, we've talked on the phone, for how long now?"
"About six months, I think."
"Right. So we've got all these images in our heads we've got to work around, all the ways we think we should be or seem or act. Now it's in person, and we just have to be us. It's sort of like we were acting before, but now the masks are off and we have to actually exist."
"Totally," Miranda said. "I think we'll make it somehow, though. Like Muse said, it's not like we don't actually know each other."
The Muse came out of the bathroom, dressed in a tank top and loose cotton shorts. "I hear myself being quoted out here. It's going to cost someone a nickel in royalties."
"You can take it in trade," Miranda said.
The Muse flopped back beside me on the sofa. "Ooh! She can dish it out as well as take it." To me, she said, "You might have to go on the rest of the trip without me. I might just move in with her for a while."
"I doubt she's done enough evil in her life to justify that punishment, Muse."
"My kind of punishment," Miranda said.
"Be careful what you ask for," I said. "One morning I woke up and found out she'd written "The Muse was here" all over me in Sharpie."
The Muse kicked me. "Hey, at least I didn't write it on your forehead. You couldn't see anything when you were dressed."
"Did I mention that she knew I was having a physical that morning?" I said. "I'm pretty sure my doctor thought I was a complete freak."
"She's a doctor," the Muse said. "Of course she knows you're a freak. She's had schooling."
"I can't believe you two," Miranda said. "I didn't think you guys would actually be like this in person. I figured there was some artistic license going on in the writing."
Muse leaned toward her and put her hand on Miranda's knee. "Baby, you have no idea. None at all."
Miranda patted the Muse's hand. "I think I'm going to get a little schooling myself before you two leave."
"And that," I said, getting to my feet, "is my cue to go get some jammies on myself. I think I'm going to start getting dizzy from all the girl tension in the room."
Miranda stood as well. "I'll have some pillows and a blanket out here when you get back. I'm beat, and I'm going to have to get some sleep. I'm off all weekend though, so we can do something while you're here."
"Sounds good," the Muse said. "Entertain me. I'm easily distracted by shiny things."
"Believe her," I said. "She really is."
Miranda chuckled softly, her voice thick and heavy (not just from her sleepiness; she has one of the most sensual voices of anyone I know). "I think I've got a few shiny things to keep her busy with."
I picked my backpack from the floor and slung it over my shoulder. "Muse. Hands off the hostess while we're here. I didn't let you come along to seduce my friends."
"Oh, I don't need to use my hands, darling," she said. "You know that."
"No comment, piggy," I said. "Just behave yourself."
"Never," the Muse said.
"Remember," Miranda said to me. "Just in case."
I nodded. "Whistle, right."