She’s right, of course, but even now, the way I can’t take my eyes off him, I feel like a stalker. I already know so much about his schedule—I saw him just this morning, after all—and I know even more now. Is this the kind of thing he does when he’s not busking? Good Lord. Maybe this is why there’s such a fire to his playing at the station; he has to physically force this music out of his head.
The song ends and the lead singer slips his mic into the stand, muttering that they’re taking a break before smashing his bottle of Rolling Rock to his lips and triumphantly draining it.
I’m out of my chair before I know what I’m doing. People shuffle back to their seats to refuel on bad beer, and the lights go up just enough that I see Calvin disappear into the shadows and reappear a moment later at the opposite side of the bar.
Whereas the rest of the band is a veritable cover spread of 1980s fashion don’ts, Calvin is in a black T-shirt, with the hem tucked lazily into the front of his dark jeans. He’s wearing his black boots, too, and the left one is presently propped on the brass rail near his feet. The bartender places a dark beer in front of him and he lifts it, staring ahead.
I’m not sure how to approach him, and he still hasn’t seen me standing a few feet away. Saying his name somehow feels sincerely weird, so I square my shoulders and slide onto the barstool beside him.
Only once I’m seated do I register that there were about ten other women working up the nerve to do the same thing, coming at him from all angles. He turns slowly, like this happens at every set break and he’s never sure what manner of companion he’s going to end up with.
But when our eyes meet, he startles, face immediately relaxing into a genuine smile. “Hey, it’s the girl from the Netherlands.”
And I can’t help it. Incredulity makes it burst out of me: “?‘Hey’?”
Calvin’s smile turns a little sympathetic, like he gets it, and waves to the bartender, who immediately approaches. “Whatever she wants,” he tells the older man.
I hesitate. I didn’t come over here to have a drink with him. I came here to scratch that tickle of curiosity in my head that’s been plaguing me for the past few days . . . and maybe tell him off a little. But his inherent easiness is disorienting. I expected him to be shy, or stiff. Instead he’s nothing but relaxed, smiling charisma.
The bartender taps an impatient finger against the bar.
I apologize under my breath before ordering, “Club soda with lime, please.”
“A real wild child you are,” Calvin teases.
I meet his eyes, giving him a forced grin. “I’m on painkillers.” I nod to the cast. “Broken arm.”
He grimaces playfully. “Right.”
The question is so much easier to ask than I’d expected: “So why didn’t you tell them what you saw? They told my family I jumped.”
He nods a few times, swallowing his sip of beer before speaking. “I’m sorry. I am. But I didn’t think the police would believe my version.”
Pre-subway-platform-dive Holland would be losing her mind right now at the way his accent moves every word to the front of his mouth, and think comes out as tink—a tiny coin dropped into a cup.
Okay, Holland of today is losing her mind a little, too, but she’s at least trying to keep her cool.
“Well,” I say, “they didn’t believe my version, either. They handed me a couple of self-help pamphlets and probably aren’t even looking for the guy who did it.”
Calvin turns, meeting my eyes. “Look. Being in the station, I see . . .” He shakes his head. “I see people do terrible shite all the time and then report it themselves. Crime fetish, or somethin’. That’s all I could think about in that moment. Your bum ran off, and I was more concerned with getting you safe than stopping him.”
As he talks, he reaches into the front pocket of his jeans for a tube of ChapStick, absently pulling off the cap and running the balm quickly over his lips. The move is so distracting that I don’t realize I’m staring at his mouth until the bartender loudly deposits a tumbler of sparkling water and limes on a napkin in front of me. Calvin slips the tube back into his pocket as he nods in thanks.
My brain shuffles through memories of Monday night, and I have to admit that what he’s said makes sense—even if it doesn’t explain why he lied to the EMTs. But does that matter? It was embarrassing to be handed the suicide prevention card, yeah, but in reality, Calvin called 911, and stayed to make sure I was okay. Now what feels remarkable isn’t that he fled after I was safely awake in the ambulance, it’s that he stayed that long to begin with.
Calvin holds out his hand. “Apology accepted?”
I take it, and grow a little breathless knowing that he plays his guitar with the fingers he currently has wrapped around mine. A hot pulse works its way down my spine. “Yeah. Apology accepted.”
Releasing me, he stares at the cast for a few seconds. “I see you’ve got no names written on there.”
I follow his attention down. “Names?”
“It’s required when you choose a little-girl color, love. You beg your mates to mark it all up.”
Oh. Something turns over inside me at his playful smile, exposing my vulnerable underbelly. I realize now that a significant fraction of my brain was hoping he wouldn’t be so amiable when he saw me, that he would be defensive and sharp, so I’d have a good reason to tuck my crush away.