“It’s possible you’re missing the point,” I say. “The only reason I have a job is because of Robert. The show could fail without a new star. Robert’s invested so much, he could ruin his reputation if this tanks. I can’t let that happen.”
After a few moments of silence, Davis asks, “Are you asking my blessing or my advice?”
I close my eyes, tilting my face to the ceiling. “Both?”
“Look, Hollsy,” he says, gentler now, “I get it. I know you and Robert are super close, and I know you feel guilty sometimes about working there and living in the apartment. But this seems extreme to me, really extreme.”
It’s not until he’s said those words that I understand what really draws me to this. It’s unlike anything I would ever do. I am shit at taking risks; I’m bored to hell with my life already, and I’m only twenty-five. Maybe the reason I can’t write about fictional life is because I haven’t actually lived.
“I think that’s why it’s appealing. It feels like a crazy thing to do, and I need a little more crazy.”
“Well, this is it!” he says, laughing. “My advice, of course, is don’t do it.” Davis pauses. “But I feel like you’ve already decided, haven’t you?”
I can’t even say it aloud.
Am I insane?
My older brother exhales slowly across the line. “Just make sure you’re safe, okay? Check him out and get an attack dog or something before you go bull-in-a-china-shop your life, woman.”
“And don’t worry: I won’t tell Mom and Dad.”
No one in the history of the New York City transit system has ever taken so long to descend a set of stairs. At least that’s the way it feels as I take them one by one, shoved side to side by the commuters rushing to get around me.
As you might have guessed, I’m stalling. Have the ceilings always been this particular shade of gray? I didn’t know they were replacing the light bulbs in this station. How have I never noticed the texture in this paint—oh, that’s not paint.
But then, like some preternatural tease, Calvin’s music rises up, beckoning.
I reach the bottom landing and see him there, bent over his guitar, lost in the music. Every time I hear it, I become a bottle of carbonated water, lifted and shaken. Inside, everything grows too tight, as if pressurized.
The chaos of the late-morning commute is a little like being in the middle of a giant ant farm, and people dart between us and on each side, swarms moving in every direction.
He hasn’t seen me yet, and doesn’t look up as he transitions from one musical piece into another. I cross to stand in front of him, blurting the first words that come to mind. “Do you want to have lunch?”
Even down here it sounds like I’ve shouted. My voice rises above the squealing cacophony of the trains.
Calvin looks up, and his notes trail off before he gives the strings a final, dramatic strum. “Lovely Holland. How are ya?” I’m rewarded with a smile that sprouts from one corner and grows across his full mouth. “Sorry. What did you say?”
I swallow, wishing I could reach up and wipe my gloved hand across my forehead. I’m sure I’m sweating. “I asked, do you want to have lunch?” I repeat, wondering a little if he’s messing with me.
He hesitates, and his eyes dart around us before landing back on my face. “Lunch?”
Someone, quick: Pass me a remote control. I am going to slam my hand on the rewind button.
But instead, I nod. “Lunch. With me. Food. Middle of the day?”
I imagine a horrified Lulu beside me. Her artfully thick brows rise. Her brown eyes roll. Imaginary Lulu drawls in that drawn-out way she has: “Jesus Christ, Appalland.” And imaginary me turns to her, growling, “You agreed with me about this, asshole.”
Calvin’s laugh is this sweet but tentative thing, like he suspects I know about the visa but isn’t sure what my endgame is.
“Sure.” He blinks up at me. “Now? I could eat.”
By the time we reach the restaurant, even imaginary Lulu has abandoned me. When the hostess asks us the requisite “How many?” I react like this is my first adventure out with another person.
“Two. Yes. Two of us. Me and him. Can we sit far away from everyone? I mean, have a little privacy or . . . ?”
The hostess goes still with her hand floating just above the stack of menus.
I feel the gentle weight of Calvin’s hand on my arm, and he clears his throat. “We’d like that booth in the corner, please.” He drops his voice so only I can hear: “The lady requested privacy, did she?”
My face is on fire as we follow her to the table, sit down wordlessly, and bury our noses in our menus.
I take one look at the monstrous list of options and decide on the gnocchi. I’d probably rather have the spanakopita, or a salad, but the image of me indelicately collapsing giant hunks of greasy lettuce into my mouth—or worse, getting strips of spinach stuck in my teeth while I’m trying to casually propose to a stranger—makes a hysterical laugh bubble up in my throat.
It’s then that I’m hit with the full weight of what I’m about to do. If Calvin says yes, I’ll have to explain this somehow to my parents and the rest of my siblings . . .