Calvin leans in. “Not in the slightest.” His eyes move to my mouth, and his voice goes low and warm. “Besides, something this big warrants at least a twenty-four-hour think, yeah?”
Swallowing, I give him a trembling “Absolutely.” We’re talking about a transactional marriage, but I feel like we’ve just enjoyed a tumbling round of foreplay.
Sitting up, he nods to where my phone is resting on the table, and I slide it over to him. He types in a message and a moment later, his phone vibrates with a text. “There”—he slides mine back across the table—“I’ll send you the details and we’ll see each other tomorrow night.”
I’m supposed to meet Calvin at Terminal 5 at eight o’clock. I’m a little better at handling the cast by now and get dressed on my own, deciding on a pair of loose ripped jeans for easier bathroom excursions, a black sweater, and my favorite boots.
It’s a long walk, even by New Yorker standards, from the train to the venue on Eleventh Avenue. I have a cab drop me off as close as the crowds allow, and text Calvin that I’m here.
With an arm up in a wave, he steps off the curb in front of the building, his long legs wrapped in dark jeans, a gray jacket over a white T-shirt. His hair is shiny beneath the flickering neon sign, and when he’s close enough to take my hand and lead me inside, I smell soap and fabric softener. I give myself precisely three seconds to imagine how it would feel to press my face to his neck and huff him.
“This okay?” he asks.
I pull my eyes up to his face and then look around, really taking in our surroundings for the first time. Calvin has managed to get us into a show that—according to the signs outside—is completely sold out.
“You’re showing off, aren’t you?”
His laugh is a bursting, delighted sound. “I’m absolutely showing off.”
We check our coats and head to a sweeping balcony that looks out on the stage and the general admission area below. There’s an identical level just above, with industrial steel railings, a bar, restrooms, and small clusters of couches scattered around.
“Are we here to watch?” I ask, looking out at the giant disco ball suspended from the center of the massive ceiling. “Or are you playing?”
“I’ll be in for one set, yeah. It’s a miniature festival. One of the bands I play with was invited.” Calvin pays for our drinks and hands me my glass before leading us to a VIP section roped off next to the railing. “This time there will be no spandex or dangly earrings, I promise.”
I laugh and peek out over the railing. The floor is starting to fill. Those lucky enough to get in are already crowding their way to the front near the stage.
“You guys weren’t bad. Despite all the crotch-strangling Lycra. How many bands do you play with?”
“It changes,” he says, “but four, at the moment. Funny enough, the crotch stranglers do pretty well for themselves. I was only brought in a few weeks ago when their original guitarist threw his back out doing a fancy high kick.” He takes a sip of his drink and the limes jostle against the ice cubes. “The pay is good, so I didn’t ask too many questions.”
“Do you have a favorite?”
“I just want to play music.” He looks down at me, and his eyes are so wide and earnest. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted.” The way he says this plucks at a tender spot in my chest, the part that sees my laptop rusting away under a pile of takeout menus and junk mail. My degree sits useless in the proverbial box under my bed. Music is Calvin’s passion and he’s found a way to do it, no matter what. I’ve always been obsessed with words—so why can’t I seem to write a single one?
“So what exactly do you do at the theater?” He gently bumps my shoulder with his. “Besides sell T-shirts and scout talent, that is.”
I set my drink down, right next to where someone has written the words P.L.U.R.—Purity, love, unity, respect on the metal table between us.
“I’m basically peon number three. I take pictures backstage and work front of the house.”
He tilts his glass to his lips, smiling over the rim. “Very cool.”
I wonder how big a lie that is for him to tell. Calvin, with so much talent and passion that he stayed here illegally hoping to get a job, telling me—a twenty-five-year-old selling T-shirts—that my job is very cool. It almost makes me feel more ashamed.
“It isn’t what I want to do forever,” I say quietly. “It’s just what I’m doing for now.”
He opens his mouth to say something just as the house lights go out, and the stage lights come to life.
The first act is an EDM group. Three DJs stand onstage, each behind a laptop and various mixers, heads bowed and obscured by giant headphones. The floor erupts at the first beat and even though I’m not too familiar with this genre, I totally get it. There’s a high that comes from live shows, a collective energy in a large group of people all gathered for one reason. The beat slices through the melodies and then drops; the crowd bounces and undulates like ripples in water.
I look over to see Calvin with his eyes closed, body moving to the beat, lost in the notes along with everyone else. I close my own eyes and let myself dance. The bass is so loud it feels like a monster heartbeat pounding through me. By the time the last song ends and the lights go up again, I’m flushed.