As we get up, I groan, clutching my stomach. “Is this what pregnancy feels like? Not interested.”
“I could carry you,” Calvin offers sweetly, helping me with my coat.
Lulu pushes between us, giddy from wine as she throws her arms around our shoulders. “You’re supposed to carry the bride across the threshold to be romantic, not because she’s broken from eating her weight in beef.”
I stifle a belch. “The way to impress a man is to show him how much meat you can handle, don’t you know this, Lu?”
Calvin laughs. “It was a close battle.”
“Not that close,” Mark says, beside him.
We went so far as to have the waiter split the cooked steak into two equal portions, much to the amused fascination of our tablemates. I ate roughly three-quarters of mine. Calvin was two ounces short.
“Calvin Bakker has a pretty solid ring to it,” I say.
He laugh-groans. “What did I get myself into?”
“A marriage to a farm girl,” I say. “It’s best you learn on day one that I take my eating very seriously.”
“But you’re only a tiny thing,” he says, looking from my face to my body and back again.
It’s as though his gaze drags fire over me.
“Not that little.” At five seven I’m on the taller end of average, and while I’ve never been overweight, I’ve never been thin, either. Davis used to say I came from sturdy stock, not the most flattering description, but not the worst. In short, I have a body made for sport, but hand-eye coordination made for books.
We push out of the restaurant and convene in a small huddle on the sidewalk. It’s too cold for a prolonged goodbye. Mark asks if we want to go out for a bit longer, but when Calvin hesitates, I jump on board, saying—honestly—that I’m sort of wiped, even if it’s only ten.
But that means they hug us goodbye, give another congratulations, and then turn, hailing cabs and going their separate ways.
It was easy for Calvin and I to play at comfort during dinner—we had a distraction: the bet. And nearly as soon as we sat down, Lulu ordered wine, Calvin ordered appetizers, and conversation exploded easily, as it always does when Lulu is around. I used to refer to her as social lubricant, but Robert made me promise to never use that phrase again.
Now it’s just us—me and Calvin. There’s nowhere to hide and no one to hide behind.
I feel the warm slide of his gloved hand around mine.
“Is this okay?” he asks. “I’m not trying anything, I just feel fond.”
“It’s fine.” It’s more than fine. It’s making it hard to breathe, and—shit—this is a terrible idea. Every bit of that disarming honesty and affection he shows me is going to make it that much harder when the run of the production ends and we can part ways.
“Which way are we?” he asks.
“Oh.” Of course. We’re just standing here in the freezing cold while I internally melt down, and he has no idea where I live. “I’m on Forty-Seventh. This way.”
We walk quickly, strides matched. I forgot how weird it is to walk while holding someone’s hand. Weirder still when it’s cold, and we’re rushing, but he holds on tight so I do, too.
“How did you meet Mark?”
“We played in a band together while I was at school.” His shoulder brushes mine as we turn on Eighth. “He just did it for sport, though I was quite intense about it. After he graduated, he went on and got an MBA.” After a pause, he adds, “I’ve been living at his flat in Chelsea.”
Well, that answers one question.
“Paying rent,” he quickly adds. “He was sad to lose the extra money, but as he put it, will not miss the sight of my white arse.” He laughs. “He suggested I invest in pajamas.”
My eyes widen and he quickly clarifies. “Which I have, of course.”
“No . . . I mean”—I press my palm to my forehead. My face feels a thousand degrees. “I want you to be comfortable. Maybe just warn me if you’re going to . . . be—I’ll knock before I come out in the morning.”
He grins and squeezes my hand. “Anyway, I can put that money into yours now. It’s only fair.”
My stomach clenches. This is all really weird. I know sterile details about Calvin from the marriage license, like his birth date, full name, place of birth. But I don’t know anything relevant, like how he makes money other than street performances and cover bands, who his friends are, what time he goes to bed, what he eats for breakfast, or—until just now—where he’s been living.
And of course, he doesn’t know these things about me, either, but from what I understand he’ll need to. Immigration will want us to know things some couples don’t know even after years together. Is this how we do it? With this sort of frank, transactional honesty?
I dive right in, blurting: “Robert and Jeff pay about two-thirds of my rent.”
“Really?” He lets out a low whistle.
“Yeah. Surprisingly, I don’t make much selling T-shirts and taking pictures of people backstage. Not enough to live in Manhattan, anyway.”
“I don’t imagine.”
Nausea rises. Is this a good thing to admit, or bad? Have I just revealed to him that Jeff and Robert are totally loaded?