With a laugh, Jeff walks into the kitchen to unpack all the food.
“Oh!” I pull Gene forward. “I’m so sorry, Calvin. This is Gene, he’s Lulu’s, um . . . friend?”
“Boyfriend,” Gene corrects.
“Fucktoy,” Lulu says with a smile, smooshing his face in her hand before walking away to help Jeff or—more likely—pour some alcohol.
Calvin and I exchange a look, and something giddy is born inside me at the way it feels like we have an unspoken language of snark.
Calvin extends his hand. “I’m the husband.”
“Not the fucktoy?” Gene says, throwing a bucket of ice-cold awkward over the conversation.
“Erm, no,” Calvin says, giving me a comical Eep face.
“Not yet!” Lulu calls from the kitchen.
“Lulu,” I call back, “you and Gene will be banned from this apartment if you continue to make tonight weird.”
“It’s already weird enough,” Jeff says.
Leaning in close enough that only I can hear, Calvin says, “I did find a sex toy in the couch.”
I smack his arm.
Lulu returns with four tequila gimlets and Gene asks us how our first week of marriage is going. Despite the mustache and obsession with looking like he doesn’t care about appearances, Gene is twenty-nine and, admittedly, pretty hot. But standing next to the God that is Calvin in his dark jeans and faded T-shirt, the boy doesn’t compare. For a couple of seconds, I catch Lulu looking at Calvin the way my old retriever used to eye my dinner plate, and I move a little closer to him.
I cup my hand around my mouth, calling out, “Jeff, there’s wine above the fridge!”
“Already got it,” he answers. “I’m just putting out the food.”
“A warning,” I stage-whisper to Calvin. “The drunker Jeff gets, the more honest he’ll be about how horrifying he finds this whole thing.”
Calvin glances across the room toward Jeff. “He’ll be more honest?”
“I can hear you, Holland,” Jeff says, choosing that exact moment to join us in the living room. “I just worry that this won’t end well. Not to mention I hate lying to my sister.”
“I guess we could tell Mom and Dad,” I say, and motion for everyone to head to grab some dinner. I’m totally lying, and have my fingers crossed in my pockets hoping that I’m calling Jeff’s bluff. “Mom’s pretty chill—she’s not going to disown me . . . It just . . . it didn’t feel official yet, maybe because we haven’t had the immigration interview. Why worry them?”
“I told my parents,” Calvin says casually.
I squint up at him. This surprises me, given how fast everything happened. “When?”
He sips his drink, lifting it in thanks to Lulu. “Before the wedding.”
“They were fine with it?” I ask.
He nods. “They were thrilled.”
“You told them why we got married?”
“No,” he says, setting his drink down so he can fill his plate. “I told them I met a girl. It’s true enough, innit?”
It is true enough . . . but not a surprise to them how fast it happened? I study him for a second longer, at his easy calm, his constant smile. Maybe it’s that he’s a son instead of a daughter, or the oldest instead of the baby, or maybe he seems confident enough about every move that his family stopped questioning his decisions a long time ago.
The conversation shifts as we grab food and head back to the living room. I don’t have a dining table, let alone enough chairs, so we all find spots on the floor around the coffee table.
Everyone tucks in, and I get up to grab some supplies for the evening. The plan was for Jeff to be able to share information about me with Calvin, but since Lulu came along, I quickly devised a game based entirely on keeping Lulu from dominating the conversation: Lulu, Jeff, and Gene will each have a bag of poker chips. They have to bid to share a story in the category Calvin requests, and are free to outbid the others if they think their story is better. I haven’t known Gene that long, so I’m only giving him a bag of chips to be nice, but Lulu and Jeff have some pretty great—and some pretty terrible—stories about me, and they’re going to need to share the stage, so to speak.
After I explain the rules, we all look at Calvin.
He swallows a bite of dinner, wipes his mouth with his napkin, and then pulls a small notebook from his back pocket. “Can’t we start with some basics everyone can answer?” He pulls the cap off his pen with his teeth.
“I guess so.” I point to Lulu. “But you are limited to a minute per answer.”
She flops dramatically back onto the throw pillow behind her.
“So, first,” Calvin says, “I want to know what you admire most about Holland.”
“Besides her rack?” Lulu calls from the floor.
Jeff groans; Calvin grins, and then, without any subtlety whatsoever, checks out my chest. “All right, yeah. But besides that.”
My pulse riots in my throat.
“Her backbone.” Lulu pushes up onto an elbow to look at me. “She does what she says she’ll do, and doesn’t do things she doesn’t want to do.”
“Cheers. Good answer.” Calvin jots it down before turning to Gene, who shrugs.