He winces and looks up at Rossi, who gives me her first—apologetic—grin. “I hope you have their number memorized.” She lifts up a Ziploc bag holding the shattered remains of my beloved device.
Once my head is checked (no concussion) and my right arm is casted (fractured ulna), I file a police report from my hospital bed. It’s only when I’m speaking to the two intensely intimidating officers that I register that I was avoiding making eye contact with the man grabbing me. I didn’t get a good look at his face, though I can quite accurately describe his smell.
The cops exchange a look before the taller one asks me, “The guy got close enough to grab your jacket, yell at you, and shove you over onto the tracks, but you didn’t see his face?”
I want to scream, Obviously you have never been a woman running away from a creepy dude before!, but instead let them move on. I can tell from their expressions that my lack of a physical description dissolves the credibility of my I-didn’t-jump story, and in the wake of this mild humiliation I decide it would seem even more suspicious if I knew the name of the busker at the subway and he still failed to stick around to help me out. So I don’t bother to mention Calvin by name, either, and they jot down my generic details with only the vaguest display of investment.
After they leave, I lie back, staring up at the blank gray ceiling. What a crazy night. I lift my good arm, squinting at my watch.
Holy shit, it’s nearly three. How long was I down there?
Above the dull throb that painkillers don’t seem to dim, I keep seeing Calvin standing up from where he’d been waiting at the curb. It means something that he was still there when I came to, doesn’t it? But if he was the anonymous caller—and I assume he must have been because we all know the zombie didn’t have a phone—why didn’t Calvin tell the police that someone pushed me? And why lie and tell them he wasn’t a witness?
The telltale rushing click of dress shoes on linoleum crescendoes from the hallway, and I sit up, knowing what’s coming.
Robert bursts past the curtain, followed more smoothly by Jeff.
“What. The. Fuuuuuuuck.” Robert stretches the last word into about seventeen syllables, and takes my face in his hands, leaning in, examining me. “Do you realize how freaked out we’ve been?”
“Sorry.” I wince, feeling my chin wobble for the first time. “My phone got knocked out of my hand.”
Seeing my family’s panic makes the shock set in, and I start shaking wildly. Emotion rises like a salty tide in my chest. Robert leans in, pressing his lips to my cheek. Jeff steps closer, too, resting a gentle hand on my knee.
Although he isn’t related to me by blood, I’ve known Uncle Robert my entire life; he met my mother’s younger brother Jeff several years before I was born.
Uncle Jeff is the calm one; it’s the midwesterner in him. He is steady, and rational, and deliberate. He is, you may have guessed, in finance. Robert, by contrast, is motion and sound. He was born in Ghana, and moved here when he was eighteen to attend the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Jeff tells me that Robert had ten job offers when he finished, but he chose the position of youngest-ever concertmaster of the Des Moines Symphony because the two of them fell in love at first sight the weekend Robert was in town interviewing.
My uncles left Des Moines when I was sixteen and headed to Manhattan. By that point, Robert had been promoted out of the ensemble to become the conductor of the symphony. Moving off-Broadway, even as a musical director, was a big step down for him in pay and classical prestige, but musical theater is where Robert’s heart beats, and—maybe more importantly for them—it’s long been much easier for a dude to be happily married to a dude in New York than in Iowa. They have thrived here, and two years ago, Robert sat down and composed what would soon become the most popular production on Broadway, It Possessed Him.
Unwilling to live away from them for long, I came to Columbia for my MFA in creative writing, but have basically stalled out. Being a baby graduate with an MFA in New York makes me a mediocre guppy in an enormous school of brilliant fish. Without an idea for the Great American Novel or any aptitude for journalism, I was virtually unemployable.
Robert, my savior, got me a job in theater.
My official title is archivist—admittedly a strange role for a twenty-five-year-old with zero Broadway experience—and given that we already have a million photos of the production for the program, I’m keenly aware that this job was created solely as a favor to my uncle. Once or twice a week I’ll walk around, randomly taking pictures of sets, costumes, and backstage antics for the press agency to use on social media. Four nights a week, I work front of the house selling It Possessed Him T-shirts.
But unfortunately, I can’t imagine dealing with the wild bustle of intermission or holding my gigantic camera with only one good arm, and it punches an additional gust of guilt deep into my belly.
I am so useless.
I pull one of the pillows out from under my head and let loose a few screams into it.
“What’s going on, Buttercup?” Robert pulls the pillow away. “Do you need more medicine?”
“I need more purpose.”
He laughs to dismiss this, bending to kiss my forehead. Jeff’s gentle hand slips into one of mine in quiet solidarity. But Jeff—sweet, sensible, number-crunching Jeff—has found a love for throwing clay in the past year. At least he has the passion for pottery pushing him forward through the tedium of a Wall Street workday. I have nothing but my love for books other people have written, and the anticipation of seeing Calvin play guitar a few days a week at the Fiftieth Street station. After tonight’s stunt, I’m not even sure I’ll feel that anymore. The next time I see him, I’ll be less inclined to swoon, and more inclined to get up in his face and ask why he allowed me to be thrown under the proverbial bus. Or train, as it were.