Page 45

His breath is humid on my neck. “I think you might be the best girl there ever was.”

The heat of his bare chest against me sends a paradoxical shiver from my throat to my toes. I open my mouth to respond, trying to find words through the haze of the reality of him—the virtuoso musician, this silly boy rolling around on my couch, his shirtless form pressed so easily to mine—but when my simple “Thank you” makes its way to the surface, he’s already asleep.

“I think you’re the best boy there ever was, too.”


“For the love of God, who do I have to blow to get a fucking electrician over here?”

It’s nearing the end of rehearsal and there’s barely a hiccup when Brian screeches this into the backstage abyss. Coming from anyone else, this rhetorical would be met with an array of saucily raised hands, but none of us can even get it up to joke about getting sexual where Brian is concerned.

I click a surreptitious photo of his rage face and then show it to Calvin, who’s standing beside me, waiting for Robert to finish up auditioning a new percussionist.

“Wow,” Calvin whispers. “That one’s sour as vinegar.”

“Don’t even get me—”

“Holland.” Brian materializes like a dementor in front of me, and I lower my camera as inconspicuously as I can. “You think this is the time for photos? You have seventeen boxes of merch up front to unpack, and two hours until tonight’s show.”

Mortified, I glance quickly to Calvin.

“Don’t look at him,” Brian growls, and snaps crisply in front of my face. “He’s not going to touch a box with those hands. Get up front, and get unpacking.”

I feel so belittled; I can’t even meet Calvin’s eyes right now. With a tight “Sounds good,” I turn and head toward the front of the house.

I hate Brian.

I hate Brian.

This is why no one corrects you when you say expresso, or ex cetera, I think, all the way down the aisle. This is why even Robert didn’t tell you when you had toilet paper on your shoe.

Is it time for me to start looking for another job? The thought makes me laugh, because that time came and went about two years ago. If I haven’t started my novel by summer—a lofty goal, considering I don’t even have an idea—maybe I can find something as an intern at a magazine? I think of the connections I have and wonder if it’s time to send out more feeler résumés.

Turns out Brian was exaggerating slightly about the loads of boxes to unpack: there are four, and they’re tiny. I’m guessing they’re full of key chains and embroidered knit caps. Even with only one arm it will take me, at most, ten minutes to put this stuff away.

A low whistle comes from the other side of the counter and I look up to see Calvin surveying the span of merch beneath the glass case. “I forgot how much of this stuff there was.”

I look up, humiliated all over again for him to see me standing out here unpacking overpriced crap with my comparably untalented hands. “Hey.”

He picks up a key chain and spins it on an index finger. “Do you ever think of taking some of this stuff and selling it on eBay?”

I look around wildly, making sure no one heard him. To even joke about something like that is a huge no-no. “God, no.”

“I was kidding. I mean, I’d only encourage that sort of thing if you set it up under Brian’s name.” He leans his folded arms on the glass case, bending so he’s level with me. He never rushes to speak, this one. Green eyes search mine before he quietly asks, “You okay?”

I busy myself with unpacking the box. “Sure, why?”

“You seem a little tense.”

Ripping at a stubborn piece of packing tape, I growl, “Why would I be tense?”

Calvin reaches out, bracing a hand on each side of the cardboard to steady it. “Because your boss is a twat?”

Embarrassment and gratitude flush through me and I look up at him. “He’s pretty abhorrent.”

“D’you like your job, though?” he asks, and looks away, back down at the contents of the display case.

The reprieve from eye contact allows me to answer honestly: “I like hearing the music. I like taking the photographs, but out here . . . I feel like I’m wasting my brain.”

“You know, that night, what Jeff said . . .”

Jeff’s words come running back to me, and they ache: She sees herself as a supporting character, even in her own life story.

Calvin continues, “I mean, in all the time we’ve talked about who we are, we’ve never talked about what you studied, what you want to do with your life.”

This makes me pause in surprise. “Yes, we have.”

But when he looks back at me, eyes narrowed, I realize he’s right.

“I have an MFA in creative writing.” I bite my lip and pull a strand of hair away from my face while he gazes at me intently. “I want to be a novelist.”

“Wow,” he says, looking slightly taken aback. “I always assumed you wanted to do something with music.”


He looks at me like I’m dense.

“I promise,” I tell him, “I’m not a musician.”

“Well, a novelist is amazing all the same. And an MFA. That’s really impressive, Holland.”

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