I rarely admit this ambition anymore because it seems to always garner this exact reaction: an odd combination of surprised and impressed. And I can’t tell whether people respond this way because they like the idea that I want to do something difficult and creative, or because nobody looks at me and immediately thinks She’s got stories buried inside her.
When I graduated, I had dreams of writing something fun, commercial, entertaining. Now I’m a twenty-five-year-old glorified concession worker who hasn’t finished a short story or poem or, hell, a sentence in months. If I had a quarter for each time someone told me The only way to write the novel is to just sit down and do it, I’d be able to afford a penthouse overlooking Central Park. Sometimes well-intended advice is so supremely unhelpful.
“It’s only impressive if you do something with it,” I say.
“So do something.”
“Easier said than done.” I let out a little growl. “I want to write, but it’s like my brain is empty when I try to think of a story. Lately I feel like I’m not qualified to do anything, not like you, or Robert.”
Instead of responding to the unmasked vulnerability here, he—thankfully—laughs. “Don’t ask me to write an essay, or solve any maths. I’d embarrass you.” He sobers. “We’re all good at different things, mo stóirín. I think you undervalue your own gifts.” He looks back down at the case but reaches across the glass, twisting his pinkie with mine. “You’re doing all this stuff for me, and Robert—not for yourself. There’s enormous generosity in that. And it seems to me that you know music better than a lot of people around here”—he tilts his head back, indicating the theater—“so obviously your brain is creatively driven. Trust your muse.”
He’s just poked at the tender spot in my emotions.
“But what if I don’t have one? There’s a part of me that worries I don’t love to write enough to do it all day, my entire life.” I’ve never said those words to anyone, and the clawing honesty of them leaves me feeling untethered and bare. “I think part of what’s keeping me from starting is the fear that I won’t actually love it, and then I’ll be left with a degree I won’t use, and no other prospects.”
The problem is I know he can’t relate to this. He picked up a guitar when he was four, and has played out of sheer love for it ever since. I love to read, but whenever I pick up a novel that blows me away, I think, There’s no way I have something like that inside me. Is Jeff right? Am I unable to create anything because I see myself in a supporting role? Doomed to always be the friend, the daughter, the linchpin in everyone else’s story?
As if he realizes he can’t say anything to this, Calvin points to a glossy collector’s-edition program that shows Luis and Seth standing onstage, grinning at each other after the performance that earned them their first, thunderous round of applause.
“Did you take this photo?”
I did, actually, but I’m surprised this is his question. It’s like it hasn’t occurred to him yet that he’s going to be the new sweetheart of Broadway. That there’s going to be a photo of him and Ramón jubilantly grinning at each other on these commemorative programs, selling for twenty-five dollars a pop.
“Yeah, I did.”
He smiles down at me, proud. “It’s a great shot. You’ve got all these gifts you don’t even realize.”
Rehearsal done, and with the crowd thickening outside, Calvin holds open the door, and we take a right down Forty-Seventh. Robert is handing the reins over to the assistant musical director tonight because he’s been working ridiculous hours getting Calvin and Ramón ready for their start while still running every performance.
I suspect Jeff jumped in and put his foot down, insisting his husband take the next few nights off to breathe.
It’s freezing out. I wrap my scarf a little tighter around my neck, pushing my hands into a pair of gloves. Calvin—who seems to still be running on adrenaline from rehearsal—doesn’t seem to notice the chill at all.
“How was the rest of your afternoon?” he asks, glancing over at me as we wait to cross the street.
A puff of condensation escapes with my laugh. “I plotted Brian’s murder—”
“An excellent idea for a book,” he cuts in.
“Unpacked some merchandise—”
“And may I say the display looks exquisite.”
I watch him out of the corner of my eye. “You’re being awfully complimentary.”
His gloved hand comes up to his chest. “I’m simply impressed with how much you do around the theater, that’s all. It’s like you’re born to be here.”
I tuck my arm through his, huddling against the wind. “One of Robert’s favorite stories to tell is about the day I was born.” I glance up at him and see how riveted his attention is on my face even as we walk. “According to Robert, and Jeff, and Mom, and anyone else who was there that day, Dad brought my five siblings into the room to meet me, and it was like a pile of puppies all over Mom, who looked so exhausted she could barely speak. Robert took me from her arms and told her she could rest. Apparently he said, ‘How about you let me take care of this one?’?”
I grin up at him. “I’m being serious.”