“I’m laughing because I can absolutely believe this.”
“Whenever I wanted to do anything big,” I say, “like summer camp, volleyball, a weekend trip with a friend and her family—I’d ask my parents, but they’d usually tell me to check with my uncles, too. I spent every day after school at their house in Des Moines. I was there most weekends. I went to work with Robert at night, and did my homework in my favorite seat—row H, seat twenty-three—while he conducted the symphony rehearsal.”
“Did it bother your parents?” he asks. “Mam was so protective; I think this would have killed her.”
He’s not the first person to ask me that. My entire life, friends wondered whether there was some rift between me and my parents, and there never was. I just gravitated to my uncles, and they were family, so it never bothered my mom. “When I came around, Mom had so much less time to baby me. Thomas was thirteen when I was born. By the time I was only three, Dad was coaching Thomas in varsity football and they went to state, so that became the biggest part of our family life. Thomas got a full scholarship to the University of Iowa and Dad was there all the time. Olivia was seven years older, and always a handful for Mom. Davis was Mom’s little cuddler and—”
“You got lost in the shuffle?”
I shake my head. “Maybe a little. I don’t know. I guess it’s easier to see it as an arrangement that worked out for everyone. Mom seemed happy to see me thriving with them.”
“It must have been amazing, growing up in the symphony hall.”
I nod. “I could probably name any classical piece within a few opening notes, but I wonder sometimes if it’s devastating to Robert that I’m not more musical.”
“That is musical, Holland.”
“No, I meant talented.”
I can feel him looking at me a bit longer before tucking my arm more tightly in his.
A car horn wails as it passes, and we move with the crowd like a school of fish down the sidewalk and to the restaurant where we’re meeting Robert, Jeff, and Lulu. I’m mildly anxious to be together with my uncles and Calvin in the same place, only because the four of us haven’t all been together since we dropped the news of our nuptials. I also hope Lulu has worked through whatever’s been bothering her. I love Lulu, but I’m not sure how much more of her drama I can take.
Calvin motions for me to lead the way and we descend the small set of stairs that lead to Sushi of Gari. Restaurants in New York come in every imaginable size, molded to fit the space available. Here, the hum of voices is a monotonous buzz as we’re led through a Tetris game of tables and past a narrow sushi bar to a booth of sorts where Lulu, Robert, and Jeff wait, sipping their sake.
Robert and Jeff both stand, each pressing a kiss to my cheek before we slip into the empty bench waiting for us.
“Sorry we’re late,” I say.
Robert waves us off. “We just got here.”
Lulu raises her sake cup. “I didn’t. I’ve been here for twenty minutes.”
Answering my mental question, Jeff adds, “Lulu has been entertaining us,” and gives me a little wink.
“You don’t say.” I slip out of my coat and toss a warning glance to her across the table.
She grins smugly back at me and holds out her phone. “Behold, I am technology.”
Warily, I take it from her. “Oh my God.” I stare down at the screen. It’s a photograph of a couple on the beach, their toes in the sand and a fire crackling behind them. But it’s no ordinary couple. It’s us, Calvin and me.
Lulu smacks a hand on the table. “I knew that Photoshop class would be useful for more than just digitally enlarging my boobs.”
In my peripheral vision, I see Robert and Jeff exchange a look. At best, they tolerate Lulu. But I’m actually relieved she’s here; she’s providing some social buffer from the elephant in the room—Me, Calvin, the Uncles: all of us here together as family.
“Christ,” Calvin says, looking over my shoulder. His cheek is nearly pressed to mine and I can still feel the chill of the air outside on his skin. “This is pretty good.”
“Your honeymoon,” Lulu says. “To Florida, obviously, since you can’t fly out of the country without getting busted.”
Jeff gently shushes her and I swipe to the next image—a photo of Calvin and me together at an outdoor concert. He’s standing behind me, arms wrapped around my waist, with his jaw pressed to my temple. In another we’re on a bench in the park looking at each other, not the camera. “You did this? You can barely figure out how to record The Daily Show.”
She ignores the insult. “I was inspired by this guy who inserts himself into Kendall Kardashian’s Instagram pictures.” Robert and Jeff appear to listen to her, but I can see from their glassy stares that with the combined utterance of Instagram and Kardashian, she’s immediately lost them. “I used a bunch of pictures from your wedding day, and then a few of you I had on my phone. And that one you took and sent me of him at the bar.”
I flash my eyes to her in warning, but Calvin doesn’t seem to have heard, he’s still studying the doctored photo.
“I’ll tell you what,” Lulu continues, pointing at the phone, “I’ll never believe anything I see on the cover of a magazine again, but I’m excited as hell for my Christmas card photo with Prince Harry and Ed Sheeran.”