We swipe one more time to the right and then freeze in unison at the pair of naked boobs on the screen before swiping back to the photo of us on the bench.
“Don’t go too far,” she says after quickly swallowing a sip of her rice wine. “There are pictures of my boobs on there, and then Gene sent some back.”
Calvin grabs the phone—presumably before we get an inadvertent eyeful of dick—and returns it to Lulu. “Can you send them to Holland? The Photoshopped ones, not the boobs.” He looks down to me. “We look like a real couple.”
“A hot couple,” Lulu adds, and my pulse does a tap dance across the room. Lulu is immediately forgiven. I know the photos have been helped by filters and a little computer magic, but I look like I actually belong next to him.
Across the table, Robert pours more sake into his cup—already. He’s not usually a big drinker and I catch Jeff’s eye. We both do a curious little eyebrow flicker.
“They’re certainly convincing,” Robert says distractedly, taking his glasses off and rubbing the bridge of his nose.
“Is it weird to see them?” I ask.
He looks up at me, eyes tight. “There’s a lot about this that is weird to me.” He pauses and then reaches for my hand. “I know I didn’t want you to do this, but I can’t pretend that having Ramón and Calvin together, playing the pieces I wrote . . . it’s a bit of a dream.”
Calvin makes a tiny sound of agreement in the back of his throat.
Letting go of my hand, Robert says more quietly, “But, God, I hope this works.”
“Listen,” Jeff says, and lifts Robert’s hand to kiss it. “I might not be completely on board with how all this came together, but even I’m confident it will be fine.”
I look between them, worried. Jeff isn’t the PDA type. He’s unflappable—yes. Calm and steady—yes. But he’s never very outwardly affectionate in front of people. So seeing him reassure Robert like this gets my antennae up. “Is something wrong?”
The two share a quiet look before Robert squeezes Jeff’s hand and replaces his glasses. “I worry it’s going to be tight. Calvin should start officially next week, but who knows if we can swing it.”
“We filed everything a day and a half after the wedding,” I say, glancing at Calvin, who nods.
“I know you did, Buttercup, it isn’t you. Work permits can take months, and we’re asking for it to move through in two weeks, total. It’s unlikely, and I’m not sure once Luis is gone that I can pair Ramón with Lisa until Calvin is officially hired. Ramón won’t go for it.”
One look at Calvin’s face—affronted, possessive—and I know Robert is right.
Jeff turns to Calvin and me. “I talked to Sam down at immigration and he assured me they’ve got what they need for now. He can’t guarantee approval, but he can give things a little nudge and make sure those forms go through in time.”
My shoulders drop with relief. “Oh. That’s good, at least.”
“I know I’ve said it,” Calvin says to Robert, “but thank you for everything you’ve done. I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you.”
“None of that,” Robert says, shaking off the tension. “I’m just having some pre-show jitters. Always happens. Circumstances are just a little different this time.”
The waitress stops at the edge of the table and asks if we’re ready to order appetizers. With little discussion Jeff and Robert order their usual, and during Lulu’s turn, Calvin moves closer, pointing to my menu. “If I get the eggplant, do you want to split? Or even get a few appetizers and share?”
It’s such a coupley thing to do, it catches me off guard.
“Holls?” Beneath his patient smile, there’s an amused glint in his eye.
“Sure,” I say. “What else did you want?”
He opens his mouth to answer, right as his phone vibrates in his pocket. He’s so close, I actually feel it move through the cushioned bench. “Sorry,” he says, pulling away and looking down to the screen.
I catch the name Natalie.
Calvin stares down at the screen in confusion for another ring, and then his smile slips as he seems to realize something. “Ah, bollocks.”
My throat goes tight. “Is everything okay?”
“Yes. I . . .” He stops, seeming to have changed his mind, and turns to address the table. “Would you all excuse me for a minute? I need to take this.” Back to me again. “Just order us whatever.”
Calvin stands and I twist in my seat. “You’re sure you’re fine?”
“Of course.” With a squeeze of my shoulder, he steps away and heads out of the restaurant. Through the glass doors I watch him climb the stairs—phone already pressed to his ear—before he’s out of sight.
I drop my keys on the counter and watch Calvin wordlessly duck in to use the bathroom before bed. I had this strange sense of a Plexiglas barrier between us the entire walk home and am trying to figure out what’s bothering him. Other than the obvious, of course: the looming pressure of his first performance, the stress over our paperwork getting filed in time. Maybe that’s all it is and he just needs some time to process it all. Keeping our sanity intact while we wait for the work authorization to come through is like watching someone hammer a nail through my hand one tiny blow at a time. It’s excruciating, and I have no control. Imagine how it feels for him.