But Calvin finds so much joy in music, and he’s so optimistic about all this, it seems hard to believe that he’s quiet because he’s worried about that. And what was the urgent phone call tonight? Is there another opportunity he’s keeping on the back burner? Am I the only one who’s planning to be faithful?
The prospect makes me want to vomit.
Calvin emerges, and does a double take when he sees me standing exactly where he left me, just inside the door.
“You feel all right?” he asks.
I attempt a smile. “Yeah. Dinner was fun.”
Nodding, he moves to the couch, sitting down, untucking his dress shirt, and putting his head in his hands.
It’s so weird to live with someone I don’t know that well. He didn’t drink very much, so I know he’s not suffering any ill effects from alcohol. We just ate a half hour ago, so I doubt he’s suffering from something he ate . . .
“Are you all right?” I ask.
He nods, and then looks up at me, eyes red and unfocused from exhaustion. “I know it’s only been a little over a week, but seeing Robert nervous tonight made me nervous. What if we did all this for nothing? I feel like the waiting to start is killing me. I just want to perform. I just want to get in there.”
I nod in understanding, but I get a weird twist of guilt, like I should be speeding this up somehow. And doing all this for nothing doesn’t land entirely without impact, either. I realize we aren’t actually together, but it’s been nice to be with him, even platonically. It doesn’t feel like nothing.
The name Natalie floats into my memory, paired with the way he dashed off . . . it leaves me feeling uneasy for a different reason entirely. “I hope that the phone call wasn’t anything bad.”
It seems to take him a few seconds to remember, and then he looks up, sheepish. “Oh.” He grimaces. “I was supposed to be on a date, and completely forgot.”
This leaves me momentarily speechless.
“Hold on,” he corrects, holding up a hand, “that came out wrong. It was a date I made a few days before we had that first lunch. I forgot to cancel it. I’m sorry.”
Well, this is awkward. I sit down next to him on the couch, picking at a tiny hangnail.
“I guess, if you wanted—but, yeah, I don’t know—we probably shouldn’t—” I trip over my words and can feel him turn to look at me. “Date. Shouldn’t. I mean, just for appearances.”
“Bloody hell, Holland,” he finally says, incredulous. “I’m not apologizing because I’m feeling regret that I wasn’t with her tonight. I’m apologizing because another woman called me when I was out to dinner with you and your lot.”
He bursts out laughing. “Do you think I’m an absolute gobshite?”
“No?” I say, and can’t help smiling back at him because I have no idea what a gobshite is. The unease slowly dissolves. “But it’s true that our situation is a little unprecedented.”
“It is, but I’m not going to be unfaithful . . . even if we’re pretending.”
Although he’s used the word unfaithful, it’s the pretending that sends a tiny hot poker through my side. I’m not pretending—or, I am; I’m pretending that I don’t have feelings for him.
“How did you meet her?”
“Through a friend,” he says easily. “There wasn’t some long story building up to this. I’ve seen her once. That reminds me,” he begins, and waits for me to look up at him.
Finally, the burn eases, and I can. “What’s that?”
“We never discussed what to say when someone asks us how we met.”
I nod, looking back at the coffee table. I remember the intimacy of our texts the other night, how it felt to curl up against him on the couch, the heat of his skin, the firm press of him next to me, and have to remind myself that we’re pretending. “I guess we should keep it as simple as we can. We met at the subway station. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.”
Every day, Calvin has three hours of rehearsal with Ramón before Luis and Lisa take over for the evening performance. And after each rehearsal, Calvin locates me backstage, and he’s smiling like he’s been plugged into a generator. The music makes him glow in a way I find hard to believe; sometimes it seems there is a candle burning just beneath his skin.
Robert rehearses with them sometimes, but once or twice a week, he hands over the reins to the assistant musical director, Elan. Because Robert composed the music, he feels the notes physically, and directs the musicians with instinctive, fluid movements. But I notice that Elan focuses on technical precision more than artistry, and the days he is there, the music loses some instinct, some deeper emotion that hasn’t been fully transferred from Robert to Ramón and Calvin.
I’ve seen it happen before, how Robert’s passion is slowly fed into his musicians; how he trains them to feel it, not just see the notes. The key, the rhythm, the dynamics become an action themselves: a deeply drawn breath, a sob, a triumphant fist in the air. They are no longer individual notes, but constellations of them pulled together to make something nearly otherworldly.
Today was not an otherworldly day.
“What didn’t work out there?” Calvin has barely exited the stage when the question is out, and he stares at me with intense expectation. He shifts his guitar in his hands, nodding to the stage behind me. “Something felt off, and I’m not sure where.”