It really is unfair.
I find Calvin leaning against a wall backstage, talking to Ethan—a member of the ensemble who I’m sure would love to pull my husband even farther into the shadows for a far more private interaction. The fact that Calvin is straight seems to cause acute physical pain to many of our male coworkers.
He immediately spots me, expression relaxing as he steps around Ethan to come to my side.
Ethan gives me an annoyingly fake smile. “Hey, Holland.”
I mimic the expression. “Hey, Ethan.”
I nearly jump out of my shoes when Calvin pulls my back to his front and presses his mouth to my jaw. “I’m going to take my beautiful wife to dinner.”
I can’t even look at him over my shoulder because he’s so close: we’d nearly be kissing.
“Take me to dinner?” I step forward, putting a little distance between me and he who is my husband, he who smells like the woods and fresh air, he who sleeps practically naked only a room away from me every night.
“A proper date.”
Imaginary Holland stands up and waves the That Means Sex! flag, but I tell her to have a seat until we obtain clarification. “?‘Proper’?” I say faux-demurely.
He seems to get the meaning the same time I do, and with a little cough pulls his lip balm out of his pocket, smoothing it over those lips I really, really like. “Proper.” He snaps the cap back on with a grin. “Food. Drinks. Fun.”
Did he lean into the word fun? Did he growl it a little? I look to Ethan, wishing there was a way I could ask him to corroborate this, but in our surprising moment of flirtation, I don’t think either Calvin or I noticed that Ethan has already disappeared.
“I’m always down for food and drinks and fun.”
“It’s why I like you.” Calvin threads his arm through mine, and I catch a longing, droopy look from another one of the stagehands. Tugging, he leads me toward the side exit. “You need to put on a proper dress, with proper heels, and put your hair up.”
My brain is still trying to compute all this, to decide whether I love or hate that he’s telling me what to wear, but then his hand slides around to cup the back of my neck, and his lips land on my cheek, lingering there, warm and soft. When he speaks, he speaks against my skin. “Your neck is my kryptonite,” he says, and I feel his smile curve against me. “I suppose I should text you more about that.”
I emerge from the bedroom in the only proper dress I think I own: it’s black, hits just above my knee, and has a fitted bodice with a flowy, pleated chiffon skirt.
And clearly Calvin likes it, too, because when I step out, his mouth hangs slightly open like he was about to launch into a thought and has completely lost the thread of it. I admit to being stunned stupid, too. He’s wearing his new suit with a lavender shirt he’s left unbuttoned at the collar, letting the sharp edges of his collarbone flirt with my eyeballs.
After a few seconds of scanning every inch of me, he simply says, “Right.”
His eyes land on my neck; I have my hair in a high, messy bun. “Christ, yes.”
We walk a few blocks to Taboon, and even though there is a line of at least ten parties waiting outside, Calvin shakes hands with a man at the door, who points us to a table in the back. I follow, noticing how heads turn slightly when the Irishman casually slips out of his tailored navy blazer and folds it over his arm.
When he pulls out my chair for me, I ask, “You knew that guy?”
“Juilliard.” Calvin makes a faintly sour face. “Brilliant cellist. He’s not had the best luck since.”
I feel the impulse claw its way up my throat; the desire to help every stray. But no matter how amazing Robert is, or how elaborate his orchestra is for the modesty of the Levin-Gladstone, he can’t hire every out-of-work musician we meet.
Still, even if I suppress it, Calvin reads the reaction in my eyes and it softens the tight line of his mouth. “He’ll land on his feet. Maybe we can help, down the road.”
Down the road.
I swallow thickly, working to give a neutral shrug. In unison, we look down, scanning the menu, and butterflies land in my stomach, tensing.
A proper date.
We’ve had so many nights on the couch eating takeout. So many happy hours spent with Robert and Jeff or even Lulu before we head home together. What about tonight makes this . . . different?
Calvin looks up at me. “Want to share the cauliflower starter and the branzino?”
Holy crap, I love having a decisive eater as a husband. “Done.”
He slides his menu onto the table and reaches over, taking my hand. “Have I said thank you?”
This makes me laugh. “Once or twice.”
“Well, I’ll say it again, just in case.” His eyes take on a glassy, sincere glow. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Of course.”
After a little squeeze, he lets go of my hand and sits back to smile up at the waiter who’s materialized at the table. This married game we are playing sure does seem easy, and Calvin sure does seem sincerely dedicated, but I get these tiny pulsing flashes of awareness that remind me I don’t really know him all that well. I’ve memorized his face—the olive skin, the greenish eyes, the perfectly imperfect teeth—but his brain feels like a mystery still.