I slide my hands from his tie, over his chest. I can feel his heart pounding.
Calvin lets out a long, slow breath. “You should see the way you glow when you’re talking about music. You just—”
I laugh, interrupting him. “We’re talking about you right now.”
He tilts his head, bending his arms so that he can capture my hands in his. “Are we?”
I blaze over this. “You’re ready, Calvin. No question.”
He glances at my mouth, and a fire seems to start low in my belly. It feels like the kind of scene where I step forward, he steps forward, a kiss happens, something sweet and slow, born of feelings that have been building for months.
But oops, that’s just me. We’ve been fake married for just over three weeks, which means we only have eleven months left of the charade. We’ve managed to find an easy balance. No use complicating things.
Even three hours before the performance, the theater is mobbed outside, and we slip in the side entrance. I looked earlier on StubHub, and tickets to see Ramón tonight were over six hundred dollars for the far-back balcony seats. Calvin is doing a good job looking relaxed, but even his calm facade has cracks in it: he keeps fidgeting with his tie.
Backstage is all motion and bustle. Calvin looks for his new buddy, but Ramón is in for makeup and able to offer only a final smile of support before Calvin is tugged away by a stagehand.
I give him a tight hug, a kiss on his smooth cheek, and then he’s out of my sight. I won’t see him until after the show. Instead, I’ll be up front for most of the night, selling T-shirts. Sad trombone.
But I do get to sneak away and watch from the back. As I slip in, I wonder whether, in ten years, I’ll hear a riff or an opening chord to one of the songs and be transported back immediately to this time in my life. It makes the shadow thought follow—what will I feel when I think of these times? Will I think, Wow, those were the hardest days, trying to figure out who I was? Or will I think, Those days were so easy and free, with so little responsibility?
I’ve had the thought almost without realizing it—the encroaching awareness that I feel settled but in truth can’t see my future at all. I have a temporary job, a temporary marriage. Will anything ever be permanent? What the hell am I going to do with my life? I only get one shot at this, and right now, I’m finding my value only in being valuable to others. How do I find value for me?
Calvin told me to do something with my brain, but how? Threads of ideas appear on the edge and are gone as soon as my fingers settle on the keys. There’s no connective tissue to string them together, no skeleton to hold them up. I want to live my life with the intensity I see on the stage up there, want to feel passionate about something in that same way. But what if it never happens for me?
My train of thought is derailed when the skyscraper set is shifted into place, the lights dim, and Ramón steps into a spotlight, center stage. He’s already a giant in person, but on the stage he is towering. His dark hair is combed back from his face. His eyes are nearly black, but luminous all the way to the far reaches of the theater. I can tell his chest is rising and falling in excitement, and from nearly every body in my immediate vicinity I sense the vibration of static, the urgency of anticipation.
I suck in a deep breath; my heart is in my throat.
I can’t see Calvin, but I hear the second he strums the opening chord of “Lost to Me”—one of the biggest hits from the soundtrack. Without having to see him, I know he’s taken my advice and closed his eyes. The warm, honeyed melody rolls up the aisle like a wave of light.
It is sublime.
The crowd shifts in unison; a spontaneous smattering of applause breaks out and then it grows: For a few moments, the audience is thunderous with surprise and approval. For Calvin, for Ramón, for the risk and beauty of the guitar and the salty richness of Ramón’s baritone lifting the weight of the music up over his shoulders and launching it to the depths of the theater. My vision wavers, spotted with vibrating dots of light. I don’t know what it is about Calvin’s playing; listening to this feels so different from listening to Seth. And not just because of the instrument. Calvin’s music gives an aching sense of time passing, the pain of finding love twice in a lifetime, of losing it in intervening years. It’s exactly the way the story needs to unfold through music. It feels nostalgic . . . I’m already regretting the end.
When the final curtain falls, there isn’t just a standing ovation, there’s a stomping one. I have the sense of light fixtures shaking, dust trickling from cracks in the walls. I have to rush back out to the lobby—we sell out of T-shirts tonight for the first time—but before I do I swear I catch Calvin’s eye as he stands to take his bow.
Backstage there is champagne overflowing, and a hundred bodies trying to get to our stars. After the merch booth has closed, I join the melee, but am nudged to the middle of the mob, and then the back, where I stand on my toes to watch person after person embrace my husband. Jeff’s words from our pseudo-poker game rise to the surface of my consciousness and bob there, refusing to be silenced. This is the very definition of being a supporting character. But I don’t really mind that I’m this far away—I can still see the smile on his face as bright as a spotlight, and his joy seems to vibrate across the distance. Surely everyone knows what a big deal this must be to him, but I still look at him and remember the subway musician hunched over his guitar, sitting on a narrow stool, guitar case open at his feet. And now here he is, wearing a suit, standing beside Ramón Martín, and getting the praise and adoration of an entire cast and crew. I’m still on the sidelines, but I helped make that happen.