This is what is most important to him.
And that’s when it hits me.
If playing me and flirting with me—and even sleeping with me—will get him that life, I don’t doubt for one second that he would do it.
I hope you don’t mind my brother passing on your number.
This is Brigid btw!
I peer down at my phone.
Brigid . . . Brigid?
Oh! Brigid, as in Calvin’s sister Brigid.
I walk out of the bathroom and round the corner to find him standing in the kitchen. One can only assume he’s wearing boxers, because from where I’m standing—and with his lower half currently obscured by the counter—he looks like he’s eating cereal wearing nothing but his wedding ring.
When he sees me he lifts a forearm to wipe his mouth and my eyes zero in like tractor beams. With his arm out of the way I am confronted with an unobstructed view of pectorals, abdominals, obliques . . .
I see it each day—what is this extraordinary life?—but it knocks the wind out of me every time.
“I know you’re not hungry so thought I’d grab something quick before we go.” He points to the phone still clutched in my hand and drops his voice to a whisper: “Someone on the phone?”
I begrudgingly rip my gaze from his torso and meet his eyes. “Yes. Phone. Did you by chance give your sister my number?”
Calvin sets his bowl in the sink and steps around the counter. He is wearing boxers, but now I can see his legs, too. I’m not sure this is any better. Standing across from me in the doorway, he looks down, sheepish.
“She kept asking and since she doesn’t know this is . . .”—he motions between us and I know what he’s implying: not real—“I figured it best to give in. I hope you’re not angry. She’s not much of a texter so you’ll probably barely hear from her.”
“No, it’s fine. And you’re right, it would look weird if I didn’t interact with them at all.”
Calvin leans against the doorway across from where I stand, and is entirely too naked to be this close. I push away and turn to face him in the hallway. On the one hand, it’s sort of lovely to have his sister’s information. Our lives are becoming interwoven; we are marking up each other’s history with permanent ink.
On the other hand, he hasn’t been home in four years. It’s hard to know how much emotional currency he has really spent by connecting me with his sister.
“She won’t get too personal,” he assures me. “It’s the McLoughlin way.”
I laugh at this. “Clearly it’s the Bakker way, as well. And—upside—at least I won’t have to lie that I’m in touch with them.”
“True.” His smile slips for a moment before it’s replaced with one that doesn’t crinkle his eyes the way I’m used to—it’s the absence that makes it so notable. “Speaking of . . . I guess we should get ready to go?”
Calvin stares ahead at the federal building, and together we look up up up. “I have the same feeling right now that I did as a kid hearing, ‘Just wait till your father gets home.’?”
I nod in agreement, congratulating myself on having the foresight to skip breakfast. It would just be coming back up right around now.
Calvin turns to me, and the faint color blooming across the tops of his cheekbones sets off a domino course of panic inside my chest. He looked completely calm at his audition, and only mildly anxious at our wedding. Seeing him nervous now only makes me more jittery.
“Before we go in,” he says, “can we double-check that we have everything?”
Between us, we’ve checked and rechecked at least a dozen times, but I’m soothed that Calvin’s need to be prepared is almost as obsessive as mine.
We step out of the main walkway and off to the side, next to a half-moon planter with a set of trees on each end. In the spring there would be shade overhead and lush branches heavy with blooms. Right now they’re skeletal and stark against the looming gray sky.
Calvin closes in to block the wind, and I pull out the binder, careful not to let anything slip to the wet ground at our feet. “Copies of everything we’ve already sent,” I say, turning past the first stack. “Photos, joint bills, copies of our applications.” I nod into the cold. “It’s all here.”
He nods back and squints up at the building. “We ready?”
At least this makes him laugh. “What else can we sort out in the next . . .”—he pulls my arm up, sliding my coat higher to peek at my watch—“four minutes?”
Just this little gesture—that he knew I would be wearing a watch—gives me a measure of calm. “I guess we’re good.”
I still don’t know that much about his family dynamic, I don’t know much about his childhood, I still don’t know that much about his time in the States. But I guess it’s understandable . . . as far as they know, we met only six months ago.
He presses a single kiss to my brow—and my heart leaps into my throat—before he sucks in a breath and steps away, taking my hand. The flush in his cheeks has spread, and when he looks up again, I see that his neck is flushed now, too.