I turn to look over my shoulder, and Calvin does the same; it’s a mistake. Cell phone lights flicker blindingly as soon as he shows his face. At least a dozen iPhones are tracking our every move.
I hear him mumble a bewildered “What the fuck?”
“Where did Ramón go?” I ask.
“He left in a car a few minutes before me!”
There’s nowhere for us to go but straight ahead or back into the mob. The alley narrows toward the end, where it makes a ninety-degree turn behind a Chinese restaurant, and from the right side of that building you can shimmy out onto Ninth. Are they going to follow us the entire way?
We start to jog.
“Calvin!” someone cries out, and a few teenage girls scream, and within an instant the moment crumbles into mayhem. The group begins to run after us, and I feel a few bodies pressing up on our heels.
He leads, and I follow, both of us sprinting as fast as we can, shimmying along the grimy wall between the theater and the restaurant before pressing into the narrow space between Ying’s Dumplings and a launderette. A girl reaches past me, catching Calvin’s sleeve and jerking him out of my grasp so she can snap a selfie. I get a glimpse of it—she looks maniacal and he looks terrified; I have no doubt she’ll still post it on every social media account she has.
“Easy,” he says, trying to smile. “I always hit the side door. Every night. Please just come another time.”
They press forward, their hands all over him, and he’s trying to be polite but sweet Jesus I am suddenly furious.
I pull the closest hand off his jacket. “Don’t grab him. Don’t chase us. Come back another night and my husband will sign your program—if you’re calmer.”
The girl apologizes, staring wide-eyed at Calvin’s face. It’s like looking at someone in the height of Beatlemania. I know she isn’t herself. She has that saucer-eyed, on-the-verge-of-tears air about her. But Calvin appears genuinely disturbed; and of course he is. There are at least fifteen girls standing not ten feet away from us, taking pictures of him every few seconds. A few are already crying.
I slide my hand into his and he looks down at me, anchoring.
“Ready?” I ask.
“Don’t follow us.” I don’t even recognize my voice. Never in my life have I been this firm.
We walk alone for half a block; at least it seems the mob has turned back the other way, or decided to be decent humans and not chase him anymore. Calvin isn’t letting go of my hand, and I swear I can feel his heart pounding through his skin.
“That was insane,” he says.
I stop, pulling him into a little alcove of a closed clothing store. He stares down at me, pulse hammering in his neck.
“You okay?” I ask.
He bends, hovering just in front of my lips before making contact. It isn’t a morning kiss where we’re sleepy and giggly, or a tipsy kiss where we’re all teeth and filth. This feels like the way he would kiss me if he loved me: with both hands cupping my face, soft kisses all over my mouth with no need to go farther in. He pulls back, and in the light, his eyes seem to be the same exact color as his hair—a light brown, amber.
“You’re unbelievable,” he says.
“I was a bitch.”
“No.” He kisses me again. “I was literally terrified, and . . . you weren’t.”
By the time we get to Dutch Fred’s it is packed. Calvin and I cut a path through the crowd, ducking between diners in wicker chairs and people cluttered around the tiki-themed bar to a table in the back where Lulu is already seated.
“Fucking finally.” She stands, giving each of us a hard, tight hug. When she drops back into her seat, the chair skids backward a little, but she doesn’t seem to notice.
“Sorry. The crowd was huge tonight.” I nod to Calvin as he takes my jacket with still-shaking hands. “He was mobbed outside.”
“Ooooh, fancy-pants.” Lulu turns to the waitress, who has appeared to replace an empty wineglass with a full one, and mumbles her thanks. I’m tempted to tell her what happened, but it’s obvious she doesn’t care about anyone but herself tonight.
The waitress turns to us. “What can I get you guys?”
I nod to Lulu’s drink as I settle into my chair. “I’ll have what she’s having, and . . .” I lift my brows to Calvin in question.
“I’ll have the Left Hand Milk Stout, please.” He unwinds a charcoal scarf from around his neck and gives her a shaky smile. “Cheers.”
“Cheers,” Lulu repeats. “God. You are so adorable,” she says, but she sounds faintly disgusted.
“How long have you been here?” I ask, covertly checking my watch. We’re only about twenty minutes late, but it looks like Lulu is already a few rounds in.
She picks up her glass and brings it to her lips. “Awhile. I had an audition earlier and they interrupted me halfway into my first line to tell me they’d seen enough.”
I slide my hand over hers. “Ugh, Lu, I’m sorry.”
With a sneering eye roll, she pulls her hand away to cup it around her wineglass. “I figured since there’s nothing else going on in my life, I might as well head over and get drunk.”
I’m caught like a snag on her tone. Lulu is clearly in A Mood. Again. And after what just happened outside the theater with Calvin, I’m going to have to work to put on a convincingly sympathetic voice. “I’m sorry, sweetie, I don’t remember you mentioning an audition. I would have helped you with—”