I press through the crowd and onto the train, hopping from station to station, listening to every busker I find. I’m on an unnamable mission, and it isn’t until I’m on my fourth or fifth station that I realize I’m looking for someone as talented as Calvin.
But there’s no one like him in any subway station in New York. I’ve heard music my whole life; I know there’s no one like him anywhere. I knew it. I always knew it.
Calvin was right that by coming into this only as strangers, we were equals. But . . . are we no longer equals because I had feelings before he did?
Or is it that I have feelings and he doesn’t? Does this answer my question about whether he’s been playing me all along? Is banging me every day his way of keeping me loose, keeping me comfortable, keeping the government away?
Back up on the street, I get my coffee and walk for hours. I cover miles. By the time my stomach gnaws at me to eat, I realize I’ve left both my watch and my phone at the apartment and have no idea what time it is. There’s a giddy thrill in knowing that I’m completely unreachable. I’m sure Calvin did just fine getting his grouchy ass up and fed. He can get himself to the theater later; I’m not going to bother going in. Contrary to the popular idiom, those Tshirts do, in fact, practically sell themselves.
I show up unannounced at Jeff and Robert’s apartment at five, when I know for sure Robert won’t be there. For the first time in my relationship with my beloved Bobert, I feel a little disloyal, wanting to avoid him. I didn’t feel this way even when I went behind his back and married Calvin, because I was so convinced that it was for Robert’s own good. Obviously, Robert agrees with me about this now. He thinks Calvin walks on water, so I’m not sure how it would feel to hear him defend Calvin in all this.
Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about that with Jeff.
Jeff answers the door in his work clothes, holding a stack of mail. His eyes widen in surprise. “Hey, you.”
“Did you just get home?”
Stepping back, he waves me in. “Yeah. Aren’t you working tonight?”
The familiar smell of sandalwood calms me almost instantly. “I’m going to call Brian and tell him I’m taking a personal day. Can I use your phone?”
“Sure.” Jeff leans against the wall, watching me as I pick up the landline in their kitchen. “I guess this answers why you never replied to my text today.”
A sudden panic about the interview barrels through me. “Oh shit. Did something—”
“No emergency.” He seems to reconsider this. “I mean, at least I hope not? I’d texted a couple times because Calvin called me, looking for you.”
“He called you?”
Well. That’s something, at least. My anger dims, minutely. I give Jeff a grumpy look with my I’ll explain in one second finger gesture, and then finish dialing Brian’s number. Thank all that is holy—it goes to voicemail. “Brian, it’s Holland. I’m unable to make it in tonight. If you need anything, call me at Robert and Jeff’s.” I hang up and immediately step into Jeff’s arms.
He speaks into my hair. “I take it all is not well in Married Land?”
My “no” comes out muffled against his suit.
“Marriage is hard,” he says.
“I think fake marriage might be harder.”
He stills, and then hums sympathetically. “Let me change into comfy clothes, and then we can have a night in.”
I make tea while he puts on University of Iowa Hawkeye pajama pants and a Yankees T-shirt, and we meet on their enormous, fluffy couch. Jeff sits, pulling one leg up so he can turn and face me. Only a single lamp is on in the room, and it gives his cheeks a hollow, gaunt look. Jeff has always been slender, but for the first time in my life, I think he’s starting to look old. My heart breaks a little.
“Okay,” he says. “Let’s have it.”
I take a bracing breath; there’s no use warming up slowly to any of this: “Things with Calvin have been really good. We’re actually . . . together.”
My uncle laughs in mock-scandal. “No. What will the ton say about two married people having an affair together!” He leans in and whispers, “We had a hunch.”
I tilt my eyes skyward and ignore his teasing. “So, last night, we were mobbed outside the theater, and it was so surreal. Afterward, we had this moment—this super-intense moment that felt really grounding—where I felt like we were in this together. I felt so protective, and he was so grateful, and it was just . . .”
“Loving,” Jeff finishes, with a question in his voice.
“Yeah . . . But then we went to meet Lulu at Dutch Fred’s”—Jeff groans knowingly—“and she got really drunk—per usual, I guess—and told Calvin how I used to basically stalk him.”
Jeff pauses, eyes narrowing. His voice goes low like it does when he’s turning more protective animal than uncle. “You had a crush on him, and were justifiably infatuated—in part because of his talent.”
“Well, she put on a pretty great show and made me sound super creepy. She told him what I used to call him, how I’d go see him play, how I knew his schedule. It wasn’t just that she was being a dick, she completely shattered this really great moment we were having, and I feel like we went back to being strangers.”