He runs a hand down his face.
“So we got home,” I continue, “and Calvin wanted to talk about it—”
“Which is good,” he gently interrupts with a hand on my arm.
“Right, it was good, but not the way he did it. I got pretty pissed.” I look at him and explain how the conversation went, how Calvin made it sound like I’m getting the most out of this arrangement, how he feels lied to.
“I hit a wall,” I say. “I did this for Robert, and for him—and maybe also for me—but why is that bad?” I stand up, walking across the room and back. “It’s not like I expected this marriage to turn real. It’s not like I put a video camera in the bookcase and took footage of him sleeping and stole his underwear.”
“Of course not, honey,” he says. “You have an incredible ear for music, and of the tens of thousands of people who probably heard him, only you were able to connect him to Robert—to make this happen.”
“But last night, the way he was talking about it, just made me feel so gross—just when I had accomplished something, when I was feeling good about having a voice and protecting Calvin like I did. I have nothing going for me,” I say, squeezing my eyes closed. “Nothing except you guys, and your support and hopes for me. I’m not Calvin. I’m not Robert. I’m not you.”
“You’re right,” Jeff says, laughing. “You aren’t a buttoned-up financial analyst.”
“You may not always love your job, but you’re good at it—and you found a hobby that you love doing.” I pull my shoulders up, feeling tense everywhere. “I have no idea what I want to do. I want to write and read and talk about books with people. I want to listen to music, and go out to dinner, and just live.”
“That is a life,” he insists. “That is a good life.”
“But I have to be able to support myself, too. I have all these things I wanted to do, and I haven’t done any of them.”
“I didn’t find pottery until I was fifty,” Jeff reminds me. “Honey, you are only twenty-five. You don’t need to have it all figured out.”
I fall back down on the couch, covering my face with my hands. “But shouldn’t I have some of it figured out?”
He places a large hand on my knee. “That perception is only coming from you.”
“Last night, it was coming from Lulu and then Calvin.” I drop my hands. “I love you guys, but I have to take your sentiment with a grain of salt. You’re biologically and/or legally obligated to love me.”
Jeff leans in, pressing a kiss to my hair. “Hollsy, think of it this way: If I compared myself to Robert when we first met, I would constantly feel behind. He was a musical prodigy. I was a waiter, trying to figure out if I had the grades to get into the mediocre MBA programs in my area.” He smiles at me. “But I knew I wanted to be with him, and he wanted to be with me, too, and also knew what he wanted to do with his life. So, we compromised. He took the job in Des Moines, and it was my responsibility to get a job that would make enough money for what we needed, and that I enjoyed enough. I didn’t have to love it, but it didn’t matter whether I did, either, because I had him. I kept trying new things, too, and eventually discovered pottery. It’s fun, of course, but the most important part is that I didn’t feel like my job had to be my everything.”
This is what I have to keep reminding myself. Sometimes a job can just be a job. We aren’t all going to win the rat race. “I know.”
“You know I didn’t approve of your marriage,” he says quietly, and guilt floods my bloodstream. “You didn’t know each other, and your feelings being what they were, I worried you would get hurt.”
I groan into a pillow, but Jeff pulls it away.
“I’m not chastising you. Listen. All of that was true, but I also didn’t expect things to turn romantic between the two of you. Seeing you two lately is wonderful for us.”
“I’m not sure it’s real, though.” I pull at my lower lip, working not to cry. After all the walking and righteous anger, not only am I physically exhausted, but the softer emotions are starting to rise to the surface. The thought that Calvin has been toying with me all this time is painful. It was easy to push the worry away when he was kissing me, when he was smiling at me. “Maybe it’s just a game.”
“I’ve seen you together, and I know men. It would be very surprising if he was faking that level of absorption. He called me twice, Hollsy. He called Robert, too. He didn’t sound like he was playing a game.”
I press my hands to my face. “But he needs things to be okay with us because he needs to stay here. I’m not sure how to trust anything he does.”
“Well, that’s one of the reasons—”
“I know. I know.”
“But for the sake of optimism, let’s assume that he is genuine,” Jeff says. “If things work out between the two of you, Calvin is lucky because he has a job he loves and he has you. This gives you room to find yourself, and figure out what you want your life to look like. It doesn’t have to look like mine, or his, or Robert’s.”
“And it doesn’t have to look right now the way you want it to look in ten years.”