What does Calvin’s family know about me? What has he told them?
I’m so distracted wondering what they’ll expect, what they’ll assume, what they’ll want to see in his wife—that when a subway car jerks along a bend I make a rookie mistake and lose my footing, sliding roughly into the door.
A man helps me, pulling me upright again. “Hold on to the bar here, honey.”
It is on the tip of my tongue to tell him that I live here, and I’m just nervous about meeting my in-laws, but he doesn’t fucking care—and neither do my thoughts, which are back on a wild bender, buzzing around.
I wait outside of international arrivals, hoping I’ll recognize the two women I’ve seen only in photographs. From what I can tell, of all Calvin’s siblings, Brigid looks the most like him, and it’s true in person, too—the second she walks around the bend into the terminal, I know it’s her. She has the same thick, light brown hair, the same olive skin, the same crinkly-eyed smile when she sees me. Marina is right behind her, and cries out when she follows where Brigid points in my direction, clapping a hand over her mouth.
They run, throwing their arms around me, and I feel the moment Marina breaks down and starts crying.
“Aw, Mum.” Brigid laughs as she pulls her mom into a hug. “We’ve just been so excited,” she explains over the top of Marina’s head. “We haven’t seen Calvin in four years.”
Marina is tiny but has the appearance of being unmovable and ageless. “You have no idea,” she says, pulling away and wiping her eyes. “And we’ve wanted to meet you for ages. We were excited thinking the two of you might come home at Christmas, and then it fell through.”
What a curious thing to say. I smile, returning their individual hugs and guiding them out of the terminal with a stunned numbness.
Does she mean this upcoming Christmas? It didn’t sound like that.
I’m trying to answer their questions and ask my own, but her words are pinging around in my ears, unwilling to move aside and let other things in.
We make small talk, about the weather, about the flight, about the food that was served, but in the background, the high-pitched voice needles me.
She’s wanted to meet me for ages? It’s April 8; I met Calvin officially just over three months ago.
We load up their bags into a cab. “Forty-Seventh and Eighth,” I tell the driver.
We pull away from the curb, and Marina takes my hand. “You look different in your recent photos than the early ones we got.”
The early ones?
My stomach tightens again. “I do?”
“Your hair’s lighter than it was when you first met in school.”
Something is very, very wrong . . .
I pat my hair, plucking a lie from the chaos of my brain. “Yeah, I lightened it a little since then.”
I have never colored my hair.
“Amanda?” Brigid says. “Amanda.” She reaches around her mother in the middle seat and taps my arm. “Amanda, love, is that the Empire State Building?”
She means me.
She’s talking to me.
In all of our texts, not once did she ever need to use my name. She doesn’t know me as Holland. Apparently she knows me as Amanda.
Who the fuck is Amanda?
I am worried I’m going to lose my breakfast in the back of this taxi. “Yes, that, um . . .” I nod to where she’s looking. “That’s it, over there.”
The refrain I put on a loop in my head is to not assume anything until I’ve spoken to Calvin. My first Hail Mary was hoping I picked up the wrong Irish family from the airport, but when they started rattling on in the taxi about being so proud of Calvin, and unable to believe that he was really playing with the orchestra for Possessed, I was pretty sure that wasn’t the case.
Don’t assume anything, I tell myself, walking up to the apartment building. Don’t freak out.
“He’s here?” Brigid asks in an excited whisper. “He’s upstairs, in your flat?”
“He should be,” I tell her over my shoulder. “He doesn’t head to the theater until around five.”
Behind me, Marina lets out a quiet sob. “I cannot believe we are going to see him play.”
That’s right . . . Robert got them front-row tickets for tonight’s show.
Dread has settled as a brick in my stomach, and I can’t even find the enthusiasm to turn and smile at her. “It’s a stunning performance,” I say over my shoulder. “He’s going to be so happy you’re there.”
“He has no idea!” Brigid squeals.
A dark laugh rips through my thoughts. He has no idea—apparently none of us has any idea what we’re in for.
I fit the key in the lock with a shaking hand. Inside, we can hear Calvin strumming his guitar, absently playing “Lost to Me,” and the song performs the same silent seduction on me that it always does.
But then Brigid presses up against me, and I pray to the benevolent gods of everything that whatever this lie is, it doesn’t ruin us . . . if there is or was ever an us.
The door has barely swung open before Brigid bursts past me, screaming, “SURPRISE!”
Calvin shoots up, dropping his guitar in shock. He lets out a choking “Bridge?” and then bursts into tears as his sister launches herself into his arms. He sees his mom behind her and a sob tears out of him as he loosens one arm to pull her into the tangle.