“Can you hear what he’s saying?” I ask. There’s a pause and I can hear the faint murmur of Jeff’s voice in the background. I chew on my fingernail, waiting for an answer.
“It looks like he’s hanging up, so hold on a second and you can ask him yourself.”
“Okay,” I whisper. Calvin appears in the doorway. The living room curtains are open, and with the sunlight streaming into the apartment behind him I can barely make out his face. But I can easily identify the rigid line of his shoulders and the tight clench of his hands at his sides.
“Hey, Hollsy,” Jeff says, startling me back to the call.
“I’m here. Dougherty texted you?”
“Yeah, early this morning. He said he needs you to come back in for a few more questions. Both of you.”
“Did they say what kind of questions?”
“He didn’t want to get into it, but didn’t sound all that concerned.” I want to curl in on myself in a paralyzing combination of anxiety and relief. “Now, Holland, listen. I’m sure this will be fine. They’re just doing their jobs and clarifying a few things, making sure everything’s on the up-and-up. Things are good between you and Calvin, so there’s nothing to lie about. It is a real marriage.”
I look up to where my husband is quietly listening to my end of the conversation, and quickly divert my eyes. “Right.”
“I know the letter said to call for an appointment,” Jeff says, and there’s the shuffling of paper. “But Sam’s moved some things around and can get you in at noon today. Can you guys make that work?”
“We’ll make it work,” I say. “Noon.”
We end the call, and the resulting silence feels oppressive. In unison, we glance to the clock on my bedside table: it’s eleven.
Calvin turns away, muttering, “Right.”
I watch him move to the door, pull his phone from his coat on the hook, and bend his head, dialing. The muscles beneath his shirt shift as he lifts his arm to place the phone by his ear. I have an acute memory of those muscles moving beneath my hands only this morning, with the sun barely filtering in through our bedroom window.
I really should look away, but I don’t know how much longer I’ll get to enjoy this view.
“Mam.” His voice is quiet. “Yeah, good, good.” A pause. “Right, so Amanda and I need to hop over to a meeting at noon.” Another pause, during which my heart bleeds into my stomach. “All’s good, but we’re not going to make lunch.” He goes quiet, nodding. “Sure. Sure. That’s fine. We’ll meet you outside the theater at half four.”
I watch him lower his phone and end the call. The name Amanda was a stone skipped across a lake; the ripples from it spread out across the room.
Calvin turns to look over his shoulder at me. He looks resigned, like he clearly doesn’t know where to start fixing this. Given the meeting we have less than an hour from now, I’m wondering whether we’ll even get the chance.
“Is there anything you want to take with you?” I ask him, hedging.
He startles a little. “You think it’s that kind of meeting?”
I shrug, helpless. “Calvin, I have no idea.”
Panic animates him, and he moves back over for his guitar, hurriedly bending and shoving a bunch of documents and letters into a messenger bag. And what if he doesn’t come back here with me? What if he gets put on a plane? The prospect seems nearly preposterous, with his mother and sister finally only a mile or so away in a hotel.
I feel like I can’t quite catch my breath in this madcap circus between us. We’ve gone from strangers to spouses to friends to lovers, and now are spiraling in this no-man’s-land of awkward. Amanda is still a shadow on the wall, and here we are, defending our marriage to the government, again—and this time it feels real.
He loops his bag across his chest, picks up his guitar, and meets me at the door, expression somber. “I hate how this has turned.”
I can’t help it; I laugh. The sentiment is sweet, but so unbelievably obvious.
“It’s funny?” he asks quietly.
“It’s just . . .” I look up at him, and for the span of three tight breaths, it all reels through my head: his first small smile at the station, the easy comfort of our first lunch together, the vibrator in the couch, the first interview, the drunken blur of his body on mine and then the clarity of making love with him again, and again, every day for weeks. I swear I know him but then there’s Amanda, and another interview, and I realize with startling horror that I am a complete disaster of an adult. “It’s just a lot.”
I don’t trust any of the sweet gestures right now. I don’t trust his hand reaching for mine on the C train, or his reassuring chatter as we walk the three blocks to the federal building. I don’t trust the tenderness in his eyes when he bends outside, cupping my jaw in his hand and whispering right up against my ear, “I want to fix all of this. Let me fix all of this.”
Obviously, he has the most to lose here—at least on face value, because it’s impossible to assess the damage this is doing to me emotionally. He has his work permit, his dream job, a pretty sweet apartment in walking distance to work, and a wife who conveniently looks a lot like the woman he’s been pretending to be married to for the past four years. Of course he wants to fix this. I only have this blossoming joy in my heart that I’ve felt waking up beside Calvin McLoughlin for the past several months.