Not to be melodramatic, but who needs love?
So I don’t bother to answer him, and instead turn into the building. Through the security screening we go, up the elevator, down the marble hallway, and into the immigration suite. Calvin gestures for me to sit, and then lowers himself into the chair beside me in the waiting area, pulling out his phone. I watch as he turns on the screen . . . and reads a text from someone named Natalie.
I can’t help it. I’m already a bare wire, exposed. “Natalie?”
He doesn’t even try to hide it. He tilts his phone so I can read the text there.
Hey you! Checking in to see if you’re free?
When I look up, he reminds me unnecessarily, “She’s the girl I was meant to go on a date with that night at dinner with you and the uncles.”
What the fuck?
Heat rises like steam to my face. “She’s still texting you?”
He drops his head into his hands. “We haven’t talked since. I guess she’s just following up on what I said.”
“What you said? We were married when you spoke to her. What did you say? ‘Check back in four months for a rain check on that date’? What the hell, Calvin? What have you been doing with me?”
He begins to argue, but Dougherty has materialized a few feet away, and we stand in a burst, as if saluting.
How long has he been there? Did he hear us? Oh my God, we are idiots.
“Hey there,” Dougherty says. “Come on back.”
With a small, encouraging smile, he turns and we follow. It feels so familiar—the walk to his office, the gray view out his window, the tight ball of anxiety in my stomach—but I’m also struck by how different it is, how much more we know now. Our first interview was a naive shot into the dark, with fingers crossed. Now we’re walking across the room, dragging all this emotional and marital baggage behind us. Even if we make it out of this meeting intact, how long will we stay that way?
Do I want to be married to someone who’s been keeping a Natalie on the back burner?
Do I want to be married to someone who may have married me only for this job, and because I looked like someone named Amanda?
Dougherty tells us to sit and closes the door behind us before rounding his desk. In front of him are three stacks of papers, and to the right is a thick file I can only assume is ours.
“I’m going to lay it out straight up,” he says, scratching an eyebrow. He doesn’t look pleased. “After your first interview, I’m required to do an audit of the documentation to create my report.”
We both nod.
“At first blush, your story was pretty clear-cut. You met at the subway station, went on a date, fell in love.”
Calvin and I nod again.
But it’s like I know what’s coming, and I can’t breathe.
“Something jumped out at me.” He pulls a sheet off the top of the middle pile, and reads it quietly for a few seconds. “The police report. Holland, here it is, dated January ninth. You were assaulted at the Fiftieth Street station. You claimed there was an unnamed musician in the station as a witness to your injury, correct?”
There it is.
I swallow before speaking. “That’s right.”
“Now, you also mentioned that Calvin used to play sometimes. Wasn’t the assault at the station where you used to play, Calvin?”
“That’s right, sir.” And before I can catch his eye, give him a tiny shake of my head—he adds, “That’s how it all began.”
But then he pulls back in a jerky motion, turning to me. “Wait.”
I watch as understanding dawns.
“No,” he says. “I wasn’t there that night, right?”
Silence blankets the room.
“You don’t remember whether you were present when your girlfriend at the time was assaulted?”
Calvin closes his eyes, slumping. “I was there.”
Slowly, Dougherty slides the paper onto his desk and leans back, rubbing his eyes.
Neither of us says a thing. We both know we’re busted.
We told Dougherty we met six months before we got married. If Calvin was at the station when I got injured in January, he would undoubtedly be named in the police report as a witness—the victim’s boyfriend.
“Okay, so I was right. The timelines don’t match up,” Dougherty says quietly, resting his elbows on his desk and meeting our eyes in turn. “See, I do the first audit, but there’s always a second, independent assessment of the docs. Sometimes they’ll skim the paperwork, but sometimes they’re really thorough.” He leans back again, studying us. “Normally, I would reject this outright and not even bother to bring you in, but I like you, and Jeff is a good friend. Unfortunately, this is easy to catch, because I have that Calvin played at that station, and you were assaulted at that station. If Calvin was there the night you were assaulted, then why didn’t he come forward with information, and why isn’t he explicitly named? I don’t want to get caught in a situation where I’ve pushed through an obviously fraudulent marriage.”
“It isn’t, though,” Calvin says, sliding forward in his seat. “We may have . . . stretched a few details, but it’s a love marriage.”
A thick knot of emotion takes up residence in my throat. Dougherty looks at me, and I nod. He probably assumes my watery eyes are tears of intense agreement rather than heartache because I’m not even sure whether Calvin is telling the truth or is just a really, really good liar.