He leans forward, taking both of my hands in his. “There is nothing happening with Natalie. When she called at the restaurant, I told her I was starting a new relationship. That’s what I said. I didn’t give her an expiration date.” He bends, kissing my knuckles. “It was cowardly to not tell my parents about Amanda. Plain and simple. And yeah, I married you at first to stay here but my love for you isn’t a lie. It was shite to expect you to lie with me. I just . . .” He shakes his head, and looks to the window. “In the moment, it was all a swarm in my head. I’m so sorry, but I’m here now, and I’ll do whatever you need me to do to fix this between us.”
I study his face. His smooth skin, dancing green eyes, the full mouth I’ve kissed thousands of times. He looks positively miserable, and I don’t even know what to say.
“I fucked this up,” he whispers, and his eyes fall closed. “I really fucked it up.”
I hate this,
I hate it. I hate it.
When he opens his eyes again and looks at me, I don’t want him to leave, but I know I’m going to make him go. We are such a mess.
“Well, anyway, I told you I’d come back later and get my things,” he says, trailing off.
I try to swallow around the clog in my throat, my chest, my gut. “Yeah.”
“Do you want me to go?”
“I don’t want you to, no. But right now I need you to.”
He directs his next quiet question to the floor: “Do you want to stay married?”
My heart screams yes. Most of my body, in fact, screams yes, yes, yes. But a tiny fragment inside, a spark that’s turned into an ember, whispers no. I know we could talk through Amanda, or Natalie, or all the secrets we’ve kept from our families, the way we talked through Lulu’s Insane Stalker accusations. But in the grand scheme of life, those are all small things, and the big things need to happen with a clean slate. Before this, I had nothing going on in my life. This man was presented as an option, and I was willing to marry him just to have something to do, some victory to claim.
My willingness to jump into a fake marriage seems depressing in hindsight. The fact that he lied to me feels terrible. The fact that—over and over again—I’m not sure whether or not I can trust his feelings to be genuine is gutting.
But the worst feeling is the deep confusion inside me about why he would love me at all; I feel stale and tiresome. No matter what my uncles say, Calvin and I aren’t Robert and Jeff—we didn’t start out with clear intentions and unequivocal declarations of love. I can’t be the Jeff, working on the sidelines while Calvin takes off like a comet. I need to fill my life with accomplishments I create, not just witness.
“I love you,” I tell him earnestly, and swallow a few times so I don’t cry when I get through the rest of it. It’s the first time I’ve said it. In every book I’ve ever read where the protagonist does what I’m about to do, I hate it, I yell at the pages . . . but I get it now. “And part of me really does want to stay married and work through this, and have the unexpected perfect ending. But I’ve been really good at letting other people take care of me, and making my decisions based on what other people need. I’ve been scared of figuring out my own shit, or trying something and failing. And now I’m sitting here thinking, ‘I wouldn’t even be in love with me. How can I believe him when he says he is?’?”
Calvin moves to interrupt me, but stops when I hold up a hand. I know he wants to reassure me that he honestly loves me, but he’s only alluded to the fact that we should know we’re in love because of how good the sex is.
“We could work on us, but I’m not happy with me right now. I want to do something, not just watch you do everything.”
He stares at me, murmuring, “I get that.”
Of course he does; he’s got music, and he’s put that first nearly his entire life. He was a complete mess in how he handled this, but now, looking at him—he’s got it all figured out.
Calvin moves his gaze over my face—my forehead, cheeks, nose, mouth, chin, and last, my eyes—before slowly leaning forward and pressing his mouth to mine. “Okay.”
I smile quizzically once he’s pulled back. “Okay?”
“I can wait.”
I suppose I should be grateful for the truth in the saying Sometimes when one thing falls apart, other things fall into place. After all, without the meltdown of my relationship that afternoon outside the federal building, I would never have left the theater. Without leaving the theater, I would never have gotten a waitressing job two days later at Friedman’s in Hell’s Kitchen, where I work three afternoon shifts and three nights a week. Without the restaurant job, I wouldn’t have my days free to write. And without writing, I wouldn’t have what feels like a tree taking root inside me, growing up and invisibly out of every pore.
My scramble of ideas about growing up in the symphony hall, subway buskers, and the glitter and brass of Broadway turns from a journal of jumbled words . . . into an essay.
It seems so obvious now: Write about music, you dummy.
I forgot the joy of seeing words coming out of my hands before they’ve even come into my head. When I close my eyes and type, I see Calvin’s hands moving over the neck of the guitar; hear the clatter of change falling dissonantly into his guitar case down at the station, and remember how he barely registered the ocean of people crashing in waves all around him on the subway platform.