I know mine are real. I hope his are, too.
My stomach ties itself into a knot.
“Seems to me you were the one who ended things,” Jeff reminds me.
“I was, but I think it was good for him to have some distance.” I take a deep breath. “We’re having dinner tonight, so . . . we’ll see.”
Robert grins widely at this, reaching across the table to squeeze my hand. “We’re so proud of you, Buttercup.”
“Thanks, guys.” I look up at them, wondering whether I need to thank them more exhaustively—for raising me, for bringing me here, for propping me up, and for shepherding me through the crazy decisions I’ve made this year. But one look at them tells me they already know how grateful I am for them. So I just say quietly, “Thanks for everything. I can’t even imagine not having you.”
“You’re the child we never had,” Robert says simply. “You’re our pride and joy.”
We need to move into this essay business or I am going to end up an emotional puddle in their dining room.
“So, I had a bit of an epiphany a little over a month ago,” I tell them, drumming my fingers on the table. “It feels so obvious now, but I think being with Calvin really pushed me to realize it.”
They both blink expectantly at me.
I slide the envelope across the table.
Robert opens it, and claps his hand to his mouth as soon as he sees the letter from the New Yorker on top. Jeff shouts before he launches himself out of his chair and picks me up out of mine, holding me a foot above the floor.
After the screams and exclamations and several rounds of reading the letter out loud, we quiet down enough to sit, and for them to begin to read the essay itself through their proud tears.
Robert’s expression sobers and turns heart-achingly tender when he realizes that this essay is, in part, about his influence on my life, and my future. Although I’ve incorporated the editorial notes that were suggested in the letter—and I know they’ve made the overall theme stronger—it’s still scary to hand this over to him. I write like I know what I’m talking about in the musical sense, and now that he has the essay in his hands, I’m suddenly terrified he’s going to tell me all the ways I got things wrong when speaking about pitch, and composition, and raw musical talent.
I see his eyes flicker back over the same sentence a few times, and try to guess what section he’s reading. My nerves are going to eat their way through my stomach and up my throat. I can’t just sit here, watching them read while we wait for lunch.
Curling up on the couch in the living room, I pull out my phone, lazily scrolling through my Twitter feed. News, news, the world is on fire, news . . . and then I’m stalled at a photo of Calvin standing next to a beautiful brunette on a red carpet. It’s not even on his Twitter account, or the Levin-Gladstone social media feed.
It’s on Entertainment Weekly.
It’s like swallowing ice—everything in my throat seizes up. In the preview image, he has his arm around her waist. He’s wearing my favorite smile.
I shouldn’t. I really shouldn’t—but how can I not? I click the link to the article.
For the second time in a month, Broadway guitarist and heartthrob Calvin McLoughlin steps out with indie actress Natalie Nguyen, this time for the New York premiere of the political thriller EXECUTE, starring his bromance better half and It Possessed Him star Ramón Martín.
The easy-on-the-eyes duo has been spotted twice in New York City, with—
Abruptly, I drop my phone facedown on the coffee table. There is a storm inside me named Hurricane Natalie.
Hey you! Checking in to see if you’re free?
Calvin seems a tiny bit more alive these last couple weeks.
I lift a throw pillow to my face and scream.
“Holland, this is exquisite!” Robert yells from the table, misunderstanding my meltdown.
The pillow gets hurled across the room. “Does Calvin have a fucking girlfriend?”
Two sets of footsteps pad across the floor, coming to a stop behind the couch.
“Does Calvin have a girlfriend?” Robert repeats. “Not that I know of . . . but I haven’t really seen him outside of performances.”
Jeff gingerly retrieves my phone from the table, looking at the article still up on the screen. “Oh! She’s the woman from . . .” He snaps his fingers. “What was that film with Josh Magellan, about the tour group that went to—”
“Right, right,” Robert jumps in, “to Nova Scotia.” He taps his mouth while he tries to remember. “What’s her name? She was fabulous in it.”
“Her name is Natalie Nguyen.” I punch the pillow. “Can we skip the part where you tell me she’s an amazing talent, and get to the part where my husband has his arm around her tiny waist on the red carpet?”
It’s probably no surprise that I bail on dinner.
Jeff and Robert insist that I don’t know the true story, and that rumors like this happen all the time. No matter how much they want me to think otherwise, Jeff and Robert have to understand that Calvin dating Natalie isn’t ludicrous. It’s likely.
I give them a copy of the essay for Calvin to read and approve, and then I meet Lulu for drinks at Lillie’s, telling her we’re going to celebrate my New Yorker victory. Maybe if I focus on the positive, I won’t melt into a Holland-shaped puddle of regret.