It’s telling that my eyes don’t immediately search out the two people who should be my lifelines here—Robert and Jeff—but land directly on Calvin.
Our eyes meet, and a heavy weight falls from my chest to the ground. Half of his mouth turns up in a tentative smile before it straightens again, unsure.
“That’s him?” Davis asks in my ear.
“I expected red hair.”
“Shut up, Davis.”
“Maybe a green top hat.”
I elbow him roughly in the side. “If you embarrass me, I will cut your balls off and bury them.”
My brother snickers in my ear. Nearly everyone here tonight knows the history between me and Calvin—the cast and crew are mingling everywhere, and I caught a quick glimpse of Brian when I first walked in; I am positive he’s eating this up like cake. There are countless people in this room who have been obviously salivating for this awkward public reunion; it feels like the force of a hundred invisible hands is pressing on my lower back, urging me over to talk to my soon-to-be ex-husband.
Davis, suave as ever, presses a cold glass of something into my hand and then smacks my butt so hard I jump. “Go on,” he says. “I’m right behind you.”
I smooth the skirt back down over my ass, glaring at my brother. I’m aware that Calvin is watching all this from across the room. With one more tug at the hem of my dress, I make my way over to him and his slow-growing smile.
Sweet Christ on a cupcake, he looks good. He needs a haircut—but I like the wild russet thickness of it falling over his forehead. His skin is tanner from the early-summer sun, and his smile nudges awake a little flutter in my stomach.
I can imagine the hard curve of his shoulder beneath his suit, the way his stomach feels against my palm and how it spasms when I slide lower, taking the perfect heat of him in my hand.
Wow. How quickly my brain brands myself all over him, the minute I see him.
Mine, it says. Reclaim.
“Holland.” Calvin steps closer, pressing his lips to my cheek. “Hey.”
“Hi.” My heart is vaulting up into my throat, kicking wildly.
He gives me another long once-over. “You look . . . beautiful.”
“Thanks. So do you.”
He laughs through a full, openmouthed smile. “Why, thank you.”
Two months without seeing each other and a good opener might be “Congratulations on the L.A. move,” or something as simple as “How are you?”
Perhaps I could even introduce him to my brother, standing at my side.
But what do I actually do? I look around us, and ask indelicately, “Where’s Natalie?”
Calvin’s smile fades, and confusion replaces the sweet happiness that had been there. His dark brows pull in. “What?”
“I thought she’d be here with you tonight,” I say, shifting on my feet, looking around us again briefly.
Davis groans, forgoing the introduction for now and immediately peeling away to the left.
Calvin studies me for a quiet breath. “Sorry.” He blinks up at Davis’s disappearing form and then back to me. “I don’t understand. You thought I’d bring Natalie tonight?”
“Well . . . yeah.”
Is he confused because he doesn’t realize I saw the photo of them together? Or is he aware how awkward it would have been to have her here, and bewildered why I’d think he’d put us all in that situation?
He squints as if he’s trying to puzzle this out. “I thought we talked about this,” he says quietly. “I didn’t realize Natalie was still an issue for you. I assumed we—”
“I saw the photos of you together,” I explain quickly. I don’t want to make him explain any more than he has to—I don’t want details. But I owe it to myself to be honest with him, too. “I was sort of gutted when I saw them just before we were going to have dinner. I wish you’d told me.”
“Told you? I don’t . . .” Calvin’s frown deepens and he shakes his head once. “What photos?”
“Calvin.” I close my eyes, suddenly feeling sick and wishing we hadn’t tried to clear this up tonight. “Don’t.”
He steps closer, wrapping a warm hand around my upper arm. “Holland, I don’t know what photos you’re talking about.”
When I look up, I can tell from his face that he’s being sincere, and of course he hasn’t seen them. He’s never on Twitter, he never reads gossip sites. I pull out my phone, finding it easily, where it’s still open in my browser.
I am excellent at torturing myself.
Calvin reaches for my phone, but the microphone squawks jarringly from the front of the room and Jeff leans in, letting out a blasting “Is this thing on?”
Around us, everyone laughs at the volume and Jeff’s comical reaction, and the tension between Calvin and me is sliced down the middle. At his side, I carefully shift back, stepping away and out of his line of sight. I look for Davis, but he’s all the way on the other side of the room, standing with one of Robert’s old friends from Des Moines whom Jeff flew out for the party.
“I’m sure everyone in this room knows Robert, but many of you may not know me,” Jeff begins.
There are a few shouts of loving protest at this, but Jeff smiles, leaning in. “I’m Jeff, Robert Okai’s husband.”