Cheers erupt, and I clap limply along, feeling numb. I want to revel in all this adulation for Robert, but the moment has such a strange flatness to it, as if I’m watching it from a distance.
“I want to thank you all for coming tonight to celebrate Robert’s birthday, to celebrate his award, and to celebrate the news that we have to share.” Jeff looks across the room at his husband. “I am the luckiest man to have the life that I do, and I couldn’t do any of it without you, honey.”
Robert comes forward to thundering applause, kissing Jeff before taking the microphone. “Writing Possessed was a bit like being possessed,” he begins, and people laugh knowingly. The story of Robert virtually not sleeping for a month while he composed it is legendary. “But the story of the present incarnation of Possessed is really something. Nearly everyone knows this by now, but several months ago, we were down a lead musician, facing the incoming brilliance of Ramón Martín, and I was struggling to figure out what direction to take this production. I worried I was too close to it, worried that it would somehow grow stale over time.” He looks up and finds me, almost immediately. “My niece Holland dragged me to the subway station, where a young, Juilliard-trained guitarist was performing.”
The party erupts again, and Calvin turns to meet my eyes. His are tight and searching, but they’re quickly torn from my face when Robert says, “Come on up here, Calvin.”
The tightness gives way to a reluctant smile as people make room for him to move to the front and join Robert. I feel swallowed by the crowd as it closes back in, hiding the path on the floor connecting me to Calvin.
Robert continues, recounting how Calvin came in, how he blew them away. He skips over the immigration issue and moves directly to the moment Ramón and Calvin played together, bringing Ramón to the front of the room, too. Robert talks about their first performance, and how very soon a high-pitched mania would greet them outside the theater after each show.
He’s launching into his announcement about opening the L.A. performance with the two of them when I feel someone step up beside me.
“I’m sure this is hard for you.”
I look over at Brian as he lifts his chin toward Calvin, and feel my cheeks heat. He’s staring straight ahead, jaw tight. We’ve knocked heads so many times and it all just feels pointless now.
“Are you seriously choosing this moment to rub my nose in it?”
He meets my eyes, and a weird discomfort works its way through me. I’ve never held eye contact with him for so long; I realize what strangers we are that I wouldn’t have been able to name his eye color until now. “I’m not making a dig,” he says quietly. “I’m sure it sucks that Robert is moving to L.A., and I’m sure it sucks to see Calvin with someone else.”
I stare at him, confused.
“You did something for the production—it was ungodly stupid, of course, but you did it for the right reasons.” His eyebrows pull down. “And now you’re here hurting. I’m just saying, human to human, I’m sorry.”
“Excuse me,” I mumble, turning because I’m worried I’m going to start crying. I push carefully through the crowd and find a side door into an empty hallway connecting the banquet rooms. The floor is marble; my heels click quickly down to the end, where I lean against a door to the stairwell, breathing in and out.
I want to escape to my apartment, but Davis has my coat check ticket, and Calvin is still holding my phone.
Back down the hall, the side door opens again. The sound of surprised voices and riotous applause spills out; I assume Robert has just mentioned L.A.
But the cacophony dims back to a lull when the door closes with a heavy click.
Footsteps approach, steady and measured, and a quiet Irish accent comes from behind me. “Holland.”
“Go back in there,” I tell him, working to sound steady. I don’t want to do this on a night that is supposed to be about Robert. “They aren’t done with the announcement yet.”
“They’ve just finished.” He pauses, and I hear his heavy exhale. “I saw you leave, and it’s just . . . I’m confused about what happened back there.”
Unable to face him yet, I swallow, trying to clear the thickness from my throat. “Which part?”
“The part where you saw me photographed with Natalie?” From behind me, his voice is gentle: “Did you look at it?”
What? “Of course I did. Obsessively.”
“Are you sure?”
Finally, I turn around, confused. His expression softens when he sees that I’m a crying mess, and he reaches up, carefully moving his thumb across my cheek.
Sniffing, I do what he says, entering my passcode and looking at the photo I’ve already seen a hundred times now.
He bites his lip, waiting for me to understand before letting out a small laugh. “Natalie Nguyen.” Calvin taps the screen, and now his eyes are smiling. “You think I’m dating Natalie Nguyen?”
“Everyone thinks that. You . . . have been seen together a couple times and you have your arm around her.” I lick my lips, anxious that I’m missing something here. “That’s what Entertainment Weekly said.”
“I’ve seen her at a few theater events. This photo was at Ramón’s premiere, right?” I nod. He points to the edge of the photo, where I can now make out a sliver of a sleeve. “I think this photo cropped out Ramón so it looks like it’s just me and Natalie. Do you know how many photos I took that night?”