“Great,” I said. The room was still spinning a bit. I could barely look toward where Sonya had been curled on the couch, willowy and relaxed with her white curls piled on her head, the opposite of my tiny, straight-banged mother. I took the opportunity to dig through my bag (careful not to upend the wine) for the bookmarks.
Someone knocked on the door, and Pete leapt up. My heart stuttered at the thought that Sonya might’ve changed her mind and doubled back. But then a low voice was scratching down the hall, and Pete was back, bringing in tow a damp and disheveled Augustus Everett. He ran a hand through his peppered hair, shaking rain from it. He looked like he’d rolled out of bed and wandered here through the storm, drinking from a paper bag. Not that I was one to judge at this precise moment.
“Girls,” Pete said, “I believe you all know the one and only Augustus Everett?”
Gus nodded, waved. Smiled? That seemed too generous a word for what he was doing. His mouth acknowledged the room, I would say, and then his eyes caught on mine, and the higher of his mouth’s two corners twisted up. He nodded at me. “January.”
My mind spun its feeble, wine-slick wheels trying to figure out what bothered me so much about the moment. Sure, there was smug Gus Everett. There was stumbling upon That Woman and the bathroom wine. And—
The difference in Pete’s introductions.
This is January was how a parent forced one kindergartner to befriend another.
The one and only Augustus Everett was how a book club introduced its special guest.
“Please, please. Sit here, by January,” Pete said. “Would you like a drink?”
Oh, God. I’d misunderstood. I wasn’t here as a guest. I was here as a potential book club member.
I’d come to a book club that was discussing The Revelatories.
“Would you like something to drink?” Pete asked, looping back to the kitchen.
Gus scanned the blue plastic glasses in Lauren and Maggie’s hands. “What are you having, Pete?” he asked over his shoulder.
“Oh, first round at book club’s always White Russians, but January brought some wine, if that sounds better.”
I balked both at the thought of starting a night with a White Russian and at the prospect of having to shamefully fish out my purse-wine for Gus.
I could tell by the huge grin on her face that nothing would delight Pete more.
Gus leaned forward, resting his elbows on his thighs. The left sleeve of his shirt rose with the motion, revealing a thin black tattoo on the back of his arm, a twisted but closed circle. A Möbius strip, I thought it was called.
“A White Russian sounds great,” Gus answered.
Of course it did.
People liked to imagine their favorite male authors sitting down at a typewriter with a taste of the strongest whiskey and a hunger for knowledge. I wouldn’t be surprised if the rumpled man sitting beside me, the one who’d mocked my career, was wearing dirty day-of-the-week underwear inside out and living on Meijer-brand cheese puffs.
He could show up looking like a college junior’s backup pot dealer (for when the first one was in Myrtle Beach) and still get taken more seriously than I would in my stuffy Michael Kors dress. I could get author photos taken by the senior photo editor of Bloomberg Businessweek and he could use his mom’s digital camera from 2002 to snap a shot of himself scowling on his deck and still garner more respect than me.
He might as well have just sent in a dick pic. They would’ve printed it on the cover flap, right over that two-line bio they’d let him shit out. The shorter, the fancier, Anya would say.
I sensed Gus’s eyes on me. I imagined he sensed my brain tearing him to pieces. I imagined Lauren and Maggie sensed this night had been a terrible mistake.
Pete returned with another blue wineglass full of milky vodka, and Gus thanked her for it. I took a deep breath as Pete slid into a chair.
Could this night get any worse?
The Labrador nearest to me audibly farted.
“Okay, then!” Pete said, clapping her hands together.
What the hell. I slid my purse-wine out and took a gulp. Maggie giggled on the couch, and the Labrador rolled over and stuffed his face in between the cushions.
“Red, White Russians, and Blue Book Club is now in session, and I’m dying to hear what everyone thought of the book.”
Maggie and Lauren exchanged a look as they each took a slurp of their White Russians. Maggie set hers on the table and lightly slapped her thigh. “Heck, I loved it.”
Pete’s laugh was gruff but warm. “You love everything, Mags.”
“Do not. I didn’t like the man spy—not the main one, but the other one. He was snippy.”
Spies? There were spies in The Revelatories? I looked over at Gus, who looked as puzzled as I felt. His mouth was ajar and his White Russian rested against his left thigh.
“I didn’t care for him either,” Lauren agreed, “especially in the beginning, but he came around by the end. When we got the backstory about his mother’s ties to the USSR, I started to understand him.”
“That was a nice touch,” Maggie agreed. “All right, I take it back. By the end, I sort of liked him too. I still didn’t care for the way he treated Agent Michelson though. I won’t make excuses for that.”
“Well, no, of course not,” Pete chimed in.
Maggie waved her hand lightly. “Total misogynist.”
Lauren nodded. “How did you all feel about the twin reveal?”
“Honestly, it bored me a bit, and I’ll tell ya why,” Pete said. And then she did tell us why, but I barely heard it because I was so absorbed in the subtle gymnastics Gus’s expression was performing.
This could not possibly be his book they were talking about. He didn’t look horrified so much as bemused, like he thought someone was playing a prank on him but he wasn’t confident enough to call it out yet. He’d drained his White Russian already and was glancing back at the kitchen like he was hoping another might carry itself out here.
“Did anyone else cry when Mark’s daughter sang ‘Amazing Grace’ at the funeral?” Lauren asked, clutching her heart. “That got to me. It really did. And you know my heart of stone! Doug G. Hanke is just a phenomenal writer.”
I looked around the room, to the credenza, the bookshelves on the far side of the couch, the magazine rack under the coffee table. Names and titles jumped out at me from dozens, if not hundreds, of dark paperbacks.
Operation Skyforce. The Moscow Game. Deep Cover. Red Flag. Oslo After Dark.
Red, White Russians, and Blue Book Club.
I, January Andrews, romance writer, and literary wunderkind Augustus Everett had stumbled into a book club trafficking primarily in spy novels. It took some effort to stifle my laughter, and even then I didn’t do an amazing job.
“January?” Pete said. “Is everything all right?”
“Spectacular,” I said. “Think I’ve just had too much purse-wine. Augustus, you’d better take it from here.” I held the bottle out to him. He lifted one stern, dark eyebrow.
I imagined I wasn’t quite smiling but managed to look victorious nonetheless as I waited for him to accept the two-thirds-drunk chardonnay.
“I’ve thought about it some more,” Maggie said airily. “And I think I did like the identical twin twist.”