Somewhere, a Labrador farted.
“THANK YOU SOOOO much for having us, Pete,” I said as I pulled her into a hug in the foyer.
She patted my back. “Any time. Any Monday, especially! Heck, every Monday. Red, White Russians, and Blue could use fresh blood. You see how things get stale in there. Maggie likes to humor me, but she’s not much of a fiction person, and I think Lauren comes for the socializing. She’s another faculty wife, like me.”
“Faculty wife?” I said.
Pete nodded. “Maggie works at the university with Lauren’s husband,” she answered quickly, then said, “How are you getting home, dear?”
I wasn’t feeling the wine nearly as much as I would’ve liked to at that point, but I knew I shouldn’t risk driving anyway.
“I’ll take her,” Gus said, stern and unamused.
“I’ll Uber,” I said.
“Uber?” Pete repeated. “Not in North Bear Shores, you won’t. We’ve got about one of those, and I doubt he’s out driving around after ten o’clock!”
I pretended to look at my phone. “Actually, he’s here, so I should go. Thanks again, Pete. Really, it was … extremely interesting.”
She patted my arm and I slipped out into the rain, opening the Uber app as I went. Beneath the rain, I heard Gus and Pete exchanging quiet goodbyes on the porch behind me, and then the door shut and I knew he and I were alone in the garden.
So I walked very fast, through the gate and down the length of the fence, as I stared at the blank map on my Uber app. I closed the app and opened it again.
“Let me guess,” Gus drawled. “It’s exactly as the person who actually lives here says: there aren’t any Ubers.”
“Four minutes away,” I lied. He stared at me. I pulled my hood up and turned away.
“What is it?” he said. “Are you worried it’s a slippery slope from getting into my car to going down the Slip ’N Slide on my roof and competing in my heavily publicized Jell-O wrestling matches?”
I folded my arms. “I don’t know you.”
“Unlike the North Bear Shores Uber driver, with whom you’re quite close.”
I said nothing, and after a moment, Gus climbed into his car, its engine sputtering awake, but he didn’t pull away. I busied myself with my phone. Why wasn’t he leaving? I did my best not to look at his car, though it was looking more appealing every moment I stood there in the cold rain.
I checked the app again. Still nothing.
The passenger window rolled down, and Gus leaned across the seat, ducking his head to see me. “January.” He sighed.
“It’s been four minutes. No Uber’s coming. Would you please get in the car?”
“Because I need the exercise,” I said.
“Not to mention the pneumonia.”
“It’s like sixty-five degrees out,” I said.
“You’re literally shivering.”
“Maybe I’m trembling with the anticipation of an exhilarating walk home.”
“Maybe your body temperature is plummeting and your blood pressure and heart rate are dropping and your skin tissue is breaking up as it freezes.”
“Are you kidding? My heart is positively racing. I just sat in on a three-hour-long book club meeting about spy novels. I need to run some of this adrenaline off.” I started down the sidewalk.
“Wrong way,” Gus called.
I spun on my heel and started in the other direction, back past Gus’s car. His mouth twisted in the dim light of the console. “You do realize we live seven miles from here. At your current pace that puts your arrival at about … never. You’re going to walk into a bush and quite possibly spend the rest of your life there.”
“That’s actually the perfect amount of time I’ll need to sober up,” I said. Gus pulled slowly down the road alongside me. “Besides, I cannot risk waking up with another hangover tomorrow. I’d rather walk into traffic.”
“Yeah, well, I’m worried you’re going to do both. Let me take you home.”
“I’ll fall asleep tipsy. Not good.”
“Fine, I won’t take you home until you’re sober, then. I know the best trick for that in all of North Bear Shores.”
I stopped walking and faced his car. He stopped too, waiting.
“Just to be clear,” I said, “you’re not talking about sex stuff, are you?”
His smile twisted. “No, January, I’m not talking about sex stuff.”
“You’d better not be.” I opened the passenger door and slid onto the seat, pressing my fingers to the warm vents. “Because I carry pepper spray in this tote. And a gun.”
“What the fuck,” he cried, putting the car in park. “You’re drunk with a gun flopping around in your wine bag?”
I buckled my seat belt. “It was a joke. The gun part, not the ‘killing you if you try something’ part. I meant that.”
His laugh was more shocked than amused. Even in the dark of the car, I could see his eyes were wide and his crooked mouth was tensed. He shook his head, wiped the rain off his forehead with the back of his hand, and put the car back into drive.
“THIS IS THE trick?” I said, when we pulled into the parking lot. The rain had slowed but the puddles in the cracking asphalt’s potholes glowed with the reflection of the neon sign over the low, rectangular building. “The trick for sobering up is … donuts.” That was all the sign said. For all intents and purposes, it was the diner’s name.
“What did you expect?” Gus asked. “Was I supposed to almost drive off a cliff, or hire someone to fake-kidnap you? Or wait, was that sex-stuff comment sarcastic? Did you want me to seduce you?”
“No, I’m just saying, next time you’re trying to convince me to get in your car, you’ll save a lot of time if you cut right to donuts.”
“I’m hoping I won’t have to coax you into my car very often,” he said.
“No, not very often,” I said. “Just on Mondays.”
He cracked another smile, faint, like he’d rather not reveal it. It instantly made the car feel too small, him a little too close. I tore my gaze away and got out of the car, head clearing immediately. The building glowed like a bug zapper, its empty, seventies-orange booths visible through the windows along with a fish tank full of koi.
“You know, you should consider driving for Uber,” I said.
“Yeah, your heat works great. I bet your air-conditioning’s decent too. You don’t smell like Axe, and you didn’t say a word to me the whole way here. Five stars. Six stars. Better than any Uber driver I’ve had before.”
“Hm.” Gus pulled the smudgy door open for me, bells jangling overhead. “Maybe next time you get into an Uber, you should try announcing that you have a loaded gun. You might get better service.”
“Now don’t be alarmed,” he said under his breath as I stepped past him.