“Education,” he repeated.
“On Fridays, I’ll go with you to do whatever research you would usually do. Which would include …” I gestured for him to fill in the blank.
He smiled crookedly. It was extremely evil. “Oh, all sorts of riveting things,” he supplied. “And then on Saturdays, we’ll do whatever you usually do for research—hot-air balloon trips, sailing lessons, two-person motorcycle rides, candlelit restaurants with patio seating and bad cover bands, and all that shit.”
Heat spread up my neck. He had just nailed me, again. I mean, I hadn’t done the two-person motorcycle rides (I had no death wish), but I had taken a hot-air balloon ride to prepare for my third novel, Northern Light.
The corner of his mouth twitched, apparently delighted by my expression.
“So. We have a deal?” He held out his hand to me.
My mind spun in dizzying circles. It wasn’t like I had any other ideas. Maybe a depressed writer could only make a depressing book. “Okay.” I slid my hand into his, pretending not to feel the sparks leaping from his skin straight into my veins.
“Just one more thing,” he said soberly.
“Promise not to fall in love with me.”
“Oh my God!” I shoved his shoulder and flopped back into my seat, laughing. “Are you slightly misquoting A Walk to Remember at me?”
Gus cracked another smile. “Excellent movie,” he said. “Sorry, film.”
I rolled my eyes, still shivering with laughter.
A half laugh rattled out of him too. “I’m serious. I think I got to second base in the theater during that one.”
“I refuse to believe anyone would cheapen the greatest love story involving Mandy Moore ever told by letting a teenage Gus Everett cop a feel.”
“Believe whatever you want, January Andrews,” he said. “Jack Reacher risks his life every day to guarantee you that freedom.”
WHEN I WOKE, I did not have a hangover, but I did have a text from Shadi, reading, He has a whole RACK of vintage hats!!!
And how would you know that? I texted back.
I climbed off the couch and went into the kitchen. While I still hadn’t gathered enough courage to go upstairs, or even start sleeping in the downstairs guest bedroom, I’d started to find my way around the cupboards. I knew the rose-speckled kettle was already on the burner, that there was no coffeemaker in the kitchen, and that there was a French press and grinder down in the lazy Susan. This, I had to assume, was one of Sonya’s contributions, because I’d never seen Dad drink anything but the Starbucks Keurig cups Mom bought in bulk or the green tea she begged him to have instead.
I wasn’t a coffee snob myself—I could get behind flavored syrups and whipped toppings—but I started most mornings with something drinkable enough to have it black. I filled the kettle and turned the burner on, that warm, earthy smell of gas leaping to life with the flame. I plugged the grinder in and stared out the window as it worked. Last night’s mist had held out, cloaking the strip of woods between the house and the beach in deep grays and blues. The house had chilled too. I shivered, pulling my robe tighter.
As I waited for the coffee to steep, my phone vibrated against the counter.
WELL, Shadi began, a bunch of us went out after work, and AS USUAL, he was totally ignoring me EXCEPT whenever I wasn’t looking and then I could feel him just absolutely staring at me. So eventually he went to the bathroom and I also had to go so I was back in the hallway waiting and then he came out and was like “hey shad” and I was like “wow, I honestly thought you didn’t speak until this moment” and he just like shrugged. So I was like “ANYWAY I was thinking about leaving.” And he was like “oh, shit, really?” And he was just like, obviously disappointed, and then I was like, “Well, I was thinking about leaving with you.” And he was SO nervous!! And like, excited like, “Yeah? That sounds good. When do you want to go?” and I was like “Duh. Now.” And as you can see, the rest is history.
Wow, I typed back. It’s a tale as old as time.
Truly, Shadi responded. Girl meets boy. Boy ignores girl except when she’s not looking. Girl goes home with boy and sees him hang his haunted hat on a crowded rack.
The timer went off and I pressed the coffee and poured some into a mug shaped like a cartoonish orca whale, then took it and my computer out onto the deck, mist pleasantly chilling every bare inch of my skin. I curled up in one of the chairs and started to make a mental checklist for the day, and for the rest of the summer.
First and foremost, I needed to figure out where exactly this book was going, if not in the direction of a feel-good summer romance with a single father. Then I needed to plan out Saturday’s romantic-comedy scenario for Gus.
My stomach flipped at the thought. I’d half expected to wake up in a panic about our agreement. Instead I was excited. For the first time in years, I was going to write a book that absolutely no one was waiting for. And I’d get to watch Gus Everett try to write a love story.
Or I was going to make a huge fool of myself and, far worse, disappoint Anya. But I couldn’t think about that right now. There was work to do.
Aside from working on the book and scheduling the (actual only) Uber driver to take me to get my car from Pete’s, I decided I’d conquer the second upstairs bedroom today and divide whatever was in there into throwaway, giveaway, and sell piles.
I also vowed to move my stuff into the downstairs bedroom. I’d done okay on the couch the first few nights but had awoken this morning to some serious kinks in my neck.
My gaze wandered toward the swath of windows along the back of Gus’s house. At that precise moment, he walked into his kitchen, pulling a (shocker!) rumpled, dark T-shirt over his head. I spun back in my deck chair.
He couldn’t have seen me watching him. But the more I thought about it, the more I worried that I might’ve stared for a couple of seconds before looking away. I could vividly picture the curves of Gus’s arms as he tugged the shirt over his head, a flat length of stomach framed by the sharp angles of hip bones. He was a little softer than he’d been in college (not that it took much), but it suited him. Or maybe it just suited me.
Well. I had definitely stared.
I glanced back quickly and started. Gus was standing in front of the glass doors now. He lifted his mug as if to toast me. I lifted mine in response, and he shuffled away.
If Gus Everett was getting to work already, I also needed to. I opened my computer and stared at the document I’d been picking at for the last few days. A meet-cute. There weren’t meet-cutes in Augustus Everett novels, that was for damn sure.
What was there? I hadn’t read either of them, not Rochambeau and not The Revelatories, but I’d read enough reviews of them to satiate my curiosity.
People doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. People doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. Only getting what they wanted if it would ultimately destroy them.
Twisted, secretive families.
Well, I had no experience there! The ache shot through me. It felt like the first few seconds of a burn, when you couldn’t tell whether it was heat or cold burrowing into your skin but knew either way it would leave damage.