Mom’s going to cry, he said. So is Brigitte.
Even in that moment, I was possibly more devastated to lose Jacques’s parents and sister—a feisty high schooler with impeccable 1970s style—than Jacques himself.
“A hot tub?” Gus echoed. “Damn. Honestly, that guy was always so self-impressed I doubt he could even see you through the glare off his own glistening body.”
I cracked a smile. “I’m sure that was it.”
“Hey,” Gus said.
He tipped his head toward a cotton candy stand. “I think we should eat that.”
“And here it finally is,” I said.
“What?” Gus asked.
“The second thing we agree on.”
Gus paid for the cotton candy and I didn’t argue. “No, that’s fine,” he teased when I said nothing. “You can just owe me. You can just pay me back whenever.”
“How much was it?” I asked, tearing off an enormous piece and lowering it dramatically into my mouth.
“Three dollars, but it’s fine. Just Venmo me the dollar fifty later.”
“Are you sure that’s not too much trouble?” I said. “I’m happy to go get a cashier’s check.”
“Do you know where the closest Western Union is?” he said. “You could probably wire it.”
“What sort of interest were you thinking?” I asked.
“You can just give me three dollars when I take you home, and then if I ever find out I need an organ, we can circle back.”
“Sure, sure,” I agreed. “Let’s just put a pin in this.”
“Yeah, we should probably loop in our lawyers anyway.”
“Good point,” I said. “Until then, what do you want to ride?”
“Ride?” Gus said. “Absolutely nothing here.”
“Fine,” I said. “What are you willing to ride?”
We’d been walking, talking, and eating at an alarming rate, and Gus stopped suddenly, offering me the final clump of cotton candy. “That,” he said while I was eating, and pointed at a pathetically small carousel. “That looks like it would have a really hard time killing me.”
“What do you weigh, Gus? Three beer cans, some bones, and a cigarette?” And all the hard lines and lean ridges of muscle I definitely hadn’t gawked at. “Any number of those painted animals could kill you with a sneeze.”
“Wow,” he said. “First of all, I may only weigh three beer cans, but that’s still three more beer cans than your ex-boyfriend. He looked like he did nothing but chew wheatgrass while running. I weigh easily twice what he did. Secondly, you’re one to talk: you’re what, four feet and six inches?”
“I’m a very tall five four, actually,” I said.
He narrowed his eyes and shook his head at me. “You’re as small as you are ridiculous.”
“So not very?”
“Carousel, final offer,” Gus said.
“This is the perfect place for our montage,” I said.
“Our what now?”
“Young—extremely beautiful and very tall for her height—woman in sparkly tennis shoes teaches fearful, party-hating curmudgeon how to enjoy life,” I said. “There’d be a lot of head shaking. A lot of me dragging you from ride to ride. You dragging me back out of the line. Me dragging you back into it. It’d be adorable, and more importantly it’ll help with your super romantic suicide-cult book. It’s the promise-of-the-premise portion of the novel, when your readers are grinning ear to ear. We need a montage.”
Gus folded his arms and studied me with narrowed eyes.
“Come on, Gus.” I bumped his arm. “You can do it. Be adorable.”
His eyes darted to where I’d bumped him, then back to my face, and he scowled.
“I think you misunderstood me. I said adorable.”
His surly expression cracked. “Fine, January. But it’s not going to be a montage. Choose one death trap. If I survive that, you can sleep well tonight knowing you brought me one step closer to believing in happy endings.”
“Oh my God,” I said. “If you wrote this scene, would we die?”
“If I wrote this scene, it wouldn’t be about us.”
“Wow. One, I’m offended. Two, who would it be about?”
He scanned the crowd and I followed his gaze. “Her,” he said finally.
He stepped in close behind me, his head hovering over my right shoulder. “There. At the bottom of the Ferris wheel.”
“The girl in the Screw Me, I’m Irish shirt?” I said.
His laugh was warm and rough in my ear. Standing this close to him was bringing back flashes of the night at the frat house I’d rather not revisit.
“The woman working the machine,” he said in my ear. “Maybe she’d make a mistake and watch someone get hurt because of it. This job was probably her last chance, the only place that would hire her after she made an even bigger mistake. In a factory maybe. Or she broke the law to protect someone she cared about. Some kind of almost-innocent mistake that could lead to less innocent ones.”
I spun to face him. “Or maybe she’d get a chance to be a hero. This job was her last chance, but she loves it and she’s good at it. She gets to travel, and even if she mostly only sees parking lots, she gets to meet people. And she’s a people person. The mistake isn’t hers—the machinery malfunctions, but she makes a snap decision and saves a girl’s life. That girl grows up to be a congresswoman, or a heart surgeon. The two of them cross paths again down the road. The Ferris wheel operator’s too old to travel with the carnival anymore. She’s been living alone, feeling like she wasted her life. Then one day, she’s alone. She has a heart attack. She almost dies but she manages to call nine-one-one. The ambulance rushes her in, and who is her doctor but that same little girl.
“Of course, Ferris doesn’t recognize her—she’s all grown up. But the doctor never could’ve forgotten Ferris’s face. The two women strike up a friendship. Ferris still doesn’t get to travel, but twice a month the doctor comes over to Ferris’s double-wide and they watch movies. Movies set in different countries. They watch Casablanca and eat Moroccan takeout. They watch The King and I and eat Siamese food, whatever that may be. They even watch—gasp!—Bridget Jones’s Diary while bingeing on fish and chips. They make it through twenty countries before Ferris passes away, and when she does, Doctor realizes her life was a gift she almost didn’t get. She takes some of Ferris’s ashes—her ungrateful asshole son didn’t come to collect them—and sets out on a trip around the world. She’s grateful to be alive. The end.”
Gus stared at me, only one corner of his very crooked mouth at all engaged. I was fairly sure he was smiling, although the deep grooves between his eyebrows seemed to disagree. “Then write it,” he said finally.
“Maybe so,” I said.
He glanced back at the gray-haired woman working the machinery. “That one,” he said. “I’m willing to ride that one. But only because I trust Ferris so damn much.”