Actually, I’d been at my computer for nearly twelve hours and I’d only typed a thousand new words. Though I’d managed to open fourteen tabs on my web browser, including two separate Facebook tabs.
I needed to get out of the house. When Gus looked away again, I sneaked from the table out to the front porch. The air was dense with humidity, but not uncomfortably hot. I perched on the wicker couch and surveyed the houses across the street. I hadn’t spent much time out here, since the water was behind Gus’s and my side of the street, but the cottages and dollhouses on the other side were cute and colorful, every porch packed with its own variation on the lawn furniture theme. None was so homey or eclectic as the set Sonya had chosen.
If I’d had no negative ties to this furniture, I’d be sad to have to sell it, but I figured now was as good a time as any. It’d be one less thing to worry about later. I stood and flicked on the porch light, snapping pictures of each individual piece, and some of the whole set, then pulled up craigslist on my phone.
I stared at it for a moment, then exited the browser and opened my email. I could still see the bolded words from Sonya’s last message. I hadn’t deleted any of them, but I didn’t want to read them either. I opened a new email and addressed it to her.
SUBJECT: Porch furniture.
I’m beginning to sort out things at the house. Did you want the furniture on the porch, or should I sell it?
I tried out three separate signatures but none seemed right. In the end, I decided not to leave so much as a J behind. I hit SEND.
That was it. All the emotional labor I had in me for the day. So I washed my face, brushed my teeth, and climbed into bed, where I watched Veronica Mars until the sun came up.
ON FRIDAY, THE knocking on my door came hours earlier than I’d expected. It was two thirty in the afternoon, and as I’d fallen asleep at five that morning, I’d only been awake for a couple of hours by then.
I grabbed my robe off the couch and pulled it over my outfit (boxers stolen from Jacques and my worn-out David Bowie shirt minus a bra). I drew back the linen curtain that covered the window set into the door and saw Gus pacing on the porch, his hands locked behind his head and pulling it down, as if stretching his neck.
He stopped, wide-eyed, and spun toward me as I opened the door.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. In that moment, I saw the part of his gene pool that overlapped with Pete’s in the way that his expression shifted from confusion to surprise.
He shook his head quickly. “Dave’s here.”
“Dave?” I said. “Dave as in … Dave? Of Olive Garden fame?”
“It’s definitely not Wendy’s Dave,” Gus confirmed. “He called me a minute ago and said he was in town. He drove out on an impulse, I guess—he’s in my house right now. Can you come over?”
“Now?” I said dumbly.
“Yes, January! Now! Because he’s in my house! Now!”
“Yes,” I said. “Just let me get dressed.”
I shut the door and ran back to the bedroom. I’d fallen behind on laundry this week. The only clean thing I had was the stupid black dress. So naturally I wore a dirty T-shirt and a pair of jeans.
Gus’s door was unlocked, and I let myself in without thinking. When I stepped inside, it all struck me. We’d been friends almost a month and I was finally in the house I’d peered curiously into that first night. I was tucked between those dark shelves, far overstuffed with books, Gus’s smoky incense smell in the air. The space was lived-in—books left open on tables, stacks of mail on top of anthologies and literary journals, a mug here or there on a coaster—but compared to his usual level of sloppiness, the room was meticulously neat.
“January?” The narrow hall that veered straight into the kitchen seemed to swallow his voice. “We’re in here.”
I followed it as if it were bread crumbs leading to some fantastical place. That or a trap.
I stopped in the kitchen, a mirror image of mine: on the left a breakfast nook, where the table I’d seen Gus sit behind so often was pushed almost flush to the window, and the counters and cupboards on the right. Gus waved at me from the next room over, a little office.
I wanted to take my time, to examine every inch of this house full of secrets, but Gus was watching me in that focused way that made it seem like he might be reading my thoughts, so I hurried into the office. A minimalist desk, all sleek Scandinavian lines and utterly free of clutter, was pushed against the back window.
Where Gus’s house sat, his deck overlooked the woods, but the trees fell away before the furthest right side of the building, and here the view of the beach was unobstructed, the silvery light filtering through the clouds, bouncing along the tops of the waves like skipped stones.
Dave wore a red T-shirt and a mesh-backed hat. Bags hung under his eyes, giving him the look of a sleepy Saint Bernard. He took his hat off and stood as I entered the room but didn’t stretch out his hand, which gave me the disorienting feeling of having wandered into a Jane Austen novel.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m January.”
“Pleasure,” Dave said with a nod. There was a desk chair (turned away from the desk so Gus could face the rest of the tiny room), an armchair wedged into the corner (which Dave had evacuated when he stood), and a kitchen chair Gus had clearly brought in especially for the occasion. Dave sat back in that one, gesturing for me to take the armchair.
“Thanks.” I sat, inserting myself into the triangle of chairs and knees. “And thanks so much for talking to us.”
Dave put his hat back on and swiveled the bill anxiously. “I wasn’t ready before. Sorry for wasting you all’s time, driving out my way. Feel awfully bad.”
“No need,” Gus assured him. “We know how sensitive all this is.”
He nodded. “And my sobriety—I just wanted to be sure I could handle it. I went to a meeting that night—when we were supposed to meet at the Olive Garden, that’s where I was.”
“Totally understandable,” Gus said. “This is just a book. You’re a person.”
Just a book. The phrase caught me off guard coming from Gus’s mouth. Gus “Books with Happy Endings Are Dishonest” Everett. Gus “Drinking the Goddamn Literary Kool-Aid” Everett had said the words “just a book,” and for some reason that unraveled me a bit.
Gus has been married.
He caught me staring. I looked away.
“That’s just it,” Dave said. “It’s a book. It’s a chance to tell a story that might help people like me.”
The corner of Gus’s mouth twisted uncomfortably. I still hadn’t read my new copy of The Revelatories—I was afraid of how it might dim or exacerbate my crush on him—but from everything Gus had said, I knew he wasn’t writing to save lives so much as to understand what had destroyed them.
Gus’s rom-com was supposed to be different, but I couldn’t imagine him using anything Dave had said to tell a story with a meet-cute and a Happily Ever After. The contents of this interview would be far more at home in his next literary masterpiece.
Then again, this was Gus. When we’d started down this path, I’d thought I’d be writing bullshit, just mimicking what I’d seen other people do, but really, my new project was as quintessentially me as anything else I’d written; maybe Gus’s rom-com really would have a place like New Eden as a backdrop, all kinds of horrible things happening between kisses and professions of love.