Beach Read

Page 39

At his first command, the crowd jostled to the right, carrying Gus and me with it. He snatched my hand as the mass of boots and heels reversed direction. I squealed as Gus jerked me out of the path of a man on a mission to grapevine whether it meant stomping on my foot or not.

There were no sung lyrics, just the caller’s instructions with their strange, auctioneer rhythm and the sound of shoes scuffing along the floor. I erupted into laughter as Gus went forward instead of back, eliciting a nasty glare from the hair-sprayed blonde he collided with. “Sorry,” he shouted over the music, holding up his hands in surrender, only to get bumped into her pink lace–covered chest as the crowd shifted once more.

“Oh, God,” he said, stumbling back. “Sorry, I—”

“God has nothing to do with it!” the woman snapped, digging her hands into her hips.

“Sorry,” I interceded, grabbing Gus by the hand. “Can’t take him anywhere.”

“Me?” he cried, half laughing. “You knocked me into—”

I pulled him through the crowd to the far side of the dance floor. When I looked over my shoulder, the woman had resumed her boot-scoot-boogying, face as stony as a sarcophagus’s.

“Should I give her my number?” Gus teased, mouth close to my ear.

“I think she’d rather have your insurance card.”

“Or a good police sketch.”

“Or a crowbar,” I shot back.

“Okay.” Gus’s smile spread enough for a laugh to slip out. “That’s enough from you. You’re just looking for an excuse not to dance.”

“I’m just looking for an excuse?” I said. “You grabbed that woman’s boobs to try to get kicked out of here.”

“No way.” He shook his head, caught my arm, and tugged me along as he clumsily fell back into the steps. “I’m in this for the long haul now. You’d better clear your Saturday schedules from here until eternity.”

I laughed, tripping along with him, but my stomach was fighting a series of concurrent rises and dips. I didn’t want to feel these things. It wasn’t fun anymore, now that I was thinking it all through, where it would end up—with me attached and jealous and him having shared about as much about his life with me as you might with a hairdresser.

But then he would say things like that, Clear your Saturday schedules from here until eternity. He would grab me around the waist to keep me from smashing into a support beam I hadn’t noticed in my dancing fugue state. Laughing, he would twirl me into him, and spin me around while the rest of the crowd was walking their feet into their bodies and back out, far wider than their hips, thumbs hooked into real and imagined belt loops.

This was a different Gus than I’d seen (The one who’d played soccer? The Gus who answered one third of his aunt’s phone calls? The Gus who’d been married and divorced?), and I wasn’t sure what to make of it or its sudden appearance.

Something had changed in him, again, and he was (whether intentionally or not) letting it show. He seemed somehow lighter than he had, less tired. He was being winsome and flirty, which only made me more frustrated after the past week.

“We need a shot,” he said.

“Okay,” I agreed. Maybe a shot would take the strange edge I was feeling off. We swam back to the bar and he nudged aside a pool of peanuts still in their shells to order two doubles of whiskey. “Cheers,” he said, lifting his.

“To what?” I asked.

He smirked. “To your happy endings.”

I’d thought we were friends, that he respected me, and now I felt like he was calling me a fairy princess all over again, laughing to himself about how naive and silly my worldview was, holding his failed marriage like a secret trump card that proved, once again, he knew more than me. A fierce, angry fuse lit in my stomach, and I threw back the whiskey without meeting his lifted shot. Gus seemed to think it was an oversight. He was still downing his whiskey as I headed back out to the dance floor.

I had to admit there was something singularly hilarious about line dancing angrily, but that didn’t stop me from doing it. We finished two more songs, took two more shots.

When we went back out for the fourth song—a more complex dance for the proficient to enjoy while the caller used the toilet and rested his vocal cords—we had no hope of keeping up with the choreography, even if we hadn’t been tipsy by then. During a double turn to the right, my shoe caught on an uneven floorboard and Gus grabbed me by the waist to keep me from going down. His laughter faded when he saw my face, and he leaned (of course) against the support beam, my nemesis from earlier, drawing me in toward him by my hips. His hand burned through my jeans into my skin and I fought to keep a clear head as he held me like that. “Hey,” he murmured, dropping his mouth toward my ear so I could hear him over the music. “What’s wrong?”

What was wrong was his thumbs twirling circles on my hips, his whiskey breath against the corner of my mouth, and how stupid I felt for its effect on me. I was naive.

I’d always trusted my parents, never sensed the missing pieces between Jacques and me, and now I’d started getting emotionally attached to someone who’d done everything he could to convince me not to.

I stepped back from him. I meant to say, I think I need to go home, or maybe I’m not feeling well.

But I’d never been good at hiding how I was feeling, especially this past year.

I didn’t say anything. I just ran for the door.

I burst into the cool air of the parking lot and beelined toward the Kia. I could hear him shouting my name as he followed, but I was too embarrassed, frustrated, and I didn’t know what else, to turn around.

“January?” Gus said again, jogging toward me.

“I’m fine.” I dug for my keys in my pocket. “I just—I need to go home. I’m not—I don’t …” I trailed off, fumbling the key against the lock.

“We can’t go anywhere until we’ve sobered up,” he pointed out.

“Then I’ll just sit in the car until then.” My hands were shaking and the key glanced off the lock again.

“Here. Let me.” Gus took it from me and slipped it in, unlocking the driver’s side door, but he didn’t step away to let me open it.

“Thanks,” I said without looking at him.

I flinched as his hand brushed at my face, swiping hair from my cheek. He tucked it behind my ear. “Whatever it is, you can tell me.”

Now I looked up at him, ignoring the heavy flip-flop of my stomach as I met his eyes. “Why?”

His eyebrows lifted. “Why what?”

“Why can I tell you?” I said. “Why would I tell you anything?”

His mouth pressed closed. The muscle in his jaw leapt. “What is this? What did I do?”

“Nothing.” I turned toward the car, but Gus’s body still blocked the door. “Move, Gus.”

“This isn’t fair,” he said. “You’re mad at me and I can’t even try to fix it? What could I have possibly—”

“I’m not mad at you,” I said.

“You are,” he argued. I tried again to open the door. This time he moved aside to let me. “Please tell me, January.”

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