I HAVE BAD NEWS and bad news, Shadi texted me the next morning.
Which should I hear first??? I replied. I sat up slowly, careful not to rouse Gus. To say we’d fallen asleep on the couch seemed like a misrepresentation of the truth. I’d had to actively decide to go to sleep the night before.
For the first time since we’d started hanging out, we’d ventured to the world of movie marathons and binge-watching. “You choose one and then I’ll choose one,” he’d said.
That was how we’d ended up watching, or talking through, While You Were Sleeping, A Streetcar Named Desire, Pirates of the Caribbean 3 (as punishment for making me watch A Streetcar Named Desire), and Mariah Carey’s Glitter (as we descended further into madness). And even after that, I’d been wide awake, wired.
Gus had suggested we put on Rear Window, and halfway through, not long before the first hints of sun would skate through the windows, we’d finally stopped talking. We’d lain very still on our opposite ends of the couch, everything below our knees tangled up in the middle, and gone to sleep.
The house was chilly—I’d left the windows open and they’d fogged as the temperature began to inch back up with the morning. Gus was scrunched nearly into the fetal position, one throw blanket wrapped around himself, so I draped the two blankets I’d been using over him as I crept into the kitchen to turn the burner on beneath the kettle.
It was a still, blue morning. If the sun had come up, it was caught behind a sheet of mist. As quietly as I could, I pulled the bag of ground coffee and the French press from the lazy Susan.
The ritual felt different than it had that first morning, more ordinary and thus somehow more holy.
Somewhere in the last week or so, this house had started to feel like my own.
My phone vibrated in my hand.
I have fallen in love, Shadi said.
With the haunted hat? I asked, heart thrilling. Shadi was always the very best, but Shadi in love—there was nothing like it. Somehow, she became even more herself. Even wilder, funnier, sillier, wiser, softer. Love lit my best friend up from within, and even if every one of her heartbreaks was utterly devastating, she still never closed herself off. Every time she fell in love again, her joy seemed to overflow, into me and the world at large.
Of course you have, I typed. Tell me EVERYTHING.
WELL, Shadi began. I don’t know!! We’ve just spent every night together, and his best friend LOVES me and I love him, and the other night we just like, stayed up literally until sunrise and then while he was in the bathroom, his friend was like “Be careful with him. He’s crazy about you” and I was like “lol same.” In conclusion, I have more bad news.
So you mentioned, I replied. Go on.
He wants me to visit his family …
Yes, that’s terrible, I agreed. What if they’re NICE? What if they make you play Uno and drink whiskey-Cokes on their porch???!
WELL, Shadi said. I mean. He wants me to go this week. For Fourth of July.
I stared down at the words, unsure what to say. On the one hand, I’d been living on an island of Gus Everett for a month now, and I had come down with neither prairie madness nor cabin fever.
On the other, it had been months since I’d seen Shadi, and I missed her. Gus and I had that intoxicating rapid-release form of friendship usually reserved for sleepaway camps and orientation week of college, but Shadi and I had years of history. We could talk about anything without having to back up and explain the context. Not that Gus’s style of communication called for much context. The bits of life he shared with me were building their framework as we went. I got a clearer picture of him every day, and when I went to sleep each night, I looked forward to finding more of him in the morning.
I know it’s terrible timing, Shadi said, but I already talked to my boss, and I get off again for my bday in August and I PROMISE I will pack the entire sex dungeon up myself.
The kettle began to whistle and I set my phone aside as I poured the water over the grounds and put the lid on the press to let it steep. My phone lit up with a new message and I leaned over the counter.
Obviously I don’t HAVE to go, she said. But I feel like??? I HAVE to. But like, I don’t. If you need me now, I can come now.
I couldn’t do that to her, drag her away from something that was clearly making her happier than I’d seen her in months.
If you come in August, how long will you stay? I asked, opening negotiations.
An email pinged into my inbox and I opened it with trepidation. Sonya had finally replied to my query about the porch furniture:
I would love the porch furniture but I’m afraid I can’t afford to buy it from you. So if you were offering to give it to me, let me know when I could bring a truck & friends to pick it up. If you were offering to sell it to me, thank you for the offer, but I’m unable to take you up on it.
Either way, is there a time we could talk? In person would be good, I—
I closed my email and turned around to find Gus shuffling into the kitchen, the heel of his hand rubbing at his right eye. His wavy hair stuck up to one side and his T-shirt was creased like a piece of ancient parchment behind glass at a museum, one of the sleeves twisted up on itself to reveal more of his arm than I’d seen before. I felt suddenly greedy for his shoulders.
“Wow,” I said. “This is what Gus Everett looks like before he puts on his face.”
Eyes still sleepily scrunched, he held his arms out to his sides. “What do you think?”
My heart fluttered. “Exactly what I pictured.” I turned my back to him as I dug through the cabinets for a couple of mugs. “In that you look exactly how you always do.”
“I’m choosing to take that as a compliment.”
“That’s your right, as an American citizen.” I spun back to him with the mugs, hoping I appeared more casual than I felt about waking up in the same house as him.
His hands were braced against the counter as he leaned, like always, into it, his mouth curled into a smile. “Thanks be to Jack Reacher.”
I crossed my heart. “Amen.”
“That coffee ready?”
“Porch or deck?” he asked.
I tried to imagine cabin fever. I tried to imagine this getting old: that smile, those rumpled clothes, the language only Gus and I spoke, the joking and crying and touching and not touching.
A new message came in from Shadi: I’ll stay at LEAST a week.
I texted her back. See you then, babe. Keep me posted on the hauntings of your heart.
IT WAS WEDNESDAY, and we’d spent the day writing at my house (I was now a solid 33 percent into the book) while we waited for the buyer to come pick up the furniture from the upstairs bedroom. I’d held off on selling the porch furniture now that Gus and I had gotten in the habit of using it some nights. I’d started boxing up knickknacks from the entire downstairs and dropping them off at Goodwill and even selling off the less necessary furniture downstairs. The love seat and armchair from the living room were gone, the clock from the mantel was gone, the place mats and tapered candles and votives in the armoire by the kitchen table all donated.