I shook my head and went to stand behind him, his dark eyes dipping to study me, his rain-speckled lashes curved low and dark and heavy against his olive cheeks.
There was so much I wanted to say, but all I could get out was, “I’m here.”
And when I said it, his brow furrowed and his jaw tensed, and he peered at me in that particular Gus way that made the knot in my throat inch higher.
He nodded and turned back to the trailer, tipping his chin toward it. “Father Abe’s place. Apparently he’d seek counsel from a group of angels, so he needed the room.”
I tore my gaze from Gus to the sooty trailer. It instantly made me feel woozy and unmoored, like the air here was still overloaded with carbon dioxide and ash.
Why do bad things happen? I thought. How will it all make sense? But no great truth appeared to me. There was no good reason this horrible thing had happened, and no reason Gus’s life had been what it was either. Dammit, R.E.M. was right: Every single person on the planet had to take turns hurting. Sometimes all you could do was hold on to each other tight until the dark spat you back out.
Gus blinked clear of his solemn haze and crouched, balancing his notepad on his knee and scribbling notes, and I stood beside him, legs wobbling but eyes open. I’m here, I thought at him. I’m here and I see it too.
We moved around the site like that, silent as ghosts, Gus guarding his notes from the rain as it soaked through our clothes and skin right down to the bone.
When we’d circled the whole plot of land once, he headed back toward Father Abe’s Frankensteined trailer, glancing at me for the first time in the last two hours. “It’s freezing,” he said. “You should go back to the tent.”
It was freezing—the wind had picked up, and the temperature had begun dropping until my jeans felt like ice packs against my skin. But no part of me thought that was why he was pushing me away.
“Please, January,” Gus said quietly, and it was the please that unraveled me. What was I doing? I cared about Gus, but if he didn’t want me to hold on to him, I had to let go.
“Okay,” I said through chattering teeth. “I’ll wait in the tent.”
Gus nodded, then turned and trudged off. Heart stung, I walked back to the tent, knelt, and crawled inside. I curled into the fetal position to warm myself up and closed my eyes, listening to the barrage of rain on the fabric overhead. I tried to let all my thoughts and feelings slip away from me, but instead they seemed to swell as I drifted toward sleep, a dark, frothy wave of emotions pulling me toward a restless dream.
And then the whine of the zipper was tugging me out of it, and I opened my unfocused eyes to find Gus stooped in the tent’s doorway, dripping.
“Hey.” My voice came out gravelly. I sat up, smoothing my wet hair.
“Sorry that took so long,” he said, climbing in and zipping the door up behind him. “I needed to get thorough pictures, draw a map, all that.” He sat beside me and unzipped his rain jacket, which he’d put back on since we parted ways.
I shrugged. “It’s fine. You said it would be an all-day thing.”
His gaze lifted to the tent ceiling. “And I meant that,” he said. “All day. The tent was just a precaution for the weather. Too many years in Michigan.”
I nodded as if I understood. I thought I might.
“Anyway.” He looked back toward my feet. “If you’re ready, we can hike back.”
We sat in silence for a moment. “Gus,” I said, tired.
“Will you just tell me what’s going on?”
He folded his legs in and leaned back on his palms, staring steadily at me. He took a deep breath. “Which part?”
“All of it,” I said. “I want to know all of it.”
He shook his head. “I told you. You can ask me anything.”
“Okay.” I swallowed a fist-sized knot. “What was the deal with that phone call?”
“Don’t make me say it,” I whispered miserably. But he still seemed confused. I gritted my teeth and closed my eyes. “Was it Naomi?”
“No,” he said, but it wasn’t No, how could you think that? It sounded more like No, but she still calls me. Or No, but it was someone else I love.
My stomach cinched tight but I forced myself to open my eyes.
Gus’s brow had wrinkled, and a raindrop slid down his sharp cheekbone. “It was my friend Kayla Markham.”
“Kayla?” My voice sounded so shaky, pathetic. Gus’s best friend since high school, Markham, was a woman?
Sudden understanding crossed Gus’s face. “It’s not like—she’s my lawyer. She’s friends with Naomi too—she’s handling our divorce.”
“Oh.” It sounded small and stupid, exactly how I felt. “Your mutual friend is handling your divorce?”
“I know it’s weird.” He mussed his hair. “I mean, it’s like she’s totally impartial. She throws me this big-ass birthday party every year but then I have to see pictures of her and Naomi in Cancún for a week. We never talk about it, and yet she’s handling the divorce, and it’s just …”
“So weird?” I guessed.
He let out his breath in a rush. “So weird.”
A little bit of the pressure in my chest released, but regardless of who Kayla Markham was to Gus, it didn’t change how he’d acted yesterday. “If it’s not about her, then why are you trying to get rid of me?” I asked, voice trembling and quiet.
Gus’s eyes darkened. “January.” He shook his head. “I’m not doing that.”
“You are,” I said. I’d been telling myself not to cry, but it was no use. As soon as I said it, the tears were welling, voice wrenching upward. “You ignored me yesterday. You tried to cancel today. You sent me back to the tent when I tried to stay with you and—you didn’t want me to come. I should have listened.”
“January, no.” Gus roughly cupped the sides of my face, holding my tear-filled gaze to his. “Not at all.” He kissed my forehead. “It wasn’t about you. Not even a little bit.” He kissed my tear-streaked left cheek, caught another falling tear with his mouth on my right.
He pulled me in against his chest and wrapped his arms around me, covering me with rain-dampened heat as he nuzzled his nose and mouth against the top of my head.
“I feel so stupid,” I whimpered. “I thought you really—”
“I do,” he said quickly, drawing back from me. “January, I didn’t want you here today because I knew it was going to be hard. I didn’t want to be the reason you spent a whole day in a torched-out graveyard. I didn’t want to put you through this. That’s all.”
He brushed some hair behind my ear, and the sweetness of the gesture only made my tears fall faster. “But you didn’t want me at Pete’s either,” I said, voice breaking. “You invited me, and then we slept together and you changed your mind.”
His mouth juddered into a look of open hurt. “I wanted you there,” he all but whispered, and when a fresh tear slipped down my cheek, he caught it with his thumb.
“Look,” he said, “this divorce has been so stupidly drawn out. I waited for her to file, and she just didn’t, and I don’t know—it didn’t matter to me, so I didn’t pursue it until a few weeks ago. She told me she’d sign the papers if I met her for a drink, so I went to Chicago to see her, and when I left, I thought it was settled. Yesterday, Markham called and told me Naomi changed her mind. She wants ‘some details hammered out’—I mean, the only things we owned together were some overpriced copper pots, which she has, and our cars. It shouldn’t be complicated, but I put it off too long, and …”