In the basement it had felt like we were racing to devour each other. This was different. Now I could study Gus how I’d always wanted to, savoring every hard line and sharp edge of his I’d ever stolen glances of, and his hands traced the curves of my hips and ridges of my ribs with the same quiet awe, his warm gaze trailing purposefully after them. Every piece of me he looked at seemed to light up in response, all the blood in my body rushing to the surface, jostling there, eager to be dispelled by his mouth or hands.
His mouth sank against the side my neck, again at the front of my throat, once more in the gap between my breasts. “Perfect,” he whispered into my skin. His fingertips grazed every place his lips had been, and his eyes lifted to mine. “You’re perfect,” he rasped and brushed a kiss over my lips so slow and hot it seemed to melt me from within.
He undid my bra and pulled me flush against him, a prickle of need starting low in my belly at the feel of his chest against mine, his hands running down my sides. We were both soaked to the bone, and our mouths and skin were slick and warm against each other as we wound ourselves together, fingers and lips and tongues and hips slipping and catching, tangling and unraveling.
He tasted like the outdoors, like pine and dew and cinnamon and himself. We untwined long enough to get his pants and briefs off and then he was over me, his mouth skirting up the inside of my thigh as his hands twisted into my underwear and hitched them down my hips. His lips nestled into my stomach, scraped down the curve of it. I gasped as his mouth finally met me, and my hands found their way into his hair, onto his neck, as he cupped my hips to his mouth, every nerve in my body rushing to meet it, every sensation gathering in that one point.
I dragged him up the length of me, and his hands circled my breasts as I wrapped my thighs tight around his hips and moved against him, feeling him shiver. “Condom?” I whispered, and he leaned over to snatch his backpack, digging through it as I arched under him. He found the foil package and tore it open, and then within seconds, he was pushing into me, his mouth unraveling mine, his hands in my hair and on my skin, his breath against my ear, his name rolling through me like a tide, his voice murmuring mine into my neck as he rocked deeper, sending full-body pulses of bliss through me.
The rain fell all around us, and I let go of everything that wasn’t Gus, wasn’t this moment. I lost myself in him, and instead of trying to convince myself that someday everything would be okay, I focused on the fact that, right now, it already was.
Gus’s hands found mine as the mounting pressure shuddered through us, and we locked together, gasping and clutching and shivering. When we were finished, he didn’t let go. We lay beside each other, under the blanket he pulled out of his backpack, our hands knotted together and our heavy breath in sync.
We had sex twice more that night—an hour or so later when he interrupted our conversation about the event at Pete’s to kiss me, and then again later, in a dreamy daze, when we awoke still tangled together naked in the dark, me already arching, him already hard.
When we’d finished, he pulled a bag of tortilla chips and a couple of Clif Bars out of the pack along with the same two flasks he’d taken to line dancing.
I propped myself up on my elbow to watch him, and he turned one of the lanterns on, the light casting him in reds and golds. He held the chips out to me. “Just a precaution?” I said, nodding toward the provisions.
Gus’s dimple deepened. His hand skimmed up the side of my arm and down across my collarbone. “An optimistic one. I’m an optimist now.” His fingers drifted to my chin, and he tilted it up to kiss my throat again. His other hand came up and he caught both sides of my jaw as he kissed me deeply, slowly, drank me in. When he pulled back, his fingers threaded through my hair, his thumb roving over my bottom lip, he asked, “Are you happy, January?”
“Extremely,” I said. “Are you?”
He gathered me against him and kissed my temple. His voice crackled against my ear. “I’m so happy.”
IN THE MORNING, we pulled on our damp clothes, packed up, and walked back to the car. The skies were clear and bright, and Gus turned on the radio, then held my hand against the gearshift, the light dappling us through the trees and windshield.
I felt like I had the Gus of Pete’s house right then. And I felt a little more like the January of before too, the one who could fall fearlessly. I searched my stomach for that tight feeling, the sensation of waiting for the other shoe to drop. I could find it, if I tried hard enough, but for once, I didn’t want to. This moment felt worth whatever pain it might bring later, and I tried to repeat that to myself until I was sure I’d be able to remember it if I needed to.
Gus lifted my hand from the gearshift and pressed it to his mouth without looking over at me.
Last night I’d known all this could slip away, dissolve around me. I’d half expected it to by the time the first cold streaks of morning light hit the tent and Gus realized what he’d done, and more importantly, everything he’d said. But instead, when his eyes opened, he’d given me a closed-mouthed smile and pulled me against him, nuzzling his face into the side of my head, kissing my hair.
Instead, here we were in the car, Gus Everett holding on to my hand and not letting go.
What happened two days ago in his study had seemed like an inevitability, a crash course we’d been set on since the beginning of the summer. This, however—this was something I hadn’t even let myself daydream about. I wouldn’t have known how to. He didn’t look like anyone from the story.
On the drive back, we stopped for breakfast at a greasy spoon diner along the highway, at which point I slipped away to call Shadi from the bathroom. The Haunted Hat’s (Ricky’s—we were going to have to start calling him by his name soon, if this kept up) little sisters were sharing their room with Shadi, at their mothers’ insistence, and she’d sneaked away to talk to me at the bottom of their cul-de-sac but was still whispering like the whole family was sleeping in a pile on top of her.
“Oh my God,” she hissed.
“I know,” I said.
“My GOOOOOOOD,” she repeated.
“Shad. I know.”
“Wow,” I agreed.
“I can’t wait to visit and watch him be completely smitten with you,” she said.
The thought made my stomach feel like it was fizzing. “We’ll see.”
“No,” she said with finality. “How could he not be? Not even Sexy, Evil Gus could be that deranged, habibi.” A lady was knocking on the bathroom door then, so we said our quick “I love you” and “Goodbye” and I went back to the sticky vinyl booth and the pile of pancakes and Gus. Sexy, disheveled, lazily smiling Gus, who gripped my knee beneath the table again and sent sparks down my belly and up my thighs.
I wanted to go back to the bathroom, him in tow.
Our breakfast stop turned into a trip to the bookstore in town, where they had none of my books in stock except the first, and no special display for their two copies of The Revelatories, and that turned into a stop at a bar with an outdoor patio.
“What’s your favorite bad review?” I asked him.
He smiled to himself as he thought, stirring the whiskey and ginger ale in front of him. “Like in a magazine or from a reader?”