Beach Read

Page 62

“Was your dad the gun type?”

“In Ohio, he wasn’t.” In Ohio, he was all biographies and cozy nights in, dutiful hand-holding at doctors’ appointments, and Groupon Mediterranean cooking classes. He was the father who woke me up before the sun to take me out on the water and let me steer the boat. As far as I knew, letting an eight-year-old drive through the empty lake for twenty seconds at a time was the peak of his impulsiveness and recklessness.

But anything was possible here, in his second life.

“Wait right here,” Gus said. Before I could protest, he’d fled the room. I listened to his steps on the staircase, and then a moment later, he returned with a bottle of whiskey.

“What’s that for?” I asked.

“To steady your hand,” Gus said.

“What, before I pry a bullet out of my own arm?”

Gus rolled his eyes as he unscrewed the top. “Before you crack the safe.”

“If we drank green smoothies like we drink alcohol, we would live forever.”

“If we drank green smoothies like we drink alcohol, we would never leave the toilet, and that would do nothing to help you right now,” Gus said.

I took the bottle and sipped. Then we sat on the carpet in front of the safe. “His birthday?” Gus suggested.

I scooted forward and entered the number. The lights flickered red and the door stayed locked. “At home all our codes were their anniversary,” I said. “Mom and Dad’s. I doubt that applies here.”

Gus shrugged. “Old habits die hard?”

I entered the date with low expectations but my stomach still jarred when the red lights flashed.

I wasn’t prepared for the fresh wave of jealousy that hit me. It wasn’t fair that I hadn’t gotten to know him through and through. It wasn’t fair Sonya had parts of him that, now, I never would. Maybe the safe’s code had even been some significant landmark for them, an anniversary or her birthday.

Either way, she would know the combination.

All it would take would be one email, but it wasn’t one I wanted to send.

Gus rubbed the crook of my elbow, drawing me back to the present.

“I don’t have time for this right now.” I stood. “I have to finish a book.” This week, I decided.

THE IMPORTANT THING, I told myself, was that the house could easily be sold. A safe was nothing, no big curveball. The house was practically empty. I could sell it and go back to my life.

Of course now when I thought about this, I had to do everything I could to avoid the question of where that would leave me and Gus. I had come here to sort things out and instead had made them messier, but somehow, in the mess, my work was thriving. I was writing at a speed I hadn’t reached since my first book. I felt the story racing ahead of me and did everything I could to keep pace.

I banned Gus from the house for all but an hour each night (we set a literal timer) and spent the rest of my time writing in the second bedroom upstairs, where all I could see was the street below me. I wrote late into the night, and when I woke up, I picked up where I left off.

I lived in the give-up pants and even swore to start calling them something better if I could just finish this book, as if I were bargaining with a god who was deeply invested in my (thoroughly non-capsule) wardrobe.

I didn’t shower, barely ate, chugged water and coffee but nothing harder.

At two in the morning on Saturday, August second, the day of our event at Pete’s, I reached the final chapter of FAMILY_SECRETS.docx and stared down the blinking cursor.

It had all played out more or less how I’d imagined it. The clown couple was safe but still living with their secrets. Eleanor’s father had stolen her mother’s wedding ring and sold it to give his other family the money they needed. Eleanor’s mother still had no idea the other family existed, and she believed she had only misplaced the ring, that perhaps when they unpacked in their next town, it would fall out of a pocket or a fold of towels. In her heart, the bit of colorful yarn her husband had tied around her finger more than replaced it. Love, after all, was often made not of shiny things but practical ones. Ones that grew old and rusted only to be repaired and polished. Things that got lost and had to be replaced on a regular basis.

And Eleanor. Eleanor’s heart had been thoroughly broken.

The circus was moving on. Tulsa was shrinking behind them, their week there fogging over like a dream upon waking. She was looking back, with an ache she thought would never stop spearing through her.

There; there was where I was supposed to leave it. I knew that.

It had a nice cyclical quality to it. A temporary neatness that the reader could see unraveling somewhere far ahead off the page. Or perhaps not.

There it was, exactly as it was meant to be, and my chest felt heavy and my body felt chilled and my eyes were damp, although possibly more from exhaustion and the fan overhead than anything else.

But I couldn’t leave it there. Because no matter how beautiful the moment was, in its own sad way, I didn’t believe it. This wasn’t the world I knew. You lost beautiful things—years of your mother’s good health, your shot at the dream career, your father way too soon—but you found them too: a coffee shop with the world’s worst espresso; a bar with a line-dancing night; a messy, beautiful neighbor like Gus Everett. I set my hands on the keyboard and started typing.

White flurries began to drift down around her, snagging in her hair and clothes. Eleanor looked up from the dusty road, marveling at the sudden snowfall. Of course it wasn’t snow. It was pollen. White wildflowers had sprung up on either side of the road, the wind shaking their buds out into itself.

Eleanor wondered where she was going next, and what the flowers would look like there.


I saved the draft and emailed it to Anya.

Subject: Something Different.

Please don’t hate me. Love, J.


I GOT UP early and drove twenty minutes to print the draft at the nearest FedEx, just so I could hold it in my hand. When I got back, Gus was waiting on my porch for me, sprawled on the couch with his forearm thrown over his eyes. He lifted it to peer at me, then smiled and sat up, making room for me to sit.

He pulled my legs over his lap and scooted me closer to him. “And?” he said.

I dropped the stack of paper in his lap. “Now I just have to wait and see if Anya fires me. And how mad Sandy is. And whether we can sell the book and I have something to ‘lord over you.’”

“Anya won’t fire you,” Gus said.

“And Sandy?”

“Will probably be mad,” Gus said. “But you wrote another book. And you’ll write more. Probably even one she wants. You’ll sell the book, though not necessarily before I sell mine, and either way, I’m sure you’ll find something to lord over me.”

I shrugged. “I’ll try my best anyway. What about you—are you close to done?”

“Actually, yeah. With a draft anyway. Another week or two should do it.”

“That should be about how long it takes me to do the dishes I’ve left around the house this week.”

“Perfect timing,” Gus said. “Look at fate, taking charge.”

“Fate is wont to do that.”

We parted ways before the event to get ready, and when my hair was dry after a much-needed shower, I lay on my bed, exhausted, and watched the fan twirl. The room felt different. My body felt different. I could have convinced myself I’d snatched someone else’s limbs and life and fallen in love with them.

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