Beach Read

Page 70

Or maybe I’d feel every step, every footprint walking over me, but that still might be better than the desolation I felt now.

Because I knew again, for certain, that Shadi had been right. I’d finally fallen. It had been impossibly fortuitous, fated, for me to find myself crossing paths with someone I could love like Gus Everett, and I still felt lucky even as I felt miserable.

A light flicked on in the corner of my vision, and I turned toward it, expecting to find Shadi on the front porch. But the light wasn’t coming from my front porch.

It was coming from Gus’s.

And then the music started, as loud as it had been that first night. Like Pitchfork or Bonnaroo was unfolding right here on our cul-de-sac.

Sinéad O’Connor’s voice rang out, the mournful opening lines of “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

The door opened and he stepped out under the light, as soaked as I was, though somehow, against all odds, his peppered, wavy hair still managed to defy gravity, sticking up at odd, sleepy angles.

With the song still ringing out into the street, interrupted only by the occasional distant rattle of the retreating storm, Gus came toward me in the rain. He looked as unsure whether he should laugh or cry as I now felt, and when he reached me, he tried to say something, only to realize the song was too loud for him to speak in a normal voice. I was shaking and my teeth were chattering, but I didn’t feel cold exactly. I felt more like I was standing just a ways outside my body.

“I didn’t plan this well at all,” Gus finally shouted over the music, jerking his chin toward his house meaningfully.

A smile flickered over my face even as a pang went through my abdomen.

“I thought …” He ran his hand up through his hair and glanced around. “I don’t know. I thought maybe we’d dance.”

A laugh leapt out of me, surprising us both, and Gus’s face brightened at the sound. As soon as its last trace had faded, tears sprang back into my eyes, a burning starting at the back of my nose. “You were going to dance with me in the rain?” I asked thickly.

“I promised you,” he said seriously, taking my waist in his hands. “I said I would learn.”

I shook my head and fought to steady my voice. “You’re not beholden to any promises, Gus.”

Slowly, he pulled me against him and wrapped his arms around me, the heat of him only slightly dimmed by the chill of the rain. “It’s not the promise that matters,” he murmured just above my right ear as he started to sway, rocking me side to side in a tender approximation of a dance, the inverse of that night we’d spent at the frat party. “It’s that I told you.”

Soft January. January who could never hide what she was thinking. January who he’d always been afraid to break.

My throat knotted. It almost hurt, being held by him like this, not knowing what he was about to tell me, or whether this would be the last time he held me at all. I tried to say something, to again insist he wasn’t obligated to me, that I understood the complicated state of things.

I couldn’t make a sound. His hand was in my damp hair and I closed my eyes against another stream of tears, burying my face in his wet shoulder.

“I thought you were gone. Your car …” I trailed off.

“… Is stuck on the side of the road right now,” he said. “It’s raining like the world is ending.”

He gave a forced smile, but I couldn’t match it.

The song had ended, but we were still rocking, holding on to each other, and I was terrified of the moment he’d let go, all while trying to appreciate this instant, the one when he still hadn’t.

“I’ve been calling you,” he said, and I nodded, because I couldn’t get out I know.

I sucked a breath into my lungs and asked, “Was that Naomi?”

I didn’t clarify that I meant the beautiful woman at the event, but I didn’t need to.

“Yeah,” Gus answered in a hush. For a few more seconds, neither of us spoke. “She wanted to talk,” he finally offered. “We went for a drink next door.”

I am still standing, I thought. Well, not quite. I was leaning, letting him take the bulk of my weight. But I was alive. And Shadi was inside, waiting for me. I would be okay.

“She wants to get back together,” I choked out. I’d meant it as a question but it came out more proclamation.

Gus eased back enough to look into my eyes, but I didn’t reciprocate. I kept my cheek pressed into his chest. “I guess she and Parker split up a while ago,” Gus said, resting his chin on my head again. His arms tightened across my back. “She … she said she’d been thinking about it for a long time but she wanted to wait. To make sure I wasn’t her rebound.”

“How could you be her rebound?” I asked. “You’re her husband.”

His gruff laugh rumbled through me. “I said something like that.”

My stomach squirmed.

“She’s not a bad person,” Gus said, like he was pleading with me.

My gut twisted. “Glad to hear it.”

“Really?” Gus asked, head tilting. “Why?”

“You shouldn’t be married to an asshole, I guess. Probably no one should, except maybe other assholes.”

“Well, that’s the thing,” he said quietly. “She asked me if I could ever forgive her. And I think I could. I mean, eventually.”

I said nothing.

“And then she asked if I could see myself being with her again, and—I can imagine it. I think it’s possible.”

I thought maybe I should say something. Oh? Good? Well, then? The pain didn’t seem content to have been heard. It roared up in me. “Gus,” I whispered, and closed my eyes as more hot tears streamed out of them. I shook my head.

“She asked if we could make our marriage work,” he murmured, and my arms went limp. I stepped back from him, wiping at my face as I put distance between us. I stared at the flooded grass and my muddy toes.

“I never expected to hear her say that,” Gus said breathlessly. “And I don’t know—I needed time, to figure it all out. So I went home, and … I just started to think it all through, and I wanted to call you but it seemed so selfish, to call you like that and make you help me figure it out. So I just spent all day yesterday thinking about it,” he said. “And at first I thought …” He stopped again and shook his head sort of manically. “I could definitely be with Naomi again, but even if we could be together, I didn’t think I could ever be married again. It was all too messy and painful. And then I thought about that more, and realized I didn’t mean it.”

I tightened my eyes as more tears pushed out. Please, I wanted to beg him. Stop. But I felt stuck in my own body, held prisoner there.

“January,” he said softly. “Look at me.”

I shook my head.

I listened to his steps moving through the grass. He slipped my lifeless hands into his. “What I meant is, I did mean it, about her and me. I didn’t mean it about you.”

I opened my eyes and looked up into his face, blurred behind my tears. His throat shifted, jaw flexed. “I’ve never met someone who is so perfectly my favorite person. When I think about being with you every day, no part of me feels claustrophobic. And when I think about having to have the kinds of fights with you that Naomi and I used to have, there’s nothing scary about it. Because I trust you, more than I’ve ever trusted anyone, even Pete.

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