Beach Read

Page 71

“When I think about you, January, and I think about doing laundry with you and trying terrible green juice cleanses and going to antiques malls with you, I only feel happy. The world looks different than I ever thought it could be, and I don’t want to look for what’s broken or what could go wrong. I don’t want to brace myself for the worst and miss out on being with you.

“I want to be the one who gives you what you deserve, and I want to sleep next to you every night and to be the one you complain about book stuff to, and I don’t think I ever could deserve any of that, and I know this thing between us isn’t a sure thing, but that’s what I want to aim for with you. Because I know no matter how long I get to love you, it will be worth whatever comes after.”

It was so close to the same thought I’d had earlier tonight, and before that, as we drove back from New Eden, our hands clutching each other against the gearshift, but now it sounded different, felt a little sour in my stomach.

“It will be worth it,” he said again, more quietly, more urgently.

“You can’t know that,” I whispered. I stepped back from him slowly, swiping the tears from my eyes.

“Fine,” Gus murmured. “I can’t know it. But I believe it. I see it. Let me prove I’m right. Let me prove I can love you forever.”

My voice came out thin and weak. “We’re both wrecks. It’s not just you. I wanted to think it was, but it’s not. I’m a disaster. I feel like I need to relearn everything, especially how to be in love. Where would we even start?”

Gus pulled my hands away from my tear-streaked face. His smile was faint, but even in the cloudy light of morning, I could see the dimple creasing his cheek. His hands skated onto my hips, and he pulled me softly against him, tucking his chin on my head. “Here,” he whispered into my hair.

My heart skipped a beat. Was that possible? I wanted it so badly, wanted him in every part of my life, just like he’d said.

“When I watch you sleep,” he said shakily, “I feel overwhelmed that you exist.”

The tears rushed full force into my eyes again. “What if we don’t get a happy ending, Gus?” I whispered.

He thought it over, his hands still sliding and tightening and pushing against me like they couldn’t sit still. His dark eyes homed in on mine. As I looked up at him, his gaze was doing the sexy, evil thing, but now it seemed less sexy-evil and more … just Gus.

“Then maybe we should enjoy our happy-for-now,” Gus said.

“Happy for now.” I tasted the words, rolled them over the back of my tongue like wine. The only promise you ever had in life was the one moment you were living. And I was.

Happy for now.

I could live with that. I could learn to live with that.

Slowly, he began to sway me back and forth again. I wrapped my arms around his neck and let his circle my waist and we stood there, learning to dance in the rain.


Nine Months Later


I clutched the advance copy of The Great Family Marconi against my chest. I suspected I would never be ready. Not for this book and not for him. Handing it over to the world was going to feel like falling headfirst out of an airplane, and I could only hope that something below decided to rise up and catch me. I asked Gus, “Are you?”

His head tilted as he considered. He had just finished the line edits phase of editing his book, so his manuscript was held together by binder clips, rather than the cheapo paperback binding used for the advance copies, which would arrive any day now.

In the end, my book had sold three weeks before his, but his had sold for a little more money, and both of us had decided to ditch the pen names. We’d written books we were proud of, and even if they were different from what we usually did, they were still ours.

It was strange not to see the little sun over waves, Sandy Lowe’s logo, on the spine where it had been for all my other books. But I knew my next book, Curmudgeon, was going to have it, and that felt good.

Curmudgeon, my readers would love. I loved it too. No more or less than I loved Family Marconi. But perhaps I felt more protective of the Marconis than I did my other protagonists, because I didn’t know how they’d be judged.

Anya had insisted that anyone who didn’t want to swaddle the Marconis in the softest silk and hand-feed them grapes is just swine with no need for pearls. Don’t you worry. Of course, she’d said that when forwarding the first trade review this morning, which had been largely positive apart from describing the cast as “unwieldy” and Eleanor herself as “rather shrill.”

“I think I am,” Gus answered and handed his stack of pages to me. He had no reason to worry, and I told myself I didn’t either. In the past year, I’d read both of his books, and he’d already read all three of mine, and so far, each other’s writing hadn’t left either of us repulsed by the other.

In fact, reading The Revelatories had felt a bit like swimming through Gus’s mind. It was heartbreaking and beautiful but very, very funny in some moments, and extremely odd in many.

I passed him my book and he grinned down at the illustrated cover, the stripes of the tent swooping down into curls at the bottom, tying knots around the silhouetted figures of the characters, binding them together.

“It’s a good day,” Gus said. Sometimes he said that, usually when we were in the middle of something mundane, like loading the dishwasher or dusting the front room of his house in our nasty cleaning clothes. Since selling Dad’s house in February, I’d spent a lot of time in the beach house next door, but Gus came to my apartment in town too. It was over the music store, and during the day, while we were working in my breakfast nook, we could hear stray college students stopping by to test out drum sets they could never have fit in their dorms. Even when it bothered us, it was something we shared.

Truthfully, sometimes Gus and I liked to be grumps together.

At night, after the shop closed, the owners, a middle-aged brother and sister with matching bone gauges in their ears, always turned their music up—Dylan or Neil Young and Crazy Horse or the Rolling Stones—and sat on their back stoop, smoking one shared joint. Gus and I would sit on my tiny balcony above them and let the smells and sounds float up to us. “It’s a good day,” he’d say, or if he’d accidentally shut the balcony door with it locked again, he’d say something like, “What a fucking day.”

And then he’d climb down the fire escape to the weed-smoking siblings and ask if he could cut through the store to the second stairwell inside the building, and they’d say, “Sure, man,” and a minute later, he’d appear behind me with a fresh beer in hand.

Sometimes I missed the kitchen in the old house, that hand-painted white and blue tile, but these past few weeks as summer began anew, I’d heard the clamor and laughter of the six-person family that was staying in it, and I imagined they appreciated the touch as much as I ever had. Maybe someday, one of the four kids would describe those careful designs to his own children, a piece of memory that managed to stay bright as everything else grew vague and fuzzy.

“It is a good day,” I agreed. Tomorrow was the anniversary of the day Naomi left Gus, the night of his thirty-third birthday, and he’d finally told Markham he’d prefer not to have the big party.

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