I rolled my eyes. “I think you’re projecting.”
“Maybe so,” he said, smiling back at me.
“I guess we both failed,” I said, climbing to my feet.
Gus followed me. We started up the crooked, rooty path. “I don’t think so. I think I wrote my version of a happy ending and you wrote your version of a sad one. We had to write what we think is true.”
“And you still believe a meteor hitting the Earth is the best-case scenario in a romance.”
We’d forgotten to leave the porch light on, but usually there was nothing to trip over. He’d never had porch furniture, and when I’d given Dad’s to Sonya, we’d decided to save up and get our own, then promptly forgotten. Tonight, however, the porch wasn’t empty. A cardboard box sat against the door, and Gus scooped it up, studying the shipping label.
“Must be the advanced copies,” he said. He sounded a little nervous but didn’t hesitate to balance the box against his hip and use his keys to slice open the tape along the top. He set the open box down, withdrew a copy of the book, and passed it to me.
“Don’t you want to see it first?” I asked.
He shrugged. “You first. I’ll just watch your reaction for signs that they accidentally printed it upside down, or with the wrong title.”
But they hadn’t printed it upside down or made any other ridiculous mistake. It looked gorgeous, with shades of blue swirling across its cover, the clean white lettering of the title so large I could read it perfectly even in the dim light of the stars and moon. “It’s perfect,” I said, running my fingers over the words. I flipped the flimsy cover open, and thumbed through the first few pages. “The typesetting is really wonderful and—” I’d just hit the dedication page, and whatever I’d been about to say dispersed from my mind like smoke on a breeze.
The bound manuscript I’d read hadn’t had a dedication in it, or if it had, I’d somehow missed it. Which seemed improbable both because of how closely I had studied every word, as if each were a piece of Gus I could bottle up and keep, and because there was no way I could have missed those first two words.
For January, I don’t care how the story ends as long as I spend it with you.
I looked up at him, his perfectly imperfect face obscured by the prickling tears in my eyes, the mess of dark hair turned jet black by the night, the soft gleam in those eyes I loved so much. “You just had to outdo the most beautiful dedication you’d ever read, didn’t you?”
He smiled. “Something like that.”
His hand found the side of my face, and his warm mouth pressed into mine. When he pulled back, my hair catching in his scruff, he said quietly, “And to answer your question about the best-case scenario for a love story, yes. If I were hit by a meteor while in the car with you, I would still think I went out on a high note.”
My cheeks still heated when he said things like that. The lava-like feeling still filled my stomach.
“I love you, Augustus Everett,” I said, and he didn’t shudder at the sound of his name, just smiled and ran a thumb over my jaw. So much had changed in the last year. So much would change next year too.
In books, I’d always felt like the Happily Ever After appeared as a new beginning, but for me, it didn’t feel like that. My Happily Ever After was a strand of strung-together happy-for-nows, extending back not just to a year ago, but to thirty years before. Mine had already begun, and so this day was neither an ending nor a beginning.
It was just another good day. A perfect day. A happy-for-now, so vast and deep that I knew—or rather believed—I didn’t have to worry about tomorrow.