“Why don’t we get you out of here?” I ask, voice low.
“It’s been a big day.” James lays a hand on Rusty’s back to encourage him to stand.
Rusty shrugs him away. “I can’t do it, Jimmy. I won’t. Did you read Robyn’s text? Another season? Another season of watching Carey do all the work and Melly take credit for it? Of playing the bumbling sidekick to the woman I married?” His eyes meet mine and his are watery, desperate. “They’re going to want another book, you know. Another tour, and another show, and the lie will never end.”
“Rusty—” James starts.
“I can’t even remember the last piece of furniture I built. The last reno Melly actually had something to do with. We had a store and a life, and I was happy with it. I’m done, James.” He looks around at the bar full of customers who have now gone completely silent to watch him in shock. Rusty tilts his tumbler to his lips and drains the drink before telling the room, “I’m done, y’all, and I’m sorry, but I don’t care anymore. I don’t care who the fuck knows.”
It’s a surprise to all of us, I’m sure, when I step over to Rusty and lift him from his barstool and shove him from behind until we are out on the sidewalk squinting in the bright Wyoming sunset. It takes my eyes a few seconds to adapt to the change in light, and it takes my brain a bit longer to realize what I’ve managed to do: lift a man who easily has fifty pounds on me, bodily escort him from a bar, and pickpocket his keys without him even knowing. I’m not typically a very physically forceful person, but panic makes us do weird things, I guess.
Carey trips after us, eyes wide and breath coming out in these short, squeaky bursts. She gapes at Rusty. “What the hell was that? Do you realize people in there were getting all of that on video?”
If he could produce a yawn right now it wouldn’t render his expression more disinterested. “I’m over it,” he says simply.
“Rusty,” Carey says, with as much calm as she can muster, “you don’t get to just be over it. You do get that, right?”
His gaze swims as he looks from her to me and then back again. “Why aren’t you two together? But not just together, like together,” he slurs. “Did Melly tell you not to?”
Carey looks at me in abject horror, and I groan, officially done with this conversation. “Come on, Russ, you can’t ask us shit like that. We’re your employees.”
“Well, if that’s the only problem, then you’re both fired.” He turns to James, but a hiccup interrupts his laugh. “I’ll be damned if my wife is going to keep you from getting laid, too.” He pauses, scoffing at our stiff silence. “Oh, please. I see the way you two look at each other.”
Carey visibly shudders. “Rusty, oh my God please don’t talk about this.”
With a deep breath, I walk over to the car at the curb, open the door, and shove Rusty into the back seat. I meet Carey’s eyes and tilt my head for her to get in. “Let’s go.”
It’s a quiet drive back to the cabin, but I’m sure none of our thoughts are quiet. We’re in Laramie, and most people here seem to want to mind their own business, but this could still be bad. I try to remember how many camera phones I saw aimed at Rusty; there had to be at least three. And a couple of people in the booths toward the back were more than likely able to hear him ranting—they could easily have posted his diatribe to Twitter, Reddit, anywhere.
Although I’m glad that the truth about Carey’s skills will get out there, I’m not sure this is the way it should have happened.
“We should call Robyn,” Carey says quietly.
Rusty makes a drunken sound of protest, but Carey turns and glares at him so effectively that he immediately lowers his voice to under-his-breath muttering.
“Yeah,” I agree. “Call her.”
Carey holds the phone to her ear, curling low so she can hear the call over Rusty’s back-seat babble. “Hi, Robyn?” she says. “Yeah, it’s Carey. Look. I need you to do a social media check. We just picked up Rusty from a bar where he was—”
“Telling the truth!” Rusty shouts, and Carey shoos at him.
“—going on a bit of a rant,” she says delicately. “There were some folks there who got video, and I’m sure at least one person in the bar got on—Yeah. Yes.” She stares straight ahead, glum. “We were there. He snuck out of the house after hearing about the numbers.”
“Because my wife is a bitch,” he spits.
“You’re not exactly a great catch yourself, asshole,” Carey says, and I stare at her for a beat before turning my eyes back to the road. Warpath Carey is a novel delight.
“Okay,” she says, returning to the call. “Yes, I think that’s a good idea.” Her voice gets heated. “Yeah, no. I get that you’ve sent us on this impossible mission—believe me, I’m aware what has been asked of us, Robyn—but I’m not owning this one. Melly and Rusty are making their own mess right now.”
She ends the call without saying goodbye, and I give her a few seconds of deep breathing before asking, “So, what’d she say?”
I glance over at her, catching the tightness in her jaw, the tendons rising in her neck. “She said there are some tweets, but she is going to contact the user to get them taken down. She said she’s coming out here tonight.”
In the back, Rusty groans irritably. I’m not Robyn’s biggest fan, either, but I’m glad she’s coming to take care of this. Let someone else babysit.
“She started to tell me she was disappointed in us,” Carey says, “but I’m sorry, I’m not having that.” Her hand shakes as she lifts it to tuck her hair behind her ear, and she lowers it, slipping it under her thigh. “I’m not fucking having this anymore.”
Any hope we have that Robyn quickly contained the Twitter problem, or that Melissa had logged off and decided to enjoy the rest of her night unplugged, is shattered when we pull down the long gravelly driveway and see Melissa taking the front steps two at a time. She marches over, already pointing and yelling at Rusty before he can even get the door open.
“What were you thinking?” she screams.
Without a word, he walks right past her and into the house. She follows, calling his name, and—with some trepidation—Carey and I step in behind them.
To no one’s surprise, Rusty is already heading to the bar cart to make himself a cocktail.
“Russ,” Melissa says, attempting calm. “Did you really go to a bar and start telling everyone that Carey does all my work?”
He burps into his fist, then gives a rumbling “Yup.”
Melissa picks up a glass from a side table and takes a long drink. If I didn’t know better, I would think there was booze in there from the way she inhales, trying to draw strength from the liquid. She sets it down carefully. “Why—why would you do that?”
“Because it’s true.”
Melissa’s face turns a bright, terrifying red. “It is not true.”
Rusty bursts out laughing.
I can feel my mouth pulling back in the Yiiiikes face, and beside me, Carey shifts awkwardly, waiting for Melissa to blow. I think Rusty is going to continue to give these short, off-the-cuff answers, but instead of pouring the scotch he’s holding into a tumbler, he recorks the bottle and sets it down again. “Isn’t it time we stop lying to each other?” he asks with sudden, calm clarity.
“What on earth are you talking about?”
“For the past—how long now? Five years? Carey does all the design work, and everyone else gets credit.” He takes a step closer to Melissa. “We go on TV and talk about all of our ideas, but they aren’t even ours anymore.”
“Russell, that isn’t true,” Melissa says, glancing at me, voice thin and tight. I wonder how this conversation would be going down if I weren’t here. Would Melissa admit to what he’s saying? Is her denial a show for me?
“Sure it is,” Rusty says. “I used to build things based on my own designs—they were basic, but they were solid. And then she came along and I was building things based on her designs.” He pauses, staring at his wife like he’s waiting for her to say something. But she just stands there, red-faced, shaking. “Never yours, Melly. It wasn’t even like you pretended to be doing them. Why didn’t we ever talk about this?” He reaches up, rubs his forehead like he’s coming out of a fugue.
Melissa looks so angry she can’t speak.
“I didn’t mind,” he admits, “because at least I was still building. Maybe we were stealing her ideas, but at least I was having fun.”
Wow. I glance over at Carey and see that her discomfort over this conversation has started to shift into fury. She extends and curls her trembling fingers in front of her, and then wraps one hand around the other fist. I move closer to her and brush the back of her hand with mine, offering. She takes it, squeezing tightly; her tremors shake her hand in my grip.
“But now,” Rusty says, gesturing to Carey, “she’s still doing it all, and we’re just pretending. We’re not even sleeping in the same room. I flirted with Stephanie for months, and you had no idea because you were so damn busy with the show and the endorsements and writing a book on marriage, of all things.” He laughs. “I let things go too far, but I just wanted you to notice me.”
I want to point out that this seems like a very strange time for him to be drawing the line on all of this, but I think it’s probably better for me to keep my mouth firmly shut.
Melissa shifts on her feet, looking at me and then back to her husband. “We’re in a rough spot, but that doesn’t mean we’re over, Russ. Every marriage—”
Rusty cuts her off with a deafening bellow: “Have you been listening to me, Melly? It’s too late. I. Want. A. Fucking. Divorce.”