You're so Basic - bonus story
“Don’t be upset,” Mira says, giving me a worried look.
“That’s not a great start,” I tell her. “Most people only say that when they know they’ve done something upsetting.”
It’s Christmas Eve, and we’re sitting in my car, parked outside of Glitterati. I got a space closer than would normally be possible, because most of the tourists have cleared out for a few days. The leaves are gone, the trees rendered into reaching skeletons, and the first real cold front has settled in. Mira has to wear her cast for one more week, and it would be to our benefit if there’s no ice or snow to slip on. Still, she’s been doing a snow dance every night, and there was even talk of calling up Josie the Great in the hopes that she’d help with the proceedings.
We’re here tonight because, shocker of shockers, Mira wanted to have a holiday “gathering,” which I argued is another word for party. Given that she has access to her bar whenever she wants, whether or not it is open to the general public, she decided we’d have it here. We’re here a few minutes early to set up. Most of our friends will be joining us, including my sister and Izzy, who has been granted a later-than-usual bedtime in honor of the holiday. The guest list also includes Shauna’s grandmother, Constance, and Deacon the mediocre private investigator. Mira has taken great interest in the progression of their relationship, and Deacon has shared every detail with her. He’s a nice guy, don’t get me wrong, but I’d prefer not to know every last detail of his love life. Or any of them.
Mira captures her lip in her teeth.
If she’s trying to distract me, it’s working.
I say as much, and she grins. “You’re incorrigible.”
“Good things happened the last time you called me that, which has only made me more incorrigible. You were saying?”
“I’d prefer it if you weren’t upset with me on Christmas. I really like Christmas.”
“Both I and the eight-foot-tree stuffed into our living room are aware of that. So are all of our neighbors and friends, and—let’s be honest—probably half of the people who live in this town.” I reach over and tuck her hair behind her ear. Not because it needs tucking so much as I want to touch her. “What’s wrong?”
I’m not that worried, to be honest, even though things have been going shockingly well lately—a situation that naturally lends itself to disappointment. Drew and I ended up selling our game for a good sum, and I’ll soon be able to pay off Jarrod the Prick. And Big Mike, aka Red Snake, has continued to use me as a consultant, even though he no longer lives in the apartment next door.
In return, Mira and I have reluctantly adopted Pumpkin, who took a chunk out of my finger just this morning.
Mira takes in a deep breath and huffs it out, her gaze finding the storefront of Glitterati. It’s dark, waiting for us to make it light.
“Let’s go inside,” she says. “I’ll show you. I’d rather show than tell.”
“Have you hidden Josie away ina dark corner? Because that’s more likely to piss Shane off.”
He’s going over his parents’ house later, but he’s coming here first.
“Well…she is coming, actually. Believe it or not, she said she has to be here. I’m pretty sure that’s just what she says when she wants to get invited to something. But that’s not why I’m worried you’ll be pissed.”
I’m laughing as I get out and circle around to help Mira out.
“One more week,” I say, getting her settled on her crutches.
She leans forward and grabs my shirt—using it to steady herself. “One more week.”
A month and a half ago, I was nervous about what would happen after she got the cast off. I figured she’d have no further use for me once she was free of it. But a lot has happened over the last month. Mira’s done everything she can to show me she accepts me as I am—and I’ve tried to see that as the gift it is, not a statement on my weakness.
She kisses me firmly, with purpose, and I kiss her back the same way. It’s my way of telling her that although things may change, there’s one thing that never will. I love her. I’m grateful for her. I’ll do anything to make it work—and I know she feels the same way.
We’ve both committed to changing our schedules. She’ll only be closing the bar five days a week. Azzy has offered to close by herself on Tuesday, they all have Mondays off, and they’ve also hired a new part-time employee to help carry some of the weight.
The work I need to do for Red Snake can be done at night just as easily as during the day.
Things are changing.
Things are good.
Mira leans back, grinning at me as I keep my hand on her hip to steady her. “I’m going to keep the cast forever after I get it sawed off. Maybe I’ll put it in a glass case in our living room.”
“You might change your mind when they take it off of you,” I muse. “I’ve heard that a thick layer of dirt gathers under those things.”
She scrunches her nose. “And my leg hair’s going to be long. Will you be repulsed by me?”
“Nope. It’ll be another part of you that I can get to know. I’ve been short-changed by almost a foot for the past couple of months. But now I can finally get to know all of you.”
She kisses me again, her lips soft and warm from being in the car, and the contrast between them and the cool air is intoxicating. I decide that I’m quite okay with hanging around out here all night, just in front of the bar but not inside of it. But she releases her hold on my shirt and gest sturdy on her crutches again. “Let’s go.”
So I follow her to the door, which I unlock, and she takes the bedazzled sign she made at our apartment out of her bag and hangs it in the window—Private Party.
“Is this where you admit it’s a party and not a gathering?” I ask, one corner of my mouth lifting.
“Semantics. Okay, come see.”
She looks excited but nervous, and I like the one if not the other. Her excitement has made me done unspeakable things. Just this week, I bought a light-up peacock for the balcony. It was sold with the Christmas things, and it’s anyone’s guess how it’s Christmassy, but Mira told me a few weeks ago that she peacocks are her favorite birds, and there you go…
I follow her to the back of the bar, to the door leading out to the alley.
“Why are we going to the alley that always smells like spoiled broccoli?”
She glances back. “That’s the surprise.”
We step through, and the first thing that hits me is that the smell is gone.
The next is there are a few tables set up back here, along with a space heater and a tarp overhead, decorated with some twinkle lights
“So…it’s going to take a little longer for the permit to go through for the addition, even though Burke still has friends at the permit office, but I’ve always been allowed to put tables back here. I just never did because of the…well, you know, but Deacon shared this very intense cleaner he found, and it actually worked, so I figured…”
She trails off, watching me, practically humming with nervous energy.
“I’m not going to freak out over this,” I say, stepping closer and running my fingers over her jaw. “You already told me about the addition.”
She’s going to expand what was a previously unused storage space and turn it into a sensory-friendly part of Glitterati. Or maybe sensory-friendlier. She’s doing it for me, and I feel like the luckiest asshole in the world that she wants me around enough to put in the effort. There’s still part of me that wants to be embarrassed by it, but I’m getting better at controlling that.
“It’s just…in a week, I’m going to be full-time again, or mostly full-time again, and I want you around.”
“I’m going to be around,” I say. “You’re going to be brainstorming ways to get rid of me.”
“I love you,” I say.
“I know,” she tells me, smiling. Then she adds, “I love you too. A real lot. Now, let’s go make some drinks.”
We head inside, and I sit in front of her while she starts adding ingredients to her mixer. We’re talking while she works, when I see Shane walk up to the door with Ruthie and Izzy. They seem deep in conversation.
“Huh, are they in a holiday ceasefire?” Mira asks, glancing out. The door’s perpendicular to us, so we both have a good sidelong view. “Good will to men, and all of that?”
“I doubt it,” I tell her. “I’ll bet you Pumpkin feeding duties for a week that they’re arguing about something.”
“Pumpkin likes me,” she says, her eyes dancing. “Maybe I’ll do you a solid and take that bet, even though I know I’m going to lose.”
“That’s reason number four hundred and twenty seven that I love you.” We’ve been keeping a rolling list.
She pushes a drink across the bar at me. “Reason four hundred and twenty eight,” I say. I take a quick sip of it before getting up to let them in.
As I get to the door, I distinctly hear Ruthie say, “It was rude, is all I’m saying.”
I swing the door open wide, and Izzy all-but tackles me. “Uncle Danny! I got you and Mira a Christmas present.” She shoves a wrapped package for me, then says, “It’s a hamster wheel for Pumpkin.”
Ruthie laughs and follows her in, Shane just behind her. “You’re not supposed to tell them, baby.”
“I’m not a baby,” Izzy says, rolling her eyes as if she’s world weary at the tender age of five.
Shane gives me a nod as he shuts the door behind him.
“So what was Shane rude about?” I ask my sister, giving Mira a pointed glance. It’s a look that hopefully communicates she’s lost our bet, not that she expected any differently.
Ruthie and Shane both scowl at me, so apparently they agree about something.
I take the wrapped hamster wheel from Izzy, who runs up to the bar. Mira has a signature drink for her, which is reason number three hundred and fifty six that I love her.
Honestly, my memory is unspeakably good for databases, and I can still remember every item on the list in the order in which it appears, but I’m going to need to start a spreadsheet at this rate.
“I ran into one of the guys from Freeman & Daniels just after I saw them,” Shane says. Shifting his gaze to Ruthie, he frowns and adds, “I didn’t remember his name, Ruthie. The last thing I wanted to do was introduce him to you. He would have seen right through me.”
“How’d the interview go?” I ask as he lowers onto a stool next to Izzy’s. Mira pauses mid-conversation with Izzy to push a drink toward him, and he nods in gratitude.
Ruthie chooses a seat on the other side of Izzy.
Sighing, Shane starts, “Who the fuc—”
“Shane,” Ruthie interrupts, with plenty of heat in her voice.
“Who the heck knows?” he corrects himself, sighing and rubbing the area between his eyebrows. “I’m not even sure I want to work there. They’re all freakishly friendly. That’s the only thing I remember from the interview other than that it’s general practice. They’re all starting to blend together.”
He’s interviewed for at least a dozen jobs since quitting Myles & Lee, and the only ones he was remotely excited about rejected him weeks ago. Turns out Myles wasn’t all talk when he told Shane he’d do what he could to keep him from working in the law in this town.
Shane knows he did the right thing, but that’s cold comfort. He’s given up everything for his job, and now he doesn't have one.
“I’m sorry, man,” I say, taking the seat next to him and scooting my drink over.
Ruthie looks a little remorseful, but she doesn’t apologize. She says, “Well, he did seem really happy to see you.”
“He’d probably greet a murderer the same way,” Shane says dismissively.
She’s got her I-want-to-say-something look, but instead she helps Izzy take her coat off and hangs it on a hook under the bar.
Mira grabs a bottle of whiskey and pours some onto the top of Shane’s drink. “For you. Because I invited Josie, and it’s obvious it’s already not a great night for you. Sorry.”
He winces, then takes a slug of the drink. “Maybe she can tell me who’ll finally take pity on me and give me a job.”
Ruthie’s desire to say something seems almost painful by now, but she holds back. Possibly because Delia and Burke are at the door. Leonard, Shauna, and their young roommate arrive soon afterward, followed by Deacon and Shauna’s grandmother, who arrive together.
After about an hour, Ruthie asks to see the setup in the alleyway outside. I have to wonder if she and Mira have colluded on giving me a break from the noise, which has been prickling at me for the last fifteen minutes, but I don’t mind much. There’s something I’ve been wanting to tell her, anyway. Izzy stays inside, telling “Uncle Shane” a story that seems to have no ending or purpose. He doesn't seem to mind, probably because his mind is far away.
“This is nice,” Ruthie says as she walks around the small space, touching each of the tables in turn. She’s like me—she needs to touch things sometimes to tell herself they’re real.
“I got a diagnostic appointment, Ruthie,” I tell her. “Eight months from now. Apparently, there’s a real back-up. But I’m glad I’m doing it.”
I can’t tell if she’s happy or sad about it, but then she spans the small distance between us and wraps her arms around me, hugging me hard. “I’m so happy.” When she pulls away, there are tears in her eyes.
“You don’t look very happy,” I observe.
“It’s the sad kind of happy. I just…I’m so happy you met Mira. She’s perfect for you.”
It’s a statement of fact, as far as I’m concerned. So is this one— “I want you to meet someone who’s perfect for you too. I want you to be happy.”
“I’ll be happy if I can get some traction with Vanny,” she says with a laugh that’s at least half hiccup. “You know I’ve got terrible taste in men.”
I raise my eyebrows and grip the back of a chair. “So did I until I met Mira. I’m pretty sure Daphne’s a psychopath.”
She laughs harder, but I don’t like that look in her eyes, like she’s on the brink of tears and could easily fall into them. “You’re not wrong there. I just…”
“What can I do?” I ask, hoping she’ll actually assign me a task this time rather than brushing aside the offer.
“People are interested in the bookmobile idea, Danny. They are. It’s just…it’s hard for me to be there at the times they’re interested. I can’t bring Izzy to hang out at a brewery all night, and sure, I could get her a sitter, but I don’t want someone else to raise my child.”
No, she’s not like our parents in that way.
“You know I’d love to spend time with her anytime you need me to. Mira too.”
“Thanks,” she says, wiping beneath her eyes and looking away. “I know. I guess I'm feeling a little sorry for myself tonight, but it’ll pass. It always does.”
“Maybe it’s okay to feel sorry for yourself,” I say,. “I want to help. Please let me help.”
“I will,” she tells me, and I hope to God she actually takes me up on it. Then she forces a smile and adds, “I’ve already let you help with Christmas.”
With Izzy’s Christmas list, she means.
“And I'm always here to help more.”
She nods. “I really believe in this idea, Danny.”
“I really believe in you,” I say, and she throws her arms around me again, so enthusiastic that I nearly fall over.
“Thank you,” she whispers. “Thank you. I needed that tonight.” She pulls away, already more collected. “I have to head home with Izzy, but we’ll see you tomorrow?”
Mira and I are going to her house for Christmas breakfast so we can be there while Izzy mows throw her gifts.
“We’ll be there.”
We walk inside together, and I give my niece a hug. She grins at me, her eyes huge, and says, “Uncle Danny, Santa Claus is coming tonight. Is he going to visit you too?”
“I think he only visits kids,” I say. Then I glance at Mira. “But we do have a truly spectacular tree, and I'm feeling pretty young-at-heart this year, so who knows?”
She grins back at me, and mouths, “I love you.”
She’s been compiling a list, too, but she doesn’t have my strange memory, so hers is all over the place—she’ll go from reason five thousand to reason fifteen, all in one hour.
That’s reason two hundred and twenty seven that I love her.
I stay inside for another hour or so, talking with Mira and our friends, when Josie the Great shows up with her boyfriend. They're wearing matching elf hats.
She takes one look at Shane and says, “You should put in the order for that cake soon. It won’t be long now.”
“No thanks,” he says. “I don’t like cake.”
“Please tell me that’s a lie,” Mira interjects. She sounds almost desperate, and I know she means it. To her, there’s no celebration without cake.
“I mean, it’s okay.” He glances between Josie and Mira like a man who’s trapped.
“She likes sprinkles,” Josie says. Presumably it’s a message meant for Shane, because she’s staring straight at him.
“Who?” Mira asks with a hoot of laughter. “Are you talking about his future bride?”
Everyone else looks over, even Deacon and Constance, who have been having an intimate conversation at the other side of the bar, their faces inches apart. Shane’s jaw flexes. “Everyone likes sprinkles.”
“I thought everyone liked cake, but you just proved me wrong,” Mira says, lowering onto the chair she keeps behind the bar. “What else can you tell us about this woman, Josie?”
“The future is foggy,” Josie says, which probably means she’s hit a creative wall.
“Oh, you’re no fun,” Mira tells her.
I nod at Shane. “You want to come outside to my escape alley?”
“Fuck, yes,” he says without hesitation.
“Can we come, too?” Leonard asks, eyeing Burke.
“Sure,” Shane says with a sigh.
We sit out back for a few minutes, enjoying the frigid air, before Shane finally says something. “I’m not sure I can get hired anywhere in Asheville. I mean, shit, who knows. Maybe Myles’s big dick of the law extends all the way to Charlotte. Farther. I might have to take another bar exam.”
“Myles isn’t the be-all,” Burke says, frowning. I know without asking that he feels responsible for Shane’s situation, even though it’s not his fault. Still, there’s no denying Shane wouldn’t have quit his job, let alone so colorfully, if his parents hadn’t hired Myles & Lee to be their lawyers, but Burke isn’t responsible for their actions. “I might know a guy. Monty Freeman.”
Shane snaps his fingers. “That’s his name.”
“Well…yeah.” Burke glances at Shane’s drink, probably wondering if he’s had one too many.
“I interviewed with him last week. In fact, Ruthie and I just ran into him, and he acted like she was the second coming.”
“So maybe Ruthie should try to get a job off him,” Leonard offers with a laugh.
“Very funny,” Shane says tightly. “My point is that the interview obviously didn’t go well.”
Burke shrugs. “Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe he was friendly to Ruthie because he thought she was your wife.”
Shane laughs a little too hard for my taste. “If he thought that, he’s not very good at reading people. I’m not sure I want to work for a lawyer who’s shit at reading people.”
Better that than a lawyer who’s a shit person, like his previous partners, but I don’t say so, because the back door opens, and our buddy Drew steps out of it.
Drew in person, not on someone’s phone screen or laptop. He’s tan, and he’s wearing a heavy coat, and he’s grinning at us.
“Merry Fucking Christmas,” Burke says, getting to his feet and pulling Drew into a hug. The rest of us follow suit, and I can feel Mira there, watching us from the back door. Sure enough, I look up and see her, grinning out at me.
She was behind this. She wanted us to have this surprise.
“How long are you here for, bud?” Leonard asks, clapping Drew on the back. “Long enough to get rid of that tan?”
“A few weeks,” Drew says. “But if I stay longer than an hour or so tonight, my sister will kill me." Then, nodding to me, he adds, “I figure we can take some meetings and get a few of those fixes done together.”
“Well, Hallelujah,” Leonard adds with an ear-to-ear grin.
“The only things missing are our D&D dice,” I say with a smile. Because that was our thing, for so many years.
Grinning, Drew pulls a couple of them out of his pocket and places them on the tabletop. “Your girlfriend supplied them."
Damn right, she did.
“We’re going to play this game,” I say. “But first I need to do something.”
Burke watches me, bemused. Leonard also knows what I’m about. Drew, too. Shane’s the only one who probably thinks I need to take a leak. But if Josie’s right, he’ll figure it out soon enough.
I head to the back door. Mira’s still waiting there, grinning. “Reason number four hundred and twenty-nine,” I say. “Thank you.”
Her grin gets even wider. “Can I just say that I love that you’re a geek?”
“The preferred term is nerd,” I say with a smile. “And yes, I’m very comfortable with you loving that. And Pumpkin. You can love Pumpkin enough for both of us.”
She’s laughing as I wrap my arms around her and kiss her, and I capture her laughter and make it mine. I’d bottle her if I could, saving it for the times that are hard and unfair. Because if there’s one thing that could be guaranteed to make anyone feel better anytime, it’s this.
When she pulls back, I say, “You got me a better Christmas present than I got you.”
“What’s mine?” she asks with a grin.
“It’s not a display case for your dirty cast, although I haven’t missed all of your hints.”
“I’m not going to spoil the surprise,” I say, because I know this will both delight and infuriate her.
“It’s not your dick in a box, is it? Because I can get that anytime I want. It’s not a present.”
“Even if the bow’s fancy?”
“Come on, Danny, please,” she says.
Smiling, I tuck her hair behind her ear. “You’ll find out soon enough.”
I got her a set of binoculars. Good ones. I think she’ll appreciate the irony. And I also got a maple leaf necklace made for her, because I know I’m not the only one who’s fond of them after our first time together in the woods.
“I got you something else too,” she says. “Not just a sneaky visit from your friend.”
“All I want from you is some mistletoe in the elevator.”
“Now, that’s something you could have all the time,” she says with shining eyes.
Maybe so, but I’ll never get sick of it. It’s a rare thing to find love, and I hope to God that Shane really is about to break his vow and get serious about someone.
Because Josie may be wrong about a lot of things, but there’s no denying that sometimes she gets it right.
As I’m holding Mira, I see the first fat snowflake fall outside.
“Oh, Danny,” she says, her eyes full of excitement. “It’s going to be a white Christmas.”
So it is.
Ruthie and Shane's story, You're so Vain, releases soon!
January 28-31 (wide)
February 1 (Amazon & KU)