Breaking The Hearts Of All Concerned
"So many times I would have called you
if I'd had your number in my hand
You were the one I would have turned to
When things didn't go the way I planned
I never got the chance to tell you
things didn't go the way I planned."
—Mackenzie Phillips, "Rebecca"
A Psych Story
Early Monday afternoon found Gus alone in the Psych office, his back to the windows, sunlight still on the rise slanting across the back of his neck.
Gus had moved from the finest gourmet caramels he could lay his hands on to a bold, full-bodied red wine Mira had suggested to him as they'd caught up amicably at her parents' winery more than four years ago. He mostly ignored the part of the memory where Shawn hid at the end of the table building a cabin out of wine corks.
Mira. A shimmering dream, a reflection of moonlight in the water. She was a mirage from another lifetime ago. Perhaps it was a fondness for her that brought him to this grape, when there were so many other finer choices from California alone.
He found he couldn't help musing over their former nuptials, wondering how his life might be today if they had remained hitched; but wasn't it impossible for a jackal and a slippery eel to find suitable and affordable housing? She was bound to wrap her body around him and shock the life from him if he didn't snap his teeth into her neck first, animal instincts and all.
He hadn't meant to think of her, to remind himself that he nearly a victim second time around to Hurricane Mira's wild love game theory.
Gus set the half full glass down on his desk. This wasn't like him, to idle, eating caramels and drinking wine in the middle of the day, but he'd been unable to get the sound of the engagement ring rattling around inside its plastic hiding place as he went about his route. Misery with its sharpened knives jabbed at him as he swallowed, feeling tortured, and lied through his teeth to tell his immediate supervisor via phone that he was too under the weather to continue the rhythm of his day.
"Tomorrow," he'd promised, his throat dry, "I'll pull in double. Get an earlier start." His boss had had no doubt, accessing in a buttery tone his ultimate faith in Gus.
It must be, he'd ventured to convince himself of his actions, five o'clock somewhere in the world.
The little bit of wine was already detaching him just enough to dull the sound of the ring, not just the sound it had made when concealed but when it had fallen, unwanted, into his open palm.
Shawn . . . wanted to get married. Shawn, his commit-phobic fake psychic detective child-like best friend, wanted to marry Juliet O'Hara. To have and to hold. To love and to honor. For better or worse. All the days of their lives. Till death do them part.
Yes, hadn't he vowed these words to Mira? But it had been a unrestrained night, he'd been hitting the tequila before they tried Goldschlager, and she'd been so perfectly charismatic and gorgeous and hadn't he thought he'd wanted to kiss her lips forever? That night Gus had puckered his lips, pushed his face hard against hers, tasted salt and sugar; she pulled back, laughing, and tugged his arm to get him into a conga line.
And yet, when he'd seen her the next afternoon, blearily, he couldn't understand what he'd been thinking. He had a plan for the future and she was not supposed to be a part of it. Not because there wasn't room for her, but simply because he didn't really love her.
Certainly, Gus knew Shawn had been leaning towards his feelings for Juliet for years, wanting to be unafraid to tell her, "I love you"—when he was not being held at gunpoint. In fact, he'd nearly succeeded when he thought Juliet might die . . . Gus closed his eyes.
Maybe, it was himself, just a small part of himself, that wanted Shawn to come to his senses—to realize he wanted little more than a series of one night stands of bachelorhood. Then they would be alone in this together, never settling down, never finding the one. But they'd have each other, could be one another's wingman, consoling when things went bad.
That's why he hadn't been the least surprised when Shawn had failed expression as Juliet stood before him in a hospital gown. That's also why he hadn't stooped to tell Shawn some variation of "I told you so". Shawn and Juliet had been playing Tug of War for several years, one always pulling harder than the other and one always threatening to just let go.
He'd thought, surely, Shawn would grow tired of the game.
Gus reached for the drawer he'd stuck the Nintendo DS in, slid it open and stared at the plastic device as if it could be lethal.
Mira . . . he'd be luckiest if he never saw her again, as the way they ended things was even worse than when they began them, yet Gus still longed for that lifelong bond, his own game of Tug of War that he would eventually win. A good share of women had helped him pass the years, a few even becoming girlfriends, however short-lived the status was. Gus huffed. How much better was he than Shawn?
In a way he was loathe to admit, he guessed he had found this ending inevitable—not quite the proposal but the fact that Shawn and Juliet were bound to be together. There had been the obvious attraction (eventually mutual), constant flirting (mostly Shawn) and many life-threatening and life-affirming obstacles that they as a couple could share. And Shawn made Juliet laugh and bend the rules, and Juliet made Shawn be serious and honest.
Gus reached for his glass, and taking a sip, imagined himself drinking to the health of the happy couple, and replaced his glass on the desk with a sour expression. He peered into the glass as if this could give him the answers as to why he found this situation so unfair, why it tightened his insides, why he knew he couldn't muster a hearty "Congratulations!" when the time came.
He had barely registered these thoughts when the front door opened and Shawn threw himself inside, grinning when he rounded the corner and saw Gus. "Buddy! You're here! I stopped at your apartment—"
Gus sat still, feeling the minor affects of the sugar and the wine acting as a slight buffer for Shawn's wild babbling. He was, Gus heard from a distance, describing the activities he and Juliet had done at the resort all on Gus's tab—prior to the robbery. Gus recalled the matching pink hat and sweatshirt he'd seen Juliet modeling for Shawn as Gus made the discovery, and wondered with a dull stab of incredulity if Shawn had also paid for the ring with funds not his own.
Could that mean that he, Gus, should be the one to rightly ask Juliet O'Hara for her hand? His snort went unnoticed by Shawn, who was now discussing the robbery and murder and urgency he'd faced realizing his Nintendo was missing.
Shawn's tone changed, a nervous excitement swelling in him. "Dude, they told me at the hotel that you'd confiscated the DS. I knew it would be safe with you, but Gus, I—It's just, you don't understand, see, it's not just a toy—"
"Shawn—" Gus broke in, saying his first word since Shawn had burst in. He retrieved the DS from the drawer, held it up and shook it, a little harder than necessary, watching Shawn's expression carefully. The elation Shawn wore peeled off, leaving blanched skin.
Shawn opened his mouth again, but no sound escaped. For the first time, he took in his surroundings, eyeing the what was left of the bag of caramels and wine on the side of Gus's desk. His mouth dry, he said quietly, "But I tried . . ."
Gus stood up, still clutching the DS. Maybe he would keep it, and its contents. That would show him! With hurt in his eyes Gus told his best friend firmly, "Shawn, it's time for us to talk."