Sam sat in an uncomfortable little wicker chair in Gus's room in the parsonage, trying to think of something more to say. Gus lay in his bed, staring at the ceiling, his leg in a more proper splint and bandage after the town doctor had gotten a chance to look him over at Pastor Ellie's request.
The muted tick-tock of a grandfather clock seeped in from the hallway.
“So. Not too bad, then,” Sam tried.
“I've been given a cane, Sam. I'm an invalid. I've been relegated. Have you ever been relegated?”
“Um. I'm not … Maybe in some sense of–“
Gus hunched up in bed to glare at him.
“No,” Sam quickly corrected himself. “Totally.”
Gus gave a satisfied nod and eased himself back down.
Sam had been spending the past fifteen or twenty minutes trying to think of things to say and, when he occasionally did think of something, saying it. Unfortunately he was no good at coming up with topics that would actually spark conversation, not in situations like this, and each of his utterances had fallen limply into the air and drifted back into the same heavy silence.
An old timey trumpet blared on Gus's phone, like a herald about to announce something important.
“Ooh!” Gus straightened and scrambled for it.
The strange notification was a huge relief. It gave Sam a natural question to ask and, better yet, one that had nothing to do with Gus's injury or their failed road trip or any of the wide minefield of topics Sam was so busily equating.
“What's that about?” he asked, handing Gus the phone.
“WarDuster. I left the notifications on just in case.” For a long moment, Gus peered at the screen, first reading the message, then apparently stricken. Then he slumped back to the bed and tossed the phone carelessly back onto his night table.
“Damn. We were so close.”
“We were? What do you mean? Close to what?”
“It's Night Fox,” said Gus. “She wants to see us. Like, not even in a maybe we could get coffee sometime kind of way. She sent her address and everything.”
Sam brightened. “That's great! That's like exactly what we wanted, isn't it?”
“Yeah. Except she's in Canada.”
“So? We made it this far.”
“That was before somebody shot me in the leg,” said Gus.
“You did that yourself.”
“I was being delicate.”
Sam decided to let it pass. “Look, man. It's okay. Maybe get a little better and then we can go up after that. You know?”
Gus shook his head. “By then it will be far too late. The end of the world is upon us. The aliens are nigh.”
“Yeah, I mean, if you're being dramatic. But for real. We have no idea how this is going to play out. For all we know, they just do a flyby or something. Or it's meteors and everyone was wrong about … you know. Whatever.”
Gus waved this away. “It doesn't matter. The moment is lost. Let me suffer in peace.”
“Dude. Seriously. You're being melodramatic. It doesn't have to be the end of the world for you to meet your girlfriend.”
“Oh yeah? And what if it actually is the end of the world? What if it's not a flyby? We could be zombie mind slaves by the time this leg's better.”
“More like zombie love slaves,” he said, trying to make Gus laugh, or at least jumpstart a better mood. “I mean. Not that I'm into that. Or anything. Gross. But still.”
Gus was staring dead-eyed at the ceiling.
“It's not too late,” Sam insisted. “What if we just–“
“It is too late. What are we going to do? Go find our two-tire monstrosity back in Wherever, Iowa? Get Ronan to give us a ride? Face it. We're done. We've been relegated, Sam.”
“Relegated. To the folksy life of the Midwestern farm hand. A new life stretches ahead of us. We will require overalls. And callouses. Do you know how many callouses I've had in my life, Sam?”
Gus thrust his hands forward for inspection. “These are the fleshy hands of the intellectual class. These are not farm hands.”
“I don”t think a farm hand is, like, a literal hand.”
“Clearly I have much to learn as I embark upon this rustic endeavor, this new life of plow and of rutabaga.”
“You're not going to be a farmer, Gus. We'll pull this out.”
It occurred to Sam that the important meeting he had on Monday was starting in two hours. He felt a flash of panic, but it faded surprisingly fast. Once something turned impossible, it became much less urgent.
A sense of weightlessness overtook him. Would he ever see Denton again? Was he was still a data analyst? And if not, what was he?
“Leave me, Sam. I have much to ponder.”
“Are you sure?”
“I would be alone.”
Sam rose. Some part of him still felt like he was floating. “All right. But I'm telling you, there's more to our story.”
“Perhaps, my young friend. Perhaps.”
Sam began to walk out.
Gus rolled over in bed, his back to Sam and the room. “Be a good chap and hand me my phone?”
“‘Good chap'? Seriously?”
“Just give it.”
Sam grabbed Gus's phone and the screen momentarily lit up, displaying the message from Night Fox on the lock screen. In that moment, inspiration struck.
“I'll be running 2x2s on DuelMasters if you want to team up,” Gus added carelessly from the bed.
“Uh-huh.” Sam pulled out his own phone and snapped a hurried photo of the message. It had Night Fox's address, contact card, everything. This would be perfect. Sam knew exactly how to get Gus out of his funk. And have fun doing it.
And besides, it wasn't like Ronan was the only person with a car.
No, their story was most definitely not over yet.