“Someone’s trying to kill me.”
Gus doesn’t feel the disbelief in Shawn’s voice is really warranted. Someone could be trying to kill him. Judging by the absolutely fucking terrifying card on his desk, someone is trying to kill him. He and Shawn make enemies. People have come for Gus before. Last year a troupe of clowns specializing in white-collar fraud kidnapped Gus and kept him in a storeroom full of clown ruffs and oversized shoes for hours.
“I think we should call Jules. Lassie. Maybe the Chief.”
“And tell them what? Gus got really scared by a piece of paper, please send backup?”
“Shawn, I don’t think you’re giving the situation its due weight here. This isn’t a piece of paper. It’s clearly an overt threat.”
“It’s a card with a cartoon zombie on it! Look at it. It’s downright cute!”
“It’s a man-baby skull suffering from male pattern baldness, Shawn. It’s taken a bite out of the heart. It only has four fingers. What’s up with that? What kind of mentally unstable person sends this to someone? Why are they sending a Valentine’s card in October?”
“It’s Halloween-themed!” Shawn holds the card up to his face, making what Gus supposes is meant to be a sympathetic face toward the monster on the cover.
Gus shudders. “I don’t like it. What if it’s that creepy guy from accounting? You know the guy? The guy with the—”
“Steve Buscemi guy.”
They both shudder. Shawn opens his mouth, then closes it again. Gus shudders one more time for good measure.
“Well, have you even looked inside?”
“No, I haven’t looked inside! Why would I look inside? Nothing about this card invites the receiver to look inside! There’s a rotting four-fingered monster on the cover!”
A strange look passes over Shawn’s face: there one minute, gone the next. Gus wouldn’t have noticed it if he hadn’t spent years watching Shawn’s face. Gus trusts Shawn—it’s not that he doesn’t, even though Shawn has given him plenty of reasons not to, starting with the pineapple turnover incident of 1983—but he also knows that what Shawn gives away in the lines by his mouth is there to be read. Shawn lies to Gus, sure, but he also knows he’s gonna be caught when he does.
“You just made a face.”
“I didn’t make a face.”
“No, you definitely just made a face.”
“What face would I even—the zombie card face? Are you saying I have a zombie card face? When would I have been given cause to develop a zombie card face?”
“No, I’m not—you know what, Shawn?”
“I’m just saying!” Shawn cuts in, sharp. Gus starts a little bit: this isn’t how it goes, the back and forth. He gives Shawn a suspicious-eyed look for the tone, and Shawn looks down at the ground for a second (just for a second) before he mutters, “I just don’t understand how you’re not even curious about what the card says.”
“I’ll open the damn card if it matters so much to you, Shawn, but I’m telling you, this is some messed-up shit. Look at this thing.”
Gus grabs a pencil from his pencil cup and uses the eraser to gingerly lift the cover of the card. The creepy skull fades out of sight and opens onto a cartoon drawing of another inexplicably four-fingered hand bursting out of the ground next to a gravestone. I crave your BRAINS, the card reads, But will settle for your HEART.
The handwriting is oddly stiff, boilerplate. The kind of handwriting Steve Buscemi accounting guy would have, Gus thinks. Shawn walks up behind Gus and props his chin on his shoulder, craning his head to read the card.
“Awww,” he says. “That’s kind of sweet, you have to admit.”
“I will be admitting no such thing,” says Gus. But secretly, he’s admitting the thing: being best friends with the most showy guy in the room means most people never get around to appreciating the fact that Gus contributes to what they do. He doesn’t need it, but it’s nice to know—
“Oh, come on, even if it’s Steve Buscemi guy? That’s all it takes? One intellectual reassurance and you don’t think it’s creepy anymore? Come on, Guster. You can’t be this easy.”
“Shut up, Shawn,” says Gus. He shuts the card using the same eraser method and pushes it to the very edge of the desk, mostly under the paper tray but not quite.
“Man, this is not cool.”
They’re getting back to the office after helping Lassiter and Juliet arrest the last member of a band of jewelry-robbing pirate performers who were basing their operations out of the theme boat on Stearns Wharf, and Gus’ shoes are squelching with every step he takes. They’re not even all the way to where Gus parked in the morning, but he can already see the brightly colored card tucked in under the windshield wiper. He’d hoped it was a ticket—who hopes for a ticket? Hanging out with Shawn has fucked him up for life—but even from far away he can tell there’s a creepy 50s vampire on the front.
“You’re my type,” Shawn reads as they get closer. Gus couldn’t have read it from that distance if he tried (and he had tried, squinting his eyes as discreetly as he could).
Gus can see now that there’s a bag of A+ blood drawn on the top left-hand corner of the card, and the 50s vampire is sucking the blood out through a straw as little bubbles make their way up the bag.
“Why is he wearing green eyeshadow, is what I want to know?” Gus grumbles. He can see out of the corner of his eye that Shawn is about to answer. “Uh uh uh. Don’t say anything.” He holds his hand right up next to Shawn’s face so that Shawn can’t pretend not to have heard him. “I said don’t say anything.”
Shawn mimes zipping his mouth shut before holding his hands up, and Gus rolls his eyes as he plucks the card out from under the wiper.
“You’re my type,” Shawn says, reading over Gus’ shoulder again, succeeding at keeping quiet for all of seven seconds. “Get it, Gus? Because your blood type is A positive.”
“Yes, thank you, Shawn.” Gus says. “I was able to crack the coded vampire messaging too.” He opens the card.
…even if you make me pursue you in vein, says the inside, in the same boilerplate handwriting.
“Aww, come on, dude!” Shawn says. “Two puns on one card! A one-two pun! Vampire Valentine puns! You have to give this guy some credit.”
“Okay, number one,” says Gus, holding up one finger, “I’m not sure you ever have to give a stalker credit. This person knows where I work.”
“Everyone knows where we work, Gus! We’re Santa Barbara’s premier psychic detectives.”
“Number two,” Gus says, holding up a second finger, “We don’t even know if this is Steve Buscemi guy.”
Shawn gives him a weird look. “I didn’t say it was Steve Buscemi guy. Why, did Steve Buscemi guy say it was Steve Buscemi guy?”
“Did the strange guy from accounting whose name we don’t know come up to me in the hallway and say, ‘Hey, Gus, guess what, I’ve been leaving super creepy cards in your office and car with no regard for your privacy; by the way, Hi, I’m Steve Buscemi guy, want to go to dinner with me’?”
Shawn shrugs. “Well, did he?”
“No!” Gus says. “What’s wrong with you, Shawn? You’re not even a little bit worried about this?”
“Nah,” says Shawn, putting his hands in his pockets. “Not really. I mean, any guy who is taking the time to find these clearly high-quality cards can’t be that dangerous. I think it’s great. I mean, when you think about it, he’s practically… batting his eyes at you.”
“…I hate you,” Gus says.
“Yeah, yeah,” says Shawn. “Want to get lunch? I think you have a pair of dry shoes in the kitchenette cabinets.”
A few days later when Halloween actually rolls around, Gus is 100%, absolutely, definitely not looking for another card to appear.
“Found us a great place for dinner, Guster,” Shawn says, waltzing into Gus’ office like he works there. He’s carrying a ficus under one arm, for some reason, and he sets it down on the shelf as he walks in. Gus is pretty sure he stole it from the plant display in the lobby. He moves two copies of the Central Coast Pharmaceutical: The Catalog out of the way carefully, and fiddles around with the picture of Gus’ family before angling so it rests in front of the ficus just so.
“Shawn, we spent the last three days chasing a group of Sting impersonators around Southern California. I haven’t slept in a week, let alone done my rounds. You think I can just pack up and leave at 4.30 pm?”
“Gonna have to, Gus,” says Shawn, perching on the edge of the desk. “I couldn’t get us a table at the later seating.”
Gus narrows his eyes. “The later seating of what, exactly?”
“Halloween Romántico at La Súper-Rica Taquería,” Shawn says. “Obviously.”
“Halloween Romántico is not a thing,” says Gus, but he’s sure his displeasure isn’t that convincing; he’s already getting his coat. Shawn grins.
“It is now,” he Shawn, flicking his eyes at where the edge of the zombie card is still peeking out from under the paper tray.
“I can’t just get rid of the evidence,” says Gus, gesturing at the monster. “Later, when I’m found tied to the bed with both of my ankles smashed in—”
“Am I Richard Farnsworth in this scenario?”
“Sure, you can be Richard Farnsworth,” says Gus. He unlocks the Blueberry and tosses Shawn the keys. “But let’s focus on the important part here, which is that Steve Buscemi guy is probably lying in wait to grab me when my car goes off the road, and those cards will be the only link to what happened to me.”
“In this situation, I’m assuming your car is going off the road as the result of one of those commonplace Santa Barbara blizzards?” Shawn asks. “Sure, let’s go with that.” He maneuvers them out of the parking lot and barely misses nicking the fender against the sidewalk. He does that every time.
When they arrive at the taquería Gus can’t help but feel that something has gone horribly wrong inside. There are pumpkin balloons mingled with crepe-paper hearts, and when Shawn pushes the door open a cut-out of Michael J. Fox in a varsity jacket and stupid werewolf hair wobbles uncertainly in place. Com’on Valentine! We can have SUCH FUN together! says a cupid sticker that’s been stuck over where the t-shirt is supposed to say Teen Wolf.
“I’m going to let it slide because you covered up the tagline, Shawn, but that better be the last of the Michael J. Fox paraphernalia. You know how I feel about that movie.”
Shawn makes a Who, me? face as he leads Gus to a seat at the bar. The fact that the other patrons don’t seem to think there’s anything weird about the whole thing says a lot about what kind of place the taquería has become, Gus guesses. Or maybe about the fact that Gus and Shawn patronize the place so often that people are used to insanity, but Gus isn’t going to think about that.
“So,” says Shawn, after they’ve put in their order. “I hope the effort that José and I went to to put this evening together will go some way toward helping you overcome your irrational fear of Valentine Halloween cards.”
“It’s not an irrational fear, Shawn,” says Gus, loading a chip up with guacamole and pointing with it. “I think it’s natural to have an aversion to card courtship that’s closely tied to a holiday mostly associated with blood.”
“Eh,” says Shawn. “Halloween’s the Valentine’s Day of the fall, really, when you think about it.”
“How is that true?” asks Gus. José puts his tacos down in front of him. “Wait, are we playing random, totally untrue trivia again?”
Shawn studies the salsas on the bar for what seems like an unusually long time, even for him, before deciding to go with the salsa verde. Gus stares at him, and finally Shawn shrugs before saying, “Plenty of people have special Halloween memories. Why should Valentine’s Day corner the market on being close?”
Shawn says being close like someone else might say bicycle accident: something not quite terrifying but definitely undesirable. Gus looks at him, unsure what to say, before finally going with, “…you mean like spending twenty years thinking they witnessed someone jumping out a window on Halloween? That kind of special Halloween memory?”
Shawn shrugs again, suddenly as sullen as when they were eleven and fighting over whether Lando or Han was the better character (Lando, and Shawn knew it, too). Gus looks at where Michael J. Fox is grinning and finger-gunning them from behind the door and begins to get a feeling about the whole card fiasco.
“No, hey, man,” he says, because in over thirty years of knowing each other the times when Shawn has let down his guard like this—weird but sincere, in his own special Shawn way—have been few and far between. “I’m kidding. I mean, I’m mostly kidding. There’s no way to make Wispy Sunny Pines a non-traumatic bonding memory. But we’ve definitely had some good ones. I remember with special fondness the time your dad made flashcards using the mugshots of that kidnapping ring and made us study them before he would agree to let us out to trick or treat.”
He’s expecting Shawn to jump in and make fun of Mr. Spencer—if worse comes to absolute worst Gus is even ready to make a pun about how he’s willing to give Halloween its feelings due when Fangsgiving rolls around in November—but Shawn makes a strange, screwed-up face and says, “Look, Gus, why did you buy that house?”
“Why did I—you mean the house on Castillo Street?”
“No, Gus, the other house you bought last month. Yes, Castillo Street.”
Gus stops with his taco halfway to his mouth. A blob of salsa spills out the back of the tortilla. He looks at Shawn, who is staring fixedly at the cracked Formica of the counter and picking at it with a fingernail. His own tacos are forgotten on his plate.
Gus clears his throat. The truth is that he bought the house on Castillo Street because—because he was tired of renting all the way up near his day job. Because he woke up one day and realized that for all he made fun of Shawn for not owning a thing he couldn’t really claim to own more than a few suits and a sneaker collection, and he was tired of the impermanence of housing it all in some crappy rented apartment. Because Mr. Spencer’s house will probably go to Shawn, but Gus wanted to make sure they had something: something beyond the leased Psych office space, a place where they could both land if they needed to. Because Castillo Street is a quick drive away from the PD.
Finally he says, “I… I wanted to have something. For the future. I know I’m not settled down yet, but one day—”
“That’s what this is about?” Shawn scoffs. “This obsession with playing house with some woman you haven’t even met yet?”
“No!” says Gus, and suddenly he’s angry, too: he doesn’t know what Shawn’s pissed off about, but he doesn’t appreciate his hopes for the future, however misshapen they might be at this stage, being thrown in his face this way. “That isn’t fair, Shawn—”
“What’s the hurry, dude?” Shawn asks. He’s looking at Gus for the first time all night, attention totally focused on him for once. “I mean, I know you don’t hate what we do, even when you pretend to. What’s the deal with wanting to get away from the lives we’ve got this bad?”
“I…” says Gus. What can he say? That he doesn’t want to get away from it at all, but that he wants to make sure they have a safety net? He doesn’t think Shawn would appreciate that either.
“Whatever, man,” Shawn says. His eyes flick away, and when he glances back he looks like his regular self. “I hope you don’t think that just because you bought a grown-up house you can expect me to call ahead before I come over in a grown-up way.”
It’s so clearly a deflection that Gus wants to call it out on principle, but he’s still so confused about the way the conversation took a turn that he doesn’t know what he would say. So he just picks up his taco and says, “Shawn, if there’s one thing I don’t expect it’s that you’re ever going to do anything the grown-up way,” because that’s his line.
They finish eating their tacos, and Gus even manages to only look uneasily at the weird pumpkin balloons once.
By the time midnight rolls around and he’s back in his apartment, half-packed boxes littering the floor around him and Hocus Pocus playing on the television, Gus has worked himself into the kind of righteous anger he thinks he would have felt in the taquería if Shawn hadn’t blindsided him that way.
He’s allowing himself to have one really good, satisfying sympathetic cry over Binx finally heading to the spirit world, and then he’s going to make a list of all the reasons why Shawn being angry about the house is an asshole move.
Gus is just about ready to get to it when a dark-clad pair of legs steps right into his line of sight to the television. He screams, hurls the first thing he can get his hands on toward the intruder, and fumbles on the nightstand for his phone. He knocks the lamp down and hears something crack when it hits the floor.
“…is this a throw pillow? Did you just defend yourself with a throw pillow? You know the name isn’t meant to imply any kind of functionality, right?” Shawn’s voice comes from the darkness.
He sounds tired, words a little slurred around the edges.
“Shawn, what the hell are you doing here?”
“Watching you cry over a cat who talks out of a bad-CGI mouth, apparently. Didn’t we agree not to watch this movie again?”
“No. You decided the kid who plays Max had ‘threatening’ hair and needed to go on the Patrick Dempsey watchlist. I didn’t agree to anything.”
“You have to admit those are very off-putting tresses,” Shawn says. “It doesn’t seem like he could be up to any good.”
“He’s a child, Shawn.”
“Correction, he was a child. He was last seen starring on a YouTube film about masturba—”
“Argh!” says Gus, putting his hands over his ears. “That doesn’t seem true. And if it is, I don’t want to hear about it.”
“Ignorance is bliss,” Shawn says. He flops down on the couch and Gus catches a strong smell of whisky and beer.
“You stay to drink with José after I left?”
Shawn taps the side of his nose and winks. He closes his eyes and Gus wouldn’t put it past him to fall asleep right there on the couch the way he has a million times, sneakers still on and mouth open.
“Lie down before you get a crick in your neck and have to go see your dad’s chiropractor again,” says Gus, standing up to get a blanket. He finds one at the top of the “LINENS” box he’s been packing and drapes it over Shawn, but when he tries to lean back to head to his room Shawn catches his wrist.
“Gus,” he says. His eyes are glittering in the light of the street lamp coming in through the blinds, and his lips are red where he’s been biting them. He always ends up with chapped lips when they go drinking, licking at them over and over as the night goes on.
“Don’t leave,” he says.
“I’m just going down the hall, Shawn.”
“No, I mean—” Shawn drags a hand over his eyes, and says, quietly, “Don’t leave me to go have adorable Guster babies on Castillo Street, okay?”
“What? I wouldn’t—”
Gus tries to say that that’s literally the last thing he wants, but then Shawn (Shawn who has never looked at Gus that way, not when they were practicing how to kiss in the backyard when they were 13, or before Gus went off to college and could tell by the ache of it how much Shawn meant, and what the strange feeling in his chest was, and not even when Gus came back and resigned himself to the fact that it was never going away, that he was always going to love Shawn the way he does) is pulling at his wrist and kissing him.
Gus kisses back: he can’t not, and it’s not as if they haven’t done this before. Not just as kids, either; every once in a while Shawn will get drunk or Gus’ll get drunk or they’ll get drunk together and they’ll make out a little, sloppy and careless, against a wall or on a sofa or even in a bed a couple of times, and the next day they won’t talk about it.
Gus kisses back and tries to say, Castillo Street is for us, what else would it be for, you fucking idiot? but he doesn’t know if Shawn hears.
Whenever they’ve made out in the past as part of some ill-advised drunken night—and, okay, a few times a not-so-drunken night, but if they don’t talk about the former they definitely don’t talk about the latter—the next day they go out of their way to be as painstakingly normal as they can be.
It’s with this long history of denial in mind that Gus wanders from his room to the kitchen in his pajama pants, hoping that Shawn has already made coffee.
When he gets to the living room, though, there’s no sign of Shawn. The blanket’s been folded up and put back in the linens box, and the flaps have been slotted together neatly. The kitchen is clean, not a crumb of the last Danish that Gus expected Shawn to steal anywhere in sight, and the door is shut—locked from the inside like Shawn maybe climbed out the fire escape.
Shawn’s absence is so absolute that for a minute Gus wonders if he dreamt the whole thing.
He actually wonders about it until the whole day goes by and Shawn still hasn’t called, but stops wondering about it by the time the weekend rolls around and Gus still hasn’t heard a thing. Shawn hasn’t been to Central Coast, or, by the looks of it, to the Psych office, and though Gus is pretty sure Shawn would answer the phone if he called, he’s somehow reluctant to do so.
Around Sunday morning Gus starts to wonder something different. He wonders if he somehow has it wrong: if every time he looked at Shawn and told himself being with him wasn’t a thing he could have Shawn was maybe looking back and thinking something equally stupid, like if he only left Gus alone Gus’ life might be better, full of pharmaceutical success and adorable babies or something equally ridiculous.
It doesn’t seem possible, but Gus thinks back to the look in Shawn’s eyes late at night on Halloween—he thinks back to the four-fingered zombie card—and for the first time in his life he wonders if it is possible, even if it doesn’t seem it.
On Tuesday, after five days of not speaking to Shawn and doing a full tour of his route and his NorCal extension itinerary, Gus carefully arranges his sample case, makes an appointment with his boss, and quits. They tell him they’re sad to see him go, and he lies and says he’s sad to have to.
He goes back to his office, packs up his pictures and papers in a box, and gets ready to leave. He rescues the zombie card from under the paper tray and takes it with him, but he leaves the ficus be.
Gus moves his stuff over to Castillo Street box by box, and saves the big furniture move for the day his lease ends. His parents offer to pay for movers like Gus is moving away to college, or something, and he’s glad to be able to turn them down when Mr. Spencer tells him he’ll be by with a truck early in the morning.
Juliet, Buzz, and even Lassie swing by to help, and by 4pm Gus is fully settled into his new house. He’s standing in his kitchen drinking a glass of water when he hears the back door slam. He waits.
“Hey,” says Shawn.
“Hey,” says Gus. He turns around just in time to see Shawn putting the ficus down on the ledge of the living room window. “Did you break into my office to get that?” he asks.
“It’s not your office anymore,” Shawn says. He smiles. “I’ll have you know Steve Buscemi is pretty broken up about it.”
“Oh my god, Shawn, did you talk to him? Did you say something embarrassing? There’s no guarantee we won’t end up in the street if the PD work dries up, you know. I may have to go begging for my job back. I hope you haven’t fucked that up for us.”
“Us?” Shawn says, smiling. Gus gives him a warning glare. “I didn’t do anything, Gus! I mean, besides steal the ficus back.”
“You mean the ficus you stole from the lobby in the first place?”
“…no?” says Shawn.
They stand there, staring at each other uncomfortably, which isn’t really an adjective Gus has had much cause to use with Shawn. The silence stretches to the point where Gus is forced to march over to the dining room table and rifle among the papers there. When he finds what he’s looking for he stares at it for a long moment before squaring his shoulders and turning toward Shawn.
“Here,” he says. He holds out an envelope. It’s a simple black print on white paper—he’ll put good money on Shawn trawling some kind of internet backwater for the 50s vampires, and while he appreciates it, there are limits to where he’s willing to go for Shawn’s sake—of a brain with the words: I love you almost as much as zombies love brains above it. It’s classy except for the brains part.
Shawn looks at it, then up at Gus. “Awww, really?” he says. He flutters his eyelashes.
“Not if you keep that up,” Gus says.
Shawn smiles before his face goes serious again.
“But… the house?” he says, with the tone of voice of someone who doesn’t want to ask it.
Gus puts his hands up to his forehead and steeples a couple of fingers on each temple.
He closes his eyes on the sight of Shawn’s bewildered face and says, “I’m having… a vision. One of those chair lifts by the stairs, because I’m going to get too old to go up and down them and you’re going to get too lazy. Getting to the PD without having to drive through the traffic in the Rivieras. A refinanced mortgage when you piss off the Chief so much she fires us for a while. A make-up blowjob on the couch when she finally hires us back. You better give a good blowjob, Shawn. I’m not kidding around with this. You find some resources if you don’t feel up to the task right now. That’s going to be rule number one. Rule number two: Hocus Pocus is always allowed in the house. Rule number three: no wife, but let’s not close the door on the adorable Guster kids just yet. You know the world deserves these genes.”
He doesn’t open his eyes, so he feels rather than sees Shawn come closer.
“Do I look that stupid when I do it?” he asks, tapping his fingers against the back of Gus’ hands.
“No,” says Gus, as Shawn puts his lips against the edge of his jaw and kisses him lightly. His breath catches, but he says, “You actually look stupider. Much, much stupider. And I want you to know that you’ve looked this stupid for years.”
“You know?” says Shawn, sliding his hands down the back of Gus’ pants and kissing Gus again, this time at the corner of his mouth. “It’s strange, but I think I can probably live with that.”