"That's going to go out," the Muse said, "if we don't put another log on it." She took a swallow from the bottle of Jack and handed it to me, then picked the poker up from beside her chair and hooked it under the handle of the domed screen. She set the screen on the grass. "Hand me a log," she said, and I did, taking it from the small pile on the ground next to me. She carefully laid it atop the mound of charred wood within the pit, and used the poker to finesse it into place before returning the screen to its original position. Satisfied, she leaned back in her lawn chair and took the bottle of whiskey back from me.
"One week, Muse," I said. "One week from now, we'll be in St. Louis."
She nodded. "It's definitely past time to get out of Dodge." The firelight washed over her like a sunset, her skin glowing orange and red. She was beautiful in that light, as beautiful as I had ever seen her. Not for the first time, I wished there was a way she could wash over me like the tide, let her currents pull me down, drown me within her. That would never happen, I knew. Sometimes it's the very closeness of people that keeps them apart.
"Do you know why I'm going with you?" she said, looking into the fire.
"You need a vacation as badly as I do."
"No," she said. "Not just that." She ran her thumb over the lip of the bottle. "It's that when you said you were going on this trip... it seemed like you were talking about maybe making it a one-way ticket."
The Muse nodded. "Yes." The fresh log snapped once in the fire, and then hissed briefly and angrily at us before settling back down. "I wanted to come with you in case you didn't come back."
I shifted my eyes from her to the fire. The air was thick with the rich smell of burning wood. I'd always loved that smell, ever since I was a child. There was something wild about it, something almost mystical, and I felt safe inside the smoke's embrace. It made me feel like I was part of something bigger than myself.
"I wouldn't want to be here without you," the Muse said.
I looked at her again. "I wouldn't want you to. We're a team. George and Gracie."
"More like Leopold and Loeb," she said. She put the bottle on the ground, then folded her arms in her lap. "What's your plan, stinky? Should I pack a bag for a week, or should I start boxing up all my lingerie? I should get started tonight if that's the case. I have a lot of lingerie."
I tapped my shoe against the leg of the fire pit, making the wood within rock gently from side to side, releasing thin tendrils of smoke to the night sky. "Big thoughts, Muse, big thoughts."
"They always are," she said. "Even when you're not trying to think them."
I nodded, continued tapping against the fire pit. Eventually, I said, "Pack for a week right now, Muse."
"Okay," she said.
"But Muse? I think you should have some cardboard boxes handy, just in case."
She sighed and curled her legs up and under her in the chair. "Big thoughts," she said. "Big thoughts."