CHAPTER THREE. cheap shot

Finch took another drag. The smoke flowed from his nose in two thick streams. I angled my face toward the sun as he regaled me with the recent weekend of dancing, booze and a very persistent new friend.

“If he’s stalking you, then why do you let him buy you drinks?” I laughed.

“It’s simple, Abby. I’m broke.”

I laughed again, and Finch jabbed his elbow into my side when he caught sight of Travis walking toward us.

“Hey, Travis,” Finch lilted, winking at me.

“Finch,” he nodded. He dangled his keys. “I’m headed home, Pidge. You need a ride?”

“I was just going in,” I said, grinning up at him through my sunglasses.

“You’re not staying with me tonight?” he asked, his face a combination of surprise and disappointment.

“No, I am. I just had to grab a few things that I forgot.”

“Like what?”

“Well, my razor for one. What do you care?”

“It’s about time you shaved your legs. They’ve been tearing the hell outta mine,” he said with an impish grin.

Finch’s eyes bulged as he gave me a quick once over, and I made a face at Travis. “That’s how rumors get started!” I looked at Finch and shook my head. “I’m sleeping in his bed…just sleeping.”

“Right,” Finch said with a smug smile.

I smacked Finch’s arm before yanking the door open and climbing the stairs. By the time I reached the second floor, Travis was beside me.

“Oh, don’t be mad. I was just kidding.”

“Everyone already assumes we’re having sex. You’re making it worse.”

“Who cares what they think?”

“I do, Travis! I do!” I pushed open my door, shoved my things in a small tote, and then stormed out with Travis trailing behind. He chuckled as he took the bag from my hand, and I glared at him. “It’s not funny. Do you want the whole school to think I’m one of your sluts?”

Travis frowned. “No one thinks that. And if they do, they better hope I don’t hear about it.”

He held the door open for me, and after walking through, I stopped abruptly in front of him.

‘Whoa!” he said, slamming into me.

I flipped around. “Oh my God! People probably think we’re together and you’re shamelessly continuing you’re…lifestyle . I must look pathetic!” I said, coming to the realization as I spoke. “I don’t think I should stay with you, anymore. We should just stay away from each other in general for awhile.”

I took my bag from him and he snatched it back.

“No one thinks we’re together, Pidge. You don’t have to quit talking to me to prove a point.”

We engaged in a tug of war with the tote, and when he refused to let go, I growled loudly in frustration. “Have you ever had a girl — that’s a friend — stay with you? Have you ever given girls rides to and from school? Have you eaten lunch with them every day? No one knows what to think about us, even when we tell them!”

He walked to the parking lot, holding my effects hostage. “I’ll fix this, okay? I don’t want anyone thinking less of you because of me,” he said with a troubled expression. His eyes brightened and he smiled. “Let me make it up to you. Why don’t we go to The Dutch tonight?”

“That’s a biker bar,” I sneered, watching him fasten my tote to his bike.

“Okay, then let’s go to the club. I’ll take you to dinner and then we can go to The Red Door. My treat.”

“How will going out to dinner and then to a club fix the problem? When people see us out together it will make it worse.”

He straddled his bike. “Think about it. Me, drunk, in a room full of scantily clad women? It won’t take long for people to figure out we’re not a couple.”

“So what am I supposed to do? Take a guy home from the bar to drive the point home?”

“I didn’t say that. No need to get carried away,” he said with a frown.

I rolled my eyes and climbed onto the seat, wrapping my arms around his middle. “Some random girl is going to follow us home from the bar? That’s how you’re going to make it up to me?”

“You’re not jealous, are you, Pigeon?”

“Jealous of what ? The STD infested imbecile you’re going to piss off in the morning?”

Travis laughed, and then started his Harley. He flew toward his apartment at twice the speed limit, and I closed my eyes to block out the trees and cars we left behind.

After climbing off his bike, I smacked his shoulder. “Did you forget I was with you? Are you trying to get me killed?”

“It’s hard to forget you’re behind me when your thighs are squeezing the life out of me.” A smirk came with his next thought. “I couldn’t think of a better way to die, actually.”

“There is something very wrong with you.”

We had barely made it inside when America shuffled out of Shepley’s bedroom. “We were thinking about going out tonight. You guys in?”

I looked at Travis and grinned. “We’re going to swing by the sushi place before we go to Red.”

America’s smile spanned from one side of her face to the other. “Shep!” she cried, scampering into the bathroom. “We’re going out tonight!”

I was the last one in the shower, so Shepley, America and Travis were impatiently standing by the door when I stepped out of the bathroom in a black dress and hot pink heels.

America whistled. “Hot damn , Mama!”

I smiled in appreciation, and Travis held out his hand. “Nice legs.”

“Did I mention that it’s a magic razor?”

“I don’t think it’s the razor,” he smiled, pulling me out the door.

We were far too loud and obnoxious in the sushi bar, and had already had a night’s worth to drink before we stepped foot in The Red Door. Shepley pulled into the parking lot, taking time to find a space.

“Sometime tonight, Shep,” America muttered.

“Hey. I have to find a wide space. I don’t want some drunken idiot dinging the paint.”

Once we parked, Travis leaned the seat forward and helped me out. “I meant to ask you about your ID’s. They’re flawless. You didn’t get them around here.”

“Yeah, we’ve had them for awhile. It was necessary…in Wichita,” I said.

“Necessary?” Travis asked.

“It’s a good thing you have connections,” America said. She hiccupped and covered her mouth, giggling.

“Dear God, woman,” Shepley said, holding America’s arm as she awkwardly stepped along the gravel. “I think you’re already done for the night.”

Travis made a face. “What are you talking about, Mare? What connections?”

“Abby has some old friends that—,”

“They’re fake ID’s, Trav,” I interrupted. “You have to know the right people if you want them done right, right?”

America purposefully looked away from Travis, and I waited.

“Right,” he said, extending his hand for mine.

I grabbed three of his fingers and smiled, knowing by his expression that he wasn’t satisfied with my answer.

“I need another drink!” I said as a second attempt to change the subject.

“Shots!” America yelled.

Shepley rolled his eyes. “Oh, yeah. That’s what you need, another shot.”

Once inside, America immediately pulled me onto the dance floor. Her blonde hair was everywhere, and I laughed at the duck face she made when she moved to music. When the song was over, we joined the boys at the bar. An excessively voluptuous, platinum-blonde was already at Travis’ side, and America’s face screwed into revulsion.

“It’s going to be like this all night, Mare. Just ignore them,” Shepley said, nodding to a small group of girls standing a few feet away. They eyed the blonde, waiting for their turn.

“It looks like Vegas threw up on a flock of vultures,” America sneered.

Travis lit a cigarette as he ordered two more beers, and the blonde bit her puffy, glossed lip and smiled. The bartender popped the tops open and slid the bottles to Travis. The blonde picked up one of the beers, but Travis pulled it from her hand.

“Uh…not yours,” he said to her, handing it to me.

My initial thought was to toss the bottle in the trash, but the woman looked so offended, I smiled and took a drink. She walked off in a huff, and I chuckled that Travis didn’t seem to notice.

“Like I would buy a beer for some chick at a bar,” he said, shaking his head. I held up my beer, and he pulled up one side of his mouth into a half-smile. “You’re different.”

I clinked my bottle against his. “To being the only girl a guy with no standards doesn’t want to sleep with.” I said, taking a swig.

“Are you serious?” he asked, pulling the bottle from my mouth. When I didn’t recant, he leaned toward me. “First of all…I have standards. I’ve never been with an ugly woman. Ever. Second of all, I wanted to sleep with you. I thought about throwing you over my couch fifty different ways, but I haven’t because I don’t see you that way anymore. It’s not that I’m not attracted to you, I just think you’re better than that.”

I couldn’t hold back the smug smile that crept across my face. “You think I’m too good for you.”

He sneered at my second insult. “I can’t think of a single guy I know that’s good enough for you.”

The smugness melted away and was replaced with a touched, appreciative smile. “Thanks, Trav,” I said, setting my empty bottle on the bar.

Travis pulled on my hand. “C’mon,” he said, tugging me through the crowd on the dance floor.

“I’ve had a lot to drink! I’m going to fall!”

Travis smiled and pulled me to him, grabbing my hips. “Shut up and dance.”

America and Shepley appeared beside us. Shepley moved like he’d been watching too many Usher videos. Travis had me near panic with the way he pressed against me. If he used any of those moves on the couch, I could see why so many girls chanced humiliation in the morning.

He cinched his hands around my hips, and I noticed that his expression was different, almost serious. I ran my hands over his flawless chest and six-pack as they stretched and tensed under his tight shirt to the music. I turned my back to him, smiling when he wrapped his arms around my waist. Coupled with the alcohol in my system, when he pulled my body against his, things came to mind that were anything but friendly.

The next song bled into the one we were dancing to, and Travis showed no signs of wanting to return to the bar. The sweat beaded on the back of my neck, and the multi-colored strobe lights made me feel a bit dizzy. I closed my eyes and leaned my head against his shoulder. He grabbed my hands and pulled them up and around his neck. His hands ran down my arms, down my ribs, finally returning to my hips. When I felt his lips, and then his tongue against my neck, I pulled away from him.

He chuckled, looking a bit surprised. “What, Pidge?”

My temper flared, making the sharp words I wanted to say stick in my throat. I retreated to the bar and ordered another Corona. Travis took the stool beside me, holding up his finger to order one for himself. As soon as the bartender set the bottle in front of me, I tipped it up and drank half the contents before slamming it to the bar.

“You think that is going to change anyone’s mind about us?” I said, pulling my hair to the side, covering the spot he kissed.

He laughed once. “I don’t give a damn what they think about us.”

I shot him a dirty look and then turned to face forward.

“Pigeon,” he said, touching my arm.

I pulled away from him. “Don’t. I could never get drunk enough to let you get me on that couch.”

His face twisted in anger, but before he could say anything, a dark-haired stunner with pouty lips, enormous blue eyes and far too much cleavage approached him.

“Well. If it isn’t Travis Maddox,” she said, bouncing in all the right places.

He took a drink, and then his eyes locked on mine. “Hey Megan.”

“Introduce me to your girlfriend,” she smiled. I rolled my eyes at how pathetically transparent she was.

Travis tipped his head back to finish his beer, and then slid his empty bottle down the bar. Everyone waiting to order followed it with their eyes until it fell into the trashcan at the end. “She’s not my girlfriend.”

He grabbed Megan’s hand, and she happily traipsed behind him to the dance floor. He all but mauled her for one song, and then another, and another. They were causing a scene with the way she let him grope her, and when he bent her over I turned my back to them.

“You look pissed,” a man said as he sat next to me. “Is that your boyfriend out there?”

“No, he’s just a friend,” I grumbled.

“Well, that’s good. That could have been pretty awkward for you if he was.” He faced the dance floor, shaking his head at the spectacle.

“Tell me about it,” I said, drinking the last of my beer. I barely tasted the last two I had put away, and my teeth were numb.

“Would you like another one?” he asked. I looked over at him and he smiled. “I’m Ethan.”

“Abby,” I said, taking his outstretched hand.

He held up two fingers to the bartender, and I smiled. “Thanks.”

“So you live here?” he asked.

“In Morgan Hall at Eastern.”

“I have an apartment in Hinley.”

“You go to State?” I asked. “What is that…like an hour away? What are you doing over here?”

“I graduated last May. My little sister goes to Eastern. I’m staying with her this week while I apply for jobs.”

“Uh oh…living in the real world, huh?”

Ethan laughed. “And it’s everything they say it is.”

I pulled the gloss out of my pocket and smeared it across my lips, using the mirror lining the wall behind the bar.

“That’s a nice shade,” he said, watching me press my lips together.

I smiled, feeling the anger at Travis, and the heaviness of the alcohol. “Maybe you can try it on later.”

Ethan’s eyes brightened as I leaned in closer, and I smiled when he touched my knee. He pulled back his hand when Travis stepped between us.

“You ready, Pidge?”

“I’m talking, Travis,” I said, moving him back. His shirt was damp from the circus on the dance floor, and I made a show of wiping my hand on my skirt.

Travis made a face. “Do you even know this guy?”

“This is Ethan,” I said, sending my new friend the best flirty smile I could manage.

He winked at me, and then looked at Travis, extending his hand. “Nice to meet you.”

Travis glanced at me and I sighed. “Ethan, this is Travis,” I muttered.

“Travis Maddox,” he said, staring at Ethan’s hand as if he wanted to rip it off.

Ethan’s eyes grew wide and he awkwardly pulled back his hand. “Travis Maddox ? Eastern’s Travis Maddox?”

I rested my cheek on my fist, dreading the inevitable testosterone-fueled story swapping that would soon ensue.

Travis stretched his arm behind me to grip the bar. “Yeah, what of it?”

“I saw you fight Shawn Jenks last year, man. I thought I was about to witness someone’s death!”

Travis glowered down at him. “You wanna see it again?”

Ethan laughed once, his eyes darting back and forth between us. When he realized Travis was serious, he smiled at me apologetically and left.

“Are you ready, now?” he snapped.

“You are a complete asshole, you know that?”

“I’ve been called worse,” he said, helping me off the stool.

We followed America and Shepley to the car, and when Travis tried to grab my hand to lead me across the parking lot, I yanked it away. He wheeled around and I jerked to a stop, leaning back when he came within a few inches of my face.

“I should just kiss you and get it over with!” he yelled. “You’re being ridiculous! I kissed your neck, so what?”

I could smell the beer and cigarettes on his breath and I pushed him away. “I’m not your fuck buddy, Travis.”

He shook his head in disbelief. “I never said you were! You’re around me twenty-four-seven, you sleep in my bed, but half the time you act like you don’t wanna be seen with me!”

“I came here with you!”

“I have never treated you with anything but respect, Pidge.”

I stood my ground. “No, you just treat me like your property. You had no right to run Ethan off like that!”

“Do you know who Ethan is?” he asked. When I shook my head, he leaned in closer. “I do . He was arrested last year for sexual battery, but the charges were dropped.”

I crossed my arms. “Oh, so you have something in common?”

Travis’ eyes narrowed, and the muscles in his jaws twitched under his skin. “Are you calling me a rapist ?” he said in a cold, low tone.

I pressed my lips together, even angrier that he was right. I had taken it too far. “No, I’m just pissed at you!”

“I’ve been drinking, all right? Your skin was three inches from my face, and you’re beautiful, and you smell fucking awesome when you sweat. I kissed you! I’m sorry! Get over yourself!”

His excuse made the corners of my mouth turn up. “You think I’m beautiful?”

He frowned with disgust. “You’re gorgeous and you know it. What are you smiling about?”

I tried to quell my amusement to no avail. “Nothing. Let’s go.”

Travis laughed once and shook his head. “Wha…? You…? You’re a pain in my ass !” he yelled, glaring at me. I couldn’t stop smiling, and after a few seconds, Travis’ mouth turned up. He shook his head again, and then hooked his arm around my neck. “You’re making me crazy. You know that, right?”

At the apartment, we all stumbled through the door. I made a beeline for the bathroom to wash the smoke out of my hair. When I stepped out of the shower, I saw that Travis had brought me one of his t-shirts and a pair of his boxers to change into.

The shirt swallowed me, and the boxers disappeared under the shirt. I crashed into the bed and sighed, still smiling at what he’d said in the parking lot.

Travis stared at me for a moment, and I felt a twinge in my chest. I had an almost ravenous urge to grab his face and plant my mouth on his, but I fought against the alcohol and hormones raging through my bloodstream.

“Night, Pidge,” he whispered, turning over.

I fidgeted, not yet ready to sleep. “Trav?” I said, leaning up to rest my chin on his shoulder.

“Yeah?”

“I know I’m drunk, and we just got into a ginormous fight over this, but….”

“I’m not having sex with you, so quit asking,” he said, his back still turned to me.

“What? No!” I cried.

Travis laughed and turned, looking at me with a soft expression. “What, Pigeon?”

I sighed. “This…,” I said, laying my head on his chest and stretching my arm across his middle, snuggling as close to him as I could.

He stiffened and held his hands up, as if he didn’t know how to react. “You are drunk.”

“I know,” I said, too intoxicated to be embarrassed.

He relaxed one hand against my back, and the other on my wet hair, and then pressed his lips to my forehead. “You are the most confusing woman I’ve ever met.”

“It’s the least you can do after scaring off the only guy that approached me tonight.”

“You mean Ethan the rapist? Yeah, I owe you for that one.”

“Never mind,” I said, feeling the beginning of a rejection coming on.

He grabbed my arm and held it on his stomach to keep me from pulling away. “No, I’m serious. You need to be more careful. If I wasn’t there…I don’t even want to think about it. And now you expect me to apologize for running him off?”

“I don’t want you to apologize. It’s not even about that.”

“Then what’s it about?” he asked, searching my eyes for something. His face was just a few inches from mine, and I could feel his breath on my lips.

I frowned. “I’m drunk, Travis. It’s the only excuse I have.”

“You just want me to hold you until you fall asleep?”

I didn’t answer.

He shifted to look straight into my eyes. “I should say no to prove a point,” he said, his eyebrows pulling together. “But I would hate myself later if I said no and you never asked me again.”

I nestled my cheek against his chest, and he tightened his arms, sighing. “You don’t need an excuse, Pigeon. All you have to do is ask.”

 

I cringed at the sunlight pouring through the window and the alarm blaring into my ear. Travis was still asleep, surrounding me with both his arms and his legs. I maneuvered an arm free to reach over and pound the snooze button. Wiping my face, I looked over at him, sleeping soundly two inches from my face.

“Oh my God,” I whispered, wondering how we’d managed to become so tangled. I took a deep breath and held it as I worked to free myself from his grip.

“Stop it, Pidge, I’m sleepin’,” he mumbled, squeezing me against him.

After several attempts, I finally slid from his grip and sat on the edge of the bed, looking back at his half-naked body draped in covers. I watched him for a moment and sighed. The lines were becoming blurred, and it was my fault.

His hand slid across the sheets and he touched my fingers. “What’s wrong, Pigeon?” he said, his eyes barely open.

“I’m going to get a glass of water, you want anything?” Travis shook his head and closed his eyes, his cheek flat against the mattress.

“Morning, Abby,” Shepley said from the recliner when I rounded the corner.

“Where’s Mare?”

“Still sleeping. What are you doing up so early?” he asked, looking at the clock.

“The alarm went off, but I always wake up early after I drink. It’s a curse.”

“Me, too,” he nodded.

“You better get Mare up. We have class in an hour,” I said, turning on the tap, and leaning over to take a sip.

Shepley nodded. “I was just going to let her sleep.”

I shook my head. “Don’t do that. She’ll be mad if she misses.”

“Oh,” he said, standing up. “Better wake her, then.” He wheeled around. “Hey, Abby?”

“Yeah?”

“I don’t know what’s going on with you and Travis, but I know that he’s going to do something stupid to piss you off. It’s a tic he has. He doesn’t get close with anyone very often, and for whatever reason he’s let you in. But you have to overlook his demons. It’s the only way he’ll know.”

“Know what?” I asked, raising an eyebrow at his melodramatic speech.

“If you’ll climb over the wall,” he answered simply.

I shook my head and chuckled. “Whatever you say, Shep.”

Shepley shrugged, and then disappeared into his bedroom. I heard soft murmurs, a protesting groan, and then America’s sweet giggling.

I swirled the oatmeal around in my bowl, and squeezed the chocolate syrup in as I stirred.

“That’s sick, Pidge,” Travis said, wearing only a pair of green plaid boxers. He rubbed his eyes and pulled a box of cereal from the cabinet.

“Good morning to you, too,” I said, snapping the cap on the bottle.

“I hear your birthday is coming up. Last stand of your teenage years,” he grinned, his eyes puffy and red.

“Yeah…I’m not a big birthday person. I think Mare is going to take me to dinner or something.” I smiled, “You can come if you want.”

“All right,” he shrugged. “It’s a week from Sunday?”

“Yes. When’s your birthday?”

He poured the milk, dunking the flakes with his spoon, “Not ‘til April. April first.”

“Shut up.”

“No, I’m serious.” he said, chewing.

“Your birthday is on April Fool’s ?” I asked again, raising an eyebrow.

He laughed. “Yes! You’re gonna be late. I better get dressed.”

“I’m riding with Mare.”

I could tell he was being intentionally cool when he shrugged. “Whatever,” he said, turning his back to me to finish his cereal.

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