“He’s definitely staring at you,” America whispered, leaning back to peek across the room.
“Stop looking, dummy, he’s going to see you.”
America smiled and waved. “He’s already seen me. He’s still staring.”
I hesitated for a moment, and then finally worked up enough courage to look in his direction. Parker was looking right at me, grinning.
I returned his smile, and then pretended to type something on my laptop.
“Is he still staring?” I murmured.
“Yep,” she giggled.
After class, Parker stopped me in the hall.
“Don’t forget about the party this weekend.”
“I won’t,” I said, trying not to bat my eyes or do anything else ridiculous.
America and I made our way across the lawn to the cafeteria to meet Travis and Shepley for lunch. She was still laughing about Parker’s behavior when Shepley and Travis approached.
“Hey, Baby,” America said, kissing her boyfriend square on the mouth.
“What’s so funny?” Shepley asked.
“Oh, a guy in class was staring at Abby all hour. It was adorable.”
“As long as he was staring at Abby,” Shepley winked.
“Who was it?” Travis grimaced.
I readjusted my backpack, prompting Travis to slide it off my arms and hold it. I shook my head. “Mare’s imagining things.”
“Abby! You big, fat liar! It was Parker Hayes, and he was being so obvious. The guy was practically drooling.”
Travis’ expression twisted into disgust. “Parker Hayes ?”
Shepley pulled on America’s hand. “We’re headed to lunch. Will you be enjoying the fine cafeteria cuisine this afternoon?”
America kissed him again in answer, and Travis and I followed behind. I sat my tray between America and Finch, but Travis didn’t sit in his normal seat across from me. Instead, he sat a few seats down. It was then that I realized he hadn’t said much during our walk to the cafeteria.
“Are you okay, Trav?” I asked.
“Me? Fine, why?” he said, smoothing the features of his face.
“You’ve just been quiet.”
Several members of the football team approached the table and sat down, laughing loudly. Travis looked a bit annoyed as he rolled his food around on his plate.
Chris Jenks tossed a french fry onto Travis’ plate. “What’s up, Trav? I heard you bagged Tina Martin. She’s been raking your name through the mud today.”
“Shut up, Jenks,” Travis said, keeping his eyes on his food.
I leaned forward so the brawny giant sitting in front of Travis could experience the full force of my glare. “Knock it off, Chris.”
Travis’ eyes bored into mine. “I can take care of myself, Abby.”
“I’m sorry, I….”
“I don’t want you to be sorry. I don’t want you to be anything,” he snapped, shoving away from the table and storming out the door.
Finch looked over at me with raised eyebrows. “Whoa. What was that about?”
I stabbed a tater tot with my fork and puffed. “I don’t know.”
Shepley patted my back. “It’s nothing you did, Abby.”
“He just has stuff going on,” America added.
“What kind of stuff?” I asked.
Shepley shrugged and turned his attention to his plate. “You should know by now that it takes patience and a forgiving attitude to be friends with Travis. He’s his own universe.”
I shook my head. “That’s the Travis everyone else sees…not the Travis I know.”
Shepley leaned forward. “There’s no difference. You just have to ride the wave.”
After class, I rode with America to the apartment to find Travis’ motorcycle gone. I went into his room and curled into a ball on his bed, resting my head on my arm. Travis had been fine that morning. As much time as we had spent together, I couldn’t believe I didn’t see that something had been bothering him. Not only that, it disturbed me that America seemed to know what was going on and I didn’t.
My breathing evened out and my eyes grew heavy; it wasn’t long before I fell asleep. When my eyes opened again, the night sky had darkened the window. Muffled voices filtered down the hall from the living room, including Travis’ deep tone. I crept down the hall, and then froze when I heard my name.
“Abby gets it, Trav. Don’t beat yourself up,” Shepley said.
“You’re already going to the date party. What’s the harm in asking her out?” America asked.
I stiffened, waiting for his response. “I don’t want to date her; I just want to be around her. She’s…different.”
“Different how ?” America asked, sounding irritated.
“She doesn’t put up with my bullshit, it’s refreshing. You said it yourself, Mare. I’m not her type. It’s just not…like that with us.”
“You’re closer to her type than you know,” America said.
I backed up as quietly as I could, and when the wooden boards creaked beneath my bare feet, I reached over to pull Travis’ bedroom door shut, and then walked down the hall.
“Hey, Abby,” America smiled. “How was your nap?”
“I was out for five hours. That’s closer to a coma than a nap.”
Travis stared at me for a moment, and when I smiled at him, he walked straight toward me, grabbed my hand, and pulled me down the hall to his bedroom. He shut the door, and I felt my heart pounding in my chest, bracing for him to say something else to crush my ego.
His eyebrows pulled in. “I’m so sorry, Pidge. I was an asshole to you earlier.”
I relaxed a bit, seeing the remorse in his eyes. “I didn’t know you were mad at me.”
“I wasn’t mad at you. I just have a bad habit of lashing out at those I care about. It’s a piss poor excuse, I know, but I am sorry,” he said, enveloping me in his arms.
I nestled my cheek against his chest, settling in. “What were you mad about?”
“It’s not important. The only thing I’m worried about is you.”
I leaned back to look up at him. “I can handle your temper tantrums.”
His eyes scanned my face for several moments before a small smile spread across his lips. “I don’t know why you put up with me, and I don’t know what I’d do if you didn’t.”
I could smell the mixture of cigarettes and mint on his breath, and I looked at his lips, my body reacting to how close we were. Travis’ expression changed and his breathing staggered — he had noticed, too.
He leaned in infinitesimally, and then we both jumped when his cell phone rang. He sighed, pulling it from his pocket.
“Yeah. Hoffman ? Jesus…all right. That’ll be an easy grand. Jefferson?” He looked at me and winked. “We’ll be there.” He hung up and took my hand. “Come with me.” He pulled me down the hall. “That was Adam,” he said to Shepley. “Brady Hoffman will be at Jefferson in ninety minutes.”
Shepley nodded and stood up, digging his cell phone from his pocket. After a few moments, he repeated what Travis had told him into his phone, hung up, dialed again, and then repeated the information once more. He dialed another number as he shut his bedroom door behind him.
“Here we go,” America said, smiling. “We better freshen up!”
The air in the apartment was tense and buoyant at the same time. Travis seemed the least affected, slipping on his boots and a white tank top as if he were leaving to run an errand.
America led me down the hall to Travis’ bedroom and frowned. “You have to change, Abby. You can’t wear that to the fight.”
“I wore a freaking cardigan last time and you didn’t say anything!” I protested.
“I didn’t think you’d go last time. Here,” she threw clothes at me, “put this on.”
“I am not wearing this!”
“Let’s go!” Shepley called from the living room.
“Hurry up!” America snapped, running into Shepley’s room.
I pulled on the deep cut, yellow halter top and tight, low-rise jeans America had thrown at me, and then slipped on a pair of heels, raking a brush through my hair as I shuffled down the hall. America came out of her room with a short, green baby doll dress and matching heels, and when we rounded the corner, Travis and Shepley were standing at the door.
Travis’ mouth fell open. “Oh, hell no. Are you trying to get me killed? You’ve gotta change, Pidge.”
“What?” I asked, looking down.
America grabbed her hips. “She looks cute, Trav, leave her alone!”
Travis took my hand and led me down the hall. “Get a t-shirt on…and some sneakers. Something comfortable.”
“What? Why ?”
“Because I’ll be more worried about who’s looking at your tits in that shirt instead of Hoffman,” he said, stopping at his door.
“I thought you said you didn’t give a damn what anyone else thought?”
“That’s a different scenario, Pigeon.” Travis looked down at my chest and then up at me. “You can’t wear this to the fight, so please…just…please just change,” he stuttered, shoving me into the room and shutting me in.
“Travis!” I yelled. I kicked off my heels, and shoved my feet into my Converse. Then I wiggled out of my halter top, throwing it across the room. The first cotton shirt that touched my hands I yanked over my head, and then ran down the hall, standing in the doorway.
“Better?” I huffed, pulling my hair into a pony tail.
“Yes!” Travis said, relieved. “Let’s go!”
We raced to the parking lot. I jumped on the back of Travis’ motorcycle as he ripped the engine and peeled out, flying down the road to the college. I squeezed his middle in anticipation; the rushing to get out the door had sent adrenaline surging through my veins.
Travis drove over the curb, parking his motorcycle in the shadows behind the Jefferson Liberal Arts building. He pushed his sunglasses to the top of his head, and then grabbed my hand, smiling as we snuck to the back of the building. He stopped at an open window near the ground.
My eyes widened with realization. “You’re joking.”
Travis smiled. “This is the VIP entrance. You should see how everyone else gets in.”
I shook my head as he worked his legs through, and then disappeared. I leaned down and called into oblivion, “Travis!”
“Down here, Pidge. Just come in feet first, I’ll catch you.”
“You’re out of your damn mind if you think I’m jumping into the dark!”
“I’ll catch you! I promise! Now get your ass in here!”
I sighed, touching my forehead with my hand. “This is insane!”
I sat down, and then scooted forward until half of my body was dangling in the dark. I turned on my stomach, and pointed my toes, feeling for the floor. I waited for my feet to touch Travis’ hand, but I lost my grip, squealing when I fell backward. A pair of hands grabbed me, and I heard Travis’ voice in the darkness.
“You fall like a girl,” he chuckled.
He lowered my feet to the ground, and then pulled me further into the blackness. After a dozen steps, I could hear the familiar yelling of numbers and names, and then the room illuminated. A lantern sat in the corner, lighting the room just enough that I could make out Travis’ face.
“What are we doing?”
“Waiting. Adam has to run through his spiel before I go in.”
I fidgeted. “Should I wait here, or should I go in? Where do I go when the fight starts? Where’s Shep and Mare?”
“They went in the other way. Just follow me out, I’m not sending you into that shark pit without me. Stay by Adam, he’ll keep you from getting crushed. I can’t be looking out for you and throwing punches at the same time.”
“There’s going to be more people here tonight. Brady Hoffman is from State. They they have their own Circle there. It will be our crowd and their crowd, so the room’s gonna get crazy.”
“Are you nervous?” I asked.
He smiled, looking down at me. “No. You look a little nervous, though.”
“Maybe,” I admitted.
“If it’ll make you feel better, I won’t let him touch me. I won’t even let him get one in for his fans.”
“How are you going to manage that ?”
He shrugged. “I usually let them get one in, to make it look fair.”
“You…? You let people hit you?”
“How much fun would it be if I just massacred someone and they never got a punch in? It’s not good for business, no one would bet against me.”
“What a load of crap,” I said, crossing my arms.
Travis raised an eyebrow. “You think I’m yankin’ your chain?”
“I find it hard to believe that you only get hit when you let them hit you.”
“Would you like to make a wager on that, Abby Abernathy?” he smiled, his eyes animated.
I smiled. “I’ll take that bet. I think he’ll get one in on you.”
“And if he doesn’t? What do I win?” he asked. I shrugged as the yelling on the other side of the wall grew to a roar. Adam greeted the crowd, and then went over the rules.
Travis’ mouth stretched into a wide grin. “If you win, I’ll go without sex for a month.” I raised an eyebrow and he smiled again. “But if I win, you have to stay with me for a month.”
“What ? I’m staying with you, anyway! What kind of bet is that?” I shrieked over the noise.
“They fixed the boilers at Morgan today,” Travis smiled, winking.
A smug smile spread across my face as Adam called Travis’ name. “Anything is worth watching you try abstinence for a change.”
Travis kissed my cheek, and then walked out, standing tall. I followed behind, and when we crossed into the next room, I was startled by the number of people packed together in the small space. It was standing room only, but the shoving and shouting only amplified once we entered the room. Travis nodded in my direction, and then Adam’s hand was on my shoulders, pulling me to his side.
I leaned into Adam’s ear. “I’ve got two on Travis,” I said.
Adam’s eyebrows shot up as he watched me pull two Benjamin’s from my pocket. He held out his palm, and I slapped the bills into his hand.
“You’re not the Pollyanna I thought you were,” he said, giving me a once over.
Brady was at least a head taller than Travis, and I gulped when I saw them stand toe to toe. Brady was massive, twice Travis’ size and solid muscle. I couldn’t see Travis’ expression, but it was obvious that Brady was out for blood.
Adam pressed his lips against my ear. “You might want to plug your ears, kiddo.”
I cupped my hands on each side of my head, and Adam sounded the horn. Instead of attacking, Travis took a few steps back. Brady swung, and Travis dodged to the right. Brady swung again, and Travis ducked and side-stepped to the other side.
“What the hell? This ain’t a boxing match, Travis!” Adam yelled.
Travis landed a punch to Brady’s nose. The volume in the basement was deafening, then. Travis sank a left hook into Brady’s jaw, and my hands flew over my mouth when Brady attempted a few more punches, each one catching air. Brady fell against his entourage when Travis elbowed him in the face. Just when I thought it was almost over, Brady came out swinging again. Throw after throw, Brady couldn’t seem to keep up. Both men were covered in sweat, and I gasped when Brady missed another punch, slamming his hand into a cement pillar. When he folded over, cradling his fist beneath him, Travis went in for the kill.
He was relentless, first bringing his knee to Brady’s face, and then pummeling him over and over until Brady stumbled and hit the ground. The noise level boomed as Adam left my side to throw the red square on Brady’s bloodied face.
Travis disappeared behind his fans, and I pressed my back against the wall, feeling my way to the doorway we came in from. Reaching the lantern was a huge relief. I worried about being knocked down and trampled.
My eyes stayed focused on doorway, watching for any sign of the crowd spilling into the small room. After several minutes and no sign of Travis, I prepared to retrace my steps to the window. With the number of people trying to leave at once, it wasn’t safe enough to chance wandering around.
Just as I stepped into the darkness, footsteps crunched against the loose concrete on the floor. Travis was looking for me in a panic.
“I’m here!” I called out, running into his arms.
Travis looked down and frowned. “You scared the shit out of me! I almost had to start another fight just to get to you… I finally get here and you’re gone!”
“I’m glad you’re back. I wasn’t looking forward to finding my way back in the dark.”
All worry left his face, and he smiled widely. “I believe you lost the bet.”
Adam stomped in, looked at me, and then glowered at Travis. “We need to talk.”
Travis winked at me. “Stay put. I’ll be right back.”
They disappeared into the darkness. Adam raise his voice a few times, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying. Travis returned, shoving a wad of cash into his pocket, and then he offered a half-smile. “You’re going to need more clothes.”
“You’re really going to make me stay with you for a month ?”
“Would you have made me go without sex for a month?”
I laughed, knowing I would. “We better stop at Morgan.”
Travis beamed. “This should be interesting.”
As Adam walked past, he slammed my winnings into my palm, withdrawing into the dissipating mob.
Travis raised an eyebrow. “You put in?”
I smiled and shrugged. “I thought I should get the full experience.”
He led me to the window, and then crawled out, turning to help me up and out to the fresh night air. The crickets were chirping in the shadows, stopping just long enough to let us pass. The monkey grass that lined the sidewalk weaved in the gentle breeze, reminding me of the sound the ocean makes when I wasn’t quite close enough to hear the waves breaking. It wasn’t too hot, or too cold; it was the perfect night.
“Why on earth would you want me to stay with you, anyway?” I asked.
Travis shrugged, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I don’t know. Everything’s better when you’re around.”
The warm and fuzzies I felt from his words quickly faded with the sight of the red, blotchy mess on his shirt. “Ew. You have blood all over you.”
Travis looked down with indifference, and then opened the door, gesturing for me to walk in. I breezed by Kara who studied on her bed, held captive by the text books that surrounded her.
“The boilers were fixed this morning,” she said.
“I heard,” I said, rifling through my closet.
“Hi,” Travis said to Kara.
Kara’s face twisted as she scanned Travis’ sweaty, bloody form.
“Travis, this is my roommate Kara Lin. Kara, Travis Maddox.”
“Nice to meet you,” Kara said, pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose. She glanced at my bulging bags. “Are you moving out?”
“Nope. Lost a bet.”
Travis burst into laughter, grabbing my bags. “Ready?”
“Yeah. How am I going to get all of this to your apartment? We’re on your bike.”
Travis smiled and pulled out his cell phone. He carried my luggage to the street, and minutes later, Shepley’s black, vintage Charger pulled up.
The passenger-side window rolled down, and America poked her head out. “Hey, Chickie!”
“Hey yourself. The boilers are working again at Morgan, are you still staying with Shep?”
She winked. “Yeah, I thought I’d stay tonight. I heard you lost a bet.”
Before I could speak, Travis shut the trunk and Shep sped off, with America squealing as she fell back into the car.
We walked to his Harley, and when I wrapped my arms around him, he rested his hand on mine.
“I’m glad you were there tonight, Pidge. I’ve never had so much fun at a fight in my life.”
I perched my chin on his shoulder and smiled. “That was because you were trying to win our bet.”
He angled his neck to face me. “Damn right I was.” There was no amusement in his eyes, he was serious, and he wanted me to see it.
My eyebrows shot up. “Is that why you were in such a bad mood today? Because you knew they’d fixed the boilers, and I would be leaving tonight?”
Travis didn’t answer; he only smiled as he started his motorcycle. The drive to the apartment was uncharacteristically slow. At every stoplight, Travis would either cover my hands with his, or he would rest his hand on my knee. The lines were blurring again, and I wondered how we would spend a month together and not ruin everything. The loose ends of our friendship were tangling in a way I never imagined.
When we arrived in the apartment parking lot, Shepley’s Charger sat in its usual spot.
I stood in front of the steps. “I always hate it when they’ve been home for awhile. I feel like we’re going to interrupt them.”
“Get used to it. This is your place for the next four weeks,” Travis smiled and turned his back to me. “Get on.”
“What?” I smiled.
“C’mon, I’ll carry you up.”
I giggled and hopped onto his back, interlacing my fingers on his chest as he ran up the stairs. America opened the door before we made it to the top and smiled.
“Look at you two. If I didn’t know better….”
“Knock it off, Mare,” Shepley said from the couch.
America smiled as if she’d said too much, and then opened the door wide so we could both fit through. Travis collapsed against the recliner. I squealed when he leaned against me.
“You’re awfully cheerful this evening, Trav. What gives?” America prompted.
I leaned over to see his face. I’d never seen him so pleased.
“I just won a shit load of money, Mare. Twice as much as I thought I would. What’s not to be happy about?”
America grinned. “No, it’s something else,” she said, watching Travis’ hand as he patted my thigh. She was right; he was different. There was an air of peace around him, almost as if some kind of new contentment had settled into his soul.
“Mare,” Shepley warned.
“Fine, I’ll talk about something else. Didn’t Parker invite you to the Sig Tau party this weekend, Abby?”
Travis’ smile vanished and he turned to me, waiting for an answer.
“Er…yeah? Aren’t we all going?”
“I’ll be there,” Shepley said, distracted by the television.
“And that means I’m going,” America smiled, looking expectantly at Travis.
Travis watched me for a moment, and then nudged my leg. “Is he picking you up or something?”
“No, he just told me about the party.”
America’s mouth spread into a mischievous grin, almost bobbing in anticipation. “He said he’d see you there, though. He’s really cute.”
Travis shot an irritated glance in America’s direction and then looked to me. “Are you going?”
“I told him I would,” I shrugged. “Are you going?”
“Yeah,” he said without hesitation.
Shepley’s attention turned to Travis, then. “You said last week you weren’t.”
“I changed my mind, Shep, what’s the problem?”
“Nothing,” he grumbled, retreating to his bedroom.
America frowned at Travis. “You know what the problem is,” she said. “Why don’t you quit driving him crazy and just get it over with.” She joined Shepley in his room, and their voices were reduced to murmuring behind the closed door.
“Well, I’m glad everyone else knows,” I said.
Travis stood up. “I’m going to take a quick shower.”
“Is there something going on with them?” I asked.
“No, he’s just paranoid.”
“It’s because of us,” I guessed. Travis’ eyes lit up and he nodded.
“What?” I asked, eyeing him suspiciously.
“You’re right. It’s because of us. Don’t fall asleep, okay? I wanna talk to you about something.”
He walked backward a few steps, and then disappeared behind the bathroom door. I twisted my hair around my finger, mulling over the way he emphasized the word us, and the look on his face when he’d said it. I wondered if there had ever been lines at all, and if I was the only one that considered Travis and I just friends anymore.
Shepley burst out of his room, and America ran after him. “Shep, don’t!” she pleaded.
He looked back to the bathroom door, and then to me. His voice was low, but angry. “You promised, Abby. When I told you to spare judgment, I didn’t mean for you two to get involved! I thought you were just friends!”
“We are,” I said, shaken by his surprise attack.
“No, you’re not!” he fumed.
America touched his shoulder. “Baby, I told you it will be fine.”
He pulled away from her grip. “Why are you pushing this, Mare? I told you what’s going to happen!”
She grabbed his face with both hands. “And I told you it won’t! Don’t you trust me?”
Shepley sighed, looked at her, at me, and then stomped into his room.
America fell into the recliner beside me, and puffed. “I just can’t get it into his head that whether you and Travis work out or not, it won’t affect us. But he’s been burned too many times. He doesn’t believe me.”
“What are you talking about, Mare? Travis and I aren’t together. We are just friends. You heard him earlier…he’s not interested in me that way.”
“You heard that?”
“And you believe it?”
I shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. It’ll never happen. He told me he doesn’t see me like that, he’s a total commitment-phobe, I’d be hard pressed to find a girlfriend outside of you that he hasn’t slept with, and I can’t keep up with his mood swings. I can’t believe Shep thinks otherwise.”
“Because not only does he know Travis…he’s talked to Travis, Abby.”
“What do you mean?”
“Mare?” Shepley called from the bedroom.
America sighed. “You’re my best friend. I think I know you better than you know yourself sometimes. I see you two together, and the only difference between me and Shep, and you and Travis, is that we’re having sex. Other than that? No difference.”
“There is a huge, huge difference. Is Shep bringing home different girls every night? Are you going to the party tomorrow to hang out with a guy with definite dating potential? You know I can’t get involved with Travis, Mare. I don’t even know why we’re discussing it.”
America’s expression turned to disappointment. “I’m not seeing things, Abby. You have spent almost every moment with him for the last month. Admit it, you have feelings for him.”
“Let it go, Mare,” Travis said, tightening his towel around his waist.
America and I jumped at the sound of Travis’ voice, and when my eyes met his, I could see the happiness was gone. He walked down the hall without another word, and America looked at me with a sad expression.
“I think you’re making a mistake,” she whispered. “You don’t need to go that party to meet a guy, you’ve got one that’s crazy about you right here,” she said, leaving me alone.
I rocked in the recliner, letting everything that had happened in the last week replay in my mind. Shepley was angry with me, America was disappointed in me, and Travis…he went from being happier than I’d ever seen him, to so offended he was speechless. Too nervous to crawl in bed with him, I watched the clock change from minute to minute.
An hour had passed when Travis came out of his room and down the hall. When he rounded the corner, I expected him to ask me to come to bed, but he was dressed and had his bike keys in his hand. His sunglasses were hiding his eyes, and he popped a cigarette in his mouth before grabbing the knob of the door.
“You’re leaving?” I asked, sitting up. “Where are you going?”
“Out,” he said, yanking the door open, and then slamming it closed behind him.
I fell back in the recliner and huffed. I had somehow become the villain, and had no idea how I’d managed to get there.
When the clock above the television read two A.M., I finally resigned to go bed. The mattress was lonely without him, and the idea of calling his cell kept creeping into my mind. I had nearly fallen asleep when Travis’ motorcycle pulled into the parking lot. Two car doors shut shortly after, and then several pairs footsteps climbed the stairs. Travis fumbled with the lock, and then the door opened. He laughed and mumbled, and then I heard not one, but two female voices. Their giggling was interrupted by the distinct sound of kissing and moaning. My heart sank, and I was instantly angry that I felt that way. My eyes clenched shut when one of the girls squealed, and then I was sure the next sound was the three of them collapsing onto the couch.
I considered asking America for her keys, but Shepley’s door was directly in view of the couch, and I couldn’t stomach witnessing the picture that went along with the noises in the living room. I buried my head under the pillow, and then shut my eyes when door popped open. Travis walked across the room, opened the top night table drawer, picked through his bowl of condoms, and then shut the drawer, jogging down the hall. The girls giggled for what seemed like half an hour, and then it was quiet.
Seconds later, moans, humming and shouting filled the apartment. It sounded as if a pornographic movie was being filmed in the living room. I covered my face with my hands, and shook my head. Whatever lines had blurred or disappeared in the last week, an impenetrable stone wall had gone up in their place. I shook off my ridiculous emotions, forcing myself to relax. Travis was Travis, and we were, without a doubt, friends, and only friends.
The shouting and other nauseating noises quieted down after an hour, followed by whining, and then grumbling by the women after being dismissed. Travis showered and then collapsed onto his side of the bed, turning his back to me. Even after his shower, he smelled like he’d drank enough whiskey to sedate a horse, and I was livid that he’d driven his motorcycle home in such a state.
After the awkwardness faded and the anger weakened, I still couldn’t sleep. When Travis’ breaths were deep and even, I sat up to look at the clock. The sun was going to rise in less than an hour. I ripped the covers off of me, walked down the hall and took a blanket from the hall cabinet. The only evidence of Travis’ threesome was two empty condom packages on the floor. I stepped over them and fell into the recliner.
I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, America and Shepley were sitting quietly on the couch watching a muted television. The sun lit the apartment, and I cringed when my back complained at any attempted movement.
America’s attention darted to me. “Abby?” she said, rushing to my side. She watched me with wary eyes. She was waiting for anger, or tears, or another emotionally charged outburst.
Shepley looked miserable. “I’m sorry about last night, Abby. This is my fault.”
I smiled. “It’s okay, Shep. You don’t have to apologize.”
America and Shepley traded glances, and then she grabbed my hand. “Travis went to the store. He is…ugh , it doesn’t matter what he is. I packed your stuff, and I’ll take you to the dorms before he gets home so you don’t have to deal with him.”
It wasn’t until that moment that I felt like crying; I had been kicked out. I worked to keep my voice smooth before I spoke. “Do I have time to take a shower?”
America shook her head. “Let’s just go, Abby, I don’t want you to have to see him. He doesn’t deserve to—,”
The door flew open, and Travis walked in, his arms lined with grocery sacks. He walked straight into the kitchen, furiously working to get the cans and boxes into the cabinets.
“When Pidge wakes up, let me know, okay?” he said in a soft voice. “I got spaghetti, and pancakes, and strawberries, and that oatmeal shit with the chocolate packets, and she likes Fruity Pebbles cereal, right, Mare?” he asked, turning.
When he saw me, he froze. After an awkward pause, his expression melted, and his voice was smooth and sweet.“Hey, Pigeon.”
I couldn’t have been more confused if I had woken up in a foreign country. Nothing made sense. At first I thought I had been evicted, and then Travis comes home with bags full of my favorite foods.
He took a few steps into the living room, nervously shoving his hands in his pockets. “You hungry, Pidge? I’ll make you some pancakes. Or there’s uh…there’s some oatmeal. And I got you some of that pink foamy shit that girl’s shave with, and a hairdryer, and a…a….just a sec, it’s in here,” he said, rushing to the bedroom.
The door opened, shut, and then he rounded the corner, the color gone from his face. He took a deep breath and his eyebrows pulled in. “Your stuff’s packed.”
“I know,” I said.
“You’re leaving,” he said, defeated.
I looked to America, who glowered at Travis as if she could kill him. “You actually expected her to stay ?”
“Baby,” Shepley whispered.
“Don’t fucking start with me, Shep. Don’t you dare defend him to me,” America seethed.
Travis looked desperate. “I am so sorry, Pidge. I don’t even know what to say.”
“Come on, Abby,” America said. She stood up and pulled on my arm.
Travis took a step, but America pointed her finger at him. “So help me God, Travis! If you try to stop her, I will douse you with gasoline and light you on fire while you sleep!”
“America,” Shepley said, sounding a bit desperate himself. I could see that he was torn between his cousin and the woman he loved, and I felt terrible for him. The situation was exactly what he had tried to avoid all along.
“I’m fine ,” I said, exasperated by the tension in the room.
“What do you mean you’re fine ?” Shepley asked, almost hopeful.
I rolled my eyes. “Travis brought women home from the bar last night, so what?”
America looked worried. “Huh uh, Abby. Are you saying you’re okay with what happened?”
I looked to all of them. “Travis can bring home whoever he wants. It’s his apartment.”
America stared at me as if I’d lost my mind, Shepley was on the verge of a smile, and Travis looked worse than before.
“You didn’t pack your things?” Travis asked.
I shook my head and looked at the clock; it was after two in the afternoon. “No, and now I’m going to have to unpack it all. I still have to eat, and shower, and get dressed….” I said, walking into the bathroom. Once the door closed behind me, I leaned against it, and slid down to the floor. I was sure I had pissed off America beyond repair, but I made Shepley a promise, and I intended to keep my word.
A soft knock on the door tapped above me. “Pidge?” Travis said.
“Yeah?” I said, trying to sound normal.
“I can go if you want me to, but a bet’s a bet.”
The door vibrated with the soft bump of Travis’’ forehead against the door. “I don’t want you leave, but I wouldn’t blame you if you did.”
“Are you saying I’m released from the bet?”
There was a long pause. “If I say yes, will you leave?”
“Well, yeah. I don’t live here, silly,” I said, forcing a small laugh.
“Then no, the bet’s still in effect.”
I looked up and shook my head, feeling the tears burn my eyes. I had no idea why I was crying, but I couldn’t stop. “Can I take a shower, now?”
“Yeah…,” he sighed.
I heard America’s shoes enter the hall and stomp by Travis. “You’re a selfish bastard,” she growled, slamming Shepley’s door behind her.
I pushed myself up from the floor, turned on the shower, and then undressed, pulling the curtain behind me.
After another knock on the door, Travis cleared his throat. “Pigeon? I brought some of your stuff.”
“Just set in on the sink. I’ll get it.”
Travis walked in and shut the door behind him. “I was mad. I heard you spitting out everything that’s wrong with me to America and it pissed me off. I just meant to go out and have a few drinks and try to figure some things out, but before I knew it, I was piss drunk and those girls…,” he paused. “I woke up this morning and you weren’t in bed, and when I found you on the recliner and saw the wrappers on the floor, I felt sick.”
“You could have just asked me instead of spending all that money at the grocery store just to bribe me to stay.”
“I don’t care about the money, Pidge. I was afraid you’d leave and never speak to me again.”
I cringed at his explanation. I hadn’t stopped to think how it would make him feel to hear me talk about how wrong for me he was, and now the situation was too messed up to salvage.
“I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” I said, standing under the water.
“I know you didn’t. And I know it doesn’t matter what I say now, because I fucked things up…just like I always do.”
“Don’t drive drunk on your bike anymore, okay?”
I waited for a full minute until he finally took a deep breath and spoke. “Yeah, okay,” he said, shutting the door behind him.