CHAPTER SIX. turning point

Monday night’s date met my every expectation. We ate Chinese food while I giggled at Parker’s skills with chopsticks. When he brought me home, Travis opened the door before he could kiss me. When we went out the following Wednesday night, Parker made sure to kiss me in the car.

Thursday at lunch, Parker met me in the cafeteria and surprised everyone when he sat in Travis’ spot. When Travis finished his cigarette and came inside, he walked past Parker with indifference, sitting at the end of the table. Megan approached him, but was instantly disappointed when he waved her off. Everyone at the table was quiet after that, and I found it difficult to focus on anything Parker talked about.

“I’m assuming I just wasn’t invited,” Parker said, catching my attention.

“What?”

“I heard your birthday party is on Sunday. I wasn’t invited?”

America peeked at Travis, who glared at Parker as if he was seconds away from mowing him down.

“It was a surprise party, Parker,” America said softly.

“Oh,” Parker said, cringing.

“You’re throwing me a surprise party?” I asked America.

She shrugged. “It was Trav’s idea. It’s at Brazil’s on Sunday. Six o’clock.”

Parker’s cheeks flushed a faint red. “I suppose I’m really not invited, now.”

“No! Of course you are!” I said, holding his hand on top of the table. Twelve pairs of eyes zeroed in on our hands. I could see that Parker was just as uncomfortable with the attention as I was, so I let go and pulled my hands onto my lap.

Parker stood up. “I have a few things I need to do before class. I’ll call you later.”

“Okay,” I said, offering an apologetic smile.

Parker leaned over the table and kissed my lips. The silence was cafeteria-wide, and America elbowed me after Parker walked out.

“Isn’t it creepy how everyone watches you?” she whispered. She glanced around the room with a frown. “What ?” America yelled. “Mind your business, perverts!” One by one, heads turned away, and murmuring ensued.

I covered my eyes with my hands. “You know, before I was pathetic because I was thought to be Travis’ poor clueless girlfriend. Now I’m evil because everyone thinks I’m bouncing back and forth between Travis and Parker like a ping pong ball.” When America didn’t comment, I looked up. “What? Don’t tell me you’re buying into that crap, too!”

“I didn’t say anything!” she said.

I stared at her in disbelief. “But that’s what you think ?”

America shook her head, but she didn’t speak. The icy stares from the other students were suddenly apparent, and I stood up, walking to the end of the table.

“We need to talk,” I said, tapping Travis’ shoulder. I tried to sound polite, but the anger bubbling inside me put an edge to my words. The entire student populace, including my best friend, thought I was juggling two men. There was only one solution.

“So talk,” Travis said, popping something breaded and fried in his mouth.

I fidgeted, noticing the curious eyes of everyone within earshot. When Travis still didn’t move, I grabbed his arm and gave it a good tug. He stood up and followed me outside with a grin on his face.

“What, Pidge?” he said, looking at my hand on his arm and then at me.

“You’ve got to let me out of the bet,” I begged.

His face fell. “You want to leave ? Why? What’d I do?”

“You didn’t do anything, Trav. Haven’t you noticed everyone staring? I am quickly becoming the pariah of Eastern U.”

Travis shook his head and lit a cigarette. “Not my problem.”

Yes , it is. Parker said everyone thinks he has a death wish because you’re in love with me.”

Travis’ eyebrows shot up and he choked on the puff of smoke he’d just inhaled. “People are saying that?” he said between coughs.

I nodded. He looked away with wide-eyes, taking another drag.

“Travis! You have to release me from the bet! I can’t date Parker and live with you at the same time. It looks terrible!”

“So quit dating Parker.”

I glared at him. “That’s not the problem and you know it.”

“Is that the only reason you want to leave? Because of what people are saying?”

“At least before I was clueless and you were the bad guy,” I grumbled.

“Answer the question, Pidge.”

“Yes!”

Travis looked beyond me to the students entering and leaving the cafeteria. He was deliberating, and I grew impatient while he took his time making his decision.

Finally, he stood tall, resolved. “No.”

I shook my head, sure that I had misunderstood. “Excuse me?”

“No. You said so yourself: a bet’s a bet. After the month’s up, you’ll be off with Parker, he’ll become a doctor, you’ll get married and have your two-point-five children and I’ll never see you again.” He grimaced at his own words. “I still have three weeks. I’m not giving that up for lunch room gossip.”

I looked through the glass window to see the entire cafeteria watching us. The unwelcome attention made my eyes burn. I shouldered passed him to walk to my next class.

“Pigeon,” Travis called after me.

I didn’t turn around.

That night, America sat on the tile floor of the bathroom, babbling about the boys while I stood in front of the mirror and pulled my hair into a ponytail. I was only half-listening, thinking about how patient Travis had been — for Travis — knowing he didn’t like the idea of Parker picking me up from his apartment every other night.

The expression on Travis’ face flashed in my mind when I asked him to let me out of the bet, and again when I told him people were saying he was in love with me. I couldn’t stop wondering why he didn’t deny it.

“Well, Shep thinks you’re being too hard on him. He’s never had anyone he’s cared enough to—,”

Travis poked his head in and smiled as he watched me fuss with my hair. “Wanna grab dinner?” he asked.

America stood up to look at herself in the mirror, combing her fingers through her golden hair. “Shep wants to check out that new Mexican place downtown if you guys wanna go.”

Travis shook his head. “I thought me and Pidge could go alone tonight.”

“I’m going out with Parker.”

“Again?” he said, annoyed.

“Again,” I said in a sing-song voice.

The door bell rang, and I hurried past Travis to open the door. Parker stood in front of me, his naturally wavy blonde hair sitting atop his cleanly shaven face.

“Do you ever look less than gorgeous?” Parker asked.

“Based on the first time she came over here, I’m going to say yes,” Travis said from behind me.

I rolled my eyes and smiled, holding up a finger to Parker to signal him to wait. I turned and threw my arms around Travis. He stiffened with surprise and then relaxed, pulling me tight against him.

I looked into his eyes and smiled. “Thanks for organizing my birthday party. Can I take a rain check on dinner?”

A dozen emotions scrolled across Travis’ face, and then the corners of his mouth turned up. “Tomorrow?”

I squeezed him and grinned. “Absolutely.” I waved to him as Parker grabbed my hand.

“What was that about?” Parker asked.

“We haven’t been getting along lately. That was my version of an olive branch.”

“Should I be worried?” he asked, opening my door.

“No,” I smiled, kissing his cheek.

At dinner, Parker talked about Harvard, and the House, and his plans to search for an apartment. His eyebrows pulled in. “Will Travis be escorting you to your birthday party?”

“I’m not really sure. He hasn’t said anything about it.”

“If he doesn’t mind, I’d like to take you.” He took my hand in his and kissed my fingers.

“I’ll ask him. The party was his idea, so….”

“I understand. If not, I’ll just see you there,” he smiled.

Parker took me to the apartment, slowing to a stop in the parking lot. When he kissed me goodbye, his lips lingered on mine. He yanked up the parking brake as his lips traveled along the ridge of my jaw to my ear, and then half-way down my neck. It took me off-guard, and I let out a quiet sigh in response.

“You are so beautiful,” he whispered. “I’ve been distracted all night, with your hair pulled away from your neck.” He peppered my neck with kisses and I exhaled, a hum escaping with my breath.

“What took you so long?” I smiled, lifting my chin to give him better access.

Parker focused on my lips. He grabbed each side of my face, kissing me a bit firmer than usual. We didn’t have much room in the car, but we made the space available work to our advantage. He leaned against me, and I bent my knee as I fell against the window. His tongue slipped inside my mouth, and his hand grabbed my ankle, and then slid up my leg to my thigh. The windows fogged within minutes with our labored breath, sticking to the cool windows. His lips grazed my collarbone, and then his head jerked up when the glass vibrated with several loud thumps.

Parker sat up, and I righted myself, adjusting my dress. I jumped when the door flew open. Travis and America stood beside the car. America wore a sympathetic frown, and Travis seemed just short of flying into a blind rage.

“What the hell , Travis?” Parker yelled.

The situation suddenly felt dangerous. I’d never heard Parker raise his voice, Travis’ knuckles were white as he balled them into fists at his sides — and I was in the way. America’s hand seemed tiny when she placed it on Travis’ bulky arm, shaking her head at Parker in silent warning.

“C’mon, Abby. I need to talk to you,” she said.

“About what?”

“Just come on!” she snapped.

I looked to Parker, seeing the irritation in his eyes. “I’m sorry, I have to go.”

“No, it’s fine. Go ahead.”

Travis helped me from the Porsche, and then kicked the door shut. I flipped around and stood between him and the car, shoving his shoulder. “What is wrong with you? Knock it off!”

America seemed nervous. It didn’t take long to figure out why. Travis reeked of whiskey; she had insisted on accompanying him, or he’d asked her to come. Either way she was a deterrent to violence.

The wheels of Parker’s shiny Porsche squealed out of the parking lot, and Travis lit a cigarette. “You can go in, now, Mare.”

She tugged on my skirt. “C’mon, Abby.”

“Why don’t you stay, Abs ,” he seethed.

I nodded for America to go ahead and she reluctantly complied. I crossed my arms, ready for a fight, preparing myself to lash out at him after the inevitable lecture. Travis took several drags from his cigarette, and when it was obvious that he wasn’t going to explain, my patience ran out.

Why did you do that?” I asked.

Why ? Because he was mauling you in front of my apartment!” he yelled. His eyes were unfocused, and I could see that he was incapable of rational conversation.

I kept my voice calm. “I may be staying with you, but what I do, and who I do it with is my business.”

He flicked his cigarette to the ground. “You’re so much better than that, Pidge. Don’t let him fuck you in a car like a cheap prom date.”

“I wasn’t going to have sex with him!”

He gestured to the empty space where Parker’s car sat. “What were you doing, then?”

“Haven’t you ever made out with someone, Travis? Haven’t you just messed around without letting it get that far?”

He frowned and shook his head as if I was speaking gibberish. “What’s the point in that?”

“The concept exists for a lot of people…especially those that date .”

“The windows were all fogged up, the car was bouncing…how was I supposed to know?” he said, waving his arms in the direction of the empty parking slot.

“Maybe you shouldn’t spy on me!”

He rubbed his face and shook his head. “I can’t stand this, Pigeon. I feel like I’m going crazy.”

I threw out my hands and let them hit my thighs. “You can’t stand what ?”

“If you sleep with him, I don’t wanna know about it. I’ll go to prison for a long time if I find out he…just don’t tell me.”

“Travis,” I seethed. “I can’t believe you just said that! That’s a big step for me!”

“That’s what all girls say!”

“I don’t mean the sluts you deal with! I mean me !” I said, holding my hand to my chest. “I haven’t…ugh! Never mind.” I walked away from him, but he grabbed my arm, twirling me around to face him.

“You haven’t what?” he asked, weaving a bit. I didn’t answer — I didn’t have to. I could see the recognition light up his face and he laughed once. “You’re a virgin ?”

“So what?” I said, the blood under my cheeks igniting.

His eyes drifted from mine, in and out of focus as he tried to think through the whisky. “That’s why America was so sure it wouldn’t get too far.”

“I had the same boyfriend all four years of high school. He was an aspiring Baptist youth minister! It never came up!”

Travis’ anger vanished, and relief was apparent in his eyes. “A youth minister? What happened after all that hard-earned abstinence?”

“He wanted to get married and stay in…Kansas. I didn’t.” I was desperate to change the subject. The amusement in Travis’ eyes was humiliating enough. I didn’t want him digging further into my past.

He took a step toward me and held each side of my face. “A virgin,” he said, shaking his head. “I would have never guessed with the way you danced at the Red.”

“Very funny,” I said, stomping up the stairs.

Travis attempted to follow me, but tripped and fell, rolling onto his back and laughing hysterically.

“What are you doing? Get up!” I said, helping him to his feet.

He hooked his arm around my neck, and I helped him up the stairs. Shepley and America were already in bed, so with no help in sight, I kicked off my heels to avoid breaking my ankles while walking Travis to the bedroom. He fell on his back to the bed, pulling me with him.

When we landed, my face was just inches from his. His expression was suddenly serious. He leaned up, nearly kissing me, but I pushed him away. Travis’ eyebrows pulled in.

“Knock it off, Trav,” I said.

He held me tight against him until I quit struggling, and then he flicked the strap of my dress, causing it to hang off my shoulder. “Since the word virgin came out of those beautiful lips of yours…I have a sudden urge to help you out of that dress.”

“Well, that’s too bad. You were ready to kill Parker for the same thing twenty minutes ago, so don’t be a hypocrite.”

“Fuck Parker. He doesn’t know you like I do.”

“Trav, c’mon. Let’s get your clothes off and get you in bed.”

“That’s what I’m talkin’ about,” he chuckled.

“How much did you drink?” I asked, finally getting my footing between his legs.

“Enough,” he smiled, pulling at the hem of my dress.

“You probably surpassed enough a gallon ago,” I said, slapping his hand away. I planted my knee on the mattress beside him, and pulled his shirt over his head. He reached for me again and I grabbed his wrist, sniffing at the pungent stench in the air. “God, Trav, you reek of Jack Daniels.”

“Jim Beam,” he corrected with a drunken nod.

“It smells like burnt wood and chemicals.”

“It tastes like it, too,” he laughed. I pulled open his belt buckle and yanked it from the loops. He laughed with the jerking motion, and then lifted his head to look at me. “Better guard your virginity, Pidge. You know I like it rough.”

“Shut up,” I said, unbuttoning his jeans, slipping them down over his hips, and then off his legs. I threw the denim to the floor and stood with my hands on my hips, breathing hard. His legs were hanging off the end of the bed, his eyes closed, and his breathing deep and heavy. He had passed out.

I took a deep breath and walked over the closet, shaking my head as I rifled through our clothes. I unzipped my dress and shoved it down over my hips, letting it fall to my ankles. Kicking it into the corner, I pulled my ponytail holder from my hair, shaking my hair out.

The closet was bursting with his clothes and mine, and I puffed, blowing my hair from my face as I searched through the mess for a t-shirt. As I pulled one off the hanger, Travis slammed into my back, wrapping his arms around my waist.

“You scared the shit outta me!” I complained.

He ran his hands over my skin. I noticed they felt different; slow and deliberate. I closed my eyes when he pulled me against him and buried his face in my hair, nuzzling my neck. Feeling his bare skin against mine, it took me a moment to protest.

“Travis…,”

He pulled my hair to one side and grazed his lips along my back from one shoulder to the other, unsnapping the clasp of my bra. He kissed the bare skin at the base of my neck and I closed my eyes, the warm softness of his mouth felt too good to make him stop. A quiet moan escaped from his throat when he pressed his pelvis against mine, and I could feel how much he wanted me through his boxers. I held my breath, knowing the only thing keeping us from that big step I was so opposed to a few moments before was two thin pieces of fabric.

Travis turned me to face him, and then pressed against me, leaning my back against the wall. Our eyes met, and I could see the ache in his expression as he scanned the bare pieces of my skin. I had seen him peruse women before, but this was different. He didn’t want to conquer me; he wanted me to say yes.

He leaned in to kiss me, stopping just an inch away. I could feel the heat from his skin radiating against my lips, and I had to stop myself from drawing him in the rest of the way. His fingers were digging into my skin as he deliberated, and then his hands slid from my back to the hem of my panties. His index fingers slid down my hips, in between my skin and the lacey fabric, and in the same moment that he was about to slip the delicate threads down my legs, he hesitated. Just when I opened my mouth to say yes, he clenched his eyes shut.

“Not like this,” he whispered, brushing his lips across mine. “I want you, but not like this.”

He stumbled backwards, falling against the bed to his back, and I stood for a moment with my arms crossed across my stomach. When his breathing evened out, I shoved my arms through the shirt I still had in my hand, and yanked it over my head. Travis didn’t move, and I blew out a slow breath of air, knowing I couldn’t restrain either of us if I crawled in bed and he woke up with a less honorable perspective.

I hurried to the recliner and collapsed into it, covering my face with my hands. I felt the layers of frustration dancing and crashing into each other inside of me. Parker had left feeling slighted, Travis waited until I was seeing someone — someone I truly liked — to show an interest in me, and I seemed to be the only girl he couldn’t bring himself to sleep with, even when he was wasted.

The next morning, I poured orange juice into a tall glass, and took a sip as I bobbed my head to the music playing from my IPod. I’d woken before the sun, and then squirmed in the recliner until eight. After that, I decided to clean up the kitchen to pass the time until my less ambitious roommates awoke. I loaded the dishwasher and swept and mopped, and then wiped the counters down. When the kitchen was sparkling, I grabbed the basket of clean clothes and sat on the couch, folding until there were a dozen or more piles surrounding me.

Murmuring came from Shepley’s room. America giggled and then it was quiet for a few minutes more, followed by noises that made me feel a bit uncomfortable sitting alone in the living room.

I stacked the piles of folded clothes in the basket and carried it to Travis’ room, smiling when I saw that he hadn’t moved from the way he had fallen the night before. I set the basket down and pulled the blanket over him, stifling a laugh when he turned over.

“View, Pigeon,” he said, mumbling something inaudible before his breathing returned to slow and deep.

I couldn’t help but watch him sleep; knowing he was dreaming about me sent a thrill through my veins that I couldn’t explain. Travis lay silent, so I to take a shower, hoping the sound of someone up and around would quiet Shepley and America’s moans and the creaking and banging of the bed against the wall. When I turned off the water, I realized they weren’t worried about who could hear.

I combed my hair, rolling my eyes at America’s high-pitched yelps, more closely resembling a poodle than a porn star. The door bell rang, and I grabbed my blue terry-cloth robe and tightened the belt, jogging across the living room floor. The noises from Shepley’s bedroom immediately cut off, and I opened the door to Parker’s smiling face.

“Good morning,” he said.

I raked my wet hair back with my fingers. “What are you doing here?”

“I didn’t like the way we said goodbye last night. I went out this morning to get your birthday present, and I couldn’t wait to give it to you. So,” he said, pulling a shiny box from his jacket pocket, “happy birthday, Abs.”

He set the silver package in my hand, and I leaned in to kiss his cheek. “Thank you.”

“Go ahead. I want to see your face when you open it.”

I slipped my finger under the tape on the underside of the box, and then pulled the paper off, handing it to him. A rope of shimmering diamonds sat snuggly in a white gold bracelet.

“Parker,” I whispered.

He beamed. “You like it?”

“I do,” I said holding it in front of my face in awe, “but it’s too much. I couldn’t accept this if we’d been dating a year, much less a week.”

Parker grimaced. “I thought you might say that. I searched high and low all morning for the perfect birthday present, and when I saw this, I knew there was only one place it could ever belong,” he said, taking it from my fingers and clasping it around my wrist. “And I was right. It looks incredible on you.”

I held up my wrist and shook my head, hypnotized by the brilliance of colors reacting to the sunlight. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. No one’s ever given me anything so…,” expensive came to mind, but I didn’t want to say that, “elaborate. I don’t know what to say.”

Parker laughed, and then kissed my cheek. “Say that you’ll wear it tomorrow.”

I grinned from ear to ear. “I’ll wear it tomorrow,” I said, looking to my wrist.

“I’m glad you like it. The look on your face was worth the seven stores I went to.”

I sighed. “You went to seven stores?” He nodded, and I took his face in my hands. “Thank you. It’s perfect,” I said, kissing him quickly.

He hugged me tight. “I have to get back. I’m having lunch with my parents, but I’ll call you later, okay?”

“Okay. Thank you!” I called after him, watching him trot down the stairs.

I hurried into the apartment, unable to take my eyes off of my wrist.

“Holy shit, Abby!” America said, grabbing my hand. “Where did you get this?”

“Parker brought it. It’s my birthday present,” I said.

America gawked at me, and then down at the bracelet. “He bought you a diamond tennis bracelet? After a week? If I didn’t know better, I’d say you have a magic crotch!”

I laughed out loud, beginning a ridiculous giggle-fest in the living room.

Shepley emerged from his bedroom, looking tired and satisfied. “What are you fruitcakes shrieking about in here?”

America held up my wrist. “Look! Her birthday present from Parker!”

Shepley squinted, and then his eyes popped open. “Whoa.”

“I know, right?” America said, nodding.

Travis stumbled around the corner, looking a bit beat up. “You guys are loud as fuck,” he groaned, buttoning his jeans.

“Sorry,” I said, pulling my hand from America’s grip. Our almost-moment crept into my mind, and I couldn’t seem to look him in the eyes.

He downed the rest of my orange juice, and then wiped his mouth. “Who in the hell let me drink that much last night?”

America sneered, “You did. You went out and bought a fifth after Abby left with Parker, and killed the whole thing by the time she got back.”

“Damn,” he said, shaking his head. “Did you have fun?” he asked, looking to me.

“Are you serious ?” I asked, showing my anger before thinking.

“What?”

America laughed. “You pulled her out of Parker’s car, seeing red when you caught them making out like high-schoolers. They fogged up the windows and everything!”

Travis’ eyes unfocused, scanning his memories of the night before. I worked to stifle my temper. If he didn’t remember pulling me from the car, he wouldn’t remember how close I came to handing my virginity to him on a silver platter.

“How pissed are you?” he asked, wincing.

“Pretty pissed.” I was angrier that my feelings had nothing to do with Parker. I tightened my robe and stomped down the hall. Travis’ footsteps were right behind me.

“Pidge,” he said, catching the door when I shut it in his face. He slowly pushed it open and stood before me, waiting to suffer my wrath.

“Do you remember anything you said to me last night?” I asked.

“No. Why? Was I mean to you?” His bloodshot eyes were heavy with worry, which only served to amplify my anger.

“No you weren’t mean to me! You…we….” I covered my eyes with my hands, and then froze when I felt Travis’ hand on my wrist.

“Where’d this come from?” he said, glaring at the bracelet.

“It’s mine,” I said, pulling away from him.

He didn’t take his eyes from my wrist. “I’ve never seen it before. It looks new.”

“It is.”

“Where’d you get it?”

“Parker gave it to me about fifteen minutes ago,” I said, watching his face morph from confusion to rage.

“What the fuck was that douchebag doing here ? Did he stay the night?” he asked, his voice rising with each question.

I crossed my arms. “He went shopping for my birthday present this morning and brought it by.”

“It’s not your birthday, yet.” His face turned a deep shade of red as he worked to keep his temper under control.

“He couldn’t wait,” I said, lifting my chin with stubborn pride.

“No wonder I had to drag your ass out of his car, sounds like you were….” he trailed off, pressing his lips together.

I narrowed my eyes. “What? Sounds like I was what ?”

His jaws tensed and he took a deep breath, blowing it out from his nose. “Nothing. I’m just pissed off, and I was going to say something shitty that I didn’t mean.”

“It’s never stopped you before.”

“I know. I’m working on it,” he said, walking to the door. “I’ll let you get dressed.”

When he reached for the knob, he paused, rubbing his arm. As soon as his fingers touched the tender splatter of purple pooling under his skin, he pulled up his elbow and noticed the bruise. He stared at it for a moment, and then turned to me.

“I fell on the stairs last night. And you helped me to bed….” he said, sifting through the blurry images in his mind.

My heart was pounding, and I swallowed hard as I watched realization strike. His eyes narrowed. “We,” he began, taking a step toward me, looking at the closet, and then to the bed.

“No we didn’t. Nothing happened,” I said, shaking my head.

He cringed, the memory obviously replaying in his mind. “You fog up Parker’s windows, I pull you out of the car, and then I try to…,” he said, shaking his head. He turned for the door and grabbed the knob, his knuckles white. “You’re turning me into a fucking psycho, Pigeon,” he growled over his shoulder. “I don’t think straight when I’m around you.”

“So it’s my fault?”

He turned. His eyes fell from my face to my robe, to my legs, and then my feet, returning to my eyes. “I don’t know. My memory is a little hazy…but I don’t recall you saying no.”

I took a step forward, ready to argue that irrelevant little fact, but I couldn’t. He was right. “What do you want me to say, Travis?”

He looked at the bracelet, and then back at me with accusing eyes. “You were hoping I wouldn’t remember?”

“No! I was pissed that you forgot!”

His brown eyes bored into mine. “Why ?”

“Because if I would have…if we would have…and you didn’t…I don’t know why! I just was!”

He stormed across the room, stopping inches from me. His hands touched each side of my face, his breathing quick as he scanned my face. “What are we doin’, Pidge?”

My eyes began at his belt, and then rose over the muscles and tattoos of his stomach and chest, finally settling on the warm brown of his irises. “You tell me.”

Contents