CHAPTER SEVEN. nineteen

“Abby?” Shepley said, knocking on the door. “Mare was going to run some errands, she wanted me to let you know in case you needed to go.”

Travis hadn’t taken his eyes from mine. “Pidge?”

“Yeah,” I called to Shepley. “I have some stuff I need to take care of.”

“All right, she’s ready to go when you are,” Shepley said, his footsteps disappearing down the hall.

“Pidge?”

I pulled a few things from the closet and slid past him. “Can we talk about this later? I have a lot to do today.”

“Sure,” he said with a contrived smile.

It was a relief when I reached the bathroom, hurriedly closing the door behind me. I had two weeks left in the apartment, and there was no way to put off the conversation for that long. The logical part of my brain insisted that Parker was my type: attractive, smart and interested in me. Why I bothered with Travis was something I would never understand.

Whatever the reason, it was making us both insane. I had been divided into two separate people; the docile, polite person I was with Parker, and the angry, confused, frustrated person I turned into around Travis. The entire school had witnessed Travis going from unpredictable before, to damn near volatile.

I dressed quickly, leaving Travis and Shepley to go downtown with America. She giggled about her morning sexcapade with Shepley, and I listened with dutiful nods in all the right places. It was hard to focus on the topic at hand with the diamonds of my bracelet creating tiny dots of light on the ceiling of the car, reminding me of the choice I was suddenly faced with. Travis wanted an answer, and I didn’t have one.

“Okay, Abby. What’s going on? You’ve been quiet.”

“This thing with Travis…it’s just a mess.”

“Why?” she said, her sunglasses pushing up when she wrinkled her nose.

“He asked me what we were doing.”

“What are you doing? Are you with Parker or what?”

“I like him but it’s been a week. We’re not serious or anything.”

“You have feelings for Travis, don’t you?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know how I feel about him. I just don’t see it happening, Mare. He’s too much of a bad thing.”

“Neither one of you will just come out and say it, that’s the problem. You’re both so scared of what might happen that you’re fighting it tooth and nail. I know for a fact that if you looked Travis in the eye and told him you wanted him, he would never look at another woman again.”

“You know that for a fact?”

“Yes. I have the inside track, remember?”

I paused in thought for a moment. Travis had been talking to Shepley about me, but Shepley wouldn’t encourage a relationship by telling America. He knew she would tell me, leading me to the only conclusion: America had overheard them. I wanted to ask her what was said, but thought better of it.

“That situation is a broken heart just waiting to happen,” I said, shaking my head. “I don’t think he’s capable of being faithful.”

“He wasn’t capable of carrying on a friendship with a female, either, but you two sure shocked the whole of Eastern.”

I fingered my bracelet and sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t mind how things are. We can just be friends.”

America shook her head. “Except that you’re not just friends,” she sighed. “You know what? I’m over this conversation. Let’s go get our hair and makeup done. I’ll buy you a new outfit for your birthday.”

“I think that’s exactly what I need,” I smiled.

After hours of manicures, pedicures, being brushed, waxed and powdered, I stepped into my shiny, yellow high heels and tugged on my new, grey dress.

“Now that’s the Abby I know and love!” she laughed, shaking her head at my ensemble. “You have to wear that to your party tomorrow.”

“Wasn’t that the plan all along?” I said, smirking. My cell phone buzzed in my purse, and I held it to my ear. “Hello?”

“It’s dinner time! Where the hell did you two run off to?” Travis said.

“We indulged in a little pampering. You and Shep knew how to eat before we came along. I’m sure you can manage.”

“Well, no shit. We worry about you, ya know.”

I looked at America and smiled. “We’re fine.”

“Tell him I’ll have you back in no time. I have to stop by Brazil’s to pick up some notes for Shep, and then we’ll be home.”

“Did you get that?” I asked.

“Yeah. See you then, Pidge.”

We drove to Brazil’s in silence. America turned off the ignition, staring at the apartment building ahead. Shepley asking America to drive over surprised me; we were just a block from Shepley and Travis’ apartment,

“What’s wrong, Mare?”

“Brazil just gives me the creeps. The last time I was here with Shep, he was being all flirty.”

“Well, I’ll go in with you. If he so much as winks at you, I’ll stab him in the eye with my new heels, okay?”

America smiled and hugged me. “Thanks, Abby!”

We walked to the back of the building, and America took a deep breath before knocking on the door. We waited, but no one came.

“I guess he’s not here?” I asked.

“He’s here,” she said, irritated. She banged on the wood with the side of her fist and then the door swung open.

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” the crowd inside yelled.

The ceiling was pink and black bubbles, every inch covered by helium balloons, with long, silver strings hanging down in the faces of the guests. The crowd separated, and Travis walked approached me with a broad smile, touching each side of my face and kissing my forehead.

“Happy birthday, Pigeon.”

“It’s not ‘til tomorrow,” I said. Still in shock, I tried smiling at everyone around us.

Travis shrugged. “Well, since you were tipped off, we had to make some last minute changes to surprise you. Surprised?”

“Very!” I said as Finch hugged me.

“Happy birthday, Baby!” Finch said, kissing my lips.

America nudged me with her elbow. “Good thing I got you to go run errands with me today or you would have shown up looking like ass!”

“You look great,” Travis said, scanning my dress.

Brazil hugged me, pressing his cheek to mine. “And I hope you know America’s Brazil is Creepy story was just a line to get you in here.”

I looked at America and she laughed. “It worked, didn’t it?”

Once everyone took turns hugging me and wishing me a happy birthday, I leaned into America’s ear. “Where’s Parker?”

“He’ll be here later,” she whispered. “Shepley couldn’t get him on the phone to let him know until this afternoon.”

Brazil cranked up the volume on the stereo, and everyone screamed. “Come here, Abby!” he said, walking to the kitchen. He lined up shot glasses along the counter and pulled a bottle of tequila from the bar. “Happy birthday from the football team, baby girl,” he smiled, pouring each shot glass full of Petron. “This is the way we do birthdays: You turn nineteen, you have nineteen shots. You can drink ‘em or give ‘em away, but the more you drink, the more of these you get,” he said, fanning out a handful of twenties.

“Oh my God!” I squealed.

“Drink ‘em up, Pidge!” Travis said.

I looked to Brazil, suspicious. “I get a twenty for every shot I drink?”

“That’s right, lightweight. Gauging by the size of you, I’m going to say we’ll get away with losing sixty bucks by the end of the night.”

“Think again, Brazil,” I said, grabbing the first shot glass, rolling it across my lip, tipping my head back to empty the glass and then rolling it the rest of the way, dropping it into my other hand.

“Holy shit!” Travis exclaimed.

“This is really a waste, Brazil.” I said, wiping the corners of my mouth. “You shoot Cuervo, not Petron.”

The smug smile on Brazil’s face faded, and he shook his head and shrugged. “Get after it, then. I’ve got the wallets of twelve football players that say you can’t finish ten.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Double or nothing says I can drink fifteen.”

“Whoa!” Shepley cried. “You’re not allowed to hospitalize yourself on your birthday, Abby!”

“She can do it,” America said, staring at Brazil.

“Forty bucks a shot?” Brazil said, looking unsure.

“Are you scared?” I asked.

“Hell no! I’ll give you twenty a shot, and when you make it to fifteen, I’ll double your total.”

“That’s how Kansans do birthdays,” I said, popping back another shot.

An hour and three shots later, I was in the living room dancing with Travis. The song was a rock ballad, and Travis mouthed the words to me as we danced. He dipped me at the end of the first chorus, and I let my arms fall behind me. He popped me back up, and I sighed.

“You can’t do that when I start getting into the double digit shots,” I giggled.

“Did I tell you how incredible you look tonight?”

I shook my head and hugged him, laying my head on his shoulder. He tightened his grip, and buried his face in my neck, making me forget about decisions or bracelets or my separate personalities; I was exactly where I wanted to be.

When the music changed to a faster beat, the door opened.

“Parker!” I said, running over to hug him. “You made it!”

“Sorry I’m late, Abs,” he said, pressing his lips against mine. “Happy birthday.”

“Thanks,” I said, seeing Travis stare at us from the corner of my eye.

Parker lifted my wrist. “You wore it.”

“I said I would. Wanna dance?”

He shook his head. “Uh…I don’t dance.”

“Oh. Well, you wanna witness my sixth shot of Petron?” I smiled, holding up my five twenties. “I make double if I get to fifteen.”

“That’s a bit dangerous, isn’t it?”

I leaned into his ear. “I am totally hustling them. I’ve played this game with my dad since I was sixteen.”

“Oh,” he said, frowning with disapproval. “You drank Tequila with your dad?”

I shrugged. “It was his way of bonding.”

Parker seemed unimpressed as his eyes left mine, scanning the crowd. “I can’t stay long. I’m leaving early for a hunting trip with my father.”

“It’s a good thing my party was tonight, or you wouldn’t have made it tomorrow,” I said, surprised to hear of his plans.

He smiled and took my hand. “I would have made it back in time.”

I pulled him to the counter, picked up another shot glass and killed it, slamming it on the counter upside down like I had the previous five. Brazil handed me another twenty, and I danced into the living room. Travis grabbed me, and we danced with America and Shepley.

Shepley slapped me on the butt. “One!”

America added a second swat on my backside, and then the entire party joined in, sans Parker.

At number nineteen, Travis rubbed his hands together. “My turn!”

I rubbed my sore posterior. “Be easy! My ass hurts!”

With an evil smirk, he reared his hand far above his shoulder. I closed my eyes tight. After a few moments, I peeked back. Just before his hand made contact, he stopped and gave me a gentle pat.

“Nineteen!” he exclaimed.

The guests cheered, and America started a drunken rendition of Happy Birthday . I laughed when the part came to say my name and the entire room sang “Pigeon”.

Another slow song came over the stereo, and Parker pulled me to the make-shift dance floor. It didn’t take me long to figure out why he didn’t dance.

“Sorry,” he said after stepping on my toes for the third time.

I leaned my head on his shoulder. “You’re doing just fine,” I lied.

He pressed his lips against my temple. “What are you doing Monday night?”

“Going to dinner with you?”

“Yes. In my new apartment.”

“You found one!”

He laughed and nodded. “We’ll order in, though. My cooking isn’t exactly edible.”

“I’d eat it, anyway,” I smiled up at him.

Parker glanced around the room and then led me to a hallway. He gently pressed me against the wall, kissing me with his soft lips. His hands were everywhere. At first I played along, but after his tongue infiltrated my lips, I got the distinct feeling that I was doing something wrong.

“Okay, Parker,” I said, maneuvering away.

“Everything all right?”

“I just think it’s rude of me to make out with you in a dark corner when I have guests out there.”

He smiled and kissed me again. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I just wanted to give you a memorable birthday kiss before I left.”

“You’re leaving?”

He touched my cheek. “I have to wake up in four hours, Abs.”

I pressed my lips together. “Okay. I’ll see you Monday?”

“You’ll see me tomorrow. I’ll stop by when I get back.”

He led me to the door and then kissed my cheek before he left. I noticed that Shepley, America and Travis were all staring at me.

“Daddy’s gone!” Travis yelled when the door closed. “Time to get the party started!”

Everyone cheered, and Travis pulled me to the center of the floor.

“Hang on…I’m on a schedule,” I said, leading him by the hand to the counter. I knocked back another shot, and laughed when Travis took one from the end, sucking it down. I grabbed another, and swallowed, and he did the same.

“Seven more, Abby,” Brazil said, handing me two more twenty dollar bills.

I wiped my mouth as Travis pulled me to the living room again. I danced with America, and then Shepley, but when Chris Jenks from the football team tried to dance with me, Travis pulled him back by the shirt and shook his head. Chris shrugged and turned, dancing with the first girl he saw.

The tenth shot hit hard, and I felt a little dizzy standing on Brazil’s couch with America, dancing like clumsy grade-schoolers. We giggled over nothing, waving our arms around to the beat.

I stumbled, nearly falling off the couch backward, but Travis’ hands were instantly on my hips to steady me.

“You’ve made your point,” he said. “You’ve drank more than any girl we’ve ever seen. I’m cutting you off.”

“The hell you are,” I slurred. “I have six hundred bucks waiting on me at the bottom of that shot glass, and you of all people aren’t going to tell me I can’t do something extreme for cash.”

“If you’re that hard up for money, Pidge….”

“I’m not borrowing money from you,” I sneered.

“I was gonna suggest pawning that bracelet,” he smiled.

I smacked him on the arm just as America started the countdown to midnight. When the hands of the clock superimposed on the twelve, we all celebrated.

I was nineteen.

America and Shepley kissed each side of my cheek, and Travis lifted me off the ground, twirling me around.

“Happy birthday, Pigeon,” he said with a soft expression.

I stared into his warm, brown eyes for a moment, feeling lost inside of them. The room was frozen in time as we stared at each other, so close I could feel his breath on my skin.

“Shots!” I said, stumbling to the counter.

“You look torn up, Abby. I think it’s time to call it a night,” Brazil said.

“I’m not a quitter,” I said. “I wanna see my money.”

Brazil placed a twenty under the last two glasses, and then he yelled at his teammates, “She’s gonna drink ‘em! I need fifteen!”

They all groaned and rolled their eyes, pulling out their wallets to form a stack of twenties behind the last shot glass. Travis had emptied the other four shots on the other side of my fifteen.

“I would have never believed that I could lose fifty bucks on a fifteen shot bet with a girl,” Chris complained.

“Believe it, Jenks” I said, picking up a glass in each hand.

I knocked back each of the glasses and waited for the vomit rising in my throat to settle.

“Pigeon?” Travis asked, taking a step in my direction.

I raised a finger and Brazil smiled. “She’s going to lose it,” he said.

“No she won’t,” America shook her head. “Deep breath, Abby.”

I closed my eyes and inhaled, picking up the last shot.

“Holy God, Abby! You’re going to die of alcohol poisoning!” Shepley cried.

“She’s got this,” America assured him.

I tipped my head and let the tequila flow down my throat. My teeth and lips had been numb since shot number eight, and the kick of the eighty proof had long since lost its edge. The entire party erupted into whistles and yells as Brazil handed me the stack of money.

“Thank you,” I said with pride, tucking the money away in my bra.

“You are incredibly sexy right now,” Travis said in my ear as we walked to the living room.

We danced into the morning, and the tequila running through my veins eased me into oblivion.

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