CHAPTER EIGHT. rumors

When my eyes finally peeled open, I saw that my pillow consisted of denim and legs. Travis sat with his back against the tub, his head leaned against the wall, passed out cold. He looked as rough as I felt. I pulled the blanket off of me and stood up, gasping at my horrifying reflection in the mirror above the sink.

I looked like death.

Mascara smeared, black tear stains down my cheek, lipstick smudged across my mouth, and my hair had balls of rats on each side.

Sheets, towels and blankets surrounded Travis. He had fashioned a soft pallet to sleep on while I expelled the fifteen shots of tequila I’d consumed the night before. Travis had held my hair out of the toilet, and sat with me all night.

I turned on the faucet, holding my hand under the water until it was the temperature I wanted. Scrubbing the mess from my face, I heard a moan from the floor. Travis stirred, rubbed his eyes and stretched, and then looked beside him, jerking in a panic.

“I’m right here,” I said. “Why don’t you go to bed? Get some sleep?”

“You okay?” he said, wiping his eyes once more.

“Yeah, I’m good. Well, good as I can be. I’ll feel better once I get a shower.”

He stood up. “You took my crazy title last night, just so you know. I don’t know where that came from, but I don’t want you to do it again.”

“It’s pretty much what I grew up around, Trav. Not a big deal.”

He took my chin in his hands and wiped the remaining smeared mascara from under my eyes with his thumbs. “It was a big deal to me.”

“Fine, I won’t do it again. Happy?”

“Yes. But, I have something to tell you, if you promise not to freak out.”

“Oh, God, what did I do?”

“Nothing, but you need to call America.”

“Where is she?”

“At Morgan. She got into it with Shep last night.”

I rushed through my shower and yanked on the clothes Travis had set on the sink. When I emerged from the bathroom, Shepley and Travis were sitting in the living room.

“What did you do to her?” I demanded.

Shepley’s face fell. “She’s really pissed at me.”

“What happened ?”

“I was mad that she encouraged you to drink so much. I thought we were going to end up taking you to the hospital. One thing led to another, and the next thing I know, we’re screaming at each other. We were both drunk, Abby. I said some things I can’t take back,” he shook his head, looking to the floor.

“Like what?” I said, angry.

“I called her a few names I’m not proud of and then told her to leave.”

“You let her leave here drunk? Are you some kind of idiot?” I said, grabbing at my purse.

“Easy, Pidge. He feels bad enough,” Travis said.

I fished my cell phone out of my purse, dialing America’s number.

“Hello?” she answered. She sounded awful.

“I just heard,” I sighed. “Are you okay?” I walke down the hall for privacy, glancing back once to shoot a dirty look at Shepley.

“I’m fine. He’s an asshole.” Her words were abrupt, but I could hear the hurt in her voice. America had mastered the art of hiding her emotions, and she could have hidden it from anyone but me.

“I’m sorry I didn’t go with you.”

“You were out of it, Abby,” she said dismissively.

“Why don’t you come get me? We can talk about it.”

She breathed into the phone. “I don’t know. I don’t really feel like seeing him.”

“I’ll tell him to stay inside, then.”

There was a long pause, and then I heard her keys clink in the background. “All right. I’ll be there in a minute.”

I walked into the living room, pulling my purse over my shoulder. They watched me open the door to wait for America, and Shepley scooted forward on the couch.

“She’s coming here?”

 

“She doesn’t want to see you, Shep. I told her you’d stay inside.”

He sighed, and fell against the cushion. “She hates me.”

“I’ll talk to her. You better get one amazing apology together, though.”

Ten minutes later, a car horn beeped twice outside, and I closed the door behind me. When I reached the bottom of the stairs, Shepley rushed past me to America’s red Honda, and hunched over to see her through the window. I stopped in my tracks, watching America snub him as she looked straight ahead. She rolled down her window, and Shepley seemed to be explaining, and then they began to argue. I went inside to give them their privacy.

“Pigeon?” Travis said, trotting down the stairs.

“It doesn’t look good.”

“Let them figure it out. Come inside,” he said, intertwining his fingers in mine to lead me up the stairs.

“Was it that bad?” I asked.

He nodded. “It was pretty bad. They’re just getting out of the honeymoon stage, though. They’ll work it out.”

“For someone that’s never had a girlfriend, you seem to know about relationships.”

“I have four brothers and a lot of friends,” he said, grinning to himself.

Shepley stomped into the apartment and slammed the door behind him. “She’s fucking impossible!”

I kissed Travis on the cheek. “That’s my cue.”

“Good luck,” Travis smiled.

I slid in beside America, and she huffed. “He’s fucking impossible!”

I giggled, but she shot a glare in my direction. “Sorry,” I said, forcing my smile to fade.

We set out for a drive and America yelled, and cried, and yelled some more. At times she broke into rants that seemed to be directed at Shepley, as if he were sitting in my place. I sat quietly, letting her work it out in a way only America can.

“He called me irresponsible! Me ! As if I don’t know you! As if I haven’t seen you rob your dad of hundreds of dollars drinking twice as much. He doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about! He doesn’t know what your life was like! He doesn’t know what I know, and he acts like I’m his child instead of his girlfriend!” I rested my hand on hers, but she pulled it away. “He thought you would be the reason we wouldn’t work out, and then he ended up doing the job on his own. And speaking of you , what the hell was that last night with Parker?”

The sudden change of topic took me by surprise. “What do you mean?”

“Travis threw you that party, Abby, and you go off and make out with Parker. And you wonder why everyone is talking about you!”

“Hold on a minute! I told Parker we shouldn’t be back there. What does it matter if Travis threw me that party or not? I’m not with him!”

America looked straight ahead, blowing a puff of air from her nose.

“All right, Mare. What is it? You’re mad at me , now?”

“I’m not mad at you. I just don’t associate with complete idiots .”

I shook my head, and then looked out the window before I said something I couldn’t take back.. America had always been able to make me feel like shit on command.

“Do you even see what’s going on?” she asked. “Travis quit fighting. He doesn’t go out without you. He hasn’t brought any girls home since the bimbo twins…has yet to murder Parker, and you’re worried about what people are saying. You know why that is, Abby? Because it’s the truth!”

I turned, slowly craning my neck in her direction, trying to give her the dirtiest look I knew how. “What the hell is wrong with you?

“You’re dating Parker, now, and you’re so happy,” she said in a mocking tone. “Then why aren’t you at Morgan?”

“Because I lost the bet, you know that!”

“Give me a break, Abby! You talk about how perfect Parker is, you go on these amazing dates with him, talk to him for hours on the phone, and then you lay next to Travis every night. Do you see what’s wrong with this situation? If you really liked Parker, your stuff would be at Morgan right now.”

I clenched my teeth. “You know I’ve never welched on a bet, Mare.”

“That’s what I thought,” she said, twisting her hands around the steering wheel. “Travis is what you want, and Parker is what you think you need.”

“I know it looks that way, but—,”

“It looks that way to everyone. So if you don’t like the way people are talking about you — change. It’s not Travis’ fault. He’s done a one-eighty for you. You’re reaping the rewards, and Parker’s getting the benefits.”

“A week ago you wanted to pack me up and never let Travis come near me again! Now you’re defending him?”

“Abigail! I’m not defending him, Stupid! I’m looking out for you ! You’re both crazy about each other! Do something about it!”

“How could you possibly think I should be with him?” I wailed. “You are supposed to be keeping me away from people like him!”

She pressed her lips together, clearly losing her patience. “You have worked so hard to separate yourself from your father. That’s the only reason you’re even considering Parker! He’s the complete opposite of Mick, and you think Travis is going to land you right back where you were. He’s not like your dad, Abby.”

“I didn’t say he was, but it’s putting me in a prime position to follow in his footsteps.”

“Travis wouldn’t do that to you. I think you underestimate just how much you mean to him. If you’d just tell him—,”

“No. We didn’t leave everything behind to have everyone here look at me the way they did in Wichita. Let’s focus on the problem at hand. Shep is waiting for you.”

“I don’t want to talk about Shep,” she said, slowing to a stop at the light.

“He’s miserable, Mare. He loves you.”

Her eyes filled with tears and her bottom lip quivered. “I don’t care.”

“Yes you do.”

“I know,” she whimpered, leaning against my shoulder.

She cried until the light changed, and then I kissed her head. “Green light.”

She sat up, wiping her nose. “I was pretty mean to him earlier. I don’t think he’ll talk to me now.”

“He’ll talk to you. He knew you were mad.”

America wiped her face, and then made a slow u-turn. I was worried it would take a lot of coaxing on my part to get her to come in with me, but Shepley ran down the stairs before she turned off the ignition.

He yanked open her car door, pulling her to her feet. “I’m so sorry, Baby. I should have minded my own business, I…please don’t leave. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

America took his face in her hands and smiled. “You’re an arrogant ass, but I still love you.”

Shepley kissed her over and over like he hadn’t seen her in months, and I smiled at a job well done. Travis stood in the doorway, grinning as I made my way into the apartment.

“And they lived happily ever after,” Travis said, shutting the door behind me.

I collapsed on the couch, and he sat next to me, pulling my legs onto his lap.

“What do you wanna do today, Pidge?”

“Sleep. Or rest…or sleep.”

“Can I give you your present, first?”

I pushed his shoulder. “Shut up. You got me a present?”

His mouth curved into a nervous smile. “It’s not a diamond bracelet, but I thought you’d like it.”

“I’ll love it, sight unseen.”

He lifted my legs off of his lap, and then disappeared into Shepley’s bedroom. I raised an eyebrow when I heard him murmuring, and then he emerged with a box. He sat it on the floor at my feet, crouching behind it.

“Hurry, I want you to be surprised,” he smiled.

Hurry ?” I asked, lifting the lid.

My mouth fell open when a pair of big, dark eyes looked up at me.

“A puppy ?” I shrieked, reaching into the box. I lifted the dark, wiry-haired baby to my face, and it covered my mouth in warm, wet kisses.

Travis beamed, triumphant. “You like him?”

“Him? I love him! You got me a puppy!”

“It’s a Cairn Terrier. I had to drive three hours to pick him up Thursday after class.”

“So when you said you were going with Shepley to take his car to the shop….”

“We went to get your present,” he nodded.

“He’s wiggly!” I laughed.

“Every girl from Kansas needs a Toto,” Travis said, helping me hang on to the tiny fuzz ball in my lap.

“He does look like Toto! That’s what I’m going to call him,” I said, wrinkling my nose at the squirmy pup.

“You can keep him here. I’ll take care of him for you when you’re back at Morgan,” his mouth pulled up into a half-smile, “and it’s my security that you’ll visit when your month is up.”

I pressed my lips together. “I would have come back, anyway, Trav.”

“I’d do anything for that smile that’s on your face right now.”

“I think you need a nap, Toto. Yes, you do,” I cooed to the puppy.

Travis nodded, pulled me onto his lap, and then stood up. “Come on, then.”

He carried me into his bedroom, pulled back the covers, and then lowered me to the mattress. Crawling over me, he reached over to pull the curtains closed, and then fell onto his pillow.

“Thanks for staying with me last night,” I said, stroking Toto’s soft fur. “You didn’t have to sleep on the bathroom floor.”

“Last night was one of the best nights of my life.”

I turned to see his expression. When I saw that he was serious, I shot him a dubious look. “Sleeping in between the toilet and the tub on a cold, hard tile floor with a vomiting idiot was one of your best nights? That’s sad, Trav.”

“No, sitting up with you when you’re sick, and you falling asleep in my lap was one of my best nights. It wasn’t comfortable, I didn’t sleep worth a shit, but I brought in your nineteenth birthday with you, and you’re actually pretty sweet when you’re drunk.”

“I’m sure between the heaving and purging I was very charming.”

He pulled me close, patting Toto who was snuggled up to my neck. “You’re the only woman I know that still looks incredible with your head in the toilet. That’s saying something.”

“Thanks, Trav. I won’t make you babysit me again.”

He leaned against his pillow. “Whatever. No one can hold your hair back like I can.”

I giggled and closed my eyes, letting myself sink into the darkness.

 

“Get up, Abby!” America yelled, shaking me.

Toto licked my cheek. “I’m up! I’m up!”

“We have class in half an hour!”

I jumped from the bed. “I’ve been asleep for…fourteen hours? What the hell?”

“Just get in the shower! If you’re not ready in ten minutes, I’m leaving your ass here!”

“I don’t have time to take a shower!” I said, changing out of the clothes I fell asleep in.

Travis propped his head on his hand and chuckled. “You girls are ridiculous. It’s not the end of the world if you’re late for one class.”

“It is if you’re America. She doesn’t miss and she hates being late,” I said, pulling a shirt over my head, and stepping into my jeans.

“Let Mare go ahead. I’ll take you.”

I hopped on one foot, and then the other, pulling my boots on. “My bag is in her car, Trav.”

“Whatever,” he shrugged, “just don’t hurt yourself getting to class.” He lifted Toto, cradling him with one arm like a tiny football, taking him down the hall.

America rushed me out the door and into the car. “I can’t believe he got you that puppy,” she said, looking behind her as she backed out from the parking spot.

Travis stood in the morning sun, in his boxers and bare feet, clutching his arms around him from the cold. He watched Toto sniff a small patch of grass, coaxing him like a proud father.

“I’ve never had a dog before,” I said. “This should be interesting.”

America glanced at Travis before shoving the Honda into gear. “Look at him,” she said, shaking her head. “Travis Maddox: Mr. Mom.”

“Toto is adorable. Even you will be putty in his paws.”

“You can’t take it back to the dorm with you, you know. I don’t think Travis thought this out.”

“Travis said he’d keep him at the apartment.”

She raised one eyebrow. “Of course he will. Travis thinks ahead, I’ll give him that,” she said, shaking her head as she slammed on the gas.

I puffed, sliding into my seat with one minute to spare. Once the adrenaline absorbed into my system, the heaviness from my post-birthday coma settled over my body. America elbowed me when class was dismissed, and I followed her to the cafeteria.

Shepley met us at the door, and I noticed right away that something was wrong.

“Mare,” Shepley said, grabbing her arm.

Travis jogged to where we stood, and grabbed his hips, puffing until he caught his breath.

“Is there a mob of angry women chasing you?” I teased.

He shook his head. “I was trying to catch you…before you…went in,” he breathed.

“What’s going on?” America asked Shepley.

“There’s a rumor,” Shepley began. “Everyone’s saying that Travis took Abby home and…the details are different, but it’s pretty bad.”

What ? Are you serious?” I cried.

America rolled her eyes. “Who cares, Abby? People have been speculating about you and Trav for weeks. It’s not the first time someone has accused you two of sleeping together.”

Travis and Shepley traded glances.

“What?” I said. “There’s something else, isn’t there?”

Shepley winced. “They’re saying you slept with Parker at Brazil’s, and then you let Travis…take you home, if you know what I mean.”

My mouth fell open. “Great! So I’m the school slut now?”

Travis’ eyes darkened and his jaws tensed. “This is my fault. If it was anyone else, they wouldn’t be saying that about you.” He walked into the cafeteria, his hands in fists at his sides.

America and Shepley followed behind him. “Let’s just hope no one is stupid enough to say anything to him,” America said.

“Or her,” Shepley added.

Travis sat a few seats across and down from me, brooding over his Reuben. I waited for him to look at me, wanting to offer a comforting smile. Travis had a reputation, but I let Parker take me into the hall.

Shepley elbowed me while I stared at his cousin. “He just feels bad. He’s probably trying to deflect the rumor.”

“You don’t have to sit down there, Trav. Come on, come sit,” I said, patting the empty surface in front of me.

“I heard you had quite a birthday, Abby,” Chris Jenks said, throwing a piece of lettuce on Travis’ plate.

“Don’t start with her, Jenks,” Travis warned, glowering.

Chris smiled, pushing up his round, pink cheeks. “I heard Parker is furious. He said he came by your apartment yesterday, and you and Travis were still in bed.”

“They were taking a nap, Chris,” America sneered.

My eyes darted to Travis. “Parker came by?”

He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “I was gonna tell you.”

When ?” I snapped.

America leaned into my ear. “Parker heard the rumor, and came by to confront you. I tried to stop him, but he walked down the hall and…totally got the wrong idea.”

I planted my elbows on the table, covering my face with my hands. “This just keeps getting better.”

“So you guys really didn’t do the deed?” Chris asked. “Damn, that sucks. Here I thought Abby was right for you after all, Trav.”

“You better stop, now, Chris,” Shepley warned.

“If you didn’t sleep with her, mind if I take a shot?” Chris said, chuckling to his teammates.

My face burned with the initial embarrassment, but then America screamed in my ear, reacting to Travis jumping from his seat. He reached over the table, grabbed Chris by the throat with one hand, and a fist full of t-shirt in the other. The linebacker slid across the table, and dozens of chairs grated across the floor as people stood to watch. Travis punching him repeatedly in the face, his elbow spiking high in the air before he landed each blow. The only thing Chris could do was to cover his face with his hands.

No one touched Travis. He was out of control, and his reputation left every one afraid to get in his way. The football players ducked and winced as they watched their teammate being assaulted without mercy on the tile floor.

“Travis!” I screamed, running around the table.

In mid-punch, Travis withheld his fist, and then released Chris’ shirt, letting him fall to the floor. He was panting when he turned to look at me; I’d never seen him look so frightening. I swallowed. and took a step back as he shouldered past me.

I took a step to follow him, but America grabbed my arm. Shepley kissed her quickly, and then followed his cousin out the door.

“Jesus,” America whispered.

We turned to watch Chris’ teammates pick him off the floor, and I cringed at his red and puffy face. Blood trickled from his nose, and Brazil handed him a napkin from the table.

“That crazy son — of- a- bitch!” Chris groaned, sitting on the chair and holding his hand to his face. He looked at me, then. “I’m sorry, Abby. I was just kidding.”

I had no words to reply. I couldn’t explain what had just happened anymore than he could.

“She didn’t sleep with either of them,” America said.

“You never know when to shut up, Jenks,” Brazil said, disgusted.

America pulled on my arm. “C’mon. Let’s go.”

She didn’t waste time tugging me to her car. When she put the gear in drive, I grabbed her wrist. “Wait! Where are we going?”

“We’re going to Shep’s. I don’t want him to be alone with Travis. Did you see him? Dude’s gone off the deep end!”

“Well, I don’t want to be around him, either!”

America stared at me in disbelief. “There’s obviously something going on with him. Don’t you want to know what it is?”

“My sense of self-preservation is outweighing my curiosity at this point, Mare.”

“The only thing that stopped him was your voice, Abby. He’ll listen to you. You need to talk to him.”

I sighed and released her wrist, falling against the back of my seat. “All right. Let’s go.”

We pulled into the parking lot, and America slowed to a stop between Shepley’s Charger and Travis’ Harley. She walked to the stairs, putting her hands on her hips with a touch of her own dramatic flare.

“C’mon, Abby!” America called, motioning for me to follow.

Hesitant, I finally followed, stopping when I saw Shepley hurry down the stairs to speak quietly in America’s ear. He looked at me, shook his head, and then whispered to her once again..

“What?” I asked.

“Shep doesn’t…,” she fidgeted, “Shep doesn’t think it’s a good idea that we go in. Travis is still pretty mad.”

“You mean he doesn’t think I should go in,” I said. America shrugged sheepishly, and then looked to Shepley.

Shepley touched my shoulder. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Abby. He just doesn’t…he doesn’t want to see you right now.”

“If I didn’t do anything wrong, then why doesn’t he want to see me?”

“I’m not sure; he won’t talk to me about it. I think he’s embarrassed that he lost his temper in front of you.”

“He lost his temper in front of the entire cafeteria! What do I have to do with it?”

“More than you think,” Shepley said, dodging my eyes.

I watched them for a moment, and then pushed past them, running up the stairs. I burst through the doors to find an empty living room. The door to Travis’ room was closed, so I knocked.

“Travis? It’s me, open up.”

“Walk away, Pidge,” he called from the other side of the door.

I peeked in to see him sitting on the edge of his bed, facing the window. Toto pawed at his back, unhappy about being ignored.

“What is going on with you, Trav?” I asked. He didn’t answer, so I stood beside him, crossing my arms. His jaw was tensed, but it was no longer the frightening expression he had in the cafeteria. He seemed sad. The deep, hopeless kind.

“You’re not going to talk to me about this?”

I waited, but he remained quiet. I turned for the door and he finally sighed. “You know the other day when Brazil mouthed off to me and you rushed to my defense? Well…that’s what happened. I just got a little carried away.”

“You were angry before Chris said anything,” I said, returning to sit beside him on the bed.

He continued to stare out the window. “I meant what I said before. You need to walk away, Pidge. God knows I can’t walk away from you.”

I touched his arm. “You don’t want me to leave.”

Travis’ jaws tensed again, and then he took me under his arm. He paused for a moment, and then kissed my forehead, pressing his cheek against my temple. “It doesn’t matter how hard I try. You’re going to hate me when it’s all said and done.”

I wrapped my arms around him. “We have to be friends. I won’t take no for an answer,” I quoted.

His eyebrows pulled in, and then he cradled me to him with both arms, still staring out the window. “I watch you sleeping a lot. You always look so peaceful. I don’t have that kind of quiet. I have all this anger and rage boiling inside of me — except when I watch you sleep.

“That’s what I was doing when Parker walked in,” he continued. “I was awake, and he walked in, and just stood there with this shocked look on his face. I knew what he thought, but I didn’t set him straight. I didn’t explain because I wanted him to think something happened. Now the whole school thinks you were with us both in the same night.”

Toto nuzzled his way onto my lap, and I rubbed his ears. Travis reached over to pet him once, and then rested his hand on mine. “I’m sorry.”

I shrugged. “If he believes the gossip, it’s his own fault.”

“It’s hard to think anything else when he sees us in bed together.”

“He knows I’m staying with you. I was fully clothed for Christ’s sake.”

Travis sighed. “He was probably too pissed to notice. I know you like him, Pidge. I should have explained. I owe you that much.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“You’re not mad?” he asked, surprised.

“Is that what you’re so upset about? You thought I’d be mad at you when you told me the truth?”

“You should be. If someone single-handedly sunk my reputation, I’d be a little pissed.”

“You don’t care about reputations. What happened to the Travis that doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks?” I teased, nudging him.

“That was before I saw the look on your face when you heard what everyone’s saying. I don’t want you to get hurt because of me.”

“You would never do anything to hurt me.”

“I’d rather cut off my arm,” he sighed.

He relaxed his cheek against my hair. I didn’t have a reply, and Travis seemed to have said everything he needed to, so we sat in silence. Once in awhile, Travis would squeeze me tighter to his side. I gripped his shirt, not knowing how else to make him feel better other than to just let him hold me.

When the sun began to set, I heard a faint knock at the door. “Abby?” America’s voice sounded small on the other side of the wood.

“Come in, Mare,” Travis answered.

America walked in with Shepley, and she smiled at the site of us tangled in each other’s arms. “We were going to grab a bite to eat. You two feel like making a Pei Wei run?”

Agh …Asian again , Mare? Really?” Travis asked.

I smiled. He sounded like himself again.

America noticed as well. “Yes, really. You guys coming or not?”

“I’m starving,” I said.

“Of course you are, you didn’t get to eat lunch,” he said, frowning. He stood up, bringing me with him. “Come on. Let’s get you some food.”

He kept his arm around me, and didn’t let go until we were in the booth of Pei Wei.

As soon as Travis left for the bathroom, America leaned in. “So? What did he say?”

“Nothing,” I shrugged.

She raised an eyebrow. “You were in his room for two hours. He didn’t say anything?”

“He usually doesn’t when he’s that mad,” Shepley said.

“He had to have said something,” America prodded.

“He said he got a little carried away taking up for me, and that he didn’t tell Parker the truth when he walked in. That’s it,” I said, straightening the salt and pepper.

Shepley shook his head, closing his eyes.

“What, Baby?” America asked, sitting taller.

“Travis is,” he sighed, rolling his eyes. “Forget it.”

America wore a stubborn expression. “Oh, hell no, you can’t just—,”

She cut off when Travis sat down and swung his arm behind me. “Damn it! The food’s not here yet?”

We laughed and joked until the restaurant closed, and then filed into the car for the ride home. Shepley carried America up the stairs on his back, but Travis stayed behind, tugging on my arm to keep me from following. He looked up at our friends until they disappeared behind the door, and then offered a regretful smile. “I owe you an apology for today, so I’m sorry.”

“You’ve already apologized. It’s fine.”

“No, I apologized for Parker. I don’t want you thinking I’m some psycho that goes around attacking people over the tiniest thing,” he said, “but I owe you an apology because I didn’t defend you for the right reason.”

“And that would be….” I prompted.

“I lunged at him because he said he wanted to be next in line, not because he was teasing you.”

“Insinuating there is a line is plenty reason for you to defend me, Trav.”

“That’s my point. I was pissed because I took that as him wanting to sleep with you.”

After processing what Travis meant, I grabbed the sides of his shirt and pressed my forehead against his chest. “You know what? I don’t care,” I said, looking up at him. “I don’t care what people are saying, or that you lost your temper, or why you messed up Chris’ face. The last thing I want is a bad reputation, but I’m tired of explaining our friendship to everyone. To hell with ‘em.”

Travis’ eyes turned soft, and the corners of his mouth turned up. “Our friendship ? Sometimes I wonder if you listen to me at all.”

“What do you mean?”

“Let’s go in. I’m tired.”

I nodded, and he held me against his side until we were inside the apartment. America and Shepley had already shut themselves in their bedroom, and I slipped in and out of the shower. Travis sat with Toto outside while I dressed in my pajamas, and within half an hour, we were both in bed.

I rested my head on my arm, breathing out a long, relaxing puff of air. “Just two weeks left. What are you going to do for drama when I move back to Morgan?”

“I don’t know,” he said. I could see his tormented frown, even in the darkness.

“Hey,” I touched his arm. “I was kidding.”

I watched him for a long time, breathing, blinking, and trying to relax. He fidgeted a bit and then looked over at me. “Do you trust me, Pidge?”

“Yeah, why?”

“C’mere,” he said, pulling me against him. I stiffened for a second or two before resting my head on his chest. Whatever was going on with him, he needed me near him, and I couldn’t have objected even if I’d wanted to. It felt right lying next to him.

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