CHAPTER FOURTEEN. full house

I twirled around, scrutinizing my reflection with a skeptical eye. It was white and backless, dangerously short, and the bodice was held up by a short string of rhinestones that formed a halter around my neck.

“Wow! Travis is going to piss himself when he sees you in that!” America said.

I rolled my eyes. “How romantic.”

“You’re getting that one. Don’t try anymore on, that’s the one,” she said, clapping with excitement.

“You don’t think it’ too short? Mariah Carey shows less skin.”

America shook her head. “I insist.”

I took a turn on the bench while America tried on one dress after another, more indecisive when it came to choosing one for herself. She settled on an extremely short, tight, flesh-colored number that left one of her shoulders bare.

We rode in her Honda to the apartment to find the Charger gone and Toto alone. America pulled out her phone and dialed, smiling when Shepley answered.

“Where’d you go, Baby?” She nodded and then looked at me. “Why would I be mad? What kind of surprise?” she said, wary. She looked at me again and then walked into Shepley’s bedroom, closing the door.

I rubbed Toto’s black pointy ears while America murmured in the bedroom. When she emerged, she tried to subdue the smile on her face.

“What are they up to now?” I asked.

“They’re on their way home. I’ll let Travis tell you,” she said, grinning from ear to ear.

“Oh, God…what?” I asked.

“I just said I can’t tell you. It’s a surprise.”

I fidgeted with my hair and picked at my nails, unable to sit still while I waited for Travis to unveil his latest surprise. A birthday part, a puppy — I couldn’t imagine what could be next.

The loud engine of Shepley’s Charger announced their arrival. The boys laughed as they walked up the stairs.

“They’re in a good mood,” I said. “That’s a good sign.”

Shepley walked in first. “I just didn’t want you to think there was a reason that he got one and I didn’t.”

America stood up to greet her boyfriend, and threw her arms around him. “You’re so silly, Shep. Like I would get mad about that.”

“If I wanted an insane boyfriend, I’d date Travis,” America said, smiling as she tilted her head to kiss him.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with how I feel about you,” Shepley added.

Travis walked through the door with a square gauze bandage on his wrist. He smiled at me and then collapsed on the couch, resting his head on my lap.

I couldn’t look away from the bandage. “Okay…what did you do?”

Travis smiled and pulled me down to kiss him. I could feel the nervousness radiating from him. Outwardly he was smiling, but I had the distinct feeling he wasn’t sure how I would react to what he had done.

“I got a few things today.”

“Like what?” I asked, suspicious.

Travis laughed. “Calm down, Pidge. It’s nothing bad.”

“What happened to your wrist?” I said, pulling his hand up by his fingers.

A thunderous diesel motor pulled up outside and Travis hopped up from the couch, opening the door. “It’s about fucking time! I’ve been home for at least five minutes!” he said with a smile.

One man walked in backwards, carrying a plastic-covered grey sofa, followed by another man bringing in the rear. Shepley and Travis moved the couch — with me and Toto still on it — forward, and then the men sat the new one in its place. Travis pulled off the plastic and then lifted me in his arms, setting me on the soft cushions.

“You got a new one?” I asked, grinning from ear to ear.

“Yep, and a couple of other things, too. Thanks guys,” he said as the movers lifted the old couch and left the way they came.

“There goes a lot of memories,” I smirked.

“None that I want to hold on to.” He sat beside me and sighed, watching me for a moment before he pulled off the tape that held the gauze on his arm. “Don’t freak out.”

My mind raced with what could be under that bandage. I imagined a burn, or stitches or something equally gruesome.

He pulled the bandage back and I gasped at the simple black script tattooed across the underside of his wrist, the skin around it red and shiny from the antibiotic he had smeared on. I shook my head in disbelief as I read the word.

Pigeon

“Do you like it?” he asked.

“You had my name tattooed on your wrist?” I said the words, but it didn’t sound like my voice. My mind was stretching in every direction, and yet I managed to speak in a calm, even tone.

“Yeah,” he said, kissing my cheek as I stared in disbelief at the permanent ink in his skin.

“I tried to talk him out of it, Abby. He hasn’t done anything crazy in awhile. I think he was having withdrawals,” Shepley said, shaking his head.

“What do you think?” Travis prompted.

“I don’t know what to think,” I said.

“You should have asked her first, Trav,” America said, shaking her head and covering her mouth with her fingers.

“Asked her what? If I could get a tattoo?” he frowned, turning to me. “I love you. I want everyone to know I’m yours.”

I shifted nervously, “That’s permanent, Travis.”

“So are we,” he said, touching my cheek.

“Show her the rest,” Shepley said.

“The rest ?” I said, looking down to his other wrist.

Travis stood, pulling up his shirt. His impressive six-pack stretched and tightened with the movement. Travis turned, and on his side was another fresh tattoo spanning the length of his ribs.

“What is that ?” I asked, squinting at the vertical symbols.

“It’s Hebrew,” Travis smiled.

“What does it mean?”

“It says, ‘I belong to my beloved, and my beloved is mine.”

My eyes darted to his. “You weren’t happy with just one tattoo, you had to get two?”

“It’s something I always said I would do when I met The One. I met you…I went and got the tats.” His smile faded when he saw my expression. “You’re pissed, aren’t you?” he said, pulling his shirt down.

“I’m not mad. I’m just…it’s a little overwhelming.”

Shepley squeezed America to his side with one arm. “Get used to it now, Abby. Travis is impulsive and goes balls to the wall on everything. This’ll tide him over until he can get a ring on your finger.”

America’s eyebrows shot up, first to me, and then to Shepley. “What ? They just started dating!”

“I…think I need a drink,” I said, walking into the kitchen.

Travis chuckled, watching me rifle through the cabinets. “He was kidding, Pidge.”

“I was?” Shepley asked.

“He wasn’t talking about anytime soon,” Travis hedged. He turned to Shepley and grumbled, “Thanks a lot, asshole.”

“Maybe you’ll quit talking about it, now,” Shepley grinned.

I poured a shot of whiskey into a glass and jerked my head back, swallowing it all at once. My face compressed as the liquid burned down my throat.

Travis gently wrapped his arms around my middle from behind. “I’m not proposing, Pidge. They’re tattoos.”

“I know,” I said, nodding my head as I poured another drink.

Travis pulled the bottle from my hand and twisted the cap on, shoving it back into the cabinet. When I didn’t turn around, he pivoted my hips so that I would face him.

“Okay. I should have talked to you about it first, but I decided to buy the couch, and then one thing led to another. I got excited.”

“This is very fast for me, Travis. You’ve mentioned moving in together, you just branded yourself with my name, you’re telling me you love me…this is all very…fast.”

Travis frowned. “You’re freakin’ out. I told you not to freak out.”

“It’s hard not to! You found out about my dad and everything you felt before has suddenly been amplified!”

“Who’s your dad?” Shepley asked, clearly unhappy about being out of the loop. When I didn’t acknowledge his question, he sighed. “Who’s her dad?” he asked America. America should her head dismissively.

Travis’ expression twisted with disgust. “My feelings for you have nothing to do with your dad.”

“We’re going to this date party tomorrow. It’s supposed to be this big deal where we’re announcing our relationship or something, and now you have my name on your arm and this proverb talking about how we belong to each other! It’s freaky, okay? I’m freaked out !”

Travis grabbed my face and planted his mouth on mine, and then he lifted me off the floor, setting me on the counter. His tongue begged entrance into my mouth, and when I let him in, he moaned.

His fingers dug into my hips, pulling me closer. “You are so fucking hot when you’re mad,” he said against my lips.

“Okay,” I breathed, “I’m calm.”

He smiled, pleased that his plan of distraction had worked. “Everything’s still the same, Pidge. It’s still just you and me.”

“You two are nuts,” Shepley said, shaking his head.

America playfully smacked Shepley’s shoulder. “Abby bought something for Travis today, too.”

“America!” I scolded.

“You found a dress?” he asked, smiling.

“Yeah,” I wrapped my legs and arms around him. Tomorrow it’s going to be your turn to be freaked out.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said, pulling me off the counter. I waved to America as Travis carried me down the hall.

 

Friday after class, America and I spent the afternoon downtown, primping and indulging. We had our nails and toes done, errant hairs waxed, skin bronzed and hair highlighted. When we returned to the apartment, every surface had been covered with bouquets of roses. Reds, pinks, yellows, and whites — it looked like a floral shop.

“Oh my God!” America squealed when she walked through the door.

Shepley looked around him, standing proud. “We went to buy you two flowers, but neither of us thought just one bouquet would do it.”

I hugged Travis. “You guys are…you’re amazing. Thank you.”

He smacked my backside. “Thirty minutes until the party, Pidge.”

The boys dressed in Travis’ room while we slipped on our dresses in Shepley’s. Just as I was fastening my silver heels, someone knocked on the door.

“Time to go, ladies,” Shepley said.

America walked out, and Shepley whistled.

“Where is she?” Travis asked.

“Abby’s having some trouble with her shoe. She’ll be out in just a sec,” America explained.

“The suspense is killin’ me, Pigeon!” Travis called.

I walked out, fidgeting with my dress while Travis stood in front of me, blank-faced.

America elbowed him and he blinked. “Holy shit.”

“Are you ready to be freaked out?” America asked.

“I’m not freaked out, she looks amazing,” Travis said.

I smiled and then slowly turned around to show him the steep dip of the fabric in the back of the dress.

“Okay, now I’m freakin’ out,” he said, walking over to me and turning me around.

“You don’t like it?” I asked.

“You need a jacket.” He jogged to the rack and then hastily draped my coat over my shoulders.

“She can’t wear that all night, Trav,” America chuckled.

“You look beautiful, Abby,” Shepley said as an apology for Travis’ behavior.

Travis’ expression was pained as he spoke. “You do. You look incredible…but you can’t wear that. Your skirt is…wow, your legs are…your skirt is too short and it’s only half a dress! It doesn’t even have a back on it!”

I couldn’t help but smile. “That’s the way it’s made, Travis.”

“Do you two live to torture each other?” Shepley frowned.

“Do you have a longer dress?” Travis asked.

I looked down. “It’s actually pretty modest in the front. It’s just the back that shows off a lot of skin.”

“Pigeon,” he winced with his next words, “I don’t want you to be mad, but I can’t take you to my frat house looking like that. I’ll get in a fight the first five minutes we’re there, Baby.”

I leaned up on the balls of my feet and kissed his lips. “I have faith in you.”

“This night is gonna suck,” he groaned.

“This night is going to be fantastic,” America said, offended.

“Just think of how easy it will be to get it off later,” I said, kissing his neck.

“That’s the problem. Every other guy there will be thinking the same thing.”

“But you’re the only one that gets to find out,” I lilted. He didn’t respond, and I leaned back to assess his expression. “Do you really want me to change?”

Travis scanned my face, my dress, my legs, and then exhaled. “No matter what you wear, you’re gorgeous. I should just get used to it, now, right?” I shrugged and he shook his head. “All right, we’re already late. Let’s go.”

I huddled next to Travis for warmth as we walked from the car to the Sigma Tau house. The air was smoky, but warm. Music boomed from the basement, and Travis bobbed his head to the beat. Everyone seemed to turn at once. I wasn’t sure if they were staring because Travis was at a date party, or because he was wearing slacks, or because of my dress, but they were all staring.

America leaned over to whisper in my ear. “I’m so glad you’re here, Abby. I feel like I just walked into a Molly Ringwald movie.”

“Glad I could help,” I grumbled.

Travis and Shepley took our coats, and then led us across the room to the kitchen. Shepley took four beers out of the fridge and handed one to America, and then to me. We stood in the kitchen, listening to Travis’ frat brothers discuss his last fight. The sorority sisters accompanying them happened to be the same busty blondes that followed Travis into the cafeteria the first time we spoke.

Lexie was easy to recognize. I couldn’t forget the look on her face when Travis pushed her from his lap for insulting America. She watched me with curiosity, seeming to study my every word. I knew she was curious why Travis Maddox apparently found me irresistible, and I found myself making an effort to show her. I kept my hands on Travis, inserting clever quips at precise moments of conversation, and joked with him about his new tattoos.

“Dude, you got your girl’s name on your wrist? What in the hell possessed you to do that?” Brad said.

Travis proudly turned over his hand to reveal my name. “I’m crazy about her,” he said, looking down at me with soft eyes.

“You barely know her,” Lexie scoffed.

He didn’t take his eyes from mine. “We spend every second together. I know her.” He furrowed his brow, “I thought the tat freaked you out. Now you’re bragging about it?”

I leaned up to kiss his cheek and shrugged. “It’s growing on me.”

Shepley and America made their way downstairs and we followed, hand in hand. Furniture had been pushed along the walls for a make-shift dance floor, and just as we descended the stairs, a slow song began to play.

Travis didn’t hesitate to pull me into the middle, holding me close and pulling my hand to his chest. “I’m glad I’ve never went to one of these things before. It’s right that I’ve only brought you.”

I smiled and pressed my cheek against his chest. He held his hand against my lower back, warm and soft against my bare skin.

“Everyone’s staring at you in this dress,” he said. I looked up, expecting to see a tense expression, but he was smiling. “I guess it’s kinda cool…being with the girl everyone wants.”

I rolled my eyes. “They don’t want me. They’re curious why you want me. And anyway, I feel sorry for anyone that thinks they have a chance. I am hopelessly and completely in love with you.”

A pained look shadowed his face. “You know why I want you? I didn’t know I was lost until you found me. I didn’t know what alone was until the first night I spent without you in my bed. You’re the one thing I’ve got right. You’re what I’ve been waiting for, Pigeon.”

I reached up to take his face between my hands and he wrapped his arms around me, lifting me off the floor. I pressed my lips against his, and he kissed me with the emotion of everything he’d just said. It was in that moment that I realized why he’d gotten the tattoo, why he had chosen me, and why I was different. It wasn’t just me, and it wasn’t just him, it was what we were together that was the exception.

A faster beat vibrated the speakers, and Travis lowered me to my feet. “Still wanna dance?”

America and Shepley appeared beside us and I raised an eyebrow. “If you think you can keep up with me.”

Travis smirked. “Try me.”

I moved my hips against his and ran my hand up his shirt, unfastening his top two buttons, Travis chuckled and shook his head, and I turned around, moving against him to the beat. He grabbed my hips and I reached around, grabbing his backside. I leaned forward and his fingers dug into my skin. When I stood up, he touched his lips to my ear.

“Keep that up and we’ll be leaving early.”

I turned around and smiled, throwing my arms around his neck. He pressed himself against me and I un-tucked his shirt, slipping my hands up his back, pressing my fingers into his lean muscles, and then smiling at the noise he made when I tasted his neck.

“Jesus, Pigeon, you’re killin’ me,” he said, gripping the hem of my skirt, pulling it up just enough to graze my thighs with his fingertips.

“I guess we know what the appeal is,” Lexie sneered from behind us.

America spun, stomping toward Lexie on the warpath. Shepley grabbed her just in time.

“Say it again!” America said. “I dare you, bitch!”

Lexie cowered behind her boyfriend, shocked at America’s threat.

“Better get a muzzle on your date, Brad,” Travis warned.

Two songs later, the hair on the back of my neck was heavy and damp. Travis kissed the skin just below my ear. “C’mon, Pidge. I need a smoke.”

He led me up the stairs, and then grabbed my coat before leading me up to the second floor. We walked out onto the balcony to find Parker and his date. She was taller than I, her short, dark hair flat and pinned back with a single bobby pin. I noticed her pointy stilettos immediately, with her leg hooked around Parker’s hip. She stood with her back against the brick, and when Parker noticed us walk out, he pulled his hand from underneath her skirt.

“Abby,” he said, surprised and breathless.

“Hey, Parker,” I said, stifling a laugh.

“How, uh…how have you been?”

I smiled politely. “I’ve been great, you?”

“Uh,” he looked at his date, “Abby this is Amber. Amber…Abby.”

Abby Abby?” she asked.

Parker gave one quick, uncomfortable nod. Amber shook my hand with a disgusted look on her face, and then eyed Travis as if she had just encountered the enemy. “Nice to meet you…I guess.”

“Amber,” Parker warned.

Travis laughed once and then opened the doors for them to walk through. Parker grabbed Amber’s hand and retreated into the house.

“That was…awkward,” I said, shaking my head as I folded my arms, leaning against the railing. It was cold, and there were only a handful of couples outside.

Travis was all smiles. Not even Parker could dampen his mood. “At least he’s moved on from trying his damndest to get you back.”

“I don’t think he was trying to get me back so much as trying to keep me away from you.”

Travis wrinkled his nose. “He took one girl home for me once . Now he acts like he’s made a habit of swooping in and saving every freshman I bagged.”

I gave him a wry look from the corner of my eye. “Did I ever tell you how much I loathe that word?”

“Sorry,” he said, pulling me to his side. He lit his cigarette and took a deep breath. The smoke he blew out was thicker than usual, mixing with the winter air. He turned his hand over and took a long look at his wrist. “How weird is it that this tat isn’t just my new favorite, but it makes me feel at ease to know it’s there?”

“Pretty weird.” Travis raised an eyebrow and I laughed. “I’m kidding. I can’t say I understand it, but it’s sweet…in a Travis Maddox-sort of way.”

“If it feels this good to have this on my arm, I can’t imagine how it’s going to feel to get a ring on your finger.”

“Travis….”

“In four, or maybe five years,” he added.

I took a breath. “We need to slow down. Way, way down.”

“Don’t start this, Pidge.”

“If we keep going at this pace, I’m going to be barefoot and pregnant before I graduate. I’m not ready to move in with you, I’m not ready for a ring, and I’m certainly not ready to settle down.”

Travis gripped my shoulders and turned me to face him. “This isn’t the ‘I wanna see other people’ speech, is it? Because I’m not sharing you. No fucking way.”

“I don’t want anyone else,” I said, exasperated. He relaxed and released my shoulders, gripping the railing.

“What are you saying, then?” he asked, staring across the horizon.

“I’m saying we need to slow down. That’s all I’m saying.” He nodded, clearly unhappy. I touched his arm. “Don’t be mad.”

“It seems like we take one step forward and two steps back, Pidge. Every time I think we’re on the same page, you put up a wall. I don’t get it…most girls are hounding their boyfriends to get serious, to talk about their feelings, to take the next step….”

“I thought we established that I’m not most girls ?”

He let his head drop, frustrated. “I’m tired of guessing. Where do you see this going, Abby?”

I pressed my lips against his shirt. “When I think about my future I see you.”

Travis relaxed, pulling me close. We both watched the night clouds move across the sky. The lights of the school dotted the darkened block, and party goers folded their arms against thick coats, scurrying to the warmth of the brick and mortar of the fraternity house.

I saw the same peace in Travis’ eyes that I had witnessed only a handful of times, and it hit me that just like the other nights, his content expression was a direct result of reassurance from me.

I had experienced insecurity, those living one stroke of bad luck to the other; men who were afraid of their own shadow. It was easy to be afraid of the dark side Vegas, the side the neon and glitter never seemed to touch. But Travis Maddox wasn’t afraid to fight, or to defend someone he cared about, or to look into the humiliated and angry eyes of a scorned woman. He could walk into a room and stare down someone twice his size, believing that no one could touch him — that he was invincible to anything that tried make him fall.

He was afraid of nothing. Until he’d met me.

I was the one part of his life that was unknown, the wild card, the variable he couldn’t control. Regardless of the moments of peace I had given him, in every other moment of every other day, the turmoil he felt without me was made ten times worse in my presence. The anger that took hold of him before was only becoming harder for him to manage. Being the exception was no longer a mysterious, special thing. I had become his weakness.

Just as I was to my father.

“Abby! There you are! I’ve been looking all over for you!” America said, bursting through the door. She held up her cell phone. “I just got off the phone with my dad. Mick called them last night.”

“Mick?” My face screwed into disgust. “Why would he call them?”

America raised her eyebrows as if I should know the answer. “Your mother kept hanging up on him.”

“What did he want?” I said, feeling sick.

She pressed her lips together. “To know where you were.”

“They didn’t tell him, did they?”

America’s face fell. “He’s your father, Abby. Dad felt he had a right to know.”

“He’s going to come here,” I said, feeling my eyes burn. “He’s going to come here, Mare!”

“I know! I’m sorry!” she said, trying to hug me. I pulled away from her and covered my face with my hands.

A familiar pair of strong, protective hands rested on my shoulders. “He won’t hurt you, Pigeon,” Travis said. “I won’t let him.”

“He’ll find a way,” America said, watching me with heavy eyes. “He always does.”

“I have to get out of here.” I pulled my coat around me and pulled at the handle of the french doors. I was too upset to slow down long enough to coordinate pushing down the handle while pulling at the door at the same time. Just as frustrated tears fell down my frozen cheeks, Travis’ hand covered mine. He pressed down, helping me to push the handle, and then with his other hand, he pulled open the door. I looked at him, conscious of the ridiculous scene I was making, expecting to see a confused or disapproving look on his face, but he looked down at me only with understanding.

Travis took me under his arm and we went through the house, down the stairs and through the crowd to the front door. The three of them struggled to keep up with me as I made a bee line for the Charger.

America’s hand shot out and grabbed my coat, stopping me in my tracks. “Abby!” she whispered, pointing to a small group of people.

They were crowded around an older, disheveled man who pointed frantically to the house, holding up a picture. The couples were nodding, discussing the photo among one another.

I stormed over to the man and pulled the photo from his hands. “What in the hell are you doing here?”

The crowd dispersed, walking into the house, and Shepley and America stood on each side of me. Travis cupped my shoulders from behind.

Mick looked at my dress and clicked his tongue in disapproval. “Well, well, Cookie. You can take the girl out of Vegas….”

“Shut up. Shut Up, Mick. Just turn around,” I pointed behind him, “and go back to where ever you came from. I don’t want you here.”

“I can’t, Cookie. I need your help.”

“What else is new?” America sneered.

Mick narrowed his eyes at America and then looked to me. “You look awful pretty. You’ve grown up. I wouldn’t’ve recognized you on the street.”

I sighed, impatient with the small talk. “What do you want?”

He held up his hands and shrugged. “I seemed to have gotten myself in a pickle, kiddo. Old Dad needs some money.”

I closed my eyes. “How much?”

“I was doing good, I really was. I just had to borrow a bit to get ahead and…you know.”

“I know,” I snapped. “How much do you need?”

“Twenty-five.”

“Well shit, Mick, twenty-five hundred? If you’ll get the hell outta here…I’ll give that to you now,” Travis said, pulling out his wallet.

“He means twenty-five thousand,” I said glaring at my father.

Mick’s eyes scanned over Travis. “Who’s this clown?”

Travis’ eyebrows shot up from his wallet and I felt his weight lean into my back as he restrained himself. “I can see, now, why a smart guy like yourself has been reduced to asking your teenage daughter for an allowance.”

Before Mick could speak, I pulled out my cell phone. “Who do you owe this time, Mick?”

Mick scratched his greasy graying hair. “Well, it’s a funny story, Cookie—,”

Who ?” I shouted.

“Benny.”

My mouth fell open and I took a step back, into Travis. “Benny? You owe Benny ? What in the hell were you….” I took a breath, there was no point. “I don’t have that kind of money, Mick.”

He smiled. “Something tells me you do.”

“Well, I don’t! You’ve really done it, this time, haven’t you? I knew you wouldn’t stop until you got yourself killed!”

He shifted, the smug grin on his face had vanished. “How much ya got?”

I clenched my jaw. “Eleven thousand. I was saving for a car.”

America’s eyes darted in my direction. “Where did you get eleven thousand dollars, Abby?”

“Travis’ fights,” I said, my eyes boring into Mick’s.

Travis pulled on my shoulders to look into my eyes. “You made eleven thousand off my fights? When were you betting?”

“Adam and I had an understanding,” I said, unconcerned with Travis’ surprise.

Mick’s eyes were suddenly animated. “You can double that in a weekend, Cookie. You could get me the twenty-five by Sunday, and Benny won’t send his thugs for me.”

My throat felt dry and tight. “It’ll clean me out, Mick. I have to pay for school.”

“Oh, you can make it back in no time,” he said, waving his hand dismissively.

“When is your deadline?” I asked.

“Monday mornin’. Midnight,” he said, unapologetic.

“You don’t have to give him a fucking dime, Pigeon,” Travis said, tugging on my arm.

Mick grabbed my wrist. “It’s the least you could do! I wouldn’t be in this mess if it weren’t for you!”

America slapped his hand away and then shoved him. “Don’t you dare start that shit again, Mick! She didn’t make you borrow money from Benny!”

Mick looked at me with loathing in his eyes. “If it weren’t for her, I woulda had my own money. You took everything from me, Abby. I have nothin’!”

I thought time away from Mick would lessen the pain that came with being his daughter, but the tears flowing from my eyes said otherwise. “I’ll get your money to Benny by Sunday. But when I do, I want you to leave me the hell alone. I won’t do this again, Mick. From now on, you’re on your own, do you hear me? Stay. Away.”

He pressed his lips together and then nodded. “Have it your way, Cookie.”

I turned around and headed for the car, hearing America behind me. “Pack your bags, boys. We’re going to Vegas.”

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