CHAPTER TWENTY. last dance

Just before the sun breached the horizon, America and I quietly left the apartment behind. We didn’t speak on the way to Morgan, and I was glad for the silence. I didn’t want to talk, I didn’t want to think, I just wanted to block out the last twelve hours. My body felt heavy and sore, as if I’d been in a car accident. When we walked into my room, I saw that Kara’s bed was made.

“Can I borrow your flat iron?” America asked.

“Mare, I’m fine. Go to class.”

“You’re not fine. I don’t want to leave you alone right now.”

“That’s all I want to be at the moment.”

She opened her mouth to argue, but sighed. There would be no changing my mind. “I’m coming back to check on you after class. Get some rest.”

I nodded, locking the door behind her. The bed squeaked beneath me as I fell onto it with a huff. All along I believed that I was important to Travis; that he needed me. But in that moment, I felt like the shiny new toy Parker said I was. He wanted to prove to Parker that I was still his. His.

“I’m nobody’s ,” I said to the empty room.

As the words sunk in, I was overwhelmed with the grief I’d felt from the night before. I belonged to no one.

I’d never felt so alone in my life.

 

Finch sat a brown bottle in front of me. Neither of us felt like celebrating, but I was at least comforted by the fact that, according to America, Travis would avoid the date party at all costs. Red and pink craft paper covered empty beer cans hanging from the ceiling, and red dresses in every style walked past. The tables were covered with tiny foil hearts, and Finch rolled his eyes at the ridiculous decorations.

“Valentine’s Day at a frat house. Romantic,” he said, watching the couples walk by.

Shepley and America had been downstairs dancing from the moment we arrived, and Finch and I protested our presence by pouting in the kitchen. I drank the contents of the bottle quickly, determined to blur the memories of the last date party I’d attended.

Finch popped open another cap and handed me another, aware of my desperation to forget. “I’ll get more,” he said, returning to the fridge.

“The keg is for guests, the bottles are for Sig Tau,” a girl sneered beside me.

I looked down at the red cup in her hand. “Or maybe your boyfriend just told you that because he was counting on a cheap date.”

She narrowed her eyes and pushed away from the counter, taking her cup elsewhere.

“Who was that?” Finch asked, setting down four more bottles.

“Random sorority bitch,” I said, watching her walk away.

By the time Shepley and America rejoined us, there were six empty bottles on the table beside me. My teeth were numb, and it felt a bit easier to smile. I was more comfortable, leaning against my spot on the counter. Travis had proven to be a no-show, and I could survive the remainder of the party in peace.

“Are you guys going to dance or what?” America asked.

I looked to Finch. “Are you going to dance with me, Finch?”

“Are you going to be able to dance?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

“There’s only one way to find out,” I said, pulling him downstairs.

We bounced and shook until a thin sheen of sweat began to form under my dress. Just when I thought my lungs would burst, a slow song came over the speakers. Finch peered uncomfortably around us, glancing to the people pairing off and getting close.

“You’re going to make me dance to this, aren’t you?” he asked.

“It’s Valentine’s Day, Finch. Pretend I’m a boy.”

He laughed, pulling me into his arms. “It’s hard to do that when you’re wearing a short pink dress.”

“Whatever. Like you’ve never seen a boy in a dress.”

Finch shrugged. “True.”

I giggled, resting my head against his shoulder. The alcohol made my body feel heavy and sluggish as I tried to move to the slow tempo.

“Mind if I cut in, Finch?”

Travis stood beside us, half amused, half prepared for my reaction. The blood under my cheeks immediately burst into flames.

Finch looked at me, and then at Travis. “Sure.”

“Finch,” I hissed as he walked away. Travis pulled me against him and I tried to keep as much between space between us as possible. “I thought you weren’t coming.”

“I wasn’t, but I knew you were here. I had to come.”

I looked around the room, avoiding his eyes. Every movement he made, I was acutely aware of. The pressure changes of his fingers at the points where he touched me, his feet shuffling beside mine, his arms shifting, brushing against my dress. I felt ridiculous pretending not to notice. His eye was healing, the bruise had almost vanished, and the red blotches on his face were absent as if I had imagined them. All evidence of that horrible night had disappeared, leaving only the stinging memories.

He watched my every breath, and when the song was half-over, he sighed. “You look beautiful, Pidge.”

“Don’t.”

“Don’t what? Tell you you’re beautiful?”

“Just…don’t.”

“I didn’t mean it.”

I huffed in frustration. “Thanks.”

“No…you look beautiful. I meant that. I was talking about what I said in my room. I’m not going to lie. I enjoyed pulling you from your date with Parker….”

“It wasn’t a date, Travis. We were just eating. He won’t speak to me now, thanks to you.”

“I heard. I’m sorry.”

“No you’re not.”

“Y…You’re right,” he said, stuttering when he saw my impatient expression. “But I…that wasn’t the only reason I took you to the fight. I wanted you there with me, Pidge. You’re my good luck charm.”

“I’m not your anything,” I snapped, glaring up at him.

His eyebrows pulled in and he stopped dancing. “You’re my everything .”

I pressed my lips together, trying to keep the anger at the surface, but it was impossible to stay mad at him when he looked at me that way.

“You don’t really hate me…do you?” he asked.

I turned away from him, putting more distance in between us. “Sometimes I wish that I did. It would make everything a whole hell of a lot easier.”

A cautious smile spread across his lips in a thin, subtle line. “So what pisses you off more? What I did to make you wanna hate me? Or knowing that you can’t?”

The anger returned. I shoved past him, running up the stairs to the kitchen. My eyes were beginning to gloss over but I refused to be a sobbing mess at the date party. Finch stood beside the table and I sighed with relief when he handed me another beer.

For the next hour, I watched Travis fend off girls and suck down shots of whiskey in the living room. Each time he caught my eye, I looked away from him, determined to get through the night without a scene.

“You two look miserable,” Shepley said.

“They couldn’t look more bored if they were doing it on purpose,” America grumbled.

“Don’t forget…we didn’t want to come,” Finch reminded them.

America made her famous face that I was just as famous for giving in to. “You could pretend, Abby. For me.”

Just when I opened my mouth for a sharp retort, Finch touched my arm. “I think we’ve done our duty. You ready to go, Abby?”

I drank the remainder of my beer in a quick swig and then took Finch’s hand. As anxious as I was to leave, my legs froze when the same song that Travis and I danced to at my birthday party floated up the stairs. I grabbed Finch’s bottle and took another swig, trying to block out the memories that came with the music.

Brad leaned against the counter beside me. “Wanna dance?”

I smiled at him, shaking my head. He began to say something else, but he was interrupted.

“Dance with me.” Travis stood a few feet from me, his hand outstretched to mine.

America, Shepley and Finch were all staring at me, waiting for my answer as anxiously as Travis.

“Leave me alone, Travis,” I said, crossing my arms.

“This is our song, Pidge.”

“We don’t have a song.”

“Pigeon….”

No .”

I looked to Brad and forced a smile. “I would love to dance, Brad.”

Brad’s freckles stretched across his cheeks as he smiled, gesturing for me to lead the way to the stairs.

Travis staggered backward, the hurt plainly displayed in his eyes. “A toast!” he yelled.

I flinched, turning just in time to see him climbing onto a chair, stealing a beer from the shocked Sig Tau brother closest to him. I glanced to America, who was watching Travis with a pained expression.

“To douchebags!” he said, gesturing to Brad. “And to girls that break your heart,” he bowed his head to me. His eyes lost focus. “And to the absolute fucking horror of losing your best friend because you were stupid enough to fall in love with her.”

He tilted back the beer, finishing what was left, and then tossed it to the floor. The room was silent except for the music playing in the lower level, and everyone stared at Travis in mass confusion.

Mortified, I grabbed Brad’s hand and led him downstairs to the dance floor. A few couples followed behind us, watching me closely for tears or some other response to Travis’ tirade. I smoothed my features, refusing to give them what they wanted.

We danced a few stiff steps and Brad sighed. “That was kind of…weird.”

“Welcome to my life.”

Travis pushed his way through the couples on the dance floor, stopping beside me. It took him a moment to steady his feet. “I’m cutting in.”

“No, you’re not. Jesus!” I said, refusing to look at him.

After a few tense moments I glanced up, seeing Travis’ eyes boring into Brad’s. “If you don’t back away from my girl, I’ll rip out your fucking throat. Right here on the dance floor.”

Brad seemed conflicted, his eyes nervously darting from me to Travis. “Sorry, Abby,” he said, slowly pulling his arms away. He retreated to the stairs and I stood alone, humiliated.

“How I feel about you right now, Travis… it very closely resembles hate.”

“Dance with me,” he pleaded, swaying to keep his balance.

The song ended and I sighed with relief. “Go drink another bottle of whiskey, Trav.” I turned to dance with the only single guy on the dance floor.

The tempo was faster, and I smiled at my new, surprised dance partner, trying to ignore the fact that Travis was just a few feet behind me. Another Sig Tau brother danced behind me, grabbing my hips. I reached back, pulling him closer. It reminded me of the way Travis and Megan danced that night at the Red, and I did my best to recreate the scene I had wished on many occasions that I could forget. Two pairs of hands were on nearly every part of my body, and it was easy to ignore my more reserved side with the amount of alcohol in my system.

Suddenly, I was airborne. Travis threw me over his shoulder, at the same time shoving one of his frat brothers hard, knocking him to the floor.

“Put me down!” I said, pounding my fists into his back.

“I’m not going to let you embarrass yourself over me,” he growled, taking the stairs two at a time.

Every pair of eyes we passed watched me kick and scream as Travis carried me across the room. “You don’t think,” I said as I struggled, “this is embarrassing? Travis!”

“Shepley! Is Donnie outside?” Travis said, ducking from my flailing limbs.

“Uh…yeah?” he said.

“Put her down!” America said, taking a step toward us.

“America,” I squirmed, “don’t just stand there! Help me!”

Her mouth turned up and she laughed once. “You two look ridiculous.”

My eyebrows turned in at her words, both shocked and angry that she found any part of the situation funny.

Travis headed for the door and I glared at her. “Thanks a lot, friend!”

The cold air struck the bare parts of my skin, and I protested louder. “Put me down, dammit!”

Travis opened a car door and tossed me into the backseat, sliding in beside me. “Donnie, you’re the DD tonight?”

“Yeah,” he said, nervously watching me struggle to escape.

“I need you take us to my apartment.”

“Travis…I don’t think….”

Travis’ voice was controlled, but frightening. “Do it, Donnie, or I’ll shove my fist through the back of your head, I swear to God.”

Donnie pulled away from the curb and I lunged for the door handle. “I’m not going to your apartment!”

Travis grabbed one of my wrists and then the other. I leaned down to bite his arm. He closed his eyes, and then a low grunt escaped through his clenched jaw as my teeth sunk into his flesh.

“Do your worst, Pidge. I’m tired of your shit.”

I released his skin and jerked my arms, struggling against his grip. “My shit? Let me out of this fucking car!”

He pulled my wrists close to his face. “I love you, dammit! You’re not going anywhere until you sober up and we figure this out!”

“You’re the only one that hasn’t figured it out, Travis!” I said. He released my wrists and I crossed my arms, pouting the rest of the way to the apartment.

When the car slowed to a stop, I leaned forward. “Can you take me home, Donnie?”

Travis pulled me out of the car by the arm and then he swung me over his shoulder again, carrying me up the stairs. “Night, Donnie.”

“I’m calling your dad!” I cried.

Travis laughed out loud. “And he’d probably pat me on the shoulder and tell me that it’s about damn time!”

He struggled to unlock the door as I kicked and waved my arms, trying to get away. “Knock it off, Pidge, or we’re going to fall down the stairs!” Once he opened the door, he stomped into Shepley’s room.

“Put. Me. Down !” I screamed.

“Fine,” he said, dropping me onto Shepley’s bed. “Sleep it off. We’ll talk in the morning.”

The room was dark; the only light a rectangular beam shooting into the doorway from the hall. I fought to focus through the darkness, beer, and anger, and when he turned into the light, it illuminated his smug smile.

I pounded the mattress with my fists. “You can’t tell me what to do anymore, Travis! I don’t belong to you!”

In the second it took him to turn and face me, his expression had contorted into anger. He stomped toward me, planting his hands on the bed and leaning into my face.

“WELL I BELONG TO YOU!” The veins in his neck bulged as he shouted, and I met his glare, refusing to even flinch. He looked at my lips, panting. “I belong to you,” he whispered, his anger melting as he realized how close we were.

Before I could think of a reason not to, I grabbed his face, slamming my lips against his. Without hesitation, Travis lifted me into his arms. In a few long strides, he carried me into his bedroom, both of us crashing to the bed.

I yanked his shirt over his head, fumbling in the dark with his belt buckle. He jerked it open, ripping it off and throwing it to the floor. He lifted me from the mattress with one hand, and unzipped my dress with the other. I pulled it over my head, tossing it somewhere in the dark, and then Travis kissed me, moaning against my mouth.

With just a few quick movements, his boxers were off and he pressed his chest against mine. I grabbed his backside, but he resisted when I tried to pull him into me.

“We’re both drunk,” he said, breathing hard.

“Please.” I pressed my legs against his hips, desperate to relieve the burning between my thighs. Travis was set on us getting back together, and I had no intentions of fighting the inevitable, so I was more than ready to spend the night tangled up in his sheets.

“This isn’t right,” he said.

He was just above me, pressing his forehead against mine. I hoped that it was just half-hearted protesting, and that I could persuade him somehow that he was wrong. The way we couldn’t seem to stay away from each other was unexplainable, but I didn’t need an explanation, anymore. I didn’t even need an excuse. In that moment, I only needed him.

“I want you.”

“I need you to say it,” he said.

My insides were screaming for him, and I couldn’t stand it a second longer. “I’ll say whatever you want.”

“Then say that you belong to me. Say that you’ll take me back. I won’t do this unless we’re together.”

“We’ve never really been apart, have we?” I asked, hoping it was enough.

He shook his head, his lips sweeping across mine. “I need to hear you say it. I need to know you’re mine.”

“I’ve been yours since the second we met.”

My voice took the tone of begging. Any other time I would have been embarrassed, but I was beyond regret. I had fought my feelings, guarded them, and bottled them up. I had experienced the happiest moments of my life while at Eastern, all of them with Travis. Fighting, laughing, loving or crying, if it was with him, I was where I wanted to be.

One side of his mouth turned up as he touched my face, and then his lips touched mine in a tender kiss. When I pulled him against me, he didn’t resist. His muscles tensed, and he held his breath as he slid inside me.

“Say it again,” he said.

“I’m yours,” I breathed. Every nerve, inside and out ached for more. “I don’t ever want to be apart from you again.”

“Promise me,” he said, groaning with another thrust.

“I love you. I’ll love you forever.” The words were more of a sigh, but I met his eyes when I said them. I could see the uncertainty in his eyes vanish, and even in the dim light, his face brightened.

Finally satisfied, he sealed his mouth over mine.

 

Travis woke me with kisses. My head was heavy and fogged from the multiple drinks I’d had the night before, but the hour before I fell asleep replayed in my mind in vivid detail. Soft lips showered every inch of my hand, arm and neck, and when he reached my lips, I smiled.

“Good morning,” I said against his mouth.

He didn’t speak; his lips continued working against mine. His solid arms enveloped me, and then he buried his face in my neck.

“You’re quiet this morning,” I said, running my hands over the bare skin of his back. I let them continue down his backside, and then I hooked my leg over his hip, kissing his cheek.

He shook his head. “I just want to be like this,” he whispered.

I frowned. “Did I miss something?”

“I didn’t mean to wake you up. Why don’t you just go back to sleep?”

I leaned back against the pillow, pulling up his chin. His eyes were bloodshot, the skin around them blotchy and red.

“What in the hell is wrong with you?” I asked, alarmed.

He put one of my hands in his and kissed it, pressing his forehead against my neck. “Just go back to sleep, Pigeon. Please?”

“Did something happen? Is it America?” With the last question, I sat up. Even seeing the fear in my eyes, his expression didn’t change. He simply sighed and sat up with me, looking at my hand in his.

“No…America’s fine. They got home around four this morning. They’re still in bed. It’s early, let’s just go back to sleep.”

Feeling my heart pounding against my chest, I knew there was no chance of falling back asleep. Travis put both hands on each side of my face and kissed me. His mouth moved differently, as if he were kissing me for the last time. He lowered me to the pillow, kissed me once more, and then rested his head on my chest, wrapping both arms tightly around me.

Every possible reason for Travis’ behavior flipped through my mind like television channels. I hugged him to me, afraid to ask. “Have you slept?”

“I…couldn’t. I didn’t wanna…,” his voice trailed off.

I kissed his forehead. “Whatever it is, we’ll get through it, okay? Why don’t you get some sleep? We’ll figure it out when you wake up.”

His head popped up and he scanned my face. I saw both mistrust and hope in his eyes. “What do you mean? That we’ll get through it?”

My eyebrows pulled in, confused. I couldn’t imagine what had happened while I was sleeping that would cause him so much anguish. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m here.”

“You’re here? As in you’re staying? With me?”

I knew that my expression must have been ridiculous, but my head was spinning, from both the alcohol and Travis’ bizarre questions. “Yes. I thought we discussed this last night?”

“We did,” he nodded, encouraged.

I searched the room with my eyes, thinking. His walls were no longer bare as they were when we had first met. They were now peppered with trinkets from places that we’d spent time together, and the white paint was interrupted by black frames holding pictures of me, us, Toto, and our group of friends. A larger frame of the two of us at my birthday party replaced the sombrero that once hung by a nail above his headboard.

I narrowed my eyes at him. “You thought I was going to wake up pissed at you, didn’t you? You thought I was going to leave?”

He shrugged, making a poor attempt at the indifference that used to come so easily to him. “That is what you’re famous for.”

“Is that what you’re so upset about? You stayed up all night worrying about what would happen when I woke up?”

He shifted as if his next words would be difficult. “I didn’t mean for last night to happen like that. I was a little drunk, and I followed you around the party like some fucking stalker, and then I dragged you out of there, against your will…and then we….,” he shook his head, clearly disgusted with the memories playing in his mind.

“Had the best sex of my life?” I smiled, squeezing his hand.

Travis laughed once, the tension around his eyes slowly melting away. “So we’re okay?”

I kissed him, touching the sides of his face with tenderness. “Yes, dummy. I promised, didn’t I? I told you everything you wanted to hear, we’re back together, and you’re still not happy?”

His face compressed around his smile.

“Baby, stop. I love you,” I said, smoothing the worried lines around his eyes. “This absurd stand-off could have been over at Thanksgiving, but…,”

“Wait…what?” he interrupted, leaning back.

“I was fully prepared to give in on Thanksgiving, but you said you were done trying to make me happy, and I was too proud to tell you that I wanted you back.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? I was just trying to make it easier on you! Do you know how miserable I’ve been?”

I frowned. “You looked just fine after break.”

“That was for you! I was afraid I’d lose you if I didn’t pretend to be okay with being friends. I could have been with you this whole time? What the fuck , Pigeon?”

“I….” I couldn’t argue; he was right. I had made us both suffer, and I had no excuse. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry ? I damn near drank myself to death, I could barely get out of bed, I shattered my phone into a million pieces on New Year’s Eve to keep from calling you…and you’re sorry ?”

I bit my lip and nodded, ashamed. I had no idea what he’d been through, and hearing him say the words made a sharp pain twist inside my chest. “I’m so…so sorry.”

“You’re forgiven,” he said with a grin. “Don’t ever do it again.”

“I won’t. I promise.”

He flashed his dimple and shook his head. “I fucking love you.”

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