EPILOGUE

Travis squeezed my hand as I held my breath. I tried to keep my face smooth, but when I cringed, his grip became tighter. The white ceiling was tarnished in some places by leak stains. Other than that, the room was immaculate. No clutter, no utensils strewn about. Everything had its place, which made me feel moderately at ease about the situation. I had made the decision. I would go through with it.

“Baby…,” Travis said, frowning.

“I can do this,” I said, staring at spots in the ceiling. I jumped when fingertips touched my skin, but I tried not to tense. I could see the worry in Travis’ eyes when the buzzing began.

“Pigeon,” Travis began again, but I shook my head dismissively.

“All right. I’m ready.” I held the phone away from my ear, wincing from both the pain and the inevitable lecture.

“I’m going to kill you, Abby Abernathy!” America cried. “Kill you!”

“Technically, it’s Abby Maddox, now,” I said, smiling at my new husband.

“It’s not fair !” she whined, the anger subsiding from her tone. “I was supposed to be your maid of honor! I was supposed to go dress shopping with you and throw a bachelorette party and hold your bouquet!”

“I know,” I said, watching Travis’ smile fade as I winced again.

“You don’t have to do this, you know,” he said, his eyebrows pulling together.

I squeezed his fingers together with my free hand. “I know.”

“You said that already!” America snapped.

“I wasn’t talking to you.”

“Oh, you’re talking to me,” she fumed. “You are sooo talking to me. You are never going to hear the end of this, do you hear me? I will never, ever forgive you!”

“Yes you will.”

“You! You’re a…! You’re just plain mean , Abby! You’re a horrible best friend!”

I laughed, causing the man seated beside me to jerk. “Hold still, Mrs. Maddox.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Who was that?” America snapped.

“That was Griffin.”

“Who the hell is Griffin? Let me guess, you invited a total stranger to your wedding and not your best friend?” Her voice became shriller with each question.

“No. He didn’t go to the wedding,” I said, sucking in a breath of air.

Travis sighed and shifted nervously in his chair, squeezing my hand.

“I’m supposed to do that to you, remember?” I said, smiling up at him through the pain.

“Sorry. I don’t think I can take this,” he said, his voice thick with distress. He relaxed his hand, looking down to Griffin.

“Hurry up, would ya?”

Griffin shook his head. “Covered in tats and can’t take your girlfriend getting a simple script. I’ll be finished in a minute, Mate.”

Travis’ frown deepened. “Wife. She’s my wife.”

America gasped once the conversation processed in her mind. “You’re getting a tattoo ? What is going on with you, Abby? Did you breathe toxic fumes in that fire?”

I looked down at my stomach, to the smeared black mess just to the inside of my hip bone and smiled. “Trav has my name on his wrist,” I sucked in another breath when the buzzing continued. Griffin wiped ink from my skin and began again. I spoke through my teeth, “We’re married. I wanted something, too.”

Travis shook his head. “You didn’t have to.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Don’t start with me. We discussed this.”

America laughed once. “You’ve gone crazy. I’m admitting you to the asylum when you get home.” Her voice was still piercing and exasperated.

“It’s not that crazy. We love each other. We have been practically living together on and off all year. Why not?”

“Because you’re nineteen , you idiot! Because you ran off and didn’t tell anyone, and because I’m not there!” she cried.

“I’m sorry, Mare, I have to go. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

“I don’t know if I want to see you tomorrow! I don’t think I want to see Travis ever again!” she sneered.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Mare. You know you want to see my ring.”

“And your tat,” she said, a smile in her voice.

I clicked the phone shut, handing it to Travis. The buzzing resumed again, and my attention focused on the burning sensation followed by the sweet second of relief as he wiped the excess ink away. Travis shoved my phone in his pocket, gripping my hand with both of his, leaning down to touch his forehead to mine.

“Did you freak out this much when you got your tattoos?” I asked him, smiling at the apprehensive expression on his face.

He shifted, seeming to feel my pain a thousand times more than I. “Uh…no. This is different. This is much, much worse.”

“Done!” Griffin said with as much relief in his voice as was on Travis’ face.

I let my head fall back against the chair. “Thank God!”

“Thank God!” Travis sighed, patting my hand.

I looked down at the beautiful black lines on my red and angry skin:

 

Mrs. Maddox

 

“Wow,” I said, rising up on my elbows to get a better look.

Travis’ frown instantly turned into a triumphant smile. “It’s beautiful.”

Griffin shook his head. “If I had a dollar for every inked up new husband that brought his wife in here and took it worse than she did…well. I wouldn’t have to tat anyone ever again.”

“Just tell me how much I owe, smart ass,” Travis mumbled.

“I’ll have your bill at the counter,” Griffin said, amused with Travis’ retort.

I looked around the room at the shiny chrome and posters of sample tattoos on the wall, and then back down to my stomach. My new last name shined in thick, elegant black letters. Travis watched me with pride, and then peered down at his titanium wedding band.

“We did it, Baby,” he said in a hushed voice. “I still can’t believe you’re my wife.”

“Believe it,” I said, smiling.

He helped me from the chair and I favored my right side, conscious of every movement I made that cause my jeans to rub against my raw skin. Travis pulled out his wallet, signing the receipt quickly before leading me by the hand to the cab waiting outside. My cell phone rang again, and when I saw that it was America, I let it ring.

“She’s going to lay the guilt trip on thick, isn’t she?” Travis said with a frown.

“She’ll pout for twenty-four hours after she sees the pictures, then she’ll get over it.”

Travis shot me a mischievous grin. “Are you sure about that, Mrs. Maddox?”

“Are you ever going to stop calling me that? You’ve said it a hundred times since we left the chapel.”

He shook his head as he held the cab door open for me. “I’ll quit calling you that when it sinks in that this is real.”

“Oh, it’s real all right,” I said, sliding to the middle of the seat to make room. “I have wedding night memories to prove it.

He leaned against me, running his nose up the sensitive skin of my neck until he reached my ear. “We sure do.”

“Ow…,” I said when he pressed against my bandage.

“Oh, dammit, I’m sorry, Pidge.”

“You’re forgiven,” I smiled.

We rode to the airport hand in hand, and I giggled as I watched Travis stare at his wedding band without apology. His eyes held the peaceful expression I was becoming accustomed to.

“When we get back to the apartment, I think it will finally hit me, and I’ll quit acting like such a jackass.”

“Promise?” I smiled.

He kissed my hand and then cradled it in his lap between his palms. “No.”

I laughed, resting my head on his shoulder until the cab slowed to a stop in front of the airport. My cell phone rang again, displaying America’s name once again.

“She’s relentless. Let me talk to her,” Travis said, reaching for my phone.

“Hello?” he said, waiting out the shrill stream on the other end of the line. He smiled, “Because I’m her husband. I can answer her phone, now.” He glanced at me, and then shoved open the cab door, offering his hand. “We’re at the airport, America. Why don’t you and Shep pick us up and you can yell at us both on the way home? Yes, the whole way home. We should arrive around three. All right, Mare. See you then.” He winced with her sharp words and then handed me the phone. “You weren’t kidding. She’s pissed.”

He tipped the cabby and then threw his bag over his shoulder, pulling up the handle to my rolling luggage. His tattooed arms tensed as he pulled my bag, his free hand reaching out to take mine.

“I can’t believe you gave her the green light to let us have it for an entire hour,” I said, following him through the revolving door.

“You don’t really think I’m going to let her yell at my wife, do you?”

“You’re getting pretty comfortable with that term.”

“I guess it’s time I admit it. I knew you were going to be my wife pretty much from the second I met you. I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t been waiting for the day I could say it…so I’m going to abuse the title. You should get used to it, now.” He said this all matter-of-factly, as if he were giving a practiced speech.

I laughed, squeezing his hand. “I don’t mind.”

He peered at me from the corner of his eye. “You don’t?” I shook my head and he pulled me to his side, kissing my cheek. “Good. You’re going to get sick of it over the next few months, but just cut me some slack, okay?”

I followed him through the hallways, up escalators, and lines of security. When Travis walked through the metal detector, a loud buzzer went off. When the airport guard asked Travis to remove his ring, his face turned severe.

“I’ll hold onto it, sir,” the officer said. “It will only be for a moment.”

“I promised her I’d never take it off,” Travis said through his teeth.

The officer held out his palm, patience and amused understanding wrinkling the thin skin around his eyes.

Travis begrudgingly removed his ring, slammed it into the guard’s hand, and then sighed when he walked through the doorway, that time without setting off the alarm. I walked through without event, handing over my ring as well. Travis’ expression was still tense, but when we were allowed to pass, his shoulders relaxed.

“It’s okay, Baby. It’s back on your finger,” I said, giggling at his overreaction.

He kissed my forehead, pulling me to his side as we made our way to the terminal. When I caught the eyes of those we passed, I wondered if it was obvious that we were newlyweds, or if they simply noticed the ridiculous grin on Travis’ face, a stark contrast from his shaved head, inked arms and bulging muscles.

The airport was abuzz with excited tourists, the beeping and ringing of slot machines in the air, and people meandering in every direction. I smiled at a young couple holding hands, looking as excited and nervous as Travis and I did when we arrived. I didn’t doubt that they would leave feeling the same mixture of relief and bewilderment that we felt, accomplishing what we had come for.

In the terminal, I thumbed through a magazine, and gently touched Travis’ wildly bouncing knee. His leg froze and I smiled, keeping my eyes on the pictures of celebrities. He was nervous about something, but I waited for him to tell me, knowing he was working it out internally. After a few minutes, his knee bobbed again, but this time he stopped it on his own, and then slowly slumped down into his chair.

“Pigeon?”

“Yeah?”

A few moments passed, and then he sighed. “Nothing.”

The time passed too quickly, and it seemed we had just sat down when our flight number was called to board. A line quickly formed, and we stood up, waiting our turn to show our tickets and walk down the long hall to the airplane that would take us home.

Travis hesitated. “I can’t shake this feeling,” he said under his breath.

“What do you mean? Like a bad feeling?” I said, suddenly nervous.

He turned to me with concern in his eyes, “I have this crazy feeling that once we get home, I’m going to wake up. Like none of this was real.”

I slid my arms around his waist, running my hands up the lean muscles of his back. “Is that what you’re worried about?”

He looked down to his wrist, and then glanced to the thick silver band on his left finger. “I just can’t shake the feeling that the bubble’s going to burst, and I’m going to be lying in my bed alone, wishing you were there with me.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with you, Trav! I’ve dumped someone for you — twice — I’ve picked up and went to Vegas with you — twice — I’ve literally gone through hell and back, married you and branded myself with your name. I’m running out of ideas to prove to you that I’m yours.”

A small smile graced his lips. “I love it when you say that.”

“That I’m yours?” I asked. I leaned up on the balls of my feet, pressing my lips against his. “I. Am. Yours. Mrs. Travis Maddox, forever and always.”

His small smile faded as he looked at the boarding gate and then down to me. “I’m gonna fuck it up, Pigeon. You’re gonna get sick of my shit.”

I laughed. “I’m sick of your shit, now. I still married you.”

“I thought once we got married, that I’d feel a little more reassured about losing you. But I feel like if I get on that plane….”

“Travis? I love you. Let’s go home.”

His eyebrows pulled in. “You won’t leave me, right? Even when I’m a pain in the ass?”

“I vowed in front of God…and Elvis…that I wouldn’t, didn’t I?”

His frown lightened a bit. “This is forever?”

One corner of my mouth turned up. “Would it make you feel better if we made a wager?”

Other passengers began to walk around us, however slowly, watching and listening to our ridiculous conversation. Like all the other times, I was glaringly aware of prying eyes, but this time was different. The only thing I could think about was the peace returning to Travis’ eyes.

“What kind of husband would I be if I bet against my own marriage?”

I smiled. “The stupid kind. Didn’t you listen to your dad when he told you not to bet against me?”

He raised an eyebrow. “So you’re that sure, huh? You’d bet on it?”

I wrapped my arms around his neck and smiled against his lips. “I’d bet my first born. That’s how sure I am.”

And then the peace returned.

“You can’t be that sure,” he said, the anxiousness absent from his voice.

I raised an eyebrow, and my mouth pulled to one side. “Wanna bet?”

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