His smile widened. “You can get the damn dog . . .”
I grinned. Yes! Victory!
“. . . if you admit you have feelings for Abby.”
I frowned. Fuck! Defeat! “C’mon, man!”
“Admit it,” Shepley said, crossing his arms. What a tool. He was actually going to make me say it.
I looked to the floor and everywhere else except Shepley’s smug ass smile. I fought it for a while, but the puppy was fucking brilliant. Abby would flip out (in a good way for once), and I could keep it at the apartment. She’d want to be there every day.
“I like her,” I said through my teeth.
Shepley held his hand to his ear. “What? I couldn’t quite hear you.”
“You’re an asshole! Did you hear that?”
Shepley crossed his arms. “Say it.”
“I like her, okay?”
“Not good enough.”
“I have feelings for her. I care about her. A lot. I can’t stand it when she’s not around. Happy?”
“For now,” he said, grabbing his backpack off the floor. He slung one strap over his shoulder, and then picked up his cell phone and keys. “See you at lunch, pussy.”
“Eat shit,” I grumbled.
Shepley was always the idiot in love acting like a fool. He was never going to let me live this down.
It only took a couple of minutes to get dressed, but all that talking had me running late. I slipped on my leather jacket and put my ball cap on backward. My only class that day was Chem II, so bringing my bag wasn’t necessary. Someone in class would let me borrow a pencil if we had a quiz.
Sunglasses. Keys. Phone. Wallet. I slipped on my boots and slammed the door behind me, trotting down the stairs. Riding the Harley wasn’t nearly as appealing without Abby on the back. Dammit, she was ruining everything.
On campus, I walked a little faster than usual to make it to class on time. With just a second to spare, I slipped into the desk. Dr. Webber rolled her eyes, unimpressed with my timing, and probably a little irritated with my lack of materials. I winked, and the slightest smile touched her lips. She shook her head, and then returned her attention to the papers on her desk.
A pencil wasn’t necessary, and once we were dismissed, I took off toward the cafeteria.
Shepley was waiting for the girls in the middle of the greens. I grabbed his ball cap, and before he could take it back, I tossed it like a Frisbee across the lawn.
“Nice, dick,” he said, walking the few feet to pick it up.
“Mad Dog,” someone called behind me. I knew from the scruffy, deep voice who it was.
Adam approached Shepley and me, his expression all business. “I’m trying to set up a fight. Be ready for a phone call.”
“We always are,” Shepley said. He was sort of my business manager. He took care of getting the word out, and he made sure I was in the right place at the right time.
Adam nodded once, and then left for his next destination, whatever that was. I had never been in a class with the guy. I wasn’t even sure if he really went to school here. As long as he paid me, I guess I didn’t really care.
Shepley watched Adam walk away, and then cleared his throat. “So did you hear?”
“They fixed the boilers at Morgan.”
“America and Abby will probably pack up tonight. We’re going to be busy helping them move all their shit back to the dorms.”
My face fell. The thought of packing Abby up and taking her back to Morgan felt like a punch in the face. Especially after the night before, she’d probably be happy to leave. She might not even speak to me again. My mind flashed through a million scenarios, but I couldn’t think of anything to get her to stay.
“You okay, man?” Shepley asked.
The girls appeared, giggly and smiling. I tried a smile, but Abby was too busy being embarrassed by whatever America was laughing about.
“Hey, baby,” America said, kissing Shepley on the mouth.
“What’s so funny?” Shepley asked.
“Oh, a guy in class was staring at Abby all hour. It was adorable.”
“As long as he was staring at Abby.” Shepley winked.
“Who was it?” I asked before thinking.
Abby shifted her weight, readjusting her backpack. It was overflowing with books, the zipper barely containing the contents. It must have been heavy. I slipped it off her shoulder.
“Mare’s imagining things,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“Abby! You big fat liar! It was Parker Hayes, and he was being so obvious. The guy was practically drooling.”
My face twisted. “Parker Hayes?”
Shepley pulled on America’s hand. “We’re headed to lunch. Will you be enjoying the fine cafeteria cuisine this afternoon?”
America kissed him again in answer, and Abby followed behind, prompting me to do the same. We walked together in silence. She was going to find out about the boilers, they would move back to Morgan, and Parker would ask her out.
Parker Hayes was a cream puff, but I could see Abby being interested in him. His parents were stupid rich, he was going to med school, and on the surface he was a nice guy. She was going to end up with him. The rest of her life with him played out in my head, and it was all I could do to calm down. The mental image of tackling my temper and shoving it into a box helped.
Abby placed her tray between America and Finch. An empty chair a few seats down was a better choice for me than attempting to carry on a conversation like I hadn’t just lost her. This was going to suck, and I didn’t know what to do. So much time had been wasted playing games. Abby didn’t have a chance to even get to know me. Hell, even if she had, she was probably better off with someone like Parker.
“Are you okay, Trav?” Abby asked.
“Me? Fine, why?” I asked, trying to get rid of the heavy feeling that settled in every muscle of my face.
“You’ve just been quiet.”
Several members of the football team approached the table and sat down, laughing loudly. Just the sounds of their voices made me want to punch a wall.
Chris Jenks tossed a French fry onto my plate. “What’s up, Trav? I heard you bagged Tina Martin. She’s been raking your name through the mud today.”
“Shut up, Jenks,” I said, keeping my eyes on my food. If I looked up at his ridiculous fucking face, I might have knocked him out of his chair.
Abby leaned forward. “Knock it off, Chris.”
I looked up at Abby, and for a reason I couldn’t explain, became instantly angry. What the fuck was she defending me for? The second she found out about Morgan, she was going to leave me. She’d never talk to me again. Even though it was crazy, I felt betrayed. “I can take care of myself, Abby.”
“I’m sorry, I . . .”
“I don’t want you to be sorry. I don’t want you to be anything,” I snapped. Her expression was the final straw. Of course she didn’t want to be around me. I was an infantile asshole that had the emotional control of a three-year-old. I shoved away from the table and pushed through the door, not stopping until I was sitting on my bike.
The rubber grips on the handlebars whined under my palms as I twisted my hands back and forth. The engine snarled, and I kicked back the kickstand before taking off like a bat out of hell into the street.
I rode around for an hour, feeling no better than before. The streets were leading to one place, though, and even though it took me that long to give in and just go, I finally pulled into my father’s driveway.
Dad walked out of the front door and stood on the porch, giving a short wave.
I took both of the porch stairs at once and stopped just short of where he stood. He didn’t hesitate to pull me against his soft, rounded side, before escorting me inside.
“I was just thinking it was about time for a visit,” he said with a tired smile. His eyelids hung over his lashes a bit, and the skin beneath his eyes was puffy, matching the rest of his round face.
Dad checked out for a few years after Mom died. Thomas took on a lot more responsibilities than a kid his age should have, but we made do, and finally Dad snapped out of it. He never talked about it, but he never missed a chance to make it up to us.
Even though he was sad and angry for most of my formative years, I wouldn’t consider him a bad father, he was just lost without his wife. I knew how he felt, now. I felt maybe a fraction for Pidge what Dad felt for Mom, and the thought of being without her made me feel sick.
He sat on the couch and gestured to the worn-out recliner. “Well? Have a seat, would ya?”
I sat, fidgeting while trying to figure out what I would say.
He watched me for a while before taking a breath. “Something wrong, son?”
“There’s a girl, Dad.”
He smiled a bit. “A girl.”
“She kinda hates me, and I kinda . . .”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. I mean . . . how do you know?”
His smile grew wider. “When you’re talking about her with your old dad because you don’t know what else to do.”
I sighed. “I just met her. Well, a month ago. I don’t think it’s love.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” he said without judgment.
“I just . . . I don’t think I’m good for her.”
Dad leaned forward, then touched a couple of fingers to his lips.
I continued. “I think she’s been burned by someone before. By someone like me.”
“Yeah.” I nodded and sighed. The last thing I wanted was to admit to Dad what I’d been up to.
The front door slammed against the wall. “Look who decided to come home,” Trenton said with a wide grin. He hugged two brown paper sacks to his chest.
“Hey, Trent,” I said, standing. I followed him into the kitchen and helped him put Dad’s groceries away.
We took turns elbowing and shoving each other. Trenton had always been the hardest on me as far as kicking my ass when we disagreed, but I was also closer to him than I was to my other brothers.
“Missed you at the Red the other night. Cami says hi.”
“I was busy.”
“With that girl Cami saw you with the other night?”
“Yeah,” I said. I pulled out an empty ketchup bottle and some molding fruit from the fridge and tossed them in the garbage before we returned to the front room.
Trenton bounced a few times when he fell into the couch, slapping his knees. “What’ve you been up to, loser?”
“Nothin’,” I said, glancing at Dad.
Trenton looked to our father, and then back at me. “Did I interrupt?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head.
Dad waved him away. “No, son. How was work?”
“It sucked. I left the rent check on your dresser this morning. Did you see it?”
Dad nodded with a small smile.
Trenton nodded once. “You stayin’ for dinner, Trav?”
“Nah,” I said, standing. “I think I’m just going to head home.”
“I wish you’d stay, son.”
My mouth pulled to the side. “I can’t. But, thanks, Dad. I appreciate it.”
“You appreciate what?” Trenton asked. His head pivoted from side to side like he was watching a tennis match. “What’d I miss?”
I looked at my father. “She’s a pigeon. Definitely a pigeon.”
“Oh?” Dad said, his eyes brightening a bit.
“The same girl?”
“Yeah, but I was kind of a dick to her earlier. She kind of makes me feel crazy-er.”
Trenton’s smile started small, and then slowly stretched the entire width of his face. “Little brother!”
“Quit.” I frowned.
Dad smacked Trent on the back of the head.
“What?” Trenton cried. “What’d I say?”
Dad followed me out the front door and patted me on the shoulder. “You’ll figure it out. I have no doubt. She must be something, though. I don’t think I’ve seen you like this.”
“Thanks, Dad.” I leaned in, wrapping my arms around his large frame as best I could, and then headed for the Harley.
The ride back to the apartment felt like it took forever. Just a hint of warm summer air remained, uncharacteristic for the time of year, but welcome. The night sky draped darkness all around me, making the dread even worse. I saw America’s car parked in her usual spot and was immediately nervous. Each step felt like a foot closer to death row.
Before reaching the door, it flew open, and America stood with a blank look on her face.
“Is she here?”
America nodded. “She’s asleep in your room,” she said softly.
I slipped past her and sat on the couch. Shepley was on the love seat, and America plopped down beside me.
“She’s okay,” America said. Her voice was sweet and reassuring.
“I shouldn’t have talked to her like that,” I said. “One minute I’m pushing her as far as I can to piss her off, and the next I’m terrified she’ll wise up and cut me out of her life.”
“Give her some credit. She knows exactly what you’re doing. You’re not her first rodeo.”
“Exactly. She deserves better. I know that, and at the same time I can’t walk away. I don’t know why,” I said with a sigh, rubbing my temples. “It doesn’t make sense. Nothing about this makes sense.”
“Abby gets it, Trav. Don’t beat yourself up,” Shepley said.
America nudged my arm with her elbow. “You’re already going to the date party. What’s the harm in asking her out?”
“I don’t want to date her; I just want to be around her. She’s . . . different.” It was a lie. America knew it, and I knew it. The truth was, if I really cared about her, I’d leave her the hell alone.