I winked at Abby. “Stay put. I’ll be right back.” I followed Adam into the next room. “I know what you’re gonna say . . .”
“No you don’t,” Adam growled. “I don’t know what you’re doin’ with her, but don’t fuck with my money.”
I laughed once. “You made bank tonight. I’ll make it up to you.”
“You’re goddamn straight you will! Don’t let it happen again!” Adam slammed cash into my hand, and then shouldered past me.
I shoved the wad of cash into my pocket, and smiled at Abby. “You’re going to need more clothes.”
“You’re really going to make me stay with you for a month?”
“Would you have made me go without sex for a month?”
She laughed. “We better stop at Morgan.”
Any attempt at covering my extreme satisfaction was an epic fail. “This should be interesting.”
As Adam passed he handed Abby some cash before disappearing into the waning crowd.
“You put in?” I asked, surprised.
“I thought I should get the full experience,” she said with a shrug.
I took her by the hand and led her to the window, and then jumped once, pulling myself up. I crawled on the grass, and then turned around, leaning down to pull up Abby.
The walk to Morgan seemed perfect. It was unseasonably warm, and the air had the same electric feel as a summer night. I was trying not to smile the entire time like an idiot, but it was hard not to.
“Why on earth would you want me to stay with you, anyway?” she asked.
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Everything’s better when you’re around.”
Shepley and America waited in the Charger for us to show up with Abby’s extra things. Once they took off, we walked to the parking lot and straddled the bike. She wrapped her arms around my chest, and I rested my hand on hers.
I took a breath. “I’m glad you were there tonight, Pidge. I’ve never had so much fun at a fight in my life.” The time it took her to respond felt like an eternity.
She perched her chin on my shoulder. “That was because you were trying to win our bet.”
I turned to face her, looking straight in her eyes. “Damn right I was.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “Is that why you were in such a bad mood today? Because you knew they’d fixed the boilers, and I would be leaving tonight?”
I got lost in her eyes for moment, and then decided that it was a good time to shut up. I ripped the engine and drove home, slower than I had driven . . . ever. When a stoplight caught us, I found a strange amount of joy in putting my hands on hers, or resting my hand on her knee. She didn’t seem to mind, and admittedly, I was pretty fucking close to heaven.
We pulled up to the apartment, and Abby dismounted the bike like an old pro, and then walked to the steps.
“I always hate it when they’ve been home for a while. I feel like we’re going to interrupt them.”
“Get used to it. This is your place for the next four weeks,” I said, turning around. “Get on.”
“C’mon, I’ll carry you up.”
She giggled and hopped onto my back. I gripped her thighs as I ran up the stairs. America opened the door before we made it to the top and smiled.
“Look at you two. If I didn’t know better . . .”
“Knock it off, Mare,” Shepley said from the couch.
Great. Shepley was in one of his moods.
America smiled as if she’d said too much, and then opened the door wide so we could both fit through. I kept hold of Pidge, and then fell against the recliner. She squealed when I leaned back, playfully pushing my weight against her.
“You’re awfully cheerful this evening, Trav. What gives?” America prompted.
“I just won a shitload of money, Mare. Twice as much as I thought I would. What’s not to be happy about?”
America grinned. “No, it’s something else,” she said, watching my hand as I patted Abby’s thigh.
“Mare,” Shepley warned.
“Fine. I’ll talk about something else. Didn’t Parker invite you to the Sig Tau party this weekend, Abby?”
The lightness I was feeling immediately went away, and I turned to Abby.
“Er . . . yeah? Aren’t we all going?”
“I’ll be there,” Shepley said, distracted by the television.
“And that means I’m going,” America said, looking expectantly at me. She was baiting me, hoping I would volunteer to come along, but I was more concerned with Parker asking Abby out on a fucking date.
“Is he picking you up or something?” I asked.
“No, he just told me about the party.”
America’s mouth spread into a mischievous grin, almost bobbing in anticipation. “He said he’d see you there, though. He’s really cute.”
I shot America an irritated glance, and then looked to Abby. “Are you going?”
“I told him I would.” She shrugged. “Are you going?”
“Yeah,” I said without hesitation. It wasn’t a date party, after all, just a weekend kegger. Those I didn’t mind. And no fucking way was I going to let Parker have an entire night with her. She’d come back . . . ugh, I didn’t even wanna think about it. He’d flash his Abercrombie smile, or take her to his parents’ restaurant to parade his money, or find some other way to sleaze into her pants.
Shepley looked at me. “You said last week you weren’t.”
“I changed my mind, Shep. What’s the problem?”
“Nothing,” he grumbled, retreating to his bedroom.
America frowned. “You know what the problem is,” she said. “Why don’t you quit driving him crazy and just get it over with.” She joined Shepley in his room, and their voices were reduced to murmuring behind the closed door.
“Well, I’m glad everyone else knows,” Abby said.
Abby wasn’t the only one confused by Shepley’s behavior. Earlier he was teasing me about her, and now he was being a little bitch. What could have happened between then and now that had him freaked out? Maybe he would feel better once he figured out that I’d finally decided I was done with the other girls and just wanted Abby. Maybe the fact that I had actually admitted to caring about her made Shepley worry even more. I wasn’t exactly boyfriend material. Yep. That made more sense.
I stood. “I’m going to take a quick shower.”
“Is there something going on with them?” Abby asked.
“No, he’s just paranoid.”
“It’s because of us,” she guessed.
A weird floating feeling came over me. She said us.
“What?” she asked, eyeing me suspiciously.
“You’re right. It’s because of us. Don’t fall asleep, okay? I wanna talk to you about something.”
It took less than five minutes for me to wash up, but I stood under the stream of water for at least five more, planning what to say to Abby. Wasting more time wasn’t an option. She was here for the next month, and that was the perfect time to prove to her that I wasn’t who she thought I was. For her, at least, I was different, and we could spend the next four weeks dispelling any suspicions she might have.
I stepped out of the shower and dried off, excited and nervous as hell about what possibilities could spawn from the conversation we were about to have. Just before opening the door, I could hear a scuffle in the hall.
America said something, her voice desperate. I cracked open the door and listened.
“You promised, Abby. When I told you to spare judgment, I didn’t mean for you two to get involved! I thought you were just friends!”
“We are,” Abby said.
“No, you’re not!” Shepley fumed.
America spoke, “Baby, I told you it will be fine.”
“Why are you pushing this, Mare? I told you what’s going to happen!”
“And I told you it won’t! Don’t you trust me?”
Shepley stomped into his room.
After a few seconds of silence, America spoke again. “I just can’t get it into his head that whether you and Travis work out or not, it won’t affect us. But he’s been burned too many times. He doesn’t believe me.”
Dammit, Shepley. Not the ideal segue. I opened the door a bit more, just enough to see Abby’s face.
“What are you talking about, Mare? Travis and I aren’t together. We are just friends. You heard him earlier . . . he’s not interested in me that way.”
Fuck. This was getting worse by the minute.
“You heard that?” America asked, surprise evident in her voice.
“And you believe it?”
Abby shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. It’ll never happen. He told me he doesn’t see me like that, anyway. Besides, he’s a total commitment-phobe, I’d be hard-pressed to find a girlfriend outside of you that he hasn’t slept with, and I can’t keep up with his mood swings. I can’t believe Shep thinks otherwise.”
Every bit of hope I’d had slipped away with her words. The disappointment was crushing. For a few seconds, the pain was unmanageable, until I let the anger take over. Anger was always easier to control.
“Because not only does he know Travis . . . he’s talked to Travis, Abby.”
“What do you mean?”
“Mare?” Shepley called from the bedroom.
America sighed. “You’re my best friend. I think I know you better than you know yourself sometimes. I see you two together, and the only difference between me and Shep and you and Travis is that we’re having sex. Other than that? No difference.”
“There is a huge, huge difference. Is Shep bringing home different girls every night? Are you going to the party tomorrow to hang out with a guy with definite dating potential? You know I can’t get involved with Travis, Mare. I don’t even know why we’re discussing it.”
“I’m not seeing things, Abby. You have spent almost every moment with him for the last month. Admit it, you have feelings for him.”
I couldn’t listen to another word. “Let it go, Mare,” I said.
Both girls jumped at the sound of my voice. Abby’s eyes met mine. She didn’t seem embarrassed or sorry at all, which only pissed me off more. I’d stuck my neck out, and she slit my throat.
Before I said something shitty, I retreated to my room. Sitting didn’t help. Neither did standing, pacing, or push-ups. The walls closed in on me more every second. Rage boiled inside of me like an unstable chemical, ready to blow.
Getting out of the apartment was my only option, to clear my head, and try to relax with a few shots. The Red. I could go to the Red. Cami was working the bar. She could tell me what to do. She always knew how to talk me down. Trenton liked her for the same reason. She was the oldest sister of three boys, and didn’t flinch when it came to our anger issues.
I slipped on a T-shirt and jeans, and then grabbed sunglasses, my bike keys, and riding jacket, and then shoved my feet inside my boots before heading back down the hall.
Abby’s eyes widened when she saw me round the corner. Thank God I had on my shades. I didn’t want her to see the hurt in my eyes.
“You’re leaving?” she asked, sitting up. “Where are you going?”
I refused to acknowledge the pleading in her voice. “Out.”
IT DIDN’T TAKE CAMI LONG TO FIGURE OUT I WASN’T good company. She kept the beers coming as I sat in my usual stool at the bar of The Red. Colors from the lights above chased one another around the room, and the music was almost loud enough to drown out my thoughts.
My pack of Marlboro Reds was nearly gone, but that wasn’t the reason for the heavy feeling in my chest. A few girls had come and gone, trying to strike up conversation, but I couldn’t lift my line of sight from the half-burnt cigarette nestled between two of my fingers. The ash was so long it was just a matter of time until it fell away, so I just watched the remaining embers flicker against the paper, trying to keep my mind off of what sinking feelings the music couldn’t muffle.
When the crowd at the bar thinned, and Cami wasn’t moving a thousand miles per hour, she sat an empty shot glass in front of me, and then filled it to the brim with Jim Beam. I grabbed for it, but she covered my black leather wristband with her tattooed fingers that spelled baby doll when she held her fists together.
“Okay, Trav. Let’s hear it.”
“Hear what?” I asked, making a feeble attempt to pull away.
She shook her head. “The girl?”
The glass touched my lips, and I tilted my head back, letting the liquid burn down my throat. “What girl?”
Cami rolled her eyes. “What girl. Seriously? Who do you think you’re talking to?”
“All right, all right. It’s Pigeon.”
“Pigeon? You’re joking.”
I laughed once. “Abby. She’s a pigeon. A demonic pigeon that fucks with my head so bad I can’t think straight. Nothing makes sense anymore, Cam. Every rule I’ve ever made’s getting broken one by one. I’m a pussy. No . . . worse. I’m Shep.”
Cami laughed. “Be nice.”
“You’re right. Shepley’s a good guy.”
“Be nice to yourself, too,” she said, throwing a rag on the counter and pushing it around in circles. “Falling for someone isn’t a sin, Trav, Jesus.”
I looked around. “I’m confused. You talking to me or Jesus?”
“I’m serious. So you have feelings for her. So what?”
“She hates me.”
“No, I heard her tonight. By accident. She thinks I’m a scumbag.”
“She said that?”