“Well, you kinda are.”
I frowned. “Thanks a lot.”
She held out her hands, her elbows on the bar. “Based on your past behavior, do you disagree? My point is . . . maybe for her, you wouldn’t be. Maybe for her, you could be a better man.” She poured another shot, and I didn’t give her the chance to stop me before throwing it back.
“You’re right. I’ve been a scumbag. Could I change? I don’t fucking know. Probably not enough to deserve her.”
Cami shrugged, holstering the bottle back in its spot. “I think you should let her be the judge of that.”
I lit a cigarette, taking a deep breath, and adding my lungfuls of smoke to the already murky room. “Toss me another beer.”
“Trav, I think you’ve had enough already.”
“Cami, just fucking do it.”
I WOKE UP WITH THE EARLY AFTERNOON SUN SHINING through the blinds, but it might as well have been noon in the middle of a white sand desert. My lids instantly closed, rejecting the light.
A combination of morning breath, chemicals, and cat piss stuck to the inside of my dry mouth. I hated the inevitable cotton mouth that came after a hard night of drinking.
My mind instantly searched for memories from the night before but came up with nothing. Some type of partying was a given, but where or with who was a complete mystery.
I looked to my left, seeing the covers pulled back. Abby was already up. My bare feet felt weird against the floor as I trudged down the hall and found Abby asleep in the recliner. Confusion made me pause, and then panic settled in. My brain sloshed through the alcohol still weighing down my thoughts. Why didn’t she sleep in the bed? What had I done to make her sleep in the chair? My heart began beating fast, and then I saw them: two empty condom wrappers.
Fuck. Fuck! The night before came crashing back to me in waves: drinking more, those girls not going away when I told them to, and finally my offer to show them both a good time—at the same time—and their enthusiastic endorsement of the idea.
My hands flew up to my face. I’d brought them here. Bagged them here. Abby had probably heard everything. Oh, God. I couldn’t have fucked up any worse. This was beyond bad. As soon as she woke, she would pack her shit and leave.
I sat on the couch, my hands still cupped over my mouth and nose, and watched her sleep. I had to fix this. What could I do to fix this?
One stupid idea after another flipped through my mind. Time was running out. As quietly as I could, I rushed to the bedroom and changed clothes, and then snuck into Shepley’s room.
America stirred, and Shepley’s head popped up. “What are you doing, Trav?” he whispered.
“I gotta borrow your car. Just for a sec. I have to go pick up a few things.”
“Okay . . . ,” he said, confused.
His keys jingled when I took them from his dresser, and then I paused. “Do me a favor. If she wakes up before I get back, stall, okay?”
Shepley took a deep breath. “I’ll try, Travis, but man . . . last night was . . .”
“It was bad, wasn’t it?”
Shepley’s mouth pulled to the side. “I don’t think she’ll stay, cousin, I’m sorry.”
I nodded. “Just try.”
One last glance at Abby’s sleeping face before I left the apartment spurred me to move faster. The Charger could barely keep up with the speed I wanted to go. A red light caught me just before I reached the market and I screamed, hitting the steering wheel.
“God dammit! Turn!”
A few seconds later, the light blinked from red to green, and the tires spun a few times before gaining traction.
I ran into the store from the parking lot, fully aware that I looked like a crazy person as I yanked a grocery cart from the rest. One aisle after another, I grabbed at things that I thought she’d like, or remembered her eating or even talking about. A pink spongy thing hung in a line off of one of the shelves, and that ended up in my basket, too.
An apology wasn’t going to make her stay, but maybe a gesture would. Maybe she would see how sorry I was. I stopped a few feet away from the register, feeling hopeless. Nothing was going to work.
“Sir? Are you ready?”
I shook my head, despondent. “I don’t . . . I don’t know.”
The woman watched me for a moment, shoving her hands in the pockets of her white-and-mustard-yellow-striped apron. “Can I help you find something?”
I pushed the cart to her register without responding, watching her scan all of Abby’s favorite foods. This was the stupidest idea in the history of ideas, and the only woman alive that I gave a shit about was going to laugh at me while she packed.
“That’ll be eighty-four dollars and seventy-seven cents.”
A short swipe of my debit card, and the sacks were in my hands. I bolted into the parking lot, and within seconds the Charger was getting the cobwebs blown out of her pipes all the way back to the apartment.
I took two steps at a time and blew through the door. America’s and Shepley’s heads were visible over the top of the couch. The television was on, but muted. Thank God. She was still asleep. The sacks crashed against the countertop when I sat them down, and I tried not to let the cabinets crash around too much as I put things away.
“When Pidge wakes up, let me know, okay?” I asked softly. “I got spaghetti, and pancakes, and strawberries, and that oatmeal shit with the chocolate packets, and she likes Fruity Pebbles cereal, right, Mare?” I asked, turning.
Abby was awake, staring at me from the chair. Her mascara was smeared under her eyes. She looked as bad as I felt. “Hey, Pigeon.”
She watched me for a few seconds with a blank stare. I took a few steps into the living room, more nervous than I was the night of my first fight.
“You hungry, Pidge? I’ll make you some pancakes. Or there’s uh . . . there’s some oatmeal. And I got you some of that pink foamy shit that girls shave with, and a hairdryer, and a . . . a . . . just a sec, it’s in here.” I grabbed one of the bags and took it into the bedroom, dumping it out onto the bed.
As I looked for that pink loofah thing I thought she’d like, Abby’s luggage, full, zipped, and waiting by the door, caught my eye. My stomach lurched, and the cotton mouth returned. I walked down the hall, trying to keep myself together.
“Your stuff’s packed.”
“I know,” she said.
Physical pain burned through my chest. “You’re leaving.”
Abby looked to America, who stared at me like she wanted me dead. “You actually expected her to stay?”
“Baby,” Shepley whispered.
“Don’t fucking start with me, Shep. Don’t you dare defend him to me,” America seethed.
I swallowed hard. “I am so sorry, Pidge. I don’t even know what to say.”
“Come on, Abby,” America said. She stood and pulled on her arm, but Abby stayed seated.
I took a step, but America pointed her finger. “So help me God, Travis! If you try to stop her, I will douse you with gasoline and light you on fire while you sleep!”
“America,” Shepley begged. This was going to get bad from all sides real quick.
“I’m fine,” Abby said, overwhelmed.
“What do you mean, you’re fine?” Shepley asked.
Abby rolled her eyes and gestured to me. “Travis brought women home from the bar last night, so what?”
My eyes closed, trying to deflect the pain. As much as I didn’t want her to leave, it had never occurred to me that she wouldn’t give a fuck.
America frowned. “Huh-uh, Abby. Are you saying you’re okay with what happened?”
Abby glanced around the room. “Travis can bring home whoever he wants. It’s his apartment.”
I swallowed back the lump that was swelling in my throat. “You didn’t pack your things?”
She shook her head and looked at the clock. “No, and now I’m going to have to unpack it all. I still have to eat, and shower, and get dressed,” she said, walking into the bathroom.
America shot a death glare in my direction, but I ignored her and walked over to the bathroom door, tapping lightly. “Pidge?”
“Yeah?” she said, her voice weak.
“You’re staying?” I closed my eyes, waiting for punishment.
“I can go if you want me to, but a bet’s a bet.”
My head fell against the door. “I don’t want you to leave, but I wouldn’t blame you if you did.”
“Are you saying I’m released from the bet?”
The answer was easy, but I didn’t want to make her stay if she didn’t want to. At the same time, I was terrified to let her go. “If I say yes, will you leave?”
“Well, yeah. I don’t live here, silly,” she said. A small laugh floated through the wood of the door.
I couldn’t tell if she was upset or just tired from spending the night in the recliner, but if it was the former, there was no way I could let her walk away. I’d never see her again.
“Then no, the bet’s still in effect.”
“Can I take a shower, now?” she asked, her voice small.
“Yeah . . .”
America stomped into the hall and stopped just short of my face. “You’re a selfish bastard,” she growled, slamming Shepley’s door behind her.
I went into the bedroom, grabbed her robe and a pair of slippers, and then returned to the bathroom door. She was apparently staying, but kissing ass was never a bad idea.
“Pigeon? I brought some of your stuff.”
“Just set it on the sink. I’ll get it.”
I opened the door and set her things on the corner of the sink, looking to the floor. “I was mad. I heard you spitting out everything that’s wrong with me to America and it pissed me off. I just meant to go out and have a few drinks and try to figure some things out, but before I knew it, I was piss drunk and those girls . . .” I paused, trying to keep my voice from breaking. “I woke up this morning and you weren’t in bed, and when I found you on the recliner and saw the wrappers on the floor, I felt sick.”
“You could have just asked me instead of spending all that money at the grocery store just to bribe me to stay.”
“I don’t care about the money, Pidge. I was afraid you’d leave and never speak to me again.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” she said, sincere.
“I know you didn’t. And I know it doesn’t matter what I say now, because I fucked things up . . . just like I always do.”
“Don’t drive drunk on your bike anymore, okay?”
I wanted to say more, to apologize again, and to tell her that I was crazy about her—and it was literally driving me insane because I didn’t know how to handle what I felt—but the words wouldn’t come. My thoughts could only focus on the fact that after everything that had happened, and everything I just said, the only thing she had to say was to scold me about driving home drunk.
“Yeah, okay,” I said, shutting the door.
I pretended to stare at the television for hours while Abby primped in the bathroom and bedroom for the frat party, and then decided to get dressed before she needed the bedroom.
A fairly wrinkle-free white shirt was hanging in the closet, so I grabbed it and a pair of jeans. I felt silly, standing in front of the mirror, struggling with the button at the wrist of the shirt. I finally gave up and rolled each sleeve to my elbow. That was more like me, anyway.
I walked down the hall and crashed into the couch again, hearing the bathroom door shut and Abby’s bare feet slapping against the floor.
My watch barely moved, and of course nothing was on TV except daring weather rescues and an infomercial about the Slap Chop. I was nervous and bored. Not a good combination for me.
When my patience ran out, I knocked on the bedroom door.
“Come in,” Abby called from the other side of the door.
She stood in the middle of the room, a pair of heels sitting side by side on the floor in front of her. Abby was always beautiful, but tonight not a single hair was out of place; she looked like she should be on the cover of one of those fashion magazines you see in the checkout line of the grocery store. Every part of her was lotioned, smooth, polished perfection. Just the sight of her nearly knocked me on my ass. All I could do was stand there, dumbfounded, until I finally managed to form a single word.
She smiled, and looked down at her dress.
Her sweet grin snapped me back to reality. “You look amazing,” I said, unable to take my eyes off her.
She bent over to help one foot into her shoe, and then the other. The skintight, black fabric moved slightly upward, exposing just half an inch more of her thighs.
Abby stood and gave me a quick once-over. “You look nice, too.”
I shoved my hands in my pocket, refusing to say, I might be falling for you at this very moment, or any of the other stupid things that were bombarding my mind.
I stuck out my elbow, and Abby took it, letting me escort her down the hall to the living room.
“Parker is going to piss himself when he sees you,” America said. Overall America was a good girl, but I was finding out how nasty she could be if you were on her bad side. I tried not to trip her as we walked to Shepley’s Charger, and I kept my mouth shut the entire trip to the Sig Tau house.
The moment Shepley opened the car door, we could hear the loud and obnoxious music from the house. Couples were kissing and mingling; freshmen pledges were running around, trying to keep the damage to the yard at a minimum, and sorority girls carefully walked by hand in hand, in tiny hops, trying to walk across the soft grass without sinking their stilettos.
Shepley and I led the way, with America and Abby just behind us. I kicked a red plastic cup out of the way, and then held the door open. Once again, Abby was totally oblivious to my gesture.