So many things were building up inside of me. I didn’t know what to do with them all. When we’d made the bet, it didn’t occur to me that she would be dating Parker. Throwing a tantrum would just drive her straight into his arms. Deep down, I knew I’d do anything to keep her around. If keeping a lid on my jealousy meant more time with Abby, that’s what I would have to do.
I crawled into the bed beside her and lifted my hand, resting it on her hip.
“I missed a fight tonight. Adam called. I didn’t go.”
“Why?” she asked, turning over.
“I wanted to make sure you got home.”
She wrinkled her nose. “You didn’t have to babysit me.”
I traced the length of her arm with my finger. She was so warm. “I know. I guess I still feel bad about the other night.”
“I told you I didn’t care.”
“Is that why you slept on the recliner? Because you didn’t care?”
“I couldn’t fall asleep after your . . . friends left.”
“You slept just fine in the recliner. Why couldn’t you sleep with me?”
“You mean next to a guy who still smelled like the pair of barflies he had just sent home? I don’t know! How selfish of me!”
I recoiled, trying to keep the visual out of my head. “I said I was sorry.”
“And I said I didn’t care. Good night,” she said, turning over.
I reached across the pillow to put my hand on hers, caressing the insides of her fingers. I leaned over and kissed her hair. “As worried as I was that you’d never speak to me again . . . I think it’s worse that you’re indifferent.”
“What do you want from me, Travis? You don’t want me to be upset about what you did, but you want me to care. You tell America that you don’t want to date me, but you get so pissed off when I say the same thing that you storm out and get ridiculously drunk. You don’t make any sense.”
Her words surprised me. “Is that why you said those things to America? Because I said I wouldn’t date you?”
Her expression was a combination of shock and anger. “No, I meant what I said. I just didn’t mean it as an insult.”
“I just said that because I don’t want to ruin anything. I wouldn’t even know how to go about being who you deserve. I was just trying to get it worked out in my head.”
Saying the words made me feel sick, but they had to be said.
“Whatever that means. I have to get some sleep. I have a date tonight.”
“Yes. Can I please go to sleep?”
“Sure,” I said, shoving myself off the bed. Abby didn’t say a word as I left her behind. I sat in the recliner, switching on the television. So much for keeping my temper in check, but damn that woman got under my skin. Talking to her was like having a conversation with a black hole. It didn’t matter what I said, even the few times that I was clear about my feelings. Her selective hearing was infuriating. I couldn’t get through to her, and being direct just seemed to make her angry.
The sun came up half an hour later. Despite my residual anger, I was able to drift off.
A few moments later, my phone rang. I scrambled to find it, still half asleep, and then held it to my ear. “Yeah?”
“Asshat!” Trenton said, loud in my ear.
“What time is it?” I asked, looking at the TV. Saturday morning cartoons were on.
“Ten something. I need your help with Dad’s truck. I think it’s the ignition module. It’s not even turning over.”
“Trent,” I said through a yawn. “I don’t fucking know about cars. That’s why I have a bike.”
“Then ask Shepley. I have to go to work in an hour, and I don’t want to leave Dad stranded.”
I yawned again. “Fuck, Trent, I pulled an all-nighter. What’s Tyler doing?”
“Get your ass over here!” he yelled before hanging up.
I tossed my cell to the couch and then stood, looking at the clock on the television. Trent wasn’t far off when he guessed the time. It was 10:20.
Shepley’s door was closed, so I listened for a minute before I knocked twice and popped my head in. “Hey. Shep. Shepley!”
“What?” Shepley said. His voice sounded like he’d swallowed gravel and chased it with acid.
“I need your help.”
America whimpered but didn’t stir.
“With what?” Shepley asked. He sat up, grabbing a T-shirt off the floor and slipping it over his head.
“Dad’s truck didn’t start. Trent thinks it’s the ignition.”
Shepley finished getting dressed and then leaned over America. “Going to Jim’s for a few hours, baby.”
Shepley kissed her forehead. “I’m going to help Travis with Jim’s truck. I’ll be back.”
“Okay,” America said, falling back asleep before Shepley left the room. He slipped on the pair of sneakers that were in the living room and grabbed his keys.
“You coming or what?” he asked.
I trudged down the hall and into my bedroom, dragging ass like any man that had only four hours of sleep—and not great sleep at that. I slipped on a tank top, and then a hoodie sweatshirt, and some jeans. Trying my best to walk softly, I gently turned the knob of my bedroom door, but paused before leaving. Abby’s back was to me, her breathing even, and her bare legs sprawled in opposite directions. I had an almost uncontrollable urge to crawl in bed with her.
“Let’s go!” Shepley called.
I shut the door and followed him out to the Charger. We took turns yawning all the way to Dad’s, too tired for conversation.
The gravel driveway crunched under the tires of the Charger, and I waved at Trenton and Dad before stepping out into the yard.
Dad’s truck was parked in front of the house. I shoved my hands in the front pockets of my hoodie, feeling the chill in the air. Fallen leaves crunched under my boots as I walked across the lawn.
“Well, hello there, Shepley,” Dad said with a smile.
“Hey, Uncle Jim. I hear you have an ignition problem.”
Dad rested a hand on his round middle. “We think so . . . we think so.” He nodded, staring at the engine.
“What makes you think that?” Shepley asked, rolling up his sleeves.
Trenton pointed to the firewall. “Uh . . . it’s melted. That was my first clue.”
“Good catch,” Shepley said. “Me and Trav will run up to the parts store and pick up a new one. I’ll put it in and you’ll be good to go.”
“In theory,” I said, handing Shepley a screwdriver.
He unscrewed the bolts of the ignition module and then pulled it off. We all stared at the melted casing.
Shepley pointed to the bare spot where the ignition module was. “We’re going to have to replace those wires. See the burn marks?” he asked, touching the metal. “The wire insulation is melted, too.”
“Thanks, Shep. I’m gonna go shower. I’ve gotta get ready for work,” Trenton said.
Shepley used the screwdriver to assist in a sloppy salute to Trenton, and then he threw it into the toolbox.
“You boys look like you had a long night,” Dad said.
Half of my mouth pulled up. “We did.”
“How’s your young lady? America?”
Shepley nodded, a wide grin creeping across his face. “She’s good, Jim. She’s still asleep.”
Dad laughed once and nodded. “And your young lady?”
I shrugged. “She’s got a date with Parker Hayes tonight. She’s not exactly mine, Dad.”
Dad winked. “Yet.”
Shepley’s expression fell. He was fighting a frown.
“What’s this, Shep? You don’t approve of Travis’s pigeon?”
Dad’s flippant use of Abby’s nickname caught Shepley off guard, and his mouth twitched, threatening a smile. “No, I like Abby just fine. She’s just the closest thing America has to a sister. Makes me nervous.”
Dad nodded emphatically. “Understandable. I think this one’s different, though, don’t you?”
Shepley shrugged. “That’s kind of the point. Don’t really want Trav’s first broken heart to be America’s best friend. No offense, Travis.”
I frowned. “You don’t trust me at all, do you?”
“It’s not that. Well, it’s kind of that.”
Dad touched Shepley’s shoulder. “You’re afraid, since this is Travis’s first attempt at a relationship, he’s going to screw it up, and that screws things up for you.”
Shepley grabbed a dirty rag and wiped his hands. “I feel bad for admitting it, but yeah. Even though I’m rooting for you, bro, I really am.”
Trenton let the screen door slam when he jogged out of the house. He punched me in the arm before I even saw him raise a fist.
“Later, losers!” Trenton stopped, and turned on his heels. “I didn’t mean you, Dad.”
Dad offered a half smile and shook his head. “Didn’t think you did, son.”
Trent smiled, and then hopped into his car—a dark red, dilapidated Dodge Intrepid. That car wasn’t even cool when we were in high school, but he loved it. Mostly because it was paid off.
A small black puppy barked, turning my attention to the house.
Dad smiled, patting his thigh. “Well, c’mon, scaredy-cat.”
The puppy took a couple of steps forward, and then backed into the house, barking.
“How’s he doing?” I asked.
“He’s pissed in the bathroom twice.”
I made a face. “Sorry.”
Shepley laughed. “At least he’s got the right idea.”
Dad nodded and waved with concession.
“Just until tomorrow,” I said.
“It’s fine, son. He’s been entertaining us. Trent enjoys him.”
“Good.” I smiled.
“Where were we?” Dad asked.
I rubbed my arm where it throbbed from Trent’s fist. “Shepley was just reminding me of what a failure he thinks I am when it comes to girls.”
Shepley laughed once. “You’re a lot of things, Trav. A failure is not one of them. I just think you have a long way to go, and between your and Abby’s tempers, the odds are against you.”
My body tensed, and I stood straight. “Abby doesn’t have a bad temper.”
Dad waved me away. “Calm down, squirt. He’s not bad-mouthing Abby.”
“Okay,” Dad said with a small smile. He always knew how to handle us boys when things got tense, and he usually tried to mollify us before we were too far gone.
Shepley threw the dirty rag on top of the toolbox. “Let’s go get that part.”
“Let me know how much I owe you.”
I shook my head. “I got it, Dad. We’re even for the dog.”
Dad smiled and started to pick up the mess Trenton left of the toolbox. “Okay, then. I’ll see you in a bit.”
Shepley and I left in the Charger, heading to the parts store. A cold front had come through. I clenched the ends of my sleeves in my fists to help keep my hands warm.
“It’s a cold bitch today,” Shepley said.
“I think she’s going to like the puppy.”
After a few more blocks of silence, Shepley nodded his head. “I didn’t mean to insult Abby. You know that, right?”
“I know how you feel about her, and I really do hope it works out. I’m just nervous.”
Shepley pulled into the parking lot of O’Reilly’s and parked, but he didn’t turn off the ignition. “She’s going on a date with Parker Hayes tonight, Travis. How do you think it’s going to go when he picks her up? Have you thought about it?”
“I’m trying not to.”
“Well, maybe you should. If you really want this to work, you need to stop reacting the way you want, and react the way that will work for you.”
“Do you think it’s going to win you any points if you’re pouting while she’s getting ready, and then act like a dick to Parker? Or do you think she’ll appreciate it if you tell her how amazing she looks and tell her goodbye, like a friend would?”
“I don’t want to be just her friend.”
“I know that, and you know that, and Abby probably knows it, too . . . and you can be damn sure Parker knows it.”
“Do you have to keep saying that fuck stick’s name?”
Shepley turned off the ignition. “C’mon, Trav. You and I both know as long as you keep showing Parker he’s doing something to drive you nuts, he’s going to keep playing the game. Don’t give him the satisfaction, and play the game better than he does. He’ll show his ass, and Abby will get rid of him on her own.”
I thought about what he was saying, and then glanced over at him. “You . . . really think so?”
“Yes, now let’s get that part to Jim and get home before America wakes up and blows up my phone because she doesn’t remember what I told her when I left.”
I laughed and followed Shepley into the store. “He is a fuck stick, though.”
It didn’t take Shepley long to find the part he was looking for, and not much longer for him to replace it. In just over an hour, Shepley had installed the ignition module, started the truck, and had a sufficiently long visit with Dad. By the time we were waving goodbye as the Charger backed out of the driveway, it was just a few minutes after noon.
As Shepley predicted, America was already awake by the time we made it back to the apartment. She tried to act irritated before Shepley explained our absence, but it was obvious she was just glad to have him home.