“No! I was pissed that you forgot!”

She made No. Fucking. Sense. “Why?”


“Because if I would have . . . if we would have . . . and you didn’t . . . I don’t know why! I just was!”

She was about to admit it. She had to. Abby was pissed at me because she was going to give me her virginity, and I didn’t remember what had happened. This was it. This was my moment. We were finally going to get our shit straight, but time was slipping away. Shepley was going to come tell Abby any minute to go run errands with America per our plans for the party.

I rushed toward her, stopping inches away. My hands touched each side of her face. “What are we doin’, Pidge?”

Her eyes began at my belt, and then traveled slowly up to my eyes. “You tell me.”

Her face went blank, as if admitting deep feelings for me would make her whole system shut down.

A knock on the door triggered my anger, but I stayed focused.

“Abby?” Shepley said. “Mare was going to run some errands; she wanted me to let you know in case you needed to go.”

“Pidge?” I said, staring into her eyes.

“Yeah,” she called to Shepley. “I have some stuff I need to take care of.”

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“All right, she’s ready to go when you are,” Shepley said, his footsteps disappearing down the hall.

“Pidge?” I said, desperate to stay on track.

She took a few steps backward, pulled a few things from the closet, and then slid past me. “Can we talk about this later? I have a lot to do today.”

“Sure,” I said, deflated.



ABBY DIDN’T STAY IN THE BATHROOM LONG. AS A MATTER of fact, she couldn’t leave the apartment fast enough. I tried not to let it throw me. Abby usually spazzed out whenever something serious came up.

The front door shut, and America’s car pulled out of the parking lot. Once again, the apartment seemed stuffy and too empty at the same time. I hated being there without her and wondered what I had done before we met.

I walked over to a small plastic bag from the pharmacy that I’d picked up a few days before. I’d uploaded some pics of me and Abby from my phone, and ordered some prints.

The white walls finally had some color. Just as the last picture was tacked in place, Shepley knocked on the door.

“Hey, man.”


“We’ve got shit to do.”

“I know.”

We drove to Brazil’s apartment, mostly in silence. When we arrived, Brazil opened the door, holding at least two dozen balloons. The long silver strings blew into his face, and he waved them away, spitting some away from his lips.

“I was wondering if you guys had canceled. Gruver is bringing the cake and liquor.”

We walked past him into the front room. Their walls didn’t look much different from mine, but their apartment had either come “fully furnished” or they got their couch from the Salvation Army.

Brazil continued, “I had some redshirts grab some food and Mikey’s kick-ass speakers. One of the Sigma Cappa girls has some lights we can borrow—don’t worry, I didn’t invite them. I said it was for a party next weekend. We should be set.”

“Good,” Shepley said. “America would shit a wildcat if she showed up and we were here with a bunch of sorority girls.”

Brazil smiled. “The only girls here will be a few of Abby’s classmates and girlfriends of the team. I think Abby’s going to love it.”

I smiled, watching Brazil spread the balloons across the ceiling, letting the strings hang down. “I think so, too. Shep?”


“Don’t call Parker until the last minute. That way, we invited him, but if he makes it at all, at least he won’t be here the whole time.”

“Got it.”

Brazil took a breath. “Wanna help me move furniture, Trav?”

“Sure,” I said, following him into the next room. The dining room and kitchen were one room, and the walls were already lined with chairs. The counter had a row of clean shot glasses and an unopened bottle of Patrón.

Shepley stopped, staring at the bottle. “This isn’t for Abby, is it?”

Brazil smiled, his white teeth standing out against his dark olive skin. “Uh . . . yeah. It’s tradition. If the football team is throwing her a party, she’s getting the team treatment.

“You can’t make her drink that many shots,” Shepley said. “Travis. Tell him.”

Brazil held up his hand. “I’m not making her do anything. For every shot she drinks, she gets a twenty. It’s our present to her.” His smile faded when he noticed Shepley’s frown.

“Your present is alcohol poisoning?”

I nodded once. “We’ll see if she wants to take a birthday shot for twenty bucks, Shep. No harm in that.”

We moved the dining table to the side, and then helped the redshirts bring in the food and speakers. One of the guys’ girlfriends started spraying air freshener around the apartment.

“Nikki! Knock that shit off!”

She put her hand on her hips. “If you guys didn’t smell so bad, I wouldn’t have to. Ten sweaty boys in one apartment starts stinking pretty quick! You don’t want her walking in here when it smells like a locker room, do you?”

“She’s right,” I said. “Speaking of that, I need to get back and shower. See you in half an hour.”

Shepley wiped his brow and nodded, pulling his cell phone from one jeans pocket, his keys from the other.

He tapped out a quick text to America. Within seconds, his phone beeped. He smiled. “I’ll be damned. They’re right on schedule.”

“That’s a good sign.”

We rushed back to our apartment. Within fifteen minutes, I was showered, shaved, and dressed. Shepley didn’t take much longer, but I kept checking my watch.

“Calm down,” Shepley said, buttoning up his green plaid shirt. “They’re still shopping.”

A loud engine pulled up out front, a car door slammed shut, and then footsteps climbed the iron steps outside our door.

I opened it, and smiled. “Good timing.”

Trenton smiled, holding a medium-size box with holes cut into the sides and a lid. “He’s been fed, watered, took his daily man crap. He should be good to go for a while.”

“You’re awesome, Trent. Thanks.” I looked past him to see my dad sitting behind the wheel of his pickup. He waved, and I waved back.

Trenton open the lid a bit and grinned. “Be good, little man. I’m sure we’ll see each other again.”

The puppy’s tail banged against the box while I replaced the top, and then took him inside.

“Aw, man. Why my room?” Shepley asked, whining.

“In case Pidge happens to go into mine before I’m ready.” I pulled out my cell and dialed Abby’s number. The phone buzzed once, and then again.


“It’s dinnertime! Where the hell did you two run off to?”

“We indulged in a little pampering. You and Shep knew how to eat before we came along. I’m sure you can manage.”

“Well, no shit. We worry about you, ya know.”

“We’re fine,” she said, a smile in her voice.

America spoke somewhere close to Abby. “Tell him I’ll have you back in no time. I have to stop by Brazil’s to pick up some notes for Shep, and then we’ll be home.”

“Did you get that?” Abby asked.

“Yeah. See you then, Pidge.”

I hung up and quickly followed Shepley out to the Charger. I wasn’t sure why, but I was nervous.

“Did you call the douche bag?”

Shepley nodded, putting his car in gear. “While you were in the shower.”

“Is he coming?”

“Later. He wasn’t happy that it was late notice, but when I reminded him that it was necessary because of his big fucking mouth, he didn’t have much to say after that.”

I smiled. Parker had always rubbed me the wrong way. Not inviting him would make Abby unhappy, so I had to go against my better judgment and let Shepley give him a call.

“Don’t get drunk and punch him,” Shepley said.

“No promises. Park over there, where she won’t see,” I said, pointing to the side lot.

We jogged around the corner to Brazil’s apartment, and I knocked. It was quiet.

“It’s us! Open up.”

The door opened, and Chris Jenks stood in the doorway with a stupid grin on his face. He weaved back and forth, already drunk. He was the only person I liked less than Parker. No one could prove it, but Jenks was rumored to have slipped something in a girl’s drink once at a frat party. Most believed it, since that was the only way he could get laid. No one had come forward to say he had, so I just tried to keep an eye on him.

I shot a glare at Shepley, who raised his hands. He obviously wasn’t aware Jenks was going to be there either.

I glanced at my watch, and we waited in the dark with dozens of silver strings in our faces. Everyone was so close together, smashed into the living room waiting for Abby, that just one person’s movement made us all list one way or the other.

A few knocks at the door made us all freeze. I was expecting America to walk in, but nothing happened. People were whispering while others were shushing them.

Another knock spurred Brazil into action, and he took several quick steps to the door, swinging it wide open, revealing America and Abby in the doorway.

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” we all yelled in unison.

Abby’s eyes grew wide, and then she smiled, quickly covering her mouth. America nudged her inside, and everyone gathered around.

As I made my way to Abby, the crowd split. She looked phenomenal, wearing a gray dress and yellow heels. The palms of my hands cupped each side of her smiling face, and I pressed my lips against her forehead.

“Happy birthday, Pigeon.”

“It’s not ’til tomorrow,” she said, smiling at everyone around us.

“Well, since you were tipped off, we had to make some last-minute changes to surprise you. Surprised?”


Finch rushed up to wish her a happy birthday, and America elbowed her side. “Good thing I got you to run errands with me today or you would have shown up looking like ass!”

“You look great,” I said, making a show of looking her over. Great wasn’t the most poetic word I could have used, but I didn’t wanna overdo it.

Brazil came over to give Abby a bear hug. “And I hope you know America’s Brazil-is-creepy story was just a line to get you in here.”

America laughed. “It worked, didn’t it?”

Abby shook her head, still grinning and wide-eyed from the shock of it all. She leaned into America’s ear and whispered something, and then America whispered back. I was going to have to ask her later what that was about.

Brazil cranked up the volume on the stereo, and everyone screamed. “Come here, Abby!” he said, walking to the kitchen. He picked up the bottle of tequila from the bar, and stood before the shot glasses lined up on the counter. “Happy birthday from the football team, baby girl,” he smiled, pouring each shot glass full of Patrón. “This is the way we do birthdays: You turn nineteen, you have nineteen shots. You can drink ’em or give ’em away, but the more you drink, the more of these you get,” he said, fanning out a handful of twenties.

“Oh my God!” Abby squealed. Her eyes lit up at the site of so much green.

“Drink ’em up, Pidge!” I said.

Abby looked to Brazil, suspicious. “I get a twenty for every shot I drink?”

“That’s right, lightweight. Gauging by the size of you, I’m going to say we’ll get away with losing sixty bucks by the end of the night.”

“Think again, Brazil,” Abby said. She lifted the first shot glass to her mouth and rolled the rim from the side of her bottom lip to the middle of her mouth. Her head tipped back to empty the glass, and then she rolled the rim across the rest of her lip, dropping it into her other hand. It was the sexiest thing I’d ever seen.

“Holy shit!” I said, suddenly turned on.

“This is really a waste, Brazil,” Abby said, wiping the corners of her mouth. “You shoot Cuervo, not Patrón.”

The smug smile on Brazil’s face faded, and he shook his head and shrugged. “Get after it, then. I’ve got the wallets of twelve football players that say you can’t finish ten.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Double or nothing says I can drink fifteen.”

I couldn’t help but smile, and at the same time wondered how in God’s name I was going to behave myself if she kept acting like a fucking Vegas hustler. It was hot as hell.

“Whoa!” Shepley cried. “You’re not allowed to hospitalize yourself on your birthday, Abby!”

“She can do it,” America said, staring at Brazil.

“Forty bucks a shot?” Brazil asked, looking unsure.

“Are you scared?” Abby asked.

“Hell no! I’ll give you twenty a shot, and when you make it to fifteen, I’ll double your total.”

She popped back another shot. “That’s how Kansans do birthdays.”

The music was loud, and I made sure to dance with Abby to every song she’d agree to. The whole apartment was full of smiling college kids, a beer in one hand, and a shot glass in the other. Abby would veer off occasionally to hammer back another shot, and then return with me to our makeshift dance floor in the living room.

The birthday gods must have been pleased with my efforts, because just when Abby was getting a good buzz, a slow song came on. One of my favorites. I kept my lips close to her ear, singing to her, and leaning back to mouth the important parts I wanted her to understand were from me. She probably didn’t catch that part, but that didn’t stop me from trying.

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