I leaned her back, and her arms fell behind her, her fingers nearly touching the floor. She laughed out loud, and then we were upright, swaying back and forth again. She wrapped her arms around my neck and sighed against my skin. She smelled so good, it was ridiculous.

“You can’t do that when I start getting into the double-digit shots.” She giggled.


“Did I tell you how incredible you look tonight?”

She shook her head and hugged me, laying her head on my shoulder. I squeezed her to me, and buried my face in her neck. When we were like that, quiet, happy, ignoring the fact that we weren’t supposed to be anything more than friends, it was the only place I wanted to be.

The door opened, and Abby’s arms fell away. “Parker!” she squealed, running over to hug him.

He kissed her lips, and I went from feeling like a king to a man on the edge of murder.

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Parker lifted her wrist and smiled, mouthing something to her about that stupid bracelet.

“Hey,” America said loudly in my ear. Even though the volume of her voice was louder than normal, no one else could hear.

“Hey,” I said back, still staring at Parker and Abby.

“Keep your cool. Shepley said Parker is just stopping by. He has something to do tomorrow morning, so he can’t stay long.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah, so keep it together. Take a breath. He’ll be gone before you know it.”

Abby pulled Parker to the counter, picked up another shot glass, and killed it, slamming it on the counter upside down like the five times before. Brazil handed her another twenty, and she danced into the living room.

Without hesitation, I grabbed her, and we danced with America and Shepley.

Shepley slapped her on the butt. “One!”

America added a second swat, and then the entire party joined in.

At number nineteen, I rubbed my hands together, making her think I was going to bust her a good one. “My turn!”

She rubbed her posterior. “Be easy! My ass hurts!”

Unable to contain my amusement, I reared my hand far above my shoulder. Abby closed her eyes, and after a moment, peeked back. I stopped just short of her ass, and gave her a gentle pat.

“Nineteen!” I yelled.

The guests cheered, and America started a drunken rendition of “Happy Birthday to You.” When it got to the part for her name, the entire room sang “Pigeon.” It made me kinda proud.

Another slow song came over the stereo, but this time Parker pulled her to the middle of the room for a dance. He looked like a robot with two left feet, stiff and clumsy.

I tried not the watch, but before the song was over, I caught them slip off to the hallway. My eyes met America’s. She smiled, winked, and shook her head, silently telling me not to do anything stupid.

She was right. Abby wasn’t alone with him for more than five minutes before they were walking to the front door.

The uncomfortable, embarrassed expression on Abby’s face told me that Parker had tried to make those few minutes memorable.

He kissed her cheek, and then Abby shut the door behind him.

“Daddy’s gone!” I yelled, pulling Abby to the center of the living room. “Time to get the party started!”

The room exploded into cheering.

“Hang on! I’m on a schedule!” Abby said, walking into the kitchen. She took another shot.

Seeing how many she had left, I grabbed one from the end and drank it. Abby took another shot, so I did the same.

“Seven more, Abby,” Brazil said, handing her more cash.

The next hour we danced, laughed, and talked about nothing particularly important. Abby’s lips were locked in a smile, and I couldn’t help but stare at her all night.

One in a while, I thought I’d catch her glance at me, and it made me wonder what would happen when we got back to the apartment.

Abby took her time drinking the next few shots, but by her tenth, she was in bad shape. She danced on the couch with America, bouncing and giggling, but then lost her balance.

I caught her before she fell.

“You’ve made your point,” I said. “You’ve drunk more than any girl we’ve ever seen. I’m cutting you off.”

“The hell you are,” she said, slurring her words. “I have six hundred bucks waiting on me at the bottom of that shot glass, and you of all people aren’t going to tell me I can’t do something extreme for cash.”

“If you’re that hard up for money, Pidge . . .”

“I’m not borrowing money from you,” she sneered.

“I was gonna suggest pawning that bracelet.” I smiled.

She smacked me on the arm just as America started the countdown to midnight. When the hands of the clock superimposed on the twelve, we all celebrated.

I had never wanted to kiss a girl so much in my life.

America and Shepley beat me to it, kissing each of her cheeks. I lifted her off the ground, twirling her around.

“Happy birthday, Pigeon,” I said, trying very hard not to press my lips against hers.

Everyone at the party knew what she was up to in the hall with Parker. It would be pretty shitty of me to make her look bad in front of them.

She watched me with her big gray eyes, and I melted inside of them.

“Shots!” she said, stumbling to the kitchen.

Her shout startled me, bringing all the noise and motion around us back into my reality again.

“You look torn up, Abby. I think it’s time to call it a night,” Brazil said when she arrived at the counter.

“I’m not a quitter,” she said. “I wanna see my money.”

I joined her as Brazil placed a twenty under the last two glasses. He yelled at his teammates, “She’s gonna drink ’em! I need fifteen!”

They all groaned and rolled their eyes, pulling out their wallets to stack a pile of twenties behind the last shot glass.

“I would have never believed that I could lose fifty bucks on a fifteen-shot bet with a girl,” Chris complained.

“Believe it, Jenks,” she said, picking up a glass in each hand.

She knocked back each of the glasses, one at a time, but then paused.

“Pigeon?” I asked, taking a step in her direction.

She raised a finger, and Brazil smiled. “She’s going to lose it,” he said.

“No, she won’t.” America shook her head. “Deep breath, Abby.”

She closed her eyes and inhaled, picking up the last shot remaining on the counter.

“Holy God, Abby! You’re going to die of alcohol poisoning!” Shepley cried.

“She’s got this,” America assured him.

She tipped her head back, and let the tequila flow down her throat. The entire party erupted into whistles and yells behind us as Brazil handed her the stack of money.

“Thank you,” she said with pride, tucking the money away in her bra.

I’d never seen anything like it in my life. “You are incredibly sexy right now,” I said in her ear as we walked to the living room.

She wrapped her arms around me, probably letting the tequila settle.

“You sure you’re okay?”

She meant to say “I’m fine,” but the words came out garbled.

“You need to make her go throw up, Trav. Get some of that out of her system.”

“God, Shep. Leave her alone. She’s fine,” America said, annoyed.

Shepley’s brows pulled in. “I’m just trying to keep something really bad from happening.”

“Abby? You okay?” America asked.

Abby managed a smile, looking half asleep.

America looked at Shepley. “Just let it run through her system, she’ll sober up. It’s not her first rodeo. Calm down.”

“Unbelievable,” Shepley said. “Travis?”

I touched my cheek to Abby’s forehead. “Pidge? You want to play it safe and purge?”

“No,” she said. “I wanna dance.” She wrapped her arms around me tighter.

I looked at Shepley and shrugged. “As long as she’s up and moving . . .”

Unhappy, Shepley barreled through the crowd on the makeshift dance floor until he was out of sight. America clicked her tongue and rolled her eyes, and then followed after him.

Abby pressed her body against mine. Even though the song was fast, we were slow dancing in the middle of the room, surrounded by people bouncing around and waving their arms. Blue, purple, and green lights danced with us, on the floor and along the walls. The blue lights reflected on Abby’s face, and I had to really concentrate through the liquor not to kiss her.

When the party began to wind down a few hours later, Abby and I were still on the dance floor. She had sobered up a bit after I fed her some crackers and cheese, and tried to dance with America to some stupid pop song, but other than that, Abby was in my arms, her wrists locked behind my neck.

The bulk of the party had either left or passed out somewhere in the apartment, and Shepley and America’s bickering had gradually gotten worse.

“If you’re riding with me, I’m leaving,” Shepley said, tearing toward the door.

“I’m not ready to leave,” Abby mumbled, her eyes half closed.

“I think this night is spent. Let’s go home.” When I took a step toward the door, Abby didn’t move. She was staring at the floor, looking a bit green.

“You’re going to throw up, aren’t you?”

She looked up at me, her eyes half closed. “It’s about that time.”

She weaved back and forth a few times before I scooped her up in my arms.

“You, Travis Maddox, are kinda sexy when you’re not being a whore,” she said, a ridiculous, drunken grin twisting her mouth in different directions.

“Uh . . . thanks,” I said, readjusting her so I had a better grip.

Abby touched her palm to my cheek. “You know what, Mr. Maddox?”

“What, baby?”

Her expression turned serious. “In another life, I could love you.”

I watched her for a moment, staring into her glassed-over eyes. She was drunk, but just for a moment it didn’t seem wrong to pretend that she meant it.

“I might love you in this one.”

She tilted her head, and pressed her lips against the corner of my mouth. She’d meant to kiss me, but missed. She pulled back, and then let her head fall against my shoulder.

I looked around, and everyone still conscious was frozen, staring in shock at what they’d just witnessed.

Without a word, I carried her out of the apartment to the Charger, where America stood, her arms crossed.

Shepley gestured to Abby. “Look at her! She’s your friend, and you let her do something insanely dangerous! You encouraged it!”

America pointed at herself. “I know her, Shep! I’ve seen her do way more than that for money!”

I shot her a glance.

“Shots. I’ve seen her do more shots for money,” she qualified. “You know what I mean.”

“Listen to yourself!” Shepley yelled. “You followed Abby all the way from Kansas to keep her out of trouble. Look at her! She has a dangerous level of alcohol in her system, and she is unconscious! That isn’t behavior you should be okay with!”

America’s eyes narrowed. “Oh! Thanks for the public service announcement about what not to do in college, Mr. Eighteen-year-old-frat-boy-with-eleventy-billion-‘serious’-girlfriends-under-his-belt!” She used her fingers to mark invisible quotations when she said serious.

Shepley’s mouth popped open, unamused. “Get in the fucking car. You’re a mean drunk.”

America laughed. “You haven’t seen me mean, mama’s boy!”

“I told you we’re close!”

“Yeah, so are me and my asshole! Doesn’t mean I’m going to call it twice a day!”

“You’re a bitch!”

All color left America’s face. “Take. Me. Home.”

“I’d love to, if you’d get in the fucking car!” Shepley screamed the last bit. His face turned red, and veins were popping out on his neck.

America opened the door and climbed into the back, leaving the door open. She helped me slide Abby in beside her, and then I fell into the passenger seat.

The ride home was short and completely silent. When Shepley pulled into his parking spot and threw the shifter in Park, I scrambled out of the car and pulled the seat forward.

Abby’s head was on America’s shoulder, her hair covering her face. I reached in and pulled Abby out, throwing her over my shoulder. America crawled out quickly after, and she walked straight to her car, pulling her keys from her purse.

“Mare,” Shepley said, regret already obvious from the break of his voice.

America sat in the driver’s seat, slammed the door in Shepley’s face, and then backed away.

Abby was ass up, her arms dangling behind me.

“She’s gotta come back for Abby, right?” Shepley asked, his face desperate.

Abby moaned, and then her body lurched. The awful groan/growl that always accompanied vomit preceded a splashing sound. The back of my legs felt wet.

“Tell me she didn’t,” I said, frozen.

Shepley bent back for a second, and then righted himself. “She did.”

I jogged up the stairs two at a time, and rushed Shepley as he tried to find the apartment key. He opened it, and I raced into the bathroom.

Abby leaned over the toilet, emptying the contents of her stomach liters at a time. Her hair was already wet with puke from the incident outside, but I grabbed one of those round, black, stretchy things off the sink and pulled her long hair back into a ponytail. The damp pieces clung together in thick clumps, but I pulled it all back with my hands, anyway, and secured it with the black hair holder thingy. I’d seen enough girls twist it and pull their hair back through in class, it didn’t take long for me to figure it out.

Abby’s body lurched again. I wet a washrag from the hall closet, and then sat back down beside her, holding it against her forehead. She leaned against the tub and groaned.

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