I gently wiped her face with the wet rag, and then tried to sit still when she lay her head on my shoulder.
“You gonna make it?” I asked.
She frowned, and then gagged, keeping her lips together just long enough to position her head over the toilet. She heaved again, and more liquid splashed into it.
Abby was so small, and the amount she was expelling didn’t seem normal. Worry crept into my mind.
I scrambled from the bathroom and returned with two towels, an extra sheet, three blankets, and four pillows in my arms. Abby moaned over the toilet bowl, her body trembling. I fashioned the linens against the tub in a pallet and waited, knowing we would more than likely end up spending the night in that little corner of the bathroom.
Shepley stood in the doorway. “Should I . . . call someone?”
“Not yet. I’m going to keep an eye on her.”
“I’m fine,” Abby said. “This is me not getting alcohol poisoning.”
Shepley frowned. “No, this is stupid. That’s what this is.”
“Hey, you got the uh . . . her uh . . .”
“Present?” he said with one eyebrow up.
“I got it,” he said, clearly unhappy.
Abby fell back against the tub once more, and I promptly wiped her face. Shepley wet a fresh rag and tossed it to me.
“Yell if you need me,” Shepley said. “I’m going to lie awake in bed, trying to think of a way to get Mare to forgive me.”
I relaxed against the tub as best I could, and pulled Abby against me. She sighed, letting her body melt into mine. Even with her covered in vomit, close to her was the only place I wanted to be. Her words at the party replayed in my mind.
In another life, I could love you.
Abby was lying weak and sick in my arms, depending on me to take care of her. In that moment I recognized that my feelings for her were a lot stronger than I thought. Sometime between the moment we met, and holding her on that bathroom floor, I had fallen in love with her.
Abby sighed, and then rested her head in my lap. I made sure she was completely covered with blankets before I let myself nod off.
“Trav?” she whispered.
She didn’t answer. Her breathing evened out, and her head fell heavily against my legs. The cold porcelain against my back and the unforgiving tile under my ass were brutal, but I didn’t dare move. She was comfortable, and she would stay that way. Twenty minutes into watching her breathe, the parts of me that hurt started to numb, and my eyes closed.
ALREADY, THE DAY HADN’T STARTED OFF WELL. ABBY was somewhere with America, trying to talk her out of dumping Shepley, and Shepley was chewing off his fingernails in the living room, waiting for Abby to work a miracle.
I’d taken the puppy out once, paranoid that America would pull up at any moment and ruin the surprise. Even though I’d fed him and given him a towel to snuggle up with, he was whining.
Sympathy wasn’t my strong point, but no one could blame him. Sitting in a tiny box wasn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. Thankfully, seconds before they returned, the little mongrel had quieted down and gone to sleep.
“They’re back!” Shepley said, jumping off the couch.
“Okay,” I said, quietly shutting Shepley’s door behind me. “Play it coo—”
Before my sentence was complete, Shepley had opened the door and run down the stairs. The doorway was a great spot to watch Abby smile at Shepley and America’s eager reconciliation. Abby shoved her hands into her back pockets and walked to the apartment.
The fall clouds cast a gray shadow over everything, but Abby’s smile was like summertime. With each step she took that brought her closer to where I stood, my heart pounded harder against my chest.
“And they lived happily ever after,” I said, closing the door behind her.
We sat together on the couch, and I pulled her legs onto my lap.
“What do you wanna do today, Pidge?”
“Sleep. Or rest . . . or sleep.”
“Can I give you your present, first?”
She pushed my shoulder. “Shut up. You got me a present?”
“It’s not a diamond bracelet, but I thought you’d like it.”
“I’ll love it, sight unseen.”
I lifted her legs off of my lap and went to retrieve her gift. I tried not to shake the box, hoping the puppy wouldn’t wake up and make any noises to tip her off. “Ssshhhh, little man. No crying, okay? Be a good boy.”
I sat the box at her feet, crouching behind it. “Hurry, I want you to be surprised.”
“Hurry?” she asked, lifting the lid. Her mouth fell open. “A puppy?” she shrieked, reaching into the box. She lifted the puppy to her face, trying to keep hold of it as it wiggled and stretched its neck, desperate to cover her mouth with kisses.
“You like him?”
“Him? I love him! You got me a puppy!”
“It’s a cairn terrier. I had to drive three hours to pick him up Thursday after class.”
“So when you said you were going with Shepley to take his car to the shop . . .”
“We went to get your present.” I nodded.
“He’s wiggly!” She laughed.
“Every girl from Kansas needs a Toto,” I said, trying to keep the fur ball from falling off her lap.
“He does look like Toto! That’s what I’m going to call him,” she said, wrinkling her nose at him.
She was happy, and that made me happy.
“You can keep him here. I’ll take care of him for you when you’re back at Morgan, and it’s my security that you’ll visit when your month is up.”
“I would have come back anyway, Trav.”
“I’d do anything for that smile that’s on your face right now.”
My words made her pause, but she quickly turned her attention back to the dog. “I think you need a nap, Toto. Yes, you do.”
I nodded, pulled her onto my lap, and then lifted her with me as I stood. “Come on, then.”
I carried her to the bedroom, pulled back the covers, and then lowered her to the mattress. The action itself would have been a turn-on, but I was too tired. I reached over her to pull the curtains closed, and then fell onto my pillow.
“Thanks for staying with me last night,” she said, her voice a bit hoarse and sleepy. “You didn’t have to sleep on the bathroom floor.”
“Last night was one of the best nights of my life.”
She turned to shoot me a dubious look. “Sleeping in between the toilet and the tub on a cold, hard tile floor with a vomiting idiot was one of your best nights? That’s sad, Trav.”
“No, sitting up with you when you were sick, and you falling asleep in my lap, was one of my best nights. It wasn’t comfortable, I didn’t sleep worth a shit, but I brought in your nineteenth birthday with you, and you’re actually pretty sweet when you’re drunk.”
“I’m sure between the heaving and purging I was very charming.”
I pulled her close, patting Toto, who was snuggled up to her neck. “You’re the only woman I know that still looks incredible with your head in the toilet. That’s saying something.”
“Thanks, Trav. I won’t make you babysit me again.”
I leaned against my pillow. “Whatever. No one can hold your hair back like I can.”
She giggled and closed her eyes. As tired as I was, it was difficult to stop watching her. Her face was makeup free except for the thin skin under her lower lashes that was still a little stained with mascara. She fidgeted a bit before her shoulders relaxed.
I blinked a few times, my eyes getting heavier each time they closed. It seemed I’d just fallen asleep when I heard the doorbell.
Abby didn’t even stir.
Two male voices murmured in the living room, one of them Shepley’s. America’s voice was a high-pitched break between the two, but none of them sounded happy. Whoever it was wasn’t just making a social call.
Footsteps sounded in the hall, and then the door blew open. Parker stood in the doorway. He looked at me, and then at Abby, his jaw tense.
I knew what he thought, and it crossed my mind to explain why Abby was in my bed, but I didn’t. Instead I reached over and rested my hand on her hip.
“Shut the door when you’re finished being in my business,” I said, resting my head next to Abby’s.
Parker walked away without a word. He didn’t slam my door, instead putting his full force behind closing the front door. Shepley peeked into my room. “Shit, bro. That’s not good.” It was done; couldn’t change it now. The consequences weren’t a concern in the moment, but lying next to Abby, scanning over her perfectly content, beautiful face, the panic slowly crept in. When she found out what I’d done, she would hate me.
THE GIRLS LEFT FOR CLASS THE NEXT MORNING IN A rush. Pidge barely had time to speak to me before she left, so her feelings about the day before were definitely less than clear.
I brushed my teeth and got dressed, and then found Shepley in the kitchen.
He sat on a stool in front of the breakfast bar, slurping milk from his spoon. He wore a hoodie and the pink boxers America had bought him because she thought they were “sexy.”
I pulled a glass from the dishwasher and filled it with OJ. “Looks like you two worked it out.”
Shepley smiled, looking nearly drunk with contentment. “We did. Have I ever told you what America is like in bed right after we argue?”
I made a face. “No, and please don’t.”
“Fighting with her like that is scary as hell, but tempting if we make up like that every time.” When I didn’t answer, Shepley continued. “I’m going to marry that woman.”
“Yeah. Well, when you’re done being a pansy ass, we need to be on our way.”
“Shut your face, Travis. Don’t think I’m oblivious to what’s going on with you.”
I crossed my arms. “And what’s going on with me?”
“You’re in love with Abby.”
“Pft. You were obviously making shit up in your head to keep your mind off America.”
“You’re denying it?” Shepley’s eyes didn’t flinch, and I tried to look everywhere but into them.
After a full minute, I shifted nervously but remained silent.
“Who’s being a pansy ass, now?”
“No, you’re not denying that you’re in love with Abby, or no you won’t admit it? Because either way, asshole, you’re in love with her.”
“. . . So?”
“I KNEW IT!” Shepley said, kicking the stool back, making it skid to where the wood floor met the rug in the living room.
“I . . . just . . . shut up, Shep,” I said. My lips formed a hard line.
Shepley pointed at me while walking to his room. “You just admitted to it. Travis Maddox in love. Now I’ve heard everything.”
“Just put your panties on, and let’s go!”
Shepley chuckled to himself in his bedroom, and I stared at the floor. Saying it out loud—to someone else—made it real, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it.
Less than five minutes later, I was fiddling with the radio in the Charger while Shepley was pulling out of the parking lot of our apartment complex.
Shepley seemed to be in an exceptionally good mood as we weaved through traffic and slowed down just enough to keep from tossing pedestrians over the hood. He finally found a suitable parking space, and we headed to English Comp II—the one class we shared.
The top row had been me and Shepley’s new seating arrangement for several weeks in an attempt to break free of the flock of baggable females that usually crowded my desk.
Dr. Park breezed into the classroom, dumping off a tote bag, a briefcase, and a cup of coffee onto her desk. “Christ! It’s cold!” she said, pulling her coat tighter around her tiny frame. “Is everyone here?” Hands shot up, and she nodded, not really paying attention. “Great. Good news. Pop quiz!”
Everyone groaned, and she smiled. “You’ll still love me. Paper and pen, people, I don’t have all day.”
The room filled with the same sound as everyone reached for their supplies. I scribbled my name at the top of my paper and smiled at Shepley’s panicked whispers.
“Why? Pop quiz in Comp Two? Fucking ridiculous,” he hissed.
The quiz was fairly harmless, and her lecture ended with another paper being due by the end of the week. In the last minutes of class, a guy in the row directly ahead of me craned his neck back. I recognized him from class. His name was Levi, but I only knew that because I’d heard Dr. Park call on him several times. His greasy dark hair was always slicked back, away from his pockmarked face. Levi was never in the cafeteria, or in any fraternity. He wasn’t on the football team, either, and never at any parties. Not any that I frequented, anyway.
I looked down at him, and then turned my attention back to Dr. Park, who was sharing a story about the latest visit from her favorite gay friend.
My eyes drifted down again. He was still staring.
“Need something?” I asked.
“I just heard about Brazil’s party this weekend. Well played.”
The girl to his right, Elizabeth, turned too, her light brown hair bouncing. Elizabeth was the girlfriend of one of my frat brothers. Her eyes lit up. “Yeah. Sorry I missed that show.”
Shepley leaned forward. “What? Me and Mare’s fight?”
The guy chuckled. “No. Abby’s party.”
“The birthday party?” I asked, trying to think of what he could be referring to. Several things had happened that would have the rumor mills churning, but nothing some random guy from oblivion would hear about.