“Damn it! The food’s not here yet?” I asked, sliding into the booth next to Abby. Her phone lay on the table, so I picked it up, turned on the camera, made a stupid face, and snapped a picture.
“What the hell are you doing?” Abby said with a giggle.
I searched for my name, and then attached the picture. “So you’ll remember how much you adore me when I call.”
“Or what a dork you are,” America said.
America and Shepley talked most of the time about their classes and the latest gossip, taking care not to mention anyone involved in the scuffle earlier.
Abby watched them talk with her chin rested on her fist, smiling and effortlessly beautiful. Her fingers were tiny, and I caught myself noticing how naked her ring finger looked. She glanced over at me and leaned over to playfully shove me with her shoulder. She then righted herself, continuing to listen to America’s chatter.
We laughed and joked until the restaurant closed, and then crowded into the Charger to head home. I felt exhausted, and even though the day seemed long as hell, I didn’t want it to end.
Shepley carried America up the stairs on his back, but I stayed behind, tugging on Abby’s arm. I watched our friends until they went into the apartment, and then fidgeted with Abby’s hands in mine. “I owe you an apology for today, so I’m sorry.”
“You’ve already apologized. It’s fine.”
“No, I apologized for Parker. I don’t want you thinking I’m some psycho that goes around attacking people over the tiniest thing,” I said, “but I owe you an apology because I didn’t defend you for the right reason.”
“And that would be . . . ,” she prompted.
“I lunged at him because he said he wanted to be next in line, not because he was teasing you.”
“Insinuating there is a line is plenty reason for you to defend me, Trav.”
“That’s my point. I was pissed because I took that as him wanting to sleep with you.”
Abby thought for a moment, and then grabbed the sides of my shirt. She pressed her forehead against my T-shirt, into my chest. “You know what? I don’t care,” she said, looking up at me with a smile. “I don’t care what people are saying, or that you lost your temper, or why you messed up Chris’s face. The last thing I want is a bad reputation, but I’m tired of explaining our friendship to everyone. To hell with ’em.”
The corners of my mouth turned up. “Our friendship? Sometimes I wonder if you listen to me at all.”
“What do you mean?”
The bubble she surrounded herself with was impenetrable, and I wondered what would happen if I ever did make it through. “Let’s go in. I’m tired.”
She nodded, and we walked together up the stairs, and into the apartment. America and Shepley were already murmuring happily in their bedroom, and Abby disappeared into the bathroom. The pipes shrieked, and then the water in the shower beat against the tile.
Toto kept me company while I waited. She didn’t waste time; her nightly routine was complete within the hour.
She lay on the bed, her wet hair resting on my arm. She breathed out a long, relaxing breath. “Just two weeks left. What are you going to do for drama when I move back to Morgan?”
“I don’t know,” I said. I didn’t want to think about it.
“Hey.” She touched my arm. “I was kidding.”
I willed my body to relax against the mattress, reminding myself that for the moment, she was still next to me. It didn’t work. Nothing worked. I needed her in my arms. Enough time had been wasted. “Do you trust me, Pidge?” I asked, a little nervous.
“C’mere,” I said, pulling her against me. I waited for her to protest, but she only froze for a few moments before letting her body melt into mine. Her cheek relaxed against my chest.
Instantly, my eyes felt heavy. Tomorrow I would try to think of a way to postpone her departure, but in that moment, sleeping with her in my arms was the only thing I wanted to do.
TWO WEEKS. THAT WAS ALL I HAD LEFT TO EITHER ENJOY our remaining time together, or somehow show Abby that I could be who she needed.
I put on the charm; pulled out all the stops; spared no expense. We went bowling, on dinner dates, lunch dates, and to the movies. We also spent as much time at the apartment as possible: renting movies, ordering in, anything to be alone with her. We didn’t have a single fight.
Adam called a couple of times. Even though I made a good show, he was unhappy with how short the fights lasted. Money was money, but I didn’t want to waste any time away from Pidge.
She was happier than I’d ever seen her, and for the first time, I felt like a normal, whole human being instead of some broken, angry man.
At night we would lie down and snuggle like an old married couple. The closer it came to her last night, the more of a struggle it was to stay upbeat and pretend I wasn’t desperate to keep our lives the way they were.
The night before her last night, Abby opted for dinner at the Pizza Shack. Crumbs on the red floor, the smell of grease and spices in the air, minus the obnoxious soccer team, it was perfect.
Perfect, but sad. It was the first place we’d had dinner together. Abby laughed a lot, but she never opened up. Never mentioned our time together. Still in that bubble. Still oblivious. That my efforts were being ignored was at times infuriating, but being patient and keeping her happy were the only ways I had any chance of succeeding.
She fell asleep fairly quickly that night. As she slept just a few inches away, I watched her, trying to burn her image into my memory. The way her lashes fell against her skin; the way her wet hair felt against my arm; the fruity, clean smell that wafted from her lotioned body; the barely audible noise her nose made when she exhaled. She was so peaceful, and had become so comfortable sleeping in my bed.
The walls surrounding us were covered with pictures of Abby’s time in the apartment. It was dark, but each one was committed to my memory. Now that it finally felt like home, she was leaving.
The morning of Abby’s last day, I felt like I would be swallowed whole by grief, knowing we would pack her up the next morning for Morgan Hall. Pidge would be around, maybe visit occasionally, probably with America, but she would be with Parker. I was on the brink of losing her.
The recliner creaked a bit as I rocked back and forth, waiting for her to wake. The apartment was quiet. Too quiet. The silence weighed down on me.
Shepley’s door whined as it open and closed, and my cousin’s bare feet slapped against the floor. His hair was sticking up in places, his eyes squinty. He made his way to the love seat and watched me a while from under the hood of his sweatshirt.
It might have been cold. I didn’t notice.
“Trav? You’re going to see her again.”
“By the look on your face, I don’t think you do.”
“It won’t be the same, Shep. We’re going to live different lives. Grow apart. She’ll be with Parker.”
“You don’t know that. Parker will show his ass. She’ll wise up.”
“Then someone else like Parker.”
Shepley sighed and pulled one leg onto the couch, holding it up by the ankle. “What can I do?”
“I haven’t felt like this since Mom died. I don’t know what to do,” I choked out. “I’m going to lose her.”
Shepley’s brows pulled together. “So you’re done fighting, huh?”
“I’ve tried everything. I can’t get through to her. Maybe she doesn’t feel the same way about me that I do about her.”
“Or maybe she’s just trying not to. Listen. America and I will make ourselves scarce. You still have tonight. Do something special. Buy a bottle of wine. Make her some pasta. You make damn good pasta.”
One side of my mouth turned up. “Pasta isn’t going to change her mind.”
Shepley smiled. “You never know. Your cooking is why I decided to ignore the fact that you’re fucking nuts and move in with you.”
I nodded. “I’ll give it a try. I’ll try anything.”
“Just make it memorable, Trav,” Shepley said, shrugging. “She might come around.”
Shepley and America volunteered to pick up a few things from the grocery store so I could cook dinner for Abby. Shepley even agreed to stop by a department store to pick up some new silverware so we didn’t have to use the mix and match shit we had in our drawers.
My last night with Abby was set.
AS I SET OUT THE NAPKINS THAT NIGHT, ABBY CAME AROUND the corner in a pair of holey jeans and a loose, flowing white shirt.
“I have been salivating. Whatever you’re making smells so good.”
I poured the Alfredo and pasta into her deep plate, and slid the blackened Cajun chicken on top, and then sprinkled over it some diced tomatoes and green onions.
“This is what I’ve been cooking,” I said, setting the plate in front of Abby’s chair. She sat down, and her eyes widened, and then she watched me fill my own plate.
I tossed a slice of garlic bread onto her plate, and she smiled. “You’ve thought of everything.”
“Yes, I did,” I said, popping the cork on the wine. The dark red liquid splashed a bit as it flowed into her glass, and she giggled.
“You didn’t have to do all of this, you know.”
My lips pressed together. “Yes. I did.”
Abby took a bite, and then another, barely pausing to swallow. A small hum emanated from her lips. “This is really good, Trav. You’ve been holding out on me.”
“If I told you before, you would have expected it every night.” The contrived smile I’d somehow managed quickly faded.
“I’m going to miss you, too, Trav,” she said, still chewing.
“You’re still gonna come over, right?”
“You know I will. And you’ll be at Morgan’s, helping me study, just like you did before.”
“But it won’t be the same.” I sighed. “You’ll be dating Parker, we’re going to get busy . . . go in different directions.”
“It’s not going to change that much.”
I laughed once. “Who would have thought from the first time we met that we’d be sitting here? You couldn’t have told me three months ago that I’d be this miserable over saying goodbye to a girl.”
Abby’s face fell. “I don’t want you to be miserable.”
“Then don’t go.”
Abby swallowed, and her eyebrows moved in infinitesimally. “I can’t move in here, Travis. That’s crazy.”
“Says who? I just had the best two weeks of my life.”
“Then why do I feel like I’m never gonna see you again?”
She watched me for a moment, but didn’t reply. Instead Abby stood up and walked around the breakfast bar, sitting on my lap. Everything in me wanted to look her in the eyes, but I was afraid if I did, I’d try to kiss her, and our night would be ruined.
She hugged me, her soft cheek pressing against mine. “You’re going to realize what a pain in the ass I was, and then you’ll forget all about missing me,” she whispered in my ear.
I rubbed my hand in circles between her shoulder blades, trying to choke back the sadness. “Promise?”
Abby looked into my eyes, touching each side of my face with her hands. She caressed my jaw with her thumb. Thoughts of begging her to stay crossed my mind, but she wouldn’t hear me. Not from the other side of her bubble.
Abby closed her eyes and leaned down. I knew she meant to kiss the corner of my mouth, but I turned so that our lips met. It was my last chance. I had to kiss her goodbye.
She froze for a moment, but then her body relaxed, and she let her lips linger on mine.
Abby finally pulled away, playing it off with a smile. “I have a big day tomorrow. I’m going to clean up the kitchen, and then I’m going to head to bed.”
“I’ll help you.”
We did the dishes together in silence, with Toto asleep at our feet. I dried the last dish and set it in the rack, and then reached down for her hand to lead her down the hall. Each step was agony.
Abby pushed down her jeans, and then lifted her shirt over her head. Grabbing one of my T-shirts from the closet, she let the worn gray cotton slide over her head. I stripped down to my boxers like I’d done dozens of times with her in the room, but this time solemnness hung over the room.
We climbed into bed, and I switched off the lamp. I immediately wrapped my arms around her and sighed, and she nestled her face into my neck.
The trees outside my window cast a shadow across the walls. I tried to concentrate on their shapes and the way the light wind changed the shape of their silhouette against the different angles of the wall. Anything to keep my mind off the numbers on the clock, or how close we were to the morning.
Morning. My life was going to change for the worse in just a few hours. Jesus Christ. I couldn’t bear it. I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to block that train of thought.
“Trav? Are you okay?”
It took me a while to form the words. “I’ve never been less okay in my life.”
She pressed her forehead against my neck again, and I squeezed her tighter.
“This is silly,” she said. “We’re going to see each other every d a y.”
“You know that’s not true.”
Her head tilted just a tiny bit upward. I wasn’t sure if she was staring at me, or getting ready to say something. I waited in the darkness, in the silence, feeling like the world was going to crash around me at any second.
Without warning, Abby puckered her lips and touched them to my neck. Her mouth opened as she tasted my skin, and the warm wetness of her mouth lingered in that spot.
I looked down at her, completely taken off guard. A familiar spark burned behind the window of her eyes. Unsure of how it happened, I’d finally gotten through to her. Abby finally realized my feelings for her, and the light had suddenly come on.