I let my hands fall to my sides. Despite the cold air filling the apartment from the open front door, sweat was dripping from my temples. My chest heaved as if I’d run a marathon.
America ran to Shepley’s room. Within five minutes, she was dressed, knotting her hair into a bun. Shepley helped her slip on her coat and then kissed her goodbye, offering a nod of assurance. She grabbed her keys and let the door slam behind her.
“Sit. The fuck. Down,” Shepley said, pointing to the recliner.
I closed my eyes, then did what he commanded. My hands shook as I brought them to my face.
“You’re lucky. I was two seconds away from calling Jim. And every brother you’ve got.”
I shook my head. “Don’t call Dad,” I said. “Don’t call him.” Salty tears burned my eyes.
“I bagged her. I mean, I didn’t bag her, we . . .”
Shepley nodded. “Last night was tough for both of you. Who’s idea was it?”
“Hers.” I blinked. “I tried to pull away. Offered to wait, but she all but begged me.”
Shepley looked as confused as I felt.
I threw up my hands and let them fall to my lap. “Maybe I hurt her, I don’t know.”
“How did she act after? Did she say anything?”
I thought for a moment. “She said it was some first kiss.”
“She let it slip a few weeks ago that a first kiss makes her nervous, and I made fun of her.”
Shepley’s brows pushed together. “That doesn’t sound like she was upset.”
“I said it was her last first kiss.” I laughed once and used the bottom of my T-shirt to pinch the moisture from my nose. “I thought everything was good, Shep. That she had finally let me in. Why would she ask me to . . . and then just leave?”
Shepley shook his head slowly, as confused as I was. “I don’t know, cousin. America will find out. We’ll know something soon.”
I stared at the floor, thinking about what could possibly happen next. “What am I gonna do?” I asked, looking up at him.
Shepley gripped my forearm. “You’re going to clean up your mess to keep you busy until they call.”
I walked into my room. The door was lying on my bare mattress, pieces of mirror and shattered glass on the floor. It looked like a bomb had gone off.
Shepley appeared in the doorway with a broom, a dustpan, and a screwdriver. “I’ll get the glass. You get the door.”
I nodded, pulling the large wooden plank from the bed. Just after making the last turn on the screwdriver, my cell phone rang. I scrambled off the floor to snap it up from the night table.
It was America.
“Mare?” I choked out.
“It’s me.” Abby’s voice was small and nervous.
I wanted to beg her back, to beg for her forgiveness, but I wasn’t sure what I’d done wrong. Then, I got angry.
“What the fuck happened to you last night? I wake up this morning, and you’re gone and you . . . you just leave and don’t say goodbye? Why?”
“I’m sorry. I—”
“You’re sorry? I’ve been going crazy! You don’t answer your phone, you sneak out and—wh-why? I thought we finally had everything figured out!”
“I just needed some time to think.”
“About what?” I paused, afraid of how she might answer the question I was about to ask. “Did I . . . did I hurt you?”
“No! It’s nothing like that! I’m really, really sorry. I’m sure America told you. I don’t do goodbyes.”
“I need to see you,” I said, desperate.
Abby sighed. “I have a lot to do today, Trav. I have to unpack and I have piles of laundry.”
“You regret it.”
“It’s not . . . that’s not what it is. We’re friends. That’s not going to change.”
“Friends? Then what the fuck was last night?”
I could hear her breath catch. “I know what you want. I just can’t do that right now.”
“So you just need some time? You could have told me that. You didn’t have to run out on me.”
“It just seemed like the easiest way.”
“Easier for who?”
“I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking about what it would be like in the morning, loading Mare’s car . . . and I couldn’t do it, Trav.”
“It’s bad enough that you aren’t going to be here anymore. You can’t just drop out of my life.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said, trying hard to sound casual. “I don’t want anything to be weird, okay? I just need to sort some stuff out. That’s all.”
“Okay,” I said. “I can do that.”
The line went silent, and Shepley watched me, wary. “Travis . . . you just got the door hung. No more messes, okay?”
My entire face crumpled, and I nodded my head. I tried to be angry, that was much easier to control than the overwhelming, physical pain in my chest, but all I felt was wave after wave of sadness. I was too tired to fight it.
“What did she say?”
“She needs time.”
“Okay. So, that’s not the end. You can work with that, right?”
I took a deep breath. “Yeah. I can work with that.”
The dustpan jingled with the shards of glass as Shepley walked with it down the hall. Left alone in the bedroom, surrounded by pictures of me and Abby, made me want to break something again, so I went into the living room to wait for America.
Thankfully, it didn’t take her long to return. I imagined that she was probably worried about Shepley.
The door opened, and I stood. “Is she with you?”
“No. She’s not.”
“Did she say anything else?”
America swallowed, hesitating to answer. “She said she’ll keep her promise, and that by this time tomorrow, you won’t miss her.”
My eyes drifted to the floor. “She’s not coming back,” I said falling to the couch.
America stepped forward. “What does that mean, Travis?”
I cupped the top of my head with both hands. “What happened last night wasn’t her way of saying she wanted to be together. She was saying goodbye.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I know her.”
“Abby cares about you.”
“She doesn’t love me.”
America took a breath, and any reservations she’d had about my temper vanished as a sympathetic expression softened her face. “You don’t know that, either. Listen, just give her some space. Abby isn’t like the girls you’re used to, Trav. She gets freaked out easy. The last time someone mentioned getting serious she moved an entire state away. This isn’t as bad as it seems.”
I looked up at America, feeling the tiniest bit hopeful. “You don’t think so?”
“Travis, she left because her feelings for you scare her. If you knew everything, it would be easier to explain, but I can’t tell you.”
“Because I promised Abby, and she’s my best friend.”
“Doesn’t she trust me?”
“She doesn’t trust herself. You, however, need to trust me.” America grabbed my hands and pulled me to stand. “Go take a long, hot shower, and then we’re going out to eat. Shepley told me it’s poker night at your dad’s.”
I shook my head. “I can’t do poker night. They’ll ask about Pigeon. Maybe we could go see Pidge?”
America blanched. “She won’t be home.”
“You guys going out?”
“With who?” It only took me a few seconds to figure it out. “Parker.”
“That’s why she thinks I won’t miss her,” I said, my voice breaking. I couldn’t believe she was going to do that to me. It was just cruel.
America didn’t hesitate to intercept another rage. “We’ll go to a movie, then, a comedy, of course, and then we’ll see if the go-kart place is still open, and you can run me off the track again.”
America was smart. She knew the go-kart track was one of the few places I hadn’t been with Abby. “I didn’t run you off the track. You just can’t drive worth a shit.”
“We’ll see,” America said, pushing me toward the bathroom. “Cry if you must. Scream. Get it all out of your system, and then we’ll have fun. It won’t last forever, but it will keep you busy for tonight.”
I turned around in the bathroom doorway. “Thanks, Mare.”
“Yeah, yeah . . . ,” she said, returning to Shepley.
I turned on the water, letting the steam warm the room before stepping in. The reflection in the mirror startled me. Dark circles under my tired eyes, my once confident posture sagging; I looked like hell.
Once in the shower, I let the water run over my face, keeping my eyes closed. The delicate outlines of Abby’s features were burned behind my eyelids. It wasn’t the first time; I saw her every time my eyes closed. Now that she was gone, it was like being stuck in a nightmare.
I choked back something welling up in my chest. Every few minutes, the pain renewed itself. I missed her. God, I missed her, and everything we’d gone through played over and over inside my head.
My palms flat against the wall of the tile, I clenched my eyes shut. “Please come back,” I said quietly. She couldn’t hear me, but it didn’t stop me from wishing she would come and save me from the terrible pain I felt without her there.
After wallowing in my despair under the water, I took a few deep breaths, and got myself together. The fact that Abby left shouldn’t have been such a surprise, even after what happened the night before. What America said made sense. Abby was just as new at this and as scared as I was. We both had a piss-poor way of dealing with our emotions, and I knew the second I realized I’d fallen for her that she was going to rip me apart.
The hot water washed away the anger and the fear, and a new optimism came over me. I wasn’t some loser that had no clue how to get a girl. Somewhere in my feelings for Abby, I’d forgotten that fact. It was time to believe in myself again, and remember that Abby wasn’t just a girl that could break my heart; she was also my best friend. I knew how to make her smile, and her favorite things. I still had a dog in this fight.
OUR MOODS WERE LIGHT WHEN WE RETURNED FROM THE go-kart track. America was still giggling about beating Shepley four times in a row, and Shepley was pretending to sulk.
Shepley fumbled with the key in the dark.
I held my cell phone in my hands, fighting the urge to call Abby for the thirteenth time.
“Why don’t you just call her already?” America asked.
“She’s still on the date, probably. I better not . . . interrupt,” I said, trying to push the thought of what might be happening from my mind.
“You shouldn’t?” America asked, genuinely surprised. “Didn’t you say you wanted to ask her to go bowling tomorrow? It’s rude to ask a girl on a date the day of, you know.”
Shepley finally found the keyhole and opened the door, letting us inside.
I sat on the couch, staring at Abby’s name on my call list.
“Fuck it,” I said, touching her name.
The phone rang once, and then again. My heart pounded against my rib cage, more than it ever did before a fight.
“How’s the date goin’, Pidge?”
“What do you need, Travis?” she whispered. At least she wasn’t breathing hard.
“I wanna go bowling tomorrow. I need my partner.”
“Bowling? You couldn’t have called me later?” She meant her words to sound sharp, but the tone in her voice was the opposite. I could tell she was glad I’d called.
My confidence soared to a new level. She didn’t want to be there with Parker.
“How am I supposed to know when you’re gonna get done? Oh. That didn’t come out right . . . ,” I joked.
“I’ll call you tomorrow and we can talk about it then, okay?”
“No, it’s not okay. You said you wanna be friends, but we can’t hang out?” She paused, and I imagined her rolling those gorgeous gray eyes. I was jealous that Parker could see them firsthand. “Don’t roll your eyes at me. Are you coming or not?”
“How did you know I rolled my eyes? Are you stalking me?”
“You always roll your eyes. Yes? No? You’re wasting precious date time.”
“Yes!” she said in a loud whisper, a smile in her voice. “I’ll go.”
“I’ll pick you up at seven.”
The phone made a muffled thud when I tossed it to the end of the couch, and then my eyes traveled to America.
“You got a date?”
“I do,” I said, leaning back against the cushion.
America tossed her legs off of Shepley, teasing him about their last race while he surfed through the channels. It didn’t take her long to get bored. “I’m going back to the dorm.”
Shepley frowned, never happy about her departure. “Text me.”
“I will,” America said, smiling. “See ya, Trav.”
I was envious that she was leaving, that she had something to do. I’d already finished days earlier the only two papers I had due.
The clock above the television caught my eye. Minutes rolled by slowly, and the more I told myself to stop paying attention, the more my eyes drifted to the digital numbers in the box. After an eternity, only half an hour had passed. My hands fidgeted. I felt more bored and restless until even seconds were torture. Pushing thoughts of Abby and Parker from my head became a constant struggle. Finally I stood.
“Leaving?” Shepley asked with a trace of a smile.
“I can’t just sit here. You know how Parker’s been frothing at the mouth for her. It’s driving me crazy.”