“You think they . . . ? Nah. Abby wouldn’t. America said she was . . . never mind. My mouth is going to get me in trouble.”
I shrugged. “Abby told me. You think because we . . . that she’d . . . ?”
I rubbed the back of my neck. “You’re right. I think you’re right. I mean, I hope. She’s capable of doing some crazy shit to push me away.”
“Would it? Push you away, I mean?”
I looked up into Shepley’s eyes. “I love her, Shep. I know what I’d do to Parker if he took advantage of her, though.”
Shepley shook his head. “It’s her choice, Trav. If that’s what she decided, you’re going to have to let it go.”
I took my bike keys and clenched my fingers around them, feeling the sharp edges of the metal as it dug into my palm.
Before climbing on the Harley, I called Abby.
“You home, yet?”
“Yeah, he dropped me off about five minutes ago.”
“I’ll be there in five more.”
I hung up before she could protest. The frigid air that rushed against my face as I drove helped to numb the anger that thoughts of Parker sparked, but a sick feeling still descended on my gut the closer I came to campus.
The bike engine seemed loud as the noise bounced off the brick of Morgan Hall. Compared to the dark windows and the abandoned parking lot, me and my Harley made the night seem abnormally quiet, and the wait exceptionally long. Finally Abby appeared in the doorway. Every muscle in my body tensed as I waited for her to smile or freak out.
She did neither. “Aren’t you cold?” she asked, pulling her jacket tighter.
“You look nice,” I said, noting she wasn’t in a dress. She obviously wasn’t trying to look all sexy for him, and that was a relief. “Did you have a good time?”
“Uh . . . yeah, thanks. What are you doing here?”
I gunned the engine. “I was going to take a ride to clear my head. I want you to come with me.”
“It’s cold, Trav.”
“You want me to go get Shep’s car?”
“We’re going bowling tomorrow. Can’t you wait until then?”
“I went from being with you every second of the day to seeing you for ten minutes if I’m lucky.”
She smiled and shook her head. “It’s only been two days, Trav.”
“I miss you. Get your ass on the seat and let’s go.”
She contemplated my offer, and then zipped up her jacket and climbed on the seat behind me.
I pulled her arms around me without apology, tight enough that it was difficult to expand my chest enough to fully inhale, but for the first time all night, I felt like I could breathe.
THE HARLEY TOOK US NOWHERE IN PARTICULAR. WATCHING out for traffic and the sporadic police cruiser that crossed our path was enough to keep my thoughts occupied at first, but after a while we were the only ones on the road. Knowing the night would eventually end, I decided the moment I dropped her off at Morgan would be when I put in my last-ditch effort. Regardless of our platonic bowling dates, if she continued to see Parker, eventually those would stop, too. Everything would stop.
Pressuring Abby was never a good idea, but unless I laid all my cards on the table, I stood a very good chance of losing the only pigeon I’d ever met. What I would say and how I would say it played over and over in my mind. It would have to be direct, something Abby couldn’t ignore, or pretend she didn’t hear or understand.
The needle had been flirting with the empty end of the gas gauge for several miles, so I pulled into the first open gas station we came across.
“You want anything?” I asked.
Abby shook her head, climbing off the bike. She raked her fingers through the tangles of her long, shiny hair, and smiled sheepishly.
“Quit it. You’re fucking beautiful.”
“Just point me to the nearest 1980s rock video.”
I laughed, and then yawned, placing the nozzle into the Harley’s gas tank opening.
Abby pulled out her cell phone to check the time. “Oh my God, Trav. It’s three in the morning.”
“You wanna go back?” I asked, my stomach sinking.
“We’re still going bowling tonight?”
“I told you I would.”
“And you’re still going to Sig Tau with me in a couple weeks, right?”
“Are you insinuating that I don’t follow through? I find that a little insulting.”
I pulled the nozzle from the gas tank and hooked it on its base. “I just never know what you’re going to do anymore.”
I sat on the bike and then helped Abby to climb on behind me. She wrapped her arms around me, this time on her own, and I sighed, lost in thought before starting the engine. I gripped the handlebars, took a breath, and just when I got the balls to tell her, decided a gas station was not the appropriate backdrop to bare my soul.
“You’re important to me, you know,” Abby said, tensing her arms.
“I don’t understand you, Pigeon. I thought I knew women, but you’re so fucking confusing I don’t know which way is up.”
“I don’t understand you, either. You’re supposed to be this school’s ladies’ man. I’m not getting the full freshmen experience they promised in the brochure.”
I couldn’t help but feel offended. Even if it was true. “Well, that’s a first. I’ve never had a girl sleep with me to get me to leave her alone.”
“That’s not what it was, Travis.”
I started the engine and pulled out into the street without saying another word. The drive to Morgan was excruciating. In my head, I talked myself in and out of confronting Abby so many times. Even though my fingers were numb from the cold, I drove slowly, dreading the moment when Abby knew everything, and then rejecting me for the final time.
When we pulled in front of the entrance to Morgan Hall, my nerves felt like they had been cut, lit on fire, and left in a raw, mangled mess. Abby stepped off the bike, and her sad expression made subdued panic blaze inside me. She might tell me to go to hell before I had a chance to say anything.
I walked Abby to the door, and she pulled out her keys, keeping her head down. Unable to wait another second, I took her chin gently in my hand, and lifted it, waiting patiently as her eyes rose to meet mine.
“Did he kiss you?” I asked, touching my thumb to her soft lips.
She pulled away. “You really know how to screw up a perfect night, don’t you?”
“You thought it was perfect, huh? Does that mean you had a good time?”
“I always do when I’m with you.”
My eyes fell, and I felt my features compress into a frown. “Did he kiss you?”
“Yes.” She sighed, irritated.
My eyes closed tight, knowing my next question could result in disaster. “Is that all?”
“That is none of your business!” she said, yanking open the door.
I pushed it closed and stood in her way. “I need to know.”
“No you don’t! Move, Travis!” she jabbed her elbow into my side, trying to get by.
“Pigeon . . .”
“You think because I’m no longer a virgin, I’ll screw anyone that’ll have me? Thanks!” she said, shoving my shoulder.
“I didn’t say that, damn it! Is it too much to ask for a little peace of mind?”
“Why would it give you peace of mind to know if I’m sleeping with Parker?”
“How can you not know? It’s obvious to everyone else but you!”
“I guess I’m just an idiot, then. You’re on a roll tonight, Trav,” she said, reaching for the door handle.
I cupped her shoulders. She was doing it again, the oblivious routine I’d become so accustomed to. The time to show my cards was now. “The way I feel about you . . . it’s crazy.”
“You got the crazy part right,” she snapped, pulling away from me.
“I practiced this in my head the whole time we were on the bike, so just hear me out.”
“I know we’re fucked up, all right? I’m impulsive and hot tempered, and you get under my skin like no one else. You act like you hate me one minute, and then you need me the next. I never get anything right, and I don’t deserve you . . . but I fucking love you, Abby. I love you more than I’ve loved anyone or anything, ever. When you’re around, I don’t need booze or money or the fighting or the one-night stands . . . all I need is you. You’re all I think about. You’re all I dream about. You’re all I want.”
She didn’t speak for several seconds. Her eyebrows raised, and her eyes looked dazed as she processed everything I’d said. She blinked a few times.
I cupped each side of her face and looked into her eyes. “Did you sleep with him?”
Abby’s eyes glossed over, and then she shook her head no. Without another thought, my lips slammed into hers, and I slipped my tongue inside her mouth. She didn’t push me away; instead her tongue challenged mine, and she gripped my T-shirt in her fists, pulling me close. An involuntary hum emanated from my throat, and I wrapped my arms around her.
When I knew I had my answer, I pulled back, breathless. “Call Parker. Tell him you don’t wanna see him anymore. Tell him you’re with me.”
She closed her eyes. “I can’t be with you, Travis.”
“Why the hell not?” I asked, letting go.
Abby shook her head. She had proven herself unpredictable a million times before, but the way she kissed me had meant more than friendship, and had too much behind it to just be sympathy. That left me with only one conclusion.
“Unbelievable. The one girl I want, and she doesn’t want me.”
She hesitated before she spoke. “When America and I moved out here, it was with the understanding that my life was going to turn out a certain way. Or, that it wouldn’t turn out a certain way. The fighting, the gambling, the drinking . . . it’s what I left behind. When I’m around you it’s all right there for me in an irresistible, tattooed package. I didn’t move hundreds of miles away to live it all over again.”
“I know you deserve better than me. You think I don’t know that? But if there was any woman made for me . . . it’s you. I’ll do whatever I have to do, Pidge. Do you hear me? I’ll do anything.”
She turned away from me, but I wouldn’t give up. She was finally talking, and if she walked away this time, we might not get another chance.
I held the door shut with my hand. “I’ll stop fighting the second I graduate. I won’t drink a single drop again. I’ll give you the happy ever after, Pigeon. If you just believe in me, I can do it.”
“I don’t want you to change.”
“Then tell me what to do. Tell me and I’ll do it,” I pleaded.
“Can I borrow your phone?” she asked.
I frowned, unsure what she would do. “Sure.” I pulled my phone from my pocket, handing it to her.
She fingered the buttons for a moment, and then dialed, closing her eyes as she waited.
“I’m sorry for calling you so early,” she stammered, “but this couldn’t wait. I . . . can’t go to dinner with you on Wednesday.”
She had called Parker. My hands trembled with apprehension, wondering if she was going to ask him to pick her up—to save her—or something else.
She continued, “I can’t see you at all, actually. I’m . . . pretty sure I’m in love with Travis.”
My whole world stopped. I tried to replay her words over. Had I heard them correctly? Did she really just say what I thought she had, or was it just wishful thinking?
Abby handed the phone back to me, and then reluctantly peered up into my eyes.
“He hung up,” she said with a frown.
“You love me?”
“It’s the tattoos,” she said, flippant and shrugging, as if she hadn’t just said the one thing I’d ever wanted to hear.
Pigeon loved me.
A wide smile stretched across my face. “Come home with me,” I said, enveloping her in my arms.
Abby’s eyebrows shot up. “You said all that to get me in bed? I must have made quite an impression.”
“The only thing I’m thinking about right now is holding you in my arms all night.”
I didn’t hesitate. Once Abby was securely on the back of my bike, I raced home, taking every shortcut, rushing every yellow light, and weaving in and out of the little traffic there was at that time of the morning.
When we reached the apartment, turning off the engine and lifting Abby into my arms seemed simultaneous.
She giggled against my lips as I fumbled with the bolt lock on the front door. When I set her down and closed the door behind us, I let out a long, relieved sigh.
“It hasn’t seemed like home since you left,” I said, kissing her again.
Toto scampered down the hall and wagged his shaggy tail, pawing at Abby’s legs. He’d missed her almost as much as I had.
Shepley’s bed squeaked, and then his feet stomped across the floor. His door flew open as he squinted from the light. “Fuck no, Trav, you’re not pulling this shit! You’re in love with Ab . . .”—his eyes focused and he recognized his mistake—“by. Hey, Abby.”
“Hey, Shep,” Abby said with an amused smile, setting Toto on the floor.
Before Shepley could ask questions, I pulled Abby down the hall. We crashed into each other. I hadn’t planned on anything but having her next to me in the bed, but she yanked my shirt up and over my head with intention. I helped her with her jacket, and then she stripped off her sweater and tank top. There was no questioning the look in her eyes, and I wasn’t about to argue.