Shepley’s white ball cap came into view. He was in no hurry to get to our computer class. My eyebrows pressed together. I hated that class. Who doesn’t know how to work a fucking computer anymore?
I joined Shepley and America as they merged into the flow of students on the main walkway. She giggled and watched him yap at me with stars in her eyes. America was no vulture. She was hot, yeah, but she could have a conversation without saying like after every word, and she was pretty funny at times. What I liked most about her is she wouldn’t come to the apartment for several weeks after their first date, and even after they watched a movie all snuggled up at the apartment, she went back to her dorm room.
I had a feeling the probationary period before Shepley could bag her was about to end, though.
“Hey, Mare,” I said, nodding.
“How’s it going, Trav?” she asked. She acknowledged me with a friendly smile, but then her eyes were right back on Shepley.
He was one of the lucky ones. Girls like that didn’t come along very often.
“This is me,” America said, gesturing to her dorm around the corner. She wrapped her arms around Shepley’s neck and kissed him. He gripped her shirt on each side and pulled her close before letting her go.
America waved one last time at both of us, and then joined her friend Finch at the front entrance.
“You’re falling for her, aren’t you?” I asked, punching Shepley in the arm.
He shoved me. “None of your business, dick.”
“Does she have a sister?”
“She’s an only child. Leave her friends alone, too, Trav. I mean it.”
Shepley’s last words were unnecessary. His eyes were a billboard for his emotions and thoughts most of the time, and he was clearly serious—maybe even a little desperate. He wasn’t just falling for her. He was in love.
“You mean Abby.”
He frowned. “I mean any of her friends. Even Finch. Just stay away.”
“Cousin!” I said, hooking my elbow around his neck. “Are you in love? You’re making me all misty-eyed!”
“Shut up,” Shepley grumbled. “Just promise me you’ll stay away from her friends.”
I grinned. “I promise nothing.”
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” SHEPLEY ASKED. HE STOOD IN the middle of the room, a pair of sneakers in one hand, a dirty pair of underwear in the other.
“Uh, cleaning?” I asked, shoving shot glasses into the dishwasher.
“I see that. But . . . why?”
I smiled, my back turned to Shepley. He was going to kick my ass. “I’m expecting company.”
“Abby, Shep. I invited Abby.”
“Dude, no. No! Don’t fuck this up for me, man. Please don’t.”
I turned, crossing my arms across my chest. “I tried, Shep. I did. But, I don’t know.” I shrugged. “There’s something about her. I couldn’t help myself.”
Shepley’s jaw worked under his skin, and then he stomped into his room, slamming the door behind him.
I finished loading the dishwasher, and then circled the couch to make sure I hadn’t missed any visible empty condom wrappers. That was never fun to explain.
The fact that I had bagged a good portion of beautiful coeds at this school was no secret, but I didn’t see a reason to remind them when they came to my apartment. It was all about presentation.
Pigeon, though. It would take far more than false advertising to bag her on my couch. At this point, the strategy was to take her one step at a time. If I focused on the end result, the process could easily be fucked up. She noticed things. She was farther from naive than I was; light-years away. This operation was nothing less than precarious.
I was in my bedroom sorting dirty laundry when I heard the front door open. Shepley usually listened for America’s car to pull in so he could greet her at the door.
Murmuring, and then the closing of Shepley’s door was my signal. I walked into the front room, and there she sat: glasses, her hair all piled on top of her head, and what might have been pajamas. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d been molding in the bottom of her laundry hamper.
It was so hard not to bust into laughter. Never once had a female come to my apartment dressed like that. My front door had seen jean skirts, dresses, even a see-through tube dress over a string bikini. A handful of times, spackled-on makeup and glitter lotion. Never pajamas.
Her appearance immediately explained why she’d so easily agreed to come over. She was going to try to nauseate me into leaving her alone. If she didn’t look absolutely sexy like that, it might have worked, but her skin was impeccable, and the lack of makeup and the frames of her glasses just made her eye color stand out even more.
“It’s about time you showed up,” I said, falling onto the couch.
At first she seemed proud of her idea, but as we talked and I remained impervious, it was clear that she knew her plan had failed. The less she smiled, the more I had to stop myself from grinning from ear to ear. She was so much fun. I just couldn’t get over it.
Shepley and America joined us ten minutes later. Abby was flustered, and I was damn near light-headed. Our conversation had gone from her doubting that I could write a simple paper to her questioning my penchant for fighting. I kind of liked talking to her about normal stuff. It was preferable to the awkward task of asking her to leave once I bagged her. She didn’t understand me, and I kind of wanted her to, even though I seemed to piss her off.
“What are you, the Karate Kid? Where did you learn to fight?”
Shepley and America seemed to be embarrassed for Abby. I don’t know why; I sure as hell didn’t mind. Just because I didn’t talk about my childhood much didn’t mean I was ashamed.
“I had a dad with a drinking problem and a bad temper, and four older brothers that carried the asshole gene.”
“Oh,” she said simply. Her cheeks turned red, and at that moment, I felt a twinge in my chest. I wasn’t sure what it was, but it bugged me. “Don’t be embarrassed, Pidge. Dad quit drinking. The brothers grew up.”
“I’m not embarrassed.” Her body language didn’t match her words. I struggled to think of something to change the subject, and then her sexy, frumpy look came to mind. Her embarrassment was immediately replaced by irritation, something I was far more comfortable with.
America suggested watching TV. The last thing I wanted to do was to be in a room with Abby but unable to talk to her. I stood. “You hungry, Pidge?”
“I already ate.”
America’s eyebrows pulled in. “No, you haven’t. Oh . . . er . . . that’s right. I forgot. You grabbed a . . . pizza? Before we left.”
Abby was embarrassed again, but her anger quickly covered it. Learning her emotional pattern didn’t take long.
I opened the door, trying to keep my voice casual. I’d never been so eager to get a girl alone—especially to not have sex with her. “C’mon. You’ve gotta be hungry.”
Her shoulders relaxed a bit. “Where are you going?”
“Wherever you want. We can hit a pizza place.” I inwardly cringed. That might have been too eager.
She looked down at her sweatpants. “I’m not really dressed.”
She had no idea how beautiful she was. That made her even more appealing. “You look fine. Let’s go, I’m starvin’.”
Once she was on the back of my Harley, I could finally think straight again. My thoughts were usually more relaxed on my bike. Abby’s legs had my hips in a vise grip, but that was oddly relaxing, too. Almost a relief.
This weird sensation I felt around her was disorienting. I didn’t like it, but then again it reminded me that she was around, so it was as comforting as it was unsettling. I decided to get my shit together. Abby might be a pigeon, but she was just a fucking girl. No need to get my boxers in a bunch.
Besides, there was something under the good girl facade. She hated me on sight because she’d been burned by someone like me before. No way was she a slut, though. Not even a reformed slut. I could spot them a mile away. My game face slowly melted away. I’d finally found a girl that was interesting enough to get to know, and a version of me had already hurt her.
Even though we’d just met, the thought of some jackhole hurting Pidge infuriated me. Abby associating me with someone that would hurt her was even worse. I gunned the throttle as I pulled into the Pizza Shack. That ride wasn’t long enough to sort out the clusterfuck in my head.
I wasn’t even thinking about my speed, so when Abby jumped off my bike and started yelling, I couldn’t help but laugh.
“I went the speed limit.”
“Yeah, if we were on the autobahn!” She ripped the wild bun down from the crown of her head, and then brushed her long hair with her fingers.
I couldn’t stop staring while she rewrapped it and tied it back again. I imagined that this was what she looked like in the morning, and then had to think about the first ten minutes of Saving Private Ryan to keep my dick from getting hard. Blood. Screaming. Visible intestines. Grenades. Gunfire. More blood.
I held the door open. “I wouldn’t let anything happen to you, Pigeon.”
She angrily stomped past me and into the restaurant, ignoring my gesture. It was a damn shame; she was the first girl that I had ever wanted to open the door for. I’d been looking forward to that moment, and she didn’t even notice.
After following her inside, I headed for the corner booth I usually commandeered. The soccer team was seated at several tables pushed together in the middle of the room. They were already howling that I had walked in with a date, and I gritted my teeth. I didn’t want Abby to hear.
For the first time ever, I found myself embarrassed about my behavior. But it didn’t last long. Seeing Abby sit across the table, cranky and annoyed, cheered me right up.
I ordered two beers. The look of disgust on Abby’s face caught me off guard. The waitress was blatantly flirting with me, and Abby was unhappy. Apparently I could piss her off without even trying.
“Come here often?” she snapped, glancing at the waitress.
Hell, yeah. She was jealous. Wait. Maybe the way I was treated by women was a turnoff. That wouldn’t surprise me, either. This chick made my head spin.
I leaned on the table with my elbows, refusing to let her see she was getting to me. “So what’s your story, Pidge? Are you a man-hater in general, or do you just hate me?”
“I think it’s just you.”
I had to laugh. “I can’t figure you out. You’re the first girl that’s ever been disgusted with me before sex. You don’t get all flustered when you talk to me, and you don’t try to get my attention.”
“It’s not a ploy. I just don’t like you.”
Ouch. “You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t like me.”
My persistence paid off. Her scowl smoothed, and the skin around her eyes relaxed.
“I didn’t say you’re a bad person. I just don’t like being a foregone conclusion for the sole reason of having a vagina.”
Whatever it was that had come over me, I couldn’t contain it. I choked back my laughter to no avail, and then burst out laughing. She didn’t think I was a dick after all; she just didn’t like my approach. Easily fixed. A wave of relief washed over me, and I laughed harder than I’d laughed in years. Maybe ever.
“Oh my God! You’re killing me! That’s it. We have to be friends. I won’t take no for an answer.”
“I don’t mind being friends, but that doesn’t mean you have to try to get in my panties every five seconds.”
“You’re not sleeping with me. I get it.”
That was it. She smiled, and in that moment, a whole new world of possibilities opened up. My brain flashed like channels through Pigeon porn, and then the whole system crashed, and an infomercial about nobility and not wanting to screw up this weird friendship we’d just begun appeared in its place.
I smiled back. “You have my word. I won’t even think about your panties . . . unless you want me to.”
She rested her small elbows on the table and leaned onto them. Of course my eyes went right to her tits, and the way they now pressed against the edge of the table.
“And that won’t happen, so we can be friends.”
“So what’s your story?” Abby asked. “Have you always been Travis ‘Mad Dog’ Maddox, or is that just since you came here?” She used two fingers on each hand as quotation marks when she said that god-awful fucking nickname.
I cringed. “No. Adam started that after my first fight.” I hated that name, but it stuck. Everyone else seemed to like it, so Adam kept using it.
After an awkward silence, Abby finally spoke. “That’s it? You’re not going to tell me anything about yourself?”
She didn’t seem to mind the nickname, or else she just accepted the backstory. I never knew when she was going to get offended and freak out, or when she would be rational and stay cool. Holy hell, I couldn’t get enough of it.
“What do you wanna know?”
Abby shrugged. “The normal stuff. Where you’re from, what you want to be when you grow up . . . things like that.”
I was having to work at keeping the tension out of my shoulders. Talking about myself—especially my past—was out of my comfort zone. I gave some vague answers and left it at that, but then I heard one of the soccer players make a crack. It wouldn’t have bothered me nearly as much if I wasn’t dreading the moment Abby realized what they were laughing about. Okay, that was a lie. That would have pissed me off whether she was there or not.
She kept wanting to know about my family and my major, and I was trying not to jump out of my seat and take them all out in a one-man stampede. As my anger came to a boil, focusing on our conversation became more difficult.