Benny was all smiles. “Well done, Maddox. You saved the day. If you have a minute, I’d like to talk to you.”
I looked back at Abby, who grabbed my hand. “It’s okay. I’ll meet you at that door,” I said, nodding to the closest door, “in ten minutes.”
“Ten?” she asked with worry in her eyes.
“Ten,” I said, kissing her forehead. I looked to Shepley. “Keep an eye on the girls.”
“I think maybe I should go with you.”
I leaned into Shepley’s ear. “If they want to kill us, Shepley, there’s not much we can do about it. I think Benny has something else in mind.” I leaned back and slapped his arm. “I’ll see you in ten.”
“Not eleven. Not fifteen. Ten,” Shepley said, pulling a reluctant Abby away.
I followed Benny to the same room I had waited in before the fight. To my surprise, he made his men wait outside.
He held out his hands, gesturing to the room. “I thought this would be better. So you could see that I’m not always this . . . bad man that maybe I’m made out to be.”
His body language and tone were relaxed, but I kept my ears and eyes open for any surprises.
Benny smiled. “I have a proposition for you, son.”
“I’m not your son.”
“True,” he conceded. “But after I offer you a hundred and fifty grand a fight, I think you might want to be.”
“What fights?” I asked. I figured he would try to say that Abby still owed him. I had no clue he’d try to offer me a job.
“You are obviously a very vicious, very talented young man. You belong in that cage. I can make that happen . . . and I can also make you a very rich man.”
Benny grinned wider. “I’ll schedule one fight a month.”
“I’m still in college.”
He shrugged. “We’ll schedule around it. I’ll fly you out, and Abby if you wish, first class, on weekends, if that’s what you want. Making money like this, though, you might want to put a hold on the college education.”
“Six figures a fight?” I did the math, trying not to let my surprise show. “To fight and what else?”
“That’s it, kid. Just fight. Make me money.”
“Just fight . . . and I can quit when I want.”
He smiled. “Well, sure, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. You love it. I saw you. You were drunk with it, in that cage.”
I stood there for a moment, mulling over his offer. “I’ll think about it. Let me talk to Abby.”
I SET OUR SUITCASES ON THE BED AND COLLAPSED BESIDE them. I’d mentioned Benny’s offer to Abby, but she wasn’t receptive at all. Then the plane ride home was a little tense, so I decided to leave it alone until we got home.
Abby was drying off Toto after giving him a bath. He’d been staying with Brazil, and she was revolted with the way he smelled.
“Oh! You smell so much better!” She giggled as he shook, spraying water all over her and the floor. He stood up on his hind legs, covering her face with tiny puppy kisses. “I missed you, too, little man.”
“Pigeon?” I asked, nervously knotting my fingers together.
“Yeah?” she said, rubbing Toto with the yellow towel in her hands.
“I wanna do this. I want to fight in Vegas.”
“No,” she said, smiling at Toto’s happy face.
“You’re not listening. I’m gonna do it. You’ll see in a few months that it was the right decision.”
She looked up at me. “You’re going to work for Benny.”
I nodded nervously and then smiled. “I just wanna take care of you, Pidge.”
Tears glossed her eyes. “I don’t want anything bought with that money, Travis. I don’t want anything to do with Benny or Vegas or anything that goes along with it.”
“You didn’t have a problem with the thought of buying a car with the money from my fights here.”
“That’s different, and you know it.”
I frowned. “It’s gonna be okay, Pidge. You’ll see.”
She watched me for a moment, and then her cheeks flushed. “Why did you even ask me, Travis? You were going to work for Benny no matter what I said.”
“I want your support on this, but it’s too much money to turn down. I would be crazy to say no.”
She paused for a long time, her shoulders fell, and then nodded. “Okay, then. You’ve made your decision.”
My mouth stretched into a wide smile. “You’ll see, Pigeon. It’s going to be great.” I pushed off the bed, walked over to Abby and kissed her fingers. “I’m starved. You hungry?”
She shook her head.
I kissed her hairline before making my way to the kitchen. My lips hummed a chipper tune from a random song while I grabbed two slices of bread and some salami and cheese. Man, she’s missing out, I thought, squeezing spicy mustard onto the bread slices.
It took about three bites for me to finish, and then I washed it down with a beer, wondering what else there was to eat. I didn’t realize how spread thin my body felt until we’d gotten home. Aside from the fight, nerves probably also had something to do with it. Now that Abby knew my plans and it was settled, the nerves went away just enough for me to have an appetite again.
Abby padded down the hall and then rounded the corner, suitcase in hand. She didn’t look at me when she crossed the living room to the door.
“Pigeon?” I called.
I walked to the still-open door, seeing Abby approaching America’s Honda.
When she didn’t answer, I jogged down the stairs and across the grass to where Shepley, America, and Abby stood.
“What are you doing?” I asked, gesturing to the suitcase.
Abby smiled awkwardly. It was immediately obvious something wasn’t right.
“I’m taking my stuff to Morgan. They have all those washers and dryers and I have a ridiculous amount of laundry to do.”
I frowned. “You were going to leave without telling me?”
“She was coming back in, Trav. You’re so freakin’ paranoid,” America said.
“Oh,” I said, still unsure. “You staying here tonight?”
“I don’t know. I guess it depends on when my laundry gets done.”
Although I knew she was probably still uneasy with my decision about Benny, I let it go, smiled, and pulled her against me. “In three weeks, I’ll pay someone to do your laundry. Or you can just throw away your dirty clothes and buy new ones.”
“You’re fighting for Benny again?” America asked, shocked.
“He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
“Travis,” Shepley began.
“Don’t you guys start on me, too. If I’m not changing my mind for Pidge, I’m not changing my mind for you.”
America traded glances with Abby. “Well, we better get you back, Abby. That pile of clothes is gonna take you forever.”
I leaned down to kiss Abby’s lips. She pulled me close and kissed me hard, making me feel a little better about her unease. “See you later,” I said, holding the door open while she sat in the passenger seat. “Love you.”
Shepley lifted Abby’s suitcase into the hatchback of the Honda, and America slid into her seat, reaching over to pull across her seat belt.
I shut Abby’s door, and then folded my arms across my chest.
Shepley stood beside me. “You’re not really going to fight for Benny, are you?”
“It’s a lot of money, Shepley. Six figures a fight.”
“Could you say no?”
“I would if I thought America would dump my ass over it.”
I laughed once. “Abby’s not going to dump me over this.”
America backed out of the parking lot, and I noticed tears spilling down Abby’s cheeks.
I jogged to her window, tapping on the glass. “What’s wrong, Pidge?”
“Go, Mare,” she mouthed, wiping her eyes.
I jogged alongside the car, slamming my palm against the glass. Abby wouldn’t look at me, and absolute terror sunk into my bones. “Pigeon? America! Stop the fucking car! Abby, don’t do this!”
America turned onto the main road and pressed on the gas.
I sprinted after them, but when the Honda was nearly out of sight, I turned and ran for my Harley. I dug my hand in my pocket for my keys as I ran, and leaped onto the seat.
“Travis, don’t,” Shepley warned.
“She’s fucking leaving me, Shep!” I yelled, barely starting the bike before revving the throttle into a 180, and flying down the street.
America had just shut her door when I made it into Morgan Hall’s parking lot. I nearly laid my bike over coming to a halt and failing to root the kickstand on the first try. I ran over to the Honda and jerked open the passenger door. America’s teeth were clenched, ready for whatever I might throw at her.
I looked to Morgan’s brick and mortar, knowing Abby was somewhere inside. “You gotta let me in, Mare,” I begged.
“I’m sorry,” she said. She put the car in reverse and backed out of the parking space.
Just as I raced up the steps, taking two at a time, a girl I hadn’t seen before was walking out. I grabbed the door, but she blocked my way.
“You can’t come in without an escort.”
I pulled out my bike keys and jingled them in her face. “My girlfriend, Abby Abernathy, left her car keys at my apartment. I’m just bringing them by.”
The girl nodded, unsure, and then moved out of my way.
Leaping up several steps at a time in the stairwell, I finally reached Abby’s floor and her dorm room door. I took a few deep breaths. “Pidge?” I said, trying to be quiet. “You gotta let me in, baby. We’ve got to talk about this.”
She didn’t answer.
“Pigeon, please. You’re right. I didn’t listen to you. We can sit down and discuss this some more, okay? I just . . . please answer the door. You’re scarin’ me to death.”
“Go away, Travis,” Kara said from the other side.
I pounded on the door with the side of my fist. “Pidge? Open the fucking door, dammit! I’m not leaving until you talk to me! Pigeon!”
“What?” Kara growled, opening the door. She pushed her glasses up, and sniffed. For such a tiny girl, she had a very severe expression.
I sighed, relieved that at least I would be able to see Abby. Looking over Kara’s shoulder, Abby wasn’t in my direct line of sight.
“Kara,” I said, trying to stay calm. “Tell Abby I need to see her. Please.”
“She’s not here.”
“She’s here,” I said, quickly losing my patience.
Kara’s weight shifted. “I haven’t seen her tonight. I haven’t seen her in several days, actually.”
“I know she’s here!” I yelled. “Pigeon?”
“She’s not . . . Hey!” Kara said, shrieking when I shouldered past her.
The door cracked against the wall. I pulled the knob and looked behind it, and then in the closets, even under the bed. “Pigeon! Where is she?”
“I haven’t seen her!” Kara shouted.
I walked into the hall, looking in both directions, and Kara slammed the door shut behind me, followed by the click of the bolt lock.
The wall felt cold against my back, and I suddenly realized I didn’t have a coat on. Slowly sliding down the concrete block wall to my ass, I covered my face with my hands. She might have hated me at the moment, but she had to come home sometime.
After twenty minutes, I pulled out my phone and shot her a text.
Pidge, please. i know ur pissed, but we can still talk about this
And then another.
Please come home.
Please? i love you.
She didn’t respond. I waited another half hour, and then sent her more.
im @ Morgan would u @ least call me to let me know if ur coming home 2nite?
Pigeon I’m so fuckin sorry. Please come home. I need 2 c u.
U know im not the 1 being unreasonable here. U could @ least answer me.
i don’t fucking deserve this ok so im an asshat 4 thinking i could solve all our problems with money but @least i don’t run away every time we have 1
im sorry i didn’t mean that
what do u want me 2 do? i will do whatever u want me 2 ok? just please talk 2 me.
this is bullshit
im in love with u. i don’t understand how u can just walk away
Just before sunrise, when I was sure I’d officially made a total ass of myself and Abby was probably certain that I was insane, I picked myself up off the floor. The fact that security had never showed to escort me out was amazing in itself, but if I was still sitting in the hallway when the girls started leaving for class, that luck would more than likely run out.
After trudging down the stairs in defeat, I sat on my bike, and even though a T-shirt was the only thing between my skin and the frigid winter air, I ignored it. Hoping to see Abby in history class, I went straight home to thaw my skin under a hot shower.
Shepley stood at the doorway of my bedroom while I got dressed.
“What do you want, Shep?”
“Did you talk to her?”
“At all? Text? Anything?”
“I said no,” I snapped.
“Trav.” Shepley sighed. “She’s probably not going to be in class today. I don’t want me and America in the middle of this, but that’s what she said.”
“Maybe she will,” I said, buckling my belt. I put on Abby’s favorite cologne, and then slipped on my coat before grabbing my backpack.
“Hold up, I’ll drive you.”
“No, I’ll take the bike.”