“In case she agrees to come back to the apartment with me so we can talk.”
“Travis, I think it’s time you consider the fact that she might not—”
“Shut the fuck up, Shep,” I said, glancing over to him. “Just this one time, don’t be reasonable. Don’t try to save me. Just be my friend, okay?”
Shepley nodded once. “You got it.”
America came out of Shepley’s room, still in her pj’s. “Travis, it’s time to let her go. She was done the second you made it clear you were working for Benny.”
When I didn’t reply, she continued, “Travis . . .”
“Don’t. No offense, Mare, but I can’t even look at you right now.”
Without waiting for a response, I slammed the door behind me. Theatrics were worth it just to vent a little of the anxiety I felt about seeing Abby. Better than getting on my hands and knees in a panic to beg her back in the middle of class. Not that I wouldn’t go that far if that was what it would take to change her mind.
Walking slowly to class and even taking the stairs didn’t keep me from being a half hour early. I hoped Abby would show up, and we’d have time to talk before, but when the previous class let out, she still wasn’t there.
I sat down, next to her empty seat, and picked at my leather bracelet while the other students filtered into the classrooms and took their seats. It was just another day for them. Watching their world continue while mine was coming to an end was disturbing.
Except for a few stragglers sneaking in behind Mr. Chaney, everyone was accounted for—everyone but Abby. Mr. Chaney flipped open his book, greeted the classroom, and then started his lecture. His words blurred together as my heart knocked against my chest, swelling more with each breath. My teeth clenched and my eyes watered as thoughts of Abby being somewhere else, relieved to be away from me, amplified my anger.
I stood and stared at Abby’s empty desk.
“Er . . . Mr. Maddox? Are you feeling well?” Mr. Chaney asked.
I kicked over her desk and then mine, barely registering the gasps and shrieks of the students watching.
“GOD DAMMIT!” I screamed, kicking my desk again.
“Mr. Maddox,” Mr. Chaney said in a strangely calm voice. “I think it’s best you get some fresh air.”
I stood over the toppled desks, breathing hard.
“Leave my classroom, Travis. Now,” Chaney said, this time his voice more firm.
I jerked my backpack from the floor and shoved open the door, hearing the wood crash against the wall behind it.
The only detail that registered about the voice was that it was female. I flipped around, for half a second hopeful that it was Abby.
Megan sauntered down the hall, stopping next to me. “I thought you had class?” She smiled. “Doing anyone exciting this weekend?”
“What do you need?”
She raised an eyebrow, her eyes bright with recognition. “I know you. You’re pissed. Things didn’t work out with the nun?”
I didn’t answer.
“I could have told you that.” She shrugged, and then took a step closer, whispering in my ear so close her full lips brushed against my ear. “We’re the same, Travis: not good for anybody.”
My eyes darted to hers, traveled down to her lips, and then back. She leaned in with her trademark small, sexy smile.
“Fuck off, Megan.”
Her smile vanished, and I walked away.
Not Good for Anybody
THE NEXT WEEK SEEMED ENDLESS. AMERICA AND I DECIDED it would be best if she stayed at Morgan for a while. Shepley reluctantly agreed. Abby missed all three days of history and found somewhere else other than the cafeteria to eat. I tried to catch up with her after a few of her classes, but she either never went to them or had left early. She wouldn’t answer her phone.
Shepley assured me that she was okay, and nothing had happened to her. As agonizing as it was to know I was two degrees from Abby, it would have been worse to be cut off from her completely and have no idea if she was dead or alive. Even though it seemed she wanted nothing to do with me, I couldn’t stop hoping that at some point soon she would forgive me or start missing me as much as I missed her and show up at the apartment. Thinking about never seeing her again was too painful, so I decided to keep waiting.
On Friday, Shepley knocked on my door.
“Come in,” I said from the bed, staring up at the ceiling.
“You going out tonight, buddy?”
“Maybe you should call Trent. Go get a couple of drinks and get your mind off things for a while.”
Shepley sighed. “Listen, America’s coming over, but . . . and I hate to do this to you . . . but you can’t bug her about Abby. I barely talked her into coming. She just wants to stay in my room. Okay?”
“Call Trent. And you need to eat something and take a shower. You look like shit.”
With that, Shepley shut the door. It still didn’t shut right from the time I had kicked it down. Every time someone closed it, the time I destroyed the apartment over Abby leaving came to mind, and the fact that she came back to me not long after, leading to our first time.
I closed my eyes, but like every other night that week, couldn’t sleep. How people like Shepley went through this torment over and over with different girls was insane. Meeting someone after Abby, even if that girl were to somehow measure up, I couldn’t imagine putting my heart out there again. Not just so I could feel like this all over again. Like a slow death. Turns out I’d had it right all along.
Twenty minutes later, I could hear America’s voice in the living room. The sounds of them talking quietly as they hid from me in Shepley’s room echoed throughout the apartment.
Even America’s voice was too much to take. Knowing she had probably just spoken to Abby was excruciating.
I forced myself to stand up and make my way to the bathroom to take care of showering and other basic hygiene rituals I’d neglected over the last week. America’s voice was drowned out by the water, but the second I turned the lever off, I could hear her again.
I got dressed, and grabbed my bike keys, set to take a long ride. I’d probably end up at Dad’s to break the news.
Just as I passed Shepley’s bedroom door, America’s phone rang. It was the ringtone she’d assigned to Abby. My stomach sank.
“I can come pick you up and take you somewhere for dinner,” she said.
Abby was hungry. She might go to the cafeteria.
I jogged out to the Harley and raced out of the parking lot, speeding and running red lights and stop signs all the way to campus.
When I got to the cafeteria, Abby wasn’t there. I waited a few more minutes, but she never showed. My shoulders sagged, and I trudged in darkness toward the parking lot. It was a quiet night. Cold. Opposite of the night I walked Abby to Morgan after I won our bet, reminding me of how empty it felt not having her beside me.
A small figure some yards away appeared, walking toward the cafeteria alone. It was Abby.
Her hair was pulled up into a bun, and when she got closer, I noticed she wasn’t wearing any makeup. Her arms crossed against her chest, she didn’t have a coat on, only a thick, gray cardigan to ward off the cold.
“Pigeon?” I said, walking into the light from the shadows.
Abby jerked to a stop, and then relaxed a bit when she recognized me.
“Jesus, Travis! You scared the hell out of me!”
“If you would answer your phone when I call I wouldn’t have to sneak around in the dark.”
“You look like hell,” she said.
“I’ve been through there once or twice this week.”
She pulled her arms tighter around her, and I had to stop myself from hugging her to keep her warm.
Abby sighed. “I’m actually on my way to grab something to eat. I’ll call you later, okay?”
“No. We have to talk.”
“I turned Benny down. I called him Wednesday and told him no.”
I was hoping she would smile, or at least show some sign that she approved.
Her face remained blank. “I don’t know what you want me to say, Travis.”
“Say you forgive me. Say you’ll take me back.”
My face crumpled.
Abby tried to walk around. Instinctively, I stepped in front of her. If she walked away this time, I would lose her. “I haven’t slept, or ate . . . I can’t concentrate. I know you love me. Everything will be the way it used to be if you’d just take me back.”
She closed her eyes. “We are dysfunctional, Travis. I think you’re just obsessed with the thought of owning me more than anything else.”
“That’s not true. I love you more than my life, Pigeon.”
“That’s exactly what I mean. That’s crazy talk.”
“It’s not crazy. It’s the truth.”
“Okay . . . so what exactly is the order for you? Is it money, me, your life . . . or is there something that comes before money?”
“I realize what I’ve done, okay? I see where you’d think that, but if I’d known that you were gonna leave me, I would have never . . . I just wanted to take care of you.”
“You’ve said that.”
“Please don’t do this. I can’t stand feeling like this . . . it’s . . . it’s killin’ me,” I said, on the verge of panic. The wall Abby kept around her when we were just friends was back up, stronger than before. She wasn’t listening. I couldn’t get through to her.
“I’m done, Travis.”
I winced. “Don’t say that.”
“It’s over. Go home.”
My eyebrows pulled in. “You’re my home.”
Abby paused, and for a moment I felt like I’d actually gotten through to her, but her eyes lost focus, and the wall was up again. “You made your choice, Trav. I’ve made mine.”
“I’m going to stay the hell out of Vegas, and away from Benny . . . I’m going to finish school. But I need you. I need you. You’re my best friend.”
For the first time since I was a little kid, hot tears burned in my eyes and dripped down one of my cheeks. Unable to restrain myself, I reached out for Abby, wrapped her small frame in my arms, and planted my lips on hers. Her mouth was cold and stiff, so I cradled her face in my hands, kissing her harder, desperate to get a reaction.
“Kiss me,” I begged.
Abby’s kept her mouth taut, but her body was lifeless. If I let her go, she would have fallen. “Kiss me!” I pleaded. “Please, Pigeon! I told him no!”
Abby shoved me away. “Leave me alone, Travis!”
She shouldered passed me, but I grabbed her wrist. She kept her arm straight, outstretched behind her, but she didn’t turn around.
“I am begging you.” I fell to my knees, her hand still in mine. My breath puffed out in white steam as I spoke, reminding me of the cold. “I’m begging you, Abby. Don’t do this.”
Abby glanced back, and then her eyes drifted down her arm to mine, seeing the tattoo on my wrist. The tattoo that bared her name.
She looked away, toward the cafeteria. “Let me go, Travis.”
The air knocked out of me, and with all hope obliterated, I relaxed my hand, and let her slip out of my fingers.
Abby didn’t look back as she walked away from me, and my palms fell flat on the sidewalk. She wasn’t coming back. She didn’t want me anymore, and there was nothing I could do or say to change it.
Several minutes passed before I could gain the strength to stand. My feet didn’t want to move, but somehow I forced them to cooperate long enough to get me to the Harley. I sat on the seat, and let my tears fall. Loss was something I’d only experienced once before in my life, but this felt more real. Losing Abby wasn’t a story I remembered from early childhood—it was in my face, debilitating me like a sickness, robbing me of my senses and physically, excruciatingly painful.
My mother’s words echoed in my ear. Abby was the girl I had to fight for, and I went down fighting. None of it was ever going to be enough.
A red Dodge Intrepid pulled up next to my bike. I didn’t have to look up to see who it was.
Trenton killed the engine, resting an arm out of the open window. “Hey.”
“Hey,” I said, wiping my eyes with my jacket sleeve.
“Yeah,” I nodded, staring at the Harley’s fuel tank.
“I just got off work. I need a fuckin’ drink. Ride with me to the Dutch.”
I took a long, faltering breath. Trenton, like Dad and the rest of my brothers, always knew how to handle me. We both knew I shouldn’t drive in my condition.
“Yeah?” Trenton said with a small, surprised smile.
I swung my leg backward over the seat, and then walked around to the passenger side of Trenton’s car. The heat from the vents made my skin burn, and for the first time that night I felt how biting cold the air was, and recognized that I didn’t have nearly enough clothes on for the temperature.
“Shepley called you?”
“Yep.” He backed out from the parking space and slowly weaved through the lot, finding the street at a turtle’s pace. He looked over at me. “I guess a guy named French called his girl? Said you and Abby were fighting outside the cafeteria.”
“We weren’t fighting. I was just . . . trying to get her back.”
Trenton nodded once, pulling into the street. “That’s what I figured.”
We didn’t speak again until we took our stools at the bar of the Dutch. The crowd was rough, but Bill, the owner and bartender, knew Dad well from when we were kids, and most of the regulars watched us grow up.
“Good to see you boys. It’s been a while,” Bill said, wiping down the counter before setting a beer and a shot on the bar in front of each of us.