“Hey, Bill,” Trenton said, immediately tossing back his shot.

“You feeling okay, Travis?” Bill asked.


Trenton answered for me. “He’ll feel better after a few rounds.”

I was grateful. In that moment, if I spoke, I might have broken down.

Trenton continued buying me whiskey until my teeth were numb and I was on the verge of passing out. I must have done so sometime between the bar and the apartment, because I woke up the next morning on the couch in my clothes, unsure of how in the hell I got there.

Shepley closed the door, and I heard the familiar sound of America’s Honda rev up and pull away.

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I sat up and closed one eye. “Did you guys have a good night.”

“Yeah. Did you?”

“I guess so. Did you hear me come in?”

“Yeah, Trent carried your ass upstairs and threw you on the couch. You were laughing, so I’d say it was a successful night.”

“Trent can be a dick, but he’s a good brother.”

“That he is. You hungry?”

“Fuck no,” I groaned.

“Alrighty, then. I’m gonna make me some cereal.”

I sat on the couch, going over the night before in my mind. The last hours were hazy, but when I backed up to the moment I saw Abby on campus, I winced.

“I told Mare we had plans today. I thought we’d go to the lumber place to replace your creaky ass door.”

“You don’t have to babysit me, Shep.”

“I’m not. We’re leaving in half an hour. Wash the stank off you, first,” he said, sitting in the recliner with his bowl of Mini Wheats. “And then we’re going to come home and study. Finals.”

“Fuck,” I said with a sigh.

“I’ll order pizza for lunch, and we can just eat leftovers for dinner.”

“Thanksgiving is coming up, remember? I’ll be eating pizza three meals a day for two days straight. No, thank you.”

“Okay, Chinese, then.”

“You’re micromanaging,” I said.

“I know. Trust me, it helps.”

I nodded slowly, hoping he was right.

THE DAYS PASSED SLOWLY. BUT STAYING UP LATE TO study with Shepley, and sometimes America, helped to shorten the sleepless nights. Trenton promised not to tell Dad or the rest of the Maddox boys about Abby until after Thanksgiving, but I still dreaded it, knowing I’d already told them all she would come. They would ask about her, and then see right through me when I lied.

After my last class on Friday, I called Shepley. “Hey, I know this is supposed to be off-limits, but I need you to find out where Abby is going for break.”

“Well, that’s easy. She’ll be with us. She spends the holidays at America’s.”


“Yeah, why?”

“Nothing,” I said, abruptly hanging up the phone.

I walked around campus in the light rain, waiting for Abby’s class to let out. Outside the Hoover building, I saw a few people from Abby’s calculus class congregated outside. The back of Parker’s head came into view, and then Abby.

She was huddled inside her winter coat, seeming uncomfortable as Parker babbled on.

I pulled down my red ball cap and jogged in their direction. Abby’s eyes drifted to mine; recognition made her eyebrows raise infinitesimally.

The same mantra played on repeat in my head. No matter what smart-ass comment Parker makes, play it cool. Don’t fuck this up. Don’t. Fuck. This. Up.

To my surprise, Parker left without saying a word to me.

I shoved my hands into the front pockets of my hoodie. “Shepley said you’re going with him and Mare to Wichita tomorrow.”


“You’re spending the whole break at America’s?”

She shrugged, trying too hard to be unaffected by my presence. “I’m really close with her parents.”

“What about your mom?”

“She’s a drunk, Travis. She won’t know it’s Thanksgiving.”

My stomach lurched, knowing the answer to my next question was going to be my last chance. Thunder rolled above us and I looked up, squinting as the large drops fell against my face.

“I need to ask you for a favor,” I said, ducking from the hard rain. “C’mere.” I pulled Abby under the closest awning so she wouldn’t get soaked from the sudden downpour.

“What kind of favor?” she asked, clearly suspicious. It was hard to hear her over the rain.

“My uh . . .” I shifted my weight, my nerves attempting to get the best of me. My mind screamed abort!, but I was determined to at least try. “Dad and the guys are still expecting you on Thursday.”

“Travis!” Abby whined.

I looked to my feet. “You said you would come.”

“I know, but . . . it’s a little inappropriate now, don’t you think?”

“You said you would come,” I said again, trying to keep my voice calm.

“We were still together when I agreed to go home with you. You knew I wasn’t going to come.”

“I didn’t know, and it’s too late, anyway. Thomas is flying in, and Tyler took off work. Everyone’s looking forward to seeing you.”

Abby cringed, twirling a piece of her wet hair around her finger. “They were going to come anyway, weren’t they?”

“Not everyone. We haven’t had all of us there for Thanksgiving in years. They all made an effort to be there, since I promised them a real meal. We haven’t had a woman in the kitchen since Mom died and . . .”

“That’s not sexist or anything,”

“That’s not what I meant, Pidge, c’mon. We all want you there. That’s all I’m sayin’.”

“You haven’t told them about us, have you?”

“Dad would ask why, and I’m not ready to talk to him about it. I’d never hear the end of how stupid I am. Please come, Pidge.”

“I have to put the turkey in at six in the morning. We’d have to leave here by five . . .”

“Or we could stay there.”

Her eyebrows shot up. “No way! It’s bad enough that I’m going to have to lie to your family and pretend we’re still together.”

Her reaction, although anticipated, still stung my ego a little. “You act like I’m asking you to light yourself on fire.”

“You should have told them!”

“I will. After Thanksgiving . . . I’ll tell them.”

She sighed and then looked away. Waiting for her answer was like pulling out my fingernails one by one.

“If you promise me that this isn’t some stunt to try and get back together, I’ll do it.”

I nodded, trying not to be too eager. “I promise.”

Her lips formed a hard line, but there was the tiniest hint of a smile in her eyes. “I’ll see you at five.”

I leaned down to kiss her cheek. I’d just meant to give her a quick peck, but my lips had missed her skin, and it was hard to pull away. “Thanks, Pigeon.”

After Shepley and America headed out for Wichita in the Honda, I cleaned the apartment, folded the last load of laundry, smoked half a pack of cigarettes, packed an overnight bag, and then cussed the clock for being so slow. When four thirty finally rolled around, I jogged down the steps to Shepley’s Charger, trying not to speed all the way to Morgan.

When I arrived at Abby’s door, her confused expression took me by surprise.

“Travis,” she breathed.

“Are you ready?”

Abby raised an eyebrow. “Ready for what?”

“You said pick you up at five.”

She folded her arms across my chest. “I meant five in the morning!”

“Oh. I guess I should call Dad and let him know we won’t be staying after all.”

“Travis!” she wailed.

“I brought Shep’s car so we didn’t have to deal with our bags on the bike. There’s a spare bedroom you can crash in. We can watch a movie or—”

“I’m not staying at your dad’s!”

My face fell. “Okay. I’ll uh . . . I’ll see you in the morning.”

I took a step back, and Abby shut the door. She would still come, but my family would definitely know something was up if she didn’t show up tonight like I’d said she would. I walked down the hall slowly as I punched in Dad’s number. He was going to ask why, and I didn’t want to outright lie to him.

“Travis, wait.”

I flipped around to see Abby standing in the hallway.

“Give me a minute to pack a few things.”

I smiled, nearly overwhelmed with relief. We walked together back to her room, and I waited in the doorway while she shoved a few things in a bag. The scene reminded me of the night I’d won the bet, and I realized that I wouldn’t have traded a single second we spent together.

“I still love you, Pidge.”

She didn’t look up. “Don’t. I’m not doing this for you.”

I sucked in a breath, physical pain shooting in all directions in my chest. “I know.”


Acceptance Speech

THE EASY CONVERSATIONS WE USED TO HAVE WERE lost on me. Nothing that came to mind seemed appropriate, and I was worried about pissing her off before we got to Dad’s.

The plan was for her to play the part, start to miss me, and then maybe I would get another chance to beg her back. It was a long shot, but the only thing I had going for me.

I pulled into the wet gravel drive, and carried our bags to the front porch.

Dad answered the door with a smile.

“Good to see ya, son.” His smiled broadened when he looked at the damp but beautiful girl standing beside me. “Abby Abernathy. We’re looking forward to dinner tomorrow. It’s been a long time since . . . Well. It’s been a long time.”

Inside the house, Dad rested his hand on his protruding belly and grinned. “I set you two up in the guest bedroom, Trav. I didn’t figure you would wanna fight with the twin bed in your room.”

Abby looked to me. “Abby’s uh . . . she’s going to uh . . . going to take the guest room. I’m going to crash in mine.”

Trenton walked up, his face screwed into disgust. “Why? She’s been staying at your apartment, hasn’t she?”

“Not lately,” I said, trying not to lunge at him. He knew exactly why.

Dad and Trenton traded glances.

“Thomas’s room has been storage for years now, so I was going to let him take your room. I guess he can sleep on the couch,” Dad said, looking at its ratty, discolored cushions.

“Don’t worry about it, Jim. We were just trying to be respectful,” Abby said, touching my arm.

Dad’s laughter bellowed throughout the house, and he patted her hand. “You’ve met my sons, Abby. You should know it’s damn near impossible to offend me.”

I nodded toward the stairs, and Abby followed. I gently pushed open the door with my foot and sat our bags on the floor, looking at the bed and then turning to Abby. Her gray eyes were big as they scanned the room, stopping on a picture of my parents that hung from the wall.

“I’m sorry, Pidge. I’ll sleep on the floor.”

“Damn straight you will,” she said, pulling her hair up into a ponytail. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.”

I sat on the bed, realizing just how unhappy she was about the situation. I guess part of me hoped she’d be as relieved as I was to be together. “This is going to be a fucking mess. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“I know exactly what you were thinking. I’m not stupid, Travis.”

I looked up and offered a tired smile. “But you still came.”

“I have to get everything ready for tomorrow,” she said, opening the door.

I stood. “I’ll help you.”

As Abby prepared the potatoes, pies, and turkey, I was busy fetching and handing her things, and completed the small cooking tasks she assigned to me. The first hour was awkward, but when the twins arrived, everyone seemed to congregate in the kitchen, helping Abby to relax. Dad told Abby stories about us boys, and we laughed about tales of previous disastrous Thanksgivings when we attempted to do something other than order pizza.

“Diane was a hell of a cook,” Dad mused. “Trav doesn’t remember, but there was no sense trying after she passed.”

“No pressure, Abby,” Trenton said. He chuckled, and then grabbed a beer from the fridge. “Let’s get out the cards. I want to try to make back some of my money that Abby took.”

Dad waved his finger. “No poker this weekend, Trent. I brought down the dominoes; go set those up. No betting, dammit. I mean it.”

Trenton shook his head. “All right, old man, all right.” My brothers meandered from the kitchen, and Trenton followed, stopping to look back. “C’mon, Trav.”

“I’m helping Pidge.”

“There’s not much more to do, baby,” Abby said. “Go ahead.”

I knew she had only said it for show, but it didn’t change the way it made me feel. I reached for her hip. “You sure?”

She nodded and I leaned over to kiss her cheek, squeezing her hip with my fingers before following Trenton into the game room.

We sat down in the card room, settling in for a friendly game of dominoes.

Trenton broke out the box, cursing the cardboard for slicing the underside of his fingernail before dealing out the bones.

Taylor snorted. “You’re such a fucking baby, Trent, just deal.”

“You can’t count anyway, douche. What are you so eager about?”

I laughed at Trenton’s comeback, drawing his attention to me.

“You and Abby are getting along well,” he said. “How did this all work out?”

I knew what he meant, and I shot him a glare for broaching the subject in front of the twins. “With much persuasion.”

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