Abby did love me, but she also cared about me too much to send me packing when she should. Even though I’d told her before that I couldn’t walk away from her, I finally realized that I loved her too much to fuck up her life by staying, or to lose her completely by forcing us both to hang on until we hated each other.
“This was the best Thanksgiving we’ve had since Mom died,” I said.
“I’m glad I was here to see it.”
I took a deep breath. “I’m different,” I said, conflicted about what I would say next. “I don’t know what happened to me in Vegas. That wasn’t me. I was thinking about everything we could buy with that money, and that was all I was thinking about. I didn’t see how much it hurt you for me to want to take you back there, but deep down, I think I knew. I deserved for you to leave me. I deserved all the sleep I lost and the pain I’ve felt. I needed all that to realize how much I need you, and what I’m willing to do to keep you in my life.
“You said you’re done with me, and I accept that. I’m a different person since I met you. I’ve changed . . . for the better. But no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to do right by you. We were friends first, and I can’t lose you, Pigeon. I will always love you, but if I can’t make you happy, it doesn’t make much sense for me to try to get you back. I can’t imagine being with anyone else, but I’ll be happy as long as we’re friends.”
“You want to be friends?”
“I want you to be happy. Whatever that takes.”
She smiled, breaking the part of my heart that wanted to take back everything I’d just said. Part of me hoped she would tell me to shut the fuck up because we belonged together.
“Fifty bucks says you’ll be thanking me for this when you meet your future wife.”
“That’s an easy bet,” I said. I couldn’t imagine a life without her, and she was already thinking about our separate futures. “The only woman I’d ever wanna marry just broke my heart.”
Abby wiped her eyes and then stood up. “I think it’s time you took me home.”
“C’mon, Pigeon. I’m sorry, that wasn’t funny.”
“It’s not that, Trav. I’m just tired, and I’m ready to go home.”
I sucked in a breath and nodded, standing up. Abby hugged my brothers goodbye, and asked Trenton to say goodbye to Dad. I stood at the door with our bags, watching them all agree to come home for Christmas.
When I slowed to a stop at Morgan Hall, I felt the tiniest bit of closure, but it didn’t stop my heart from shattering.
I leaned over to kiss her cheek, and then held the door open, watching as she walked inside. “Thanks for today. You don’t know how happy you made my family.”
Abby stopped at the bottom of the stairs and turned. “You’re going to tell them tomorrow, aren’t you?”
I glanced at the Charger, trying to hold back the tears. “I’m pretty sure they already know. You’re not the only one with a poker face, Pidge.”
I left her on the steps alone, refusing to look back. From now on, the love of my life was only an acquaintance. I wasn’t sure what expression I had on my face, but I didn’t want her to see it.
The Charger whined as I drove far beyond the speed limit back to my father’s. I stumbled into the living room, and Thomas handed me a bottle of whiskey. They all had some in a glass.
“You told them?” I asked Trenton, my voice broken.
I collapsed to my knees, and my brothers surrounded me, placing their hands on my head and shoulders for support.
“TRENT’S CALLING AGAIN! ANSWER YOUR DAMN PHONE!” Shepley yelled from the living room.
I kept my cell on top of the television. The farthest point from my bedroom in the apartment.
The first torturous days without Abby, I locked it in the glove box of the Charger. Shepley brought it back in, arguing that it should be in the apartment in case my dad called. Unable to deny that logic, I agreed, but only if it stayed on the TV.
The urge to pick it up and call Abby was maddening otherwise.
“Travis! Your phone!”
I stared up at the white ceiling, thankful that my other brothers had gotten the hint, and felt annoyed that Trenton hadn’t. He’d kept me busy or drunk at night, but was under the impression he had to also call me during every break while he was at work. I felt I was on some sort of Maddox suicide watch.
Two and a half weeks into winter break, the urge to call Abby had turned into need. Any access at all to my phone seemed like a bad idea.
Shepley pushed open the door and threw the small, black rectangle into the air. It landed on my chest.
“Jesus, Shep. I told you . . .”
“I know what you said. You have eighteen missed calls.”
“One is from Panty Wearers Anonymous.”
I picked up the phone from my stomach, straightened my arm, and then opened my hand, letting the hard plastic fall to the floor. “I need a drink.”
“You need a shower. You smell like shit. You also need to brush your damn teeth, shave, and put deodorant on.”
I sat up. “You talk a lot of shit, Shep, but I seem to remember doing your laundry and making you soup for three entire months after Anya.”
He sneered. “At least I brushed my teeth.”
“I need you to schedule another fight,” I said, falling back onto the mattress.
“You just had one two nights ago, and another a week before that. Numbers were down because of break. Adam won’t schedule another until classes resume.”
“Then bring in the locals.”
“Call Adam, Shepley.”
Shepley walked over to my bed, picked up my cell phone, clicked a few buttons, and then threw the phone back onto my stomach. “Call him yourself.”
I held up the phone to my ear.
“Asshat! What’ve you been doing? Why haven’t you answered your phone? I wanna go out tonight!” Trenton said.
I narrowed my eyes at the back of my cousin’s head, but he left my room without looking back.
“I don’t feel like it, Trent. Call Cami.”
“She’s a bartender. It’s New Year’s Eve. We can go see her though! Unless you have other plans . . .”
“No. I don’t have other plans.”
“You just wanna lay there and die?”
“Pretty much.” I sighed.
“Travis, I love you little brother, but you are being a huge pussy. She was the love of your life. I get it. It sucks. I know. But like it or not, life’s gotta go on.”
“Thank you, Mr. Rogers.”
“You aren’t old enough to know who that even is.”
“Thomas made us watch reruns, remember?”
“No. Listen. I get off at nine. I’m gonna pick you up at ten. If you aren’t dressed and ready, and I mean showered and shaved ready, I’m going to call a bunch of people and tell them you’re having a party at your house with six free kegs and hookers.”
“Damn it, Trenton, don’t.”
“You know I will. Last warning. Ten o’clock, or by eleven you’ll have guests. Ugly ones.”
I groaned. “I fucking hate you.”
“No you don’t. See you in ninety minutes.”
The phone grated in my ear before it hung up. Knowing Trenton, he was probably calling from his boss’s office, kicked back with his feet on the desk.
I sat up, looking around the room. The walls were empty, devoid of the pictures of Abby that had once crowded the white paint. The sombrero hung above my bed again, proudly displayed after the shame of being replaced by the framed black-and-white photo of Abby and me.
Trenton was really going to make me do this. I imagined myself sitting at the bar, the world celebrating around me, ignoring the fact that I was miserable and—according to Shepley and Trenton—being a pussy.
Last year I danced with Megan and ended up taking home Kassie Beck, who would’ve been a good one to keep on the list had she not thrown up in the hall closet.
I wondered what plans Abby had for the night but tried not to allow my mind to wander too far into the realm of who she might be meeting. Shepley hadn’t mentioned America having plans. Unsure if that was being kept from me on purpose, pushing the issue just seemed too masochistic, even for me.
The night table drawer squeaked when I pulled it open. My fingers padded across the bottom and paused at the corners of a small box. Carefully I pulled it out, holding it in my hands against my chest. My chest rose and fell with a sigh, and then I opened the box, wincing at the sight of the sparkling diamond ring inside. There was only one finger that belonged inside that white gold circle, and with each passing day, that dream seemed less and less possible.
I knew when I bought the ring that it would be years before I gave it to Abby, but it made sense to keep it just in case the perfect moment happened to arise. Knowing it was there gave me something to look forward to, even now. Inside that box was the little bit of hope I had left.
After putting away the diamond, and giving myself a long mental pep talk, I finally trudged down the hall to the bathroom, intentionally keeping my eyes from my reflection in the mirror. The shower and shave didn’t improve my mood, and neither (I would later point out to Shepley) did brushing my teeth. I put on a buttoned-up black shirt and blue jeans, and then slipped on my black boots.
Shepley knocked on my door and walked in, dressed and ready to go as well.
“You’re going?” I asked, buckling my belt. I’m not sure why I was surprised. Without America there, he wouldn’t have plans with anyone other than us.
“Is that okay?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I just . . . I guess you and Trent worked this out before.”
“Well, yeah,” he said, skeptical and maybe a little amused that I had just figured it out.
The Intrepid’s horn honked outside, and Shepley pointed to the hallway with his thumb. “Let’s roll.”
I nodded once and followed him out. Trenton’s car smelled like cologne and cigarettes. I popped a Marlboro in my mouth and lifted up my ass so I could get into my pocket for a lighter.
“So, the Red’s packed, but Cami told the door guy to let us in. They’ve got a live band, I guess, and pretty much everyone is home. Should be a good one.”
“Hanging out with our drunken, loser high school classmates in a dead college town. Score,” I grumbled.
Trenton smiled. “I got a friend coming. You’ll see.”
My eyebrows pulled in. “Tell me you didn’t.”
A few people were huddled outside the door, waiting for people to leave so they could enter. We slipped past them, ignoring their complaints while we paid and walked straight in.
A table sat by the entrance, once full of New Year’s Eve party hats, glasses, Glow Sticks, and kazoos. The freebies had been mostly picked through, but it didn’t stop Trenton from finding a ridiculous pair of glasses that were shaped into the numbers of the new year. Glitter was all over the floor, and the band was playing “Hungry Like the Wolf.”
I glowered at Trenton, who pretended not to notice. Shepley and I followed my older brother to the bar, where Cami was de-capping bottles and shaking drinks at full speed, pausing only momentarily to type in numbers into the register or write down an addition to someone’s tab. Her tip jars were overflowing, and she had to shove down the greenbacks into the glass every time someone added a bill.
When she saw Trenton, her eyes lit up. “You made it!” Cami grabbed three bottles of beer, popped the tops, and sat them on the bar in front of him.
“I said I would.” He smiled, leaning over the counter to peck her lips.
That was the end of their conversation, as she quickly turned to slide another beer bottle down the bar and strained to hear another order.
“She’s good,” Shepley said, watching her.
Trenton smiled. “She damn sure is.”
“Are you . . . ?” I began.
“No,” Trent said, shaking his head. “Not yet. I’m working on it. She’s got some asshole college boy in Cali. He just needs to piss her off one last time and she’s going to figure out what a pecker head he is.”
“Good luck with that,” Shepley said, taking a swig of his beer.
Trenton and I intimidated a small group enough for them to leave their table, so we nonchalantly commandeered it to start our night of drinking and people watching.
Cami took care of Trenton from afar, sending over a waitress regularly with full shot glasses of tequila and beer bottles. I was glad it was my fourth shot of Cuervo when the second 1980s ballad of the night began.
“This band sucks ass, Trent,” I yelled over the noise.
“You just don’t appreciate the legacy of hair bands!” he yelled back. “Hey. Looky there,” he said, pointing to the dance floor.
A redhead sauntered across the crowded space, a glossed smile brightening her pale face.
Trenton stood up to hug her, and her smile grew wider. “Hey, T! How’ve you been?”
“Good! Good! Working. You?”
“Great! I’m living in Dallas, now. Working at a PR firm.” Her eyes scanned our table, to Shepley and then to me. “Oh my God! Is this your baby brother? I used to babysit you!”
My eyebrows pulled together. She had double Ds and curves like a 1940s pinup model. I was sure if I had spent any time with her in my formative years, I would have remembered.
Trent smiled. “Travis, you remember Carissa, don’t you? She graduated with Tyler and Taylor.”
Carissa held out her hand, and I shook it once. I put the filter end of a cigarette between my front teeth, and flicked the lighter. “I don’t think I do,” I said, sticking the nearly empty pack in my front shirt pocket.
“You weren’t very old.” She smiled.