Trenton gestured to Carissa. “She just went through a bad divorce with Seth Jacobs. You remember Seth?”
I shook my head, already tired of the game Trenton was playing.
Carissa took the full shot glass that was in front of me and slurped it dry, and then she sidestepped until she was next to me. “I heard you’ve gone through a rough time lately, too. Maybe we could keep each other company tonight?”
By the look in her eyes, I could see she was drunk . . . and lonely. “Not looking for a babysitter,” I said, taking a drag.
“Well, maybe just a friend? It’s been a long night. I came here alone because all of my girlfriends are married now, ya know?” She giggled nervously.
Carissa looked down, and I felt a small bit of guilt. I was being a dick, and she hadn’t done anything to deserve that from me.
“Hey, I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t really wanna be here.”
Carissa shrugged. “Me, either. But I didn’t want to be alone.”
The band stopped playing, and the lead singer began counting down from ten. Carissa looked around, and then back to me, her eyes glossing over. Her line of sight fell to my lips, and then in unison the crowd screamed, “HAPPY NEW YEAR!”
The band played a rough version of “Auld Lang Syne,” and then Carissa’s lips smashed into mine. My mouth moved against hers for a moment, but her lips were so foreign, so different from what I was used to, it only made Abby’s memory more vivid, and the realization that she was gone more painful.
I pulled away and wiped my mouth with my sleeve.
“I’m so sorry,” Carissa said, watching me leave the table.
I pushed through the crowd to the men’s bathroom and locked myself in the only stall. I pulled out my phone and held it in my hands, my vision blurry and the rotten twang of tequila on my tongue.
Abby’s probably drunk, too, I thought. She wouldn’t care if I called. It’s New Year’s Eve. She might even be waiting for my call.
I scrolled over the names in my address book, stopping on Pigeon. I turned over my wrist, seeing the same inked into my skin. If Abby wanted to talk to me, she would have called. My chance had come and gone, and I told her at Dad’s I would let her move on. Drunk or not, calling her was selfish.
Someone knocked on the stall door. “Trav?” Shepley asked. “You okay?”
I unlocked the door and stepped outside, my phone still in my hand.
“Did you call her?”
I shook my head, and then looked to the tile wall across the room. I reared back, and then launched my phone, watching it shatter into a million pieces and scatter on the floor. Some poor bastard standing at the urinal jumped, his shoulders flying up to his ears.
“No,” I said. “And I’m not going to.”
Shepley followed me back to the table without a word. Carissa was gone, and three new shots were waiting for us.
“I thought she might get your mind off things, Trav, I’m sorry. It always makes me feel better to bag a really hot chick when I’ve been where you’re at,” Trenton said.
“Then you haven’t been where I’m at,” I said, slamming the tequila to the back of my throat. I stood up quickly, grabbing the edge of the table for stability. “Time for me to go home and pass out, boys.”
“You sure?” Trenton asked, looking mildly disappointed.
After Trenton got Cami’s attention long enough to say goodbye, we made our way to the Intrepid. Before he started the car, he looked over at me.
“You think she’ll ever take you back?”
“Then maybe it’s time you accept that. Unless you don’t want her in your life at all.”
“I mean when classes start. Pretend it’s like it was before you saw her naked.”
“Shut up, Trent.”
Trenton turned over the engine and put the car in reverse. “I was just thinking,” he said, turning the wheel, and then shoving the shifter into drive, “that you were happy when you guys were friends, too. Maybe you could go back to that. Maybe you thinking you can’t is why you’re so miserable.”
“Maybe,” I said, staring out the window.
THE FIRST DAY OF SPRING SEMESTER FINALLY ARRIVED. I hadn’t slept all night, tossing and turning, both dreading and eagerly anticipating seeing Abby again. Regardless of my sleepless night, I was determined to be all smiles, never letting on how much I’d suffered, to Abby or anyone else.
At lunch, my heart nearly exploded out of my chest when I saw her. She looked different, but the same. The difference was that she seemed like a stranger. I couldn’t just walk up to her and kiss her or touch her like before. Abby’s big eyes blinked once when she saw me, and I smiled and winked back, sitting at the end of our usual table. The football players were busy bitching about their loss to State, so I tried to relieve their angst by telling them some of my more colorful experiences over break, like watching Trenton salivate over Cami, and the time that his Intrepid broke down and we were almost arrested for public intoxication while walking home.
From the corner of my eye, I saw Finch hug Abby to his side, and for a moment I wondered if she wished I would go away, or if she might be upset.
Either way, I hated not knowing.
Throwing the last bite of something deep-fried and disgusting into my mouth, I tossed my tray and walked up behind Abby, resting my hands on her shoulders.
“How’s your classes, Shep?” I asked, willing my voice not to sound anything but casual.
Shepley’s face pinched. “First day sucks. Hours of syllabi and class rules. I don’t even know why I show up the first week. How about you?”
“Eh . . . it’s all part of the game. How ’bout you, Pidge?” I tried not to let the tension in my shoulders affect my hands.
“The same.” Her voice was small, distant.
“Did you have a good break?” I asked, playfully swaying her from side to side.
Yeah. This was awkward as fuck.
“Sweet. I’ve got another class. Later.” I walked out of the cafeteria quickly, reaching for the Marlboro box in my pocket before I even shouldered through the metal doors.
The next two classes were torture. The only place that felt like a safe haven was my bedroom, away from campus, away from everything that reminded me that I was alone, and away from the rest of the world, which was continuing on, not giving a shit that I was in so much pain it was palpable. Shepley kept telling me it wouldn’t be so bad after a while, but it didn’t seem to be letting up.
I met my cousin in the parking lot in front of Morgan Hall, trying hard not to stare at the entrance. Shepley seemed on edge and didn’t talk much on the ride to the apartment.
When he pulled into his parking spot, he sighed. I debated whether or not to ask him if he and America were having problems, but I didn’t think I could handle his shit and mine.
I grabbed my backpack from the backseat and pushed the door open, stopping only long enough to unlock the door.
“Hey,” Shepley said, shutting the door behind him. “You all right?”
“Yeah,” I said from the hallway, not turning around.
“That was kind of awkward in the cafeteria.”
“I guess,” I said, taking another step.
“So, uh . . . I should probably tell you something I overheard. I mean . . . hell, Trav, I don’t know if I should tell you or not. I don’t know if it’ll make it worse or better.”
I turned around. “Overheard from who?”
“Mare and Abby were talking. It was . . . mentioned that Abby’s been miserable all break.”
I stood in silence, trying to keep my breathing even.
“Did you hear what I said?” Shepley asked, his brows pulling together.
“What does that mean?” I asked, throwing my hands up. “She’s been miserable without me? Because we’re not friends anymore? What?”
Shepley nodded. “Definitely a bad idea.”
“Tell me!” I yelled, feeling myself shake. “I can’t . . . I can’t keep feeling like this!” I threw my keys down the hall, hearing a loud crack when they made contact with the wall. “She barely acknowledged me today, and you’re telling me she wants me back? As a friend? The way it was before Vegas? Or is she just miserable in general?”
“I don’t know.”
I let my bag fall to the floor and kicked it in Shepley’s general direction. “Wh-why are you doing this to me, man? Do you think I’m not suffering enough, because I promise you, it’s too much.”
“I’m sorry, Trav. I just thought I’d wanna know . . . if it were me.”
“You’re not me! Just fucking . . . leave it alone, Shep. Leave it the hell alone.” I slammed my door and sat on my bed, my head resting on my hands.
Shepley cracked open the door. “I’m not trying to make it worse, if that’s what you think. But I knew if you found out later, you would have kicked my ass for not telling you. That’s all I’m sayin’.”
I nodded once. “Okay.”
“You think . . . you think if maybe you focused on all the bullshit you had to endure with her, that’d make it easier?”
I sighed. “I’ve tried. I keep coming back to the same thought.”
“Now that it’s over, I wish I could have all the bad stuff back . . . just so I could have the good.”
Shepley’s eyes bounced around the room, trying to think of something else comforting to say, but he was clearly all out of advice. His cell phone beeped.
“It’s Trent,” Shepley said, reading the display screen. His eyes lit up. “You want to grab some drinks with him at the Red? He gets off at five today. His car broke down and he wants you to take him to see Cami. You should go, man. Take my car.”
“All right. Let him know I’m comin’.” I sniffed, and wiped my nose before standing up.
Sometime between me leaving the apartment and pulling into the gravel lot of the tattoo parlor Trenton worked at, Shepley had alerted Trenton to my shitty day. Trenton gave it away when he insisted on going straight to the Red Door as soon as he slid into the passenger seat of the Charger, instead of wanting to go home to change first.
When we arrived, we were alone except for Cami, the owner, and some guy stocking Cami’s bar, but it was the middle of the week—prime college bar time and coin beer night. It didn’t take long for the room to fill with people.
I was already lit by the time Lexi and some of her friends had made a drive-by, but it wasn’t until Megan stopped by that I even bothered to look up.
“Looking pretty sloppy, Maddox.”
“Nah,” I said, trying to get my numb lips to form around my words.
“Let’s dance,” she whined, tugging on my arm.
“I don’t think I can,” I said, swaying.
“I don’t think you should,” Trenton said, amused.
Megan bought me a beer and took the stool next to mine. Within ten minutes, she was pawing at my shirt, and not so subtly touching my arms, and then my hands. Just before closing, she had given up her stool to stand next to me—or more like straddle my thigh.
“So I didn’t see the bike outside. Did Trenton drive you?”
“Nope. I brought Shepley’s car.”
“I love that car,” she cooed. “You should let me drive you home.”
“You wanna drive the Charger?” I asked, slurring.
I glanced over to Trenton, who was stifling a laugh. “Probably not a bad idea, little brother. Be safe . . . in every way.”
Megan pulled me off the stool, and then out of the bar into the parking lot. She wore a sequined tube top with a jean skirt and boots, but she didn’t seem to mind the cold—if it was cold. I couldn’t tell.
She giggled as I threw my arm around her shoulders to help steady myself as I walked. When we reached the passenger side of Shepley’s car, she stopped giggling.
“Some things never change, huh, Travis?”
“Guess not,” I said, staring at her lips.
Megan wrapped her arms around my neck and pulled me in, not even hesitating to stick her tongue into my mouth. It was wet and soft, and vaguely familiar.
After a few minutes of playing grab ass and trading spit, she hiked her leg up, wrapping it around me. I grabbed her thigh, and rammed my pelvis into hers. Her ass slammed against the car door, and she moaned into my mouth.
Megan always liked it rough.
Her tongue made a trail down my neck, and it was then that I noticed the cold, feeling the warmth left behind by her mouth cool quickly from the winter air.
Megan’s hand reached between us, and she grabbed my dick, smiling that I was right where she wanted me to be. “Mmmmm, Travis,” she hummed, biting my lip.
“Pigeon.” The word came out muffled as I crashed my mouth against hers. At that stage of the night, it was easy enough to pretend.
Megan giggled. “What?” In true Megan fashion, she didn’t demand an explanation when I didn’t respond. “Let’s go to your apartment,” she said, grabbing the keys from my hand. “My roommate is sick.”
“Yeah?” I asked, pulling on the door handle. “You really wanna drive the Charger?”
“Better me than you,” she said, kissing me one last time before leaving me for the driver’s side.
While Megan drove, she laughed and talked about her break all while opening my jeans and reaching inside. It was a good thing I was drunk, because I hadn’t been laid since Thanksgiving. Otherwise, by the time we reached the apartment, Megan would have had to catch a cab and call it a night.
Halfway home, the empty fishbowl flashed in my mind. “Wait a sec. Wait a sec,” I said, pointing down the street. “Stop at the Swift Mart. We gotta pick up some . . .”