Megan reached into her purse and pulled out a small box of condoms. “Gotcha covered.”
I leaned back and smiled. She really was my kind of girl.
Megan pulled up into Shepley’s parking spot, having been to the apartment enough times to know. She jogged around in tiny steps, trying to hurry along in her stilettos.
I leaned on her to walk up the stairs, and she laughed against my mouth when I finally figured out the door was already unlocked and shoved through it.
Midkiss, I froze. Abby was standing in the front room, holding Toto.
“Pigeon,” I said, stunned.
“Found it!” America said, jogging out of Shepley’s room.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
Abby’s expression morphed from surprise to anger. “It’s good to see you’re feeling like your old self, Trav.”
“We were just leaving,” America snarled. She grabbed Abby’s hand as they slid past me and Megan.
It took me a moment to react, but I made my way down the steps, for the first time noticing America’s Honda. A string of expletives ran through my mind.
Without thinking, I grabbed a fistful of Abby’s coat. “Where are you going?”
“Home,” she snapped, straightening her coat in a huff.
“What are you doing here?”
The packed snow crunched under America’s feet as she walked up behind Abby, and suddenly Shepley was beside me, his wary eyes fixed on his girlfriend.
Abby lifted her chin. “I’m sorry. If I knew you were going to be here, I wouldn’t have come.”
I shoved my hands in my coat pockets. “You can come here anytime you want, Pidge. I never wanted you to stay away.”
“I don’t want to interrupt.” She looked to the top of the stairs, where Megan of course stood to watch the show. “Enjoy your evening,” she said, turning away.
I grabbed her arm. “Wait. You’re mad?”
She yanked her coat from my grip. “You know”—she laughed once—“I don’t even know why I’m surprised.”
She might have laughed, but she had hatred in her eyes. No matter what I did—moving on without her, or lying in my bed agonizing over her—she would have hated me. “I can’t win with you. I can’t win with you! You say you’re done . . . I’m fucking miserable over here! I had to break my phone into a million pieces to keep from calling you every minute of the damn day—I’ve had to play it off like everything is just fine at school so you can be happy . . . and you’re fucking mad at me? You broke my fuckin’ heart!” I screamed.
“Travis, you’re drunk. Let Abby go home,” Shepley said.
I grabbed Abby’s shoulders and pulled her closer, looking into her eyes. “Do you want me or not? You can’t keep doing this to me, Pidge!”
“I didn’t come here to see you.”
“I don’t want her,” I said, staring at her lips. “I’m just so fucking unhappy, Pigeon.” I leaned in to kiss her, but she grabbed my chin and held me away.
“You’ve got her lipstick on your mouth, Travis,” she said, disgusted.
I took a step back and lifted my shirt, wiping my mouth. Red streaks left behind made it impossible to deny. “I just wanted to forget. Just for one fuckin’ night.”
One tear spilled over onto Abby’s cheek, but she quickly wiped it away. “Then don’t let me stop you.”
She turned to walk away, but I grabbed her arm again.
A blond blur was suddenly in my face, lashing out and striking at me with small but vicious fists.
“Leave her alone, you bastard!”
Shepley grabbed America, but she pushed him away, turning to slap my face. The sound of her hand against my cheek was quick and loud, and I flinched with the noise. Everyone froze for a moment, shocked at America’s sudden rage.
Shepley grabbed his girlfriend again, holding her wrists, and pulling her to the Honda while she thrashed about.
She fought him violently, her blond hair whipping around as she attempted to get away.
“How could you? She deserved better from you, Travis!”
“America, STOP!” Shepley yelled, louder than I’d ever heard him.
Her arms fell to her side as she glared at Shepley in disgust. “You’re defending him?”
Although he was scared as hell, he stood his ground. “Abby broke up with him. He’s just trying to move on.”
America’s eyes narrowed, and she pulled her arm from his grip. “Well then, why don’t you go find a random WHORE”—she looked at Megan—“from the Red and bring her home to fuck, and then let me know if it helps you get over me.”
“Mare.” Shepley grabbed for her, but she evaded him, slamming the door as she sat behind the wheel. Abby opened the passenger door and sat next to her.
“Baby, don’t leave,” Shepley begged, leaning down into the window.
America started the car. “There is a right side and a wrong side here, Shep. And you are on the wrong side.”
“I’m on your side,” he said, his eyes desperate.
“Not anymore, you’re not,” she said, backing out.
“America? America!” Shepley yelled.
When the Honda was out of sight, Shepley turned around, breathing hard.
Before I could get a word out, Shepley reared back and launched his fist into my jaw.
I took the blow, touched my face, and then nodded. I deserved that.
“Travis?” Megan called from the stairs.
“I’ll take her home,” Shepley said.
I watched the taillights of the Honda get smaller as it took Abby farther away, feeling a lump form in my throat. “Thanks.”
SHE’S GOING TO BE THERE.
Showing up would be a mistake.
It would be awkward.
She’s going to be there.
What if someone asks her to dance?
What if she meets her future husband and I’m there to witness it?
She doesn’t want to see me.
I might get drunk and do something to piss her off.
She might get drunk and do something to piss me off.
I shouldn’t go.
I had to go. She was going to be there.
I mentally listed the pros and cons for going to the Valentine’s party but kept coming back to the same conclusion: I needed to see Abby, and that’s where she would be.
Shepley was getting ready in his room, barely speaking to me since he and America had finally gotten back together. In part because they stayed holed up in his room making up for lost time, and he still blamed me for the five weeks they’d spent apart.
America never missed a moment to let me know she hated my guts, especially after the most recent time I’d broken Abby’s heart. I had talked Abby into leaving her date with Parker to come with me to a fight. Of course I wanted her there, but I made the mistake of admitting it was also that I had primarily asked her so I could win a pissing contest. I wanted Parker to know he had no hold on her. Abby felt I’d taken advantage of her feelings for me, and she was right.
All of those things were enough to feel guilty about, but the fact that Abby had been attacked in a place where I’d taken her made it nearly impossible to look anyone in the eye. Adding to all of that our close call with the law totaled up to me being a gigantic fuckup.
Regardless of my constant apologies, America spent her days in the apartment shooting dirty looks in my direction, and snapping unwarranted shitty remarks. Even after all that, I was glad Shepley and America had reconciled. If she wouldn’t have taken him back, Shepley might have never forgiven me.
“I’m going,” Shepley said. He walked into my room, where I sat in my boxers, still conflicted about what to do. “Picking up Mare at the dorm.”
I nodded once. “Abby’s still going?”
“Yeah. With Finch.”
I managed a half smile. “Should that make me feel better?”
Shepley shrugged. “It would me.” He looked around my walls and nodded. “You put the pictures back up.”
I looked around, nodding once. “I don’t know. It didn’t feel right to just have them sitting in a bottom drawer.”
“I guess I’ll see you later.”
“Yeah,” he said, not turning around.
“I really am sorry, cousin.”
Shepley sighed. “I know.”
The second he left, I walked into the kitchen to pour the last of the whiskey. The liquid amber sat still in the glass, waiting to offer comfort.
I shot it back and closed my eyes, considering a trip to the liquor store. But there wasn’t enough whiskey in the universe to help me make my decision.
“Fuck it,” I said, grabbing my bike keys.
After a stop at Ugly Fixer Liquor’s, I drove the Harley over the curb and parked in the front yard of the fraternity house, opening the half-pint I’d just bought.
Finding courage at the bottom of the bottle, I walked into Sig Tau. The entire house was covered in pink and red; cheap decorations were hung from the ceiling, and glitter covered the floor. The bass from the speakers downstairs hummed throughout the house, muffling the laughter and constant drone of conversation.
Standing room only, I had to turn and maneuver my way through the crowd of couples, keeping an eye out for Shepley, America, Finch, or Abby. Mostly Abby. She wasn’t standing in the kitchen, or in any of the other rooms. She wasn’t on the balcony, either, so I made my way downstairs. My breath caught when I saw her.
The beat of the music slowed, and her angel’s smile was noticeable even across the dim basement. Her arms wrapped around Finch’s neck, and he awkwardly moved with her to the music.
My feet propelled me forward, and before I knew what I was doing, or stopped to think about the consequences, I found myself standing inches away from them.
“Mind if I cut in, Finch?”
Abby froze, her eyes flashing with recognition.
Finch’s eyes bounced between me and Abby. “Sure.”
“Finch,” she hissed as he walked away.
I pulled her against me and took a step.
Abby kept dancing but kept as much space between us as possible. “I thought you weren’t coming.”
“I wasn’t, but I knew you were here. I had to come.”
With each passing minute, I expected her to walk away, and every minute she stayed in my arms felt like a miracle. “You look beautiful, Pidge.”
“Don’t what? Tell you you’re beautiful?”
“Just . . . don’t.”
“I didn’t mean it.”
“Thanks,” she snapped.
“No . . . you look beautiful. I meant that. I was talking about what I said in my room. I’m not going to lie. I enjoyed pulling you from your date with Parker . . .”
“It wasn’t a date, Travis. We were just eating. He won’t speak to me now, thanks to you.”
“I heard. I’m sorry.”
“No you’re not.”
“Y-you’re right,” I said, stuttering when I noticed she was getting angry. “But I . . . that wasn’t the only reason I took you to the fight. I wanted you there with me, Pidge. You’re my good luck charm.”
“I’m not your anything.” She glared up at me.
My eyebrows pulled in and I stopped midstep. “You’re my everything.”
Abby’s lips formed a hard line, but her eyes softened.
“You don’t really hate me . . . do you?” I asked.
Abby turned away, putting more distance between us. “Sometimes I wish that I did. It would make everything a whole hell of a lot easier.”
A cautious, small smile spread across my lips. “So what pisses you off more? What I did to make you wanna hate me? Or knowing that you can’t?”
In a flash, Abby’s anger returned. She shoved past me, running up the stairs to the kitchen. I stood alone in the middle of the floor, both dumbfounded and disgusted that I’d somehow managed to reignite her hatred for me all over again. Trying to speak to her at all seemed futile, now. Every interaction just added to the growing snowball of clusterfucks that was our relationship.
I walked up the stairs and made a beeline for the keg, cursing my greediness and the empty bottle of whiskey lying somewhere in Sig Tau’s front lawn.
After an hour of beer and monotonous, drunken conversation with frat brothers and their dates, I glanced over at Abby, hoping to catch her eye. She was already looking at me, but looked away. America seemed to be in the middle of an attempt to cheer her up, and then Finch touched her arm. He was obviously ready to leave.
She drank the remainder of her beer in a quick swig, and then took Finch’s hand. She walked two steps, and then froze when the same song that we had danced to at her birthday party floated up the stairs. She reached out and grabbed Finch’s bottle, taking another swig.
I wasn’t sure if it was the whiskey talking, but something about the look in her eyes told me the memories the song triggered were just as painful for her as they were for me.
She still cared about me. She had to.
One of my frat brothers leaned against the counter beside Abby and smiled. “Wanna dance?”
It was Brad, and although I knew he had probably just noticed the forlorn look on her face and was trying to cheer her up, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. Just as she shook her head to say no, I was next to her, and my stupid fucking mouth was moving before my brain could tell it to stop.
“Dance with me.”
America, Shepley, and Finch were all staring at Abby, waiting for her answer as anxiously as I was.
“Leave me alone, Travis,” she said, crossing her arms.
“This is our song, Pidge.”
“We don’t have a song.”
“Pigeon . . .”