“Travis, stop. I love you,” she said, using her thin fingers to smooth lines around my eyes. “This absurd standoff could have been over at Thanksgiving, but . . .”
“Wait . . . what?” I interrupted, leaning back.
“I was fully prepared to give in on Thanksgiving, but you said you were done trying to make me happy, and I was too proud to tell you that I wanted you back.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? I was just trying to make it easier on you! Do you know how miserable I’ve been?”
Abby frowned. “You looked just fine after break.”
“That was for you! I was afraid I’d lose you if I didn’t pretend to be okay with being friends. I could have been with you this whole time? What the fuck, Pigeon?”
“I . . . I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry? I damn near drank myself to death, I could barely get out of bed, I shattered my phone into a million pieces on New Year’s Eve to keep from calling you . . . and you’re sorry?”
Abby bit her bottom lip and nodded, ashamed. “I’m so . . . so sorry.”
“You’re forgiven,” I said without hesitation. “Don’t ever do it again.”
“I won’t. I promise.”
I shook my head, grinning like an idiot. “I fucking love you.”
LIFE HAD RETURNED TO NORMAL—MAYBE MORE FOR Abby than for me. On the surface we were happy, but I could feel a wall of caution building around me. Not a second with Abby was taken for granted. If I looked over at her and wanted to touch her, I did. If she wasn’t at the apartment and I missed her, I went to Morgan. If we were at the apartment, she was in my arms.
Returning to school as a couple for the first time since the fall had the expected effect. As we walked around together, holding hands, laughing, and occasionally kissing—okay, more than occasionally—the gossip spiked to an all-time high. As always at this school, whispers and tabloid-worthy stories continued until another scandal rocked the campus.
On top of the unrest I already felt about my and Abby’s relationship, Shepley was growing increasingly irritable about the last fight of the year. I wasn’t far behind. We both depended on the winnings from that fight to fund our living expenses for the summer, not to mention part of the fall. Since I’d decided the last fight of the year was also my last fight for good, we would need it.
Spring break inched closer, but still no word from Adam. Shepley had finally heard through multiple lines of communication that Adam was lying low after the arrests following the most recent fight.
On the Friday before break, the campus mood felt lighter, even with the fresh batch of snow that had been dumped onto the state overnight. On our way to the cafeteria for lunch, Abby and I had barely escaped a public snowball fight; America, not so much.
We all chatted and laughed, waiting in line for trays of God-knows-what, and then sat at our regular seats. Shepley comforted America while I amused Brazil with the story of how Abby hustled my brothers on poker night. My phone buzzed, but it didn’t register until Abby pointed it out.
“Trav?” she said.
I turned, tuning everything out the second she said my name.
“You might want to get that.”
I looked down at the cell phone and sighed. “Or not.” Part of me needed that last fight, but part of me knew it would be time spent away from Abby. After she was attacked at the last one, there was no way I could concentrate if she came to this one without protection—and I couldn’t concentrate fully if she wasn’t there, either. The last fight of the year was always the biggest, and I couldn’t afford to have my head somewhere else.
“It could be important,” Abby said.
I held the phone to my ear. “What’s up, Adam?”
“Mad Dog! You’re gonna love this. It’s done. I got John fucking Savage! He’s planning to go pro next year! Chance of a goddamn lifetime, my friend! Five figures. You’ll be set for a while.”
“This is my last fight, Adam.”
The other end of the line was quiet. I could imagine his jaw working under the skin. More than once he’d accused Abby of threatening his cash flow, and I was sure he would blame her for my decision.
“Are you bringing her?”
“I’m not sure yet.”
“You should probably leave her at home, Travis. If this really is your last fight, I need you all in.”
“I won’t go without her, and Shep’s leaving town.”
“No fucking around this time. I mean it.”
“I know. I heard you.”
Adam sighed. “If you really won’t consider leaving her at home, maybe you could call Trent. That would probably set your mind at ease, and then you could concentrate.”
“Hmmm . . . that’s not a bad idea, actually,” I said.
“Think about it. Let me know,” Adam said, hanging up the phone.
Abby stared at me expectantly.
“It’s enough to pay rent for the next eight months. Adam got John Savage. He’s trying to go pro.”
“I haven’t seen him fight, have you?” Shepley asked, leaning forward.
“Just once in Springfield. He’s good.”
“Not good enough,” Abby said. I leaned in and kissed her forehead. “I can stay home, Trav.”
“No,” I said, shaking my head.
“I don’t want you to get hit like you did last time because you’re worried about me.”
“I’ll wait up for you.” She smiled, but it was obviously forced, making me even more determined.
“I’m going to ask Trent to come. He’s the only one I’d trust so I can concentrate on the fight.”
“Thanks a lot, asshole,” Shepley grumbled.
“Hey, you had your chance,” I said, only half teasing.
Shepley’s mouth pulled to the side. He could pout all day long, but he dropped the ball at Hellerton, letting Abby get away from him like that. If he’d been paying attention, it would have never happened, and we all knew it.
America and Abby swore that it was a fluke accident, but I didn’t hesitate to tell him otherwise. He was watching the fight instead of Abby, and if Ethan had finished what he started, I would be in jail for murder. Shepley apologized to Abby for weeks, but then I took him aside and told him to knock it off. None of us liked reliving it every time his guilt got the best of him.
“Shepley, it wasn’t your fault. You pulled him off of me, remember?” Abby said, reaching around America to pat his arm. She turned to me. “When is the fight?”
“Next week sometime. I want you there. I need you there.” If I’d been any less of an asshole, I would have insisted she stay home, but it had already been established on numerous occasions that I wasn’t. My need to be around Abby Abernathy overruled any rational thought. It had always been that way, and I imagined it always would.
Abby smiled, resting her chin on my shoulder. “Then I’ll be there.”
I dropped Abby off at her final class, kissing her goodbye before meeting Shepley and America at Morgan. The campus was quickly emptying, and I finally resorted to smoking my cigarettes around the corner so I wouldn’t have to dodge a coed carrying luggage or laundry every three minutes.
I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and dialed Trenton’s number, listening to each ring with increasing impatience. Finally, his voice mail picked up. “Trent, it’s me. I need a huge favor. It’s time sensitive, so call me back ASAP. Later.”
I hung up, seeing Shepley and America pushing through the glass doors of the dorm, each holding two of her bags.
“Looks like you’re all set.”
Shepley smiled; America didn’t.
“They’re really not that bad,” I said, nudging her with my elbow. Her scowl didn’t disappear.
“She’ll feel better once we get there,” Shepley said, more to encourage his girlfriend than to convince me.
I helped them pack the trunk of the Charger, and then we waited for Abby to finish her midterm and find us in the parking lot.
I pulled my beanie over my ears and lit a cigarette, waiting. Trenton still hadn’t called back, and I was getting nervous that he wouldn’t be able to come. The twins were halfway to Colorado with some of their fellow Sig Tau alums, and I didn’t trust anyone else to keep Abby safe.
I took several drags, working out the different scenarios in my head if Trenton didn’t call back, and how fucking selfish I was being, requiring her presence in a place where I knew she could be in danger. Complete concentration was needed to win this fight, and that depended on two things: Abby’s presence, and Abby’s safety. If Trenton had to work or didn’t call me back, I’d have to call off the fight. That was the only option.
I took a final drag off the last cigarette in the pack. I’d been so wrapped up in worry, I hadn’t realized how much I’d been smoking. I looked down at my watch. Abby should have gotten out of class by now.
Just then, she called my name.
“It is now,” I said, pulling her against me.
“Okay. What’s up?”
“Just have a lot on my mind.” I sighed. When she made it known that my answer wasn’t good enough, I continued, “This week, the fight, you being there . . .”
“I told you I would stay home.”
“I need you there, Pidge,” I said, flicking my cigarette to the ground. I watched it disappear into a deep footprint in the snow, and then took Abby’s hand.
“Have you talked to Trent?” she asked.
“I’m waiting for him to call me back.”
America rolled down the window and poked her head out of Shepley’s Charger. “Hurry up! It’s freaking freezing!”
I smiled and opened the door for Abby. While I stared out the window Shepley and America repeated the same conversation they’d had since she learned she would be meeting his parents. Just as we pulled into the parking lot of the apartment, my phone rang.
“What the fuck, Trent?” I asked, seeing his name on the display. “I called you hours ago. It’s not like you’re productive at work or anything.”
“It hasn’t been hours, and I’m sorry. I’ve been at Cami’s.”
“Whatever. Listen, I need a favor. I’ve got a fight next week. I need you to go. I don’t know when it is, but when I call you, I need you there within an hour. Can you do that for me?”
“I don’t know. What’s in it for me?” he teased.
“Can you do it or not, douche bag? Because I need you to keep an eye on Pigeon. Some asshole put his hands on her last time and—”
“What the fuck, Chuck? Are you serious?”
“Who did it?” Trenton asked, his tone immediately grave.
“I took care of it. So if I call . . . ?”
“Yeah. I mean, of course, little brother, I’ll be there.”
“Thanks, Trent.” I clicked my phone shut and leaned my head against the back of the seat.
“Relieved?” Shepley asked, watching my anxiety unwind inside the rearview mirror.
“Yeah. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it without him there.”
“I told you—” Abby began, but I stopped her.
“Pidge, how many times do I have to say it?”
She shook her head at my impatient tone. “I don’t understand it, though. You didn’t need me there before.”
I turned to her, my finger touching her cheek. She clearly had no idea how deep my feelings ran. “I didn’t know you before. When you’re not there, I can’t concentrate. I’m wondering where you are, what you’re doing . . . if you’re there and I can see you, I can focus. I know it’s crazy, but that’s how it is.”
“And crazy is exactly the way I like it,” she said, leaning up to kiss my lips.
“Obviously,” America muttered under breath.
Before the sun set too far into the horizon, America and Shepley took the Charger south.
Abby shook the Honda keys and smiled. “At least we don’t have to freeze on the Harley.”
Abby shrugged. “Maybe we should, I don’t know, consider getting our own car?”
“After the fight, we’ll go shopping for one. How about that?”
She jumped up, wrapped her arms and legs around me, and covered my cheeks, mouth, and neck with kisses.
I walked up the stairs to the apartment, making a beeline to the bedroom.
Abby and I spent the next four days snuggled up either in the bed, or on the couch with Toto, watching old movies. It made waiting on Adam’s call tolerable.
Finally on Tuesday night, between Boy Meets World reruns, Adam’s number lit up my cell phone’s display. My eyes met Abby’s.
“Mad Dog. You’re up in an hour. Keaton Hall. Bring your game face, sweet pea, he’s Hulk Hogan on steroids.”
“See you then.” I stood up, bringing Abby with me. “Change into something warm, baby. Keaton is an old building, and they’ve probably shut off the heaters for break.”
Abby did a little happy dance before jogging down the hall to the bedroom. The corners of my mouth turned up. What other woman would be that excited to see her boyfriend trade punches? No wonder I fell in love with her.
I slipped on a hoodie and my boots, and waited for Abby by the front door.
“Coming!” she called, strutting around the corner. She gripped each side of the door jamb and shifted her hip to the side.
“What do you think?” she asked, pouting her lips attempting to imitate a model . . . or a duck. I wasn’t sure which.
My eyes traveled down from her long, heather gray cardigan, white T, and tight blue jeans tucked inside tall black boots. She meant it as a joke, thinking she looked frumpy, but my breath caught at the sight of her.