I frowned. America would find her a guy? For the date party. One of my frat brothers. Oh, fuck, no. The thought of her hitting it off with anyone made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
The pan made a clanging noise when I threw it into the sink. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t take her.”
Abby rolled her eyes. “Don’t do me any favors, Travis.”
I took a step. “That’s not what I meant, Pidge. Date parties are for the guys with girlfriends, and it’s common knowledge that I don’t do the girlfriend thing. But I won’t have to worry about you expecting an engagement ring afterward.”
America pouted again. “Pretty please, Abby?”
Abby looked like she was in pain. “Don’t look at me like that! Travis doesn’t want to go. I don’t want to go . . . we won’t be much fun.”
The more I thought about it, the more I warmed to the idea. I crossed my arms and leaned back against the sink. “I didn’t say I didn’t want to go. I think it’d be fun if the four of us went.”
Abby recoiled when all eyes turned to her. “Why don’t we hang out here?”
I was okay with that.
America’s shoulders slumped, and Shepley leaned forward.
“Because I have to go, Abby,” Shepley said. “I’m a freshman. I have to make sure everything’s running smoothly, everyone has a beer in their hand, things like that.”
Abby was mortified. She clearly didn’t want to go, but what scared me was that she couldn’t say no to America, and Shepley was willing to say anything for his girlfriend to go. If Abby didn’t go with me, she could end up spending the evening—or night—with one of my frat brothers. They weren’t bad guys, but listening to the stories they’ve told, and imagining them talking about Abby was something I couldn’t stand.
I walked across the tile and wrapped my arms around Abby’s shoulders. “C’mon Pidge. Will you go with me?”
Abby looked to America, then to Shepley. It was only a few seconds until she looked into my eyes, but it felt like a goddamn eternity.
When her eyes finally met mine, her walls came crashing down.
“Yes.” She sighed. The enthusiasm in her voice was nonexistent, but it didn’t matter. She was going with me, and that knowledge allowed me to breathe again.
America screamed like girls do, clapped her hands, and then grabbed Abby to hug her.
Shepley offered an appreciative smile to me, and then to Pigeon. “Thanks, Abby,” he said, placing his hand on her back.
I’d never seen someone less happy to go on a date with me, but then again, it wasn’t me she was unhappy about.
The girls finished getting ready and left early for their eight o’clock class. Shepley stuck around to do the dishes, happy that he’d finally gotten his way.
“Dude, thank you. I didn’t think America would go.”
“What the fuck, Chuck? You guys are trying to set Pidge up with someone?”
“No. I mean, America might have. I don’t know. What does it matter?”
“Just don’t . . . don’t do that, okay? I don’t wanna see her making out in a dark corner with Parker Hayes.”
Shepley nodded, scrubbing the egg from the skillet. “Or anyone else.”
“How long do you think that’s going to fly?”
I frowned. “I don’t know. As long as it can. Just don’t step on my toes.”
“Travis, do you want her or not? Doing what you can to keep her from dating someone else when you’re not even with her is kind of an asshole thing to do.”
“We’re just friends.”
Shepley shot a dubious smirk in my direction. “Friends talk about a weekend fuck. Somehow, I don’t see that happening for you two.”
“No, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.”
Shepley’s eyebrows shot up in disbelief. “It kinda does, bro.”
He wasn’t wrong. I just didn’t want to admit it. “There’s just . . .” I paused, glancing to see Shepley’s expression. Of all people, he would judge me the least, but it felt weak to admit what I’d been thinking about, and how often thoughts of Abby had crossed my mind. Shepley would understand, but it didn’t make me feel any better about saying it out loud. “There’s something about her I need. That’s all. Is it weird that I think she’s cool as hell and I don’t want to share?”
“You can’t share her if she’s not yours.”
“What do I know about dating, Shep? You. You and your twisted, obsessive, needy relationships. If she meets someone else and starts dating them, I’ll lose her.”
“So date her.”
I shook my head. “Not ready yet.”
“Why’s that? Scared?” Shepley asked, throwing the dish towel in my face. It fell to the floor, and I bent down to pick it up. The fabric twisted and pulled tight in my hands as I wrung it back and forth.
“She’s different, Shepley. She’s good.”
“What are you waiting for?”
I shrugged. “Just one more reason, I guess.”
Shepley grimaced with disapproval, and then bent down to start the dishwasher. A mixture of mechanical and fluid sounds filled the room, and Shepley made his way to his room. “Her birthday’s coming up, you know. Mare wants to put something together.”
“Yeah. In a little over a week.”
“Well, we gotta do something. Do you know what she likes? Does America have something in mind? I guess I better buy her something. What the fuck do I get her?”
Shepley smiled as he closed his bedroom door. “You’ll figure it out. Class starts in five. You riding in the Charger?”
“Nah. I’m going to see if I can get Abby on the back of my bike again. It’s the closest I can get to the inside of her thighs.”
Shepley laughed, and then shut the door behind him.
I headed to my bedroom, and slipped on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. Wallet, phone, keys. I couldn’t imagine being a girl. The bullshit routine they had to go through just to get out the door consumed half of their lives.
Class took for fucking ever, and then I rushed across campus to Morgan Hall. Abby was standing at the front entrance with some guy, and my blood instantly boiled. A few seconds later, I recognized Finch and sighed with relief. She was waiting for him to finish his cigarette, and laughing at whatever he was saying. Finch was waving his arms around, obviously in the middle of a grand story, the only pauses he took were to take drags of his cigarette.
When I approached, Finch winked at Abby. I took that as a good sign. “Hey, Travis,” he sang.
“Finch.” I nodded, quickly turning my attention to Abby. “I’m headed home, Pidge. You need a ride?”
“I was just going in,” she said, grinning up at me.
My stomach sank, and I spoke before thinking. “You’re not staying with me tonight?”
“No, I am. I just had to grab a few things that I forgot.”
“Well, my razor for one. What do you care?”
Damn, I liked her. “It’s about time you shaved your legs. They’ve been tearing the hell outta mine.”
Finch’s eyes nearly popped out of their sockets.
Abby frowned. “That’s how rumors get started!” She looked to Finch. “I’m sleeping in his bed . . . just sleeping.”
“Right,” Finch said with a smug smile.
Before I knew what happened, she was inside, tromping up the stairs to her room. I took two steps at a time to catch up with her.
“Oh, don’t be mad. I was just kidding.”
“Everyone already assumes we’re having sex. You’re making it worse.”
Apparently her having sex with me was a bad thing. If I had questions of whether she was into me like that at all, she’d just given the answer: not just no, but hell no. “Who cares what they think?”
“I do, Travis! I do!” She pushed open the door to her dorm room, and then zoomed from one side of the room to the other, opening and shutting drawers, and shoving things into a bag. I was suddenly drowning in an intense feeling of loss, the kind where you either have to laugh or cry. A chuckle escaped from my throat.
Abby’s gray eyes darkened and targeted me. “It’s not funny. Do you want the whole school to think I’m one of your sluts?”
My sluts? They weren’t mine. Hence them being sluts.
I took the bag from her hands. This wasn’t going well. To her, being associated with me, not to mention being in a relationship with me, meant sinking her reputation. Why did she still want to be my friend if that was how she felt?
“No one thinks that. And if they do, they better hope I don’t hear about it.”
I held open the door, and she stomped through. Just as I let go and began to follow her, she stopped, forcing me to balance on the tips of my toes to keep from running into her. The door closed behind me, shoving me forward. “Whoa!” I said, bumping into her.
She turned. “Oh my God!” At first I thought our collision had hurt her. The shocked look on her face had me worried for a second, but then she continued, “People probably think we’re together and you’re shamelessly continuing your . . . lifestyle. I must look pathetic!” She paused, lost in the horror of her realization, and then shook her head. “I don’t think I should stay with you anymore. We should just stay away from each other in general for a while.”
She took her bag from my hands, and I grabbed it back. “No one thinks we’re together, Pidge. You don’t have to quit talking to me to prove a point.” I felt a little desperate, which was nothing less than unsettling.
She pulled on her bag. Determined, I yanked it back. After a few tugs, she growled in frustration.
“Have you ever had a girl—that’s a friend—stay with you? Have you ever given girls rides to and from school? Have you eaten lunch with them every day? No one knows what to think about us, even when we tell them!”
I walked to the parking lot with her bag, my mind racing. “I’ll fix this, okay? I don’t want anyone thinking less of you because of me.”
Abby was always a mystery, but the grieved look in her eyes took me by surprise. It was disturbing to the point where I wanted to make anything that didn’t make her smile go away. She was fidgeting, and clearly upset. I hated it so much that it made me regret every questionable thing I’d ever done because it was just one more thing that got in the way.
That’s when the realization hit: as a couple, we weren’t going to work. No matter what I did, or how I finagled my way into her good graces, I would never be good enough for her. I didn’t want her to end up with someone like me. I would just have to settle for whatever scraps of time I could get with her.
Admitting that to myself was a jagged pill to swallow, but at the same time, a familiar voice whispered from the dark corners of my mind that I needed to fight for what I wanted. Fighting seemed much easier than the alternative.
“Let me make it up to you,” I said. “Why don’t we go to the Dutch tonight?” The Dutch was a hole-in-the-wall, but a lot less crowded than the Red. Not as many vultures hanging around.
“That’s a biker bar.” She frowned.
“Okay, then let’s go to the club. I’ll take you to dinner and then we can go to the Red Door. My treat.”
“How will going out to dinner and then to a club fix the problem? When people see us out together, it will make it worse.”
I finished tying her bag to the back of my bike and then straddled the seat. She didn’t argue about the bag this time. That was always promising.
“Think about it. Me, drunk, in a room full of scantily clad women? It won’t take long for people to figure out we’re not a couple.”
“So what am I supposed to do? Take a guy home from the bar to drive the point home?”
I frowned. The thought of her leaving with a guy made my jaw tense, as if I’d poured lemon juice in my mouth. “I didn’t say that. No need to get carried away.”
She rolled her eyes, and then climbed onto the seat, wrapping her arms around my middle. “Some random girl is going to follow us home from the bar? That’s how you’re going to make it up to me?”
“You’re not jealous, are you, Pigeon?”
“Jealous of what? The STD-infested imbecile you’re going to piss off in the morning?”
I chuckled, and then started the engine. If she only knew how impossible that was. When she was around, everyone else seemed to disappear. It took all of my focus and concentration to stay a step ahead of her.
We informed Shepley and America of our plans, and then the girls began their routine. I hopped in the shower first, realizing too late that I should have been last, because the girls took a lot longer than me and Shepley to get ready.
Me, Shepley, and America waited for an eternity for Abby to come out of the bathroom, but when she finally emerged, I nearly lost my balance. Her legs looked like they went on forever in her short, black dress. Her tits were playing peek-a-boo, just barely making their presence known when she turned a certain way, and her long curls hung off to the side instead of over her chest.
I didn’t remember her being that tan, but her skin had a healthy glow against the dark fabric of her dress.
“Nice legs,” I said.
She smiled. “Did I mention the razor is magic?”
Magic my ass. She was fucking gorgeous. “I don’t think it’s the razor.”
I pulled her out the door by her hand, leading her to Shepley’s Charger. She didn’t pull it away, and I held it in mine until we got to the car. It felt wrong to let go. When we got to the sushi restaurant, I interlaced my fingers between hers as we walked in.