Beautiful disaster, p.27
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       Beautiful Disaster, p.27

         Part #1 of Beautiful series by Jamie McGuire
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  An hour had passed when I clenched my eyes shut, my every nerve focused on the shuddering of my insides. Travis held his breath as he thrust inside me one last time. I collapsed against the mattress, completely spent. Travis heaved with deep breaths, speechless and dripping with sweat.

  I could hear voices downstairs and I covered my mouth, giggling at our misbehavior. Travis turned on his side, scanning my face with his soft, brown eyes.

  “You said you were just going to kiss me.” I grinned.

  As I lay next to his bare skin, seeing the unconditional love in his eyes, I let go of my disappointment and my anger and my stubborn resolve. I loved him, and no matter what my reasons were to live without him, I knew it wasn’t what I wanted. Even if I hadn’t changed my mind, it was impossible for us to stay away from each other.

  “Why don’t we just stay in bed all day?” he smiled.

  “I came here to cook, remember?”

  “No, you came here to help me cook, and I don’t report for duty for another eight hours.”

  I touched his face; the urge to end our suffering had become unbearable. When I told him I had changed my mind and that things were back to normal, we wouldn’t have to spend the day pretending. We could spend it celebrating instead.

  “Travis, I think we…”

  “Don’t say it, okay? I don’t want to think about it until I have to.” He stood up and pulled on his boxers, walking over to my bag. He tossed my clothes on the bed and then yanked his shirt over his head. “I want to remember this as a good day.”

  I made eggs for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch, and when the game began, I started dinner. Travis stood behind me at every opportunity, his arms wrapped around my waist, his lips on my neck. I caught myself glancing at the clock, eager to find a moment alone with him to tell him my decision. I was anxious to see the look on his face and to get back to where we were.

  The day was filled with laughter, conversation, and a steady stream of complaints from Tyler about Travis’s constant display of affection.

  “Get a room, Travis! Jesus!” Tyler groaned.

  “You are turning a hideous shade of green,” Thomas teased.

  “It’s because they’re making me sick. I’m not jealous, douchebag,” Tyler sneered.

  “Leave ’em alone, Ty,” Jim warned.

  When we sat down for dinner, Jim insisted on Travis carving the turkey, and I smiled as he proudly stood up to comply. I was a bit nervous until the compliments washed in. By the time I served the pie, there wasn’t a morsel of food left on the table.

  “Did I make enough?” I laughed.

  Jim smiled, pulling his fork through his lips to get ready for dessert. “You made plenty, Abby. We just wanted to tide ourselves over until next year…unless you’d like to do this all over again at Christmas. You’re a Maddox, now. I expect you at every holiday, and not to cook.”

  I glanced over at Travis whose smiled had faded, and my heart sank. I had to tell him soon. “Thanks, Jim.”

  “Don’t tell her that, Dad,” Trenton said. “She’s gotta cook. I haven’t had a meal like this since I was five!” He shoveled half a slice of pecan pie into his mouth, humming with satisfaction.

  I felt at home, sitting at a table full of men that were leaning back in their chairs, rubbing their full bellies. Emotion overwhelmed me when I fantasized about Christmas and Easter and every other holiday I would spend at that table. I wanted nothing more than to be a part of this broken, loud family that I adored.

  When the pies were gone, Travis’s brothers began to clear the table and the twins manned the sink.

  “I’ll do that,” I said, standing.

  Jim shook his head. “No you don’t. The boys can take care of it. You just take Travis to the couch and relax. You’ve worked hard, sis.”

  The twins splashed each other with dishwater and Trenton cussed when he slipped on a puddle and dropped a plate. Thomas chastised his brothers, getting the broom and dustpan to sweep up the glass. Jim patted his sons on the shoulders and then hugged me before retreating to his room for the night.

  Travis pulled my legs onto his lap and slipped off my shoes, massaging the soles of my feet with his thumbs. I leaned my head back and sighed.

  “This was the best Thanksgiving we’ve had since Mom died.”

  I pulled my head up to see his expression. He was smiling, but it was tinged with sadness.

  “I’m glad I was here to see it.”

  Travis’s expression changed and I braced myself for what he was about to say. My heart pounded against my chest, hoping he would ask me back so I could say yes. Las Vegas seemed like a lifetime ago, sitting in the home of my new family.

  “I’m different. 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.”

  I chewed on my lip, impatient to get to the part where I said yes. I wanted him to take me back to the apartment and spend the rest of the night celebrating. I couldn’t wait to relax on the new couch with Toto, watching movies and laughing like we used to.

  “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 asked, the words burning in my mouth.

  “I want you to be happy. Whatever that takes.”

  My insides wrenched at his words, and I was surprised at the overpowering pain I felt. He was giving me an out, and it was exactly when I didn’t want it. I could have told him that I had changed my mind and he would take back everything he’d just said, but I knew that it wasn’t fair to either of us to hold on just when he had let go.

  I smiled to fight the tears. “Fifty bucks says you’ll be thanking me for this when you meet your future wife.”

  Travis’s eyebrows pulled together as his face fell. “That’s an easy bet. The only woman I’d ever wanna marry just broke my heart.”

  I couldn’t fake a smile after that. I wiped my 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.”

  He sucked in a breath and nodded, standing up. I hugged his brothers goodbye, and asked Trenton to say goodbye to Jim for me. Travis stood at the door with our bags as they all agreed to come home for Christmas, and I held my smile long enough to get out the door.

  When Travis walked me to Morgan, his face was still sad, but the torment was gone. The weekend wasn’t a stunt to get me back after all. It was closure.

  He leaned over to kiss my cheek and held the door open for me, watching as I walked inside. “Thanks for today. You don’t know how happy you made my family.”

  I stopped at the bottom of the stairs. “You’re going to tell them tomorrow, aren’t you?”

  He looked out to the parking lot and then at me. “I’m pretty sure they already know. You’re not the only one with a poker face, Pidge.”

  I stared at him, stunned, and for the first time since I’d met him, he walked away from me without looking back.

  Chapter Eighteen

  THE BOX

  Finals were a curse for everyone but me. I kept busy, studying with Kara and America in my room and at the library. I only saw Travis in passing when the schedules changed for tests. I went home with America for
winter break, thankful that Shepley had stayed with Travis so I wouldn’t suffer their constant displays of affection.

  The last four days of break I caught a cold, giving me a good reason to stay in bed. Travis said he wanted to be friends, but he hadn’t called. It was a relief to have a few days to wallow in self-pity. I wanted to get it out of my system before returning to school.

  The return trip to Eastern seemed to take years. I was eager to start the spring semester, but I was far more eager to see Travis again.

  The first day of classes, a fresh energy had swept over the campus along with a blanket of snow. New courses meant new friends and a new beginning. I didn’t have a single class with Travis, Parker, Shepley or America, but Finch was in all but one of mine.

  I anxiously waited for Travis at lunch, but when he came in he simply winked at me and then sat at the end of the table with the rest of his frat brothers. I tried to concentrate on America and Finch’s conversation about the last football game of the season, but Travis’s voice kept catching my attention. He was regaling tales of his adventures and brushes with the law he’d had over break, and news of Trenton’s new girlfriend they’d met one night while they were at the Red Door. I braced myself for mention of any girl he’d brought home or met, but if he had, he wasn’t sharing it with his friends.

  Red and gold metallic balls still hung from the ceiling of the cafeteria, blowing with the current of the heaters. I pulled my cardigan around me, and Finch noticed, hugging me to him and rubbing my arm. I knew that I was paying far too much attention to Travis’s general direction, waiting for him to look up at me, but he seemed to have forgotten that I was sitting at the table.

  He seemed impervious to the hordes of girls that approached him after news of our breakup, but he was also content with our relationship returning to its platonic state, however strained. We had spent almost a month apart, leaving me nervous and unsure about how to act around him.

  Once he finished his lunch, my heart fluttered when he walked up behind me and rested his hands on my shoulders.

  “How’s your classes, Shep?” he asked.

  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?” he asked.

  “The same,” I said, trying to keep my voice casual.

  “Did you have a good break?” he asked, playfully swaying me from side to side.

  “Pretty good,” I said. I tried my best to sound convincing.

  “Sweet. I’ve got another class. Later.”

  I watched him make a beeline for the doors, shoving them both open, and then lighting a cigarette as he walked.

  “Huh,” America said in a high-pitched tone. She watched Travis cut across the greens through the snow and then shook her head.

  “What?” Shepley asked.

  America rested her chin on the heel of her hand, seeming vexed. “That was kind of weird, wasn’t it?”

  “How so?” Shepley asked, flicking America’s blond braid back to brush his lips across her neck.

  America smiled and leaned into his kiss. “He’s almost normal … as normal as Trav can be. What’s up with him?”

  Shepley shook his head and shrugged. “I don’t know. He’s been that way for a while.”

  “How backward is that, Abby? He’s fine and you’re miserable,” America said, unconcerned with listening ears.

  “You’re miserable?” Shepley asked with a surprised expression.

  My mouth fell open and my face flamed with instant embarrassment. “I am not!”

  She pushed her salad around in the bowl. “Well, he’s damn near ecstatic.”

  “Drop it, Mare,” I warned.

  She shrugged and took another bite. “I think he’s faking it.”

  Shepley nudged her. “America? You goin’ to the Valentine’s Day date party with me or what?”

  “Can’t you ask me like a normal boyfriend? Nicely?”

  “I have asked you … repeatedly. You keep telling me to ask you later.”

  She slumped in her chair, pouting. “I don’t wanna go without Abby.”

  Shepley’s face screwed with frustration. “She was with Trav the whole time last time. You barely saw her.”

  “Quit being a baby, Mare,” I said, throwing a stick of celery at her.

  Finch elbowed me. “I’d take you, Cupcake, but I’m not into the fratboy thing, sorry.”

  “That’s actually a damn good idea,” Shepley said, his eyes bright.

  Finch grimaced at the thought. “I’m not Sig Tau, Shep. I’m not anything. Fraternities are against my religion.”

  “Please, Finch?” America asked.

  “Déjà vu,” I grumbled.

  Finch looked at me from the corner of his eye and then sighed. “It’s nothing personal, Abby. I can’t say I’ve ever been on a date … with a girl.”

  “I know.” I shook my head dismissively, waving away my deep embarrassment. “It’s fine. Really.”

  “I need you there,” America said. “We made a pact, remember? No parties alone.”

  “You’ll hardly be alone, Mare. Quit being so dramatic,” I said, already annoyed with the conversation.

  “You want dramatic? I pulled a trash can beside your bed, held a box of Kleenex for you all night, and got up to get you cough medicine twice when you were sick over break! You owe me!”

  I wrinkled my nose. “I have kept your hair vomit free so many times, America Mason!”

  “You sneezed in my face!” she said, pointing to her nose.

  I blew my bangs from my eyes. I could never argue with America when she was determined to get her way. “Fine,” I said through my teeth.

  “Finch?” I asked him with my best fake smile. “Will you go to the stupid Sig Tau Valentine’s date party with me?”

  Finch hugged me to his side. “Yes. But only because you called it stupid.”

  I walked with Finch to class after lunch, discussing the date party and how much we were both dreading it. We picked out a pair of desks in our Physiology class, and I shook my head when the professor began my fourth syllabus of the day. The snow began to fall again, drifting against the windows, politely begging entrance and then falling with disappointment to the ground.

  After class was dismissed, a boy I’d met only once at the Sig Tau house knocked on my desk as he walked by, winking. I offered a polite smile and then glanced over to Finch. He shot me a wry grin, and I gathered my book and laptop, shoving them into my backpack with little effort.

  I lugged my bag over my shoulders and trudged to Morgan along the salted sidewalk. A small group of students had started a snowball fight on the greens, and Finch shuddered at the sight of them, covered in colorless powder.

  I wobbled my knee, keeping Finch company as he finished his cigarette. America scurried beside us, rubbing her bright green mittens together.

  “Where’s Shep?” I asked.

  “He went home. Travis needed help with something, I guess.”

  “You didn’t go with him?”

  “I don’t live there, Abby.”

  “Only in theory,” Finch winked at her.

  America rolled her eyes. “I enjoy spending time with my boyfriend, so sue me.”

  Finch flicked his cigarette into the snow. “I’m heading out, ladies. I’ll see you at dinner?”

  America and I nodded, smiling when Finch first kissed my cheek and then America’s. He stayed on the wet sidewalk, careful to stay in the middle so that he wouldn’t miss and step into the snow.

  America shook her head at his efforts. “He is ridiculous.”

  “He’s a Floridian, Mare. He’s not used to the snow.”

  She giggled and pulled me toward the door.

  “Abby!”

  I turned to see Parker jogging past Finch. He stopped, catching his breath a moment before he spoke. His puffy grey coat heaved with each breath,
and I chuckled at America’s curious stare as she watched him.

  “I was … whew! I was going to ask you if you wanted to grab a bite to eat tonight.”

  “Oh. I uh … I already told Finch I’d eat with him.”

  “All right, it’s no big deal. I was just going to try that new burger place downtown. Everyone’s saying it’s really good.”

  “Maybe next time,” I said, realizing my mistake. I hoped that he wouldn’t take my flippant reply as a postponement. He nodded and shoved his hands in his pockets, quickly walking back the way he came.

  Kara was reading ahead in her brand-new books, grimacing at America and I when we walked in. Her demeanor hadn’t improved since we’d returned from break.

  Before, I had spent so much time at Travis’s that Kara’s insufferable comments and attitude were tolerable. Spending every evening and night with her during the two weeks before the semester ended made my decision not to room with America more than just regrettable.

  “Oh, Kara. How I’ve missed you,” America said.

  “The feeling is mutual,” Kara grumbled, keeping her eyes on her book.

  America chatted about her day and plans with Shepley for the weekend. We scoured the internet for funny videos, laughing so hard we were wiping away tears. Kara huffed a few times at our disruption, but we ignored her.

  I was grateful for America’s visit. The hours passed so quickly that I didn’t spend a moment wondering if Travis had called until she decided to call it a night.

  America yawned and looked at her watch. “I’m going to bed, Ab … aw, shit!” she said, snapping her fingers. “I left my makeup bag at Shep’s.”

  “That’s not a tragedy, Mare,” I said, still giggling from the latest video we’d watched.

  “It wouldn’t be if I didn’t have my birth control in there. C’mon. I have to go get it.”

  “Can’t you just get Shepley to bring them?”

  “Travis has his car. He’s at the Red with Trent.”

 
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