Beautiful disaster, p.9
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       Beautiful Disaster, p.9
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         Part #1 of Beautiful series by Jamie McGuire

  I waited while he stood quietly for a moment. I had my back to him, so I wondered what he was doing, standing beside the bed in silence. The bed concaved when he finally crawled onto the mattress beside me, and I stiffened when his hand rested on my hip.

  “I missed a fight tonight,” he said. “Adam called. I didn’t go.”

  “Why?” I said, turning to face him.

  “I wanted to make sure you got home.”

  I wrinkled my nose. “You didn’t have to babysit me.”

  He traced the length of my arm with his finger, sending shivers up my spine. “I know. I guess I still feel bad about the other night.”

  “I told you I didn’t care.”

  He sat up on his elbow, a dubious frown on his face. “Is that why you slept on the recliner? Because you didn’t care?”

  “I couldn’t fall asleep after your … friends left.”

  “You slept just fine in the recliner. Why couldn’t you sleep with me?”

  “You mean next to a guy who still smelled like the pair of barflies he had just sent home? I don’t know! How selfish of me!”

  Travis winced. “I said I was sorry.”

  “And I said I didn’t care. Good night,” I said, turning over.

  Several moments of silence passed. He slid his hand across the top of my pillow, resting his hand on mine. He caressed the delicate pieces of skin between my fingers, and then he pressed his lips against my hair. “As worried as I was that you’d never speak to me again … I think it’s worse that you’re indifferent.”

  My eyes closed. “What do you want from me, Travis? You don’t want me to be upset about what you did, but you want me to care. You tell America that you don’t want to date me, but you get so pissed off when I say the same thing, that you storm out and get ridiculously drunk. You don’t make any sense.”

  “Is that why you said those things to America? Because I said I wouldn’t date you?”

  My teeth clenched. He had just insinuated that I was playing games with him. I formed the most direct answer I could think of. “No, I meant what I said. I just didn’t mean it as an insult.”

  “I just said that because,” he scratched his short hair nervously, “I don’t want to ruin anything. I wouldn’t even know how to go about being who you deserve. I was just trying to get it worked out in my head.”

  “Whatever that means. I have to get some sleep. I have a date tonight.”

  “With Parker?” he asked, anger seeping through his tone.

  “Yes. Can I please go to sleep?”

  “Sure,” he said, shoving himself off the bed and then slamming the door behind him. The recliner squeaked under his weight and then muffled voices from the television drifted down the hall. I forced my eyes shut and tried to calm down enough to doze off, even if it was just for a few hours.

  The clock read three p.m. when I peeled my eyes open. I grabbed a towel and my robe, and then trudged into the bathroom. As soon as I closed the shower curtain, the door opened and shut. I waited for someone to speak, but the only sound was the toilet lid smacking against porcelain.

  “Travis?”

  “Nope, it’s me,” America said.

  “Do you have to pee in here? You have your own bathroom.”

  “Shep has been in there for half an hour with the beer shits. Not going in there.”

  “Nice.”

  “I hear you have a date tonight. Travis is pissed!” she lilted.

  “At six! He is so sweet, America. He’s just …” I trailed off, sighing. I was gushing, and it wasn’t like me to gush. I kept thinking about how perfect he had been since the moment we’d met. He was exactly what I needed: the polar opposite of Travis.

  “Rendered you speechless?” she giggled.

  I poked my head from the curtain. “I didn’t want to come home! I could have talked to him forever!”

  “Sounds promising. Isn’t it kind of weird that you’re here, though?”

  I ducked under the water, rinsing away the suds. “I explained it to him.”

  The toilet flushed, and the faucet turned on, making the water flash cold for a moment. I cried out and the door flew open.

  “Pidge?” Travis said.

  America laughed. “I just flushed the toilet, Trav, calm down.”

  “Oh. You all right, Pigeon?”

  “I’m great. Get out.” The door shut again and I sighed. “Is it too much to ask for locks on the doors?” America didn’t answer. “Mare?”

  “It’s really too bad you two couldn’t get on the same page. You’re the only girl that could have …” she sighed. “Never mind. It doesn’t matter, now.”

  I turned off the water and wrapped myself in a towel. “You’re as bad as he is. It’s a sickness … no one here makes sense. You’re pissed at him, remember?”

  “I know,” she nodded.

  I turned on my new hairdryer and began the process of primping for my date with Parker. I curled my hair and painted my nails and lips a deep shade of red. It was a bit much for a first date. I frowned at myself in the mirror. It wasn’t Parker I was trying to impress. I wasn’t in a position to be insulted when Travis accused me of playing games, after all.

  As I took one last glance at myself in the mirror, guilt washed over me. Travis was trying so hard, and I was being a stubborn brat. I walked out into the living room and Travis smiled, not the reaction I expected at all.

  “You … are beautiful.”

  “Thank you,” I said, rattled by the absence of irritation or jealousy in his voice.

  Shepley whistled. “Nice choice, Abby. Guys dig red.”

  “And the curls are gorgeous,” America added.

  The doorbell chimed and America smiled, waving with exaggerated excitement. “Have fun!”

  I opened the door. Parker held a small bouquet of flowers, wearing slacks and a tie. His eyes did a quick once-over from my dress to my shoes and then back up.

  “You are the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen,” he said, enamored.

  I looked behind me to wave to America, whose smile was so wide I could see every one of her teeth. Shepley had the expression of a proud father, and Travis kept his eyes on the television.

  Parker held out his hand, leading me to his shiny Porsche. Once we were inside, he let out a puff of air.

  “What?” I asked.

  “I have to say, I was a bit nervous about picking up the woman Travis Maddox is in love with … from his apartment. You don’t know how many people have accused me of insanity today.”

  “Travis is not in love with me. He can barely stand to be near me sometimes.”

  “Then it’s a love/hate relationship? Because when I broke it to my brothers that I was taking you out tonight, they all said the same thing. He’s been behaving so erratically—even more than usual—that they’ve all come to the same conclusion.”

  “They’re wrong,” I insisted.

  Parker shook his head as if I were utterly clueless. He rested his hand on mine. “We’d better go. I have a table waiting.”

  “Where?”

  “Biasetti’s. I took a chance … I hope you like Italian.”

  I raised one eyebrow. “Wasn’t it short notice for reservations? That place is always packed.”

  “Well … it’s our restaurant. Half, anyway.”

  “I like Italian.”

  Parker drove to the restaurant at exactly the speed limit, using his turn signal appropriately and slowing at a reasonable rate for each yellow light. When he spoke, he barely took his eyes from the road. When we arrived at the restaurant, I giggled.

  “What?” he asked.

  “You’re just … a very cautious driver. It’s a good thing.”

  “Different from the back of Travis’s motorcycle?” he smiled.

  I should have laughed, but the difference didn’t feel like a good thing. “Let’s not talk about Travis tonight. Okay?”

  “Fair enough,” he said, leaving his seat to open my door.

&n
bsp; We were seated right away at a table by a large bay window. Although I was in a dress, I looked impoverished compared to the other women in the restaurant. They were dripping in diamonds and wearing cocktail dresses. I’d never eaten anywhere so swanky.

  We ordered, and Parker closed his menu, smiling at the waiter. “And bring us a bottle of the Allegrini Amarone, please.”

  “Yes, sir,” the waiter said, taking our menus.

  “This place is unbelievable,” I whispered, leaning against the table.

  His green eyes softened. “Thank you, I’ll let my father know you think so.”

  A woman approached our table. Her hair was pulled into a tight blond French bun, a gray streak interrupting the smooth wave of her bangs. I tried not to stare at the sparkling jewels resting around her neck, or those swaying back and forth on her ears, but they were made to be noticed. Her squinty blue eyes targeted me.

  She quickly turned away to look at my date. “Who’s your friend, Parker?”

  “Mother, this is Abby Abernathy. Abby, this is my mother, Vivienne Hayes.”

  I extended my hand and she shook it once. In a well-practiced move, interest lit the sharp features of her face, and she looked to Parker. “Abernathy?”

  I gulped, worried that she had recognized the name.

  Parker’s expression turned impatient. “She’s from Wichita, Mom. You don’t know her family. She goes to Eastern.”

  “Oh?” Vivienne eyed me again. “Parker is leaving next year for Harvard.”

  “That’s what he said. I think that’s great. You must be very proud.”

  The tension around her eyes smoothed a bit, and the corners of her mouth turned up in a smug grin. “We are. Thank you.”

  I was amazed at how her words were so polite, and yet they dripped with insult. It wasn’t a talent she had developed overnight. Mrs. Hayes must have spent years impressing her superiority upon others.

  “It’s good to see you, Mom. Good night.” She kissed his cheek, rubbed the lipstick off with her thumb, and then returned to her table. “Sorry about that, I didn’t know she would be here.”

  “It’s fine. She seems … nice.”

  Parker laughed. “Yes, for a piranha.” I stifled a giggle, and he offered an apologetic smile. “She’ll warm up. It just takes her a while.”

  “Hopefully by the time you leave for Harvard.”

  We talked endlessly about the food, Eastern, calculus, and even the Circle. Parker was charming and funny and said all the right things. Various people approached Parker to greet him, and he always introduced me with a proud smile. He was regarded as a celebrity within the walls of the restaurant, and when we left, I felt the appraising eyes of everyone in the room.

  “Now what?” I asked.

  “I’m afraid I have a midterm in Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy first thing Monday morning. I have some studying to do,” he said, covering my hand with his.

  “Better you than me,” I said, trying not to seem too disappointed.

  He drove to the apartment, and then led me up the stairs by the hand.

  “Thank you, Parker.” I was aware of the ridiculous grin on my face. “I had a fantastic time.”

  “Is it too early to ask for a second date?”

  “Not at all,” I beamed.

  “I’ll call you tomorrow?”

  “Sounds perfect.”

  Then came the moment of awkward silence. The element of dates I dread. To kiss or not to kiss, I hated that question.

  Before I had a chance to wonder whether he would kiss me or not, he touched each side of my face and pulled me to him, pressing his lips against mine. They were soft and warm and wonderful. He pulled back once and then kissed me again.

  “Talk to you tomorrow, Abs.”

  I waved, watching him walk down the steps to his car. “Bye.”

  Once again, when I turned the knob, the door yanked away and I fell forward. Travis caught me, and I regained my footing.

  “Would you stop that?” I said, closing the door behind me.

  “Abs? What are you, a workout video?” he sneered.

  “Pigeon?” I said with the same amount of disdain. “An annoying bird that craps all over the sidewalk?”

  “You like Pigeon,” he said defensively. “It’s a dove, an attractive girl, a winning card in poker, take your pick. You’re my Pigeon.”

  I grabbed his arm to remove my heels and then walked to his room. As I changed into my pajamas, I tried my best to stay mad at him.

  Travis sat on the bed and crossed his arms. “Did you have a good time?”

  “I had,” sigh, “a fantastic time. A perfect time. He’s …” I couldn’t think of an adequate word to describe him, so I just shook my head.

  “He kissed you?”

  I pressed my lips together and nodded. “He’s got really soft lips.”

  Travis recoiled. “I don’t care what kind of lips he has.”

  “Trust me, it’s important. I get so nervous with first kisses, too, but this one wasn’t so bad.”

  “You get nervous about a kiss?” he asked, amused.

  “Just first kisses. I loathe them.”

  “I’d loathe them, too, if I had to kiss Parker Hayes.”

  I giggled and left for the bathroom to scrub the makeup from my face. Travis followed, leaning against the doorjamb. “So you’re going out again?”

  “Yep. He’s calling me tomorrow.” I dried my face and scampered down the hall, hopping into the bed.

  Travis stripped down to his boxers, and sat down with his back to me. A bit slumped over, he looked exhausted. The lean muscles of his back stretched as he did, and he glanced back at me for a moment. “If you had such a good time, why are you home so early?”

  “He has a big test on Monday.”

  Travis wrinkled his nose. “Who cares?”

  “He’s trying to get into Harvard. He has to study.”

  He huffed, crawling onto his stomach. I watched him shove his hands under his pillow, seeming irritated. “Yeah, that’s what he keeps telling everyone.”

  “Don’t be an ass. He has priorities … I think it’s responsible.”

  “Shouldn’t his girl top his priorities?”

  “I’m not his girl. We’ve been on one date, Trav,” I scolded.

  “So what did you guys do?” I shot him a dirty look and he laughed. “What? I’m curious!”

  Seeing that he was sincere, I described everything, from the restaurant to the food to the sweet and funny things Parker said. I knew my mouth was frozen in a ridiculous grin, but I couldn’t stop smiling while describing my perfect evening.

  Travis watched me with an amused smile while I blathered on, even asking questions. Although he seemed frustrated with the situation regarding Parker, I had the distinct feeling that he enjoyed seeing me so happy.

  Travis settled in on his side of the bed, and I yawned. We stared at each other for a moment before he sighed. “I’m glad you had a good time, Pidge. You deserve it.”

  “Thanks,” I grinned. The ringtone of my cell phone reverberated from the night table, and I jerked up to look at the display.

  “Hello?”

  “It’s tomorrow,” Parker said.

  I looked at the clock and laughed. It was 12:01. “It is.”

  “So what about Monday night?” he asked.

  I covered my mouth for a moment and then took a deep breath. “Uh, yeah. Monday night is great.”

  “Good. I’ll see you Monday,” he said. I could hear the smile in his voice.

  I hung up and glanced at Travis, who watched with mild annoyance. I turned away from him and curled into a ball, tensing with excitement.

  “You’re such a girl,” Travis said, turning his back to me.

  I rolled my eyes.

  He turned over, pulling me to face him. “You really like Parker?”

  “Don’t ruin this for me, Travis!”

  He stared at me for a moment, and then shook his head, turning away once again.
Parker Hayes.”

  Chapter Six

  TURNING POINT

  Monday night’s date met my every expectation. We ate Chinese food while I giggled at Parker’s skills with chopsticks. When he brought me home, Travis opened the door before he could kiss me. When we went out the following Wednesday night, Parker made sure to kiss me in the car.

  Thursday at lunch, Parker met me in the cafeteria and surprised everyone when he sat in Travis’s spot. When Travis finished his cigarette and came inside, he walked past Parker with indifference, sitting at the end of the table. Megan approached him but was instantly disappointed when he waved her off. Everyone at the table was quiet after that, and I found it difficult to focus on anything Parker talked about.

  “I’m assuming I just wasn’t invited,” Parker said, catching my attention.

  “What?”

  “I heard your birthday party is on Sunday. I wasn’t invited?”

  America peeked at Travis, who glared at Parker as if he was seconds away from mowing him down.

  “It was a surprise party, Parker,” America said softly.

  “Oh,” Parker said, cringing.

  “You’re throwing me a surprise party?” I asked America.

  She shrugged. “It was Trav’s idea. It’s at Brazil’s on Sunday. Six o’clock.”

  Parker’s cheeks flushed a faint red. “I suppose I’m really not invited, now.”

  “No! Of course you are!” I said, holding his hand on top of the table. Twelve pairs of eyes zeroed in on our hands. I could see that Parker was just as uncomfortable with the attention as I was, so I let go and pulled my hands onto my lap.

  Parker stood up. “I have a few things I need to do before class. I’ll call you later.”

  “Okay,” I said, offering an apologetic smile.

  Parker leaned over the table and kissed my lips. The silence was cafeteria-wide, and America elbowed me after Parker walked out.

  “Isn’t it creepy how everyone watches you?” she whispered. She glanced around the room with a frown. “What?” America yelled. “Mind your business, perverts!” One by one, heads turned away, and murmuring ensued.

  I covered my eyes with my hands. “You know, before I was pathetic because I was thought to be Travis’s poor clueless girlfriend. Now I’m evil because everyone thinks I’m bouncing back and forth between Travis and Parker like a Ping-Pong ball.” When America didn’t comment, I looked up. “What? Don’t tell me you’re buying into that crap, too!”

 
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