Beautiful disaster, p.16
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       Beautiful Disaster, p.16

         Part #1 of Beautiful series by Jamie McGuire
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  I took a breath and smiled, trying to change gears from my conversation with Travis. “What’s the plan?”

  “Well, I’m all settled in my apartment. I thought we’d have dinner there.”

  “I’m looking forward to tonight, too,” I said, trying to convince myself.

  With America’s refusal to help, Kara was a reluctant assistant to aid me in choosing a dress for my date with Parker. As soon as I pulled it on over my head, I yanked it off and slipped on a pair of jeans instead. After brooding about my failed plan all afternoon, I couldn’t talk myself into dressing up. Keeping the cool weather in mind, I pulled on a thin ivory cashmere sweater over a brown tank top, and waited by the door. When Parker’s shiny Porsche pulled in front of Morgan, I pushed my way out the door before he had time to make it up the walk.

  “I was going to come get you,” he said, disappointed as he held open the door.

  “Then I saved you a trip,” I said, buckling my seat belt.

  He slid in beside me and leaned over, touching each side of my face, kissing me with his plush, soft lips. “Wow,” he breathed, “I’ve missed your mouth.”

  His breath was minty, his cologne smelled incredible, his hands were warm and soft, and he looked fantastic in his jeans and green dress shirt, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing. That excitement I had in the beginning was noticeably absent, and I silently cursed Travis for taking that away.

  I forced a smile. “I’m going to take that as a compliment.”

  His apartment was exactly as I had imagined: immaculate, with expensive electronics in every corner, and most likely decorated by his mother.

  “So? What do you think?” he said, grinning like a child showing off a new toy.

  “It’s great,” I nodded.

  His expression changed from playful to intimate, and he pulled me into his arms, kissing my neck. Every muscle in my body tensed. I wanted to be anywhere than in that apartment.

  My cell phone rang, and I offered him an apologetic smile before answering.

  “How’s the date goin’, Pidge?”

  I turned my back to Parker and whispered into the phone. “What do you need, Travis?” I tried to make my tone sharp, but it was softened by my relief to hear his voice.

  “I wanna go bowling tomorrow. I need my partner.”

  “Bowling? You couldn’t have called me later?” I felt like a hypocrite for saying the words, knowing I had hoped for an excuse to keep Parker’s lips off of me.

  “How am I supposed to know when you’re gonna get done? Oh. That didn’t come out right …” he trailed off, sounding amused with himself.

  “I’ll call you tomorrow and we can talk about it then, okay?”

  “No, it’s not okay. You said you wanna be friends, but we can’t hang out?” I rolled my eyes, and Travis huffed. “Don’t roll your eyes at me. Are you coming or not?”

  “How did you know I rolled my eyes? Are you stalking me?” I asked, noting the drawn curtains.

  “You always roll your eyes. Yes? No? You’re wasting precious date time.”

  He knew me so well. I fought the urge to ask him to pick me up right then. I couldn’t help but smile at the thought.

  “Yes!” I said in a hushed voice, trying not to laugh. “I’ll go.”

  “I’ll pick you up at seven.”

  I turned to Parker, grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

  “Travis?” he asked with a knowing expression.

  “Yes,” I frowned, caught.

  “You’re still just friends?”

  “Still just friends,” I nodded once.

  We sat at the table, eating Chinese takeout. I warmed up to him after a while, and he reminded me of how charming he was. I felt lighter, almost giggly, a marked change from earlier. As hard as I tried to push the thought from my head, I couldn’t deny that it was my plans with Travis that had brightened my mood.

  After dinner, we sat on the couch to watch a movie, but before the beginning credits were over, Parker had me on my back. I was glad I had chosen to wear jeans; I wouldn’t have been able to fend him off as easily in a dress. His lips traveled down to my collarbone, and his hand stopped at my belt. He clumsily worked to pull it open, and once it popped, I slid out from under him to stand up.

  “Okay! I think a single is all you’ll be hitting tonight,” I said, buckling my belt.

  “What?”

  “First base … .second base? Never mind. It’s late, I better go.”

  He sat up and gripped my legs. “Don’t go, Abs. I don’t want you to think that’s why I brought you here.”

  “Isn’t it?”

  “Of course not,” he said, pulling me onto his lap. “You’re all I’ve thought about for two weeks. I apologize for being impatient.”

  He kissed my cheek, and I leaned into him, smiling when his breath tickled my neck. I turned to him and pressed my lips against his, trying my hardest to feel something—but I didn’t. I pulled away from him and sighed.

  Parker furrowed his brow. “I said I was sorry.”

  “I said it was late.”

  We drove to Morgan, and Parker squeezed my hand after he kissed me goodnight. “Let’s try again. Biasetti’s tomorrow?”

  I pressed my lips together. “I’m bowling with Travis tomorrow.”

  “Wednesday, then?”

  “Wednesday’s great,” I said, offering a contrived smile.

  Parker shifted in his seat. He was working up to something. “Abby? There’s a date party in a couple weekends at the House. …”

  I inwardly cringed, dreading the discussion we would inevitably have.

  “What?” he asked, chuckling nervously.

  “I can’t go with you,” I said, letting myself out of the car.

  He followed, meeting me at the Morgan entrance. “You have plans?”

  I winced. “I have plans … Travis already asked me.”

  “Travis asked you what?”

  “To the date party,” I explained, a bit frustrated.

  Parker’s face flushed, and he shifted his weight. “You’re going to the date party with Travis? He doesn’t go to those things. And you’re just friends. It doesn’t make sense for you to go with him.”

  “America wouldn’t go with Shep unless I went.”

  He relaxed. “Then you can go with me,” he smiled, intertwining his fingers in mine.

  I grimaced at his solution. “I can’t cancel with Travis and then go with you.”

  “I don’t see the problem,” he shrugged. “You can be there for America, and Travis will get out of having to go. He is a staunch advocate for doing away with date parties. He thinks it’s a platform for our girlfriends to force us to declare a relationship.”

  “It was me that didn’t want to go. He talked me into it.”

  “Now you have an excuse,” he shrugged. He was maddeningly confident that I was going to change my mind.

  “I didn’t want to go at all.”

  Parker’s patience had run out. “I just want to be clear; you don’t want to go to the date party. Travis wants to go, he asked you, and you won’t cancel with him to go with me, even though you didn’t want to go in the first place?”

  I had a hard time meeting his glare. “I can’t do that to him, Parker, I’m sorry.”

  “Do you understand what a date party is? It’s something you go to with your boyfriend.”

  His patronizing tone made any empathy I’d felt for him disappear. “Well, I don’t have a boyfriend, so technically I shouldn’t go at all.”

  “I thought we were going to try again. I thought we had something.”

  “I am trying.”

  “What do you expect me to do? Sit at home alone while you’re at my fraternity’s date party with someone else? Should I ask another girl?”

  “You can do what you want,” I said, irritated with his threat.

  He looked up and shook his head. “I don’t want to ask another girl.”

  “I don’t
expect you not to go to your own party. I’ll see you there.”

  “You want me to ask someone else? And you’re going with Travis. Do you not see how completely absurd that is?”

  I crossed my arms, ready for a fight. “I told him I would go before you and I ever went out, Parker. I can’t cancel on him.”

  “You can’t, or you don’t want to?”

  “Same difference. I’m sorry that you don’t understand.” I pulled the door open to Morgan, and Parker put his hand on mine.

  “All right,” he sighed in resignation. “This is obviously an issue I’m going to have to work through. Travis is one of your best friends; I do understand that. I don’t want it to affect our relationship. Okay?”

  “Okay,” I said, nodding.

  He opened the door and gestured me to walk through, kissing my cheek before I walked inside. “See you Wednesday at six?”

  “Six,” I said, waving as I walked up the stairs.

  America was walking out of the shower room when I turned the corner, and her eyes brightened when she recognized me. “Hey, chickie! How’d it go?”

  “It went,” I said, deflated.

  “Uh-oh.”

  “Don’t tell Travis, okay?”

  She huffed. “I won’t. What happened?”

  “Parker asked me to the date party.”

  America tightened her towel. “You’re not bailing on Trav, are you?”

  “No, and Parker’s not happy about it.”

  “Understandable,” she said, nodding. “It’s also too damn bad.”

  America pulled the strands of her long, wet hair over one shoulder, and drops of water trickled down her bare skin. She was a walking contradiction. She applied to Eastern so we could move together. She was my self-proclaimed conscience, intent on stepping in when I gave in to my imbedded tendencies to fly off track. It went against everything we talked about for me to get involved with Travis, and she had become his overly enthusiastic cheerleader.

  I leaned against the wall. “Would you be mad if I didn’t go at all?”

  “No, I would be unbelievably and irrevocably pissed off. That’s grounds for a full-blown cat fight, Abby.”

  “Then I guess I’m going,” I said, shoving my key in the lock. My cell phone rang, and a picture of Travis making a funny face appeared on the display. “Hello?”

  “You home, yet?”

  “Yeah, he dropped me off about five minutes ago.”

  “I’ll be there in five more.”

  “Wait! Travis?” I said after he’d hung up.

  America laughed. “You just had a disappointing date with Parker, and you smiled when Travis called. Are you really that dense?”

  “I didn’t smile,” I protested. “He’s coming here. Will you meet him outside and tell him I went to bed?”

  “You did too, and no … go tell him yourself.”

  “Yes, Mare, me going out there to tell him I’m in bed is so gonna work.” She turned her back to me, walking to her room. I threw up my hands, letting them fall to my thighs. “Mare! Please?”

  “Have fun, Abby,” she smiled, disappearing into her room.

  I walked down the stairs to see Travis on his motorcycle, parked at the front steps. He wore a white T-shirt with black artwork, setting off the tattoos on his arms.

  “Aren’t you cold?” I asked, tugging my jacket tighter.

  “You look nice. Did you have a good time?”

  “Uh … yeah, thanks,” I said, distracted. “What are you doing here?”

  He pulled back the throttle, and the engine snarled. “I was going to take a ride to clear my head. I want you to come with me.”

  “It’s cold, Trav.”

  “You want me to go get Shep’s car?”

  “We’re going bowling tomorrow. Can’t you wait until then?”

  “I went from being with you every second of the day to seeing you for ten minutes if I’m lucky.”

  I smiled and shook my head. “It’s only been two days, Trav.”

  “I miss you. Get your ass on the seat and let’s go.”

  I couldn’t argue. I missed him, too. More than I would ever admit to him. I zipped up my jacket and climbed on behind him, slipping my fingers through the belt loops of his jeans. He pulled my wrists to his chest and then folded them across one another. Once he was satisfied that I was holding him tightly enough, he took off, racing down the road.

  I rested my cheek against his back and closed my eyes, breathing in his scent. It reminded me of his apartment and his sheets and the way he smelled when he walked around with a towel around his waist. The city blurred past us, and I didn’t care how fast he was driving or how cold the wind was as it whipped across my skin; I wasn’t even paying attention to where we were. The only thing I could think about was his body against mine. We had no destination or time frame, and we drove the streets long after they had been abandoned by everyone but us.

  Travis pulled into a gas station and parked. “You want anything?” he asked.

  I shook my head, climbing off the bike to stretch my legs. He watched me rake my fingers through the tangles in my hair and smiled.

  “Quit it. You’re fucking beautiful.”

  “Just point me to the nearest eighties rock video,” I said.

  He laughed and then yawned, swatting at the moths that buzzed around him. The nozzle clicked, sounding louder than it should in the quiet night. We seemed to be the only two people on earth.

  I pulled out my cell phone to check the time. “Oh my God, Trav. It’s three in the morning.”

  “You wanna go back?” he asked, his face shadowed with disappointment.

  I pressed my lips together. “We better.”

  “We’re still going bowling tonight?”

  “I told you I would.”

  “And you’re still going to Sig Tau with me in a couple weeks, right?”

  “Are you insinuating that I don’t follow through? I find that a little insulting.”

  He pulled the nozzle from his tank and hooked it on its base. “I just never know what you’re going to do anymore.”

  He sat on his bike and helped me to climb on behind him. I hooked my fingers in his belt loops and then thought better of it, wrapping my arms around him.

  He sighed and leaned the bike upright, reluctant to start the engine. His knuckles turned white as he gripped the handlebars. He took a breath, beginning to speak, and then shook his head.

  “You’re important to me, you know,” I said, squeezing him.

  “I don’t understand you, Pigeon. I thought I knew women, but you’re so fucking confusing I don’t know which way is up.”

  “I don’t understand you, either. You’re supposed to be Eastern’s ladies’ man. I’m not getting the full freshmen experience they promised in the brochure,” I teased.

  “Well, that’s a first. I’ve never had a girl sleep with me to get me to leave her alone,” he said, keeping his back to me.

  “That’s not what it was, Travis,” I lied, ashamed that he had guessed my intentions without realizing how right he was.

  He shook his head and started the engine, pulling out onto the street. He drove uncharacteristically slow, stopping at all the yellow lights, taking the long way to campus.

  When we pulled in front of the entrance of Morgan Hall, the same sadness I felt the night I left the apartment consumed me. It was ridiculous to be so emotional, but each time I did something to push him away, I was terrified it would work.

  He walked me to the door, and I pulled out my keys, avoiding his eyes. As I fumbled with the metal in my hand, his hand was suddenly at my chin, his thumb softly touching my lips.

  “Did he kiss you?” he asked.

  I pulled away, surprised that his fingers caused a burning feeling that seared every nerve from my mouth to my toes. “You really know how to screw up a perfect night, don’t you?”

  “You thought it was perfect, huh? Does that mean you had a good time?”

  “I alwa
ys do when I’m with you.”

  He looked to the ground and his eyebrows pulled together. “Did he kiss you?”

  “Yes,” I sighed, irritated.

  His eyes closed tight. “Is that all?”

  “That is none of your business!” I said, yanking open the door.

  Travis pushed it closed and stood in my way, his expression apologetic. “I need to know.”

  “No you don’t! Move, Travis!”

  “Pigeon … ,”

  “You think because I’m no longer a virgin, I’ll screw anyone that’ll have me? Thanks!” I said, shoving him.

  “I didn’t say that, damn it! Is it too much to ask for a little peace of mind?”

  “Why would it give you peace of mind to know if I’m sleeping with Parker?”

  “How can you not know? It’s obvious to everyone else but you!” he said, exasperated.

  “I guess I’m just an idiot, then. You’re on a roll tonight, Trav,” I said, reaching for the door handle.

  He gripped my shoulders. “The way I feel about you … it’s crazy.”

  “You got the crazy part right,” I snapped, pulling away from him.

  “I practiced this in my head the whole time we were on the bike, so just hear me out,” he said.

  “Travis—”

  “I know we’re fucked up, all right? I’m impulsive and hot-tempered, and you get under my skin like no one else. You act like you hate me one minute, and then you need me the next. I never get anything right, and I don’t deserve you … but I fucking love you, Abby. I love you more than I’ve loved anyone or anything, ever. When you’re around, I don’t need booze or money or the fighting or the one-night stands … all I need is you. You’re all I think about. You’re all I dream about. You’re all I want.”

  My plan to feign ignorance was an epic fail. I couldn’t pretend to be impervious when he had laid all of his cards on the table. When we met, something inside both of us had changed, and whatever that was, it made us need each other. For reasons unknown to me, I was his exception, and as much as I had tried to fight my feelings, he was mine.

  He shook his head, cupped each side of my face, and looked into my eyes. “Did you sleep with him?”

  Hot tears filled my eyes as I shook my head no. He slammed his lips against mine, and his tongue entered my mouth without hesitation. Unable to control myself, I gripped his shirt in my fists, and pulled him to me. He hummed in his amazing deep voice and gripped me so tight that it was difficult to breathe.

 
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