Beautiful disaster, p.7
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       Beautiful Disaster, p.7

         Part #1 of Beautiful series by Jamie McGuire
slower 1  faster

  “What the hell? This ain’t a boxing match, Travis!” Adam yelled.

  Travis landed a punch to Brady’s nose. The volume in the basement was deafening then. Travis sank a left hook into Brady’s jaw, and my hands flew over my mouth when Brady attempted a few more punches, each one catching air. Brady fell against his entourage when Travis elbowed him in the face. Just when I thought it was almost over, Brady came out swinging again. Throw after throw, Brady couldn’t seem to keep up. Both men were covered in sweat, and I gasped when Brady missed another punch, slamming his hand into a cement pillar. When he folded over, cradling his fist beneath him, Travis went in for the kill.

  He was relentless, first bringing his knee to Brady’s face and then pummeling him over and over until Brady stumbled and hit the ground. The noise level boomed as Adam left my side to throw the red square on Brady’s bloodied face.

  Travis disappeared behind his fans, and I pressed my back against the wall, feeling my way to the doorway we came in. Reaching the lantern was a huge relief. I worried about being knocked down and trampled.

  My eyes focused on doorway, waiting for the crowd to spill into the small room. After several minutes and no sign of Travis, I prepared to retrace my steps to the window. With the number of people trying to leave at once, it wasn’t safe enough to chance wandering around.

  Just as I stepped into the darkness, footsteps crunched against the loose concrete on the floor. Travis was looking for me in a panic.

  “Pigeon!”

  “I’m here!” I called out, running into his arms.

  Travis looked down and frowned. “You scared the shit out of me! I almost had to start another fight just to get to you … I finally get here and you’re gone!”

  “I’m glad you’re back. I wasn’t looking forward to trying to find my way in the dark.”

  All worry left his face, and he smiled widely. “I believe you lost the bet.”

  Adam stomped in, looked at me, and then glowered at Travis. “We need to talk.”

  Travis winked at me. “Stay put. I’ll be right back.”

  They disappeared into the darkness. Adam raised his voice a few times, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying. Travis returned, shoving a wad of cash into his pocket, and then he offered a half smile. “You’re going to need more clothes.”

  “You’re really going to make me stay with you for a month?”

  “Would you have made me go without sex for a month?”

  I laughed, knowing I would. “We better stop at Morgan.”

  Travis beamed. “This should be interesting.”

  As Adam passed, he slammed my winnings into my palm, and then merged into the dissipating mob.

  Travis raised an eyebrow. “You put in?”

  I smiled and shrugged. “I thought I should get the full experience.”

  He led me to the window and then crawled out, turning to help me up and out to the fresh night air. The crickets were chirping in the shadows, stopping just long enough to let us pass. The monkey grass that lined the sidewalk weaved in the gentle breeze, reminding me of the sound the ocean makes when I wasn’t quite close enough to hear the waves breaking. It wasn’t too hot or too cold; it was the perfect night.

  “Why on earth would you want me to stay with you, anyway?” I asked.

  Travis shrugged, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I don’t know. Everything’s better when you’re around.”

  The warm and fuzzies I felt from his words quickly faded with the sight of the red, blotchy mess on his shirt. “Ew. You have blood all over you.”

  Travis looked down with indifference and then opened the door, gesturing for me to walk in. I breezed by Kara, who studied on her bed, held captive by the textbooks that surrounded her.

  “The boilers were fixed this morning,” she said.

  “I heard,” I said, rifling through my closet.

  “Hi,” Travis said to Kara.

  Kara’s face twisted as she scanned Travis’s sweaty, bloody form.

  “Travis, this is my roommate, Kara Lin. Kara, Travis Maddox.”

  “Nice to meet you,” Kara said, pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose. She glanced at my bulging bags. “Are you moving out?”

  “Nope. Lost a bet.”

  Travis burst into laughter, grabbing my bags. “Ready?”

  “Yeah. How am I going to get all of this to your apartment? We’re on your bike.”

  Travis smiled and pulled out his cell phone. He carried my luggage to the street, and minutes later, Shepley’s black vintage Charger pulled up.

  The passenger-side window rolled down, and America poked her head out. “Hey, Chickie!”

  “Hey yourself. The boilers are working again at Morgan. Are you still staying with Shep?”

  She winked. “Yeah, I thought I’d stay tonight. I heard you lost a bet.”

  Before I could speak, Travis shut the trunk and Shep sped off, with America squealing as she fell back into the car.

  We walked to his Harley, and he waited for me to settle into my seat. When I wrapped my arms around him, he rested his hand on mine.

  “I’m glad you were there tonight, Pidge. I’ve never had so much fun at a fight in my life.”

  I perched my chin on his shoulder and smiled. “That was because you were trying to win our bet.”

  He angled his neck to face me. “Damn right I was.” There was no amusement in his eyes, he was serious, and he wanted me to see it.

  My eyebrows shot up. “Is that why you were in such a bad mood today? Because you knew they’d fixed the boilers, and I would be leaving tonight?”

  Travis didn’t answer; he only smiled as he started his motorcycle. The drive to the apartment was uncharacteristically slow. At every stoplight, Travis would either cover my hands with his, or he would rest his hand on my knee. The lines were blurring again, and I wondered how we would spend a month together and not ruin everything. The loose ends of our friendship were tangling in a way I never imagined.

  When we arrived in the apartment parking lot, Shepley’s Charger sat in its usual spot.

  I stood in front of the steps. “I always hate it when they’ve been home for a while. I feel like we’re going to interrupt them.”

  “Get used to it. This is your place for the next four weeks,” Travis smiled and turned his back to me. “Get on.”

  “What?” I smiled.

  “C’mon, I’ll carry you up.”

  I giggled and hopped onto his back, interlacing my fingers on his chest as he ran up the stairs. America opened the door before we made it to the top and smiled.

  “Look at you two. If I didn’t know better …”

  “Knock it off, Mare,” Shepley said from the couch.

  America smiled as if she’d said too much, and then opened the door wide so we could both fit through. Travis collapsed against the recliner. I squealed when he leaned against me.

  “You’re awfully cheerful this evening, Trav. What gives?” America prompted.

  I leaned over to see his face. I’d never seen him so pleased.

  “I just won a shitload of money, Mare. Twice as much as I thought I would. What’s not to be happy about?”

  America grinned. “No, it’s something else,” she said, watching Travis’s hand as he patted my thigh. She was right; he was different. There was an air of peace around him, almost as if some kind of new contentment had settled into his soul.

  “Mare,” Shepley warned.

  “Fine, I’ll talk about something else. Didn’t Parker invite you to the Sig Tau party this weekend, Abby?”

  Travis’s smile vanished and he turned to me, waiting for an answer.

  “Er … yeah? Aren’t we all going?”

  “I’ll be there,” Shepley said, distracted by the television.

  “And that means I’m going,” America said, looking expectantly at Travis.

  Travis watched me for a moment, and then nudged my leg. “Is he picking you up or something?”

&n
bsp; “No, he just told me about the party.”

  America’s mouth spread into a mischievous grin, almost bobbing in anticipation. “He said he’d see you there, though. He’s really cute.”

  Travis shot an irritated glance in America’s direction and then looked to me. “Are you going?”

  “I told him I would,” I shrugged. “Are you going?”

  “Yeah,” he said without hesitation.

  Shepley’s attention turned to Travis, then. “You said last week you weren’t.”

  “I changed my mind, Shep. What’s the problem?”

  “Nothing,” he grumbled, retreating to his bedroom.

  America frowned at Travis. “You know what the problem is,” she said. “Why don’t you quit driving him crazy and just get it over with.” She joined Shepley in his room, and their voices were reduced to murmuring behind the closed door.

  “Well, I’m glad everyone else knows,” I said.

  Travis stood up. “I’m going to take a quick shower.”

  “Is there something going on with them?” I asked.

  “No, he’s just paranoid.”

  “It’s because of us,” I guessed. Travis’s eyes lit up and he nodded.

  “What?” I asked, eyeing him suspiciously.

  “You’re right. It’s because of us. Don’t fall asleep, okay? I wanna talk to you about something.”

  He walked backward a few steps, and then disappeared behind the bathroom door. I twisted my hair around my finger, mulling over the way he emphasized the word us, and the look on his face when he’d said it. I wondered if there had ever been lines at all, and if I was the only one that considered Travis and I just friends anymore.

  Shepley burst out of his room, and America ran after him. “Shep, don’t!” she pleaded.

  He looked back to the bathroom door, and then to me. His voice was low, but angry. “You promised, Abby. When I told you to spare judgment, I didn’t mean for you two to get involved! I thought you were just friends!”

  “We are,” I said, shaken by his surprise attack.

  “No, you’re not!” he fumed.

  America touched his shoulder. “Baby, I told you it will be fine.”

  He pulled away from her grip. “Why are you pushing this, Mare? I told you what’s going to happen!”

  She grabbed his face with both hands. “And I told you it won’t! Don’t you trust me?”

  Shepley sighed, looked at her, at me, and then stomped into his room.

  America fell into the recliner beside me, and puffed. “I just can’t get it into his head that whether you and Travis work out or not, it won’t affect us. But he’s been burned too many times. He doesn’t believe me.”

  “What are you talking about, Mare? Travis and I aren’t together. We are just friends. You heard him earlier … he’s not interested in me that way.”

  “You heard that?”

  “Well, yeah.”

  “And you believe it?”

  I shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. It’ll never happen. He told me he doesn’t see me like that, anyway. Besides, he’s a total commitmentphobe, I’d be hard pressed to find a girlfriend outside of you that he hasn’t slept with, and I can’t keep up with his mood swings. I can’t believe Shep thinks otherwise.”

  “Because not only does he know Travis … he’s talked to Travis, Abby.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Mare?” Shepley called from the bedroom.

  America sighed. “You’re my best friend. I think I know you better than you know yourself sometimes. I see you two together, and the only difference between me and Shep, and you and Travis, is that we’re having sex. Other than that? No difference.”

  “There is a huge, huge difference. Is Shep bringing home different girls every night? Are you going to the party tomorrow to hang out with a guy with definite dating potential? You know I can’t get involved with Travis, Mare. I don’t even know why we’re discussing it.”

  America’s expression turned to disappointment. “I’m not seeing things, Abby. You have spent almost every moment with him for the last month. Admit it, you have feelings for him.”

  “Let it go, Mare,” Travis said, tightening his towel around his waist.

  America and I jumped at the sound of Travis’s voice, and when my eyes met his, I could see the happiness was gone. He walked down the hall without another word, and America looked at me with a sad expression.

  “I think you’re making a mistake,” she whispered. “You don’t need to go that party to meet a guy, you’ve got one that’s crazy about you right here,” she said, leaving me alone.

  I rocked in the recliner, letting everything that had happened in the last week replay in my mind. Shepley was angry with me, America was disappointed in me, and Travis … he went from being happier than I’d ever seen him to so offended that he was speechless. Too nervous to crawl into bed with him, I watched the clock change from minute to minute.

  An hour had passed when Travis came out of his room and down the hall. When he rounded the corner, I expected him to ask me to come to bed, but he was dressed and had his bike keys in his hand. His sunglasses were hiding his eyes, and he popped a cigarette in his mouth before grabbing the knob of the door.

  “You’re leaving?” I asked, sitting up. “Where are you going?”

  “Out,” he said, yanking the door open, and then slamming it closed behind him.

  I fell back in the recliner and huffed. I had somehow become the villain and had no idea how I’d managed to get there.

  When the clock above the television read two a.m., I finally resigned myself to going to bed. The mattress was lonely without him, and the idea of calling his cell kept creeping into my mind. I had nearly fallen asleep when Travis’s motorcycle pulled into the parking lot. Two car doors shut shortly after, and then several pairs of footsteps climbed the stairs. Travis fumbled with the lock, and then the door opened. He laughed and mumbled, and then I heard not one, but two female voices. Their giggling was interrupted by the distinct sound of kissing and moaning. My heart sank, and I was instantly angry that I felt that way. My eyes clenched shut when one of the girls squealed, and then I was sure the next sound was the three of them collapsing onto the couch.

  I considered asking America for her keys, but Shepley’s door was directly in view of the couch, and I couldn’t stomach witnessing the picture that went along with the noises in the living room. I buried my head under the pillow, and then shut my eyes when door popped open. Travis walked across the room, opened the top night-table drawer, picked through his bowl of condoms, and then shut the drawer, jogging down the hall. The girls giggled for what seemed like half an hour, and then it was quiet.

  Seconds later, moans, humming, and shouting filled the apartment. It sounded as if a pornographic movie was being filmed in the living room. I covered my face with my hands, and shook my head. Whatever lines had blurred or disappeared in the last week, an impenetrable stone wall had gone up in their place. I shook off my ridiculous emotions, forcing myself to relax. Travis was Travis, and we were, without a doubt, friends, and only friends.

  The shouting and other nauseating noises quieted down after an hour, followed by whining, and then grumbling by the women after being dismissed. Travis showered and then collapsed onto his side of the bed, turning his back to me. Even after his shower, he smelled like he’d drunk enough whiskey to sedate a horse, and I was livid that he’d driven his motorcycle home in such a state.

  After the awkwardness faded and the anger weakened, I still couldn’t sleep. When Travis’s breaths were deep and even, I sat up to look at the clock. The sun was going to rise in less than an hour. I ripped the covers off of me, walked down the hall and took a blanket from the hall cabinet. The only evidence of Travis’s threesome was two empty condom packages on the floor. I stepped over them and fell into the recliner.

  I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, America and Shepley were sitting quietly on the couch watching a muted te
levision. The sun lit the apartment, and I cringed when my back complained at any attempted movement.

  America’s attention darted to me. “Abby?” she said, rushing to my side. She watched me with wary eyes. She was waiting for anger, or tears, or another emotionally charged outburst.

  Shepley looked miserable. “I’m sorry about last night, Abby. This is my fault.”

  I smiled. “It’s okay, Shep. You don’t have to apologize.”

  America and Shepley traded glances, and then she grabbed my hand. “Travis went to the store. He is … ugh, it doesn’t matter what he is. I packed your stuff, and I’ll take you to the dorms before he gets home so you don’t have to deal with him.”

  It wasn’t until that moment that I felt like crying; I had been kicked out. I worked to keep my voice smooth before I spoke. “Do I have time to take a shower?”

  America shook her head. “Let’s just go, Abby, I don’t want you to have to see him. He doesn’t deserve to—”

  The door flew open, and Travis walked in, his arms lined with grocery sacks. He walked straight into the kitchen, furiously working to get the cans and boxes into the cabinets.

  “When Pidge wakes up, let me know, okay?” he said in a soft voice. “I got spaghetti, and pancakes, and strawberries, and that oatmeal shit with the chocolate packets, and she likes Fruity Pebbles cereal, right, Mare?” he asked, turning.

  When he saw me, he froze. After an awkward pause, his expression melted, and his voice was smooth and sweet. “Hey, Pigeon.”

  I couldn’t have been more confused if I had woken up in a foreign country. Nothing made sense. At first I thought I had been evicted, and then Travis comes home with bags full of my favorite foods.

  He took a few steps into the living room, nervously shoving his hands in his pockets. “You hungry, Pidge? I’ll make you some pancakes. Or there’s uh … there’s some oatmeal. And I got you some of that pink foamy shit that girls shave with, and a hairdryer, and a … a … .just a sec, it’s in here,” he said, rushing to the bedroom.

  The door opened and shut, and then he rounded the corner, the color gone from his face. He took a deep breath and his eyebrows pulled in. “Your stuff’s packed.”

 
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