Episode Seventeen: A Diamond Isn’t Enough
Instead of the dining table, Abby and I ate dinner sitting on the old shag carpet in Dad’s living room. Abby had set up a tray for Dad, and Trenton was relaxing on the threadbare couch, surrounded by pillows, using his lap for a table. Eight different prescription bottles were lined up on the arm of the couch next to him.
I smiled as I watched Abby raise up on her knees, aiming for Trenton’s mouth with a piece of baked chicken on the end of a fork, my brother and my wife giggling. Dad smiled at them both. Anytime the house felt like it did when Mom was alive, any happiness Dad felt was elevated to a place nothing else could touch.
Trenton’s teeth scraped against the fork when Abby pulled it from his mouth, and she winced. “Oh! No! You know I hate that!”
Trenton grin, chewing. “I know.”
Abby pressed her lips together, grabbed a piece of chicken, and chunked it at Trenton’s face. He must have expected it, because he opened his mouth and it went right in. He chewed, and she glared at him, not even a little mad.
“It’s good, Abby,” Trenton said.
She immediately softened. “It’s Trav’s recipe.”
“It’s Mom’s,” Trenton said.
She turned to me. “Is he being serious?” I nodded. She paled. “C’mon, Trav. You have to tell me these things. I can’t serve a poor version of your mom’s chicken bake to your dad.”
“It’s spot on,” Dad said. “Almost.”
“Almost,” Abby said, pouting as she pushed around her food on her plate.
“I’m sorry, Pidge. Didn’t even think about it. I’ve been fucking up Mom’s cooking for years. But look,” I said, showing her my empty plate.
Abby frowned. “You’re an amazing cook. It’s the only reason I married you.”
I nodded, smirking to hide the embarrassing fact that I was actually butt hurt. “Oh, really? Well I only married you because…” Abby raised an eyebrow, and I swallowed. “You’re mean.”
“You married me because I’m mean?”
“One of the many reasons.”
She shrugged one shoulder, popping a bite into her mouth. “Whatever. As long as we’re married.”
If Dad and Trenton hadn’t been sitting there, I would have wrapped her in my arms and asked her to marry me all over again. Abby rarely threw me those kinds of bones, and it deteriorated me from bad ass husband to desperate boyfriend in one-point-four seconds.
“Babe,” I said, unable to hide the sentiment in my voice. The hardest thing about being Abby’s husband was finding new ways to show her she was my everything. Flowers and date nights paled in comparison to asking her to be my wife. It hit me, then, that I hadn’t actually asked her to marry me. Abby had proposed to me. I’d bought the ring, and I’d thought about a few scenarios, but nothing ever measured up.
Abby took the last bite, and then put her plate down, crawling over to me. She pecked my cheek, and then took my empty plate. “Anyone else finished?”
“I’ll get it, Abby,” Dad said, scooting to the end of his recliner while trying to push away the tray. “You cooked. I’ll clean up.”
“Don’t you dare,” Abby said, taking his plate. “It’s four plates, four forks, and a casserole dish, I think I can manage.”
Dad watched Abby abscond with his plate, then Trenton’s, smiling as she happily struttedto the kitchen. “She’s a lot of things, son. Mean isn’t one of ‘em.”
“Yeah, she is,” I said, watching her rinse dishes at the sink with a stupid grin. “And I was serious. I’d rather Pigeon be mean to me than worshipped by anyone else.”
“You’re a fuckin’ titty baby, Travis. She’s not mean,” Trenton said.
I rolled my eyes and relaxed back against the bottom of the couch. “God, I can’t wait until you’re well so I can face punch you.”
“You’ll have to dig all that sand out of your vag, first.”
I reached over and yanked on a few of his leg hairs, and Trenton yelped.
“Ow, fucker! I don’t feel good.”
“Travis Carter,” Dad warned.
I held up my hands to Dad. “How do you live with yourself, knowing you raised such a liar?”
Dad chuckled, moved the tray far enough from his recliener to push back on his feet and rock. “I ask myself that every time I look at you.”
Trenton cackled, and then held his stomach, groaning. “Oh, fuck. Don’t make me laugh. I hurt all over.”
“Trav,” Abby scolded from the kitchen.
“Sorry, Pidge!” I called. I frowned at Trenton. “Quit crying, you’re gettin’ me in trouble.”
“I’m hurting here, you dick!”
I slapped his knee. “I’m a dick? You have more dick in your personality than you do in your pants.”
Trenton laughed again, then groaned. “I hate you. Stop.”
I sighed, looking over my shoulder to make sure Abby was still busy. “So… Brandon Kyle came by today. Unannounced. Eyeballin’ my wife.”
What was left of Trenton’s smile faded at the sound of my boss’s name. “What the fuck was that about?”
“Who’s this?” Dad asked.
“Brandon Kyle. He owns Iron E,” Trenton said. “He’s slept with at least two of his trainers’ wives or girlfriends, not to mention different guys around town. Mostly big guys with bad tempers. Brandon sees it as sport.”
Dad waved us away. “Well, those wives weren’t Abby Maddox, were they?”
Dad saying Abby’s new name instantly put my heart and mind to rest. Brandon could try all day long, but it was never gonna happen. Even so, the idea of that dickhole pursuing my wife while smiling to my face made me want to murder him.
“I thought you said you were making bank over there?” Trenton asked.
“I am. That’s why I don’t get it,” I said. There was only one thing Brandon thought more of than ass: money.
“Well, you need to lay low for a while,” Dad said. “Don’t let some idiot with a death wish put you in the spotlight again.”
Dad was right. No response necessary. Getting hit with assault charges would be working against everything Abby and my family had done to protect me—whether they knew they were or not.
“On a different note,” I began, “America has been talking a lot about this second wedding nonsense. I bought the ring, but I realized the proposal thing didn’t actually happen.”
Trenton chuckled. “What? You just put the ring on her, you douche?”
“No,” I frowned, glancing at Abby in the kitchen. She was drying the casserole dish with a dishtowel, almost finished. The conversation had to be quick and dirty. “The Vegas thing was her idea. I had already bought the ring, so I gave it to her, but it wasn’t a real proposal. Since the wedding gets a do-over, I was thinking the proposal should, too.”
Dad smiled. “Good idea, son.”
Trenton grinned. “Flash mobs. Chicks love flash mobs.”
“You are worthless,” I deadpanned.
“Okay,” Abby said, holding a glass of ice water. “You know what time it is, Trent?”
“Tentacle porn time?” Trenton asked with a straight face.
Abby and Dad’s expressions both twisted.
“What?” Abby asked. “Ew. No. Time to take your pills.”
Trenton sighed. The lids popped in succession. He chugged half his glass of water to get them all down. Trenton gulped several times, and then handed the glass to Abby. “Thanks, sis.”
Abby took the glass to the sink and then returned, her hands pruny from being immersed in dishwater. I interlaced her fingers with mine, anyway, even though they felt strangely hard and squishy at the same time.
Just as the sky began to change color, I stood and brought Abby with me. She hugged Dad and kissed his cheek, and then hugged Trenton, making sure there was nothing else they needed before we left.
“Want me to take the truck and put gas in it tomorrow?” I asked.
Dad shook his head. “Maybe Friday.”
He walked us to the front door, and waved good bye as we backed out of the driveway. Abby spoke about mundane things like what we needed at the grocery store, and what bills were due when, but my mind was preoccupied with proposal plans. Now that I’d thought of it, I had to do it, and nothing else was more important. Whatever it was had to be good, amazing, something that would remind her how much she means to me.
“So, toilet paper and a new shower curtain liner from the store. Anything else you can think of?” she asked. Over-sized aviators sat at almost the tip of her nose, her hair pulled up into a stringy, high ponytail. She was wearing one of her favorite T-shirts with jean shorts, and sandals. Nothing special at all, and yet I’d never seen her so beautiful. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t think I could love her more, and the next day would blow that one out of the water.
“Can we swing by the store on our way home?”
“Oh. Yeah,” I said, turning into the left turn lane. I’d already missed the quickest road to Wal-Mart.
“Are you okay?”
“You’re worried about Trenton? He looked so good today. He’ll be back to his smartass self in no time.”
“He loves you, you know.”
Abby touched her hand to her chest. “I know. I love him, too.”
“My whole family loves you. You’re one of us.”
I could see her shoot me a quick wink from behind her sunglasses. “That was kind of the plan.” When I didn’t respond to her teasing, she took my hand and squeezed. “Trav, what made you say that?”
“I’m just a grade-A fuck up, Pidge. You make me look good to everyone I care about because I finally got something right.”
“Stop. They don’t think that.”
“I’m not going to fuck this up. I promise.”
Her eyebrows pulled in. “Trav. Where is this coming from?”
I faced forward, keeping my eye on the road. “I just don’t want you to worry about Brandon, or my job… I’m going to reign it in. I’m going to make you proud.”
“You already make me proud,” she said.
When she looked at me that way, nothing else mattered. I brought her hand to my mouth and kissed her fingers.
“Kind of makes you wonder,” she said, putting her bare feet on the dash, her toes smudging the windshield I’d just wiped down the evening before. I didn’t even care. I could only think about how beautiful her feet were.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Why we waited so long. Because this is heaven,” she said, leaning her head back on the headrest. The evening summer breeze was blowing in through her open window, her hair tangling in the wind.
I could have conquered a war, a mountain, a giant, or anything else life threw at me. Brandon Kyle might have been a shit sucking douche canoe who enjoyed playing with fire, but Abby Maddox was my wife, she loved me, and she’d never looked happier. We were getting ready to walk through ten aisles past things we didn’t need but would probably put in our basket, anyway, looking for toilet paper, and it was going to be another one of a million cornball moments with her that seemed so damn perfect it was anything but ordinary.
That was exactly why nobody could touch us. The FBI hadn’t been back, the student reporters hadn’t been back. Even Parker hadn’t bothered to sniff in Abby’s direction. We were three months longer into our marriage than what people thought we could reach, with no end in sight. At least, in that moment, that’s what I believed.