Episode Seventeen: A Diamond Isn't Enough

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Endlessly Beautiful

 

Episode Seventeen: A Diamond Isn’t Enough

 

::Travis::

 

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.

“Trav?”

“Huh?”

“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?”

“Me? Yeah.”

“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.

Episode Sixteen: Heathens

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Episode Sixteen: Heathens

NOTE: PLEASE understand all episodes are UNEDITED. You will find mistakes, missing words, and inconsistencies. I am aware. Please don't email, message, or tweet me about them. This is just for fun. Thanks, and enjoy!

 

::Abby::

America sighed, her oiled skin glistening in the early June sun. Her bikini had even less fabric than mine, with a coral and white horizontal striped bandeau top, and a matching cheeky bottom allowing for maximum surface area to brown. The ice in her glass clinked together and popped as it melted—along with everything else in Eakins. We were happily baking our skin in the furthest corner of fenced-in pool that was nestled in the center of my apartment complex. Water splashed, and America snarled, raising her head to glare at the misfits we shared the space with.

“Mare,” I warned.

“Just let me yell at them once. Just once.”

“Then they’ll make a game of it. Those are Marsha Becker’s boys. She lets them run all over the property like heathens and then yells at people for having the audacity to try to parent them. Just let it go. The water feels nice once in a while, anyway.”

“Until you realize they’ve pissed in that water,” she muttered, resituating her large, squared sunglasses.

I chuckled, looking over at my best friend. Her profile was flawless, with pouty lips, a pixie nose, and softly defined jaw and cheek bones. She could have been a model or actress in LA had she not followed me to Eastern State.

“So Trent’s going to be okay. That’s a relief,” she said. “I know Shepley’s parents went to visit him today. I think Jim was really worried.”

“Yeah, he’s good at hiding it.”

“Must be why you get along with him so well,” she said with smirk. “Congrats on the thing with that teacher, by the way. The internship or whatever. I’m so proud of you. You worked really hard for that.”

I smiled, feeling uncharacteristically affectionate toward her in that moment. “Mare, do you remember when we met?” I asked. “I mean the first day.”

She pushed herself up onto her elbows and looked at me over her glasses. “How could I forget? You were this confident yet mousy, lost, exotic, jilted thing. I loved you the moment I laid eyes on you. The first day of junior year.”

I turned onto my stomach, smiling at her. “You didn’t love me. It was just a crush.”

“No, it was love. I purposely picked the seat next to yours and asked you to come over within the first five minutes. You were at my house that night for dinner and you never left. For the most part.”

“Your parents were awesome. My mom was…”

“A drunk.” Her smiled faded. “Have you talked to her?”

I shook my head. “I don’t even think she knows I’m married. How messed up is that?”

“Has he called?”

“Mick? No,” I said, shaking my head. “Travis might kill him if he did, and you know Mick. Forever the coward.”

America stared at the pool. “Travis will have to get in line. You know what I was wondering about the other day? You and Travis getting married in Vegas.”

I tried to keep my face smooth, dreading the moment I’d have to remind her it was better if she didn’t fully know the truth. America knew we were at the fight, and knew we’d run off to Vegas, but she could still play dumb if questioned by the Feds, and I wanted to keep her as far away from our mess as possible.

“Did you happen to run into Jesse?” she asked.

Her question took me off guard. Jesse hadn’t crossed my mind since the first time I’d taken Travis to Vegas. “What made you ask that?”

“I don’t know. It just popped into my mind and I envisioned him seeing you in your wedding dress and throwing up.”

Throwing up?” I turned over and sat up, pulling with me the top half of the chaise I was laying on. I pulled my hair to the side, combing it through with my fingers before weaving it into a side braid. Even then, the ends hung past my breast. It was getting longer and lighter in the summer sun, a blonder version of my normally caramel strands. I wasn’t model-esque like America, but I’d landed Travis Maddox. My looks clearly weren’t vomit-inducing, especially not on my wedding day. “I feel like I should be offended.”

“No, stupid,” she laughed. “Throw up as in him being sick over you marrying someone else. He was fully convinced until the day you left Vegas that you two were getting married. And by the text messages for almost a year after, I’d say he hung on to that for a while.”

“Nice titties,” one of the Becker boys said, raising his eyebrows at me before running away and jumping into the pool. By the giggling and high fives, I imagined he’d been dared.

America opened her mouth, but I gestured for her not to speak.

“Just don’t,” I said. “And I know what Jesse thought. But no, I didn’t see him.”

“I’m surprised he let you stay to win back that money for Mick. I figured he would have hated you.”

“He probably does.”

America stretched, letting her head fall back. “Oh, well. Not like I would’ve gotten to see that drama unfold, anyway.”

I craned my neck, glaring at her.

“What? He drove all the way to Wichita to see you. You didn’t even let him down easy. Even my parents were appalled.”

I closed my eyes, trying to keep the memory from forming in my mind. “Do you have to talk about it?”

“I was just thinking about it the other day. Wondering what he would think, or how he would act if he did see you. If he didn’t… crisis averted.”

I frowned, watching Marsha Becker’s heathens push unsuspecting little girls into the pool. Jesse was in love with me, and I tried for a long time to be in love with him. He was a safe place to fall when my mother was drunk and Mick was on one of his benders. Jesse was always kind and soft-spoken, and affectionate. It wasn’t until I married Travis that I realized why I’d found it impossible to love Jesse. I was meant to be Mrs. Maddox. “Do you wonder what Travis and Shep would be doing right now if we hadn’t moved to Eakins?” I asked.

“I don’t wonder, I know. Shepley would be at your apartment—except it would still be his apartment—and Travis would be in jail like Adam.”

“Don’t say that,” I said, disgusted.

“He would have went to that fight, Keaton hall would have caught on fire…”

“Adam was trying to keep a low profile because the fight had already been rolled once. They used the lanterns to not draw attention because the cops showed up at the last one. They came because a fight broke out, the fight broke out because that douche attacked me. If we hadn’t come, maybe the fire would have never happened.”

America raised an eyebrow. “Abby, if they weren’t conducting illegal fights in old buildings with too many people and just a few exits, no one would have been there to start the fire. No one would have been there to die. We all make our choices. And don’t let Travis hear you talking like that. He feels guilty enough without you blaming yourself.”

“I’m not talking to Travis about it. That’s why I’m talking to my best friend.”

“And your best friend is telling you you’re being dumb. Quit it. Anyways, we didn’t meet here to talk about the fire or Jesse or throwing up. We’re talking about your wedding.”

“Hey blondie, what come sit on my lap,” a Becker boy yelled.

America lifted her fist and proudly displayed her middle finger.

“Mare!” I scolded.

She was nothing less than satisfied.

I released the chaise and lay flat. “Please no wedding talk today. I told you we could do it. But this is for you. I don’t want another wedding, remember?”

America pulled a notebook and pen out of her beach bag. “So, I was thinking St. Thomas. Why you ask? Because we don’t need passports, it’s beautiful, not your average destination wedding, and the Ritz-Carlton has a beautiful venue with a wedding package.”

“Sounds great,” I said.

America made a check next to her scribbles and then dropped the pen on her mid-section, clapping. “I was hoping you’d say yes! It’s going to be perfect! Okay. Second question. Colors. I was thinking aqua, coral, pink, sea foam, and cream. Or we can go a little bolder and do purple and orange, but I prefer the first swatch.”

“First swatch it is.”

She clapped again.

“I’d tap that,” a Becker boy yelled. “Twice.”

America sucked in a breath through her nose, desperately trying to ignore them. “Now, for the reception. Tthe Ritz has a great outdoor restaurant called Sails. There are these great tarps they pull over that functions as a ceiling, and because it’s the Caribbean it tends to rain, they can roll down the sides like a tent enclosure to protect us from any passing showers. We could also move the wedding ceremony there if needed.”

“Great.”

She squealed. “I know you’re not into this, Abby, but it’s going to be beautiful and we’ll all get to be there, and I’m going to be a gorgeous maid of honor.”

“Yes, you will.”

“One last thing,” she said, serious. “The date.”

“I assume you have one chosen.”

“Well, it just made sense to me to do it on your first anniversary. It falls on spring break next year, but it’s on a Sunday, so we’d miss at least the first day back to classes after break.”

I tried not to smile, but failed. Our first anniversary seemed so far away, and yet it was within reach. I would be married to Travis Maddox for an entire year, and then we’d start on our second.

“What? You’re making a weird face.”

I laughed once, looking down. “I just… love him.”

“March twenty-first, then?” she asked, putting the notebook away.

“March twenty-first.”

One of the bigger Becker boys jumped into the pool holding his knees to his chest, sending a wall of water over America and me. We both gasped, sitting up with our mouths open.

“Mare!” I said too late.

She stood, beach bag in hand, dripping wet while she slid her bare feet into her shoes. “You little shits! The best parts of you ran down your momma’s leg!”

Everyone in the pool froze, staring at us.

“Oh, hell,” I said, gathering my things and sliding on my cut-off jean shorts. “Let’s go before Marsha hears about what you said.”

“I hope she hears it!” America screeched. “Someone needs to tell her! Her kids are little beasts! You’re vile!” she yelled, stomping outside of the gate toward my apartment. “Tell your mom the community pool is not a fucking babysitter!” She pointed at one. “And you need a haircut!” She pointed at another. “And you need braces! Jesus Christ, I would be embarrassed if I had a herd of obnoxious brats for children! You know why your mother’s not here with you? Because she’s  sitting at home, hiding from society, humiliated at the horrible job she’s done!

“Oh my fuck, America, you’ve lost your mind. Walk. Walk!” I commanded.

The Becker boys cackled, overjoyed at America’s reaction.

“I will have daughters and they will be well-mannered!” she said, pointing in all directions. She looked insane.

“You just jinxed yourself,” I said, walking with her to my apartment. “Now you’re destined to have a bunch of rowdy, repugnant boys.”

“No, I won’t. Twin girls in pristine white dresses, who will slap the shit out of boys like the Beckers.”

I unlocked the door and then closed it behind America, putting down my bag, sunglasses, and keys on the breakfast island. America sat on the couch, already engrossed in social media on her cell phone. I kicked off my sandals and padded into the kitchen, wondering what to thaw for dinner. The house was clean, the laundry caught up. The only thing to do was cook. I looked at the clock hanging in the kitchen. Travis would be home in the next hour, and—

“Pigeon?” Travis called as he opened the door. He tossed his keys next to mine and nodded to America. When he saw me, he beamed. “Hey, babe.”

“Hey,” I said, grinning as he strode into the kitchen and wrapped his arms around me.

After several kisses, America groaned and stood. “That’s my cue. Call me later. I’m going back to Wichita in the morning.”

“No,” I whined, walking over to her. “Can’t you just stay here?”

“Mark and Pam are not that cool,” she said, jutting out her lip. “Dad’s afraid if I spend too much time with Shep, I’ll end up eloping. They’ve already warned of nixing the moving in idea.”

“Elope? Can’t imagine where they’d get that idea,” Travis said, kissing my cheek before opening the freezer. He pulled out a package of chicken breasts and tossed them into the sink. “They should come up. See that Abby isn’t miserable. She’s actually pretty damn happy. I make sure of it.” He winked at me, and I tried to calm the butterflies in my stomach.

“They still don’t want me getting married before graduation. Neither do I, but Wichita sucks. And I miss Shep. And you guys I guess.”

I pinched her side and she squealed. “I’ll come by before I head out.” She hugged me, kissed my cheek, and then disappeared behind the door.

My phone went off seconds later, signaling a text from America. “Some things never change,” I said.  

Proud of Travis. Didn’t mention your bikini once.

“You weren’t wearing that outside, were you?” Travis asked.

I giggled.

“What?” he asked.

I tossed him my phone, letting him read America’s text.

He let his head fall back, hating being a forgone conclusion just as I did. “Agh… I can’t help it. Look at you,” he said, pointing all ten fingers at me. He wrapped me in his arms again, showering my face and neck with tiny kisses. “It’s not easy having a wife this beautiful.”

“Get used to it.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“How’s Trent? Did you stop by?”

“No, he was discharged earlier this afternoon. I figured we’d stop by after dinner. He’s staying with Dad while Cami’s at work.”

“Good plan,” I said, opening the cabinet. I scanned the cans of vegetables, trying to decide between corn, peas, or green beans. “What are we doing with the chicken?”

“I was just going to grill it.”

“So corn and mashed potatoes, then?” I asked.

“Sounds good to me. Then Netflix and chill?”

I stared at him. “We are so boring.”

“I like boring. Boring is good.”

Someone pounded on the door, and I left Travis in the kitchen to answer the door. “Mare either forgot something, or it’s Marsha Becker.”

“Marsha Becker?” Travis asked, wrinkling his nose.

“If it’s her, you’ll figure out why real quick,” I said before twisting the knob and pulling on the door. “Hi.”

“Hi,” the man in front of me said, his mouth pulling into a devilish half-grin. His muscles were trying to bulge out of his shirt like Travis’s did, and he looked at me the way Travis used to look at everything with a vagina before he fell for me. “Is Travis around?”

“Brandon,” Travis said, immediately tense. “What are you doing here?”

“Thought I’d stop by,” he said, walking past me. He looked around, judging every corner of our apartment, then he scanned me from hair to toes. I crossed my arms over my middle, feeling his eyes pour over my every curve. It didn’t help I was in a bikini top and cut-off shorts the first time I was meeting Travis’s boss. “I wanted to meet the woman who tamed Travis Maddox.”

Travis’s jaw ticked, his hands balled into fists. If Brandon looked at me one more time, I was afraid Travis would attack him.

“Baby,” I said, walking around Travis until I was behind him. “We’re about to eat dinner. I didn’t realize your boss was coming over. It was nice to meet you, Brandon, but maybe another night?”

Brandon blinked, surprised by the rejection. “Uh… sure. Yeah, I apologize for the intrusion. I was just coming by to see a friend a few buildings over, and just spur-of-the-moment decided to stop by. You’re right. Trav is married, now. I can’t be dropping by whenever.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “Have a good afternoon.”

“See you tomorrow, Trav.” His gaze fell on me. “Hope to see you again soon, Abby.”

Travis dipped his head once, watching Brandon leave like he was waiting for an assailant to make a move. The second the door closed, Travis’s shoulders relaxed, and he exhaled. “Fuck me,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “That was almost bad.”

“What the hell was that?” I asked, walking over to twist the bolt lock.

“That was Brandon Kyle fucking with me.”

“You make him a lot of money. Why would he do that?”

“I don’t know,” Travis said, returning to the sink. He stared at the window, watching Brandon walk across the parking lot to the next building. “I have a feeling we’re going to find out.”


Thank you for reading Episode 16 of Endlessly Beautiful. I'm currently on deadline for four novels, so postings will be every other Thursday for the rest of the year. Thanks for understanding!

~Jamie

Episode Fourteen: Karma

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**NOTICE: Episode 15 was accidentally posted. Episode 14 is below. Sorry that you all know how this ends.**

 

::Travis::

The heels of my boots were planted against the hot asphalt at the main intersection in the tiny college town of Eakins. The hum of my Harley’s engine helped me relax. It was easy to forget or focus while driving around town on my bike, even if my muscles were aching and exhausted from a full load of clients at Iron E.

Abby had been damn near euphoric since our date. Her luck proved endless when we realized we’d picked a night the owners weren’t there. Parker Hayes’ parents might have owned Biasetti’s, and it might have been the place Parker had taken Abby for their first date, but the second we sat down, Abby was the giggling, witty, sarcastic, natural beauty I’d taken to the pizza parlor on our first non-date. It was like we were just college students again: no bills to worry about, no federal agents sniffing around our apartment. Even so, we knew we were lucky. Adam was sitting in the country jail waiting for a pre-preliminary hearing. I was taking my wife on dates and pretending like the worst problem we had was Abby and Camille getting along.

The light turned green, and I picked up my feet the same time I twisted the throttle, clicking through each gear like the speed limit was for everyone else. Another work day and semester behind me. I had an entire summer to hang out at home with my new wife; no papers to write, no juggling time with her with my new job and homework. Work… home… Pigeon. Sounded like Heaven to me—if I didn’t end up getting handcuffed and escorted out my front door by federal agents. That scenario was always in the back of my mind.

I tried to remember the summer after my freshman year of college: a lot of drinking and fucking—no worries about a life sentence locked away from Abby, or any worries at all—but looking back it was one long waste of time. Abby made every moment mean something. Realizing that I’d just met her eight months before made me have momentary freak outs that none of it was real. We’d been through so much crazy shit in a small amount of time, and somehow ended up together and happy. Some days I felt like I was waiting for reality to kick me in the balls.

The gravel in Dad’s drive crunched under wheels of the Harley, and I pushed down on the kickstand as the engine cut off. Dad stepped out onto the porch, greeting me like he did every time I visited, but this time Trenton stood with him, holding his casted arm with his free hand.

“Well, hey there,” Dad said with a warm smile. His cheeks pushed up when he smiled, narrowing his eyes. “Good to see you. Come in… come in.”

I patted Dad on the shoulder as I passed, and nodded to Trenton.

“Hey, pussy,” I said.

Trenton just nodded.

I made my way down a short hall and turned into the living room, falling into the couch. It banged against the wall, but Dad didn’t mention it. He just sat in his recliner and pushed back, letting himself rock while he waiting for me to state the reason for my visit.

Trenton sat beside me—carefully—seeming more fragile than I’d ever seen him.

I frowned. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” he grunted. “I’ll live.”

“I’m serious. You look like shit. You’re moving even slower than you were.”

“Thanks, dick head,” he grumbled.

I looked to Dad. “Is it just me?”

“No, I’ve told him,” Dad said. “I was hoping you’d say something.”

Trenton leaned back and groaned, letting his head fall against the couch cushions. “Fine. I’m dragging ass. I just haven’t been feeling great. But, on top of being a cripple, I’m not going to get sick.”

“Don’t be a fuckin’ idiot, Trent. Ignoring it is going to make it worse. Especially when your body is already working hard to heal,” I said.

Dad and Trenton both stared at me.

“What the hell, Trav?” Trenton said. “You got married and turned into Dad.”

Dad’s belly bounced as he laughed, and I looked down, cracking a smile.

“Well? How’s the new job going?” Dad asked.

I sat back, trying to get comfortable on Dad’s worn couch. It was lumpy and had lost half its stuffing, but Mom had picked out that couch before I was born. Dad had to let her go, so he chose to hold on to things he had a choice in keeping.

“It’s okay. My boss is a dick, but I’ve learn to dodge him for the most part.” I glanced at Trenton. Sweat was beginning to form along his hairline. “Trent. Have you taken your pain pill today?”

He shrugged with his good shoulder. “Took one this morning.”

“Then what’s your deal?”

“I don’t know, man. I just don’t feel good. Quit bustin’ my balls.”

“How did you get here?” I asked. Camille’s car was totaled, so she’d been driving Trenton’s dilapidated Dodge Intrepid since she’d been cleared to drive.

“Dad picked me up in the truck.”

I glanced at Dad, who was watching Trenton with a concerned expression. “He didn’t sound good on the phone,” Dad said.

“All right,” I said, standing up. I held out my hand. “Toss me your keys, Dad. We’re taking Trenton to Urgent Care.”

“What? Fuck no,” Trenton said.

“Get up,” I demanded.

“Trav,” Trenton said. He looked up at me, exhausted. “I can’t afford it.”

I stared at him for a minute, and then sighed. “I’ll cover it. You’re going.”

“No. I can’t ask you to do that,” Trenton said, looking worse by the second.

“Get up, Trenton, or I’ll toss your ass over my shoulder.”

Trenton glared at the carpet, cussing me under his breath, and then stood. He wobbled, and I slung his good arm around my neck, carrying his weight as we walked to Dad’s pick up. I helped my big brother in, and then Dad. He tossed me the keys, and I walked around to the other side, making sure my bike was far enough out of the way.

I pulled my cell from my pocket and started to text my wife, but knew any way I explained would be alarming, so I decided to wait until we had some news to report. I slid in behind the wheel, and stabbed the key in the ignition. Dad’s truck whined, and then silenced before turning over.

“Don’t pump the gas,” Dad said. “You’ll flood the engine.”

I turned it again, listening to it crank without catching. I looked at Trenton. He was the one always working on Dad’s truck, but he’d been hurt and not feeling well, so no telling what was wrong. Dad’s old Chevy was a constant patch job.

Dad pointed to the ignition, rolling his finger in a circle. “Okay, turn it one more time, let it sit, then turn it again, pressing the gas pedal all the way to the floor.”

I did as he said, and when I pressed the gas to the floor, it cranked four times, and then caught. I tapped the steering wheel, pulled down the gear shift, and backed out of the yard. Trenton grunted when we bounced over the curb, and then again when I pulled away. The farther we drove, the worse he looked.

“Trav,” he said, closing his eyes. “I’m not feeling so hot. Pull over.”

I glanced over at him. His face was ashen, the sweat now beading and falling down his forehead.

“Fuck this, I’m taking you to the Emergency Room.”

Trenton said a few words that didn’t make sense, then passed out. Dad held his head against his chest, watching him intently.

“Travis,” Dad said. His voice was calm, but it was tinged with fear.

“Two minutes.”

Dad nodded, knowing I was driving as fast as I could.

We all bounced as I yanked the wheel and gunned the engine into the hospital entrance. The truck whined to a stop just inside the ambulance bay and I shoved the gear in park, running around to the passenger side. Dad was already stepping onto the cement. I reached in, pulling Trenton out and lobbing him over my shoulder like he weighed nothing.

As soon as the sliding door sensed our presence and opened, the receptionist took one look at us and called for nurses. Three women in brightly-colored scrubs rushed out of double automatic doors pushing a gurney. I lowered Trenton onto his back, and the three women were already taking his vitals as they moved him toward the double doors again.

Dad looked at Trenton, and then at me.

“Go ahead, Dad. I’ll take care of it,” I said.

Dad nodded and followed his unconscious son. The double doors closed, and I cleared my throat, looking at the receptionist. She seemed unfazed, using her mouse to click a few times before readying her hands to type.

“Name?” she asked.

“His name? Trenton Allen Maddox.”

She typed his name and nodded. “He’s in the system… fairly recently looks like.”

I nodded.

“Oh. He’s the one who…” Her voice trailed off, and she stopped before divulging any more information.

“Yeah, he’s the one.” I said.

She took the information from me, and then offered to take me to Dad and Trenton. She called first to get the room number, and then escorted me through a single door. We walked through a triage room, and then I followed her down a white-washed hallway. She gestured for me to enter Exam Room Ten.

“Thank you,” I said, walking in. I brushed back the curtain to see Dad standing in the corner, watching the nurses just finishing up with an I.V. Trenton was awake, but exhausted.

“Hey,” he croaked.

I ran my hand over the stubble on top of my head and sighed. “You scared the shit out of me.”

“Hi,” a woman in a white lab coat said, holding out her right hand. I shook it. “I’m Dr. Walsh. He’s stable and alert. His heart rate isn’t where I’d like it to be, but I think with fluids we’ll get there.”

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked.

She smiled, a bright red curl falling from a loose bun on top of her head. She pushed her black-framed glasses up the bridge of her nose. “We’re running tests. Your dad said he was in a pretty significant accident somewhat recently?”

“Yeah, almost two months ago,” I said.

She kept smiling, staring at me as if she were waiting for something.

“What?” I asked.

She looked down at a tablet in her hand. She tapped it a few times, and then looked up at a screen on the wall. It brightened with the images of Trenton’s first and last X-Rays. Her nose wrinkled. “That’s a pretty ugly break. It’s amazing you didn’t need surgery.”

“He wouldn’t leave his girlfriend’s room long enough to have surgery,” I said.

“Right, she was in the wreck, too. He carried her with that arm, didn’t he?” the doctor asked. She was still smiling, and I finally realized why. The hospital staff were probably still romanticizing the story. We were a novelty to them.

“Yeah. Is he going to be okay?” I asked, annoyed.

Dr. Walsh reached down to touch my hand, and I frowned at her. She pulled me closer to the door, glanced over her shoulder at my dad and brother, and then leaned in, keeping her voice barely above a whisper. “My little sister goes to Eastern. You probably don’t remember her.”

My stomach knotted. Did I bag this doctor’s sister and she’s going to bring it up here? Now?

She smiled. “She liked this boy. She’s hopeless,” she said, shaking her head. “Once she falls for a guy, she follows him everywhere. She followed him to Keaton Hall the night of your last fight.”

I swallowed.

Her smile changed, and her eyes lost focus. “Once the fire broke out, he left her. He bolted. She wasn’t familiar with the building. There was a lot of smoke. She got turned around. She ran straight into you.” Dr. Walsh’s gaze met mine.

My eyebrows pulled together.

“Do you remember?” she asked. “She was terrified. She thought she was going to die. You pushed her toward the guy who ran the fights… Adam? You pushed her toward him because you knew he knew the way out, and you told him to help her. And you know what? He did. He helped her and sixteen more people to safety when all he wanted to do was run. It was just a few seconds, but you, Travis Mad Dog Maddox, saved my baby sister’s life.”

I glanced back at my Dad. “I …”

“The cops and federal agents have already spoken to my sister.” The doctor’s smile returned. “She never saw you. Adam said you never showed, the sixteen students Adam saved said the same, and your brother’s hospital stay is on the house.”

She grabbed the handle on the door and opened it.

“What?” I asked, stunned.

“I can’t tell everyone what you did, so I’m going to thank you in my own way.” She closed the door behind her, and I looked at Dad, trying to keep the tears from my eyes.

“Am I gonna die?” Trenton asked.

I chuckled and looked down, pulling my cell phone from my pocket to text Abby. “No, circle jerk. You’re gonna be just fine.”

“Did she say what it is?” Dad asked.

I tapped out a short message to my wife, and then another to Camille. I cringed when I sent it, knowing they would both be blowing up my phone any second. “They’re running tests. We’ll know soon.”

Trenton relaxed back against the pillow, making a crackling sound. “I’m gonna die.”

A woman pushed through the door, carrying a container with tape, gauze and other supplies. “Hi, I’m Lana. I’m going to be poking around on you for a second.” She checked Trenton’s wrist band, and then her small info sheet. “Can you tell me your name and date of birth?”

Just as Trenton began giving Lana his information, my phone buzzed. I held the receiver to my ear. “Hi, baby.”

“Trav? Is he all right?” Abby asked.

“They’re running some tests. He’ll live.”

She sighed, and I smiled, loving my wife for loving my family as much as I did.

The phone beeped. “Oh, hey, Pidge. Cami is calling.”

“Okay. I’m half way there.”

I clicked over. “He’s okay. They’re running tests. Taking his blood now.”

“He’s okay?” Camille said, panic in her voice. She sighed. “God. He hasn’t been sleeping well. I knew this morning I shouldn’t have left him. I knew it.”

“Is that Cami?” Trenton asked.

I nodded.

He held out his hand, and I gave him my phone. “Hey, baby. I’m okay. Shhh… shhh. I’m okay. I know. I shoulda told the doctor at the appointment.” He paused, and then frowned. “Cami, it’s not your fault. Stop. Baby, stop. No. NO, don’t drive here. Wait for Abby.” He looked to me. “Can Abby pick her up? She’s upset.”

I nodded.

Trenton resumed his conversation. “Abby’s on her way to get you. It’s gonna be okay, I promise.”

Trenton handed me the phone, and I tapped out a text to Abby. She responded with a quick “K”.

“Abby’s picking her up. They’ll be here soon.”

Trenton sighed. “Damn it. She’s probably freaking out.”

“Get comfortable,” Lana said, tagging all the vials with stickers. “They said you’re staying.”

Trenton’s eyes widened. “What? No. No, I can’t.”

“Hey,” I said, walking to his bedside. “It’s covered.”

“Trav,” he said, the muscles of his jaw ticking. “It’ll cost thousands.”

Lana excused herself, and I waited until she was completely out of the room. “I spoke to the doctor. It’s covered.” I leaned over to whisper in his ear. “Her little sister was at the fire. She got out.”

I stood up and Trenton’s brows pulled together. “I don’t understand,” he said.

“I’ll explain later. For now, you rest easy.”

I glanced at Dad, seeing the suspicion in his eyes.

Trenton nodded and relaxed back, his breath slowing, allowing himself to feel the misery that was taking over his body. He closed his eyes and winced, his body curling inward from the pain.

Dad stood by Trenton’s bed and ran his hand over the buzz of Trenton’s brown hair. “Just rest, son.”

Trenton leaned into Dad’s touch, keeping his eyes closed.

Whatever it was, I had a feeling Trenton would be spending more than one night.

Thank you SO MUCH for your patience as I tried to work around the holidays this year. I know I said the episodes would be posted as usual, and I missed last week. The translators are volunteers, and like me, they're doing this for free. We decided two weeks ago it would be better to post all the languages at once so everyone could read at the same time, so we skipped a week to get caught up. Thanks again for your understanding, and I hope you've enjoyed this season so far!

 

Season Two, Episode Twelve: Second Chances

Endlessly Beautiful: Season Two

Episode Twelve: Second Chances

EB-secondchances.jpg

 

:Abby:

I bit at a hangnail poking out from my thumb, making the skin red and angry. Beads of sweat formed at my brow. My back began to complain from standing in sandals on unforgiving tile, so I shifted my weight from one leg to the other. If the other students surrounding me weren’t suffering from nervous energy, too, I might have looked insane. We silently supported one another, even though we’d all been competing all semester. Staring at the blank corkboard outside of Mr. Mott’s office, we were all in the same boat. The top two scores would automatically become Mr. Mott’s Teacher’s Assistant for the fall semester, and for an aspiring mathematics professor, scoring this position would look amazing on my resume, as it would for the other fifty or so students standing with me.

We were minutes away from summer break. Mr. Mott’s statistics final was one of the last scheduled on Eastern State’s campus, evident because we were the few remaining students still on campus. We could have waited for the grades to come out online, but Mr. Mott was old school, and he liked to post grades on printed paper before inputting them into the system. So, those of us who cared, waited.

I missed the days when Travis would wait with me, but he was at work. He was making a killing off the fifty and sixty-year-old women in Eakins—not as much as he made from the fights in The Circle, but as a personal trainer at Iron E Gym, he was paying the rent and most of the bills. He definitely made more than I did from tutoring, and that would all but cease during the summer. I tried not to feel guilty. Travis preferred to pay the bills, and he pretty much had the best job ever.

Travis worked out while the ladies he worked with pretended they weren’t watching. Basically, Travis was getting paid to do what he would be doing every day, anyway. He was getting thicker, and his already impressive muscles were more defined—only prompting more clients to sign up with him. He was making the most of any trainer at Iron E. I refused to worry about the day Travis signed with women our age. It would probably happen, but I trusted him.

Mr. Mott’s door opened, and Trina, his current Teacher’s Assistant, slipped through. She held the paper with the list of grades in her hand, backward. I know. I checked.

Trina stretched her neck to make her small, squeaky voice travel farther. “Please email Mr. Mott with any questions about your grade. He won’t be taking any questions today.”

With that, Trina flattened the paper against the cork, used a red push pin to secure it, and turned on her heels, navigating through the quickly tightening crowd. I was being bounced back and forth like a pinball, reminding me of the first underground fight I’d attended. Travis had pushed people away from me. He’d always protected me, since Day One.

“Hey! Back up! Back the fuck up!” Travis said from behind me. He hooked one arm around my middle, using his other hand and arm to push the men away and gesturing to the women. My stomach filled with fluttering wings of a hundred butterflies just at the sight of him, but a repeat of the night we first met—a night I’d just been recalling—was enough to make me want to pull him into the nearest closet and rip his clothes off.

“You came!” I said, wrapping my arms around his middle and pressing my cheek into his chest.

He held me with one arm, holding people back with the other. “Martha told me to cut out early. I was telling her how nervous you were about your grade. I also might have mentioned how shitty it was that I couldn’t be here for you.”

Sounds of celebration and disappointment snapped me back to the present, and I turned, searching for my student ID. I started from the bottom, my eyes moving up until I reached the top. “Holy shit,” I said. I turned to my husband. “I’m at the top.”

Travis leaned forward to touch my grade with his index finger. “This is you?”

“That’s me,” I said, in disbelief. “I got it.”

Travis’s grin spread across his face. “You got it?”

I clapped my hands together, and held my fingers to my lips. “I got it!”

Travis threw his arms around me and lifted me off my feet, twirling me around. “That’s my girl! Woo!” he yelled.

Mr. Mott poked his head out from behind his door, searching for the source of commotion. I tapped on Travis’s shoulder, and he lowered me to the tiled floor. Mr. Mott offered a small smile for our celebration, I nodded, and he disappeared behind his door again.

Travis mouthed, You’re a bad ass!

I grabbed his hand and pulled him down the hall. When we burst from the glass double doors of the Nagle Building for Math & Sciences, Travis continued whooping and hollering. “My wife’s a fucking genius!” He pulled me to his side and planted a quick peck on my cheek.

“Thank you for coming, Trav. You didn’t have to, but I’m so glad you did.”

He beamed. “Me, too. We should celebrate. Dinner?”

I paused. “Maybe we should cook?”

His mouth pulled to the side in a half-grin, half smart-ass expression. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small stack of one-hundred dollar bills.

My mouth fell open. “What the hell is that?”

“Mrs. Throckmorton said congratulations on making it through my sophomore year of college.”

“She just gave you…” I looked down. “Five hundred dollars?”

“Yep,” he rolled up the bills and stuffed them back in his pocket. “So where am I taking you tonight?”

“We should probably save that for …”

“Baby. Let me be a man and take my wife out to celebrate, please?”

I pressed my lips together, trying not to smile. “Somewhere I can wear a dress and not look ridiculous.”

The other students began spilling out of the double doors and down the steps, parting once they reached Travis and me. He only thought for a few seconds before his brows pulled together. There was only one nice restaurant in town: Biasetti’s. Immediately, regret washed over me.

Travis made a face. “Isn’t that Parker’s parents’ place?” Travis was still raw from when I’d nearly had coffee with Parker to find some way to get the student journalists off the fire story. I should have known better than to make such a stupid mistake.

“You’re right. I wasn’t thinking. We don’t have to go there.”

He stared at me a moment, and I could almost see the wheels spinning behind his eyes. His shoulders relaxed, and he smiled. “It is the nicest place in town, and I’m dyin’ to see you in a dress. It’s about time we make our own memories there, don’t you think?”

“It’s okay, Trav. We can drive to Chicago and spend the night. Go somewhere so fancy we can’t pronounce the food.”

“Pidge, that’s over an hour away.” He narrowed his eyes at me, and then smiled. “You wanna wear a dress and eat fancy pasta? Then you’re gonna wear a dress and eat fancy pasta. Mrs. Maddox gets whatever she wants.” He lifted me up and threw me over his shoulder. I squealed, but he ignored me, tromping down the steps, taking the path toward the parking lot. “Because why?”

I squealed. “Put me down!”

“Say it!” he said, playfully smacking my backside.

I squealed again, so overcome with laughter I could barely speak. “Because you’re the best husband ever.”

“Louder!” he said, twirling.

I screamed. “You’re the best husband ever!”

He stopped abruptly and lowered me to my feet. I giggled, out of breath from the struggle. He watched me for a while, and then sniffed and grabbed my hand, leading me to the car. “Damn right I am.”

My seatbelt clicked, and Travis reached over to give it a small tug—a small habit he’d picked up since Trenton’s accident. We drove in the direction of Trenton and Camille’s apartment—another new part of our daily routine. Travis drove our Camry to the far side of town, parking at the last building of the Highland Ridge apartments, a property that was mostly full of young professionals and newlyweds instead of rowdy college kids.

I followed Travis upstairs, waiting only long enough for him to knock and walk in. I stopped wondering why none of the Maddoxes waited for someone to answer. Travis insisted if he wasn’t supposed to walk in to one of his brothers’ residences, the door would be locked.

Trenton was lying on the couch with his casted arm lying on a pillow on his lap. He had the remote in the other hand.

“What the fuck are you watching?” Travis asked, his nose wrinkled.

“Dr. Phil,” Trenton said. “It’s so fucked up. These people are bat shit crazy and that bald fucker exploits the hell out of them, all in hopes they’ll get free therapy.”

Travis and I traded glances, and then we sat on the couch next to Trenton.

“Cami’s at work?” Travis asked.

“Yep,” Trenton said. “I’m glad you stopped by. I’m driving her nuts, calling twenty times a day. I can’t work, so I clean and do laundry as best I can until she gets home. Watch Days of Our Lives and Dr. Phil. That Sami Brady is hot. I’d bag her.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” Travis said, ripping the remote from Trenton’s hand. He turned off the TV and then tossed it to the recliner. It bounced, but didn’t fall.

“Hey,” Trenton said with a frown.

“You should come workout with me at Iron E between clients,” Travis said.

“Yeah? How’s that going?”

“Brandon Kyle is a dick,” Travis grumbled.

Trenton nodded to me. “Is he?”

“I wouldn’t know. Travis doesn’t think it’s a good idea that I meet his boss.”

“Oh. Can’t keep his mouth shut, huh?” Trenton teased.

“That imbecile has no desire to live, apparently,” Travis said, looking down at the floor. He snapped out of it quickly. “How’s Cami?”

“Good,” Trenton nodded. “She’s good. Apologizes every ten minutes. She still feels bad.”

“She should,” I grumbled, louder than I’d meant to.

“We were hit by a drunk driver, Abby,” Trenton said, defensive. “Yeah, she was driving upset, but she couldn’t have helped that. We had the right-of-way. But I know you’re just saying that because you love me.”

“Not really,” I teased, leaning over Travis to nudge Trenton’s pillow.

“Ow! Hey!” Trenton said with a smile.

Travis smirked. “You carried Cami for two miles with that arm. Now you can’t handle Pidge poking at you? What a vag.”

I chuckled. I loved nothing more than to sit back and watch the brothers interact. I could do it all day every day. They were either fighting, hugging, wrestling, defending or insulting one another. It was adorable.

Trenton ignored Travis’s jab, looking to me. “She really likes you, Abby. She wants you to like her.”

“I do,” I lied. In truth, I didn’t care for Camille and never had, even when she was just Travis’s favorite bartender at the Red. I could never put my finger on what it was that rubbed me the wrong way, but even if she hadn’t been behind the wheel when my brother-in-law was hurt, she’d been dating Thomas and Trenton at the same time. That was the nail in the coffin for me.

“She’s been through a lot. You can understand that. Cut her some slack,” Trenton said.

Travis reached over my lap and patted my outer thigh. His hand slapped against my skin, and he rubbed the spot he’d slapped, just in case it was too hard. He was a big guy and getting bigger every time he spent a few hours at work. He acted like every time he touched me he might hurt me. I chuckled.

“What?” Travis asked.

“I won’t break, no matter how big your muscles get.”

“I was going to say! Damn, son!” Trenton took a handful of Travis’s bicep and squeezed. “You’re getting fat!”

“Fat,” Travis repeated. “That’s all muscle, peter eater. You jealous?” he asked, flexing his arm. His upper arm grew so big and so tight, Trenton couldn’t keep his grip. It wasn’t until that moment I realized exactly how much bigger Travis had gotten in just a few weeks.

“Pussy,” Trenton grumbled, leaning back.

“On that note,” I stood, adjusting my shorts. “We should go. Do you need anything Trent? Is Cami bringing dinner or…?”

“I’ve got dinner,” he said, waving us away. “Actually, she made me some frozen meals and put them in the freezer.”

He looked so proud, and so desperate for me to approve, I allowed a small smile. “That was sweet. Glad she’s taking care of you.” I leaned over to kiss him on the forehead, and then I followed Travis out the door and down the steps.

Once we climbed inside the car, Travis jammed the keys in the ignition, twisting until the car rumbled to life. He sat back and sighed, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel.

“You miss riding your bike everywhere, don’t you? We can take it. I don’t mind. I miss it, too.”

He made a face. “I just wish you’d forget about the whole driving thing and the Tommy thing and let Cami start over.”

I was taken aback. I wasn’t used to being on the wrong end of things. I also wasn’t used to Travis not trusting my intuition, but he was right. Camille was family. That aggravated me even more.  “You’ve always liked her,” I said, watching the young couple waiting as their Yorkie took a crap next to Trenton’s steps. “I just … can’t.”

“She’s going to be your sister-in-law one of these days. You’ve got to iron out whatever it is. Trenton’s in love with her. You’ve gotta talk to her.”

“I don’t want to. I don’t think she’s going to be around that long.”

“Really?” Travis asked. “What makes you say that?”

“I think she’ll either move to California, or she’ll find someone else. She’s the type.”

Travis shook his head. “Don’t say that, baby. It’d break Trenton’s heart. And Tommy wouldn’t take her back, anyway. He loves Trent too much.”

“Not enough to stay away from her in the first place. Make no mistake. I’m pissed at him, too.”

“It’s none of our business, Pidge.”

I craned my neck at him. “Seriously? You’re so far up Trent’s ass you can see out his belly button. You’re all up everyone else’s shit, but I have to mind my own business?” I touched my chest.

Travis chuckled, and leaned in. I leaned back, making him laughing harder.

“What’s so funny?” I hissed.

“You’re just so damn hot when you’re mad. It’s ridiculous how much I need to touch you when you’re all red-faced and flustered.”

“I’m not red-faced.” I pouted.

“Oh my God, come here,” he said, reaching for me. He tried to kiss me, and I leaned away. As hard as I tried, he was just too strong, and that was somehow erotic.

“No!” I protested, but I didn’t fight too hard to keep him from planting his soft, warm lips on mine. It was times like this when it hit me that he belonged to me. It wasn’t a dream, a fantasy, or a chick flick. Travis Maddox was real, and I was married to him. I touched his cheeks and opened my mouth, allowing his tongue to slip inside.

A knock on the window prompted Travis to look up.

I sighed, raking my fingers through my hair as Travis pressed the button to roll down my window. “Oh. Hey, Cami.”

“Here for a visit?” she asked in her fake chipper voice.

She was too nice. Trying too hard. She knew I didn’t like her—not that I tried to keep it a secret.

“We uh … we just left. We were on our way home,” Travis said.

“Oh,” Camille said, deflated.

“We can stay if you want,” Travis said. I pinched his side and he grunted, grabbing my hand. “For a few minutes. It’s date night.”

“Aw, that’s fun. I’ll be glad when Trent starts feeling better. It’s been a while since we’ve been on a date.”

“Well,” Travis began. I begged him with my eyes not to say it. “You guys can come with us if you want.”

Camille glanced at me and then shrugged. “Thanks, Trav, but we’re saving money right now. Another time, though. That sounds fun.”

We both waved to Camille. She crossed her arms over her middle as she walked up the stairs, only releasing them to open her door. Just before she walked inside, her eyes brightened and she smiled.

“Okay. Okay, you’re right.” I said. “I hold grudges, and I need to let this go.”

Travis lifted my hand to his mouth and pressed his lips against my skin. The air conditioner was on full-blast, but his hand was still a little sweaty from the few minutes we sat in the car without it. He appreciated my words, but he was a man of action. I’d have to show him.

I sighed and pulled my cell phone from my purse, looking for Camille’s number in my Contacts folder. I pressed her name and held the phone to my ear.

“Hello?” she said, sounding surprised.

“Hey, Cami. It’s Abby.”

“I know,” she said, amused. I tried not to assume she was making fun of me, but that was the first place my thoughts went.

“I, um … we should have drinks or coffee some night or morning. I’m out of school, now. If you have a morning or evening off, let me know.”

“Oh.” She paused. “I’d really, really like that, Abby. I have tomorrow morning off for our follow-up appointments. They’re first thing in the morning, so we should be out by nine-thirty. I can drop off Trenton and can be somewhere by ten. Should we meet for coffee?”

“The Daily Grind?” I asked.

“Good. I mean yes. That’s great. Can’t wait,” she said, stumbling over her words..Okay. See you then.”

Before I hung up, I heard her speak to Trenton. “She wants to have coffee!”

“That’s great, baby,” Trenton said.

I pressed End before she realized I could hear her, and then gently dropped it into the cup holder. “She’s excited.”

Travis chuckled. “I heard. I think you made her whole year.”

I leaned back, looking up. “I want to get along. I do. But,  I can’t shake this feeling—like I should keep my guard up with her.”

“Whatever it is, I’m confident you’ll find out tomorrow.”

“But tonight,” I said, looking over at him with a smile, “you owe me dinner at Biasetti’s.”

 

 

***

Thank you for reading the first of Endlessly Beautiful’s Season Two! I’m super excited about this season. Please check out my Upcoming Projects page here to see what else I’m working on for this year.

A few more things to know:

I have a newsletter with exclusive news, giveaways, and photos. Be sure to sign up on the homepage! We are going to have a lot of very exciting news in the coming months, and newsletter subscribers hear it, first, so don't miss out!

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A Beautiful Funeral: A Novel (Maddox Brothers Book 5) is out! A New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestseller, you don’t want to miss it! Find out where the Maddoxes are eleven years into the future, picking up where the epilogue of Beautiful Disaster left off. This novel is told from the POV of each Maddox brother, their wives, and a few others you’ve never heard from before.

The McGuire Shop is having a holiday sale! Limited inventory. Don’t miss out on hoodies, signed books, and more!

See you on Thursdays for new episodes of Endlessly Beautiful.

 

<3,

 

Jamie

 

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