Episode Six: Real Life Starts Now

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:: Abby ::

The cork board next to the exit of Reiger Hall was cluttered with ads, with headers like For SaleIn Search Of, and Help Wanted, each one with numbers at the bottom, cut into strips. An ad near the top had official school letterhead and a list of subjects. I narrowed my eyes, read the fine print, and then ripped off a tab and put the phone number in my pocket. The school was looking for tutors, and Calculus was one of the subjects. Not even a week into the last half of second semester, and the books and supplies in my backpack were weighing it down, cutting into my shoulders.

I hopped a bit as I took my first step toward the exit, trying to shift the straps to give the indentions next to my neck a break. The early spring air hit my face the moment I stepped outside. Coats in every style and color peppered the sidewalks, a patchwork setting students apart from our gray surroundings. I looked up at the sky, feeling mist instantly cover my face. It had either poured or spat rain all day. The morning fog was just beginning to move on.

"Hey!" America yelled, half jogging, half running toward me. She waved, her bright smile the only sunshine. She stopped in front of me, holding the straps at her chest, breathing hard. "The sorority girls are going nuts. I love it."

"What do you mean?"

"About Travis ... and you. Everyone's talking about it."

I felt my cheeks flush. "Great." I continued down the sidewalk, and America followed.

"Not even half believe it."

I stopped abruptly. "Believe what? That we're married? Or that he married me?"

She shrugged. "Both." When she realized I was offended, she back peddled. "But, c'mon. Look at you. Of course he did."

I looked down at my less-than-special plaid flannel shirt and olive green vest, skinny jeans and tall, brown boots. My hair was flat and damp. I couldn't remember if I'd bothered to put on makeup before leaving the apartment or not. I looked around, noticing people's lingering, curious stares.

Someone whistled, and I turned, watching the sea of students part to reveal Travis walking toward me. He was strutting down the center of the walkway, his hands in his jeans pockets, and wearing a gray beanie, a Ramones T-shirt under an open button down, and his black leather boots just for that extra, Don't fuck with me, I'll end you. Even with a wedding ring on his finger, the co-eds stopped to stare. Travis was beautiful, still oozing his sex and charm whether he meant to or not. One side of his mouth turned up, his right brow lifted the tiniest bit, and I swallowed, feeling butterflies in my stomach.

He stopped in front of me, staring at me with the same look on his face as when the officiant in Vegas said man and wife. Travis didn't even have to say he loved me--I could see it in the way he looked at me, the way he moved, hear it in the way he spoke--even if what he was saying had nothing to do with me.

He breathed out a laugh, noticing my expression. "What is going on in that head of yours?"

I shook my head and threw my arms around his neck.

"Pidge, what is it? Is everything okay? Are you okay?"

"I'm good," I said softly, pressing my cheek against his. Feeling his whiskers against my face was comforting, as was the smell of his cologne. "I just ..." I let him go and shrugged. "I love you."

He stared at me for a moment, a grin spreading across his face. "Hearing you say that will never get old." He reached out his hand, and he led me to the parking lot.

If people weren't staring, they were pretending not to stare until we passed. I could feel curious eyes ogling the back of my head, and hear the whispers about the fire, the wedding, and just the fact that Travis and I were walking together after the big scandalous breakup only a tiny campus like Eastern would bother to care about.

Travis cut across the grass, his boots squishing in the wet mud. I hopped over puddles and ruts, glad when my husband finally swooped me up into his arms and carried me without being asked. I laced my fingers behind his neck, unable to stop smiling at the sight of Travis being unable to stop smiling.

"What are you so happy about?" I asked.

"You."

"No. It's something else. What have you been up to today? Did you get good news?"

He lowered me to the asphalt next to our car, and dug into his pocket for the keys. He handed them to me. "Your turn to drive."

"Me? No," I said, shaking my head.

He snorted. "Pigeon. You've gotta learn sometime."

"I know how to drive. I just don't like to."

"What if I'm at work and you need to get somewhere?" He opened the driver's side door and gestured for me to get in.

I pushed the door closed. "Then I'll drive. But you're not at work, you're ... hey. Did you find a job?"

"Not yet. I called a guy. I don't think it's going to work out, though."

The mist turned into droplets that grew louder with every passing second.

"Why not?" I asked.

Travis opened the door again. "Get in the car, Pidge. It's pouring." My brow arched, and he sighed. "They're hiring at Iron E."

"You like that place, don't you?" I asked.

"Baby, get in the fucking car. You're already soaked."

I started to walk toward the front, but he reached for my arm to stop me.

"I'm not driving in the rain, Trav. C'mon. I'll drive tomorrow."

He frowned. "Fine." He slid in behind the wheel and leaned over, pulling on the lever and pushing open my door while I jogged around, ducking into the passenger's seat.

I scrambled to turn the heater on high, and then Travis took both of my hands, simultaneously rubbing and breathing on them. An errant, wavy strand hung in front of my eyes, dripping wet. Travis was unhappy, two lines forming between his brows.

"What's wrong with Iron E?" I asked.

"I like the gym. I just don't like the owner."

"That Brandon guy?"

"Yeah," he said through his teeth. "His wife is pregnant ... like ready-to-pop pregnant. He's fucking the receptionist, two of the trainers, the clients ..."

"So?"

"So? He's a piece of shit, Pidge. I don't wanna work for him. He brags about it all the time. He'll earn a face punch the first hour."

"Do you have any other prospects? We have rent, baby."

Travis sighed and looked out his rain-streaked window. "No. And he made it sound like all I have to do is apply and I have the job."

"Then what are you waiting for?" I said with a surprised laugh.

Travis turned to me, serious. "I just told you, Pidge."

I shrugged. "You won't be around him all the time. It's just until you find something else, right?"

"There's girls. Lots and lots of college girls. And bored housewives. And..."

I glared at him. "Are you saying you can't be trusted?"

"Fuck no, it's just something I don't want to deal with. Brandon even said it himself ... it's a meat market. He's not my pimp."

I laughed out loud.

"It's not funny," Travis grumbled. "I'd rather trade punches than deal with the cougars that come through that gym."

I touched his face. "I trust you. You've got this. It's easy money." I dug in my pocket and pulled out the damp white rectangle from my pocket. "I think I've found something, too. They're looking for Calculus tutors."

Travis wasn't impressed. "If I'd fought for Benny we'd--"

"Not be together."

Travis looked down, defeated. "I wanted more for you, Abby."

"I don't want to miss this, Trav. I want the tiny apartment and clipping coupons and living on Ramen until payday. I want to balance the checkbook together and talk about our weekly budget, and pick up a sweater in the store just to hang it back on the rack because holding your hand is way better than carrying a bag full of clothes. I want to feel giddy to be with you at the movie theater once every two months because it's become something special instead of expected. I want to build our castle one block at a time ... just you and me. No easy outs."

His half smile reappeared, and he leaned against my hand. "Yeah?"

"Absolutely."

"Speaking of being broke ... it's coin beer night at The Red. If we're both going to start working every night, let's get it out of our system."

I grinned. "I'm in." I tapped out a group text to Shepley and America, and immediately got a response. Excited, I shrugged my shoulders. "Shep and Mare will meet us there at eight thirty."

Travis backed out of the parking spot and navigated his way to the street, turning up the radio and serenading me all the way home.

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