Plates, pots, and silverware clinked and banged together, muffled by the running water pouring out of the tap. Steam floated from the sink basin as America and I rinsed the few remnants of Travis's trademark Cajun Chicken Pasta from the dishes and placed them into the dishwasher. No one had said much during dinner, in part because Travis was an amazing cook, but mostly because we weren't sure how to talk about the truth without incriminating everyone in the room.
"Was it really the only way?" America asked, handing me a bowl.
"I can't talk about it," I said. "It's better for you if I don't. But if you're wondering ... Yes, I love him, and yes, I am happy to be his wife."
"That's all I needed to know, Abby. I won't ask again."
"That's why you're the best best friend ever."
"That's true. I am. You're so lucky."
I grinned. "I am."
America twisted the dial, and the dishwasher began to buzz and hum. She dried her hands and stood behind me, cupping my shoulders to pull my back against her chest. Her chin gently pressed into the crook of my neck, and then she kissed my cheek, whispering into my ear. "It's going to be fine. I promise."
"I know," I said, still looking down at the sink.
I dumped a small pool of blue dish soap into my palm, scrubbing my already pruny skin. As serious as I had perceived our problems in the past, we were in real trouble, both of us--because if Travis went down, we all would. I had just lied to police detectives, obstructed justice, aided and abetted, not to mention been a willing accessory before, during, and after the fact. But, I was willing to accept the consequences--whatever they were--if it meant Travis had even a chance of not going to prison.
I glanced over my shoulder at my husband. He was standing with his bulky, inked arms crossed over his middle, chatting with his cousin. He turned his white baseball cap backward, shifting his weight from one leg to the other like he couldn't sit still. Shepley had a calming affect on Travis, and he was talking him down from whatever ledge Travis was on. I smiled and looked down at the water running over my hands, washing the suds away, wishing my hands were truly clean.
The sun was beginning to set, casting a warm glow through the windowpane that sat over the sink. My view consisted of the parking lot, the apartment units farther down, and the tops of the campus buildings peeking just over the trees a few miles away. The sky was still hazy from the smoke that had bellowed from Keaton Hall just a few days before. The fire was one of the most frightening experiences of my life, but I had lived. The fear that was just a memory for me had consumed the final moments of so many of our classmates. Their screams rang in my ears, and I closed my eyes, trying to make it stop.
I dried my hands and turned, making my way to the hall. I changed over the laundry, adding more and taking the basket full of warm, clean clothes to the bedroom and setting it on the bed. Busy is good.
Travis came in, making the basket bounce when he fell face first onto the bed. He took a few deep breaths and then turned onto his back, crossing his arms behind his head. He stared at the ceiling while I walk around our bed to hang my wedding dress on the curtain rod. The bare branches of the tree outside quivered in the wind. I'd watched almost every season change that tree from Travis's bedroom window, and now it was our bedroom window.
"Remind me to take this to the cleaners and have it preserved," I said, smoothing the skirt.
"Preserved? What the hell does that even mean?" he said with a grin.
"To keep it from yellowing. To keep it fresh."
"Forever," I said, returning to the bed. "Like us."
Travis held my gaze for a moment, watching me walk back to him with an appreciative smile.
I resumed the tedious but welcomed task of folding our clothes from Vegas and the towels we'd used after we washed off the smoke and soot from the fire. Travis crossed his arms behind his head and sighed. "I'm not afraid to go to prison, Pidge. I've felt pretty much from the first time I saw you that ... I dunno. It sounds perfectly normal in my head, but I know if I say it out loud ..."
"Just say it."
"I exist for you, Abby. That's it. I've done everything I can do to keep from losing you. What do I do if I never get to see you again? Or get to touch your hair? See the way your eyes look in the sunlight? Feel your wet hair against my arm when I fall asleep at night? I've never been afraid of anything, but that scares me to death."
"You're not going anywhere," I said. I kept my features smooth, but everything he's said was terrifying.
I lined up his socks and folded them into each other. That was Travis and me, one big, knotted bundle. Even when apart, we existed together.
"You can't fix this, Abby," he said. "I'm not going to lie. If I was wrong, I deserve to--"
"Stop," I said, throwing the folded socks at his face. He caught it just before it hit him. "I'm your wife. Your duty is to be here with me, to protect me, to love me. You promised. We've always fought one battle at a time. This is no different."
He nodded, keeping his eyes directed at the ceiling.
He sighed, and thenjerked up, planting his feet on the ground. "I can't hang around here. It's making me crazy. Let's go."
"Where?" I asked.
"The car dealership? No," I said, shaking my head.
Travis smirked. "It's paid for. Just pick a color."
I arched an eyebrow. "Don't mess with me, Maddox."
He changed into a long-sleeved T-shirt and a clean pair of jeans, then bent over to lace up his boots. "We're going," he warned.
I didn't budge from my basket of clothes, but Travis strolled over, bumping me with his hip before pulling out one of my shirts and grabbing a hanger. In less than a minute, we had finished and put away the clothes. I stared at the closet with my arms crossed, pretending to be unimpressed with my choices.
"Just a sweater and jeans, baby. You're beautiful. You don't even have to try."
My cheeks flushed red, and I looked down. Travis was my husband, but he could still make me feel like we'd just met. "They close soon, don't they?"
"What? You don't want a car? Vamos! Get your ass in gear, Mrs. Maddox!"
I giggled, grabbing the first pair of jeans and sweater that I touched, dressing quickly and meeting Travis in the living room. He had Shepley's keys in his hand, his face lighting up when he saw me. He opened the door, gesturing for me to go first.
"You just do that so you can stare at my ass, don't you?" I asked.
"You're damn right I do," Travis said, closing the door behind him.
We walked down the steps holding hands, and I took a deep breath. "Smells like rain."
"Good thing we're taking the Charger, then," he said, opening the passenger side. He waited for me to slide in before jogging around the front to the driver's side. Once he settled in, he held onto the steering wheel and shook his head.
"What?" I asked. "Forget something?"
"Every five minutes or so it hits me, and I can't believe it." He leaned over, cupping my cheeks in his hand before touching his warm lips to mine. He pulled away, twisted the key in the ignition, and then fiddled with the heater. He made a face when the country station came over the station and quickly twisted the knob, settling on whatever station was playing Dexy's Midnight Runners. He bobbed his head, and I laughed at him as he mouthed the words, C'mon Eileen.
He pulled the gear shift down, backing out of the spot. He rested his hand on my knee, still singing and bobbing his head to the music. He knew every word. It was sort of impressive. Once in awhile he would look at me and mouth the words with such enthusiasm I couldn't help but sing with him. By the time we reached Pinkerton's, we were practically yelling the chorus to the theme from Dukes of Hazzard. I didn't know all the words, but Travis did, and he sang them like he was on stage entertaining a stadium full of people. I was glad he insisted we leave the apartment. I hadn't realized how trapped I'd felt, or how much I needed to laugh.
Travis parked the car, and stepped out. When I closed the passenger door, he walked ahead of me, reaching behind him with both hands until I intertwined my fingers in his. He wrapped my arms around him, his steps coming to a halt at the end of a short line of Toyota Camrys.
An older gentleman walked out, smoothing his tie and silver hair, preparing his spiel by clearing his throat and offering his most charming smile. Travis's was way better.
To my surprise, he greeted Travis by name. Travis released me to shake his hand. "I was wondering when you'd be out. Is this Abby?" He shook my hand. "Richard. Nice to finally meet you."
I craned my neck at Travis.
Travis shrugged. "I told you. Pick a color."
I choked out a single laugh. "Are you for real?"
He held out his hands and let them fall to his thighs. "Have I ever lied to you?"
I slowly reached around his neck, feeling his muscles relax from my touch. I pushed up on the balls of my feet and gave him a quick peck, seeing Richard in my peripheral trying not to watch.
"Never." I looked down the line of Camrys.
Richard pointed. "Attitude Black, Barcelona Red, Classic Silver, Clearwater Blue, Cosmic Gray, and Sandy Beach Metallic. We don't have the Pearl or Magnetic Gray in stock."
"But he can get it," Travis added.
"Yes, of course," Richard responded.
Travis led me down the line. "Look inside. They all have different interiors."
I walked over to the silver car, opening the driver's side door. "What is that? A television?"
Richard stepped closer. "That's a uh...the navigation system and radio." He continued to ramble off the various features as Travis encouraged me to sit inside. The interior was light gray, and the buttons around the large display screen and on the steering wheel made me think of a NASA control panel. I couldn't imagine ever being familiar with them all.
"I can't believe you did this for me," I said, running my fingers over the steering wheel. "I've never had my own car."
Travis squatted next to me, resting his hand on the ledge inside the open door. "I'd do anything for you, Pidge. I'm going to give you everything you've ever wanted."
I touched his cheek. "You already have."
Travis leaned against my touch, and then pecked my palm, suddenly excited. "What do you think?"
"The silver?" he asked.
"The silver," I answered.
Travis moved his head to the side, keeping his gaze on me. "You heard my wife, Richard. She wants this one."
"Done," Richard said. "I'll get it ready."
I lunged at Travis, pushing him back onto his backside. He laughed, and then cradled me on the asphalt, kissing my lips just as thunder echoed in the distance and rain began to fall from the sky.
"You happy, Pidge?" he asked.
"The happiest," I whispered against his smiling lips.