Season Two, Episode Twelve: Second Chances

Endlessly Beautiful: Season Two

Episode Twelve: Second Chances

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: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.

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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.

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See you on Thursdays for new episodes of Endlessly Beautiful.

 

<3,

 

Jamie