Episode Sixteen: Heathens


Episode Sixteen: Heathens

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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.”


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!