Walking Disaster

By: Jamie McGuire

“Yesterday, Mom told me to take care of you and the twins, and to take care of Dad.” Thomas folded his hands on the rim of the tub and rested his chin on them, looking at me. “So that’s what I’m gonna do, Trav, okay? I’m going to take care of you. So don’t you worry. We’re going to miss Mom together, but don’t be scared. I’m going to make sure everything’s okay. I promise.”

I wanted to nod, or hug him, but nothing worked. Even though I should have been fighting for her, I was upstairs, in a tub full of water, still as a statue. I had already let her down. I promised her in the very back of my head that I would do all the things she had told me as soon as my body worked again. When the sad went away, I would always play, and I would always fight. Hard.

CHAPTER ONE

Pigeon

FUCKING VULTURES. THEY COULD WAIT YOU OUT FOR hours. Days. Nights, too. Staring right through you, picking which parts of you they will pull away first, which pieces will be the sweetest, the most tender, or just which part will be most convenient.

What they don’t know, what they’ve never anticipated, is that the prey is faking. It’s the vultures that are easy. Just when they think all they have to do is be patient, to sit back and wait for you to expire, that’s when you hit them. That’s when you bring in the secret weapon: an utter lack of respect for the status quo; a refusal to give in to the order of things.

That’s when you shock them with how much you just don’t give a fuck.

An opponent in the Circle, some random douche bag trying to expose your weakness with insults, a woman trying to tie you down; gets them every time.

I’d been very careful from a very young age to live my life this way. These bleeding heart assholes that went around giving their soul to every gold-digging banshee that smiled at them had it all wrong. But somehow I was the one swimming upstream. I was the man out. Their way was the hard way if you ask me. Leaving emotion at the door, and replacing it with numbness, or anger—which was much easier to control—was easy. Letting yourself feel made you vulnerable. As many times as I tried to explain this error to my brothers, my cousins, or my friends, I was met with skepticism. As many times as I had seen them crying or losing sleep over some dumb bitch in a pair of fuck-me heels that never gave a shit about them anyway, I couldn’t understand it. The women that were worth that kind of heartbreak wouldn’t let you fall for them so easy. They wouldn’t bend over your couch, or allow you to charm them into their bedroom on the first night—or even the tenth.

My theories were ignored because that wasn’t the way of things. Attraction, sex, infatuation, love, and then heartbreak. That was the logical order. And, it was always the order.

But not for me. No. Fucking. Way.

I decided a long time ago I would feed on the vultures until a dove came along. A pigeon. The kind of soul that didn’t impede on anyone; just walked around worrying about its own business, trying to get through life without pulling everyone else down with its own needs and selfish habits. Brave. A communicator. Intelligent. Beautiful. Soft-spoken. A creature that mates for life. Unattainable until she has a reason to trust you.

As I stood at my open apartment door, flicking the last bit of ashes off my cigarette, the girl in the bloody, pink cardigan from the Circle flashed in my memory. Without thinking, I’d called her Pigeon. At the time it was just a stupid nickname to make her even more uncomfortable than she already was. Her crimson-spattered face, her eyes wide, outwardly she seemed innocent, but I could tell it was just the clothes. I pushed her memory away as I stared blankly into the living room.

Megan lay on my couch lazily, watching TV. She looked bored, and I wondered why she was still in my apartment. She usually got her crap and left right after I bagged her.

The door complained when I pushed it a little wider. I cleared my throat and picked up my backpack by the straps. “Megan. I’m out.”

She sat up and stretched, and then gripped the chain of her excessively large purse. I couldn’t imagine she had enough belongings to fill it. Megan slung the silver links over her shoulder, and then slipped on her wedge heels, sauntering out the door.

“Text me if you’re bored,” she said without glancing in my direction. She slipped on her oversize sunglasses, and then descended the stairs, completely unaffected by my dismissal. Her indifference was exactly why Megan was one of my few frequent flyers. She didn’t cry about commitment, or throw a tantrum. She took our arrangement for what it was, and then went about her day.

My Harley glistened in the morning autumn sun. I waited for Megan to pull away from the parking lot of my apartment, and then jogged down the stairs, zipping up my jacket. Dr. Rueser’s humanities class was in half an hour, but he didn’t care if I was late. If it didn’t piss him off, I didn’t really see a point in killing myself to get there.

“Wait up!” a voice called from behind me.

Shepley stood at the front door of our apartment, shirtless and balancing on one foot while trying to pull a sock onto the other. “I meant to ask you last night. What did you say to Marek? You leaned into his ear and said something. He looked like he swallowed his tongue.”

“I thanked him for taking off out of town a few weekends before, because his mother was a wildcat.”

Shepley stared at me, dubious. “Dude. You didn’t.”

“No. I heard from Cami that he got a Minor In Possession in Jones County.”

He shook his head, and then nodded toward the couch. “Did you let Megan spend the night this time?”

“No, Shep. You know better than that.”

“She just came over to get some morning nookie before class, huh? That’s an interesting way to claim you for the day.”

“You think that’s it?”

“Anyone else gets her sloppy seconds.” Shepley shrugged. “It’s Megan. Who knows. Listen, I’ve gotta take America back to campus. Want a ride?”

“I’ll meet you later,” I said, slipping on my Oakleys. “I can take Mare if you want.”

Shepley’s face contorted. “Uh . . . no.”

Amused at his reaction, I saddled up on the Harley and ripped the engine. Even though I had the bad habit of seducing his girlfriend’s friends, there was one line I wouldn’t cross. America was his, and once he showed interest in a girl, she was off my radar, never to be considered again. He knew that. He just liked to give me shit.

I met Adam behind Sig Tau. He ran the Circle. After the initial payout the first night, I’d let him pick up the tote returns the following day, and then give him a cut for his trouble. He kept the cover; I kept the winnings. Our relationship was strictly business, and we both preferred to keep it simple. As long as he kept paying me, I stayed out of his face, and as long as he didn’t want to get his ass kicked, he stayed out of mine.

I made my way across campus to the cafeteria. Just before I reached the double metal doors, Lexi and Ashley stepped in front of me.

“Hey, Trav,” Lexi said, standing with perfect posture. Perfectly tanned, silicone-endowed breasts peeked from her pink T-shirt. Those irresistible, bouncing mounds were what begged me to bag her in the first place, but once was enough. Her voice reminded me of the sound made by air being slowly let out of a balloon, and Nathan Squalor bagged her the night after I did.

“Hey, Lex.”

I pinched the cherry off my cigarette and threw it into the bin before walking quickly past her through the doors. Not that I was eager to tackle the buffet of limp vegetables, dry meat, and overripe fruits. Jesus. Her voice made dogs howl, and children perk up to see what cartoon character had come to life.

Regardless of my dismissal, both girls followed.

“Shep.” I nodded. He was sitting with America, laughing with the people around him. The pigeon from the fight sat across from him, poking at her food with a plastic fork. My voice seemed to pique her curiosity. I could feel her big eyes follow me to the end of the table where I tossed my tray.

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