Walking Disaster

By: Jamie McGuire

Abby shook her head. “Absolutely not.”

I waited, and then Brazil complied, taking his tray to an empty seat at the end of the long table.

“What’s up, Pidge?” I asked, waiting for her to spit venom in my direction. To my extreme surprise, she showed no signs of anger.

“What is that?” She stared at my tray.

I looked down at the steaming concoction. She was making random conversation. Yet another good sign. “The cafeteria ladies scare me. I’m not about to critique their cooking skills.”

Abby watched me poke around with my fork for something edible, and then seemed distracted by the murmurings of those around us. Granted, it was new for my fellow students to see me make a fuss over sitting across from someone. I still wasn’t sure why I did.

“Ugh . . . that bio test is after lunch.” America groaned.

“Did you study?” Abby asked.

America’s nose wrinkled. “God, no. I spent the night reassuring my boyfriend that you weren’t going to sleep with Travis.”

Shepley immediately became sullen at the mention of the previous night’s conversation.

The football players seated at the end of our table quieted down to hear our conversation, and Abby sunk down into her seat, shooting a glare at America.

She was embarrassed. For whatever reason, she was mortified by any attention whatsoever.

America ignored Abby and nudged Shepley with her shoulder, but Shepley’s frown didn’t fade.

“Jesus, Shep. You’ve got it that bad, huh?” I threw a packet of ketchup at him, trying to lighten the mood. The surrounding students turned their attention to Shepley and America then, hoping for something to talk about.

Shepley didn’t answer, but Abby’s gray eyes peeked up at me over a small smile. I was on a roll today. She couldn’t hate me if she tried. I don’t know why I was so worried. It wasn’t like I wanted to date her or anything. She just seemed like the perfect platonic experiment. She was basically a good girl—albeit slightly angry—and didn’t need me fucking up her five-year plan. If she had one.

America rubbed Shepley’s back. “He’s going to be okay. It’s just going to take him a while to believe Abby is resistant to your charms.”

“I haven’t tried to charm her,” I said. I was just getting ahead, and America was sinking my battleship. “She’s my friend.”

Abby looked to Shepley. “I told you. You have nothing to worry about.”

Shepley met Abby’s eyes, and then his expression smoothed. Crisis averted. Abby saved the day.

I waited for a minute, trying to think of something to say. I wanted to ask Abby to come over later, but it would be lame after America’s comment. A brilliant idea popped into my head, and I didn’t hesitate. “Did you study?”

Abby frowned. “No amount of studying is going to help me with biology. It’s just not something I can wrap my head around.”

I stood, nodding toward the door. “C’mon.”

“What?”

“Let’s go get your notes. I’m going to help you study.”

“Travis . . .”

“Get your ass up, Pidge. You’re gonna ace that test.”

The next three seconds might have been the longest of my life. Abby finally stood. She passed America and tugged on her hair. “See you in class, Mare.”

She smiled. “I’ll save you a seat. I’ll need all the help I can get.”

I held the door open for her as we left the cafeteria, but she didn’t seem to notice. Again, I was only horrifically disappointed.

Shoving my hands in my pockets, I kept pace with her during the short walk to Morgan Hall, and then I watched as she fidgeted with her door key.

Abby finally pushed the door open, and then tossed her biology book onto the bed. She sat down and crossed her legs, and I fell onto the mattress, noting how stiff and uncomfortable it was. No wonder all the girls at this school were cranky. They couldn’t possibly get a good night’s rest on these damn mattresses. Jesus.

Abby turned to the correct page of her textbook, and I went to work. We went over the key points of the chapter. It was kind of cool how she watched me while I talked. Almost like she was both hanging on to every word, and amazed that I knew how to read. A few times I could tell by her expression that she didn’t understand, so I’d go back over it, and then her eyes would brighten. I started working hard for the lights-on look on her face after that.

Before I knew it, it was time for her to go to class. I sighed, and then smacked her playfully on the head with her study guide.

“You got this. You know this study guide backward and forward.”

“Well . . . we’ll see.”

“I’m going to walk you to class. I’ll quiz you on the way.” I waited for a polite rejection, but she offered a small smile and nodded.

We walked into the hall, and she sighed. “You’re not going to be mad if I flunk this test, are you?”

She was worried if I was going to be mad at her? I wasn’t sure what I should think about that, but it felt pretty fucking awesome.

“You’re not going to flunk, Pidge. We need to start earlier for the next one, though,” I said, walking along with her to the science building. I asked her question after question. She answered most right away, some she hesitated about, but she got them all correct.

We reached the door of her classroom, and I could see the appreciation on her face. She was too proud to admit it, though.

“Kick ass,” I said, not really knowing what else to say.

Parker Hayes passed by and nodded. “Hey, Trav.”

I hated that douche. “Parker,” I said, nodding back.

Parker was one of those guys that liked to follow me around and use his White Knight status to get laid. He liked to refer to me as a womanizer, but the truth was, Parker just played a more sophisticated game. He wasn’t honest about his conquests. He pretended to care and then let them down easy.

One night our freshman year, I took Janet Littleton home from the Red Door to my apartment. Parker was trying to get lucky with her friend. We went our separate ways from the club, and after I bagged her and didn’t pretend to want a relationship afterward, she called her friend all pissed off to come get her. The friend was still with Parker, so he ended up taking Janet home.

After that, Parker had a new story to tell his conquests. Whatever girl I bagged, he usually swept up my sloppy seconds by recounting the time he saved Janet.

I tolerated him, but only just barely.

Parker’s eyes targeted Pigeon and immediately lit up. “Hey, Abby.”

I didn’t understand why Parker was so insistent on seeing if he could land the same girls I did, but he’d had class with her for several weeks and was just now showing interest. Knowing it was because he saw her talking to me nearly sent me into a fury.

“Hi,” Abby said, taken off guard. She clearly didn’t know why he was suddenly talking to her. It was written all over her face. “Who’s that?” she asked me.

I shrugged casually, but I wanted to tear across the room and beat his preppy ass. “Parker Hayes,” I said. His name left a bad taste in my mouth. “He’s one of my Sig Tau brothers.” That left a bad taste, too. I had brothers, both frat and blood. Parker felt like neither. More like an archenemy that you kept close enough to keep an eye on.

“You’re in a frat?” she asked, her little nose wrinkling up.

“Sigma Tau, same as Shep. I thought you knew.”

“Well . . . you don’t seem the . . . fraternity type,” she said, eyeing the tattoos on my forearms.

The fact that Abby’s eyes were back on me immediately put me in a better mood. “My dad is an alumnus, and my brothers are all Sig Tau. It’s a family thing.”

“And they expected you to pledge?” she asked, skeptical.

“Not really. They’re just good guys,” I said, flicking her papers. I handed them to her. “Better get to class.”

She flashed that flawless smile. “Thanks for helping me.” She nudged me with her elbow, and I couldn’t help but smile back.

She walked into the classroom and sat next to America. Parker was staring at her, watching the girls talking. I fantasized about picking up a desk and hurling it at his head as I walked down the hall. With no more classes for the day, there was no reason for me to stick around. A long ride on the Harley would help keep the thought of Parker sleazing his way into Abby’s good graces from driving me crazy, so I made sure to take the long way home to give me more time to think. A few couch-worthy coeds crossed my path, but Abby’s face kept popping into my mind—so many times that I began to annoy myself.

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