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Mrs. Maddox The mirror whined as I wiped away the condensation with a towel.

Id spent extra time under the hot water of the shower, just as I spent extra time driving home from class, and extra time finding the perfect gift for Travis. Nothing about today would be rushed. I would savor every moment with my husband. My husband. Even after almost a year, the title still sounded so foreign and so natural at the same time. If anyone had told me when I came to college that I would end up married before the end of my freshman year, I would have given them the finger. Some people just arent the marrying type. Im one of them, and so is Travis. Somehow, though, we not only made it work, the last year was the happiest of my life.


The towel fell to the floor, and I looked down, inspecting the dark, elegant lines on skin. My fingers tugged gently, making the ink stretch, and then I let go, running over each delicate curve with my fingertip. I was still Mrs. Maddox, and not once did regret coincide with my memory of getting that tattoo, or my crazy idea to run off to Vegas and get married. Not only was it right after a tragedy, I swore I would never go back to Las Vegas. But that godforsaken city was the perfect backdrop for both of us to let go of our demons and start fresh. Leaving all of that behind was so symbolic, and I couldnt imagine doing it any other way. Just after I finished blow drying my hair, my cell phone buzzed against the corner of the sink. Americas name lit up the display. Hello?


Hiya! I cant talk long. Shep just got home and hes already bugging me to leave. I just wanted to tell you happy Valentines Day since you guys arent going tonight. Just because youre married doesnt mean you cant go to the frat parties anymore, ya know. I know, but they were never really Travs thing, and they definitely arent mine. We dont want to spend our first Valentines day at a kegger, Mare. Dont forget, it was last years Sig Tau Valentines kegger that sparked a reunion with you and Mr. Maddox. The memory came back in vivid detail. and to the absolute fucking horror of losing your best friend because you were stupid enough to fall in love with her. Well I belong to you! I belong to you.


Americas voice jarred me back to the present. Dont judge me. At least were not freshmen anymore, and Shepley doesnt have to run around like a fucking cabana boy. I giggled at the visual, and then looked down at my watch. Travis would be home any minute. The good ol days. Anyway like I said, I cant stay on the phone long, but I forgot to mention it earlier in class, in part because I was trying to keep up with Dr. Hunters 300 miles per hour lecture, and because youre in every single class with your stupid husband, so we have no privacy anymore. I smiled. Coordinating our school schedules made it easier to carpool and to study, but I wasnt clueless. Putting a ring on my finger let Travis relax some, but he hadnt done a total one-eighty. Any passes made at me


were few and far between, but Travis was Travis, and whatever respect he demanded toward me as his friend, and later his girlfriend, was tenfold as his wife. Happy Valentines Day to you and Shep, Mare. Still liking the new apartment? She sighed. I love it. Got a ring yet? Hell no. I laughed. Shepley was happy for us when we returned, but he was terrified that America would expect him to propose. Lucky for him, America had a bigger aversion to getting married before age thirty than he did. Travis will be home soon.


Yeah, she breathed. I better go, too. Love ya. I set the phone back on the sink and frowned, knowing I would have to rush, now. Just as I finished curling the last bit of my hair, the door knob made a series of jiggling and gouging noises, a signal that Travis was home. Dozens of tiny clicking noises scurried across the floor, and then transferred to the door. Toto sat on the recliner, waiting and watching from the window every day at this time. Once the key entered the lock, Toto would scramble from the chair to the door, waiting to celebrate Traviss arrival. Travis would drop me off after classes and then go to work for a few hours in the evenings. Traviss last fight usually kept him comfortable for a while, but because of the fire at Hellerton, he didnt get paid. My savings were depleted because of Micks antics the year before, and The Circle had been


disbanded since the fire. Travis promised not to fight, anyway, but we had gone from living well, to living on student loans and part-time jobs. It wasnt horrible, but it was an adjustment. We both tutored in the evenings---I helped struggling students with algebra and calculus of varying difficulty; Travis tutored in everything else---but most of our bills were paid from the money he made writing papers. Illegal and risky jobs paid best, and old habits die hard. Traviss boots took three quick steps into the apartment, and then they retreated. A scuffling noise made the corners of my mouth turn up. The first snow of the season left two inches of muddy slush on the ground, and he knew Id cleaned this morning so I wouldnt have to do it after classes. He was wiping his boots.


Baby! You home? Im home! I lilted, pulling up my lashes with the mascara wand just so. He knocked on the bathroom door. Dont come in! He groaned. I havent seen you all day! You saw me three hours ago. After a short pause, Travis tapped on the door with his finger. I see a gift out there. Im guessing its for me? No, its for Toto. Thats not nice! I laughed. Yes, Trav, its for you.


I have something for you, too, so hurry your ass up. Perfection takes time. If you saw yourself in the morning, you would know thats not true. Fifteen minutes later, I was slipping the red baby doll dress that Id borrowed from America over my head, and then walked into the living room where Travis stood. He was watching the television, remote in one hand, a bottle of beer in the other. My poker face was no match for the fact that he was wearing a tie. It was official: I had seen everything. Travis caught a glance of me from the corner of his eye and then turned. Stunning. I am a lucky, lucky man, he said, walking toward me until I was in his arms.


His lips gently pressed against mine, and then they traveled across my cheek, past my ear, and then down my neck to my collarbone. Youre wearing a tie, I said softly. He pulled away and looked down. Do I look like a jackhole? No. You look Im considering suggesting we just stay in. He smiled, and proudly ran his hand down his tie. That good, huh? He grabbed my hand. That sounds pretty fucking amazing, but we have reservations. Cmon. He led me out by the hand, pausing at the door to help me with my coat.


February had been particularly brutal. If it wasnt raining or sleeting, the sky was dumping feet-deep snow. Travis helped me down the stairs, making sure I didnt slip in my stilettos, but when we reached the sidewalk, he lifted me into his arms. I laced my fingers behind his neck, nuzzling my nose just under his earlobe. He smelled incredible. The more I thought about it, the more I thought we should stay home. Within half an hour, we were sitting at the bar of Rizolis, a local Italian restaurant. Travis bringing me to Parkers parents restaurants competition had crossed my mind, but I decided against mentioning it. The place was packed, but we were fortunate to find a couple of empty seats at the bar while we waited for our table.


I took a sip from my straw, and noticed Travis frowning. Whats wrong? I wanted tonight to be special. This is kind of lame. Lame? This restaurants. is one of my favorite

Yeah, but its still average. I wanted our first Valentines to be, I dont know, remarkable, I guess? Look at all of the people here, doing the same thing we are. Thats not a bad thing. A woman yelled over the dozens of conversations humming throughout the room. Maddox? Cmon, Travis said, stepping off his bar stool. He held out his hand. Lets go.


But, I said, pointing to the woman. She just called our name. Travis smiled, his dimple sinking into his cheek. Cmon, Pidge. Without another word, I stepped down and grabbed his hand, following him outside. He stopped only to grab dinner from a drivethru, and then he continued. Turn after turn, Travis was headed to the college. Youre not taking me to the Sig Tau date party, are you? Traviss face screwed into disgust. I had an idea of where we were headed when we were still blocks away, but it wasnt until Travis parked our car in front of Bartlen Hall that I knew exactly what he was up to.


Youre kidding, right? Nope, he said, slamming the drivers side door and then running around to open mine. Travis took my hand, and we quickly and quietly made our way around the back of the building. No, I said, staring at the open basement window. Travis had already backed in and jumped down before I could protest further. Cmon, Pigeon! Snow was still on the ground. I was going to be wet and cold and instantly cranky. No way! Traviss hand shot out from the darkness of the basement like a cat reaching out from under a door. Itll be like old times!


Not just no, Travis. Hell no. Its getting lonely down here. This is a horrible idea. Youre messing up my plan! Youre insane! This isnt even my dress, and youre asking me to ruin it! Its a little early in the night for that. I could almost hear him trying not to laugh. I crossed my arms. After a long pause, Traviss voice, low and desperate, floated up from the window. Please? I rolled my eyes. Fine. Two backwards scoots, a squeal, and a fall later, I was in Traviss arms in the basement of Bartlen---the building where we met for the first time.


Travis used his cell phone to light the way, and I followed him down a series of hallways. Finally one of the halls opened up into a large, familiar room. Without the yelling and drunken frat boys shoulder to shoulder, it seemed bigger, and less sweaty. I could almost hear Adams voice blaring through the bullhorn, and feel the way the energy exploded once Travis entered the room. I thought about the blood spraying my cardigan, and my eyes leaving the cashmere to fall on a pair of black boots. Travis pulled me to the center of the room. The memory of him wiping the blood from my face and pushing away anyone who came near me replayed in my mind. Pigeon, Travis said, almost the same time as he said the word in my memory.


This is where it all started. Where I saw you for the first time. When you turned my whole fucking world upside down. He leaned down to kiss my cheek, and then he handed me a small box. Its not much. Ive been saving for it, though. I opened it, and a wide, ridiculous grin spread across my face. It was a charm bracelet. Its the story of us, he said. A sweater, a pair of dice, a green bead with shamrocks on it. I looked to Travis. Thats supposed to signify our bet, he said, pointing to the dice, and that one is for the first night we danced, he said, pointing to a red bead.


The next charm was a motorcycle; the next a heart. For the first time I said I loved you? Yep. He seemed pleased that Id figured it out on my own. And this one? I said, pointing to a deck of cards. Poker night at dads? Travis smiled again. The next was a turkey, and I laughed. The next bead was plain black. For the time we spent apart. The darkest time of my life. The next was a flame charm. I didnt like to think about the fire, but it was a part of our story, and so it was a part of us. The next charm was a ring. I looked up at him. This is pretty amazing.


Theres room for more. These are just the beginning of our story, Pidge. I put the bracelet around my wrist. Travis helped with the clasp, and then he fiddled with his phone for a moment, setting it on a small table a few feet away. He placed my hands on his shoulders, and then the music began to play. It was the song we danced to at my birthday party the year before. I had no idea, I said. What? That you were so sentimental. Yes you did. I leaned my head against his shoulder, happy that this time I could kiss him when the song was over. Once the music stopped and I touched my lips to his, I handed him a plain,


red sack. I should have given you this first. The bracelet is a hard act to follow. It doesnt matter what it is, Pigeon. Youve already given me everything Ive ever wanted.

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