:: Abby ::
Travis towered over the bed and our luggage, quietly separating our dirty laundry. He held my wedding dress in front of him, and after several seconds he lay it carefully on our comforter. The satin and tulle was a bit wrinkled and ruffled, in part from travel, but mostly from our wedding night. Travis had held me like I belonged to him; all of his doubt had finally melted away. Now, alone in our apartment, he was more relaxed than he’d been in the Las Vegas airport. We had returned to reality, still married, still together.
I held up my left hand, staring at my diamond ring the way Travis had revered my wedding dress just moments before. I wiggled my fingers, noticing Travis staring at me as he came into focus just beyond my hand. One side of his mouth turned up into a half-smile, and he laughed once.
“Still okay?” he asked for the third time since we’d arrived home.
“Still Mrs. Maddox,” I said, walking over to wrap my arms around his neck. I let him support all of my weight as I leaned in to him, closing my eyes as his soft lips skimmed mine. “I wish we had more time before classes resume.”
“We can skip a few days,” he whispered against my mouth.
He scanned my face with his warm, brown eyes, a day’s worth of scruff on his jaw. He was still as breathtaking as the day I’d met him, his inked skin pulled tightly over his lean, cut muscles. The tattoos covering his arms varied from artistic to tribal, but none were as precious to him as my nickname scrolled in delicate cursive across his wrist, or the phrase in Hebrew along his rib cage, spanning from under his arm to the crest of his hip. It read, I belong to my beloved, and my beloved is mine—and I was. Officially. I had even gotten a new tattoo in Vegas: Mrs. Maddox. For someone who’d never considered getting a tattoo before, I couldn’t stop staring at it … or my new husband.
I released him and stood. “I have statistics this semester. Not a class I’d want to miss.”
“You’ll do fine,” he said, turning to finish unpacking. “You solve problems the way I throw punches.”
“No,” I said. “Nothing is that beautiful.”
He looked over his shoulder, staring at me with a dozen emotions scanning across his face, finally settling on adoration. “My wife is.”
I took a look around the room and perched my hands on my hips, blowing an errant strand of hair from my face. Dirty clothes were wadded in four piles around the bedroom. I wondered how we’d managed to accrue so much in just a few days. Frames hung from the walls, holding black and white photographs of us from every stage of our relationship: friends, enemies, and lovers. In every shot, we were smiling, and Travis was touching me in some way. I’d missed our room, but the last time we were in it I was proposing to Travis while his face was still smeared with soot from the fire. A hint of smoke still hung in the air.
Shepley and America had left for Morgan Hall after taking us to Travis’s dad’s house to break the news to Jim that we’d eloped. America was going to pick up my things, giving Travis and me time alone to unpack and settle in. Even though the apartment was the same as when we’d left it, everything felt different. I gathered one of the piles into my arms and turned for the door, wondering if Travis felt as content and yet displaced as I did.
“Where you going?” Travis asked.
I motioned with a tiny twist of my upper body toward the hall. “Laundry.” He made a face, and I laughed. “I’ll be just down the hall, baby.”
He nodded, but I could tell he was still worried about our marriage being erased somehow, as if it hadn’t really happened, that the moment I was out of his sight he would wake up in bed alone.
I passed the doorway to the living room, stopping less than two feet later to push the folding door to the right, revealing the stacked washer and dryer. The unit was loud, yellow tinged, and older than I was, but it worked well enough. I only put in half the load I was holding, knowing the tiny drum couldn’t handle more than that. Just after I poured in the detergent, twisted the knob, and closed the lid, someone knocked on the door.
I let the rest of the clothes fall to the floor and stepped over them to hurry across the living room. I peeked out of the peephole and swallowed, taking a moment to gather my thoughts before opening the door.
“Hi,” I said, trying to seem surprised.
The police officers were in plain clothes—meaning they were detectives—and they didn’t seem surprised to see me.
“Miss Abernathy?” the one on the left asked. He was round, his belly bulging over his belt buckle and his worn tweed blazer was a bit small.The badge just over his jacket pocket read Gable. His partner, Williams, was smartly dressed with a purple button-down and matching tie. He crossed his arms, his smooth, dark complexion opposite of Gable’s rosy skin and freckles.