CH 2: A Pending Disaster
"Shit…" Gaping down at the large, unmistakable scratch on the side of his car, Steve could already hear his dad's over the top ranting and raving. About a year ago, his father had actually handed him the keys to the Mustang (no doubt at his mother's provocation), so he knew he wouldn't be getting off easy. Steve's father had a built-in radar for every little screw-up he'd ever committed. Some parents had a list of their children's accomplishments, but Craig Harrington literally had a folder full of Steve's failures. He'd claimed they would help shape his son into a better man. And now that someone had grazed the side of the family car? Yeah. Steve knew he was undeniably, one-hundred percent fucked.
Steve jerked up, turning as Troy Smithfield approached with a huge, smarmy grin.
"You gonna shoot some hoops with us today, or what?"
"I'd like to be on the team," Steve agreed. "I've played at all my other schools, so I might as well tack this one onto the list." Still feeling queasy over the prospect of speaking with his father, Steve sighed and tucked a hand into his pocket. "So how late does practice usually go?"
"Usually 'til around five."
Perfect. Perhaps if he came home after his father, Craig wouldn't even notice. As Steve contemplated this potential good fortune, he spotted Abigail and Marissa heading toward the school entrance. He instantly perked up. "Hey, uh…what do you know about that girl over there? The one with the skirt?"
Troy turned his head. "Who, Abigail Hobbs? Nothing really. She's my girl's best friend, but she's kinda weird, y'know? She never goes to any parties or wants to hang out."
Steve shrugged. "Maybe that's just not her scene."
Troy made a dismissive noise. "Whatever, she's still a dweeb. And if you don't watch yourself, you might become a dweeb, too."
"I think I'll take my chances. See you 'round." Sparing Troy a half-hearted wave, Steve turned and headed after the retreating girls. Whenever he finally caught up with them, he could hear Marissa and Abigail talking lowly and giggling.
All at once, the giggling stopped.
Appearing discomfited, Abigail hugged her books as Marissa spared Steve a sly glance with her large, cat-like eyes. "Abby," she cooed, "I didn't know you were friends with Bloomington's most eligible bachelor."
Steve flashed a good-natured smile. "The one and only." Nodding to Abigail, he asked, "Can I talk to you for a sec?"
Paling, Abigail looked to Marissa for help, but then, upon realizing that she wouldn't be getting it, promptly shook her head. "I'm going to be late for class."
"Oh c'mon, it'll only take a minute."
"Sorry, but I have to go." Abigail turned and began to stalk off, only to tense up in frustration as Steve followed close behind. When she glanced back at him, he appeared hurt.
"Why are you acting like I've got the plague?"
Abigail halted in her tracks, guilt bleeding through her like an open wound. She often felt obligated to please others, and his blatant pain wasn't helping the situation. But she knew that if she continued to talk to Steve, something bad would happen. Her father would see to that.
"Look…" Abigail sighed, now appraising him with sharp eyes. "I'm not interested in being friends, okay? Yesterday was just… I was feeling vulnerable."
Steve frowned. "What did I tell you earlier about lying to me?"
Abigail scoffed. "Wow. Egotistical and an asshole? Just my luck."
"I never meant-"
"I'm sorry," she cut in. "It's just…I've never had someone like you interested in someone like me before. I know it's no excuse, but I genuinely don't know what to make of you."
Incredulous, Steve flashed her a disbelieving smile. "How about I just want to be friends? My parents are going to be out of town this weekend, so I wanted to invite you over."
"For a party."
Abigail relaxed, but only marginally. Despite the fact he didn't wish to be alone with her, parties were still a taboo subject in the Hobbs family household. She'd snuck off to one once, and had been grounded for five months.
"I, um…I'd better not. I'm not really into parties."
"So I've heard. I-I mean, uh…you don't really look like the type, but I figured I'd ask anyway."
Abigail nervously fiddled with her books. Was she really that transparent?
"Who will be at this party?"
Steve's eyes lit up, his smile growing boyish as he leaned against a neighboring locker. "Anyone you want."
Abigail arched a brow. "Okay, so a party you're hosting is going to have anyone I want? Not really sure about the logistics there, but it sounds bearable."
"So you'll come?"
"I never said-"
"No, but you want to – I can tell," Steve cut in. "C'mon, it'll be fun. And if for any reason you decide you want to leave, I'll blow everyone off and take you home. How's that sound?"
Abigail swallowed. Steve could not meet her father.
"I, um…I'll ask Marissa."
"Great! Catch you in Spanish?"
"Sí, mi encantador idiota."
"Um…nothing. See you later." Breaking away with a blush in her cheeks, Abigail winced when Marissa instantly appeared at her side. "You've been waiting to strike this entire time, haven't you?"
Marissa scoffed. "You make me sound like a bird of prey. I am far more soulless than that." With a grin, she nudged Abigail's ribs. "Sooo, what did he want to talk about?"
"Nothing, really…he's just having a party."
"Shit, really? He does know you're 'Minnesota's Sweetheart,' right?"
Abigail shrugged. "I think I want to go."
This time, Marissa appeared genuinely stunned. "No way… Are you sure you're Abigail Hobbs?" Playfully, she made a show of rapping on her friend's forehead. "Hellooo in there – please return my best friend, and pronto, 'cause I need to copy off her math homework."
With a self-conscious smile, Abigail gently pushed Marissa's hand away. "I know I don't like parties," she agreed, "but maybe this one will be different. Steve seems like a nice guy."
Marissa shook her head. "Oh honey, trust me – all guys are the same."
"What do you mean? You think he just wants…?"
"Most definitely. I mean, you have an amazing personality, but guys tend to choose bra size over humor and intelligence. It's just the way the world works."
With a scowl, Abigail defiantly shook her head. "It's literally impossible for all men to be the exact same. I don't think I'm wrong about him…even though we only just met. Which I know makes me sound really stupid, but before now, the thought of befriending a guy has kind of made me feel…uncomfortable."
Marissa shifted her books to her hip. "I find that totally unrelatable, but for your sake, I hope you're right."
In the blink of an eye, the school principal, Mr. Sullivan, appeared at their side. "Ah, there you are!" he exclaimed. "I've been looking all over for you, Miss Hobbs. Would you mind accompanying me to the office, please? Your father's requested a brief word."
Stricken, Abigail tried not to appear as terrified as she felt. "Okay," she choked. After saying goodbye to Marissa, she followed Mr. Sullivan through the crowded hall toward the front office. As they moved, she knew everyone was staring at her. Just her luck…
"Here we are," Mr. Sullivan announced. Opening the double doors, he showed Abigail inside and led her off to a more secluded side room. "Your father has requested a moment, so I'll leave you to it. I trust you'll return to class afterwards? You can get Miss Sinclair to write you a tardy pass."
Abigail nodded, so Mr. Sullivan took that as his cue to leave. He clearly felt nettled that he'd been asked to be the errand boy for the day.
Hesitant, Abigail's heart leapt in her throat as she slowly peered into the offered room. Her father turned and smiled, his blue eyes deceptively disarming as he motioned for her to shut the door.
"Hey there, puffin. How's school?"
Hugging her books to her chest, Abigail shrugged. "I dunno…it literally just started."
Undeterred, Hobbs moved toward his daughter. "Everything's all settled," he whispered, finally dropping the pretense. "About an hour ago, I booked us a tour at Minnesota State. I figured we might be able to find a doe there for our hunt."
Feeling sick to her stomach, Abigail began nervously fiddling with the neckline to her shirt. "I know you think that's a good idea, but…I've applied to go to school there."
Hobbs' mouth tensed. About a month ago, college had been a huge source of contention for them. He hadn't wanted Abigail to go – hadn't wanted her to leave – but Louise had sided with their daughter, and more or less, the family had fractured. And now that Abigail thought about it, her father's behavior had grown more and more aberrant ever since… Was she responsible for her dad's sudden lapse?
Tasting bile at the thought, Abigail shakily tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "What do you need me to do?"
"Nothing. I just wanted you to be aware that tomorrow, we'll be taking an all-day trip that could last well into Sunday, depending on whether or not we have complications."
Abigail paled. "But…what will we tell mom?"
"The truth. We're going hunting." With a gleeful smile, Hobbs took hold of her shoulders and kissed her forehead. "It'll be just like old times, won't it, puffin?"
With a shattered smile, Abigail nodded and ducked her head.
"Hey! Mind if I sit down?"
Looking up from her lunch tray, Abigail smiled grimly and nodded. "If you want to completely kill your chances of popularity, then by all means."
Steve huffed and had a seat alongside her. "Somehow, I doubt that."
Abigail shifted, startled by his sudden closeness. From this angle, she could feel his body heat and she leaned away from him, her cheeks growing flushed as she crossed her legs.
"You don't know me," she softly offered. "I'm known as 'the weird, quiet one.'"
"Oh, c'mon." Picking an apple off his tray, Steve grinned and angled his body toward her own. "They're just mad 'cause when we graduate, you are going to be the one with a job. And by the way? Thank you for the compliment."
"You called me charming." Taking a bite of apple, his grin grew decidedly smug. "Granted, I had to ask someone what 'mi encantador idiota' even meant, but I'm choosing to ignore the idiot part."
Abigail squirmed. "Oh…"
"I'm guessing you're not used to people with initiative. If a cute girl calls me something I don't know, I'm damn well going to look into it."
Rolling her eyes, Abigail tried to hide her smile. It was odd, she thought, how this boy could sooth the raging storm in her stomach. She still felt sick with worry, absolutely, but he was allowing her a much-needed distraction.
"So did you give any further thought to what I asked?"
All at once, Abigail's smile faded. "You mean the party?"
Steve chuckled. "I would say something sarcastic, but since I like you, I won't."
Why? Abigail wondered. Why do you like me?
But rather than add unnecessary dissent, she shrugged and poked at her mashed potatoes. "As it turns out, I have plans."
"My dad stopped by…tomorrow, we're going to spend the day together."
"On a school day?"
"Lucky you. And what about that evening?"
"I'll be too tired."
And that much had to be true, Abigail thought, because if she truly was about to help her dad pick his next victim, she knew that the absolute last thing she could handle was being in a room full of crowded, whooped-up peers.
"Maybe I could come to you?"
"After the party, I could stop by with some leftover beers." A sudden smile tugged at Steve's lips. "Then again, there probably won't be any beer left at all…that's just wishful thinking."
"If Marissa's going to be there, then yes, that'd definitely be the case." Abigail offered a tired smile. "I really want to come, Steve, but I can't."
"Maybe some other time then?"
"Yeah, maybe." If I'm not in prison by then.
The bell rang, and Steve rose with his backpack slung over his shoulder. "Shall I accompany you to Spanish, m'lady? And don't ask me to actually give the request in Spanish, 'cause I can't."
Abigail rose on unsteady limbs. "Well, at least you're honest."
After dumping their trays, the two turned and headed for the nearest hall.
"I'm getting some bad vibes from you…are you worried about our test?"
Abigail paled. "Test?"
"Well, I don't have to take it since I'm new," Steve said, "but I still know about it. Everyone's been complaining all day."
Shit, shit, shit! In between school and her family drama, Abigail had chosen to slack in the one place that actually brought her solace.
Steve seemed to sense her distress. "Look, if you want, I can see about getting you someone's notes?"
Abigail shook her head.
"Well, if you're sure… I've heard this is twenty-five percent of our grade. And if you're not careful, you'll be a doe caught in the crosshairs."
Abigail's stomach flipped. Images of screaming, pleading girls flashed across her eyes – girls who looked just like her – and with a dry sob, she broke away from him and went tearing down the hallway.
Steve jerked in astonishment. "Whoa, hey… Abigail!"
She didn't listen. Bursting out the side door, she ran and ran and ran until she got to the parking lot, and didn't truly stop to breathe again until she was speeding off in her car.
A/N: Okay, so I lied. I wanted to delve more into Steve's background in this chapter, but Abigail kept demanding my attention. So let's just say "someday" and leave it at that, lol. Thanks to those who're reading!