Well, here we are again. I guess it must be fate, etc. I was going to try to make that into a Peter Cetera joke but I couldn’t ultimately make it land. I’m almost 100% sure that half my readership wouldn’t get it, anyway, because I am a thousand years old. And I am also 100% likely to have made that joke before.
We find ourselves at the beginning of yet another Jealous Haters Book Club selection. Now, before we get started, I would like to remind everyone reading this that I did not pick this book. The people of Trout Nation nominated and voted for it. I am putting this disclaimer here because someone warned me that the author has diehard fans who will come in droves to attack me, but honestly, do any of the big name pioneers of New Adult romance even have diehard fans anymore? Not even the E.L. James devotees are a mobilized army anymore. And aside from James, a lot of the New Adult authors who dominated the lists four years ago aren’t even hitting #1 in their very specific Amazon categories. New Adult isn’t dead (at least, I hope, because that’s what I’m writing next), but it’s not breaking down walls the way it did once upon a time. I can’t imagine these authors wield the same influence they once did.
Anyway, as I said, I really don’t like this author, her clique, or anybody having anything to do with her, but this wasn’t my choice. Especially after reading one of her other books. That said, I went into this trying hard to be objective. Almost contrarily so. Because so many people insisted to me over the years that this book is terrible, I was sure they were all exaggerating.
So far, it’s looking like I’m super wrong.
Let’s get into the first chapter, which yes, really is titled “Red Flag.” So, at least the author appears to be cognizant of what she’s doing.
Does that make it worse?
Everything in the room screamed that I didn’t belong. The stairs were crumbling, the rowdy patrons were shoulder to shoulder, and the air was a medely of sweat, blood, and mold. Voices blurred as they yelled numbers and names back and forth, and arms flailed about, exchanging money and gestures to communicate over the noise.
So, this where we join the story, with our heroine, Abby, following her friends, America and Shepley, though this environment. Someone gets on a bullhorn and says:
“Welcome to the bloodbath! If you are looking for Economics 101…you are in the wrong fucking place, my friend!
Good, because if I paid for Econ 101 and it was held in a moldy basement full of screaming people, I would be very put out.
If you seek the Circle, this is Mecca! My name is Adam. I make the rules and I call the fight. Betting ends once the opponents are on the floor. No touching the fighters, no assistance, no bet switching, and no encroachment of the ring. If you break these rules, you will get the piss beat out of you and you will be thrown out on your ass without your money. That includes you, ladies! So don’t use your hos to scam the system, boys!”
It’s not misogynist to refer to women as hoes if you’ve got an equal opportunity policy on physical assault.
Shepley shook his head. “Jesus, Adam!” he yelled ot the emcee over the noise, clearly disapproving of his friend’s choice of words.
Dude, why are you friends with someone who threatens to beat up women and calls them hoes? Also…why is the heroine of this novel friends with a guy who’s friends with a guy who threatens to beat up women and calls them hoes? Is this the red flag?
Abby notes that she’s wearing a pink cashmere cardigan and pearl earrings, so she looks really out of place at fight club this week.
I promised American that I could handle whatever we happened upon, but at ground zero I felt the urge to grip her toothpick of an arm with both hands. She wouldn’t put me in any danger, but being in a basement with fifty or so drunken college boys intent on bloodshed and capital, I wasn’t exactly confident of our chances to leave unscathed.
What do you mean, she wouldn’t put you in danger? A basement full of drunk college boys is danger. Let’s note the toothpick-arm here. I have this wild feeling that there will be a lot of subtle criticism about the bodies of women who are not the heroine throughout the book.
After America met Shepley at freshman orientation, she frequently accompanied him to the secret fights held in different basements of Eastern University.
To keep the fights so super secret, you guys, the location is only ever announced an hour before the fight starts. But it can’t work too well…
Because I ran in somewhat tamer circles, I was surprised to learn of an underground world at Eastern; but Shepley knew about it before he had ever enrolled.
Like, how secret is this club, really? I’m not trying to be nitpicky on the second page of the book, but come on. It’s super, intensely secret, but people know about it before they even set foot on campus?
While we spent all of Apolonia wondering if the heroine was immortal or not, I’m going to spend this entire book wondering what year of college all these people are in. I tried to do the math, but…
Travis, Shepley’s roommate and cousin, entered his first fight seven months before. As a freshman, he was rumored to be the most lethal competitor Adam had seen in the three years since creating the Circle. Beginning his sophomore year, Travis was unbeatable.
Okay, setting aside for the moment that “lethal” means students have died at these underground fights that are super secret and haven’t been found out yet, I wanna try to put all this stuff together. In the first chapter, the ages of these characters are never made remotely clear.
We know that:
- America met Shepley at freshman orientation.
- Travis either started fighting seven months before he came to college or seven months before this scene is taking place.
- Adam created the circle three years ago.
- Travis is at least a sophomore.
We don’t know:
- If America is still a freshman or if Shepley was a freshman when they met at orientation.
- Whether Travis just started fighting seven months ago and therefore was a freshman seven months ago but is now a sophomore.
- What year Adam is on.
- No, seriously, how old is anyone here?
And in case you’re wondering, it doesn’t get cleared up in this chapter.
The first fight is between a “star varsity wrestler” who for some reason is willing to risk injury in a skeezy underground fight, and Travis ‘Mad Dog’ Maddox, who is introduced with an instruction manual:
“[…]Shake in your boots, boys, and drop your panties, ladies!”
Ahem, I believe you mean, “hos”.
The volume exploded when Travis appeared in a doorway across the room. He made his entrance, shirtless, relaxed, and unaffected. He strolled into the center of the circle as if he were showing up to another day at work. Lean muscles stretched under his tattooed skin as he popped his fists against Marek’s knuckles. Travis leaned in and whispered something in Marek’s ear, and the wrestler struggled to keep his stern expression.
And then they just started fucking right there on the moldy basement floor.
No, but wouldn’t that be more interesting?
Marek stood toe-to-toe with Travis, and they looked directly into each other’s eyes.
“DIRECTLY INTO EACH OTHER’S EYES?” I THOUGHT WE LEFT THAT IN HANDBOOK FOR MORTALS!
Honestly, though, any book I read now, if it says anything about looking right at or directly into someone’s eyes, I just lose it.
The guys start fighting and the crowd gets wild, but Abby can’t see anything, so she starts pushing right to the front. Or, encroaching upon the ring, as the charming Adam might call it. She finally gets close enough to watch all the action, and Travis, who has until this point been raining blows on the other guy, throws an elbow into the dude’s nose.
Blood sprayed my face, and splattered down the front of my cardigan.
Well, there’s a meet-cute I’ve never seen before.
Marek fell to the concrete floor with a thud, and for a brief moment the room was completely silent. Adam threw a scarlet square of fabric onto Marek’s limp body, and the mob detonated.
Is…is he dead?
My eyes traveled upward; jeans, spattered with blood, a set of finely chiseled abs, a bare, tattooed chest drenched in sweat, and finally a pair of warm, brown eyes. I was shoved from behind, and Travis caught me by the arm before I fell forward.
“Hey! Back up off her!” Travis frowned, shoving anyone who came near me. His stern expression melted into a smile at the sight of my shirt, and then he dabbed my face with a towel. “Sorry about that, Pigeon.”
There it is. The first occurrence of the nickname that got mentioned about twenty-six thousand times in the nominations. Because so many of you absolutely hate it, I can’t wait to find out why he chooses that name for her.
As long as we’re on the subject of “red flags,” can we talk about the fierce protectiveness coupled with instant familiarity here? It would be one thing if Travis had shoved the person who bumped into her. Hell, if a guy threw a punch in a bar fight to protect a woman being harassed, I’m all over that. Good job, guy. But Travis is standing here giving her a pet name and getting physically aggressive with anyone who comes near her in what has been described as an intensely crowded space.
Remind you of any other character I spent four years of my life complaining about?
Travis tells Abby that her sweater looks good on her so it’s too bad it got ruined, and America shows up to call her friend an idiot. Shepley tells Abby that she shouldn’t have been there but like…bro. You brought her there.
America takes Abby straight to the ER for prophylactic vaccinations due to all the blood that splashed in her face. Nah, they just go straight back to Abby’s dorm room.
America followed me to my dorm room and then sneered at my roommate, Kara.
Now, there’s nothing here that establishes why someone would sneer at Kara. All she does is see her blood-spattered roommate and say, “Gross.” And she wears glasses and doesn’t seem overly invested in Abby’s life. But none of that happens until after the sneer, which goes unremarked upon in both dialogue and narrative. Are we supposed to just assume Kara sucks?
The next day, Abby and Shepley and America are at lunch with a bunch of Shepley’s fraternity brothers and some football players.
Some of them had been at the fight, but no one mentioned my ringside experience.
Uh, the first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club, Abby. That’s pretty common knowledge.
So, then Travis comes in:
He was followed by two voluptuous bottle blondes wearing Sigma Kappa Ts. One of them sat on Travis’s lap; the other sat beside him, pawing at his shirt.
Even if I had never read Apolonia, this would be, you guessed it, a red flag. Like, one they would put up on the beach to warn you that the water has been contaminated with medical waste and internalized authorial misogyny.
“I think I just threw up a little bit in my mouth,” America muttered.
I think I actually used the gif of that line from Dodgeball in my Apolonia recaps.
The blonde on Travis’s lap turned to America. “I heard that, skank.”
America grabbed her roll and threw it down the table, narrowly missing the girl’s face. Before the girl could say another word, Travis let his knees give way, sending her tumbling to the floor.
“Ouch!” she squealed, looking up at Travis.
“America’s a friend of mine. You need to find another lap, Lex.”
The line forms here, ladies. No shoving.
I seriously can never understand what authors are trying to prove by showing the male love interest treating women like total crap. This isn’t a Jamie McGuire thing. This is a genre-wide issue in which some romance authors are apparently so threatened and insecure on their heroine’s behalf, they have to make it a point to create fictional women to abuse through the hero. And this is supposed to make the hero more attractive to the heroine and the reader. These blondes don’t even have names until one of them gets dumped on the floor by the hero (to show us his good taste? I guess?). That’s how disposable they are. They’re just a tool for the author and reader to act out their own insecurities about other women.
And it works, because after a few paragraphs:
Travis smiled at me win what I assumed was his most charming expression. He oozed sex and rebeliousness with his buzzed brown hair and tattooed forearms, and I rolled my eyes at his attempt to lure me in.
Even though Abby is seeing through his tough guy act, she’s still considering him sexy and viewing his bad behavior as a mating dance.
America mentions that Abby is her best friend, and Travis is like, since when do you have a best friend, and America says:
“Since junior year,” she answered, pressing her lips together as she smiled in my direction.
So…does she mean junior year in high school? Or are they in their fourth year of college? We still have no idea what age any of these people are. They’re between eighteen and twenty-two, I guess? Honestly, I’m not usually this hung up on the ages of characters in books. Sometimes, it just doesn’t matter. But freshman, sophomore, and junior have now all been used as time markers without any context. It troubles me.
Travis sits down by Abby and calls her “Pigeon” again and she doesn’t like it, so obviously he’ll keep doing it through the rest of the book because men doing things you ask them not to is such adorable behavior. He introduces himself and she reminds him that she knows his name already.
“Don’t flatter yourself. It’s hard not to notice when fifty drunks are chanting your name.”
And when people all over campus seem to fawn over him. I honestly couldn’t tell you the name of one person I went to college with that I didn’t know before I went to college. I think there was a girl who wore really thick eyeliner in one of my classes? And her hair was always pulled back way too tight? That’s it. That’s all I’ve got from college. There was a sign language interpreter named Sue, I remember her. But yeah. If you’re a big enough deal that you’re known all over campus for how amazing you are, I’d say you’re pretty amazing.
Also, I’d say that your fight club isn’t as secret as you think it is.
My biggest issue here is with the fact that Abby is meeting Travis, the cousin, BFF, and roommate of her friend, Shepley, for the first time. You’d think they would have run into each other socially since they travel in the same circle and he’s the big man on campus. How is this the first time they’ve ever spoken? When did Abby become friends with Shepley? Was it through America? They all seem to be in the same general group of acquaintences.
He laughed again when I glared at him. “Those are some amazing eyes, though,” he said, leaning just inches from my face. “What color is that, anyway? Gray?”
Do we have a hard time with our colors, Travis? How are you with shapes?
I didn’t like the way it made me feel when he was so close. I didn’t want to be like the scores of other girls at Eastern that blushed in his presence.
There we go. Not Like Other Girls™.
America tells Travis not to even think about trying anything with Abby, to which Shepley says:
“Baby,” Shepley said, “you just told him no. He’s never gonna stop, now.”
Wow, the title of this chapter was not fucking around, huh?
Travis calls Abby “Pidge,” so that’s three times in the scene that he calls her a name she doesn’t want to be called and of course we’re meant to interpret this as sexual tension. Then, he whispers something in America’s ear before he leaves.
A few more girls followed behind him, giggling and running their fingers through their hair to get his attention. He opened the door for them, and they nearly squealed in delight.
Look, more silly girls for us to judge! I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but it’s important for you to know that this isn’t going to stop like, at all. For the entire book.
After this scene, I’m really not understanding the vibe. Nobody really seems to like Travis. His best friend whom he is also related to basically described him as a sexual predator. Abby thinks he’s sexy but he refuses to use her name. Are we supposed to find him sexy here? Or am I just assuming we are because this is a romance? She honestly doesn’t seem to like him, so at least we’re a step up from Fifty Shades of Grey here?
I also don’t understand how these characters are in college. Everyone seems to have lunch at the same time, they’re all throwing food (America throws her roll, Shepley throws a french fry), and again, it’s weird that the entire campus knows and is obsessed with this one specific guy.
But anyway, America says:
“Oh, no. You’re in trouble, Abby.”
Why is Abby in trouble? Because Travis told her to bring Abby to his apartment. And it’s apparently just a given that she’s going, as she has been summoned. But Shepley warns her not to fall for Travis (also apparently a given) because it could cause problems between him and America.
“This isn’t my first rodeo, Mare. Do you know how many times he’s screwed things up for me because he one-nights the best friend? All of a sudden it’s a conflict of interest to date me because it’s fraternizing with the enemy. I’m tellin’ ya, Abby,” he looked at me, “don’t tell Mare she can’t come over or date me because you fall for Travis’s line of BS. Consider yourself warned.”
So, Travis is violent, treats women like shit, and carelessly sabotages his friend/cousin’s relationships out of pure selfishness. What do they get out of associating with him? Why does anyone admire and want to be around him?
Here’s another weird thing where I don’t understand:
I tried to reassure Shepley with a smile, but his pessimism was driven by years of being burned by Travis’s endeavors.
Abby knows Shepley well enough to know that Travis has been a jerk to him for years, but again…she’s never met Travis? Travis is somehow news to her? I don’t get this.
Abby parts ways with Shepley and America and heads to class.
Eastern was exactly what I hoped it would be, from the smaller classrooms to the unfamiliar faces. It was a new start for me; I could finally walk somewhere without the whispers of those who knew–or thought they knew–anything about my past. I was as indistinguishable as any other wide-eyed, overachieving freshman on her way to class; no staring, no rumors, no pity or judgement. Only the illusion of what I wanted them to see: cashmered, no-nonsense Abby Abernathy.
Is her dark secret that she’s rich as hell? Because cashmere is coming up a lot.
When Abby sits down in class, Travis sits next to her.
“Good. You can take notes for me,” he said.
Abby accuses him of not actually being in the class, but he insists that he is. He just usually sits somewhere else.
A small group of girls was staring at me, and I noticed an empty chair in the center.
Considering Travis is known by the entire student body and has some type of all-female entourage with him in this class, how did Abby not notice that he was there all this time? But whatever. Anything for another opportunity to show how desired the hero is and how jealous all the girls will be of the heroine now that he’s got his sights set on her.
Remember, ladies: your personal happiness hinges on whether or not other women are jealous of you. You’re not winning the game unless all those bitches hate you.
Abby tells him she’s not going to take notes for him.
Travis leaned so close that I could feel his breath on my cheek. “I’m sorry…did I offend you in some way?”
Literally, everything this man has done on the page so far has been offensive, from beating a guy unconscious (to death?), surrounding himself with women simply to physically, verbally, and emotionally abuse them, selfishly destroy his friend’s relationships, assume every female character is there to fuck him, refuse to call the heroine by her name while obnoxiously pursuing her despite clear signals and explicit verbal statements indicating she doesn’t want anything to do with him, asking her to do classwork for him, and then getting in her face to ask this question.
Abby tells him to give up, she’s not going to sleep with him. He points out that he hasn’t asked her.
“I’m not a Barbie twin or one of your little groupies up there, I said, glancing at the girls behind us. “I’m not impressed with your tattoos or your boyish charm or your forced indifference, so you can stop the antics, okay?”
If you removed the internalized misogyny and description of Travis as having “boyish charm,” this would actually make me like Abby. Unfortunately, she has to pull the Not Like Other Girls™ card and once again describe this dude as charming. This is like the third time and he’s yet to do anything that’s the bare minimum of human decency, let alone anything that could be remotely construed as “charm”.
The entire time I read this chapter, I couldn’t help but compare it to Fifty Shades of Grey. While this doesn’t strike me as Twilight fanfic, it definitely feels like it’s taken a lot of cues from Fifty Shades. Both the books were published at roughly the same time, but Master of The Universe, the fanfic that, through the miracle of find-and-replace, became Fifty Shades of Grey, had been online since 2009, a year McGuire cites in the dedication of this book as being somehow important in starting her writing career. I want desperately to believe that Abby, Travis, and their “chemistry” so far was “borrowed” from Snowqueens Icedragon; the idea that two people independently thought, “You know what would be hot? An abusive guy who treats women as disposable relentlessly pursuing a misogynistic, judgmental priss who has no interest in him,” is so horrifying that I can’t even think up a funny analogy for the horror.
Travis assures Abby, whose name he still refuses to use (again, like Christian Grey, who wouldn’t call Ana anything but Anastasia, even after she asked him several times), that he just wants to hang out, not have sex with her.
So far, all Travis knows about Abby is that she doesn’t like him and has no interest in getting to know him. Why would that be appealing, if not as a challenge to overcome?
But of course, Abby says she’ll think about it because she is a pioneer in the “female main characters who go along with whatever the hero wants,” oeuvre.
A residual smile lingered on his face, making the dimple in his cheek sink in. The more he smiled, the more I wanted to hate him, and yet it was the very thing that made hating him impossible.
…do you want some reasons to hate him? Because I’ve been listing them off for a while now and we’re only on page twelve. I assure you, hating him is not impossible. Like, make a pros and cons table, Abby. Pros so far are like, “nice smile.” Cons are “everything else about him.”
In case the main characters aren’t misogynistic enough, the professors are, too:
“Who can tell me which president had a cross-eyed wife with a bad case of the uglies?” Chaney asked.
Why is this a question in a college-level course?
Travis grinned and relaxed into his chair. As the hour progressed, he alternated between yawning and leaning against my arm to look at my monitor. I made a concentrated effort to ignore him, but his proximity and the muscles bulging from his arm made it difficult. He picked at the black leather band around his wrist until Chaney dismissed us.
So, I guess the pros column is now, “nice smile, bulging muscle, is nearby.”
Abby tries to shake Travis after class, but he catches up with her and asks if she’s thought about coming to his apartment.
A petite brunette stepped in front of us, wide-eyed and hopeful. “Hey, Travis,” she lilted, playing with her hair.
I paused, recoiling from her sugary tone, and then walked around her. I’d seen her before, talking normally in the commons area of the girls’ dorm, Morgan Hall. Her tone sounded much more mature then, and I wondered what it was about a toddler’s voice she thought Travis would find appealing. She babbled in a higher octave for a bit longer until he was next to me once again.
We. Get. It. Every woman except Abby sucks and is a whore. We get it now. We don’t need any more of this. We are on page twelve and this is the fourth time we’ve heard about how much women love Travis and how stupid they act. I would almost prefer the “cum burping gutter slut” insult from Apolonia than pages and pages of this.
Seriously, there’s no way McGuire didn’t read Master of The Universe and go, “I can make both the hero and heroine hate women more.”
Now, the only setting described at this point since they got out of class was the hallway. It’s never indicated that they’ve gone outside at all. Travis put on his sunglasses, but it’s never mentioned that they leave the building, so when this happens:
Pulling a lighter from his pocket, he lit a cigarette and blew out a thick cloud of smoke.
I immediately imagine this whole sequence as happening in the hallway, like a scene from a Grease sequel that’s worse than Grease 2.
Finally, Travis’s relentless pestering wears Abby down. She agrees to go to his apartment that night. Are you kidding me, Abby? If we have to endure pages upon pages of everyone insisting that Abby is some smart, strong woman while she continually acts in ways that are totally contrary, I will…probably set fires.
But anyway, they are outside, because when Travis finally leaves Abby alone, she’s outside her dorm. She sees America and another friend, Finch, standing there. Finally, finally, we get a clue as to their ages. Kind of.
The three of us ended up at the same table at freshman orientation, and I knew he would be the welcome third wheel to our well-oiled machine.
Okay, so, Abby and America were a well-oiled machine already when they got to college. They must have met in their junior year of high school, not college. Which… I guess really doesn’t narrow down their ages at all, does it?
Finch has “disapproving eyes” when he sees that Abby was talking to Travis, and America has some…well, I guess it’s advice?
America pulled the gum from her mouth in a long string. “You’re only making it worse by brushing him off. He’s not used to that.”
“What do you suggest I do? Sleep with him?”
America shrugged. “It’ll save time.”
Rather than be like, “Wow, this guy is a jerk,” America is telling her best friend she basically has to sleep with Travis because she has no choice? Is the lesson here, “If a guy consistently harasses you, just give him exactly what he wants because it’s easier for you to give up your autonomy than to hold men to the incredibly low standard of simply listening and respecting a woman when she’s not interested?”
He wasn’t hard to figure out; he either saw me as a challenge, or safely unattractive enough to be a good friend. I wasn’t sure which bothered me more.
Again, this is fifty shades of Ana here. Woe is me, I’m so plain, this guy is clearly trying to have sex with me but I’m not sure if he’s trying to have sex with me despite everyone saying he’s trying to have sex with me. Cashmere.
Also, spoiler alert, the fact that he might not find her pretty is the thing that’s bothering her. But not in the same way as all those other cheap harlots. Abby is the main character, so it’s okay for her to want to fuck him, just so long as she says she doesn’t want to fuck him more often than she says she does.
After a time break, America comes to pick up Abby to take her to Shepley and Travis’s apartment.
“Yuck, Abby! You look homeless!”
And here’s why:
My hair was piled on top of my head in a messy bun. I had scrubbed the makeup from my face and replaced my contacts with rectangular black-rimmed glasses. Sporting a ratty t-shirt and sweatpants, I shuffled along in a pair of flip-flops.
“Homeless” or #Cozy, #LazyDay on Instagram?
The idea had come to me hours before that either way, unattractive was the best plan. Ideally, Travis would be instantly turned off and stop his ridiculous persistence. If he was looking for a buddy, I was aiming for too homely to be seen with.
Oh, Abby. Don’t you know how this goes? He’s going to like you even more because you don’t know you’re beautiful and that’s what makes you beautiful. Also, you’re not like the other girls because you wear makeup and slutty clothes, which you don’t need.
They arrive at the apartment, which Abby notes is not as bad as she expected it to be because it doesn’t stink. Travis asks her if she’s started the paper that’s due in their shared class and says that he’s already done and he can help her if she’d like.
“I have an A in that class,” he said, a bit miffed at my disbelief.
“He has As in all his classes. He’s a freakin’ genius. I hate him,” Shepley said as he led America into the living room by the hand.
Again, is anyone feeling like this is familiar? Christian Grey used to get in violent physical fights when he was younger, and he dropped out of college because he was a genius. Now we’ve got Travis Maddox, amateur MMA fighter, sitting bored through classes because he’s a genius. Again, these books were published within the same year, but Master of The Universe predates it by at least two.
Abby asks why, if Travis is so smart, does he fight for a living? He says it makes him more money than working in the mall, but Abby doesn’t think it’s a very good alternative.
“I don’t get hit that often. If they swing, I move. It’s not that hard.”
Well, gosh, why hasn’t any other fighter thought of that?
Abby wants to know where Travis learned to fight.
“I had a dad with a drinking problem and a bad temper, and four older brothers that carried the asshole gene.”
So, we’ve got our tragic, abused kid backstory. He notes that his dad quit drinking and his brothers grew out of being assholes, which is super convenient because I’m pretty sure they get spin-off novels.
Ready for some you-don’t-know-you’re-beautiful-that’s-what-makes-you-beautiful? Well, too bad, because you’re getting it, anyway:
“I like the au naturel thing you have going on. Girls don’t come over here like that.”
“I was coerced into coming here. It didn’t occur to me to impress you,” I said, irritated that my plan had failed.
The dynamic of this is so, so familiar. Heroine chooses to do something, then insists she had no choice. She did have a choice. She could have just not shown up. Just because he won’t take no for an answer doesn’t mean you have to say yes. And while I think every young woman has been in a position with a pushy guy and made similar decisions remember that this is a romance novel; this is the sexual tension and chemistry that bring them together. This is being presented as an ideal beginning to an exciting relationship.
I didn’t know how most girls felt around him, but I’d seen how they behaved. I was experiencing more of a disoriented, nauseated feeling than giggly infatuation, and the harder he worked to make me smile, the more unsettled I felt.
See the title of this chapter, Abby.
Travis announces that he’d been just about to leave (after inviting someone over to hang out?) and wants to know if Abby would go to dinner with him. She tries to lie about having already eaten, but America fucks it up for her, leaving an opening for Travis to simply order Abby to go with him. She obviously has to, because Travis says so. Just like she has to ride on his motorcycle (because of course he rides a motorcycle) with no helmet or other protective gear:
“I’m wearing flip-flops!”
Travis stared at me as if I’d spoken a foreign language. “I’m wearing boots. Get on.”
Translation: “I’m fine. It doesn’t matter if you lose your feet.” She does get on and predictably she has to hold onto him tight because although he’s promised not to go fast, he takes off, “like a rocket”. When they arrive at the restaurant, she’s furious. He says:
“I wouldn’t let anything happen to you, Pidgeon.”
No helmet. T-shirt, sweatpants, flip-flops. She is 100% disposable to him, to the point of death.
They go into the restaurant.
Grease and herbs filled the air as I followed him across the red, breadcrum-speckled carpet.
The scent of grease and herbs, I hope. This would have been a spot-on description if it hadn’t been written as though someone dumped a vat of garlic butter over their heads while they were walking.
There are other students in the restaurant who, of course, watch Travis and Abby’s every move. You know, like every time Anabella went somewhere with Chedward. Another similarity:
“Sure, Travis,” the waitress said, writing down our drink orders. She looked a bit high from his presence as she returned to the kitchen.
Writing Tip: Not every god damn book has to have a scene where a waitress’s panties drop tableside.
At least their drink orders included beers, so now we know that they’re twenty-one or over.
With the waitress gone, it’s Misogyny Conversation Time.
“So what’s your story, Pidge? Are you a man-hater in general, or do you just hate me?”
You have badgered her relentlessly all day long despite having met her once before after you beat a man unconscious in front of her. You have assumed she will want to fuck you from the word go and you are overall an objectively repugnant human being who still refuses to use her name. But sure. It’s because she hates all men irrationally.
“I can’t figure you out. You’re the first girl that’s ever been disgusted with me before sex
You don’t get all flustered when you talk to me, and you don’t try to get my attention.”
No, she’s actually discouraged your attention. You just didn’t get the hint that it wasn’t a seduction strategy. She tells him it’s not a ploy but he argues that she wouldn’t be there if she didn’t like him.
“I didn’t say you’re a bad person. I just don’t like being a foregone conclusion for the sole reason of having a vagina.” I focused on the grains of salt on the table until I heard a choking noise from Travis’s direction.
His eyes widened and he quivered with howling laughter. “Oh my God! You’re killing me! That’s it. We have to be friends. I won’t take no for an answer.”
I’m pretty sure that if someone is going to howl with laughter, it should be in response to something that’s genuinely funny. A lot of times, authors (myself included) will include laughs when something is mildly funny or it’s just amusing or what have you. But howling with laughter is pretty extreme, so something has to be…funny. For that to happen. And make sense. If they’re in their twenties, just saying the word “vagina” shouldn’t be a cause for hysterics.
“I don’t mind being friends, but that doesn’t mean you have to try to get into my panties every five minutes.”
“You’re not sleeping with me. I get it.”
She doesn’t even speak again before he says:
“You have my word. I won’t even think about your panties…unless you want me to.”
I rested my elbows on the table and leaned into them. “And that won’t happen, so we can be friends.”
An impish grin sharpened his features as he leaned in a bit closer. “Never say never.”
He won’t try to get into your panties every five minutes. He’ll try to get into your panties five times in one minute. He’s efficient!
Abby asks him a little about himself and we learn that Adam gave him the nickname “Mad Dog,” which he doesn’t appear psyched about.
His short answers were beginning to bug me.
She has literally only asked him one question.
He tells her that he’s a Criminal Justice major, but momentarily gets distracted by the entire Eastern soccer team, all of whom seem to be laughing about something inappropriate. He tells Abby that despite his tattoos and the fighting, he’s never gotten into any trouble. His mom died when he was a kid (where have we heard that before?) and that he has four brothers, Thomas, Taylor and Tyler (who are twins), and Trenton. They’re all tattooed (except Thomas), and they all seem to have grown up in a Lord of The Flies-type situation where it was all violence, all the time.
Finally, Travis is so visibly annoyed at the soccer players that Abby demands to know what it is they’re talking about.
They’re laughing about me having to take you to dinner, first. It’s not usually…my thing.”
Weird, I read a book about another guy like that. But I’m glad we didn’t let too many pages go by without being reminded of how much pussy Travis crushes on a daily basis.
The conversation turns to Abby. She hasn’t declared a major, but she’s probably going to go with Accounting. She’s from Witchita, just like America is, so that solves the junior year mystery. And she came to Eastern to get away from her parents.
“What’s with the third degree?” I said. The questions were drifting from small talk to personal, and I was beginning to get uncomfortable.
He’s asking you the exact same types of questions you asked him. And you were annoyed that he wasn’t more forthcoming. Again…just like another character I know.
Several chairs knocked together as the soccer team left their seats. They traded one last joke before they meandered toward the door. Their pace quickened when Travis stood up. Those in the back of the group pushed those in front to escape before Travis made his way across the room.
Yeah, get out of here, soccer team. Only Travis “Mad Dog” Maddox gets to demean women!
Abby tells Travis that she chose Eastern as a school because it “just felt right,” and he agrees, and the chapter is over.
So, this is what we’re into here. A Fifty Shades of Grey college AU starring Travstian and Anabby.
I’ll just fire up the wood chipper and climb on in.