Chapter One Hundred and Three

After We Fell


chapter

one hundred and three

 

HARDIN

 

He wasn’t staring at me,” she says, trying to convince me as we finally reach her car, which I was forced to park in the farthest possible spot away from the restaurant.

    “He was panting over his lasagna. There was a line of drool hanging from his chin to prove it.” The man’s eyes were glued to Tessa the entire time that I tried to enjoy our overpriced, oversauced pasta plate.

    I want to press it further, but I decide against it. She didn’t even notice the man’s attention; she was too busy smiling and talking with me to give him a second glance. Her smiles are bright and honest, her patience with my annoyed remarks about waiting too long for a table was remarkable, and she seems to always find a way to touch me. A hand on mine, a soft brush of her fingers over my arm, her soft hand brushing the mop of hair off my forehead; she’s constantly touching me, and I feel like a fucking kid on Christmas. If I were to know how being excited on Christmas as a child actually felt.

    I turn the heat in the car to the highest setting, wanting to get her warmed up as quickly as possible. Her nose and cheeks are an adorable shade of red, and I can’t help but lean over and run my cold hand across her quivering lips.

    “Well, it’s a shame that he’ll be paying so much for drool-filled lasagna then, huh?” She giggles, and I lean over to silence her corny remark by pressing my mouth to hers.

    “Come here,” I groan. I gently pull her onto my lap by the sleeves of her purple jacket. She doesn’t protest; instead, she climbs over the small barrier of armrests and onto my lap. Her mouth is steady on mine, and I possessively stake my claim by pulling her body as close to mine as the awkward design of this small car will allow. She gasps when I pull the lever on the seat to cause it to lie back, and her body falls onto mine.

    “I’m still sore,” she tells me, and I gently pull away from her.

    “I just wanted to kiss you,” I tell her. It’s true. Not that I would turn down making love to her in the front seat of her car, but it wasn’t on my mind at the time.

    “I want to, though,” she shyly admits, turning her head slightly to hide from my view.

    “We can go home . . . well, to your place—”

    “Why not here?”

    “Hello? Tessa?” I wave my hand in front of her face, and she looks up at me, bewildered. “Have you seen Tessa around anywhere, because this hormone-addled, sex-crazed woman wiggling in my lap is certainly not her,” I tease, and she catches on, finally.

    “I’m not sex-crazed.” She pouts, pushing out her lower lip, and I lean up to catch it between my teeth. Her hips move against me, and I scan the parking lot. The sun has begun to set already, the thick air and cloudy skies making it appear to be even later than it actually is. The parking lot is nearly full of cars, though, and the last thing I want is someone catching us fucking in public.

    She pulls her mouth from mine and trails her lips down the column of my neck. “I’m stressed, and you’ve been gone, and I love you.” Despite the blasting heat pouring from the vents, a shiver rakes down my spine, and she reaches between us to palm me through my jeans. “So maybe I’m a little hormonal, it’s almost . . . you know, that time.” She whispers the last two words as if they’re a dirty secret.

    “Oh, now I get it.” I grin, concocting vulgar jokes in my mind to tease her with the entire week, the way I always do.

    She reads my mind. “Don’t say a word,” she scolds, gently squeezing and kneading my cock while her mouth moves against my neck.

    “Then stop doing that before I come in my pants. I’ve already done that too many times since I met you.”

    “Yeah, you have.” She bites down on my flesh, and my hips betray me by lifting to meet her torturous swirling movements.

    “Let’s go back . . . If someone sees you like this, riding me in the middle of the parking lot, I’d have to kill them.”

    Thoughtfully, Tessa glances around the parking lot, surveying the surroundings, and I watch as the realization of our location sinks in. “Fine.” She pouts again and climbs back into the passenger seat.

    “Look how the tables have turned.” I wince as her hand cups me again and squeezes.

    She sweetly smiles as if she didn’t just make a mild attempt to castrate me. “Just drive.”

    “I’ll run every red light so I can get you home and give you your fix,” I tease her.

    She rolls her eyes and rests her head against the window.

    By the time we reach the next red light, she’s fast asleep. I reach over to make sure she’s still warm; tiny drops of sweat bead her forehead in her sleep, making me cut the heat off immediately. Deciding to enjoy the soft noises of her muted slumber, I take the long way back to Vance’s house.

 

I GENTLY SHAKE her shoulder to wake her. “Tessa, we’re back.”

    Her eyes pop open, and she blinks rapidly to assess her location. “It’s already so late?” she asks, glancing at the clock on her dashboard.

    “There was traffic,” I say.

    Truth is, I drove around the city, trying to find whatever it is that has her so captivated. It was a lost cause. I couldn’t find it through the freezing air. Or the bumper-to-bumper traffic. Or the drawbridge causing that traffic. The only thing that made sense to me was the sleeping girl in my car. Despite the hundreds of buildings that line and light up the skyline, she’s the only thing that could make this city worth a damn.

    “I’m still so tired . . . I think I ate too much.” She half smiles and pushes me away when I offer to carry her to her room.

    She lumbers like a zombie through Vance’s house, and the moment her head hits the pillow, she’s asleep again. I carefully undress her and pull the duvet over her half-naked body, laying my worn T-shirt next to her head in hopes that she’ll pull it on when she wakes.

    I stare over at her. Her lips are parted slightly, and her arms are wrapped around one of mine like she’s holding a soft pillow instead of a hard arm. It can’t be comfortable for her, but she’s sound asleep, holding on to me as if she’s afraid I’ll disappear.

    I think, maybe, if I continue to not be a fuckup during the week, I’ll be rewarded with times like this every weekend, and that’s enough for me to hold on to until she can see how devoted I am to improving myself for her.

 

“HOW MANY TIMES are you going to call me?” I bark through the line. My phone has been buzzing all night and morning with my mum’s name flashing on the screen. Tessa keeps waking up and, in turn, waking me up. I swear I put the damn thing on silent the last time.

    “You should have answered! I have something important to talk to you about.” Her voice is soft, and I can’t remember the last time I spoke to her.

    “Get to it, then,” I groan and instinctively lean up to turn the lamp on. The light from the small lamp is much too bright for this early hour, so I tug the string and return the room to its original state of darkness.

    “Well, here goes . . .” She lets out a deep breath. “Mike and I are going to be married.” She squeals into the phone, and I move the device from my ear for a moment to save my hearing.

    “Okay . . .” I say, expecting more.

    “Aren’t you surprised?” she questions, obviously disappointed in my reaction.

    “He told me he was going to ask you, and I figured you’d say yes. What is there to be surprised about?”

    “He told you?”

    “Yeah,” I say, looking at the dark, rectangular shapes of some photos hanging on the wall.

    “Well, what do you think about it?”

    “Does it matter?” I ask her.

    “Of course it matters, Hardin.” My mum sighs, and I sit up fully. Tessa stirs in her sleep and reaches for me.

    “I don’t care either way. I was a little surprised, but what do I care if you get married?” I whisper, wrapping my legs around Tessa’s smooth legs.

    “I’m not asking for your permission. I just wanted to see how you felt about the whole thing so I could tell you the reason I’ve been calling you all morning.”

    “I’m fine with it, now tell me.”

    “As you know, Mike thought it would be a good idea to sell the house.”

    “And?”

    “Well, it’s sold. The new owners won’t be moving in until next month, until after the wedding.”

    “Next month?” I rub my temples with my index finger. I knew I shouldn’t have picked up the damn phone this early.

    “We were going to wait until next year, but neither of us is getting any younger, and with Mike’s son going off to university, there’s no better time than now. It should start warming up in the next few months, but we don’t want to wait. It may be chilly, but it won’t be unbearable. You’ll come, won’t you? And bring Tessa?”

    “So the wedding is next month, or in two weeks?” My brain doesn’t function this fucking early.

    “Two weeks!” she responds with glee.

    “I don’t think I can . . .” I trail off. It’s not that I don’t want to join the joyous festivities of a requited love and all that shit, but I don’t want to go all the way to England, and I know Tessa isn’t going to come along on such short notice, especially given the state of our relationship right now.

    “Why not? I’ll ask her myself if I—”

    “No, you won’t.” I cut her off. Realizing that I’m being a little harsh, I backtrack. “She doesn’t even have a passport.” It’s an excuse, but a truthful one.

    “She can get one within two weeks if they expedite it.”

    I sigh. “I don’t know, Mum, give me a little time to think about it. It’s seven in the damn morning.” I groan and end the call, then realize I didn’t even say congratulations. Fuck. Well, it’s not like she expected it from me necessarily.

    From down the hall, I hear someone scavenging through fucking cabinets. I pull the thick duvet over my head to drown out the noise of slamming and the obnoxious beeping of a dishwasher, but the noises don’t abate. The cacophony continues until I guess I just fall asleep in spite of it.