Chapter One Hundred and Fourteen

After We Fell


chapter

one hundred and fourteen

 

TESSA

 

I pull open my dresser drawer and dig out clean panties and a matching bra. “I’m going to go shower. Kimberly wants to leave at eight, and it’s already seven,” I tell Hardin, who’s sitting on the edge of my bed with his elbows resting on his knees.

    “You’re still going?” he scoffs.

    “Yes. I told you before, remember? That was the whole reason you wanted to come here, so I didn’t have to go alone.”

    “That’s not the only reason I came,” he says defensively. I raise a speculative brow at him, and he rolls his eyes. “I didn’t say it’s not a reason, but it’s not the only one.”

    “You still want to come, right?” I ask, dangling my underwear suggestively.

    This is rewarded with a slight smirk. “No, I never wanted to come, but if you’re going, so am I.”

    I give him a wide smile, but when I leave the room, he doesn’t follow. Which surprises me. I find myself kind of wishing he would this time. I don’t know where we stand at the moment. I know he’s pissed about Zed, and I’m upset that he’s hiding things from me again, but overall I’m thrilled that he’s here, and I don’t want to waste our time fighting.

    I wrap a towel around my hair since I don’t have the time to wash and dry it before we leave. The hot water relieves some of the tension in my shoulders and back but doesn’t do much to clear my head. I need to work myself into a better mood within the hour. Hardin will be brooding all night, I’m sure. I want us to have a nice time out with Kimberly and Christian—I don’t want any awkward silence or public fighting. I want us to get along, and I want to be in a happy mood, both of us. I haven’t had a Seattle nightlife experience since I moved here, and I want my first to be as fun as possible. My guilt regarding Zed refuses to subside, but I’m relieved when my irritation and irrational thoughts slide down the drain along with the scalding water and suds of soap.

    The moment I shut off the shower, Hardin knocks at the door. I wrap a towel around myself and take a deep breath before answering. “I’ll be ready in ten minutes. I need to try to do something with my hair,” I say, and when I look into the mirror, there’s Hardin standing behind me.

    He squints at the frizzy mess on my head. “What’s wrong with it now?”

    “It’s out of control.” I laugh. “It won’t take long.”

    “You’re wearing He eyes the uncomfortable black dress, which is hanging on the shower curtain, since I was trying to de-wrinkle it a bit. The last time I wore it, at the “family vacation,” it led to a disastrous night . . . well, week.

    “Yes, Kimberly said there’s a dress code.”

    “What kind of dress code?” Hardin looks down to his stained jeans and black T-shirt.

    I shrug and smile to myself, imagining Kimberly telling Hardin to change his outfit.

    “I’m not changing,” he tells me, and I shrug again.

    Hardin’s eyes don’t leave my reflection in the mirror the entire time that I put on my makeup and wrestle with a flatiron and my hair. The steam from the shower has made it curl in a terrible way; there’s just no hope for it. I end up pulling it back into a low bun. At least my makeup actually looks really good. An even exchange for such a bad hair day.

    “Are you staying until Sunday?” I ask him as I put on my underwear and step into my dress. I want to make sure the tension between us is under control, and we don’t spend the entire night arguing.

    “Yes, why?” Hardin coolly responds.

    “I was thinking that instead of spending Friday here in Seattle, we could go back and I could see Landon and Karen. Your father, too.”

    “What about yours?”

    “Oh yeah . . .” I had momentarily forgotten about my father staying with Hardin. “I’ve been trying really hard not to think about that situation until you can tell me more about it.”

    “I don’t know if it’s a good idea . . .”

    “Why not?” I ask. I miss Landon so much.

    Hardin rubs the back of his neck with his hand. “I don’t know . . . All this shit with Steph and Zed . . .”

    “Hardin, I’m not going to see Zed again, and unless Steph shows up at the apartment or your father’s house, I won’t be seeing her either.”

    “I still don’t think you should go.”

    “You have to lighten up a little bit.” I sigh, resetting the bun in my hair.

    “Lighten up?” he says derisively, as if the idea has never occurred to him.

    “Yes, lighten up. You can’t control everything.”

    His head snaps up. “I ‘can’t control everything’? This is coming from of all people?”

    I laugh. “I’m just saying. I’m giving you the Zed thing because I know it’s wrong, but you can’t keep me from the entire town because you’re worried that I might see him or some unpleasant girl.”

    “Are you done?” Hardin asks, leaning against the sink.

    “With the argument or my hair?” I smirk at him.

    “You’re annoying.” He smiles back at me and slaps my behind as I move around him to exit the bathroom.

    I’m glad he’s being somewhat playful. That bodes well for the night.

    As we cross the hallway to my room, Christian calls up from the living room, “Hardin—you here still? You coming to listen to some jazz? It’s not heavy metal or whatever, but . . .”

    I don’t hear the rest of his words because I’m busy laughing at the impromptu Christian Vance impersonation Hardin is doing. Pushing his chest lightly, I say, “Go see him. I’ll be right out.”

    Back in my room, I grab my purse and check my cell phone. I have got to call my mother soon; I keep putting it off, and she won’t stop calling. I have a message from Zed as well.

    Please don’t be upset with me about tonight. I was a jerk and I didn’t mean to be. Sorry.

    I delete the message and stick my phone back into my purse. My friendship with Zed has to end now. I’ve been leading him on for too long, and every time I say goodbye to him I end up backtracking and make the situation worse by seeing him again. It’s not fair to him or to Hardin. Hardin and I have enough problems as it is. It bothers me as a woman that Hardin tries to forbid me from seeing Zed, but I can’t deny that I’m being a huge hypocrite if I continue hanging out with him. I would never want Hardin to be friends with Molly and spend time with her alone—the thought itself makes me nauseous. Zed has made his feelings for me very clear, and it’s not fair to anyone if I let the situation with him linger and tacitly encourage him. Zed is kind to me, and he’s been there for me a lot, but I hate the way that I always feel like I have to explain myself to him and defend my relationship.

    Enjoying the fantasy of a great night out with my guy, I descend the stairs . . . and am surprised that when I enter the living room, Hardin is standing there with his hands in his hair, looking exasperated.

    “Hell no!” he huffs, backing away from Christian.

    “Bloodstained jeans and that dirty shirt aren’t appropriate attire in the club, regardless of your connections to the owner,” Christian says, pushing some sort of black fabric to Hardin’s chest.

    “I’m not going, then.” Hardin pouts, letting the garment fall to the floor at Christian’s feet.

    “Don’t be a baby, just put the damn shirt on.”

    “If I wear the shirt, I’m keeping the jeans on,” Hardin says, negotiating, and looking to me for support.

    “Didn’t you bring any clothes that don’t have blood on them?” Christian smiles, then bends down to pick up the shirt.

    “You can wear your black jeans, Hardin,” I suggest in an effort to mediate between the two men.

    “Fine, give me the fucking shirt, then.” Hardin snatches the shirt from Christian’s hands and lifts his middle finger to him as he stalks down the hallway.

    “Maybe a haircut, too,” Christian shouts after him teasingly, and I can’t help but laugh.

    “Oh, would you leave him alone already. I won’t stop him from giving you a black eye,” Kimberly jokes.

    “Yeah . . . yeah . . .” Christian pulls her into his arms and kisses her mouth.

    I turn away just as the doorbell rings.

    “That will be Lillian!” Kim announces while wiggling out of Christian’s embrace.

    Hardin walks out into the living room as Lillian comes through the front door. “Why is she here?” he groans. He’s put on the black button-down shirt, which doesn’t look bad on him.

    “Don’t be mean. She babysits Smith, and she’s your friend, remember?” I say. My first impression of Lillian wasn’t a good one, but I’ve grown to like the girl, even though I haven’t seen her since we got home from the Vacation from Hell.

    “No, she’s not.”

    “Tessa! Hardin!” Lillian exclaims, her bright blue eyes beaming and her smile bright. I’m thankful that she’s not wearing the same dress I am, like she was the first time I met her, at the restaurant in Sand Point.

    “Hey.” I smile back, and Hardin curtly nods.

    “You look great,” she compliments, looking me up and down.

    “Thanks—so do you.” She’s dressed in a simple cardigan and khaki pants.

    “Okay, if you both are done . . .” Hardin complains.

    “Nice to see you, too, Hardin.” Lillian rolls her eyes at him, and he slightly softens, offering her a half smile.

    Meanwhile, Kimberly is rushing around the living room, putting on her heels and checking her makeup in the large mirror above the couch. “Smith is upstairs. We shouldn’t be gone any later than midnight.”

    “Ready, love?” Christian asks her. And when she nods yes, he spreads his arms wide and gestures to the door.

    “We’re driving separately,” Hardin announces.

    “Why? We have a driver for tonight,” Christian says.

    “I want to drive myself in case we want to leave.”

    Christian shrugs. “Suit yourself.”

    As we head out, I get a better look at Hardin’s shirt, which is not unlike the one he usually wears when he’s forced to dress up. The difference here, however, is that this shirt is covered with a faint, barely noticeable animal print . . .

    “Don’t say a word,” Hardin warns me when he notices me staring.

    “I’m not.” I bite my lip, and he groans.

    “It’s hideous,” he says, and I giggle the entire way to the car.

 

THE JAZZ CLUB is centrally located in downtown Seattle. The streets are full of people, as if it were a Saturday night instead of Wednesday. We wait inside Hardin’s car until a sleek black town car pulls up next to us and Kimberly and Christian step out.

    “Rich bastard,” Hardin says, squeezing my thigh before we get out ourselves.

    With a brisk smile, the bald bouncer unhooks the velvet rope from the silver stand and lets us by. Moments later, Kimberly is leading us through the dark club, showing off various features of the place while Christian wanders off by himself. Blocks of gray stone serve as tables, and there are groups of black couches accented with white cushions. The only color in the entire club comes from the bouquets of red roses that are sitting atop each massive stone. The soft music playing through the club is relaxing yet stimulating at the same time.

    “Fancy.” Hardin rolls his eyes. He looks painfully beautiful under the dim lights. Christian’s printed button-down shirt paired with the black jeans make for a deadly attack on my libido.

    “It’s nice, right?” Kimberly turns around, beaming.

    “Sure, sure,” Hardin replies. The moment we get near the crowded tables, Hardin’s arm wraps around my hips, pulling me closer to him as we walk.

    “Christian is in the VIP section. We have it to ourselves,” Kimberly informs us.

    We walk to the back of the club, and a satin curtain is pulled open to reveal a moderate-sized space with more black curtains serving as walls. Four couches form the perimeter of the room, and a large stone rests in the center, covered with bottles of alcohol, a bowl of ice, and various finger foods.

    I’m so distracted I almost miss seeing Max sitting on one of the couches, across from Christian.

    Great. Max rubs me the wrong way, and I know Hardin doesn’t care for him either. Hardin’s arm tightens around me again, and he shoots a glare toward Christian.

    Kimberly smiles, ever the perfect hostess. “Nice to see you again, Max.”

    Max grins. “You, too, dear.” He takes her hand in his and lifts it to his lips.

    “Excuse me.” A woman’s voice sounds behind me. Hardin and I step to the side, and Sasha prances through the small space. Her intimidating height and barely-there white dress help her claim the entire room.

    “Great,” Hardin says, echoing my thought from seconds ago. He’s about as happy to see her as I am to see Max.

    “Sasha.” Kimberly tries to appear pleased to see the woman but fails. One of the flaws of Kim’s genuine openness and honesty is that it’s hard for her to hide her emotions.

    Sasha smiles warmly at her and takes a seat on the couch, next to Max. His dark eyes meet mine as if he’s asking me for permission to sit with his mistress. I look away as Hardin guides me to the couch directly across from them. Kimberly takes a seat on Christian’s lap and leans forward to grab a bottle of champagne.

    “What do you think of the place, Theresa?” Max asks with his smooth, heavy accent.

    “Um.” I stutter at the use of my full name. “I-it’s nice.”

    “Would you two like some champagne?” Kimberly offers.

    Hardin answers for me. “I wouldn’t, but Tessa would.”

    I lean into his shoulder. “If you aren’t drinking, I probably shouldn’t either.”

    “Go ahead, I don’t mind. I just don’t want any.”

    I smile at Kim. “I’m okay; thank you, though.”

    Hardin frowns and takes a full glass from the table. “You should have some, you’ve had a long day.”

    “You only want me to drink so I don’t ask you questions,” I whisper, rolling my eyes as I do so.

    “No.” He smiles, amused. “I just want you to have a nice time out. That’s what you wanted, right?”

    “I don’t have to drink to have a nice time.” When I glance around the room, I can see that none of our company is paying any attention to our conversation.

    “I never said that you did. I’m only saying, your friend is offering you free champagne that probably cost more than your entire outfit and mine put together.” His fingertips dance along the nape of my neck. “So why not enjoy a glass?”

    “Good point.” I lean into him again, and he hands me the long-stemmed glass. “But I’m only having one,” I say.

    Thirty minutes later I’ve just polished off my second glass and am contemplating a third in an attempt to not feel uncomfortable while I watch Sasha parading around the small space. She claims she just wants to dance, but if that were truly the case, she could go out to the public area of the club and dance there.

    Attention whore.

    I cover my mouth as if I’ve said the words out loud.

    “What?” Hardin, I can see, is bored. Very bored. I can tell by the way he’s staring at the black curtain and his hand is dragging lazily up and down my back.

    I shake my head in a silent response. I shouldn’t be thinking those things about the woman when I don’t even know her. All I know about her is that she’s sleeping with a married man . . .

    That’s probably enough to know. I can’t help but dislike her.

    “Can we go now?” Hardin whispers into my neck and brings his other hand to my thigh.

    “Just a little longer,” I say to him. I’m not necessarily bored, but I would rather be spending one-on-one time with Hardin than avoiding eye contact with Sasha or her nearly exposed underwear.

    “Tessa, come dance . . . ?” Kimberly suggests, and Hardin tenses.

    My thoughts flash back to the last time I went out to a nightclub with Kimberly. I danced with a guy just to spite Hardin, even though he was miles away. I was so heartbroken then, so sad, that I could barely think straight. That guy ended up kissing me, and I ended up completely molesting Hardin in my hotel room after he found Trevor there. It was a huge misunderstanding, but when I think back, the night ended pretty well for me.

    “I don’t really dance, remember?” I say.

    “Well, come do a lap or something.” She smiles. “You look like you’re falling asleep.”

    “Okay, a lap,” I agree and rise to my feet. “Are you coming?” I ask Hardin, who shakes his head.

    “She’ll be fine; we’ll only be gone a minute,” Kimberly assures him.

    He doesn’t look pleased about her stealing me away, but doesn’t try to stop her. He’s trying to show me that he can lighten up, and I love him for it.

    “If you lose her, don’t bother coming back,” he says.

    Kimberly bursts into laughter and drags me through the curtains and into the crowded club.