Chapter Nine

After We Fell

chapter nine




My unlikely drinking partner, Richard, has escaped to the rest­room for the fourth time since we’ve arrived. I get the feeling that Betsy the Bartender may have taken a slight liking toward the man, which makes me really fucking uncomfortable.

    “Another?” she asks.

    With a nod, I dismiss the burly woman. It’s now after two in the afternoon, and I’ve had four drinks, which wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t straight scotch with a smidgen of ice.

    My thoughts are cloudy and my anger has yet to subside. I don’t know who or what to be more mad about, so I’ve given up on reasoning things out and have decided to just run with a general state of pissed-the-fuck-off.

    “Here ya go.” The bartender slides my drink in front of me as Richard takes the stool directly next to me. I was under the impression he understood the importance of the empty stool between us. Guess not.

    He turns to me, raking his hand over the rough whiskers of his beard. The sound is disgusting. “Did you order me another?”

    “You should shave that.” I offer my somewhat intoxicated opinion.

    “This?” He does that thing with his hand again.

    “Yes, that. It’s not a good look,” I say.

    “It’s okay—keeps me warm.” He laughs, and I take a drink to stop myself from joining him.

    “Betsy!” he calls. She nods and pulls his empty glass from the counter. Then he looks at me. “Are you going to tell me what it is you’re drinking over?”

    “Nope.” I move my scotch in a circle, causing the solitary ice cube to clink against the glass.

    “Fine; no questions, then. Only booze,” he says with some glee.

    My hatred toward him has dissolved for the most part. That is, until I picture the blond ten-year-old girl hiding in her mum’s greenhouse. Her blue-gray eyes are wide, fearful almost . . . and then the blond boy in the fucking cardigan shows up to save the day.

    “One question,” he presses, jarring me from my thoughts.

    I take a deep breath and an even deeper drink to keep myself from doing something idiotic. I mean, more idiotic than drinking with my girlfriend’s alcoholic father. This family and their fucking questions. “One,” I say.

    “Did you really get kicked out of college today?”

    I look over at the neon Pabst sign, thinking over the question, wishing I hadn’t had four . . . no, five drinks. “No. But she thinks I did,” I admit.

    “And why does she think that?” Nosy fucker.

    “Because I told her that I did.” I swing my gaze to him and say with dead eyes, “That’s enough confessions for one night.”

    “Have it your way.” He smiles and raises his glass to hit mine but I pull away, shaking my head. I can tell by his laughter that he hadn’t expected me to toast with him anyway and he finds me very amusing, the same way that I find him very annoying.

    A woman around his age appears at his side and takes the stool next to him. She wraps her thin arm around his shoulder and he greets her warmly. She doesn’t strike me as the homeless type, but she obviously knows him. He probably spends the majority of his time in this shithole of a bar. I use this distraction to check my phone for messages or calls from Tessa: nothing.

    I’m relieved but annoyed that she hasn’t attempted to talk to me. Relieved because I’m drunk, but annoyed because I miss her already. Each glass of scotch that slides down my throat makes me want her more, makes the hollowness of her absence grow.

    Fuck, what has she done to me?

    She’s so damn infuriating, always trying to push my buttons. It’s like she literally sits around and devises new ways to enrage me. Matter of fact, she probably does. She’s probably sitting cross-legged on the bed with that stupid fucking planner on her lap, a pen between her teeth and another behind her ear, coming up with things to do or say that will drive me insane.

    Six months we’ve been together now—six months. That’s a long-ass time, longer than I ever thought I could stand to spend with one person. Granted, we haven’t been dating the entire time, and a lot of those months were spent—no, my trying to stay away from her.

    Richard’s voice breaks my thoughts. “This is Nancy.”

    I nod at the woman and stare back down at the dark wood of the bar top.

    “Nancy, this well-mannered young man is Hardin. He’s Tessie’s boyfriend,” he proudly says.

    Why would he be proud of me dating his daughter?

    “Tessie has a boyfriend! Is she here? I’d love to finally meet her. Richard here has told me so much about her!”

    “She isn’t here,” I grumble.

    “That’s too bad; how did her birthday party go? It was last weekend, right?” she asks.


    Richard looks to me, clearly imploring me to go along with some lie he’s obviously told. “Yeah, it was nice,” he answers for me before gulping down the rest of his drink.

    “That’s nice,” Nancy says, then points toward the entrance. “Oh, there she is!”

    My eyes dart to the door, and for a moment I think she’s talking about Tessa, but that wouldn’t make sense. She’s never met her. Instead a too-thin blonde walks across the small room and over to us. This dive bar is getting too damn crowded.

    I hold my empty glass in the air. “Another.”

    After an eye roll and a whispered “Asshole,” I’m given another drink.

    “This is my daughter, Shannon,” Nancy informs me.

    Shannon looks me up and down with eyes that appear to have spiders stuck to them. This chick is wearing way too much makeup.

    “Shannon, this is Hardin.” Richard speaks, but I don’t make any motion toward greeting her.

    Many months ago I probably would have paid at least a little attention to the desperate girl. I maybe would have even let her blow me in the disgusting bathroom here, but now I just want her to stop fucking staring at me.

    “I don’t think it’ll go any lower without taking it off,” I say regarding the obnoxious way she keeps tugging at the hem of her shirt to show off the small bit of cleavage she can manage.

    me?” she huffs, placing her hands on her narrow hips.

    “You heard me.”

    “Okay, okay. Let’s all just settle down here,” Richard says, putting his hands in the air.

    With that, Nancy and her slutty daughter walk away to find a table.

    “You’re welcome,” I say to him, but he shakes his head.

    “You’re an unpleasant son of a bitch.” Before I can react, he adds, “Just how I like ’em.”


THREE DRINKS LATER, I can barely sit on the bar stool. Richard, who obviously drinks for a living, literally, appears to have the same problem, as he’s leaning way too close to me.

    “So then when I get out the next day, I had to walk two miles! Of course it started raining . . .”

    He continues on, telling me about the last time he was arrested. I continue to drink and pretend that he isn’t talking to me.

    “If I’m supposed to keep your secret, you should at least tell me why you told Tessie you were expelled,” he says at last.

    I somehow knew he would wait until I was full-on drunk to bring this up again. “It’s easier if she thinks that,” I admit.

    “How’s that?”

    “Because I want her to go to England with me, and she isn’t exactly thrilled with the idea.”

    “I don’t get it.” He pinches the bridge of his nose.

    “Your daughter wants to leave me, and I can’t let that happen.”

    “So you tell her you got kicked out of school so she’ll go to England?”


    He looks down at his drink, then over at me. “That’s really stupid.”

    “I know.” And it does sounds really fucking stupid when spoken out loud, but it somehow makes sense inside my fucked-up head.

    “Who are you to give advice to me, anyway?” I say to him at last.

    “No one. All I’m saying is you’ll end up just like me if you keep it up.”

    I want to tell him to fuck off and mind his own damn business, but when I look up at him I see the resemblance I noted when we first sat down at the bar. Fuck.

    “Don’t tell her,” I remind him.

    “I won’t.” Then he turns to Betsy. “Another round.”

    She smiles at him and begins to make our drinks. I don’t think I can handle another.

    “I’m good. Right now you have three eyes,” I tell him.

    He shrugs. “More for me.”

    I’m a shit I think to myself, wondering what Tessa—is doing right now.

    “I’m a shit father,” Richard says.

    I’m too drunk to comprehend the difference between thinking and speaking, so I don’t know if him saying this is coincidence or I was speaking out loud—

    “Move down,” a gruff male voice says to the left of Richard.

    I glance over to see a short man with an even fuller beard than my drinking companion’s.

    “There aren’t any more stools, partner,” Richard replies slowly.

    “Well, then you better move,” the man threatens.

    Fuck, not this. Not now.

    “We aren’t moving.” I dismiss the man.

    The man then makes the mistake of grabbing Richard by the collar and roughly yanking him upright.