Chapter One Hundred and Twenty-Three

After We Fell


one hundred and twenty-three




The cold water blasts from the faucet onto my torn flesh. I stare down at the sink, watching as the red-stained water swirls around the metal drain.

    Again? This shit happened again? Of course it did; it was only a matter of time.

    I leave the bathroom door open so I can easily access the room across the hall if I hear any screaming. I have no fucking idea what I was thinking when I called that bitch. I shouldn’t call her that . . . but she is one, so . . . bitch it is. At least I’m not saying it in front of Tessa. When I called her, I could only think of Tessa’s blank expression and naive remarks, saying things like “he’s not doing drugs” as she tried to convince herself of what was obviously not true. I knew she’d come undone at any moment, and for some stupid fucking reason I thought her mum being here could possibly be of help.

    This is precisely why I don’t try to help people. I have no experience in it. I’m pretty damn excellent at fucking shit up, but I’m no savior.

    A flash of movement in the mirror catches my eye, and I look up to see Richard’s reflection staring back at me. He’s leaning against the narrow doorframe, his expression wary.

    “What? Did you come to try and shank me or something?” I say flatly.

    He sighs and runs his hands over his clean-shaven face. “No, not this time.”

    I scoff, half wishing that he would try and come at me. I’m certainly wound up enough for a brawl, or two.

    “Why didn’t either of you tell me?” Richard asks, obviously referring to the bet.

    Is he fucking serious?

    “Why would I tell you? And you sure as hell aren’t stupid enough to believe Tessa would tell her father—her absentee father—some shit like that.” I turn the faucet off and grab a towel to apply pressure to my knuckles; they’ve stopped bleeding, for the most part. I should learn to switch hands, punch with my right from now on.

    “I don’t know . . . I feel blindsided, I thought you two were just opposites attracting, but now . . .”

    “I’m not asking for your approval. Nor do I need it.” I walk past him and hurry down the hallway. I go and grab the bag of burned popcorn that still rests on the floor.

    “Let hers be the only voice in your head.” Landon’s words echo through my mind. I wish it were that easy, and maybe it will be one day . . . I sure as hell hope so.

    “I know you don’t; I just want to understand all this shit. As her dad, I feel obligated to beat your ass.” He shakes his head.

    “Right,” I say, wanting to remind him again that he hasn’t been her father for over nine years.

    “Carol was a lot like Tessa when she was young,” he says, following me into the kitchen.

    I recoil, and the bag nearly slips from my fingers. “No, she wasn’t.”

    There is no way in hell that this could be true. Honestly, I used to think Tessa was just like that prudish, bitchy woman, but now that I actually know her, I’m sure that it couldn’t be further from the truth. Her struggle to appear perfect is certainly the result of having the woman as her mother, but otherwise Tessa is nothing like her.

    “It’s true. She wasn’t quite as nice, but she wasn’t always . . .” He trails off, grabbing a bottled water from my fridge.

    “A bitch?” I finish his sentence for him. His eyes dart down the empty hallway as if he’s afraid she’s going to appear and toss him around again. I’d like to see that happen, actually . . .

    “She was always smiling . . . Her smile was something else. All the men wanted her, but she was mine.” He grins at the memory. I didn’t sign up for this shit . . . I’m no fucking counselor. Tessa’s mum is hot as hell, but she’s got a constant stick up her ass that someone needs to remove, or maybe the complete opposite . . .

    “Okay . . .” I don’t get the point here.

    “She had so much ambition and compassion then. It’s really fucked up, because Tessa’s grandma was just like Carol, if not worse.” He laughs at the thought, but I cringe. “Her parents hated, I mean hated me. They never hid it, either. They wanted her to marry a stockbroker, a lawyer—anyone except me. I hated them, too; may they rest in peace.” He looks up at the ceiling. As fucked up as it is to say, I’m grateful that Tessa’s grandparents aren’t around to judge me.

    “Well, obviously you two shouldn’t have been married, then.” I close the lid on the trash can, where I’ve just dropped the bag of popcorn, and lean my elbows on the counter. I’m frustrated with Richard and his stupid fucking habits, which are upsetting to Tessa. I want to kick his ass out and send him right back onto the streets, but he’s almost become like a piece of furniture in this apartment. He’s like an old couch that smells like shit and always creaks when you sit down on it, and it’s uncomfortable as shit, but for some reason you can’t throw it away. That’s Richard.

    His face falls, and he says softly, “We weren’t married.”

    I tilt my head slightly out of confusion. What? I know Tessa told me that they were . . .

    “Tessa doesn’t know. No one does. We were never married legally. We had a wedding to please her parents, but we never filed the paperwork. I didn’t want it.”

    “Why?” But maybe a more important question is, why am I so interested in this shit? Minutes ago I was imagining slamming Richard’s head through the drywall; now I’m participating in gossip like a fucking teenage girl. I should be listening at the door of my bedroom, making sure Tessa’s mum isn’t filling her head with bullshit to try to take her away from me.

    “Because marriage wasn’t for me”—he scratches his head—“or so I thought. We did everything as a married couple; she took my last name. I’m not quite sure how she pulled that off—I think it was like she thought that by doing it, I’d finally consent or something, but no one knew the sacrifices she made for my selfishness.”

    I wonder how Tessa would feel about this information . . . she’s so obsessed with the idea of marriage. Would this diminish her obsession, or fuel it?

    “Over the years, she grew tired of my behavior. We fought like cats and dogs, and let me tell you, that woman was relentless, but I took it from her. Once she stopped fighting me, that’s when I knew it was over. I watched the fire slowly die out in her over the years.” Looking at his eyes, I can see he’s removed himself from this room and launched himself into the past. “Every single night she would be waiting at the dinner table, her and Tessie both in dresses and hairpins, only for me to stumble in and complain about the burned edges of lasagna. Half the time I’d pass out before the fork hit my mouth, and every night ended with a fight . . . I can’t remember the half of it.” A visible shudder passes over him.

    A vision of a very young Tessa, all dressed up at the table, waiting excitedly to see her father after a long day, only to have him crush her, makes me want to reach out and strangle the man.

    “I don’t want to hear another word,” I warn him, meaning it.

    “I’ll stop now.” I can see the embarrassment plastered on his face. “I just wanted you to know that Carol wasn’t always like this. I did it to her. I made her the bitter, angry woman she is today. You don’t want history to repeat itself, do you?”