Chapter Ten

After We Fell

chapter ten




The walk back to my car after yoga feels much longer than usual. The heaviness of Hardin’s expulsion and the move to Seattle were lifted from me during meditation, but now, outside the walls of the classroom, the weight is back and multiplied by ten.

    As soon as I begin to pull out of the parking spot, my phone vibrates on the passenger seat. Hardin.

    “Hello?” I stop and shift the gear into park.

    But it’s a woman’s voice that barks through the speaker, and my heart stops. “Is this Tessa?”


    “Good, I’ve got your father and . . .”

    “Her . . . boyfriend . . .” I hear Hardin groan in the background.

    “Yeah, your she says snidely. “I’m gonna need you to pick these two up before someone calls the cops.”

    “Calls the cops? Where are they?” I shift back into drive.

    “Dizzy’s on Lamar Avenue; you know the place?”

    “No, but I’ll Google it.”

    “Huh. Of course you will.”

    Ignoring her attitude, I hang up the phone and hastily get directions to the bar. Why the hell are Hardin and my father at a bar at three in the afternoon? Why the hell are Hardin and my father even together?

    This makes no sense to me—and what about the cops? What did they do? I should have asked the woman on the phone. I can only hope they didn’t get into a fight with each That’s the last thing any of us needs.

    My imagination has run wild by the time I make it to the bar, and has concluded that Hardin’s either murdered my father or vice versa. There are no cop cars outside the small bar, which is a good sign, I suppose. I park directly in front of the building and hurry inside, wishing I had worn a sweatshirt instead of a T-shirt.

    “There she is!” my father calls out jubilantly.

    I can tell he’s loaded as he stumbles over to me.

    “You should have seen it, Tessie!” He claps his hands. “Hardin just whooped some serious ass!”

    “Where is he—” I start, but right then a bathroom door opens and Hardin walks out, wiping his bloody hands on a red-stained paper towel.

    “What happened?” I yell to him from the opposite side of the room.

    “Nothing . . . calm down.”

    I gape as I walk over to him. “Are you I ask, then twist slightly to look at his eyes: bloodshot.

    He looks off to the side. “Maybe.”

    “This is unbelievable.” I cross my arms as he tries to take my hand.

    “Hey, you should be thanking me for having your dad’s back. He’d be on the floor right now if it wasn’t for me.” He points to a man sitting on the floor holding a bag of ice against his cheek.

    “I won’t be thanking you for anything—you’re drunk in the middle of the afternoon! And with my father, of all people. What the hell is wrong with you?” I storm away from him, back toward the bar, where my father is now sitting.

    “Don’t be mad at him, Tessie; he loves you.” My father is defending him.

    What the hell is going on here?

    As Hardin walks over, I ball my fists at my sides and shout, “So what, you two get drunk together and now you’re best friends? Neither of you should even be drinking!”

    “Baby,” Hardin says into my ear and attempts to wrap his arm around me.

    “Hey,” the woman behind the bar says, knocking on the counter to get my attention. “You gotta get them out of here.”

    I nod at her and glare at the drunken idiots who are my lot. My father’s cheek is pink, giving the impression he was hit, and Hardin’s hands are already swelling.

    “You can come to our house for tonight so you can sober up, but this isn’t acceptable behavior.” I want to scold them both, like the children they are. “For either of you.”

    I exit the smelly little space and am at the car before they make it to the door. Hardin scowls at my father as the older man tries to rest an arm on his shoulder. I get into my car, disgusted.

    Hardin’s intoxication puts me on edge. I know how he is when he’s drunk, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him this drunk before, not even that night he destroyed all the china. I miss the days when Hardin didn’t drink anything but water at parties. We have a list of problems right now, and him drinking only adds fuel to the flames.


APPARENTLY, MY FATHER has graduated from being an angry drunk to one who tells endless jokes, most of which are tasteless and obnoxious. The whole ride home he laughs too hard at his own words, with Hardin joining him every now and then. This isn’t how I envisioned this day at all. I don’t know what it was that made Hardin warm up to my father, but now that they’re both drunk in the middle of the day, I don’t like their “friendship” at all.

    When we get home, I leave my father in the kitchen eating more of Hardin’s Frosted Flakes and head for the bedroom—where most of our arguments seem to begin and end.

    “Tessa,” Hardin begins as soon as I close the door.

    “Don’t,” I say coldly.

    “Don’t be mad at me—we were just having a drink.” His tone is playful, but I’m not in the mood for it.

    “ ‘Just having a drink’? With my father—an alcoholic who I’m trying to build a relationship with, who I wanted to maybe think about getting sober. That’s who you were ‘just drinking’ with?”

    “Baby . . .”

    I shake my head. “Don’t you ‘baby’ me. I’m not okay with this.”

    “Nothing happened.” He wraps his fingers around my arm to pull me to him, but when I pull away it causes him to stumble to the bed.

    “Hardin, you got in a fight again!”

    “Not a big one. Who cares?”

    “I do. I care.”

    He looks up at me from his place on the edge of our bed, his green eyes laced with red, and says, “Then why are you leaving me? If you care so much?”

    My heart sinks a little farther into my chest.

    “I’m not leaving you; I’m asking you to come with me.” I sigh.

    “But I don’t want to,” he whines.

    “I know, but this is the one thing I have left—apart from you, of course.”

    “I’ll marry you.” He reaches for my hand, but I step back.

    My breath hitches. I’m sure I couldn’t have heard that correctly. I raise my hands, blocking him from coming closer.

    “I said I’ll marry you if you choose me.” He stands up, stepping toward me.

    The words, even though they’re meaningless because of the amount of alcohol coursing through him, still excite me. “You’re drunk,” I say.

    He’s only offering marriage because he’s drunk, which is worse than not offering at all.

    “So? I still mean it.”

    “No, you don’t.” I shake my head and dodge his touch again.

    “Yes, I do—not now, of course, but in like . . . six years or so?” He scratches his thumb across his forehead, thinking.

    I roll my eyes. Despite my fluttering heart, this last bit of hedging, offering to marry me in a vague “six years or so,” shows that reality is creeping back into his thoughts, even as he drunkenly tries to convince me otherwise. “We’ll see how you feel about this tomorrow,” I say, knowing he surely won’t remember it tomorrow.

    “Will you be wearing those pants?” His lips form a wicked smile.

    “No; don’t even start talking about these damn pants.”

    “You’re the one who wore them. You know how I feel about them.” He looks down at his lap, then points at it and looks up waggling his eyebrows.

    Playful, teasing, drunk Hardin is sort of adorable . . . but not adorable enough to make me lose my ground.

    “Come here,” he begs, mock-frowning.

    “No. I’m still upset with you.”

    “Come on, Tessie, don’t be mad.” He laughs and rubs his eyes with the back of his hands.

    “If either of you calls me that one more time, I swear—”

    “Tessie, what’s wrong, Tessie? You don’t like the name Tessie, Tessie?”

    Hardin grins wide, and I feel my resolve fading the longer I stare at him.

    “Are you going to let me take those pants off of you?”

    “No. I’ve a lot to do today, and none of those things involve you taking my clothes off. I would ask you to come along, but you decided to get wasted with my father, so I have to go alone.”

    “You’re going somewhere?” His voice is smooth yet raspy, thick from the liquor.


    “You’re not wearing that, though, right?”

    “Yes, I am. I can wear whatever the hell I want to wear.” I grab a sweatshirt and head for the door. “I’ll be back later; don’t do anything stupid, because I won’t bail you or my father out of jail.”

    “Sassy. I like it, but I can think of something else to do with that smart mouth of yours.” When I ignore his crude remark, he coos, “Stay with me.”

    I quickly leave the room and the apartment before he can persuade me to stay. I hear him call “Tessie” as I reach the door and have to cover my mouth to hide the giggle that escapes. This is my problem: when it comes to Hardin, my brain doesn’t see the difference between right and wrong.