Chapter One Hundred and Thirty-One

After We Fell


one hundred and thirty-one




I still can’t believe you both came,” Trish says to me. She hands me a cup of coffee—black, just the way I like it—and I smile at her thoughtfulness. She’s a beautiful woman, with bright eyes and an equally bright smile—and she’s dressed in a deep blue tracksuit.

    “I’m so glad we could make it,” I tell her. I take a glance at the clock on the oven; already 10 p.m. The long flight and time change have thrown me off.

    “Me, too. If it wasn’t for you, I know he wouldn’t be here.” She places her hand over mine. Unsure how to respond, I smile. She catches on to my discomfort and changes the subject.

    “How was the flight? Did Hardin behave?” Her laugh is gentle, and I don’t have the heart to tell her that her son was a complete tyrant throughout the security scan and half of the flight.

    “He was fine.” I take a sip of the steaming coffee just as Hardin joins us in the kitchen. The house is old and cramped, too many walls close off too much of the space. The only decorations are brown moving boxes piled in the corners, but I feel oddly comfortable and at ease in Hardin’s childhood home. I can tell by the look on his face when he leans down to walk under the archway leading to the kitchen that he doesn’t feel the same way about this house. These walls hold too many memories for him, and instantly my impression of the place begins to dim.

    “What’s with the wallpaper?” he asks.

    “I was removing it all to paint before selling, but the new owners are planning to tear the house down anyway. They want to build an entirely new home on the lot,” his mother explains. I like the idea of the house being demolished.

    “Good, it’s a shit house anyway,” he grumbles and picks up my coffee cup to take a sip. “Are you tired?” He turns to me.

    “I’m fine,” I say, meaning it. I enjoy Trish’s humor and warm company. I’m tired, but there’ll be plenty of time to sleep. It’s still fairly early.

    “I’ve been staying at Mike’s house, next door. I assumed you wouldn’t want to stay there.”

    “Obviously not,” Hardin replies. I take my coffee back from him, giving him a silent plea to be polite to his mother.

    “Anyway”—Trish ignores his rude remark—“I have plans for her tomorrow, so I hope you can occupy yourself.”

    It takes me a moment to realize she’s referring to me.

    “What sort of plans?” Hardin doesn’t seem pleased with the idea.

    “Just prewedding things. I have an appointment for us at a spa in town, and then I’d love it if she’d go with me to the last fitting of my wedding dress.”

    “Of course,” I say at the same time that Hardin asks, “How long will that take?”

    “Just the afternoon, I’m sure,” Trish assures her son. “That’s only if you want to accompany me, Tessa. You don’t have to, I just thought it would be nice for us to spend some time together while you’re here.”

    “I’d love to.” I smile at her. Hardin doesn’t argue, which is good, because he would have lost.

    “I’m glad.” She smiles, too. “My friend Susan will be joining us for lunch. She’s dying to meet you, she’s been hearing about you for so long that she doesn’t believe you exist, she—”

    Hardin begins to choke on his coffee, interrupting his mother’s excited rambling.

    “Susan Kingsley?” He eyes Trish, his shoulders tight and his voice shaky.

    “Yes . . . well, her name is no longer Kingsley, she’s remarried.” Trish stares back at him in a way that makes me feel like I’ve wandered into some sort of private conversation where I’m not wanted. Hardin stares back and forth between his mother and the wall before turning on his heel and leaving us alone in the kitchen.

    “I’m going to head next door now for bed. If you need anything, let me know.” The excitement in her voice has faded; she sounds drained. Trish leans over and gives me a quick kiss on the cheek before opening the back door and stepping outside.

    I stand alone in the kitchen for a few minutes, finishing my coffee, which is pointless, because I need to go to sleep, but I finish it anyway and rinse the cup out in the sink before heading up the staircase to find Hardin. The upstairs hall is empty; torn wallpaper hangs on one side of the narrow passageway, and I can’t help but compare Ken’s magnificent house to this one; the differences are impossible to ignore.

    “Hardin?” I call for him. All the doors are closed, and I don’t feel comfortable opening them without knowing what’s on the other side.

    “Second door,” he calls back. I follow his voice to the second door along the hallway and push it open. The handle sticks, and I have to use my foot to get the wood to budge.

    Hardin is sitting on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands, when I enter. He looks up at me, and I walk over to him.

    “What’s wrong?” I ask, running my fingers through his messy hair.

    “I shouldn’t have brought you here,” he says, taking me by surprise.

    “Why?” I sit down on the bed next to him, keeping a few inches between our bodies.

    “Because”—he sighs—“. . . I just shouldn’t have.” He lies back against the mattress and throws his arm over his face, so I’m unable to read his expression.

    “Hardin . . .”

    “I’m tired, Tessa, go to sleep.” His voice is muffled by his arm, but I know that this is his way of ending the conversation.

    “Aren’t you going to change?” I press, not wanting to go to bed without his shirt.

    “No.” He rolls over onto his stomach and reaches up to shut off the light.