Chapter One Hundred and Forty-One

After We Fell


one hundred and forty-one




Where are you?” His angry voice booms down the hall, creeping into the kitchen. The front door slams, and I jump down from the kitchen chair, grabbing my book. My shoulder knocks into the bottle on the table, sending it crashing to the ground into too many pieces. The brown liquid covers the floor, and I hurry to hide it before he finds me and sees what I did.

    “Trish! I know you’re here!” He yells again. His voice is closer now. My small hands pull the towel from the stove and throw it onto the floor to cover the mess I made.

    “Where’s your mum?”

    I jerk back at the sound of his voice. “She’s . . . she’s not here,” I tell him, standing to my feet.

    “What the fuck did you do?” he shouts, pushing past me and seeing the big mess I made. I didn’t mean to make the mess. I knew he would be angry.

    “That bottle of scotch was older than you,” he says. I look up to his red face and he stumbles. “You broke my fucking bottle.” My dad’s voice is slow. It always sounds like this when he comes home lately.

    I back away, taking small steps. If I can just get to the stairs, I can get away. He’s too drunk to follow me. He fell down them last time.

    “What’s that?” His angry eyes focus on my book.

    I hug it tighter to my chest. No. Not this one, too.

    “Come here, boy.” He circles around me.

    “Please don’t,” I beg the man as he rips my favorite book from my hands. Miss Johnson says that I’m a good reader, better than anyone else in fifth year.

    “You broke my bottle, so I get to break something of yours.” He smiles. I back away as he tears the book in two and rips out the pages. I cover my ears and watch as Gatsby and Daisy float around the room in a white storm. He grabs some of the pages in the air and rips them into small pieces.

    I can’t be a baby, I can’t cry. It’s just a book. It’s just a book. My eyes are burning, but I’m not a baby, so I can’t cry.

    “You’re just like him, you know? With your stupid fucking books,” he slurs.

    Just like who? Jay Gatsby? He doesn’t read as much as me.

    “She thinks I’m stupid, but I’m not.” He grabs the back of the chair to keep from falling. “I know what she did.” Suddenly his face goes still, and I think my dad is going to cry.

    “Clean up this shit,” he groans and leaves me alone in the kitchen, kicking the binding of my book as he leaves.


“HARDIN! HARDIN, WAKE UP!” A voice calls me from my mum’s kitchen. “Hardin, it’s only a dream. Please wake up.”

    When my eyes fly open, I’m met with worried eyes and an unfamiliar-looking ceiling above my head. It takes me a moment to realize that I’m not in my mum’s kitchen after all. There’s no spilled scotch or ripped-up novel.

    “I’m so sorry for leaving you in here alone. I just went to get some breakfast. I didn’t think—” Her voice breaks off into a sob, and she wraps her arms around my sweat-covered back.

    “Shh . . .” I smooth her hair. “I’m fine.” I blink a few times.

    “Do you want to talk about it?” she quietly asks.

    “No, I can’t even remember it, really,” I tell her. The dream has turned blurry, fading out more with each stroke of her hand across the bare skin between my shoulder blades.

    I let her hold me for a few minutes before breaking away. “I got breakfast for you,” she says, wiping her nose with the sleeve of my sweatshirt she’s wearing. “Sorry.” She smiles shyly, holding the snot-covered sleeve up in front of me.

    I can’t help but laugh, my nightmare forgotten. “There have been worse things on that sweatshirt,” I cheekily remind her, trying to make her laugh. My thoughts travel back to when she jacked me off in the apartment while I was wearing said sweatshirt, and quite the mess was made.

    Her cheeks flush, and I reach for the tray of food next to her. She has piled it high with different types of bread, fruit, cheese, and even a small box of Frosted Flakes.

    “I had to fight an old woman for that.” She grins, nodding toward the cereal.

    “You did no such thing,” I tease her as she brings a grape to her lips.

    “I would have,” she insists.

    The mood has shifted drastically since our arrival in the middle of the night. “Did you change the flight?” I ask her and tear into the Frosted Flakes, not bothering to pour them into the small bowl she put on the tray.

    “I wanted to talk about that with you.” Her voice lowers. She didn’t change the flight. I sigh and wait for her to finish. “I talked to Christian last night . . . well, this morning.”

    Why? I told you—” I stand up, knocking the cereal box onto the tray.

    “I know you did, but just hear me out,” she begs.

    “Fine.” I sit back on the bed and wait for her explanation.

    “He said he’s really sorry and that he needs to explain all of this to you. I understand if you don’t want to hear it. If you don’t want to talk to either of them, Christian or your mother, I’ll get online and change the flight now. I just wanted to give you the option first. I know you care for him . . .” Her eyes begin to water again.

    “I don’t,” I assure her.

    “Do you want me to change the tickets?” she asks.

    “Yes,” I tell her. She frowns and leans over to lift my laptop from the nightstand next to the bed. “What else did he say?” I ask hesitantly. It doesn’t matter, but I’m curious.

    “The wedding is still on,” she informs me.

    What the fuck?

    “And he says he’s going to tell Kimberly everything and that he loves her more than his own life.” Tessa’s bottom lip begins to tremble at the mention of her betrayed friend.

    “Mike is fucking stupid, then—maybe he does belong with my mum after all.”

    “I don’t know what made him forgive her so quickly, but he did.” Tessa pauses and looks at me like she’s trying to gauge my mood. “Christian asked me to have you at least say goodbye to your mother before we leave. He knows you won’t go to the wedding, but he wants you to tell her goodbye.” She rushes the words.

    “Hell, no. No fucking way. I’m getting dressed and we’re getting the fuck out of this shithole.” I wave my hand around the overly expensive motel room.

    “Okay,” she agrees.

    That was easy. Too easy. “What do you mean, I ask her.

    “Nothing. I just meant okay. I understand if you don’t want to say goodbye to your mom.” She shrugs her shoulders and tucks her messy hair behind both ears.

    “You do?”

    “Yes.” She smiles a weak smile. “I know I’m hard on you sometimes, but I’m going to support you on this. You’re completely justified here.”

    “Okay,” I say, more than a little relieved. I thought she’d fight me and even try to force me to go to the wedding. “I can’t wait to go back.” I rub my fingers over my temples.

    “Yeah, me, too,” Tessa weakly replies.

    Where the fuck is she going to live? After what happened here she can’t just go back to Vance’s house, but she won’t come to my place either. I don’t know what she’s going to do, but I do know that I want to rip Vance’s fucking head from his body for making her return to the States complicated.

    I wish I could get her a job with me at Bolthouse, but it’s impossible. She’s not even a sophomore, and paying internships at publishing houses don’t come along every day, even to graduates. There’s no way she’ll find another, especially in Seattle, not until she’s further along in her degree, or even finished with it.

    I take the laptop from her hands to finish the task of changing our flight. I shouldn’t have agreed to come to the UK in the first place. Vance talked me into bringing Tessa, only to ruin the entire damn trip himself.

    “I just need to get the stuff from the bathroom and we can head to the airport,” Tessa says, tucking my dirty clothes into the top pocket of the suitcase. A defeated-looking frown covers her face, and her brows are drawn together. I want to smooth away the deep worry line between them. I hate the way her shoulders are slumped, and I know without a doubt that they’re bearing the burden of my troubles. I love Tessa and I love her compassion; I just wish she wouldn’t carry my problems along with her own. I can carry my problems myself.

    “Are you all right?” I ask her. She looks up and plasters the most unconvincing smile onto her face that I’ve ever seen.

    “Yeah, are you?” she asks back, her worry line deepening.

    “Not if you aren’t. Tessa. Don’t worry about me.”

    “I’m not,” she lies.

    “Tess . . .” I cross the room and stand in front of her, pulling the shirt from her hands that I’ve just watched her fold at least ten times within the last two minutes. “I’m fine, okay? I’m still pissed off and shit, but I know you’re worried that I’m going to snap. I won’t.” I look down at my busted hands. “Well, not again, anyway.” I correct myself with a small laugh.

    “I know. It’s just that you’ve been controlling your anger so well, and I don’t want anything to jeopardize your progress.”

    “I know.” I run my hand over my hair and try to think clearly without getting angry.

    “I’m really proud of you already, for how you handled that situation. Christian was the one who attacked you,” she says.

    “Come here.” I hold my arms out, and she graciously steps into them, nuzzling her face into my chest. “Even if he hadn’t come at me, the fight still would have happened. I know I’d have made the first move if he hadn’t,” I tell her. My hands move under the hem of her shirt, and she flinches at the coldness of my touch against the warm skin of her back.

    “I know,” she agrees.

    “Since you’re off until Wednesday, we’ll stay at my father’s house until you—” The vibrating of her cell phone interrupts me.

    Both of our eyes dart to the table. “I won’t answer it,” she announces.

    I let go of Tessa and grab her phone. Looking at the screen, I take a breath before answering. “Stop fucking harassing Tessa; if you want to talk to me, then you can call me. Don’t bring her into this shit,” I say before he can even say hello.

    “I did call you. You shut your phone off,” Christian says.

    “And why do you think that is?” I huff. “If I wanted to talk to you, I would have, but since I don’t, stop fucking bothering me.”

    “Hardin, I know you’re mad, but we need to talk about this.”

    “There isn’t anything to talk about!” I shout. Tessa watches with worried eyes as I try to control my temper.

    “Yes, there is. There’s a lot to talk about. All I’m asking for is fifteen minutes.” His voice is pleading.

    “Why should I talk with you?”

    “Because I know you feel betrayed and I want to explain myself. You’re important to me, and to your mom,” he says.

    “So now you two are forming some kind of united front against me? Fuck off.” My hands are shaking.

    “You can act like you don’t give a fuck about either of us, but your anger shows that you do.”

    I pull the phone away from my ear and have to stop myself from smashing it into pieces against the wall.

    “Fifteen minutes,” I hear him repeat. “The wedding isn’t scheduled to begin for a few hours. All the men are meeting for lunch at Gabriel’s bar. You should meet me there.”

    I bring the phone to my ear again. “You want me to meet you at a bar? Are you fucking stupid?” A drink sounds good right about now . . . the burn of hot whiskey on my tongue . . .

    “Not to drink, only to talk. A public place would be the best spot for us to meet, for obvious reasons.” He sighs. “We can meet somewhere else if you want.”

    “No, Gabriel’s is fine,” I agree. Tessa’s eyes go wide, and she tilts her head slightly, obviously confused by my change of heart. It’s not affection that makes me want to hear him out; it’s purely curiosity. He claims that there’s an explanation for all of this, and I want to hear it. Otherwise, my barely existent relationship with my mum won’t exist at all.

    “Okay . . .” I can tell he didn’t expect me to agree. “It’s noon now. I’ll meet you there at one.”

    “Sure,” I snap. I don’t know how this little meeting could possibly not end in blows.

    “You should bring Tessa by Heath—that’s where Kim and Smith will be. It’s only a few miles from Gabriel’s, and Kimberly could really use a friend right now.” I want to laugh at the note of shame in his voice. Fucking asshole.

    “Tessa will be coming with me,” I tell him.

    “Do you really want to bring her into a potentially violent situation . . . again?” he asks.

    Yes. Yes, I do. No, I don’t. I don’t want to be out of her sight, but she’s seen enough violence from me to last a lifetime.

    “You’re only saying that because you want her to comfort your fiancée after you fucking cheated on her,” I growl.

    “No.” Vance pauses. “I just want to talk to you alone, and I don’t think it would be especially wise of us to have either woman present.”

    “Fine. I’ll fucking meet you in an hour.” I hang up the phone and turn to Tessa. “He wants you to hang out with Kim while we talk.”

    “Does she know?” she quietly asks.

    “Sounds like it.”

    “Are you sure you want to meet with him? I don’t want you to feel like you have to.”

    “Do you think I should?” I ask her.

    After a moment, she nods. “Yes. I do.”

    “Then I’ll meet him.” I pace across the room.

    Tessa gets up from the bed and wraps her arms around my waist. “I love you, so much,” she says against my bare chest.

    “I love you.” I’ll never tire of hearing her say the words.


WHEN SHE STEPS out of the bathroom, I nearly choke on my breath. “Fuck.” I cross the room in three steps.

    “Does this look okay?” she asks, turning in a slow circle.

    “Um, yeah.” I nearly choke again. Okay? Is she fucking insane? The white dress that she wore to my father’s wedding looks even better on her now than it did then.

    “I could barely zip it.” She smiles, embarrassed. She turns around and lifts her hair off of her back. “Can you zip the rest?”

    I love that I’ve seen every inch of her hundreds of times, yet her cheeks still flush and she still holds on to some of her innocence. I haven’t completely tainted her.

    “Have you changed your mind? I don’t want you to be uncomfortable.” Tessa’s voice is soft.

    “Yes, I’m sure. All I’m doing is giving him fifteen minutes to listen to whatever bullshit he has to say.” I sigh. I sure as hell don’t want to go anywhere except to the damn airport, but after seeing the look on her face while she repacked that suitcase, I felt like I had to do this—not only for her, but for myself, too.

    “I look like a fucking bum next to you,” I tell her, and she smiles, her eyes running over my face and body.

    “Please!” She laughs. I look down at my black shirt and ripped jeans. “You could have shaved,” she comments with a smile. I can tell she’s nervous and she’s trying to lighten the mood. I couldn’t be further from nervous . . . I just want to get this shit over with.

    “You like this.” I take her hand and rub it along the stubble on my jaw. “Especially between your legs.” I bring her hand to my mouth and kiss her fingertips. She jerks her hand away as I wrap my lips around her index finger, and swats at my chest.

    “You never stop,” she playfully scolds me, and for a moment I forget about all of the bullshit.

    “Nope, and I never will.” I reach around to squeeze her ass with both hands, and she yelps.

    The drive to Hampstead Heath, where Kimberly and Smith are staying, and to the park where we’re meeting her, is nerve-racking. Tessa picks at her painted fingernails in the passenger seat and stares out the window.

    “What if he didn’t tell her? Should I?” she finally says as I pull through the gate. Despite her worry, I watch as her eyes take in the scenic view of the park. “Wow,” she says, sounding many years younger than her age.

    “I knew you’d like the Heath,” I say.

    “It’s beautiful. How could someplace like this be in the middle of London?” She gapes at the surrounding landscape, one of the few places in the city that haven’t been polluted by smog and office towers.

    “There she is . . .” I drive slowly toward the blonde who’s sitting on a bench. Smith is sitting on another bench about twenty feet away with a piece of a toy train on his lap. That little boy is so weird.

    “If you need anything at all, please call me. I’ll find my way to you,” Tessa promises before getting out of the car.

    “Same to you.” I gently pull her across the console to kiss her. “I mean it. If anything goes wrong, call me immediately,” I tell her.

    “I’m more worried for you,” she whispers against my lips.

    “I’ll be fine. Now go tell your friend how big of a shitbag her fiancé is.” I kiss her again.

    She frowns at me but stays quiet as she leaves the car and walks across the grass to meet Kimberly.