Chapter Fifteen

After We Fell


chapter fifteen

 

TESSA

 

The fact that Hardin is being reasonable surprises me, and I’m able to relax a little bit. He crosses his legs and leans back on his palms. I’m not sure if I should bring up Seattle now, since he seems to be in an easy mood, or if I should wait.

    But if I wait, who knows when he’ll be ready to talk about it.

    I glance at him, notice his green eyes watching me, and decide to ease into it. “Steph wants to have a going-away party,” I tell him and wait for his reaction.

    “Where’s she going? LSU?”

    “No. It’s for me,” I explain, leaving out the small detail of telling them he’s coming along to Seattle.

    He gives me a look. “You told them you’re moving?”

    “Yes. Why wouldn’t I?”

    “Because you haven’t decided yet, right?”

    “Hardin, I’m going to Seattle.”

    He shrugs nonchalantly. “You still have some time to think about it.”

    “Anyway . . . what do you think about this party? She said it could be a dinner-party-type get-together at Nate and Tristan’s place instead of the frat house,” I explain, but Hardin’s still intoxicated and he doesn’t seem to be listening to me. I look over my moving schedule for next week. I really hope Sandra calls me back soon about that apartment; otherwise I won’t have a place to live when I get there, and I’ll be stuck living out of a suitcase in some motel room. Ugh, motel rooms.

    “No, we aren’t going,” he surprises me by saying.

    I turn to him. “What? Why not? If it’s a dinner it won’t be so bad—no Truth or Dare or Suck and Go, you know?”

    He chuckles and looks up at me with amusement clear on his face. “Suck and Tess.”

    “You know what I mean! It’ll be the last time we—well, I see them, and they have sort of been my friends, in a really strange way.” I don’t want to think about the beginning of my “friendship” with the group.

    “Let’s just talk about it later. This shit is giving me a headache,” he groans.

    I sigh in defeat. I can tell by his tone that he’s not going to continue the discussion.

    “Come here.” He sits back down on the mattress and opens his arms to me.

    I close the planner and go to join him on the bed; as I stand between his legs, his hands move to my hips. He looks up at me with a crooked smile.

    “Aren’t you supposed to be mad at me or something?”

    “I’m getting overwhelmed, Hardin,” I admit.

    “Overwhelmed by what?”

    I throw up my arms. “Everything. Seattle, transferring to another campus, Landon leaving, your expulsion—”

    “I lied,” he says plainly and nuzzles his face into my stomach.

    What now? “What?” I thread my fingers through his hair and lift his head to look up at me.

    He shrugs. “I lied about the expulsion.”

    I take a step away from him; he tries to pull me back, but I don’t allow it. “Why?”

    “I don’t know, Tessa,” he says, and stands. “I was upset about you being outside with Zed and all this Seattle shit.”

    My mouth drops. “So you told me you were expelled because you were pissed at me?”

    “Yeah. Well, that and another reason.”

    other reason?”

    He sighs. “You’re going to be angry.” His eyes are still red, but he seems to be sobering up quickly.

    I cross my arms over my chest. “Yeah, probably. But tell me.”

    “I thought you’d feel bad for me and come to England.”

    I don’t know what to think about his confession. I should be upset. I am upset. I’m pissed the hell off. The nerve of him, to try and guilt me into moving to England with him. He should have just been honest from the start . . . but still I can’t help but feel a little better about finding it out straight from his mouth instead of the usual way his lies are revealed.

    He looks at me with questioning eyes. “Tessa . . . ?”

    I look at him and almost smile. “Honestly, I’m just surprised you came clean before someone else told me.”

    “Me, too.” He closes the distance between us, bringing his hand to my neck, the span of his fingers covering my jaw. “Please don’t be mad at me. I’m an asshole.”

    I blow out a harsh breath, but love his touch. “That’s a terrible defense.”

    “I’m not defending myself. I’m a dick. I know this, but I love you and I’m sick of all the shit. I knew you’d find out sooner or later anyway, especially with this dreadful trip with my father’s family.”

    “So you told me because you knew I’d find out?”

    “Yeah.”

    I pull my head back a little and look at him. “You would have kept it from me and still tried to force me to go to England with you out of pity?”

    “Basically . . .”

    What the hell am I supposed to say to that? I want to tell him he’s insane, that he’s not my father and needs to stop trying to manipulate me, but instead I just stand there with my mouth open like a fool. “You can’t try to force me into things by lying and manipulating me.”

    “I know it’s fucked up,” he says, with a look of worry in his green eyes. “I don’t know why I am the way I am. I just don’t want to lose you, and I’m desperate here.”

    I can tell by his expression that he really doesn’t understand how he’s been acting. “No, you don’t know. Otherwise you wouldn’t have lied.”

    Hardin puts his hands on my hips. “Tessa, I’m sorry, I really am. You have to admit that we’re both getting much better at this relationship shit.”

    He’s right; in a messed-up way we really are much better at communicating than we used to be. Far from a normal-functioning relationship, but normal has never been our thing.

    “So, the marriage thing—that isn’t going to make you come with me?”

    My heart beats uncontrollably in my chest, and I’m sure he can hear it. But I say simply, “We’ll talk about it when you’re not drunk.”

    “I’m not that drunk.”

    I smile and pat his cheek. “Too drunk for that type of conversation.”

    He smiles and pulls me closer. “When will you be back from Sandpoint?”

    “You’re not coming?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “You said you would. We’ve never traveled together before.”

    “Seattle,” he says, and I laugh.

    “Actually, you showed up there uninvited, and left the next morning.”

    He runs a hand through my hair. “Technicalities.”

    “I really want you to come. Landon is moving soon.” The thought of that alone pains me.

    “So?” he asks, shaking his head.

    “And your father would love it if you came, I’m sure.”

    “Oh, him. He’s just upset with himself because they gave me a bullshit fine and put me on academic probation; the slightest fuckup and I’m done.”

    “Then why not transfer to the Seattle campus with me?”

    “I can’t hear the word ‘Seattle’ again tonight; I’ve had a long day and have a headache from hell now . . .” He kisses my forehead.

    I snap my head back slightly, away from him. “You got drunk with my father and lied about being expelled—we’re talking about Seattle if I want to,” I say sharply.

    He smiles. “And you wore those pants out after teasing me with them, and didn’t answer my calls.” He runs his thumb along my bottom lip.

    “You don’t need to call me that many times. It’s suffocating. Molly even called you a stalker,” I say, but smile beneath his gentle touch.

    “Did she, now?” He continues tracing the outline of my lips, and they part involuntarily.

    “Yeah,” I breathe.

    “Hmm . . .”

    “I know what you’re doing.” I reach down and remove his other hand from my hip, where his fingers have begun to slip below the waistband of my pants.

    He smiles. “What’s that?”

    “You’re trying to distract me so I won’t be mad at you.”

    “How’s that working for me?”

    “Not well enough. Besides, my father is here, and there’s no way I’m having sex with you when he’s in the other room.” I reach around and smack him playfully on the butt.

    Which only makes him thrust himself against me a little. “Oh, you mean like when I fucked you right there”—he points to the bed—“while my mum was sleeping on the couch?” He thrusts gently against me again. “Or the time I fucked you in the bathroom at my father’s, or the multiple times I fucked you while Karen, Landon, and my father were just down the hall?” He reaches down and touches my thigh softly. “Oh, wait, you must mean like when I bent you over your desk at work—”

    “Okay! Okay! I get it, I get it.” I flush, and he laughs.

    “Come on, Tessie, lie down.”

    “You’re sick.” I laugh and step away from him.

    “Where are you going?” he says with a pout.

    “To see what my father’s doing out there.”

    “Why? So you can come back in here and—”

    “No! Gosh—go to sleep or something!” I exclaim. I’m glad he’s still being playful, but despite his confession, it’s still annoying that he lied to me and is being so stubborn about even really discussing Seattle.

    I thought for sure that when I got home from my late lunch at Applebee’s, he’d be furious at me for not answering his texts. I never suspected that we’d talk things out and he’d admit to lying about being expelled. Maybe Steph had reassured him that I was on my way, so he had time to calm down. Then again, Steph’s phone was on the table when I turned back around . . .

    “Did you say Steph didn’t answer when you called?” I ask.

    “Yes; why?” He looks at me, confused.

    I shrug, unsure what to say. “I’m just wondering.”

    “Why, though?” His tone is off.

    “I told her to tell you I was on my way, and I’m just wondering why she didn’t.”

    “Oh.” He looks away, reaching for a cup on the dresser. This whole conversation is so awkward—Steph not telling him that I was on my way, him avoiding my eyes.

    “I’m going out there. You can join us if you want.”

    “I will. I’m just going to change.”

    I nod and turn the door handle.

    “What about your dad, though? He just came back into your life, and you’re going to leave?” His words stop me in my tracks. It’s not like I hadn’t thought about it before, but Hardin lobbing that question at me like a missile when my back is turned doesn’t sit right with me.

    I take a moment to recover before leaving the room. When I get to the living room, my father is asleep again. Binge drinking at noon must be exhausting. I turn off the television and head to the kitchen for some water. Hardin’s words about leaving so soon after seeing my father again keep replaying in my mind. But the thing is, I can’t put my future on hold for a father whom I haven’t seen for nine years. If the circumstances were different I would consider rethinking this, but he’s the one who left me.

    When I get back to the bedroom door, I hear Hardin’s voice speaking from inside.

    “What the fuck was that shit today?” he says, his voice muffled.

    I press my ear to the door. I should just walk in, but I get the feeling I’m not supposed to hear the conversation. Which means I really should hear the conversation.

    “I don’t give a fuck, it shouldn’t have happened. Now she’s all upset and shit, and you’re supposed to . . .” I can’t make out the rest of the sentence.

    “Don’t fuck this up,” he snaps.

    Who is he talking to? And what are they supposed to be doing? Is it Steph? Or, worse, Molly?

    I hear his footsteps approaching the door, and I quickly scoot into the bathroom and close the door.

    Moments later, knuckles tap against the wood. “Tessa?”

    I open the door. I know I must appear flustered. My heart is pounding against my rib cage, and my stomach is in a knot. “Oh, hey. Was just finishing up in here,” I say, but my voice too small.

    Hardin cocks an eyebrow at me. “Okay . . .” He looks down the hall. “Where’s your dad? Is he asleep?”

    “Uh, yup,” I say, which makes him grin wide.

    “Well, c’mon back to the bedroom, then,” he says and takes my hand in his, turning and pulling me gently.

    As I follow Hardin back into the bedroom, paranoia begins to seep into my thoughts like a familiar friend.