Chapter Seventeen

After We Fell

chapter seventeen




Hardin and my father are both seated at the kitchen table when I emerge from the bathroom, Hardin’s phone in hand.

    “I’m wilting away here, babe,” Hardin says when I reach them.

    My father looks over sheepishly. “I could eat . . .” he begins, like he’s unsure.

    I place my hands on the top of Hardin’s chair and he leans his head back, his damp hair touching my fingers. “Then I suggest you make yourself something to eat,” I say and place his phone in front of him.

    He looks up at me with a completely neutral expression. “Okay . . .” he says and gets up and goes to the refrigerator. “Are you hungry?” he asks.

    “I have my leftovers from Applebee’s.”

    “Are you upset with me about taking him drinking today?” my father asks.

    I look over at him and soften my tone. I could tell what my dad was like when I invited him in. “I’m not upset, but I don’t want it to become a regular thing.”

    “It won’t. Besides, you’re moving,” he reminds me, and I look across the table at the man I’ve only known for two days now.

    I don’t reply. Instead I join Hardin at the fridge and pull the freezer door open.

    “What do you want to eat?” I ask him.

    He looks at me with wary eyes, clearly trying to assess my mood. “Just some chicken or something . . . or we can order some takeout?”

    I sigh. “Let’s just order something.” I don’t mean to be short with him, but my mind is whirling with possibilities of what was on his phone that he felt needed to be deleted.

    Once ordering food becomes the plan, Hardin and my father begin bickering over Chinese or pizza. Hardin wants pizza, and he wins the argument by reminding my father who will be paying for it. For his part, my father doesn’t seem offended by Hardin’s digs. He just laughs or flips him off.

    It’s a strange sight, really, to watch the two of them. After my father left, I would often daydream about him when I saw my friends with their fathers. I had created a vision of a man who resembled the man I grew up with, only older, and definitely not a homeless drunk. I had always thought of him carrying an attaché case stuffed with important documents, walking to his car in the morning, coffee mug in hand. I didn’t imagine he’d still be drinking, that he’d be ravaged by it like he’s been, and that he’d be without a place to live. I can’t picture my mother and this man being able to hold a conversation, let alone spending years married to each other.

    “How did you and my mother meet?” I say, suddenly voicing my thoughts.

    “In high school,” he answers.

    Hardin grabs his phone and leaves the room to order the pizza. Either that or to call someone and then quickly delete the call log.

    I sit at the kitchen table across from my father. “How long were you dating before you got married?” I ask.

    “Only about two years. We got married young.”

    I feel uncomfortable asking these questions, but I know I wouldn’t have any luck getting the answers from my mother. “Why?”

    “You and your mom never talked about this?” he asks.

    “No; we never talked about you. If I even tried to bring the subject up, she shut down,” I tell him, and watch his features transform from interest to shame.


    “Sorry,” I say, though I’m not sure what I’m apologizing for.

    “No, I get it. I don’t blame her.” He closes his eyes for a moment before opening them again. Hardin strolls back into the kitchen and sits down next to me. “To answer your question, we got married young because she got pregnant with you, and your grandparents hated me and tried to keep her away from me. So we got hitched.” He smiles, enjoying the memory.

    “You got married to spite my grandparents?” I ask with a smile.

    My grandparents, may they rest in peace, were a little . . . intense. Very intense. My childhood memories of them include being shushed at the dinner table for laughing and being told to take my shoes off before walking on their carpet. For birthdays, they would send an impersonal card with a ten-year savings bond inside—not an ideal gift for an eight-year-old.

    My mother was essentially a clone of my grandmother, only slightly less poised. She tried, though; my mother spends her days and nights trying to be as perfect as she remembers her own mother being.

    I suddenly think, as perfect as she imagines her being.

    My father laughs. “In a way, yes, to piss them off. But your mother always wanted to be married. She practically dragged me to the altar.” He laughs again, and Hardin looks at me before laughing as well.

    I scowl at him, knowing he’s concocting some snarky comment about me forcing him into marriage.

    I turn back to my dad. “Were you against marriage?” I ask.

    “No. I don’t remember, really; all I know is I was scared as hell to have a baby at nineteen.”

    “And rightfully so. We can see how that worked out for you,” Hardin remarks.

    I shoot him a glare, but my father only rolls his eyes at him.

    “It’s not something I recommend, but there are a lot of young parents that can handle it.” He lifts his hands up in resignation. “I just wasn’t one of them.”

    “Oh,” I say. I can’t imagine being a parent at my age.

    He smiles, clearly open to giving me what answers he can. “Any more questions, Tessie?”

    “No . . . I think that’s all,” I say. I don’t exactly feel comfortable around him, though in a strange way I feel more comfortable than I would if my mother were sitting here instead of him.

    “If you think of any more, you can ask me. Until then, do you mind if I take another shower before dinner comes?”

    “Of course not. Go ahead,” I say.

    It seems like he’s been here longer than two days. So much has happened since he appeared—Hardin’s expulsion/nonexpulsion, Zed’s appearance in the parking lot, my lunch with Steph and Molly, the ever-disappearing call log—just too much. This overstressful, constantly growing pile of issues in my life doesn’t appear to be letting up anytime soon.

    “What’s wrong?” Hardin asks when my father disappears down the hall.

    “Nothing.” I stand up and take a few steps before he stops me by touching my waist and turning me around to face him.

    “I know you better than that. Tell me what’s wrong,” he softly demands, placing both hands on my hips.

    I look him dead in the eyes. “You.”

    “I . . . Talk,” he demands.

    “You’re acting weird, and you deleted your text messages and calls.”

    His features twist in annoyance, and he pinches the bridge of his nose. “Why would you be looking through my phone, anyway?”

    “Because you’re acting suspicious, and—”

    “So you go through my shit? Didn’t I tell you before not to do that?”

    The look of indignation on his face is so brazen, looks so practiced, that my blood gets boiling. “I know I shouldn’t be going through your things—but you shouldn’t give me a reason to. And if you don’t have anything to hide, why would you care? I wouldn’t mind if you looked through my phone. I have nothing to hide.” I dig mine out of my pocket and hold it out. Then I start to worry that maybe I didn’t delete the text from Zed on there and I panic, until Hardin waves it away like my trust is a gnat.

    “You’re just making up excuses for how psychotic you are,” he says, his words burning me.

    I don’t have anything to say. Well, actually, I have a lot to say to him, but no words come from my mouth. I push his hands from my hips and storm off. He said he knows me well enough to sense when something’s wrong with me. Well, I know him well enough to sense when he’s close to being caught at something. Whether it be a small lie or a bet for my virginity, the same thing happens each time: first he acts suspicious, then when I bring it up to him he gets angry and defensive, and finally he spits harsh words at me.

    “Don’t walk away from me,” he bellows from behind me.

    “Don’t follow me,” I say and disappear into the bedroom.

    But he appears in the doorway a second later. “I don’t like you going through my shit.”

    “I don’t like feeling like I have to.”

    He closes the door and leans his back against it. “You don’t have to; I deleted that stuff because . . . it was an accident. It’s nothing for you to be all worked up over.”

    “Worked up? You mean ‘psychotic’?”

    He sighs. “I didn’t really mean that.”

    “Then stop saying things you don’t mean. Because then I can’t tell what’s true and what’s not.”

    “Then stop going through my shit. Because then I can’t tell if I should trust you or not.”

    “Fine.” I sit down at the desk.

    “Fine,” he repeats and sits down on the bed.

    I can’t decide if I believe him or not. Nothing adds up, but in a way it does. Maybe he did delete the texts and calls by accident, and maybe he was talking to Steph on the phone. The bits and pieces of the conversation that I caught fuel my imagination, but I don’t want to ask Hardin about it because I don’t want him to know I overheard them. It’s not like he’d tell me what they talked about anyway.

    “I don’t want there to be secrets between us. We should be past that,” I remind him.

    “I know, There aren’t any secrets; you’re being crazy.”

    “Stop calling me crazy. You of all people shouldn’t be calling anyone that.” I regret the words as soon as they’re out, but he doesn’t seem fazed.

    “I’m sorry, okay? You’re not crazy,” he says, then smiles. “You just go through my phone.”

    I force a smile in return and try to convince myself that he’s right, that I’m being paranoid. Worst-case scenario, he’s hiding something from me. I’ll find out eventually, so there isn’t any point in obsessing over it now. I’ve found out everything else.

    I mentally repeat the logic over and over until I’m convinced.

    My father yells something from the other room, and Hardin says, “I think the pizza’s here. You’re not going to be mad at me all night, are you?”

    But he leaves the room without giving me a chance to answer.

    I swivel on my seat and look at where I laid my phone on the desk. Curious, I check it, and sure enough, I have another new text from Zed. I don’t bother to read it this time.


THE NEXT DAY is my last at the old office, and I drive slower than usual to work. I want to take in every street, every building on the way. This paid internship has been a dream come true. I know I’ll be working for Vance in Seattle, but this area is where it started, where my career started.

    Kimberly is sitting at her desk when I step off the elevator. Multiple brown boxes are stacked near the side of her desk.

    “Good morning!” she chirps.

    “Good morning.” My voice isn’t capable of sounding as cheery as hers. I’d come off nervous and awkward.

    “Ready for your last week here?” she asks as I fill a small Styrofoam cup with coffee.

    “Yes—my last actually. I’m going on a trip for the rest of the week,” I remind her.

    “Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Wow! Your last day! I should have gotten you a card or something.” She smiles. “But then, I could just give it to you next week at your new office.”

    I laugh. “Are you ready to go? When will you be leaving?”

    “Friday! Our new house is already unpacked and ready for us to arrive.”

    I’m quite certain that Kimberly and Christian’s new home is lovely, large and modern, much like the house they’re moving from. Kimberly’s engagement ring sparkles under the light, and I can’t help but stare at the beautiful band every time I see it.

    “I’m still waiting for the woman to call me back about my apartment,” I tell her, and she turns to look at me.

    “What? You don’t have an apartment yet?”

    “I do—I sent her the paperwork already. We just have to go over the details of the lease.”

    “You only have six days,” Kimberly says, looking panicked for me.

    “I know, I have it under control,” I assure her, hoping it’s true.

    If this had been happening a few months ago, I’d have had every detail of this move planned, but lately I’ve been too stressed to focus on anything, even the move to Seattle.

    “Okay; if you need help, just let me know,” she offers as she turns her attention to the phone ringing on her desk.

    When I get back to my office, there are a few empty boxes on the floor. I don’t have many personal items, so it shouldn’t take long to pack.

    Twenty minutes later, as I tape the last box closed, there’s a gentle knock at the door. “Come in,” I say loudly.

    For a moment I wonder if it’s Hardin, but when I turn around Trevor is standing in the doorway wearing light jeans and a plain white T-shirt. I’m always caught off guard when he’s dressed casually; I’m so used to seeing him in a suit.

    “Are you ready for the big move?” he asks as I attempt to lift a box that I packed too full.

    “Yeah, almost. Are you?” He walks over and picks up the box for me, placing it on the desk.

    “Thanks.” I smile and wipe my hands on the sides of my green dress.

    “I am. I’m heading out today as soon as I finish up here.”

    “That’s amazing. I know you’ve been ready to move to Seattle since last time we were there.”

    I can feel embarrassment spread over my cheeks as I watch it spread across his. “Last time we were there,” Trevor took me to a nice dinner, only to have me reject his kiss and then later be threatened and shoved by Hardin. I have no idea why I just brought that up.

    He looks at me blankly. “That was an interesting weekend. Anyway, I know you have to be pumped, too. You’ve always wanted to live in Seattle.”

    “Yeah, I can’t wait.”

    Trevor looks around my office. “I know it’s none of my business, but is Hardin moving to Seattle with you?”

    “No.” My mouth answers before my mind can catch up. “Well, I’m not sure yet. He says he doesn’t want to, but I’m hoping that he’ll change his mind . . .” I continue to ramble, the words coming out quickly, too quickly, and Trevor looks somewhat uncomfortable as he shoves his hands into his jean pockets before finally interrupting me.

    “Why wouldn’t he want to go with you?”

    “I’m not sure, really, but I hope he does.” I sigh and sit down in my leather desk chair.

    Trevor’s blue eyes meet mine. “He’s crazy if he doesn’t.”

    “He’s crazy either way.” I laugh, trying to diminish the growing tension in the room.

    He laughs, too, and shakes his head. “Well, I better finish up so I can get on the road. But I’ll see you in Seattle.”

    With a smile he leaves my office, and for some reason I feel slightly guilty. I reach for my phone and text Hardin, casually letting him know that Trevor stopped by my office. For once, Hardin’s jealousy appeals to me—maybe he’ll find himself too jealous of Trevor and decide to move to Seattle after all? It doesn’t seem likely, but I can’t help but hold on to the last thread of hope that he’ll change his mind. The clock is running out; six days is not very long for him to plan. He’d have to put in a transfer request, which shouldn’t be a problem, considering Ken’s position.

    Six days doesn’t seem long enough for me either, though I’m ready for Seattle. I have to be. This is my future, and I can’t center it around Hardin when he isn’t willing to compromise. I offered a fair plan: we move to Seattle first, and if it doesn’t work out, we can go to England. But he didn’t give it a second thought before declining. I’m hoping this whale-watching trip we have planned with his family will make him see that he can join me, Landon, Ken, and Karen in trying new things, that doing something fun and positive isn’t too difficult.

    Then again, this is Hardin I’m talking about, and nothing is easy when it comes to him.

    The phone on my desk rings, distracting me from my stressful thoughts about Seattle. “You have a visitor,” Kimberly says into my ear, and my heart leaps at the thought of seeing Hardin.

    It’s only been a few hours, but I always miss him when we’re apart. “Tell Hardin to come on back. I’m surprised he even waited for you to call me,” I say.

    Kimberly clicks her tongue. “Um, it’s not Hardin.”

    Maybe Hardin brought my father here? “Is it an older man with a beard?”

    “No . . . young guy . . . like Hardin,” she practically whispers.

    “Does he have bruises on his face?” I ask, despite the fact that I already know the answer.

    “Yeah; should I make him leave?”

    I don’t want to make her force Zed to leave, and he hasn’t done anything wrong, except to not listen to Hardin’s instructions to stay away from me. “No, it’s fine. He’s my friend. You can let him back.”

    Why would he come here? I’m sure it has something to do with me ignoring him, but I don’t understand what could be so urgent that he’d drive forty minutes to tell me.

    I hang up the phone and debate whether or not to text Hardin and tell him about Zed’s arrival. I toss my phone into my desk drawer and close it. Nearly the last thing I need is for Hardin to come here, since he won’t be able to control his anger and will surely cause a scene on my last day at work.

    The last thing I need is for him to get arrested, again.