Chapter Eighteen

After We Fell


chapter eighteen

 

TESSA

 

When I pull open the door to my office, Zed is standing in the hall like the angel of death. He’s dressed in a black-and-red-plaid sweatshirt, dark jeans, and sneakers. The swelling on his face hasn’t gone down much, but the bruising around the edges of his eyes and nose have lightened from dark purple to a greenish blue.

    “Hey . . . I’m sorry for coming here like this,” he says.

    “Is something wrong?” I ask and walk back over to my desk.

    He stands awkwardly in the doorway for a moment before stepping into the room. “No. Well, yes, I’ve been trying to talk to you since yesterday, but you haven’t been answering my texts.”

    “I know; it’s just that Hardin and I already have enough issues without me creating even more, and he doesn’t want me to talk to you anymore.”

    “You’re letting him tell you who you can talk to now?” Zed sits down in the chair directly in front of my desk, and I take a seat behind it. The way we’re seated gives an official, more serious tone to our conversation. It’s not uncomfortable, just too formal.

    I look out the window before answering.

    “No, it’s not like that. I know he’s a little overbearing and may go about things the wrong way, but I can’t say I blame him for not wanting me to be friends with you anymore. I wouldn’t want him to spend time with someone he has feelings for either,” I say, and Zed’s eyes widen.

    “What did you say?”

    Dammit. “Nothing, I just meant . . .” The air grows thick, and I could swear that the walls are closing in on me. Why did I just say that? Not that it isn’t true, but it won’t help the situation here.

    “You have feelings for me?” he asks, his eyes lighting up with each syllable.

    “No . . . well, I did. I don’t know,” I ramble, wishing I could slap myself for being so quick to speak without thinking.

    “It’s okay if you don’t, but you shouldn’t have to lie about it.”

    “I’m not lying; I did have feelings for you. I may still have some, honestly, but I don’t know. It’s all confusing to me. You always say the right things, and you’ve always been there for me. It would make sense if I did develop those feelings. I’ve told you before that I care about you, but we both know it’s a lost cause.”

    “Why’s that?” he asks. I’m not sure how many more times I can reject him before he understands where I’m coming from.

    “Because it’s pointless. I’ll never be able to be with you. Or anyone, for that matter. No one but him.”

    “You’re only saying that because he has you trapped.”

    I try to push down the anger that is slowly building as I listen to Zed’s words about Hardin. He’s certainly entitled to have ill feelings toward him, but I don’t like the way he’s insinuating that I have no power or control when it comes to my relationship.

    “No; I’m saying that because I love him. And as much as I don’t want to say it that boldly to you right now, I know that I have to. I don’t want to lead you on more than I already have. I know you don’t understand why I stay with him through all of this mess, but I love him so much, more than anything, and he doesn’t have me trapped. I want to be with him.”

    It’s true. Everything I just said to Zed is true. Whether Hardin comes to Seattle with me or not, we can try to make it work. We can use Skype, see each other on the weekends until he goes to England. Hopefully by then he won’t want to be away from me after all.

    Maybe the distance will make Hardin’s heart grow fonder, his tone softer. It may be the key to getting him to agree to move with me. Our history has proven that we aren’t very good at staying away from one another; whether deliberately or not, we always end up together in some way. It’s hard to remember a time when my days and nights didn’t revolve around this man. I’ve tried again and again to picture a life without him, but it’s nearly impossible.

    “I don’t think he gives you the chance to really think about what you want or what’s good for you,” Zed says with conviction, though his voice does crack. “He only cares about himself.”

    “And that’s where you’re wrong. I know you guys have some issues between the two of you, but—”

    “No, you don’t know about our issues at all,” he says quickly. “If you did—”

    “He loves me, and I him,” I interrupt. “I’m sorry that you were brought into the middle of this. I’m so sorry; I never wanted to hurt you.”

    He frowns. “You keep saying that to me, and yet it keeps happening.”

    I hate confrontation more than anything, especially when it involves hurting someone that I care for, but these things have to be said so that Zed and I can close the book on this . . . I’m not even sure how to categorize it. Situation? Misunderstanding? Bad timing?

    I look at Zed, hoping he can read the sincerity in my eyes. “It wasn’t my intention. I’m sorry.”

    “You don’t have to keep apologizing. I already knew this when I made the decision to come here. You made it pretty clear how you felt outside of the administration building.”

    “Then why did you come?” I ask softly.

    “To talk to you.” He looks around the room, then back at me. “Never mind. I don’t know why I came here, really.” He sighs.

    “Are you sure? You seemed pretty determined a few minutes ago.”

    “No. It’s pointless, like you said. I’m sorry for coming.”

    “It’s okay, you don’t have to apologize,” I tell him.

    We both keep saying I think.

    He points down at the boxes on the floor. “You’re still going, then?”

    “Yeah, I’m almost ready to leave.”

    The air between us has become incredibly thick, and neither of us seems to know what to say to the other. Zed stares out the window at the gray sky, and I stare at the carpet beyond him.

    At last he stands up and speaks, though I can barely hear his words through the sadness in his voice. “I better go, then. Sorry again for coming here. Good luck in Seattle, Tessa.”

    I stand up as well. “I’m sorry for everything. I wish things could’ve been different.”

    “So do I. More than you know,” he says and stands up from the chair.

    My heart aches for him. He’s always been so sweet to me, and I’ve done nothing but lead him on and reject him.

    “Have you made up your mind whether you’re going to press charges or not?” This isn’t the right time to be asking this, but I don’t think I’ll ever see or hear from him again.

    “Yeah, I’m not going to. I’m over this whole thing. There’s no point in dragging it out. And I did tell you that if you told me you didn’t want to see me again I would drop them, didn’t I?”

    Suddenly I feel like if Zed just looks at me in a certain way, I’ll probably start crying. “Yeah,” I quietly respond. I feel like Estella in Great toying with Pip’s emotions. My own Pip stands in front of me, caramel eyes fixed on mine. And this is a role I don’t really want to play.

    “I truly am sorry for everything. I wish we could be friends,” I say.

    “Me, too, but you’re not allowed to have friends.” He sighs, running his fingers over his bottom lip, pinching it in the middle.

    I decide not to comment on his statement: this isn’t about what I’m “allowed” to do. I do, however, make a mental note to discuss this perception that other people have with Hardin and make sure he understands that it bothers me that his attitude makes them think this about me.

    As if on cue, my office phone rings, breaking the silence between Zed and me. I hold my finger so he doesn’t leave and pick it up.

    “Tessa.” Hardin’s rough voice carries through. Shit.

    “Hey,” I say, my voice shaky.

    “Are you all right?”

    “Yeah, I’m fine.”

    “You don’t sound fine,” he says. Why does he have to know me so well?

    “I’m fine,” I assure him again. “Just distracted.”

    “Sure. Anyway, I need to know what you want me to do with your dad. I tried to text, but you weren’t answering me. I’ve got shit to do, and I don’t know if I should leave him here or what.”

    I look over at Zed. He’s standing by the window now, not looking at me. “I don’t know, can’t you take him with you?” My heart is racing.

    “No; hell, no.”

    “So leave him there,” I say, just wanting this conversation to end. I’m going to tell Hardin about Zed’s visit, but I can’t imagine how pissed he would be if he knew he was here now, and I sure as hell don’t want him to find out.

    “Fine, you can deal with him when you get here.”

    “Okay, well, I’ll see you when I get home—”

    Music begins to play through my office, and it takes me a minute to realize it’s coming from Zed. He reaches into his pocket and silences it, but not before Hardin notices.

    “What was that? Whose phone was that?” he demands.

    My blood suddenly runs cold, until I take a moment to think about this. I shouldn’t be so afraid or nervous for Hardin to know Zed’s here. I didn’t do anything wrong; he came, and he’s leaving. He already gets irritated when Trevor comes by my office, and Trevor’s a coworker and entitled to stop in anytime he wants.

    “Is fucking Trevor there?”

    “No, it’s not Trevor. Zed’s here,” I say and hold my breath.

    The line is silent. I look at the screen to make sure the call is still connected. “Hardin?”

    “Yeah,” he says and lets out a ragged breath.

    “Did you hear me?”

    “Yes, Tessa, I heard you.”

    Okay? Why isn’t he screaming through the phone or threatening to kill him yet?

    “We’ll talk about it later. Make him leave. Please,” he calmly requests.

    “Okay . . .”

    “Thank you, I’ll see you when you get home,” Hardin says and hangs up the phone.

    When I put my phone down, slightly bewildered, Zed turns to me and says, “Sorry, I know he’s going to freak out on you.”

    “No, he won’t. He’ll be fine,” I say back, knowing it’s not true, but it sounds good, anyway. Hardin’s reaction to Zed being in my office caught me off guard. I’d never have expected him to be so calm. I expected him to say he was on his way here. I sure hope he’s not.

    Zed walks toward the door again. “Okay. Well, I guess I should go.”

    “Zed, thank you for coming by. I probably won’t see you again before I leave.”

    He turns, and emotion flashes in his eyes, but it disappears before I can decide which emotion it was. “I won’t say meeting you hasn’t complicated my life, but I wouldn’t take it back. I’d go through all of this shit again—the fights with Hardin, the friendships I’ve lost, all of it. I would go through it again, for you,” he says. “I guess it’s just my luck; of course I can’t meet a girl who doesn’t already love someone else.”

    His words always get to me, always. He’s so sincere all the time, and I admire that about him.

    “Bye, Tessa,” he says.

    His words hold much more than a simple friendly goodbye, but I can’t project too much into them. If I say the wrong thing, or anything at all, I’ll only be leading him on, again.

    “Bye, Zed.” I half smile, and he takes a step toward me.

    For a moment I panic, thinking he’s going to kiss me, but he doesn’t. He wraps his arms around me in a strong but brief hug before placing a light kiss on my forehead. He steps away immediately after and grabs hold of the door handle, almost like it’s a cane.

    “Be careful, okay?” he says, opening the door.

    “I will. Seattle isn’t too bad.” I smile. I feel very resolved now, like I have finally given him the closure he needed.

    He frowns and turns to leave the room. As he closes the door behind him, I hear him say gently, “I’m not talking about Seattle.”