Chapter Nineteen

After We Fell

chapter nineteen




As soon as the door shuts and Zed is gone—gone for good—I close my eyes and lay my head back against the chair. I don’t know what I’m feeling. All of my emotions are jumbled, swirling around me in a cloud of confusion. Part of me feels relieved to end this back-and-forth between Zed and me. But another, smaller part feels a significant loss. Zed is the only one of Hardin’s so-called friends who’s been there for me constantly, and it’s strange to realize that I’ll never see him again. The tears burn, unwelcomed, down my cheeks as I try to collect myself. I shouldn’t be crying over this. I should be happy that I can finally close the book on Zed, tuck it away, leaving it only to collect dust, never to be opened again.

    It’s not that I want to be with him, it’s not that I love him, it’s not that I would ever choose him over Hardin; it’s just that I do care for him, and I wish things had played out differently. I wish I would have kept our relationship strictly platonic—maybe then I wouldn’t have to completely cut him out of my life.

    I don’t know why he came back in here, but I’m glad he left before he could say anything to confuse me or hurt Hardin further.

    My office phone rings, and I clear my throat before answering. When I say “Hello,” I sound pathetic.

    Hardin’s voice carries through strong and clear. “Did he leave?”


    “Are you crying?”

    “I’m just . . .” I start.

    “What?” he implores.

    “I don’t know, I’m just glad it’s over.” I wipe at my eyes again.

    He sighs through the line and surprises me by simply saying, “Me, too.”

    The tears are no longer falling, but my voice is hideous. “Thank you”—I pause—“for being understanding about this.”

    That went much better than I’d expected, and I don’t know if I should be relieved or slightly worried. I decide to go with relieved and finish the last of my time at Vance as peacefully as possible.

    Around three, Kimberly stops by my office; behind her is a girl who I’m sure I’ve never seen at the office before.

    “Tessa, this is Amy, my replacement,” Kimberly says, introducing the quiet yet stunning girl.

    I get up from where I’m reading, trying to reassure Amy with a friendly smile. “Hi, Amy. I’m Tessa. You’ll love it here.”

    “Thank you! I already love it,” she says excitedly.

    Kim laughs. “Well, I just wanted to stop by your office while we were pretending to be taking a tour of the building.”

    “Oh yes. You’re teaching her to replace you, all right,” I tease.

    “Hey! Being engaged to the boss has its perks,” Kim jokes back.

    Beside her, Amy laughs, and then Kimberly leads her down another hallway. My last day here finally ends, and I find myself wishing it could have gone slower. I’m going to miss this place, and I’m slightly nervous to go home to Hardin.

    I take one last look around my first office. My eyes focus on the desk first. My stomach tightens as memories of Hardin and me on the desk flood my senses. It seems so extreme: having sex in an office when anyone could walk in at any moment. I was too distracted by Hardin to think of anything else . . . which seems to be a pattern in my everyday life.


ON THE WAY HOME I stop by Conner’s to get a few groceries—just enough to make dinner tonight, since we’re leaving in the morning. I’m excited but nervous about the trip. I hope Hardin can keep his temper in check for the two-day vacation with his family.

    Since that doesn’t seem likely, my next hope is that the boat is big enough for the five of us to have a little breathing room.

    Back at the apartment, I unlock the front door and push it open with my foot, picking up the grocery bags from the floor as I step inside. The living room is a mess; empty water bottles and food wrappers litter the coffee table. My father and Hardin sit on opposite ends of the couch.

    “How was your day, Tessie?” my father asks, craning his neck to look over at me.

    “Good. It was my last day there,” I tell him even though he already knows. I begin to clear their trash from the table and floor.

    “I’m happy you had a good day,” my father says.

    I look at Hardin, who doesn’t look at me. His gaze is fixed on the television screen.

    “I’m going to make dinner, then get in the shower,” I tell them, and my father follows me into the kitchen.

    As I unload the grocery bags and put the ground beef and box of taco shells on the counter, my father watches me with interest. At last, he says, “One of my friends said he can pick me up here later, if that’s okay. I know you’re leaving tomorrow for a few days.”

    “Yeah, that’s fine. We can drop you off in the morning if that would be better for you,” I offer.

    “No, you’ve already been so generous. Just promise me you’ll let me know when you get back from your trip.”

    “Okay . . . how will I get in touch with you?”

    He rubs the back of his neck. “Maybe just drive down Lamar? I’m usually out there.”

    “Okay, I will.”

    “I’ll go call him back now and let him know I’m ready.” He disappears from the kitchen.

    I hear Hardin teasing my father about the fact that he has to memorize phone numbers because he doesn’t own a phone, and I roll my eyes when my father begins the when-I-was-a-kid-no-one-had-cell-phones speech.

    Tacos with ground beef are easy to make and don’t require too much thought. I wish Hardin would come into the kitchen and talk to me, but I suppose it’s better if he waits until my father leaves. I set up the table for dinner and call for the two of them. Hardin enters first, barely making eye contact with me, followed by my father.

    As he sits, my father says, “Chad will be here soon to get me. I appreciate you guys letting me stay. It was mighty generous of you two.” He looks back and forth between Hardin and me. “Thank you so much, Tessie, H-bomb,” he adds. The way Hardin rolls his eyes at my father, I can tell this is some inside joke between them.

    “It’s no problem, really,” I tell him.

    “I’m just so glad we found each other again,” he says and starts eating his meal with an animated ferocity.

    “Me, too . . .” I smile, still not able to process that this man is my father. The man that I haven’t seen in nine years, the man who I had so many ill feelings toward, is just sitting in my kitchen eating with my boyfriend and me.

    I look over to Hardin, expecting a rude comment from him, but he says nothing and quietly eats his meal. His silence is driving me mad. I wish he’d just say something . . . anything, really.

    Sometimes his silence is far worse than his yelling.