Chapter Twenty-Seven

After We Fell


chapter twenty-seven

 

HARDIN

 

I know she’s exhausted—I can see it on her face each time I fuck up. The fight with Zed, the lie about the expulsion . . . every infraction takes a toll on her; she thinks I don’t notice, but I do.

    Why did I have to put Sandra on speakerphone? If I hadn’t done that, I could have cleaned this shit up and told her about my fuckup after I fixed it. That way she couldn’t be as upset.

    I wasn’t thinking about what Tessa would do when she found out, and I sure as hell wasn’t thinking about where she’d live if she didn’t change her mind about moving. I suppose I thought that being the control freak that she is, she’d postpone her trip if she didn’t have anywhere to stay.

    Way to fucking go, Hardin.

    I meant well—well, I didn’t at the time, but now I do. I know it’s fucked up for me to mess with her apartment in Seattle, but I’m grasping at straws here, trying to get her not to leave me. I know what will happen in Seattle, and it’s not going to end well.

    True to my nature, I take a swing at the wall next to the staircase.

    “Fuck!”

    True to my luck, I find out it’s not drywall. It’s real fucking wood, and hurts so much worse. I cradle my fist with my other hand and have to stop myself from repeating my idiotic reaction. I’m lucky it didn’t break anything. Sure, it will bruise, but what else is new.

    I’m sick of the endless cycle. I’ve told you before and you don’t listen. I stomp down the stairs and throw myself on the couch like a temperamental child. That’s what I am really, a fucking child. She knows it, I know it—hell, everyone fucking knows it. I should just print the shit on a goddamn T-shirt.

    I should just go up there and try to explain myself again, but honestly, I’m a little scared. I’ve never seen her so mad before.

    I need to get the hell out of here. If Tessa hadn’t forced me to ride with the entire fucking Partridge family, I could leave now and end this stupid-ass trip early. I didn’t even want to come in the first place.

    I guess the boat was sort of okay . . . but the trip in general is bullshit, and now that she’s mad at me, there’s literally no point in me being here. I stare up at the ceiling, unsure what I’m supposed to do now. I can’t just sit here, and I know if I do, I’ll end up back upstairs pushing Tessa further.

    I’ll take a walk. That’s what normal people do when they’re angry, not punch walls and break shit.

    I need to get some damn clothes on before I do anything, but I can’t go back up there or she’ll murder me, literally.

    I sigh as I get up. If I wasn’t so confused by Tessa’s behavior, I’d care more about what I’m about to do.

    The door to Landon’s room opens, and my eyes roll immediately. His clothes are stacked neatly on the bed; he must have been planning to dutifully put them away before his mum and my dad dragged him along with them.

    I sift through the hideous crap and desperately search for something that doesn’t have a fucking collar. Finally, I find a plain blue T-shirt and a pair of black sweatpants.

    Fucking lovely. I’ve now resorted to sharing clothes with Landon. I hope Tessa’s rage doesn’t last long, but for once I don’t know what will happen next. I hadn’t expected her to react half as bad as she did; it wasn’t really the words she used toward me, it was the way she looked at me the whole time. That look said more than she ever could and, in turn, scared me more than her words alone ever could.

    I glance at the door to what was our room up until twenty minutes ago, then head back down the stairs and out the door.

    I barely make it down the damn driveway before my favorite stepbrother appears. At least he’s alone.

    “Where’s my dad?” I ask him.

    “Are you wearing my clothes?” he responds, clearly confused.

    “Um, yeah. I didn’t have a choice, don’t make a big deal of it.” I shrug, knowing by the smile on his face he was planning on doing just that.

    “Okay . . . What did you do now?”

    What the hell? “What makes you think I did something?”

    His brow arches.

    “Okay . . . so I did something, something really fucking stupid,” I huff. “But I don’t want to hear your shit, so don’t worry about it.”

    “Fine.” He shrugs and begins to walk away from me.

    I was hoping for a few words from him, he’s okay with advice sometimes. “Wait!” I call and he turns around. “You’re not going to ask me what it was?”

    “You just said you don’t want to talk about it,” he replies.

    “Yeah, but I . . . well.” I don’t know what to say, and he’s looking at me like I’ve grown two heads.

    “Do you want me to ask you?” He looks pleased, but thankfully he’s not being too much of an asshole about it.

    “I’m the reason . . .” I begin, but just then I see Karen and my dad starting to walk up the driveway.

    “The reason what?” Landon asks, looking back at them.

    “Nothing, never mind.” I sigh, running my fingers through my damp hair in frustration.

    “Hey, Hardin! Where’s Tessa?” Karen asks.

    Why does everyone always ask me that as if I can’t be more than five feet away from her?

    The building ache in my chest reminds me of just that: I can’t.

    “She’s inside, sleeping,” I lie and turn to Landon. “I’m going for a walk, can you make sure she’s okay?” He nods.

    “Where are you going?” my father’s voice calls as I walk past them.

    “Out,” I snap and walk faster.

 

BY THE TIME I reach a stop sign a few roads over, I realize I have no fucking idea where I’m going or even how to get back to where I came from. I just know I’ve been walking for a while, and that all of these roads are deceptively windy.

    I officially hate this place.

    It didn’t seem so bad while I was watching Tessa’s hair blow lightly in the wind, her eyes focused on the shining water, her lips turned up in a small, satisfied smile. She looked so relaxed, like the calm waves far from the shore, steady and undisturbed until our boat intruded on their peace. Now behind us, the water roars, whipping up onto the sides of our boat in an angry way. Soon they’ll go back to their resting state, until another boat comes along to disturb their ease.

    A girl’s voice interrupts the image of Tessa’s sun-kissed skin. “Are you lost or something?”

    When I turn around, I’m surprised to find a girl, around my age, I think. Her brown hair is as long as Tessa’s. She’s alone out here at night. I look around us. There’s nothing, only an empty gravel road and forest.

    “Are you?” I reply, taking notice of her long skirt.

    She smiles at me and walks closer. She must be lacking brain cells to be out here in the middle of nowhere asking a complete stranger that looks like me if he’s lost.

    “No. I’m escaping,” she says, tucking her hair behind her ear.

    “You’re running away? At, like, age twenty?” She better keep her ass moving down this street, then. The last thing I need is some angry father looking for his overdressed teenage daughter.

    “No.” She laughs. “I’m home from college visiting my parents, and they were boring me to death.”

    “Oh, good for you. I hope your freedom trail finds you at Shangri-la,” I reply and begin to walk away from her.

    “You’re going the wrong way,” she calls out.

    “Don’t care,” I say.

    And then I groan when I hear her footsteps crunching against the gravel behind me.