Chapter Thirty-Three

After We Fell

chapter thirty-three




Do you want a drink?” Lillian asks.

    “Sure.” I shrug and glance at the clock.

    She gets up and goes over to a silver bar cart. Looking at the bottles it contains, she selects one and shows it to me quickly, like she’s Vanna White or something. Pulling the top off of a bottle of brandy that I’m sure cost more than the massive television hanging on the wall, she looks back at me with mock sympathy. “You can’t be a coward forever, you know.”

    “Shut up.”

    “You’re so much like her.” She giggles.

    “Like Tessa? No, I’m not. And how would you know?”

    “No, not Tessa. Riley.”

    “How’s that?”

    Lillian pours the dark liquor into a curved glass and places it in my hand before sitting back down on the couch.

    “Where’s your drink?” I ask.

    She gives a regal shake of the head. “I don’t drink.”

    Of course she doesn’t. I really shouldn’t be drinking, but the slightly sweet, intense aroma of the brandy pushes the nagging reminder away.

    “Are you going to tell me how I’m like her or not?” I look at her expectantly.

    “You just are; she has that brooding, angry-at-the-world thing going on, too.” She makes an exaggerated emo face and crosses her legs under her.

    “Well, maybe she has something to be angry about,” I say, defending her girlfriend without even knowing her, then gulp down half the glass of liquor. It’s strong, aged to perfection, and I can feel the burn down to the soles of my boots.

    Lillian doesn’t reply. Instead she purses her lips and stares at the wall behind me, deep in thought.

    “I’m not into this whole Dr. Phil, you-talk-I-talk, ‘Kumbaya’ shit,” I tell her, and she nods.

    “I’m not expecting ‘Kumbaya,’ but I think you should at least come up with a plan to apologize to Tamara.”

    “Her name is Tessa,” I snap, annoyed suddenly by her small mistake.

    She smiles and pulls her brown hair to one shoulder. “Tessa, sorry. I have a cousin named Tamara, and it was in my head, I guess.”

    “What makes you assume I’ll be apologizing, anyway?” I click my tongue against the roof of my mouth while waiting for her response.

    “You’re kidding, right? You owe her an apology!” she says loudly. “You need to at least tell her you’ll go to Seattle with her.”

    I groan. “I’m not going to Seattle, for fuck’s sake.” What is it with Tessa and fucking Tessa Number Two and pestering me over Seattle?

    “Well, then I hope she goes without you,” she says curtly.

    I look at her, this girl who I thought might understand. “What did you say?” I put the brandy glass down on the table quickly, sloshing brown liquid onto its white surface.

    Lillian arches one brow. “I said I hope she does go, because you tried to mess up her apartment deal and still aren’t willing to move with her.”

    “Good thing I don’t give a fuck what you think.” I stand to leave. I know she’s right, but I’m over this bullshit.

    “Yes, you do, you just won’t admit it. I have come to learn that the people who pretend to care the least actually care the most.”

    I pick the glass back up and finish it off before heading toward the door. “You don’t know shit about me,” I say through my teeth.

    Lillian gets up and pads over to me casually. “Yes, I do. Like I said, you’re just like Riley.”

    “Well, I feel sorry for her because she has to put up . . .” I begin to lash out at the girl but stop myself. She hasn’t done anything wrong; she’s actually been trying to help me and doesn’t deserve my anger.

    I sigh. “Sorry, okay?” I walk back into the living room, plopping myself back onto the couch.

    “See, apologizing isn’t so hard, is it?” Lillian smiles and goes over to the silver bar, bringing the brandy over to where I sit.

    “You obviously need another drink.” She smiles and grabs my empty glass.


AFTER MY THIRD GLASS, I mumble, “Tessa hates when I drink.”

    “Are you a mean drunk?”

    “No,” I say reflexively. But seeing that she’s really interested, I ponder the question some more and reconsider. “Sometimes.”

    “Hmm . . .”

    “Why don’t you drink?” I ask.

    “I don’t know, I just don’t.”

    “Does your boyf . . .” I begin but correct myself, “girlfriend drink?”

    She nods. “Yes, sometimes. Not as much as before.”

    “Oh.” This Riley and I may have more in common than I thought.

    “Lillian?” her father calls out, and then I hear the staircase creak.

    I sit up and move away from her out of instinct, and she turns her attention to him. “Yes, Father?”

    “It’s nearly one in the morning. I think it’s time your company heads out,” he says.

    One in the morning? Holy shit.

    “Okay.” She nods and looks back to me. “He seems to forget I’m an adult,” she whispers, annoyance clear in her voice.

    “I need to go anyway. Tessa’s going to kill me,” I gripe. When I stand, my legs aren’t as steady under me as they should be.

    “You’re welcome to come back tomorrow, Hardin,” my father’s friend says as I reach the door.

    “Just apologize and consider Seattle,” Lillian reminds me.

    But I’m determined to ignore her, and I walk out the door, down the steps, and onto the paved driveway. I would really love to know what her dad does for a living; he’s obviously rich as fuck.

    It’s pitch-black out here. Literally, I can barely see my hand as I wave it idiotically in front of my face. When I reach the end of the driveway, the lights outside my father’s cabin come into view, and they guide me to his driveway and up the porch steps.

    The screen door creaks when I open it, and I curse at it. The last thing I need is my father waking up and smelling the brandy on my breath. Then again, he may want some himself.

    My inner Tessa immediately scolds me for the cynical thought, and I pinch the bridge of my nose, shaking my head to get her out.

    I nearly knock over a lamp trying to pull my boots off of my feet. I grip the corner of the wall to steady myself and finally manage to place my boots next to Tessa’s shoes. My palms begin to sweat as I take the staircase as slowly as possible. I’m not drunk, but I am quite buzzed, and I know she’s going to be even more upset than she was before. She was downright cheesed the fuck off earlier, and now that I’ve stayed out this long—and have been drinking—she’s going to lose it. I’m actually a little . . . afraid of her right now. She was so mad earlier, cursing at me and ordering me away.

    The door to the room we’re sharing opens with a small squeak, and I try to be as quiet as possible and guide myself through the dark room without waking her.

    No such luck.

    The lamp on the nightstand switches on, and Tessa’s impassive glare is focused on me.

    “Sorry . . . I didn’t want to wake you,” I apologize.

    A frown forms on her full lips. “I wasn’t asleep,” she states, and my chest begins to tighten.

    “I know it’s late, I’m sorry,” I say, my words running together.

    She squints. “Have you been drinking?”

    Despite her expression, her eyes are bright. The way the soft light of the lamp hits her face makes me want to reach across the bed and touch her.

    “Yes,” I say and wait for the fury of my very own Lyssa.

    She sighs and brings her hands to her forehead to brush the loose tendrils that have escaped her ponytail. She doesn’t seem to be alarmed or surprised by my state.

    Thirty seconds later, I’m still waiting on the rage.

    But nothing.

    She’s just sitting there on the bed, leaning back on her arms, staring at me with despondent eyes while I stand awkwardly in the center of the room.

    “Are you going to say anything?” I finally ask, hoping to break this haunting silence.

    “No, I’m not.”


    “I’m exhausted and you’re drunk; there’s really nothing for me to say,” she says without emotion.

    I’m always nervously anticipating her to finally snap, to finally get to the point where she’s tired of putting up with my shit, and honestly, I’m scared to fucking death that this may be it.

    “I’m not drunk, I only had three drinks. You know that’s not shit to me,” I say and sit on the edge of the bed. A chill runs down my spine when she moves closer to the headboard to get away from me.

    “Where were you?” Her voice is soft.

    “Next door.”

    She continues to stare at me, expecting more information.

    “I was with this girl Lillian, her dad went to college with mine and we were talking, one thing led to another and—”

    “Oh God.” Tessa’s eyes snap shut, and her hands move to cover her ears as she pulls her knees up to her chest.

    I reach across, taking both her wrists in one hand and gently pushing them down to her lap. “No, no, not like that. We were talking about I tell her, then wait for her normal eye rolling and signs of disbelief at anything I tell her.

    She opens her eyes and looks up. “What about me?”

    “Just this Seattle shit.”

    “You talked to her about Seattle, but you won’t talk to me?”

    Tessa’s voice isn’t angry, just curious, and I’m really fucking confused. It’s not like I wanted to talk to the girl, she practically fucking forced me, but in a way I guess I’m sort of glad she did.

    “It’s not like that—you made me leave,” I remind the girl in front of me with Tessa’s face but none of her normal attitude.

    “And you were with her this entire time?” Her lip trembles, and she presses her teeth into it.

    “No, I went for a walk and ran into her.” I reach across to move her unruly hair away from her cheek, and she doesn’t pull away. Her skin is hot to my touch, and her cheeks look as if they’re glowing in the muted light. She leans into my palm, and her eyes flutter closed as I rub my thumb along her cheekbone. “She’s a lot like you.”

    This isn’t how I expected this to go. I expected World War Fucking Tessa by now.

    “You like her, then?” she asks, gray eyes opening slightly to meet mine.

    “Yeah, she’s okay.” I shrug, and she closes her eyes again.

    I’m thrown off by her calm behavior, and that mixed with the aged brandy makes for one confused Hardin.

    “I’m tired,” she says and reaches up to remove my hand from her cheek.

    “You’re not mad?” I question. Something is nagging at the back of my mind, but it just won’t surface. Fucking liquor.

    “I’m just tired,” she answers and lies back against the pillows.

    Okay . . .

    Warning bells . . . No, fucking tornado sirens go off in my mind at the lack of emotion in her voice. There’s something she’s not saying. And I want her to just say it.

    But as she falls back asleep—or at least feigns it—and I realize I have to choose to ignore the silent signals for tonight. It’s late. If I push her too hard, she’ll make me leave again, and I can’t have that. I can’t sleep without her, and I’m thankful she’s even fucking letting me near her after the shit with Sandra. I’m also thankful the liquor is making me so drowsy that I won’t be up all night worrying about what’s stewing inside of Tessa’s brain.