Chapter Thirty-Four

After We Fell

chapter thirty-four




The morning light sweeps over the room as the sun rises in the distance. My eyes move from the uncovered balcony doors to my stomach, where Hardin’s arm is draped over my body. His full lips are parted, soft purrs sounding from between them. I don’t know whether I should shove him off the bed or brush his brown hair back from his forehead and press my lips against the reddened skin.

    I’m angry, so damn angry at Hardin for everything that happened last night. He had the audacity to return to the cabin at one thirty in the morning, and just like I feared, his breath was laced with liquor. Yet another strand in this tangled web. Then there’s this girl, a girl like me, whom he spent hours upon hours with. He said they were just talking—and it’s not that I don’t believe that they were only talking. It’s the fact that Hardin refuses to discuss Seattle or anything remotely related to Seattle with me, but he seems to be able to talk to her.

    I don’t know what to think, and I’m sick of thinking all the damn time. There’s always some problem to fix, some argument to be gotten through. And I’m tired. Tired of all of it. I love Hardin more than I can comprehend, but I don’t know how much longer I can do this. I can’t worry about him coming home drunk every time we have a problem. I wanted to scream at him, throw a pillow at his face, and tell him how big of a jerk he is, but I’m finally beginning to realize that you can only fight with someone over the same thing so many times before you’re burned out.

    I don’t know what to do about him not coming to Seattle, but I do know that lying here in this bed isn’t of any help to me. I lift Hardin’s arm and wriggle out from under his weight, gently placing his arm across the pillow next to him. He groans in his slumber, but thankfully he only stirs and doesn’t wake.

    I grab my phone from the bedside table and quietly pad to the balcony doors. They open with minimal noise, and I let out a relieved sigh before closing them behind me. The air is much cooler than yesterday; granted, it’s only seven in the morning.

    Phone in hand, I begin to ponder my living situation in Seattle, which at this point is nonexistent. My transfer to Seattle is becoming more of a hassle than I ever anticipated, and honestly, at times it seems more of a hassle than it’s worth. I immediately scold myself for entertaining the thought. That’s exactly what Hardin is trying to do—he’s trying to make it as difficult for me to move as he possibly can, hoping that I’ll give up on doing what I want to do and stay with him.

    Well, that’s just not going to happen.

    I open the browser on my phone and wait impatiently for Google to load. I stare at the small screen, waiting for the annoying circle to stop going round and round. Frustrated at the slow response on my ancient phone, I tread back into the bedroom and grab Hardin’s off of the chair, then go back out to the balcony.

    If he wakes up and finds me on his phone, he’ll be angry. But I’m not going through his calls or texts. I’m only using his internet.

    Yeah, she’s okay. His words about this Lillian girl play through my mind as I try to search for apartments in Seattle.

    I shake my head, disposing of the memory and instead admiring a luxury apartment that I wish I could afford. I scroll to the next, a smaller one-bedroom in a duplex. I don’t feel comfortable in a duplex; I like the idea of someone having to go through a lobby to get to my door, especially since it appears that I’ll be alone in Seattle. I swipe my finger across the screen a few more times before finally finding a one-bedroom in a midsize high-rise. It’s over my budget, but not by much. If I have to go without being able to buy groceries until I get settled in, I will.

    I enter the phone number into my phone and continue to browse through the listings. Impossible thoughts of searching for an apartment alongside Hardin’s haunt me. The two of us would be sitting on the bed, me cross-legged, Hardin with his long legs stretched out in front of him and his back against the headboard. I would show him apartment after apartment and he’d roll his eyes and complain about the process of apartment hunting, but I’d catch him smiling, with his eyes focused on my lips. He’d tell me how cute I am when I’m flustered before taking the laptop from me and assuring me he’d find the place for us.

    That would be too simple, though. Too easy. Everything in my life was simple and easy until six months ago. My mother helped me with my dorm, and I had everything sorted and in order before I even arrived at Washington Central.

    My mother . . . I can’t help but miss her. She has no idea that I’ve reunited with my father. She’d be so angry if she knew. I know she would.

    Before I can talk myself out of it, I’m dialing her number.

    “Hello?” she answers smoothly.


    “Who else would it be?”

    I’m already regretting this phone call. “How are you?” I ask quietly.

    She sighs. “I’m good. I’ve been a little busy with everything going on.” Pots and pans clank in the background.

    “What’s going on?” Does she know about my father? I quickly decide that if she doesn’t, now isn’t the time to tell her.

    “Nothing specific, really. I’ve been working a lot of overtime, and we got a new pastor—oh, and Ruth passed away.”

    “Ruth Porter?”

    “Yes, I was going to call you,” she says, her cold voice warming slightly.

    Noah’s grandmother Ruth was one of the sweetest women I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. She was always so kind, and next to Karen, she made the best chocolate chip cookies on the planet.

    “How’s Noah doing?” I dare to ask. He was very close with his grandmother, and I know this has to be hard for him. I never had the chance to get close to any of my grandparents; my father’s parents passed away before I was old enough to remember, and my mother’s parents were not the type of people to allow anyone to get close to them.

    “He’s taking it pretty hard. You should call him, Tessa.”

    “I . . .” I begin to tell her that I can’t call him, but I stop myself. Why can’t I call him? I can and I will. “I will . . . I’ll call him right now.”

    “Really?” The surprise is evident in her voice. “Well, at least wait until after nine,” she advises, and I can’t help but smile at her tone. I know she’s smiling on the other end of the line. “How is school going?”

    “I’m leaving Monday for Seattle,” I confess, and I hear something clatter to the ground.


    “I told you, remember?” I did, didn’t I?

    “No, you didn’t. You mentioned that your company was moving there, but you never told me that you were leaving for certain.”

    “I’m sorry, I’ve just been so busy with Seattle and Hardin.”

    Her voice is incredibly controlled when she asks, “He’s going with you?”

    “I’m . . . I don’t know.” I sigh.

    “Are you okay? You sound upset.”

    “I’m okay,” I lie.

    “I know we haven’t been on the best of terms lately, but I’m still your mother, Tessa. You can talk to me if something is going on in your life.”

    “I’m fine, really; I’m just stressed over this move and transferring to a new campus.”

    “Oh, that? You’ll do great there—you’d excel at any campus. You can excel anywhere,” she says with assurance.

    “I know, but I’m already so used to this campus, and I got to know a few of the professors and I have friends . . . a few friends.” I don’t really have friends that I will miss terribly, save Landon. And maybe Steph . . . but mostly only Landon.

    “Tessa, this is what we’ve been working toward for years, and look at you now—in such a short period of time you’ve accomplished it. You should be proud of yourself.”

    I’m surprised by her words, and my mind rushes to process them. “Thank you,” I mutter.

    “Tell me as soon as you move into your place in Seattle so I can come visit, since you obviously won’t be coming home anytime soon,” she says.

    “I will.” I ignore her harsh tone.

    “I’ll have to call you back. I have to get ready for work. Make sure you don’t forget to call Noah.”

    “I know, I’m going to call him in a couple hours.”

    As I hang up, a movement on the balcony catches my attention and I look up to see Hardin. He’s dressed now, in his normal black T-shirt and black jeans. His feet are bare, and his eyes are focused on me.

    “Who was that?” he asks.

    “My mother,” I respond and pull my knees up to my chest in the chair.

    “Why did she call?” He grabs the back of the empty chair, and it squeaks as he pulls it closer to me before sitting down.

    “I called her,” I answer without looking at him.

    “Why is my phone out here?” He grabs it from my lap and scans it.

    “I was using the internet.”

    “Oh,” he says as if he doesn’t believe me.

    If he doesn’t have anything to hide, why would he care?

    “Who were you talking about when you said you were going to call him?” he asks, sitting on the edge of the hot tub.

    I look over at him. “Noah,” I respond drily.

    His eyes narrow. “Like hell you are.”

    “Well, I am.”

    “Why do you need to talk to him?” He places his hands on his knees and leans forward. “You don’t.”

    “So you can spend hours with someone else and come back drunk, but—”

    “He’s your he interrupts.

    “And how do I know she isn’t one of your ex-girlfriends?”

    “Because I don’t have any ex-girlfriends, remember?”

    I huff in frustration; my earlier resolve has now faded, and I’m getting angry again. “Okay, all the girls you fucked around then. In any case,” I continue, my voice low and clear, “you don’t get to tell me who I am allowed to call. Ex-boyfriend or not.”

    “I thought you weren’t mad at me.”

    I sigh, staring out onto the water and away from his piercing green eyes. “I’m not, I’m really not. You did exactly what I expected you to do.”

    “Which was . . . ?”

    “Running off for hours, then returning with liquor on your breath.”

    “You told me to leave.”

    “That doesn’t make it okay that you came back drunk.”

    “And here it is!” he groans. “I knew you wouldn’t stay quiet like you did last night.”

    “Stay quiet? See, that’s your problem; you expect me to stay quiet. I’m over it.”

    “Over what?” He leans toward me, his face too close to mine.

    “This . . .” I wave my hand dramatically and rise to my feet. “I’m just over all of it. You go ahead and do whatever the hell you want, but you can find someone else to sit here beside you and not take note of your antics and remain quiet—because I’m not doing it anymore.” I turn away from him.

    He jumps to his feet and hooks his fingers around my arm to gently pull me back. “Stop,” he orders. One large hand spreads across my waist while the other goes to my arm. I think about twisting free, but then he pulls me to his chest. “Stop fighting me—you’re not going anywhere.”

    His lips press into a hard line as I pull my arm from his grasp.

    “Let me go, and I’ll sit down,” I huff. I don’t want to give in, but I also refuse to ruin anyone else’s time on this trip. If I go downstairs, Hardin will surely follow, and we’ll end up staging a big blowout in front of his family.

    He swiftly lets go of me, and I plop myself into the chair again. He sits back down across from me and stares at me expectantly with his elbows on his thighs.

    “What?” I snap.

    “So you’re leaving me, then?” he whispers, which softens my harsh demeanor a little.

    “If you mean leaving to Seattle, yes.”


    “Yes, Monday. I’ve gone over this with you again and again. I know you thought that little stunt you pulled would discourage me,” I say, seething, “but it didn’t, and nothing you can do will.”

    “Nothing?” He looks up at me through his thick lashes.

    I’ll marry you, he told me while he was drunk. Does he mean it now? As much as I want to ask him right here, right now, I can’t. I don’t think I’m ready for his sober answer.

    “Hardin, what is it in Seattle that you’re so eager to avoid?” I ask instead.

    His eyes dart away from mine. “Nothing important.”

    “Hardin, I swear, if there’s something that you’ve kept from me, I will never speak to you again,” I say, and mean it. “I’ve had enough of this shit, honestly.”

    “It’s nothing, Tessa. I have some old friends there that I don’t particularly care for because they’re part of my old life.”

    “ ‘Old life’?”

    “My life before you: the drinking, the parties, fucking every girl that passed my way,” he says. When I cringe, he mumbles “Sorry” but continues. “There’s no big secret, just bad memories. But that’s not why I don’t want to go, anyway.”

    I wait for him to get to the heart of the matter, but he doesn’t say anything else. “Okay, then tell me why. Because I don’t get it.”

    His face is devoid of any emotion as he looks into my eyes. “Why do you need an explanation? I don’t want to go and I don’t want you to go without me.”

    “Well, that’s not enough of an explanation. I’m going,” I say and shake my head. “And you know what? I don’t want you to come with me anymore.”

    “What?” His eyes darken.

    “I don’t want you to come.” I stay as calm as possible and stand up from the chair. I’m proud of myself for having this discussion without yelling. “You’ve tried to ruin this for me—this has been my dream since I can remember, and you tried to ruin it for me. You’ve turned something that I should be looking forward to into something that I can barely stand. I should be excited and ready to go meet my dreams. But instead you’ve made sure I have nowhere to live and no support system at all. So no, I don’t want you to go.”

    His mouth opens and closes before he stands and paces across the wooden deck. “You . . .” he begins, but then stops himself, looking like he’s reconsidering his thoughts.

    But being Hardin, things never change, and he chooses the harder, uglier path instead. “You . . . you know what, Tessa? No one gives a fuck about Seattle except someone like you. Who the hell grows up planning on moving to Seattle fucking Real ambitious,” he growls. He takes in a deep, violent breath. “And in case you forgot, I’m the only reason you have that opportunity to begin with. You think anyone else is getting a paid fucking internship as a freshman in college? Fuck, no! Most people struggle to get a paid internship even after they graduate.”

    “That’s not even close to the fucking point here.” I roll my eyes at him and the nerve he has.

    “Then what is the point, you ungrateful—”

    I take a step toward him, and my hand flies at him before I really register what I’m doing.

    But Hardin’s too quick and grabs me by the wrist, stopping me only inches from his cheek.

    “Don’t,” he warns. His voice is rough, laced with anger, and I wish he hadn’t stopped me from slapping him. His minty breath fans across my cheeks as he tries to control his temper.

    Bring it on, my thoughts challenge. I’m not intimidated by his harsh breathing or his foul words. I can give them back to him in spades.

    “You don’t get to talk to people like that without consequences.” My words come out low, threatening even.

    “Consequences?” He stares down at me with burning eyes. “I’ve known nothing in my life but consequences.”

    I hate the way he’s taking credit for my internship, I hate the way he pushes when I pull and I push when he pulls. I hate the way he drives my anger to grow so strong that I would try to slap him, and I hate the way I feel as if I’m losing control of something I’m not sure I’ve ever held. I look up at him, his hand still holding my wrist, using only enough pressure to keep me from attempting to slap him again, and he looks hurt, in a dangerous way. There’s a challenge behind his eyes that makes my stomach turn.

    He brings my hand to his chest, his eyes never leaving mine, and says, “You know nothing of consequences.”

    Then he walks away from me, that look still in his eyes, and my hand drops down to my side.