Chapter Forty-One

After We Fell


chapter forty-one

 

TESSA

 

My chest is aching, my throat is dry, and my head is spinning. Hardin basically just told me that he doesn’t love me and that he chases me just so he can sleep with me. The worst thing about the things he said to me is that I know he didn’t mean them. I know he loves me—he does. In his own way, he loves me more than anything. He’s shown me that time and time again in the last six months. But he’s also shown me that he’ll stop at nothing to hurt me, to make me feel weak just because his ego is bruised. If he loved me the way he should, he wouldn’t purposely hurt me.

    He couldn’t have meant that he only wants sex from me. He doesn’t really see me as a toy, does he? With him, truth and lies slide back and forth as easily as his moods. He couldn’t have meant it. But he said it with such conviction; he didn’t even blink. I honestly don’t know anymore. Through all of the fights, tears, holes in our walls, I have always held on to the small certainty that he loves me.

    Without that, we have nothing. And without him, I have nothing. The irrational and flaring tempers we both have, mixed with our young ages, are becoming too much to handle.

    There’s a difference between not being able to live without someone and loving words slice through me again.

    The air in this place is too stale, too thick and consuming, and the laughter of the customers is growing sinister. I look for an exit. Glass doors leading to a balcony are closed; I open them and welcome the cool air. I sit there, staring out into the darkness, enjoying the quiet of the night and my own slowing mind.

    I don’t notice the door to the deck opening until Robert is next to me. “Brought you something,” he says and holds up the bottle of wine, waggling it playfully. He dips his shoulder to one side, and a grin spreads across his handsome face.

    I surprise myself by smiling, a real smile, despite the fact that on the inside I’m screaming, huddled in a corner crying.

    “Pity wine?” I question, holding my hands out for the white-labeled bottle. I recognize it as the same wine Max ordered earlier; it must have cost a fortune.

    He grins, placing the wine in my hands. “What other type of wine is there?” The bottle is cold, but my hands are nearly numb from the February air.

    “Glasses.” He smiles, dipping his hands into the deep pockets of his apron. “I couldn’t fit actual wineglasses, so I grabbed these.” He hands me a small Styrofoam cup, and I hold it up while he uncorks the bottle.

    “Thank you.” The wine fills the cup, and I bring it to my lips the moment he pulls away.

    “We can go inside, you know? There are a few sections that are closed down already, so we can sit there,” Robert says, then takes a sip.

    “I don’t know.” I sigh, shifting my gaze to the table.

    “He left,” he says, the sympathy obvious in his voice. “So did she,” he adds. “Do you want to talk about it?”

    “No, not really.” I shrug. “Tell me about this wine.” I grasp for a neutral, nondepressing subject.

    “This guy? Okay, well, it’s, um, old and aged to perfection?” He laughs and I join him. “I’m good at drinking it, though, not so much studying it.”

    “Okay, not the wine, then,” I say. Tipping my cup back, I finish the rest as quickly as possible.

    “Um,” he says, looking behind me. My stomach drops at his nervous expression, and I hope Hardin isn’t back to spit more venom at me. When I turn around, Lillian is standing in the doorway, seemingly unsure whether to come out or not.

    “What do you want?” I ask her. I’m trying to control my jealousy, but the wine coursing through me doesn’t work in favor of manners. Robert grabs my empty cup just as the wind knocks it over, and begins to refill it. I get the feeling he’s trying to keep himself busy to avoid whatever dramatic or awkward situation lies ahead.

    “Can I talk to you?” Lillian asks.

    “What is there for us to talk about? Everything is pretty clear to me.” I take a big gulp from my cup, letting the cold wine fill my mouth.

    Unexpectedly, she doesn’t respond to my attitude. She just walks over to us and says flatly, “I’m gay.”

    What? If Robert’s clear blue eyes hadn’t been focused on me, I’d have spit the wine back into my cup. I look from him to her and swallow slowly.

    “It’s true. I have a girlfriend. Hardin and I are only friends.” She frowns. “If you would even call us that.”

    I know that look. He must have just told her off.

    “Then why . . .” I start. Is she being honest? “But you guys were all over each other.”

    “No, he was being a little . . . I guess you’d say, like when he put his arm around my chair. But he was only doing it to make you jealous.”

    “Why would he do that? On purpose?” I ask. But I know the answer: to hurt me, of course.

    “I told him to tell you. I’m sorry if you thought something was going on between us. It’s not. I’m in a relationship, with a

    I roll my eyes and hold my cup out to Robert for more wine. “You seemed pretty comfortable going along with it,” I remark harshly.

    With honest, pleading eyes, she says, “That wasn’t my intention. I wasn’t really paying attention to what he was doing. I’m really sorry if you were hurt in all this.”

    I’m fumbling for reasons to tell this girl off, but I can’t come up with any. Lillian being gay is a huge relief to me, and I wish that I’d known sooner, but it really doesn’t change much with Hardin. If anything, it makes his behavior worse, because he was purposely trying to make me jealous and then upped the ante by saying the most hateful things he could think of to me. Watching him flirt with her didn’t hurt nearly as bad as hearing him tell me that he didn’t love me.

    Robert fills my glass, and I take a small sip while watching Lillian. “So what changed your mind and made you tell me? He went off on you, didn’t he?”

    She half smiles, then sits down at the table with us. “Yeah, he did.”

    “He’s good at that,” I say and she nods. I can tell she’s slightly nervous, and I keep reminding myself that she isn’t the problem here, Hardin is.

    “Do you have any more cups?” I ask Robert, and he nods, giving me a proud smile. My stomach flutters lightly; from the wine, I’m sure.

    “Not in my pocket, but I can grab another from inside,” he offers politely. “We should go inside, anyway; your lips are turning blue.”

    I look up at him, and my gaze goes to his lips. They’re full and pink; they look so soft. Why am I staring at his lips? This is what wine does to me. I want to be staring at Hardin’s lips, but he only uses them to yell at me lately, it seems.

    “Is he inside?” I ask Lillian, and she shakes her head. “Okay, let’s go in, then. I have to save Landon from that table, anyway, especially from that Max guy,” I say without thinking, then quickly look at Lillian. “Shit, sorry,”

    She surprises me by laughing. “It’s fine, trust me. I know my dad’s an asshole.”

    I don’t respond. She may not be a threat to my relationship with Hardin, but that doesn’t mean that I like her, even if she does seem kind of sweet.

    “Are we going inside or . . .” Robert rocks on the heels of his black dress shoes.

    “Yeah.” I gulp down the rest of my wine and head inside. “I’ll get Landon. Are you sure you can drink here? In your uniform?” I ask my new friend. I don’t want him to get in trouble. My head is fuzzy, and the thought of him getting arrested by his father makes me giggle.

    “What?” he asks, his eyes searching my face.

    “Nothing,” I lie.

    Heading inside, Lillian and I walk over to our party’s table. I put my hands on the back of Landon’s chair, and he turns to look up at me.

    “You okay?” he asks quietly while Lillian speaks to her parents.

    I shrug. “Yeah, sort of.” I wouldn’t be if I wasn’t borderline drunk from downing several cups of wine. “Do you want to hang out with us? We’re going to hang out here and have some wine . . . some more wine.” I smile.

    “Who? Her, too?” Landon glances across the table at Lillian.

    “Yeah, she’s . . . well, she’s okay.” I don’t want to blurt out the girl’s personal business in front of everyone.

    “I told Ken that I’d watch the game with them at Max’s cabin, but if you want me to stay here, I will.”

    “No . . .” I do want him to stay, but I don’t want him to alter his plans for me. “It’s okay. I just thought you might want to get away from them,” I whisper, and he smiles.

    “I do, but Ken’s excited for me to come because Max likes the opposing team. I think he thinks it’ll be funny to watch us give each other crap or something.” Then he leans in closer so only I can hear him. “Are you sure about hanging out with that guy? He seems nice, but Hardin will probably try to murder him.”

    “I think he can hold his own,” I assure him. “Have fun watching the game.” I lean down and press my lips against Landon’s cheek.

    I jerk away quickly and cover my mouth. “I’m sorry. I have no idea why . . .”

    “It’s okay.” Landon laughs.

    I look around the table and I’m relieved to see that everyone seems to be engaged in conversation. Thankfully my embarrassing show of affection went unnoticed.

    “Be careful, okay, Tessa? And call me if you need me.”

    “I will. And if you get bored, come back here.”

    “Will do.” He smiles. I know he won’t get bored watching the game with Ken. He loves spending time with the only father figure in his life, something that Hardin doesn’t share the same enthusiasm for.

    “Dad, I’m an adult,” I hear Lillian huff from across the table.

    Max shakes his head once with authority. “There is absolutely no need for you to be out running the streets here; you’ll go back to the cabin with us. That’s final.” It’s obvious that he’s one of those men who love to have complete control over everyone in his life. The nasty smirk on his hard face confirms it.

    “Fine,” his frustrated daughter responds. She looks to her mother, but the woman stays silent. If I had another glass of wine, I would call the jerk out, but I don’t want to upset Ken and Karen.

    “Tessa, are you coming back with us?” Karen asks.

    “No, I’m going to stay here for a little while, if that’s okay?” I hope she doesn’t mind. I watch as she looks to Lillian and then behind me to where Robert stands in the distance. I get the feeling she has no clue about Lillian’s sexual orientation, and she’s annoyed by the way Hardin was behaving with her. I love Karen.

    “That’s fine with us; you have fun.” She smiles approvingly.

    “Okay.” I return her smile and walk away from the table without saying goodbye to Max and his wife.

    “We’re good to go; she’s not allowed to stay,” I tell Robert when I reach him.

    “Not allowed?”

    “Her father is a jerk. I’m sort of glad, though, because I’m not sure how I feel about her. She reminds me of someone. I can’t quite put my finger on who . . .” I let the thought trail off as I follow Robert to an empty section of the restaurant. A few tables sit in the closed-off area, bare save for unlit votive candles and salt and pepper shakers.

    As we sit, Zed’s mutilated face flashes through my mind. I ask Robert, “Are you sure you’re okay with hanging out with me? Hardin may come back, and he has a tendency to assault people . . .”

    Robert pulls a chair out for me and laughs. “I’m sure,” he answers.

    Taking the seat across from me, he refills our Styrofoam cups with white wine, and we toast, the cups’ soft material bending slightly and lacking that clink of glassware. Nice and cozy, unlike the rest of this hard-edged restaurant.