Chapter Forty-Four

After We Fell


chapter forty-four

 

HARDIN

 

Where do you think I’m going?” I yell up the walk at Karen, tossing my hands in the air out of frustration.

    She walks partway back down the porch steps, then says, “I don’t mean to butt in, Hardin, but don’t you think you should leave her be . . . for once? I really don’t want to upset you, but I don’t think anything good will come out of you going down there and causing a scene. I know you want to see her, but—”

    “You don’t know anything,” I snap, and my father’s wife pulls her head back a little.

    “I’m sorry, Hardin, but I think you need to leave her be for tonight,” she says, like she’s my mother.

    “Oh, why? So she can fucking cheat on me?” Frustrated fingers tug at the roots of my hair. Tessa’s already had one glass—one and a half glasses, to be exact—at dinner, and Lord knows she can’t handle alcohol.

    “If that’s what you think of her . . .” Karen begins but stops herself. “Never mind, go on, then—like always.” She looks at Max’s wife once, then adjusts her knee-length dress. “Just be careful, dear,” she says with a forced smile and goes up the stairs with her friend.

    That headache gone, I continue on with my original plan and march toward the restaurant. I’ll drag Tessa out of there—not literally, of course, but she will come with me. This whole thing is bullshit, and it’s all because I forgot to put on a fucking condom. That’s what started this whole spiraling mess we’re in. I could have called Sandra earlier and corrected the apartment shit, or I could have found Tessa another place to live . . . but that wouldn’t work either. Seattle can’t happen. It’s taking longer to convince Tessa than I imagined it would, and now it’s all even more complicated.

    I’m still shocked that she didn’t get out of the car with Karen and whatever Lillian’s mum’s name is. I was positive that she’d be upset and ready to talk to me. It’s that waiter—what kind of influence did he manage to have on her that would make her stay at the restaurant instead of coming with me? What did she see in him?

    Needing to collect my thoughts for a minute, I stop and sit down on one of the large rocks decorating the edge of the yard. Maybe barging in there isn’t the best idea. Maybe I should get Landon to go inside and get her. She listens to him much more than she does me. But then I curse at my stupid idea because I know he won’t go for it, and, taking his mum’s side, he’ll make me look weak and tell me to leave her alone.

    I can’t, though. Sitting on this cold-ass rock for twenty minutes has made it worse, not better. All I can think about is the way she stepped back away from me on the deck and how she was so carefree laughing with him.

    What will I say to her? He seems like the kind of asshole who’ll try to stop me from making her leave. I won’t have to hit him; if I yell enough, she’ll come with me to avoid a fight. I hope. She hasn’t done what I predicted so far tonight.

    This is all so juvenile: my behavior, my manipulation of her feelings. I know it—I just don’t know what to do about it. I love do I love that girl. But I’m running out of ways to keep her close to me.

    In reality it seems like you have her trapped, and that’s why she won’t leave you: not because she loves you, but because you’ve made her feel that she can’t be without you.

    Lillian’s words play like a broken record through my mind as I get up and head past the end of the driveway. It’s cold as fuck outside now, and this stupid shirt is too thin. Tessa didn’t bring a jacket to dinner with her, and that dress—that skimpy and she’ll definitely be cold. I should probably grab her a jacket . . .

    What if he offers her his jacket? Jealousy courses through me, and I ball my fists at the thought.

    . . . you have her trapped, and that’s why she won’t leave you: not because she loves you . . .

    Fucking Tessa Number Two and her bullshit psychotherapy. She doesn’t even know what she’s talking about. Tessa does love me. I see it in her blue-gray eyes every time she looks at me. I feel it on her fingertips as she traces over the ink stained into my skin. I feel it when her lips touch mine. I know the difference between love and being trapped, between love and being addicted.

    I swallow the slight panic that threatens to overtake me again. She loves me. She does. Tessa loves me. If she didn’t, I wouldn’t know how to handle it. I couldn’t. I need her to love me and be there for me. I’ve never let anyone get as close to me as she is; she’s the only person that I know will always love me unconditionally. Even my mum gets sick of my shit sometimes, but Tessa always forgives me, and no matter what I do she’s always there for me when I need her. That stubborn, obnoxious, uncompromising girl is my entire world.

    “What are you doing, creep?” I hear from the darkness.

    “You have got to be fucking kidding me,” I groan and turn to find Riley walking down the driveway of Max’s cabin. I need to be paying more attention. I didn’t even notice her coming toward me.

    “You’re the one out here stalking the damn driveway,” she fires back.

    “Where’s Lillian?”

    “Not your concern. Where’s Tessa?” she says with a smirk. Lillian must have told her about our fight. Lovely.

    “Not your concern. Why are you out here?”

    “Why are Riley clearly has an attitude problem.

    “Do you have to be such a bitch?”

    She nods exaggeratedly a few times. “Yeah. I do, actually.” I figured she’d chew my head off for calling her a bitch, but she doesn’t seem to mind; I’m sure she knows she is. “And I’m out here because Lillian just fell asleep. And between her dad, your dad, and your dorky-ass brother, I’m ready to puke.”

    “So what, you thought you’d walk around in the dark in the middle of February?”

    “I’m wearing a coat.” She tugs at the bottom of her garment to prove her point. “I’m going to find that bar I passed while I was driving up here.”

    “Why don’t you drive, then?”

    “Because I want to And do I look like someone who wants to spend their weekend in jail?” she scoffs, walking past me. She looks back without stopping. “Where’re you going?”

    “To get Tessa; she’s hanging out with . . . never mind.” I’m sick of telling people my fucking business.

    Now Riley does stop. “You’re an asshole for not telling her that Lil is gay.”

    “Of course she told you,” I say.

    “She tells me everything. That was a major dick move.”

    “It’s a long story.”

    “You won’t move to Seattle with Tessa, and now”—she flips her hair over her shoulder—“she’s probably giving that blond dude a blow job in the bathroom of—”

    I step toward her, anger boiling in my veins. “Shut the fuck up. Don’t you fucking dare say shit like that to me.” I have to remember that even though she has a mouth like mine, she is a female and I would never take it there.

    Unfazed by my outburst, she replies calmly, “Don’t like that much, do you? Maybe you’d do best to remember that next time you make some snarky-ass comment about fucking my girlfriend.”

    My breathing falters, deep and out of control. I can’t stop thinking about Tessa’s full lips touching him. I tug at my hair again and turn in a circle.

    “It’s driving you crazy, isn’t it? Her being with him?”

    “You really need to stop taunting me,” I warn her, and she shrugs.

    “I know it is. Look, I probably shouldn’t have said that, but you were a dick first, remember?” When I don’t respond, she continues. “Let’s call a truce here. I’ll buy you a drink, and you can cry over Tessa while I brag about how good Lillian is with her tongue.” She walks over to me and tugs at my sleeve, trying to drag me across the street. I can see the cheesy multicolored lantern lights on top of the tin roof of the small bar from here.

    I jerk my arm away from her. “I need to get Tessa.”

    drink, and then I’ll come with you as backup.” Riley’s words mimic my thoughts from a few minutes ago.

    “Why? Why do you want to hang out with me?” I make eye contact with her, and she shrugs again.

    “I don’t, really. But I’m bored, and you’re out here. Besides, Lil seems to care about you for some reason that I don’t get.” She runs her eyes up and down my body. “I really don’t get it, but she likes you, as a Riley says, with as much emphasis on the word “friend” as possible. “So yeah, I would like to impress her by pretending that I give a shit about your doomed relationship.”

    “Doomed?” I begin to follow her down the road.

    “Out of all the shit that I just said, you chose that to comment on?” She shakes her head. “You’re worse than me.”

    She laughs and I stay quiet. The obnoxious girl grabs hold of my shirt again and leads me down the road. I’m too busy thinking to push her off.

    How can she think we are doomed when she doesn’t even know me, know us?

    We aren’t doomed.

    I know we aren’t. I’m damned, but she’s not. She will save me. She always does.