Chapter Forty-Six

After We Fell

chapter forty-six




No, I told you one drink. I meant one drink.” I roll my eyes and push the ice around the empty glass with my finger.

    “Whatever.” She waves down the bartender and orders two more drinks.

    “I said I didn’t—”

    “No one said it’s for you,” she says with a condescending look. “Sometimes a girl needs a backup.”

    “Well, you have fun. I’m going to get Tessa now.” I get up from the bar stool, but she grabs hold of my shirt. Again. “Stop touching me.”

    “Dude, stop being a dick. I said I would come; just let me finish these drinks. Do you even know what you’re going to say to her, or are you planning to go all caveman style?”

    “No.” I sit back down. I really haven’t thought about what it is I’m going to say. I don’t need to say anything except Let’s fucking go. “What would you say?” I dare to ask.

    “Well, first of all”—she pauses to give the bartender two fives and pulls the glasses near her—“Lillian wouldn’t be down at some restaurant with another girl . . . or guy, without me.” She takes a big drink out of one glass and looks at me. “I would have burned that shit to the ground already.”

    I really don’t like her tone much. “Yet you tell me to come and have a drink before I go?”

    She shrugs. “I didn’t say my way was right. I’m just saying.”

    “This is bullshit. You are bullshit. I’m going.”

    As I take a couple steps toward the door, the headache-inducing country music playing in the small bar gradually gets louder and louder, and I know what’s coming. I shouldn’t have even come to this shitty bar in the first place. I should’ve gone straight to find Tessa instead. The patrons inside all start cheering, and I turn to see two of the middle-aged bartenders climb onto the bar top.

    This is so damn awkward. Entertaining, but still fucking weird.

    “You’re going to miss the show!” Riley cackles.

    I’m about to say something, but I hear a sound behind me, and once again, I sense what’s coming. As I turn, my mouth dries and my blood begins to boil instantly. Because as I do, Tessa stumbles in through the door of the little roadhouse. With

    Rather than rushing him like I’d like to do, I step back to the bar and say to the back of Riley’s head, “She’s here, with him. That’s her.”

    Riley takes her eyes off the old women on the bar and turns. Her jaw drops. “Holy shit, she’s hot.”

    I glare at her. “Stop. Don’t look at her like that.”

    “Lillian said she was pretty, but, fuck, look at her big ti—”

    “Don’t finish that sentence.” I stare at Tessa. She is fucking hot, I know this, but more importantly she’s drunk and she’s laughing as she navigates through the high-topped tables. She chooses an empty one close to the bathroom and takes a seat.

    “I’m going over there,” I tell Riley. I don’t have a fucking clue why I’m telling her anything, but part of me sort of wants to know what she’d do if she were in my shoes. I know Tessa is upset with me for a whole list of shit, and I don’t exactly want to add anything else to it. She doesn’t have any right to be mad at me, anyway—she’s the one hanging out with a random-ass guy from dinner, and now she comes stumbling in here drunk and laughing. With him.

    “Why don’t you just wait . . . you know, watch her for a little bit,” Riley suggests.

    “What a fucking stupid idea—why would I watch her hang all over that douche bag? She’s mine, and . . .”

    Riley looks up at me with curious eyes. “Does she throw a fit when you call her yours?”

    “No. She likes it, I think.” At least she once told me she did: “Yours, Hardin, yours,” she moaned into my neck as I shifted my hips, burying myself deeper inside of her.

    “Lill gets so pissed off when I say that. She thinks I’m claiming her as property or something,” Riley says next to me, but all I can focus on is Tessa. The way she gathers her long hair in one hand and moves it to one shoulder. My anger is rising, my annoyance is growing, and my focus is blurring. How does she not know that I’m here? I can always tell when she enters a room; it’s like the air changes and my body can literally feel hers coming near. She’s too busy paying attention to him; he’s probably telling her the proper way to pour water into a damn glass.

    Still looking at my girl, I say, “Well, Tess is mine, so I don’t care what she thinks about being claimed.”

    “Spoken like a true asshole,” Riley says and looks over at Tessa. “You have to compromise, though. If she’s anything like Lillian, she’ll get sick of it and you’ll end up with an ultimatum.”

    “What?” I tear my eyes away from Tessa for a moment, and it’s torture.

    “Lillian got sick of my shit and left me. She”—she lifts her glass toward Tessa—“will do the same thing if you don’t listen to what she wants sometimes.”

    It’s amazing how much cooler Lillian is than her girlfriend. “Okay, you don’t know anything about our relationship, so you don’t know what you’re talking about.” I look back at Tessa, who is now sitting alone at the table fiddling with a stray lock of hair and moving her shoulders to the music. After a second, I locate her waiter friend at the end of the bar, and my nerves calm slightly because of the distance between them.

    “Look, man,” Riley says. “I don’t have to know the details. I’ve spent the last . . . almost hour with you. I know that you’re a dumb-ass and she’s a needy . . .” When I open my mouth to cuss her out, she just continues: “Lillian is, too, so don’t get all pissy over it. She’s needy, and you know it. But you know what the best part about having a needy girlfriend is?” She gives a wicked smile. “Besides the frequent sex, of course . . .”

    “Get to the point.” I roll my eyes and look back to Tessa. Her cheeks are red and her eyes are wide in amusement as she watches the women finishing up their dance on the bar. Any second she’ll see me standing here.

    “The best part is that they need us, just not in the way you expect them to need you, though. They need us to be there for them sometimes, too. Lillian was always so caught up in trying to save . . . me or whatever the hell she was doing . . . that her needs weren’t being met. I mean, I didn’t even acknowledge her birthday. I didn’t do shit for her. I thought I was, though, because I was around her and sometimes telling her that I love her, but it wasn’t enough.”

    An unwelcome chill travels down my spine. I watch as Riley finishes the rest of her first drink. “But she’s with you now, right?”

    “Yeah, but only because I showed her that she can depend on me and that I’m not the same bitch I was when she met me.” She looks over at Tessa, then back to me. “You know that saying all the stupid girls are always posting online? I think it’s like, ‘While you’re making . . . if you don’t’ . . . fuck. I can’t remember, but basically it says treat your girl well or someone else will.”

    “I don’t treat her bad.” Not all the time, at least.

    She barks out a disbelieving little laugh. “Dude, just own it. Look, I’m no saint. I still don’t treat Lillian the way I should, but I own that shit. You are in some hard-core denial if you’re sitting here thinking you don’t treat her like shit—if you didn’t, she wouldn’t be sitting over there with that douche, who happens to be the exact opposite of you and pretty damn hot.”

    I can’t even argue with her; she’s right, for the most part. I don’t treat Tessa like shit all the time, only when she does something to get me going. Like right now.

    And earlier.

    “She’s looking,” Riley tells me, and my blood runs cold. I turn my head slowly in Tessa’s direction.

    Her eyes are focused on mine—blazing—and I swear I see a hint of red in them as she looks at Riley and then back to me. She doesn’t move, she doesn’t even blink. Her stare turns from surprised to primal in an instant, and I’m taken aback by the murderous glare directed our way.

    “She’s so pissed.” Riley laughs next to me, and it takes everything in me not to pour her backup drink over her head.

    Instead, I mumble, “Shut up,” grab the drink, and walk toward Tessa.

    Her douchey waiter is still at the end of the bar by the time I reach her.

    “Whoa, I never thought I’d find you here, in a bar, drinking with another girl. Surprise, surprise,” she quips with a sarcastic smile.

    “Why are you here?” I ask, stepping closer to her.

    She leans away. “Why are

    “Tessa,” I warn, and she rolls her eyes.

    “Not tonight, Hardin, not happening.” She climbs off of the tall chair and pulls her dress down.

    “Don’t walk away from me.” My words come out as a command, but I know they’re really a plea. I reach for her arm, but she pulls away.

    “Why not? That’s what you always do to me.” She glares at Riley again. “We’re both here with other people.”

    I shake my head. “Fuck, no. That’s Lillian’s girlfriend.”

    Her shoulders instantly relax. “Oh.” She looks into my eyes and pulls her bottom lip between her teeth.

    “We need to leave now.”

    “So go.”

    “You and I,” I clarify.

    “I’m not going anywhere except somewhere fun, more fun than this place, since you’re here and you’re always stopping my fun. You’re like the fun police.” She smiles at her own stupid joke and continues. “That’s exactly what you are! You’re the fun police. I should really get you a badge made and you can wear it all around—you know, to stop everyone’s fun,” she rambles and bursts into full-on giggles.

    Christ, she’s fucking wasted.

    “How much did you drink?” I yell over the music. I thought it was going to die down, but apparently the elderly dancers have been goaded into an encore.

    She shrugs. “I don’t know. A few, and this one, too.” She takes the cup from my hand before I can stop her, sets it on the table, and hoists herself back onto the chair.

    “Don’t drink that. You’re obviously smashed.”

    “What’s that sound?” She puts her hand to her ear. “Is that the siren of the fun police I hear? Wah, wah, For a second she pouts like a child, then laughs. “Go away if you’re going to be a fun-sucker.” Tessa lifts the glass to her mouth and takes three large gulps. She’s swallowed half the drink in seconds.

    “You’re going to get sick,” I say.

    “Blah, blah, blah,” she mocks, tilting her head back and forth with each word. She looks past me, and a small smirk plays on her lips. “You know Robert, right?”

    I look to my side to find the asshole is standing next to me with a drink in each hand.

    “Nice to see you again,” Robert says, then half smiles. His eyes are bloodshot. He’s drunk, too.

    Did he take advantage of her? Did he kiss her?

    I take a deep breath. His father is the sheriff. His father is the sheriff. His father is the sheriff.

    His father is the fucking sheriff of this shithole of a town.

    I look back at Tessa and say over my shoulder, “Go away.”

    Tessa rolls her eyes. I forgot how ballsy she becomes when she has liquor in her veins. “Don’t go,” she says, challenging me, and he sits down at the table. “Don’t you have company to entertain?” she taunts.

    “No, I don’t. Let’s go home.” I’m barely controlling my temper. If this were any other night, Robert’s face would be imprinted on the table by now.

    “That cabin isn’t home; we’re hours from home.” She finishes off the drink she stole from me. Then she gives me a look that somehow manages to mix loathing, drunk-flippancy, and indifference. “Actually, as of Monday, I don’t have a home anyway, thanks to you.”