Chapter Two

After We Fell


chapter two

 

HARDIN

 

Tessa’s piece-of-shit sperm donor scarfs down two plates of food before even stopping to take a breath. I’m sure he was starving, living on the streets and all. It’s not that I don’t feel bad for people who are down on their luck and have hit hard times—it’s that this specific man is a drunk and he abandoned his kid, so I don’t feel bad for him for a goddamn second.

    After gulping down some water, he beams at my girl. “You’re quite the cook, Tessie.”

    I think I’ll scream if he calls her that one more time.

    “Thank you.” She smiles, like the nice person she is. I can tell his bullshit is seeping in, filling the emotional cracks he created by leaving her when she was a child.

    “I mean it; maybe you could teach me this recipe sometime.”

    For you to use In your nonexistent kitchen?

    “Sure,” she says and stands to clear her plate, grabbing mine on the way.

    “I can go now. I appreciate dinner,” and stands.

    “No, you can . . . you can stay tonight, if you want, and we can take you back . . . home in the morning,” she says slowly, unsure what words to use to describe his situation.

    What I’m sure of is that I don’t like this shit at all.

    “That would be great,” Dick says, rubbing his arms.

    He’s probably itching for a drink right now, the fucking prick.

    Tessa smiles. “Great. I’ll go get a pillow and some sheets from the bedroom.” Looking at her dad and me for a moment, she must notice how I’m feeling, because she asks, “You two’ll be okay for a minute, right?”

    Her dad laughs. “Yeah, I want to get to know him anyway.”

    Oh no, you don’t.

    She frowns at my expression and saunters out of the room, leaving us alone in the kitchen.

    “So, Hardin, where did you meet my Tessa?” he asks. I hear her close the door and wait a couple of beats to make sure she’s not in earshot. “Hardin?” he repeats.

    “Let’s get something straight,” I snarl and lean across the table, startling him. “She isn’t your Tessa—she’s mine. And I know what the fuck you’re up to, so don’t think for a goddamn second you’re fooling me.”

    He raises his hands meekly. “I’m not up to anything, I—”

    “What do you want, money?”

    “What? No, of course I don’t want money. I want a relationship with my daughter.”

    “You’ve had nine years to build one, and yet you’re only here because you ran into her in a damn parking lot. It’s not like you came looking for her,” I bark, having visions of my hands around his neck.

    “I know.” He shakes his head, looking down. “I know that I made a lot of mistakes, and I’m going to make up for them.”

    “You’re drunk—right now, sitting in my kitchen, you’re fucking drunk. I know a drunk when I see one. I have no sympathy for a man who leaves his family and doesn’t even have his shit together nine years later.”

    “I know your intentions are good, and it makes me happy to see you try to defend my daughter, but I’m not going to mess this up. I only want to get to know her . . . and you.”

    I stay silent, trying to calm my irate thoughts.

    “You’re much nicer when she’s around,” he observes quietly.

    “You’re worse of an actor when she’s not around,” I retaliate.

    “You have every right not to trust me, but for her sake, give me a chance.”

    “If you hurt her in any way, you are dead.” Maybe I should feel a little remorse about threatening Tessa’s father like this, but I only feel anger and distrust toward the pathetic drunk. My instincts tell me to protect her, not to sympathize with a drunk stranger.

    “I won’t hurt her,” he promises.

    I roll my eyes and take a drink from my glass of water.

    Thinking his statement somehow settles it, he tries to joke, “This talk—our roles should be reversed, you know?”

    But I ignore him and walk into the bedroom. I have to, before Tessa comes out to find me strangling her father.