Chapter Forty-Nine

After We Fell


chapter forty-nine

 

TESSA

 

Hardin’s hand reaches for mine to aid me, and I’m surprised. By the way he was scowling and pouting the entire time I was dancing, I thought he’d be yelling by now. Or worse, I was half expecting him to climb up and drag me off the bar, then start a brawl with all the customers.

    “See, no one noticed that you’re a shitty dancer!” Riley laughs, and I sit down on the cool bar top.

    “That was actually so much fun!” I yell, and once again the music stops. I laugh and jump down from the bar, Hardin’s arm wrapped protectively around me until I’m steady enough for him to retreat.

    “You should get up there next time!” I say into Hardin’s ear, and he shakes his head.

    “No,” he says solemnly.

    “Don’t pout, it’s not cute.” I reach out and touch his lips. It is cute, though, the way his bottom lip sticks out. His eyes shine at the contact, and my pulse quickens. I already feel high from the adrenaline that came from dancing on the bar top, something I never in my life thought I would do. As much fun as it was, I know I’ll never do it again. Hardin sits down on the bar stool, and I stay standing between him and Riley, next to my empty stool.

    “You love it.” He smiles, my fingers still pressed against his lips.

    “Your lips?” I say with a smirk.

    He shakes his head. He’s playful yet very serious at the same time, and it’s intoxicating, he’s intoxicating, and I’m highly intoxicated. This should be interesting.

    “No, pissing me off. You love to piss me off.” His tone is dry.

    “No. You just get pissed off too easily.”

    “You were dancing on a bar in front of a roomful of people.” His face is mere inches from mine, and his breath is a heady combination of mint and whiskey. “Obviously that would get to me, Tessa. You’re lucky I didn’t pull you down, put you over my shoulder, and carry you out of this place.”

    “Over your shoulder, not your knee?” I tease and stare into his eyes, completely disarming him.

    “Wh-what?” he stutters.

    I laugh before turning to Riley. “Don’t let him fool you, he loved that shit,” she whispers to me, and I nod. My stomach tightens at the thought of Hardin watching me, but my mind tries to overrule my dirty thoughts. I should be fuming, I should be ignoring him or yelling at him over sabotaging Seattle for me, again, or for the hurtful words he said to me, but it’s nearly impossible to be pissed off when I’m this drunk.

    I allow myself to pretend that none of that happened, at least for now, and imagine that Hardin and I are a normal couple out with our friend having a drink. No lies, no dramatic fights, only fun and table dancing.

    “I still can’t believe I actually did that!” I say to both of them.

    “Me either,” Hardin grumbles.

    “I won’t be doing it again, that’s for sure.” I swipe my hand across my forehead. I’m sweaty and it’s hot in the small bar; the air is thick and I need to breathe.

    “What’s wrong?” he asks.

    “Nothing, it’s hot.” I fan myself with my hand, and he nods once.

    “Let’s go, then, before you pass out.”

    “No, I want to stay longer. I’m having such fun. I mean, such a fun time.”

    “You can’t even form a coherent sentence.”

    “So? Maybe I don’t want to. Either you loosen up or you can go.”

    “You . . .” he begins, but I cover his mouth with my palm.

    “Shh . . . for once just shh. Let’s have fun.” I use my other hand to touch his thigh again, squeezing this time.

    “Fine,” he says into my hand.

    I uncover his mouth, but I keep my hand inches away so I can cover it again if I need to.

    “No more dancing on the bar,” he says, gently negotiating.

    “Fine. No more pouting or scowling,” I fire back.

    He smiles. “Fine.”

    “Stop saying ‘fine.’ ” I bite back a grin.

    He nods. “Fine.”

    “You’re annoying-ish.”

    “Annoying-ish? What would your Literature professor say to that kind of grammar?” Hardin’s eyes are deep jade, alight with humor, splashed bloodshot from the liquor.

    “You’re funny sometimes.” I lean into him.

    He hooks his arm around my waist and brings me between his legs. “Sometimes?” He kisses my hair, and I relax in his grip.

    “Yep, only sometimes.”

    He chuckles and doesn’t let me go. I don’t think I want him to. I know I should, but I don’t. He’s drunk and playful, and the alcohol in my system makes me lose sight of all common sense . . . as always.

    “Look at the two of you getting along.” Riley holds her hands up to us like we’re on display.

    “She’s so annoying,” Hardin huffs.

    “Twins.” I laugh, and he shakes his head at me.

 

“LAST CALL!” My new friend calls from behind the bar. In the last hour I have learned that her name is Cami, that she’s nearly fifty, and that she just had her first grandchild in December. She shoved some printed pictures in my face, like every grandmother does, and I praised them, telling her how beautiful the child is. Hardin barely glanced at the images. Instead he started mumbling something about trolls, and so I quickly pulled the picture away from him before Cami heard.

    I sway from side to side. “One more and I’m so done.”

    “I don’t know how you haven’t passed out yet!” Riley exclaims, with obvious admiration.

    I do: Hardin has been taking my drinks from me halfway through and finishing them himself.

    been drinking more than anyone, probababally more than himmm,” I slur, pointing to the man at the end of the bar who has literally passed out with his head on the top of the bar. “I wish Lillian could’ve come with us,” I say, and Hardin crinkles his nose.

    “I thought you hated her?” he asks, and Riley snaps her head to me.

    “I don’t hate her,” I correct him. “I didn’t like her when you were trying to make me jealous by hanging out with her.”

    Riley tenses, looking at Hardin beside me. “What?”

    Shit.

    “Don’t back away now, darling,” she presses.

    I’m trapped and drunk and have no idea what the hell to say. I don’t want to make her mad, that’s for sure.

    “Nothing,” Hardin says to her and holds up a hand. “I was being a dick and didn’t tell Tessa that she was gay. You already know that.”

    Her shoulders relax. “Oh, okay, then.”

    Jeez, she’s just like him.

    “See, nothing happened, so chill out,” Hardin says to her.

    “I’m chill, trust me,” she coos and moves her stool slightly closer to mine. “Nothing wrong with a little jealousy, right?” Riley looks at me with a glint in her drunken gaze. “Have you ever kissed a girl, Tessa?”

    My scalp prickles, and I gasp dramatically. “What?”

    “Riley, what the—” Hardin says, but she cuts him off.

    “I’m only asking a question. Have you ever kissed a girl?”

    “No.”

    “Have you ever thought about it?”

    Drunk or not, I feel the embarrassment creeping onto my cheeks. “I—”

    “Being with a girl is much better, honestly. They’re soft.” Her hand moves to my arm. “They know exactly what you want . . . where you want it.”

    Hardin reaches up and swipes her hand from my skin. “Enough,” he growls, and I pull my arm away.

    Riley breaks into uncontrollable laughter. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I couldn’t resist. He started it.” She nods toward Hardin through her convulsions and then stops to look at him with a big smile. “I warned you earlier not to fuck with me.”

    I let out a breath, extremely relieved that she was only trying to get a rise out of Hardin. A giggle bursts from my mouth, and Hardin looks mortified, pissed off, and . . . maybe slightly turned on?

    “You’re paying for the drinks, since you want to be an asshole,” Hardin says, pushing the long piece of paper past me and in front of her.

    Riley rolls her eyes and reaches into her back pocket, pulling out a card and placing it on top of the receipt. Cami quickly swipes it and goes to attend to the passed-out man at the other end of the bar.

    As we get to the door, Riley announces, “Well, we closed down the bar—Lil is going to be

    Hardin holds the door for me to walk out. He almost closes it in her face, but I reach out to stop it and give him a hard glare. He laughs and shrugs as if he did nothing wrong, and I can’t stop the smile on my face. He’s a jerk, but he’s my jerk.

    Isn’t he?

    Nothing’s for certain, but I sure as hell don’t want to think about that while walking back to the cabin at two in the morning.

    “Will she still be asleep?” I ask Riley.

    “I sure as hell hope so.”

    I hope everyone in our cabin is asleep, too. The last thing I want is for Ken or Karen to be awake as we stumble through the front door.

    “What? Are you afraid she’ll scold you or something?” Hardin taunts her.

    “No . . . well, yes. I don’t want to upset her. I’m already skating on thin ice.”

    “Why?” I ask nosily.

    “Doesn’t matter,” Hardin says, dismissing me and leaving Riley lost in thought.

    The remainder of the walk is spent in near silence. I count my steps and laugh occasionally when I recall my bar-dancing experience.

    When we reach Max’s cabin, Riley hesitates before departing. “It was . . . nice to meet you,” she says. I can’t help but laugh at the comical way she scrunches her face, as if the words taste sour coming out of her mouth.

    I smile. “You, too; it was fun.” For a moment I think about hugging her, but that would be awkward and I get the feeling Hardin wouldn’t like it at all.

    “Bye,” Hardin simply states without stopping.

    When we’re almost to the cabin, it hits me how tired I am and how I’m so thankful to be close. My feet are aching, and the harsh fabric of this itchy, uncomfortable dress has surely scratched my skin.

    “My feet hurt,” I whine.

    “Come here, I’ll carry you,” Hardin offers.

    What? I giggle.

    He smiles uncertainly. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

    “You just offered to carry me.”

    “And . . .”

    “It’s just unlike you, that’s all.” I shrug, and he steps closer, hooks his arm under my legs, and lifts me into his arms.

    “I would do anything for you, Tessa. You shouldn’t be surprised that I’d carry you up a damn driveway.”

    I don’t speak, I just laugh. Hard. Uncontrollable laughter racks my body. I cover my mouth to stop it, but it doesn’t help one bit.

    “Why are you laughing?” His face is stone, serious and intimidating.

    “I don’t know . . . that was just funny,” I say.

    We reach the porch, and he shifts me slightly so he can turn the knob on the door. “Me telling you that I’d do anything for you is funny?”

    “You’ll do anything for me—except go to Seattle, marry me, or have children with me?” Even in my drunkenness, the irony is not lost on me.

    “Don’t start with me; we’re too drunk to have this conversation right now.”

    “Ooooh,” I immaturely remark, knowing that he’s right.

    Hardin shakes his head and walks up the stairs. I latch on to his neck, and he smiles down at me despite his curt behavior.

    “Don’t drop me,” I whisper, and he lets go of me just enough to slide me down his torso. I turn and wrap my legs around his waist, letting out a small yelp as I cling to his body.

    “Shh, if I was going to drop you,” he threatens, “it would be from the top.”

    I do my best to look appalled. A wicked grin spreads over his face, and I lean up and stick my tongue out at him, touching the end of his nose with it.

    I blame the whiskey.

    At the end of the hall, a light clicks on, and Hardin hurries to the room we’re sharing. “You woke them up,” he says and places me on the bed. I lean down to remove my shoes, rubbing my sore ankles as I drop the monstrous shoes to the floor.

    “Your fault,” I say and walk past him and open the dresser drawer to dig out something more comfortable to sleep in. “This dress is killing me,” I groan, reaching behind me to unzip it. It was much easier to zip it when I was sober.

    “Here.” Hardin moves behind me and brushes my hand aside. “What the hell?”

    “What?”

    His fingers trace over my skin, raising goose bumps. “Your skin is red, like the dress left these marks on you.” He touches a spot under my shoulder blade and pushes the fabric down my back until it hits the floor.

    “It was really uncomfortable,” I whine.

    “I can see that.” He circles me with hungry eyes. “Nothing is supposed to be marking you, except me.”

    I gulp. He’s drunk, playful, and his dark eyes give away exactly what he’s thinking.

    “Come here.” He steps toward me, closing the small gap between us. He’s fully dressed, and I’m only in a bra and panties.

    I shake my head. “No . . .” I know there’s something I have to say to him, I just can’t recall what it is. I can barely remember my name when he’s looking at me this way.

    “Yes,” he counters, and I back away.

    “I’m not having sex with you.”

    He grabs me by the arm and pushes his free hand into my hair, gently tugging at it so I’m forced to look up at him. His breath fans across my face, his lips only inches from mine. “And why is that?” he asks.

    “Because . . .” My mind scrambles for answers as my subconscious begs for the rest of my clothes to be torn off. “I’m upset with you.”

    “So? I’m upset with you, too.” His lips graze over my skin, trailing along my jawline. My knees are weak, my mind is heavy and cloudy.

    I crinkle my brow and ask, “Why would you be? I didn’t do anything.” My stomach clenches when his hands move to my backside, squeezing and kneading slowly.

    “Your little show on the bar was enough to send me to the fucking madhouse, not to mention the fact that you were parading around town with that fucking waiter; you disrespected me in front of everyone by staying with him.” His tone is threatening, but his lips are soft as they travel down to my neck. “I want you so bad, I wanted you at that shitty bar. After watching you dance like that, I wanted to take you into the bathroom and fuck you against the wall.” He presses himself against me, and I can feel how hard he is.

    As much as I want him, I can’t allow him to blame everything on me.

    “You . . .” I close my eyes, relishing the feeling of his hands on me, his lips on me. “You are the one . . .” I can’t form a solid thought, let alone make a sentence. “Stop it.”

    I grab his hands to stop them from groping me further.

    His eyes flash, and he drops his hands to his sides. “You don’t want me?”

    “Of course I do, I always do. I just . . . I’m supposed to be mad.”

    “Be mad tomorrow,” he says with that evil grin of his.

    “I always do that, I need to—”

    “Shh . . .” He covers my mouth with his lips and kisses me, hard. My lips part, and he takes full advantage, tugging at my hair once more, dipping his tongue into my mouth, and pulling me as close to his body as possible.

    “Touch me,” he begs, reaching for my hands. I don’t have to be told twice; I want to touch him, and he needs the reassurance. This is the way we deal with things, and as unhealthy as it is, it doesn’t feel that way when he’s kissing me like this and begging me to put my hands on him.

    I fumble for the buttons on his shirt, and he groans impatiently, using both hands to tug at either side of it, popping off the buttons.

    “I liked that shirt,” I say into his mouth, and he smiles, his lips against mine.

    “I hated it.”

    I push the fabric down past his shoulders and let it fall to the floor. His tongue is slow in my mouth, and I’m melting in his arms at the rough yet incredibly sweet kiss. I feel the anger and frustration behind his lips, but he does his best to hide it. He’s always hiding.

    “I know you’ll leave me soon,” he says, moving his lips down to my neck again.

    “What?” I pull back a little, surprised by his words, and confused.

    My heart aches for him, the liquor making me even more sympathetic toward his feelings. I love him, I love him so much. But he makes me feel so weak, so vulnerable. The moment I allow myself to believe he’s worried, sad, or upset in any way, it’s like all my emotions shift, only focusing on him and not myself or how I feel.

    “I love you so,” he whispers, dragging his thumb slowly across my lips. His bare chest and torso look heavenly against his black jeans, and I know I’m at his complete mercy.

    “Hardin, what—”

    “Let’s talk later. I want to feel you.” He guides me to the bed, and I try to ignore my mind screaming at me to stop him, not to give in to him. I can’t, though. I’m not strong enough to stop myself when his callused hands are running up my thighs, pushing them open slightly, when he’s teasing me with an index finger running over my panties.

    “Condom,” I pant, and his bloodshot eyes meet mine.

    “What if we don’t use one? What if I come inside of you, you wouldn’t be . . .”

    But he stops himself, and I’m glad. I don’t think I’m prepared for whatever it was he was going to say. He lifts himself off of me, stands to his feet, and saunters over to the suitcase on the floor. I lie back, staring at the ceiling, trying to sift through my drunken thoughts. Do I really need Seattle? Is Seattle important enough to me to lose Hardin? The pain that courses through me at the thought is nearly unbearable.

    “Are you fucking kidding me?” he says from across the room.

    When I sit up, he’s staring down at a small piece of paper in his hand.

    “What the fuck is this?” he asks as his eyes meet mine.

    “What?” I look down at the floor; my dress lies in a pile on the dark hardwood with my shoes. At first I’m a little confused, but then I look down and see my bra lying on the floor. Shit. I hop up quickly and attempt to grab the paper from him.

    “Don’t play stupid with me—you got his fucking He gapes, holding the paper above his head so I have no chance of taking it back.

    “It wasn’t like that, I was mad and he was—”

    “Bullshit!” he shouts.

    Here we go. I know that look. I still remember the first time I saw that look on his face. He was pushing over the cabinet at his father’s house the first time I saw his face twisted in anger this way. “Hardin—”

    “Go on, call him. Let him fuck you—because I sure as hell don’t want to.”

    “Don’t overreact,” I beg. I’m too drunk to get into a screaming match with him.

    I just found another guy’s number in your dress,” he hisses through his teeth, jaw clenched in annoyance.

    “You aren’t innocent here either,” I remark as he paces back and forth. “If you’re going to yell at me, save your breath. I’m done fighting with you every single day,” I say with a sigh.

    He points at me angrily. “You do this! You’re the one that constantly enrages me; it’s your fault that I’m like this, and you know it!”

    “No! No, it’s not.” I struggle to keep my voice down. “You can’t blame everything on me. We both make mistakes.”

    “No, you make mistakes. A shit ton of them, and I’m sick of it.” He tugs at his hair. “You think I want to be this way? Fuck no, I don’t. You do this to me!”

    I stay quiet.

    “Go on, cry,” he says, mocking me.

    “I’m not going to cry.”

    His eyes go wide. “Well, surprise, surprise.” He claps his hands in the most degrading way possible.

    I laugh. Which stops him.

    “Why are you laughing?” He stares at me for a beat. “Answer me.”

    I shake my head. “You’re fucked up. I mean colossally fucked up.”

    “And you’re a selfish bitch. What else is new?” he snaps, and my laughter comes to an abrupt halt.

    I rise from the bed without a word, without a tear, and grab a T-shirt and shorts from the drawer. I pull them on hastily as he watches me.

    “Where do you think you’re going?” he asks.

    “Leave me alone.”

    “No, come here.” He reaches for me and I desperately want to slap him, but I know he’ll stop me.

    “No, get off of me!” I shake my arm from his grip. “I’m done. I’m so done with this back-and-forth. I’m tired and exhausted, and I don’t want to do it anymore. You don’t love me—you want to possess me, and I won’t let you.” I look straight into his brilliant green eyes. Straight through them, and say, “You’re broken, Hardin, and I can’t fix you.”

    His face falls at the realization of what he’s done to me, and to himself, and he stands in front of me with all emotion pulled out of him. His shoulders sink, and his eyes are no longer brilliant as he stares back at me, finally seeing a blank expression mirrored back at him. I have nothing left to say, he has nothing left to break inside of me or himself, and by the way the color has drained from his face, he’s finally realized it.