Chapter Fifty-One

After We Fell

chapter fifty-one




They won’t stop, they won’t stop touching her. His dirty, wrinkled hands run up her thighs, and she whimpers as the other man fists her ponytail in his hand, pulling her head back, hard.

    “Get away from her!” I try to shout at them, but they can’t hear me. I try to move but am frozen on the staircase from my childhood. Her gray eyes are wide, afraid, and absolutely fucking lifeless as she looks at me while a purple bruise already begins forming on her cheek.

    “You don’t love me,” she whispers. Her eyes burn into mine as his hand creeps up and wraps around her neck.


    “Yes; yes, I do! I do love you, Tess!” I shout, but she doesn’t

    She shakes her head as he tightens his grip on her and his friend reaches down between her legs.

    “No!” I scream one last time before she begins to fade in front of my eyes.

    “You don’t love me . . .” Her eyes are bloodshot from his assault, and I can’t do a damn thing to help her.

    “Tess!” I flail my arm out across the bed to reach for her. The moment I touch her, this panic will go away, taking with it the fucked-up images of those hands wrapped around her neck.

    She’s not here.

    She didn’t come back. I sit up and click on the lamp on the nightstand and scan the room. My heart is hammering against my rib cage, and my body is drenched in sweat.

    She’s not here.

    A light knock at the door sounds, and I hold my breath as it creaks open. Please be . . .

    “Hardin?” Karen’s soft voice fills the room. Fuck.

    “I’m fine,” I snap, and she opens the door further.

    “If you need anything, please let me—”

    “I fucking said I’m fine!” My hand swipes across the nightstand, knocking the lamp to the floor with a hideous crash.

    Without a word, Karen leaves the room, closing the door behind her, and I’m left alone in the darkness.


TESSA’S HEAD lies on the counter, cushioned by her crossed arms. She’s still in her pajamas, and her hair is in a nest on top of her head. “I just need to take some Tylenol and drink some water,” she groans.

    Landon sits next to her, spooning cereal into his mouth.

    “I’ll get you some. Once we get the car packed up, we can head out. Ken is still in bed, though; he had trouble sleeping last night,” Karen says.

    Tessa looks up at her but stays silent. I know she’s thinking, Did they all hear me screaming like a pathetic little bitch?

    Karen walks over to open a drawer and grabs a couple of foil packets. I watch all three of them, waiting for someone to acknowledge me. No one does.

    “I’m going to go pack; thank you so much for the Tylenol.” Tessa’s voice is soft as she stands up from her seat at the counter. She takes the medication quickly, and when she sets the glass of water back onto the counter, her eyes meet mine, but she quickly looks away.

    It’s only been one night without her, and already I miss her so much. I can’t get the haunting images from my nightmare out of my mind, especially when she walks past me with no emotion at all. Nothing to let me know that I’ll be okay.

    The dream felt so real, and she’s being so cold.

    I stand still for a moment debating whether or not to follow her, but my feet decide for me as they scale the stairs. When I enter the room, she’s kneeling down, unzipping the suitcase.

    “I’m just going to pack everything, then we can go,” she says without turning around.

    I nod, then realize that she can’t see me. “Yeah, okay,” I mutter. I don’t know what she’s thinking, what she’s feeling, or what I should say. I’m fucking clueless, as usual.

    “I’m sorry,” I say too damn loud.

    “I know,” she replies quickly. Her back is still turned to me as she begins to refold my clothes from the dresser and floor.

    “I really am. I didn’t mean what I said.” I need her to look at me so I can be reassured that my dream was just that.

    “I know you didn’t. Don’t worry about it.” She sighs, and I notice the way her shoulders are slumped lower than before.

    “Are you sure . . . I said some fucked-up shit.” You’re broken, Hardin, and I can’t fix was the worst possible thing she could have said to me. She finally realizes how fucked up I am, and more importantly, she realizes that there’s no cure for what’s wrong with me. No one can fix me if it isn’t her.

    “So did I. It’s fine. I have a really bad headache; can we talk about something else?”

    “Of course.” I kick at a piece of the lamp I broke last night. I have to owe my father and Karen at least five fucking lamps by now.

    I feel slightly guilty for snapping at Karen last night, but I don’t want to bring it up to her first, and she’s probably too polite and understanding to bring it up herself.

    “Can you get your stuff from the bathroom, please?” Tessa asks.

    The remainder of my time at that damn cabin is spent this way, watching Tessa as she packs our things and cleans up the broken lamp without another word to me, without really looking at me.