Chapter Fifty-Two

After We Fell

chapter fifty-two




I’m so thrilled that we got to see Max and Denise again—it’s been years!” Karen gushes as Ken starts the SUV. The bags have been placed securely in the back, and I borrowed Landon’s headphones to distract myself during the drive.

    “It was nice. Lillian has grown so much.” Ken appeases Karen with a smile.

    “She has. She’s such a beautiful girl.”

    I can’t help but roll my eyes. Lillian was nice and all, but after spending hours under the impression that she was interested in Hardin, I’m not sure if I’ll ever care for the girl. I’m grateful that the chances of me seeing her again are slim to nonexistent.

    “Max hasn’t changed over the years,” Ken remarks, his voice low and disapproving. At least I’m not the only one who doesn’t care for his arrogance and haughty attitude.

    “Do you feel any better?” Landon turns around to ask me.

    “Not really.” I sigh.

    He nods. “You can sleep it off during the drive. Do you want a bottle of water?”

    “I can get it,” Hardin interjects.

    Ignoring him, Landon grabs a thing of water from the small cooler on the floor in front of his seat. I thank him quietly and push the earbuds into my ears. My phone freezes repeatedly, so I turn it off and on again, hoping it will work. This drive will be miserable if I can’t drown out the tension with music. I don’t know why I never did this before the “great depression,” when Landon had to show me how to download music.

    I smile slightly at the ridiculous nickname I’ve given those long days without Hardin; I don’t know why I’m smiling, given that those were the worst few days of my life. I feel a similar sensation now. I know that time is coming again.

    “What’s wrong?” Hardin leans down to speak into my ear, and on reflex I jerk away. He frowns and doesn’t make a move to touch me again.

    “Nothing, my phone is just . . . it’s junk.” I hold the device in the air.

    “What are you trying to do, exactly?”

    “Listen to music and hopefully sleep,” I whisper.

    He takes the phone from my hand and messes with the settings. “If you listened to me and got a new phone, this wouldn’t happen,” he scolds.

    I bite my tongue and stare out the window while he attempts to fix my phone. I don’t want a new one, and I don’t really have the money to get one right now, anyway. I have an apartment to find, new furniture to buy, bills to pay. The last thing on my mind is paying hundreds of dollars for something I already paid money for recently.

    “It’s working now, I think. If not, you can just use mine,” he says.

    Use his? Hardin is voluntarily offering to allow me to use his phone? This is new.

    “Thanks,” I mutter and scroll through the song list on my phone before choosing. Soon music floods through my ears and enters my thoughts, drowning out my inner turmoil.

    Hardin leans his head against the window and closes his eyes, the dark rings beneath them emphasizing his lack of sleep.

    A wave of guilt hits me, but I push it back. Within minutes, the calming music coaxes me to sleep.


“TESSA.” Hardin’s voice wakes me. “Are you hungry?”

    “No,” I groan, not wanting to open my eyes.

    “You’re hungover; you should eat,” he says.

    Suddenly I realize that I’m feeling the need for something to absorb all that stomach acid. “Fine,” I say, giving in. I don’t have the energy to put up a fight today, anyway.

    Minutes later a sandwich and fries are placed on my lap, and I open my eyes. I pick at the food and lay my head back on the seat after finishing half of it. But my phone has frozen yet again.

    Seeing me start to futz with it, Hardin pulls my earbuds out of my phone and plugs them into his. “Here.”


    He’s already opened the music app for me. A long list appears on the screen, and I scroll through to find anything familiar. I almost give up, but then my eyes move to a folder named I look over at Hardin, whose eyes, surprisingly, are closed and not watching me. When I tap the folder, all of my favorite music appears, even songs that I’ve never mentioned to him. He must have seen them on my phone.

    Things like these make me question myself. The small, thoughtful gestures that he tries to conceal from me are my favorite things in the entire world. I wish he’d stop hiding them.


WITH A GENTLE NUDGE, it’s Karen who wakes me this time. “Wake up, dear.”

    I look over and see Hardin is asleep; his hand is on the seat between us, his fingers barely touching my leg. Even in his sleep, he gravitates to me.

    “Hardin, wake up,” I whisper, and his eyes fly open, wide and immediately alert. He rubs them, then scratches his head and stares at me, gauging my expression.

    “Are you okay?” he asks quietly, and I nod. I’m trying to avoid any confrontation with him today, but I’m growing nervous at his calm demeanor. It’s usually a precursor to a blowup.

    We file out of the car, and Hardin walks to the back to retrieve our bags.

    Karen wraps her arms around me and hugs me tight. “Tessa, dear, thank you again for coming. It was a lovely time. Please come visit soon, but in the meanwhile, take Seattle by storm.” When she pulls away, her eyes are full of tears.

    “I’ll visit soon, I promise.” I hug her again. She has always been so kind and supportive of me, almost like the mother I never had.

    “Good luck, Tessa, and let me know if you need anything. I have a lot of connections in Seattle.” Ken smiles and awkwardly wraps an arm around my shoulder.

    “I’ll see you again before I leave for New York, so no hugs for you yet,” Landon says, and we both laugh.

    “I’ll be in the car,” Hardin mumbles and walks off, not even saying goodbye to his family.

    Watching him go, Ken says to me, “He’ll come around, if he knows what’s good for him.”

    I look at Hardin, who is now sitting in the car. “I sure hope so.”

    “Going back to England isn’t good for him. He has too many memories, too many enemies, too many mistakes there. You’re what’s good for him, you and Seattle,” Ken assures me, and I nod. If only Hardin saw it that way.

    “Thank you again.” I smile at them before joining Hardin in the car.

    He doesn’t say a word when I get in; he only turns on the radio and raises the volume up high so I know he doesn’t want to talk. I wish I knew what went on inside his mind at times like this, when he’s so unreadable.

    My fingers fiddle with the bracelet he gave me for Christmas, and I stare out the window as the drive continues. By the time we park at the apartment, the tension I feel between us has grown to an unbearable level. It’s driving me insane, yet he doesn’t seem to be affected at all.

    I move to get out, and Hardin’s large hand reaches over to stop me. He brings his other hand to my chin and tips my head up so I have to look at him. “I’m sorry. Please don’t be upset with me,” he says quietly, his mouth inches from mine.

    “Okay,” I breathe, inhaling his minty scent.

    “You’re not okay, though, I can tell. You’re holding back, and I hate it.”

    He’s right; he always knows exactly what I’m thinking, but yet he’s so clueless at the same time. It’s a confusing contradiction. “I don’t want to fight with you anymore.”

    “So don’t,” he states, as if it’s that simple.

    “I’m trying not to, but so much happened during that trip. I’m still trying to process it all,” I admit. It started with me finding out that Hardin sabotaged my apartment and ended with him calling me a selfish bitch.

    “I know I ruined the trip.”

    “It wasn’t only you. I shouldn’t have spent time with—”

    “Don’t finish,” he interrupts and drops his hand from my chin. “I don’t want to hear about it.”

    “Okay.” I glance away from his intense stare, and he puts his hand over mine, squeezing gently.

    “Sometimes I . . . well, sometimes I get . . . He sighs and starts again. “Sometimes when I think about us, I start to get paranoid, you know? Like I don’t know why you’re with me sometimes, so I act out and my mind starts making me believe that it won’t work or that I’m losing you, and that’s when I say stupid shit. If you could just forget about Seattle, we could be happy finally—no more distractions.”

    “Seattle isn’t a distraction, Hardin,” I reply softly.

    “It is. You’re only pushing it so much to prove a point.” It’s amazing how his tone can change from soothing to ice in a matter of seconds.

    I look out the window. “Can we please stop talking about Seattle? Nothing is changing: you don’t want to go, and I do. I’m sick of going around and around about it.”

    He pulls his hand away, and I turn back to him. “Fine, what do you suggest we do, then? You go to Seattle without me? How long do you think we would last? A week? A month?” His eyes regard me coolly, and I shiver.

    “We could make it work if we really wanted to. At least long enough for me to try Seattle and see if it’s what I want. If I don’t like it, we can go to England.”

    “No, no, no,” he says with a shrug. “If you go to Seattle, we won’t be together at all. That will be it.”

    “What? Why?” I fumble the words and scramble for my next response.

    “Because I don’t do long distance.”

    “You also didn’t ‘do’ dating, remember?” I remind him. It’s infuriating that I’m basically begging him to stay in a relationship with me when I should be considering leaving him for the way he treats me.

    “Look how that’s turning out,” he says cynically.

    “You were literally just apologizing for lashing out at me two minutes ago, and now you’re threatening to end our relationship if I go to Seattle without you?” I gape while he nods slowly. “So let me get this straight: you offered to marry me if I don’t go, but if I do go, you’re breaking up with me?” I wasn’t prepared to bring up his offer, but I couldn’t stop the words from coming.

    “Marry you?” His mouth falls open and his eyes narrow. I knew I shouldn’t have mentioned it. “What—”

    “You said that if I chose you, you’d marry me. I know you were drunk, but I thought maybe—”

    “You thought That I would marry you?” As he speaks these words, all of the air in the car disappears, and breathing proves harder and harder as the seconds pass in silence.

    I will not cry in front of this boy. “No, I knew you wouldn’t, I just—”

    “Then why bring it up? You know how drunk I was and desperate for you to stay—I would have said anything.”

    My heart sinks at his words, at the scorn in his voice. Like he’s blaming me for believing the bullshit that comes out of his mouth. I knew insulting me would be his reaction, but a small part of me—the part that still had faith in his love for me—led me to believe that maybe he meant his proposal.

    This is déjà vu. I once sat here, in this car seat, while he mocked me and laughed at me for thinking we would begin a relationship. The fact that I’m just as hurt now, actually a lot more hurt than I was then, makes me want to scream.

    I don’t, though. I sit there, quiet and embarrassed, just like I always do when Hardin does what he always does.

    “I love you. I love you more than anything, Tessa, and I don’t want to hurt your feelings, okay?”

    “Well, you’re doing an amazing job,” I snap and bite down on the inside of my cheek. “I’m going inside.”

    He sighs and opens his car door at the same time as I open mine. Going around to the back, he opens the trunk. I’d offer to help him carry the bags, but I really don’t feel like interacting with him, and he’d just insist on doing it himself anyway. Because more than anything, Hardin wants to be an island.

    We walk through the complex in silence, and the only noise in the elevator is the whir of the machinery pulling us upward.

    When we get to our place, Hardin puts his key in the lock, then asks me, “Did you forget to lock the door?”

    At first I don’t realize what he’s asked, but then I recover and reply, “No, you locked it. I remember.” I watched him lock the door before we left; I remember how he rolled his eyes and made a joke about me taking too long to get ready.

    “That’s weird,” he says, and steps inside. His eyes scan the room like he’s searching for something.

    “Do you think—” I start.

    “Someone was in here,” he answers, becoming instantly alert as he presses his mouth into a hard line.

    I begin to panic. “Are you sure? It doesn’t look like anything is missing.” I walk toward the hallway but he quickly pulls me back.

    “Don’t go in there until I look around,” he commands.

    I want to tell him to stay put, that I will check, but it’s silly, really: the idea of me protecting him, when in reality he’d be the one protecting me. I nod, and a chill creeps down my spine. What if someone really is inside? Who would come into our apartment when we aren’t here and not steal the giant flat-screen television I can still see hanging on the wall in the living room?

    Hardin disappears into our bedroom, and I hold my breath until I hear his voice again.

    “It’s clear.” He reappears from the bedroom, and I let out a deep breath.

    “Are you sure someone was here?”

    “Yes, but I don’t know why they didn’t take anything . . .”

    “Me either.” My eyes scan the room, and I notice the difference. The small stack of books on the nightstand next to Hardin’s side of the bed has been moved. I especially remember the highlighted book I gave him being on top, because it made me smile knowing that he was reading it over again.

    “It was your fucking dad!” he suddenly shouts.

    “What?” If I’m honest, the thought was already planted in my mind, but I didn’t want to be the one say it.

    “It had to be him! Who else would know we were gone and come into our home but not steal shit? Only him, that stupid, drunk motherfucker!”


    “Call him, right now,” he demands.

    I reach for my phone in my back pocket but then freeze. “He doesn’t have a phone.”

    Hardin throws his hands up like it’s the worst thing he’s ever heard. “Oh yeah, of course not. He’s fucking broke and homeless.”

    “Stop it,” I say with a glare. “Just because you think it may have been him doesn’t mean you can say things like that in front of me!”

    “Fine.” He lowers his arms and makes a sweeping gesture to escort me out. “Let’s go find him, then.”

    I walk over to our landline. “No! We should just call the police and report it, not go on a manhunt for my father.”

    “Call the police and say what? That your drug-addict father broke into our apartment but didn’t steal anything?”

    I stop in my tracks and turn to face him. I can practically feel my temper flaring through my eyes. “Drug addict?”

    He blinks rapidly and takes a step toward me. “I meant drunk . . .” He doesn’t look at me. He’s lying.

    “Tell me why you said drug addict,” I demand.

    He shakes his head, running his hands over his hair. He looks at me, then down at the floor. “It’s just an assumption, okay?”

    “And why would you assume that?” My eyes burn and my throat aches at the thought. Hardin and his brilliant assumptions.

    “I don’t know, maybe because that guy who showed up to pick him up looked like your everyday meth addict.” He looks up at me with softness in his eyes. “Did you see the guy’s arms?”

    I remember the man scratching his forearms, but he was wearing long sleeves. “My father is not a drug addict . . .” I say slowly, unsure if I believe the words that are coming out of my mouth, but knowing that I’m not ready to face the possibility.

    “You don’t even know him. I wasn’t even going to say anything.” He steps toward me again, but I back away.

    My bottom lip trembles, and I can’t look at him any longer. “You don’t know him either. And if you weren’t going to say anything, then why did you?”

    He shrugs. “I don’t know.”

    My headache has now intensified, and I’m so exhausted that I feel like I could pass out at any moment. “What was the point of saying it, then?”

    “I said it because it just came out, and he broke into our fucking apartment.”

    “You don’t know that.” He wouldn’t. Would he?

    “Fine, Tessa, you go ahead and pretend that your dad—who, may I remind you, is a perfectly innocent here.”

    His nerve is outstanding, as always. He is calling my father out for drinking? Hardin Scott is calling someone out for their drinking, when he gets so drunk that he can barely remember anything the next day?

    “You’re a drunk, too!” I say and then instantly cover my mouth.

    “What did you say?” Any trace of sympathy drops from his face. He eyes me like a predator, starts circling me.

    I feel bad, but I can see he’s just trying to scare me into staying quiet. He’s so unaware of himself and how he is. “If you think about it, you are. You only drink when you’re upset or angry; you don’t know when to stop drinking; and you’re a mean drunk. You break things and get into fights—”

    “I’m not a fucking drunk. I had stopped drinking altogether until you came along.”

    “You can’t blame me for everything, Hardin.” I ignore the way my mind is reminding me that I, too, have been turning to wine when I’m upset or angry.

    “I’m not blaming you for the drinking, Tessa,” he says pretty loudly.

    “Two more days and neither of us will have to worry about any of this!” I stalk out into the living room, and he follows.

    “Would you just stop and listen to me?” he says in a tone that’s electric, but at least it’s not yelling. “You know I don’t want you to leave me.”

    “Yeah, well, you do a pretty good job at showing me otherwise.”

    “What is that supposed to mean? I tell you how much I love you on a constant!”

    I see the flicker of doubt cross his face as he shouts the words to me; he knows that he doesn’t show his love for me enough. “You don’t even believe that yourself. I can tell.”

    “Tell me this, then: you think you can find someone else to put up with your shit? Your constant whining and bitching, your annoying need to have everything in order, and your attitude?” He waves his hands in the air in front of him.

    I laugh. I laugh right in Hardin’s face; even with my hand covering my mouth, I can’t stop. “My attitude? My attitude? You are constantly disrespecting me—you’re borderline emotionally abusive, obsessive, suffocating, and rude. You came into my life, turned it upside down, and you expect me to bow down to you because you have this idea of yourself that is complete bullshit. You act like you’re this tough guy who doesn’t give a crap about anyone but himself, yet you can’t even sleep without me! I look past every single one of your flaws, but I will not stand around and let you talk to me like that.”

    I pace back and forth across the concrete floor, and he watches my every move. I feel slightly guilty for yelling at him this way, but all it takes is remembering the words he just said to me to refuel my anger toward him. “And by the way, I may be a lot to handle sometimes, but that’s because I’m so busy worrying about you and everyone else around me, and trying not to piss you off, that I forget about myself. So excuse me if I annoy you, or bitch at you when you’re constantly lashing out at me for no damn

    Hardin’s expression is grave. His hands are in fists at his sides, and his cheeks are a deep red. “I don’t know what else to do, okay? You know that I haven’t ever done this before, you knew going into this that I’d be a challenge. You have no right to bitch about it now.”

    “ ‘No right to bitch about it’? This is my life, too, and I can bitch about it if I fucking want to,” I say with a snort. He can’t be serious. For a second, I thought the expression on his face meant he’d apologize for the way he treats me, but I should have known better. The problem with Hardin is that when he’s good, he’s so good, so sweet and honest that I love him so; but when he’s bad, he’s the most hateful person I have ever, and will ever, encounter.

    I walk back into the bedroom and open the suitcase, tossing my clothes into a pile inside of it.

    “Where are you going?” he asks me.

    “I don’t know,” I answer truthfully. Away from you, I know that.

    “You know what your problem is, Theresa? Your problem is that you read too many damn novels and you forget that they’re all bullshit. There are no Darcys, there are only Wickhams and Alec d’Urbervilles, so wake up and stop expecting me to be some goddamned literary hero—because it’s not going to fucking happen!”

    His words wrap around me and seep into my every pore. This is it. “This is exactly why we will never work. I have tried and tried with you until I’m blue in the face, I have forgiven you for the disgusting things you have done to me—and to others—yet you still do this to me. Actually, I do this to myself. I’m not a victim, I’m just a stupid girl who loves you too much—yet still I mean nothing to you. Once I leave on Monday, your life will go back to normal. You’ll still be the same Hardin who doesn’t give a shit about anyone, and I will be the one who is in pain and can barely function—but I did that to myself. I let myself get wrapped up in you, wrapped around your finger, knowing that it would end this way. I thought that when we were separated before, you’d see that you’re better off with me than alone, but that’s the thing, Hardin. You aren’t better off with me. You’re better off alone. You’ll always be alone. Even if you find another naïve girl who’s willing to give everything up for you, including herself, she, too, will grow tired of the back-and-forth and leave you just the way I . . .”

    Hardin stares at me. His eyes are bloodshot, his hands are shaking, and I know he’s about to lose it. “Go on, Tessa! Tell me that you’re leaving me. Better yet, don’t. Just pack your shit and get out.”

    “Stop trying to hold yourself together,” I tell him, angry, but also pleading inside. “You’re trying not to break, but you know you want to. If you’d just let yourself show me how you really feel—”

    “You know nothing of how I really feel. His voice catches at the end, and I want nothing more than to wrap my arms around him and tell him I would never leave him.

    But I can’t.

    “All you have to do is tell me. Please, Hardin, just tell me that you’ll try, really try this time.” I’m begging him; I don’t know what else to do. I don’t want to leave him, even though I know I have to.

    He stands there, only a few feet away from me, and I can see him shutting down. Every glimmer of light that my Hardin holds is disappearing slowly, burning out into darkness, and taking the man I love further and further away from me. When he finally tears his eyes away from me and crosses his arms in front of his chest, I can see the way that he’s gone now; I’ve lost him.

    “I don’t want to try anymore. I am who I am, and if that’s not good enough, then you know where the door is.”

    “That’s what you want, then? You’re not even willing to try? If I leave, this time it’ll be for good. I know you don’t believe me because I always say it—but it’s true. Just tell me you’re only acting this way because you’re panicking over me going to Seattle.”

    Staring at the wall behind me, he simply says, “I’m sure you can find somewhere to stay until Monday.”

    When I don’t respond, he turns on his heel and leaves the room. I stand in place, shocked that he hasn’t come back to put up more of a fight. Minutes pass before I finally pick up the pieces of me that he has shattered and pack my bags for the last time.