Chapter Fifty-Four

After We Fell

chapter fifty-four




I lie to Steph. I don’t want to tell anyone about my relationship problems, especially right now, when I haven’t had a chance to process what just happened. And that’s exactly why I called Steph: Landon is too close to the situation, and I don’t want to trouble him again. I have no other options, which is what happens when you have exactly one friend and they happen to be your boyfriend’s stepbrother.

    Well, ex-boyfriend, now . . .

    So when Steph sounds concerned on the phone, I tell her, “No, no. I’m fine. I just . . . Hardin is . . . he’s out of town with his father, and he locked me out, so I need somewhere to stay until he comes home Monday.”

    “Sounds like Hardin,” she says, and I feel relieved that my lie has worked. “Okay, come on over. Same room as before—it’ll be just like old times!” she goes on cheerily, and I try to muster a little laugh.

    Great. Old times.

    “I’m supposed to be going to the mall with Tristan later, but you can hang out here if you want, or come along. It’s up to you.”

    “I have a lot to do to get ready for Seattle, so I’ll just hang around the room, if that’s all right.”

    “Sure, sure.” Then she adds, “I hope you’re ready for your party tomorrow night!”

    “Party?” I question.

    Oh the party. I’ve been so preoccupied with everything that I forgot about the party Steph planned for my going away. As with Hardin’s “birthday party,” I’m pretty sure his crew would be hanging out and drinking regardless of whether I showed up or not, but she seems like she really wants me to go, and since I’m asking her this big favor, I want to be nice.

    “One last time, come on! I know Hardin probably said no, but—”

    “Hardin doesn’t decide what I do,” I remind her, and she laughs.

    “I know! I’m just saying, we won’t ever see each other again. I’m moving and so are you,” she whines.

    “Okay, let me think about it. I’m on my way over now,” I say. But instead of heading straight to her dorm, I drive around a bit. I have to make sure I’ll be able to hold myself together in front of her; no crying at all. No crying. No crying. I bite down on my cheek again to stop myself from giving in to the tears.

    Luckily I’m used to the pain by now. I’m practically numb to it.

    By the time I get to Steph’s room, she’s in the process of getting dressed. She’s pulling a red dress down over some black fishnet stockings when she opens the door with a smile.

    “I’ve missed you!” she squeals and pulls me in for a hug.

    I nearly lose it, but I hold firm. “I missed you, too, even though it hasn’t been that long.” I smile and she nods. It feels like ages ago that Hardin and I met her at the tattoo shop, not a mere week.

    “Guess so. It seems like it, though.” She grabs a pair of knee-high boots from her closet and sits down on the bed. “I shouldn’t be gone too long. Make yourself at home . . . but don’t clean anything!” she says, noticing the way my eyes are scanning the messy room.

    “I wasn’t going to!” I lie.

    “You so were! And you probably still will.” She laughs, and I try to force myself to do the same. It doesn’t work, and I end up making a noise between a snort and a cough, though fortunately she doesn’t call me out on it.

    “I already told everyone you’d be there, by the way. They were excited!” she adds right as she walks out of the room and shuts the door. I open my mouth to protest, but she’s already gone.

    This room brings back too many memories. I hate it, but love it at the same time. My old side is still empty, although Steph has covered the bed in clothes and shopping bags. I run my fingers along the footboard, remembering the first time Hardin slept in the small bed with me.

    I can’t wait to get away from this campus—from this entire town and all the people in it. I’ve had nothing but heartbreak since the day I arrived at WCU, and I wish I’d never come in the first place.

    Even the wall reminds me of Hardin and the time he tossed my notes around the room, making me want to slap him, until he kissed me, hard, up against it. My fingers move to my lips, tracing the shape of them, and they tremble at the thought of never kissing him again.

    I don’t think I can stay in this room tonight. My mind will be reeling the entire time; memories will be haunting me, playing behind my eyes each time they close.

    Needing to find something to do to keep myself distracted, I take out my laptop and try to search for somewhere to live in Seattle. Just as I suspected, it’s a lost cause. The only apartment that I can find is a thirty-minute drive from Vance Publishing’s new office, and it’s slightly over my budget. I save the phone number in my cell anyway.

    After another hour of searching, I end up swallowing my pride and call Kimberly. I didn’t want to ask her if I could stay with her and Christian, but Hardin has left me no choice. Being Kimberly, of course, she happily obliges, emphasizing how delighted they’ll be to host me at their new house in Seattle and bragging a little that it’s even bigger than what they’re in now.

    I promise her that I won’t stay longer than two weeks, hoping to buy myself enough time to find an affordable apartment that doesn’t come with bars across the windows. Suddenly I realize that with all the Hardin drama I’ve been dealing with, I’d almost forgotten about the mess at the apartment and the fact that someone broke into it while we were gone. I’d like to think it wasn’t my father, but I just don’t know if I can believe that. If it was him, he didn’t steal anything; maybe he just needed a place to stay for the night and he didn’t have anywhere else to go. I pray that Hardin doesn’t hunt him down and accuse him of the break-in. What would be the point? Still, I probably should try to find him first, but it’s getting late, and honestly, I’m a little afraid to be on that side of town alone.


I WAKE UP when Steph stumbles into the room around midnight, tripping over her own feet as she falls onto her bed. I don’t remember falling asleep at the desk, and my neck aches when I lift up my head. When I run my hands over it, it hurts worse than before.

    “Don’t forget your party tomorrow,” she mumbles and passes out almost immediately.

    I walk over and take her boots off her feet while she begins to snore, quietly thanking her for being a good friend to me and letting me stay in her room with only an hour’s warning.

    She groans and says something incoherent before rolling over and snoring again.


I’VE BEEN LYING in my old bed reading all day. I don’t want to go anywhere or talk to anyone, and I especially don’t want to run into Hardin, though I doubt I would. He has no reason to be anywhere near here, but I’m paranoid and heartbroken and don’t want to take any chances.

    Steph doesn’t wake up until after four in the afternoon.

    “I’m going to order pizza—do you want some?” she asks, wiping last night’s heavy eyeliner from her eyes with a small napkin from her purse.

    “Yes, please.” My stomach growls, reminding me that I haven’t eaten once today.

    Steph and I spend the next two hours eating and talking about her upcoming move to Louisiana, and how Tristan’s parents are less than pleased with him transferring schools because of her.

    “I’m sure they’ll come around—they liked you, right?” I encourage her.

    “Yeah, sort of. But his family is obsessed with WCU and something like legacy blah blah blah.” She rolls her eyes, and I laugh, not wanting to explain to her what it means to families to continue a legacy.

    “So, the party. Do you know what you’re wearing yet?” she asks, smiling wickedly. “Or do you want to borrow something of mine for old times’ sake?”

    I shake my head. “I can’t believe I’m even agreeing to this after . . .” I almost mention Hardin, but I redirect. “. . . after all the times you’ve forced me to come to these parties in the past.”

    “But it’s the last one. Plus, you know you won’t find anyone even remotely as cool as us to hang with at the Seattle campus.” She bats her long false lashes at me, and I groan.

    “I remember when I first saw you. I opened the door to this room and nearly had a heart attack. No offense.” I smile, and she returns it. “You said the parties were big, and my mother nearly passed out. She wanted me to switch rooms, but I wouldn’t . . .”

    “Good thing you didn’t or you wouldn’t be dating Hardin,” she says with a smirk, then looks away from me. For a moment I fantasize what it would have been like if I had changed rooms and never seen him again. Despite everything we’ve been through, I would never want to take any of it back.

    “Enough reminiscing—let’s get ready!” she cheers, clapping her hands in front of my face before she grabs me by the arms and drags me off the bed.


“NOW I REMEMBER why I hated communal showers,” I groan, while towel-drying my hair.

    “They aren’t so bad.” Steph laughs, and I roll my eyes, thinking about the shower at the apartment. Every single thing reminds me of Hardin, and I’m doing my best to keep this fake smile going, but inside I’m burning.

    Finally, my makeup applied and hair curled, Steph helps zip me into the yellow-and-black dress that I bought just recently. The only thing keeping me standing and present right now is the hope that the party may in fact be fun and I can have at least two hours of peace.

    Tristan arrives a little after eight to pick us up; Steph refuses to let me drive, because she plans on having me drink until I can’t see straight. Which is an idea I think I like. If I can’t see straight, then I can’t see Hardin’s dimpled smile or scowl before me every time I open my eyes. Still, it won’t stop me imagining him when my eyes are closed.

    “Where’s Hardin tonight?” Nate asks from the passenger seat, and I panic momentarily.

    “Gone. Out of town with his father,” I lie.

    “Aren’t you two leaving Monday for Seattle?”

    “Yeah, that’s the plan.” I feel my palms beginning to sweat. I hate lying and I’m terrible at it.

    Nate turns around and offers me a sweet smile. “Well, good luck to both of you. Wish I could’ve seen him before he left.”

    The burn increases. “Thanks, Nate. I’ll let him know you said that.”

    When we pull up to the frat house, I immediately regret my decision to come. I knew this was a bad idea, but I wasn’t thinking clearly and felt I needed a distraction. This isn’t a distraction, however. This is one big reminder of everything I’ve been through and everything I’ve subsequently lost.

    It’s almost humorous, the way I regret coming here every single time but somehow always end up at this damn frat house.

    “Showtime,” Steph says and hooks her arm through mine with a wild smile.

    For a second her eyes brighten, and I can’t help but feel as if there’s something else behind her choice of words.