Chapter Fifty-Five

After We Fell

chapter fifty-five




When I knock on the door to my father’s office, I feel nauseous. I can’t believe it’s come to this, to me seeking him out for advice. I just need someone to listen to me, someone who knows how I feel, or close to it.

    His voice sounds from inside the room. “Come in, dear.” I hesitate before entering, knowing this is going to be uncomfortable but necessary. I sit down in the chair in front of his large desk, watching his expression change from expectant to surprised.

    A little laugh escapes his mouth. “Sorry, I thought you were Karen.” But then, seeing my mood, he stops, watching me carefully.

    I nod, then look away. “I don’t know why I’m here, but I don’t know where else to go.” I lay my head in my hands, and my father takes a seat on the edge of his mahogany desk.

    “I’m glad you came to me,” he says quietly, gauging my re­action.

    “I wouldn’t exactly say I came to you,” I remind him. I did in fact come to him, but I don’t want him thinking this is some big revelation or some shit, even though it sort of maybe is. I watch as he gulps and nods slowly, his eyes moving everywhere in the room except to me.

    “You don’t have to be nervous; I’m not going to throw a fit or break anything. I don’t have the energy.” I stare at the rows of plaques on the wall behind him.

    When he doesn’t respond, I let out a sigh.

    Of course that seems to prompt him, that sign of my defeat, and he says, “Do you want to tell me what happened?”

    “No. I don’t,” I say and look at the books along his wall.

    “Okay . . .”

    I sigh, feeling the inevitability of this moment. “I don’t want to, but I’m going to, I guess.”

    My father looks puzzled for a moment, and his brown eyes widen, taking me in, watching me carefully, waiting for the catch, I’m sure.

    “Believe me,” I say. “If I had anyone else to go to, I wouldn’t be here, but Landon is a biased asshole and always takes her side.” I know this isn’t even half true, but I don’t want Landon’s advice right now. More than that, I don’t want to admit to him what a dick I’ve been and the shit I’ve said to Tessa over the last few days. His opinion doesn’t really matter to me, but for some reason it matters more than anyone else’s, save Tessa’s, of course.

    My father gives me a pained smile. “I know that, son.”


    I don’t know where to start, and honestly, I’m still not sure what brought me here. I had every intention of going to a bar to have a drink, but somehow I ended up pulling into my father’s . . . no, my dad’s driveway. The way Tessa only says “mother” and “father” instead of “mom” or “dad” used to drive me insane; but now it’s crept into my speech, too. He’s lucky I’m even referring to him as “father” or “dad” instead of “Ken” or “asshole”—as I’ve done for most of my life.

    “Well, as you’ve probably guessed, Tessa finally left me,” I admit, and look up at him. He does his best to keep a neutral expression while he waits for me to continue, but all I add is “And I didn’t stop her.”

    “You’re sure she won’t be back?” he asks.

    “Yes, I’m sure. She gave me multiple opportunities to stop her, and she hasn’t tried to call or text in”—I glance at the clock on the wall—“almost twenty-eight hours, and I don’t have the slightest clue where she is.”

    I was expecting her car to be in the driveway when I arrived at Ken and Karen’s. I’m sure it’s one of the reasons I headed over here to begin with. Where else could she even be? I hope she didn’t drive all the way to her mum’s house.

    “You’ve done this before, though,” my father begins. “The two of you always seem to find a way—”

    “Are you listening to me? I said she isn’t coming back,” I huff, interrupting him.

    “I’m listening. I’m just curious as to what makes this time different from the others.”

    When I glare at him, he’s staring impassively at me, and I resist the urge to get up and leave his overdecorated office. “It just is. I don’t know how I know that—and you probably think I’m a dumb-ass for even coming here—but I’m tired, Dad. I’m so fucking tired of being this way, and I don’t know what to do about it.”

    Fuck. I sound so desperate and fucking pathetic.

    He opens his mouth a little, but he stops himself and doesn’t say anything.

    “I blame you,” I go on. “I really do blame you. Because if you’d been around for me, maybe you could have shown me how to . . . I don’t know—how to not treat people like shit. If I’d had a man in the house while growing up, maybe I wouldn’t be such a shitty person. If I don’t find some resolution for Tessa and me, I’m going to end up just like you. Well, you before you became this.” I gesture to his sweater vest and perfectly pressed dress slacks. “If I can’t find a way to stop hating you, I’ll never be able to . . .”

    I don’t want to finish the sentence in front of him. What I want to say is that if I can’t stop hating him, I’ll never be able to show her how much I love her and treat her the way I should, the way she deserves.

    My unspoken words linger there in the stuffy, wood-paneled study like a tortured spirit neither one of us knows how to exorcise.

    “You’re right.” He surprises me by agreeing at last.

    “I am?”

    “Yes, you are. If you’d had a father to guide you and show you how to be a man, you’d be better equipped to handle these things, and life in general. I’ve blamed myself for your . . .”—I watch as he struggles for the words, and find myself leaning forward a The way you are is my fault. It all stems from me and from the mistakes I made. I’ll carry the guilt for my sins for the entirety of my life, and for those sins, I am so, so sorry, son.” His voice catches at the end, and suddenly I feel . . . I feel . . .

    Incredibly nauseous. “Well, that’s great, that you can be forgiven, but the result is how I am now! What am I supposed to do about it now?” I pick at the torn skin around my fingernails and note that my knuckles are surprisingly not busted, for once. Somehow that takes some of the anger out of me. “There has to be something,” I say softly.

    “I think you should talk to someone,” he suggests.

    But his answer feels insufficient, and the anger flares back. No shit I should talk to someone—you don’t fucking say? I wave my hand into the open space between us. “What are we doing right now? We’re talking.”

    “I’m referring to a professional,” he replies calmly. “You’re holding on to a lot of anger from your childhood, and unless you find some way to let it go, or at least deal with it in a healthy way, I’m afraid you won’t make any progress at all. I can’t be the one to give you these tools; I caused you all this pain to begin with, and in your angrier moments you’d doubt what I had to say, even if it was helpful.”

    “So coming here was a waste of my time, then? There’s nothing you can do?” I knew I should’ve hit the bar. I could be on my second whiskey and Coke by now.

    “It wasn’t a waste of time. It was a really big step in your efforts to become a better person.” He makes eye contact with me again, and I can literally taste the whiskey that I should be drinking right now instead of having this conversation. “She’ll be so proud of you,” he adds.

    Proud? Why the hell would anyone be proud of me? Shocked that I’m here maybe, but proud . . . no.

    “She called me a drunk,” I confess without thinking.

    “Is she right?” he asks, concern clear on his face.

    “I don’t know. I don’t think I am, but I don’t know.”

    “If you don’t know if you’re a drunk, you may want to find out the answer before it becomes too late.”

    I study my father’s face and can see real fear for me behind his eyes. He has the fear maybe I should have. “Why did you start drinking in the first place?” I probe. I’ve always wanted to know the answer to that question, but I’ve never really felt like I could ask.

    He sighs, and his hand moves up to smooth his short hair. “Well, your mum and I weren’t at the best place at the time, and the downward spiral started when I left one night and got drunk. By ‘drunk,’ I mean I couldn’t even walk home, but I found that I liked the way I felt, immobile or not. It numbed me to all the pain I was feeling, and it became a habit after that. I spent more time at that damned bar across the street than I did with you and her. It got to the point where I couldn’t function without the liquor, but I wasn’t really functioning with it either. It was a losing battle.”

    I don’t remember anything before my father became a drunk; I had always assumed he was like that since before I was born. “What was so painful that you were trying to escape?”

    “That’s not important. What’s important is that I finally woke up one day and got sober.”

    “After you left us,” I remind him.

    “Yes, son, after I left you both. You both were better off without me. I was in no position to be a father or a husband. Your mum did an excellent job raising you—I wish she hadn’t had to do it alone, but it turned out better than with me around.”

    Anger churns and heats inside me, and I press my fingers into the armrests of the chair. “But you can be a husband to Karen, and a father to Landon.”

    There, I said it. I have so much fucking resentment toward this man who was a drunk asshole my entire life—who fucked up my life—but who manages to remarry and take on a new son and new life. Not to mention he’s rich now, and we didn’t have shit while I was growing up. Karen and Landon have everything that my mum and I should have had.

    “I know it seems that way, Hardin, but it’s not true. I met Karen two years after I stopped drinking. Landon was already sixteen, and I wasn’t trying to be a father figure to him. He didn’t grow up with a man in the house either, so he was quick to embrace me. It wasn’t my intention to have a new family and ‘replace’ you—I could never replace you. You never wanted anything to do with me—and I don’t blame you for that—but, son, I spent most of my life living in the dark—a blinding, desolate darkness. And Karen was my light, the way Tessa is for you.”

    My heart nearly stops at the mention of Tessa. I was so lost in reliving my shitty childhood that I was able to stop thinking about her for a moment.

    “I couldn’t help but be happy and grateful that Karen came into my life, Landon included,” Ken continues. “I’d give anything to have a relationship with you the way I do with him; maybe one day that could happen.”

    I can see that my father is out of breath after his long confession, and I’m left speechless. I’ve never had this type of conversation with him, or with anyone in my life but Tessa. She always seems to be the exception.

    I don’t know what to say to him. I don’t forgive him for fucking up my life and choosing liquor over my mum, but I meant what I said about trying to forgive him. If I don’t, I’ll never be able to be normal. Really, I’m not even sure I’ll ever be able to be “normal” anyway, but I want to be able to go a week without breaking something, or someone.

    The humiliation on Tessa’s face when I told her to leave the apartment is clear in my mind. But instead of fighting it like I always do, I embrace it. I need to be reminded of what I did to her—no more hiding from the consequences of my actions.

    “You haven’t said anything,” my dad says, interrupting my thoughts. The image of Tessa’s face begins to fade, and though I try to hang on to it, it slips away. The only comfort I have is in knowing that it’ll be back to haunt me soon enough.

    “I don’t really know what the hell to say. This has been a lot for me; I don’t know what to think,” I admit. The honesty in my words terrifies me, and I wait for him to make shit awkward.

    But he doesn’t. He just nods in agreement and stands to his feet. “Karen is making a late dinner, if you want to stay.”

    “No, I’ll pass,” I groan. I want to go home. The only problem with home is that Tessa isn’t there. And that’s my own damn fault.


I RAN INTO LANDON in the hallway as I was leaving, but I ignored him and left before he could try to force his unsolicited advice on me. I should’ve asked him where Tessa was; I’m desperate to know. But I also know myself and that I’d show up wherever she is and try to convince her to leave with me. I need to be with her, wherever she is. Listening to my dad’s explanation of why he was such a shitty father to me was a step in the right direction, but I’m not miraculously going to be able to stop being a controlling bastard all of a sudden. And if Tessa is somewhere that I don’t want her to be—like with Zed, for example . . .

    Is she with Zed? Holy shit, would she be with him? I don’t think so, but it’s not like I’ve given her the option of having many friends. And if she isn’t with Landon . . .

    No, she’s not with Zed. She’s just not.

    I continue to convince myself of this as I ride the elevator up to our apartment. Half of me hopes that whoever the asshole was that broke into our apartment is back now; I could really use an outlet for my mounting anger.

    A chill runs down my back and over my entire body. What if Tessa had been home alone when the intruder broke in? The image of her flushed, tearstained face from my nightmares flashes in front of me, and my body goes rigid. If anyone ever tried to hurt her, it would be the last thing they ever fucking did.

    I’m such a fucking hypocrite! Here I am, threatening to kill someone for hurting her when that’s all I seem capable of doing.

    After grabbing some water and looking around the empty apartment for a few minutes, I start to get antsy. To keep myself busy, I sort through Tessa’s book collection. She left too many behind, and I know it killed her to do so. Just more evidence of how toxic I am.

    A leather notebook hidden between two different editions of Emma catches my eye, and I run my fingers along the clasp. Pulling it out, I sift through the pages to find that Tessa’s handwriting fills each page. Is this some sort of diary that I didn’t know she was keeping?

    Introduction to World Religion is written neatly on the first page. I sit down on the bed with the book in my hands and begin to read.