Chapter Fifty-Six

After We Fell

chapter fifty-six




Logan calls to me from the other side of the kitchen, but when it’s clear I can’t hear him, he walks over to me. “It was cool of you to come. I wasn’t sure if you were going to!” he says with a big smile.

    “I wouldn’t miss my own going-away party,” I say, tilting the red cup in my shaky hands as a sort of toast.

    “I’ve missed you around here; no one has choked Molly in a while.” He laughs and tips his head back, pouring clear liquor straight from the bottle down his throat. He swallows it down, blinks, then clears his throat, shaking his head in a way that makes me cringe at the thought of how bad that had to burn.

    “You’ll always be my hero for that,” he teases and offers the bottle to me.

    I shake my head and hold up the half-empty cup in my hand. “I’m sure it won’t be long until someone else comes along and does it again.” I take a moment to smile at the thought.

    “Uh-oh! Speak of the devil,” Logan says, his eyes focused behind me.

    I don’t want to turn around. “Why?” I quietly groan, leaning one elbow on the counter. When Logan playfully offers me the bottle again, I accept it.

    “Drink up.” He smiles and walks away, leaving me with the bottle.

    Molly comes into my line of vision and lifts her red cup to me in greeting. “As sad as I am that you’re moving away,” she says, her voice deceptively soft and sweet, “I’m glad I won’t have to see you again. I’ll miss Hardin, though . . . the things that boy can do with his tongue . . .”

    I roll my eyes at her while I try to think of a comeback but fail. Jealousy runs like ice through my veins, and I contemplate choking her again, right here, right now.

    “Oh, go away,” I eventually say, and she laughs. It’s a hideous noise, really.

    “Oh, come on, Tessa. I was your first enemy at college—that counts for something, right?” She winks and bumps her hip into mine as she walks past me.

    This party was a terrible idea; I knew better than to come to this place, especially without Hardin. Steph has disappeared, and while Logan was nice enough to keep me company for a minute, he’s since found a more available girl to occupy himself with. When I first see the girl, she’s in profile, and she looks preppy and wholesome, but when she turns and I glimpse her from the front, I’m shocked to see that the other half of her face is full of tattoos. Ouch. I begin to wonder if they’re actually permanent as I pour a little more liquor into my cup. I plan to nurse this drink all night and sip it very slowly. Otherwise the facade that I’ve been struggling to hold up will crumble and fall, and I’ll end up being that annoying drunk girl who cries every time someone looks at her.

    I force myself to walk a slow lap around the house in search of Steph’s crimson hair, but she’s nowhere to be found. When I finally spot Nate’s familiar face, I see he, too, is working on some girl, and I don’t want to interrupt. I feel so out of place here. Not just because I don’t exactly fit in with this crowd, but because I have this feeling that even though this party was labeled as our “going-away party,” I don’t get the sense that anyone here actually cares if Hardin and I disappear. Perhaps they’d show more interest if Hardin had actually come along with me; he is their friend, after all.

    After sitting alone at the kitchen counter for nearly an hour, I finally hear Steph’s voice exclaim, “There you are!” By this point I’ve eaten an entire bowl of pretzels, and I’m up to two drinks. I’ve been debating whether to call a cab or not, but now that Steph has finally surfaced again, I’ll try to hang in a little longer. Tristan, Molly, and Dan are behind her, and I do my best to keep a neutral expression.

    I miss Hardin.

    “I thought you left or something!” I call over the music, distracting myself from thoughts of how wrong it feels to be here without Hardin. For the past hour, I’d been battling myself to stay away from his old bedroom upstairs; I want to go in there so badly, to hide from the uncomfortable mass of people, to reminisce . . . I don’t know. I keep finding my gaze gravitating toward the stairs, and it’s killing me slowly.

    “No way! I got you a drink.” Steph smiles and takes the cup that’s already in my hand. She replaces it with an identical one filled with pink liquid. “Cherry vodka sour, duh!” she squeals at my confusion, and I force an awkward laugh out while I raise the cup to my lips.

    “To your last party with us!” Steph cheers, and multiple strangers lift their cups in the air. Molly looks away as I tilt my head back and allow the sweet cherry flavoring to flood my mouth.

    “Talk about good timing,” Molly says to Steph, and I turn around quickly. I can’t decide if I want the person who’s just arrived to be Hardin or not, but my dilemma is settled for me when Zed walks into the kitchen dressed in all black.

    My mouth falls open slightly, and I turn back to Steph. “You said he wouldn’t be here.” The last thing I need right now is another reminder of the mess I’ve made of my life. I said my goodbyes to Zed already, and I’m not prepared to reopen the wounds that came from being friends with him.

    “Sorry,” she says with a shrug. “He just showed up. I didn’t know.” She leans into Tristan.

    I give her a look emboldened by alcohol. “Are you sure this party is even for me?” I know I sound ungrateful, but the fact that Steph has invited Zed and Molly really bothers me. If Hardin had come, he’d have lost it for sure when Zed entered the kitchen.

    “Of course it is! Look, I’m sorry he’s here. I’ll tell him to stay away from you,” she assures me and begins to walk toward Zed, but I grab her arm.

    “No, don’t. I don’t want to be mean. It’s fine.”

    Zed is in conversation with a blond girl who follows him farther into the kitchen. He’s smiling down at her as she laughs, but when he looks up and notices my presence, his smile fades. His eyes dart to Steph and Tristan, but they both avoid his gaze and leave the room with Molly and Dan in tow. Once again I’m left alone.

    I watch as Zed leans down and says something in the blonde’s ear, after which she smiles and walks away from him.

    “Hey.” He smiles awkwardly and shifts on his feet when he reaches me.

    “Hey.” I take another sip from my cup.

    “I didn’t know you’d be here,” we say in unison and then laugh uncomfortably.

    He grins and says, “You first.”

    I’m relieved that he doesn’t seem to be holding a grudge against me.

    “I was just saying that I had no idea you were coming.”

    “And I had no idea that you were coming either.”

    “I thought so. Steph keeps saying that this is some kind of going-away party for me, but I’m positive now that she was just saying it to be nice.”

    I take another sip. The cherry vodka sour is much stronger than the other two drinks I had. “You . . . you’re here with Steph?” he asks, closing the space between us.

    “Yeah. Hardin isn’t here, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

    “No, I . . .” His eyes move to my hand as I place the empty cup on the counter. “What is that?”

    “Cherry vodka sour. Ironic, isn’t it?” I say, but he doesn’t laugh. Which surprises me, given they’re his favorite drink. Instead, his face twists in confusion as he looks from my face, back down to the cup, and up to my face again.

    “Did Steph give you that?” His tone is serious . . . too serious . . . and my mind is slow.

    Too slow. “Yeah . . . so?”

    “Fuck.” He snatches the cup from the counter. “Stay here,” he commands, and I nod slowly. I notice that my head is starting to feel kind of heavy. I try to focus on Zed as he disappears from the kitchen, but I find myself distracted by the way the lights above my head seem to be spinning round and round. The lights are so pretty, so distracting in the way they’re dancing on people’s heads.

    The lights dancing? They do dance . . . I should dance.

    No, I should sit down.

    I lean into the counter and focus on the warped wall, the way it curves and twists, blending into the lights that shine on people’s heads . . . or are they shining on the people who are dancing? Either way it’s pretty . . . and disorienting as well . . . and the truth is that I’m not sure what’s actually happening.