Chapter Three

After We Fell

chapter three




I have a pillow, a blanket, and a towel in my hands when Hardin storms into the bedroom

    “Okay, what happened?” I ask, waiting for him to explode, waiting for him to complain that I invited my father to stay without really consulting him first.

    Hardin goes to the bed and lies down on it, then looks over at me. “Nothing. We bonded. Then I felt like I’d had enough quality time with our guest, and decided to come in here.”

    “Please tell me you weren’t horrible to him.” I barely know my father. The last thing I want is more tension.

    “I kept my hands to myself,” he says and closes his eyes.

    “Guess I’ll take him a blanket and apologize for your behavior, as always,” I say with annoyance.

    In the living room, I find my father sitting on the floor, picking at the holes in his jeans. He looks up when he hears me. “You can sit on the couch,” I tell him and place my bundle on the arm of the couch.

    “I . . . well, I didn’t want to get anything on your couch.” Embarrassment colors his expression, and my heart aches.

    “Don’t worry about that . . . you can take a shower here, and I’m sure Hardin has some clothes you can wear for the night.”

    He doesn’t look at me, but lightly protests, “I don’t want to take advantage.”

    “It’s okay, really. I’ll bring out some clothes; go ahead and take a shower. Here’s a towel for you to use.”

    He gives me a wan smile. “Thank you. I’m so glad to see you again. I’ve missed you so much . . . and here you are.”

    “I’m sorry if Hardin was rude to you. He’s . . .”

    “Protective?” he finishes for me.

    “Yeah, I guess he is. He comes off very rude sometimes.”

    “It’s okay. I’m a man; I can take it. He’s just looking out for you, and I don’t blame him. He doesn’t know me. Hell, neither do you. He reminds me of someone I used to know . . .” My father stops and smiles.


    “Me . . . I was just like him. I didn’t have respect for anyone who didn’t earn it, and I ran over anyone who got in my way. I had the same chip on my shoulder that he has; the only difference is he has a lot more tattoos than me.” He chuckles, and the sound breathes life into memories I had long forgotten.

    I enjoy the feeling and smile along with him until he stands up and grabs the towel. “I’m going to take you up on that shower now.”

    I tell him that I’ll bring him a change of clothes and place them outside the bathroom door.

    Back in our room, Hardin is still on the bed, eyes closed and knees bent in front of him.

    “He’s taking a shower. I told him he could wear some of your clothes.”

    He sits up. “Why would you do that?”

    “Because he doesn’t have any clothes.” I walk toward the bed, arms extended to calm him.

    “Sure, Tessa, go ahead and give him my clothes,” he says harshly. “Should I offer him my side of the bed, too?”

    “You need to stop, He’s my father, and I’d like to see where this is going to go. Just because you can’t forgive your father doesn’t mean you have to sabotage my attempts to have some kind of relationship with mine,” I reply, equally harshly.

    Hardin stares at me. His green eyes narrow, no doubt from the effort not to say out loud the hateful words he’s spewing at me in his head.

    “That’s not what this is; you’re too naive. How many times do I have to tell you this? Not everyone deserves your kindness, Tessa.”

    I snap, “Only you, right? You’re the only one I should forgive and give the benefit of the doubt to? That’s bullshit, and really pretty selfish of you.” I dig through his bottom drawer to grab a pair of sweats. “And you know what? I’d rather be naive and capable of seeing the good in people than be a jerk to everyone and assume that everyone is out to get me.”

    I gather up a shirt and some socks and storm out. As I’m placing the pile of clothes by the bathroom door, I hear my father’s voice singing softly over the sound of the water. I press my ear to the door and can’t help but smile at the wonderful noise. I remember my mother talking about my father’s singing and how obnoxious it always was, but I find it lovely.

    I turn the television back on in the living room and set the remote on the table to encourage him to watch what he wants. Does he watch television?

    I straighten up the kitchen, leaving some leftovers out on the counter in case he’s still hungry. When was the last time he had a real meal? I wonder again.

    The water is still running in the bathroom; he must be enjoying his hot shower, which tells me that he probably hasn’t had a bath in a while.

    Hardin has his new leather binder that I got him on his lap when I finally go back to the bedroom. I walk by him without making eye contact, but then feel his fingers wrap around my arm to stop me.

    “Can we talk?” he asks, pulling me to stand between his legs. His hands quickly move his binder out of the way.

    “Go ahead, talk.”

    “I’m sorry for being a dick, okay? I just don’t know what to think of all this.”

    “All of what? Nothing has changed.”

    “Yes, it has. This man who neither of us really knows is in my house, and he wants to become close with you after all these years. It doesn’t add up, and my first instinct is to be defensive. You know that.”

    “I hear what you’re saying, but you can’t be hateful and say those things to me—like calling him a beggar. That really hurt my feelings.”

    He spreads my hands open with his, lacing his fingers through mine while pulling me even closer to him. “I’m sorry, baby, I really am.” He brings our hands to his mouth, slowly kissing each of my knuckles, and my anger dissolves at the touch of his soft lips.

    I quirk one eyebrow. “Are you going to stop with the cruel comments?”

    “Yes.” He turns my hand over in his, tracing the lines etched into my palm.

    “Thank you.” I watch as his long finger travels up my wrist and back down to my fingertips.

    “Just be careful, okay? Because I won’t hesitate to—”

    “He seems okay, though, doesn’t he? I mean he’s nice,” I say quietly, interrupting his sure-to-be-violent promise.

    Hardin’s fingers stop their movements. “I don’t know; he’s nice enough, I guess.”

    “He wasn’t nice when I was younger.”

    Hardin looks at me with serious fire in his eyes, though his words have a gentle tone to them. “Don’t talk about that while he’s this close to me, please. I’m trying my best here, so let’s not push it.”

    I climb onto his lap, and he lies down with my body against his.

    “Tomorrow’s the big day.” He sighs.

    “Yeah,” I whisper against his arm, nuzzling in his warmth. Hardin’s expulsion hearing for beating up Zed is scheduled for tomorrow; not our finest hour.

    Suddenly a small feeling of panic shoots through me at the memory of the text Zed sent me. I’d almost forgotten about it altogether after seeing my father outside the shop. My phone had vibrated in my pocket as we waited for Steph and Tristan’s return, and Hardin had stared at me silently while I read it. Fortunately he didn’t ask me what was up.

    I need to talk to you tomorrow morning, alone please? Zed had written.

    I don’t know what to make of the message; I don’t know if I should talk to him about anything, considering he told Tristan he was going to press charges against Hardin. I hope he just said that to impress him, to keep his reputation. I don’t know what I’ll do if Hardin gets in trouble. I should respond to the message, but I don’t think it’s the best idea to meet Zed or to talk to him alone. Hardin’s already in enough of a mess without me adding to it.

    “Are you listening to me?” Hardin nudges me, and I look up from the comfort of his embrace.

    “No, sorry.”

    “What’s on your mind?”

    “Everything: tomorrow, the charges, expulsion, England, Seattle, my father . . .” I sigh. “Everything.”

    “You’ll come with me, though? To find out about the expulsion?” His voice is smooth, yet nervous.

    “If you want me to,” I say.

    “I need you to.”

    “Then I’ll be there.” I have to change the subject, so I say, “I still can’t believe you got that tattoo. Let me see it again.”

    He gently rolls me off of him so he can turn over. “Lift my shirt.”

    I lift the bottom of his black T-shirt until his entire back is laid bare, and then I pull back the white bandage covering the newly engraved words.

    “There’s a little blood on the bandage,” I tell him.

    “That’s normal,” he says, humor at my ignorance coming through his words.

    I outline the reddened area with my finger, taking in the perfect words. The tattoo he got for me is my new favorite. The perfect words—words that have so much meaning for me, and for him as well, apparently. But they’re tainted by the news I’ve chosen to withhold about moving to Seattle. I’ll tell him tomorrow, as soon as we find out about the expulsion. I promise myself one hundred times that I will; the longer I wait, the more angry he’ll be.

    “Is that enough of a commitment for you, Tessie?”

    I scowl at him. “Don’t call me that.”

    “I hate that nickname,” he says, turning his head up to look at me while still lying on his stomach.

    “Me, too, but I don’t want to tell him that. Anyway, the tattoo is enough for me.”

    “You’re sure? Because I can go back and get your portrait underneath.” He laughs.

    “No, please don’t!” I shake my head, and his laughter rises.

    “You’re sure this’ll be enough?” He sits up and tugs his shirt back down to cover his body. “No marriage,” he adds.

    “That’s what this was? You got a tattoo as an alternative to marriage?” I don’t know how I feel about this.

    “No, not exactly. I got the tattoo because I wanted to, and because I haven’t gotten one in a while.”


    “It’s for you, too, to show you that I want this.” He gestures between us, taking my hand in his. “Whatever this is that we have, I don’t ever want to lose it. I’ve lost it before, and even now I don’t completely have it back, but I can tell it’s getting there.”

    His hand feels warm, and so right holding on to mine.

    “So once again, I used the words of a far more romantic man than myself to get the point across.” He smiles a bright smile, but I see the terror beneath it.

    “I think Darcy would be appalled by your use of his famous words,” I tease.

    “I think he would high-five me,” he boasts.

    My laughter comes out like a bark. “High-five? Fitzwilliam Darcy would never do such a thing.”

    “You think he’s above high fives? He’s not; he would sit here and have a beer with me. We would bond over how annoyingly stubborn the women in our lives are.”

    “The two of you are lucky to have us, because the Lord knows no one else would put up with either of you.”

    “Is that so?” he challenges with a dimpled smile.


    “You’re right, I suppose. But I’d trade you for Elizabeth in a heartbeat.”

    My mouth presses into a straight line, and I raise a brow, expecting an explanation.

    “Only because she shares my views on marriage.”

    “But she still got married,” I remind him.

    In a very un-Hardin-like move, he takes my hips in his hands and pushes me back on the bed, so my head lands on the mountain of decorative pillows that he despises—a fact he never fails to remind me of. “That’s it! Darcy can have both of you!” His laughter fills the room, and mine is equally powerful.

    These little dramas during which we bicker over fictional characters and he laughs like a child are the moments that make all the hell we’ve put each other through worth every second. Moments like these shield me from the harsh realities we’ve experienced throughout our relationship, and all the obstacles that still lie in front of us.

    “I can hear he’s out of the bathroom,” Hardin says, his tone guarded.

    “I’m going to say good night.” I wrestle out of Hardin’s grip, placing a swift kiss on his forehead.

    In the living room, I find that Hardin’s clothes look odd on my father, but at least they fit better than I’d expected.

    “Thanks again for the clothes. I’ll leave them here when I go in the morning,” he tells me.

    “It’s okay, you can take them . . . if you need them.”

    He sits on the couch and rests his hands on his lap.“You’ve already done enough for me, more than I deserve.”

    “It’s okay, really.”

    “You’re much more understanding than your mom.” He smiles.

    “I’m not sure I understand anything right now, but I want to try to get to that point.”

    “That’s all I’m asking for, just a little time to get to know my little . . . well, my adult daughter.”

    I give him a tight smile. “I’d like that.”

    I know he has a long way to go, and I’m not forgiving him overnight. But he’s my father, and I don’t have the energy to hate him. I want to believe that he can change; I’ve seen it happen before. Hardin’s father, for example, has completely turned his life around, even if Hardin can’t let go of their painful past. I’ve seen Hardin change, too. And since there aren’t many people more stubborn than him, I figure there’s hope for my father, no matter how bad he may have gotten.

    “Hardin hates me. I’ve got my work cut out for me here.”

    His sense of humor is contagious, and I chuckle. “Yes; yes, you do.” I look down the hall at my scowling boyfriend in his solid black clothes, watching us with suspicious eyes.