Chapter Fifty-Eight

After We Fell


chapter fifty-eight

 

TESSA

 

Mouths are opening. Lips are moving without sounds. And the music is bouncing off of the walls, rattling my mind.

    How long have I been standing here? When did I walk into the kitchen? I don’t remember.

    “Hey.” Dan slides in front of me, and I shudder a little where I’m leaning against the counter. His face is a little off-kilter; I stare harder, trying to bring him into focus.

    “Hey . . .” My reply comes soooo slow.

    He smiles. “Are you okay?”

    I nod. I think I do. “I feel weird, sort of,” I admit and scan the room for Zed. I hope he comes back soon.

    “What do you mean?”

    “I don’t know, like I feel . . . odd. Like drunk, but slower, but then I have this energy at the same time.” I wave my hand in front of my face . . . I have three hands.

    Dan laughs. “You must have had a lot to drink.”

    I nod again. Look at the floor. Watch a girl cross in front of me at a snail’s pace. “Is Zed coming back?” I ask him.

    Dan looks around. “Where did he go?”

    “To find Steph about my drink.” I lean farther onto the counter. Probably half of my body’s on it at this point. I can’t really tell.

    “He did? Hmm, I can help you find him.” He shrugs. “I think I saw him go upstairs.”

    “Okay,” I say. I don’t think I like Dan, but I need to find Zed, because my head is getting heavier and heavier.

    I follow slowly behind Dan as he pushes through the crowd and heads toward the stairs. The music is amazingly loud now, and I find my head moving slowly back and forth, back and forth as I climb the steps.

    “Is he up here?” I ask Dan.

    “Yeah. He just went in here, I think.” He nods his head toward the door across the hall.

    “That’s Hardin’s room,” I inform him, and he shrugs. “Can I just sit here for a minute? I can’t walk anymore, I think.” My feet feel heavy, but my mind feels like it’s getting sharper, and this makes no sense to me.

    “Sure, yeah, you can sit in here.” Dan grabs hold of my arm and leads me into Hardin’s old room. I stumble to the edge of the bed, and memories seem to take shape and swirl in the air around me: Hardin and me sitting on the bed, the same spot I’m in now. I kissed him for the first time. I was so overwhelmed and confused by my growing need to be close to him. My dark boy. That was the first time I got a glimpse of the softer, kinder Hardin. He didn’t stay long, but it was nice to meet him.

    “Where’s Hardin?” I ask, looking up at Dan.

    An expression crosses his face, then disappears as he chuckles. “Oh, Hardin isn’t here, and you said you were sure he wasn’t coming, remember?” He closes the door and locks it behind him.

    What’s going on? My mind reels with the possibilities, but my body feels too heavy to move. I want to lie down, but an alarm is screeching through my head telling me to fight it. Don’t lie down! Keep your eyes open!

    “O-open the door,” I say and try to stand, but the room begins to spin.

    As if on cue, there’s a knock at the door. Relief floods over me when Dan unlocks the door and it opens to reveal Steph.

    “Steph!” I moan. “He’s . . . he’s doing something.” I don’t know how to explain it, but I know he was going to do something.

    She looks at Dan, who gives her a sinister smile. Looking back at me, she asks simply, “Doing what?”

    “Steph . . .” I call for her again. I need her to help me leave this haunted room.

    “Stop whining!” she snaps, and I lose my breath.

    “What?” I manage to say.

    But Steph just smiles up at Dan while she digs her hand through the bag she’s brought in. When I moan again, she stops and glares at me. “God, do you ever shut up? I’m so sick of hearing you bitch and complain all the damn time.”

    My brain isn’t working correctly—Steph can’t be saying these things to me.

    She rolls her eyes. “Ugh, and that stupid innocent pout—like give it a fucking rest, already.” After a couple more seconds of digging, she says, “Found it . . . here,” and she hands a small object to Dan.

    I almost fade out, but a little beep brings me back to consciousness . . . for at least a few more seconds.

    I see a little red light, like a teeny-tiny cherry.

    Like the cherry vodka sour. Steph, Dan, Molly, Zed. The party. Oh no.

    “What did you do?” I ask her, and she laughs again.

    “Didn’t I tell you to stop whining? You’ll be fine,” she groans and walks toward the bed. There’s a camera in Dan’s hand. The red light shows that it’s on.

    “G-get away from me,” I try to yell, but it comes out a mere whisper. I try to stand to my feet, but I stumble back to the bed. It’s soft . . . like quicksand.

    “I thought you . . .” I begin.

    But Steph puts her hands on my shoulders and pushes me back against the mattress. I can’t get back up. “You thought what? I was your friend?” She kneels on the bed, hovering over me. Steph’s fingers grip the bottom of my dress and begin to pull it up my thighs. “You were too busy being a whore going back and forth between Zed and Hardin to realize that I’ve actually always despised you. Don’t you think if I really gave a shit about you I would have told you that Hardin was only dating you to win a bet? Don’t you think a friend would have warned you?”

    She’s right, and once again my idiocy is glaringly obvious. The sting of betrayal is multiplied by the fuzziness in my head—and when I look at Steph now, the red-haired devil, her face is twisted, distorted in the most evil way imaginable, and the glow of her dark eyes sends a chill through me.

    “Oh, and by the way.” She laughs. “I hope you had fun waiting on Hardin to show up on his birthday. Amazing what I can do with one little text. So a video camera must be so much worse, huh?”

    I try to fight her off, but it’s impossible. She easily removes my fingers from where I’ve dug them into her arms and continues pulling on my dress. I close my eyes and imagine Hardin bursting through the door to rescue me, my knight in black armor.

    “Hardin will find . . . out,” I threaten weakly.

    “Ha ha, yeah—that’s the point. Now stop talking.”

    Another knock sounds at the door, and again I pointlessly try to push her off of me.

    “Close the door—hurry,” Dan says, and when I crane my neck toward the door, I’m not surprised to find that Molly has joined us.

    “Help me get her dress off,” Steph says.

    My eyes flutter, and I try to shake my head, but it doesn’t work. Nothing works. Dan is going to force himself on me, I know it. This was Steph’s plan for this party. It was never meant to be a going-away party for me. It was meant to destroy me. I have no idea why I ever thought she was my friend.

    Molly’s hair falls onto my face when she climbs onto the bed next to me, and Steph pushes me up and rolls over to get better access to the back of my dress.

    “Why-y-y?” My voice is broken, and I’m vaguely aware of the tears on my cheeks, now wetting the sheets on the bed.

    “Why?” Dan echoes, bringing his face close to mine. “Why? Your asshole boyfriend taped himself fucking my sister—that’s why.” His warm breath on my face feels like mud.

    “Whoa!” Molly says loudly. “I thought you said you were only taking some pictures of her!”

    “We are . . . and maybe a little video,” Steph responds.

    “No way! Hell no, dude—you can’t have him rape her!” Molly shouts.

    “He’s not . . . Jesus. I’m not, like, psychotic. He’s just going to touch her and make it look like they’re fucking so that when Hardin sees the tape he’ll fucking lose it. Just picture his face when he sees his innocent little whore of a girlfriend getting fucked by Dan.” Steph laughs. “I thought you were into this,” she hisses at Molly. “You said you were.”

    “I’m into pissing him off, but you can’t tape this shit.” Molly is whispering, but I can hear her clear as day.

    “You sound like her.” Steph turns me back over after removing my dress completely.

    “Stop,” I whimper. Steph rolls her eyes, and Molly looks like she might vomit any second.

    “I don’t know about this anymore,” Molly says, panicked.

    Steph grabs her shoulder viciously and points. “Well, there’s the door, then. If you’re going to be a pussy about it, go downstairs and we’ll join you in a few.”

    Another knock at the door, and I hear Tristan’s voice. “Steph, are you in there?” he says through the wood. Not him, too.

    “Shit,” Steph mutters. “Yeah, um, I’m talking to Molly. Be out in a minute!”

    I open my mouth to scream, but her hand clamps down over my face to silence me. It’s sticky and smells like alcohol.

    I try to look at Molly for help, but she turns away. Coward.

    “Go downstairs, babe. I’ll be right there. She’s . . . she’s upset. Girl stuff, you know?” she lies, and despite all of this mess, I can’t help but be relieved that Tristan seems oblivious to his cruel girlfriend’s intentions.

    “Okay!” he shouts.

    “Come over here,” Steph quietly instructs Dan. Then she touches my cheek. “Open your eyes.”

    They open, barely, and I feel Dan’s hand trail up my thigh. Fear shoots through me, and I close them again.

    “I’m going downstairs,” Molly finally says when Dan brings the small camera in front of his face.

    “Fine, lock the door,” Steph snaps.

    “Move over,” Dan says, and the bed shifts under me when Steph climbs off and he takes her place. “You hold it.”

    I try my hardest to replace Dan’s hands with Hardin’s in my mind, but it’s impossible. Dan’s hands are soft, too soft, and I try my hardest to replace them with something, anything. I picture the softest blanket that I had as a child touching my skin . . . The door closes, signaling Molly’s exit, and I whimper again.

    “He’s going to hurt you,” I choke, keeping my eyes tightly closed.

    “Nah, he won’t,” Dan replies. “He’ll want to make sure no one sees this, so he won’t do shit.” His fingers trace along the top of my panties, and he whispers to me, “This is the way the world works.”

    I gather up all the strength I can and try to throw him off me, but I only manage to make the bed shake a little.

    Steph laughs some evil sound. “Hardin is a dick, okay?” she yells, putting the camera in my face. “And he’s always fucking with people: he fucked with Dan’s sister, he fucked with me, he led so many girls on, fucked them, then tossed them aside. Until you, that is. Why he likes you so much will never make any sense to me.” Her tone is full of disgust.

    “Tessa!” Zed’s voice booms from somewhere, and Steph covers my mouth again as I hear pounding at the door.

    “Keep quiet,” she commands. I try to bite her hand. She reaches over and slaps me across the face, but fortunately I barely feel it.

    “Open the fucking door, Steph—let me in!” Zed shouts.

    Is he in on this, too? Was Hardin right about him? Is everyone around me trying to hurt The thought isn’t impossible: nearly everyone I’ve trusted since coming to college has betrayed me. The names just keep piling up.

    “I’ll break the door—I’m not fucking around. Go get Tristan!” I hear him yell, and Steph immediately removes her hand from my mouth.

    “Wait!” she yells, going to the door. But it’s too late. The door bursts opens with a loud crack, and Dan’s hand is no longer on me. When I open my eyes, he’s backing away from me quickly as Zed strides into the room, his presence filling it.

    “What the fuck!” he yells, rushing toward me.

    A blanket is thrown over my body by someone as I try to reach for him.

    “Help me,” I beg him, and pray that he isn’t involved in this nightmare. That he can actually hear me.

    He stalks toward Steph and grabs the small camera from her hands. “What the hell is wrong with you?” Dropping it to the ground, he stomps on it repeatedly.

    “Chill out, dude, it was a joke,” she says and crosses her arms in front of her just as Tristan enters the room.

    “A You put something in her drink and you’re up here with a video camera while Dan tries to fucking rape her! That’s not a goddamn joke!”

    Tristan’s mouth falls open. “What?”

    Ever the manipulator, Steph points an accusatory finger at Zed and starts crying on command. “Don’t listen to him!”

    Zed shakes his head. “No, man, it’s true. Go ask Jace. She asked him for a benzo—and now look at Tessa! The camera they were using is right there.” He points to the ground.

    Holding the blanket against me, I try to sit up again. I fail.

    “It was a prank. No one was going to hurt her!” Steph says with a fake chuckle that seems meant to hide her maliciousness.

    But Tristan looks at his girlfriend in horror. “How could you do that to her? I thought she was your friend!”

    “No, no, baby, it’s not as bad as it seems—it was Dan’s idea!”

    Dan throws his arms up, also wanting to avoid blame. “What the fuck! No, it wasn’t my idea! It was yours.” He points to Steph and looks at Tristan. “She has a fucked-up obsession with Hardin . . . it was her idea.”

    Shaking his head, Tristan turns to leave the room, but seems to change his mind as he swings his fist through the air, connecting with Dan’s jaw. Dan crumples to the floor, and Tristan makes toward the door again. Steph starts after him.

    “Get away from me! We’re done!” he yells and disappears.

    Circling, looking at everyone in the room, she yells, “Thanks a fucking lot!”

    I want to laugh at the irony of her planning this horror show, then blaming everyone else when it backfires in her face. And were I not lying here, catching my breath, I would laugh.

    Zed’s face hovers above mine. “Tessa . . . are you okay?”

    “No . . .” I admit, feeling dizzier than ever. At first it was only my body that was slow; my mind was clouded only slightly, but now I can feel it becoming more and more affected by the drug.

    “I’m sorry I left you alone. I should have known better.” After Zed tucks the blanket more tightly around me, one of his arms hooks under my legs and the other settles across my back, and he lifts me from the bed.

    He starts carrying me out of the room, but he stops in front of Dan, who is just picking himself up off the floor. “I hope when Hardin finds out about what you did, he fucking kills you. You deserve it.”

    I’m slightly aware of all the gasps and whispers going on around me as Zed carries me through the crowded house. I don’t care, though. I just want to escape from this place and never look back.

    “What the hell?” I recognize Logan’s voice.

    “Can you go upstairs and get her dress and purse?” Zed asks quietly.

    “Yeah, sure, man,” Logan responds.

    Zed backs through the front door, and cold air hits me, making me shiver. At least, I think I’m shivering, but I can’t really tell. Zed tries to tighten the blanket around me, but it keeps slipping. I’m not any help, since I can barely move my arms.

    “I’m going to call Hardin as soon as I get you into my truck, okay?” Zed says.

    “No, don’t,” I groan. Hardin will be so mad at me. The last thing I want is to be screamed at when I can barely keep my eyes open.

    “Tessa, I really think I should call him.”

    “Please, no.” I begin to cry again. Hardin is the only person I want to see right now, but I don’t want to know how he’ll react when he finds out what happened. If he had been the one to show up instead of Zed, what would he have done to Dan and Steph? Something that would’ve landed him in jail, I’m sure.

    “Don’t tell him,” I say again. “None of it, shhh.”

    “He’ll find out anyway. Even with the video destroyed, too many people know what happened.”

    “No, please.”

    I hear Zed’s frustrated sigh as he shifts my body into one arm so he can pull the passenger door of his truck open.

    Logan comes back as Zed places me on the cold seat. “Here’s her stuff. Is she okay?” he asks with obvious concern.

    “Yeah, I think so. She’s on benzo.”

    “What the hell?”

    “It’s a long story. Have you ever taken it?” Zed asks.

    “Yeah, once, but only half, and I passed out after an hour. You better hope she doesn’t start hallucinating. Some people have crazy reactions to that stuff.”

    “Shit,” Zed groans, and I can picture him twisting his lip ring between his fingers.

    “Does Hardin know?” Logan asks.

    “Not yet . . .”

    The two of them continue to discuss me as if I’m not there, but I’m relieved when the heater in the truck finally shifts from blowing cold air to warm.

    “I need to get her home,” Zed finally says, and within seconds he’s in the truck next to me.

    Looking at me with a worried expression, Zed says, “If you don’t want me to tell him, where do you want to go? You can come to my place, but you know how pissed he’ll be when he finds out.”

    If I could form an actual sentence, I’d tell him about our breakup, but since I can’t, I make a sound that is something between a cry and a cough. “Mother,” I manage.

    “You’re sure?”

    “Yes . . . no Hardin. Please,” I breathe.

    He nods, and the truck begins to move down the street. I try to focus on Zed’s voice as he talks on the phone, but in my attempts to remain sitting up straight, I lose track of what he’s said, and within minutes I’m lying across the seat.

    Giving up, I just close my eyes.