Chapter Fifty-Nine

After We Fell


chapter fifty-nine

 

HARDIN

 

    Love is the single most important emotion one can hold. Whether it’s your love for God or your love for another, it’s the most powerful, overwhelming, incredible experience. The moment when you realize that you are capable of loving someone else more than yourself is quite possibly the most important moment in your life. It was for me, anyway. I love Hardin more than myself, more than anything.

 

My phone vibrates on the coffee table for the fifth time in the last two minutes. I finally decide to answer it so I can tell her off.

    “What the fuck do you want?” I bark into the speaker.

    “It’s—”

    “Spit it out, Molly, I don’t have time for your shit.”

    “It’s about Tessa.”

    I stand to my feet, and the journal falls to the floor. My blood is ice cold. “What the hell are you talking about?”

    “She’s . . . look, don’t freak out, but Steph slipped her something and Dan is—”

    “Where are you?”

    “The frat house.” She barely gets the words out before I hang up the phone, grab my keys, and rush out of the apartment.

 

MY HEART IS POUNDING out of my chest the entire drive. Why the fuck did I get an apartment so far from the campus? This is hands down the longest twenty-mile drive of my life.

    Steph fucking slipped something to Tessa . . . What the fuck is wrong with her? And Dan—fucking Dan is a dead man if he lays one goddamn finger on her.

    I run every single red light and ignore the resulting flashes that indicate I’ll be getting at least four tickets in the mail.

    It’s Molly’s voice plays over and over in my mind until I finally reach the old frat house. I don’t bother turning off my car—my car is the least of my concerns right now. Crowds of drunken idiots litter the living room and hallways as I push my way through the downstairs in search for Tessa.

    My hands wrap around Nate’s collar the moment I see him, and I slam him into the wall without a thought. “Where is she?”

    “I don’t know! I haven’t seen her!” he shouts, and I loosen my grip.

    “Where the fuck is Steph?” I demand.

    “She’s in the backyard—I think—I haven’t seen her in a while.”

    I let go of him with a shove, and he stumbles forward with a glare at me.

    I stalk out to the backyard in a panic . . . If Tessa is out there in the cold with Steph and Dan . . .

    Steph’s red hair is bright in the darkness, and I don’t hesitate to grab her collar and lift her from the ground by the back of her leather coat.

    She starts swatting her arms behind her. “What the fuck!”

    “Where is she?” I growl, keeping my fist full of the leather.

    “I don’t know—you tell me,” she spits, and I turn her around to face me.

    “Where the fuck is she?”

    “You won’t do shit to me.”

    “I wouldn’t doubt me, if I were you. Tell me where the fuck Tessa I scream in her face.

    Steph flinches, and her bravado falters for a moment before she shakes her head. “I don’t know where the hell she is, but she’s probably passed out by now.”

    “You’re a sick, disgusting bitch. If I were you, I would leave this place before I find Tessa. Once I know she’s okay, there won’t be anything stopping me from coming after you!” For a moment I consider the idea of hurting Steph, but I know I couldn’t actually do it. I can’t imagine Tessa’s reaction if I laid a hand on a woman, even an evil one like Steph.

    I turn on my heel and head inside. I don’t have time to play games.

    “Where’s Dan Heard?” I ask a random blond girl I see sitting alone at the bottom of the stairs.

    “Him?” she asks, pointing a painted fingernail toward the top of the stairs.

    I don’t respond but just run over and take the stairs two at a time. Dan isn’t aware of my presence until I’ve tackled him to the ground, knocking over a couple other people along the way. I flip him over and pin him beneath me, closing my hands around his neck. Déjà fucking vu.

    “Where the fuck is Tessa?” I tighten my grip.

    Dan’s face is already turning a nice shade of pink, and he makes a pathetic choking sound instead of answering. I clamp my fingers tighter.

    “If you hurt her in any goddamn way, I will beat every last breath from your body,” I curse.

    He kicks his feet, and I look up at the guy he was standing with.

    “Where is Tessa Young?” I ask the kid, who just raises his hands in surrender.

    “I don’t . . . I don’t know her, man. I swear!” the pussy yells, backing away as I continue to strangle his friend.

    Dan’s face has turned from pink to purple. “Are you ready to tell me?” I ask.

    He nods frantically.

    “Fucking talk!” I shout, letting go of him.

    “She’s . . . Zed.” He manages to mutter along with a strained and hollow-sounding cough the moment I remove my hands from his neck.

    “Zed?” My vision goes black as all my fears suddenly materialize. “He put you up to this, didn’t he.”

    “No. Zed didn’t have anything to do with it,” Molly says, stepping out from one of the rooms along the hallway. “He didn’t. I mean, he heard Steph talking about doing something, but I don’t think he thought she was serious.”

    I look at Molly with wild eyes. “Where is she? Where’s Tessa?” I ask for the hundredth time. Each second that I don’t see her, each moment that I’m not assured of her safety, is another blow to my rapidly dwindling sanity.

    “I don’t know. I think she left with Zed.”

    “What did they do to her? Tell me everything—now.” I stand to my feet and leave Dan on the ground running his hands over his neck as he tries to catch his breath.

    Molly shakes her head. “They didn’t do anything; he stopped them before they could.”

    “He?”

    “Zed. I went down and got him and Tristan before anything could happen. Steph was being so fucking crazy, like she was going to have Dan rape Tessa or something. She says she was only going to make it look that way, but I don’t know, she was acting like a psycho.”

    “Rape Tessa?” I choke out. No. “Did he . . . touch her?”

    “A little,” she says sadly and looks at the ground.

    I look back down at Dan, who is sitting up now. My boot collides with his cheek, and he drops back to the floor immediately.

    “Holy shit! You’re going to kill him!” Molly shrieks.

    “Like you give a fuck,” I snap at her and try to gauge just how hard I would have to kick him to permanently indent his skull. Blood trickles down his cheek and out of the corner of his mouth. Good.

    “I don’t . . . I don’t give a fuck about any of this, actually.”

    “Then why did you call me? I thought you hate Tessa.”

    “I do, trust me. But I can’t sit there and let someone rape her.”

    “Well . . .” I almost thank her, but I quickly remember what a bitch she is, so I just nod and walk away to find Tessa.

    Why was Zed here in the first place? That motherfucker always seems to show up at the right time—the exact moment that will make me look like an asshole, and now, once again, he has saved her.

    Regardless of my extreme jealousy, I’m so fucking relieved to know she’s away from Steph and Dan and their fucking sick plan for revenge against me. This whole ordeal is just another reminder that every single bad thing in Tessa’s life stems from me. If I hadn’t done that shit to Dan’s sister, this never would have happened. Now Tessa is fucking drugged and she’s with Zed. Who knows what the fuck he’ll try to do with her.

    This is it—this is what hell feels like. Knowing that she was in this mess because of me. She could have been raped because of me.

    Just like in my dreams . . . and I wasn’t there to stop her. Just like I wasn’t able to stop it from happening to my mum.

    I hate this. I hate myself so fucking much. I ruin everything and anyone that comes in contact with me. I’m poison, and she’s the slowly eroding seraph, holding on to the last bit of herself that I haven’t destroyed.

    “Hardin!” Logan meets me at the bottom the stairs.

    “Do you know where Tessa and Zed are?” The words taste like acid on my tongue.

    “They left about fifteen minutes ago—I assumed they were going back to your place,” he responds.

    So she didn’t tell anyone about our breakup. “Was she . . . was she okay?” I ask him and hold my breath until he responds.

    “I don’t know, she was pretty out of it. They gave her benzo.”

    “Fuck.” I tug at my hair and walk to the front door. “If you hear from Zed before I find them, call me,” I instruct him.

    Logan nods in agreement, and I run to my car. Thankfully no one has stolen it. However, someone has taken the opportunity to be a dick and pour a beer down my windshield and leave the empty cup on the hood. Fucking assholes.

    I give Tessa a call, but end up just muttering into her voicemail, “Answer the phone, please . . . please just answer once.”

    I know she probably isn’t capable of answering right now, but Zed could answer the damn phone for her. The thought of her being so incoherent when I’m not around to protect her sickens me. I smash my hands against the steering wheel and peel out onto the street. This is a fucking disaster, and Tessa is with Zed, of all people. I don’t trust him any more than I do Dan or Steph.

    That’s not entirely true, but I still don’t trust him. By the time I get to Zed’s apartment, I’m in tears—literal tears stain and coat my cheeks, reminding me of how big of a fuckup I really am. I let this happen; I let her get fucking drugged, nearly raped, and humiliated. I should have been there. No one would have dared to try that shit if I had been. She was probably so afraid . . .

    I lift my T-shirt up to wipe my traitorous eyes and park in front of Zed’s apartment. His truck isn’t in the lot . . . Where the fuck is he? Where is she?

    I try to call Tessa, then Zed, then Tessa again, but nobody’s picking up. If he does something to her while she’s passed out, I will do much worse to him than he could ever imagine.

    Where else would she go?

    To Landon?

    “Hardin?” Landon’s sleepy voice comes through the phone, and I press the speakerphone button.

    “Is Tessa there?”

    He yawns. “No . . . is she supposed to be?”

    “No, I can’t find her.”

    “Are you . . .” He stops himself. “Are you okay?”

    “Yeah . . . no. I’m not. I can’t find Tessa, and I don’t know where else to look.”

    “Does she want to be found?” he asks softly.

    Does she? Probably not. But then again, at this point she probably can’t even form a coherent thought. These aren’t normal circumstances, to put it mildly.

    “I’ll take your silence as a no, Hardin. My guess is, if she doesn’t want to be found, she’s at the one place where she knows you won’t go.”

    “Her mother’s,” I groan, punching my thigh for not thinking of that earlier.

    “Oh, now I’ve done it . . . Are you going there?”

    “Yeah.” But would Zed really drive her two hours to take her to her mum’s?

    “Do you know how to get there?”

    “Not exactly, but I can go by the apartment and get the address.”

    “I think I have something here that has it written on it . . . she left some transfer paperwork here a while ago. Let me look and call you right back.”

    “Thanks.” I wait impatiently and turn my car around in the nearest empty parking lot. I stare out the window, taking in the darkness, fighting not to let it take me over. I have to focus on seeing Tess, on making sure she’s okay.

    “Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” Landon asks moments later when he calls back.

    “Steph . . . you know, the redhead? She drugged Tessa.”

    Landon gasps. “Wait, what?”

    “Yeah, it’s a fucked-up situation and I wasn’t there to help her so she’s with Zed,” I tell him.

    “Is she okay?” He sounds like he’s panicking.

    “I don’t have a fucking clue.”

    I wipe my nose on my shirt, and Landon gives me directions to Tessa’s childhood home.

    Her mum is going to lose her shit when I show up, especially given the situation, but I don’t care. I don’t have a clue as to what the hell I’m going to do when I arrive, but I have to see her and make sure she’s okay.