Chapter Sixty-Three

After We Fell

chapter sixty-three




Carol crosses her arms over her chest. “Not happening.”

    “I know that,” I seethe and wonder just how angry Tessa would be if I cussed her mother out. Leaving her room, her childhood bedroom, is hard enough without hearing the strangled whine that falls from her lips when I cross the threshold into the hallway.

    “Where were you tonight while this was happening?” she questions.

    “At home.”

    “Why weren’t you there to stop this?”

    “What makes you so sure I wasn’t a part of it? You’re usually quick to blame me for everything wrong in the world.”

    “Because I know that regardless of your poor choices and your even poorer attitude, you wouldn’t let anything like this happen to Tessa if you could help it.”

    Is that a compliment from her? A backhanded one . . . but, hell, I’ll take it, especially considering the circumstances. “Well . . .” I begin.

    She holds her hand up to silence me. “I wasn’t finished. I don’t blame you for everything that’s wrong in the world.” She gestures to the sleeping, or half-conscious, girl lying on the small bed. “Just her world.”

    “I won’t argue with that.” I sigh in defeat. I know she’s right; there’s no denying that I’ve ruined nearly everything in Tessa’s life.

    He’s been my hero, my tormentor at times, but mostly my hero, she had said in her journal. A hero? I’m far from a fucking hero. I would give anything to be one for her, but I just don’t know how to go about it.

    “Well, at least we can agree on something.” Her full lips turn up in a half smile, but she blinks it away and looks down at her feet. “Well, if that was all you needed, you can go.”

    “Okay . . .” I take one last look at Tessa and then turn back to her mum, who is staring at me again.

    “What are your plans in regard to my daughter?” she asks with some authority, but also maybe a little fear. “I have to know what your long-term intentions are, because every time I turn around, something else is happening with her, and not something good. What do you plan to do with her in Seattle?”

    “I’m not going to Seattle with her.” The words are thick and heavy on my tongue.

    “What?” She begins to walk down the hallway, and I follow her.

    “I’m not going. She’s going without me.”

    “As happy as that makes me, may I ask why?” A perfectly arched brow rises, and I look away.

    “I’m just not, that’s why. It’s better for her that I don’t go, anyway.”

    “You sound just like my ex-husband.” She swallows. “Sometimes I blame myself for Tessa attaching herself to you. I worry that it’s because of the way her father was, before he left us.” Her manicured hand lifts up to smooth her hair, and she tries to appear unaffected by her mention of Richard.

    “He has nothing to do with her relationship with me; she barely knows him. The few days they’ve spent together lately shows just that: she doesn’t remember enough about him to affect her choice in men.”

    “Lately?” Carol’s eyes widen in surprise, and I watch in horror as the color drains from her face. And any small understanding we had been creating seems to disappear along with it.

    Shit. Fuck. Fucking shit. “She . . . um, we ran into him a little over a week ago.”

    “Richard? He found her?” Her voice breaks, and she places her hand on her neck.

    “No, she ran into him.”

    Her fingers start running nervously over the pearls around her neck. “Where?”

    “I don’t think I should be telling you any of this.”

    “Excuse me?” Her arms drop, and she stands there gaping in shock.

    “If Tessa wanted you to know that she’d seen her dad, she would have told you herself.”

    “This is more important than your dislike for me, Hardin. Has she been seeing him Her gray eyes are now glazed over, threatening to spill tears at any moment, but knowing this woman, she would never in a million years shed a tear in front of anyone, especially me.

    I sigh, not wanting to betray Tessa, but reluctant to cause any more shit with her mum. “He stayed with us for a few days.”

    “She wasn’t going to tell me, was she?” Her voice is thin and hoarse while she picks at her red fingernails.

    “Probably not. You aren’t the easiest person to talk to,” I remind her. I wonder if this is a good time to bring up my suspicion about him breaking into the apartment.

    “And you are?” She raises her voice, and I step closer. “At least I care about her well-being; that’s more than I can say for you!”

    I knew the civil conversation between us wouldn’t last long. “I care about her more than anyone, even you!” I fire back.

    “I am her mother; no one loves her more than I do. The fact that you think you possibly could just shows how demented you really are!” Her shoes click against the floor as she paces back and forth.

    “You know what I think? I think that you hate me because I remind you of him. You hate the constant reminder of what you ruined, so you hate me so you don’t have to hate yourself . . . but do you want to know something?” I wait for her sarcastic nod before continuing: “You and I are a lot alike, too. More alike than Richard and I, really: we both refuse to take any responsibility for our mistakes. Instead we blame everyone else. We isolate the ones we love and force them—”

    “No! You’re wrong!” she cries out.

    Her tears and histrionics somehow keep me from finishing that thought: that she will spend the rest of her days alone. “No, I’m not wrong. But what I am is leaving. Tessa’s car is still around school somewhere, so I’ll bring it back tomorrow unless you want to make the drive yourself.”

    Carol wipes at her eyes. “Fine, bring the car. At five tomorrow.” She looks up at me through bloodshot eyes and smeared mascara. “That doesn’t change anything. I’ll never like you.”

    “And I’ll never care if you do.” I walk toward the front door, momentarily debating whether I should go back down the hallway, get Tessa, and bring her with me.

    “Hardin, despite the way I feel toward you, I do know that you love my daughter. I just want to remind you again that if you love her—truly love her—you will stop interfering in her life. She’s not the same girl that I dropped off at that devil school half a year ago.”

    “I know.” As much as I hate this woman, I feel pity for her, because, like me, she’ll probably be alone for the rest of her miserable life. “Can you do me a favor?” I ask.

    She eyes me suspiciously. “What would that be?”

    “Don’t tell her that I was here. If she doesn’t remember, don’t tell her.” Tessa is so out of it she probably won’t remember a thing. I don’t think she even knows that I’m here now.

    Carol looks at me, looks through me, and nods. “That I can do.”